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10 posts from October 2021

10/31/2021

~ Johnnycakes -- Precursor to the American Pancake ~

6a0120a8551282970b0263e99930b2200bMy first experience with Johnny cakes was in 1992  We decided to take a tennis vacation and headed to the Killington Ski Resort in Vermont.  During the Summer, Killington offers tennis packages and first-class accommodations.  We drove nine hours, along winding, two-lane interstate and country roads looking at truly picturesque mountains and greenery.  It was idillic, and, we had enough free time for sight-seeing, shopping in country stores and eating in local restaurants too.  I ate my first Johnny cake at the resort for breakfast before hitting the courts on our first day.  I liked them so much, I ordered them every morning for the rest of the week.

Dating back to the early 1600's, Johnny cakes are said to be the precursor to the pancake.  The origin of the name is a mystery, and, likely has nothing to do with the name John.  We know they were originally called journey cakes because they were packed into saddlebags to take on long trips.  They were sometimes called ash cakes, because they could be baked or reheated in the hot embers of a fire, and, hoe cakes, are ash cakes that are placed on a hoe and also cooked over a fire.  Corn cakes were first made by Native Americans,  who called them janiken, and that sounds suspiciously close to Johnny cake to me. They used ground corn as an ingredient in a lot of their food, and some historians believe it was the colonists who slurred the words "Shawnee cakes" into "Johnny cakes".  It's no surprise that these cornmeal cakes are associated with New England, as it was the Native Americans who taught the Pilgrims how to grind corn (because their supply of wheat flour had spoiled during their voyage from England) back in 1620.

6a0120a8551282970b026bdec67eab200cIn their purest form, Johnny cakes are made from yellow or white corn meal, boiling water, salt and sugar.  The corn meal gives them their unique, kinda gritty dense texture, but, they get most of their flavor from what they are cooked in, so, bacon drippings or butter, combined with some oil are always used.  The batter has the consistency of loose mashed potatoes, and, while many versions contain milk and egg, unlike pancakes. they don't contain any leavening (baking powder or baking soda), which is great because you can mix 'em in advance.  Like pancakes, you can top them with more butter, fresh fruit, syrup and or honey.  I recommend butter and a good douse of Vermont maple syrup.

Try my ~ Johnny Cakes -- Jonnycakes -- Journey Cakes ~:

6a0120a8551282970b0263e99930b2200b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

10/28/2021

~Frambled Egg - a Cross between Scrambled & Fried~

IMG_3189What the heck is a frambled egg?  A funny typo?  Is frambled even a word?  The first time I saw it in print, I kinda did think it might be a typo, but, it got my attention and I kept on reading.  The definition revealed it is a trendy new cooking term for something many of us older foodies, like myself, have been doing for years:  making scrambled eggs without whisking the eggs first.  Yep, it's even easier than making scrambled eggs -- you don't need a cup (or a bowl) or a fork (or a whisk).  There's more. Eggs are personal.  Everyone who eats eggs likes them cooked a particular way.  That said, folks that don't have the time or patience to fuss with poached eggs fall into two camps: fried or scrambled, and frambled eggs offer the best of both those worlds. 

"Frambled" = "a cross between a fried egg and a scrambled egg".  I've always called them "lazy scrambled eggs" (no recipe required).  My kids call them "funny scrambled eggs" ('cause they kinda are). 

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7f25d52970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7f25d52970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7f25d52970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7f25d52970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7f25d52970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7f25d52970bBreak 1-2 eggs into an 8" skillet over medium-high heat containing 1-1 1/2  teaspoons melted butter.  Using a spatula, break the yolk, season with salt and pepper, then, fry until the yolks are just set, less than one minute -- do not overcook.

The end result is a colorful marbled effect: perfectly-cooked egg white with streaks of perfectly-cooked yolk running through it.  If you want to add other ingredients (an herb, minced onion, bacon bits, etc.), add them when you add the salt and pepper. Depending upon how you play this game, if you add some grated cheese near the end, you can even make a frambled omelette.  

Frambled eggs -- the best of two worlds -- and easier too:

IMG_3198Try my La-di-da Breakfast:  Lox, Cavier & Frambled Eggs:     

6a0120a8551282970b022ad376292e200cMake Frambled Eggs -- Easier than Scrambled Eggs:  Recipe yields instructions to framble eggs.

Special Equipment List:  8" nonstick skillet; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0278801e27cd200dCook's Note: The best of both worlds.  They're a combination of pancake batter and Johnny cake batter mixed together in one bowl. They're wonderful -- slightly sweeter and considerably-lighter than typical Johnny cakes.  In a perfect world, I'd get up in the wee hours of the AM and make 'em from scratch.  Well, newsflash, it's not a perfect world, and, I can still make a great corn pancake breakfast by combining store-bought pancake mix and store-bought corn-muffin mix.  No eye rolling please -- once you stick a fork in one of these and take a taste, the outlook on the day ahead of you is going to improve. Served with pure maple syrup and country sausage -- early morning breakfast perfection with no stress and no mess.  Try my ~ In a Jiffy Corn Pancakes -- The Best of Both Worlds ~.

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

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

10/24/2021

~The History Behind New York's Dirty Water Hot Dogs~

6a0120a8551282970b022ad390c5ce200dHot dogs -- one of my favorite subjects.  I relish eating them, never tire of discussing them, and, whenever traveling, if the destination is known for a style of hot dog, it's one of the things I make a point of eating while I'm there.  The New York-style hot dog is one I've not chatted with you about yet.  That said, had I not had advance, concise, clarification of what "dirty-water-dog" means (the affectionate but unappealing nickname New Yorkers have given their dogs), cuing myself up in the line in front of the closest pushcart would not have happened.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1970a56970cA bit about dirty-water-dogs and pushcarts:  It's said that the first "dachshund sausages" (named after the little sausage-shaped Dachshund dog breed) were sold by German vendors pushing wooden carts in the Bowery of NYC, during the 1860's.  The first "hot dog" stand (a term which  started as a humorous reference to the thin, long canine) opened on Coney Island in 1871 by a German butcher. He sold 3,684, count 'em, hot dogs the first year.  By 1890, college students coined the term "dog wagon" for vendors pushing and parking their carts across campuses, stopping to sell hot dogs outside of each dormitory along the way. (Above photo of wooden hot dog pushcart courtesy of ediblephotography.com.)

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08b1c466970dThe problem with the wooden pushcart:  Cooking hot dogs over any-type of open, portable flame was risky business.  More than a few of them burned to ashes.  The safe solution (circa the beginning of the 20th century):  Cooking, storing and transporting hot dogs in insulated containers of hot water.

Modern pushcarts (photo courtesy of foodcartkingdom.com), made of stainless steel with hinged water boxes for the dogs along with bins and/or shelves for condiments, still operate using the same rudimentary method.  Why? Permits.  A non-processing permit only allows a vendor to sell pre-made food -- like hot dogs and soft pretzels.  A processing permit allows cooking on a grill/flat-top griddle, which expands the menu a bit, with hot dogs being the classic, must-have favorite.

Dirty-Water-Dogs are simply water-heated wieners.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08b1cc2b970dThe most famous dirty-water-dogs are found under the blue and yellow umbrellas of New York's Sabrett hot dog carts.  Sabrett is a famous brand of natural-casing beef frankfurters sold throughout the NY area.  They are indeed delicious, especially topped with with their red-hued onion sauce, sauerkraut and brown mustard, and, the water the dogs sit in isn't dirty at all. (In fact, NYC's water is so high-quality, it's coveted by pizza-dough makers all over the USA.)  It's got a foamy, grayish color due to the juices, salt, and flavorings that ooze into the steaming water from all the dogs that get added to it.

Rules mandate that the water must be kept at 140°, but know, hot dogs lose their flavor and texture if submerged for too long -- no longer than 15-20 minutes.  All you can do is trust the vendor on that one point, but, in order to participate in a traditional dirty-water-dog experience, even vendors with a grill/flat-top griddle on-board will tell you to eat your first dog drippy, right out of the water.  After that, they'll be more than happy to crisp one up on the griddle for you.

Try my recipe for The NYC Pushcart Onions & Sauerkraut Dog

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3b072d8200b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschuttti

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

10/21/2021

~The Hidden History of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing~

IMG_3184 Before we know it, the holiday entertaining season will be upon us.  Charcuterie, cheese and vegetable trays, along with assorted, chips, crackers, nuts, dips and spreads will be appearing on cocktail tables in neighborhoods all across America.  Like everyone else, the snacks I choose to serve change every year, but, one thing that's always present in some form:  Hidden Valley Ranch dressing or dip.  Why?  Everyone loves the taste of cool and creamy "Ranch".  Interestingly:

A little over 50 years ago no one had ever heard of ranch dressing and now it is America's most popular salad dressing.  We do much more than top our salads with it too.  It is our dip of choice for vegetables, a marinade for our meat or poultry, and, a flavoring in our favorite brands of corn and potato chips.  I buy very little bottled salad dressing in general (although I do keep a bottle of Wish-Bone Light Italian in my refrigerator at all times), but, when my boys were small, I was one of those mom's who kept a stack of Hidden Valley Ranch seasoning packets in my pantry at all times.  Why?  Like many of you, it was the only way I could get my kids to eat their vegetables.

6a0120a8551282970b0191045547dc970cA bit about ranch dressing:  It is a wholly American invention with a bona fide rags-to-riches story.  In 1954, Nebraska-born Steve Henson (once a homeless child of the Great depression, former plumbing contractor and a cook in Alaska) and his wife Gayle, bought the sprawling, picturesque, 120-acre Sweetwater Ranch in Santa Barbara, CA.  They renamed it Hidden Valley, opened a guest-type dude ranch and attempted to live out their life's dream of entertaining and cooking for their paying guests. But, due to the remote location and lack of funds for advertising, Henson found himself facing bankruptcy. One thing the few guests at the ranch were talking about:  his salad dressing.  Henson had developed the recipe back in Alaska: a garlicky emulsion of mayonnaise, buttermilk, dried herbs and spices.

6a0120a8551282970b01901e5f6bb4970bHenson knew how popular his dressing was when guests started asking to purchase jars of it to take home with them, but, it wasn't until one of them asked to take 300 bottles back to Hawaii that he saw a business opportunity.  Henson didn't have 300 jars, so he took a few hours to package his dry spice blend in a bunch of envelopes.  He instructed his customer to mix each envelope with 1-quart of buttermilk and 1-quart of mayonnaise.

6a0120a8551282970b0223c84e860b200cIn 1964, Henson closed his ranch to guests and entered into the salad dressing business full-time.  He assembled a small team of workers in his home and developed a small-scale mail-order business that mailed 75-cent packets of Hidden Valley salad dressing mix to the local community. It wasn't long before he moved into a controlled facility that produced 35,000 packets every eight hours.  In 1972, Henson sold his business to Clorox, they developed ranch dip packets, and, the rest is history.

Try my Happy Valley Ranch-Style Dressing recipe:

6a0120a8551282970b0192ac1f85b6970dAnd, try my Happy Valley Spinach Dip too:

6a0120a8551282970b0224df367756200b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

10/18/2021

~ The Story of Humble, Homey All-American Meatloaf ~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8ebe821970bThe fabulous '50's may be gone forever, but they are certainly not forgotten.  Remember the stainless steel diner in your hometown that served up a thick slice of mouthwatering meatloaf smothered in a smooth and rich pan gravy alongside a big scoop of fluffy mashed potatoes? Remember meatloaf day in your school cafeteria with stewed tomatoes and macaroni and cheese?  Remember the Swanson frozen meatloaf dinner slathered with a thick brown gravy and French fries?  I remember them all, but, mostly, I remember my mom's "special" meatloaf.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8ebc11f970b"Meatloaf."  Say the word aloud in the company of family or friends, even in the company of culinary professionals, and you'll find that almost everyone wants to share a fond memory, tell an interesting story, or, recite a favorite recipe or three.  Once a Depression era meal to help home cooks stretch precious protein to feed more people, everyone will nod in agreement that, nowadays, meatloaf can be whatever you want it to be: an economical family-style meal or a culinary masterpiece fit for a king.

The industrial revolution placed meatloaf squarely on America's foodie road map -- the invention of the hand-crank (and later the electric/automated), meat grinder was historic. 

According to The Oxford Companion to Food:  Meatloaf is a dish whose visibility is considerably higher in real life than in cookery books.  This situation might be changed if it had a fancy French name (pâté chad de viand hachée, préalablement marinée dans du vin de pays et des aromatiques).  In the USA, the term was recorded in print in 1899, in Britain, 1939.  The use of the word 'loaf' is appropriate as most recipes include a portion of a loaf of bread, usually in the from of soft, fresh breadcrumbs.  Also, meatloaf is shaped like a loaf of bread, typically baked in a loaf pan, and sliced like a loaf of bread.  It is a worthy dish that embodies the word peasant (rustic), but can also exhibit refinement associated with bourgeois (upper middle-class) cookery.  Meatloaf does not extend into the realm of haute cuisine (artful or imaginative cuisine).

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2762b6a970cA bit about grinding meat:  While the thankless task of mincing meat has been going on since ancient times, Karl Drais, a German aristocrat, is credited with inventing the cast-iron, hand-crank meat grinder in 1785.  This portable, countertop appliance made it possible for frugal home cooks to take advantage of its economic, time-saving benefits:  

1) Ground meat feeds more people.  2) Grinding meat makes tough, lesser expensive cuts of meat more palatable and easier to digest.  3)  Combining and grinding small pieces of various types of meat together makes a meal of otherwise useless leftovers.

^^^ Nowadays, grinding your own meat is even easier than this.  Trim it of unnecessary fat, cut it into 1"-1 1/2" chunks and pulse it in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8ebc36f970bA bit about meatloaf in America: American meatloaf originated in the form of scrapple, a grainy-textured mash of ground pork scraps and trimmings mixed with moistened cornmeal prior to baking in a loaf shape.  Scrapple has been served by German-speaking Americans in Pennsylvania (the PA Deutsch) since Colonial times. From this somewhat unappetizing, born-out-of-necessity beginning, savvy home cooks adopted the concept of combining ground meat(s) with milk-moistened bread, egg, onion, salt and pepper, thus, evolving meatloaf 6a0120a8551282970b01bb098f8068970dinto its current  state:  homey, great-tasting, old-fashioned comfort food. Because cows were butchered before Winter, as feeding them was difficult and expensive, the first modern recipes for meatloaf contained just beef.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d276b9c9970cA bit about my family's "special" meatloaf: My grandmother and mother used saltine cracker crumbs in place of fresh or dried breadcrumbs in a whole host of recipes.  Truth told: Saltines, when moistened in milk until soft, are:  more flavorful than breadcrumbs, and, they maintain a bit of texture too. Their pantries were never without a box and neither is mine.  There's more:  

Both my mother and grandmother used beef exclusively, never a combination of beef, pork and veal.  My grandmother, who owned a mom and pop grocery store during the Depression era, did not like the gelatinous texture that comes from adding mild-flavored veal and did not approve of mixing pork and beef together -- no bacon strips were ever draped over a meatloaf in any of my family's kitchens.  Neither of them ever glazed their meatloaf with anything either.  That said:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4e21491200bOn nights when mom was serving meatloaf with mashed potatoes, mom would mix the precious-few beefy meat drippings with some seasoned flour and a can of beef broth to whip up some brown gravy to drizzle over the top.  On nights when mom was serving meatloaf with macaroni and cheese, she would mix the precious-few beefy meat drippings with some seasoned flour and a can of stewed tomatoes to drizzle over the top.  We called it: Mom's stewed-tomato gravy.

Try My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf recipe:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27640d2970cOr my Mexican-Style Ground Beef & Chorizo Meatloaf:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4999b0e200dOr a Super Fix-Quick Bowling Night Meatloaf recipe:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a9986d200bOr, just Cut-to-the-Chase and Make Meatloaf Burgers:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4ff43b0200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

10/15/2021

~ Run-Up-the-Score with Chicken-Fajita Quesadillas ~

IMG_3155 2Got leftover chicken-fajita filling or steak-fajita filling?  Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't, but when I do, I know exactly what to make with that tasty couple-of-cups:  fajita quesadillas. Ooey-gooey and cheesy, they're so dang good, I won't lie, sometimes I make the filling for the sole purpose of making fajita quesadillas.  When I do do that, it's usually because I'm feeding a crowd, and, more-often-than-not, the occasion is a tailgate in front of the TV.  No matter how many I make, they're the first appetizer to disappear -- there never seems to be enough. 

6a0120a8551282970b0278803122fe200d"Queso (KAY-soh)" is the Spanish word meaning "cheese", and, a quesadilla is a tortilla containing ooey-gooey melted cheese.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d15ed99a970cQuesadilla (keh-sah-DEE-yah):  A round, flat, cooked-until-soft corn or flour tortilla (even though most folks associate them with flour tortillas exclusively), folded in half to form a half-moon with a savory filling sandwiched in the center.  It is fried on a well-seasoned cast-iron comal (a flat, round griddle), using no or very little oil (although in American kitchens, mine included, a nonstick skillet or a grill pan commonly substituted.  FYI:  "Queso (KAY-soh)" is the Spanish word for "cheese", which, in turn, makes a quesadilla a container for ooey, gooey melted cheese.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8a000fe970bAlmost any cooked and chopped or shredded meats and/or vegetables can be used as a filling for a quesadilla (fish and seafood are not typically used) -- the meats and vegetables must always be cooked first because a quesadilla cooks in a few short minutes.  For each fajita-quesadillas (3 triangles), you'll need:

1, 8" round flour tortilla

1/2  cup chicken-fajita filling

6 tablespoons shredded Jack, pepper Jack or cheddar cheese 

Prepare each quesadilla on the stovetop in a grill pan as follows:

IMG_3121 IMG_3121 IMG_3121 IMG_3121 IMG_3121 IMG_3121 IMG_3121~Step 1.  Spray a 12"-round grill pan with no-stick cooking spray and place it over medium heat (medium-heat on my gas stove is medium-high heat on an electric range).  Place a tortilla on the grids and sprinkle 6 tablespoons shredded cheese (a scant 1/2 cup) over the entire surface of the tortilla to within 1/2" of the perimeter all around (resist using too much cheese).  Place a generous 1/2 cup of chicken fajita filling atop the cheese on half of the tortilla.  When the bottom layer of cheese has melted, which takes about 45-60 seconds, use a spatula to lift and fold the cheesy half of the tortilla over the chicken-filled half and allow to sit on the heat about 15 more seconds.  Remove from heat and transfer quesadilla to a cutting board.  Repeat with as many quesadillas as you want to make.

Smile for the camera & have a bit of patience...

IMG_3142... you gotta wait 1 minute before slicing it into three wedges.

IMG_3150Cha-Cha-Cha for Cheesy Chicken-Fajita Quesadillas:  Recipe yields 8, 8"-round quesadillas and 24 appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet w/lid; large skillet; hand-held box grater; 12"-round grill pan or nonstick skillet; paper towel; wide spatula

6a0120a8551282970b027880393a15200dCook's Note: Newsflash.  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. Try making fajita-quesadillas using my ~ Tex-Mex Broiled Flank Steak Fajita Filling ~.

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

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

10/12/2021

~Chutney -- A Spicy Condiment and Sandwich Topper~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c90c8338970bHaving its origin in India, the name for this condiment comes from the East Indian word chatni, which means to entice the appetite. Indian chutneys were and are commonly made daily and eaten the same day -- originally prepared using a stone mortar and pestle, nowadays an electric food processor is often used.  Just like our common American condiments, they can be found on the table for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner -- they are a part of the daily culinary routine.  

Chutney was imported from India to Western Europe in the early 17th century.  European renditions were generically referred to as "mango'd fruit", because the most common fruit used to make chutney in Indian kitchens at the time was the mango.  Europeans simply substituted apples, peaches, pineapples, plums, or rhubarb in place of mangos, and, they prepared them similar to preserves so they would have a shelf life long to last through the harsh Winter months. 

IMG_3119The chutneys most of us Americans are familiar with today are on the shelves of most supermarkets and they're a preserved sweet and savory fruit-based condiment containing fresh and/or dried fruit, ginger root, vinegar, sugar and an array of aromatic spices.  Similar to its next of kin (jam, relish and salsa), at the discretion of the cook, chutney ranges in texture from chunky to smooth and in degree of spiciness from mild to hot. Like its next of kin, chutney is simmered low and slow for a lengthy time to reach the desired consistency.

There's more.  In India, many chutneys are vegetable- rather than fruit-based and contain a wider array of ingredients (like mint or cilantro, onion and/or garlic, fresh or canned tomatoes, yogurt or coconut milk and/or various nuts or seeds). These chutneys are typically served as a side-dish/accompaniment to Indian-style curries or meat dishes, and sometimes they are stirred into rice.  It's worth mention that even in India, chutneys are very diverse because Indian food varies greatly from region to region and is dependent upon local ingredients common to the region.

Try rhubarb-ginger chutney on a ham or turkey sandwich:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09afc99e970d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti 

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

10/09/2021

~ Pucker Up For Tart Green or Red Stalked Rhubarb ~

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d296c756970cThis quick post, hopefully once and for all, will answer this question:  Is there a difference between green and red stalked rhubarb?   The answer is no.  They are both perfectly ripe and they are both ready to be cooked.  Period.  End of discussion.  Me personally, I love the pucker-up experience that rhubarb provides, and, while I understand why people often pair it with strawberries (they do playwell together), in my opinion, like the tart apple or the sour cherry, rhubarb requires no distractions.  I prefer my rhubarb unadulterated.  That said, there are a few things us rhubarb aficionados do know about this too often maligned vegetable.   

Sometimes referred as "the pie vegetable, the color of rhubarb is in no way related to its suitability for cooking, however, the red rhubarb sold in the grocery store, unless marked "locally grown" is always grown in hot houses.  I find this type of rhubarb to be a bit dryer in texture and a bit subdued in flavor.  Outdoor-grown varietes vary in color from red, speckled with red, light pink or simply green (like mine).  Green stalked rhubarb is more robust (pucker up tart) and produces a higher yield, but, red is sure more popular with consumers -- simply because they prefer ruby red color to celery green color.  I grew up eating green rhubarb and didn't realize it came in red until I was old enough to do my mom's grocery shopping for her.  The rhubarb we grow in our Happy Valley vegetable garden was transplanted from my father's garden, which was transplanted from his father's garden in Eastern Pennsylvania, which makes it an heirloom rhubarb plant.

Try my recipe for Sweet, Savory & Spicy Rhubarb-Ginger Chutney:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d296d73d970cAnd my recipe for Pucker Up for Straight-Up Rhubarb Streusel Pie:

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd1e24a1970b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

10/06/2021

~ The History of Salad Olivier: Russian Potato Salad ~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09883658970dTraditionally, this salat, the Russian word for salad, was reserved for large gatherings: religious or national holidays, special community events and/or family celebrations, and, it was served all year long.  With or without meat or poultry added to it, it was served as an hors d'oeuvre atop toast points, by itself as a light lunch or snack, or, as a starter-course or side-dish to a hearty meal.  For the most part, I associate it with Spring (because my grandmother always made it for or after the Easter holiday), so, I like to serve this pretty-to-look-at salad as a side-dish on my Easter buffet table, then, as a main-dish the next day -- by adding cubes of  leftover holiday ham to it.  It's equally delicious served after the Thanksgiving holiday with cubed turkey added to it.  All that said, this salad is best prepared a day or two ahead, to give time for the potatoes to soak up the flavor of the dressing and time for all the other flavors to marry too -- time well spent.

Known in Eastern European circles as "Salad Olivier" or "Salad Olivye", and, "Russian Salad", there are as many variations of this refreshing side-dish or main-dish salad as there are cooks who are willing to take the time to do a precise job of uniformly cubing, dicing and properly cooking the components.  What this salad looks like is as important as how it tastes.  For young Eastern European girls, who were almost always required to assist their mother and grandmother in the family kitchen, it was how they honed their knife skills for later in life in their own kitchens (while the menfolk were out and about teaching their boys how to fish, hunt, gather and farm).

A melange of perfectly-cooked, precisely chopped ingredients:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8e52364970b 2

In its basic form, this salad consists of a fork-friendly melange of cubed and cooked potatoes, carrots, peas and eggs -- all of the ingredients are previously cooked.  The creamy dressing, which is mayonnaise-based, contains finely-diced sweet or dill pickles or capers -- previously-cooked ingredients.  Occasionally an herb common to the Eastern European climate is added to it too (dill, chives, parsley).  All the ingredients were and still are inexpensive items found in Eastern Europe's rural farm communities. Because meat was and still is expensive, it is common for vintage recipes for this salad that contain protein to include wild game or game birds -- which they hunted in the countryside.  There's more.  For those lucky enough to raise cows, sheep or pigs, farm-raised meat or cured meats and sausages were and are commonly added as well.

A look back in this famous potato salad's history:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8e4f1d9970bThe original salad was invented in the 1860s by Lucien Olivier, the chef of the Hermitage, one of Moscow's most prestigious restaurants.  The regular clientele's love for his salad caused it to become the Heritage's signature dish, and, before long, renditions were being prepared in kitchens all across Russia.  The recipe for his "Provençal dressing" (the mayo concoction), a  well guarded secret, has never been revealed, although it is believed to have been made with French wine vinegar and Dijon mustard, as cooking in the style of France was trendy during that period.

At the turn of the 20th century, one of Olivier's sous-chefs, Ivan Ivanov, attempted to steal the recipe.  Olivier was suddenly called away from the kitchen, which gave Ivanov the opportunity to take a look at the prepped ingredients (mise en place) and deduce with reasonable certainty, what to put in the famous dressing.  Shortly thereafter, Ivanov went to work as the chef at Moskva -- a restaurant of somewhat lesser prestige.  There, Ivanov started selling his version, "Russian Salad", then, sold his recipe for publication, which made "Russian Salad" a household term.   

The Hermitage restaurant closed in 1905, and the Olivier family left Russia, returning to Lucien's homeland of Belgium.  One of the first printed recipes for Olivier salad, appearing in 1894, called for half a poached grouse, two potatoes, one large cornichon, 1 teaspoon capers, 3-4 olives, 1/4 cup cubed aspic, and, 1 1/2 tablespoon Provençal dressing (the mayonnaise concoction), and, 3-4 lettuce leaves.  Because these ingredients were hard-to-come-by, expensive and seasonal, ordinary home cooks gradually replaced them with cheaper and more readily available ones.

My Eastern European family's recipe for Russian Potato Salad:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8e4ec5c970b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

10/03/2021

~ Gluten-Free Butter-Rum Tropical Trail Mix Cookies ~

IMG_3099Trail mix, the kind chocked full of tropical dried fruits like raisins and bananas, candied fruits like ginger, papaya, pineapple and mango, along with brazil nuts, cashews and peanuts, plus, big shavings of tender coconut, is, simply stated, one of my favorite snacks.  It's not diet food, but, it sure delivers tons of flavor and crunchy texture, and, it's undeniably a healthier snack than pretzels or potato chips.  I enjoy trail mix so much, a few times a year I toss it in a bowl with some white chocolate chips and add it to cookies.  Tropical trail mix cookies -- we're talking decadent.

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 Gluten-Free cookie no one will guess is GF.

IMG_30531  cup + 2 tablespoons gluten-free all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon xanthan gum

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

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

1  large egg

1  tablespoon butter rum flavoring

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2  cup very-lightly-packed dark brown sugar

1/4  cup granulated sugar

6  ounces gluten-free tropical trail mix

6  ounces white chocolate morsels

IMG_3056 IMG_3056 IMG_3056 IMG_3056~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_3068 IMG_3068 IMG_3068 IMG_3068 IMG_3068 IMG_3068~Step 2.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the trim mix and white 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 2, 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_3090 IMG_3090~Step 3.  Bake cookies, 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.  Store in an airtight container for one-two weeks.

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

IMG_3107Gluten-Free Butter-Rum Tropical Trail Mix Cookies:  Recipe yields 3 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

6a0120a8551282970b026bdef3d0b2200cCook's Note: While everyone has a favorite cookie, more often than not, folks declare the chocolate chip to be their 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.  Try my recipe for ~ Keep-it-Simple Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies ~.

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

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