Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 02/2010

« June 2021 | Main | August 2021 »

10 posts from July 2021

07/31/2021

~ On the Light Side of a Turkey & Pastrami Sandwich ~

IMG_2741Smoked turkey and pastrami.  This duo is one of my favorite sandwich combinations.  That said, I don't typically want to eat mine grilled with ooey-gooey melted cheese and piled high and sloppy with crunchy 'slaw or 'kraut and/or Russian dressing.  More-often-than-not I just want to enjoy this sandwich "light-and-easy-like", made simply and served cold with shredded lettuce, shaved onion and the oh-so-wonderful addition of a thin-sliced Summer-ripened tomato.  When all is said and done, I can taste the flavor of every ingredient, especially the smoked turkey and pastrami.

Hearty enough to feed two, w/the light feeling of Summer:

IMG_2703For each sandwich:

2  slices soft-rye bread, seeded or unseeded and untoasted

2-3  tablespoons mayonnaise

1/2-3/4  cup chiffonade of iceberg lettuce

1/4  cup very-thin-sliced red onion

3-4  thin slices lacey-Swiss cheese

4-5  ounces very-thin-sliced pastrami

4-5  ounces very-thin-sliced smoked turkey breast

4-5-6  thin slices tomato, depending on the size of the tomato (Note:  These are Campari tomatoes., which are my favorite tomatoes to use in place of home-grown local tomatoes.)

potato chips  and/or dill pickles, for accompaniment (optional)

IMG_2710 IMG_2710 IMG_2710 IMG_2710~Step 1.  Place one slice of the rye bread on a plate or a small sandwich board and slather the top of it with the mayonnaise.  Scatter the chiffonade of lettuce over the the mayo, followed by a scattering of the red onion atop the lettuce.  Error on the side of being generous with everything.

IMG_2720 IMG_2720 IMG_2720 IMG_2720 IMG_2720~Step 2.  Place cheese slices atop the onions -- I do this by using ribbon folds to keep the cheese light and airy.  Using the same ribbon folds, place the pastrami atop cheese and turkey atop the pastrami.  Place a layer of tomato slices atop the turkey.  Top with the second slice of rye bread and be sure to secure everything in place with 2-4 sandwich picks.

Slice & serve ASAP -- it tastes as good as it looks.  

IMG_2741On the Light Side of a Turkey & Pastrami Sandwich:  Instructions to make 1 very large sandwich/1-2 servings.  

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; sandwich picks

6a0120a8551282970b0240a45e8ab8200cCook's Note: There is nothing quite as satisfying as a BLT or a club sandwich, made with a just-picked perfectly-ripe tomato.  Tick, tock.  It is going be an impatient two-week wait for my own or any locally-grown tomatoes to be at my fingertips, so, hold-that-beautiful-thought, give pause to the beloved tomato for a moment, and allow me to change the conversation:  there is another tart fruit to consider.  It's the brine-cured olive, and, in the form of tapenade, there is no reason to compromise your BLT with a not-so-great tomato.  Try my ~ Bacon, Lettuce, Tapenade & Chicken Club Sandwich ~ too!

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

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

07/28/2021

~Tomato Season & Why I Adore the Compari Tomato~

6a0120a8551282970b01a511c4835a970cThe Campari tomato claimed its fame in 2002 when a brief reference was made to it in the TV series, "The Sopranos."  One mention -- it boosted both its relevancy in the tomato-loving world and its level of respect within the all-important Italian-American community.  In 2003, Campari was rewarded with a 50% uptick in sales.  To this day, it is my year-round store-bought tomato of choice. In my opinion, the Campari tomato is the most perfect tomato ever produced -- it's so damned flavorful, having the ideal balance of acid to sugar, and a texture that endears each one to me as my ideal slicing tomato.  Classified as a "cocktail tomato" (whatever that means), they're much larger than cherry or grape tomatoes, but, a lot smaller than your typical "big boy".

The surprising thing is, Campari tomatoes are grown hydroponically (which renders most tomatoes tasteless), and are ripened to their super-red color on the vine.  Because they're ripened on the vine, the need for pesticides is eliminated, and, it's also the reason they are shipped with the vine attached  -- it enables them to continue to ripen naturally without the need for ethylene gas.  This makes them available year-round with little-to-no compromise in flavor or texture.  For all these reasons, when Campari tomatoes hit the marketplace, they were wisely branded as "the tomato-lovers tomato".  While a bit pricey, as a card-carrying tomato lover, along with many others, the Campari tomato is the heartthrob of those of us that do not grow our own.  

The Campari tomato IS the "tomato-lovers tomato"!

IMG_2674"We are all in this food world together."  ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

07/25/2021

~ Put Gluten-Free Beer in Gluten-Free Pizza-Dough ~

IMG_2684Let me start by saying that a great pizza crust is puffy, chewy and crispy with a bit of yeasty flavor. Let me end by saying, a gluten-free pizza crust is none of those things.  In fact, the only two things a traditional yeast-risen pizza crust and a yeast-risen gluten-free pizza crust have in common are shape and function.  Once I got past that and stopped trying to turn "water into wine", it was easier (I didn't say easy, 'cause it took several tries) for me to move-on and come up with a perfectly-palatable very-tasty gluten-free crust to please those in my circle who require one. I'm not gonna lie, the idea to put GF beer in GF pizza dough came to me via a late-night rerun episode of Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives hosted by Guy Fieri -- just paying credit where credit is due.

For the record, I do not eat a gluten-free diet, nor do I recommend that anyone for any other reason than being a bona fide celiac adopt a gluten-free diet.  Bread is the staff of life, and, depriving the body of gluten, meaning wheat or by-products of wheat, for any long-term length of time, causes. not cures. health problems -- Google it you idiot.  That said, I do know two bona fide celiacs, and, when either pay a visit to my kitchen, I accommodate -- which isn't remarkably hard because lots of foods (meat, poultry, fish, seafood and vegetables), pantry ingredients and meals are gluten-free, and, for the record, there are some very good gluten-free pastas available, so know, a gluten-free pasta dish or three are helpful to keep in your back pocket.  I can count the number of gluten-free recipes in my repertoire on one hand, and, for my needs that's just fine.

My criteria:  Easy-peasy recipe using readily-available ingredients, &, let my dedicated GF bread machine mix the dough, &, in the case of GF, cleanliness is next to godliness.  Let's chat about cross-contamination:

I can let my bread-machine do all the work, but, if you do not keep a bread machine dedicated for the sole purpose of gluten-free baking, you can not.  Why?  Cross-contamination -- and it is very, very dangerous.  Celiac disease can be triggered by even the smallest spec of gluten. This means if you recently prepared foods using wheat flour, the first step (and it's a must) is to fully wipe down all baking surfaces, wash all hardware and utensils, and, remove any products or gluten-containing ingredients that are nearby.  So, in the event you don't maintain a gluten-free bread-machine, simply mix your pizza dough by hand in the traditional manner and proceed.

Practice makes perfect?  For GF:  Practice makes palatable:

IMG_25803/4  cup + 2 tablespoons gluten-free beer

2  tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 additional tablespoons oil for preparing pan and fingertips

2 cups + 2 tablespoons gluten-free all-purpose flour 

2  teaspoons baking powder 

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt 

1 1/2  teaspoons teaspoon sugar

1  packet granulated yeast

IMG_2582 IMG_2582 IMG_2589 IMG_2593 IMG_2593 IMG_2593 IMG_2593~Step 1.    Secure the bread pan in the bread machine.  Place the beer and olive oil in the the bread pan of the bread machine.  Add the all-purpose GF flour, then, sprinkle the sugar, salt and baking powder around the perimeter of the pan, meaning, not over the top center of the GF flour.  Using your index finger, make a shallow well in the center of the flour and add the granulated yeast to the well. Close the lid and push the "menu/select" button.  Choose the "pizza dough" cycle. Push "start". When the machine signals the dough is done (it will have risen once too), remove pan of dough from the machine.  In my machine this takes 1 hour and 30 minutes.  When dough is done, there is 1-pound 4-ounces total dough, or, enough for one 13" x 9"-rectangular or 12"-round pizza.

IMG_2610 IMG_2610 IMG_2610 IMG_2610 IMG_2656 IMG_2661~Step 2. Place 2 tablespoons olive oil on 1, 13" x 9"-rectangular or 12"-round pizza pan, and, using a paper towel, spread the oil evenly over the surface.  Place the ball of pizza dough on the oiled pan.  Using your fingertips, a "tapping mode" and a light touch, spread the dough evenly across the surface and slightly up the sides of the pan -- this will be remarkably easy to do and the surface of the dough should be dimply looking from your fingertips -- do not roll the dough or try to flatten it in any way, as it will compact it.  Allow dough to rest, 1 hour to 1 hour-15 minutes, to allow starches in flour to hydrate, and, to allow  baking powder and yeast to work a bit of magic -- do not be inclined to skip the rest period.

IMG_2663 IMG_2669 IMG_2669 IMG_2669~Step 3.  Heat oven to 360°.  Place untopped pizza crust on center rack of oven for about 8 minutes, to prebake it -- it's time to remove it when it appears dry and small cracks are appearing across the surface.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool about 15 minutes.  Top with your favorite toppings, BUT, placing a layer of very-thinly sliced cheese down first, to serve as a moisture barrier between a thin-layer of sauce and the crust, is something I highly recommend.  After the layer of sliced cheese, followed by a thin coating of sauce, proceed with grated cheeses and toppings of choice -- less is more with all choices, this is a thin crust pizza.

IMG_2677 IMG_2677~ Step 4.  Bake topped pizza on center rack of preheated oven for about 14-15 minutes,  until cheese is melted and bubbling. Using a long, thin spatula, slde pizza from pan to oven rack to crisp the bottom for about 1-2 minutes.  Using a pizza peel, transfer pizza from oven rack to wire rack to cool about 5 minutes prior to slicing. 

Transfer from oven rack to wire rack & cool for 5 minutes...

IMG_2643Prior to slicing & serving very-good, easy-peasy GF pizza: 

IMG_2696Put Gluten-Free Beer in Gluten-Free Pizza Dough:  Recipe yields 1, thin-crust 13" x 9" rectangular pizza, or, 1, thin-crust 12"-round pizza/8 slices/servings each.

Special Equipment List:  bread machine; 1, 13" x 9"-rectangular pizza pan or 12"-round pizza pan; paper towel; long, thin spatula, pizza peel

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3bea499200dCook's Note: In crust I trust, but, in the case of the bloatedly-overpriced-at-almost-$9.00 cauliflower pizza crusts I purchased (on a whim just to get a taste-in-my-mouth for what all the buzz is about), I'd rather eat cardboard.  In order to avoid eating compromising crap, I eat less of the things I love before cutting-back on carbs, or worse, cutting-out gluten completely.  "Once you get used to them, they're pretty good", is not a retort, so stuff it.  The only way to justify this type of ingredient-specific-deprivation requires a doctor's diagnosis.  ~ The Great Cauliflower Crust Experiment ~.

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

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

07/21/2021

~ My Fajita Rice for Chicken or Steak Fajita-Burritos ~

IMG_2559I love fajitas and I adore fajita-burritos.  Sometimes I make chicken or steak fajitas for the sole purpose of taking the well-seasoned, sautéed bell pepper, onion and chicken or steak mixture, and wrapping it up burrito-style in a large flour tortilla that's been slathered with refried beans topped with a scattering of spiced rice and shredded cheddar.  Interestingly, because fajitas are seasoned with a specific scratch-made or store-bought spice blend, and Mexican-rice recipes or Mexican-style rice mixes are not seasoned with the same seasoning, many times, the flavor of the seasoned rice can compete or clash with the fajita seasoning.  Call me finicky, picky or whatever, but that bothered me enough to come with my own fajita-seasoned rice to put in fajita burritos.

Whenever I'm making fajita-burritos, my rule of thumb is:

IMG_2563Put fajita-seasoned rice into fajita-seasoned fajita-burritos.

IMG_25351/2  cup basmati rice or extra-long grain white rice  (Note:  I choose to use basmati rice for it's earthy, slightly nutty flavor.)

1 1/2  cups water

1  teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1  teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

2  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or a favorite store-bought seasoning mix

a light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper

1/4  teaspoon salt

2  tablespoons salted butter

IMG_2542 IMG_2542 IMG_2542 IMG_2542~Step 1.  In a 1 1/2-quart saucepan, using a rice-cup measure, place 1 1/2 cus water, along with the dehydrated garlic and onion, fajita seasoning, jalapeño pepper, salt and butter.  Bring water to a boil over high heat.  When butter has melted, sprinkle in the rice (do not dump it all at once) and give the mixture a quick stir.  Place the lid on the saucepan and adjust heat to a very gentle but ready simmer.  Continue to cook, without opening lid or stirring the rice, for 18 minutes. 

IMG_2552 IMG_2552 IMG_2552~ Step 2.  After 18 minutes, lift the lid and take a peek.  Small holes (caused by evaporation as the rice simmered) should be present across the surface of the rice and no or almost no water should remain in the bottom of the pan.  Now, taste a few grains, the rice should be cooked to-the-tooth, meaning, not hard in the center nor mushy.  If either of these scenarios has not happened, cover saucepan and cook for 1-2 more minutes.  Turn the heat off and rake through the rice with a fork to separate the grains. Put the lid back on the saucepan and allow to rest for 2-3 minutes prior to serving.

Authentic?  No.  Untraditional?  Yes, & absolutely appropriate. 

IMG_2576My Fajita Rice for Chicken or Steak Fajita-Burritos:  Recipe yields 1 1/2-2 cups of fajita rice.

Special Equipment List:  rice cup measure; 1 1/2-quart saucepan w/tight-fitting (preferably glass) lid; spoon; fork

6a0120a8551282970b0223c849deb2200cCook's Note: Mexican 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.   Try my more traditional ~ 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)

07/18/2021

~ That's a Wrap Cheesy Flank-Steak-Fajita Burritos ~

IMG_2509A 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_2528The "burrito", or: "the food from the little donkey"!

6a0120a8551282970b026bdedce277200cA 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:

6a0120a8551282970b026bdedce2c5200cA 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.

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

IMG_2472For 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 Mexican rice, or, Mexican-style adobo rice, my recipe or your favorite boxed Spanish-style rice mix

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

1/4  cup shredded yellow cheddar cheese

IMG_2473 IMG_2473 IMG_2473 IMG_2482 IMG_2482 IMG_2482 IMG_2482~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 steak-fajita filling.

IMG_2493 IMG_2493 IMG_2493Step 2.  To wrap, and heat burritos, lift the side of tortilla closest to you up and over the filling -- far enough so it wraps all the way around the filling.  Pick up left and right sides of tortilla and fold them atop filling.  Roll tortilla over, seam side down, to fully encase and secure filling in a tight roll.   Transfer each burrito to a plate, or, place all burritos on a platter.  Cover with plastic wrap.  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_2503That's a Wrap Cheesy Flank-Steak-Fajita Burritos:  Recipe yields enough ingredients to make 12 large burritos.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0278803122fe200dCook's Note: Tacos and fajitas.  Akin to Cheeseburgers and pizza, I can't much conjure up more kid-friendly meals.  That said, if you're a mom or dad attempting to get your kids to eat more vegetables, 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.  Got a big family to feed? dNeed to feed a crowd? Double the recipe quantities -- in about the same amount of time, voila: the hungry mob is fed.  In the event you prefer chicken to steak, try making burritos using my ~ Kids-Stuff One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken Fajita Filling ~ in place of my steak filling.

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

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

07/15/2021

~ Kids-Stuff Tex-Mex Broiled-Flank-Steak Fajita Filling ~

IMG_2444 2Newsflash.  A flank steak does not have to be grilled outdoors to be a great flank steak.  While grilled is very, very good, truth told, my oven broiler method does a marvelous job with no stress, guess nor mess.  The end result is wonderfully seasoned, perfectly-cooked medium-rare steak.   The process is so foolproof, I prefer it.  There's more.  Once sliced, a flank steak feeds an entire family.  When the flank steak gets added to an easy-to-make sautéed vegetable medley, this meal feeds a crowd.  It's perfect for any indoor or outdoor gathering any time of year.

When the steak is seasoned fajita-style, magic happens:

IMG_2419A bit about this flat, oval, 1"-1 1/2"-thick, stringy-grained steak:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e96596970cA well done flank steak is not well done at all.  Flank steak, while it lends its succulent flavorful self to indoor cooking beautifully, if the lean and sexy flank steak is not quickly-cooked and served rare- medium-rare it is not worth eating. While I occasionally pan-sear it, my favorite method is to cook it under the broiler*.  My foolproof method takes all the guesswork out of it too.  Read on:

My rule of thumb is to purchase the biggest flank steak I can find -- two pounds is perfect, but, if I come across one that's larger, into my cart it goes.  I'd be crazy not to spend the extra pennies, and, it's not because bigger is better.  It's because leftovers go into sandwiches and onto salads -- zero waste.  Depending on the recipe du jour, sometimes I marinate flank steak, sometimes I don't.  When it comes to flank steak, absorb this: marination (which does not affect the cooking time), is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.  Perfectly-cooked flank steak is super-tender with zero marination.  Example:  my marinated Greek-Style Flank Steak Salad or Pocket Sammies.

* Note:  I have electric ovens and none of mine have a hi or low setting for the broiler.  With the door cracked (which is how broiling, a from-the-top-down dry-heat-method of cooking, is done in an electric oven), an oven-thermometer reads 325-ishº throughout the cooking process.

Savory, succulent & ready to eat in about 45 minutes:

IMG_2371For the flank steak & seasonings:

1  large flank steak (about 2-2 1/2) 

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 moderate 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:

2-3  tablespoons vegetable oil

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 moderate sprinkling of ground cumin 

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt

IMG_2373 IMG_2373 IMG_2373 IMG_2373 IMG_2388 IMG_2388 IMG_2388 IMG_2388~Step 1.  To season and broil the flank steak, place it on a a corrugated, disposable aluminum broiler pan and allow it to come to room temperature for 20-30 minutes -- just do it.  Season the top liberally with fajita seasoning, moderately with cumin, followed by a light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt.  Place pan 5 1.2"-6" under preheated broiler for exactly 9 minutes -- nine minutes is a key measurement when broiling a flank steak.  Remove flank steak from oven and flip it over.  Season the second side exactly like the first side was seasoned.  Return the steak to the broiler for exactly 9 more minutes.  Remove flank steak from oven and set aside to rest, about 15 minutes, then, prepare the vegetable medley as directed in the next step.

IMG_2400 IMG_2400 IMG_2400 IMG_2400 IMG_2400 IMG_2400 IMG_2400~Step 2.  In a 12" nonstick skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium- medium high heat.  Add all of the onions and bell peppers to the skillet, spreading them out across the surface of the bottom of pan.  Season the vegetables by sprinkling 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.  Sauté the vegetables until crunch-tender, about 3-4 minutes.  Turn heat off.  Do not cover skillet or the vegetables will steam and vegetables need to remain crunch tender.  

IMG_2419 IMG_2419 IMG_2419 IMG_2419~Step 3.  Place the well-rested but still warm flank steak on a large cutting board.  Holding a chef's knife at a 30° angle, slice the steak into strips, THIN strips, as thin as you can.  Add all of the steak to the skillet and give the mixture a thorough stir,  Transfer to a large bowl.  Serve.

Serve immediately, piled high into warm, fresh corn tortillas:

IMG_2437Kid-friendly, adult-friendly, crowd-friendly goodness:

IMG_2449Kids-Stuff Tex-Mex Broiled-Flank-Steak Fajita Filling:  Recipe yields 7-8 cups fajita filling/enough to fill 24, 5 1/2"-round flour tortillas.

Special Equipment List: 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; two large slotted spoons

IMG_1864Cook's Note:  Tacos 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.   If you prefer chicken to steak, try my  ~ Kids-Stuff One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken-Fajita Filling ~.

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

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

07/12/2021

~ Making the Most of the Short & Sweet Corn Season ~

IMG_9991What a wonderful gift the Native Americans gave to the world.  Everything on the corn plant can be used:  the husks for tamales, the silks for tea, the kernels for food and the stalks for fodder.  Modern day horticulturists developed our two most popular varieties: white (Country Gentleman) and yellow (Golden Bantam).  White corn kernels are smaller and sweeter.  Yellow corn kernels are larger and fuller-flavored.  The more recently developed hybrid (Butter & Sugar Corn) produces ears speckled with both yellow and white kernels -- my personal favorite.  

Almost nothing beats a serving of fresh, steaming corn on the cob lacquered with sweet cream butter and sprinkled with salt.  Here in our beautiful and scenic "rolling hills of Pennsylvania", cornfields, miles of them, are a very common sight.  Sweet corn, hands down, is my family's favorite choice as a Summer vegetable.  Unfortunately, corn has a relatively short season, not being at its peak until late July or August and past its prime by Labor Day.  As soon as it's picked, the corn's sugar immediately begins to convert to starch, which lessens its natural sweetness.  Therefore, it is important to buy corn as soon after it is picked as possible.  Corn connoisseurs claim to be able to tell immediately when corn hasn't been cooked the same day it's been picked.

6a0120a8551282970b013486f877cc970cHow to choose & how to cook great sweet corn every time:

Choose ears that are bright green with snugly fitting husks and golden brown silk.  Gently strip/peel back a small portion of the outer husk.  The kernels should be plump and the rows should be tightly spaced.  Pierce down into a kernel with your thumbnail.  If the kernal squirts a wet, milky juice, the corn is young, tender and ready to cook and eat.

6a0120a8551282970b014e5ffe0d91970cTo cook sweet corn you will need:

6-8  freshly, same-day picked, carefully selected, cobs of corn, husks stripped away and silk carefully removed (discard or compost both)

2-4  tablespoons sugar (optional but highly recommended)

8  tablespoons salted butter 

freshly ground sea salt, to taste  

In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add the sugar.  Ease the corn cobs, one at a time, into the pot of boiling water.  After the last cob has been added and the water has returned to a rolling boil, cover and cook for 5 minutes -- not longer, not shorter, exactly 5 minutes. Remove from heat and drain thoroughly.  Return corn to still warm stockpot and add the butter.  Cover and allow the butter to melt, about 2-3 minutes.  Give the pot a few gentle tosses to coat the corn in the butter.  Serve ASAP with s sprinkling of sea salt to taste.

Easy peasy, perfectly-cooked sweet corn each & every time:

IMG_9998To learn ~ How to: Shave Corn off the Cob with Zero Mess ~:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4bbb3a4200b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

07/09/2021

~Make Tortillas de Maize from Scratch - Corn Tortillas~

IMG_2361Tortillas de Maize, meaning corn tortillas, originated in Mexico during pre-Columbian times -- the cultures that evolved in parts of Mexico, Central America and Western South America prior to the Spanish conquest during the 16th Century.  This means the corn tortilla predates the wheat-flour tortilla, as wheat was not not grown in the the Americas prior to European colonization in the mid-1500s.  In Aztec times, two or three corn tortillas would have been eaten with each meal.    Maize itself has been a Mexican staple food for centuries and remains the most planted crop in the regions of Mexico, and, you guessed it, gently-cooked soft corn tortillas are consumed daily.

IMG_8374Traditionally, corn tortillas were made by hand by Aztec women by flattening the balls of fresh dough between the palms of their hands and slapping them back and forth between their hands until they created a round, thin flat disc.  Corn tortillas are remarkably easy to make, especially if you own an inexpensive tortilladora, known to most of us as a tortilla press.  Usually made of cast aluminum or cast iron, this mechanical contraption consists of a pair of flat approximately 8"-round surfaces and a handle that presses 1" balls of smooth, soft corn tortilla dough (between two layers of deli paper or wax paper), into thin, flat corn tortillas*.

Once the tortillas are flattened into thin, less than 1/8"-thick discs, each one is placed on a cast iron comal or in a cast iron or nonstick skillet for a brief time, until firm-yet pliable and very lightly-flecked with brown on both sides, about 2 minutes on the first side and 1 minute on the second.

* Unlike the corn tortilla, the flour tortilla is typically rolled thin (interleaved between two pieces of wax paper or plastic wrap) using a small wooden rolling pin.  In the event you don't have a tortilla press, or, don't want to make the modest $15.00 - $20.00 investment in a tortilla press (which I highly recommend you do), the rolling-pin method can be used to make corn tortillas too,

IMG_2355Just three ingredients, & two of them are water & salt! 

To make corn tortillas, you will need to pick up a bag of easy-to-find masa harina.  Period.  No substitutions.   This ingredient might look a lot like finely-ground cornmeal, but it's an entirely different product altogether.  Masa is a stable in Latin American cuisine.  When masa is made the tough outer husks of field-corn kernels are removed to make them easier to digest. Next, the kernels are boiled in a lime solution for about 15 minutes then left to soak in it for about 24 hours. After a thorough rinsing, the mixture gets ground into a very fine paste, dried, then ground again.

IMG_22741 1/2  cups masa harina, no substitutuions

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

1 cup + 2 tablespoons warm water, plus, additional warm water, added one tablespoon at a time, if necessary as directed below 

IMG_2279 IMG_2279 IMG_2279 IMG_2279 IMG_2290 IMG_2295 IMG_2295~Step 1.  In a medium bowl, combine the masa and salt, then make a well in the center (similar to making pasta).  Add the water to the well.  Using a tablespoon, and towards the end your hands, incorporate the water into the masa.  The dough should be stiff enough to hold together and should be very smooth in appearance, meaning: not raggedy or crumbly.  If it is not, add water by tablespoonfuls, kneading after each addition until dough is a large, smooth, moist-but-not-sticky, pliable ball.

IMG_2301 IMG_2301 IMG_2301~ Step 2.  To make 4"-round street-size tortillas, using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, portion the dough into 20-22 pieces, then, roll each piece between the palms of hands to form a round ball.  When finished, place the balls back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow them to rest about 15 minutes.  

Note:  To make larger tortillas, use a larger ice-cream scoop to make larger (and fewer) balls. 

IMG_2313 IMG_2313 IMG_2313 IMG_2313 IMG_2313 IMG_2313~Step 3.  To flatten each tortilla, place one ball of dough on the bottom center of the tortilla press that has been lined with an inexpensive sheet of deli-paper or wax-paper.  Place a second sheet of deli paper or wax paper atop the ball of dough. Lower the top of the tortilla press down over the dough, then, judiciously press the handle down to flatten the dough ball to a scant 1/8" thick.  Do not be zealous when pressing the handle down -- if the tortilla becomes to be too thin around the edges, it will rip or tear when trying to release it from between the paper sheets.  Test one to check -- if the paper peels off easily off, repeat process until all tortillas are flattened.  Do not remove any of the papers until finished with all tortillas.

IMG_2342 IMG_2342 IMG_2342~ Step 4.  To cook the tortillas, heat a 10" comal or nonstick skillet over medium- medium-high heat.  Remove the paper from and place three street-sized corn tortillas on the heated surface*.  Cook until top surface appears dry and feels firm, yet very pliable, about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Using a spatula flip the tortillas over onto the second side.  Continue to cook until top, once again, appears dry and feels firm, yet very pliable, about 45-seconds to 1 minute.  Transfer tortillas from comal (or skillet) to a plate.  Repeat this process until all the tortillas are cooked.  Once all tortillas are cooked, wrap the plate in a large flour-sack-type towel to steam for a few moments prior to serving warm.

* Note:  If larger corn tortillas have been prepared, cook the tortillas just one or two at a time.

One tortilla, two tortillas, 20-22 warm, soft & fresh corn tortillas:

IMG_2369Make Tortillas de Maize from Scratch - Corn Tortillas:  Recipe yields instructions to makes 20-22 small, 4" round street-size corn tortillas.

Special Equipment List: ordinary tablespoon; tortilla press; plastic wrap; 40-44 (inexpensive) deli-paper or wax paper sheets; 10" comal or nonstick skillet; spatula; flour-sack-type kitchen towel

6a0120a8551282970b0263e9570fe0200b-800wiCook's Note:  Nothing is as good as made-from-scratch tortillas.  That said, store-bought fresh corn tortillas are, in fact, a high-quality convenience product. On the other hand, nothing is quite as bad as a taco shell that comes out of a box -- just don't do it. While making tortillas from scratch is not hard, the fresh corn tortillas found in grocery stores nowadays are quite good, and, they fry up exactly like scratch-made.  To learn how to do it, read my post:  ~ Store-Bought Corn Tortillas & the Perfect Taco Shell ~.

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

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

07/06/2021

~Herb-Sour-Cream Cucumber or Tomato Salad Cups~

IMG_2263Summer is prime time for big main-dish salads and small side-dish salads.  In the case of the latter, in my kitchen, one quick-to-fix creamy sour-cream-based dressing has me eating a side of crunchy cucumber or tangy tomato salad in the time it takes the average steak to grill.  Yes, of course, go ahead, do the math and double, triple or quadruple this recipe to make a bigger batch, but, in my kitchen, I don't make more than me or my family is going to eat in one sitting.  Why?  I don't like leftover cucumber or tomato salad -- simply stated: neither is better the next day.

Make one of each & enjoy a side-dish-salad feast: 

IMG_2234For the dressing for each salad:

2  tablespoons sour cream

1/2  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence (Note:  Herbes de Provence is an all-purpose mixture of rosemary, marjoram, thyme and savory, which I like to use because it lends itself to the flavor profile of almost anything I decide to serve as a main-course.)

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

1/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

For the cucumbers or tomatoes & onions:

1 generous 1/2 cup of peeled and thinly-sliced, seedless cucumber

1  generous 1/2 cup of small Campari tomatoes wedges

1/4  cup thinly-sliced red onion, cut into half-moon shapes, half-moon shapes cut in half

IMG_2240 IMG_2240 IMG_2240 IMG_2240 IMG_2240~Step 1.  To make the dressing for each salad, in each of two small bowls, place and thoroughly stir together the sour cream, herbes de Provence, dehydrated garlic, dehydrated onion, pepper and salt.  Using a small rubber spatula, add and fold the onions into each bowl.  Allow this mixture to sit about 5 minutes for the  dehydrated onion and garlic to soften and the flavors to marry.  Add the sliced cucumbers to one bowl and the tomato wedges to the other bowl.  Very gently, fold the cucumbers and tomatoes into the dressing in each bowl.

Serve immediately or refrigerate 1-2 hours until serving time:

IMG_2257Herb-Sour-Cream Cucumber or Tomato Salad Cups:  Recipe yields 3/4-1 cup cucumber or tomato salad/1 serving each.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable peeler; cutting board; chef's knife; serrated tomato knife; spoon, small rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b026bded704b0200cCook's Note: I'm a lover of potato salad, but, when a hankering for it hits, I don't want to waste a lot of time getting from point A to point B. I want potato salad ASAP. 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, I often chop some additions (celery, onion and/or hard-cooked egg), and mix them in, but, I'm here to tell you, this quick-fix potato salad, pure and simple, tastes great just as it is. Try my ~ My Dijonnaisse-Dressed Baked Russet Potato Salad ~.

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

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

07/03/2021

~The Cool History behind the Composed Cobb Salad~

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28e7ab9970cThe Cobb salad, affectionately called the California Cobb, was invented in 1937 at Hollywood's Brown Derby Restaurant by the owner, Robert Cobb.  As the story goes, it's said to have been composed for some hungry late night diners.  Mr. Cobb carefully chose from a variety of uniformly sliced and diced ingredients from the day's fare, arranging them in unusually neat lines atop a bed of lettuce as he plated.  Another tale (of woe) says that Mr. Cobb threw the salad together to satisfy the appetite of a loyal customer to came into the restaurant complaining of a toothache, so, Cobb kindly sliced the ingredients finely, so they wouldn't need to be chewed.  Shortly thereafter, his work-of-art salad became a famous menu item, remaining very much the same to this day.

The ingredients for a classic Cobb salad are very specific.  

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28e2953970cSaid to have been inspired by the chef's salad, a Cobb salad is a "composed salad", meaning, they're pretty-to-look-at, arranged-on-a-plate, high-quality, meals unto themselves -- a perfectly-balanced mixture of color, flavor and texture. That said, while the Cobb and chef salad are both composed, they are distinctly different  In the case of the chef's salad, at the discretion of the chef, a combination of impeccably-fresh vegetables and perfectly-cooked protein(s) get carefully-selected and meticulously sliced, diced, minced, julienned or chiffonade -- it's a cooking lesson.  

In the case of the Cobb salad, the ingredients are quite specific.  It starts with a lettuce mixture, typically, iceberg, romaine and a few bitter greens too, which dramatically afters the flavor profile of the salad, making it much more interesting.  While poached or roasted chicken breast is classic, ham is sometimes substituted, and crisply-fried bacon always makes an appearance. Other must-haves are: hard-cooked egg, avocado, tomato, and, blue or roquefort cheese.  Buttery croutons add the crunch and a red-wine vinaigrette (no creamy dressing) pulls it all together.

For a fun twist, try my Open-Faced Sandwich-Style Cobb salad:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28e3f4b970cCheck out The Cool History behind the Composed Chef Salad:

IMG_2218"We are all in the food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyrigh 20201)