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10 posts from August 2021

08/31/2021

~ What is the Difference Between a Soup and a Stew ~

6a0120a8551282970b026be41e770f200dWhen I pull out my big, 20-24-quart stockpots, it's officially Fall.  Why?  When it's chilly outside, it's time to cook up a storm inside.  Why?  When one lives in the Northeast, it's a wise cook who has a freezer containing some thaw-heat-and-eat meals for those snowy days when a quick trip to the grocery store is not in the forecast.  Yes indeed, when the frost is on the pumpkin, I don't mind spending an afternoon at the stovetop preparing one of the two favorite things I cook in big batches (for "freezer meals"): a stockpot full of luscious, heartwarming, soup or stew.

What exactly is the difference between a soup or a stew?

Soup:  If you've simmered meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables in a pot of seasoned water-, wine-, juice- or milk- based liquid, you've made soup.  Soups can be thin, chunky, smooth, or, if you've thickened it in some manner after the fact (by adding potatoes, rice, beans, vegetables, or, used a mixture of cream or water mixed with cornstarch, flour or eggs), thick, meaning: having a stew-like consistency.  Soups in general (there are exceptions) tend to be refined and light tasting, using shreds of meat and/or small diced ingredients, or, pureed to a thin or thick, smooth consistency.  In many cases they can be prepared in less than 1-1 1/2 hours, and sometimes, as little as 15-30 minutes.  Soups can be served as an appetizer, side-dish, main course or dessert, but, are always, without exception, served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon.  

Stew:  If you've cooked/sautéed your meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables in a small amount of seasoned oil, butter or fat, then added just enough of flour and liquid or thickened liquid to it to bring it to an almost gravy-like consistency, you've made a stew.  Stews tend to be full of chunky ingredients and full of bold herb and/or spice flavors.  Stews are hearty and filling and are almost always served as the main course.  Stews, because they require a longer, slower cooking time than a soup, sometimes 3-4 hours or longer, often in a tightly-covered vessel, are great for tenderizing tough cuts of meat.  Stews, while usually served in a bowl, can be spooned over a starch (couscous, rice, potatoes, egg noodles, etc.) and turned into a knife and fork meal.

Try A Big Batch of Bean Soup -- Eat Some, Freeze Some:

6a0120a8551282970b026bdea283e1200cOr, make A Big Batch of Beef Stew -- Eat Some, Freeze Some:

6a0120a8551282970b026be41e2d47200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

08/28/2021

~ Don't Confuse the Tomatillo with the Green Tomato ~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c915eb80970bTomatillo, also called tomato verde, means husk tomato, with verde meaning green in Spanish. The tomatillo is a member of the nightshade family, which, while related to the red tomato family, and remarkably similar in appearance to the green tomato, cannot be used interchangeably with green tomatoes.  Tomatillos are a staple in every Tex-Mex gardener's garden.  The fruit of the tomatillo is firm, green and relatively small compared to red tomatoes (only about the size of a large, cherry tomato).  They grow to maturity inside of an inedible husk (which gets disgarded), and, range in color from pale green to light brown.  The tomatillo is a staple in Mexican cuisine.  It is used to as an ingredient, cooked and uncooked in a wide range of dishes such as salsas, soups, stews, chili , casseroles, and sauces.  Just peel back the paper husk and use as directed.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c915eb80970bThat said, here in Happy Valley, fresh tomatillos are sometimes hard to find, and, even when I find them, it's always a bit of a hassle to ask the produce manager if I can peel back the husks to insure the fruit is firm (not squishy) and ripe (green).  

In case you don't know, always look for tomatillos that have filled their husks or broken through their husks (photo to right) -- no matter their size, this means they're fully mature. Avoid tomatillos that look withered or dried out (see photo below).

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a0412d970cOnce you get them home, remove the husks and rinse the tomatillos off (because they will be sticky), then use them as directed (which typically requires simmering or broiling as the first step) and/or store in the refrigerator for a longer shelf life.  That said, high quality canned tomatillos are a staple in my pantry. They've already been simmered until soft -- all I have to do is thoroughly drain them. Speaking in approximations, I've deduced:

one 28-ounce can tomatillos = two pounds fresh tomatillos

Try my Green Chile & Tomatillo Chili w/White Beans & Pork:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d3698c970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

08/24/2021

~Let's Talk Plantains -- The Next of Kin to the Banana~

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3655cc8200cBananas and plantains -- they resemble each other, and they're related too.   I eat a banana almost every morning, but, I can't say the same for the plantain.  By accident or out of curiosity, if you've ever peeled a plantain and taken a taste, you knew you weren't eating a banana. That said, when sautéed, the taste and texture of the yellow plantain is remarkable.  As a lover of sautéed bananas, a la bananas foster for dessert, or atop eggnog pancakes w/sautéed butter-rum 'n nog bananas. The best way for me to culinarily describe the difference between the two is, if bananas are the sweet dessert course, plantains are the savory potato side-dish.  In fact, throughout Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and South America, plantains are generically referred to as "cooking bananas", and bananas are referred to as "dessert bananas".

Like the banana, when it comes to the plantain, green denotes unripened, yellow denotes ripened, and everything in between is just another degree of ripe.  Unlike the banana, the dense, starchy plantain is almost always cooked before it's consumed -- while the fully-ripe yellow plantain can be eaten uncooked, for me, it's blandness makes it so boring, that after a bite or two, I just won't go on to finish it.  Depending on the recipe, sometimes it's desirable to choose the green, persnickity-to-peel-and-slice plantain.  Other times, you'll find the more agreeable, user-friendly mellow-yellow plantain on the ingredients list.  On this point, always follow the recipe.

The closest a plantain gets to a ripe banana is the black-streaked yellow plantain.  Eaten raw, it still doesn't taste quite like, or have the mouthfeel of, a yellow banana, but, when sautéed, because of its high-starch and fully-developed sugar content, it can do something the banana can't: caramelize without losing its textural integrity.  Sweet and caramelized, and slightly-sticky-without-sticking-together, this quick-to-make side-dish is the perfect sweet complement to the fiery-hot flavors of Caribbean-style chicken- or shrimp- curry dishes and jerk-seasoned meats.

For all the above reasons, plantains are sold at all stages of ripeness.  The all-green plantain can be peeled, diced and simmered in soups and stews.  A green- to- ever-so-slightly-yellow plantain can be peeled and sliced and kettle-fried until golden and crispy --  depending on how thick or thin the slices, they can be as crispy as a potato chips (chifles), or crispy-on-the-outside tender-on-the-inside and French-fry-esque (tostones).  The yellow- to- yellow-and-black-spotted plantain, when sliced to the desired thickness and sautéed will be done when it is soft throughout, golden and caramelized.  Plantains that ripen to a dark black color are well on their way to spoiling.

IMG_1314 IMG_1314 IMG_1314 6a0120a8551282970b022ad38bed01200d 6a0120a8551282970b022ad38bed01200d 6a0120a8551282970b022ad38bed01200dThe riper a plantain, the easier to peel and slice or dice.  Photos 1, 2 & 3:  Yellow plantains are the easiest to peel -- use a paring knife to trim the ends, score the length of skin in one spot, remove the skin with your fingertips, then slice with the knife.  Photos 4 & 5:  Green plantains range from difficult to pain-in-the-a**-difficult to peel -- use a paring knife to trim the ends, score the length of the skin in several spots, remove the skin in strips with your fingertips, then slice with a mandolin.  Photo 6:  In the event the green skin is too tough to remove in strips with fingertips, slice/section the unpeeled plantain into three-four smaller lengths, stand them up on their flat sides, and use the knife to strip the skin away from the fruit.

Try my Deep-Fried Green Plantain Chips) & dip: 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ab9ee5200bOr my Sweet & Caramelized Island-Spiced Yellow Plantains too:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3abdcba200b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

08/21/2021

~My All-Purpose Beer Batter for Deep-Frying Anything~

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c7c38b200bMeat, poultry, fish, shellfish or vegetables.  Heck, even cheese and macaroni and cheese can be beer-batter-dipped and deep-fried.  Slices, strips, chunks, fillets or paillards.  Appetizer, snack, small meal, main-dish or pub grub.  It doesn't matter.  This beer batter will coat it evenly and fry up light as air.  There's more.  Be not afraid.  Batter-dipping and deep-frying, while somewhat repetitive and time-consuming, it is super-easy.  While you don't need an electric deep-fryer to deep fry, a small investment of $50-$75 dollars will get you a light-weight, countertop, cool-touch fryer with a lid, precise temperature control and an air filter which will eliminate the spatter, any deep-fry smell, and, it will make cleanup a breeze.  I highly recommend one. 

Everything in its place.  Start by setting up a deep-fry station.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a258cb200dMeat, poultry, fish, shellfish or vegetables, prepped as directed in recipe.

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 2 cups dry pancake mix.

One loaf-pan containing 2 1/2 cups pancake mix whisked with 22 ounces beer (Note:  Beer lends wonderful flavor with yeasty undertones to the breading.  That said, if I can't convince you that the heat of the deep-fryer will evaporate all the alcohol, feel free to substitute club soda.)

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 1, 8-ounces box panko breadcrumbs (optional).

Deep-fryer w/corn or peanut oil heated to 375° according to manufacturer's specifications.

Misc:  whisk; fork, 3-minute timer, wire cooling rack, paper towels, sea salt grinder.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a25910200d~ Step 1.  When everything is measured and in place, whisk together the pancake mix and beer (or club soda). Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken a bit, to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset) if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer (or club soda) to maintain a VERY drizzly consistency.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a2592a200d~ Step 2.  This step is actually optional, so skip it if you like.  When it comes to beer batter,  many times I want or need a light-coating of panko breadcrumbs as an outer coating.  To make that happen:

Place panko in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses, process these super-crispy breadcrumbs to finer crumbs.

I've prepped chicken breast strips to use as an example today.

IMG_3404 IMG_3404 IMG_3404 IMG_3404 IMG_3404 IMG_3404 IMG_3404~Step 1.  ALWAYS work in batches of what will comfortably fit in the deep fryer without overcrowding it.  Dredge the pieces in the dry pancake mix to lightly-coat on all sides -- dredge, coat and fry 2-4-6 at a time, aka, just what fits comfortably in the fryer basket without overcrowding it.  Gather up the dredged pieces (placing them on a slotted spoon or spatula if they are small), then, move up the assembly line lower them into the batter and swish them around a bit, until coated.  Lift pieces out of the batter and hold them over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the batter to drizzle back into the bowl. If using panko, move up the assembly line again and use your fingertips to drop the pieces into the panko.  Using a fork, toss/dredge all pieces in the panko to coat them one last time.

IMG_3420 IMG_3420 IMG_3420 IMG_3420~Step 2.  Two-four-six at a time, using your fingertips, carefully drop the pieces down into the 375° oil and into the fryer basket.  Close the lid and allow deep-fry for about 3-3 1/2 minutes.  Adjust this timing depending upon the size and thickness of the pieces*.  The pieces will be a beautiful golden brown and just cooked through.  Do not undercook and do not overcook.  

*Note:  Unless you've batter-dipped and deep-fried an item in the past and have made a note of the timing, it is always wise to deep-fry a test piece (not an entire batch) to time it precisely.

IMG_3439Step 3.  Open fryer lid and slowly lift basket up and out of deep-fryer. Transfer the pieces to a wire rack in a baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.  Tip:  To transfer the food, simply tilt the basket onto its side directly over the rack.  Using tongs is a mistake -- it's an easy way to damage the crust.  Once out of the fryer, immediately sprinkle with freshly ground sea salt and repeat process until all batches are dipped and deep-fried.

Be like me.  Be a fearless fryer -- or become one! 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a16a8b200dMy All-Purpose Beer Batter for Deep-Frying Anything:  Makes 4-4 1/2 cups beer batter.

Special Equipment List: whisk; loaf pan; 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes; food processor (optional); large slotted spatula; fork; deep-fryer; 3-minute timer; wire cooling rack; large baking pan; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08918e97970dCook's Note: Circa 1960's and 1970's Anchor Deep Seafood was the name of a take-out seafood joint in my town, Tamaqua, PA.  It was a block from my Great Aunt Mary's house, which was three-four blocks from the high school, where I had band or majorette practice after school three-four days a week, and, way back then, there was no "activities or sports bus" to shuttle us kids who lived in the burbs home -- our parents had to "deal with it".  For years, I walked to Aunt Mary's after practice, then, around 5:15PM, my mom would pick me up after she left work.  Mom and I both loved "The Deep's" deep-fried shrimp, and, I won't lie, a couple of times a week we'd pick up 'a basket' and snack on them during the 10-minute car ride home, to our home, in Hometown.  For my all-time favorite deep-fried treat, try my recipe for ~ Anchor-Deep Deep-Fried Shrimp w/Tartar Sauce ~.

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

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

08/18/2021

~ Slightly-Spicy Creamy Cajun-Creole Hot Crab Dip ~

IMG_2840I grew up eating hot crab dip in the Chesapeake Bay area where it is made with Old Bay Seasoning, Frank's Red Hot Sauce, dry English mustard and white cheddar.  I thought it was the ultimate crab dip until I tasted hot crab dip made in New Orleans, where it is made with Cajun seasoning, Louisiana Gold Hot Sauce, Creole mustard and cream cheese.  Both versions also contain Parmesan, mayonnaise, onion, and garlic, plus, in NOLA during Mardi Gras, for festive color, they throw in some green and red bell pepper too.  When eaten in close proximity to either place, it's made with freshly picked, jumbo lump crabmeat.  Both are baked in the oven until puffy and golden and eaten hot with crackers or French bread: in the bay area, it is usually served with thin crackers called "water biscuits", and, in Louisiana they head for the airy, French baguette.

Chesapeake = Old Bay Seasoning, Frank's Red Hot Sauce, dry English mustard & cheddar.

Louisiana = Cajun Seasoning, Louisiana Gold Hot Sauce, Creole mustard & cream cheese.

IMG_28071  pound jumbo lump crabmeat, the best available

12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

3/4  cup mayonnaise

1/4  cup finely-grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup each:  finely-diced green bell pepper, red bell pepper and sweet onion

1  teaspoon Cajun seasoning

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

2  teaspoons lemon juice, preferably fresh or high-quality, Organic not-from-concentrate

2  teaspoons Louisiana Gold hot sauce

1  teaspoon Creole mustard

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing au gratin dish

2  10-12-ounce French baguettes, torn or sliced, for serving (tearing, topping & eating is lots of fun) or crackers

additional Louisiana Gold hot sauce, for drizzling on top at tableside

IMG_2808 IMG_2808 IMG_2808 IMG_2808~Step 1.  Place all of the ingredients, except for the crabmeat (don't add crabmeat at this time), in a large bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine. Gently fold in the crabmeat, so as not to break or mash it into little bits and pieces, meaning: so it remain in large lumps.

IMG_2824 IMG_2824~ Step 2.  Transfer to a 9" round au gratin dish (a 9" glass pie plate will work fine too), mounding the mixture slightly towards the center.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 325° oven, 30-35 minutes.  Crab dip will be puffed up in the center, lightly golden on the top and slightly bubbly around the edges.  Remove from oven and cool about 10-15 minutes prior to serving with French bread and additional hot sauce at tableside.

Remove from oven & cool 10-15 minutes prior to serving...

IMG_2834... warm w/Bloody Mary's, cocktails, white wine or champagne

IMG_2843 2Slightly-Spice Creamy Cajun-Creole Hot Crab Dip:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings as an appetizer.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; 9" round au gratin dish or glass pie plate

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3aab9b0200bCook's Note:  My ~ Crunchy Crabmeat Crostini ~ recipe, along with its drizzly secret sauce, is a spin-off of my Maryland crab cake sandwich recipe (pictured here).  As we cooks all know, it's not uncommon to turn one dish into two or three slightly different ones.  That said, if your looking for a crab cake sandwich, made the Maryland way, I suggest you try my recipe for ~ My Maryland Crabcake, Tomato & Mayo Sandwich ~.  By all means, use this recipe to make my crostini.

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

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

08/15/2021

~ Demystifying the Differences Between Four Flours ~

6a0120a8551282970b019b00e7c7e4970bAll-purpose flour, bread flour, cake flour and pastry flour.  It really is all in the name, and, a well-written recipe will specify the type of flour required to produce the best results.  I for one would rather not bake something than substitute a different flour.  Why?  Unlike cooking, baking is a precise science.  It is a series of chemical reactions that occur based upon a list of weighed and/or measured ingredients.  The words "smidgen", "pinch" and "dash" have no place in the baking world.  The moment you grasp this, you can embrace baking.  And, please don't let the words "precise science" scare you.  If you've got a precisely-written recipe and follow it, you'll find baking almost anything is easy.  That said, a wise baker never underestimates the power of flour.

When baking never underestimate the power in flour:  gluten.

6a0120a8551282970b019b00e76f5e970bBuddhist monks discovered gluten in the 7th century.  The monks, who were vegetarian, were trying to find a substitute for meat.  They discovered that when they submerged dough in water, the starch washed off and what was left was a meat-like, textured, gummy mass containing protein.  Every flour in the marketplace has a different gluten content.  Gluten is the Latin word for "glue".  By itself, gluten is a tough, elastic, chewing-gum-like protein found in foods processed from wheat, barley and rye.  It gives elasticity to dough, helps it to rise, keep its shape, and, gives the end product its signature texture.  When a dough is kneaded, it is the gluten in the flour that holds the gas bubbles inside, which, in turn makes it rise and create a light, airy structure.

Gluten is the natural protein that remains when all the starch is removed from wheat grains.  Gluten is the Latin word for glue.

6a0120a8551282970b019b00e740b4970dDepending upon whether the flour is milled from hard wheat, soft wheat or a combination, what time of year the wheat is harvested, and how long it is aged, the protein content can vary slightly:

All-purpose flour has a protein/gluten content of 10-12%

Bread flour has a protein/gluten content of 14-16%

Cake flour has a protein/gluten content of 7-8%

Pastry flour has a protein/gluten content of 9%

Flours with low protein generate less gluten.  Flours with more protein generate more gluten.  If you want a light and airy cake, choose flour with the least protein. If you want a flaky pie crust, choose flour with slightly more protein.  If you want dense, chewy bread, choose flour with the most protein content.  Always trust the name on the label of the bag or the box of flour:  

All-purpose, bread, cake or pastry -- it's all in the name.

6a0120a8551282970b019b00e860a3970bAll-purpose flour:  Is designed for a multitude of uses (cookies, quick breads, biscuits and cakes, as well as a thickening agent in many culinary applications).  It is a mixture of high-gluten hard wheat and low-gluten soft wheat.  It comes bleached and unbleached, which can be used interchangeably, but, unbleached flour contains more natural taste.  Millers bleach their flour for more than cosmetic reasons.  Flour must be aged to to strengthen its gluten content, keeping unbleached flour in the warehouse for several months.  Flour processors discovered they could cut the storage expense by artificially aging it by bleaching it with chemicals.  It is worth mentioniong that King Arthur all-purpose flour has a higher protein level than other brands, so, it is no surprise that many bakers, like myself, prefer it to other brands.

Bread flour:  Is designed mostly for yeast breads and some pastries.  It is an unbleached, high-gluten blend (99.8%) of hard wheat, a small amount of malted barley flour (to improve yeast activity) and vitamin C (to increase the gluten's elasticity and the dough's gas retention).  The high gluten content causes the bread to rise high and gives it its signature shape and texture.

Cake Flour: Is designed for making tender cakes, cookies, biscuits and pastries that do not need to stretch and rise too much.  It is made from soft wheat, which gives it its fine texture.

Pastry Flour:  Is designed for making particularly tender cakes and pastries, and, holding together the buttery layers of flaky doughs like croissants, puff pastry and pie crusts.  It is very similar to cake flour, but its slightly higher gluten content adds additional elasticity to dough.

************ 

Self-Rising Flour:  This is all-purpose flour that has baking powder and salt added to it.  Use it in yeast bread recipes in place of all-purpose flour by omitting salt, and, in quick bread recipes by omitting salt and baking powder.  Because it contains baking powder, it has a shortened shelf life (expiration date), so, if you don't use a lot of it, it's best to purchase it as-needed.

Granulated Flour:  This is all-purpose flour formulated to dissolve quickly, without clumping, in hot or cold liquids.  It is used mainly as a thickener in sauces, gravies and other cooked mixtures, but, in a pinch, it can be substituted for regular all-purpose flour when baking.

High-Gluten/Vital Wheat Gluten Flour:  Made from a protein found in the wheat berry, this is an additive/gluten-booster for all-purpose and weaker flours.  Boosting the gluten content is important when baking certain types of bread: rustic loaves, like French baguettes and Italian ciabatta, which require a long rising time to achieve the desired airy holes in their crumb and a chewy texture; breads made with coarse, whole grain flours and/or cereals, which contain little gluten on their own, and; flatbreads like focaccia and some pizza doughs.

"00" Flour:  This is an Italian flour designed for pasta and pizza.  The "double zero" does not refer to the protein content, it refers to its powdery-fine texture, which in Europe is how they categorize flours (with "2" at one end of the spectrum and "00" at the other).  Its protein content is 11-12%, similar to all-purpose flour, which gives doughs just enough, but not too much, stretch.   With only a slight difference in texture, all-purpose flour is a perfectly acceptable substitute for it.

6a0120a8551282970b019b00f0abaa970b

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

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

08/12/2021

~The Best Way to Make Slow-Cooker Babyback Ribs~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ea3f60970dWhen it comes to slow cookers and crockpots, most folks either love them or they hate them, period, or, they neither love nor hate them, they use them due to circumstances beyond their control.  I've heard all the reasons in favor, against and in between.  Trust me when I tell you, I understand.  I neither love nor hate mine.  I simply recognize it for what it can do and do not try to make it do the things it cannot. The machinations of making ribs in a slow cooker never seemed right to me -- kind of like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  I've seen people bend entire racks, slice and stack sections, even cut them into individual riblets   That type of rib abuse is why I never attempted it, but, as a person who likes my ribs fall-of-the-bone tender, there was never a doubt the slow cooker could achieve that.  That's why I bought a Crockpot casserole. 

IMG_3106Meet Crockpot's $50 Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vehicle for baby-back ribs (trimmed to fit into it's bottom), to cook evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

To prepare two full racks of babyback pork spareribs:

IMG_2748 IMG_2748 IMG_2748 IMG_2748 IMG_2748 IMG_2748 IMG_2748 IMG_2748~Step 1.  To prep the ribs, pat them dry in some paper towels and remove the silverskin from the underside of each rack.  If you don't know how to do this, read my post ~ How to: Remove the Silverskin from Spareribs ~.  Using a large chef's knife, slice each rack into thirds.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d104da970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d104da970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d104da970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d104da970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d104da970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d104da970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d104da970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d104da970c~Step 2. Spray the inside of the crock casserole with no-stick cooking spray. Arrange the ribs to fit, in two rows and overlapping.  Lightly or generously sprinkle the tops of the sections with your favorite seasoning blend or rub. Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle 3/4 cup your favorite barbecue sauceover the tops of the ribs.  Using the back of a tablespoon, "smoosh" the sauce around over the tops a bit.  Cover the crockpot.  Cook on high for 2 hours, then, low for 2 hours.  The tip of a knife or the tines of a fork, when pierced between any two ribs will easily glide through and come out on the other side.  Important:  If desired, for convenience. the spareribs can be be cooked on low for 7-8 hours in order to leave the crockpot unattended all day.

IMG_2797 IMG_2797 IMG_2797 IMG_2797~Step 3.  Preheat broiler with oven rack positioned about 5" under the heat.  Line a large baking pan with aluminum foil, then place a sheet of parchment in the bottom of pan.  Open crockpot and remove the ribs, arranging them slightly apart on the baking pan.  Using a large pastry brush generously slather the the tops with additional barbecue sauce.  Finish ribs off under the broiler for 3-4 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and just starting to to show signs of light browning.  Watch carefully.  All barbecue sauces contain some form of sugar, which can and will go from lightly-browned to burned quickly.  Don't take your eyes off them after the 3 minute mark.

Plate 'em, slice 'em & serve 'em (w/plenty of napkins):

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d144b4970cThe Best Way to Make Slow-Cooker Babyback Ribs: Recipe yields 6 servings allowing 1/3 rack per person.

Special Equipment List: paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; crockpot casserole; 1-cup measuring container; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d147c0970cCook's Note:  Bone Suckin' Sauce and Bone Suckin' Seasoning and Rub -- together.  Oh.  My.  Sigh.

My pantry nor I would never be caught without this dynamic duo in it -- I buy the sauce by the case.  My family would simply disown me. Created to go together, they're an addictive, well-balanced blend of sweet-savory BBQ perfection -- both are bright, fresh and crisp with a hint of smokey flavor.  For sprinkling and rubbing to dipping, drizzling, slathering, or basting, there isn't anything, from A-Z in the world of barbecue, they're not fantastic on.

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

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

08/09/2021

~An Inconvenient Truth - A Sweet Potato is Not a Yam~

IMG_8026Sweet potatoes were first introduced to North America when Columbus brought them over from the island of St. Thomas, where this large edible root, which belongs to the morning-glory family, is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.  There are many varieties of sweet potato, but the two most widely grown commercially are a pale sweet potato and a dark-skinned variety Americans erroneously call "yam" -- the true yam is not even related to the sweet potato.  The pale potato has a thin, light yellow skin and pale yellow flesh.  Its flavor is not sweet, and, after being cooked, the pale sweet potato is dry and crumbly, similar to that of a Russet potato. The darker variety (pictured above) has a thicker, dark-orange skin and vivid-orange, sweet flesh. When cooked on the stovetop or baked in the oven, or via any other method for that matter, the dark-skinned, orange-colored sweet potato has a very sweet flavor and a creamy texture.

The dark-skinned, orange-colored variety is the only kind I use.

IMG_5635When buying sweet potatoes, choose plump, firm even-sized ones with no cracks. Like regular potatoes they should never be stored in the refrigerator, but do need to be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place. If the temperature is above 60 degrees, they'll begin to sprout, get woody and/or shriveled.  Cooked sweet potatoes, if stored in the refrigerator, last about a week.  Like regular potatoes, sweet potates are always eaten cooked, never raw.  I keep sweet potatoes on-hand all year.  I could, and occasionally do, make a meal just for me out of a pillowy-soft steaming-hot baked sweet potato (dripping with a few pats of melting butter and seasoned with a generous grinding of sea salt and a flavorful peppercorn blend).  It's simple, straightforward, scrumptious, and, oh-so-satisfying.  Even if it weren't nutritious, I'd simply slide the sweet potato off my "favorites list" and onto to my "guilty-pleasures list", and go right on eating them anyway.

Try my Slightly-Spicy and Creamy Rich Sweet Potato Soup:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3c11477200bOr, try my Savory Crispy-Topped Sweet Potato Casserole too:

6a0120a8551282970b026bde8cbc19200c

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

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

08/06/2021

~ The Bell Pepper Season & Why We All Love Them ~

PICT1997 2Ok, maybe we ALL don't love the bell pepper but the majority of us do, including me.  Served raw or cooked, they impart both flavor and color in all sorts of dishes from cuisines all around the world.  At first sight, it's hard not to be attracted to their bold green, red, orange or yellow color, and, even if a recipe calls for a specific color, it's nice to know they can be used interchangeably -- although the green bell pepper is not quite as sweet as the others.  Store-bought or home-grown, kept stored in the refrigerator, they have a reasonably long shelf life, about 10 days, which is why I almost always have a few of these beauties on-hand in my refrigerator's vegetable bin.

It's hard not to be attracted to their four bold & attractive colors, which can all be used interchangeably in any recipe.

IMG_3745Raw bell peppers are great sliced into strips and eaten with a salad dressing or dip for a snack. Diced raw bell peppers are a tasty addition to egg, chicken or tuna salad too.  Native to Mexico and Central America, they are found in Mexican, Southwestern and Spanish fare that gets served for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner.  Italian cuisine is known for grilling the peppers, and adding them as a topper to sandwich creations, stirring them into grilled meat, poultry or fish dishes, or, serving them cold in antipasto.  The Italian rice dish risotto occasionally contains bell peppers, and, peppers stuffed with prosciutto and provolone cheese is a treat everyone loves.  American stuffed bell pepper dishes often include ground beef and rice mixtures.  Vegetarian versions may include rice or tofu. Some stuffed pepper recipes call for sausage meat and chopped vegetables such as tomato.  In the Asian community, bell peppers are used in all sorts of beef, chicken, pork and seafood dishes, as well asstir-fries.   Saying bell peppers are versatile is an understatement.

Try them in my One-Skillet Tex-Mex-Style Chicken Fajitas:

6a0120a8551282970b027880310abc200dOr in my Italian-Style Sausage & Bell Pepper Sandwiches:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3e5441f200bAnd how about Joy's All-American-Style Stuffed Bell Peppers:

6a0120a8551282970b019b02d7a0bd970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

08/03/2021

~The History Behind the Beloved Hass Avocado Fruit~

PICT4940The most popular avocado in the United States is California Hass -- HASS, which rhymes with PASS is frequently mispronounced and mispelled Haas.  This pear-shaped fruit weighs in at about half a pound and has bumpy, rough, dark greenish-black skin -- interestingly, it was originally known as the alligator pear, which, when you think about it for a moment, is an accurate description.  It is known for its silky, rich, buttery texture and mild, nutlike flavor.  It is the only avocado variety to be grown year-round, representing about 80% of all avocados sold in the world and generates more than $1 billion in revenues in the US each year.  Trust me when I tell you, after a taste test between the Hass and any other smooth-skinned variety (like Florida's leafy-green Fuerte, pictured above), you will agree there is no comparison in flavor or texture.

Hands down, Hass wins -- & the tree, has a bitter-sweet history:

6a0120a8551282970b01901c765f69970bAll Hass avocado trees descended from one single mother tree that was raised by a mail carrier named Rudolf Hass, of LaHabra Heights, CA.  Hass purchased the seedling tree from a grower named A.R. Rideout, who grew and experimented growing and developing several varieties of avocados.  Hass tried unsuccessfully to graft another variety onto it and planned on cutting the tree down, until his children talked him out of it.  Since his kids loved the tree's fruit, and the tree gave a good yield, he named it after himself and, thankfully, made the decision to patent it in 1935.  That same year, Hass entered into a business with a Whittier, CA, nurseryman to grow and promote his avocados. Rudolf Hass died in 1952.

Sadly, he never realizing the global impact his avocados would have on all of us. Sadder yet, Hass's original tree died after a long struggle with root fungus and was cut down in 2002.

Hass avocados ripen best after picking.  A perfectly-ripe Hass avocado will be darkish green.  It will have lost its bright green color and be firm to the touch with an ever-so-slight give when gentle pressure is applied.  If an avocado seems even the slightest bit soft, it is over-ripe. When a knife is run through and around the perimeter of a perfectly ripe avocado, it will literally cut like butter and the two halves will separate cleanly with a gentle twist. If you have no alternative but to purchase under-ripe (hard) avocados:  to speed up the ripening process, place them in a paper bag and set aside, at room temperature, for 1-2 days. Most times, overnight on the countertop will do just fine. To increase the shelf life of ripe avocados, store in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.  

PICT4946"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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