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4 posts from January 2022

01/12/2022

~ Thick-&-Zesty Kid-Friendly Ground-Beef Lasagna ~

IMG_4011All us cooks agree that every recipe does not have to be a rocket science recipe -- it simply has to taste, without compromise, great.  If the end justifies the means, there's no shame in a shortcut or three.  I'm not sure how many lasagna recipes one cook is supposed to have, but, I'm guessing most households have more than one.    Here in my kitchen, I make four different types of lasagna, each with its own unique sauce: Bolognese, seafood, vegetable lasagna (all of which are excellent but time-consuming), and, this easy-to-make kid-friendly, crowd-pleasing ground-beef lasagna.  It's so popular amongst my family and friends, I even have a gluten-free version.

Part One -- Making the meat sauce:

IMG_3885For the meat sauce:

3  tablespoons olive oil

2  generous cups diced yellow or sweet onion (12 ounces)

1  pound sliced white button mushroom caps

1  tablespoon McCormick garlic powder

3  packets McCormick Thick & Zesty spaghetti sauce mix

3  pounds 90/10 ground beef (90% fat free)

1  pound Hatfield sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

IMG_3882 IMG_3882 IMG_3882 IMG_3882 IMG_3896 IMG_3896 IMG_3896~Step 1.  Place the oil in a 12" chef's pan.   Prep onions and mushrooms as directed, placing them in pan as you work.  Place over low heat for 1-2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Increase heat to sauté, stirring frequently, until onion softens and mushrooms have lost almost all moisture, about 15-20 minutes, using a large spatula to chop up mushrooms a bit as they cook.  Stir in the garlic powder and packets of spaghetti sauce mix.  Continue to sauté for about 30-60 seconds.  Mixture will be thick and pasty.

IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3933~Step 2.  Add all of the ground beef and sweet sausage to onion/mushroom mixture.  Cook mixture over medium-high heat, stirring frequently and using the spatula to break up the meats into small bits and pieces, until the meat has lost its red color, is steamed through, and almost no moisture remains in the bottom of the pan, 25-30 minutes.

IMG_3934 IMG_3934 IMG_3934~ Step 3.  Add and thoroughly stir in the crushed tomatoes.  Adjust the heat to a gentle, steady simmer and continue to cook, stirring constantly with a large spoon, about 15 minutes.  This meat sauce, which is also a great meat sauce for spaghetti, is ready to use.  That said, I like to remove the pan from the heat, cover it, and let it rest for about 30 minutes prior to assembling the lasagna, to give the flavors time to marry.  That said,  it is important to have the sauce warm-to-hot when assembling the lasagna as it will pre-soften the noodles before the lasagna goes into the oven.

Part Two -- Assembling & baking the lasagna:

IMG_3955For the assembly:

all the meat sauce,  from above recipe

1  10-ounce box ruffled-edge lasagna noodles, uncooked

1/2-3/4   pound thinly-sliced Cooper CV sharp cheese, or white American cheese

1/2-3/4   pound thinly-sliced provolone cheese

1/2-3/4  pound thinly-sliced mozzarella cheese

1/2-3/4  cup fine-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1-2  teaspoons Italian seasoning blend, or dried oregano

no-stick cooking spray

IMG_3957 IMG_3957 IMG_3957 IMG_3957 IMG_3957 IMG_3957 IMG_3957~Step 1.  Spray the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole with no-stick.  Spoon a thin but even layer of meat sauce in bottom of casserole dish.  Arrange lasagna noodles, side by side, over the sauce.  Four noodles will fit lengthwise.  Break one noodle to fit in the remaining space.  Arrange a single layer of Cooper CV cheese slices over the noodles.  Arrange a single layer of provolone slices over the CV.  Arrange a single layer of mozzarella slices over the provolone.  Spoon a second layer of meat sauce over the cheese layer.  Generously sprinkle Parmigianno-Reggiano over meat sauce.

IMG_3975 IMG_3975 IMG_3975 IMG_3975 IMG_3975 IMG_3975 IMG_3975 IMG_3975~Step 2.  Arrange a second layer of lasagna noodles in the dish and repeat the above process (a second layer of cheeses, a third layer of meat sauce, plus a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano). Sprinkle Italian seasoning blend over all.  The lasagna is now ready for the oven or the freezer, or, it can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight, returned to room temperature (which takes about 3-4 hours) and baked the next day.  I highly recommend refrigerating it over night -- it's convenient, but more importantly, it gives all the great flavors time to marry.

IMG_3999 IMG_3999 IMG_3999~ Step 3.  Cover lasagna with a piece of foil that's been sprayed with no-stick.  Place foil, sprayed side down, over lasagna and cover tightly.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven, 45 minutes. Remove foil and continue to bake 25-30 more minutes, or until browned and bubbly.  Remove from oven and rest, 30-60 minutes prior to slicing and serving -- 30 minutes if you want to eat your lasagna at that "ooey-gooey" stage, or, 60 minutes if you want nicer, neater slices and a more refined presentation. 

Ooey-gooey cheesy & easy too -- & oh so very, very good:

IMG_4043Thick-&-Zesty Kid-Friendly Ground-Beef Lasagne:  Recipe yields 8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid,; large spatula; large spoon;  13" x 9" x 2" casserole dish; plastic wrap (optional); aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d16c4a48970cCook's Note: Do you have a favorite casserole recipe?  You know "the one".  The one your family loves, the one you take to potluck, the one you donate to a good cause, the one you give to a sick friend -- the one you've made so many times you've got the recipe committed to memory.  Every really good cook or chef will admit they have at least two or three "go to" casserole recipes in their repertoire.  I'm no exception and this one is at the top of my short list.  Try my ~ Baked Ziti Casserole w/Sausage & Four Cheeses ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)

01/09/2022

~Eat Some, Freeze Some, Easy Chicken Soup Bowls~

IMG_4188Simply stated, every recipe does not have to be a rocket science recipe -- it simply has to taste, without compromise, great.  If the end justifies the means, and in the case of this recipe it does, there's no shame in a shortcut or three -- and, to prove my point, I now have eight, four-cup containers of chocked-full-of-chicken-and-vegetables soup in my freezer, which will see me nicely through the upcoming snowstorms until the Spring thaw.  This soup is every bit as tasty as grandma's old-fashioned chicken soup, it's just a lot less time consuming to make.

All I have to do:  Thaw, reheat & bring on some egg noodles.

IMG_4175For this easy chocked-full-of-chicken & vegetables soup:

IMG_4121For the soup stock:

3  pounds chicken tenderloins

12  cups water

1  32-ounce box each: Kitchen Basics original chicken stock and original beef stock*

1  tablespoon each:  Herb-Ox granulated chicken bouillon and beef bouillon*

1  tablespoon each:  garlic and onion powder and sea salt

1 1/2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

*Note:  You are not imagining things, I am adding beef stock and beef bouillon to this chicken soup recipe.  Yes, it is a bit unconventional, but, when one is making a quick chicken soup from boxed stock and boneless, skinless chicken (without the all-flavorful bones), one has to add a bit of strong base flavor -- and that comes in the form of beef stock.  While you shouldn't ever make chicken soup using all beef stock (it's just to strong), when its strength gets diluted with chicken stock, it is a great flavor enhancer.   Please trust this well-seasoned cook on this point.  

IMG_4131For the add-ins

2  generous cups diced yellow or sweet onion (12 ounces)

2  generous cups diced celery (12 ounces)

4  generous cups peeled and 1/4" coined carrots (1 1/2 pounds after trimming)

6  generous cups peeled and 3/4" cubed gold potatoes (3 pounds after peeling)

IMG_4119 IMG_4119 IMG_4119~ Step 1.  Place all of the ingredients for the soup stock, as listed, in a wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot (the chicken tenders, water, boxed stocks, bouillons, and all the dry spices).  Using a large spoon, give the mixture a thorough stir.  Bring to a boil over high heat, then, reduce heat to a gentle but steady simmer.  Partially cover the pot and continue to simmer for 1 full hour.  While the chicken is simmering in the stock, use this time to prep the add-ins as directed.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_4141 IMG_4141~ Step 2.  Using a large slotted spoon, remove the chicken tenderloins from the stock and place them on a plate.  Cover with plastic wrap and allow them to steam-cool until they can be handled with the hands, about 5-10 minutes.   Uncover the chicken tenderloins.  Using your fingertips, pull the meat into bite-sized bits and pieces .

IMG_4138 IMG_4138 IMG_4138 IMG_4138~Step 3.  Add all of the add-ins to the stock (onions, carrots, celery and potatoes).  Give the mixture a thorough stir, then, bring the mixture to a boil over high eat.  Reduce heat to a gentle but steady simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes, or until the carrots and potatoes are cooked through and tender. Add all of the pulled chicken and continue to cook for 5 more minutes, just to heat the chicken through.  If you have the time, turn heat off, cover pot and allow soup to steep for 1-2 hours, to allow all the flavors time to marry into the vegetables.

IMG_4173 IMG_4173~ Step 4.  Serve soup ladled over egg noodles, or, portion into 8, 1-quart freezer-safe containers with tight-fitting lids. Refrigerate several hours or overnight, then, freeze.  Tip:  Refrigeration prior to freezing prevents/eliminates freezer burn.

Eight quarts of clear-brothed, bold-flavored, rich, hearty soup:  

IMG_4170 2Ladle over cooked egg noodles & enjoy every last slurp:

IMG_4193Eat Some, Freeze Some, Easy Chicken Soup Bowls:  Recipe yields 8 quarts chicken vegetable soup.

Special Equipment List:  wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot w/lid; cutting board; large spoon; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; large slotted spoon; plastic wrap; soup ladle; 8, 1-quart size freezer and microwave safe food storage containers w/tight-fitting lids; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b0278806529d9200dCook's Note:  If 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 a bit different from regular cooking.  To learn why it's different, read my post ~ What to Consider Before Cooking in Big Batches ~.  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)

01/06/2022

~Eat Some, Freeze Some, Big Batch Beef Taco Filling~

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd3cdf39970b-1If you are raising kids, you know all about taco night.  You also know that having a few cups of a great, kid-friendly ground-beef taco filling already prepared and on-hand in your freezer is a great weeknight time-saver.  After a brief thaw-and-heat in the microwave, a busy mom or dad can have dinner on the table in about 30 minutes.  Having raised three boys, for decades, I was never without it.  In fact, I liked to make a big batch of the meat mixture in a large wide-bottomed, 8-quart chef's pan, then portion it into user-friendly-sized 2-cup containers (each enough to fill 8-10 taco shells), to keep in the freezer.  It was always on-hand for quick weeknight meals and snacks. Yes, just like pizza, tacos make a great evening movie-night snack for kids (and adults too).

6a0120a8551282970b01a511ec8bc5970c 2Eat some, then freeze some, &, always make a big batch. 

IMG_40656  tablespoons corn oil

6  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

1  pound diced yellow or sweet onion

1  each:  1 large diced green, red, orange and yellow bell pepper (about 6-7 ounces each after dicing)

3  packets (12 tablespoons) McCormick original taco seasoning

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

3  tablespoons ground cumin

2  tablespoons garlic powder

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1  teaspoon sea salt

2-3  14 1/2-ounce cans stewed tomatoes, undrained (Note:  Tomatoes are a necessary ingredient in ground-beef taco filling because their acid adds a lot of flavor.  I use three cans because I love lots of chunks of tomato in my taco filling.  Not a fan?  Cut back to two cans.)

1/2  cup sofrito (Note:  Soffrito is a purée of tomatoes, green peppers, onions, garlic, culantro and EVOO.  It's the foundation of many Latin American, Portuguese and Spanish dishes.  While not authentic Tex-Mex, it does contain the same basic veggies and flavors common to Tex-Mex.  I keep a bottled stashed in my refrigerator at all times.  It is NOT the same as Italian soffritto.

IMG_4069 IMG_4069 IMG_4069 IMG_4069 IMG_4069~Step 1.  In a 14" chef's pan w/straight deep sides place the corn oil, then the ground beef.  Prep the onion, and bell peppers as directed, placing them in the pan as you work.  Add the taco seasoning, followed by the rest of the dry spices:  the ground cloves, cumin, garlic powder, red pepper flakes and salt.  Over no heat, take a minute or two to give the ingredients a thorough stir, meaning, get the meat, veggies and spices thoroughly combined.  

IMG_4082 IMG_4082 IMG_4082 IMG_4082 IMG_4082 IMG_4082~Step 2.  Over medium- medium-high heat, cook, stirring frequently and breaking up the meat with a large spatula or spoon, until meat has lost all its color and is steamed through, about 35-45 minutes.  There should be almost no liquid remaining in the bottom of the pan -- what it looks like is more important than the time this takes.

IMG_4099 IMG_4099 IMG_4099 IMG_4099 IMG_4099~Step 3. Stir in the stewed tomatoes, followed by the sofrito.  Adjust heat to a steady but gentle simmer and continue to cook, uncovered and stirring frequently, once again until almost all liquid has evaporated from the pan, 35-45 more minutes.  The taco filling is now technically ready to serve, however, I recommend removing it from the heat, covering the pan and allowing it to steep for about 2-4 hours, to marry the flavors, prior to serving warm.

IMG_4114 IMG_4114~ Step 4.  To freeze the taco filling, portion it into 2-cup freezer-safe containers with tight-fitting lids. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight, then, freeze.  Tip from Mel:  Refrigeration prior to freezing prevents/eliminates freezer burn.

Spoon about 6 tablespoons warmed ground-beef filling into each deep-fried, lightly-salted fresh corn tortilla, then garnish w/shreds of crispy lettuce, a spoonful of spicy salsa & shredded cheddar.

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd3cdf39970b-1Eat Some, Freeze Some, Big Batch Beef Taco Filling:  Recipe yields 16 cups of filling/enough for six meals of 6-8 tacos each.

Special Equipment List:  14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon and/or spatula; 2-cup size freezer-safe containers w/tight-fitting lids

6a0120a8551282970b026bdeee6d36200cCook's Note: If 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 a bit different from regular cooking.  To learn why it's different, read my post ~ What to Consider Before Cooking in Big Batches ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)

01/03/2022

~HISstory vs HERstory -- The Story of Eggs Benedict~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c76dd85e970b 2A la Benedict.  It means in-the-style-of eggs Benedict.  For runny-egg lovers, this is the la-tee-da, ooh-la-la, creme-de-la-creme of fancy-schmancy, artery-clogging AM indulgences:  two golden-toasted English muffin halves, each topped with a slice of smoky ham, a perfectly poached egg and a generous drizzle of buttery hollandaise sauce.  This all-American breakfast and brunch specialty has been gracing the tables of high-end restaurants for over a century.  There are three claims to this beloved dish's origin, with only one being widely-accepted as the real-deal.

Culinary Fisticuffs?  The Battle Between the Benedicts!!!  

HISstory vs. HERstory:  

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0811448a970dThanks to a food article appearing in the New York Times Magazine in 1967, written by the late, great NYT Food Editor Craig Claiborne, American foodies were led to believe this dish was French in origin, invented by the mother of French Commodore E.C. Benedict. Mr. Claiborne reported this to us shortly after receiving a letter from Edward P. Montgomery, an American living in France, who claims to have gotten the recipe via his uncle who was a friend of the Commodore.  Edward, it seems, had just forgotten about it for forty-some odd years.  HISstory.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08114846970dIn a rather immediate, scathing response to Mr. Claiborne's article, a woman named Mabel Butler sent her own letter to the New York Times Magazine, basically calling Mr. Montgomery a fraud and a liar, because she knew EXACTLY who invented the now famous dish.  Ms. Butler, a relative of Mrs. LeGrand Benedict went on to say:  It was invented in the kitchen of Manhattan's famous Delmonico's Restaurant when Mr. and Mrs. Benedict (two wealthy, influential patrons who dined weekly at Delmonico's) complained to the maitre d'Hotel that the chef never added anything new to the brunch menu.  Upon their next visit, the chef responded to them in a very LeGrand way:  two golden-toasted English muffin halves, each topped with a slice of smoky ham, a perfectly poached egg, a drizzle of buttery hollandaise and topped with a shaving of musky truffle.

Enter the Party-of-the-Third-Part & voila:  the REALastoria:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0811bfa9970d 10.41.07 AMIt seems that a wealthy, elderly gentleman, Lemual Benedict, a retired Wall Street Stock Broker, had done an earlier interview with the New Yorker Magazine, in 1942, which appeared in their "Talk of the Town" column.  In it, he confesses to having drunkenly stumbled into NYC's Waldorf Astoria in need of a good fix for a bad hangover.  As Benedict explains,  "back in 1894", he ordered buttered toast, poached eggs, bacon and a "hooker" of hollandaise (slang for a "shot glass").  Oscar Tschirky, the maitre d'Hotel of the Waldorf found the combination to be so delicious, he added it to his menu the same year, substituting ham for the bacon and an English muffin for the toast.  In his 1896 cookbook, The Cookbook of the Waldorf, chef Tschirky writes of a twist on the dish, which he named "Philadelphia Eggs", in which poached chicken is served in place of the ham.

As eggs Benedict gained in popularity, chef's began taking quite a bit of creative license with inventive, palate-pleasing spin-offs -- as they should, because the dish is so user-friendly and adaptable.  My favorite is eggs Oscar: crabmeat with a layer of blanched asparagus.  If I sprinkle the same dish with Old Bay, the name changes to eggs Chesapeake.  Eggs Hemmingway means it's served with smoked salmon in place of ham, and, eggs Florentine a layer of steamed spinach gets added.  If I order Eggs Blackstone, I'll get bacon and fresh tomato.  Several sauces can be substituted for the hollandaise too:  bearnaise (hollandaise containing shallot and tarragon), mornay (cheese sauce), and, blanchard (bechamel).

Try my Over-the-Top but Very Easy Eggs Benedict recipe:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c76dd85e970b 2Try my Exquisite Crabmeat Stuffed Omelette a la Benedict too:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0812ab20970d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2022)