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10 posts from June 2021

06/30/2021

~ The Cool History behind the Composed Chef Salad ~

IMG_2221A restaurant that serves a great chef's salad for lunch is a restaurant I will frequent.  Like Seinfeld's Elaine, I like a big salad, and I don't mean a big bowl of lettuce.  I mean a lot of perfectly-cooked good stuff in it, right down to more-than-a-few crunchy, buttery-rich croutons on top.  The chef's salad is exactly that salad -- it's not served before the meal or after the meal, it is the meal.  The chef salad is a "composed salad", meaning, it is a pretty-to-look-at, arranged-on-a-plate, high-quality, salad -- a perfectly-balanced mixture of color, flavor and texture.  At the discretion of the chef, one or a combination of impeccably-fresh and perfectly-cooked proteinss (via poaching, simmering, boiling, marinating, roasting, broiling, baking, grilling, etc.) get carefully-selected and meticulously sliced, diced or minced, pulled, julienned or chiffonade.

The chef salad = an artfully composed salad full of carefully-selected, impeccably-fresh, high-quality ingredients.  

IMG_2218Historically, the chef salad was the precursor to a 17th Century protein-packed meal called salmagundi.  It consisted of cooked meat, poultry or fish, various cheeses, fresh, blanched or marinated vegetables, cooked eggs and/or toasted nuts or seeds, served on a bed of greens with a vinaigrette.  Although historians are unclear as to the recipe origin of the salad, they generally agree that is was popularized when Chef Louis Diat of The Ritz-Carlton hotel in New York City put his protein-packed version of it on the menu in the 1940's, which included julienne strips of turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, wedges of hard-cooked egg and a creamy salad dressing.

Try my version of my favorite smoked-turkey chef's salad:

IMG_2220Or, try my Buffalo-chicken chef w/RedHot Ranch & Croutons:

6a0120a8551282970b02788035b72e200dAnd it's always the right time to enjoy a classic hoagie chef:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09dd9d66970d-800wiCheck out The Cool History behind the Composed Cobb Salad:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28e7ab9970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

06/27/2021

~ Pack a Picnic-Basket w/Boxed Turkey Chef Salads ~

IMG_2070I might not be an outdoor kinda gal, but, I do enjoy an occasional picnic, if it's a Hallmark Card kinda day.  That said, if I'm the one in charge of the food, I'm not one to traipse around the great outdoors carrying a basket full of food containers that are gonna cause me a whole lot of cleanup when I get back home.  When I pack a picnic, boxed lunches are my way of enjoying the day and the return trip.  There's more.  It's doesn't matter what I'm making and taking, everyone gets a bit of everything portioned into one container just for them -- boxed up, beautiful, and ready-to-eat.

I fell in love with the chef salad in September of 1974.  I had just moved to Happy Valley in August, and, my first friend, a gal I worked with, invited me to lunch, at the now defunct Autoport on South Atherton Street.  "Try their turkey chef salad", Sally said.  A short few minutes later, two big rimmed-bowls arrived, and, atop the requisite lettuce, they were full of goodies: strips of turkey breast and Swiss cheese, hard-cooked egg wedges, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, and, diced onions.  There's more.  Every salad came with a warm, mini-loaf of house-baked bread and a crock of honey butter.  For decades, every time I invited a friend to lunch, I took him or her there.

The chef salad = an artfully composed salad full of carefully-selected, impeccably-fresh, high-quality ingredients.

IMG_2073A restaurant that serves a great chef's salad for lunch is a restaurant I will frequent.  Like Seinfeld's Elaine, I like a big salad, light on the lettuce with a lot of perfectly-cooked good stuff in it, right down to more-than-a-few crunchy, buttery-rich croutons on top.  The chef's salad is a "composed salad", meaning, it is a pretty-to-look-at, arranged-on-a-plate, high-quality, meal unto itself -- a perfectly-balanced mixture of color, flavor and texture.  At the discretion of the chef, a combination of impeccably-fresh and perfectly-cooked ingredients (via poaching, simmering, boiling, marinating, roasting, broiling, baking, grilling, etc.) get carefully-selected and meticulously sliced, diced or minced, pulled, julienned or chiffonade.  Historically, the chef salad was the precursor to a 17th Century protein-packed meal called salmagundi.  It consisted of cooked meat, poultry or fish, various cheeses, fresh, blanched or marinated vegetables, cooked eggs and/or toasted nuts or seeds, served on a bed of greens with a vinaigrette.  Chef Louis Diat of The Ritz is credited for popularizing it in the 1940's.

The chef salad = a cold, refreshing meal unto itself.  Chef salads are perfect for boxing up to serve out of a picnic basket!

IMG_2184For each salad

2-3  ounces your favorite creamy salad dressing (Note:  I like to use Chick-Fil-A sauce, as it has a smoky flavor which pairs well with smoked turkey breast.

5  ounces torn iceberg lettuce leaves

1  ounce Spring mix greens

3  ounces peeled and thin-sliced  seedless cucumber, (about 16 slices)

2  small Campari tomatoes, each cut into 4 wedges (a total of 8 wedges)

1  extra-large egg, hard-cooked, peeled and sliced into 6 wedges

1 1/2-2   ounces very-thin-sliced red onion

4-5  ounces julienne of smoked turkey breast per salad -- scattered atop the red onion (Note:  I use Boar's Head PitCraft Slow-Smoked Turkey Breast.  It's smoked with real mesquite wood chips to give it a real pit-smoked flavor and seasoned with an authentic dry rub that consists of paprika, brown sugar and Mexican chilies, including Guajillo Peppers.)

2-3  ounces julienne of American cheese

12-16   croutons, store-bought or homemade (Note:  I like to use butter-and-garlic flavored croutons.)

IMG_2190 IMG_2190 IMG_2190~Step 1.  To assemble each chef's salad, in a main-dish sized food storage container (with a tight-fitting lid), in the following order, place a sealed condiment-cup containing 2 1/2-3 ounces creamy salad dressing. Place the torn iceberg lettuce and Spring mix in the container and briefly toss the two together. Arrange the cucumber slices around the entire perimeter of the container.  Slice the tomatoes into 4 wedges each and arrange them, spacing them, around the perimeter, then, slice the hard-cooked egg into 6 wedges and arrange the egg wedges in between the tomatoes. 

IMG_2204 IMG_2204 IMG_2204 IMG_2204~Step 2.  Slice the red onion as directed and scatter it atop the lettuce mixture.  Julienne the smoked turkey breast, scattering it atop the onion, then, julienne the American cheese and scatter it atop the smoked turkey.  Close the box and refrigerate for 2-4-6-8 hours.  Open the container and scatter  the croutons evenly over all.  Serve immediately.

Crispy, crunchy, cold & creamy main-dish salad perfection:

IMG_2086Pack a Picnic-Basket w/Boxed Turkey Chef Salads:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many hearty, boxed lunch, main-dish salads as you want to.

Special Equipment List: main-dish size food storage containers w/tight-fitting lids, 3-ounce size condiment cups w/tight-fitting lids; cutting board; chef's knife, vegetable peeler; serrated tomato knife;

6a0120a8551282970b026bde9d871b200cCook's Note: In my food world, if I could conjure up the ideal, somewhat-healthy, girly pub-grub menu item, it would be a chef's-type Buffalo-style-chicken salad.  It would be served to me while sitting in my favorite sportsbar, in front of a straight-out-of-the-tap frosty brew with a college football game on the flatscreen.  Nothing fancy, just a bowl full of crisp lettuce, diced carrots and sliced celery tossed with salty blue cheese crumbles and topped with strips of thin-sliced Boar's Head, Blazing Buffalo-style chicken, plus, crunchy, Buffalo-spiced croutons.  There's more.  When it comes to dressing my salad, it's got to be full of RedHot Buffalo wing-sauce flavor blended with the creamy-dreamy coolness that only Hidden Valley Ranch dressing can offer -- the best of both worlds.  Try my "girly pub grub" version of ~ Buffalo-Chicken Chef w/RedHot Ranch & Croutons ~.

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

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

06/24/2021

~The Sizzling History behind Fajitas (Tacos al Carbon)~

IMG_2053Fajitas were originally named tacos-al-carbon and were served as portable food, ready-to-eat-with-the-hands, by wrapping strips of unpretentious skirt steak that had been cooked over a campfire or on a grill, in a warm corn or flour tortilla, meaning they were served taco-style.  "Faja" is the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", and, with "ita" added to the end, it means "a little strip, band, sash or belt", meaning the ingredients for fajitas are always cut into strips.

The dish dates back to cattle ranching life along the Rio Grande Valley regions of the Texas-Mexico border in the 1930's.  Throwaway items (heads, entrails and meat trimmings) were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay, resulting in some of the first Tex-Mex border dishes: barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak).  Because of the limited number of skirts per animal, the meat wasn't available for sale, so, for years it remained obsure to all except the vaqueros, butchers and their families.

Fahitas transition from tortillas to sizzling plates in 1969: 

6a0120a8551282970b02788030868b200dFajitas made their first commercial debut in September 1969 when Sonny Falcon, an Austin meat market manager opened a taco concession in rural Kyle.  The same year, Otilia Garza began selling them in her Round-Up Restaurant in Pharr, only she presented hers on a sizzling platter with warm flour tortillas, condiments and cheese to the side -- so everyone could make their own.  In 1973, Nifa Rodrigues Laurenzo opened Nifa's in Houston and sold his prewrapped "tacos al carbon" called "tacos al la Nifa". 

Thanks to folks like Sonny, Otilia and Nifa, fajitas did gain in popularity, slowly spreading via rodeos, fairs and festivals into the surrounding Southwestern states of Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, but, national attention didn't come to the fajita until 1982.  George Weidmann, a very creative chef at the fancy-schmancy Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin, recognized the potential for putting a home-grown Tex-Mex dish on his menu.  He, like Otilia, put panache into his presentation, by serving them on sizzling, attention-grabbing cast-iron skillets.  Thanks to George, this now trendy dish was put on Hyatt Regency menus almost everywhere, and, that is when and how I caught fajita-fever (in their Century Plaza restaurant in Los Angeles).  Before long, to please the palates of the clientele, thin strips of boneless chicken were offered as an option to beef.

Try my recipe for One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken Fajita Filling:

IMG_1936Try my Wrapped and Rolled Cheesy Chicken-Fajita Burritos:

IMG_2148Try my Nacho Mama's Sheet-Pan Chicken-Fajitas Nachos too:

IMG_2020 2"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

06/20/2021

~Wrapped and Rolled Cheesy Chicken-Fajita Burritos~

IMG_2148A fajita-burrito has its origins in Mexico and features the best of two South-of-the border worlds -- all those luscious strips of well-seasoned grilled or sautéd chicken or steak, bell peppers and onions that go into fajitas, wrapped-and-rolled, burrito-style, in a large, warm flour tortilla that's been slathered with refried beans and scattered with a layer of Spanish-style rice and shredded cheese.  The outcome is indeed the best of two worlds and, there's no need for embellishments either.  Hold the guacamole, sour cream and/or salsa.  Pick 'em up 'cause they're ready-to-eat.

No need for embellishments.  Pick 'em up -- they're ready to eat:

IMG_2161The "burrito", or: "the food from the little donkey"!

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4463726200cA bit about burritos:  A burrito is a portable sandwich found in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.  It consists of a large flour tortilla that has been wrapped or folded to fully encase a filling. Before serving, it gets lightly-grilled or steamed, to soften the tortilla.  Refried beans, Mexican rice and meat (or a meat mixture) are typically the only fillings used, and, burritos are served unembellished, in order for them to be eaten with the hands.   In Spanish, "burrito" means "little donkey", coming from the word "burro", which means "donkey".  

During the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921), in the El Paso area, a street-food vendor named Juan Mendez sold tacos at his street stand.  Because of the war, for safety sake, it became necessary to continually pack up and move his stand/street-cart from place to place.  He began using his donkey to transport him and his food.  In order to keep the food warm as it traveled, Juan had the idea of wrapping it in large flour tortillas.  His food invention became so popular, consumers began traveling to him from other places around the Mexican border in search of:

The "fajita", or: "faja" & "ita", meaning "little strips"!

6a0120a8551282970b026bdedb2eca200cA bit about fajitas:  Originally named tacos-al-carbon, fajitas were served as portable food, ready-to-eat-with-the-hands, by wrapping strips of unpretentious skirt steak that had been cooked over a campfire or on a grill, in a warm corn or flour tortilla, meaning they were served taco-style.  "Faja" is the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", and, with "ita" added to the end, it means "a little strip, band, sash or belt", meaning the ingredients for fajitas are always cut into strips.

The dish dates back to cattle ranching life along the Rio Grande Valley regions of the Texas-Mexico border in the 1930's.  Throwaway items (heads, entrails and meat trimmings) were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay, resulting in some of the first Tex-Mex border dishes: barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak).  Because of the limited number of skirts per animal, the meat wasn't available for sale, so, for years it remained obsure to all except the vaqueros, butchers and their families.

Burritos + fajitas = a crowd-pleasing Tex-Mex family-favorte!

IMG_2087For each burrito:

1, 9 1/2" round burrito-size flour tortilla

1/2  cup refried beans or refried bean dip

3/4  cup prepared fajita-seasoned rice, or, Mexican-style adobo rice, my recipe or your favorite boxed Spanish-style rice mix

1/2-3/4 cup prepared chicken fajita filling, my recipe or your favorite recipe

1/4  cup shredded white cheddar cheese

IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2115 2 IMG_2115 2 IMG_2115 2~Step 1.  To assemble each fajita burrito, place one tortilla on a flat work surface.  Using a butter knife, spread the beans or bean dip to within 1/2" of the perimeter of the tortilla.  Scatter the Mexican rice atop the beans, and, using fingertips, gently pat rice into beans (this will keep the rice in place when wrapping and rolling the burritos).  Carefully spoon and mound the chicken-fajita filling (atop the rice) in a long strip across the center.  Place the cheese atop and along the strip of chicken-fajita filling.

IMG_2122 2 IMG_2122 2 IMG_2122 2 IMG_2122 2 IMG_2135 2~Step 2.  To wrap, roll and heat burritos, lift the side of the tortilla closest to you up and over the fajita filling -- far enough so it wraps all the way around the filling.  Pick up left and right sides of tortilla and fold them atop the filling.  Roll the tortilla over, seam side down, to fully encase and secure the filling in a tight roll.   Transfer each burrito to a plate, or, place all of the burritos on a platter.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Reheat in microwave 1-1 1/2 minutes.

When ready to eat, heat one or all of them.  Serve for lunch, dinner or a very special late night snack attack:

IMG_2156That's a Wrap, try my ~Cheesy Flank-Steak Fajita Burritos ~ too:

IMG_2503Wrapped & Rolled Cheesy Chicken-Fajita Burritos:  Recipe yields enough ingredients to make 12 large burritos

Special Equipment List:  butter knife, hand-held box grater, slotted spoon, plastic wrap 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a46f8c09200dCook's Note: Inform the family chili is simmering on the stovetop -- you won't have to call them twice to dinner.  Tell the family you're making chili-cheese burritos for dinner -- you won't have to call them at all.  They'll be sitting around the table waiting. Once assembled, if individually wrapped in plastic or foil, they're great to take to school or the office. They reheat perfectly in the microwave or in the oven, and for tailgate, I reheat the foil-wrapped packets on hot grill grids.  The chili-cheese burrito is how one gets to eat chili in a sandwich.  Try my recipe ~ That's a Wrap:  Big Beautiful Chili Cheese Burritos ~.

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

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

06/16/2021

~ Nacho Mama's Sheet-Pan Chicken-Fajitas Nachos ~

IMG_2025Spicy fajitas and cheesy nachos.  Together.  Carefully layered on top of each other on a sheet pan.  Yes, a sheet pan.  Why?  Because nachos require a perfect ratio of cheese-to-toppings on each chip and the sheet pan provides the surface area needed to accomplish that.  Nothing is sadder than picking up a cheesy nacho to find no goodies on top of it, or worse, picking up a nacho chip overloaded with goodies to the point they all slide off onto the plate or your lap. 

Research has revealed that nachos made their debut in Northern Mexico in the 1940's when a large group of hungry servicemen wandered into a restaurant where Ignacio Anaya was cooking. The savvy chef quickly threw some cheese over a big pan of leftover tortillas.  When it emerged from the broiler, he scattered his creation with jalapeño peppers.  When he presented the soldiers with his group-sized appetizer, after devouring it, they took it upon themselves to spread the word. Popularity came fast, and, along the way, nachos acquired an assortment of toppings.

Nachos need a perfect ratio of cheese to toppings on each chip.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4907b77200bThat's easy.  That's what I said, until I watched Alton Brown (on The Food Network) make nachos, and, from him I learned how to build better nachos. First, he used a sheet pan to increase the surface area so the tortilla chips can sprawl out (no more crowding them in a 13" x 9" casserole for me).  Second, he took ample time to top them, almost one chip at a time, to make sure that every chip had the perfect ratio of cheese to toppings.  Once you do it his way once, there's no going back.

Building better nachos, one tortilla chip at a time.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a46bde46200dIn my kitchen, nachos aren't always a snack.  Sometimes they're a meal. When I serve 'em as a snack, I make them on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheet pan that's been covered with foil and a sheet of parchment -- so cleanup is a snap.  When I serve 'em as a meal, I make 'em the same way, but, layer them in my oven-safe ceramic skillets -- a bit of cleanup, but a great presentation. One sheet pan feeds 6-8 people snacks. The same ingredients feed four as a main-dish in four 6 1/2"-7" skillets.

Make your dinner & a movie night special w/fajitas nachos:

IMG_195430  5"-round fresh corn tortillas (about 1 pound, 4 ounces), deep-fried as directed below, or, 1, 16-ounce bag store-bought restaurant-style corn tortilla chips

1  pound (16  ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 6 cups)

2  9-ounce cans refried bean dip

3-3 1/2  cups my recipe for One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken Fajita Filling, warmed slightly in the microwave (Note:  All fajita filling is not created equal. My recipe is full of lightly-pounded chicken paillards, bell peppers,  onion, and, seasoned with my own fajita seasoning blend.)

1  cup spicy avocado crema, a 2-3 minute task to process mixture of 1 cup mashed, ripe Hass avocado (store-bought Wholly Guacamole may be substituted) with 6 tablespoons Mexican crema or sour cream, and, 1-2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce

1  cup Mexican crema or sour cream

6a0120a8551282970b0240a442d4f2200c 6a0120a8551282970b0240a4909106200b 6a0120a8551282970b0240a46bf15a200d 6a0120a8551282970b0240a46bf160200d~Step 1. To deep-fry fresh tortillas, divide tortillas into two stacks and cut each stack into six wedges.  Heat corn or peanut oil in deep-fryer, according to the manufacturer's specifications, to 375º.  When the deep fryer is ready:  Fry 2 stacks (two sixths) of the tortilla triangles for 40-45 seconds.  Chips will be lightly-browned and puffed in spots. Transfer to a large baking pan that's been lined with 3-4 layers of paper towels. Using a spatula, quickly and randomly separate the chips into a single layer and lightly salt their tops ASAP.  Repeat process 5 more times.

IMG_1958 IMG_1958 IMG_1958 IMG_1958 IMG_1972~Step 2.  To assemble the nachos, line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with aluminum foil, then, place a piece of parchment paper in the bottom. Arrange chips across the bottom of pan, in a semi-single layer, allowing them to overlap and double-up occasionally.  Scatter about two-thirds (4 cups) of the shredded Monterey Jack cheese over the surface of the tortilla chips.  By teaspoonfuls, drop blotches of refried bean dip over the Jack cheese.  Scatter the chicken fajita mixture over the entire surface, followed by the remaining shredded cheese.

IMG_1978 IMG_1978 IMG_1978~Step 3.  To bake and garnish the nachos, place on center rack of 350º oven and bake until Jack cheese is melted and shows bubbly signs of light-browning, 6-7 minutes. Remove from oven.  Without hesitation decoratively drizzle with the avocado crema and Mexican crema or sour cream.  Serve ASAP.

Place pan on table or cocktail table & get out the napkins:

IMG_2020

A perfect ratio of chips & cheese-to-toppings?  You judge!

IMG_2026Nacho Mama's Sheet-Pan Chicken-Fajitas Nachos:  Recipe yields 6-8 snack-size servings/4 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; deep-fryer (optional); hand-held box grater; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheet pan or 6, 8" oven-safe ceramic skillets; aluminum foil; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b0240a47f922d200cCook's Note: Nowadays, the tortilla chip, just like the pizza crust, can be used as a foil for all sorts of creative takes on traditional Tex-Mex-style nachos. Anything that can be adapted to make a pizza can be transitioned to nachos: Philly cheesesteak nachos, Cincinnati chili nachos, Carolina pulled-pork nachos, Jamaican jerk nachos, etc. Simply pick one innocuous cheese with great melting qualities (Monterey Jack is my choice), then, season the protein accordingly and pick the toppings, meaning, stick to the flavor profile.  No one is surprised by fusion-food nachos -- they just can't wait to try 'em: ~ Nacho Mama's Buffalo Chicken Sheet-Pan Nachos ~

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

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

06/13/2021

~Kids-Stuff One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken-Fajita Filling~

IMG_1936Tacos and fajitas.  Akin to Cheeseburgers and pizza, I can't much conjure up four more kid-friendly meals.  That said, if you're a mom or dad attempting to get your kids to eat more vegetables, it goes without saying, fajitas are an argument-free way way to get the job done. If you're a mom or dad trying to cut some fat out of your life, chicken fajitas will accomplish that too. There's more.  If you've got a big family to feed or the need to feed a crowd, simply do the math and double the quantities.  In about the same amount of time, voila: the hungry mob is fed.  

Savory, succulent, in one skillet & ready to eat in 30-40 minutes:

IMG_1797For the chicken & seasonings:

6  large (about 2 1/2-3 pounds) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, lightly-pounded into paillards

2-3  tablespoons vegetable oil

3  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or, a favorite store-bought seasoning mix, about 3 tablespoons (1, 1-ounce envelope store-bought)

a sprinkling of ground cumin

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt 

For the vegetables & seasonings:

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

1  1/2  cups each, julienne of:  green, red, orange and yellow bell pepper

3  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or a favorite store-bought seasoning mix (1, 1-ounce envelope store-bought)

a sprinkling of ground cumin 

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt

IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1822~Step 1.  To season and cook chicken on first side, heat the oil in a 16" electric skillet over low heat.  Add the chicken paillards to the skillet. Liberally season the top side with half of the fajita seasoning (1 1/2 tablespoons), followed by a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin, followed by a very-light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt.  Increase skillet temperature to 225°.  Sauté the chicken until nicely-golden on the bottom, about 6-7 minutes.

IMG_1824 IMG_1824 IMG_1824 IMG_1824 IMG_1842~Step 2.  Using a fork or a spatula, flip the chicken over.  To season and cook the chicken on the second side, repeat the seasoning process on the second side, and, sauté until golden on the bottom, another 6-7 minutes. Flip the chicken over one more time and cook for 1 additional minute. Turn the heat off.  Remove the chicken from the skillet (leaving all of the flavorful pan drippings in the bottom.  Slice the chicken into very thin strips and set aside.

IMG_1844 IMG_1844 IMG_1844 IMG_1844 IMG_1857 IMG_1857 IMG_1857~Step 3.  Add all of the onions and bell peppers to the chicken drippings in the skillet, spreading them out across the surface of the bottom of pan.  Season the vegetables by sprinkling them with all of the fajita seasoning, a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin, and, a very-light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt. Using two large slotted spoons, give the mixture a thorough stir. Adjust the heat to 225° and sauté the vegetables until crunch-tender, about 3-4 minutes.  Add all of the chicken strips, give the mixture a thorough stir and continue to cook until chicken is just heated through, about 1 minute. Turn the heat off.  Transfer chicken/veggie mixture to a large bowl.  Serve immediately.

Serve immediately w/warm flour tortillas & lime wedges:

IMG_1864Kid-friendly, adult-friendly, crowd-friendly goodness:

IMG_1940Kids-Stuff One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken-Fajita Filling:  Recipe yields 6 cups fajita filling/enough to fill 24, 5 1/2"-round flour tortillas.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; flat-sided meat mallet; 16" electric skillet w/lid; fork; large spatula; 2 large slotted spoons

IMG_1913Cook's Note: Fajitas were originally named tacos-al-carbon and were served ready-to-eat-with-the-hands, by wrapping strips of unpretentious skirt steak that had been cooked over a campfire or on a grill, in a warm corn tortilla, meaning they were served taco-style.  "Faja" is the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", and, with "ita" added to the end, it means "a little strip, band, sash or belt", meaning the ingredients for fajitas are always cut into strips.  Try some of my ~ Tex-Mex Skinny Chicken-Fajita Corn-Tortilla Tacos ~ too.

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

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

06/10/2021

~ Tex-Mex Skinny Chicken-Fajita Corn-Tortilla Tacos ~

IMG_1879 2Fajitas were originally named tacos-al-carbon and were served as portable food, ready-to-eat-with-the-hands, by wrapping strips of unpretentious skirt steak that had been cooked over a campfire or on a grill, in a warm corn or flour tortilla, meaning they were served taco-style.  "Faja" is the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", and, with "ita" added to the end, it means "a little strip, band, sash or belt", meaning the ingredients for fajitas are always cut into strips.

The dish dates back to cattle ranching life along the Rio Grande Valley regions of the Texas-Mexico border in the 1930's.  Throwaway items (heads, entrails and meat trimmings) were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay, resulting in some of the first Tex-Mex border dishes: barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak).  Because of the limited number of skirts per animal, the meat wasn't available for sale, so, for years it remained obsure to all except the vaqueros, butchers and their families.

IMG_1873Fahitas transition from taco shells to sizzling plates in 1969: 

6a0120a8551282970b01a73defa9f9970dFajitas made their first commercial debut in September 1969 when Sonny Falcon, an Austin meat market manager opened a taco concession in rural Kyle.  The same year, Otilia Garza began selling them in her Round-Up Restaurant in Pharr, only she presented hers on a sizzling platter with warm flour tortillas, condiments and cheese to the side -- so everyone could make their own.  In 1973, Nifa Rodrigues Laurenzo opened Nifa's in Houston and sold his prewrapped "tacos al carbon" called "tacos al la Nifa". 

Thanks to folks like Sonny, Otilia and Nifa,  fajitas did gain in popularity, slowly spreading via rodeos, fairs and festivals into the surrounding Southwestern states of Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, but, national attention didn't come to the fajita until 1982.  George Weidmann, a very creative chef at the fancy-schmancy Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin, recognized the potential for putting a home-grown Tex-Mex dish on his menu.  He, like Otilia, put panache into his presentation, by serving them on sizzling, attention-grabbing cast-iron skillets.  Thanks to George, this now trendy dish was put on Hyatt Regency menus almost everywhere, and, that is when and how I caught fajita-fever (in their Century Plaza restaurant in Los Angeles).  Before long, to please the palates of the clientele, thin strips of boneless chicken were offered as an option to beef.    

IMG_1895 2Fajitas -- easy-to-make Tex-Mex fare that any home cook can make better than any drive-thru or restaurant, anywhere, anytime.

IMG_1797For the chicken & seasonings:

6  large (about 2 1/2-3 pounds) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, lightly-pounded into paillards

2-3  tablespoons vegetable oil

3  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or, a favorite store-bought seasoning mix, about 3 tablespoons (1, 1-ounce envelope store-bought)

a sprinkling of ground cumin

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt 

For the vegetable medley & seasonings:

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

1  1/2  cups each, julienne of:  green, red, orange and yellow bell pepper

3  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or a favorite store-bought seasoning mix (1, 1-ounce envelope store-bought)

a sprinkling of ground cumin 

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt

IMG_1867For the assembly:

24  5 1/2"-round fresh corn tortillas, formed into taco shells & lightly deep-fried in corn or peanut oil for 28 seconds each

all of the cooked & seasoned meat/vegetable mixture, prepared as directed below

avocado crema (a mixture of puréed avocado, Mexican crema & Sriracha sauce), for garnish

IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1815 IMG_1815~Step 1.  To season and cook chicken on first side, heat the oil in a 16" electric skillet over low heat.  Add the chicken paillards to the skillet. Liberally season the top side with half of the fajita seasoning (1 1/2 tablespoons), followed by a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin, followed by a very-light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt.  Increase skillet temperature to 225°.  Sauté the chicken until nicely-golden on the bottom, about 6-7 minutes.  

IMG_1824 IMG_1824 IMG_1824 IMG_1842 IMG_1842~Step 2.  Using a fork or a spatula, flip the chicken over.  To season and cook the chicken on the second side, repeat the seasoning process on the second side, and, sauté until golden on the bottom, another 6-7 minutes. Flip the chicken over one more time and cook for 1 additional minute. Turn the heat off.  Remove the chicken from the skillet (leaving all of the flavorful pan drippings in the bottom.  Slice the chicken into very thin strips and set aside.

IMG_1842 IMG_1844 IMG_1845 IMG_1845 IMG_1845 IMG_1857 IMG_1857 IMG_1857~Step 3.  Add all of the onions and bell peppers to the chicken drippings in the skillet, spreading them out across the surface of the bottom of pan.  Season the vegetables by sprinkling them with all of the fajita seasoning, a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin, and, a very-light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt.  Using two large slotted spoons, give the mixture a thorough stir. Adjust the heat to 225° and sauté the vegetables until crunch-tender, about 3-4 minutes.  Add all of the chicken strips, give the mixture a thorough stir and continue to cook until chicken is just heated through, about 1 minute.  Turn heat off.  Transfer chicken/veggie mixture to a large bowl.

IMG_1913~ Step 4.  Using a large slotted spoon, portion the hot chicken-vegetable mixture into up to 24, 6" taco shells.  That said, do not fill any more taco shells than your expecting your family or friends to eat at one sitting.  Drizzle some avocado crema atop each filled taco and serve immediately.  Store leftover chicken-vegetable filling in the refrigerator (I do not recommend freezing) for up to 2-3 days and reheat gently in the microwave.

Of course you want a drizzle of avocado crema on these fajitas:

IMG_1896Tex-Mex Skinny Chicken-Fajita Corn-Tortilla Tacos:  Recipe yields 24 5 1/2"-round chicken-fajita tacos.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; flat-sided meat mallet; 16" electric skillet w/lid; fork; large spatula; 2 large slotted spoons

6a0120a8551282970b01bb092a1480970dCook's Note: Elote (ay-loht) is the Spanish word for "corn", and in Mexico, it typically references a very special street-snack food:  grilled corn-on-the cob slathered in a crema and chili-powder and lime-laced sauce, then sprinkled with crumbled cotija cheese.  Street vendors typically pull back the husk but leave it attached, remove all of the silk, return the husk to its original position, secure it at the open end with twine and place it over hot coals. In home kitchens, it's common to remove the husks and simply place the cobs on a the grill to char.  For the perfect side to your fajitas, try my recipe for ~ Classic Grilled Mexican Sweet Street Corn (Elotes) ~.

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

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

06/07/2021

~Caramelized Onion, Gruyère & Dijonnaise Omelette~

IMG_1787As a bigger fan of fluffy American-style omelettes vs skinny French omelettes, and, as an advocate for savory breakfasts over cloyingly-sweet breakfasts, this egg-cellent caramelized onion-stuffed cheese omelette is one of my favorite ways to break the fast -- it tastes every bit as good as it looks  There's more.  It pairs perfectly with a bloody Mary for breakfast (no orange or grapefruit juice with this omelette please), a glass of wine for lunch, or, a pilsner of beer for dinner.

IMG_1630 2Caramelized onions seem to slip through the cracks when many of us are pondering breakfast. Trust me when I tell you, eggs love caramelized onions.  While I adore them in an omelette, they're excellent mixed into a frittata, layered into a quiche, or, folded into scrambled eggs too. it does take a bit of time and patience (not energy) to properly caramelize  onions, about 40 minutes, but, on average, that's how long it takes onions to properly caramelize on the stovetop.

Put the coffee on, roll up your sleeves & break an egg.

IMG_1724For each omelette:

3  large eggs, preferably at room temperature

1/4  cup cream or half-and-half

2  tablespoons Dijonaisse, (Note: My recipe for Dijonaisse is a mixture of mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, dehydrated minced garlic, dehydrated minced onion, and, coarse-grind black pepper.

1/2  cup shredded gruyère cheese

1/2  cup caramelized onions

2  teaspoons salted butter

For the optional accompaniment:

1  medium handful mixed Spring greens

6-8  cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters or sliced into coins

IMG_1731 IMG_1731~Step 1. Crack the large eggs into a 1-cup measuring container and add enough cream or half-and-half to total 3/4 cups total liquid (about 4 tablespoons).  Add the Dijonnaise.  Use a fork to whisk vigorously, until thoroughly combined.

IMG_1735 IMG_1735 IMG_1735 IMG_1743 IMG_1743~Step 2.  In an 8" nonstick skillet, melt butter over low heat.  When butter has melted, use the fork to briefly rewhisk egg mixture, then pour it into the warmed skillet. By patiently manually lifting, lowering, and tilting the pan on and off the heat, allow eggs to set up a bit around the sides of the skillet -- about 45 seconds over low heat w/no pressure to rush.

IMG_1751 IMG_1751 IMG_1751~Step 3.  Increase heat to medium.  In various spots around the entire perimeter of the skillet, slip a thin spatula under the setting eggs.  In each of those spots use the spatula to lift the eggs up, while, at the same time, tilting the pan in the direction of the spatula to allow the remaining liquid to flow down and into the setting eggs -- about 45 seconds over medium heat w/no pressure to rush.  The surface of the omelette should be semi-moist and glistening with no liquid or little liquid puddling on the top

IMG_1760 IMG_1760 IMG_1760 IMG_1760 IMG_1786~Step 4.  Decrease the heat to low.  Scatter the Gruyère cheese, in a half-moon shape, over half of the omelette, then, scatter the caramelized onions atop the cheese.  Give cheese about 45 seconds to soften over low heat with no pressure to rush.  Using a large spatula, lift the empty side of the omelette up and over the cheesy side of the omelette.  Allow the omelette to rest in the pan about 45 seconds.  With the aid of a wide spatula, gently slide omelette from skillet to plate and serve immediately with the Spring mix and tomatoes.  

Transfer to plate & serve w/Spring mix & tomatoes:

IMG_1774Caramelized Onion, Gruyère & Dijonnaise Omelette:  Recipe yields instructions to make one hearty omelette/1-2 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; fork; hand-held box grater; 8" nonstick skillet; large thin spatula; large wide spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a48937be200dCook's Note: I declare:  I love briny tapenade in an omelete as much as I like caramelized onions in an omelette.  Throw in a few salty crumbles of feta cheese, place it on a bed of bright green baby arugula or baby spinach leaves and garnish with a few diced tomatoes.  Toast goes nicely, but there's no need for bacon or sausage with this any-time-of-the-day meal.  Life in the 'burbs with this omelet in it is very, very good.  ~ Mediterranean-Style Olive Tapenade & Feta Omelette ~.

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

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

06/04/2021

~ My Dijonaisse-Dressed Baked Russet Potato Salad ~

IMG_1689I'm a lover of potato salad, and, when a hankering for it hits, I don't want to waste a lot of time getting from point A to point B, meaning, I want potato salad, aka as quickly as possible. For that reason, this is my "go to" recipe --  it's nothing fancy, but, it's done within the hour (and in potato salad time, that's quick).  There's more.  While the potatoes are in the microwave oven baking, I often chop some optional additions (celery, onion and/or hard-cooked egg), and mix them in too, but, I'm here to tell you, this quick-fix potato salad, pure and simple, tastes great just as it is.

Do we need another potato salad recipe in a long line of potato salad recipes?  You betcha.  This one is one more to love:

6a0120a8551282970b0264e2e2ff8f200dThe cook in every family has a favorite potato salad recipe. From my Eastern European heritage family, in my repertoire, Classic Creamy Potato and Egg SaladBaked Russet-Potato Salad, Red Potato Salad w/Horseradish-Mayonnaise, and, Vintage Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier, are amongst my family's favorites. That said, unlike almost all of our grandmothers and grandfathers, we of subsequent generations began moving or traveling to different areas of the US and/or started traveling around the world -- we eat globally and regionally, as well as locally. Our pantries contain spices and ingredients from many cultures, and, because potatoes are a great foil for foodie creativity, it should come as no shock to anyone that potato salad has been fused with flavors from other cuisines.  Example:  My Russet & Sweet Potato Salad w/Chile-Lime Mayo, pairs great with almost any Tex-Mex-style grilled chicken, steak or spareribs.

Got a hankering for potato salad?  Ready, set, go:

IMG_1494For my French-style Dijonnaise:

3/4  cup high-quality mayonnaise, Hellmann's or Duke's

6  tablespoons Grey Poupon Dijon mustard

2  generous teaspoons dehydrated minced garlic

2  generous teaspoons dehydrated minced onion

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_1713For the potatoes & optional add-ins:

4  large or 5 medium Russet potatoes, baked in the microwave and chopped as directed below

4-6 large hard-cooked and chopped eggs (optional)

3/4-1  cup diced celery (optional)

1/2-3/4  cup diced yellow or sweet onion (optional)

IMG_1501 IMG_1501 IMG_1501~ Step 1.  Measure and place all ingredients in a 2-cup-size food-storage container.  Stir to combine. While the potatoes are baking in the microwave (about 15 minutes), refrigerate the Dijonnaise --  just to chill it down a bit.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad384d13e200c 6a0120a8551282970b022ad384d147200c 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ca8044200b~ Step 2.  Rinse the Russet potatoes, and, using the sharp tip of a paring knife, pierce their skin in 4-5 spots. Microwave until potatoes are fork-tender, yet still-firm and slightly undercooked.  In my microwave this takes about 18 minutes.  Remove from microwave.  Slice the Russet into 1/2" - 3/4" discs, then, peel back the skins from the discs.  Slice the discs into 1/2"-3/4 chunks, placing them on a baking pan as you work.  Place the potatoes in the refrigerator for 8-10 minutes to quickly cool the potatoes to below room temperature.  If you want to add any of the optional add-ins, read Step 3.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ca80aa200b 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3aad67c200d 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ca80b1200b 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ca80b6200b 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3aad689200d~Step 3.  The moment the potatoes go into the microwave, now's the time to prep any or all of the optional add-ins. Hard-cook the eggs (either via the blue link to my method or your favorite method) as directed.  Do not overcook the eggs -- everyone detests those greenish-gray halos around overcooked yolks. Peel and dice the eggs into 3/4" bite-sized pieces and set aside.  Dice the celery and onions -- small or medium dice, your choice.  Set aside.

IMG_1716 IMG_1716 IMG_1716~ Step 4.  Place potatoes in a large bowl.  Add the Dijonaisse.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold Dijonaisse into potatoes. Add and fold in any of the optional additions too.  Cover and refrigerate 30-60 minutes.

It's a great cool-down side-dish to Buffalo chicken wings:

IMG_1670And perfect alongside a cheeseburger craving too:

IMG_1647My Dijonaisse-Dressed Baked Russet Potato Salad:  Recipe yields 6-8 cups/6 cups without additions/8 cups with additions/8-10 servings.

Special Equipment List: 2-cup food-storage container w/tight-fitting lid; spoon; paring knife; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b02788019d282200dCook's Note: Mom's macaroni salad. This, now retro, 1950's era recipe is nothing fancy, nothing special, and, definitely not gourmet.  It's simply old-fashioned, pull-a-chair-up-to-the-table lip-smacking goodness. There's more, if one keeps this easy--to-make, creamy-crunchy picnic-and-potluck side-dish staple on-hand in their refrigerator, it only takes one scoop from the bowl to a plate to turn anything, from a lunchtime sandwich to a dinnertime pork chop, into a delightful meal. Try ~ Mom's No-Nonsense Elbow Macaroni & Egg Salad ~.

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

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

06/01/2021

~So You'd Like Perfectly Caramelized Onions on That~

IMG_1641Caramelized onions are a marvelous condiment to have on-hand.  They're an awesome topper for a hamburger, steak or cheesesteak, they're wonderful on pizza, and, oh-my-sigh, I love them in a cheese omelette for breakfast. That said, it does take a bit of time and patience (not energy) to properly caramelize  onions, about 40 minutes, but, on average, that's how long it takes onions to properly caramelize on the stovetop, and, after all, one can't serve French onion anything without properly caramelized onions -- quite frankly, they're the star of any French onion show. The words I use to describe the task of caramelizing onions on the stovetop:  a super-easy babysitting job.

6a0120a8551282970b017d3bf9e9ba970c 2Caramelizing onions = a super-easy babysitting job.

6a0120a8551282970b026bded58163200cFor the caramelized onions:

1 pound (after peeling) 1/8"-1/4"-thick-sliced half-moon-shaped sweet onion  

2  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons olive oil

1  teaspoon granulated sugar 

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2-4  tablespoons sweet white wine or sherry, for deglazing pan (water may be substituted)

6a0120a8551282970b0278802d7740200d 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d7740200d 6a0120a8551282970b026bded5823a200c 6a0120a8551282970b026bded5823a200c 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d7772200d 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d7772200d 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d7772200d~Step 1. Peel and slice onions.  Over low heat, in a 12" skillet, melt butter into olive oil.  Add onions to skillet.  Season with sugar and salt.  Using a slotted spoon or spatula, stir until the onions are coated in oil/butter.

6a0120a8551282970b0282e105d4bc200b 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d77b8200d 6a0120a8551282970b026bded58278200c 6a0120a8551282970b0282e105d4c1200b 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d77d2200d 6a0120a8551282970b026bded58289200c 6a0120a8551282970b026bded582a3200c~Step 2.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Continue to slowly cook, stirring occasionally.  After 10 minutes, onions will have lost a lot of volume and will be limp and steamed through.  There won't be any browning just yet. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, another 10 minutes. It's now that you are going to start to see what I refer to as light browning.  Continue to cook, stirring more frequently, another 10 minutes. Now the onions are nicely-browned and truly beginning to caramelize.  Keep going.

6a0120a8551282970b026bded582be200cNote:  From this point on, do not leave the stove.  The onions will require almost constant stirring, and, they can and will go from browned to burned quickly.  My onions cooked for another 5 minutes today, with me stirring constantly, before I added the wine and quickly (30-45 seconds) deglazed the pan, or, for a total of 35 minutes.  Deglazing the pan is an important step that takes caramelized onions from ordinary to extraordinary, so, don't skip it.  Transfer  the caramelized onions to a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.

You'll love 'em on my Pan-Seared French-Onion Burgers

IMG_1594You'll love 'em in my breakfast, lunch or dinner Caramelized Onion, Gruyère & Dijonaisse Omelette too:

IMG_1787Would You Like Caramelized Onions on the Burger?:  Recipe yields 1 cup caramelized onions.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; large slotted spoon or spatula; paper towels

IMG_1628Cook's Note: As far as mayonnaise-based condiments go, this is the condiment that makes everything taste fancy schmancy in a French kinda way, and, it complements caramelized onions perfectly.  It is sooooo good on sooooo many things.  To name a few: French fries, steamed or grilled vegetables, an ordinary ham or turkey sandwich, and, of course, a mouth-watering cheeseburger.  There's more.  It's great used as a dressing for potato salad.  Make a big batch or a small batch, whatever you need, it's only going to take five minutes.  Try my  ~ Dijonnaise -- Mayonnaise, Dijon Mustard and Spices ~.

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

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