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11 posts from July 2020

07/31/2020

~ All-in-the-Pantry One-Pot Creamy Spaghetti Alfredo ~

IMG_4357Any time of year, at the end of a bad day or a great day, served as a side-dish or a main-course, a creamy-dreamy bowl of luxurious Alfredo-sauced pasta can be just what the doctor ordered.  A few pantry ingredients, cheese and cream, plus, one-pot on the stovetop.  Fifteen minutes later, you stick a fork in it and all is right with the world.  There is no trick to Alfredo.  About the only thing one can do wrong is to purchase a jar of bottled glop, which, never mind, let's not go there.

A bit of history about the iconic fettuccine Alfredo: 

6a0120a8551282970b014e8bb97814970dAlfredo is an Italian pasta dish in which any type of stranded pasta, most famously "fettuccine" (which means "little ribbons" in Italian), is enrobed in a rich sauce usually made from butter, cream, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and black pepper.  A Roman restauranteur, Alfredo di Lelio first created this dish for his pregnant wife in 1914.  As the story goes, she had lost her appetite or was having trouble keeping food down, either while she was pregnant or after the birth of their son.  Alfredo, set out to create a dish that would not only appeal to his wife, but would be nutritious (calorie and carbohydrate packed) as well.  He developed his dish based on the traditional pasta al burro, which was simply paper-thin ribbons of hand-made pasta with butter.  Alfredo made egg fettuccine, tripled the amount of butter and laced it with copious amounts of Parmigianno-Reggiano cheese.  His wife loved it, so, he added it to his restaurant menu.

As the story goes, as fate would have it, in 1927, the American silent film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, while honeymooning in Italy, stopped into di Lelio's Alfredo alla Scrofa restaurant, ate the dish and the two lovebirds adored it.  They loved it so much, before they departed, they presented him with a golden fork and spoon along with a picture of them eating in his restaurant.  When the famous newlyweds returned to Hollywood, they began serving fettuccine Alfredo at their dinner parties.  It didn't take long for the news to spread throughout Hollywood, making di Lelio's restaurant and his pasta dish world famous.

A bit of history about my famous spaghetti Alfredo:

IMG_4371It was November, 1981 or 1982 -- one or two days before Thanksgiving.  It would turn out to be one of the worst-ever total snowfall years in the history of State College, and this storm snuck up on everyone.  The snow piled high that afternoon, leaving over two feet on the ground. Trees came down and power lines snapped.  Lights went out all over town.  Our house at the time had a soapstone wood-burning stove in our family room.  I hated that stove and the mess involved with it, but, it did help with the heating bill, so, Joe kept it going.  Sans electricity, I put a pot of water on the stove to boil and wrapped a loaf of frozen garlic bread in foil.  Using what I had on hand, we five had this pantry version of  "spaghetti Alfredo", by candlelight, in a warm house, for dinner.  

IMG_431612  ounces thick spaghetti

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning water for pasta

8  tablespoons salted butter, cut into bite-sized pieces, at room temperature, the softer the better

1 1/2  teaspoons garlic powder

1  teaspoon Italian seasoning blend

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes, more or less, to taste (optional)

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1-1 1/4-1 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream, at room temperature

IMG_4318 IMG_4318 IMG_4318 IMG_4324 IMG_4324~Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot bring 3 quarts of water to a rolling boil.  Add the 1 tablespoon sea salt.  Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, about 10-11 minutes.  Turn heat off.  Thoroughly, drain the pasta into a colandar, then immediately return the hot pasta to the still hot stockpot and place the stockpot back on the still hot stovetop.  

IMG_4328 IMG_4328 IMG_4328~Step 2.  Add the butter pieces, along with the spices:  garlic powder, Italian seasoning, nutmeg, black pepper, red pepper flakes and sea salt.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss like you would a salad, until butter is completely melted and pasta is evenly coated in a flavorful butter and spice mixture.

IMG_4336 IMG_4336 IMG_4336~Step 3.  Toss in the finely-grated cheese followed by the cream.  Again, using two forks or two spoons, toss as you would a salad, until the mixture is thoroughly combined.  Cover and let rest, 5-6 minutes, tossing occasionally, to allow pasta to absorb all of the cream mixture.  Portion into desired-sized serving bowls.

Top w/a light sprinkling of red pepper flakes & serve:

IMG_4354All-in-the-Pantry One-Pot Creamy Spaghetti Alfredo:  Recipe yields 2-4 larger main-dish servings and 4-6 smaller side servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; two forks or two spoons

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e8758b970cCook's Note: The Italians came up with the cure for the late-night snack-attack centuries ago: Pasta al burro con formaggino (pasta with butter and cheese).  It's a no-nonsense, feed-me-now-snack, a quick-to-make side dish, and, it's a delicious foil for flavorful pasta sauces too.  Choose any shape of pasta (short, fork-friendly shapes work best), and, if you have a link or a patty of breakfast sausage on-hand, not only do the flavors melt into the mixture like they were born to be there, without almost any extra effort, it transforms the dish into a hearty meal for one or two.  Try my ~ Pasta with Butter & Cheese and Sweet Sausage ~.

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

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

07/26/2020

~ My Beat-the-Heat Sweet-Heat Deli-Ham Sandwich ~

IMG_4274Sometimes the simplest things are the best, and, many times, they conjure up great memories. When I was growing up in Eastern, PA, in our family, if any one of us was coming or going for any reason, we could always count on a supply of sliced ham, hard salami, Swiss and American cheese, in mom's pastel-yellow refrigerator.  Sliced as thin as she could get the deli-guy to slice them, all four of us liked all four, and, on white-or-rye or not, we were free to get as creative with the condiments as we wanted.  When it came to ham, dad insisted on Guldon's brown mustard, mom was a Miracle Whip kinda gal, I liked Tallarico's hot red-pepper spread, and, my brother, well, he just enjoyed plain 'ole unadulterated ham and cheese rollups sans bread.    

Retrooriginalfridge-buttercupyellow-mainInterestingly (or not so interestingly) when it comes to a ham sandwich, I like various types of super-thin-sliced deli-ham better than baked ham of the type leftover from a holiday meal (which I prefer to make use of in a few breakfast and dinner casseroles).  I've never met a deli-ham that I seriously didn't like (unless it isn't slice thin enough), and, depending on what store I'm in, my top three favorites (Boar's Head or Deitz or Watson) are:  sweet deli ham, deluxe ham, and, peppered ham.  There's more.  While I make great grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, I prefer to put my feet up and snack on this no-fuss, relish-it-cold sammie with a few chips and a frosty Amstel Light to wash it down -- with fond memories of mom's pastel-yellow refrigerator.

1 baguette + 4 ingredients = a sweet-heat sandwich combo:

IMG_4229For 4 larger sandwiches or 8 smaller sandwiches:

1  12-ounce, 18"-ish, French baguette

1-1 1/2-2  5-ounce containers Alouette creme de Brie spread w/garlic and herbs

8  tablespoons sweet 'n spicy Amish-style red pepper jam

1/2  (approximately) a 5-ounce box organic Spring mix

12  ounces super-thin-sliced sweet deli ham

IMG_4237 IMG_4237 IMG_4237 IMG_4237 IMG_4250 IMG_4250 IMG_4250 IMG_4250 IMG_4250~Step 1.  Slice the bread section in half horizontally, to form two flat halves.  Spread the Brie atop both halves.  Place a small handful of Spring mix atop the Brie on the bottom half of the sandwich, then pile it high with the super-thin-sliced ham.  Spoon and gently spread the pepper jelly atop the Brie on the top half of the bread.  Put the top on the sandwich.  

IMG_4267 IMG_4269 IMG_4269~Step 2.  Wrap the entire length of the baguette sandwich in plastic wrap. At this point, the sandwich may be refrigerated for a few hours (1-2) prior to slicing and serving -- which makes this a perfect sandwich to make and take to a Summer get-together or Fall tailgate, but, it is best serve at room temperature, so, no complaints please, play by those rules.  At serving time, slice the sandwich into quarters (for larger sandwiches), or eighths (for smaller sandwiches), plate, and serve ASAP.

Slice, serve & savor each meaty sweet-heat bite

IMG_4290My Beat-the-Heat Sweet-Heat Deli-Ham Sandwich:  Recipe yields instructions to make 4 larger sandwiches or 8 smaller sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  serrated bread knife; butter knife; teaspoon; plastic wrap sandwich picks

6a0120a8551282970b0240a48f402b200cCook's Note: Can one ever have too many grilled cheese-type sandwich recipes?  The answer is an unequivocal no.  High-quality, super-thin-sliced deli-ham on caraway-seeded rye is one of my favorite sandwiches.  Crispy, thin-sliced apples with a chunk of white or yellow cheddar cheese is one of my favorite snacks.  As a fan of sweet and savory combinations, when I combine the two with a slather of apple butter and some delicate, slightly-peppery greens in between, magic happens.  Try my recipe for ~ Grilled Ham-on-Rye w/Cheddar Apple and Arugula ~.

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

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

07/23/2020

~Grands Apple-Pie-Filling Filled Cinnamon-Roll Cups~

IMG_4191When it comes to breakfast or bunch, I am always looking for the easiest way to serve good food. Mornings in the average family tend to have a lot of things happening at once.  I love my family and I enjoy my guests, but, back in the days when I was trying to get three kids off to meet the school bus and my husband out the door to the office, or, fast forward to when I happen to be organizing breakfast for a few overnight guests, no one appreciates having a few time-saving recipes that taste as good as they look as much as I do.  This recipe is worth its weight in gold.

440px-Pillsbury_logo.svgPillsbury and their adorable dough boy have been a part of my life over fifty years (and they've been around a lot longer than that).  Breakfast, lunch or dinner, when mom made their crescent rolls, we paced around in front of the oven until they came out.  During the years when they televised the Pillsbury Bake-Off, I always watched, and, learned something creative. When Pillsbury came out with cinnamon rolls, my kids knew I would be an easy sell on this product, and, truth told, they earned a place in my refrigerator. Then, when they came along with Grand's cinnamon rolls, complete with cream cheese icing, I didn't hesitate to pick up a few canisters.

There came a time when I did what I often do with a product I like (a lot). I went to their website (Quick & Easy Recipes by Pillsbury) and searched by ingredient (cinnamon rolls). Amongst several creative ways to to use them, I came across Two-Ingredient Peach Pie Cups, which used smaller-sized canisters of cinnamon rolls + peach pie filling, baked in standard-sized muffin tins. For my own "bigger has got to be better" take, I used Grand's cinnamon rolls + apple pie filling, baked in jumbo-sized muffin tins.  They're like a cinnamon doughnut stuffed with apples!   

The combo of cinnamon rolls & apple pie filling is grand.

IMG_4209Topped w/cream cheese frosting too?  You betcha.

IMG_41232  17.5-ounce canisters Pillsbury Grands cinnamon rolls w/cream cheese icing (for a total of 10 cinnamon rolls)

1  21-ounce can apple pie filling, your favorite brand

no-stick cooking spray

~ Step 1.  Spray the inside cups of two jumbo-sized muffin tins (12 cups) with no-stick cooking spray.

IMG_4124 IMG_4124 IMG_4124 IMG_4124 IMG_4124 IMG_4124 IMG_4124~Step 2.  Remove both canisters of Grands cinnamon rolls from the refrigerator.  Peel back the wrapping and give them a whack on the side of the countertop to open the package.  Remove and set aside the cream cheese icing.  One-at-a-time, remove the cinnamon rolls, placing them in each of ten of the muffin cups.  Using a tart tamper placed in the center of each cinnamon roll, press down on the center to fit each cinnamon roll flatly into the bottom of its cup.  Using your fingertips, press the sides of each roll into the sides of each cup, to form a cup about 3/4 up the sides of each cup.

IMG_4151 IMG_4151 IMG_4169 IMG_4169 IMG_4169 IMG_4181~Step 2.  Open the can of pie filling.  Using an ordinary tablespoon, distribute pie filling to the top of each cinnamon-roll cup (there's enough filling to fill each one to the top), doing your best not to drip any filling on the edges of the cinnamon-roll cups or sides of pan.  Bake both pans, at once, on center rack of preheated 325° oven for 18-20 minutes, or until cinnamon rolls are golden around sides.  Remove from oven and cool in pan 1-2 minutes. Use a sharp paring and your fingertips to gently lift each apple-pie-filling filled cinnamon-roll cup onto a wire rack to cool to slightly-warm or room temperature, 30-45 minutes.   

IMG_4163 IMG_4185 IMG_4185~ Step 3.  While the cinnamon roll cups are baking, stir about 1/2 teaspoon of water into both containers of the reserved cream cheese icing, to thin it down to a drizzly, rather than a spreadable consistency.  For a prettier presentation, transfer the icing to a small squirt-type condiment container.  When cinnamon roll cups are cooled, slowly drizzle icing over top of each one.  Plate and serve.

Store-bought seriously "CAN" be simply delicious!

IMG_4197Two canisters cinnamon rolls + one can of apple pie filling?

IMG_4219One taste & you'll be completely convinced.  

IMG_4221Grands Apple-Pie-Filling Filled Cinnamon-Roll Cups:  Recipe yields 10 individual (jumbo sized muffin sized) apple-pie-filling filled cinnamon-roll cups.

Special Equipment List:  1, 12-cup jumbo-size muffing tin; tart tamper; spoon; paring knife; wire cooling rack; small squirt-type condiment bottle (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4dd44f5200d-800wiCook's Note:  Back in the 1960"s, my brother and I loved when my mom made her "little hot dogs wrapped in pastry dough".  She'd let me help to roll them up, and, she'd make lots of them too, usually around 100, because she knew they would be the first thing devoured at one of her cocktail parties. People would grab them so fast you'd think she had money rolled up in them. To this day I love these fun to make ~ Cocktail Pigs in a Blanket: Pillsbury Crescent Dogs ~.

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

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

07/20/2020

~My Aunt's Apple-Pie Pork-Chop & Stuffing Casserole~

IMG_3954The sweet and savory act of combining porcine and apples is classic.  Every whole roasted pig that I've ever seen had an apple in its mouth.  I honestly can't remember where I read it or heard this, but, my recollection is: this centuries old custom had to do with pigs being fattened by feeding them apples, so, this was considered a show of respect for the animal, representing it eating apples in life and into eternity (hogs were typically slaughtered in the Fall and apples were in season).  All I know for certain is pork and apples go hand-in-hand, it's one of my favorite combinations, and, this easy, family-friendly casserole is a recipe everyone should try.  Why?

The only thing better than applesauce w/a pork chop, is apple pie filling under a  pork chop w/stuffing heaped on top of it!

IMG_3947This decades old, now-retro, family-favorite recipe is made from few ingredients (3/4"-1"-thick bone-in pork chops, apple-pie filling, stuffing mix, chicken broth, celery and onion).  It came from my favorite Aunt, "Tootsie", (my mother's sister and our family's pet name for Marie).  It couldn't be easier, and, I wouldn't consider changing it for love nor money.  It's the best, easy-pork-chop recipe there is, and, everyone, kids and adults, love it.  There's more.  If you are one of the many home cooks in search of a foolproof recipe that guarantees juicy, fork-tender chops, this is it.

This easy recipe guarantees flavorful, fork-tender, chops:

IMG_40036  3/4"-1" thick, bone-in pork loin chops

4  tablespoons corn or peanut oil, for sautéing chops

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for seasoning chops

1  22-ounce can apple pie filling

2  6-ounce boxes Stove-Top Chicken Stuffing Mix

1  generous cup diced celery

1  generous cup diced onion

2  cup chicken broth

IMG_3863 IMG_3863 IMG_3863 IMG_3863 IMG_3863 IMG_3863 IMG_3863~Step 1.  In a 16" electric skillet, heat the corn or peanut oil over low heat. Increase heat to 225º (medium-high), add the chops, then, season their tops with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Continue to sauté the chops until they're browning nicely on the bottom, about 8 minutes.  Using a spatula, flip the chops over and season the second side with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Sauté the chops until golden on the bottom, about 8 more minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_3885 IMG_3885~ Step 2.  Open the can of apple pie filling and use a spoon to scoop it into the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole.  Use a spoon to spread it evenly in the bottom.  Arrange the pork chops atop the pie filling, overlapping them slightly.  Set aside.

IMG_3890 IMG_3890 IMG_3890 IMG_3890 IMG_3890 IMG_3890 IMG_3890~Step 3.  Return heat in skillet to 225º and wait 30-60 seconds, just long enough to reheat the perfectly-seasoned pork drippings,  Add the celery and onion.  Sauté the vegetables, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until crunch tender, 2-3 minutes.  Add the chicken broth and the stuffing mix.  Stir until the stuffing is thick and has absorbed the broth.  Turn the heat off, cover the skillet, and let sit for 5-6 minutes.

IMG_3910 IMG_3910 IMG_3910 IMG_3910 IMG_3910 IMG_3910~Step 4.  Uncover the skillet.  Using a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop, place 6 well-packed, heaping and generous scoops of stuffing, one scoop on each chop.  Using a spoon or a fork, scatter remainder of stuffing around the sides and in between the larger scoops.  Cover  casserole with aluminum foil and bake on center rack of 325° oven 1 hour. Uncover and continue to bake another 15 minutes, or until stuffing is turning golden on top. Remove from oven, allow casserole to rest 10-15 minutes, to allow juices to settle, then serve.

This childhood favorite & adulthood indulgence:

IMG_3949Is the apple pie of my stuffing-topped pork-chop eye:

IMG_3999My Aunt's Apple-Pie Pork-Chop & Stuffing Casserole:  Recipe yields 6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 16" electric skillet w/lid; spatula; large spoon; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; aluminum foil

IMG_9993Cook's Note: When my mom announced she was making pork and beans for dinner, she didn't mean she was literally 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 bacon, so she could make her 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)

07/17/2020

~ Light & Easy Buffalo-Style Skinny Chicken Tacos ~

IMG_4095What started in 1964 as late-night pub grub at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, deep-fried chicken wings, is now found in many forms.  Truth told, there's not much that Buffalo-style chicken can't do, and tacos are the perfect marriage of two of our favorite foods.  But, are these tacos as good as, or as enjoyable as, eating chicken wings?  As a lady who loves wings, but, only in the privacy of my own home (where I'm free to lick my fingers, smack my lips, get goo stuck in my teeth, and, drip sauce on my blouse), yes, while different, these are as enjoyable as chicken wings.

Lucky lovers of all-things Buffalo-wings: it comes in many forms.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4b6e83e200cIn my family alone, Nacho Mama's Buffalo Chicken Sheet-Pan Nanchos, Buffalo-Style Shredded Chicken 'n Slaw Sliders, Spicy Blue-Cheesy Buffalo-Style Chicken Dip, Spicy Blue-Cheesy Buffalo-Chicken Quesadillas, Batter-Dipped Buffalo Chicken & Blue Cheese Subs, Sweet-and-Savory-Glazed Buffalo-Chicken Meatballs, and, Almost Effortless Chunky Buffalo-Style Chicken Chili are favorite wing-night or game-day options.  Tonight: It's Buffalo-Style Skinny Chicken Tacos that are on my dinner menu.

Diced chicken doused in Buffalo sauce w/celery & carrots:

IMG_4052For the sauce, chicken & veg sauté, tacos shells, &, garnishes:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d22f43d0970cFor the Buffalo-style sauce:

In a 2-cup measuring container, in the microwave, melt:

2  ounces salted butter (1/2 stick)

whisk in (honey 1st, RedHot 2nd):

6  tablespoons honey

1  cup Frank's RedHot

Set aside and prepare the chicken sauté as directed below.

IMG_4005For the chicken & vegetable sauté:

2  pounds small-diced, boneless, skinless chicken chicken thighs* 

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

1  tablespoon each:  Frank's Original Redhot Seasoning and Frank's RedHot Buffalo-Ranch Seasoning

2  teaspoons sea salt

1 1/2  cups each:  peeled and 1/4'-sliced carrots, 1/4"-sliced celery, and, 1/4"-sliced green onions, white and light green parts only

all sauce, from above recipe

*Note: The easiest way to get a nice dice out of bonelesss thighs is to lay them flat on a parchment-lined pan and freeze them for about 30 minutes, just long enough to firm them up a bit.

IMG_4056For the taco shells & garnishes:

16  fresh corn tortillas, deep-fried in corn oil to a crunchy-but-still-pliable state, 45 seconds each

2  cups shredded iceberg lettuce

all the sautéed chicken and vegetable mixture

1  cup blue cheese crumbles

Hidden Valley Ranch dressing

Ready, set, go.  It's time to make some Buffalo chicken tacos:

IMG_4007 IMG_4007 IMG_4007 IMG_4007 IMG_4007 IMG_4007 IMG_4007 IMG_4007 IMG_4023 IMG_4023 IMG_4023 IMG_4023 IMG_4023~Step 1.  Heat the oil in a 3 1/2-quart enameled cast-iron skillet over low heat.  Add the diced chicken to the skillet and season it with the RedHot and Buffalo-ranch seasonings and salt.  Increase heat to medium-high and sauté, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until chicken is firming up, 3-4 minutes.  Add the sliced carrots, celery and green onions. Continue to sauté, stirring constantly until vegetables are softening but still crunch tender, 3-4 minutes.  Using the spoon remove (and discard) all but a thin layer of juices from bottom of pan.  

IMG_4035 IMG_4035 IMG_4035 IMG_4035~Step 2.  Add and stir in 1 cup of the sauce (there will be 1/2 cup remaining, which I serve at table side for those who want to live dangerously).  Turn heat off, cover skillet and set aside for 45-60 minutes, to allow chicken and vegetables to soak up the sauce and flavors of the sauce.

IMG_3711 IMG_3711 IMG_3711~ Step 3.  While chicken is steeping, now is the time to deep-fry the corn tortillas. In a deep-fryer containing corn or peanut oil and preheated to 360° according to manufacturer's specifications (or, in a sauce pan fitted with a candy thermometer on  stovetop), deep-fry each tortilla to a crunchy-but-still-pliable state, 45 seconds. Remove tortilla from oil, place it on a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and season with a fresh grinding of sea salt.  Arrange finished tortillas in a wooden taco rack or on a  serving platter.

IMG_4059 IMG_4059 IMG_4059 IMG_4059 IMG_4059 IMG_4078 IMG_4078 IMG_4078~Step 4. To assemble the tacos, evenly distribute the shredded lettuce into bottom of the prepared taco shells. Evenly distribute  chicken and veggie mixture atop lettuce in each shell. Scatter cheese crumbles over the chicken mixture, followed by a drizzle of dressing.  Serve slightly warm or at room temperature -- like you would eat a refreshing Summertime sandwich.

Light & easy?  I can't eat just three. So much for my diet. 

IMG_4096Light & Easy Buffalo-Style Skinny Chicken Tacos:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups sauce and 5 generous cups filling, enough generously fill 16 tacos.

Special Equipment List: 2-cup measuring container; whisk; cutting board; chef's knife; deep-fryer or 4-quart saucepan; paper towels; wooden taco rack or serving platter; 3 1/2-quart enameled cast-iron skillet or 12" cast-iron skillet; large spoon or spatula

IMG_3792Cook's Note: Mexican food is a favorite of mine, but I often wish it wasn't.  Don't misunderstand me -- I can and will gobble up all its flavor-packed goodness with the best of 'em.  It's next to impossible for anyone me to resist the melty or crumbly cheeses along with the creamy-rich refried beans, guacamole and crema.  That said, more often than not, when dinner is done, I find myself wishing I'd exercised (pun intended) even a modicum of restraint.  Hence my recipe for  ~ Light & Easy Tex-Mex-Style Skinny Chicken Tacos ~.

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

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

07/15/2020

~ Store-Bought Corn Tortillas & the Perfect Taco Shell ~

IMG_3734An over-fried corn tortilla can be like eating broken glass.  That super-crispy-crunchy state is best left for frying tortilla wedges or wisps to serve as tortilla chips with dips, or wisps to garnish various Mexican-style soups or main-dishes.  No one wants to pick up a taco only to take a bite and have the taco shell shatter all over the plate.  This is not a blog post I ever intended to write, but, based on the number of times I get asked how I fry my taco shells, in order to achieve the perfect crisp-yet-pliable texture, I guess I should.  While it will be short and sweet, here goes.

IMG_3833When it comes to corn tortillas, nothing is as good as made-from-scratch tortillas, hand-mixed (using a mixture of masa harina and water) and hand-pressed.  That said, store-bought fresh corn tortillas are, in fact, a high-quality convenience product.  On the other hand, nothing is quite as bad as a taco shell that comes out of a box -- just don't do it. While making tortillas from scratch is not hard (not to mention fun), it is messy and time consuming, and, for as many tacos as my family eat, that is simply not a task I am willing to undertake on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, so, we are focusing on deep-frying taco shells using store-bought, fresh corn tortillas. 

IMG_4265 2The best taco shells are deep-fried. Period.  End of discussion.  Yes, they can be baked in the oven, I know, I've done it, but, BIG but, they're not as good, so, there's no time like the present to get over your fear of frying.  My grandmother and mother used to deep-fry foods in a 4-quart stockpot filled half-way with corn oil and a candy thermometer clipped to the side to control the temperature.  It's an option that works but it's smelly and messy.  

IMG_3839To avoid that, a small investment (about $60.00) will buy a deep-fryer that controls the heat perfectly, and, has a filter to catch all spatter and control any smell.  There's more. Presentation is everything, so, for evenly shaped tacos, I recommend spending a bit more (about $10.00) on a taco former, which shapes the soft tortilla until it crisps up, and, one or two taco holders (about $20 ) which hold the taco shells in place for super-easy assembly and a pretty as a picture presentation.

To deep-fry the perfect crisp-yet-pliable corn tortilla:

IMG_3711 IMG_3846 IMG_3846 IMG_3846 IMG_3846 IMG_3846~Step 1.  Remove the fryer-basket from the deep-fryer -- it's just in the way when frying taco shells. Preheat a deep-fryer that has been filled (according to manufacturer's specifications) with corn or peanut oil, to 375º.  Place a wire rack atop a few layers of paper towels and ready a grinder of sea salt.  Place one fresh corn tortilla in the taco former and lower it into the hot oil.  Without losing your grip on the taco former, close the fryer lid and continue to fry the tortilla for exactly 45 seconds.  Lift the fryer lid, remove the taco former, and release the taco shell onto  the wire rack.  Sprinkle the inside of the taco shell with a fresh grinding of sea salt.  Wait 5-6 seconds, no longer, and fit the taco shell into the taco rack. Repeat this process until desired number of taco shells have been fried and cooled.  

Taco shells made from fresh corn tortillas are a perfect vessel for many cultures, or any cuisine, to rest its food.

IMG_3720Store-Bought Corn Tortillas & the Perfect Taco Shell:  Recipe yields instructions to form and deep-fry the perfect crisp-yet-pliable taco shells.

Special Equipment List:  electric deep-fryer or a 4-quart saucepan and a candy thermometer; taco former; taco rack; wire cooling rack; paper towels

IMG_3792 2Cook's Note: Mexican food is a favorite of mine, but I often wish it wasn't.  Don't misunderstand me -- I can and will gobble up all its flavor-packed goodness with the best of 'em.  It's next to impossible for anyone me to resist the melty or crumbly cheeses along with the creamy-rich refried beans, guacamole and crema.  That said, more often than not, when dinner is done, I find myself wishing I'd exercised (pun intended) even a modicum of restraint.  Hence, my recipe for ~ Light & Easy Tex-Mex-Style Skinny Chicken Tacos ~.

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

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

07/12/2020

~ Light & Easy Tex-Mex-Style Skinny Chicken Tacos ~

IMG_3792Mexican food is a favorite of mine, but I often wish it wasn't.  Don't misunderstand me -- I can and will gobble up all its flavor-packed goodness with the best of 'em.  It's next to impossible for anyone me to resist the melty or crumbly cheeses along with the creamy-rich refried beans, guacamole and crema.  That said, more often than not, when dinner is done, I find myself wishing I'd exercised (pun intended) even a modicum of restraint, but, let's face it, despite the array of fresh ingredients used in Mexican food, Mexican fare doesn't offer any genuinely light options -- even a taco salad can contain up to 1200 calories. What's a girl who values her waistline to do? She takes matters into her own hands and makes "skinny" tacos -- a take on "baja-style tacos" (which implies a larger ratio of lower-calorie and fresher ingredients to calorie-packed ones).

It's worth mentioning that I often serve these as appetizers.  Why?  They're not your typical taco. Besides not being overstuffed or overly-messy, they are at their best when served slightly-warm or at room temperature -- they're eaten much like any other sandwich served in the heat of the Summertime.   There's more.  They maintain their crunchy-munchy integrity for several, 3-4 hours (if they last that long), which means you can assemble them and put them out just before your cocktail or tailgate party begins and let everyone help themselves to one, two or three. 

IMG_3778My basic but flavor-packed 5-minute Mexican marinade:

6a0120a8551282970b0223c846f14d200c6  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) ordinary corn or vegetable oil*

3  tablespoons white vinegar

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

1 1/2  teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2  teaspoons dried Mexican oregano and Mexican-style chili powder

1  teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  cup minced cilantro leaves

*Note:  Achiote oil, which is readily available everywhere, has annatto added to it, which is what gives it its signature pretty orange color, and, ever-so-slight hint of earthy, musty, peppery flavor. Annatto is the seed of the achiote tree, which is indigenous to Central and South America.  The seeds are usually ground to a powder or steeped in oil prior to adding to all sorts of Spanish-style fare.  If you don't do a lot of this type of cooking, don't buy it, or, if you don't want the orange color added to the dish you are serving, simply substitute corn or vegetable oil without compromise.

6a0120a8551282970b0224df2eb2e0200b 6a0120a8551282970b0224df2eb2e0200b 6a0120a8551282970b0224df2eb2e0200b 6a0120a8551282970b0224df2eb2e0200b~Step 1. In a small-capacity food processor, measure and place all ingredients as listed, except for cilantro.  Mince and add cilantro. Process until smooth and emulsified, 15-20 seconds.

Light & easy.  For my version of skinny tacos:

IMG_3686For the chicken:

all marinade, from above recipe 

2  pounds chicken tenderloins, sliced into skinny strips

For the vegetable sauté:

4  cups green, red and yellow bell pepper strips (about 1 each:  medium-sized green, red and yellow bell pepper)

2  cups sliced red onion strips  

1 1/2 teaspoons each: ground cumin, Mexican-style oregano and Mexican-style chili powder

1 teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

2  cups sliced grape or cherry tomatoes, total used throughout recipe (2/3 for the vegetable sauté and 1/3 for garnish

1/2  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves, total used throughout recipe (2/3 cup for the vegetable sauté and 1/3 for garnish)

2  tablespoons achiote, corn or vegetable oil, for sautéing vegetables

For serving and garnishes (in order of assembly):

16  fresh corn tortillas, deep-fried in corn oil to a crunchy-but-still-pliable state, about 45 seconds per tortilla

2  cups finely-shredded iceberg lettuce

all the sautéed chicken, pepper and onion mixture

1/3 of the sliced grape or cherry tomatoes, reserved from above, for garnish

1/3 of the minced, fresh cilantro leaves, reserved from above, for garnish

high-quality, store-bought, cilantro-lime dressing, for garnish

1/4  cup finely-shredded cotija cheese, for garnish (Note:  Cotija cheese is salty and dry, very resemblant of Parmesan, so, use sparingly.)

IMG_3692 IMG_3692 IMG_3692 IMG_3692 IMG_3692~Step 1.  Slice chicken as directed and place in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Add marinade and seal bag.  Using your fingertips, massage the bag, "squishing the chicken around", until chicken is coated in marinade. Set aside, at room temp 30-60 minutes, or, 3-4 hours in the refrigerator (overnight is too long).  Remove from refrigerator 1 hour prior to cooking.

IMG_3701 IMG_3679 IMG_3679 IMG_3679 IMG_3679 IMG_3679~Step 2.  Slice onion and peppers and place in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  In a small bowl, stir together the spices:  ground cumin, Mexican-style oregano, Mexican-style chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and black pepper. Add the spice blend to the veggetables, seal the bag and toss to coat veggies in spices.

IMG_3711 IMG_3711 IMG_3711~ Step 3.  While the chicken is marinating, and after the vegetables have been coated in the spice mixture, now is the best time to fry the corn tortillas.  In a deep-fryer containing corn or peanut oil and preheated to 360° according to manufacturer's specifications (or, in a sauce pan fitted with a candy thermometer on the stovetop), deep-fry each corn tortilla to a crunchy-but-still-pliable state, for 45 seconds. Remove tortilla from oil, place it on a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and season with a fresh grinding of sea salt.  Arrange finished tortillas in a wooden taco rack or on a large serving platter.

IMG_3737 IMG_3737 IMG_3737 IMG_3737 IMG_3737 IMG_3737~Step 4.  Transfer chicken and all of its marinade to a 3 1/2-quart enameled cast iron skillet and adjust heat to medium-high.  Sauté chicken until just cooked through, 5-6 minutes, stirring almost constantly with large spoon or spatula, until almost no liquid remains in the bottom of skillet.  Turn heat off and transfer chicken to a medium bowl and set aside while sautéing the vegetables as directed in Step 5 (see below).  Note:  There is no need to add oil to the skillet prior to sautéing the chicken because the marinade has oil in it.

IMG_3749 IMG_3749 IMG_3749 IMG_3749 IMG_3749 IMG_3784~Step 5.  Add the 2 tablespoons of oil to the skillet and adjust heat to high. Wait about 30 seconds. Add the vegetable melange.  Sauté, stirring constantly, until vegetables are crunch-tender, 1-2 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Turn the heat off. Return the still warm chicken to the skillet and toss to combine.  Remove from heat and set aside for 30-40 minutes, to cool (a bit more than) slightly.  Stir in about 2/3 of the sliced tomatoes and 2/3 cup of the minced cilantro, reserving the remaining tomatoes and cilantro for garnish. 

IMG_3787 IMG_3787 IMG_3787~Step 6.  To assemble the tacos, evenly distribute the shredded lettuce into the bottom of the sixteen prepared taco shells. Evenly distribute the chicken and vegetable mixture atop the lettuce in each one.  Scatter a few tomatoes and a sprinkling of cilantro atop the meat and vegetable mixture, followed by a drizzle of the flavorful cilantro-lime dressing and a light sprinkling of the shredded cotija cheese.  Serve slightly warm or at room temperature -- like you would eat a refreshing Summertime sandwich.

Light & easy?  I can't eat just three. So much for my diet.

IMG_3817Light & Easy Tex-Mex-Style Chicken Taco Stir-Fry:  Recipe yields  1/2 cup marinade and enough filling for 16 tacos.

Special Equipment List:  small-capacity food processor; cutting board; chef's knife; 2, 1-gallon food storage bags; deep-fryer or 4-quart saucepan; paper towels; wooden taco rack or serving platter; 3 1/2-quart enameled cast-iron skillet or 12" cast-iron skillet; large spoon or spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7d2d12e970b 2Cook's Note: My favorite fish taco is the one that is in front of me, and, the first one I ever ate was so good I've declined to debate this issue with anyone -- if you bring it up, I'll just hit the mute button.  It was 1986, and, there was a day trip from San Diego, CA to Tijuana, Mexico on our agenda.  As I recall, the trip took about an hour and I'd ordered a "Baja Fish Taco" at a taco stand, which I ate en route -- I wish I'd ordered two. ~ Beer-Batter-Dipped Baja-Style Cod-Fish Tacos ~.

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

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

07/09/2020

~ Betty Crocker's 1950 Sour Cream Cookie Recipe ~

IMG_3659Sour cream cookies have been a favorite in households for decades -- mine included.  They are the perfect little not-too-sweet cookie.  They're soft, a bit chewy and need no adornment or intervention.  They only require a few on-hand ingredients (unless you're out of sour cream) and take moments to mix.  They're good hot, warm, at room temp, and, they keep for days in the cookie jar.  I can't think of a better use for a cup of sour cream, shortening and two eggs. I have two recipes for sour cream cookies (see Cook's note below), and both or great.  The first of the two recipes, the one I'm posting today, is the one my mom made.  It came straight from the pages of the 1950 edition of Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook and appears on page 182.

The Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook (1950) is said to be the most-sold cookbook in modern-day American culinary history.

6a0120a8551282970b0263ec27886e200cWith well over 6,000 hard and soft-cover volumes in my cooking library, on my short list of favorites, two, written Betty Crocker and General Mills quality for "tattered-spine, stained-page" status:  The 1950 edition of Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook (which belonged to my mother/see photo below), and, the 1972 edition of Betty Crocker's Cookbook (which was a bridal shower gift to me in 1974). Appearance wise, by celebrity-driven, modern-day, glossy-paged, pro-photographed standards, both are unsophisticated and plebeian.  If one can get past first impressions, one would know: These books were written for the ages. They're full of kitchen-tested never-goes-out-of-date recipes written for success.

IMG_3622The Betty Crocker Picture Cook Book, with it's signature bright red cover, is said to be the most-sold cookbook in American history.  It was the brain-child of General Mills in order for them to sell more flour -- and the reason for the imaginary "Betty Crocker" persona to be invented.  As it turned out, the General Mills test kitchens turned out to be the best-of-the-best when it came to writing recipes for anyone of any experience level to use (again and again) and appreciate.  It meant that any young bride of 1950 with a stove and an oven and an interest in cooking could become the family's culinary virtuoso -- the family's own "Betty Crocker".

The Betty Crocker Picture cookbook was written in an era when 30% of the family budget went toward food.  Housewives shopped several times a week, in several stores (the butcher, the baker, the all-purpose small-by-today's-standards grocery store).  They cooked breakfast, lunch and dinner.  On special occasions and holidays, they entertained friends and family too.  They had no concept of take-out, eat-out and delivery on the scale we have become accustomed to.  At all times, they had relatively no access to out-of-the ordinary ingredients.  They made due nicely thanks to the Betty Crocker's Picture Cookbook, that taught that marvelous meals could be prepared, by anyone with a desire to cook, using ordinary, readily-available ingredients.

From the pages an iconic book full of user-friendly recipes:  

IMG_3671Betty Crocker's 1950 Picture Book Sour Cream Cookie Recipe.

IMG_36283  cups all-purpose flour  (Note:  The recipe calls for 2 3/4 cups of flour and that measurement works just fine.  I use 3, which yields puffier, rather than flatter cookies.)

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon salt

1/2  cup shortening

1 1/2  cups sugar

2  large eggs

1  cup sour cream

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract (Note:  The recipe calls for 1 teaspoon, which is great.  I used two because who doesn't like double vanilla?)

Note before starting:  I've written the recipe in my own words, making my own minor changes. For example:  They refrigerate the bowl of cookie dough for 1 hour.  I refrigerate it for a shorter 15-30 minutes, then refrigerate each pan of unbaked cookies for 15 minutes prior to baking them.  My way gets me started baking sooner, finished baking faster, and eating cookies quicker.

IMG_3548 IMG_3632 IMG_3632 IMG_3632 IMG_3632 IMG_3632 IMG_3632~Step 1. In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and baking soda.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, place and cream together shortening, sugar and eggs, until light and fluffy, 1-1 1/2 minutes, using a large rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl constantly.  Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in sour cream and vanilla, about 30 seconds.  In 2-3 increments, incorporate the flour mixture into the sour cream mixture, 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Cover bowl with plastic and refrigerate for 15-30 minutes.  Do not refrigerate any longer.

IMG_3646 IMG_3646 IMG_3653~Step 2. Working one pan at a time, using a 1 1/2" cookie scoop as a measure, drop balls of dough, about 2" apart onto a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment (15 per pan).  Refrigerate pan of unbaked cookies for 15 minutes.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven, until cookies are just set and barely-browning around the edges, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven and use a spatula to transfer cookies to wire rack to cool.  Repeat process until all cookies are baked.

All baked, cooled & ready for any family to enjoy:

IMG_3666Betty Crocker's 1950 Sour Cream Cookie Recipe:  Recipe yields 4 dozen 2"-round cookies.

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

IMG_3616Cook's Note: McCall's Cookie Collection was the first in a darling series of eighteen, 7 1/2" x 9", paperback books (McCalls Cookbook Collection*), 64 pages each.  I bought the collection, once-a-month, in the grocery store, for $1.40 each.  At our Riverside market, they'd display them near the checkout so we couldn't miss it -- and they sold out quickly.  Their recipes were tested, and, of the many I tried (several from each book each month), we, of course, liked some things better than others, but, I can report no recipe fails.  This personal favorite-of-mine cookie recipe appears on Page 23. ~ McCalls 1974 Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Cookies ~.

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

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

07/07/2020

~ McCall's 1974 Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Cookies ~

IMG_3599Nineteen Seventy-Four.  I was nineteen years young, a new bride, and, living in our first apartment here in downtown Happy Valley.  I was the secretary to the Vice-President of Lending for our towns premier bank.  I drove a hot, little lime-green Fiat, got my first miniature poodle and named him Caesar, and, I loved to cook.  Life was good (and it still is).  While times change and people change, a good recipe does not -- it just gets better and better with age.  This is one such recipe, and, these cookies evoke these and more memories every time I bake them.

IMG_3542McCall's Cookie Collection was the first in a darling series of eighteen, 7 1/2" x 9", paperback books (McCalls Cookbook Collection*), 64 pages each.  I bought the collection, once-a-month, in the grocery store, for $1.40 each.  At our Riverside market, they'd display them near the checkout so we couldn't miss it -- and they sold out quickly.  Their recipes were tested and worked -- of the many I tried (several from each book each month), we, of course, liked some things better than others, but, I can report no recipe fails.  This personal favorite-of-mine cookie recipe appears on Page 23.

*Titles:  Cookie collection, casserole cookbook, cookless cookbook, salads and salad dressings, cakes and pies, marvelous meats, dessert discoveries, family-style cookbook, company cookbook, do-ahead party cookbook, coast-to-coast cooking, world-wide cooking, fish 'n' fowl, show-off cookbook, cocktail time cookbook, home-baked breads, book of merry eating, picnic and patio cookbook.  A plastic cookbook holder and recipe index could be purchased anytime for $2.25.

From the pages a little book full of fun, user-friendly recipes:

IMG_3604These are the perfect little not-too-sweet cookie -- soft, a bit chewy and need no decoration or intervention.  They only require a few on-hand ingredients (unless you're out of sour cream) and take moments to mix.  They're good hot, warm, at room temp, and, they keep for days in the cookie jar.  I can't think of a better use for a cup of sour cream, a cup of butter and two eggs!

IMG_3546For the cookies:

3 1/4  cups all-purpose flour (Note:  The recipe calls for 3 cups of flour and that measurement works just fine.  I use 3 1/4 cups, which yields puffier, rather than flatter cookies.)

1  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon salt

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

1 1/2  cups sugar

2  large eggs

1  cup sour cream

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract (Note:  The recipe calls for 1 teaspoon, which is great.  I used two because who doesn't like double vanilla?)

For the topping:

store-bought Sugar 'n Cinnamon mixture (Note:  The recipes says to mix 1/2 cup sugar with 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon.  Store-bought Sugar 'n Cinnamon is simply easier.)

Note before starting:  I've written the recipe in my own words, making my own minor changes. For example:  They refrigerate the bowl of cookie dough for 1 hour.  I refrigerate it for a short 15 minutes, then refrigerate each pan of unbaked cookies for 15 minutes prior to baking them.  My way gets me started baking sooner, finished baking faster, and eating cookies quicker.

IMG_3548 IMG_3551 IMG_3551 IMG_3551 IMG_3551 IMG_3551 IMG_3551~Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together flour, baking powder and baking soda.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, place and cream together butter, sugar and eggs, until light and fluffy, 1-1 1/2 minutes, using a large rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl constantly.  Reduce mixer speed to low and beat in sour cream and vanilla, about 30 seconds.  In 2-3 increments, incorporate the flour mixture into the sour cream mixture, 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 15 minutes.  Do not refrigerate any longer.

IMG_3575 IMG_3575 IMG_3575 IMG_3575 IMG_3575~Step 2.  Working one pan at a time, using a 1 1/2" cookie scoop as a measure, drop balls of dough, about 2" apart onto a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment (15 per pan).  Sprinkle tops with sugar 'n cinnamon.  Refrigerate pan of unbaked cookies for 15 minutes.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven, until cookies are just set and barely-browning around the edges, about 10 minutes.  Remove from oven and use a thin spatula to transfer cookies to wire rack to cool.  Repeat  process, until all cookies are baked.

Yes, overall, 1974 was a very, very good year:

IMG_3616McCall's 1974 Old-Fashioned Sour Cream Cookies:  Recipe yields 4 dozen 2"-round cookies.

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

IMG_3030Cook's Note: While this is one of the easiest cookie recipes in my repertoire, it is also one of the most used.  After the butter and cream cheese come to room temp, 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.  Try my ~ Melt-in-Your-Mouth Tangy Cream Cheese Cookies ~.

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

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

07/05/2020

~ Broiled & Baked Rack of St. Lewis-Style Spareribs ~

IMG_3508Not everyone is a master of the barbecue grill or smoker.  Newsflash.  Not everyone wants to be. While I'm more than competent on a gas grill, charcoal gives me fits and the smell of smoke gives me a blinding headache.  There's more.  When the temperature in the great outdoors is threatening to blow the top off my thermometer, you won't find me outside torturing myself in the blazing heat just to prepare a rack of ribs.  It's the AC for me baby, and, trust me when I tell you, you're gonna love the ribs I'm making in the cool oasis called "Melanie's Kitchen".

When it comes to purchasing pork spareribs, we cooks almost always have a choice to make: babyback (sometimes labeled "pork back ribs"), or, St. Louis-style (sometimes labeled "breastbone-off, pork ribs").  To the eye, babybacks are smaller (which appeals to many home cooks because they're more manageable), but, please know, this has nothing to do with the size of the pig (meaning, for those spreading false information: they're not taken from baby pigs).  

20140904-001-spares_and_BB_2.0Babybacks are cut from where the rib meets the spine after the loin is removed.  Each rack weighs about 1 1/2-2 pounds and averages 10-13 curved, 4"-5"-long ribs.  In our house, one rack will feed 2 people. St. Lewis- Style refers to the way the ribs are cut, not a style of barbecue.  They are larger, meatier, and cut from the belly after the belly is removed.  They get trimmed in the style of St. Lewis butchers, by cutting away the breastbone and cartilage to form a rectangular shape.  Each rack weighs about 2 1/2-3 pounds and averages 12-14 flatfish, 6"-7"-long ribs.  When serving these, I plan on one rack feeding 3-4 people.

My broiled & baked method for cooking St. Lewis-Style ribs:

IMG_34251  rack St. Lewis-style spareribs

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

2  cups water

1 1/4-1 1/2 cups barbecue sauce of choice, used in 3 increments (6-8 tablespoons, 6-8 tablespoons and 6-8 tablespoons) throughout recipe

IMG_3430 IMG_3430~Step 1.  Remove ribs from packaging and pat dry in paper towels.  Flip the rack, bottom side up and place it on a large work surface.   Using a chef's knife or a pair of kitchen shears either remove the flap of meat that's up against the bone or trim it of excess fat.  This choice is yours -- I trim off the excess fat and leave it on.  Using a sharp-tipped paring knife, gently raise and loosen the membrane (called the silver skin) from the first rib, then, using a paper towel or two to get a grip on the membrane, slowly, but firmly, tear it off.

IMG_3427 IMG_3427 IMG_3445 IMG_3447 IMG_3447 IMG_3447~Step 2.  Insert a wire rack into a 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum broiler pan and place a piece of parchment atop the rack.  Transfer the ribs to the parchment, placing them bottom side up.  Generously season with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Place the pan on an oven rack that has be positioned 8" underneath preheated broiler.  Broil ribs until golden, 18-20 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Flip ribs over, season top side with sea salt and peppercorn blend and return to broiler 18-20 more minutes.

IMG_3459 IMG_3459 IMG_3459~Step 3.  Remove from oven and reset the oven to 350°.  Without moistening the ribs, add 2 cups of water to bottom of pan. Using a pastry brush, generously paint the rack of ribs, on both sides with the barbecue sauce, using about 6-8 tablespoons per side.  Cover and tightly seal the pan with aluminum foil -- if the foil rips or tears, start over with a new piece of foil.  Return ribs to the oven and bake 1 hour.

IMG_3468 IMG_3471 IMG_3471~Step 4.  Remove pan from oven, reset the oven to broil, and position the oven rack to 6" underneath the heat source.  Paint top of ribs with the last 6-8 tablespoons of the barbecue sauce.  Place the pan under preheated broiler and broil the ribs again, until sauce is bubbling, turning golden brown (caramelizing) and, showing slight signs of charring across the surface, about 5-6 minutes.  Watch carefully. The sugar in any type of barbecue sauce can and will go from brown to burned very quickly.

Remove from oven & transfer to a large board:

IMG_3479Slice & serve hot, warm or at room temperature: 

IMG_3485Broiled & Baked Rack of St. Lewis-Style Spareribs:  Recipe yields 1 rack of perfectly-cooked, large, meaty St.-Lewis-style spareribs/4 servings.

Special Equipment List: paper towels; chef's knife or kitchen shears; paring knife; 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan; wire cooling rack; parchment paper; 2-cup measuring container; pastry brush; aluminum boil

6a0120a8551282970b01a511797d9b970cCook's Note:  Country-style spareribs are taken from the rib end of the pork loin, and, like baby backs and St. Lewis ribs they are fatty, flavorful, and, very meaty.  While all three are suited perfectly for the dry, high heat of the grill, country-style ribs take to the oven like ducks to water.  I love them, but, more importantly, so does my entire family. ~ Broiled & Baked:  K.C. BBQ'D Country-Style Ribs ~.

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

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

07/03/2020

~The Story Behind Macaroni & Yankee Doodle Dandy~

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d131f9da970c-1Yankee Doodle went to town, riding on a pony, stuck a feather in his hat, and, called it macaroni. Fun song to sing?  If you've ever wondered why Yankee Doodle would name his feather macaroni, this post will explain.  Sans the folks who think Kraft Foods invented macaroni, food historians agree that here in the United States, it had its humble beginning in the kitchen of Thomas Jefferson, who returned from a trip to Paris with a macaroni maker/press which he bought while in Italy.  Thank-you Mr. Jefferson for introducing macaroni to America.

A bit about macaroni:  Macaroni is a small, fork-friendly often tubular-shaped pasta made from durum wheat and water (it does not contain eggs).  It's generally mass produced, as the extruder machine used to make the tube is difficult to use and clean.  The word "macaroni" comes from the Italian "maccheroni", which, in Italy doesn't just refer to the ever-popular bent-elbow macaroni (common to the US).  It includes other shapes, such as shells, twists, spirals. penne and ziti. Because short and stubby macaroni is generally thicker than stranded pasta, it can be used in a wider variety of ways, such as simmering in soups or baking in casseroles.

Why did Yankee Doodle Dandy call the feather in his hat macaroni?  

Gettyimages-463929691-612x612So -- why did Yankee Doodle Dandy stick a feather in his hat and call it macaroni?  Was he some sort of a nut?  In the time period, this British pre-revolutionary war song was nothing more than the British making full-blown fun of American colonists, who they deemed to be poor, backward, lowly, uneducated, country bumpkins or hicks. The British slang word for an idiot was "doodle", hence the name Yankee Doodle (or Yankee Idiot).  It was a nasty name and an insulting song.

Back in the 1700's, both European men and women prided themselves in making a fashion statement whenever they were in public, and, a man who was a fashion leader was called "dandy".  So, was Yankee Doodle actually a dandy?  Not by the British standards.  In the song they have the poor idiot, Yankee Doodle, riding into town on a pony, not even a proper horse, and, sticking a feather in his tattered three-cornered tricorne or coonskin hat in the hopes of making a respectable fashion statement equivalent to that of a stylish man of Europe.

Men in the business of importing macaroni from Italy to Britain & France proudly referred to themselves as "macaronis".  

6a0120a8551282970b0154336c5b21970cBut why would he call his feather macaroni?  Well, he (himself) didn't -- remember, the British wrote this song, and back then, "macaroni" was yet another derogatory term used to describe men who dressed in outrageously excessive clothes, which included tall, heavy, expensive white wigs laden with hundreds of small, tight curls.  In extreme cases, the wigs were custom built upon and around heavy wire forms.  These wigs were worn by the salesmen in the business of importing macaroni from Italy to Britain and France, and, they proudly referred to themselves as "macaronis".  

What does this mean for us foodies? Well, whether macaroni was named after the wigs, or the wigs were named after the curly little Italian pasta remains a "chicken or the egg" mystery, but for me: every year on the Fourth of July, I find myself proudly humming this tune and preparing macaroni salad in honor of it.

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

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