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10 posts from January 2021

01/30/2021

~ Broiled & Baked St. Louis-Style Sparerib Sandwich ~

IMG_8895An episode of Diners Drive-Ins and Dives left me salivating in the middle of the night last night. Guy Fieri's Triple D visited a place in Southern California that featured a barbecued sparerib sandwich.  The eatery, of course, smoked their signature-cut of St. Louis-Style ribs, removed the meat from the bones, fried it up on a flat-top (kinda like burnt ends) then piled it high on a nice soft bun with slices of sweet onion and bread-and-butter pickles -- my kinda sandwich.  As luck would have it, I had a package of St. Louis-Style ribs in my freezer, which have thawed on my counter most of the morning, and, I'm making these sandwiches for dinner tonight (sans the smoker).

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).  

6a0120a8551282970b0263e9553c34200bBabybacks 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.  If you're so inclined to make a rack for the sole purpose of making these sandwiches, plan on feeding 6-8.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0263e9553fff200b1  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_3430Step 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_3445 IMG_3450 IMG_3450~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 6a0120a8551282970b0263e9554671200bStep 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_3468 IMG_3468Step 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 ribs while hot, warm or at room temperature:

IMG_3485Remove meat from rib bones & chop into bite-sized pieces:

IMG_8879Place 3/4-1 cup rib meat, tossed w/2 tablespoons barbecue sauce (per sandwich), in a nonstick skillet, on the stovetop.   

IMG_8884Sauté over medium-high heat for 1-1 1/2 minute:

IMG_8886Assembly = roll + onion slices + meat + bread & butter pickles: 

IMG_8901Broiled & Baked St. Louis-Style Sparerib Sandwich:  Recipe yields Recipe yields 1 rack of perfectly-cooked, large, meaty St.-Lewis-style spareribs/enough meat for 6-8 sandwiches.

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 2021)

01/27/2021

~ Paring 3 Store-Bought Ravioli w/3 Perfect Sauces ~

IMG_8867Let's be honest, even those of us who can and do make ravioli from scratch, don't typically serve them for a family-friendly weeknight meal.  Why?  Making ravioli from scratch is a lot of work. That's why these one-to-two-bite labors-of-love are usually reserved for holidays and celebrations. That said, high-quality store-bought ravioli can be found in the average grocery store.  Rana is my go-to brand, and, you won't find them in the frozen food aisle -- they're found in the refrigerated section where fresh pasta is sold.  When paired with an easy-to-make-from-scratch sauce, ravioli can and should be added to every pasta-loving family's weeknight meal rotation:  It's ravioli night!

Nice & Easy Mushroom Ravioli Alfredo alla Primavera:

IMG_8725Shrimp & Lobster Ravioli w/Tomato-Cream Sauce:

IMG_8803Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli w/Florentine Sauce:

IMG_8845"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

01/24/2021

~ Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Florentine Sauce ~

IMG_8845Creamy cheese sauces have a place in my food world -- not a big place, but a place.  My attitude toward them is to use them judiciously, in a manner that does not overpower the dish being served, and, in moderation, so as not to tip the scale.  To my credit, I have developed my own versions of more than a few:  Easy Boursin, Trendy Rasta PastaClassic Mornay, Silky Parmesan-Sherry, Dreamy Gorgonzola, Basic Asiago, and a Kid-Friendly Cheddar.  It is my opinion that, for the most part, all store-bought cheese sauces are a compromise, so, don't debate it, just grate it -- take the few minutes required to make your cheese sauce from scratch.

"A la Florentine" = in the style of Florence, Italy.

"A la Florentine" is an Italian term which refers to egg, fish or seafood dishes prepared "in the style of Florence, Italy", meaning:  they are presented on a bed of spinach and topped with a creamy sauce, usually Mornay sauce, which contains Parmesan cheese.  What about the chicken Florentine we all love?  Well, it originated here in America and was made famous by upscale French restaurants back in the 1960's, where it remains ensconced today.  I for one am a spinach lover, and I am here to tell you:  eating spinach in this context is a downright decadent, indulgent, somewhat noble experience.  If you are convinced you don't like spinach -- get over it.

The green thing called Florentine = spinach (fresh vs. frozen):

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3b43db8200dAs a spinach lover, I'm grateful to whomever developed the process for industrially cleaning and packaging it washed, dried and in bags. Why? Handling spinach "au natural" is labor intensive from the standpoint it must be meticulously cleaned of sandy grit, and, it can't get overly-wet while doing that because it loses its integrity quickly. Then, the tough stems need to be snipped.  While I recommend using fresh spinach for most Florentine recipes, if all you have is frozen spinach, worry not, all sorts of Florentine-style dishes turn out uncompromisingly fine using frozen, and, it's perfect for this creamy, full-flavored, cheese sauce.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3d305c5200b 6a0120a8551282970b022ad38d50c8200c~ Step 1.  I can think of many instances to use fresh spinach, but this quick-and-easy weeknight-meal sauce is not one of them -- frozen chopped spinach yields the right amount every time with no need to cook it.  Thaw the spinach overnight in the refrigerator or in a colander placed in the sink with cold water dribbling over it.  Once thawed, wad the spinach up in several layers of paper towels and squeeze as hard as possible to remove as much liquid as possible.  Kept covered in the refrigerator, this task can be done a day ahead. 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3d3e7c4200bFor the Florentine Sauce:

4  tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon each:  dehydrated minced onion and garlic, and, garlic and onion powder

1/2-3/4  teaspoon each:  sea salt and red pepper flakes, to taste

1-1 1/2  cups heavy or whipping cream cream, to control consistency

1  cup whole milk ricotta cheese

4  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1, 10-ounce box frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and drained

IMG_7578 IMG_7580 IMG_7583 IMG_7588 IMG_7589 IMG_7594 IMG_7595 IMG_7599~Step 2.  In a 12" nonstick skillet over low, heat the olive oil.  Add and stir in the dry seasonings. Add cream to skillet and increase heat to bring it to the point of steaming or barely simmering. Stir in the ricotta and the Parm-Regg.  Simmer very gently for 1-2 minutes.  Stir in the spinach and continue stirring until spinach is heated through.  Remove from heat, cover, and set aside.

IMG_8817For the ravioli:

2  10-ounce bags high-quality spinach & ricotta ravioli, preferably at room temperature

4-6  tablespoons salted butter, cut into bite-sized pieces (cubed or sliced), at room temperature, the softer the better

1 1/2-2 cups Florentine sauce, from above recipe, + any leftover sauce for serving at table side 

IMG_8757 IMG_8822 IMG_8830~Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot bring 3 quarts of water to a boil.  Add the sea salt. Add ravioli and cook until al dente, 3-4 minutes.  Turn heat off.  Thoroughly, drain the ravioli into a colander, then immediately return the hot pasta to the still hot stockpot and place the stockpot back on the still hot stovetop.

IMG_8832 IMG_8837 IMG_8840 IMG_8843~Step 2.  Add the butter pieces.  Using one or two spoons, ever-so-gently gently toss, like you would a salad, until butter is completely melted and ravioli are evenly coated in the slightly-salty butter.  Add 1 1 1/2 cups of the sauce and toss again until the ravioli are evenly enrobed in the buttery-rich Spinach-laced sauce. Cover and set aside about 4-5 minutes, to allow the ravioli to absorb the excess sauce.  Uncover, gently stir, then, add more sauce, if and as necessary, in small increments, until desired consistency is reached.  Serve leftover sauce at table side.

In a world full of so much wrong, one thing is very right: 

IMG_8852Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Florentine Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups sauce, enough to coat 1-1 1/4 pounds ravioli/6-8 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  small colander; paper towels; microplane grater; 12" nonstick skillet; large spoon; 2-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; two spoons

6a0120a8551282970b0278800f7e74200dCook's Note: Cook's Note: Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.  When serving any sort of Italian-American fare, a double-whammy of calories and carbohydrates, in the form of garlic bread, is huge hit.  Why?  Because eating Italian-American fare without a great big basket of garlic bread on the table is, gulp, culinarily criminal. Make a salad too, because it too goes great with it too (and makes one feel a bit less guilty). Try my recipe for ~ A Great Garlic Bread Spread for Great Garlic Bread ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

01/21/2021

~Shrimp & Lobster Ravioli with Tomato-Cream Sauce~

IMG_8803Every once in a while, my ability to cook is overshadowed by my desire to cook something remarkably easy, yet good enough to serve to guests -- no special skills, tools or knowledge required.  Today is such a day.  This simple, straightforward and scrumptious recipe, taken from the pages of absolutely nowhere, goes from stovetop to table in less time than it takes to cook spaghetti, and, when beautifully plated, will bamboozle everyone into thinking I cooked all day.

"I dream of stirring cream into marinara sauce." ~ Melanie

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c818686a970bThe only thing more rewarding than having a freezer shelf full of my perfectly-seasoned ~  Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~ (made from our own garden's tomatoes, onions, garlic and basil), is being able to use it as a base for this decadent tomato-cream sauce.  My recipe is remarkably similar to most recipes, so, feel free to use your own homemade marinara  if you've got it.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08bd3352970dStore bought?  I think not, but, nonetheless, that choice is yours to make.  My ratio is 2:1, or:

2  cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

This can be changed to suit your taste, but, do not substitute half and half or milk.  Just don't do that.

IMG_8740 IMG_8744 IMG_8746 IMG_8750~Step 1. Place the marinara in a 2-quart saucepan.  Add and stir in the cream. Over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, heat until sauce is steaming.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

Pretty, pink & perfectly-seasoned sauce.  Easy enough so far?

IMG_8754For the shrimp & lobster ravioli:

2  10-ounce bags high-quality shrimp and lobster ravioli 

1  tablespoon  sea salt, for seasoning pasta water

4-6  tablespoons salted butter, cut into bite-sized pieces, at room temperature, the softer the better

1  14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, well-drained

the tomato-cream sauce

IMG_8757 IMG_8759 IMG_8763 IMG_8766~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 ravioli and cook until al dente, about 3-4 minutes.  Turn heat off. Thoroughly, drain the ravioli into a colander, then immediately return the steaming-hot ravioli to the still hot stockpot and place the stockpot back on the still hot stovetop.

IMG_8768 IMG_8771 IMG_8772 IMG_8774 IMG_8779 IMG_8782~Step 2.  Add the butter pieces and the diced tomatoes.  Using one or two spoons, ever-so-gently gently toss, like you would a salad, until butter is completely melted and ravioli are evenly coated in the slightly-salty butter.  Add 1 1 1/2 cups of the sauce and toss again until the ravioli are evenly enrobed in the buttery-rich sauce. Cover and set aside about 4-5 minutes, to allow the ravioli to absorb the excess sauce.  Uncover, gently stir, then, add more sauce, in small increments, until desired consistency is reached.  

Portion & serve immediately.  No cheese please:

IMG_8811Shrimp & Lobster Ravioli with Tomato-Cream Sauce:  Recipe yields 6-8 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: 2-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; two spoons

6a0120a8551282970b0278800f7e74200dCook's Note: Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.  When serving any sort of Italian-American fare, a double-whammy of calories and carbohydrates, in the form of garlic bread, is huge hit.  Why?  Because eating Italian-American fare without a great big basket of garlic bread on the table is, gulp, culinarily criminal. Make a salad too, because it too goes great with it too (and makes one feel a bit less guilty). Try my recipe for ~ A Great Garlic Bread Spread for Great Garlic Bread ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

01/18/2021

~So Easy -- Mushroom Ravioli Alfredo alla Primavera~

IMG_8725I'm not a vegetarian, but, as a card-carrying carnivore, I can tell you, if I were, this easy-to-make creamy-dreamy pasta dish would be at the top of my weeknight menu rotation.  Why?  Because when I indulge in this decadent dish, I don't miss the meat for a second.  In Italian, fettuccine means "little ribbons", which is why stranded pasta is always used.  In Italian, primavera means "Spring" and culinarily, primavera just means that fresh vegetables (raw or blanched) are added to the dish during or at the end of its preparation.  Long story short, fettuccini Alfredo that has vegetables added to it is simply referred to as Alfredo alla primavera -- and it is awesome.

A bit of history about the iconic fettuccine Alfredo:  

6a0120a8551282970b026bde8a8b22200cAlfredo 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.

High-quality store-bought mushroom ravioli makes this a super-easy-to-make, decadent, weeknight, family-friendly meal:

IMG_86872  10-ounce bags high-quality mushroom ravioli

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

1  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

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

2  16-ounce bags frozen vegetables, your favorite combo, freshly-prepared (simmered, steamed or microwaved), well-drained, and, ideally, still slightly warm

IMG_8685 IMG_8694 IMG_8695 IMG_8699 IMG_8701~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 ravioli and cook until al dente, about 3-4 minutes.  Turn heat off.  Thoroughly, drain the ravioli into a colander, then immediately return the hot pasta to the still hot stockpot and place the stockpot back on the still hot stovetop.

IMG_8704 IMG_8705 ~Step 2.  Add the butter pieces, along with the spices:  garlic powder, Italian seasoning, nutmeg, black pepper, red pepper flakes and sea salt.  Using one or two spoons, ever-so-gently gently toss, like you would a salad, until butter is completely melted and ravioli are evenly coated in a flavorful butter and spice mixture.

IMG_8709 IMG_8711 IMG_8714 IMG_8717 IMG_8720 IMG_8722~Step 3.  Toss in the cheese followed by one cup of the cream.  Again, using oe or two spoons, gently toss like you would a salad, until the mixture is thoroughly combined.  Gently toss the cooked and drained vegetables into the mixture.  Cover and let rest, 5-6 minutes, tossing occasionally, to allow pasta and veggies time to absorb all of the cream mixture.  Continue adding additional cream, in small 1/4 cup increments, until desired consistency is reached -- the longer the ravioli sit prior to serving, the more cream will be needed.

Portion into desired-sized serving bowls & serve immediately.  

IMG_8738So Easy -- Mushroom Ravioli Alfredo alla Primavera:  Recipe yields 6-8 main-dish servings.

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

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3e1d465200bCook's Note: Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.  When serving any sort of Italian-American fare, a double-whammy of calories and carbohydrates, in the form of garlic bread, is huge hit.  Why?  Because eating Italian-American fare without a great big basket of garlic bread on the table is, gulp, culinarily criminal. Make a salad too, because it too goes great with it too (and makes one feel a bit less guilty). Try my recipe for ~ A Great Garlic Bread Spread for Great Garlic Bread ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

01/15/2021

~ Doctoring Up a Box of Stovetop-Type Stuffing Mix ~

IMG_8669I'm no different that a lot of you when it comes to weeknight dinners.  Sometimes I put a small chicken in the oven to roast, other times I fry a few pork chops, sometimes I roast or poach a turkey tenderloin -- easy to make, minimum-fuss fare.  Stuffing goes great with all of them.  That said, on a busy week day, many times, all I  have the time or inclination to make are two easy-peasy satellite side-dishes -- a bag of our favorite steam-in-bag vegetables, and, a box of "doctored up" Stovetop-type stuffing -- and there's no shame in either one.  That's why I keep Stovetop brand stuffing in my pantry at all times -- there are other brands, I like Stovetop.

IMG_8658Great stovetop stuffing from a box -- what the doctor ordered:

IMG_86321  6-ounce box Stovetop brand stuffing mix, or your favorite brand of stovetop-type stuffing

4  tablespoons salted butter

1/4  teaspoon poultry seasoning

3/4  cup diced celery

3/4  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

1/4  teaspoon poultry seasoning

1 3/4  cups chicken stock, microwaved until steaming

IMG_8636 IMG_8637IMG_8640 IMG_8642~Step 1.  Place a 2-quart saucepan over low heat.  Add the butter and poultry seasoning.  When the butter has melted, add the diced celery and onion.  Adjust heat to medium-high, and, stirring frequently, lightly-sauté the vegetables until crunch tender, about 2 1/2-3 minutes -- not overcook.  

IMG_8643 IMG_8646 IMG_8648 IMG_8650 IMG_8652~Step 2. Add and thoroughly stir in the the dry stuffing mix, being sure to stir until the sautéed vegetables are throughly incorporated throughout.  Add the steaming hot chicken stock.  Do not stir.  Cover the saucepan and allow to rest 3-5 minutes.  Uncover the saucepan and rake through the stuffing with a fork, to "fluff" it up.  Serve immediately.

Every now & then, it's OK to enjoy thinking inside the box:

IMG_8654Doctoring Up a Box of Stovetop-Type Stuffing Mix:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 2-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; fork

6a0120a8551282970b0263ec2929ef200cCook's Note: The 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 is pork and apples go hand-in-hand, and, this easy, family-friendly casserole is a recipe everyone should try: ~ My Aunt's Apple-Pie Pork-Chop & Stuffing Casserole ~.  Trust me, it's wonderful.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

01/12/2021

~ Doctoring Up a Box of Spanish-Style Yellow Rice ~

IMG_8623Mexican rice became a staple on our family's table back in the 1980's.  Whenever we ate in a Mexican restaurant, remarkably, our three kids would eat the side-dishes:  the muli-colored veggie-bejeweled rice, the murky-earthy slightly-soupy refried beans, and, the bright-green garlic-laced guacamole.  Without complaint or prodding, they'd slather and scoop 'em onto and into tacos, fajitas, carnitas (or whatever else they were eating), along with red or green salsa and the bottled hot-sauce du jour.  Go figure, and, "shut my mouth wide open."  I started stocking my pantry with whatever Texican-type ingredients I could find in our Central, PA grocery stores. 

I know I'm not alone on this point,  C-19 has changed what I store in my pantry -- it's not bad, just different.  In preparation for the lock down a few months ago, I stocked several boxes of Rice-a-Roni, four boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese, a big box of Hungry Jack instant mashed potatoes, a few boxes of Stovetop stuffing mix, Betty Crocker cheesy scalloped potatoes, and, because my family loves to eat Mexican-style food often, lots of Goya Spanish-style yellow rice mix.  Why?  I knew these easy-to-make convenience-food side-dishes not only have a long shelf life, they're tasty, and, with little effort I can make any of them taste really good.

Great Spanish-style rice from a box -- what the doctor ordered:

IMG_85721  7-ounce box Goya Spanish-style yellow rice

1  14 1/2-ounce can fire-roasted corn kernels

1  14 1.2-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

3  tablespoons salted butter

1/2  teaspoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

IMG_8573 IMG_8575 IMG_8581 IMG_8585 IMG_8587~Step 1.  Into a 2-cup measuring container, drain as much liquid as possible from the corn and the tomatoes -- be sure to get as much liquid out of the cans as is possible.  Add enough water to total 2 1/2 cups.  Pour the liquid into a 2-quart saucepan.  Add the butter, ground cumin and red pepper flakes.  Bring to a simmer over medium- medium-high heat.

IMG_8588 IMG_8593 IMG_8596Step 2.  Add the rice-and-seasoning packet to the simmering liquids. Cover the saucepan and lower the heat to a steady, very gentle simmer.  Cook, covered, until rice has absorbed the liquid and small holes appear across the surface -- 20-22 minutes.  Do not uncover the saucepan during the cooking process.

IMG_8599 IMG_8603 IMG_8605 IMG_8608~Step 3.  Using a fork, rake through the steaming hot rice to separate the grains.  Add and rake in the corn, followed by the diced tomatoes.  Serve immediately with your favorite Mexican food.

Every now & then, it's OK to enjoy thinking inside the box:

IMG_8626Doctoring Up a Box of Spanish-Style Yellow Rice:  Recipe yields, 4 generous cups/4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; 1-quart saucepan w/lid; fork

6a0120a8551282970b0223c849deb2200c-800wiCook's Note: The biggest difference between Mexican rice and Spanish rice (as per me) is akin to the difference between a side-salad and a chef's salad.  Both contain similar ingredients, but, the first gets eaten alongside the main course, while the latter is the main course. If anyone has a better description, I'm all ears, but, the bottom line:  both are Spanish.  When I think "Mexican rice", I think "tawny-red-tinged, onion-and-garlic laced, side-dish riddled with bits of vegetables (beans, corn and/or tomatoes, or peas and carrots)".  When I think "Spanish rice", I think "protein-packed Mexican rice full of chards or chunks of meat, poultry or shellfish as a main-dish".  Try my ~ Mexican-Style Adobo Rice (Meatless Spanish Rice) ~.    

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

01/09/2021

~ Doctoring Up a Box of Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes ~

IMG_8546I know I'm not alone on this point,  C-19 has changed what I store in my pantry -- truth told, it's not bad, just different.  In preparation for the lock down that occurred a few months ago, I stocked several boxes of Rice-a-Roni, four boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese, a big box of Hungry Jack instant mashed potatoes, and, a few boxes of Stovetop stuffing mix and Betty Crocker cheesy scalloped potatoes.  Thanks to them being staples in my mom's pantry, I knew these easy-to-make convenience-food side-dishes not only have a long shelf life, they're tasty.

Steamy & creamy on the inside w/a crispy top: 

IMG_8549In the case of the scalloped potatoes, my mom always, always, always made them, even for company and holidays.  She had her method for "doctoring up" (her words) these boxes of dehydrated potatoes.  There were never any complaints and never any leftovers -- everyone gobbled them up.  I so forgot how much like them, I've taken to making them occasionally.  In my kitchen, they're no longer "just in case" food.  They're scrape-the-casserole-clean comfort food.

Prepare two boxes in a 1 1/1-quart casserole.

Skip the water, use whole milk (4 1/2 cups).

Give the potatoes ample time to soften prior to baking.

Rest the casserole about 15 minutes prior to serving.

Better boxed scalloped potatoes -- what the doctor ordered:

IMG_85092  5-ounce boxes Betty Crocker's cheesy scalloped potates

4 1/2  cups whole milk, heated on the stovetop or in the microwave until steaming

4  tablespoons salted butter, sliced or cubed

Place dehydrated potatoes in bottom of 1 1/2-quart casserole:

IMG_8510Slowly add the steaming hot milk:

IMG_8517Add the sliced or cubed butter:

IMG_8518Wait for the butter to melt, 1-2 minutes:

IMG_8524Sprinkle in dry cheese sauce mixture from the packets:

IMG_8527Using a spoon, slowly stir dry cheese sauce into all:

IMG_8528Set aside for 60 minutes, then bake @ 350°, 30-40 minutes:

IMG_8532Every now & then, it's OK to enjoy thinking inside the box:

IMG_8542Doctoring Up a Box of Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes:  Recipe yields 6-12 side-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  4-cup measuring container; 1 1/2 quart casserole

Cook's Note:

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021) 

01/06/2021

~ The Difference Between Pancake and Waffle Batter ~

IMG_8504Pancakes or waffles, waffles or pancakes.  Everyone loves them, and, once you make the decision to make one of these two common breakfast foods, in the culinary scheme of things, no two dishes that start out fundamentally same (with a flour, milk and egg batter), could possible emerge so different.  When it comes to pancakes and waffles, the number one mistake folks make it assuming they can use the same batter for both -- perfectly underderstandable, but wrong. Waffle batter is thicker than pancake batter and requires more eggs, fat and sugar in order to render the unique, signature texture.  It's not rocket science, but, it is important to know.

Pancakes are thin, tender, fork-friendly discs.  They're cooked in some fat (melted butter or oil), in a skillet or on a flat griddle.  Waffles are quite different.  Waffles, which are, well, waffled, are cooked on a special-gridded two-sided device that allows them to emerge crispy on the outside, yet, soft and steamy on the inside.  Waffles are usually served side-by-side, on a plate with a knife-and-fork.  Both taste great with traditional maple syrup and butter, but, both go great with fresh fruits, jam, or, ice-cream too.  Once you have a foolproof recipe for both, and try it once or twice, to grasp the technique, you'll be making both like a pro.  Don't stress -- read on to learn:

How to make the best, basic, classic, pancake batter:

IMG_8492How to make the best, basic, classic waffle batter:

IMG_8433"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary & Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

01/03/2021

~ How to Make the Best, Basic, Classic, Pancake Mix ~

IMG_8492We all do it.  Why not.  Wake up in the morning, go into the pantry, and pull out a time-saving box of Bisquick or Aunt Jemima pancake mix.  Whether it gets mixed with milk or buttermilk, the pancakes are quick to make, they taste great, and, in this busy world, there's no shame in it.  My attitude is "morning food should be easy food".  That said, dry pancake mix can be made in minutes at home and stored in a tightly-sealed jar or ziplock bag, in the pantry, for up to six months.  Just add some milk or buttermilk, an egg, and, a touch of vanilla extract.

IMG_8449For the dry pancake mix:

6  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

6  tablespoons sugar

3  tablespoons baking powder

1  tablespoon baking soda

2  teaspoons sea salt

~ Step 1. in a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.  Transfer to an airtight container.  Store in the pantry for up to six months.

IMG_8451For the pancakes:

1  cup pancake mix

1  cup whole milk or 1 1/4 cups buttermilk (Note:  Buttermilk is quite a bit thicker in consistency than whole milk, so a bit more is required.)

1  large egg

2  teaspoons vanilla extract

corn or vegetable oil, for frying the pancakes

IMG_8460 IMG_8461 IMG_8464 IMG_8466 IMG_8469~Step 2.  To make the pancake batter, in a medium bowl, place and whisk together the milk (or buttermilk) egg and extract -- I like to use a hand-held rotary egg beater to do this.  Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture. Beat the ingredients together, and, there is no need to worry about getting out all of the lumps.  Cover and set aside for about 5-10 minutes. Check the consistency, and, if the mix seems too thick, whisk in a splash of milk or buttermilk.

IMG_8470 IMG_8473 IMG_8479 IMG_8483~Step 3.  To cook/fry the pancakes, in any size nonstick skillet, place a thin coating of corn or vegetable oil.  Place skillet over medium- medium-high heat.  For each pancake, pour about 6 tablespoons into the hot the oil.  The pancake will form itself.  Once bubbles form across the surface, and the perimeter of the pancake looks slightly-dryer than the middle, use a spatula to flip the pancake over -- this will take about 2 1/2-3 minutes. After flipping, cook pancake on the second side, for about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Pancakes will be lightly golden with slightly-crispy edges.

Note:  For evenly-shaped, evenly-cooked pancakes, I like to fry them individually, in 1-2, 8" skillets -- two skillets on the stovetop at once.  After each 1-2 cook, I add a splash of additional oil to each pan, and, continue to cook until all of the batter has been used.  Try it my way -- each pancake comes out perfect every time.  Trust me -- one pancake per skillet is the ticket to perfection.

Serve w/butter & maple syrup, or, your favorite toppings:  

IMG_8495 2How to Make the Best Basic Classic Pancake Batter:  Recipe yields 7 cups pancake mix/each cup yields 8 pancakes.

Special Equipment List:  whisk; air-tight food storage container or ziplock bag; hand-held rotary egg beater; any size nonstick skillet; spatula

IMG_8433Cook's Note: In my kitchen, a snowy morning with buttermilk in the fridge adds up to one of two things: pancakes or waffles.  I'm not sure if there is a better way to fritter away some time on a cold morning.  This morning we decided to go the waffle route.  They're a little more involved than pancakes, mostly because a waffle iron is involved, but, what the heck, my foolproof buttermilk waffle recipe only takes a few minutes to whisk together, and, they emerge from the waffle iron light-and-fluffy with crispy edges -- exactly how a waffle should be.  Learn ~ How to Make the Best, Basic, Classic Waffle Batter ~. Oh yum.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)