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7 posts from September 2021

09/21/2021

~Keep-it-Simple Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies~

IMG_2990Home-baked cookies.  They're one of life's simple pleasures, and perhaps, the quintessential sweet treat -- not to big, not to small, portable feel-good satisfaction.  While everyone has a favorite cookie, more often than not, folks will declare the chocolate chip to be their number-one favorite or a close second, and, everyone who bakes cookies has a favorite chocolate-chip cookie recipe (or three).  That said, if you're baking cookies for a celiac, you need a recipe you can rely on and mine is the one.  It's spot-on -- taste and texturally, there's no need to announce it's GF. 

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.  Simple stated, 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:  GF cookies that taste as good as they look using readily-available ingredients, &, in the case of GF, cleanliness is next to godliness -- let's talk about cross-contamination:

While baking gluten-free cookies requires no special equipment, it is important the equipment you do use be spotless -- literally.  Why?  The answer is 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 (mixing bowls, beater blades, baking pans, wire cooling racks, miscellaneous utensils, etc.), and, remove any products or gluten-containing ingredients that are nearby.  For an added layer of protection, I recommend placing a sheet of parchment on each baking pan that has been used previously to bake cookies/anything containing gluten.

My result:  A GF chocolate chip cookie no one will guess is GF:

IMG_29282 1/4  cups gluten-free all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

2  teaspoons xanthan gum

1 1/4  teaspoons sea salt

1  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (2 sticks)

2  large eggs

2  teaspoons pure chocolate extract

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1  cup very-lightly-packed dark brown sugar

1/2  cup granulated sugar

18  ounces semi-sweet chocolate morsels

IMG_2931 IMG_2931 IMG_2931 IMG_2931~Step 1.  In a small mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum and salt.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, place the butter, eggs, both extracts, brown sugar and granulated sugar.  On high-speed of hand-held mixer, beat until creamy, about 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Lower mixer speed and gradually beat in the flour mixture until a smooth, sticky dough forms.

IMG_2942 IMG_2942 IMG_2942 IMG_2942 IMG_2972 IMG_2972 IMG_2972~Step 2.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the chocolate chips.  SET THE BOWL ASIDE AND ALLOW COOKIE DOUGH TO REST 45-60 MINUTES -- do not skip this step.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, drop cookies, slightly apart, by rounded tablespoonfuls onto each of 3, parchment-lined, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans.  Twenty-four balls of dough will fit nicely on each pan.  Using the flat side of small glass or your fingertips (whatever works best), flatten the cookies to about half their height.

IMG_2975 IMG_2975 IMG_2975 IMG_2975~Step 3.  Bake, cookes, one-pan-at-a-time, on center rack of 325º oven (not a typo), 13-15 minutes, until very light-golden.  My cookies baked for exactly 14 minutes per pan today.  Remove from oven and use a small spatula to transfer to wire cooling rack to cool completely.

No time like to present to try one -- or three!

IMG_2983Keep-it-Simple Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies:  Recipe yields 5 dozen, 2 1/2"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List: hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 3, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop; small spatula; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0278804a0765200dCook's Note: Bread.  It's said to be the staff of life.  A basic staple. Want proof?  Go to any grocery store in any time of community angst or crisis.  It is the first item to disappear.  From one end of our food world to the other, every country and culture, rich or poor, eats bread in some form.  Here in America, bread, homemade or store-bought, can be found on our tables for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Most of us take this slice of life for granted.  That said, this is not the case for those living their lives with Celiac's disease. Try ~ My Gluten-Free Brioche Made in the Bread Machine ~ too!

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

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

09/18/2021

~My Gluten-Free Brioche Made in the Bread Machine~

IMG_2910Bread.  It's said to be the staff of life.  A basic staple.  Want proof of that?  Just go to the grocery store in any time of  community angst or crisis.  It is the first item to disappear from the shelves. From one end of our food world to the other, every country and culture, rich or poor, eats bread in some form.  Here in America, bread, homemade or store-bought, in households like mine and yours, can be found on our tables for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Most of us take this slice of life for granted.  That said, this is not the case for those living their lives with Celiac's disease.

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 bread dough by hand in the traditional manner and proceed.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4e0e80e200dA bit about bread-machine bread in general.  Bread baked in a bread machine is rectangular in shape.  No matter what size loaf you elect to bake (most machines give you 3 options: 1-pound loaf; 1 1/2-pound loaf; 2- pound loaf), they will all get baked in the shape of the standard-size pan that comes with that machine.  What is wrong with that?  Nothing.  Even though bread machine bread rises nicely and browns beautifully (all thanks to the many options the bread machine makes available to you), it "plainly" is not going to win any "bread beauty contests".  This is a give-and-take you will realize is well worth the sacrifice the moment you slice and taste the bread.  This is the rectangular-shaped bread pan that came with my machine.  The paddle (which will do the machine-kneading) has been inserted into it. When making bread in a bread machine, the protocol for adding ingredients to the bread pan is: wet ingredients first, dry ingredients second (on top of wet ingredients), granulated yeast last.

Put all ingredients in pan & let the machine do the work:

IMG_2915

1  cup whole milk

4  tablespoons salted butter

1/4  cups sugar

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  extra-large eggs

2 1/2  cups + 2 tablespoons gluten-free all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons xanthan gum

1  packet granulated yeast

IMG_2919 IMG_2919 IMG_2919 IMG_2919 IMG_2919 IMG_2872 IMG_2872 IMG_2872~Step 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container, place the milk, butter, sugar and salt.  Heat in the microwave until milk is steaming and butter is melted, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Add the mixture to the bread pan of the bread machine.  In the same two cup measure, using a fork, vigorously whisk the eggs and add them to the bread pan too.  Scoop the flour into the pan atop the wet ingredients and sprinkle the xanthan gum atop the flour -- do not stir. Using your index finger, make a shallow well in the center of the flour and add the granulated yeast to the well.

IMG_2877 IMG_2877 IMG_2877~Step 2.  Insert the bread pan into the bread machine and make sure it is secured according to manufacturer's directions. Close the lid and push the "menu/select" button.  Choose the "basic/white bread" cycle.  Press the "loaf size" button to select "1 1/2-pound loaf".  Press the "crust control" button and select "light crust".  Press "start".  Depending on the make and model of your bread machine, and the size of loaf you are making, the entire baking process will take about 2 1/2-3 hours.  Walk away.  Do not lift the lid for to check in on the process.  The moment the machine signals it is done, carefully open the lid of the bread machine.  Using pot holders or oven mitts, remove the bread pan from the machine, using its handle to lift it from the machine.  Turn the bread pan at about a 30-45 degree angle and gently shake/slide the loaf out onto its side.  Turn the loaf upright and place it on a cooling rack to cool completely.  If the kneading paddle remains in the loaf after it is removed from the pan, I find it best to cool the loaf about 5-10 minutes before removing it.

Cool bread completely prior to slicing & serving: 

IMG_2897My Gluten-Free Brioche Made in the Bread Machine:  Recipe yields 1, 1-pound load of gluten-free brioche/8, 3/4"-thick slices.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; fork; bread machine; pot holders or oven mitts; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0278803bd62e200dCook's Note: Let 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 for me to move-on and come up with a perfectly-palatable very-tasty GF crust to please those in my circle who require one. Try my recipe for ~ Put the Gluten-Free Beer in Gluten-Free Pizza Dough ~.

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

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

09/15/2021

~ Jamaican Jerk Style -- A Unique Method of Cooking ~

6a0120a8551282970b022ad38d1183200dIn a (coco)nutshell, jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica.  It was developed by African slaves who escaped into the mountains of Jamaica after the British captured this island paradise from Spain in 1655.  Forced to adapt to their new surroundings, the Maroons (the name given to the escaped slaves) made use of the foods nature provided, by pulverizing the edibles they gathered into a fiery pasty rub.  By adding fruit and/or citrus juice, the fiery pasty rub became a spicy basting and dipping sauce.  When thinned down with a bit of drinking water or the milk from a coconut, the spicy sauce became a highly-flavored wet marinade -- over time, items from trades, like vinegar and/or rum were transitioned into the mixture.  Once rubbed and/or marinated, the meat or game they hunted was then slowly cooked over a smoking pimento-wood fire.

Originally used for pork, it's now common to "jerk" chicken, beef, fish & seafood too.

The "jerk" in jerk comes from the Spanish word via the Peruvian word "charqui", the noun for dried strips of meat now called "jerky".  Jerk seasoning was/is the dry spice blend used to season jerky, and Jamaican jerk seasoning, known for the flavors of allspice, thyme and pepper, is perhaps the most famous.  Throughout the Caribbean, islanders preserved/cured their spice-rubbed meats by drying them in the intense sun or over a slow fire -- this allowed the meat to be taken on long journeys and eaten as is or reconstituted in boiling water.  The word most likely transitioned to the verb, "jerking", in reference to the way the meat gets "jerked" around on the grill as it cooks.

Try my Spice-is-Nice Oven-Roasted Jamaican-Jerk Chicken:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad366f570200cServe it w/my Island-Style Bejeweled Coconut Rice:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ad3630200bOr, how about a Jerk Chicken & Slaw on Coco Bread Sandwich:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad38f2224200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

09/12/2021

~What is Quick Bread and What Defines Quick Bread~

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a5d6e5200bQuick bread is an American term that refers to bread that is quick to make because it doesn't require kneading or rising time.  It originated during the American civil war, when the demand for food and bread was high.  Innovative cooks began rapidly producing bread and baked goods that were leavened with baking soda rather than yeast.  Nowadays, the leavening agent is predominately double-acting baking powder, or, a combination of baking powder and baking soda.

In the case of baking powder, it is called "double acting" because the rising process starts the moment it makes contact with the liquids, and, gives a second burst of rising power when the bread enters the hot oven.  Typically, quick breads contain eggs, flour, salt and fat (butter, margarine, shortening or oil) and leavening.  That said, they can be sweet or savory and contain sugar, fruits, fruit purée, vegetables, vegetable purée and various liquids (milk, buttermilk, fruit juice or stock).  The wet and dry ingredients are mixed separately, in two different bowls, then briefly stirred together just prior to baking.  FYI:  Biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, scones, soda bread and waffles (yummy, yum, yum) -- they all fall into the quick-bread category too.

Peanut Butter-Banana-Oat & Trail Mix Quick Bread:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a5d518200bEggnog & Butter-Rum, Cinnamon-Apple Quick Fritter Bread:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09e74d9e970dBack to Basics, Plain & Simple Date & Nut Quick Bread:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c814e488970bDehydrated Pie Cherry & Pistachio Zucchini Quick Bread:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0856b10f970dMacadamia-Mango, Coconut-Rum Banana Quick Bread:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0f9e94e970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

09/09/2021

~Crisp, Crunch, Betty, Cobbler, Grunt, Slump & Buckle~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08befa39970d-1Our forefathers' wives. the true mothers-of-invention, invented several amusing words to define our now vintage American-heritaged fruit desserts -- none of which, uniquely, fall under the category of pie.  It's a short list.  Seven words that can confound even the savviest of bakers.

Seven words that can confound even the savviest of bakers:

crisp is a fruit mixture topped with a crispy crumb or streusel (a streusel contains oats, a crumb does not, which makes it crumbly).  If a crisp has a bottom crust, it's called a crunch.  To turn a crisp or a crunch into a betty, the fruit gets layered between slices of buttered bread or bread crumbs and aromatic spices.  To turn a crisp into a cobbler, mix up a rough, "cobbled up" biscuit-like topping and plop/drop it on top of the fruit.  For a grunt or a slump (very similar to a cobbler), cook berries on the stovetop and listen to them make a grunting sound while they cook, then watch them slump under the weight of the topping.  To bake a buckle, you need to stir fruit into a buttery-rich, coffeecake-type batter and top it with streusel, then, bake it and watch it buckle (sink down) in the center as it cools due to the liquid in the fruit -- now that's got to be a sinking feeling.

As they say, "it really is all in the name!"

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08befa39970d-1"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

09/06/2021

~Coffeecake: Traditional Fare for Breakfast or Brunch~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08f58571970dThanks to post WWII advertising campaigns by the American Coffee Bureau, by 1950, America was a country of coffee drinkers.  In the workplace, the 15-minute coffee break was born, and, if you were a housewife, once you got your husband off to work and the kids off to school, you likely participated in a daily, weekly or occasional mid-morning "coffee klatch" with neighborhood friends.  The term "coffee klatch" comes from the German word "kaffeeklatsch", meaning "coffee chat" -- a casual gathering for sharing coffee and conversation with close confidants.  Literally translated: kaffee = coffee, and, klatsch = gossip.  I like to think of this social activity as kitchen therapy, and, in today's super-busy world, almost nothing sounds more relaxing than a neighborly invitation for coffee and cake:  I can't speak for you, but I'm sure feelin' the love.

Classic Coffeecake:  Simple, Straightforward & Not-Too-Sweet

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1da2b9c970cI grew up in the Lehigh Valley region of Eastern Pennsylvania.  Because of the large Pennsylvania Dutch influence in this area, I am no stranger to coffeecake.  Everybody bakes them, eats them and loves them.  There are many versions, but in this locale, almost all coffeecakes are rich buttercakes topped with a streusel of some sort.  The term "Dutch" is slang for the German word "Deutsch", so, when we say Pennsylvania Dutch, we mean Deutsch and are crediting the German people for their delicious recipes.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08f3fe32970dBesides eating a lot of homemade coffeecakes, I also grew up during the heyday of the Drake's empire. Drake's (now owned by Hostess Brands) has been providing the Northeastern United States with snack-sized coffeecakes for over a century.  In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, they compete head-to-head with Tastykake.  Back in my elementary school days, my lunch box usually contained one of my two favorite desserts:  a small, round Drake's coffeecake, or, a rectangular, snack-sized, lemon pudding-filled Tastykake pie.

A bit about coffeecake: Coffeecakes are rich, sweet, cake-like breads which are usually eaten for breakfast or brunch.  While they are rich with butter and eggs, they are considerably less sweet than a standard cake, which is why they are perfect fare for breakfast or brunch.  Some are made with yeast, but those made with baking soda and/or baking powder, which take less time to prepare and fall into the category of "quick" coffeecakes, are just as delicious.  The batter is often made with with buttermilk, cream cheese, sour cream or yogurt, which adds a lovely tang. They often contain fresh or dried fruit or berries, jam, preserves, and, sometimes nuts, which adds even more delicious taste and texture.  They can be served unembellished or with a dusting of confectioners' sugar, a glaze, a frosting, or a crumb or streusel topping.  They can be round, square or rectangular, thick or thin, and, eaten at room temperature or slightly warm.

Come on Over for Coffee & a Classic Coffeecake:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08f5874b970d"We are all in this food world together."  ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

09/03/2021

~ What to Consider Before Cooking in Big Batches ~

6a0120a8551282970b026be41e7700200dIf you've ever envisioned yourself being a restaurant chef, be careful what you wish for:  the pots are big, the load is heavy.  There's more.  As a home cook, in terms of slicing, dicing, chopping and mincing, you won't have any line cooks to perform those menial tasks for you.  Don't get me wrong (I'm not trying to talk you out of this), big batch cooking isn't necessarily hard, but, more-often than not, it is time consuming -- in many instances, it's prudent to do the majority of the prep work on one day and the actual cooking the next, so, be sure to schedule enough time.  Past that, it's also necessary to invest in some big-batch restaurant-sized equipment.  When armed with the right recipe, the right mindset, and the right equipment, the big batch reward is great. That said, preparing a big batch of almost anything is different from regular cooking.  Read on:  

Doubling or tripling solid or liquid ingredients measured in weight or volume is the easy part -- simply get out your calculator and "do the math".  Fats used to coat the bottom of a pot or pan will increase just enough to coat the bottom of a bigger pot or pan.  Wine or alcohol used to deglaze a pot or a pan, will increase slightly, by about one-quarter, meaning:  1 cup wine is now 1 1/4 cups wine.  All that said, more-often-than-not, when converting a regular recipe to a big batch, adjustments to the seasonings need to be made, meaning: unless you are following a recipe that is specifically written for a big batch (like my recipes are), start by adding slightly less than the math calculations suggest (example: if doubling a recipe, instead of jumping from the called for 1 teaspoon salt directly to 2 teaspoons salt, start by adding 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and, if tripling a recipe, instead of jumping from the called for 1 teaspoon salt to 3 teaspoons salt, add 2 teaspoons -- it's a not-overly-seasoned, but, adequately-seasoned starting point).  After that, taste, as soon as you can and as often as you can along the way.  You can always add more spices, you can't remove them.  In terms of time and temperature when doubling or tripling a recipe, while the temperature will remain the same, the timing will not -- more food will take slightly longer to cook (up to one-third longer, meaning: expect 3-6 minutes to

To cut down on mishaps that can cause a voluminous, sometimes expensive, list of ingredients from going to waste, as mentioned above, it's super-important to invest in the proper large-capacity equipment.  Why?  A pot or pan that is even slightly too small will cause a boil over, a spoon or spatula without a long enough handle can cause a serious burn to the skin, and, while your trying to clean up the hot mess or dress the wound, the food can overcook, scorch or burn. In all seriousness, if you don't have access to the equipment, don't undertake the task.

6a0120a8551282970b026be41e770f200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2o21