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12 posts from November 2020

11/29/2020

~Broiled KC-Style Sticky Barbecued Chicken Quarters~

IMG_7008Smack my drippy lips and lick my sticky fingers.  Skin-on barbecued chicken is one of my favorite things -- the stickier the end result, the better.  Oh-my-sigh.  There is just something about what happens when crispy chicken skin meets a few slathers of barbecue sauce at the end of the cooking process.  When executed correctly, three-four bastes with a copious amount of sauce, each given a few moments to caramelize in between each application, the two become one sticky casing for the tender, juicy meat below.  It sends my soul to the moon and back to earth.

Three on-hand ingredients + 50 minutes = dinner:

6a0120a8551282970b026be40718f6200dFor the Barbecued-style chicken leg-thigh quarters:

4  chicken leg-thigh quarters, about 4-4 1/2 pounds

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, or, your favorite barbecue seasoning blend

2  cups K.C.-style barbecue sauce, your favorite brand or favorite homemade K.C.-style recipe, about 1 cup for basting chicken quarters 3 times while it's under the broiler, plus enough to be served for dipping or drizzling at the table

IMG_6940IMG_6940IMG_6940~ Step 1.  Place a scant 1/4" water in the bottom of a large 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan.  The water in the bottom of the pan will prevent the dripping fat from the broiling chicken quarters from spattering and burning.  Insert a rack in the pan, and place a piece of parchment atop the rack.

IMG_6948 IMG_6948 IMG_6948 IMG_6948~Step 2.  Arrange chicken quarters atop the parchment.  Season generously with a grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Place pan on an oven rack that has been positioned 8 1/2"-9" underneath the preheated broiler (lower third of the oven).  Broil chicken quarters for 45 minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b026bde885bc9200c6a0120a8551282970b026bde885bc9200c IMG_6962 IMG_6966 IMG_6972 IMG_6975 IMG_6980 IMG_6986 2 IMG_6982 IMG_6992~Step 3.  Remove the chicken from the oven -- do not turn the broiler off or reposition the oven rack.  Using a pastry brush, generously slather each chicken quarter with barbecue sauce.  Return the pan to the oven for 2-2 1/2 minutes.  Watch carefully as the sugar in the barbecue sauce can and will go from golden brown to burned quickly.  Remove chicken from oven.  Slather with sauce a second time.  Return to oven for another 2-2 1/2 minutes.  Remove chicken from oven.  Slather with sauce a third, and last, time.  Return pan of chicken to the oven for the last time for another 2-2 1/2 minutes.  Watch carefully.

Platter 'em up nice 'n purty & call the family to the table:

IMG_7033I serve 'em w/my better than store-bought mac & cheese:

6a0120a8551282970b026bde88638f200cBroiled KC-Style Sticky Barbecued Chicken Quarters:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List: 2-cup measuring container; wire cooling rack; 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan disposable aluminum roasting pan, or, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; wire rack; parchment paper; pastry brush 

IMG_4669Cook's Note:  Chicken quarters can be roasted too.  It's a different process (roasting and broiling are very different from each other), and, it takes almost twice as long, but, the results are just as delicious.  Try my ~ Easy Oven-Roasted Barbecued Chicken Quarters ~.

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

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

11/26/2020

~ Be Safe, Think Small, Turkey Day Charcuterie Tray ~

IMG_7355"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

11/24/2020

~ Simple Tips for Entertaining for Breakfast or Brunch ~

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d692750970d-800wi-1Entertaining guests for breakfast or brunch is decidedly different than entertaining guests for cocktails and/or dinner.  For starters, we breakfast chefs don't have the luxury of several hours prep time leading up to the get-together, which means, all of the shopping and as much of the fare (as is humanly possible) needs to be prepped or semi-prepared the night before.  An early call to the kitchen means "all the boxes" need to be checked, and double-checked, prior to showtime.

Do NOT bite-off more than you can chew.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c76dd85e970bDon't break your budget (just don't do it), resist the urge to be over-the-top fancy-schmancy (just don't do it), and, don't invite any more guests than you have ample space for, and you can cook for, with complete ease (just don't do it).  Better advice I cannot give, and, underestimating the value of it, can, and will be, the difference between success and failure.  Trust me on this point.

Do NOT be afraid to mix store-bought with homemade.

6a0120a8551282970b026bdea4c46d200cDon't learn your AM-entertaining lessons the hard way.  Things like store-bought biscuits and crescent dough are great bases for an hors d'oeuvres or two.  Focus on the one or two or things you’d like to fuss over, and buy or outsource the rest.  Just do it.  If quiche is your specialty, make two or three.  If you've got two or three killer breakfast casseroles in your repertoire, make 'em. Rely on your local bakeries and/or donut shops for the rest -- and never look back.  Relax.

DO set up a breakfast or brunch buffet.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1870f13970cWhen it comes to cock-a-doodle-do entertaining, buffet-style, is, in my opinion, every home cooks best friend.  Start by choosing three or four designated spaces (aka "stations") -- on a kitchen countertop, a center island, a kitchen table and/or a dining room table, or, even three-four folding tables.  Designate each "station" with a vase of seasonal flowers, and, assign each a purpose.

A breakfast buffet in my kitchen always includes at least three stations: a station with a few pitchers of pour-your-own fruit-juice and fruit-juice cocktails, plus, coffee or tea; a station with baskets brimming with choose-your-own (store-bought) pastries, bagels and muffins (along with store-bought whipped butter, jams and cream-cheese spreads), and; a station with enough (matched, mismated or high-quality disposable) luncheon-sized plates, napkins and flatware to outlast the entire length of the get-together.  My fourth station, my main-course station, goes in one of two directions, as follows.  For smaller groups, it's at my stovetop where I cook for each person -- either a made-to-order omelette, a stack of pancakes, or a couple of waffles.  For larger groups, it's two-three, made-ahead, hot-out-of-the-oven, breakfast or brunch casseroles.

Cock-a-doodle do NOT stress over AM entertaining:  

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09626d7c970d-800wi"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipes, commentary and photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)

11/22/2020

~Buttery Sauerkraut as a Side-Dish & for Sandwiches~

IMG_7533I wish I had the time and the inclination to make sauerkraut the old-fashioned way, by fermenting some shredded cabbage in a crock.  I don't.  Perhaps if we ate sauerkraut more than a two-three times a year, I would be inclined to make the time -- it is indeed wonderful.  That said, for those times I want a cup or two of kraut to serve as a side dish or top a sandwich, a bag of store-bought is just fine. FYI:  Technically, once it's out of the package, drained, and rinsed, sauerkraut is ready to eat.  That said, it's awesome when briefly sautéed with some butter, onion and seasonings.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d3bbcf970cA bit about sauerkraut:  Although sauerkraut (German for "sour cabbage") is thought of as a German invention, Chinese laborers building The Great Wall of China over 2,000 years ago ate it as standard fare.  Chinese sauerkraut, made from shredded cabbage fermented in rice wine, eventually found its way to Europe, where the Germans and Alsatians adopted it as a favorite staple. Today's sauerkraut is made in the same manner: by combining shredded cabbage, salt and some spices, then allowing the mixture to ferment.  It is packaged in jars and cans and is found in almost every supermarket.  The best sauerkraut is sold by the pound in delicatessens, as well as in the refrigerated section of grocery stores, where it is packaged in plastic bags.  All sauerkraut should be rinsed in cold water before being served as a side-dish, being cooked in casseroles, or, used as a topping for sandwiches.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d45009970cFor 2 pounds (4 cups) sauerkraut:

2  pounds deli-style sauerkraut, from a bag, not a can

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

8 tablespoons salted butter (1 stick butter)

1  teaspoon caraway seeds

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_7492 IMG_7492 IMG_7492 IMG_7500 IMG_7503 IMG_7503 IMG_7503 IMG_7503~Step 1.  Place the sauerkraut in a colander. Thoroughly rinse it under cold water.  Allow it to drain for about 5 minutes.  In a 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven or 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot, melt butter over low heat.  Stir in the caraway seeds, sea salt and black pepper pepper.  Add the diced onion.  Adjust heat to sauté, until onion is soft and translucent, about 3 minutes.  

IMG_7511 IMG_7511 IMG_7511 IMG_7511~Step 2.  Add the drained and rinsed sauerkraut, give the mixture a thorough stir, and continue to sauté, stirring frequently, to keep the sauerkraut from browning, for 8-9 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot and set aside for 15-30 minutes, to allow the flavors time to marry.

Try my Deli Corned Beef on Swirl w/Sauerkraut & Swiss:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed6d31970dLeftovers?  Sauerkraut Yesterday -- Sauerkraut Cakes Today:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c80e8f38970bButtery Sauerkraut as a Side-Dish & for Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 1 quart/4 cups/8 servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; colander; 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven or 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot w/lid 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3abaaba200dCook's Note: This is my father's family's recipe for sauerkraut, and as Eastern Europeans, sauerkraut wasn't reserved for ringing in the New Year -- we ate it all year long.  The only thing that could improve upon the recipe would be my grandfather's home-fermented 'kraut -- which, as a child, I remember being kept in a large, wooden barrel sitting in the corner of his cold, earthen-floored basement, which I remember being a somewhat scary place. ~ Slovak-Style Butter-Bean & Mushroom Sauerkraut ~.

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

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

11/20/2020

~Pan-Fried Shredded Hash-Brown Potato Pan-Cakes~

IMG_7456I accidentally put a bag of shredded hash brown potatoes in the refrigerator instead of the freezer yesterday.  What can I say, I was in a hurry.  Mistakes happen.  I am so glad I decided to open the bag before discarding the to-the-touch soggy mess this morning, because there was a nice surprise inside for me: glistening-white, ready-to-use, slightly-wet, shredded potatoes -- without all the time-consuming mess of doing it from scratch.  I may will never shred fresh potatoes again.

It didn't take but a few minutes to deduce that my supposed shredded hash brown potato tragedy, could easily, in reality, be a triumph, which played out at the dinner table that evening.  My potato-pancake-loving-family gobbled them up.  I served them with applesauce as a side-dish to my six-minute ham slices.  That said, by making them smaller (half-cup instead of one-cup size), appetizer-size, they are a perfect savory nosh at any cocktail party or festive gathering.

A cross between a thin potato pancake & a thick potato cake:

IMG_72531  30-ounce bag frozen, shredded hash-brown potatoes, thawed several hours on the countertop or overnight in the refrigerator (8 cups shredded potatoes), then, spread out and well-drained on a paper-towel lined baking sheet for about an hour 

1 1/2  cups small-diced onion

6  tablespoons pancake and waffle mix

2 1/2 teaspoons-1 tablespoon sea salt

1  tablespoon coarse-grind black pepper

3  large eggs, lightly beaten

4  tablespoon corn or peanut oil, for preparing skillet

IMG_7255 IMG_7255 IMG_7255 IMG_7255

IMG_7265 IMG_7265~Step 1.  Place the well-drained potatoes in a large bowl.  Add the diced onions.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly toss the two together. In a small ramekin, stir together the pancake mix sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper.  Add the dry pancake mixture to the potato mixture, and, use the spatula to thoroughly toss again.  Using a fork, lightly beat the eggs, then add it to the bowl and use the spatula to throughly incorporate them too.  The mixture will be thick, and, will have reduced in size by about half.  Set aside.

IMG_7420 IMG_7420 IMG_7420 IMG_7420~Step 2.  When it comes to these potato pan-cakes, I start with a cold skillet.  Swirl the oil around to coat the bottom of a 14" nonstick skillet.  Place the cold skillet on the stovetop.  Measure and place 7, firmly-packed, 3/4-cup-size cups of the potato mixture in the bottom of the cold skillet.

IMG_7434 IMG_7434 IMG_7434 IMG_7434 IMG_7446~Step 3.  Adjust the heat to medium-high and allow the pan-cakes to start to lightly-brown on their bottoms for about 3-4 minutes.  When the bottoms have started to form a light-golden crust, use a spatula to smash them into 3/4"-thick discs.  Continue to cook, until nicely golden, on the first side, about 6 minutes.  Gently flip the pan-cakes over, and cook, until nicely golden, on the second side, about 6 more minutes.  Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Sour cream & chives?  Applesauce?  Your choice:

IMG_7480Pan-Fried Shredded Hash Brown Potato Pan-Cakes:  Recipe yields 7 large potatoes pancakes, or, 14 smaller, appetizer-sized potato pancakes.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; fork; 1-cup measure; spoon; 14" skillet, preferably nonstick; nonstick spatula; paper towels

IMG_7304Cook's Note: The day of my happy accident, my breakfast menu changed immediately.  Joe's sunny side up eggs with two sausage patties, stayed the same, but, his toasted English muffin turned into a side of my hash-brown waffles (which I typically only serve for special occasion breakfasts), and, all I had to do was drain the potatoes on a paper-towel-lined plate, dice a cup of onions, and get out my waffle maker.  ~ My Shredded Hash-Brown Potato-Pancake Waffles ~.

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

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

11/18/2020

~ My Shredded Hash-Brown Potato-Pancake Waffles ~

IMG_7304I accidentally put a bag of shredded hash brown potatoes in the refrigerator instead of the freezer yesterday.  What can I say, I was in a hurry.  Mistakes happen.  I am so glad I decided to open the bag before discarding the to-the-touch soggy mess this morning, because there was a nice surprise inside for me: glistening-white, ready-to-use, slightly-wet, shredded potatoes -- without all the time-consuming mess of doing it from scratch.  I may will never shred fresh potatoes again.

My breakfast menu changed immediately.  Joe's sunny side up eggs with two sausage patties, stayed the same, but, his toasted English muffin turned into a side of my hash-brown waffles (which I typically only serve for special occasion breakfasts), and, all I had to do was drain the potatoes on a paper-towel-lined plate, dice a cup of onions, and get out my waffle maker.

This semi-old dog just learned a new trick:

IMG_72531  30-ounce bag frozen, shredded hash-brown potatoes, thawed several hours on the countertop or overnight in the refrigerator (8 cups shredded potatoes), then, spread out and well-drained on a paper-towel lined baking sheet for about an hour 

1 1/2  cups small-diced onion

6  tablespoons pancake and waffle mix

2 1/2 teaspoons-1 tablespoon sea salt

1  tablespoon coarse-grind black pepper

3  large eggs, lightly beaten

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing waffle iron

IMG_7255 IMG_7255 IMG_7260 IMG_7260 IMG_7260 IMG_7260~Step 1.  Place the well-drained potatoes in a large bowl.  Add the diced onions.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly toss the two together. In a small ramekin, stir together the pancake mix sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper.  Add the dry pancake mixture to the potato mixture, and, use the spatula to thoroughly toss again.  Using a fork, lightly beat the eggs, then add it to the bowl and use the spatula to throughly incorporate them too.  The mixture will be thick, and, will have reduced in size by about half.  Set aside.

IMG_7280 IMG_7280 IMG_7285 IMG_7285 IMG_7285~Step 2.  Lightly-spray the grill grids of a two-slice Belgian-style waffle iron, top and bottom, with no-stick cooking spray.  Close the lid and preheat the waffle iron -- my iron has variable thrermostatic heat control, so I preheat it to medium-high.  It takes my iron 8-10 minutes to preheat. Open the lid and place 1 cup of the potato-pancake mixture in the center of each of the two grill grids.  Close the lid briefly, to partially smash the potato mixture down, about 5 seconds.  Lift the lid, then use a fork to distribute the potato mixture into the open corners.

IMG_7292 IMG_7295 IMG_7295~Step 3.  Close the lid tightly, and continue to cook the waffles until a nice golden brown, about 6 minutes.  In my waffle iron, it's 6 minutes exactly, but, I can't guarantee that in yours, so adjust the time accordingly.  Lift the lid and allow waffles to sit, with the lid open, about 1 minute, to allow the steam to escape.  Using a thin spatula and/or a fork, gently lift and transfer the waffles from the iron to a wire rack.  Repeat this process (no need to respray the grill-grids with no stick spray) with the remaining 3 waffles. If you're a perfectionist, use a pair of kitchen shears to clip the craggy edges around each waffle.  

Don't have a Belgian-style waffle iron?  No time like the present to make a small investment in potato-pancake waffle perfection.

IMG_7304My Shredded Hash Brown Potato-Pancake Waffles:  Recipe yields 5 large Belgian-style waffles.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; fork; 1-cup measure; spoon; Belgian-style waffle iron; thin spatula; wire cooling rack; kitchen sherrs (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d692750970d-800wiCook's Note: Let me be honest, if you are the family cook, making real-deal waffles in the midst of getting everyone in your household out the door for school and/or work on time, to say the least, requires a degree in time-management.  Toasting some bread, scrambling or frying some eggs, and, even whisking up a few pancakes is child's play compared to making any type of waffles. For years, I saved waffle making for very special occasion breakfasts.  Try my recipe for ~ Teresa's Easy-to-Make Overnight Belgian Waffles ~.

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

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

11/15/2020

~ Crock of Baked Applesauce, Walnut & Herbed Brie ~

IMG_7405Small but mighty, and, falling into the category of somewhere-in-between-a-dip-and-a-spread, this easy-to-make appetizer is appropriate to serve at, or make-and-take to, any holiday gathering -- it's sublime.  It's also a great recipe to keep in your back pocket in case you find yourself in need of a last-minute appetizer.  There's more.  If you're not a fan of cranberry sauce, it's great made with whole-berry cranberry sauce instead.  While it can be prepared in a small shallow bowl, it's particularly pretty baked and served in a small crock -- presentation is, after all, everything. There's even more.  It can be assembled, refrigerated overnight, and baked the next day.

Three ingredients + twenty minutes = one sublime appetizer.

IMG_73571  8-ounce wheel herbed-triple creme brie

1  cup chunky-style applesauce

1/2  cup coarse-chopped walnuts

IMG_7363 IMG_7363 IMG_7364 IMG_7368~Step 1.  Place 6 tablespoons applesauce in bottom of a 3-4 cup crock.  While the Brie is cold, slice it in half horizontally, to form two discs.  Place bottom disc in crock atop the sauce.

IMG_7371 IMG_7371 IMG_7371 IMG_7371 IMG_7371~Step 2. Spoon and spread 6 more tablespoons applesauce atop the disc of brie in the crock, then scatter 6 tablespoons walnuts evenly over all.  Place the second disc (the top of the Brie) on top.  Don't press down. Spoon 6 more tablespoons of applesauce on top, leaving a nice edge around the perimeter of the cheese, followed by a scattering of 1-2 tablespoons walnuts atop the sauce, again, leaving a nice edge around the perimeter of cheese.

IMG_7382Step 3.  Once assembled, Brie can be covered and refrigerated several hours to overnight.  In either case, when the Brie has been out of the refrigerator for a total of about 30 minutes, bake, uncovered on center rack of preheated 350° oven until cheese is softened, 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to rest 8-10 minutes prior to serving somewhat hot, warm or at room temperature with your favorite (Club or Ritz) crackers.

Going into the oven to bake for 8-10 minutes:

IMG_7393Coming out of the oven to cool for 8-10 minutes:

IMG_7396Crock of Baked Applesauce, Walnut & Herbed Brie:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  3-4 cup-sized oven-safe crock; chef's knife; cutting board

6a0120a8551282970b026bdea6d319200cCook's Note: While these are perfect for any Turkey-Day feast, when made with applesauce instead of cranberry sauce, they're great any time of the year.  I've been know to serve them on occasion as a warm-up to one of my winner-winner roasted chicken Sunday dinners.  As for the recipe, there really isn't one -- I came home with it "in my head" after enjoying a few at a Christmas cookie-exchange brunch-party a few year ago.  Try my ~ Gobble Gobble -- Turkey-Day Cranberry & Brie Bites ~.

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

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

11/13/2020

~ Crock of Baked Cranberry, Walnut and Herbed Brie ~

IMG_7250Small but mighty, and, falling into the category of somewhere-in-between-a-dip-and-a-spread, this easy-to-make appetizer is appropriate to serve at, or make-and-take to, any holiday gathering -- it's sublime.  It's also a great recipe to keep in your back pocket in case you find yourself in need of a last-minute appetizer.  There's more.  If you're not a fan of cranberry sauce, it's great made with chunky-style applesauce instead.  While it can be prepared in a small shallow bowl, it's particularly pretty baked and served in a small crock -- presentation is, after all, everything. There's even more.  It can be assembled, refrigerated overnight, and baked the next day.

Three ingredients + twenty minutes = One sublime appetizer:

IMG_71531  8-ounce wheel herbed-triple creme brie

1  cup whole berry cranberry sauce

1/2  cup coarse-chopped walnuts

IMG_7154 IMG_7154 IMG_7154 IMG_7166~Step 1.  Place 6 tablespoons cranberry sauce in bottom of a 3-4 cup crock.  While the Brie is cold, slice it in half horizontally, to form two discs.  Place bottom disc in crock atop the sauce.  

IMG_7168 IMG_7168 IMG_7168 IMG_7186 IMG_7186~Step 2. Spoon and spread 6 more tablespoons cranberry sauce atop the disc of brie in the crock, then scatter 6 tablespoons walnuts evenly over all.  Place the second disc (the top of the Brie) on top.  Don't press down. Spoon 6 more tablespoons of cranberry sauce on top, leaving a nice edge around the perimeter of the cheese, followed by a scattering of 1-2 tablespoons walnuts atop the sauce, again, leaving a nice edge around the perimeter of cheese.

IMG_7187 IMG_7215Step 3.  Once assembled, Brie can be covered and refrigerated several hours to overnight.  In either case, when the Brie has been out of the refrigerator for a total of about 30 minutes, bake, uncovered on center rack of preheated 350° oven until cheese is softened, 8-10 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 8-10 minutes prior to serving somewhat hot, warm or at room temperature with your favorite (Club or Ritz) crackers. 

Going into the oven to bake for 8-10 minutes:

IMG_7192Coming out of the oven to cool for 8-10 minutes:

IMG_7221Crock of Baked Cranberry, Walnut and Herbed Brie:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  3-4 cup-sized oven-safe crock; chef's knife; cutting board

IMG_7117Cook's Note: While these are perfect for any Turkey-Day feast, they're great almost any time of the year.  I've been know to serve them on occasion as a warm-up to one of my winner-winner roasted chicken Sunday dinners.  As for the recipe, there really isn't one so-to-speak -- I came home with it "in my head" (as it was told to me) after enjoying a few at a mid-morning Christmas cookie-exchange brunch-party a few year ago.  Try my ~ Gobble Gobble -- Turkey-Day Cranberry & Brie Bites ~.

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

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

11/10/2020

~Gobble Gobble -- Turkey-Day Cranberry & Brie Bites~

IMG_7128 2While these easy-to-make appetizers are perfect for any large-or-small fancy-or-relaxed Turkey-Day feast, they're great almost any time of the year.  I've been know to serve them on occasion as a warm-up to one of my winner-winner roasted chicken Sunday dinners.  As for the recipe, there really isn't one so-to-speak -- I came home with it "in my head" (as it was told to me) after enjoying a few at a mid-morning Christmas cookie-exchange brunch-party a few year ago.

Perfect for our just-the-two-of-us Turkey Day feast this year:

IMG_7117And, just four easy-to-gather-together ingredients too: 

IMG_70412  tablespoons all-purpose bench flour, for dusting pastry board

1  8-ounce canister Pillsbury crescent rolls

8  ounces triple-creme Brie

1  cup whole-berry cranberry sauce

24 tiny, fresh rosemary sprigs, for garnish

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing mini-muffin pans 

IMG_7048 IMG_7048 IMG_7048~ Step 1.  Spray the inside cups of a mini-muffin pan or two pans (enough for 24 appetizers) with no-stick cooking spray.  Ready a pastry board, a small rolling pin, spatula and tart tamper (if you have one).  Spread a bit (1 1/2-2 tablespoons) bench flour on a pastry board, just enough to give the board a thin dusting.

IMG_7054 IMG_7054 IMG_7054 IMG_7054 IMG_7054 IMG_7054~Step 2.  Open the canister of rolls.  Carefully roll dough out on the prepared board to form a rectangle.  Using your fingertips, pinch the seams together, then, using a light touch, use a mini-rolling pin to even out the surface.  Slice dough into 24 even-sized squares, about 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" each.  Gently lift each dough square up and tuck it into a muffin cup.  Using a small tart tamper, push the dough down to form a flat bottom.

IMG_7072 IMG_7072 IMG_7080 IMG_7080 IMG_7080~Step 3.  While the Brie is very cold, slice the brie, as evenly as you can, into 48 small 1/2"-sized cubes.  Place two cubes of cheese in each crescent-dough-lined muffin cup.  Top each appetizer with 1 generous teaspoon cranberry sauce, doing your best to make sure to get 1-2-3 whole berries incorporated into each cup.  Just do your best.  

IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7107~Step 4.  Bake on center rack uf preheated 355° oven until crescent dough is light-golden and cheese is melted, about 12-14 minutes.  Remove from oven and place pans on a wire rack to cool 6-8 minutes.  With the aid of a sharp-tipped paring knife, gently lift each appetizer up and out of the muffing tin. Garnish each appetizer with a tiny sprig of fresh rosemary.  Serve warm or at room temperature (they hold up well for 4-6 hours).

Simple, straightforward, &, most importantly, super-special.

IMG_7133Absolutely easy, yet elegant & extraordinary too:

IMG_7142Gobble Gobble -- Turkey-Day Cranberry & Brie Bites:  Recipe yields 2 dozen appetizers/8 servings @ 3 per person/12 servings @ 2 per person.

Special Equipment List:  pastry board; mini-rolling pin; chef's knife; small spatula; 1-2 mini-muffing pans, enough for 24 appetizers; tart tamper; wire cooling rack; sharp-tipped paring knife

IMG_6937Cook's Note: Is there anyone who doesn't love to be invited to someone's home for breakfast or brunch? There's just something light-hearted, laid-back and downright bushy-tailed about sharing the first meal and few hours of the day in the company of family and friends.  The best way I can describe the experience is:  it's like waking up in the morning to find out it snowed and they cancelled school.  Everyone "gets into the spirit of it" -- and, it doesn't have to be fancy-schmancy either.  Try my ~ Fresh Strawberry, Brie & Biscuit Breakfast Crostini ~.

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

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

11/08/2020

~ Fresh Strawberry, Brie & Biscuit Breakfast Crostini ~

IMG_6937Is there anyone who doesn't love to be invited to someone's home for breakfast or brunch? There's just something light-hearted, laid-back and downright bushy-tailed about sharing the first meal and few hours of the day in the company of family and friends.  The best way I can describe the experience is:  it's like waking up in the morning to find out it snowed and they cancelled school.  Everyone "gets into the spirit of it" -- and, it doesn't have to be fancy-schmancy either.

That said, if you've ever invited people to your home for breakfast or brunch, you know that when your guests walk through the front door, having some fruit juice and/or fruit-juice-based cocktails, along with a nosh or two, ready and waiting to greet them, is: hospitably essential -- something they can immediately sip on and nibble upon to break the fast.  My quick-to-make biscuit crostini, made with canisters of store-bought biscuits topped with triple-creme brie, fresh strawberries and a drizzle of fruity balsamic vinegar glaze are easy, elegant and appreciated by all concerned.

Absolutely easy, yet elegant & extraordinary too:

IMG_6904Simple, straightforward, &, most importantly, super-special.

IMG_68451  7 1/2-ounce canister regular-sized refrigerated buttermilk biscuits, 10 biscuits

8  ounces triple-creme Brie

10  perfectly-ripe and juicy, medium-sized strawberries

about 2 total tablespoons Blaze fruity strawberry- or fig-infused balsamic vinegar glaze

IMG_6867 IMG_6852 IMG_6849~ Step 1.  While the Brie is very cold, slice it into long 1/4"-thick strips, then, cut the strips into 20, 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" squares -- two squares per crostini.  Set aside.  Cut the tops off the strawberries and cut each berry into 5 even-sized slices.  Set aside.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with parchment paper.  Set aside.

IMG_6854 IMG_6854 IMG_6870 IMG_6870~Step 2.  Open the canister of biscuits and arrange them on the prepared pan.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375° oven, 9-10 minutes, until lightly browned.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool-slightly, 4-5 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 275°.  Using a serrated knife, slice/shave a scant portion of the top off each biscuit, leaving a substantial base for each crostini.

IMG_6874 IMG_6874 IMG_6874~ Step 3.  Top each biscuit with two pieces of cheese stacked atop each other. Return biscuits to center rack of 275º oven just long enough for the Brie to begin to melt, about 2 minutes (more or less).  Remove from oven.  While the cheese is still warm, soft and melty, arrange one sliced strawberry atop each crostini.

Arrange crostini on a serving board or platter:

IMG_6894Drizzle w/glaze & serve warm or at room temperature:

IMG_6898Piled-high w/hearty ooey-gooey fruity wonderfulness:

IMG_6926Fresh Strawberry, Brie & Biscuit Breakfast Crostini:  Recipe yields ten superb appetizers/4-6 servings @ 2-3 per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b017d412926ec970c-800wiCook's Note: The family cook realizes the time, energy and organization required to produce even a simple family meal.  On those special occasions or holidays, when the fare must be increased to include a dozen or more added guests, one can only wonder how a professional chef or a restaurant manages to produce quality meals many, and more than once a day. ~ Culinary Rule #1:  Mice-en-place --  Put Everything in its Place ~.

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

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

11/06/2020

~Quicker than Typical Triple-Lemon Lemon Loaf Cake~

IMG_6836Ina Garten, host of The Food Network show Barefoot Contessa, has long been one of my favorite TV cooks and cookbook authors.  Her low-key, soft-spoken on-camera persona makes her easy to listen to.  In keeping with that, her published recipes are, in turn, well-written, easy-to-follow, and, approachable, meaning:  for the most part, there's no need to scurry to the store or conduct any on-line searches for hard-to-find ingredients.  Shortly after watching her make lemon loaf cakes on a picnic-themed episode, I decided to make her cakes, and, I served them for dessert at my own outdoor get-together -- as the base cake for our homegrown-strawberry shortcakes.

Ina's delightful cakes transitioned into my delightful cakes.

IMG_6805Ina's lemon cakes were delightful -- the perfect compliment to our just-picked strawberries.  Later that same Summer, Joe came home from running errands with a big box of beautiful California strawberries -- they were plump, juicy, full-of-flavor and perfectly ripe.  Had he called me from the store, I'd have told him to pick up eight lemons (that's how many lemons you need to make the cakes), but, twenty years ago, our cell phones had not been surgically attached to our bodies yet.

I decided to risk baking the cakes using a few lemony substitutions I had on hand:  Organic not-from-concentrate lemon juice (in place of fresh-squeezed juice), McCormick dehydrated lemon peel (in place of the fresh zest), and, for good measure, a teaspoon of organic lemon extract. Long story short:  My substitutions saved me a bunch of time (no juicing or zesting), and, my lemon cakes were delightful -- the perfect compliment to our store-bought strawberries.    

My quicker-than-using-fresh-lemons lemon cake:

IMG_6702For the wet ingredients:

8  ounces salted butter, at room temperature, very soft, + 1 additional tablespoon soft salted butter for greasing loaf pans

4  extra-large eggs, at room temperature

3  tablespoons dehydrated lemon peel

2 1/2  cups granulated sugar, divided (2 cups for the cake batter, 1/2 cup for the syrup)

3/4  cup high-quality not-from-concentrate, organic lemon juice, divided (1/4 cup for stirring into the buttermilk, 1/2 cup for preparing the syrup)

3/4  buttermilk, at room temperature

1  teaspoon pure lemon extract

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the dry ingredients:

3  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, + 3-4 additional tablespoons for flouring loaf pans

3/4  teaspoon baking powder

3/4  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_6788For the drizzly lemon glaze:

1 1/2  cups Confectioners' sugar

1  teaspoon each: pure lemon and pure vanilla extract

2  tablespoons high-quality not-from-concentrate, lemon juice

IMG_6796~ Step 1. Stir all ingredients together in a 2-cup bowl, then transfer to a plastic condiment-type squeeze bottle.  Set aside.

IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689~ Step 2.  Butter 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/4" x 2 1/2" glass loaf pans.  Dust the inside of each loaf pan with flour and shake it clear of any excess.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 325°.  Note:  If using metal loaf pans, preheat oven to 350°.  

IMG_6696 IMG_6696 IMG_6696 IMG_6696 IMG_6696~Step 3.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  Place 3/4 cup buttermilk in a 1-cup measuring container.  Stir 1/4 cup of the lemon juice, plus the lemon and vanilla extracts, into the buttermilk.  Set aside.  The remaining 1/2 cup lemon juice will be used to make a syrupy drizzle for the tops of finished cakes.  

IMG_6714 IMG_6714 IMG_6714 IMG_6714 IMG_6714 IMG_6714~Step 4.  Place the very soft butter, four eggs, lemon peel and 2-cups of the sugar in a large bowl.  On high-speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream the three together until light and fluffy, about 3 full minutes.  Lower mixer speed and gradually (in 2-3 increments) beat in the dry ingredients alternately with the 1-cup of buttermilk/lemon juice mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula the entire time.

IMG_6738 IMG_6738 IMG_6738 IMG_6738 IMG_6738~Step 5.  Divide the cake batter evenly between the two prepared loaf pans -- a kitchen scale is the best tool to make sure this division is precise.  Give each loaf pan a few vigorous back-and-forth shakes across the work surface (the countertop), to flatten-out the tops.  Bake both cakes on center rack of preheated 325º oven, 50-55 minutes, or until a cake tested inserted in several spots comes out clean.  Remove cakes from oven and place on a wire rack to cool, in the loaf pans, for 10-12 minutes.  Invert cakes from pans onto a wire rack that has been placed in a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan that has been lined with parchment.  Cool the cakes, on the wire rack for 10-12 additional minutes, but, NOT to room temperature just yet.  Read on:

IMG_6747 IMG_6747 IMG_6747 IMG_6747~Step 6.  When the cakes go into oven to bake,  prepare the syrup.  In a 1-quart saucepan, stir together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup lemon juice.  Bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring constantly.  Simmer every-so-gently for about 1 minute, to dissolve the sugar.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool until the cakes emerge from the oven.  Once the cakes are out of the oven, if you have a squeeze-type condiment-container, transfer the still-warm syrup to it.

IMG_6775 IMG_6775 IMG_6775~ Step 7.  Using a toothpick, poke about 40, 1/2"-deep holes in the top surface of each still-warm cake.  Slowly, in four-five increments, waiting about five minutes in between every addition, drizzle the sill-warm sugary lemon-syrup evenly over the surface of both cakes, to allow time for the syrup to soak into the cake after each addition.  Allow cakes to cool completely, 1-2 hours.  Drizzle with glaze.

Completely cooled cakes placed on a rack on a pan...

IMG_6799... drizzled w/a very lemony glaze.  Pucker up:

IMG_6801Quicker than Typical Triple-Lemon Lemon Loaf Cake:  Recipe yields, 2, 8" x 4" x 3" loaf shaped cakes/8-10 slices each.

Special Equipment List: 8 1/2" x 4 1/4" x 2 1/2" loaf pans, preferably glass; 2, 1-cup measuring containers; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; kitchen scale; cake tester or a toothpick; 1-quart saucepan; wire cooling rack; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; condiment-type squeeze bottle; toothpick; 2-cup measuring container; spoon; plastic wrap; plastic squeeze bottle (optional); serrated bread knife  

6a0120a8551282970b019aff2020b1970cCook's Note: Nothing is quite as ethereal as a freshly-baked loaf of bread, quick bread or pound cake. The recipe says to bake it in a loaf pan and you don't have one.  You drive to the nearest cooking store to find out you must choose between several manufacturers and price ranges, different materials ranging from clear glass and ceramic to shiny, gray or black metal -- each kind in a variety of sizes too. Decisions like this cause people to lose sleep. Today, I'm going to attempt to take the angst out of purchasing a loaf pan for you. ~ The Low-Down on Loaf Pans: What Size and Kind? ~.

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

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

11/03/2020

~A Big Batch of Bean Soup -- Eat Some Freeze Some~

IMG_8591In my kitchen, cold weather is soup and stew weather, and, once the frost is on the pumpkin I like to make my soups and stews in slow-simmered big batches.  After we've enjoyed one hearty warm-us-up meal, I freeze the rest in two-quart containers, so we can slurp soups and stews several more times until Spring comes.  Chicken vegetable soup, beef stew, and, ham and bean soup are my on my family's short-list of big-batch favorites. For the most part, when making soup or stew, "chicken is chicken" and "beef is beef", meaning:  they're almost self-explanatory. That said, when making a soup or stew that requires ham, I always choose to use the boney, more-flavorful smoked shanks or hocks over a meatier chunk or a few slices of smoked ham.

IMG_6608Time to define & discuss smoked ham shanks & ham hocks.

6a0120a8551282970b0263e973fbeb200bA bit about ham shanks and ham hocks:  Bony cuts of fatty meat taken from the legs and near the feet of the pig, with the shanks being the meatier of the two.

- Ham Shank

- Ham Hock

The shank refers to a fairly meaty part just below the pork shoulder (if it is the front of the hog) or the hip (if it's from the back of the hog).  The hock refers to a much bonier cut taken from just above the feet.  Both have a thick, tough skin (which is left on) and contain a lot of tendons, ligaments and fat.  They contain a lot of collagen too, which adds silkiness to whatever they are cooked in.  All of this means they require a long, slow, moist-heat method of cooking, like stewing or braising, to make them edible.  Unlike ham, neither contain enough meat to be the focal point of dinner. Instead, after cooking, the skin is discarded, the meat is removed from the bone, chopped or shredded, then added to dishes like hearty soups and thick stews.

To make a big batch of old-fashioned bean soup:

IMG_66156  quarts cold water

3  40-ounce cans great northern beans, undrained

3  15 1/2-ounce cans cannelloni beans, undrained

4  smoked ham shanks (about 1-1 1/4 pounds each)

6  cups peeled and diced carrots

5  cups diced celery 

5  cups diced onion 

8  cups peeled and diced gold potatoes

3  tablespoons dried parsley flakes

6  whole bay leaves

1  tablespoon garlic powder

5  tablespoons sea salt

1  tablespoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_6619 IMG_6619 IMG_6619 IMG_6619 IMG_6619 IMG_6619 IMG_6619 IMG_6619 IMG_6619~Step 1.  Place 6 quarts cold water in a very large, 20-24-quart, stockpot. Add the undrained beans and ham shanks.  Prep and add the carrots, celery, onions and potatoes to the pot as you work.  Add all of the seasonings:  parsley flakes, bay leaves, garlic powder, sea salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, and continue to cook, uncovered, for 2-2 1/2 hours, stopping to give the soup a stir about every 15 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot, and allow soup to steep for 2-2 1/2 hours.

IMG_6654 IMG_6654 IMG_6654 IMG_6654 IMG_6654 IMG_6654 IMG_6678 IMG_6678~Step 2.  Using a large slotted spoon, remove the shanks from the pot and place them in a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole.  Remove and discard the skin from the shanks, then, remove meat from the bone -- both are easy to do.  Using two forks, shred the meat into small pieces.  Return the meat to the stockpot.  Over medium heat, return the bean soup to a simmer and reheat.  Remove from heat and serve some immediately, and/or portion into freezer-safe food storage containers.

Simple, Straightforward & Scrumptious Bean Soup:

IMG_8596A Big Batch of Bean Soup -- Eat Some, Freeze Some:  Recipe yields 18 quarts.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 20-24 quart stockpot, preferably stainless steel; 1-quart measuring container; long-handled slotted spatula; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; two forks vegetable peeler; long-handled slotted spoon; soup ladle 

IMG_8585Cook's Note: My Big Batch Bean Soup recipe in a spin-off of American's most famous bean soup recipe.  Bean soup is on the menu in all of the Senate's restaurant dining rooms every day and has been for over a hundred years, possibly longer -- it's an official mandate.  To learn more about the history, read my post: ~ State of the Union: Famous US Senate Bean Soup ~.

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

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