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10 posts from May 2020

05/25/2020

~ Memorial Day Road Trip to Champ's BBQ Chicken ~

IMG_2494Enjoy the long, relaxing Memorial Day holiday weekend by scoring a complete barbecue chicken dinner from Champs Sports Grill.  Located at 1611 North Atherton Street, State College, in Happy Valley, PA, this three day special event features an outdoor roadside grill and guarantees pull-up and pick up within three minutes of arrival in the parking lot.  This winner-winner chicken dinner can be preordered for a specificcally-timed curbside pickup by phoning 234-7700 too.

$39.99 feeds four-six people.  It contains four perfectly-grilled, juicy and tender half-chickens with Mel's BBQ sauce, a pan of Mel's bacon-y baked beans, Champs creamy-crunchy cole slaw, Scott's macaroni salad, and, a big bag of Middleswarth BBQ chips. $10.99 feeds one person.

Available: Saturday and Sunday (5/23 and 5/24) 12:00PM-7:00PM, and, Monday (5/25) 12:00PM-5:00PM.  Come out and show your support for one of State College's all-time best eateries.

Can't make this better at home for less!

IMG_2523"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

05/22/2020

~ Platter Up a Steak, Pasta, Fontina & Catalina Salad ~

IMG_2659No special marinade, no fancy ingredients, no fuss, no muss, no stress.  Yes, you read that right, and, when you and yours sit down to this start-to-finish forty-five-minute main-dish salad, if you aren't smacking your lips while plating your second helping with a satisfied smile on your face, I'll be shocked.  Of course you can embellish it (sprinkle the flank steak your favorite steak-seasoning, grill the steak along with the tomatoes and onion outdoors, and/or make the salad dressing and crunchy croutons from scratch), but, trust me when I tell you, there is no need.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c2b5f2200dAs a lover of sweet and tanilizingly savory combinations, Catalina dressing was always on the door of my mom's refrigerator.  While she and dad didn't, for the most part, ever stray past the bottle of Wish-Bone Italian dressing, for some reason my brother and I gravitated to this red-orange concoction.  While I enjoyed it on chef-type salads that contained "the works" (lots of cheeses and meats), my brother would drench large chunks or wedges of iceberg lettuce with it.

My perfectly-broiled 18-minute flank steak is the centerpiece... 

IMG_65571  large 2-2 1/2  pound flank steak (Note:  At approximately $6.50. per pound, this $25.00-$30.00 steak when paired with a hearty salad will feed 6-8 people.)

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_6570 IMG_6570 IMG_6576 IMG_6576 IMG_6576 IMG_6576~Step 1.  Place flank steak on a corrugated broiler pan and let it come to room temperature about 20-30 minutes.  Season top with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Place 5 1/2"-6" under preheated broiler and cook for exactly 9 minutes. Remove steak from oven.  Flip the steak over and season second side with salt and pepper. Return to broiler and cook another 9 minutes.  Remove from oven and rest steak 9-10 minutes.

IMG_6587 IMG_6587 IMG_6587~Step 2.  Transfer steak to a large cutting board. Holding a large chef's knife at a 30° angle, thinly-slice steak, against the grain, into 1/4" pieces.  Arrange sliced steak atop salad (prepared as directed below while the steak was broiling and resting).  Top the salad with the crunchy croutons and serve immediately drizzled with 1/2 cup Catalina dressing, plus, additional dressing at tableside.

... atop a bed of tomatoey pasta, fontina & Catalina salad:

IMG_25921  pound fork-friendly pasta, drained, rinsed, cooled, dried and lightly-tossed in 1/2  cup dressing dressing (Note:  I'm using creste-di-gallo, "rooster crest", pasta.  It's one of my favorite shapes, and, I describe it as a, tubular, elbow-macaroni shaped, frilly-edged fancy-shmancy version of penne.)

1  head romaine lettuce, cut into 1/2" strips

2-2 1/2  ounces spring mix greens

1/2-3/4  cup very-thinly-sliced red onion, cut into half-moon shapes

1  large seedless cucumber, peeled and thinly-sliced

10  ounces halved grape tomatoes

4-6  ounces shredded Fontina cheese

4  ounces crunchy, Parmesan- or Caesar-seasoned croutons

1 1/2  cups tomatoey Catalina dressing, store-bought or my scratch-made recipe

IMG_2536 IMG_2536 IMG_2536 IMG_2536 IMG_2536 IMG_2536 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2558~Step 1.  To prepare the pasta portion of dinner, in a 5-quart stockpot, bring 3 quarts water to a boil over hight heat and add 1 tablespoons sea salt. Add pasta, adjust heat to a rapid simmer, and cook to al dente, 9-10 minutes.  Drain into a colander and rinse thoroughly under cold water to halt cooking process, and, slightly chill the pasta.  Place pasta on a baking pan that has been lined with plastic wrap and a sheet of parchment.  Set aside to allow pasta to dry free of excess moisture, 10 minutes.  Transfer pasta to a large bowl and add 3/4 cup Catalina dressing.  Toss to coat pasta in dressing and set aside.

IMG_2595 IMG_2595 IMG_2595 IMG_2595 IMG_2595 IMG_2595 IMG_2595~Step 2.  To assemble the salad portion of dinner, chiffonade the romaine and mound it in the center of a large platter.  Arrange the dressed pasta around the romaine.  Top the romaine and parts of the pasta with a layer of spring mix, followed by a layer of onions, cucumbers and tomatoes.  Scatter shredded fontina evenly over all and follow it up with a drizzle of about 1/2 cup dressing.  Arrange the sliced steak on top, scatter the croutons around it, then drizzle the last 1/4 cup dressing over the steak.

Top salad w/sliced steak, croutons & Catalina dressing:

IMG_2654Plate a heaping helping & enjoy some carnivorous heaven: 

IMG_2689Platter Up a Steak, Pasta Fontina & Catalina Salad:  Recipe yields instructions to broil the perfectly-cooked rare- medium-rare flank steak/6-8 servings hearty main-dish salad meals.

Special Equipment List: 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; cutting board; chef's knife; 5-quart stockpot; colander; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; plastic wrap; parchment paper; 1-cup measuring container: large rubber spatula; vegetable peeler; hand-held box grater

6a0120a8551282970b0240a51ae87f200bCook's Note: For those who have a family to feed, current food costs are cause to take many things off the table.  That said, by purchasing a steak and serving it portioned and sliced atop a simple, uncomplicated, well-dressed salad (alongside a side of simple, uncomplicated, well-seasoned steak fries), it turns out to be kinda economical.  For another of my family's favorite steak salads (this one made with a T-Bone and dressed with Wishbone Italian) try my ~ Steakhouse Steak Salad w/Onion-Laced Steak Fries ~.

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

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

05/19/2020

~Eight Delightfully Delicious Rice-a-Roni Dinner Ideas~

IMG_0296Rice-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.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a5229337200bComing up with copycat recipes for three flavors of made-at-home Rice-a-Roni (chicken, beef and Spanish-style) made for a fun few days.  Truth told, I love developing copycat recipes -- I'm good at it too. From sea to shining sea, as items we've come to take for granted disappear from our store shelves, many have reached out to express appreciation for these recipes. There's more.  Many have reached out to request more copycat recipes. ~ Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix & My Copycat Recipe ~  is one example.

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

IMG_0911~ Cajun-Style Chicken, Sausage & Rice-a-Jamba Roni ~

IMG_1009~ Oh-My-Goodness-Good Retro Rice-a-Burger Roni ~

IMG_1156~ Homestyle Chicken and Vegetable Rice-a-Roni Pilaf ~

IMG_1459~ Oh My Long Grain & Wild Rice-a-Roni Turkey Dinner ~

IMG_2205~ Mexican-Style Rice-a-Roni and Chorizo Meatballs ~

IMG_1873~ Easy Chinese-Style Pork-Fried Rice-a-Roni Stir-Fry ~

IMG_1365~ Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings & Rice-a-Roni Bowls ~

IMG_2469"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

05/17/2020

~ Slightly-Spicy Garlic-Butter and Herb Penne Pasta ~

IMG_2363In terms of the easiest-to-make, nicely-spiced, full-of-flavor pasta dish that serves as a foil for almost any Italian-American entrée that contains or is gonna get sauced with red gravy, this is it -- chicken, veal or eggplant Parmesan and chicken cacciatore are off-the-top-of-my-head examples. While you might be temped to toss some Parmesan cheese into this at the end, I don't recommend it.  Trust me, not everything tastes better with cheese riddled through it.  Save the cheese to top the dish in its entirety (even when serving it as a side-dish or eating by itself).

Penne for your thoughts?

IMG_2357Penne is short, tube-shaped fork-friendly durum-wheat pasta shape that originated in Campania, a region in Southern Italy.  Next to spaghetti, it's one of, if not the, most well-known and popular shapes. In Italian circles, it's sometimes referred to as mostaccioli, which references an Italian dish that features this shape.  Dishes made with penne frequently show up on restaurant menus at Italian eateries, especially here in the USA -- we Americans and Italian-Americans have a bone fide love affair with it. The name "penne" comes from the word "pen", which resemble the angled ends of the tip of a quill pen.

Everything tastes better with fork-friendly penne!

IMG_23281  pound penne pasta

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning water for pasta

8 tablespoons salted butter (1 stick, cut into 8-12 pieces)

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, slightly more or less, for heat

IMG_2334 IMG_2334 IMG_2334 IMG_2334~Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot, bring 3 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon salt, followed by the penne.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook until pasta is al dente, about 10-11 minutes.  Turn heat off and remove pot from heat.  

IMG_2346 IMG_2346 IMG_2346 IMG_2346~Step 2.  Drain pasta into a colander and immediately return the steaming hot pasta to the still hot stockpot and place the pot back on the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter pieces, garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend and red pepper flakes.  Using a large spoon stir until butter has melted and pasta is enrobed in a flavorful garlic-butter and herb sauce.  Plate and serve immediately. 

Try it w/my Crockpot Hunter's-Style Chicken-Thigh Cacciatore:

IMG_2392Slightly-Spicy Garlic-Butter and Herb Penny Pasta:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart stockpot; colander; cutting board; paring knife; large spoon; microplane grater

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4e50139200dCook's Note: Choose from any number of proteins we make for dinner.  Examples:  roasted chickengrill-panned steaks or pork chops, slow-cooker spareribs, pan-seared ham slices, broiled fish fillets, steamed or poached shellfish, etc.  I refer to these as flash-in-the pan meals because they go from oven or cooktop in relatively short order.  All you need is a side-dish -- a seriously scrumptious all-purpose side-dish. Try my ~ Egg Noodles & Broccoli in Spicy Garlic-Butter Sauce ~.

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

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

05/15/2020

~ Crockpot Hunter's-Style Chicken-Thigh Cacciatore ~

IMG_2392In the style of the hunter, aka the catcher.  Traditional cacciatore was a thick, rustic stew prepared primarily when the hunter bought home "white meat" to feed his family -- partridges, pheasants or rabbits.  In Italian, the word "cacciatore" means "hunter", and, the term "alla cacciatore" means "in the style of the hunter".  The Italian-American term infers a chicken stew prepared with mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, olives, herbs and red wine. It's pretty easy to imagine how the dish transitioned from game birds and rabbits in Italy to chicken here in America.

Traditional cacciatore is prepared on the stovetop.

Cacciatore is a slow-cooked stew that's traditionally prepared on the stovetop -- the culinary term is "stovetop-braised".  It starts by heating some olive oil in a large skillet.  The "white meat" (I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs) gets dusted with salt, pepper and flour, sautéed until golden brown on both sides, then removed from the skillet.  The pan gets deglazed with the red wine and the flavorful juices are used to sauté the earthy vegetables.  After that, the chicken is returned to the pan, tomatoes are added, and the mixture gently simmers, low and slow, for 1 1/2-2+ hours.

Chicken cacciatore, essentially a slow-cooked stovetop stew, as it turns out, is a delightful dish to cook in the crockpot too.

Because cacciatore is essentially a slow-cooked stew, it is a dish that adapts very well to the crockpot.  That said, for the best flavor, texture and presentation, begin by browning the chicken thighs in some oil in a skillet on the stovetop before putting them in the crockpot.  Past that, all the ingredients, as listed below, just get layered on top of the browned chicken.  The crockpot gets turned to high, and four hours later:  Luscious, succulent chicken thighs swimming in a thick, rich, divinely-seasoned vegetable-laced sauce are ready to serve atop of bed garlic-butter pasta. 

IMG_3106Meet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vehicle for 12 large chicken thighs, to slowly cook in sauce, evenly and in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

IMG_2279To brown the chicken and sausage:

12  large boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1  pound country-style breakfast sausage links

Wondra quick-mixing flour for sauce and gravy, for dusting chicken thighs

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for seasoning chicken thighs

4-6  tablespoons olive oil, for browning chicken thighs

1/2  cup inexpensive port wine, for deglazing pan

For the vegetable additions:

1  cup diced onion

1  cup peeled and diced carrot

1  cup diced red bell pepper

1  4-ounce can sliced mushrooms, well-drained

1  4-ounce can sliced black olives, well-drained

For the sauce and spices:

1  6-ounce can tomato paste

1  tablespoon Italian seasoning blend

2  teaspoons dehydrated minced garlic

2  teaspoons sea salt

1 1/2  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

IMG_2241 IMG_2241 IMG_2241 IMG_2241 IMG_2241 IMG_2241~Step 1.  Place the chicken thighs, as is (meaning do not unroll them), smooth sides up, on a plate or platter.  Lightly dust their tops with flour, following by a grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend. Set aside. Place 4-6 tablespoons olive oil, enough to coat bottom, in a 12" skillet.  Add the sausage links. Over medium-high heat, brown the sausage, about 3-4 minutes per side.  Remove the sausage links from the skillet and set aside.

IMG_2245 IMG_2245 IMG_2245 IMG_2245 IMG_2257~Step 2.  Add the chicken thighs, smooth flour-dusted sides down, to the hot skillet.  Dust the undersides of thighs with flour and lightly-season with sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Adjust heat to sauté, until chicken is golden on both sides, turning only once, about 15-20 minutes (8-10 minutes per side.  While the chicken is sautéing, quickly slice the sausage links into 1/2"-thick coins.  Using a pair of tongs, remove the thighs from the skillet and arrange them, in a single layer, in bottom of crockpot.  Scatter the sausage coins over the chicken.

IMG_2261 IMG_2261 IMG_2261~ Step 3.  Add the wine to the drippings in the skillet. Over medium-high heat, use a large spoon or spatula to deglaze the pan by scraping the stirring to loosen the browned bits from the bottom, cooking and stirring for about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and pour the mixture over the chicken and sausage in crockpot.

IMG_2282 IMG_2282 IMG_2282 IMG_2282 IMG_2282 IMG_2295 IMG_2295 IMG_2295~Step 4.  Scatter the vegetables, the diced onions, carrots, red bell peppers over the chicken thighs and sausage, followed by the well-drained sliced mushrooms and black olives.  Dollop the tomato paste atop the vegetables, followed by the seasonings and the crushed tomatoes.  Using the back of a large spoon and a light touch, spread  crushed tomatoes to the edges of the crock.

IMG_2304 IMG_2304 IMG_2311 IMG_2317 IMG_2317~Step 5.  Cover the crockpot and cook on high for 4 hours.  Remove the lid from Crockpot casserole.  Using a large slotted spoon, gently remove the chicken thighs to a large plate or platter, allowing excess sauce to drizzle back into crock.  Give the sauce a thorough stir.  Portion and serve chicken and a ladle-full of sauce atop garlic-butter and herb pasta.

Serve sauced atop garlic-butter and herb penne pasta:

IMG_2412Crockpot Hunter's Style Chicken-Thigh Cacciatore:  Recipe yields 12 chicken thighs/6 servings and 2 quarts of sauce.

Special Equipment List: 12" nonstick skillet; tongs; cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon or spatula; vegetable peeler; large slotted spoon; ladle

IMG_2363Cook's Note:  To make my slightly-spicy garlic-butter and herb penne pasta:  Over high heat, cook 1 pound penne as package directs, to al dente. Drain thoroughly and return hot pasta to hot stockpot on still warm stovetop. Add 8 tablespoons salted butter (1 stick, cut into pieces), 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend3/4 teaspoon sea salt, and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Stir until butter has melted and pasta is coated.

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

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

05/12/2020

~Oh My Long Grain & Wild Rice-a-Roni Turkey Dinner~

IMG_2205As a creature of habit, Sunday is my day to roast something -- sometimes it's a long and lean eye-of-round beef roast, others times it's one or two plump roasting chickens or the biggest whole turkey breast I can find.  Oddly, this "roast du jour" is rarely our Sunday dinner.  I do it to have on hand to round-out a quick-to-make weeknight dinner or two, or to slice and eat in place of deli-meat in weekday sandwiches.  Today I'm talkin' winner-winner flash-in-the-pan turkey dinner.

Let's talk winner-winner flash-in-the-pan turkey dinner.

IMG_2223A box or three of Uncle Ben's long-grain & wild rice mix was a staple in my mom's pantry and I've carried on the tradition with Rice-a-Roni's version.  It and its seasoning packet combine to make a quick side-dish that generically (without additions) pairs well with almost anything (beef, poultry or pork).  By adding a vegetable or two to the mix during the last few minutes of the cooking process, it can be turned into a deliciously-easy one-skillet meal -- in less than 30 minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a5229337200bIn the case of this long-grain & wild Rice-a-Roni turkey dinner 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.  By 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, onion and apple, a can of sliced mushrooms, and a bag of frozen sweet potatoes.

IMG_2131Oven-Braising a Whole Turkey Breast couldn't be easier. Oven-braising is a cooking method that combines moist and dry heat.  The process starts on the stovetop (in a Dutch oven), where it is seared in fat or oil, to seal in the juices (in the case of an oven-braised turkey breast, there is no need for this cumbersome task). The vessel of food is then placed, tightly covered, at a high, low, or combination of high and low heat, to braise in the moist heat created inside the vessel.

Long grain & wild rice + apples, celery, onion, mushrooms & sweet potatoes -- what a sweet and savory combination. 

IMG_2168For the Long-Grain & Rice-a-Roni Turkey dinner:

3  tablespoons salted butter

2  4.3-ounce boxes Long Grain & Wild Rice-a-Roni Rice + seasoning packets

1 1/2  cups peeled and diced apple

1  cup diced onion

1  cup diced celery

3 1/3  cups water, which includes 1/2 cup liquid from 1, 4-ounce can sliced mushrooms (from below), 3 1/2 total cups liquid

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon poultry seasoning

1  4-ounce can sliced mushrooms, well-drained

1  9-ounce bag brown-sugar-seasoned steam-in-bag sweet potatoes, steamed according to package directions

1  oven-braised turkey breast, sliced

homemade or store-bought turkey gravy, your favorite brand, warmed, for dipping or drizzling, for accompaniment

applesauce sauce, for accompaniment

IMG_2173 IMG_2173 IMG_2173 IMG_2173~Step 1. Over low heat, melt the butter in bottom of pan.  Prepare the long-grain and wild Rice-a-Roni according to package directions, starting by stirring the long-grain and white rice into the melted butter, while stirring constantly for about 1 minute until mixture is foamy.  Stir in the diced apple, celery and onions and cook about 1 more minute, again, stirring constantly.

IMG_2185 IMG_2185 IMG_2185Step 2. Slowly add the water 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_2191 IMG_2191 IMG_2191 IMG_2191~Step 3. Cover pan and adjust heat to gently simmer until rices are cooked through and have absorbed almost all liquid, 25-30 minutes.  Do not uncover pan during this time.  Add sweet potatoes and mushrooms.  Cover and let residual heat to heat sweet potatoes and mushrooms, about 5 minutes.  Uncover and gently stir potatoes and mushrooms into rice mixture.

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

IMG_2209Oh My Long Grain & Wild Rice-a-Roni Turkey Dinner:  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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a500475e200d 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c92e1f14970bCook's Note: 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. For a variation on the same Rice-a-Roni theme, try my recipe for ~ Homestyle Chicken and Vegetable Rice-a-Roni Pilaf ~.

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

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

05/09/2020

~Oven-Braising a Turkey Breast without a Dutch Oven~

IMG_2131Let's talk turkey.  Whole frozen birds and whole thawed breasts, were, for the most part, always available year round, but, at present, folks seem to be noticing them more -- especially the whole breasts.  Considering the increasing scarcity, not-to-mention skyrocketing prices of beef and pork products, people are in search of relatively inexpensive alternatives that can feed an entire family. A whole turkey breast is one wise-choice item, but, based on the questions coming to me via KE recently, many first-time stay-at-home-full-time cooks find themselves overwhelmed, intimidated and confused by a product they've passed by more times than they'd like to admit.  

While almost everyone knows how to, or has some experience with, roasting a whole turkey, when in the possession of a whole turkey breast, one of two questions frequently come my way.  #1) I purchased a whole turkey breast.  What's the best way to cook it?  #2)  I roasted a whole turkey breast and it was dry.  What did I do wrong?  The answers:   The best way to cook a turkey breast is to oven-braise it.  While you roast a whole turkey, you can't roast a turkey breast. There's more.  While braising is usually done in an expensive pot called a "Dutch oven", when it comes to braising a turkey breast, there's no need to throw down your trust fund to purchase one.

A relatively expensive, not-to-mention heavy Dutch oven is not required to perfectly oven-braise a turkey breast.

IMG_2043Newsflash.  You do not need a heavy, expensive Dutch oven to successfully oven-braise a turkey breast.  Full stop.  Do not let anyone tell you you do.  Period.  Le Creuset, Staub, Lodge, Cuisinart, AmazonBasics, to name a few, they're all excellent products that all do the same thing and they do it well.  I've got a few different brands, and, as a seasoned chef, trust me, past the price differential, there is no discernible difference between any of these brands.  If you've got one, flaunt it, but, if you don't, and don't have a budget to support the purchase, worry not.  

A wire rack inserted in a $1.69 disposable aluminum pan tightly-covered with aluminum foil does the same thing.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c48035200dIn my kitchen, turkey has never been a once-a-year celebratory meal complete with pomp and circumstance.  Oven-roasted turkey, oven-braised turkey breast, and, poached turkey tenderloins get served a few times a year. Sometimes it arrives at the dinner table in the form of a simplified turkey dinner with gravy, other times it arrives at the table in the form of turkey à la king, turkey tetrazzini, turkey divan, classic hot brown sandwiches, turkey chef salads, or cold turkey sandwiches.  That said, aside from our Turkey day celebration, for the rest of the year it's a whole turkey breast that I choose to use, and, I never, EVER, bring out one of my fancy Dutch ovens to do the job.  Why?  There's simply no reason to make an already heavy pot heavier by adding a turkey breast, especially when I won't be impressing anyone by serving my turkey out of it.  Save the pot for something elegant.

What's the difference between roasting & oven-braising?  

Roasting is a cooking method that uses dry heat.  The food is placed in a roasting pan, atop a rack or a melange of vegetables (to keep it from "stewing in it's own juices").  The food is placed in the oven, uncovered, at a high, low, or combination of high and low heat, to roast in the dry heat of the oven until the desired internal temperature is reached.  The food is usually, but not always, basted regularly during the cooking process to retain moisture and enhance flavor.

Oven-Braising is a cooking method that typically combines moist and dry heat.  The process starts on the stovetop (in a Dutch oven), where it is seared in fat or oil, to seal in the juices (in the case of an oven-braised turkey breast, there is no need for this cumbersome task).  The vessel of food is then placed, tightly covered, at a high, low, or combination of high and low heat, to braise in the moist heat created inside the vessel, until the desired internal temperature is reached.

My recipe for turkey breast + drippings to make plenty of gravy:

IMG_20521  whole thawed turkey breast, at or close to room temperature

2  cups chicken stock (16 ounces)

1/2  cup diced onion

1/2  cup diced celery

3-4  small fresh rosemary sprigs

2  tablespoons butter, melted

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_2059 IMG_2059 IMG_2059 IMG_2059~Step 1.  Insert a wire rack in a 13" x 9" x 4" disposable aluminum pan to which 2 cups chicken stock, 1/2 cup diced onion, 1/2 cup diced celery and 3-4 small fresh rosemary sprigs have been added.  Stand the turkey breast upright on the rack.  If turkey breast does not want to stand upright, use a pair of poultry shears to quickly trim a few rib bones off bottom of breast.

IMG_2069 IMG_2069 IMG_2069 IMG_2069 IMG_2069 IMG_2069~Step 2.  In small bowl or ramekin, melt the butter in the microwave.  Using a pastry brush, paint the entire surface area of the turkey breast. Generously season the breast with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Using a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil, cover and tightly seal the turkey, air-tight, in the pan.  In the event you accidentally perforate, tear or rip the foil, start over with a new sheet of foil.

Meet the oven-braising chart I've compiled over 40 years:

~ Step 3.  On lowest rack of 450º oven, time and cook tightly-covered turkey breast as follows:

1 hour, 30 minutes (for a 3-3 1/2-pound split, turkey breast half)

1 hour, 45 minutes (for a 4-4 1/2-pound split, turkey breast half)

2 hours (for a 5-6-pound whole turkey breast)

2 hours, 15 minutes (for a 6-7-pound whole turkey breast)

2 hours, 30 minutes (for a 7-8-pound whole turkey breast)

2 hours, 45 minutes (for an 8-9-pound whole turkey breast)

3 hours (for a 9-10-pound whole turkey breast)

IMG_2098 IMG_2098~ Step 4.  Plan A.  When breast has braised according to the specified amount of time, remove it from the oven.  Allow to rest, covered, for 30-45 minutes prior to uncovering, removing the turkey meat from the breast bones, slicing and serving.

Plan B:  When breast has braised according to the specified amount of time, remove it from the oven.  Uncover pan (reserve the foil).  Transfer breast to a plate or platter, cover it with reserved foil and set aside to rest, covered, for 30-45 minutes, while preparing the gravy as follows:

IMG_2148 IMG_2148~Step 5.  Lift up the pan and pour the flavorful drippings into a 1-quart-sized fat/lean separator. After discarding the fat portion, there will be 3-3 1/2 cups of very nicely-seasoned drippings (which may be refrigerated or frozen for a later date).

IMG_6258 IMG_6258 IMG_6258 IMG_6258 IMG_6258 IMG_6258 IMG_6258~Step 6.  To make gravy, in a 2-quart saucepan, over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons salted butter over low heat.  

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0a00852d970d~ Step 6.  As pictured above, whisk in 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning. Increase heat to medium and whisk until mixture is thick, pasty and foamy.  Whisk in all of the fat-free drippings.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer, while continuing to whisk constantly, and cook until gravy has has thickened to your liking and coats the back of a spoon, about 2-3 minutes.  Yield: 3-3/12 cups gravy. Store leftovers in refrigerator.

Mouthwateringly moist, fork-tender all-white meat turkey breast:  

IMG_2128Oven-Braising a Turkey Breast without a Dutch Oven:  Recipe yields instructions to oven-braise one whole turkey breast and make 3-3 1/2 cups gravy/6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2-cup measuring container; 13" x 9" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan; wire rack; poultry shears (optional); small bowl or ramekin; pastry brush; heavy duty aluminum foil; 1-quart fat/lean separator; 2-quart saucepan; wire risk 

6a0120a8551282970b0263e947b836200bCook's Note:  Got chicken on your mind? Rotisserie 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. Try ~ This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken + My Stressfree Carving-for-Dummies Methodology ~.  Gobble, gobble.

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

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

05/07/2020

~ Making Slow-Cooker Buffalo-Style Chicken Wings ~

IMG_2111When it comes to Buffalo-style wings, my mindset is, everybody into the pot.  Nothing beats the 14-minute deep-fry.  Sure, wings can be oven-roasted or grilled, but, it's my opinion those two methods compromise the end result -- the first doesn't render them crispy enough, the latter dries them out.  Oh gosh yes, for chicken-wing lovers who are fearful of frying, they are seemingly wonderful.  That said, nothing can compete with a deep-fried chicken wing straight out of the fryer basket -- crispy outer skin, fall-off-the-bone tender inner meat.  That's my opinion.  That said:

The crockpot?  Yes.  It's a decidedly different approach with a decidedly different, but lip-smackingly good outcome.

As odd as this is going to sound, the crockpot works great too.  Huh?  The crockpot?  Yep, crazily it does.  First, the wings gently cook in the orange-colored vinegary sauce for a lengthy, 3 hours (aka they've got plenty of time to suck up all that flavor).  Second, they go under the broiler for a brief, 4-5 minutes to sort-of crisp them up.  It's a decidedly-different approach resulting in a decidedly-different outcome from traditional deep-fried wings, but, they are oh-so flavorful. They're downright mouth-watering, slightly-sticky and lip-smacking succulent.  Different, but really good.

IMG_2114Meet my Crockpot Casserole Crock:

IMG_3106Meet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vehicle for 2 1/2-3 pounds of chicken wings, to cook evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

2 1/2-3  pounds chicken wings, drumettes and flats

1 112-ounce bottle Frank's RedHot Buffalo Wing Sauce, or your favorite brand of wing sauce

6  tablespoons honey

4  tablespoons salted butter

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole

celery and carrot sticks, for garnish

blue cheese or Ranch dressing, for dipping or drizzling

6a0120a8551282970b0263e9466eaa200b 6a0120a8551282970b0263e9466eaa200b~ Step 1. Spray the inside of the crock casserole with no-stick cooking spray. Arrange the wings, in a single layer, side-by-side and close together, slightly-overlapping if necessary (just be sure not to pile them on top of each other).

IMG_1979 IMG_1979 IMG_1979~ Step 2.  In a 1 1/2-quart saucepan place wing sauce, honey and butter over medium heat.  Whisking constantly, cook until the butter has melted into the wing sauce and the mixture is uniform in color, about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a 2-cup measuring container.  Yield:  2 cups sauce.

IMG_1986 IMG_1986 IMG_1986 IMG_1986~Step 3. Slowly drizzle 1 cup of the wing sauce evenly over the tops of wings. Cover crockpot. Cook on high for  2 1/2-3 hours (2 1/2 hours for smaller wings, 3 hours for larger wings).

IMG_2002 IMG_2002 IMG_2002 IMG_2002 IMG_2002IMG_2017IMG_2017~Step 4. Preheat broiler with oven rack positioned about 5" under the heat. Line a large 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with aluminum foil, then place a sheet of parchment in the bottom of pan, followed by a wire rack.  Remove the lid from crockpot.  One-at-a-time remove the wings.  Arrange the wings, side-by-side and slightly-apart (no overlapping) on prepared baking pan.  Using a pastry brush generously paint the the tops, sides and undersides with additional wing sauce (about 1 cup).

IMG_2023 IMG_2023~ Step 5. Place pan of wings under the broiler 4-5 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and wings are starting to showing signs of browning and charring. Watch carefully.  Wing sauce contains sugar, which goes from browned to burned quickly.

Take a taste & plate 'em & serve 'em (w/plenty of napkins):

IMG_2035Making Slow-Cooker Buffalo-Style Chicken Wings:  Recipe yields 20-24 wings/4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List: Crockpot's casserole crock or Crockpot; 1 1/2-quart saucepan; wire whisk; 2-cup measuring container; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; wire cooling rack; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b0263ec18400e200cCook's Note: Teriyaki is a Japanese term referring to a method of cooking beef, chicken, fish or seafood marinated (in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic and/or ginger) prior to being grilled, broiled or stir-fried. "Teri" is the Japanese word for "luster", and it's the sugar that gives the food its "teri" or shiny glaze.  In Japan, there is no official teriyaki sauce.  Teriyaki sauce was invented by the early Japanese settlers to the islands of Hawaii.  Try my  ~ Slow-Cooker Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings ~.

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

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

05/05/2020

~Slow Cooker Japanese Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f5d2e8970dWhen it comes to Buffalo-style wings, my mindset is, everybody into the pot.  Nothing beats the 14-minute deep-fry.  Sure, wings can be oven-roasted or grilled, but, it's my opinion those two methods compromise the end result -- the first doesn't render them crispy enough, the latter dries them out.  Oh gosh yes, for chicken-wing lovers who are fearful of frying, they are seemingly wonderful.  That said, nothing can compete with a deep-fried chicken wing straight out of the fryer basket -- crispy outer skin, fall-off-the-bone tender inner meat.  That's my opinion.  Period.  

As odd as this is going to sound, the crockpot works great too.  Huh?  The crockpot?  Yep, crazily it does.  First, the wings slowly and gently cook in almost any type of sauce for a lengthy, 3 hours (aka they've got plenty of time to suck up all that flavor).  Second, they go under the broiler for a brief, 5-6 minutes to sort-of crisp them up.  It's a decidedly-different approach resulting in a decidedly-different outcome from traditional deep-fried wings, but, they are oh-so flavorful. They're downright mouth-watering, slightly-sticky and lip-smacking succulent.  Different, but really good.

A bit about teriyaki and teriyaki sauce:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2dcd867970cTeriyaki (tehr-uh-yah-kee):  Teriyaki is a Japanese term referring to a method of cooking beef, chicken, fish or seafood marinated (in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic and/or ginger) prior to being grilled, broiled or stir-fried. "Teri" is the Japanese word for "luster", and it is the sugar in the marinade that gives the food its "teri" or shiny glaze.  It's interesting to note that in Japan, there is no official teriyaki sauce.  Teriyaki sauce was invented by the early Japanese settlers to the islands of Hawaii.  They created:

A slightly-sweet nicely-thickened marinade/basting sauce using local, readily-available, easy-to-acquire Hawaiian products.  For example: pineapple juice (in place of the mirin or sake of their homeland) and wild garlic (in conjuction with ginger they brought with them), mixed with soy sauce and thickened with cornstarch.  The subject at hand (beef, chicken, fish or seafood) is marinated for a minimum of 30 minutes, longer for a more pronounced flavor, then cooled.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9596c70970bHomemade teriyaki sauce is thick and drizzly.  At its thinnest, it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and, at the discretion of the cook, in many cases thicker than that.  That said, many store-brought brands are watery (similar in consistency to soy sauce), and, they will not work in this recipe.  Ideally, the teriyaki sauce should be similar in consistency to a hearty barbecue sauce.  What I keep on-hand and recommend is: Panda Express Mandarin brand teriyaki sauce.

Meet my Crockpot casserole crock:

IMG_3106Meet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vehicle for 2 1/2-3 pounds of chicken wings, to cook evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

Japanese teriyaki meets American chicken wings:

IMG_19112 1/2-3  pounds chicken wings, drumettes and flats

1 1/2-2  cups from 1, 20-ounce bottle Panda Express Mandarin Teriyaki sauce, or my homemade teriyaki sauce

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole

sesame seeds, for garnish

thinly-sliced scallion tops, for garnish

additional teriyaki sauce, for dipping and drizzling

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09fc9b8f970d IMG_1912Step 1.  Spray the inside of the crock casserole with no-stick cooking spray. Arrange the wings, in a single layer, side-by-side and close together, slightly-overlapping if necessary (just don't pile them on top of each other).

IMG_1919 IMG_1919 IMG_1919 IMG_1928~Step 2. Slowly drizzle 3/4 cup teriyaki sauce, evenly over the tops of the wings. Cover crockpot. Cook on high for  2 1/2-3 hours (2 1/2 hours for smaller wings, 3 hours for larger wings).

IMG_1930 IMG_1930 IMG_1930 IMG_1952 IMG_1952~Step 3. Preheat broiler with oven rack positioned about 5" under the heat.  Line a large 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with aluminum foil, then place a sheet of parchment in the bottom of pan, followed by a wire rack.  Remove the lid from crockpot.  One-at-a-time remove the wings.  Arrange the wings, side-by-side and slightly-apart (no overlapping) on prepared baking pan.  Using a pastry brush generously paint the the tops, sides and undersides with additional teriyaki sauce (about 3/4 cup).  Lightly-sprinkle tops of wings with sesame seeds.

IMG_1956 IMG_1956~ Step 4. Place pan of wings under the broiler 5-6 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and sesame seeds are starting to show signs of light browning. Watch carefully.  Teriyaki sauce contains sugar, which goes from nicely-browned to burned quickly.

Take a taste & plate 'em & serve 'em (w/plenty of napkins):

IMG_1967Slow Cooker Japanese Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings: Recipe yields 20-24 wings/4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  Crockpot's casserole crock or Crockpot; 2-cup measuring container; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; wire cooling rack; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9598585970bCook's Note: How you cook spare-ribs is your business.  Here in Happy Valley, sometimes we smoke 'em, sometimes we grill 'em, occasionally I make them in the oven, and, recently, I've started experimenting with slow-cooking them.  Past that, even if you aren't a fan of crocket science, it might interest you to know that Japanese-seven-spice blend and teriyaki sauce is a delicious alternative to typical ribs: ~ Teriyaki Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare-Ribs ~.

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

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

05/03/2020

~How and Why to Proof Pizza Dough Two Easy Ways~

IMG_1638Wouldn't it be great if the moment the smooth, round ball of pizza dough was kneaded we could slap it on the pan, pat it out, slather it with sauce, layer it with toppings and pop it in the oven? It sure would, but, unfortunately, we can't -- well, we can, but the end result is somewhat less than palatable. "Proofing" pizza dough, meaning, "the time it takes for the dough to rise after it has been kneaded and initially bulk-proofed", is the most important step in the pizza making process. Sadly, it's all-too-often not taken seriously -- it gets rushed.  Great crust comes to those who wait.

  Plan ahead.  A great crust comes to those who wait.

After the ingredients have been mixed and kneaded together, everyone knows to cover the dough, place it in a warm place and wait for it to double in size.  This takes roughly 45-60 minutes.  During this time, the dough fills itself with carbon dioxide (CO2) bubbles --  this is what gives the finished crust a light, airy texture. After this initial "bulk rise" it's time to give the dough another brief knead, to knock the big bubbles out, split dough into balls and give it the all important second proof, which develops more flavor and texture. This second proof requires time, a couple hours or overnight, via either the "quick-proof method" or the "cold-proof method".

As for the quick-proof method:  It's indeed faster.  Let's face it, when the craving for pizza hits, no one is in the mood to wait any longer than necessary.  This method will produce a dense, sort of chewy, decidedly thinner crust with a hint of the taste of the yeast.  It will take a bit of time, 10-15 minutes, to pat it out in the pan, as it doesn't stretch as easy as the the cold-proof method.

As for the cold-proof method:  The tortoise and the hare scenario.  The flavor is much improved. Tick, tock.  The time spent waiting allows this dough to develop lots of extra air bubbles, resulting in a decidedly lighter, airier, thicker crust with a crispier bottom.  It only takes a few moments, 2-3 minutes, to pat it out in the pan, as it stretches much easier than the quick-proof method.

For demo purposes:  An all-purpose pizza dough recipe.

IMG_16341 1/2  cups warm water

2  tablespoons olive oil

4 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons sugar

2  packets granulated dry yeast

Yield:  2-pounds, 2-ounces dough/2, 12" pizzas.

************

Short on time?  The quick-proof method.

Place 1 ball of dough on a lightly-oiled 9" plate:

IMG_1663Cover w/a large glass bowl & set aside 2 hours:

IMG_1664Uncover & proceed w/recipe as directed:

IMG_1668************

Got time on your side?  The cold-proof method.

Place 1 ball of dough in a lightly-oiled 2-quart bowl:

IMG_1649Cover w/an oiled lid or plastic wrap.  Refrigerate 24-48 hours:

IMG_1653Return to room temp (2 hrs.) & proceed w/recipe as directed:

IMG_1674************

IMG_1707************

IMG_1895 2"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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