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5 posts from June 2024


~ Summer Strawberry and Banana Breakfast Muffins ~

IMG_9571I rarely drink coffee, but when I do, a muffin is involved.  The humbly-crumbly and not-too-sweet muffin is the perfect accompaniment to my steaming hot cup of caffeine laced with cream.  In my muffin world, muffins are to be consumed for breakfast or brunch, bigger does not equate to better, mini-muffins miss the entire touchy-feely point, and, muffins containing chunks of fresh or dried fruit and/or toasted nuts are amongst my favorites -- even the most magnificent Chocolate-Chip Muffin top can't woo me away from an Apple, Raisin & Pecan Streusel Muffin.  As a gal who considers a banana a great breakfast all-by-its-lonesome-self and Special K without strawberries a crime, pairing the two in a muffin recipe didn't require me to wear my thinking cap.

IMG_9553No frosting on these muffins please, save it for your cupcakes.  

A cupcake is a cup-sized cake with a light, soft texture, and, a muffin is a cup-sized loaf of "quick-bread" (a quick-to-mix-together bread leavened with baking powder and/or baking soda rather than yeast) with a denser, crumbier texture.  A cupcake is sweeter than a muffin and a muffin is sweeter than a traditional loaf of bread with one caveat:  a muffin can be savory too, a cupcake cannot.  Cupcakes are usually piped or slathered with frosting, while muffins get nothing at all, a sprinkling of sparkling, coarse-textured sugar, and/or, a crumbly streusel sprinkled on their tops -- sometimes they have a thin glaze too, but, that's not my cup-of-tea.  Cupcakes are, in fact: dessert.  Muffins can be dessert, but, they are generally considered a breakfast or brunch treat.  

To proclaim that muffins are inherently healthier than a fully-frosted cupcake is a misconception -- the muffins at any local bakery, coffeeshop or Starbucks can contain as many as 600+ calories.

IMG_0810When baking banana bread or banana muffins:  If the bananas can't be easily mashed w/a fork, they are not ripe enough.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8cbeab9970bI eat a pretty yellow banana almost every morning -- I've been doing it all my life.  Pretty yellow: that is my favorite stage of ripeness for eating this fruit and it's one of my favorite ways to start a busy day.  I only buy bananas 2-3 at a time because I won't eat them past pretty yellow.

That said, when I know I'm going to be baking banana muffins or bread, I purchase my bananas about week a week in advance. The bananas in this photo took a full 8 days to get to perfect banana-muffin ripeness. Over-ripe bananas, are incredibly fragrant, sweet and flavorful -- a lot more than the pretty yellow ones.

When adding strawberries to quick bread or muffins:  Use firm, ever-so-slightly-underripe to ripe, at-their-prime berries.  

IMG_4762firm strawberries + soft bananas = marvelous muffins 

IMG_94581/2  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 stick)

1  cup granulated sugar

2  large eggs, preferably at room temperature

1  teaspoon each: pure banana, strawberry and vanilla extract

1 1/2  cups mashed bananas (12 ounces banana after peeling, about 3 large bananas)

2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour + 1/4 cup additional flour, for prepping strawberries as directed in ~ Step 5.

1  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2  cups 1/2" diced strawberries (8-10 ounces diced strawberries)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin tins

IMG_9463 IMG_9463 IMG_9463 IMG_9463~Step 1.  In a large bowl, place softened butter.  Microwave for 10-12 seconds, long enough to melt, without turning greasy.  Using a large rubber spatula add and stir the sugar into the butter.

IMG_9473 IMG_9473 IMG_9473 IMG_9473 IMG_9483 IMG_9483~Step 2.  In a small bowl, use a fork to vigorously whisk the eggs.  Add and use the spatula to fold the eggs into the butter/sugar mixture.  Add and thoroughly fold in the three flavor-boosting extracts (banana, strawberry and vanilla).

IMG_9487 IMG_9487 IMG_9487~ Step 3.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use the fork to mash the fruit from three bananas, stopping when you've reached 2 1/2 cups of mashed bananas.  Got more than 2 1/2 cups?  Use it at your own risk.

IMG_9501 IMG_9501 IMG_9501~ Step 4.  Add and fold the dry ingredients (the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sea salt and ground cinnamon) into the chunky banana mixture, until all ingredients are just moistened -- some lumps and clumps are just fine.

IMG_9495 IMG_9495 IMG_9508 IMG_9508~Step 5.  In a medium bowl, take a moment to fold the diced strawberries into the flour.  This will keep the strawberries from sticking together when stirred into the batter, and, prevent them from sinking to the bottom as the muffins bake.  Add and fold coated strawberries into banana batter.

IMG_9518 IMG_9518 IMG_9518~ Step 6.  Using a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, distribute batter into each of 12 muffin cups whose tins have been lightly sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  There will be some batter left in the bowl.  Use a tablespoon to distribute and dollop/mound a bit of additional batter into the center of each cup.

IMG_9529 IMG_9529 IMG_9529~ Step 7.  Bake muffins, all at once, on center rack of preheated 350° oven, until puffed up, golden, and, a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 25-28 minutes.  Remove from oven to cool, in pans, on a wire rack for 30 minutes.  To remove muffins from tins, use a sharp paring knife to carefully and gently loosen the edges, invert the pan and give it a gentle shake.  Cool completely, about 1 hour.

Muffin(s) going into oven to bake in 350° oven, 25-28 minutes:

IMG_9525Muffin(s) out of oven, cooling in pans, 30 minutes:

IMG_9536Muffin(s) out of pans & on a rack to cool completely:

IMG_9545Pick one up, pull it apart & have a great start to your day:

IMG_9599Summer Strawberry and Banana Breakfast Muffins:  Recipe yields 1 dozen standard-sized muffins.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; fork; 2-cup measuring container; standard-size muffin tins, enough for 2 dozen muffins; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack; sharp paring knife

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2575387970cCook's Note:  I enjoy a lot of treats unembellished  -- cake doughnuts, cream cakes,  crumb cakes and coffeecakes -- even plain cheesecake.   That said, for those who prefer their muffins chocked-full of goodies, having a basic muffin batter recipe in your back pocket takes the guess and stress out of making all sorts of muffins exactly the way you like them by adding a cup or two of this or that and a pinch of spice and other things nice. Here's ~ A Plain, All-Purpose, No-Nonsense Muffin Recipe ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2024)


~ Two Basic Marinades/Sauces for Chinese Stir-Fry ~

IMG_8807The definition of a stir-fry is straightforward:  To fry small morsels of meat, poultry, fish, shellfish and/or vegetables rapidly, in a wok or skillet, over a high heat, in a small amount of oil or fat, while stirring constantly.  The concept is an easy one to grasp.  Stir-fries were invented by the Chinese, but, it was Chinese Cantonese chefs, who specialized in stir-frying, that were amongst the first to immigrate to other Asian and European countries, our USA, then countries all around the world, where, over a relatively short period of time, they put the word stir-fry in the global vocabulary.

IMG_8745Chinese stirred-eggs or tomato-eggs is one of the earliest stir-fries of record.  Asian food came to the USA in the mid-1800's when the Cantonese immigrants began settling in CA, but, was consumed primarily in their communities.  In the 1920's, it became trendy with young cosmopolitan-types, who considered it exotic.  It wasn't until after World War II (at least as early as 1948), when soldiers returned from the war with a taste for the foods they had eaten abroad, that American housewives got involved. During the 1960's tiki bars and Polynesian restaurants were all the rage, and, by the 1970's, when I was a young bride, mainstream American cooks all owned a wok and a hibachi, and, Asian-fusion cooking began.

In the beginning, almost all Chinese restaurants here in the west were Cantonese.  Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, and, to this day, for most American home cooks with a desire to dabble in stir-frying, it is these familiar flavors we crave in and associate with our stir-fries.  That said, for every ten Chinese cookbooks, I'll show you, at conservatively three per book, thirty different recipes for stir-fry sauces, some requiring one or two hard-to-find ingredients.  For the novice cook this is disheartently confusing, and, can lead to fear of stir-frying, with the conclusion being:

Every stir-fry requires its own specific sauce.  Not so.

I'm not here to tell anyone to screw the recipes in all those books.  I am here to tell everyone who just wants some stir-fry sanity in their life, with two basic stir-fry sauce recipes in your repertoire, you can start turning out quick-to-make, full-flavored "all-the-right-stuff" stir-fries using a handful of easy-to-find inexpensive pantry staples, and, a few time-saving, convenient-condiments too.

IMG_8811Feel free to mince garlic cloves and grate ginger root, but, high-quality garlic and ginger paste make weeknight stir-fries a breeze.  Chili-garlic paste, which adds heat, is a favorite of my heat-seeking family. I'm not one to purchase pre-sliced, pre-portioned meats, poultry and/or veggies labeled "stir-fry", but, those are available too, and, if it means skipping the take-out and cooking at home, by all means do it.

Note:  A common misconception is:  to marinate is to tenderize.  It doesn't work that way.  In the food world, marinades for proteins act as flavorizers, not as tenderizers, meaning:  the longer you marinate, the more flavor will be infused into the protein.  If you are pressed for time, even 15-minutes will go a long way to flavoring the finished dish.  Moral of the story:  The tenderness of the protein being cooked is dependent entirely upon knowing the proper cooking method.

For 2 pounds thin-sliced or bite-size diced chicken or seafood:

IMG_8783Five ingredients.  Light and bright with just enough soy sauce to flavor without overpowering the delicate flavors of chicken or seafood.  Stir 1  tablespoon garlic paste2 tablespoons ginger paste and an optional 1-3 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce, to taste, into finished stir-fry sauce.

IMG_8403For the stir-fry sauce:

1/2  cup high-quality unsalted vegetable stock

6  tablespoons soy sauce

2  tablespoons Chinese rice vinegar

2  tablespoons  Chinese rice wine

2  tablespoons sugar

2  tablespoons firmly-packed cornstarch

IMG_8406In a small bowl, using a fork, whisk ingredients thoroughly.

Place the chicken or seafood in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Stir the garlic paste, ginger paste and optional chili-garlic sauce into the sauce.  Give the stir-fry sauce a thorough stir and add 1/2 cup of it to the bag.  Seal the bag and squish the chicken or shrimp around until thoroughly coated in the sauce.  Set aside to marinate, 30-60 minutes at room temperature, or, 8-12 hours/overnight in the refrigerator.  Heat 1-2 tablespoons sesame or specified oil in a wok or a skillet, add the marinated chicken or seafood and proceed to stir-fry it (and the vegetables), timed as directed in specific recipe, adding remaining stir-fry sauce during last 30-45 seconds of cooking.

 For 2 pounds thin-sliced or bite-size diced beef or pork:

IMG_8777Six ingredients.  Dark brown sugar and ketchup contribute to a deeper, bolder flavor with a tangy edge that's just perfect for beef or pork.  Stir 1  tablespoon garlic paste2 tablespoons ginger paste and an optional 1-3 teaspoons chili-garlic sauce, to taste, into finished stir-fry sauce.  

IMG_8596For the tomatoey-stir-fry sauce:

1/2  cup high-quality unsalted vegetable stock (Note:  beef stock may be substituted, but vegetable complements tomato flavors better.)

6  tablespoons soy sauce

4  tablespoons ketchup

2  tablespoons  Chinese rice wine

2  tablespoons brown sugar

2  tablespoons firmly-packed cornstarch

IMG_8603In a 1-cup measuring container, stir all ingredients.

Place the beef or pork in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Stir the garlic paste, ginger paste and optional chili-garlic sauce into the sauce. Give the stir-fry sauce a thorough stir and add 1/2 cup of it to the bag.  Seal the bag and squish the meat around until thoroughly coated in the sauce. Set aside to marinate, 30-60 minutes at room temperature, or, 8-12 hours/overnight in the refrigerator. Heat 1-2 tablespoons sesame or specified oil in a wok or a skillet, add the marinated beef or pork and proceed to stir-fry it (and the vegetables), timed as directed in specific recipe, adding remaining stir-fry sauce during last 30-45 seconds of cooking.

Two all-purpose marinades/sauces = stir-frying sanity.

IMG_8799Two Basic Marinades/Sauces for Chinese Stir-Fry:  Recipe yields 1-cup stir-fry sauce each recipe, enough for 2 pounds chicken or seafood, or, 2 pounds beef or pork.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; 1-gallon food storage bag

IMG_8491 IMG_8667Cook's Note: ~ Chinese-American Restaurant-Style Pepper Steak ~, and, ~ Chinese-American Cantonese-Style Tomato-Beef ~ are two classic, very similar yet different, examples of how these two all-purpose marinades get used in an everyday stir-fry in my kitchen.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2024)


~ Have a Blackberry-Cobbler Ice-Cream Kind of Day ~

IMG_9088Newsflash.  Blue Bell, the Texas-based ice cream company, announced on Twitter, that its Southern Blackberry-Cobbler Ice Cream will be available in stores, for a limited time only, starting Monday, June 4th.  This popular seasonal flavor consists of a creamy, blackberry-flavored vanilla ice cream with flaky pie crust pieces and blackberry sauce swirled throughout.  Being a worshiper of the blackberry, under normal circumstances, this news would have caused me to race around town in an attempt to hoard as much of it as I could stuff into my freezer.  It didn't.  Why?

Homemade blackberry-cobbler frozen custard + tips on adding fruit to ice-cream:

IMG_8541 IMG_9069 2I decided to make my own version of blackberry-cobbler ice-cream (frozen blackberry-cobbler custard, to be more specific), by adding some of my own homemade blackberry cobbler to a batch of my frozen vanilla-custard ice-cream base, as it churned away in my ice-cream making machine.  This wasn't an experiment for me -- I just wish I had thought of this flavor-concept sooner.  I knew it would work perfectly.  You see, had I long ago learned:  

In order to keep fresh fruit (most commonly strawberries), which is mostly water, from turning into fruity bits and clumps of rock-hard ice cubes, before adding it to the churning ice-cream base, it needs to be cooked in a manner that removes some of its water content and its concentrates flavor -- this is achieved by briefly simmering on the stovetop, or sometimes roasting in the oven (which conveniently happens as fruit and berries bake away in cobblers, crisps, etc.).

Occasionally, a recipe will instruct to macerate the fruit in alcohol, meaning sweetened, fruit-flavored brandies and fruit-flavored schnapps.  The food science behind this:  Alcohol has a lower freezing point than water, so, once added to the churning ice cream or custard, the fruit won't turn into fruity ice cubes.  I'm here to tell you this does not work perfectly.  You see, I long ago learned: While the maceration of fruit renders it soft and tender, most of its flavor gets leached into the liquid, leaving semi-flavorless and soggy fruit to add to the ice cream or frozen custard.  

The difference between ice cream & frozen custard:

IMG_9046During June, July and August, we'll all most-likely eat more ice cream than we did during the past nine months.  In my kitchen, I'll be making more during the next three months than I did during the past nine too.  That said, while everyone (myself included) will generically refer to it as ice cream, what I'll technically be making is frozen custard, and, if you make homemade ice cream, I'm betting you're making old-fashioned frozen custard (or a version of it), too.  Here's why:

De2oQusVQAEmuuh.jpg-largeStore-bought ice cream is made from milk or skim milk, or, milk or skim milk and cream, corn syrup or sugar, and flavorings.  Egg yolks are sometimes added, but not required. Ice cream is made in a machine that pumps lots of air into it as it churns, yielding a light mouthfeel.  It is federally defined as:  a frozen dessert containing 10% milk fat. That said, the simplicity of making old-fashioned ice cream has been so convoluted by high-tech machinery (to insure consistent, signature, hand-scoop-able texture), and additives, preservatives and stabilizers (for a long and palatable shelf life), one couldn't reproduce it adequately in the home kitchen, even if one was inclined to try.

IMG_9431Frozen custard is made from whole milk, or a combination of milk and cream, egg yolks, sugar and flavorings.  Egg-yolks are a requirement, and regulations require 1.4% egg yolks by weight.  The higher fat content (from milk and/or cream) gives it a rich, luxurious taste.  Whether made in a hand-crank or commercial machine, frozen custard is churned at a slow pace, to incorporate little air, giving it its dense texture.  Because it melts almost on contact with the lips (similar to soft serve ice cream), it is best served immediately, directly from the machine it was made in.

Frozen-custard and ice-cream  recipes are not created equal.  Sometimes the consistency is too soft, sometimes its too dense, or worse, sometimes it's full of nasty ice crystals.  Some recipes are cloyingly sweet, and other times, there's simply not enough flavoring added.  Frozen custard and ice-cream are both emulsions with two components (fat and water) that need lots of encouragement to meld, by adding components that absorb water (sugar, starch and protein).

A little bit of rich & creamy frozen custard history:

IMG_9054Frozen custard was invented on Coney Island, NY, in 1919.  Two ice-cream venders, Archie and Elton Kohr, discovered that when they added egg yolks to their home-made ice-cream base, they produced a richer, creamier, smoother ice cream.  On the first weekend they sold 18,460 cones. They had invented the precursor to our present-day soft-serve ice cream, with one exception: little air was pumped into their product.  As described above, true frozen custard is quite dense.  The mixture enters a refrigerated tube, and, as it freezes, blades scrape the frozen product from the sides of the barrel walls.  Unlike hand-scooped ice cream, the mixture stays in the machine, being discharged directly into cones or cups, on an as-needed basis, to be served immediately.

IMG_8947For my easy-to-make, foolproof vanilla-flavored custard-base:

2  cups heavy cream

2  cups whole milk

2  tablespoons pure vanilla extract*

2  tablespoons firmly-packed cornstarch

8  large egg yolks

1 1/4  cups granulated sugar

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

*Note:  Because my blackberry cobbler is doubly-flavored, with blackberry brandy and pure blackberry extract, there is no reason to add either to my vanilla-flavored custard base.

IMG_8948 IMG_8948 IMG_8948~ Step 1.  Place cream, 1 1/2 cups of the milk and vanilla extract in a 4-quart saucepan on the stovetop. In a 2-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together the remaining 1/2 cup milk and cornstarch.  Set aside.

IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957 IMG_8957~Step 2.  In a medium bowl, use the fork to whisk egg yolks, sugar and salt. Add the egg yolk mixture to the 2-cup container with the milk/cornstarch mixture.  Use the fork to vigorously combine the two mixtures.  Set aside.

IMG_8974 IMG_8974 IMG_8974 IMG_8974~Step 3.  Heat the saucepan of milk mixture on the stovetop over medium heat.  Heat the mixture until almost steaming (not full-steaming, simmering or boiling), whisking occasionally, about 2-3 minutes.  Adjust heat to low.  While whisking constantly, gradually and in a slow steady stream, whisk the egg yolk/sugar/milk/cornstarch mixture into the almost-steaming milk mixture.  Increase heat to medium and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until mixture begins to thicken, about 2-3 minutes.  In the beginning, mixture will be foamy on top.  As foam subsides and when mixture begins to thicken, switch from whisk to a large spoon to stir.  Continue to cook gently until custard base is simmering gently, nicely-thickened, silky-smooth and ribbon like, about 3-4 minutes.

IMG_9003 IMG_9003~ Step 4.  Remove saucepan from heat and immediately transfer custard base to a 2-quart food storage container.  Cover the surface of the custard base with a layer of plastic wrap, meaning: don't cover the container, lay the plastic directly on the surface of the custard (to prevent a rubbery skin from forming on the top).  Cool for 1-2 hours prior to putting the lid on the container and refrigerating for several hours to overnight.

IMG_9012 IMG_9012 IMG_9012 IMG_9012~Step 5.  From here forward, for the rest of this recipe, follow the directions that came with your ice-cream maker.  Because mine has a built-in freezing system, I pour all of the cold custard base into the stainless steel work bowl (which has been pre-chilled by the machine for me).  The lid goes on the work bowl and the machine gets turned on to churn for 1 hour - 1 hour, 10 minutes. The frozen vanilla-custard is ready to be served.  It's done.  To add the blackberry cobbler:

IMG_9025 IMG_9025~Step 6.  While custard is churning, portion 1-pound of my blackberry cobbler recipe -- use another at your own risk -- which has been chilled in the refrigerator for several hours.  Use a teaspoon to cobble it up into blackberry-sized pieces.  Return plate of cobbler pieces to refrigerator until custard has churned for 1 hour.

IMG_9033 IMG_9033 IMG_9033 IMG_9033~Step 7.  Open lid of the ice-cream machine.  As  custard churns, begin dropping cobbler pieces from plate into work bowl, a few at time, until all have been individually churned into the custard. Return lid to machine and churn another 20-30 minutes, until desired consistency is reached.

Scoop atop a bowl full of cobbler or into an ice-cream cone...

IMG_9059 2... atop a bowl full of blackberry cobbler is da bomb...

IMG_9094... & enjoy your journey back to a kinder, gentler time. 

IMG_9113Have a Blackberry Cobbler Ice Cream Kind of Day:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 quarts blackberry cobbler ice cream.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; fork; 4-quart saucepan; whisk; large spoon; 2-quart food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; plastic wrap; ice-cream maker; ice-cream scoop

6a0120a8551282970b0168e4f037de970cCook's Note:  For another type of frozen treat, one that's perfectly-portioned and more kid-friendly than blackberry cobbler, check out my recipe for ~ Decidedly-Decandent Frozen-Hot-Chocolate Pops ~. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2024)


~ Have a Very-Berry Blackberry-Cobbler Kind of Day ~

IMG_8581Here today, gone today.  That's the lifespan of blackberries entering my kitchen.  I've been told their dark color makes them really good for me -- even more antioxidants than blueberries.  Rah-rah-sis-boom-bah, I'd eat them even if they were on on the not-so-good-for-me foods short list.   When I buy a box of blackberries, I eat a box of blackberries.  When I pick blackberries, they disappear on the walk to my kitchen door.  I do not share blackberries -- well, maybe, probably I would, but, I've yet to be tested on this point.  That said, because blackberries require no special treatment (peeling, chopping, slicing, dicing, etc.), if I buy an extra box, and I work very quickly, I can affectively manage to get the requisite four cups of berries into a cobbler while I eat the rest.

This cobbler goes together faster than I can eat berries!  

IMG_8541A bit about cobbler:  Cobbler is almost always associated with a baked, deep-dish fruit or berry dessert that emerges from the oven with a semi-crispy top that has been made with a batter, a biscuit dough or a pastry.  There is no right or wrong topping for a cobbler -- it depends on your preference, where you live, and/or who taught you how to make cobbler.  Cobbler recipes have been printed in European cookbooks since the 19th century and were originally main-dish, protein-based meals. Cobblers in the US originated in the Colonies because the English settlers were unable to make their traditional suet puddings for lack of ingredients and proper equipment. The name is said to derive from the finished product looking like a rough cobblestone street.

IMG_85244  cups blackberries (24-ounces)

4  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

1  cup pancake mix

1  cup sugar

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1  cup milk

1  tablespoon blackberry brandy and/or 1 teaspoon blackberry extract

Sugar 'n Cinnamon

IMG_4768 IMG_4768~ Step 1. Place the butter in an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish/2-quart casserole -- I like clear glass because I can keep an eye on the baking process.  Melt the butter in the microwave. Tilt the dish to evenly coat the entire bottom with the melted butter.

IMG_4772 IMG_4772 IMG_4772 IMG_4772~Step 2.  In a large bowl, stir together the pancake mix, sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the milk and brandy and/or extract.  Add the milk mixture to the pancake mix mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula, stir until a thin, semi-lumpy batter forms.

IMG_8529 IMG_8529 IMG_8529 IMG_8529~Step 3.  Pour all of the batter into the baking dish right on top of the butter. Do not stir the batter into the butter.  Using a slotted spoon, spoon/distribute the blackberries evenly over the batter. Generously sprinkle the top of the berries with Sugar 'n Cinnamon.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven 35-40 minutes.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.

IMG_8566Note:  While the cobbler is baking, the blackberries (or any fruit) are going to sink to the bottom of the baking dish.  At the same time, the batter is going to bubble and bake up to the surface in random spots across the surface.  The cobbler will be golden brown and will spring back slightly when touched in the center.  Walk away.  Cool at least 20-30 minutes prior to serving.

Serve steamy-hot, slightly-warm or at room temperature...

IMG_8552... w/homemade blackberry-cobbler ice-cream

IMG_9088Have a Very-Berry Blackberry-Cobbler Kind of Day:  Recipe yields 8-12 servings. 

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-cup measuring container; 1-cup measuring container; large rubber spatula; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish/2-quart casserole, preferably clear glass

IMG_4817Cook's Note:  My dad loves peaches the way I love blackberries, meaning:  they are his favorite fruit. This luscious peach cobbler, which can be made without compromise using home-canned or store-bought canned peaches (in place of fresh peaches), is my way of keeping his favorite fruit-dessert world a peachy-keen place to be even when peaches are out of season: ~ Alices's Super-Simple Georgia Peach-Pie Cobbler ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2024)


~Love is Blueberry Oatmeal-Crumble Cookie Squares~

IMG_8921Blueberries are a fruit best served cooked.  Simmer down and read on.  When it comes to eating fresh, perfectly-ripe, high-quality, locally-grown berries hand-to-mouth, there are three seedier-types I enjoy more -- blackberries, strawberries and raspberries (in that order).  I love blueberries, but, it's my opinion that the blueberry is enhanced by cooking. Given a choice, I'll choose the blueberry jam, blueberry pie or blueberry bread pudding over the bowl of fresh blueberries any day of the week -- they even taste better after the little bit of cooking they get in pancakes.

Dare to be a buttery-rich & delicately-crumbly kind of square: 

IMG_8894Blueberries are only one of seven native North American food plants grown on a large scale and cultivated commercially.

Before I go any further, I probably should mention the other six:  Concord grapes, cranberries, strawberries, corn, beans and squash.  This means, these plants were in existence before any of our immigrant ancestors arrived in this new world and the Native Americans were eating them and creating their own recipes/uses for them long before they introduced them to the original Colonists.  That said, beloved blueberries were domesticated entirely in the 20th century and it did not take long for this "very American berry" to gain the unconditional love of the world. 

6a0120a8551282970b01538fd8320c970bThree types of blueberries supply over 90% of the market:  lowbush, highbush and rabbiteye.

Lowbush varieties (marketed as "wild blueberries" or "huckleberries") are very small, are harvested by machine and are sold almost exclusively to processing plants who make and sell blueberry products like "wild blueberry pie filling" or "wild blueberry preserves". While this sounds like they'd be at the top of the blueberry class, their flavor is actually disappointingly bland.

Highbush blueberries are the result of the hybridization of wild native plants. They are picked by hand and are sold fresh, representing over two-thirds of the total blueberries sold in our markets everywhere.  

Rabbiteyes, which are native to the Southeastern United States were/are called rabbiteyes because the berries turn pink before they turn blue -- the eye color of a white rabbit. They are very similar to highbush blueberries, which are native to northeastern North America. Rabbiteye bushes get quite high, up to 20 feet, and, they bloom earlier in the year than the highbush, which sadly, makes them susceptible to Spring frosts.  Highbush are smaller than rabbiteyes and were called highbush simply because they were/are taller than low bush varieties.

6a0120a8551282970b015433b0123c970cHighbush blueberries are what my husband Joe grows in our Central PA backyard.  The berries are larger and plumper than rabbiteyes and the fruit is juicier with a thinner skin. Their quality is compromised very little by freezing them (which is great for me because, every year, I have a lot to freeze), while the rabbiteye berry skin tends to get tough when frozen.  Rabbiteyes, eaten out-of-hand are a bit sweeter, but in my opinion: highbush berries are truly the best variety for the best price.

When selecting blueberries, it is noteworthy that size is not an indication of flavor, shrinkage is. Always choose blueberries that are plump and look like they are ready to burst. Berries that have begun to shrink and wrinkle, while usable, will be less flavorful.  AND, no matter what variety you choose to use, be generous -- cooked blueberry anything should be bursting with berries.

Part One:  The 5-Minute Oatmeal-Crumble Cookie Base

IMG_8830For the oatmeal-crumble cookie base:

1  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4  cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking or instant oats)

1/2  cup granulated sugar

1/4  cup firmly-packed light brown sugar

3/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  cup salted butter (1 stick)

1  large egg yolk

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

IMG_8821 IMG_8821~ Step 1.  To prepare the baking pan, spray the inside of an 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan with no-stick spray, line the bottom with an 8" x 8" x 2" square of parchment paper, then spray the top of the parchment paper.  I use a baking pan with a removable bottom, which makes it easy to remove and slice the cookies squares after baking.

IMG_8832 IMG_8832 IMG_8832 IMG_8832 IMG_8832 IMG_8832~Step 2.  In a medium bowl, use a fork to stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, oats, both sugars, cinnamon and salt.  Melt the butter in the microwave and allow it to cool slightly, about 2-3 minutes.  Lightly beat the egg yolk.  Stir the melted butter and the egg yolk into the dry ingredients.  A crumbly but cohesive mixture will have formed. Remove and reserve a scant 1-cup of the crumble mixture (this will be used as topping).  

IMG_8848 IMG_8848 IMG_8848 IMG_8848~Step 3.  Transfer the remainder of the the mixture into prepared pan.  Use the fork to evenly distribute the mixture in the bottom, then use a tart tamper to press the mixture together.

Part Two:  The 5-Minute Blueberry Layer, Topping & Baking

IMG_8861 2For the blueberry layer:

2  pints fresh blueberries

2  tablespoons lemon juice, fresh or high-quality bottled not from concentrate

2  teaspoons pure blueberry extract

1/4  cup granulated sugar

1  tablespoon firmly-packed cornstarch

Sugar 'n Cinnamon, for sprinkling on top just prior to baking

IMG_8867 IMG_8867 IMG_8867 IMG_8867~Step 1.  In a medium bowl using a rubber spatula, gently but thoroughly stir together the blueberries, lemon juice, blueberry extract, sugar and cornstarch, making sure the cornstarch is incorporated throughout.  Scoop and evenly distribute the berry mixture atop the cookie base. Sprinkle and evenly distribute the reserved 1-cup of cookie crumbles atop the berries.

IMG_8878 IMG_8878 IMG_8878 IMG_8896 IMG_8896~Step 2.  Generously sprinkle Sugar 'n Cinnamon evenly over the top and bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven, 40-45 minutes.  The crumble topping will be light golden and berries will be bubbling mostly around the sides of the pan.  Remove from oven and cool completely, in pan on a wire rack, 3-4 hours.  Refrigerate, slice cold, and, store in refrigerator.  

Refrigerate 1-2 hours prior to slicing into squares:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3984ec7200bPour the milk, pick one up & dare to be square:

IMG_8935Love is Blueberry Oatmeal-Crumble Cookie Squares:  Recipe yields 16, 2" blueberry squares.

Special Equipment List: 8" x 8" x 2" square baking pan w/removable bottom; parchment paper; fork; 1-cup measuring container; tart tamper; wire cooling rack; large chef's knife; small spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d744130970dCook's Note:  Looking for a perfect companion to blueberry squares?  ~ Pucker up for:  Triple-Lemon Bars/Squares ~.  I am a lover of all things tart and citrusy, and, I consider the lemon the diva of all citrus.  Just call me a sourpuss.  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)