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12 posts from June 2020


~ Southwestern-Style Macaroni, Bean & Corn Salad ~

IMG_3393Macaroni salad has always been a staple at our Fourth of July feast -- just call me a Yankee Doodle.  That said, depending on what I'm serving, I don't make it the same way every year.  My recipe for classic macaroni salad goes on the table when we're serving all-American hamburgers and hot dogs.  This year because Texican-style BBQ'd chicken and ribs (the ribs on Saturday evening and the chicken on Sunday afternoon) will be in the center of the table, my Southwestern-style macaroni, bean and corn salad will the star of the side-dishes on both days.

While easy to prepare, this is not just "this and that".  This salad is a well-balanced, thoughtful, combination of flavor & texture:

IMG_3390A bit about the combination of ingredients in this recipe:  Beans and sweet corn kernels, common to the Southwest, add great flavor, texture and color to this macaroni salad.  Briny olives and acidic tomatoes, plus aromatic red onion and cilantro add to all the Southwestern flavor one could possible ask for.  There's more.  The creamy dressing gets store-bought fresh salsa stirred into it, which in itself, is full of more flavor-packed ingredients (onion, garlic, cilantro, jalapeño, tomato, lime juice, etc.). As for bell peppers, I don't add them because they tend to take over the subtly-blended taste of this salad. As for avocados, as much as I love them, I avoid the urge to add them, except, to say, if you want to add them, dice them and add them at the last minute and just to the individual servings.  Why?  In less than an hour they start to turn color, in a few hours they start to get mushy, and, longer than that, they muddle up the color and texture beyond recovery.

Simple to make.  Flavor-packed.  Best made a day ahead:

IMG_3368For the macaroni salad:

1  pound macaroni, your favorite shape (Note:  I chose to use nuvole/"clouds", which is a small, roundish, coiled pasta with plenty of grooves to hold the dressing.

1  15-ounce can black beans or red kidney beans, rinsed and well-drained (about 2 cups beans)

1  15-ounce sweet corn kernels, well-drained (about 2 cups cooked corn kernels)

1  2.25-ounce can sliced black olives, well-drained (about 1/2 cup)

1  10-ounce box grape tomatoes, sliced in half (a generous 1 cup)

1  cup small-diced red onion (while green onion may be substituted, it really doesn't have enough flavor to hold its own in this salad)

1/2  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves and some stems are ok

IMG_3353For the dressing:

1  cup store-bought fresh salsa

3/4  cup sour cream or Mexican crema

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1  tablespoons fresh lime juice, or, high-quality organic not-from-concentrate lime juice

1  tablespoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_3370~ Step 1. To cook, drain and properly dry macaroni, in an 8-quart stockpot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil.  Add 1  tablespoon sea salt. Add pasta and cook as package directs until al dente, usually 9-11 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Drain into colander and rinse under cold water to halt cooking process and remove the starch (which makes it gummy). Transfer to and spread pasta out on a baking pan lined with parchment.  Drain and "dry" (meaning free from moisture, not dried out), about 20-30 minutes.

IMG_3373 IMG_3373~ Step 2.  Transfer the pasta to a large bowl.  Add the beans, corn, olives, tomatoes, red onion and cilantro.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the vegetables into the macaroni.  Set aside while preparing dressing as directed in the next step.

IMG_3356 IMG_3356 IMG_3356 IMG_3356 IMG_3356~Step 3.  To prepare  dressing, using a slotted spoon measure 1 cup of salsa from the jar, allowing excess liquid to drain back.  Transfer cup of salsa to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain of excess liquid, 1-2 minutes. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, place and stir together the sour cream, mayo, lime juice, cumin and sea salt.  Add and stir in the drained salsa.

IMG_3379 IMG_3379~ Step 4.  Transfer all of the dressing to the large bowl containing the macaroni mixture.  Using the large rubber spatula, gently fold the dressing into the pasta mixture, until ingredients are completely enrobed in the creamy dressing.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours (6-8) or overnight -- overnight is best.

Perfect served w/barbecued chicken or any type of ribs: 

IMG_3417Southwestern-Style Macaroni & Black Bean Salad:  Recipe yields 12 cups/3 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot; large colander; baking pan; parchment; large rubber spatula; large slotted spoon; paper towels; plastic wrap

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d131f9da970cCook's Note: "Yankee Doodle went to town, riding on a pony, stuck a feather in his hat, and, called it macaroni."  If you've ever wondered why Yankee Doodle would name his feather macaroni, this post will explain.  Sans the folk who think Kraft Foods invented macaroni, food historians agree it had its humble beginning in the kitchen of Thomas Jefferson, who returned from a trip to Paris with a macaroni press which he bought in Italy.  Thank-you Mr. Jefferson for introducing macaroni to America, more importantly, macaroni and cheese.  Try my ~ Fourth of July Yankee Doodle Dandy Macaroni Salad ~.

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

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


~ Italian-Style Fried Pasta Pancake -- Pasta a Frittata ~

IMG_3331 2Fried spaghetti at midnight.  It's kind-of a joke in our house, but, when it comes to late-night snacking in ten minutes or less, reheating a slice of cold pizza in a skillet or frying a portion of leftover spaghetti are at the top of my short list.  It goes without saying, frying spaghetti in less than ten minutes does require having cooked, lightly-seasoned, spaghetti in the refrigerator. For reasons unknown to me, this dish works better with day-old pasta (any type can technically be used), and, while the pasta can be lightly-sauced, I prefer it made with unsauced spaghetti. 

Pasta a frittata is an age-old, very traditional Neapolitan dish that, depending on the family or the area it's prepared in, can be made in various ways -- it lends itself to almost all interpretations. Like many Italian dishes, it was a poor man's dish.  Leftovers were never thrown away, they were repurposed.  In the case of (sauced or unsauced) leftover pasta, it was thrown into a skillet with some beaten egg and bits of whatever was on-hand (sometimes crisply-fried bacon or guanciale, other times bits of salami or sopressata and/or cubes of mozzarella, and always, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese).  After a few short minutes, this crispy-and-golden-on-the-outside, soft-and-creamy-in-the-center comfort-food got gobbled up for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner.

My basic 10-minute 5-ingredient recipe for pasta a frittata:

IMG_32758  cups my recipe for slightly-spicy garlic & italian-herbs buttered pasta (Note:  1 pound thick spaghetti cooked to al dente, drained and tossed with 1 stick salted butter, 1  teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend, 3/4  teaspoon sea salt, and, 1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes.), 24-28 ounces

8  large eggs

8  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1  tablespoon salted butter

1  tablespoon olive oil

IMG_3280 IMG_3280 IMG_3280 IMG_3280 IMG_3280 IMG_3280~Step 1.  In a large bowl, using a hand-held egg beater or a whisk, beat the eggs until smooth. Beat in the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.  Add spaghetti.  Use a large rubber spatula to fold, until spaghetti is thoroughly coated in the liquid.

IMG_3277 IMG_3277 IMG_3277 IMG_3277 IMG_3277 IMG_3277 IMG_3277 IMG_3277 IMG_3277~Step 2.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt the butter into the oil over low heat. Pour noodle mixture into pan.  Increase heat slightly and allow it to setup on the bottom, about 1 minutes.  Increase heat to medium.  Continue to cook, running a thin spatula around sides, and gently lifting from time to time, until pancake is golden on the bottom, 4-5 minutes.  Flip the pancake over by using a wide nonstick spatula to help slide it onto a plate.  Next, invert skillet on top of plate, then, using pot holders (the skillet is hot), flip the plate and the pan over.  Return to heat and cook on second side until golden on bottom and center has firmed up, 2-3 minutes.

Got leftovers?  Store in the refrigerator.  Slice & eat cold, at room temperature, or, reheat in microwave.  Perfect for a school lunch box, brown bag lunch to the office, or late-night snack: 

IMG_3314Italian-Style Fried Spaghetti Pancake -- Pasta a Frittata:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held egg beater or whisk; microplane grater; 10" nonstick skillet; thin nonstick spatula; wide nonstick spatula; 9" dinner plate

IMG_3257Cook's Note: The perfect foil means, the perfect background.  Paint anything edible into this photo and it will be great meal.  Tick, tock.  In the case of this super-versatile, 15-minute to make side-dish (Slightly-Spicy Garlic & Italian-Herbs Buttered Pasta), truer words were never spoken. When you have no time to make another run to the grocery store but still have a hungry family to please ASAP, this is the perfect side to serve -- everyone loves pasta.  It goes great with a broiled chicken breast, a grilled pork chop, a pan-seared steak, a handful of steamed shrimp, etc.  Add a steamed green vegetable or whip up a simple garden salad and dinner is on the table, and, your day (pour the wine) is done. 

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

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


~ Slightly-Spicy Garlic & Italian-Herbs Buttered Pasta ~

IMG_3262The perfect foil means, the perfect background.  Paint anything edible into this photo and it will be great meal.  Tick, tock.  In the case of this 15-minute to make side-dish, truer words were never spoken. When you have no time to make a run to the grocery store but still have a hungry family to please, this is the perfect side to serve -- everyone loves pasta.  It goes great with a broiled chicken breast, a grilled pork chop, a pan-seared steak, a handful of steamed shrimp, etc.  Add a steamed green vegetable or garden salad and dinner is on the table, and, your day is done. 

True story.  When I was a kid, my kid brother would only eat pasta with butter.  While the rest of us were slurping our marinara sauced and Parmesan cheese topped mounds, he'd sit and watch those yellow pats melt over his bowl of steaming hot spaghetti, tossing and twirling it until it was enrobed and glistening.  Sometimes he'd add cheese, other times, not.  I swear, he could eat his weight in it.  And you know what?  It got the best of us.  It became so mouth-watering to watch him do it, mom started tossing ALL of our spaghetti with salted butter, a few dried spices and a pinch of red pepper flakes, BEFORE she added the sauce -- pasta simply loves to suck up all those flavors.  To this day, everyone asks me why my pasta tastes better than anyone elses.

My brother's favorite pasta the way mom made it for him:  

IMG_32231  pound thick spaghetti

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_3226 IMG_3226 IMG_3226 IMG_3226 IMG_3240 IMG_3240 IMG_3240~Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven or a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot, bring 2 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon salt, followed by the spaghetti.  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_3248 IMG_3248 IMG_3248 IMG_3248 IMG_3248~Step 2.  Drain pasta into a colander and immediately return the steaming hot pasta to the still hot pot 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 & serve immediately with or without cheese:   

IMG_3257Slightly-Spicy Garlic & Italian-Herbs Buttered Pasta:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List: 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven or 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot; colander; cutting board; paring knife; large spoon; microplane grater (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b0264e2dbc0e3200dCook'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)


~Old-School One-Skillet Golden Home-Fried Potatoes~

IMG_3199Home-fried potatoes, also known as cottage fries -- potatoes, peeled or unpeeled, sliced into thinnish discs, lightly-seasoned and pan-fried with some sliced onion in a bit of oil and/or butter (shredded or diced potatoes are called hash browns).  Home fries are as delicious for breakfast as they are with dinner.  That said, when it comes to making home fries, there are two schools of thought.  One is to pan-fry par-cooked (steamed, boiled or microwaved baked) potatoes.  The other is to pan-fry raw potatoes.  In my food world, be it for breakfast or dinner, I don't need the added step of par-cooking the potatoes.  In a diner/restaurant, yea, I get it, this task can be done ahead of time and actually saves time.  In my home kitchen, par-cooking misses the point.

Thoughts & musings about home fries in my kitchen:

IMG_3174Some folks use Russet potatoes, and, that's fine. That said, over the years, I've fallen in love with Yukon golds, and, I adore home fries made with them. There's more. While salt and pepper are the only seasonings I use on my humble home fries, feel free to substitute garlic- or onion-salt for salt.  I fry in a mixture of butter and oil (to prevent the butter from burning).  My potatoes get peeled and sliced to a thickness of about 1/4".  Using peeled or unpeeled potatoes, making home fries with raw potatoes takes 28-30 minutes.

No razzle, no dazzle, just humble home fries:  

IMG_31762  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons corn or vegetable oil

2 1/4-2 1/2 pounds gold potatoes, peeled and thinly, 1/4"-thick sliced, 5-6 potatoes

1 1/2-2  cups 1/4"-thick sliced yellow or sweet onion, cut into half-moon shapes, half-moon shapes cut in half

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_3179 IMG_3179 IMG_3179 IMG_3179 IMG_3179 IMG_3179 IMG_3179~Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven or 12" cast-iron skillet, melt the butter into the oil over low heat. Season the mixture with about 15 grinds each of sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Distribute about half of the potatoes in the bottom of the pan.  Scatter the onions over the potatoes and season with another 15 finds of sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Distribute the second half of the potatoes atop the onions and, once again, season with 15 grinds each of sea salt and peppercorn blend.

IMG_3198 IMG_3198~ Step 2.  Increase heat to medium, cover the skillet and allow potatoes to cook, covered, for 12 minutes.  This will start to steam the potatoes and onions.  Remove the lid and increase heat to medium-high.  Continue to cook, uncovered, until potatoes are browning to a golden color on the the bottom, about 8 minutes.  Using a large spatula, work your way around the pan, flipping the potatoes over.  Continue to cook on second sides until potatoes are browning to a golden color on the bottom, about 8 additional minutes.

The best 30-minutes you'll ever spend cooking a side-dish: 

IMG_3202Old-School One-Skillet Golden Home-Fried Potatoes:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable peeler (optional); cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven or 12" cast-iron skillet w/lid; spatula

IMG_3158Cook's Note: When I was growing up, one of my favorite dinners was pork chops served with my dad's home-fried potatoes and my mom's ~ Campfire or Stovetop -- Dutch-Oven-Baked Beans ~.  It was a three-skillet dinner that I never had to be called twice to the table to eat!

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

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


~ Campfire or Stovetop -- Dutch-Oven-Baked Beans ~

IMG_3159Manifest Destiny, the 19th-century doctrine that the United States had the right and duty to expand throughout the North American continent, brought the cowboys and their cattle drives up through Mexico and Texas and into the wide-open grazing spaces of Colorado and northward into the Midwest.  These (often accidental) East-meets-West crossover points are where Easterners, bound for the Southwest and West, often encountered their first tastes of their final destinations.

Dutch-oven-baked beans were a chuck-wagon staple.

Fresh and dried peppers native to Mexico, dried beans, corn and rice, cornmeal and flour, salt, honey and/or unrefined sugar, coffee, cured ham, bacon and dried meats, which traveled well over the long haul, were all staples of a well-stocked chuck wagon.  Live chickens were usually brought along by the cook ("cooky"), so, eggs as protein were common too.  Wild onions and an occasional herb or two got picked along the way.  Next to a hot pot of coffee, Dutch-oven-baked beans were a daily chuck-wagon staple.  The cattle needed to be watched 24/7, so cowboys worked in shifts, meaning, they were constantly coming and going from wherever base camp was.  Those riding into camp were exhausted.  Before getting some shuteye and heading out again, they filled their plate full of hearty and hot bacony beans and wiped it clean with a piece of corn or soda bread.  One of cooky's responsibilities was to keep the beans going low and slow over the campfire's coals, adding more beans, bacon and water to the pot almost nonstop.  

Lots of smoky bacon = the main flavoring for these beans.

IMG_31161  pound, thick-sliced applewood- or  hicory-smoked bacon (8-9 slices)

1  40-ounce can butter beans (limas), well-drained

1  28-ounce can pork & beans, your favorite brand, undrained

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

1 1/2  cups ketchup, or, barbecue sauce for BBQ-style beans

6  tablespoons yellow mustard

4  tablespoons pure maple syrup

3/4-1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_3119 IMG_3119 IMG_3119 IMG_3119 IMG_3119~Step 1. Slice bacon into 2" pieces, placing them in bottom of 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven as you work.  Place this heavy, enameled cast iron piece of equipment over medium-high heat.  Fry bacon, using a large slotted spoon or spatula to keep it moving in the pan until crisp and golden, 12-14 minutes.  Transfer bacon to paper-towel-lined plate to drain and cool.

IMG_3129 IMG_3129 IMG_3129 IMG_3129 IMG_3139 IMG_3139 IMG_3139 IMG_3139 IMG_3139 IMG_3139 IMG_3139 IMG_3157~Step 2. Add the onions to the bacon drippings remaining in the skillet.  Fry onions until soft and translucent, stirring constantly, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the butter beans, baked beans, ketchup, maple syrup, mustard and black pepper.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer.  Partially cover the pot and continue to cook until mixture is thickened and reduced by about 1/4, 45-60 minutes.  

Stir in bacon pieces & serve ASAP or reheated the next day:  

IMG_3158Campfire-Style One-Skillet Bacony Barbecue Beans:  Recipe yields 2 quarts baked beans/14, 1/2-cup side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven or large cast iron skillet w/lid; large slotted spoon or spatula; paper towels

IMG_9993Cook's Note: When my mom announced she was making pork and beans for dinner, she didn't mean she was opening a can of pork and beans -- in a way, kinda sorta she was, but, there was a bit more to it. It meant she had asked Vince, the butcher at The Valley Meat Market, to slice 8, 1/2"-3/4"-thick bone-in pork loin chops, plus a pound of smoky bacon, so she could make her very special recipe for ~ Pork Chop & Baked Bean Casserole -- Pork & Beans ~.

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

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


~Ham and Cheese in a Folded Egg Pocket Sandwich~

IMG_4586This is the breakfast sandwich I send my husband carrying in-hand out the door with a to-go cup of coffee when he's leaving on a business trip at 4:30AM.  This is the breakfast I made for my three boys, one-at-a-time, as they took turns in the shower, dressed, and straggled down the stairs before school -- our 'Johnny-come-lately' would eat his while walking to the school bus stop. This is the one I make for myself when everyone has left the building and I'm (finally) home alone. Making these to order ("with or without", meaning cheese) on my little camp stove for early morning Penn State tailgates at Beaver Stadium was hugely popular -- they pair great with a Bloody Mary (most men wanted seconds).  Once you make one, you won't need a recipe. 

IMG_45111  teaspoon salted butter

2  extra-large eggs

2-3  tablespoons water

a literal pinch of sea salt

2 very-thin slices lean, deli-syle ham, your favorite kind

2  tablespoons finely-grated (not sliced) cheddar or Swiss cheese

1  English muffin, split and toasted

IMG_4516 IMG_4516~ Step 1. Place eggs in a 1-cup measuring container plus add enough water to total 1/2 cup liquid, about 2-3 tablespoons.  Add a pinch of sea salt -- there is no need to measure salt.  More than a pinch is too much salt.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt 1 teaspoon salted butter over medium heat.

IMG_4523 IMG_4523 IMG_4523 IMG_4523~Step 2.  In a gentle, slow, steady stream, add the beaten eggs to the moderately hot skillet.  Do nothing for 10-15 seconds, until the eggs just start to set up on the bottom.

IMG_4528 IMG_4528 IMG_4528Step 3.  In a series of "skillet on and off an on the heat" moves, lift the skillet up and off the heat, swirl the pan to distribute the egg mixture up and around the sides of the pan and return the skillet to the heat. Repeat this 4-6 more times, until the remaining liquid doesn't want to move around in the pan.  Without swirling, spend about 15-20 more seconds lifting the pan on and off the heat until the remaining eggs START to look dry on the surface and steam bubbles are building up underneath.

Note:  All the "on and off lifting" keeps the eggs from overcooking and browning.  Browning = Dry.

~ Step 4.  Filling and folding eggs goes super-fast so pop that English muffin into the toaster now.

IMG_4628 IMG_4628 IMG_4628 IMG_4628 IMG_4628 IMG_4628 IMG_4628~Step 5. Place two slices of deli-style ham on top of the eggs, leaving a 1 1/2" border around the perimeter of the pan.  If you like cheese on your breakfast sandwiches (Joe does, I do not) now is the time to add 2 tablespoons of grated, not sliced, cheddar or Swiss.  Sprinkle it in a 4" circle over the ham. To fold, using a large spatula, fold the side closest to you up and into the center.  Fold the left side into the center, followed by the right side into the center.  Fold the last remaining side, the one farthest away from you, to the center to form a perfect square w/filling(s) encased.

Note:  Wouldn't it just be easier to slap a slice of cheese on top of the ham?  Well, yes it would, but, when it comes time to fold the eggs, you would find that a square of not-yet completely melted cheese causes the fragile eggs to crack around the corners, and, the most beautiful part about this sandwich is how the fillings stay totally encased in the eggs until it is time to eat.

IMG_4661 IMG_4566 2~ Step 6. Flip the egg pocket over. Place the bottom of the hot English muffin on a piece of foil, place the egg pocket on top, followed by the hot muffin top.  Seal foil around the sandwich, to allow bread to steam a bit, about 1-minute.  Use this time wisely:  wash and dry the skillet.

Ok -- open the foil -- take a look, take a second look too:

IMG_4667Welcome to McMel's early morning kitchen:

IMG_4705Ham and Cheese in a Folded Egg Pocket Sandwich:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1 egg pocket sandwich at a time.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; fork; 10" nonstick skillet; spatula; toaster; aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3950339200dCook's Note: There's nothing like waking up to the ethereal smell of freshly-baked cinnamon rolls.  That said, if you're the cinnamon-roll baker, unless your family sleeps until Noon, "pulling that off" means getting up long before dawn -- yawn. My happy little twist on classic cinnamon rolls, which lets a pre-programmed bread machine mix and proof my recipe for cinnamon-raisin bread dough, will get you an extra 55-minutes of AM snooze time.  Tick, tock.  It's smooth and stress-free sailing after that.  The super-manageable dough pats out easily, store-bought cinnamon-sugar gets sprinkled on top, roll, slice and in the muffin tins they go to proof.  Poof -- bake and your done. To try another one of McMel's breakfast kitchen favorites:  ~ Cinnamon 'n Raisin Cinnamon-Swirl Muffins ~.

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

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


~ No-Pain Stay-Sane Pantry-Cooking Pork Lo-Mein ~

IMG_3094Lo mein.  In Chinese it literally means "tossed noodles", and, it implies a method in which cooked wheat noodles get tossed into almost any type of stir-fry at the end of the cooking process.  As a result, the noodles absorb some sauce and stay soft while the other previously-cooked ingredients (meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables) get distributed evenly throughout. An example of the opposite would be chow mein, which means "fried noodles", and implies a method in which the noodles are fried to a crispy state at the beginning of the cooking process.

Lo-Mein.  Like spaghetti, I want it when I want it.  ASAP.

Noodles are universally popular and lo mein is extremely popular in Chinese restaurants all over the world.  I for one have eaten in Chinese restaurants all over the world and have never encountered a Chinese menu sans lo mein.  That would be the equivalent of walking into an Italian restaurant and not being able to order a simply-sauced bowl of stranded pasta.  It's unthinkable.  The same goes in my home kitchen too, and it's why this lo-mein lover came up with a quick-to-make pantry-staple-recipe to quickly satisfy my cravings for lo-mein any time of the day or night.  Just like eating a bowl of spaghetti at midnight, I want it when I want it -- ASAP.

Get out a few pantry staples, slice pork & cook noodles:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb095ecaf4970dFor the marinade/sauce (1 1/4 cups -- 1/2  cup for marinade/3/4 cup to sauce stir-fry) & noodles: 

8  tablespoons tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

3  tablespoons each:  hoisin sauce, oyster-flavored sauce, Sriracha sauce and sesame oil

16  ounces lo-mein noodles or spaghetti, cooked according to package directions, drained and briefly rinsed under cold running water to keep them from sticking together 

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbdde3970bFor the stir-fry:

2  pounds pork tenderloin, prepped and marinated as directed below

1/2  cup marinade/sauce, from above recipe, for marinating pork

2  tablespoons sesame oil 

1  tablespoon bottled minced garlic or garlic paste

2  tablespoons bottled minced ginger or ginger paste

1  generous cup thinly-sliced sweet onion, half-moon shapes cut into halves

1 1/2-2  cups frozen peas and carrots

1  4 1/2-6-ounce jar sliced mushrooms, well-drained

cooked lo-mein noodles and marinade/sauce, from above recipe

6a0120a8551282970b01bb095ecdd9970d IMG_3035 IMG_3035 IMG_3035 IMG_3035~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the ingredients for the marinade/sauce.  Slice the tenderloins into thin, 1/8"-1/4"-thick disks, then cut the disks into thin strips, placing them in a 1-gallon food storage bag as you work.  Add 1/2 cup of the marinade/sauce mixture to the pork and close the bag.  Using your fingertips, "massage" the bag of pork until the meat is evenly coated in marinade and set aside.  Dice the onion and set aside.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbd680970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbd680970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbd680970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbd680970b~Step 2.  While pork is marinating, cook lo-mein noodles as directed, drain into a colander and rinse under cold running water.  For a moment or two, give the colander several vigorous shakes to insure excess water is removed.  Set aside to thoroughly drain while preparing stir fry.

Note:  While spaghetti may be substituted for lo-mein noodles without any compromise in taste or texture, be aware that lo-mein noodles cook to al dente in a short 3-4 minutes  and  spaghetti will take a bit longer, 10-11 minutes.  Be sure not to overcook either one.

IMG_3044 IMG_3044 IMG_3049 IMG_3049 IMG_3049 IMG_3049~Step 3.  In a 16" electric skillet, heat sesame oil to 325° (medium-high).  Add the garlic and ginger paste and cook, stirring constantly, until bubbling and fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the pork and all of it's marinade in the bag.  Stir-fry, stirring constantly, until pork is turning opaque and just short of being cooked through, about 3 minutes.  

IMG_3061 IMG_3061 IMG_3061 IMG_3061 IMG_3061 IMG_3061~Step 4.  Add the onion, frozen vegetables and mushrooms. Continue to stir-fry, stirring constantly, until veggies are just thawed, about 3 more minutes.  Drizzle in 1/2 cup of the sauce and stir until all ingredients are completely and evenly coated.  Note:  There will be a generous 1/4 cup marinade/sauce left for the next and last step.

IMG_3078 IMG_3078 IMG_3078~ Step 5.  Add the cooked lo mein noodles to the skillet.  Using two large spoons or two forks, toss, like you would a salad, until noodles are coated in sauce, adding the additional sauce, until the noodles are evenly coated and heated through, about 1-2 minutes.  Portion into warm bowls & serve ASAP.

Portion into warm bowls & serve ASAP:

IMG_3099Skip the take-out or delivery -- get it from your pantry!

IMG_3109No-Pain Stay-Sane Pantry-Cooking Pork Lo-Mein:  Recipe yields 6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot; colander; 16" electric skillet, or, 12" stir-fry pan or skillet, preferably nonstick; two large slotted spoons or forks

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbe5d6970bCook's Note:  The secret to a great stir-fry is a great sauce and the concoction I used in this recipe, a 2:1  ratio of soy sauce to equal parts hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, Sriracha sauce and sesame oil takes a back seat to none.  I use it as an easy-to-make go-to Asian brown sauce in all sorts of stir-fries.

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

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


~ Melt-in-Your-Mouth Tangy Cream Cheese Cookies ~

IMG_3030While this is one of the easiest cookie recipes in my repertoire, it is also one of the most used cookie recipes in my repertoire.  After the butter and cream cheese come to room temperature, start-to-finish, I can be done baking them in under an hour (including cleanup).  The end result is a not-too-sweet, melt-in-your-mouth cookie that takes-the-edge-off any cravings for overly-indulgent sweets.  For me, nibbling on one after breakfast in the morning, on the run in the middle of the day, or parked in front of the television in the evening, is a sweet spot during a busy day.

Eight ingredients = One melt-in-your-mouth batch of cookies:


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

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature (very soft)

1  cup sugar

1  extra-large egg, at room temperature

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting cookies (optional, but, I don't go there)

IMG_2973 IMG_2973 IMG_2973 IMG_2973~Step 1.  In a small bowl, stir together the flour, salt and baking powder.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream together the butter and cream cheese.  Lower mixer speed to medium and blend in the sugar, egg and vanilla, scraping down the sides of a bowl with a large rubber spatula while mixing -- this mixture will be silky smooth.

IMG_2985 IMG_2985~Step 2.  Lower mixer speed to low.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients .  Beat until dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, maybe a minute, and again, while using the rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

IMG_2994 IMG_2994 IMG_2994 IMG_2994 IMG_2994~Step 3.  Working one pan at a time while using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, drop balls of dough, well apart onto 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment.  When first pan is filled, place it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.  While first pan is in the refrigerator, ready the second pan.  Bake cookies, one-pan-at-a-time on center rack of 350° oven until the edges are just set and starting to turn golden, 12-13 minutes. Remove from oven and use a thin spatula to gently transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.  Once cool, dust with a very light coating of (optional ) Confectioners' sugar, if desired.

Take a taste.  These WILL melt-in-your mouth:

IMG_3026Melt-in-Your-Mouth Tangy Cream Cheese Cookies:  Recipe yields 20-22 cookies.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 2, 17 1 2/" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; wire cooling rack; thin metal spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8f4d147970bCook's Note:  If it's a drizzle of glaze you think you'd like on these cookies (which is so much better than a dusting of Confectioners' sugar), try my ~ Five-Minute Food-Processor Cream-Cheese Glaze ~.  Pictured here on a cake, it is just as scrumptious on these cookies (just be sure to cut the recipe in half, as the full recipe makes too much for one batch of cookies).

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

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


~ Hellmann's Original Eight-Ingredient Potato Salad ~

IMG_2968Want to make a country-style potato salad just like your grandmother used to make?  The kind that allows the potato to be the star of the show?  Of course you do or you wouldn't be Googling around the internet looking for a basic, vintage recipe reminiscent of kinder, gentler, traditional times -- a recipe absent of a long-list fancy-schmancy ingredients (no special heirloom potatoes, no gourmet vinegars, no crazy-hot sauces, no silly spices, no asinine add-ins), that, while exciting-to-the-palate for the first few bites, just grow old in your mouth while muddlling up the flavor of the perfectly-cooked spuds.  If you've ever watched The Waltons ready themselves for a picnic up on the mountain, you know that grandma didn't toil over the task of making the potatoe salad any longer than it took the kids to gather their things and pile in to the back of the truck.

Yes, for most of us, potato salad conjures up memories of exactly what our grandmothers made. And, for the most part, those recipes for our grandmother's potato salad do not vary much. Various quantities of the usual suspects:  potatoes, eggs, celery and/or onion, with a dressing made of mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, pepper, sometimes pickles or pickle relish and/or a dash of mustard, plus, an occasional fresh herb.  Voila:  potato salad.  While we all have our favorite recipe or recipes, when offered potato salad at a gathering, this is the kind we Americans expect to be served.  To hasten up chilling any potato salad, try my spread it on a sheet pan method.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49c3900200dThe cook in every family has a favorite potato salad recipe. From my Eastern European heritage family, in my repertoire, Classic Creamy Potato and Egg SaladBaked Russet-Potato Salad, Red Potato Salad w/Horseradish-Mayonnaise, and, Vintage Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier, are amongst my family's favorites. That said, unlike almost all of our grandmothers and grandfathers, we of subsequent generations began moving or traveling to different areas of the US and/or started traveling around the world -- we eat globally and regionally, as well as locally. Our pantries contain spices and ingredients from many cultures, and, because potatoes are a great foil for foodie creativity, it should come as no shock to anyone that potato salad has been fused with flavors from other cuisines.  Example:  My Russet & Sweet Potato Salad w/Chile-Lime Mayo, pairs great with almost any Tex-Mex-style grilled chicken, steak or spareribs.

Simple, straightforward & on point, Hellmann's potato salad:

IMG_29322  pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4" chunks

1  cup Hellmann's Mayonnaise

2  teaspoons white vinegar

1 1/2  teaspoons salt

1  teaspoon sugar

1/4  teaspoon black pepper

1  cup thinly-sliced celery

1/2  cup diced onion

IMG_2941 IMG_2941 IMG_2941Step 1.  Peel and cube the potatoes, placing them in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan with straight-deep sides. Cover potatoes with cold water and add 1 teaspoon sea salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat, adjust temperature to a steady simmer and continue to cook until al dente (to the tooth), just shy of being cooked through to their centers, about 6-7 minutes after the water boils.  Do not overcook potatoes.  Drain potatoes into a colander.  Do not rinse potatoes.  Set aside to drain and cool for 10 minutes.

IMG_2934 IMG_2934 IMG_2934 IMG_2934 IMG_2934~Step 2.  While potatoes are cooling, in a large bowl, place and stir together the mayonnaise, white vinegar, salt, sugar and black pepper. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the celery and onion.  Add and gently fold in the still-warm potatoes.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerator for 2-3 hours or overnight.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Everything tastes better with Hellmann's:  

IMG_2961Hellman's Original Eight-Ingredient Potato Salad:  Recipe yields about 5 cups.

Special Equipment List: vegetable peeler; cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; colander; large rubber spatula.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d297c03f970cCook's Note: Mayonnaise.  As a gal who loves deli-, tuna- and egg-salad sandwiches, I am never too far from my mayo.  During the picnic and tailgate season, when side-dishes like macaroni salad, potato salad, cole slaw and deviled eggs reign supreme, I purchase bigger jars, in two-packs.  When our garden tomatoes are ripe, I could (and will) eat a freshly-picked sliced-tomato sandwich, on white bread, with a big slather of mayonnaise, every day.  There's more.  I can't imagine my life without mayonnaise-based tartar and remoulade sauces in it, or, oh my Thousand Islands salad dressing, and, I'm very proficient at making homemade mayonnaise ("mayo") from scratch too.  These two ~ Spreads go Bread to Bread:  Hellmann's vs Duke's ~.  To find out who gets my #1 vote, read my post.

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

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


~Sour Cherry Preserves & Balsamic Port-Wine Sauce~

IMG_2909Looking for something to liven up your pan-seared pork loin chops or grilled chicken breasts? Reach into the panty for some high-quality sour cherry preserves, or, better yet, into the freezer for some homemade sour cherry jam or preserves and you're about ten minutes away from a lip-smacking, sweet-and-savory, restaurant-quality, pan sauce.  It's worth mention the same sauce can be made with blueberry or peach jam or preserves too -- I like to serve blueberry sauce with duck or quail, and, man-oh-man, peach sauce is marvelous with ribs or chicken.

IMG_28534  thin-ish (about 1/2"-thick) bone-in pork loin chops

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

all pan drippings from pork chops

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

a sprinkling of garlic powder

a sprinkling of onion powder

1/2  cup chicken stock

1/2  cup port wine

1  teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1  teaspoon herbes de Provence

1/4  teaspoon ground allspice

3/4  cup sour cherry jam or preserves

IMG_2858 IMG_2858 IMG_2858 IMG_2858 IMG_2858~Step 1.  Over low heat, in a 12" nonstick skillet, heat oil.  Add chops and lightly-season tops with sea salt, peppercorn blend, and, a sprinkling of garlic and onion powder.  Increase heat to medium-high and sauté chops until just cooked through and light golden, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer chops to a plate and cover with a piece of foil to keep warm.

IMG_2873 IMG_2873 IMG_2873 IMG_2879 IMG_2882 IMG_2882 IMG_2882 IMG_2882 IMG_2882 IMG_2882~Step 2.  To make the sauce, in a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the chicken stock, wine and balsamic vinegar.  Add the liquid to the hot skillet.  Using a spatula, deglaze the pan by scraping up all the flavorful browned bits.  Add the herbs de Pprovence and allspice.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook until mixture is reduced by half, about 6 minutes.  Stir in the sour cherry jam or preserves.  Continue to simmer, stirring almost constantly, until mixture is reduced by half again, about 6 more minutes. Remove from heat and set pan aside about 6 more minutes -- sauce will thicken as it cools a bit. Store leftovers in refrigerator and reheat in the microwave -- sauce will loosen as it heat up.

Simply lip-smacking perfect on poultry or pork: 

IMG_2921Sour Cherry Preserves and Balsamic Pork-Wine Sauce:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup sauce and 2 large, or, 4 small servings.

Special Equipment List:  12" nonstick skillet; fork; aluminum foil; spatula; 1-cup measuring container; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08558965970dCook's Note: If I've said it once, I've said it a million times, "almost everything tastes better with a perfectly executed sauce on top of it, underneath it or to the side of it." I stand by these words with barbecue being no exception.  When I'm eating barbecue, more often than not, it's the sauce that "turns me on". For every style there is a sauce, and while I know what type of sauce to pair with which each style of barbecue, I also know when not to sauce at all (Texicans are crazy). Try my ~ Sweet and Savory K.C.-Style Cherry BBQ Sauce ~

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

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


~ The Fried-Egg Sandwich from the Front Street Deli ~

IMG_2842Did you order a fried egg sandwich from the Front Street Deli?  That line from the movie The Firm, gets me salivating every time I hear it.  The Front Street Deli is the oldest deli in Memphis, Tennessee, the city in which the movie was filmed, and, the deli, which is located in a historic building built in 1853, was a featured location in the film.  This bustling eatery serves lunch and dinner plus touts a gorgeous view of the mighty Mississippi River too.  The deli has been in operation since 1976 and proudly continues "the breakfast sandwich tradition" set by the original owner: five sandwich choices, plus, a build-your-own option.  As for the rest of the menu, the deli is themed "all things Tom Cruise", with menu items being named after his many movies.

IMG_2840A bit about The Firm:  Based on the novel by John Grisham, Mitch McDeer (Tom Cruise) is a young man from a poor Southern family who struggled through Harvard Law School to graduate fifth in his class. Mitch entertains offers from firms in New York and Chicago, but, when Memphis-based Bendini, Lambert, & Locke offer him a 20% higher salary than his best offer (in addition to perks and benefits), he decides to sign on and stay in the South. Mitch's wife, Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn), warns him the deal sounds too good to be true, but it's not until after several weeks of working with Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman) that Mitch discovers the vast majority of BL&L's business is tied to organized crime, with crime boss Joey Morolto (Paul Sorvino) using the firm to launder Mafia money. FBI agents Wayne Tarrance (Ed Harris) and F. Denton Voyles (Steven Hill) try to blackmail Mitch into helping them make a case against the firm, while BL&L's "security director" William Devasher (Wilford Brimley) is blackmailing him to do as he's told after Mitch foolishly allows himself to be seduced by a prostitute secretly hired by the firm.

Front_street_deli_patio-thumb1000x1000The build-your-own Front-Street-Deli breakfast sandwich:

BREAD:  grilled croissant, steamed biscuit, or, toasted white, wheat or rye

MEAT:  fried bacon strips, sausage patty, country ham slice, shaved turkey or pastrami

CHEESE:  one slice of American, cheddar, pepper Jack, provolone or Swiss (Note:  This is NOT a grilled-cheese sandwich, so, go easy on the cheese.)

EGGS:  two, fried-to-your liking or scrambled

ADDS:  mayonnaise, baby greens, sliced tomato and/or avocado

IMG_2817 2~ Step 1.  For my sandwich, I'm using (in order of assembly):

4 teaspoons butter

2 large eggs

2 slices brioche bread,

2-3 teaspoons mayonnaise

1 slice American cheese

3 strips oven-fried bacon

a few baby greens

4 small Campari tomato slices

IMG_2819 2 IMG_2819 2 IMG_2819 2 IMG_2819 2 IMG_2819 2~Step 2.  For each sandwich, in a 10" nonstick skillet, melt 2 teaspoons butter, then fry or scramble two eggs, to your liking (mine are soft-yolked sunny-side-up).  Transfer eggs from skillet to plate, tent with a piece of foil and briefly set aside.  Add remaining 2 teaspoons butter to the pan (and give it a few seconds to melt), followed by 2 slices bread, one of which has been slathered with mayo on the top side.  Place the cheese on the mayonnaise-topped bread slice, followed by the bacon, greens and tomato.  Top with the fried or scrambled eggs.  By the time the assembly is finished, the bread will be grilled.  Transfer to a plate and enjoy.

This IS the ULTIMATE egg-sandwich combination:

IMG_2847The Fried-Egg Sandwich from the Front Street Deli:  Recipe yields instructions to make one build-your-own fried-egg breakfast sandwich.

Special Equipment List: 10" nonstick skillet; aluminum foil; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4acbc41200cCook's Note: Sausage and eggs. It might sound run-of-the-mill, but, when the sausage is homemade, and the eggs are fried in the luscious sausage drippings, it's remarkable.  And newsflash: While making breakfast sausage is not quite as easy as picking up a package of sausage at the store, it's pretty darn close to being that easy, AND, trust me, after one taste, you'll never look at store-bought the same way again.  Period.  Try   ~ Mel's Herbaceous All-Purpose Breakfast Sausage ~.

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

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


~About Fideo, the Traditional Noodle (Dish) of Mexico~

IMG_2737Fideo is a traditional noodle dish or soup.  It's popular in homes and restaurants throughout Mexico and the Southwestern United States.  No two cooks make it the same way.  Hey!  It's noodles.  Had I not had a lovely Mexican-American woman as a neighbor here in PA back in the latter 70s, I'd have missed out on this easy-to-prepare Mexican-, Mexican-American comfort food. Like noodles and pasta in general, home cooks and restaurant chefs prepare this versatile and inexpensive ingredient in all sorts of creative ways, using spices, flavorings, and/or vegetable-, protein- additions authentic to the region they live in.  Fideo is comfort food.  Fideo is said to have come to Mexico via the Spanish of Cavite (a province in the Philippines) in the 1600s. 

IMG_2789In Spanish, fideo means noodles. Fideo noodles are fine noodles, usually made with durum wheat and water, rolled, then cut into about 1"-1 1/2" pieces and dried. Depending on the region, recipes occasionally call for substituting broken pieces of vermicelli, angel hair pasta, or even spaghetti. What makes fideo uniquely different from other pastas or noodles is the method by which they get cooked. Once broken into short pieces, the noodles are always toasted in some oil and/or butter until nicely-golden and crisp.  After this all-important first step, they are either left in the pan to be further cooked in a specific main-course or side-dish recipe, or, transferred into a tomato-based soup for further cooking.

When served as a main-dish or a side-dish, the concoction, which varies from cook-to-cook, is very often referred to as "Mexican spaghetti", or, simply "fideo".  That said, more-often-than-not, all versions contain a various amount of liquid (water, stock or sauce), and almost all contain some form of tomato, plus onion, garlic and/or cilantro.  Many are made spicy or extra-spicy by adding chile powder and/or hot sauce.  When serving this starchy side-dish as a main-dish, it is usually presented as a flavorful bed for traditionally-seasoned (sliced, diced or shredded, roasted grilled or stewed), chicken, beef or pork.  When served as a soup, it's referred to as "sopa de fideo", and, while, with additions, it can be served as a main-dish, it is typically served as a starter course, or to cure a hangover or flu, or, to simply soothe the soul on a damp, cold day.

Toasted until golden & crisp, fideo noodles = the perfect foil for many Mexican-style noodle dishes & soups:    

IMG_2806"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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