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12 posts from April 2020

04/30/2020

~Cinnamon-Raisin English Muffin Breakfast Casserole~

IMG_1572I don't need to be entertaining a crowd to have a reason to make a giant-sized breakfast casserole.  With Joe and I both working-from-home at present, having a fully-cooked breakfast pre-made and ready to slice and reheat in the microwave (by pushing a button) saves me a bunch of time on weekday mornings.  There's also plenty to share a few squares with a couple of friends and neighbors.  Here in our neighborhood, my friends call these acts of kindness "ding-dong drop-offs".  Truth told, social-distancing foodie life in the 'burbs is better-than-good, it's very tasty.

Muffins + sausage + apples + onions + eggs + milk + cheddar =

IMG_1557Breakfast to feed a crowd, or breakfast to eat for a week:

IMG_14772  pounds country-style sausage

2  large, 11-12-ounce apples, green Granny Smith or red Honeycrisp, peeled and medium-diced

1 1/2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion (6 ounces diced onion)

1 1/2  teaspoons dried, rubbed Dalmatian sage

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1  teaspoon sea salt 

14  large eggs

1  quart half-and-half

1 1/2  teaspoons additional sea salt

1  additional teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

2  13-ounce packages Thomas's cinnamon-raisin English muffins (12 English muffins, divided through recipe

2  8-ounce bags store-bought shredded white cheddar cheese (4 cups, divided through recipe)

no-stick cooking spray

IMG_1481 IMG_1485 IMG_1485 IMG_1485~Step 1.  Using your fingertips, crumble the country sausage into a 14" nonstick skillet.  Place the skillet over medium- medium-high heat.  Sauté the sausage, stirring constantly with a large slotted spoon or spatula, until sausage is just cooked through, about 6-7 minutes.  Do not brown the sausage.  Remove from heat.  Using the slotted spoon or spatula, transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and cool, allowing all the flavorful drippings to remain in bottom of skillet.

IMG_1494 IMG_1494 IMG_1494~ Step 2.  Add the apples and onion to drippings in the skillet along with the sage, salt and pepper. Sauté over medium- medium-high heat, until onion is softening, 2-3 minutes.  Remove skillet from heat and set aside.

IMG_1504 IMG_1504 IMG_1504 IMG_1504 IMG_1512 IMG_1512~Step 3.  Crack eggs into an 8-cup measuring container.  Add half-and-half, along with the salt and pepper.  Using a hand-held rotary-type egg beater, whisk until smooth and uniform in color. Set aside and assemble casserole as directed:

IMG_1518 IMG_1518 IMG_1518 IMG_1518 IMG_1530 IMG_1530 IMG_1530 IMG_1530~Step 4.  To assemble the casserole, slice one package (6) English muffins into bite-sized pieces and scatter them, in a single layer, in the bottom of a 4-quart casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  Scatter half of the sautéed sausage (about 11 ounces) evenly over the muffins, followed by half of the apple-onion mixture (about 11 ounces).  Open and scatter one bag of cheddar cheese evenly over all.  Repeat this layering process with the remaining package of English muffins, sautéed sausage, apple-onion mixture and package of cheddar cheese.

IMG_1539 IMG_1539 IMG_1539~ Step 5.  Briefly stir the egg mixture.  In a slow steady stream, moving back and forth across the surface of the casserole, drizzle the egg mixture over the surface of the casserole, to allow plenty of time for the liquid to drizzle down through the nooks and crannies.  Cover casserole with plastic wrap and set aside, at room temperature for four hours, or overnight in the refrigerator (to allow muffins to absorb the liquid).  Remove from refrigerator 1-2 hours prior to baking according to the following directions:

IMG_1548 IMG_1565~ Step 6.   Remove the plastic wrap and replace it with a sheet of aluminum foil.  Bake casserole on center rack of preheated 325° oven 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake, uncovered, until golden brown, bubbling, and puffed through to the center, 25-30 additional minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 15 minutes prior to slicing and serving.  Store leftovers in the refrigerator. Slice and reheat leftovers in microwave.

Remove from oven & rest on wire rack 15 minutes:

IMG_1562Slice, serve hot-out-of-the-oven or reheated in the microwave:

IMG_1587And start your day w/a forkful of a ready-made breakfast:  

IMG_1598Cinnamon-Raisin English Muffin Breakfast Casserole:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  14" nonstick skillet; cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; large slotted spoon or spatula; paper towels; 4-quart casserole;  8-cup measuring container; hand-held rotary-type egg-beater or whisk; plastic wrap; aluminum foil; wire rack 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad37edab3200cCook's Note: It's been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  I whole-heartedly believe it, but, I also have strong opinions about it.  The first:  A protein-packed breakfast is better than a sugar-shocked one.  I love pancakes, waffles and French toast as much as the next person, and indulging in them occasionally is divine, but, on a daily basis, I don't believe them to be the best way to start the day. The second:  In today's busy food world, folks will put down the sweet pop tart in exchange for a savory sandwich if it can be made in advance, or several days in advance. The third:  When entertaining stay-the-weekend guests, keep the morning meal simple and casual -- focus your time and energy on fancy-schmancy upscale fare for cocktails and dinnertime.  Don't have English muffins on hand?  Try my  ~Sausage and Everything Bagel Breakfast Casserole ~.  Carry on.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)

04/28/2020

~ Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings & Rice-a-Roni Bowls ~

IMG_2469Of the original three Rice-a-Roni flavors (chicken, beef and Spanish-style), chicken is the undisputed favorite, with beef and tomatoey Spanish-style coming in a close second and third. Growing up in the 60's, all three flavors of "the San Francisco treat" were always in my mom's pantry, and, as a savvy cook and recipe developer, I'm proud of my copycat recipes for all three.  Over the decades, Rice-a-Roni has added many other flavors to their menu (long-grain & wild rice, rice pilaf, Japanese teriyaki, Chinese fried-rice, and Mexican-Style), twenty-six to be exact, along with other Pasta-Roni products.  Teriyaki flavor  is one of my recent favorites.

6a0120a8551282970b0263ec18400e200cIn the case of this Japanese-Style Rice-a-Roni-for-dinner recipe, I'm using the boxed mix and seasoning packet "as is".  I simply add a box of steam-in-bag Asian-style vegetables (a mixture of broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas and water chestnuts) at the end of the cooking process. This time-saving box mix plus a bag of vegetables transitions my recipe for slow cooker Japanese Teriyaki-style chicken wings. from a movie night snack into a hearty, family-friendly weeknight dinner.

Good things happen when the taste of Japanese Teriyaki teams up with American Chicken Wings & Rice-a-Roni:

IMG_2432For the teriyaki-Rice-a-Roni and steamed vegetables:

2  tablespoons sesame oil

1  teaspoon ginger paste

1/2-1  teaspoon garlic paste

1  6.2-ounce box Teriyaki Rice-a-Roni + seasoning packet

2  cups water

1  10.8-ounce steam-in-bag stir-fry vegetables (a mixture of broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas and water chestnuts)

IMG_2428 IMG_2428 IMG_2428 IMG_2428 IMG_2428 IMG_2428 IMG_2428 IMG_2428~Step 1.  In the chef's pan, heat the sesame oil over low heat. Add the garlic paste and ginger paste. Increase heat to medium-high.  Prepare the Rice-a-Roni according to package directions, starting by browning the rice and vermicelli in the sesame oil (in place of butter).  Add the water and contents of seasoning packet.  Adjust heat to simmer, covered, for 14-15 minutes.  About 12 minutes into the simmering process, steam the stir-fry vegetables in the microwave.  When steamed, open the bag and drain them thoroughly (I use a paper-towel lined plate).

IMG_2461 IMG_2461 IMG_2461 IMG_2461~Step 2.  Uncover the pan.  Using a fork, rake the Rice-a-Roni to separate the rice grains and pasta strands.  Add and stir in the stir-fried pork-scallion mixture and any and all juices in the bowl.  Add and stir in the well-drained steamed vegetables.  Serve ASAP with teriyaki wings.

Serve teriyaki Rice-a-Roni ASAP w/teriyaki chicken wings: 

IMG_2472Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings & Rice-a-Roni Bowls:  4-6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides; 2-cup measuring container; large spoon or spatula; paper towels; fork

6a0120a8551282970b0240a524b302200bCook's Note:  My family has always loved Asian fare, and, when my three kids were growing up, I can tell you, they all loved Rice-a-Roni too.  For a variation on the Asian-style Rice-a-Roni theme, try my recipe for  ~ Easy Chinese-Style Pork-Fried-Rice-a-Roni Stir-Fry ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)

04/25/2020

~ Mexican-Style Rice-a-Roni and Chorizo Meatballs ~

IMG_1857Cinco de Mayo Rice-a-Roni?  You betcha and cha-cha-cha.  This fun to celebrate holiday is less than ten days away, so, no time like the present to plan something fun for dinner.  While we all gotta do what we all gotta do, and, while desperate times do call for desperate measures, this spicy rice-a-roni and meatball dinner is so dang delicious, I guarantee you'll make it even during the best of times.  I'm proud to say I invented it back when I was trying to keep three growing boys fed (aka "bottomless pits" as we moms refer to them), and they loved this one.  I'm also proud to report I took the "invent a Rice-a-Roni dish" page straight out of my mom's playbook:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a5229337200bBack in the 1960's my mom was the queen of Rice-a-Roni recipes.  I was the princess who loved them.  If I was feeling under the weather, she knew I'd rather have a bowl of chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni than a bowl of Campbell's chicken-noodle soup.  She served the prince (my brother) and I the aforementioned hamburger patties atop a bed of beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni drizzled with some store-bought beef gravy to prevent us from bugging her to buy Salisbury-steak TV dinners.  To two boxes of Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni she added two cans of stewed tomatoes and two pounds of peeled and sautéed shrimp.  In our kingdom, our family of four ate it as a sort-of Creole-style jambalaya dinner.  To two boxes of Chicken Rice-a-Roni, she'd add sautéed chicken thighs or tenders along with some sausage.  We four enjoyed it as a sort-of Cajun-style jambalaya dinner. It was my brother who named these meals, "jamba-roni" and "burger-roni.  Try my recipes for all three: copycat chicken, beef, &, Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni.

Ground beef & chorizo together = Mexican-Style perfection.

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.

Part One:  Making Mexican Meatloaf-Style Meatballs

IMG_1729For 3 dozen Mexican-style meatballs:

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

1  pound ground Mexican chorizo sausage

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

2  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

3  tablespoons salted butter

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

1 cup small-diced green bell pepper

1  cup small-diced red bell pepper

1  cup small-diced yellow bell pepper

1  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_1733 IMG_1733 IMG_1733 IMG_1733 IMG_1733 IMG_1733 IMG_1733~Step 1.  Place crackers in a large bowl.  Using your fingers, crush crackers into small bits and pieces.  Add the 1-cup milk and stir to combine.  In the same 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to lightly-beat the 2 eggs, then stir them into the cracker mixture.  Set aside about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the crackers time to absorb all of the liquid.  The resulting mixture will be thick and pasty.

IMG_1757 IMG_1757 IMG_1757 IMG_1757 IMG_1757 IMG_1757 IMG_1757~Step 2.  In a 10" skillet melt butter over low heat. Add the bell peppers and green onion.  Season with the chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté until peppers are softened but still crunch-tender, 3-4 minutes.  Stir in the cilantro, remove from heat and cool 20-30 minutes.

IMG_1778 IMG_1778 IMG_1778 IMG_1778~Step 3.  While veggie mixture is cooling, add the ground beef and chorizo to the cracker mixture. Using your hands thoroughly incorporate the meats into the pasty mix.  Add the cool but still slightly-warm vegetable mix to meat mixture.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_1795 IMG_1795 IMG_1795~Step 4.  To form and bake meatballs, using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, roll level scoops between palms of hands, placing them on a wire rack that has been placed in a large baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven, 15-16 minutes, until just cooked through.  Do not overcook meatballs.  This recipe yields 4 1/2-5 dozen meatballs -- that's a lot. That said, I freeze them in packages of 12 meatballs each, for quick-and-easy future meals. 

Part Two:  Making the Mexican-Style Rice-a-Roni

IMG_1805For the rice-a-roni & meatball dinner:

3  tablespoons salted butter

1  6.8-ounce box Rice-a-Roni Mexican Rice Mix + seasoning packet

2  cups water

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon chili powder

1/2  teaspoon ground cumin

1/4  teaspoon jalapeño pepper powder (optional, for extra heat)

1  15-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained

1 15-ounce can well-drained canned corn kernels

1/2  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

1  dozen meatballs, from above recipe

fresh salsa or pico de gallo, your favorite brand, for dipping or drizzling

Mexican crema or sour cream, for garnish

minced cilantro leaves, for garnish

IMG_1808 IMG_1808 IMG_1808 IMG_1808 IMG_1808~Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt butter over low heat.  Prepare the Rice-a-Roni according to package directions starting by browning the rice and pasta in the melted butter, stirring constantly.  This takes about 3-4 minutes, and the butter will get very foamy just before the rice and the pasta start to brown (during the last minute of cooking time).

IMG_1806 IMG_1806 IMG_1806 IMG_1806 IMG_1827 IMG_1827~Step 2. Slowly add the water* to pan -- steam will billow up, so, be careful.  Add the seasonings (the packet from the box, garlic and onion powder, chili powder, cumin and optional jalapeño pepper). Stir in the tomatoes, corn and diced onion.  Give the mixture a thorough stir and wait for it to return to a simmer, 1-2 minutes.  Adjust heat to a simmer.

*Note:  For added flavor, when I drain the canned corn kernels, I drain the liquid (which amounts to about 1/2 cup) into a 2-cup measure, then, I add water to the container to total 2 cups.

IMG_1832 IMG_1832 IMG_1832~ Step 3. Cover the pan and simmer until rice and pasta are cooked through and have absorbed almost all liquid, 14-16 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside 5 minutes.  Remove lid and rake through the mixture with a fork to fluff and separate the rice grains and pasta pieces.  Portion onto plates or into shallow serving bowls.  Top each portion with a beef patty and a generous drizzle of gravy.  Serve ASAP.

Top each portion w/4-5 meatballs & drizzle w/crema:

IMG_1873Stick a fork in it.  Enjoy every savory, succulent bite:

IMG_1875Mexican-Style Rice-a-Roni and Chorizo Meatballs:  Recipe yields 4 1/2-5 dozen meatballs; 4-6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; fork; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; large spoon or spatula; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; wire cooling rack; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight-deep sides; 2-cup measuring container

IMG_1156Cook's Note: When I was a kid, my mom invented a beefy Rice-a-Roni dinner that kept my brother and I from bugging her to buy us an occasional, to quote mom, "over-priced, over-rated TV dinner".  As they say on the Rice-a-Roni website: Prepare for a stampede to the dinner table when you serve our delicious rice and vermicelli blended with the savory flavors of onions, carrots, beef broth and garlic.  It's true. ~ Oh-My-Goodness-Good Retro Rice-a-Burger-Roni ~

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)

04/22/2020

~ My Cut-to-the-Chase Pan-Seared Meatloaf Burgers ~

IMG_1227Eating a meatloaf sandwich the day after a meatloaf dinner is like eating a turkey sandwich the day after Thanksgiving -- the anticipation of the ritual gives you a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  I adore a good old-fashioned back-to-basics meatloaf dinner with all the trimmings (with mashed potatoes and gravy or macaroni and cheese) as much as I adore a traditional, well-appointed Turkey dinner.  It's simple, straightforward, mouthwatering comfort food.  That said, in my food world, the all-important sandwich I indulge in the following day is almost better.  

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27640d2970cIt goes without saying, everyone has a favorite meatloaf recipe -- including me.  None of that greasy meatloaf mix for me, and, dry, bland ground turkey need not apply.  My meatloaf (my mother's recipe) is made exclusively with ground beef, and, slapping bacon on it or painting it with ketchup or barbecue sauce is strictly prohibited in my kitchen.  My meatloaf is crispy-on-the-outside and fork-tender-'n-juicy on the inside, with enough drippings to make some gravy too. The leftovers are unadulterated -- ready to be slapped between two slices of soft Wonder white bread.

IMG_1102All said, when it's a mouthwatering meatloaf sandwich I'm craving, I cut straight to the chase.  I get out my skillet and pan-sear some meatloaf burgers.  My recipe makes 8, 8-ounce burgers, enough for Joe and I to enjoy in different ways for four full days.

IMG_1032For eight burger patties:

2 1/2-3  pounds extra-lean ground beef (90/10)

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

2  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

2  tablespoons salted butter

1  cup small-diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup small diced celery

2  tablespoons dried parsley leaves

2  teaspoons granulated beef bouillon

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

6  tablespoons corn oil, just enough to coat bottom of pan, for frying burger patties

1/2  cup water, (optional), for deglazing pan if gravy is wanted 

IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036~Step 1.  Place crackers in a large bowl.  Using your fingers, crush crackers into small bits and pieces.  Add the 1-cup milk and stir to combine.  In the same 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to lightly-beat the 2 eggs, then stir them into the cracker mixture.  Set aside about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the crackers time to absorb all of the liquid.  The resulting mixture will be thick and pasty.

IMG_1055 IMG_1055 IMG_1055 IMG_1055 IMG_1055 IMG_1055~Step 2.  In a 10" skillet melt butter over low heat. Add the onion and celery along with the parsley flakes, beef bouillon, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium and sauté until onion and celery are nicely softened, 4-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool about 10 minutes.  Stir the still-warm vegetable mixture to the cracker mixture.

IMG_1076 IMG_1076 IMG_1076~Step 3.  Add the ground beef to the cracker and vegetable mixture.  Using your hands (it's the most efficient), combine the two.  Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divided mixture into 8 equal portions, about 8-ounces each.

IMG_1086 IMG_1086 IMG_1101 IMG_1101 IMG_1101 IMG_1101~Step 4.  Form the burger portions into 4"-round patties, placing them in a 12", 5 1/2-quart chef's pan to which 6 tablespoons corn oil has been added.  Turn heat on to medium- medium-high and sauté patties until golden on both sides, about 10-12 minutes per side, flipping them over only once during the cooking process.  Transfer burgers to a large plate or platter and set aside.  Add 1/2 cup water to the pan.  Using a spatula, deglaze the pan by scraping the flavorful browned bits from the bottom and continue to cook until almost all water has evaporated and only loosened brown bits remain in bottom of pan, about 1 minute. In this same pan of meat drippings, prepare gravy, according to the following directions:

IMG_1195 IMG_1195 IMG_1195 IMG_1210 IMG_1210 IMG_1210 IMG_1210 IMG_1210~Step 5.  To prepare the optional gravy (read Cook's Note below), over low heat, melt 6 tablespoons salted butter into drippings.  Once butter has melted, stir in 6 tablespoon flour. Increase heat to medium.  Stir until  mixture (referred to as a roux) is pasty (it will not be completely smooth because there are bits of ground beef goodness in there), 1-2 minutes.  Add 2 cups beef stock to pan. Adjust heat to medium-high and simmer, until nicely thickened to your liking, about 3 minutes.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Recipe yields 2 cups gravy.

Served hot w/shredded lettuce, steak sauce & French fried onions:

IMG_1263Served cold w/mayo, shredded lettuce & sliced tomato:

IMG_1235Served hot or cold w/creamy coleslaw & dill pickle chips:

IMG_1252My Cut-to-the-Chase Pan-Seared Meatloaf Burgers:  Recipe yields 8, 8-ounce meatloaf patties/8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 10" skillet; large spoon; kitchen scale; 12"-14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; spatula

IMG_1156Cook's Note:  Meatloaf burgers are great served exactly like sliced meatloaf, on a plate to be eaten with a knife-and-fork.  There are enough drippings in the pan to make 2 cups of flavorful gravy, which makes them great served next to some mac and cheese, or, atop a bed of fluffy mashed potatoes with a green vegetable to the side.  For another way to serve meatloaf burgers as a knife-and-fork meal, try my easy recipe for ~ Oh-My-Goodness Retro Rice-a-Burger-Roni ~. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)

04/20/2020

~Homestyle Chicken and Vegetable Rice-a-Roni-Pilaf~

IMG_1459Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat, was a savvy entrepreneur's son's take on rice pilaf.  Italian born immigrant Domenico (Charlie) DeDomenico moved to California in 1895 to open a fresh produce store.  After becoming a successful businessman, he married Maria Ferrigno, an immigrant from Salerno, Italy, where her family owned a pasta factory.  In 1912, Maria persuaded Charlie to set up a similar business in the Mission District of San Francisco.  Gragnano Products, Inc., was born and began delivering pasta to Italian restaurants and stores throughout the area.

Maria and Charlie's sons, Paskey, Vince, Tom and Anthony worked in the family business, and, in 1934, Paskey changed the name to the Golden Grain Macaroni Company. Tom's wife Lois fell in love with a pilaf recipe she received from an Armenian immigrant, Mrs. Pailadzo Captanian, which she served at a family gathering.  After tasting the unique pilaf, which was made by sautéing a combination rice and pasta in butter before adding chicken broth and seasonings, Vince went to work developing a new product.  In 1958, his creation, named Rice-a-Roni, was introduced to the NW United States as "The San Francisco Treat".  Four years later, in 1962, it went nationwide.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a51a5586200bIn the case of this homestyle roasted chicken and Rice-a-Roni-for-dinner recipe, I'm not posting one of my copycat recipes for Rice-a-Roni, meaning,  I'm using the boxed mix and seasoning packet just as they are.  I simply adding several on-hand kitchen-, pantry- and freezer-staple vegetable additions. It's these additions that turn this boxed mix into an absolutely-delightful super-easy-to-make one-skillet dinner: one cup each of diced celery and onion, a can of sliced mushrooms, and one cup of frozen peas and carrots.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09befcf4970dRotisserie chicken is not my "gig".  It takes all the sport out of cooking.  I roast chickens.  I have roasted many chickens in my life, and, I've been roasting chickens since before some of you were born.  I've never served roasted chicken to a guest that didn't mention how moist and perfectly cooked it was and ask how in the world I got it that way. Everyone and anyone who cooks has an opinion on roasting chicken, and, mine is quite basic.  Two chickens, two hours.  Read all about:  This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken.

Homestyle winner-winner chicken dinner:

IMG_1405For the Rice-a-Roni-Pilaf dinner:

3  tablespoons salted butter

1  7.2-ounce box Rice-a-Roni Rice Pilaf Mix + seasoning packet

1  cup diced onion

1  cup diced celery

1 1/2  cups water, including 1 cup liquid from 2, 4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms (from below), 1 1/2 cups total liquid

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon poultry seasoning

2  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, well-drained

1  cup frozen peas and carrots, unthawed

1  pound chicken breast or thigh meat, hand-pulled into bite-sized pieces, leftover chicken from 1 roasted chicken or rotisserie chicken

store-bought chicken gravy, your favorite brand, warmed, for dipping or drizzling (optional)

IMG_1410 IMG_1410 IMG_1410 IMG_1410 IMG_1410 IMG_1410 IMG_1410~Step 1. Over low heat, melt the butter in bottom of pan.  Prepare the Rice-a-Roni according to package directions, starting by browning the rice and pasta in the butter, while stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes.  Stir in the diced celery and onions and cook about 1 more minute, again, stirring constantly.

IMG_1428 IMG_1428 IMG_1428 IMG_1428 IMG_1428~Step 2. Slowly add the water containing the mushroom liquid to pan --  steam will billow up, so, be careful.  Add the seasonings (the packet from the box, plus the 1 teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning).  Give the mixture a thorough stir and wait for it to return to a simmer, 1-2 minutes.  Adjust heat to a simmer gently.

IMG_1441 IMG_1441 IMG_1445 IMG_1445 IMG_1445 IMG_1445~Step 3. Cover the pan and simmer until rice and pasta are cooked through and have absorbed almost all liquid, 14-16 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside 5 minutes.  Remove lid and rake through the mixture with a fork to fluff and separate the rice grains and pasta pieces.  Add and stir in the pulled chicken.  Cover and allow residual heat to heat chicken, about 5 minutes.  Portion onto plates or into shallow serving bowls.

Good enough to put on anyone's table for dinner:

IMG_1473Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Rice-a-Roni-Pilaf:  Recipe yields 6 hearty servings.

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

IMG_0579Cook's Note: Chicken-noodle soup is the quintessential comfort food. While nourishing the body, chicken-noodle soup channels ones mind back to kinder, gentler, childhood times. When I was growing up, I don't remember eating canned chicken-noodle soup.  Mom always had homemade chicken soup in the freezer.  When it was gone, she made more.  That was that.  No canned soup for me.  While stocking my pantry with a few chicken-y staples (chicken stock, granulated chicken bouillon, and, bags of wide egg noodles), my mind wandered to back to mom's absolutely wonderful ~ Oodles of Tender Chicken and Noodles Casserole ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/COpyright 2020)

04/18/2020

~ Easy Chinese-Style Pork-Fried-Rice-a-Roni Stir-Fry ~

IMG_1365Of the original three Rice-a-Roni flavors (chicken, beef and Spanish-style), chicken is the undisputed favorite, with beef and tomatoey Spanish-style coming in a close second and third. Growing up in the 60's, all three flavors of "the San Francisco treat" were always in my mom's pantry, and, as a savvy cook and recipe developer, I'm proud of my copycat recipes for all three.  Over the decades, Rice-a-Roni has added many other flavors to their menu (long-grain & wild rice, rice pilaf, Japanese teriyaki, Chinese fried-rice, and Mexican-Style), twenty-six to be exact, along with other Pasta-Roni products.  Their stir-fried rice is one of my recent favorites.

In the case of this Chinese-Style Rice-a-Roni-for-dinner recipe, I'm not posting a copycat recipe for the rice and vermicelli, or, the seasoning packet, meaning,  I'm using the boxed mix and seasoning packet just as they are.  I simply adding several yummy Chinese-style pantry additions. It's these additions that turn this boxed mix into an absolutely-delightful super-easy-to-make one-skillet dinner:  sesame oil, diced pork loin, thinly-sliced fresh scallions, a can of well-drained straw mushrooms, garlic paste, ginger paste and Chinese soy sauce, plus, at the very end, a steamed, steam-in-bag bag of broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas and water chestnuts gets stirred in.

IMG_1273For the pork stir-fry:

2  tablespoons sesame oil

2  tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

1  tablespoon hoisin sauce

2  teaspoons ginger paste

1 1/2-2  teaspoons garlic paste

1  pound pork tenderloin, sliced into very-thin strips

1  cup thin-sliced green onions, white and light green parts only

IMG_1277 IMG_1277 IMG_1277~ Step 1.  Slice pork as directed.  In a 1-gallon food storage bag, place sesame oil, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger and garlic past.  Add pork to bag.  Seal the bag.  Using your fingertips, massage the bag to coat pork strips in marinade.  Marinate 30-60 minutes or longer -- this can be done the night before or in the morning and refrigerated.  Return to room temperature, about 1 hour, prior to stir-frying.

IMG_1284 2 IMG_1284 2 IMG_1284 2~ Step 2.  Heat a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan over medium-high.  Add the pork and all of the marinade, along with the green onions.  Using a large spoon, stir-fry the pork, stirring constantly, until just cooked through, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Do not overcook pork.  Transfer the stir-fried pork mixture to a medium bowl.

For the Fried-Rice-a-Roni and steamed vegetables:

3  tablespoons sesame oil

1  teaspoon ginger paste

1/2-1  teaspoon garlic paste

1  6.8-ounce box Stir-Fried Rice-a-Roni + seasoning packet

2  cups water

2  tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

1  15-ounce can straw mushrooms, well-drained

1  10.8-ounce steam-in-bag stir-fry vegetables (a mixture of broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas and water chestnuts)

IMG_1288 IMG_1288 IMG_1296 IMG_1296 IMG_1296 IMG_1296 IMG_1296 IMG_1296 IMG_1296 IMG_1296 IMG_1296~Step 1.  In the chef's pan, heat the sesame oil over low heat. Add the garlic paste and ginger paste. Increase heat to medium-high.  Prepare the Rice-a-Roni according to package directions, starting by browning the rice and vermicelli in the sesame oil (in place of butter).  Stir in soy sauce and  mushrooms.  Add the water and contents of seasoning packet.  Adjust heat to simmer, covered, for 14-15 minutes.  About 12 minutes into the simmering process, steam the stir-fry vegetables in the microwave.  When steamed, open the bag and drain them thoroughly (I use a paper-towel lined plate).

IMG_1319 IMG_1324 IMG_1328 2 IMG_1328 IMG_1335 IMG_1341~Step 2.  Uncover the pan.  Using a fork, rake the Rice-a-Roni to separate the rice grains and pasta strands.  Add and stir in the stir-fried pork-scallion mixture and any and all juices in the bowl.  Add and stir in the well-drained steamed vegetables.  

Portion into bowls & serve immediately.  Take a bite.

IMG_1384Yea, you're coming back for more until this is gone.

IMG_1387Easy Chinese-Style Pork-Fried-Rice-a-Roni Stir-Fry:  Recipe yields 6-8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides; 2-cup measuring container; large spoon or spatula; paper towels; fork

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4dc7788200dCook's Note: Want to learn how to stir-fry or teach someone how to stir-fry?  Start with Chinese-American chicken and broccoli.  It is the quintessential basic stir-fry.  One protein (chicken).  One vegetable (broccoli).  One sauce (brown). Steamed rice (white).  Nine out of ten times, there will be some garlic, ginger and green onions in the mix too.  Chicken and Broccoli is on every Chinese take-out menu, it's one of the most popular Chinese chicken dishes, and, it is almost always the first stir-fry home cooks try to duplicate.  There's more.  No special hardware is required.  While stir-frying is typically done in a traditional wok or in an Americanized stir-fry pan, a skillet or an electric skillet work equally fine too.  Try my super-easy recipe for ~ Stir fry 101. Chinese-American Chicken & Broccoli ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)

04/15/2020

~ Oh-My-Goodness-Good Retro Rice-a-Burger-Roni ~

IMG_1156When I was a kid, my mom invented a beefy Rice-a-Roni dinner that kept my brother and I from bugging her to buy us an occasional, to quote mom, "over-priced, over-rated TV dinner" -- which, to us kids of the era, were nothing more than a trendy novelty.  As they say on the Rice-a-Roni website: Prepare for a stampede to the dinner table when you serve our delicious rice and vermicelli blended with the savory flavors of onions, carrots, beef broth and garlic.  It's true.

Mom would carefully shape hamburger patties, prepared meatloaf-style (meaning mixed with a binder, some milk, an egg, and diced celery and onion), to look like the oval salisbury steaks pictured on the Swanson box.  She'd brown them on both sides in a skillet,  Next, she'd pour about half a jar of beef gravy over the top, cover the skillet and let the patties simmer gently for a few moments.  Mom would serve us her burgers and gravy atop beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni laced with peas and carrots. It was simple semi-homemade comfort food -- and we adored it.

My younger brother named mom's dish "burger-roni".

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4fc20c6200dBack in the 1960's my mom was the queen of Rice-a-Roni recipes.  I was the princess who loved them.  If I was feeling under the weather, she knew I'd rather have a bowl of chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni than a bowl of Campbell's chicken-noodle soup.  She served the prince (my brother) and I the aforementioned hamburger patties atop a bed of beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni drizzled with some store-bought beef gravy to prevent us from bugging her to buy Salisbury-steak TV dinners.  To two boxes of Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni she added two cans of stewed tomatoes and two pounds of peeled and sautéed shrimp.  In our kingdom, our family of four ate it as a sort-of Creole-style jambalaya dinner.  To two boxes of Chicken Rice-a-Roni, she'd add sautéed chicken thighs or tenders along with some sausage.  We four enjoyed it as a sort-of Cajun-style jambalaya dinner. It was my brother who named these meals, "jamba-roni" and "burger-roni.  Try my recipes for all three: copycat chicken, beef & Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni.

Part One:  Making Mom's Perfect Meatloaf-Style Burger Patties

IMG_1032For eight burger patties:

2 1/2-3  pounds extra-lean ground beef (90/10)

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

2  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

2  tablespoons salted butter

1  cup small-diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup small diced celery

2  tablespoons dried parsley leaves

2  teaspoons granulated beef bouillon

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

4  tablespoons corn oil, just enough to coat bottom of pan, for frying burger patties

1/2  cup water, for deglazing pan

IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036~Step 1.  Place crackers in a large bowl.  Using your fingers, crush crackers into small bits and pieces.  Add the 1-cup milk and stir to combine.  In the same 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to lightly-beat the 2 eggs, then stir them into the cracker mixture.  Set aside about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the crackers time to absorb all of the liquid.  The resulting mixture will be thick and pasty.

IMG_1055 IMG_1055 IMG_1055 IMG_1055 IMG_1068 IMG_1068~Step 2.  In a 10" skillet melt butter over low heat. Add the onion and celery along with the parsley flakes, beef bouillon, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium and sauté until onion and celery are nicely softened, 4-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool about 10 minutes.  Stir the still-warm vegetable mixture to the cracker mixture.

IMG_1076 IMG_1076 IMG_1076~Step 3.  Add the ground beef to the cracker and vegetable mixture.  Using your hands (it's the most efficient), combine the two.  Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divided mixture into 8 equal portions, about 8-ounces each.

IMG_1086 IMG_1086 IMG_1086 IMG_1086 IMG_1086 IMG_1086~Step 4.  Form the burger portions into 4"-round patties, placing them in a 12", 5 1/2-quart chef's pan to which 6 tablespoons corn oil has been added.  Turn heat on to medium- medium-high and sauté patties until golden on both sides, about 10-12 minutes per side, flipping them over only once during the cooking process.  Transfer burgers to a large plate or platter and set aside.  Add 1/2 cup water to the pan.  Using a spatula, deglaze the pan by scraping the flavorful browned bits from the bottom and continue to cook until the water has evaporated, until only loosened brown bits remain in bottom of pan, about 1 minute. In this same pan of meat drippings, prepare Rice-a-Roni, according to the following directions:

Part Two:  Making the Rice-a-Roni or my Copycat Rice-a-Roni 

IMG_1105For the rice-a-burger-roni dinner:

3  tablespoons salted butter

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  cup diced onion

1/2  cup diced celery

2  6.8-ounce boxes Rice-a-Roni Spanish Rice Mix + seasoning packets*, or, 2  times (double) my recipe for copycat Beef Rice-a-Roni, prepared using 1 1/2-2 cups frozen peas and carrots in place of small-diced fresh carrots + diced celery and onion (listed above)

5  cups water

1 1/2-2  cups frozen peas and carrots, unthawed

all of the beef patties, from above recipe

store-bought beef gravy, your favorite brand, warmed, for dipping or drizzling

IMG_1110 IMG_1110 IMG_1110 IMG_1110 IMG_1110 IMG_1110~Step 1.  Over low heat, melt the butter into the pan drippings.  Stir in the garlic and onion powder. Prepare the Rice-a-Roni according to package directions, or my copycat directions, starting by browning the rice and pasta in the buttery drippings.  Stir in the diced celery and onions and cook about 1 more minute, stirring constantly.

IMG_1122 IMG_1122 IMG_1122 IMG_1122 IMG_1122~Step 2. Slowly add the water to pan --  steam will billow up, so, be careful.  Add the seasonings (the packets from the boxes, or, the 2 tablespoons granulated beef bouillon and 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder as directed in my recipe).  Give the mixture a thorough stir and wait for it to return to a simmer, 1-2 minutes.  Adjust heat to a simmer gently.

IMG_0991 IMG_0991 IMG_0991~ Step 3. Cover the pan and simmer until rice and pasta are cooked through and have absorbed almost all liquid, 14-16 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside 5 minutes.  Remove lid and rake through the mixture with a fork to fluff and separate the rice grains and pasta pieces.  Portion onto plates or into shallow serving bowls.  Top each portion with a beef patty and a generous drizzle of gravy.  Serve ASAP.

Top each portion of Roni w/a patty & a drizzle of gravy:

IMG_1186Stick a fork in it.  Enjoy every savory, succulent bite:

IMG_1177Oh-My-Goodness-Good Retro Rice-a-Burger Roni:  Recipe yields 8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; fork; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; kitchen scale; 12", 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight-deep sides; spatula; 1-quart measuring container; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0a011943970dCook's Note: The Japanese Take on Salisbury Steak is an interesting one.  If this doesn't sound very Japanese, it's because its not.  It's an all-American-inspired dish that's been culinarily Japanized and popularized by Japanese home cooks and yoshoku chefs (restaurants that serve Japanese versions of American- and European-style food).  It's a spin-off of our American bunless hamburger steak (aka the plump mini-meatloaf-esque knife-and-fork salisbury steak smothered in savory gravy).

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)

04/13/2020

~Cajun-Style Chicken, Sausage & Rice-a-Jamba-Roni~

IMG_1009In my kitchen, this one-skillet dish is affectionately referred to as Jamba-Roni.  Why?  This quick-to-make mixture of lightly-sautéed long-grain rice and vermicelli, plus tender chicken, spicy sausage, flavorful bell peppers, celery and onions simply reminds everyone who eats it of jambalaya (a rustic one-pot meal containing long-grain white rice with meat, poultry or shellfish, pork or sausage, and, the Cajun-Creole "holy trinity" -- onion, celery and green bell pepper).

IMG_0911Creole-style jambalaya, sometimes called red jambalaya, incorporates tomato.  The most popular Creole jambalaya contains shrimp (or crawfish).  Cajun-style jambalaya, sometimes called brown jambalaya, doesn't contain tomato.  The most popular Cajun jambalaya contains chicken (or alligator). Jambalaya comes from the French word jambalaia, meaning "to mix or mash" and "a rice pilaf".  The finished dish resembles Spanish paella, which is a rice pilaf cooked with broth.

My younger brother named mom's dish "jamba-roni".

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4fb60ad200dBack in the 1960's my mom was the queen of Rice-a-Roni recipes.  I was the princess who loved them.  If I was feeling under the weather, she knew I'd rather have a bowl of chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni than a bowl of Campbell's chicken-noodle soup.  She served the prince (my brother) and I pan-seared hamburgers and gravy atop a bed of beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni, to prevent us from bugging her to buy overpriced Salisbury-steak TV dinners.  To two boxes of Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni she added two cans of stewed tomatoes and two pounds of peeled and sautéed shrimp.  In our kingdom, our family of four ate it as a sort-of Creole-style jambalaya dinner.  To two boxes of Chicken Rice-a-Roni, she'd add sautéed chicken thighs or tenders along with some sausage.  We four enjoyed it as a sort-of Cajun-style jambalaya dinner. It was my brother who named these meals, "jamba-roni".  Fond memories indeed. Try my super-easy recipes for all three: copycat chicken, beef & Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni.

Diced "holy trinity" & three easy steps:

IMG_09382  tablespoons olive oil

1  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon garlic powder

2  pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenders or thighs, sliced into bite-sized pieces

IMG_093212  ounces Cajun-style andouille sausage, sliced into 1/4"-thick coins

8  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (about 2 cups)

4  ounces diced celery (about 1 cup)

4  ounces each: diced green bell pepper, red bell pepper and yellow bell pepper (about 1 cup each)

6  tablespoons salted butter

2  6.8-ounce boxes chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni + seasoning packets*, or, 2  times (double) my recipe for for copycat chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni  

5  cups water

1-2  teaspoons red pepper flakes

cayenne pepper sauce (Louisianna Gold, Crystal, Frank's RedHot, etc., your favorite brand), for accompaniment 

IMG_0941 IMG_0941 IMG_0941 IMG_0941 IMG_0941 IMG_0941 IMG_0941 IMG_0959 IMG_0959 IMG_0965 IMG_0965~Step 1.  To sauté the chicken, sausage and the vegetables, in a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan, heat the olive oil over low heat.  Stir in the garlic and onion powder,  Add the chicken and sausage and increase heat to medium- medium-high.  Using a large slotted spoon, sauté, stirring constantly, until chicken is just of cooked through, about 7-8 minutes.  Do not over-cook chicken.  Using the slotted spoon, transfer chicken and sausage to a large bowl, leaving all the flavorful juices in the pan.  Add all of the diced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently, until nicely-softened but still crunch tender, about 5-6 minutes.  Do not overcook veggies.  Turn the heat off. Using the slotted spoon, transfer veggies to the bowl with the chicken and set aside.  Use a paper towel or three to mop up (absorb) and discard any excess juices that might remain in the bottom of the pan.

IMG_0973 IMG_0973 IMG_0973 IMG_0973 IMG_0973 IMG_0973 IMG_0973 IMG_0973 IMG_0991~Step 2.  In the same chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat.  Prepare the Rice-a-Roni according to package directions, or my copycat directions (brown the rice and vermicelli in the butter, add the water, seasonings and 1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes) and gently simmer, covered, 14-15 minutes.  Do NOT lift the lid during the simmering process.

IMG_0993 IMG_0993 IMG_1001 IMG_1001~Step 3.  Uncover the pan, and, using a fork, rake the Rice-a-Roni to separate the rice grains and pasta strands.  Stir the chicken, sausage and veggies into the rice. Turn heat off.  Cover and rest on hot stovetop 5 minutes.  Residual heat will reheat the chicken, sausage and vegetables.

Portion into bowls & serve ASAP w/your favorite hot sauce:

IMG_1023Cajun-Style Chicken, Sausage & Rice-a-Jamba-Roni:  Recipe yields 6-8 hearty main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; paper towels; 1-quart measuring container; large spoon or spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d8e6ef5970dCook's Note: Red beans and rice, a signature dish of Louisiana, became known as "the washday dinner", because Monday was typically when women worked outdoors washing and drying their family's clothes for 4-6 hours.  The meal was prepared with Sunday supper's leftover ham bone.  It was convenient, because dinner cooked itself on the stovetop, or over an outdoor fire, while the women worked and commiserated about the week ahead and caught up on neighborhood gossip. Try my recipe for ~ Monday's Washday Dinner:  Red Beans and Rice ~.  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)

04/10/2020

~ Spicy Creole-Style Shrimp and Rice-a-Jamba-Roni ~

IMG_0911In my kitchen, this one-skillet dish is affectionately referred to as Jamba-Roni.  Why?  This quick-to-make mixture of tomato-laced long-grain white rice and vermicelli, plus lots of succulent shrimp and flavorful bell peppers, celery and onions simply reminds everyone who eats it of jambalaya (a rustic one-pot meal that combines long-grain white rice with meat, poultry or shellfish, pork or sausage, and, the Cajun-Creole culinary "holy trinity" -- onion, celery and green bell pepper).

IMG_1009Creole-style jambalaya, sometimes called red jambalaya, incorporates tomato.  The most popular Creole jambalaya contains shrimp (or crawfish).  Cajun-style jambalaya, sometimes called brown jambalaya, doesn't contain tomato.  The most popular Cajun jambalaya contains chicken (or alligator). Jambalaya comes from the French word jambalaia, meaning "to mix or mash" and "a rice pilaf".  The finished dish resembles Spanish paella, which is a rice pilaf cooked with broth.

My younger brother named mom's dish "jamba-roni". 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a51a5586200bBack in the 1960's my mom was the queen of Rice-a-Roni recipes.  I was the princess who loved them.  If I was feeling under the weather, she knew I'd rather have a bowl of chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni than a bowl of Campbell's chicken-noodle soup.  She served the prince (my brother) and I pan-seared hamburgers and gravy atop a bed of beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni, to prevent us from bugging her to buy overpriced Salisbury-steak TV dinners.  To two boxes of Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni she added two cans of stewed tomatoes and two pounds of peeled, sautéed shrimp.  In our kingdom, our family of four ate it as a sort-of Creole-Style jambalaya dinner. To two boxes of Chicken Rice-a-Roni, she'd add sautéed chicken thighs or tenders along with some sausage.  We four enjoyed it as a sort-of Cajun-style jambalaya dinner. It was my brother who named these meals, "jamba-roni".  Fond memories indeed. Try my super-easy recipes for all three: copycat chicken, beef & Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni.  

Diced "holy trinity" & three easy steps:

IMG_08352  tablespoons olive oil

1  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon garlic powder

2  pounds medium shrimp (41-50 count), peeled and deveined, tails off

8  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (about 2 cups)

4  ounces diced celery (about 1 cup)

4  ounces each: diced green bell pepper, red bell pepper and yellow bell pepper (about 1 cup each)

6  tablespoons salted butter

2  6.8-ounce boxes Rice-a-Roni Spanish Rice Mix + seasoning packets*, or, 2  times (double) my recipe for copycat Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni, prepared using stewed tomatoes in place of fire-roasted diced tomatoes + red pepper flakes 

4  cups water

2  14 1/2-ounce cans stewed tomatoes

1-2  teaspoons red pepper flakes

cayenne pepper sauce (Louisianna Gold, Crystal, Frank's RedHot, etc., your favorite brand), for accompaniment 

IMG_0841 IMG_0841 IMG_0845 IMG_0845 IMG_0845 IMG_0845 IMG_0845 IMG_0845 IMG_0845 IMG_0863~Step 1.  To sauté the shrimp and the vegetables, in a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan, heat the olive oil over low heat.  Stir in the garlic and onion powder,  Add the shrimp and increase heat to medium- medium-high.  Using a large slotted spoon, sauté the shrimp, stirring constantly, until shrimp are just short of being cooked through, about 3-4 minutes. Do not fully-cook shrimp.  Using the slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to a large bowl, leaving all the flavorful juices remaining in the pan.  Add all of the diced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently, until nicely-softened but still crunch tender, about 5-6 minutes.  Do not overcook veggies.  Turn the heat off.  Using the slotted spoon, transfer veggies to the bowl with the shrimp and set aside.

IMG_0868 IMG_0870 IMG_0870 IMG_0870 IMG_0876 IMG_0876 IMG_0882 IMG_0883 IMG_0883 IMG_0889 IMG_0889 IMG_0889~Step 2.  In the same chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat.  Prepare the Rice-a-Roni according to package directions, or my copycat directions (brown the rice and vermicelli in the butter, add the water, seasonings and tomatoes) and cook, covered for 14-15 minutes, adding two cans of stewed tomatoes in place of diced tomatoes, plus 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes.

IMG_0896 IMG_0900~ Step 3.  Using a fork, rake the Rice-a-Roni to separate the rice grains and pasta strands.  Stir the warm shrimp and vegetables into the rice. Turn heat off.  Cover and rest on hot stovetop 5 minutes.  Residual heat will finish-cook shrimp.

Portion into bowls & serve ASAP w/your favorite hot sauce:   

IMG_0921Spicy Creole-Style Shrimp and Rice-a-Roni:  Recipe yields 6-8 hearty main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; 1-quart measuring container; large spoon or spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c879404d970bCook's Note: Shrimp a la Creole or Creole-style shrimp is the first Creole recipe I ever cooked, and, I made it because I wanted to try my 19-year-old hand at something "new to me".  I was a new bride and the recipe was on page 311 of the 1974 Edition of Betty Crocker's Cookbook.  While their recipe was "quick and easy", it was fundamentally sound and it tasted good too.  It served its purpose in that its success prompted me to try more sophisticated versions, the best one made with fresh Gulf shrimp in the New Orleans French Quarter in the 1980's.  Try my ~ Shrimp Creole:  The King of Creole Shrimp Dishes ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)

04/07/2020

~Cheesy Ham, Green Bean & Hash Brown Casserole~

IMG_0811After our Easter feast, before we even washed the dishes, mom would put together a casserole from three of the leftovers.  It wasn't rocket science, but, it was made from high-quality scratch-made ingredients.  About three cups of cubed baked ham and two cups of buttery green (string) beans got stirred into the remaining cheesy scalloped potatoes.  The following night, upon reheat, no one had to be called twice to the dinner table -- we four loved this meal.

This is not that recipe.  This is similar dish, made from pantry and freezer staples, for those times when you don't have leftovers from a traditional Easter feast, but are craving those familiar flavors.  I'd refer to it as a "desperate times call for desperate measures" casserole, but, it's not. It's downright delicious (and, uh, yes, I do approve of using the word delicious to describe delicious food, so, to all recipe critics and editors: get over yourselves and move along).

All the familiar flavors of Easter without the work.

IMG_0749For the cheese sauce:

4  tablespoons salted butter

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

3  packets granulated vegetable bouillon

1/4 cup Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

3 cups whole milk

8  ounces shredded finely-shredded Colby-Jack cheese (2 cups)

For the add-ins:

3  cups diced, cooked ham

2 cups cooked (steam-in-bag, stovetop simmered or microwaved) cut green beans, well-drained and snipped or sliced into 1/2" lengths

1  30-ounce bag frozen shredded hash browns

IMG_0754 IMG_0754 IMG_0754Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot over low heat, melt the butter.  Add the onion.  Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring almost constantly with a large spoon until onion has softened, without browning, 3-4 minutes.

IMG_0766 IMG_0766 IMG_0766 IMG_0766 IMG_0766 IMG_0766~Step 2.  Add and stir in the dry spices:  the onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper and contents from bouillon packets.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until a dry, foamy, pasty mess forms in the bottom of the pot, about 30-60 seconds. Stirring constantly, slowly and in a thin stream, add the milk.  Adjust heat to a very gentle simmer and continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, until mixture is nicely-thickened.  Turn the heat off and stir in the cheese.  It will melt almost instantly and the cheese sauce will be finished.

IMG_0785 IMG_0785 IMG_0785 IMG_0785~Step 3.  Add and stir in the diced ham and green beans.  Before opening the bag of frozen hash browns, use your hands to "crunch" the bag in several spots, to loosen them up a bit.  Add the frozen hash browns and stir until they are enrobed in the cheese sauce.  Remove from heat.

IMG_0798 IMG_0798~ Step 4.  Transfer the casserole mixture to the casserole dish.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375° oven, 40-45 minutes.  Casserole will be bubbling around the edges, slightly bubbling in the center, and lightly but nicely browned on the top.  Remove from oven and allow casserole to rest 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Cheesy potatoes with ham & green beans?  Oh yum!

IMG_0823Perfect for any day-after-Easter brunch or lunch:

IMG_0833Cheesy Ham, Green Bean & Has Brown Casserole:  Recipe yields 8-12 hearty, main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-quart measuring container; 8-quart stockpot; large spoon; 13" x 9" x 2"/3-quart casserole

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4aa4853200bCook's Note:  Perhaps it's ham and asparagus you have leftover from your Easter feast. Every once in a while (not often, but it does happen) you'll come across a recipe that goes from ordinary to extraordinary by using a store-bought, instead of a scratch-made, dry sauce or seasoning packet.  While it is next-to-impossible to make a quiche using scratch-made hollandaise or béarnaise sauce (in place of the typical whisked cream and egg mixture), because either will breakdown in a hearts-beat or three, it is possible to add a dry, high-quality, store-bought, hollandaise or or béarnaise sauce-mix to season and enrich the cream and egg mixture.  In fact, it propels the end product into the stratosphere.  You gotta try my ~ Smoked Ham and Asparagus in a Béarnaise Quiche ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)

04/04/2020

~My Cheesy Corned-Beef on Rye Reuben Casserole~

IMG_0724I cook corned beef regularly -- three-four times a year.  It's always available at our local Sam's Club, and it has a long shelf-life too, meaning the expiration date is often a month or more out on the calendar.  I always buy two and I always cook two.  After discarding the seasoning packets, I cook them my way, slowly in the crockpot, in a tomato mixture laced with aromatic allspice, cinnamon and cloves.  When done, I cover the tops with brown sugar and bake them in a 350° oven for 20-25 minutes until the sugar crust is bubbly and caramelizing.  It is amazing.  

6a0120a8551282970b0240a44ada52200cMy brown-sugar-crusted corned beef sandwiches served on my homemade bread machine caraway-seeded rye bread have, literally, been described by many as "the best corned beef sandwich you'll ever eat".  That said, I typically don't serve them Rueben-style (with the 'kraut).  We two prefer to eat ours made grilled-cheese-style with a big scoop of Russian- or Thousand Islands-dressed potato salad or cole slaw to the side.

Meet my amazing sugar-crusted corned beef brisket:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4740b87200dWhat does "corned" mean & what is a corned beef brisket?

6a0120a8551282970b0240a44ab822200cA bit about corned beef:  Corned beef is beef brisket that has been brine-cured in a solution of salt and water typically used for pickling or preserving food.  Brisket is the cut of beef taken from the breast section under the first five ribs.  It is sold without the bone and divided into two sections.  The flat-cut has minimal fat and is more expensive than the more flavorful point-cut. 

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

About my cheesy corn-beef on rye Reuben-style casserole:

IMG_0691My husband loves a good Reuben sandwich.  When sitting in a real-deal deli, besides a bowl of matzo-ball soup, I don't recall him EVER ordering anything other than a Reuben.  That said, I never expected he would like a Reuben casserole.  It's one of the few times I've been wrong, and, after making one for the first time three-fours years ago, I regret having waited so long.  Recipes don't vary too much, some folks use pastrami (pastrami is a corned and smoked brisket, corned beef is a corned and simmer-cooked brisket), so, feel free to make that substitution.  As for the bread, any nice light or dark rye bread will work fine.  That said, my recipe is "a cut above" in that it is made with homemade corned beef and homemade rye bread.  Eat your heart out.

IMG_0607For the casserole assembly:

6  slices caraway-seeded rye bread, (12 ounces) preferably home-baked

1  pound thinly-sliced corned beef, preferably home-cooked, divided in half

1  pound bag sauerkraut, rinsed and well-drained

1  pound julienne of thinly-sliced imported Swiss cheese, divided in half 

2  teaspoons caraway seeds, divided in half

1/2  cup dill pickle relish

IMG_0638For the drizzly wet mixture:

1  cup milk

3  large eggs, lightly beaten

6  tablespoons Russian dressing, preferably homemade

1/4  cup whole-grain mustard

IMG_0643~ Step 1. Whisk all ingredients together in a 2-cup measuring container and set aside.

IMG_0614 IMG_0614 IMG_0614 IMG_0614 IMG_0614 IMG_0614 IMG_0614 IMG_0614 IMG_0614 IMG_0614~Step 2.  Spray an 11" x 7" x 2" casserole with no-stick cooking spray.  Cut and arrange four slices of the bread in the bottom of casserole.  Layer 1/2 of the corned beef atop the bread, followed by the sauerkraut, pickle relish and 1 teaspoon of the caraway seeds.  Scatter 1/2 of the Swiss cheese over the top of the sauerkraut layer.  Top with the remaining 1/2 of the corned beef.  Gently, but firmly, press down on the surface to compact it a bit.  Top with the remaining 1/2 of the Swiss cheese and 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds.

IMG_0646 IMG_0646 IMG_0646~ Step 2.  Using a back and forth motion, slowly, and in a thin stream, drizzle the milk mixture over the surface of the casserole, in order to allow the liquid adequate time to filter down through the nooks and crannies.

IMG_0658 IMG_0658 IMG_0658~Step 3.  Tear the remaining 2 slices of bread into pieces and place it in a medium-capacity food processor.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process to crumbs.  Scatter the crumbs evenly over the surface of casserole.  At this point, I like to set the casserole aside for about 30-60 minutes (or longer if I have the time), to give the bread at the bottom time to soak up the liquid.  Cover with foil and bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven 45-50 minutes.  Remove the foil for and continue to bake 5-10 minutes, until the bread crumbs on the top are golden and crisp (watch them carefully so they don't burn).  Remove from oven and allow to rest 10-15 minutes prior to serving.

Enjoy eating a Rueben sandwich w/a knife & fork: 

IMG_0739My Cheesy Corned-Beef on Rye Reuben Casserole:  Recipe yields 8-10 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small colander; 2-cup measuring container; fork; 11" x 7" x 2" casserole; aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b0240a44ab00e200cCook's Note: While I can make two corned beef in my crockpot casserole, in one big pot on the stovetop, in three hours, I can make three corned beef:  one for our favorite sandwiches, one for my Reuben casserole, and, one to cube and freeze in three, 1-pound packages, which, is enough to make three hearty corned beef hash breakfasts at a later date. Check out my simple recipe for ~ The Lazy Lady's Corned Beef Hash ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)

04/02/2020

~Oodles of Tender Chicken & Egg Noodle Casserole~

IMG_0579Chicken-noodle soup is the quintessential comfort food.  While nourishing the body, chicken-noodle soup channels the mind back to kinder, gentler, childhood times. When I was growing up, I don't remember eating canned chicken-noodle soup.  Mom always had one-quart containers of homemade chicken soup in the freezer.  When it was gone, she made more.  That was that, haha, no canned chicken-noodle soup for me.  While stocking my pantry with a few chicken-y staples (four boxes of chicken stock, two jars of granulated chicken bouillon, and, two double-size bags of wide egg noodles), my mind wandered to mom's chicken noodle casserole.

Mom's pantry-staple-based chicken-noodle casserole was different from the chicken-noodle casseroles my friends' moms made.   

Our family didn't eat a lot of casseroles (dad didn't care for casseroles), but, we ate this one. Mom's pantry-staple-based chicken-noodle casserole was different from the chicken-noodle casseroles my friends' moms made in that mom didn't use cream of chicken soup and she didn't use store-bought canned chicken (which was a common ingredient back in the 1950s and 60s. Mom used bouillon, water and a bit of cream, plus, all-white oven-roasted chicken breast. Feel free to substitute two poached chicken breasts or the breast meat from a rotisserie chicken. There's more.  Mom's casserole wasn't cheesy or cheese-topped.  It wasn't topped with bread crumbs or a buttery-rich and crispy Ritz cracker topping either (but those are options).  Left uncovered and alone, the tops of the curly-edged egg noodles brown and crisp on their edges.  

Mom's chicken-noodle casserole was an unembellished dish of humble, pantry-staple, made-with-love wonderfulness.

IMG_050612  ounces wide egg noodles, cooked according to directions below, well-drained

2  cups frozen peas and carrots, steamed in the microwave or cooked on the stovetop, according to package directions

8  tablespoons butter, divided, 5 tablespoons (sliced) for coating noodles and 3 tablespoons for sautéing vegetables

4  tablespoons granulated chicken bouillon, divided, 2 tablespoons for cooking noodles, 2  tablespoons for sautéing vegetables

1  cup small-diced onion

1  cup small-diced celery

2 1/2  cups water

1  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

3/4  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/4  cup Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

4  cups hand-pulled or diced cooke chicken breast

IMG_0473 IMG_0473 IMG_0473 IMG_0473 IMG_0473 IMG_0473 IMG_0473 IMG_0473 IMG_0498 IMG_0498~Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil.  Add 3 tablespoons granulated bouillon to the water (1 1/2 tablespoons salt may be substituted, but the bouillon flavors the noodles as they cook) along with the noodles. Adjust heat to a simmer and cook until noodles are al-dente, about 8-9 minutes.  Drain into a colander and return noodles to pan on still hot stovetop.  Add 5 tablespoon sliced butter and toss until noodles are coated in butter.  Microwave or simmer the peas and carrots, drain them into the colander, then add them to the buttered noodles.  Transfer mixture to a large bowl and set aside.

IMG_0508 IMG_0508 IMG_0508 IMG_0508 IMG_0508 IMG_0508 IMG_0508 IMG_0508~Step 2.  Over low heat, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in the same pan.  Add the diced onions and celery.  Increase heat to medium- medium-high and sauté, stirring constantly until vegetables are softening, 2-3 minutes.  Add the 2 1/2 cups water and stir in 2 tablespoons chicken bouillon, 1 teaspoon onion powder and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder.  Bring to a simmer.

IMG_0529 IMG_0529 IMG_0529 IMG_0529 IMG_0529 IMG_0529 IMG_0529 IMG_0529~Step 3.  In the meantime, in a 1-cup measuring container, use a spoon to stir together the cream and Wonder flour.  The mixture will be thick.  Add it to the now simmering mixture on the stovetop. Stirring constantly, simmer gently until nicely-, but not overly-thickened, about 2-3 minutes.

IMG_0557 IMG_0557 IMG_0557 IMG_0557~Step 4.  Transfer chicken-in-sauce mixture to  the noodle mixture in bowl.  Using a large spoon or rubber spatula, fold to combine.  Transfer casserole mixture to casserole dish.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of 350° oven, 25-30 minutes, until lightly-browned and bubbling.

Stay home & relish in a retro comfort casserole:

IMG_0577Bring on some nice plates & take a generous scoop:

IMG_0594Try a taste of retro-vintage & frugal pantry cooking:

IMG_0597Oodles of Tender Chicken & Egg Noodle Casserole:  Recipe yields 6-8 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; colander; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; large spoon; 1-cup measuring container; spoon; large spoon or rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a501325b200bCook's Note: It gets made in a pot of stock but it's not a soup.  It's not a stew either.  This heartwarming, down-home comfort-food dish is the great-grandmother of all noodle bowls.  Some refer to it as Southern, my experience with it is as an Eastern European, and, I know from first-hand experience the Pennsylvania Deutsch make it too.  I suspect they make it in Midwest as well. It's bite-sized pieces of tender chicken cooked in well-seasoned chicken stock with aromatic carrots, celery, onion and potatoes.  Egg noodles go directly into the pot to cook and absorb almost all the flavorful broth.  When executed properly, there's no need for a slurry (a bland-tasting thickener) -- the starch in the noodles does the work.  Try my recipe for ~ No Soup for You Home-Style Chicken Noodle Bowls ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)