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My Recipes-of-the-Week are featured here on my Home page. You can find 1000+ of my kitchen-tested recipes using the Recipes tab, watch nearly 100 Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV segments using the TV Videos tab, join the discussion about all of my creations using the Facebook tab, or Email your questions and comments directly to me--none go unanswered. "We are all in this food world together." ~Melanie

07/07/2019

~Southwestern Cheese-Topped Corn & Bean Pudding~

IMG_2511From chicken and ribs to rib-eye, flank and skirt steaks, during the months of July and August and into the Fall, the food that comes off our grill is frequently alla the American Southwest.  My family craves those bold flavors, and, my Southwestern-style corn and bean pudding, a spin-off of my Midwestern-style baked corn casserole is my go-to side-dish.  Placed on the table next to a crispy garden salad full of just-picked tomatoes and cucumbers: there's no need to call my family to the table twice.  Serve an in-season fruit cobbler for dessert?  They'll follow me anywhere.

IMG_2503Fresh vs. canned corn.  Without compromise, either is great.

You do not need fresh sweet corn to prepare this.  Without compromise, canned corn actually works really well.  In fact, it works so well, I don't hesitate in the least to use it so I can make this casserole any time of the year, and, I'm using canned corn today, so you can see just how easy it is to prepare it that way.  That said, if your are so inclined to make it using fresh corn, substitute:

4 cups whole corn kernels (shaved from 3-4 ears of freshly-picked & blanched corn)

2  cups of my recipe for ~ Country-Style Downhome-Delicious Creamed Corn ~

IMG_2455

2  15 1/4-ounce cans whole-kernel corn, well-drained

1  14 3/4-ounce can cream-style corn

1  15 1/2-ounce can black beans, rinsed and well-drained

1/2  cup thinly-sliced green onions, white and light green parts only

1  4 1/2-ounce can green chiles, drained of excess liquid

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

2  jumbo eggs, beaten

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

1  tablespoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon black pepper

3-4  ounces finely-shredded Colby & cheddar cheese blend , for topping casserole

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dish

IMG_2460 IMG_2460 IMG_2460 IMG_2460~Step 1.  In a large bowl, place creamed corn.  In a small colander, drain the whole corn kernels, then rinse and drain the black beans, followed by freeing the green chiles of excess liquid.  Place each in the bowl with the creamed corn as you work, followed by the green onions. 

IMG_2469 IMG_2469 IMG_2469 IMG_2469 IMG_2469~Step 2.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk together the cream, eggs, flour, sugar, salt and pepper.  Add the cream mixture to the bowl of vegetables.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold the vegetables to evenly distribute them amongst each other.  Add and thoroughly fold the whisked cream mixture into the mixed vegetable mixture.

IMG_2480 IMG_2480~Step 3.  Spray a 2-quart, 8" x 8" x 2" casserole with no-stick cooking spray.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish.  To this point, casserole can be placed, covered with plastic wrap, in refrigerator several hours in advance of baking.  Return to room temp about 1 hour prior to baking according to the following directions:

IMG_2486 IMG_2486 IMG_2486~Step 4.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, about 1 hour.  Casserole will be golden brown and puffed up throughout.  Remove from oven and allow to rest about 2-3 minutes prior to serving, just long enough for it to stop bubbling and settle a bit.  Top with a layer of cheese.  Return to oven and bake 1-2 additional minutes, just until cheese melts without browning.

Patience -- allow to cool 4-5 minutes -- tick, tock...

IMG_2531... prior to slicing, scooping & serving.

IMG_2520Stick a fork in it & enjoy a very Southwestern kinda day:

IMG_2530Southwestern Cheese-Topped Corn & Bean Pudding:  Recipe yields 8-12 side-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  small colander; large rubber spatula; 2-cup measuring container; fork; 2-quart, 8" x 8" x 2" casserole; plastic wrap (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c6d67804970bCook's Note:  When I'm cooking sweet corn on the stovetop or on the grill, I always make more than I need.  Why?  Once I remove the kernels from the cobs, I use them in several recipes in place of canned corn.  To learn ~ How to: Shave Corn Kernels Off the Cob with No Mess ~, just read my post!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

07/04/2019

~ A Simply-Scrumptious Summer Strawberry Cobbler ~

IMG_2378 2Fresh strawberry cobbler with home-churned strawberry ice cream, made the old-fashioned way, is going on our picnic table tonight.  A few years ago that I realized strawberries make superb cobbler.  I experimented on a whim and it turned out great.  It was so successful, I tried this same recipe, substituting pineapple for strawberries that same Summer, meaning:  I gained cobbler confidence.   I don't know why it surprised me, strawberries contain a lot of citric acid, so, their own natural flavor makes them perfect for the relatively-fast turn-around in the oven required for a traditional cobbler.  The moral of the story is: pretty much any juicy fruit or berry will work fantastic in this recipe, so, use what you've got and don't look back.  Be like me -- cobbler confident.

Be like me -- cobbler confident.

IMG_2369A 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.

And this goes together faster than I can eat strawberries!

IMG_23424  cups hulled and 1/4"-thick sliced strawberries (24-ounces sliced strawberries)

4  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

1  cup pancake mix

1  cup sugar + 3 additional tablespoons sugar to macerate strawberries

1/2-3/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1  cup milk

2  teaspoons pure strawberry extract

Sugar 'n Cinnamon

IMG_2346 IMG_2346 IMG_2346 IMG_2346~Step 1.  Hull and 1/4"-thick slice the strawberries as directed, placing them in a medium bowl as you work.  Add the 3 tablespoons additional sugar.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold the sugar into the sliced strawberries and set aside, to macerate, about 5-10 minutes (no longer than that).

IMG_4768 IMG_4768~ Step 2. 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_2354~Step 3.  In a large bowl, stir together the pancake mix, sugar and cinnamon.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the milk and strawberry extract.  Add the milk mixture to the pancake mix mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula, stir until a thin, semi-lumpy batter forms.

IMG_2358 IMG_2358 IMG_2358~Step 4.  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 strawberries 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 to desired temperature, 2-4 hours.

IMG_2366Note:  While the cobbler is baking, the strawberries (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 and will spring back slightly when touched in center.  Walk away.  Cool at least 20-30 minutes.

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

IMG_2384w/old-fashioned strawberry-custard ice cream:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad37bb114200dA Simply-Scrumptious Summer Strawberry Cobbler:  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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09adfbfd970dCook's Note: Here's a pie I seldom get the chance to make because, after making strawberry shortcakes, a batch of   strawberry preserves and  strawberry dessert topping, I rarely have strawberries left.  That said, I keep this super-simple go-to recipe in my repertoire for times when I do have a few cups of seriously-ripe strawberries at that "use 'em or lose 'em" stage.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

07/02/2019

~Greek-Style Chopped-Salad w/Red Wine Vinaigrette~

IMG_2426When tomatoes and cucumbers are ripe for the picking, small side-salads accompany our dinner almost every evening.  Our seasonal herbs du jour always determine what cuisine-style I'll lean toward -- dill for Eastern European, basil for Italian, thyme for French, cilantro for Tex-Mex, and, oregano for Greek.  Once that's decided, the cuisine-appropriate embellishments easily fall into place.  It's a pretty straightforward process, but, no matter what I decide, my all-purpose super-easy-to-make red wine vinaigrette pulls it all together -- you'll rarely find my refrigerator without it.

This refreshing relish-esque salad, goes great with grilled chicken, any type of steak, pork chops, and fish or seafood too.  Got leftovers?  Pull or slice the the protein into bite-sized pieces, toss it into the salad and stuff it into pita pockets for lunch the next day.  There's more.  If you want to serve it as a starter course to a sit-down meal, spoon it atop a bed of crispy lettuce chiffonade -- it's dressed to pucker-up, briny perfection.  That said, because it's marinated, it's best served within 12-24 hours, so, don't make more than you and yours can eat in within that time frame.

This refreshing chopped relish-esque, condiment-type salad... IMG_2422... pairs great w/chicken, steak, chops, &, fish or seafood.

IMG_2392For the Greek-style chopped salad:

1-1 1/2 cups quartered and sliced cucumber, peeled or unpeeled, your choice

1-1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1/2-3/4  cup coarsely-chopped Greek deli-salad-bar-style pitted-olive mix, preferably one containing garlic

1/4  cup thinly-slices red onion, slices cut into 1" lengths

1/4  cup feta cheese crumbles + 1/4 cup additional crumbles for garnish

For the red wine vinaigrette:

1/2  cup vegetable oil 

1/4  cup red wine vinegar

1-2  tablespoons sugar, to taste

1  teaspoon dried Mediterranean oregano

IMG_2394 IMG_2394 IMG_2394 IMG_2394 IMG_2404 IMG_2404~Step 1.  To prep salad, slice, dice or chop ingredients as directed, placing all in a medium bowl as you work.  To this point, salad ingredients can be prepped, covered and refrigerated 2-4 hours prior to dressing and tossing.

IMG_2410 IMG_2412 IMG_2412 IMG_2420~Step 2.  To prepare the vinaigrette and dress the salad, in a 1-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid and a pourer top, place the oil, vinegar, sugar and oregano.  Place the lid on the container and vigorously shake it until ingredients are combined.  Add 4 tablespoons of the vinaigrette to the salad.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the dressing into the salad.

Toss w/chicken, steak or shrimp -- chopped salad sammies: 

IMG_2437Greek-Style Chopped-Salad w/Red Wine Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 3-4 cups chopped salad and 3/4 cup dressing.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c877664f970bCook's Note:  Chopped salad, also referred to as chop-chop salad, comes to us Americans in many forms. ~ Jumbo Shells Stuffed w/ Shrimp Chop-Chop Salad ~ is one of my personal ways to turn this salad into finger food.  These yummy little appetizer-snacks, like my deviled egg creations, go to a lot of Summer picnics and a few early Fall tailgates too.  The best way to describe them is individual and portable portions of chop-chop salad, and, most people can't keep their hands off them.  They can contain anything your heart desires, as long as the ingredients play well together and are chopped into small morsels prior to judiciously drizzling (not drenching), with a cuisine-appropriate dressing or vinaigrette just prior to spooning the salad into the cooked and well-drained pasta shells and serving chilled.  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019) 

06/30/2019

~Lovely Lemon-Infused EVOO & Asparagus Recipes~

IMG_1878 2In this part of the Northeast, Asparagus season starts around the beginning of May and lasts approximately to the end of June.  This has been a banner year for it, which is why I could not resist dedicating the past two weeks to sharing a few asparagus recipes prepared my favorite way:  enhanced by the flavor of lemon -- more specifically lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil.  For those of you that don't know, asparagus adores the flavor of lemon, and so will you. 

Choosing, Prepping & Storing Amazing Asparagus

Asparagus begins losing its flavor the moment it's picked, so buy the freshest bunch possible. Prepping asparagus correctly gives it a shelf life of 3-5 days.  Start by removing the woody stalk ends.  Every spear has a woody end too fibrous to eat.  When gently bent, each stalk will snap at a point a few inches from the base, where the spear goes from tough to tender. Once trimmed, gather it up and stand it in a glass containing 1/2" water and store, uncovered, in the refrigerator.

IMG_1895Making Lemon-Infused EVOO in the Home Kitchen

Let me start by saying, I purchase my lemon-infused olive oil.  It's a small investment for a product that, in honesty, because of the process involved, can't be 100% duplicated in the home kitchen. Manufacturers of high-quality lemon-infused olive oil include lemon in with the olives when the oil gets cold pressed.  Home cooks simply do not have that option, so, if you are one of those who is inclined to make it at home, the only alternative is what's known as the "heat-and-soak" process.

IMG_2176Breakfast:  Asparagus & Eggs Fried in Lemon-Infused EVOO

The only thing better than a pair of buttery-rich crispy-edged runny-centered sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast, is a pair of lemon-luscious, crispy-edged runny-centered sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast.  Lightly-seasoned to perfection with a few grinds of sea salt and a nice peppercorn blend, once on my plate, I'm ready to catch my toast the instant it pops up, sit down, and luxuriate in the dipping process until every drop of liquid gold and tender bite of white is gone.  All gone.

IMG_2326Lunch:  Asparagus Salad w/Lemon-Infused White-Balsamic Vinaigrette

A salad without lettuce?  There's no law against it, and, in the case of this salad, lettuce is just in the way.  The combination of tender blanched asparagus, a few halved cherry or grape tomatoes, and, small, creamy, fresh mozzarella balls drizzled with a lemon-balsamic vinaigrette is to-die-for. The only item I do add to it on occasion is: a handful of crunchy croutons.  Nothing more, nothing less.  The dressing, loaded with lemon flavor and herbes de Provence, is the star of this show.

IMG_2107Dinner:  Spaghetti w/Crab, Asparagus, Tomato & Prosciutto

Light, bright and amazingly lemony, this lusciously-decadent, not to mention rich, restaurant-quality pasta dish is easy to prepare -- and it's pitch-perfect Summer fare.  While the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and grape tomatoes roast for ten minutes and cool for five, the pasta gets cooked and seasoned.  Toss the two together with high-quality crab claw meat, and lunch or dinner is served.  No cheese please -- cheese, in any form, in this delicate dish, is all wrong.

IMG_2021Hors D'oeuvre:  Amazingly-Lemony Roasted Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus

When I was growing up, fresh asparagus was a delicacy.  We ate it steamed, in the Spring, for holidays and special occasions, and, when we reserved a table at a restaurant -- restaurants had more access to it than the average American family during that era. Over the years it became readily available to home cooks who came to realize that roasting elevated the flavor and texture. The addition of prosciutto puts it in the pick-it-up-with-your-fingers-to-eat finger-food category.

IMG_1940Appetizer:  Grilled Shrimp & Asparagus Cocktail w/Creamy Lemon Dip

How much would you pay for this in an upscale restaurant?  About $8.00 as an appetizer? Perhaps $12.00 as a lunch entrée?  Both sound fare to me, but, truth told, this small plate of happiness is so good I'd happily pay more.  'Tis true, rake my shrimp cocktail over some hot coals and I'll follow you anywhere -- and pay a tidy sum for it too.  Add a few slices of grilled bread, uncork a bottle of white wine, and invite a few guests to join you too -- it's that impressive.

IMG_2260Side-Dish: Amazingly-Lemony & Perfectly Shallow-Poached Asparagus

Technically known as shallow poaching and sometimes referred to as skillet poaching, this is the easiest way to cook fresh asparagus spears.  As it turns out, a small amount of gently or barely simmering salted water in a wide-bottomed skillet is a great way to quickly control the heat of the water, which, in turn, makes it very easy to efficiently yield vibrant green asparagus spears of any thickness that are cooked to your liking:  crunch-tender blanched to fully-cooked fork-tender.

IMG_2061"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/28/2019

~Asparagus and Eggs Fried in Lemon-Infused EVOO~

IMG_2326The only thing better than a pair of buttery-rich crispy-edged runny-centered sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast, is a pair of lemon-luscious, crispy-edged runny-centered sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast.  Lightly-seasoned to perfection with a few grinds of sea salt and a nice peppercorn blend, once on my plate, I'm ready to catch my toast the instant it pops up, sit down, and luxuriate in the dipping process until every drop of liquid gold and tender bite of white is gone.  All gone.

Oil-frying eggs is more common than one might think.

IMG_2335I didn't invent oil-fried eggs, and, culturally, it's more common that one might think.  Cooks have been frying eggs in animal fat, oil, margarine and butter for as long as people have been eating fried eggs.  I can, however, say that when I do oil-fry eggs, I use either chili- garlic or lemon-infused oil.  It just makes sense.  Generic olive oil, unless it is flavor-infused, pales in comparison to the taste of butter, so, why bother.  That said, I truly can't remember the first time I decided to throw a few asparagus spears into the skillet with my lemon-infused olive-oil fried eggs, and, it hardly matters.  What does matter is that one morning, when I opened my refrigerator to get my eggs, a glass containing some freshly-picked asparagus spears just happened to be right there.

IMG_2340Infused-oil fried eggs are tastier than one can imagine.

IMG_23041-1 1/2  tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil

2  extra-large or jumbo eggs

3-6  thin-to-medium thickness fresh asparagus spears

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

~ Step 1.  Tap, crack and break the eggs into a ramekin -- I do this to make certain the yolks don't break when they drop into the pan.  If time permits, allow eggs to come to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

IMG_2307 IMG_2307 IMG_2307 IMG_2307 IMG_2307 IMG_2307~Step 2.  Heat oil in a 8" skillet over medium-high heat.  Swirl skillet around to make sure oil coats entire bottom.  Carefully slide the eggs from the ramekin into the skillet.  Cook until the whites turn a bit opaque, add the asparagus spears wherever there is room, then, season everything with salt and pepper.  Cook for 3-4 minutes or until eggs are done to your liking.  Slide eggs and asparagus from skillet to plate and serve immediately.

To change it up, try them with garlic- or chili-infused EVOO too:

IMG_2333Asparagus and Eggs Fried in Lemon-Infused EVOO:  Recipe yields 1 serving.

Special Equipment List:  ramekin; 8" nonstick skillet

IMG_1895Cook's Note: When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

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

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/26/2019

~Grilled Shrimp and Asparagus Cocktail w/Lemon Dip~

IMG_2266How much would you pay for this in an upscale restaurant?  About $8.00 as an appetizer? Perhaps $12.00 as a lunch entrée?  Both sound fare to me, but, truth told, this small plate of happiness is so good I'd happily pay more.  'Tis true, rake my shrimp cocktail over some hot coals and I'll follow you anywhere -- and pay a tidy sum for it too.  Add a few slices of grilled bread, uncork a bottle of white wine, and invite a few guests to join you too -- it's that impressive.

IMG_2280For the pucker-up lemon sauce for seafood or vegetables:

Oh yes, BIG yes, this concoction is great with many things, but, if you're looking for a pucker-up creamy lemon dip to serve with grilled seafood or vegetables, stop reading, grab a few pantry staples and mix this one together.  It'll only take five minutes, and oh yes, you can thank me later. On our patio, we love to dip grilled shrimp and/or grilled asparagus in it as an hors d'oeuvre, but, I won't lie, it's just as good slathered on a Maryland-style crab cake sandwich (or a grilled or roasted chicken sandwich) too.  There's more.  To give it a drizzly consistency (to use as a creamy-dreamy lemon salad dressing), simply stir more of the vinaigrette into the mayonnaise.

IMG_2081For the lemon-infused, white balsamic vinaigrette:

1/2  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup lemon-infused olive oil

2  tablespoons sugar

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

1  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence

Step 1.  In a 1-cup container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top, place all ingredients. Vigorously shake until well-combined.  Use as a marinade and/or dress salad and store leftovers in refrigerator.

IMG_2207 IMG_2207~ Step 2.  To make 1/2 cup of this creamy condiment, mix together 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons lemon-infused EVOO & white-balsamic vinaigrette.  Use ASAP and/or store in the refrigerator almost indefinitely

For the grilled shrimp, asparagus & cherry tomatoes:

Be aware, while simple and straightforward, this recipe is very specific to the size of the shrimp (16/20 count), the thickness of the asparagus (medium), and, the type of tomatoes (whole grape). Why? Because everything cooks at the same time, in the same amount of time, in the same grill pan. Even the olive oil, which is extra-virgin and lemon-infused, makes a difference -- fresh lemon juice won't produce the same result.  This means: do not make substitutions then complain to me if the end result isn't cooked to perfection -- mess with the recipe, mess with perfection.

IMG_2296For each appetizer-size portion:

6  extra-jumbo shrimp (16-20 count), peeled and deveined with the pretty tails left on

6  medium-thickness asparagus spears, properly trimmed of stalk ends

6 whole grape tomatoes

1-2  tablespoons lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_2302~ Step 1.  Place the shrimp, asparagus and tomatoes on a shallow plate and drizzle the lemon oil over all. Using a pastry brush, paint the surface of each piece to thinly-coat it with oil.  Season the top surface of all with a few grinds of sea salt and peppercorn blend.

Note:  If you're making multiple servings, it goes without saying, to place all of the ingredients on a larger platter to coat and season them all at the same time.

IMG_2244 IMG_2244~ Step 2.  Spray grill pan with no-stick cooking spray and heat over medium-high on stovetop. When hot, arrange shrimp, slightly-apart, in hot center, then, around the perimeter of pan, arrange the asparagus and tomatoes.  Cook for 5-6 minutes, using a pair of tongs to turn each ingredient over only once, about 2 1/2-3 minutes per side. Shrimp will be light golden, asparagus will have a slight char and tomatoes will be blistered.

Golden shrimp, charred asparagus & blistered tomato perfection:

IMG_2255Grilled Shrimp and Asparagus Cocktail w/Lemon Dip:  Recipe yields 1 appetizer-sized serving.

Special Equipment List: pastry brush; nonstick grill pan; tongs

IMG_2021 IMG_2107Cook's Note: For a variation on the theme of seafood with asparagus and cherry tomatoes, try my yummy and easy recipes for ~ Spaghetti w/Crab, Asparagus, Tomato & Prosciutto ~ and ~ Asparagus Salad w/Tomatoes, Mozzarella & Lemon-Balsamic Vinaigrette ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019) 

06/23/2019

~ Pucker Up for Lemon Dip w/Seafood or Vegetables ~

IMG_2255Oh yes, BIG yes, this concoction is great with many things, but, if you're looking for a pucker-up creamy lemon dip to serve with grilled seafood or vegetables, stop reading, grab a few pantry staples and mix this one together.  It'll only take five minutes, and oh yes, you can thank me later. On our patio, we love to dip grilled shrimp and/or grilled asparagus in it as an hors d'oeuvre, but, I won't lie, it's just as good slathered on a Maryland-style crab cake sandwich (or a grilled or roasted chicken sandwich) too.  There's more.  To give it a drizzly consistency (to use as a creamy-dreamy lemon salad dressing), simply stir more of the vinaigrette into the mayonnaise.  

IMG_2081For the lemon-infused, white balsamic vinaigrette:

1/2  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup lemon-infused olive oil

2  tablespoons sugar

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

1  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence

Step 1.  In a 1-cup container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top, place all ingredients. Vigorously shake until well-combined.  Use as a marinade and/or dress salad and store leftovers in refrigerator.

IMG_2207 IMG_2207~ Step 2.  To make 1/2 cup of this creamy condiment, mix together 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons lemon-infused EVOO & white-balsamic vinaigrette.  Use ASAP and/or store in the refrigerator almost indefinitely

Pucker up because a little bit of this dip goes a long way!

IMG_2266Pucker Up for Lemon Dip w/Seafood or Vegetables:  Recipe yields 1/2 cup creamy lemon dip/2, 1/4 cup servings.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; 1 cup food- storage container w/tight-fitting lid; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d297c03f970cCook's Note: Mayonnaise.  As a gal who loves deli-, tuna- and egg-salad sandwiches, I am never too far from my mayo.  During the picnic and tailgate season, when side-dishes like macaroni salad, potato salad, cole slaw and deviled eggs reign supreme, I purchase bigger jars, in two-packs.  When our garden tomatoes are ripe, I could (and will) eat a freshly-picked sliced-tomato sandwich, on white bread, with a big slather of mayonnaise, every day.  There's more.  I can't imagine my life without mayonnaise-based tartar and remoulade sauces in it, or, oh my Thousand Islands salad dressing, and, I'm very proficient at making homemade mayonnaise ("mayo") from scratch too.  Speaking of creamy mayonnaise-based condiments, ~ Spreads go Bread to Bread:  Hellmann's vs Duke's ~ is a post of mine that always gets folks talking.  Everyone has their favorite brand, and, I am no exception. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/20/2019

~ Amazingly-Lemony and Perfectly-Grilled Asparagus ~

IMG_2221Asparagus, served hot off the grill grids, drizzled with a bit of lemon-infused EVOO and white balsamic vinaigrette, is one of my favorite Summer side-dishes.  Name it -- grilled steak, chicken or seafood, it plays well with them all.  Interestingly, I sometimes serve it as an hors d'oeuvre too -- it pairs perfectly with melon wrapped in prosciutto.  There's just something downright delightful about picking up a medium-to-fat, crunch-tender asparagus spear in my fingertips, politely swishing it a pucker-up, creamy, lemon sauce and savoring the lightly-charred flavor. 

Just eat.  It's too simple for words, hence this short post.

IMG_2243Grilling asparagus is so simple, it barely requires writing a recipe.  Just toss the trimmed stalks in some lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil (just enough to lightly-coat), season the spears with some freshly-ground sea salt and a nice peppercorn blend, then, place them directly on the hottest part of the grill grids for a couple very short minutes -- about 3-4 minutes for medium-thick asparagus, 5-6 minutes for thicker ones.  No fuss, no muss, no prep.  Just grill and eat.

IMG_2196For two appetizer servings:

4  ounces, trimmed, medium-thick asparagus spears (12 spears)

1  tablespoon lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil, high-quality store-bought or made from scratch in the home kitchen

15 grinds sea salt

15 grinds peppercorn blend

IMG_2207 IMG_2207~ Step 1 (optional but highly recommended by me).  To make 1/4 cup of my favorite creamy, lemon sauce, mix together 4 tablespoons mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon lemon-infused EVOO & white-balsamic vinaigrette.  Set aside.

IMG_2185 IMG_2185 IMG_2185 IMG_2185 IMG_2185~Step 2.  After trimming the asparagus (see Cook's Note below), line them up, side-by-side, in a single layer on a plate.  Slowly drizzle the lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil over the surface.  Using a pastry brush, paint the asparagus with the EVOO to coat.  Sprinkle a generous grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend over the surface.  Set aside.

IMG_2184 IMG_2184 IMG_2184 IMG_2184~Step 3.  Heat an outdoor gas grill over high setting, or, place a grill pan that's been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray over high heat on stovetop.  Place asparagus, side-by-side, slightly apart, in a single layer across the hot grill grids.  Grill, using tongs to turn only once, until asparagus is lightly charred and cooked to desired degree of doneness, about 1 1/2-2 minutes per side (or until desired degree of doneness is reached).  Remove from heat and serve ASAP.

Remove from grill or grill pan & serve ASAP:

IMG_2230Amazingly-Lemony and Perfectly-Grilled Asparagus:  Recipe yields instructions to grill medium-thick fresh asparagus spears.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; pastry brush; outdoor gas grill or indoor stovetop grill pan; tongs

IMG_1895Cook's Note: When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/18/2019

~ Making Lemon-Infused EVOO in the Home Kitchen ~

IMG_2176Let me start by saying, I purchase my lemon-infused olive oil.  It's a small investment for a product that, in honesty, because of the process involved, can't be 100% duplicated in the home kitchen. Manufacturers of high-quality lemon-infused olive oil include lemon in with the olives when the oil gets cold pressed.  Home cooks simply do not have that option, so, if you are one of those who is inclined to make it at home, the only alternative is what's known as the "heat-and-soak" process.

IMG_2098Lemon-infused olive oil is one of my favorite pantry staples -- a bit of it in a skillet adds marvelous flavor to a sautéing chicken paillard or delicate fillet of white fish.  When mixed with some tangy white-balsamic vinegar, a pinch of sugar, a few herbes de Provence, plus, a tad of Dijon mustard, lemon-infused EVOO & white balsamic vinaigrette is born. It's hard to name a salad that doesn't benefit from a lemony vinaigrette, and because the lemon flavor is infused right in the oil, as opposed to just a fresh squirt of lemon juice, every bite gets enrobed in the lemon-luscious flavor.

Two ingredients plus a bit of patience is all it takes.

IMG_21501  cup high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, the best available and/or your favorite brand

2  large, ripe lemons, preferably organic

Scrub & dry the lemons.

IMG_2142~ Step 1.  Scrub the lemons clean.  Do not skip this step.  Use a stiff vegetable brush, some mild dish detergent and warm tap water.  When finished, pat the lemons dry in some paper towels.

Shave the lemon zest off in long strips.

IMG_2153~ Step 2.  Use a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife to carefully shave the yellow zest from the lemons in long, thin strips, avoiding the bitter white pith layer that lies beneath yellow zest.

Place the EVOO & zest in a shallow, 8" skillet.

IMG_2159~ Step 3.  Place the olive oil and lemon zest strips in an 8" skillet over medium heat.  Do not allow to simmer, and that includes little bubbles that form around the sides of the saucepan.

Heat to warm & carefully regulate temp for 15 minutes. 

IMG_2164 2~ Step 4.  Keep the oil on the stovetop at this warm temperature, regulating the heat up and down as necessary, for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool, uncovered, to room temperature.

Cool to room temperature, strain & store.

IMG_2170~ Step 5.  Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the oil into a clean bottle, jar or other type of food storage container.  Discard the lemon zest.  Store in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator.

Don't be inclined to store the oil w/the zest in it.

IMG_2180Note:  While it's inviting to look at a piece or two of zest floating around in a bottle or jar of oil, (and it is common practice for some manufacturers of cold-pressed infused oil to allow a strand or two to remain), in the home kitchen, the oil has a longer shelf life if it is removed.  Also, once the oil has been cooled to room temperature, it is not going to take on any more flavor from the zest.

Lemon-infused EVOO -- a light, bright versatile pantry staple:

IMG_2173Making Lemon-Infused EVOO in the Home Kitchen:  Recipe yields 1 cup.

Special Equipment List: vegetable brush; paper towels; vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife; 8" skillet; fine mesh strainer

IMG_2061 2Cook's Note:  During asparagus season, May through the end of June here in the Northeast, I am never without a bottle of lemon-infused olive oil.  Asparagus is the perfect foil for lemon, salt and pepper, and, ~ Perfectly Shallow-Poached Fresh Asparagus Spears ~ is one of favorite ways to serve this delectable vegetable.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/15/2019

~Lemon-Infused EVOO & White Balsamic Vinaigrette~

IMG_2098Lemon-infused olive oil is one of my favorite pantry staples -- a bit of it in a skillet adds marvelous flavor to a sautéing chicken paillard or delicate fillet of white fish.  When mixed with some tangy white-balsamic vinegar, a pinch of sugar, a few herbes de Provence, and, a tad of Dijon mustard, an amazing vinaigrette is born.  It's hard to name a salad that doesn't benefit from a lemony vinaigrette, and, in the case of this one, because the lemon flavor is infused in the oil, as opposed to a fresh squirt of lemon juice, every bite gets enrobed in its light, bright flavor.  There's more:  It is indisputably the best marinade for vegetables, poultry, fish or seafood I have ever encountered. Yes indeed, the investment in a bottle of lemon-infused EVOO is a small but mighty-wise one.

IMG_2081For the lemon-infused, white balsamic vinaigrette:

1/2  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup lemon-infused olive oil

2  tablespoons sugar

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

1  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence

Step 1.  In a 1-cup container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top, place all ingredients. Vigorously shake until well-combined.  Use as a marinade and/or dress salad and store leftovers in refrigerator.

Try it on my poached asparagus, grape tomato & mozzarella salad

IMG_2107Lemon-Infused EVOO & White Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup vinaigrette.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top.

IMG_2061Cook's Note: Technically known as shallow poaching and sometimes referred to as skillet poaching, this is the easiest way to cook fresh asparagus spears.  As it turns out, a small amount of gently or barely simmering salted water in a wide-bottomed skillet is a great way to quickly control the heat of the water, which, in turn, makes it very easy to efficiently yield vibrant green asparagus spears of any thickness that are cooked to your liking: crunch-tender blanched to fully-cooked fork-tender.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/13/2019

~ Asparagus Salad with Lemon-Balsamic Vinaigrette ~

IMG_2107A salad without lettuce?  There's no law against it, and, in the case of this salad, lettuce is just in the way.  The combination of tender blanched asparagus, a few halved cherry or grape tomatoes, and, small, creamy, fresh mozzarella balls drizzled with a lemon-balsamic vinaigrette is to-die-for. The only item I do add to it on occasion is: a handful of crunchy croutons.  Nothing more, nothing less.  No other embellishments need apply.  The dressing, loaded with lemon flavor and laced with subtle herbs de Provence, is the star of this salad show, so, don't stray from this flavor profile.

Nothing more, nothing less.  No other embellishments need apply.

IMG_2081For the lemon-infused, white balsamic vinaigrette:

1/2  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup lemon-infused olive oil

2  tablespoons sugar

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

1  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence

Step 1.  In a 1-cup food storage container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top, place all ingredients. Vigorously shake until thoroughly combined.  Set aside and prepare salad as directed below:

IMG_2085For the asparagus salad:

12 ounces medium-thick asparagus, trimmed of woody stalk ends, about 24 spears after trimming, shallow-poached until crunch tender, about 3 minutes & shocked in cold water to halt the cooking process

6  ounces grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half*

6  ounces small, fresh mozzarella balls, sliced in half ("ciligegine" = "cherry-sized")

* Note:  In season strawberries are a fine substitution for grape or cherry tomatoes in this recipe.

IMG_2039 IMG_2039 IMG_2039 IMG_2039 IMG_2039~Step 1.  In  3 1/2-quart chef's pan or deep skillet place 3/4"-1" of water. Add 2 teaspoons sea salt and bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to the gentlest simmer you can.  Add the asparagus to the pan and cover. Cook asparagus to crunch tender, about 2 minutes.  Drain into a colander and immediately rinse with cold water to halt the cooking process.

IMG_2090 2 IMG_2090 2 IMG_2103~ Step 2.  Lay asparagus flat on a few paper towels to absorb all excess moisture, then, slice  into 1 1/2"-2" lengths.  Transfer to a medium bowl.  Slice and add the grape or cherry tomatoes and mozzarella balls.  Add about half the vinaigrette.  Using a rubber spatula, gently toss until ingredients are evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate about 30-60 minutes, to allow flavors time to marry, prior to serving.

This is one lemony & luscious lettuce-less side-dish salad.

IMG_2124Every succulent bite is a reason to celebrate Summer:

IMG_2129Asparagus Salad with Lemon-Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 4, marinated starter-course salads or side-salads.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup food storage container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & (glass) lid; colander; paper towels; rubber spatula

IMG_1895Cook's Note:  When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/10/2019

~ Perfect Shallow-Poached Fresh Asparagus Spears ~

IMG_2061Technically known as shallow poaching and sometimes referred to as skillet poaching, this is the easiest way to cook fresh asparagus spears.  As it turns out, a small amount of gently or barely simmering salted water in a wide-bottomed skillet is a great way to quickly control the heat of the water, which, in turn, makes it very easy to efficiently yield vibrant green asparagus spears of any thickness that are cooked to your liking:  crunch-tender blanched to fully-cooked fork-tender.

IMG_1940I won't lie, my recipe for ~ Amazingly-Lemony & Perfectly-Roasted Asparagus ~ is, generally speaking, my favorite way to serve asparagus.  There's just something about the high, dry heat of the oven that elevates its flavor and texture. That said, when gently poached on the stovetop, crunch-tender or fully-cooked asparagus has its place in my food world too.   When it's blanched then shocked in cold water, crunch tender asparagus is perfect to add to salad and dressed with a lemony vinaigrette.  When it's fully-cooked and fork-tender, it's marvelous drizzled with an easy-to-make blender hollandaise or blender béarnaise sauce.  Whether you choose to oven-roast or stovetop poach this versatile veggie, it is always ready to eat in ten or less minutes.

1 skillet w/a (glass) lid + 3/4"-1" water + 2 teaspoons salt. 

IMG_2037The most important thing to know about this process is:  do not overcrowd the skillet with asparagus and do your best to add spears of realtively-even thickness to the simmering water -- common sense says that skinny spears cook faster than fat spears.  Typically, depending on the desired degree of doneness, thin asparagus bathe in the water for 1-2 minutes, average asparagus take 3-4 minutes, and the fatsos take 5-6 minutes.  Past 3, 4, or 6 minutes respectively, be forewarned that asparagus will go IMG_2073from fully-cooked and vibrant green to overcooked and dull green very quickly.   Covering the skillet with a lid during the poaching process is highly recommended, as it bathes the stalks in steam as well as water, and, you have a glass lid that fits your skillet, use it, as it allows you to keep an eye on the entire process. Prior to cooking medium or thick asparagus, for a prettier presentation, use a vegetable peeler to quickly peel the skin from the lower 2"-3" of each spear.

Skinny = 1-2 minutes.  Average = 3-4 minutes.  Fat = 5-6 minutes.

IMG_203612-16 ounces asparagus, trimmed of woody stalk ends, about 24-32 spears after trimming trimmed of woody stalk ends, peeled or unpeeled

4-6  cups water

2  teaspoons sea salt

4  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

blender hollandaise or blender béarnaise sauce (optional)

~ IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034Step 1.  In  3 1/2-quart chef's pan or deep skillet place 3/4"-1" of water.  Add 2 teaspoons sea salt and bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to the gentlest simmer you can.  Add the asparagus to the pan and cover.  Cook the asparagus to desired degree of doneness:  1-2 minutes for skinny asparagus, 3-4 minutes for average asparagus, or 5-6 minutes for fat asparagus.  Remove from heat and drain water from pan and return pan of asparagus to still hot stovetop.  Add the salted butter, lemon-infused olive oil, and, a generous grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend (about 10-15 grinds each).  Serve immediately.

Serve ASAP drizzled w/optional hollandaise or béarnaise sauce:

IMG_2064How to Shallow-Poach Asparagus Spears Perfectly:  Recipe yields instructions to perfectly poach fresh asparagus spears of any thickness to the desired degree of doneness. 

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler (0ptional); 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides & (glass) lid or deep skillet w/(glass) lid

IMG_1895Cook's Note:  When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/07/2019

~ Spaghetti w/Crab, Asparagus, Tomato & Prosciutto ~

IMG_2021Light, bright and amazingly lemony, this lusciously-decadent, not to mention rich, restaurant-quality pasta dish is easy to prepare -- and it's pitch-perfect Summer fare.  While the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and grape tomatoes roast for ten minutes and cool for five, the pasta gets cooked and seasoned.  Toss the two together with high-quality crab claw meat, and lunch or dinner is served.  No, just say NO, walk away from hard, grated or shaved, Italian cheese, soft fresh mozzarella or creamy ricotta, and please, don't roll your eyes.  Once you savor the delicate flavors in the first forkful of crab and asparagus intermingled amongst strands of lemony pasta and shreds of salty prosciutto, you will agree -- cheese, any cheese, would be is all wrong.

From 2 to 4 servings or more, prepare no more than you plan to eat.

IMG_2015The bad news.  This is not a dish that can be made in advance, and, leftovers are definitely a compromise.  The good news.  It's so easy to make so there's no reason to care about advance preparation or leftovers.  This is a restaurant dish that I have adapted for the home kitchen.  In the restaurant kitchen, a line cook quickly sautés chards of prosciutto with sliced asparagus and whole grape tomatoes in seasoned olive oil until the prosciutto is crisping and the tomatoes are blistering.  Cooked pasta gets tossed in along with a handful of crabmeat and voila:  dinner. 

IMG_2028For 2 or 4 servings roasted prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and tomatoes:

1/2 or 1  pound thick asparagus, trimmed of woody stalk ends, about 12-24 spears after trimming

3 or 6  thin slices prosciutto, each sliced into 4 long strips 

12-16 or 24-32 grape tomatoes 

3 or 6  tablespoons high-quality lemon-infused olive oil

fresh-ground sea salt, 20-25 or 40-50 grinds

fresh-ground black or peppercorn blend, 20-25 or 40-50 grinds 

IMG_1978For 2 or 4 servings thick spaghetti and crabmeat:

8 or 16  ounces thick spaghetti

3 or 6  tablespoons salted butter

2 or 4  tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil

1/2-1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/4-1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

8-12 or 16-24  ounces high-quality pasteurized crab claw meat, the best available

IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913~Step 1. Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with aluminum foil.  Arrange asparagus, side by side, slightly apart and in a single layer on pan.  Wind half or all spears with one long thin strip of prosciutto each -- I do half because prosciutto is salty and too much can be overwhelming, but it's your choice.  Add the grape tomatoes to the sides of pan (separate from the asparagus).  Drizzle 3-4 tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil over all.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint and dab the olive oil between and across the surface of the spears, and the tomatoes.  Season generously with freshly ground sea salt and pepper.

IMG_1934 IMG_1934~ Step 2.  Roast on center rack of preheated 425º oven or toaster oven for 9-10 minutes.  Asparagus will be fork tender and tomatoes will be soft and blistered. Remove from oven and set baking pan aside to cool to the touch, about 5 minutes.

IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 ~Step 3.  To cook the pasta, in a 4- or 8-quart stockpot bring 3 or 5 quarts of water to a boil over high heat, then add 1 or 2 tablespoons sea salt to the boiling water.  Add the thick spaghetti and cook until al dente, 11-13 minutes.  Drain spaghetti into a colander.  Do not rinse.  Return steaming-hot pasta to still warm stovetop.  Add the salted butter, lemon-infused olive oil, garlic powder and red pepper flakes. Using two spoons or two forks, toss as you would a salad until pasta is evenly coated in melted butter.  Add the crab claw meat to the top and cover the pot -- do not toss at this time.

IMG_1960 IMG_1960 IMG_1960 IMG_1960 IMG_1960~Step 4.  Transfer the warm-to-the-touch asparagus to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, remove the tender asparagus tips and set aside to use as garnish.  Holding the knife at an angle and using a light touch, gently slice, to produce very-thin pieces of asparagus and chards of prosciutto.  Transfer tomatoes to board and slice into halves or quarters.

IMG_2001~Step 5.  Add the thinly-sliced asparagus spears, chards of roasted prosciutto and grape tomato pieces to the crab and spaghetti.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss like you would a salad, until just combined. Portion into warm serving bowls and serve topped with a sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt and garnished with a few tender asparagus tips.

Gently toss, portion into bowls, garnish, serve & eat: 

IMG_2016Spaghetti w/Crab, Asparagus, Tomato & Prosciutto:  Recipe yields 2-4 rich and hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" or 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; pastry brush; cutting board; serrated bread knife; wide-bottomed 4- or 8-quart stockpot w/lid; colander

IMG_1895Cook's Note:  When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/05/2019

~ Amazingly-Lemony & Perfectly-Roasted Asparagus ~

IMG_1940When I was growing up, fresh asparagus was a delicacy, meaning, my family only ate it in the Spring, mostly for holidays and special occasions, or, when we reserved a table at a fancy restaurant --  restaurants had more access to it than the average American family during that era. That said, even in the restaurants back in the 1960's and '70's, it was always of the pencil-thin type, and, it was served either lightly steamed or briefly blanched.  Thinking back, I suppose it was because these methods enhanced its color, which made for a prettier presentation.  Indeed it tasted wonderful, but, years later, circa the 1980's, when roasting vegetables and vegetable medleys became trendy, I came to realize how roasting it elevated its flavor and texture.

For even roasting choose asparagus of even thickness.

Before preparing this super-simple side-dish, please note that when it comes to roasting asparagus, thick spears work the best (thin ones, not so much).  Why?  Read on.  Thin spears can and will dry out too quickly in the required high, 425º oven heat, which can and will render them tough and stringy.  It matters not how many asparagus spears you roast, as long as they're even-sized and lined up, side-by side, in a single layer on a baking pan.  All they require is a light coating of lemon-infused olive oil (the flavor explosion from it is delightful), some freshly-ground sea salt and black pepper or a peppercorn blend, and, 9-10 minutes of time to roast.  Tick, tock.

IMG_19121/2  pound thick asparagus, trimmed of woody stalk ends, about 12 spears after trimming

3  thin slices prosciutto, each sliced into 4 long strips (optional)

12-24 grape tomatoes (optional)

3-4  tablespoons high-quality lemon-infused olive oil

freshly-ground sea salt, 20-25 grinds

freshly-ground black pepper or peppercorn blend, 20-25 grinds 

IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913~Step 1.  Line an appropriately-sized baking pan with aluminum foil.  Arrange asparagus, side by side, slightly apart and in a single layer on pan.  If inclined, wind half or all spears with one long thin strip of prosciutto each.  If you like grape tomatoes add them to the sides of pan too.  Neither prosciutto or tomatoes affect the recipe or roasting time -- use them or don't, your choice.  Drizzle 3-4 tablespoons lemon infused olive oil over all.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint and dab the olive oil between and across the surface of the spears, and the optional tomatoes.  Season generously with freshly ground sea salt and pepper.

IMG_1934 IMG_1934~ Step 2.  Roast on center rack of preheated 425º oven (or toaster oven for a small batch like I am making today) for 9-10 minutes.  Asparagus will be fork tender and tomatoes will be blistered. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Gently plate & serve immediately...

IMG_1938... w/roasted or grilled poultry, fish, seafood &/or pasta. 

IMG_1953Amazingly-Simple & Perfectly-Roasted Asparagus:  Recipe yields 2-4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  appropriately-sized baking pan; aluminum foil, pastry brush

IMG_1895Cook's Note:  When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

06/03/2019

~Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus~

IMG_1895In this part of the Northeast, Asparagus season starts around the beginning of May and lasts approximately to the end of June.  It's one of my favorite green vegetables, but, interestingly, I prefer to purchase it rather than grow it.  Why?  Frankly, when we did grow our own, on days when I needed it, I couldn't rely on enough being ready for harvest and vice versa.  Asparagus spears, which pup up out of the ground like little soldiers, grow on their own time, not mine.  Early in the season, it can take a spear up to three days to mature.  Toward the end of the season, it can mature in one day.  Asparagus farmers must maintain every row of asparagus every day.

#1)  Choose:  Fresh always matters more than thickness.

IMG_1879Asparagus begins losing its naturally sweet flavor the moment it's picked, so buy the freshest bunch possible. Look for straight, firm stalks that are bright green in color and unblemished.  Don't buy asparagus that appears dry, wrinkled or limp. The tender tips should be compact and deep-green and slightly purple-ish and not ruffled, frayed or flowery looking.  To ensure even cooking, choose asparagus of even thickness.  Thin asparagus is the most tender and only needs to be quickly blanched.  Medium-thickness is perfect for a brief simmer or sauté, and, thick asparagus is great roasted or grilled.

#2)  Prep: Rinse & drain, &, snap or trim. 

IMG_4343Prepping asparagus correctly gives it a shelf life of 3-5 days.  Since it's grown in sandy soil, give the spears a swish in a bowl of cold tap water to release any debris, then, lay them, in a single layer, on a few layers of paper towels to drain thoroughly, 5-10 minutes.  Because every spear has a woody end too fibrous to eat, trimming comes next. When gently bent, the stalk will snap at a point a few inches from the base, where the spear goes from tough to tender.  Once you get a feel for where the stalks du jour are snapping, time can be saved by trimming several at a time with a chef's knife.

#3)  Store:  In a glass of water in the refrigerator.  

IMG_4372Once trimmed, don't put asparagus in the vegetable bin with the riffraff. Gather it up in a bunch, stand it upright in a glass containing half an inch of cold water and store it, uncovered, on a shelf in the refrigerator.  As for those woody ends, they can be stored in a food storage bag in the vegetable bin or frozen and used to make stock or soup.  Remove asparagus from refrigerator just prior to cooking. While many restaurant chefs insist upon using a vegetable peeler to shave two-three inches of skin from the bottom of each stock prior to cooking (for a prettier presentation), most home cooks do not bother -- me included. 

IMG_1878"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

05/31/2019

~ An Old-Fashioned Diner-Style Baked Rice Pudding ~

IMG_1868Rice pudding is to us Northerners what banana pudding is to the Southerners -- a staple in every diner.  Speaking from lots of experience on behalf of parts of the Northeast (New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to be specific), I'm here to tell you our diner-style rice pudding is:  to die for.  Sit me in any diner and I can assure two things you can always count on:  the fork-tender meatloaf (served up with fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy), and, the rice pudding (garnished with a generous squirt of Redi-whipped cream and a maraschino cherry -- banana pudding gets meringue).  In the language of inner-circle diner eaters, we refer to this dessert as "rice cream".

Understandably, most diners have a limited dessert menu.

IMG_1822Understandably, most diners have a limited dessert menu, and, while a slice of pie is a common menu item, the pie, unless you're in a diner that is renowned for its pie, is seldom made in-house -- time and space constraints, along with cost-per-serving issues, combined with the many-times limited skills of the average diner cook, more-often-than-not prohibits a genuinely pie-perfect experience -- sometimes it's so awful not even a complimentary scoop of ice cream can come to its rescue.  'Tis sad but undeniably true -- ordering pie in a diner is a roll of the proverbial dice.

Rice pudding began showing up on diner menus in the 1920's. 

IMG_1835Enter rice pudding*.  For no apparent documented reasons, it started showing up on diner menus in the 1920's.  My best guess is this:  Besides playing well in any typical laid-back hometown-diner atmosphere, making this popular and inexpensive dessert in a big batch, in-house, was a cinch for almost anyone on the kitchen staff who could accurately measure a few ingredients. Also, a generous scoop of creamy rice pudding tasted great served warm or cold with any meal any time of the day, and, if kept stored in the refrigerator, had a several day shelf life -- it was ideally suited to the grueling early-morning-to-late-night to many times 24/7 hours most diners operate.  There's more.  Because many diner kitchens of the era consisted of a flat top griddle, rather than a stovetop, like another popular diner menu staple, macaroni and cheese, this creamy-dreamy concoction could conveniently, and without compromise, be baked in the oven.

*Note:  Rice pudding is a complicated topic and one would be hard-pressed to find a culture that does not have its own version.  To make short sense of it all, rice pudding is an ancient dish that traces its roots to China (the land of rice) and the Middle East, more specifically, a Persian dish called rice milk.  That said, it was the Romans who recognized the binding properties of eggs which added the rich thickness to the dish, meaning: turned it into a custard.  When it reached India, sugar was added which transformed it from a savory to a sweet, and, the pudding-esque version Americans enjoy today dates to the Middle Ages, with the distinction between European and American puddings and custards becoming muddled sometime in the latter 1850's.

Diner rice pudding recipes from the 1940's, 50's & 60's rock on:

IMG_18584  ounces arborio rice (about 1/2 cup)

4  ounces dark or golden raisins, your choice (about 3/4 cup)

2  12-ounce cans evaporated milk, plus enough whole milk to total 4 cups liquid (Note: Whole milk can be substituted for evaporated milk.  That said, if you've ever wondered why diner-style rice pudding has an ultra-smooth consistency, it is the result of evaporated milk.  During the World War II war years, when dairy was rationed, evaporated milk was almost always substituted for whole milk, and, after the war, many diners had no reason to switch back to milk.)

2  tablespoons vanilla extract

2  extra-large eggs

10  tablespoons granulated sugar (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons)

2  ounces salted butter (4 tablespoons)

Cinnamon-Sugar, for topping rice pudding

Redi-Whipped Cream, for garnish

maraschino cherries, for garnish

IMG_1762 IMG_1762 IMG_1762 IMG_1762 IMG_1762~Step 1.  In a 1-quart measuring container, place the evaporated milk, then add enough whole milk to total 4 cups.  In a 3-quart saucier or a 4-quart saucepan, stir together the evaporated milk, arborio rice, dark or golden raisins and vanilla extract.  Set aside for 15-20 minutes, to allow rice time to soften a bit and raisins time to plump a bit.  During this time:

IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777~Step 2.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to vigorously whisk eggs.  Add and vigorously whisk in the sugar.  Set aside about 5 minutes, then whisk again, to ensure sugar has dissolved.  In a small ramekin or bowl, melt butter in microwave, then set set aside to cool about 5 minutes. Using the fork, whisk the melted butter into the egg/sugar mixture.

IMG_1794 IMG_1794 IMG_1794~Step 3.  Place evaporated milk mixture over low heat. Stirring frequently throughout process, heat until mixture is steaming and showing signs of simmering around the perimeter of the pan.  Remove from heat.

IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803~Step 4.  Two tablespoons at a time, drizzle and whisk some of the hot evaporated milk into the egg mixture, to temper the eggs -- this will prevent them from scrambling when whisked into the hot evaporated milk mixture.  In a slow steady stream, while stirring constantly, drizzle the egg mixture into the evaporated milk mixture.  There will be a generous 6 cups of pudding mixture.

IMG_1804 IMG_1804 IMG_1804 IMG_1804~Step 5.  Transfer pudding mixture to a 2-quart casserole.  Bake on center rack of 300° oven (no higher) for 1 hour.  Almost all liquid will have been absorbed by the rice and pudding will be lightly browned in spots on top, and sort of "jiggly" too.  Remove from oven, sprinkle with Cinnamon-Sugar, and set aside about 1 1/2 hours (or longer) prior to serving warm or at room temperature.

Diner-style rice pudding gets whipped cream & a cherry:

IMG_1867Rich & creamy-dreamy, rice cream & a cherry too.  Woo-hoo! 

IMG_1873An Old-Fashioned Diner-Style Baked Rice Pudding: Recipe yields 6 cups baked rice pudding/6-12 servings.

Special Equipment List: 1-quart measuring container; 3-4-quart saucier or 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; 2-cup measuring container; fork; ramekin or small bowl; 2-quart au gratin-type casserole or any shallow 2-quart casserole

6a0120a8551282970b0240a48b239a200dCook's Note: ~ My Creamy, Orange-Kissed Arborio Rice Pudding ~.  Technically, while rice pudding is not a custard per se, this type of rice pudding is prepared in the manner of custard, which is:  a sweetened egg/milk mixture that has been cooked gently on the stovetop or baked in a low oven. Stirred custards are usually made in a double boiler, while baked custards get cooked in a warm water bath, which is not the case in most rice pudding recipes. That said, "custard" was the best term I could think of to describe its preparation.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

05/28/2019

~ Put the Rum and the Coconut in the Rice Pudding ~

IMG_1835If, like me, you're a rice pudding lover, you'll eat it whenever offered.  That said, as a rice pudding lover, until now, I never thought of it as a Summer dessert.  This time of year, my mindset naturally turns to fruit or berry pie, shortcake, sorbet and ice cream as a perfect ending to a meal. Then, last night on a whim, I put the rum and the coconut in the rice pudding.  Served warm on a starry night, or cold on a sun-drenched afternoon, this Island-style version of rice pudding is a fine finale to any Caribbean-themed feast, or, more specifically, Jamaican jerk-style chicken, ribs, or wings.  There's more, it's baked in a low oven, not slow simmered on the stovetop (which frees up your hands to work on dinner prep), and, it turns out as creamy as any stovetop version.  

IMG_17594  ounces arborio rice (about 1/2 cup)

4  ounces golden raisins (about 3/4 cup)

2  13 1/2 ounce cans coconut milk, plus enough whole milk to total 4 cups liquid

2  tablespoons butter-rum flavoring

2  extra-large eggs

10  tablespoons granulated sugar (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons)

2  ounces salted butter (4 tablespoons)

Cinnamon-Sugar, for topping and garnish

IMG_1762 IMG_1762 IMG_1762 IMG_1762 IMG_1762~Step 1.  In a 1-quart measuring container, place the coconut milk, then add enough whole milk to total 4 cups.  In a 3-quart saucier or a 4-quart saucepan, stir together the coconut milk, arborio rice, golden raisins and butter rum flavoring.  Set aside for 15-20 minutes, to allow rice time to soften a bit and raisins time to plump a bit.  During this wait time:

IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777~Step 2.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to vigorously whisk eggs.  Add and vigorously whisk in the sugar.  Set aside about 5 minutes, then whisk again, to ensure sugar has dissolved.  In a small ramekin or bowl, melt butter in microwave, then set set aside to cool about 5 minutes. Using the fork, whisk the melted butter into the egg/sugar mixture.

IMG_1794 IMG_1794 IMG_1794~Step 3.  Place  coconut milk mixture over low heat. Stirring frequently throughout process, heat until mixture is steaming and showing signs of simmering around the perimeter of the pan.  Remove from heat.

IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803~Step 4.  Two tablespoons at a time, drizzle and whisk some of the hot coconut milk into the egg mixture, to temper the eggs -- this will prevent them from scrambling when whisked into the hot coconut milk mixture.  In a slow steady stream, while stirring constantly with the spoon, drizzle the egg mixture into the coconut milk mixture.  There will be a generous 6 cups of pudding mixture.

IMG_1814 IMG_1817 IMG_1817 IMG_1817~Step 5.  Transfer pudding mixture to a 2-quart casserole.  Bake on center rack of 300° oven (no higher) for 1 hour.  Almost all liquid will have been absorbed by the rice and pudding will be lightly browned in spots on top, and sort of "jiggly" too.  Remove from oven, sprinkle with Cinnamon-Sugar, and set aside about 1 1/2 hours (or longer) prior to serving warm or at room temperature.

Served warm on a starry Summer night, it's divine:

IMG_1834Served cold on a sun-drenched Summer afternoon, it's sublime:

IMG_1852Put the Rum and the Coconut in the Rice Pudding:  Recipe yields 6 cups baked rice pudding/6-12 servings.

Special Equipment List: 1-quart measuring container; 3-4-quart saucier or 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; 2-cup measuring container; fork; ramekin or small bowl; 2-quart au gratin-type casserole or any shallow 2-quart casserole

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c950509c970bCook's Note: ~ My Creamy, Orange-Kissed Arborio Rice Pudding ~.  Technically, while rice pudding is not a custard per se, this type of rice pudding is prepared in the manner of custard, which is:  a sweetened egg/milk mixture that has been cooked gently on the stovetop or baked in a low oven. Stirred custards are usually made in a double boiler, while baked custards get cooked in a warm water bath, which is not the case in most rice pudding recipes. That said, "custard" was the best term I could think of to describe its preparation.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019.

05/25/2019

~ The Retro & Original Wish-Bone Italian Pasta Salad ~

IMG_1685Wish-Bone Italian dressing.  How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.  To name a few: drizzled on my garden salad or slathered on my turkey sandwich, as a dip for my vegetables, as a marinade for my chicken, and, as the dressing for the original Wish-Bone Italian pasta salad recipe.  Growing up, right next to the bright- red Kraft Catalina Dressing  and the creamy-white Hellmann's mayonnaise stood the Wish-Bone.  All were condiment staples in my mom's 1960's and 70's refrigerator, and today, all remain staples in my own refrigerator -- although I now prefer Wish-Bone's Light-Italian version.  Want a creamy version of Wish-Bone Italian or want to tone down the tomatoey Catalina a bit?  Do what mom did -- stir a bit of Hellmann's into either.   

Wish-Bone dressing got its start in Kansas City at the Wish-Bone restaurant.

IMG_1755In 1945, returning World War II veteran, Phillip Sollomi opened a family-style chicken restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, naming it: The Wish-Bone.  His restaurant was an immediate success, and, in 1945, Phillip and The Wish-Bone found their true calling.  Phil debuted his mother's salad dressing, a recipe she brought from her native Sicily. The clientele loved it it, and, before long, Phil was mixing the dressing in a 50-gallon drum and pouring it into bottles as fast as his mother could slap on the iconic label:  "The Kansas City Wish-Bone Famous Italian-Style Dressing."  It became so popular throughout the heartland that, in 1957, Phillip sold the business to Lipton, where his family's tradition of authentic ingredients and exceptional flavor remains in the bottle today.

My mom always made pasta salad for Memorial Day.  It was classic 1960's-style -- rotini pasta with some cubed salami, pepperoni and American cheese, sliced black olives, diced onion and tomato dressed with store-bought Wish-Bone Italian dressing.  It wasn't gourmet, it wasn't even particularly exciting to look at, but, because it was prepared correctly, it was remarkably delicious, and, I am 99.99% sure she followed the recipe that was printed on the back of the box of San Georgio rotini (spiral) pasta which was:  The Original Wish-Bone Italian Pasta Salad recipe. 

A bit about pasta salad:  It's a dish prepared with one or more types of al dente cooked pasta tossed in a highly-flavored vinegar-, oil-, or mayonnaise-based dressing.  Besides the pasta, almost anything (raw, marinated or cooked via any manner) can be added to pasta salad:  fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, cheese, nuts, seeds, and/or herbs (to name a few).  Pasta salad is served chilled as an appetizer, a side-dish or a main course for brunch, lunch or dinner. While it can be served any time of the year, it's particularly popular in the Spring and Summer.

When properly prepared, pasta salad is awesome.

Il_570xN.1025944851_ns1tIt's the perfect ratio of pasta to add-ins to dressing.

IMG_16701  pound fork-friendly rotini-shaped pasta (spiral)

~ Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5-quarts water to a boil and cook pasta al dente (according to package directions) for 9-11 minutes.  Transfer pasta to a colander and rinse under cold water to remove starch and halt the cooking process, then, allowed to remain in colander and drain thoroughly  (to a moisture free state), about 15-30 minutes.  

IMG_16661 1/2-2 pounds (3-4 total cups) assorted bite-sized, fork-friendly slices or cubes of cut-up Italian-cured meats, cheese and veggies (recommended are pepperoni, hard salami, American or mozzarella cheese, sliced black olives, diced tomato, red onion; additional options or substitutions include  green and/or red bell peppers or small, blanched broccoli and/or cauliflower florets)

IMG_16721-1 1/2  cups Wish-Bone Italian 

~ Step 2.  Place pasta and add-in ingredients in a large bowl.  Add the dressing, a little at a time, while using a large rubber spatula to toss, until ingredients are coated and no dressing is puddling in the bottom of bowl.  If preparing a day ahead, refrigerate, then stir in 1/4-1/2 cup additional dressing at serving time. Note:  For a creamy pasta salad, substitute 1/2-3/4 cup mayonnaise for 1/2 cup-3/4 cup Italian Dressing.

Chilled or at room-temperature, enjoy the pasta salad season:

IMG_1685The Retro & Original Wish-Bone Italian Pasta Salad: Recipe yields approximately 16 cups of pasta salad/12, 1 1/2 cup servings. 

Special Equipment List: 8-quart stockpot; colander; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b019104f398f4970cCook's Note:  The definition for French dressing/salad dressing:  1) an oil-and-vinegar combination, seasoned with salt, pepper and herbs, or, 2) a commercial American dressing that is creamy, tartly sweet and red-orange in color.  The latter is the dressing that captivated my younger brother David during his teen years.  It was manufactured by Kraft Foods and named Catalina.  He would drench large chunks of iceberg lettuce with it.  As an adult, I too found myself using copious amounts of it to dress a spinach salad.  ~ Try My Homemade All-American Catalina Dressing ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

05/22/2019

~Three Great Tips for Making the Perfect Pasta Salad~

IMG_1685My mom always made pasta salad for Memorial Day.  It was classic 1960's, Wish-Bone-Style -- rotini pasta with some cubed salami, pepperoni and American cheese, sliced black olives, diced onion and tomato dressed with store-bought Italian dressing.  It wasn't gourmet, it wasn't even particularly exciting to look at, but, because it was prepared correctly, it was remarkably delicious. Our Memorial Day picnic, at our reserved picnic table, at Lakewood Park in Barnesville, PA, would have been incomplete without the pasta salad.  Mom's Spring green Tupperware container went in and came out of the cooler several times throughout the day while us kids ran back and forth between the amusement park with its rides and our grassy spot across the lane by the pool.

6a0120a8551282970b014e88e6661e970dLakewood Park was an amusement park established in 1916 and was known as a nature retreat.  In its heyday, it boasted a very large wooden coaster and kiddie coaster in addition to the Wild Mouse ride. In fact, the park was broken into two sections with adult rides on one side and children's rides on the other.  It had a long miniature train ride that circled the park, a hand-carved Miller & Baker designed carousel, that was removed, preserved and still operates today in the Grand Rapids, MI public museum, and, a 150-yard in-ground cement pool.  Its Grand Ballroom was the host of big bands which included The Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, as well as celebrity performers like Dick Clark and Doris Day.  The Theater hosted countless theater companies.  It was a mecca for 68 years and was well-known for its annual Bavarian Beer Festival.  Sadly, it closed during the '80's, but that was well after I had moved to Happy Valley, so my remembrances of it as a bustling, busy, noisy, hot, sticky amusement park are crystal clear and that's how I want them to stay.  Thanks to the Joel Styer collection for this nostalgic postcard peek back in time.

When properly prepared, pasta salad is awesome.

Il_570xN.1025944851_ns1tWhen properly prepared, pasta salad is awesome.  When not properly prepared, pasta salad is awful.  Because an awesome pasta salad is a crowd-pleasing staple during the Spring and Summer, and, because I've tasted my share of awful pasta salad at picnics and potlucks over the years, when I teach a class about outdoor entertaining or tailgating, I try to include a pasta salad recipe in order to share my tips for a fork-friendly, properly dressed, full-flavored, pasta salad with:

A perfect ratio of pasta to add-ins to dressing = perfect pasta salad.

A bit about pasta salad:  It's a dish prepared with one or more types of al dente cooked pasta tossed in a highly-flavored vinegar-, oil-, or mayonnaise-based dressing.  Besides the pasta, almost anything (raw, marinated or cooked via any manner) can be added to pasta salad:  fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, cheese, nuts, seeds, and/or herbs (to name a few).  Pasta salad is served chilled as an appetizer, a side-dish or a main course for brunch, lunch or dinner. While it can be served any time of the year, it's particularly popular in the Spring and Summer.

#1)  One pound al dente cooked, drained, rinsed, water-free pasta.

IMG_1670Use fork-friendly, bite-sized pasta shapes that hold dressing.  

One pound fork-friendly, bite-sized pasta.  My favorite is called "Trio Italiano" and is a combination of tubes, spirals and medium shells.  Any one on its own holds the dressing and collects small bits of add-in ingredients exceptionally well, so the choice is yours.  Colorful green and red pasta (in addition to white, which together = the colors of the Italian flag), which were not available to my mother in the 1960's, are great for adding color, but be aware, they add no detectable flavor. Cook the pasta to al dente, as directed, in salted water, about 9-11 minutes -- do not overcook the pasta, meaning: error on the side of ever-so-slightly undercooked.  Drain it into a colander, and, unless the recipe specifically directs to do otherwise, immediately rinse it under cold water.  Pasta that is not rinsed of its starch gets sticky and gummy.  Transfer pasta to a parchment-lined baking pan to cool completely and "dry", meaning, free from water, not dried out, about 30 minutes.

#2)  1 1/2-2 pounds tasty "add-ins" that complement each other.

IMG_1666Even-sized & bite-sized fork-friendly slices or cubes work best.

1 1/2-2 pounds additional "add-in" ingredients + fresh or dried herbs.  Use what you like or have on hand and by all means be creative, but make sure the ingredients go well together. Make one "add-in" ingredient the star of the show, meaning:  Add twice as much of it than other add-ins -- like most folks, I typically choose to do this with a protein (shrimp, tuna, chicken, turkey or salami being my favorites), but, if it's a vegetarian pasta salad, choose one vegetable and allow it take center stage.  That said, when adding vegetables like asparagus or carrots and cauliflower and/or broccoli florets, be sure to blanche them in boiling water for 1-3 minutes, then shock them in cold water (to halt the cooking process, so they are crunch tender and flavor-enhanced (rather than raw-tasting and rock hard).  As for cherry or grape tomatoes, please do not add them whole -- cut them in half or dice them so their acidity can be released to enhance the flavor of the dressing. 

#3)  1 1/2-2 cups very-very-flavorful dressing.

IMG_1672Add more flavor to the dressing, not more dressing for flavor.

1 1/2-2  cups of very, very flavorful dressing.  There is nothing worse than an under-dressed, almost dry, bland, boring-tasting pasta salad, except for  bland-tasting, over-dressed dripping wet one.  When it comes to dressing for pasta salad, taste it prior to adding it.  If it doesn't pack-a-bunch of flavor, it needs more seasoning -- a bit more seasoning than you think you need.  For perfect pasta salad, for flavor: always add more flavor to the dressing, not more dressing to the salad -- that's how over-dressed pasta salad wrecks occur.  Toss the dressing in, a little at a time, until the ingredients are well-coated and no dressing is puddling in the bottom of the bowl.  Set the dressed salad aside for 15-20 minutes and give it stir.  If it needs more, add it.  Rule of thumb: Right up until serving time, you can't always add more -- you can never remove too much.

Shrimp & Pasta Salad w/Lemon-Garlic Dressing:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a45f0f9d200cGreek Pasta Salad w/Tapenade, Tuna & Tomato:

IMG_1653Amish Honey-Mustard & Pickle-Relish Pasta Salad:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09d0f92c970dThree Great Tips for Making the Perfect Pasta Salad:  Recipe yields approximately 16 cups of pasta salad/ 1 1/2 cups dressing/12, 1 1/2 cup servings. 

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid; cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot; colander; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; misc. other items depending on the recipe

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c877664f970bCook's Note: Did you know that pasta salad could be served as an hors d'oeuvre?  These yummy little appetizer-snacks go to a lot of Summer picnics and a few early Fall tailgates too.  The best way to describe them is individual and portable portions of chop-chop pasta salad, and, most people can't keep their hands off them.  They can contain anything, as long as the ingredients play well together and are chopped into small morsels prior to judiciously drizzling (not drenching), with a cuisine-appropriate dressing just prior to spooning the salad into the shells and serving.  ~ Jumbo Shells Stuffed w/Shrimp Chop-Chop Salad ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019 

05/19/2019

~Mediterranean-Style Olive Tapenade & Feta Omelet~

IMG_1728I declare:  I love briny tapenade in an omelete.  Throw in a few salty crumbles of feta cheese, place it on a bed of bright green baby arugula or baby spinach leaves and garnish with a few diced tomatoes -- what's not to love.  I could eat this savory, meatless delight for breakfast, lunch and dinner -- there's seriously no need for bacon or or sausage with this breakfast.  Toast points go nicely, but, please skip the orange or grapefruit juice -- they're just wrong.  This omelet pairs perfectly with a bloody Mary for breakfast, a glass of white wine for lunch, and, a pilsner of beer for dinner.  Life in this food world with this flavor-packed omelet in it is very, very good.

Meet my favorite big fat Greek-style omelet:

IMG_1735As a bigger fan of fluffy American-style omelettes vs skinny French omelettes, and, as an advocate for savory breakfasts over cloyingly sweet breakfasts, this egg-cellent little number is one of my ideal ways to break the fast -- and, trust me, it tastes every bit as good as it looks.  

Put the coffee on, roll up your sleeves & break an egg.

IMG_1688For the savory Greek-style omelette:

3  extra-large eggs, preferably at room temperature

1/4  cup half and half

15 grinds each: freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

4-6 tablespoons finely-diced red onion 

4-6  tablespoons my recipe for Briny, Garlic & Herbaceous Greek-Olive Tapenade

4-6 tablespoons feta cheese crumbles

1-2  teaspoons salted butter

For the optional accompaniment and garnish:

1  medium handful baby arugula leaves, baby spinach leaves may be substituted

6-8  cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters, quarters cut in half

IMG_1690 IMG_1690 IMG_1690 IMG_1690~Step 1. Crack the extra-large eggs into a 1-cup measuring container and add enough half and half to total 3/4 cups total liquid (about 4 tablespoons).  Add the sea salt, peppercorn blend and diced red onion.  Use a fork to whisk vigorously, until thoroughly combined.

IMG_1699 2 IMG_1699 2 IMG_1699 2 IMG_1699 2 IMG_1706~Step 2. In an 8" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Use the fork to briefly rewhisk the egg mixture, then pour it into the warmed skillet. By patiently manually lifting, lowering, and tilting the pan on and off the heat, allow the eggs to set a bit up and around the sloping sides of the skillet -- about 45 seconds over low heat w/no pressure to rush.

IMG_1709 IMG_1709 IMG_1709~Step 3.  Increase heat to medium.  In various spots around the entire perimeter of the skillet, slip a thin spatula under the setting eggs.  In each of those spots use the spatula to lift the eggs up, while, at the same time, tilting the pan in the direction of the spatula to allow the remaining liquid to flow down and into the setting eggs -- about 45 seconds over medium heat w/no pressure to rush.  The surface of the omelette should be semi-moist and glistening with no liquid or little liquid puddling on the top. 

IMG_1714 IMG_1714 IMG_1714 IMG_1714~Step 4.  Decrease the heat to low.  Scatter the tapenade, in a half-moon shape, over half of the omelette, then, scatter the feta on top of the tapenade.  Give cheese about 45 seconds to soften over low heat with no pressure to rush -- feta cheese does not melt like other cheeses. Using a large spatula, lift the empty side of the omelette up and over the cheesy side of the omelette.  

Transfer from skillet to plate & serve w/arugula & diced tomato:

IMG_1724Feel free to cut it in half & share the love (or not):

IMG_1750Meditterranean-Style Olive Tapenade & Feta Omelet:  Recipe yields instruction to make one hearty, Greek-style omelette/1-2 servings.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; fork; cutting board; chef's knife; 8" nonstick skillet; large thin spatula; large wide spatula

IMG_1277Cook's Note: For those who don't know, mustard is more than just a condiment that goes on your hot dogs.  Mustard is to an omelette, what mustard is to macaroni and cheese, potato salad and/or almost any creamy salad dressing one can mention:  A secret ingredient that provides a subtle but uplifting zing to the flavor of the end result. ~ Tangy Mustard- and Chive-Laced Cheese Omelette ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

05/17/2019

~ Greek Pasta Salad w/Tapenade, Tuna and Tomato ~

IMG_1653Americans cherish the Summer.  The deck chairs come out, the cooler fills with ice, the shorts go on, everyone slides into their flip-flops, and then, spends as much time in the fresh air and sunshine as possible.  Some play sports while others garden, some like to swim while others prefer to sun bathe, but, each and every one loves to eat -- and a forkful of food simply tastes better in the great outdoors.  Here in the Northeast, the land of four seasons, Summer has finally arrived and I'm kicking it off with a refreshing, main-dish pasta salad that is dressed with tapenade.  Relatively speaking, its easy to make, mixes together quickly, and, travels well too.

Perfect for your next All-American Summer holiday or get-together.

IMG_1658A bit about pasta salad:  It's a dish prepared with one or more types of pasta and most often tossed in a vinegar, oil, or mayonnaise based dressing.  Besides pasta, almost anything can be added to pasta salad (raw, marinated or cooked in any manner):  fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, cheese, nuts, seeds, and/or herbs (to name a few).  It is usually served chilled as an appetizer or a main course in the Spring or Summertime, but can be enjoyed year-round too.  

"Tapenade" derives from the Provençal word for caper, "tapeno".

IMG_1521Hailing from the Mediterranean and dating back to Roman times, a traditional tapenade contains few ingredients:  black olives, caper berries, anchovies, garlic, olive oil, pepper, an occasional herb and/or a squirt of fresh lemon.  The texture of tapenade is personal, ranging from puréed or pounded to a paste, to finely-minced or slightly chunky. The tools of the trade used to achieve the desired texture range from the ancient mortar and pestle to the ordinary chef's knife and/or the high-tech food processor.  Tapenade should be allowed to rest a few hours prior to serving at room temperature, and, when stored in the refrigerator, the oil will preserve it for up to a month.  

IMG_161412  ounces bite-sized, fork-friendly pasta, cooked al dente as package directs (Note:  Large shells are perfect because they trap and hold all of the ingredients exceptionally well.)

1  cup my recipe for Briny, Garlicy & Herbaceous Greek-Olive Tapenade

1  12-ounce can solid white tuna packed in water, well-drained and broken into fork-friendly bits and pieces (Note:  Because the tapenade contains olive oil, this is a circumstance when tuna packed in water, which I prefer anyway, is preferable.)

3/4-1  cup diced red onion, 3-4 ounces 

3/4-1  ounces feta cheese crumbles, 4-6 ounces

1-1 1/2  cups cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters, 10-12 ounces

IMG_1601 IMG_1601 IMG_1601 IMG_1601~Step 1.  In a 4-quart stockpot bring 3 quarts of water to a boil over high heat.  Add 1 teaspoon sea salt.  Sprinkle in the pasta, adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook until pasta is al dente, about 9-11 minutes.  Immediately drain pasta into a colander and run cold water through it until it is cooled to the touch. Transfer pasta to a baking pan lined with parchment paper.  Set aside to "dry", about 30-45 minutes, meaning: free from almost all of the water, not dried out.

IMG_1618 IMG_1618 IMG_1618 IMG_1627 IMG_1627 IMG_1627 IMG_1627 IMG_1627~Step 2.  Transfer cooked, drained, cold and dry pasta to a large bowl.  Add, and using a large rubber spatula, fold in the tapenade.  Allow to rest about 5-10 minutes to let the pasta soak in some of the briny olive flavor.  Fold in the tuna and onions, followed by the feta cheese.  If serving immediately, stir in the tomatoes too, but, if serving later, stir them in just prior to serving.

Note:  This pasta salad is full-flavored and perfectly-dressed (because my tapenade is homemade, I know it contains a nice amount of olive oil).  That said, in the event you are substituting store-bought tapenade, it may need a bit more dressing -- simply toss in 2-4 tablespoons olive oil, or 2-4 tablespoons store-bought Greek-style salad dressing.

Serve chilled w/beer or white wine for brunch, lunch or dinner: 

IMG_1644Greek Pasta Salad w/Tapenade, Tuna and Tomato:  Recipe yields 3 pounds deli-style pasta salad/2 quarts/8 cups/6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart stockpot; colander; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula

IMG_1588Cook's Note:  When I make tapenade, I make enough to last because I use it in several ways.  It's fantastic is place of tomatoes on a ~ Bacon, Lettuce, Tapenade & Chicken Club Sandwich ~ for lunch, and, in or on a French-style cheese omelette for breakfast too.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melaie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

05/15/2019

~Bacon, Lettuce,Tapenade & Chicken Club Sandwich~

IMG_1588There is nothing quite as satisfying as a BLT or a club sandwich, made with a just-picked perfectly-ripe tomato.  Tick, tock.  It is going be an impatient two-month wait for my own or any locally-grown tomatoes to be at my fingertips, so, hold-that-beautiful-thought, give pause to the beloved tomato for a moment, and allow me to change the conversation:  there is another tart fruit to consider.  It's the brine-cured olive, and, in the form of tapenade, a Mediterranean relish-type condiment, there is no reason to compromise your BLT with a not-at-its-peak tomato.

Try a BLT or Club w/my tapenade instead of tomato. It's T-rrific:

IMG_1590Making a BLT sandwich is simple and straightforward:  Crisp bacon, tender lettuce, sliced tomato and your favorite bread -- mayonnaise is optional.  Regarding the bread, it's a personal decision. Some folks like their BLT on soft Wonder-type white, while others prefer the crusty firm-textured rustic kind.  Toasted or untoasted bread? You guessed it, it's up to you.  This combination of ingredients on a sandwich dates back to the early 1900's but became extremely popular after World War II when Hellmann's Mayonnaise advertised their mayo as traditional to the sandwich. Oddly, using the initials "BLT" to refer to it, wasn't common until the 1970's.  Today, the BLT is ranked the second most popular sandwich in the USA.  Oddly, the ham sandwich is ranked #1.

Although the ingredients for the BLT existed for many years, there is little-to-no written evidence of it prior to 1900.  That said, in 1903, The Good Housekeeping Everyday Cookbook, published a recipe by Dr. Kevin Zinter for a Club Sandwich -- bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and sliced chicken sandwiched between two slices of bread -- not three slices of bread, known as "double decker style", as it is commonly served today (which I find annoyingly hard to manage).  In 1904, three restaurants at the St. Louis World's Fair featured the club sandwich in various forms.

"Tapenade" derives from the Provençal word for caper, "tapeno".

IMG_1521Hailing from the Mediterranean and dating back to Roman times, a traditional tapenade contains few ingredients:  black olives, caper berries, anchovies, garlic, olive oil, pepper, an occasional herb and/or a squirt of fresh lemon.  The texture of tapenade is personal, ranging from puréed or pounded to a paste, to finely-minced or slightly chunky. The tools of the trade used to achieve the desired texture range from the ancient mortar and pestle to the ordinary chef's knife and/or the high-tech food processor.  Tapenade should be allowed to rest a few hours prior to serving at room temperature, and, when stored in the refrigerator, the oil will preserve it for up to a month.

IMG_14561  9 1/2-10-ounce jar pitted, black kalamata olives, well-drained

1  9 1/2-10-ounce jar pitted, green garlic-stuffed olives, well-drained

1  2-ounce tin rolled anchovy fillets, with capers, packed in olive oil, undrained

2  tablespoons drained capers

1  teaspoon each: dried herbes de Provence and minced fresh thyme leaves

1  teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2  tablespoons fruity olive oil

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_1485 IMG_1485 IMG_1485~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients, as listed, in work bowl of food processor fitted with the steel blade. Place the lid on the processor. Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process until mixture is minced and mixed.  If a finer consistency is desired, pulse a few more times. Transfer to a 4-cup food-storage container, cover and set aside several hours (4-6) for flavors to marry.  Store in the refrigerator.

IMG_1571~ Step 2.  Choose a favorite loaf of bread, a favorite brand of bacon, and a favorite type of lettuce.  I'm using my oven-roasted chicken breast, sometimes I use perfectly-roasted turkey breast, but, high-quality sliced deli-meat works too.

IMG_1155Crisply fry the bacon. I like to roast bacon in the oven.

Can you take over these sandwiches from here?  T-rrific:

IMG_1592Bacon, Lettuce & Tapenade Chicken Club Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 3 1/2 cups tapenade and basic instructions for making chicken club sandwiches 

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 4-cup food-storage container w/tight-fitting lid; cutting board; chef's knife; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3b83ba8200bCook's Note:  Bread is perhaps the most important component to making any well-constructed sandwich.  There's more.  While bruschetta is simply a slice of oiled toast, almost any sandwich can be served crostini- or panini-style.  I played by the traditional BLT rules today and used a store-bought bake-at-home French batard, but, f you can't decide what road to take, read ~ The Crisy Bits about Bruschetta, Crostini and Panini ~. Bread is indeed the staff of life.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

05/12/2019

~ Briny, Garlicy & Herbaceous Greek-Olive Tapenade ~

IMG_1521My pantry and/or refrigerator are never without a can or two of inexpensive, mild-flavored ripe, black olives and a big jar of tangy green pimiento-stuffed olives too.  Throughout the year, I toss either one or both, whole into garden salads, or, slice and use them to top an occasional pizza. That said, at the end of a long Summer's day, there is nothing like a well-chilled cocktail out on the deck with a salty snack to nibble on.  A cracker or two with a slather of soft brie or chèvre topped with a dollop of tapenade is a favorite, but, I don't reach for my generic go-to olives to make it.

When I'm making tapenade, I raise the bar and use a combination of two Greek-style olives:  briny black kalamata and garlic-stuffed green.  When it comes to tapenade, higher-quality fruit does make a difference, and, while tapenade is traditionally only made from black olives (kalamata or niçoise), I like the slight astringency that garlic-stuffed green olives bring to this nosh.  It only takes me 5-10 minutes to make tapenade, but I always do it first thing in the morning, to give all the flavors time to marry until cocktail hour, and, I also make enough to enjoy all week long.    

IMG_1522Olive tapenade, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways:

This easy-to-make salty, briny condiment atop a cracker or a baguette slice brings out the flavor in a glass of vino, and, pairs perfectly with martinis and an array of cocktails too.  It's a welcome addition to any cheese tray or charcuterie board, and, it's divine in the center of a French-style omelette or atop a classic deviled egg.  This relish is not not shy about being used to top a humble hot dog or hamburger, get stirred into an ordinary pasta salad or used as a topper for poached poultry or fish dishes.  That said, tapenade is often confused with New Orleans olive salad, a critical component of the iconic muffalata sandwich -- seriously, the two are quite different.  Olive salad is a giardiniera and contains cauliflower, carrots and celery and no capers.

IMG_1539"Tapenade" derives from the Provençal word for caper, "tapeno".

Hailing from the Mediterranean and dating back to Roman times, a traditional tapenade contains few ingredients:  black olives, caper berries, anchovies, garlic, olive oil, pepper, an occasional herb and/or a squirt of fresh lemon.  The texture of tapenade is personal, ranging from puréed or pounded to a paste, to finely-minced or slightly chunky.  The tools of the trade used to achieve the desired texture range from the ancient mortar and pestle to the ordinary chef's knife and/or the high-tech food processor.  Tapenade should be allowed to rest a few hours prior to serving at room temperature, and, when stored in the refrigerator, the oil will preserve it for up to a month.

IMG_14561  9 1/2-10-ounce jar pitted, black kalamata olives, well-drained

1  9 1/2-10-ounce jar pitted, green garlic-stuffed olives, well-drained

1  2-ounce tin rolled anchovy fillets, with capers, packed in olive oil, undrained

2  tablespoons drained capers

1  teaspoon each: dried herbes de Provence and minced fresh thyme leaves

1  teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2-4  tablespoons fruity olive oil

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_1458 IMG_1458 IMG_1458 IMG_1458~Step 1.  Place the black and green olives in a colander to drain thoroughly, about 3-5 minutes. Place the drained olives in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade along with the undrained anchovies and the drained capers.  Trust me, this is not too many anchovies.

IMG_1470 IMG_1470 IMG_1470 IMG_1470~Step 2.  Measure, mince and add the dried and fresh herbs, the lemon juice and the olive oil.

IMG_1479 IMG_1479 IMG_1479 IMG_1479 IMG_1479~Step 3.  Season with the salt and pepper.  Place the lid on the processor. Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process until mixture is minced and mixed.  If a finer consistency is desired, pulse a few more times. Transfer to a 4-cup food-storage container, cover and set aside several hours (4-6) for flavors to marry.  Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

Roasted garlic bread & gruyère crostini w/olive tapenade:

IMG_1557Bacon, Lettuce, Tapenade & Chicken Club Sandwich:

IMG_1588Greek Pasta Salad w/Tapenade, Tuna & Tomato:

IMG_1644Mediterranean-style Olive Tapenade & Feta Omelette:

IMG_1735Herbaceous Black & Green Greek-Olive Tapenade:  Recipe yields about 3 1/2 cups tapenade.

Special Equipment List:  colander; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 4-cup food-storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8255ff1970b-800wiCook's Note: This mouthwatering crostini recipe pairs perfectly with tapenade.  The two complement a host of foods, and, can be served at casual or upscale gatherings.  Both pair well with cocktails, as well as red or white wine.  They can be passed prior to an entrée of fish, seafood, poultry, porcine or meat. They too are meatless, which makes them great for meatless meals, certain religious holidays, and, entertaining vegetarian friends. There's more.  They're are, easy to make:  ~ Meatless Mushroom Duxelles & Gruyère Crostini ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

05/09/2019

~Smoked Ham and Asparagus in a Béarnaise Quiche~

IMG_1420Every once in a while (not often, but it does happen) you'll come across a recipe that goes from ordinary to extraordinary by using a store-bought, instead of a scratch-made, dry sauce or seasoning packet.  This is one such recipe.  While it is next-to-impossible to make a quiche using scratch-made hollandaise or béarnaise sauce (in place of the typical whisked cream and egg mixture used to prepare a quiche), because either will breakdown in a hearts-beat or three, it is possible to add a dry, high-quality, store-bought, hollandaise or or béarnaise sauce-mix to season and enrich the cream and egg mixture.  In fact, it propels the end product into the stratosphere.

6a0120a8551282970b0162fd6207eb970dIn the latter 1970's and into the 1980's, quiche became very trendy and I for one was on the bandwagon. The quiche tsunami occurred in 1982 when a man by the name of Bruce Feirstein wrote the bestseller Real Men Don't Eat Quiche.  As you can see, I still have my copy.  It coined the phrases "quiche-eater" and "real man" and separated them into two groups.  There was a third category too: "Guys who think they're real men but really aren't".   A "real man" might enjoy a bacon-and-egg pie if his wife made it for him, while a "sensitive guy" would make it himself and clean up afterwards.  The book is hilarious.  It was written after a decade of feminist critiques ("The Women's Movement") on traditional male roles and beliefs.  I for one had a lot of fun during 1982-1983 as serving quiche spawned spirited conversation each and every time.

Quiche (keesh):  A pastry crust filled w/a savory custard consisting of eggs, cream, herbs & seasonings, plus, cheese, & meat, seafood &/or vegetables.

IMG_1450Quiche originated in northeastern France, in the region of Alsace-Lorraine. The most notable of these savory pies is their famous Quiche-Lorraine, which has crisp bacon bits and grated Gruyère cheese added to the custard filling.  In my opinion, no self-respecting cook should be without at least one quiche recipe tucked in their apron pocket.  I find my quiche recipes to be particularly valuable over holiday weekends, or whenever I have overnight guests (creamy, crustless crabmeat quiche and succulent shiitake mushroom and gruyère cheese quiche are two of my family's favorites). Quiche is an easy way to feed a group of people breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner without dragging out every pot and pan in the kitchen.  Because it's great served at any temperature, whenever guests meander to the table, all you have to worry about is putting it on their plate.  Besides all of the above, quiche is a meal that just plain makes people happy.  

Julia Child is credited w/introducing quiche to the US in the 1960's.

IMG_1436Hollandaise Sauce + Shallots + Tarragon = Béarnaise Sauce.  

Béarnaise is a French sauce made of butter emulsified in egg yolks and white wine vinegar.  It is considered to be a "child" of of the mother hollandaise sauce (one of the five mother sauces in French cuisine).  The difference is only in the flavorings with béarnaise using shallot, peppercorns and tarragon, and hollandaise being stripped down (plainer), using lemon juice and white wine.

IMG_13871  basic pie or quiche pastry (pâte brisée), preferably homemade, rolled out, placed in a 9" quiche dish, then decoratively edged 

1  pound, 1/4" diced, baked, smoked ham, the best available (Note:  The ham in this photo is not deli-meat, it is baked ham leftover from our Easter feast.)

4  ounces finely-diced shallots or sweet onion

8  ounces shredded Gruyère cheese

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

3  jumbo eggs

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/2  cup mayonnaise

2  .9-ounce packets Knorr Béarnaise Sauce Mix, 1 packet for the ham filling mixture and 1 packet for the egg mixture

36  4"-long, pencil-thin, fresh asparagus spears, blanched as directed below

IMG_1402~ Step 1.  Blanching the asparagus before it goes atop the quiche and into the oven will keep it moist and tender.  In a 2-quart saucepan, bring about two inches of water to a rolling boil with 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Add the trimmed asparagus.  Adjust heat to simmer, 45-60 seconds. Rinse under cold water to halt the cooking process, drain thoroughly, then place atop a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.

IMG_1392 IMG_1392 IMG_1392 IMG_1406~Step 2.  In a large bowl, using a large rubber spatula, toss together the ham, shallots, cheese, flour and one packet of the béarnaise mix, until ingredients are evenly coated in flour and béarnaise. Transfer the mixture to the pastry in the quiche dish.  Do not pat or press down on the filling -- it should be light and airy with nooks and crannies for the liquid to drizzle down through. Like spokes in a wheel, decoratively trim and arrange the asparagus spears over the top.

IMG_1408 IMG_1408 IMG_1408 IMG_1408~Step 3.  In a 2-cup measuring container, whisk the eggs, cream, mayonnaise, and the second packet of béarnaise.  Slowly, in a thin stream, drizzle the creamy liquid over the surface of the ham mixture.  Go slowly, to give liquid time to drizzle down into the light and airy filling mixture.

IMG_1428~ Step 4.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven for 55-60 minutes. Quiche will be golden brown, puffed through to the center and a knife inserted into the center will come out clean.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool 15-20 minutes, or longer, prior to serving hot, warm or at room temperature.  Leftovers reheat perfectly in the microwave the next day.

Serve quiche hot, warm or at room temperature:

IMG_1438Leftovers reheat perfectly in the microwave the next day:

IMG_1445Smoked Ham and Asparagus in a Béarnaise Quiche:  Recipe yields 1, 9" quiche/8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  9"  quiche dish; cutting board; chef's knife; 2-quart saucepan; paper towels; hand-held box grater; large rubber spatula; 1-quart measuring container; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01bb080c3d4d970dCook's Note: The first time I ate "Oscar" was in 1983 and I was in "The Big Easy".  Four of us were in the New Orleans French-Quarter restaurant, Arnoud's, listening to a jazz band and groovin' to the tunes. My meal arrived:  a lightly-pounded, gently-sautéed, succulent, fork-tender veal paillard, piled high with tender Louisiana crayfish, drizzled with buttery béarnaise sauce and garnished with steamed asparagus:  ~ All that Jazz:  Chicken Oscar with Easy Blender Béarnaise ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

05/07/2019

~Kid's Stuff: Souper Fix-Quick Bowling-Night Meatloaf~

IMG_1340Bowling night.  When I was growing up, depending on what league my parents were in, bowling night was either a Tuesday or a Thursday.  They got my brother and I a babysitter, went out with their friends, and, on that night, we were allowed to stay up later than usual.  We ate either a TV dinner, or, my favorite, mom's bowling-night meatloaf dinner.  On the floor we two siblings sat, "Indian-style" (knees bent, ankles crossed) with one-foot-high TV trays in front of us (I had a Barbie tray, David had a Batman tray).  In front of the television we ate dinner while arguing over programs to watch on the thirteen-channel cable lineup.  Those were kinder, gentler times.

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like eating meatloaf...

IMG_1348This meatloaf was nothing fancy and it wasn't particularly pretty either, but, keeping things in perspective, it was made at home with love, as opposed to 'burgers and fries from a drive-thru.  It was, genuinely kid-friendly delicious, and, we particularly loved it served with macaroni and cheese.  As a matter of fact, the combination of this meatloaf served with macaroni and cheese, is (in a not-so-odd way) the carnivorous equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich served with a bowl of tomato soup.  It's a priceless blast from my past, which, I occasionally crave to this day.

My recollection of the origin of the meatloaf recipe I am posting today (my mom's rendition), is:  I believe it to be a combination of several.  The Campbell's Soup Company had their own, the Lipton Soup Company had their own, and, back in the 1960's newspaper columnist Ann Landers published her recipe, which was a combination of both companies -- she put the soup and the dry soup mix into hers, and, substituted meatloaf mix for ground beef.  Her recipe became so popular, she printed it in her column once a year.  My mother took Ann Landers' recipe and substituted saltine crackers for breadcrumbs and milk for water.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

... at home on the floor, sitting cross-legged in front of the TV.

IMG_12882 1/2  pounds meatloaf mix (a store-bought mixture of beef, pork & veal)

4  ounces Nabisco Premium Saltine Crackers (1 sleeve of crackers from a 1-pound box), crumbled by hand into small bits and pieces, not processed to crumbs.

1/2  cup milk

1  tablespoon Lee & Perrin's worcestershire sauce

1  10 3/4-ounce can Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup 

1  envelope Lipton Recipe Secrets Onion Soup Mix

2  large eggs

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans

IMG_1292 IMG_1292 IMG_1292 IMG_1292~Step 1.  Place the sleeve of crackers in a large bowl.  Using your hands, crush them into small bits and pieces.  Add the milk and worcestershire sauce, followed by the tomato soup and give the mixture a thorough stir.  Set aside about 5-10 minutes, to give the crackers time to soften.

IMG_1303 IMG_1303 IMG_1303 IMG_1303 IMG_1303~Step 2.  In the same measuring container the milk was measured in, use a fork to whisk the eggs, then add them to the bowl along with the contents from the onion soup packet.  Give the mixture a thorough stir. Add the meatloaf mix.  Using your hands (this is truly the best way to do this), thoroughly combine the meatloaf mix with the pasty cracker mixture.

IMG_1316 IMG_1316 IMG_1316~ Step 3.  Spray 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2", 1 1/2-quart loaf pans*, with no-stick cooking spray.  Divide the meat mixture in half, form each half into a very rough loaf shape and place one in each pan.  If you have a kitchen scale, now is an ideal time to use it.  There will be approximately 3 pounds of meatloaf mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula or your fingertips, pat and press the meatloaf mixture flat into the pans.

*Note:  My grandmother and mother always baked meatloaf in clear glass dishes and so do I.  The advantage is being able to see exactly how fast and how well the loaves are browning.

IMG_1327 IMG_1327~ Step 4.  Bake meatloaves on center rack of 350° oven for 1 hour, 15 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer placed in the the thickest part of the center reaches 168°-170º.  Loaves will be bubbling and juices will be running clear.  Remove from oven and place, in pans, on a wire rack to cool about 15 minutes.  Use a spatula to remove loaves from pans.  Slice and serve hot, or, warm or cool to room temperature and refrigerate.

Humble & homey, this meatloaf recipe, served w/mac & cheese...

IMG_1357... is as heartwarming as a grilled cheese w/tomato soup. 

IMG_1375Kid's Stuff: Souper Fix-Quick Bowling-Night Meatloaf:  Recipe yields, 2, 1 1/2-pound meatloaves.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; fork; 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2", 1 1/2-quart loaf pans, preferably glass; kitchen scale; large rubber spatula (optional); instant-read meat thermometer; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27640d2970cCook's Note: Bowling night was bowling night.  Understandably, it was all about fixing a great-tasting kid-friendly meal in as little time as possible.  That said, my mom had a "special meatloaf" recipe too.  It was full of sautéed onions and celery, and was oh-so-moist and tender. ~ I Love My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf ~.  Humble and homey, great-tasting, comfort food.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

05/04/2019

~ Tangy Mustard- and Chive-Laced Cheese Omelette ~

IMG_1277Forgive me if I type fast, as I'm anxious to eat the mouth-watering plate of food in this photograph. As a bigger fan of a fluffy American-style omelette vs a skinny French omelette, and, as an advocate for savory breakfasts over cloyingly sweet breakfasts, this egg-cellent little number is one of my ideal ways to break the fast.  For those who don't know, mustard is more than just a condiment that goes on your hot dogs.  Mustard is to an omelette, what mustard is to macaroni and cheese, potato salad and/or almost any creamy salad dressing one can mention:  A secret ingredient that provides a subtle but uplifting zing to the flavor of the end result.  In the case of this omelette, it's got double zing, in that I use both whole-grain mustard and dry English mustard.

Whole-grain & dry English mustard + dried herbes de Provence & fresh chives w/eggs & cream = an egg-cellent omelette:

IMG_1222For the savory American-style omelette:

3  extra-large eggs, preferably at room temperature

1/4  cup half and half

1  tablespoon whole-grain mustard

1/2  teaspoon each:  dry English mustard and Herbes de Provence

1/4  teaspoon each:  freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend 

2  tablespoons thinly-sliced fresh chives

a generous 1/2  cup shredded Danish havarti cheese

1  teaspoon salted butter

IMG_1226 IMG_1226 IMG_1226~ Step 1.  Crack the eggs into a 1-cup measuring container and add enough half and half to total 3/4 cups total liquid (about 4 tablespoons).  Add the whole-grain mustard, dry English mustard, sea salt and herbs.  Use a fork to give the mixture a brief whisk.  Slice and add the fresh chives.  Whisk vigorously, until thoroughly combined.  Using a hand held box grater, shred the cheese as directed and set aside.

IMG_1233 IMG_1233 IMG_1233 IMG_1233 IMG_1233~Step 2.  In an 8" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Use the fork to briefly rewhisk the egg mixture, then pour it into the warmed skillet. By patiently manually lifting, lowering, and tilting the pan on and off the heat, allow the eggs to set a bit up and around the sloping sides of the skillet -- about 45 seconds over low heat w/no pressure to rush.

IMG_1249 IMG_1249Step 3.  Increase heat to medium.  In various spots around the entire perimeter of the skillet, slip a thin spatula under the setting eggs.  In each of those spots use the spatula to lift the eggs up, while, at the same time, tilting the pan in the direction of the spatula to allow the remaining liquid to flow down and into the setting eggs -- about 45 seconds over medium heat w/no pressure to rush.  The surface of the omelette should be semi-moist and glistening with no liquid or little liquid puddling on the top.

IMG_1253 IMG_1253~ Step 4.  Decrease the heat to low.  Place the grated cheese, in a half-moon shape, over half of the omelette.  Give it about 45 seconds to melt over low heat with no pressure to rush.  Using a large spatula, lift the empty side of the omelette up and over the cheesy side of the omelette.  Slide the omelette from skillet to plate and serve.

Tangy & ooey, gooey, cheesy too...

IMG_1276... stick a fork in it & enjoy the zippy zing of mustard:

IMG_1281Tangy Mustard- and Herb-Laced Cheese Omelette:  Recipe yields instructions to make one tangy American-style cheese omelette.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; fork; cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; 8" nonstick skillet; large thin spatula; large spatula

IMG_1118 IMG_1192Cook's Note: Over the past week, I've been taking a fresh look at the word savory as far as mustard is concerned when it comes to breakfast or brunch.  My first example was ~ Savory Brioche french Toast w/Fried Ham & Eggs  ~, which is perhaps the best way ever to celebrate ham and eggs.  For you bacon lovers, the next day I used some of the leftover French toast to make ~ Mustard & Herb-Laced Brioche French Toast BLT's  ~, which just might change the way you look at breakfast sandwiches forever.  Sigh.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

05/02/2019

~ Mustard & Herb-Laced Brioche French Toast BLT's ~

IMG_1192A BLT served on savory whole-grain mustard- and herbs de Provence-laced brioche French toast -- need I say more?  If these adorable little sliders don't change the way you think about breakfast or brunch, I'm clueless as to what will.  Pair them with a bloody Mary or three and you've got a party.  Invite some friends and you've got a bigger party.  The best part is, I made these as an experiment, using day old savory French toast that had been in the refrigerator overnight, so, whipping them up for breakfast took only a little longer than it took to oven-roast this bacon:

IMG_1155

Sweet and savory French toast is common in European countries.  The French words for "French toast" are "pain perdu", meaning "lost bread", because it is a way of reviving bread which becomes dry after a day or two.  The basics of any French toast recipe are pretty simple:  Thickly-sliced, 2-3-day old bread is dipped into a flavored egg/cream sweet or savory mixture, then fried in a skillet containing a coating of oil or a combination of butter and oil.  When executed correctly, it emerges from the skillet crisp and golden brown on both sides with a creamy center.

IMG_1046For the savory French toast:

6,  3/4"-thick slices, 2-3 day old bread machine brioche

4  jumbo eggs

1  cup half and half

2  tablespoons whole-grain mustard

1  teaspoon each:  dry English mustard, Herbes de Provence and sea salt

1/2  teaspoon peppercorn blend 

4-6   tablespoons peanut or corn oil, for frying

6a0120a8551282970b0147e0e131e0970b 9.58.04 AM~ Step 1.  Using a serrated bread knife, slice the bread.  This is a picture of my bread-machine brioche.  If you have a bread machine, I obviously encourage you give this recipe a try.  If you are not using my brioche, I recommend that whatever bread you are using be sliced to the thickness of 3/4".  If it is thinner or thicker, it will affect the frying time and texture.  In my opinion:  All French toast starts with properly, 3/4"-thick sliced brioche.

IMG_1048 IMG_1048Step 2.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk the eggs, half and half, whole grain mustard, English mustard, herbes de Provence, sea salt and peppercorn blend.  For six slices of bread, the magic measurement is 2 cups of liquid.

IMG_1053 IMG_1053 IMG_1053 IMG_1053 IMG_1053~Step 3.  Arrange bread slices in 13" x 9" x 2" casserole -- overlapping is ok.  Pour egg mixture over bread and wait 2-3 minutes.  Flip bread slices over on their second sides and wait another 2-3 minutes.  Flip the bread over again, then, maybe once more, to make sure each slice is thoroughly coated and almost all liquid has been absorbed.  Briefly set aside.

IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069~Step 4.  Preheat enough oil to coat the bottom (about 1/16") of a 16" electric skillet over 260°-275° (medium on the stovetop).  Add the egg-soaked bread and gently cook, about 2-3 minutes per side, using a spatula to flip it over once, until golden on both sides.  Turn heat off and transfer French toast to a paper-towel-lined plate.  Cool to room temp, about one hour, then, assemble as directed, or cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

IMG_1161 IMG_1167 IMG_1169 2 IMG_1173 IMG_1176~Step 5.  One slice of French toast will yield two slider-sized sandwiches. I'm making four sliders today using two slices of savory French toast that have been cut into quarters to form eight pieces.  On each of four pieces of French toast, slather a scant 1 teaspoon of whole grain mustard. Next, fold and place 1 leaf Boston or bibb lettuce atop the mustard and fasten the lettuce with a toothpick.  Atop each lettuce leaf, add 2 thin slices Campari tomato to the toothpick on each slider, followed by 1 strip of the bacon that has been cut into thirds.  

Place the French toast tops on the slider sandwiches:

IMG_1178A savory French toast BLT is not a well-dressed sandwich...

IMG_1191... but it just might be the the perfect BLT of all time:

IMG_1214Mustard & Herb-Laced Brioche French Toast BLT's:  Recipe yields 6 slices savory French toast/enough for 12 BLT slider-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; serrated bread knife; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; 2-cup measuring container; fork; 16" electric skillet; spatula; paper towels; plastic wrap; toothpicks

IMG_1118Cook's Note: Once a year, the day after Eastern European Orthodox Easter to be specific, my mother made one of my favorite breakfasts: Savory French toast w/Fried Ham & Eggs. She lightly-fried slices of baked ham (also leftover from Easter), soft-yolked, sunny-side-up eggs, and a fresh chive garnish (which grew in dad's garden).  Mom made this but once a year because that was when she had the very-specific ingredients at her fingertips -- and we all looked forward to it.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/30/2019

~ Savory Brioche French Toast w/Fried Ham & Eggs ~

IMG_1118Once a year, the day after Eastern European Orthodox Easter to be specific, my mother made one of my favorite breakfasts:  savory French toast.  To make it, she soaked thick slices of the round loaf of leftover paska (a brioche-type bread enriched with milk, eggs, butter, sugar and salt) in a tangy, whole-grain mustard-laced milk and egg mixture.  She served it with lightly-fried slices of baked ham (also leftover from Easter), soft-yolked, sunny-side-up eggs, and a fresh chive garnish (which grew in dad's garden).  Mom made this but once a year because that was when she had the very-specific ingredients at her fingertips -- and we all looked forward to it.  

IMG_1141Because I make brioche in my bread machine, the long task of baking brioche from scratch is eliminated.  This enables me to make this breakfast more than once a year, switching ham for bacon or sausage on occasion, and, substituting fried eggs with poached (when I'm inclined to steam asparagus and make hollandaise in my blender to accompany it). Like mom and dad, I always have chives growing in my garden.

Sweet and savory French toast is common in European countries.  The French words for "French toast" are "pain perdu", meaning "lost bread", because it is a way of reviving bread which becomes dry after a day or two.  The basics of any French toast recipe are pretty simple:  Thickly-sliced, 2-3-day old bread is dipped into a flavored egg/cream sweet or savory mixture, then fried in a skillet containing a coating of oil or a combination of butter and oil.  When executed correctly, it emerges from the skillet crisp and golden brown on both sides with a creamy center. 

IMG_1046For the savory French toast:

6,  3/4"-thick slices, 2-3 day old bread machine brioche

4  jumbo eggs

1  cup half and half

2  tablespoons whole-grain mustard

1  teaspoon each:  dry English mustard, Herbes de Provence and sea salt

1/2  teaspoon peppercorn blend 

4-6   tablespoons peanut or corn oil, for frying

IMG_1103For the ham, eggs & garnish:

12  thinly-sliced baked-smoked ham slices, sautéed in 1 tablespoon salted butter (2 slices ham per slice French toast)

6  jumbo eggs, seasoned with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, lightly-sautéed in the drippings left from sautéing the ham slices (1 sunny-side-up egg per slice of French toast)

snipped fresh chives, for garnish

6a0120a8551282970b0147e0e131e0970b~ Step 1.  Using a serrated bread knife, slice the bread.  This is a picture of my bread-machine brioche.  If you have a bread machine, I obviously encourage you give this recipe a try.  If you are not using my brioche, I recommend that whatever bread you are using be sliced to the thickness of 3/4".  If it is thinner or thicker, it will affect the frying time and texture.  In my opinion:  All French toast starts with properly, 3/4"-thick sliced brioche.

IMG_1048 IMG_1048Step 2.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk the eggs, half and half, whole grain mustard, English mustard, herbes de Provence, sea salt and peppercorn blend.  For six slices of bread, the magic measurement is 2 cups of liquid.

IMG_1053 IMG_1053 IMG_1060 IMG_1060 IMG_1060~Step 3.  Arrange bread slices in 13" x 9" x 2" casserole -- overlapping is ok.  Pour egg mixture over bread and wait 2-3 minutes.  Flip bread slices over on their second sides and wait another 2-3 minutes.  Flip the bread over again, then, maybe once more, to make sure each slice is thoroughly coated and almost all liquid has been absorbed.  Briefly set aside.

IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069~Step 4.  Preheat just enough oil to thinly-coat the bottom (about 1/16") of a 16" electric skillet over 260°-275° (medium on the stovetop).  Add the egg-soaked bread and gently cook, about 2-3 minutes per side, using a spatula to flip it over only once, until golden on both sides.  Turn the heat off and transfer the French toast to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Serve French toast w/ham slices, fried eggs & mustard for dipping:

IMG_1124Savory French toast is a sublime way to celebrate ham & eggs:

IMG_1152Got leftover French toast?  Try my French toast BLT sliders:

IMG_1192Savory Brioche French Toast w/Fried Ham & Eggs:  Recipe yields 3 large servings or 6 smaller servings. 

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; 2-cup measuring container; fork; 16" electric skillet; spatula; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d18d60ff970cCook's Note: I won't lie, I don't love steak and eggs for breakfast.  I don't hate it, I just like bacon, sausage or ham better in the morning -- there is just something about porcine in the AM that makes me happy.  That said, I do like a steak omelette for dinner.  In fact, it's one of my favorite 'breakfast for dinner' meals. Don't try to psychoanalyze this -- it makes no sense.  Let's move on. ~ Steak, Peppers & Cheddar Chimichurri Omelette ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/27/2019

~ Five Ways to Enjoy Slovak-Style Stuffed Cabbage ~

IMG_3304When it comes to making cabbage rolls, like meatloaf or meatballs, most cuisines have a traditional recipe for them, and, all make use of on-hand ingredients.  For instance:  If they live in an area suited for raising sheep, lamb is in their cabbage rolls.  If they live in a climate where vegetables grow year round, you'll find veggies like bell peppers and chunky tomatoes in them.  I will, however, go out on a limb and state:  when I say "cabbage roll", you should say "Eastern European", because that is the cuisine they're hands-down most commonly associated with.

Known as holubki to me and many of you*, stuffed cabbage rolls are beloved in every Eastern European household.  Everyone makes them a bit differently, with the constants being: ground meat (beef, pork and/or lamb), cooked rice, steamed green cabbage leaves and a tomato-based sauce.  Because they are labor-intensive, too often they're reserved for holidays or special occasions.  That said, those of us in Eastern European inner-circles know there are other ways to bring this knife-and-fork savory comfort food to the weekday table in almost half the time.

*Note: Here are some other names for stuffed cabbage rolls as per Wikipedia: golubtsy (Russia); golabki (Poland); halubcy (Belarus); holubtsi (Ukraine); kohlroulade (Germany & Austria); sarma (Balkans & Turkey).  The literal translation of the word holubki is:  "little doves" or "little pigeons".

1) Classic Cabbage Rolls on the Stovetop or in the Crockpot:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0d76434970c2) Unstuffed Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls in the Crockpot:

IMG_59393) Slovak-Style Stuffed Cabbage Soup w/Mini-Meatballs:

IMG_09104) Slovak Unstuffed Cabbage Stew w/Ground Beef & Rice:

IMG_10365) Slovak-Style Vegetarian Cabbage & Tomato Soup w/Egg Noodles:

IMG_0965"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/24/2019

~Slovak Vegetarian Cabbage & Tomato Lover's Soup~

IMG_0945I come from a long line of cabbage lovers.  Known as kapusta in Eastern European inner circles, a week rarely passes that cabbage doesn't make it's way onto the dinner table in some form.  Like my mother, the vegetable bin of my refrigerator is rarely without a head of green cabbage in it. Braised cabbage and carrots and butter-braised cabbage with egg noodles were two of our family's favorite side-dishes.  Mom's stuffed cabbage rolls (made on the stovetop or in the crockpot) and my grandmother's stuffed cabbage soup with mini-meatballs (or with ground beef and rice) were two of our favorite main-dish meals.  That said, her cabbage soup recipe is thick and hearty enough to be served as a meatless meal too -- bring on the bread and butter.

IMG_6742For my nicely-seasoned easy-to-make cabbage-soup:

IMG_0813For the cabbage and tomato soup and soup base:

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

1  quart tomato or V-8 juice (Note:  My preference is V-8.  The choice is yours.)

1  quart vegetable stock (Note:  My family is not vegetarian and we prefer ours made with beef stock.)

1 quart water

2  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (Note:  My grandmother used this beloved soup in place of tomato sauce or tomato paste -- and trust me it is wonderful.)

4  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, undrained

2  15 1/2-ounce cans diced-tomatoes, undrained

IMG_0801 IMG_0801 IMG_08011  3-pound head green cabbage, cored and cut into 6 wedges, wedges cut into 1/2"-wide egg-noodle-type strips

IMG_0814 IMG_0814 IMG_0814~ Step 1. Making the soup/soup base.  In a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the oil, salt and black pepper.  Add the diced onions.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the onions in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0830 IMG_0830 IMG_0830 IMG_0830 IMG_0830 IMG_0830 IMG_0830~Step 2.  Add the tomato or V-8 juice, stock, water, tomato soup, undrained mushrooms and diced tomatoes.  Bring to a steady simmer, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat.  Stir in the cabbage (pot will be quite full), partially cover the pot and cook until cabbage is tender and lost about half its volume, about 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep, while preparing the meatballs as directed below, or, overnight in the refrigerator.  If you have the time, overnight is best, not to mention convenient.

Try it with my mom's homemade egg noodles in it too:

IMG_0965Slovak Vegetarian Cabbage & Tomato Lover's Soup:  Recipe yields Recipe yields 5 quarts soup/12-16 1-1/2-2 cup servings + more if 1-1 1/2 pounds cooked egg noodles are added.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale (optional); wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed9264970dCook's Note: When I was growing up, I don't ever remember eating canned soup (except for Campbell's tomato soup which to this day I love), but, I do remember eating a lot of wonderful soups.  My maternal grandmother made a lot of soups, but one in particular, her heavenly chicken soup served with homemade noodles was served at her kitchen table on Sunday's after church more times than I can count. It is chicken soup for the soul.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/22/2019

~ Slovak Unstuffed-Cabbage Stew with Beef & Rice ~

IMG_1036While I was growing up and thru to today, my mother's stuffed cabbage rolls (made on the stovetop or in the crockpot) and my grandmother's stuffed cabbage soup with mini-meatballs were two of our family's favorite main-dish meals.  The latter is the easier of the two ways to bring this traditional Eastern European comfort food to the table, but, I am here to tell you, there is a third, even easier method: Stir sautéed and nicely-seasoned ground beef and cooked rice to the easy-to-make cabbage soup base.  From start to finish, it's on the table in 45 minutes.  That said, even though the rice is precooked (steamed or boiled, your choice), it is going to absorb a good bit of the broth, which give this meal a thick, stew-like consistency.

For my nicely-seasoned easy-to-make cabbage-soup base:

IMG_0813For the cabbage and tomato soup and soup base:

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

1  quart tomato or V-8 juice (Note:  My preference is V-8.  The choice is yours.)

1  quart beef stock

1 quart water

2  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (Note:  My grandmother used this beloved soup in place of tomato sauce or tomato paste -- and trust me it is wonderful.)

4  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, undrained

2  15 1/2-ounce cans diced-tomatoes, undrained

IMG_0801 IMG_0801 IMG_08011  3-pound head green cabbage, cored and cut into 6 wedges, wedges cut into 1/2"-wide egg-noodle-type strips

IMG_0814 IMG_0814 IMG_0814~ Step 1. Making the soup/soup base.  In a wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the oil, salt and black pepper.  Add the diced onions.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the onions in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822~Step 2.  Add the tomato or V-8 juice, beef stock, water, tomato soup, undrained mushrooms and diced tomatoes.  Bring to a steady simmer, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat.  Stir in the cabbage (pot will be quite full), partially cover the pot and cook until cabbage is tender and lost about half its volume, about 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep, while preparing the meatballs as directed below, or, overnight in the refrigerator.  If you have the time, overnight is best, not to mention convenient.

IMG_0991For the meat and rice mixture:

3  pounds ground beef (90/10)  

2  teaspoons salt

1  teaspoon cracked black pepper

2  seasoning packets from 1  box of G.Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix (Note: This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant broth/bouillon.  It was a pantry staple of my grandmother's and I keep it on-hand in my pantry so I can duplicate her recipes.)

1 1/2  cups uncooked long-grain white rice, steamed in a rice steamer or cooked on stovetop

IMG_0992 IMG_0992 IMG_0992 IMG_0992 IMG_0998 IMG_0998~Step 1. Cook the rice your favorite way.  On the stovetop the common formula is: bring 2 cups water + 2 tablespoons butter or oil to a boil over high heat for every 1 cup of long-grain white rice. Slowly sprinkle the rice into the boiling water, give it a quick stir, adjust heat to a gentle simmer, cover pot and allow to simmer, without lifting the lid off the pot, 22-24 minutes.  When I am cooking rice on the stovetop, I always use a pot with a glass lid, so I can keep a careful eye on the process.  You will know the rice is finished when the bubble slow to an almost halt and small holes, where the bubbles were rising to the surface, have formed.  Remove from heat and use a fork to rake through the rice to separate the grains.

IMG_1004 IMG_1004 IMG_1004 IMG_1004 IMG_1014 IMG_1014 IMG_1014 IMG_1014~Step 2.  In a 12" skillet place the ground beef and use a spatula to break it up a bit.  Season the beef with the salt, pepper and G. Washington's seasoning.  Over medium heat, cook the beef, stirring constantly and breaking it up into bits and pieces with the spatula, until it has lost it's pink color and is just steamed through, about 6-8 minutes. Do not overcook the beef, do not brown the beef, simply render the fat from it.  Turn the heat off.  Using a few wadded-up paper towels, blot up the greasy liquid.  Add the rice to the skillet.  Stir the two together and remove from stovetop.

Note:  The reason to gently cook the ground beef in a skillet before adding it to the soup is to remove a good deal of its fat.  If you're questioning why this is not done in the case of stuffed cabbage soup w/mini-meatballs, here's the answer:  The meat and the rice in that soup are added uncooked -- the rice absorbs the fat/juices from the meatballs as they cook in the soup.  

Stir beef & rice mixture into stew & simmer 5-10 minutes:

IMG_1027Slovak Unstuffed-Cabbage Stew with Beef & Rice:  Recipe yields 5 quarts cabbage soup base/8 quarts total soup/12-16 hearty main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale (optional); wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; 12" nonstick skillet; 2-quart saucepan w/lid or electric rice steamer; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcd8fbfd970bCook's Note:  After the Easter holiday, each and every year, my mother always reserved the bone from her baked ham, being careful to leave a copious amount of meat clinging to it.  For another delightful and traditional Eastern European soup, try ~ My Mom's Traditional Ham, Cabbage & Potato Soup ~. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/20/2019

~ Slovak-Style Stuffed-Cabbage Soup with Meatballs ~

IMG_0910Known as holubki to me and golabki to many of you, stuffed cabbage rolls are beloved in every Eastern European household.  Everyone makes them a bit differently, with the constants being: ground meat (beef, pork and/or lamb), cooked rice, steamed green cabbage leaves and a tomato-based sauce.  Because they are labor-intensive, too often they're reserved for holidays or special occasions.  That said, those of us in Eastern European inner-circles know there's another form of this knife-and-fork meal that brings this savory comfort food to the weekday table in half the time. Get out the bowls and spoons and meet my grandmother's sublime stuffed cabbage soup.

Soup w/meatballs swimming it is common in many cultures:

IMG_0916Soup with meatballs swimming it?  It's common in almost all cultures, and, there is a common reason for it too.  In the history of food, and throughout all the documented ages, meat was for the wealthy.  In spite of that, savvy cooks minced or ground unwanted scraps or lesser cuts of meat and combined them with inexpensive binders like breadcrumbs or rice, a liquid or egg, plus some common-to-the cuisine seasonings.  They are to be commended for developing great-tasting meatball recipes which allowed the poorer classes to partake in a diet richer in protein.

When it comes to making cabbage rolls or meatballs (most cuisines have a traditional recipe for both), folks make use of on-hand ingredients.  For instance:  if they live in an area suited for raising sheep, you'll find lamb in their cabbage rolls, or, if they live in a climate where vegetables grow year round, you'll find things like bell peppers and chunky tomatoes in theirs.  I will, however, go out on a limb and state:  when I say "cabbage roll" or "cabbage roll soup", you should say "Eastern European", because that is the cuisine they're hands-down most associated with.

For my nicely-seasoned easy-to-make cabbage-soup base:

IMG_0813For the cabbage soup base:

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

1  quart tomato or V-8 juice (Note:  My preference is V-8.  The choice is yours.)

1  quart beef stock

1 quart water

2  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (Note:  My grandmother used this beloved soup in place of tomato sauce or tomato paste -- and trust me it is wonderful.)

4  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, undrained

2  15 1/2-ounce cans diced-tomatoes, undrained

IMG_0801IMG_0801IMG_08011  3-pound head green cabbage, cored and cut into 6 wedges, wedges cut into 1/2"-wide egg-noodle-type strips

IMG_0814 IMG_0814 IMG_0814 ~Step 1.  Making the soup base.  In a wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the vegetable oil, salt and black pepper.  Add the diced onions.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the onions in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0822IMG_0822IMG_0822IMG_0822 IMG_0834 IMG_0834 IMG_0834 IMG_0834 IMG_0834 IMG_0834~Step 2.  Add the tomato or V-8 juice, beef stock, water, tomato soup, undrained mushrooms and diced tomatoes.  Bring to a steady simmer, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat.  Stir in the cabbage (pot will be quite full), partially cover the pot and cook until cabbage is tender and lost about half its volume, about 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep, while preparing the meatballs as directed below, or, overnight in the refrigerator.  If you have the time, overnight is best, not to mention convenient.

For my spice-is-right ground beef & rice meatballs:

IMG_0852For the meatballs:

3  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

2  teaspoons dehydrated minced garlic

2  teaspoons dehydrated minced onion

2  teaspoons salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1  cup uncooked long-grain white rice, not "Minute rice" 

2  seasoning packets from 1  box of G.Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix (1/2 teaspoon salt may be substituted)  (Note:  This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant broth/bouillon.  It was a well-known family secret of my grandmother's and I keep it on-hand in my pantry so I can duplicate her recipes without fail.  It's readily available to me at my local grocery store and on-line as well.)

2  large eggs

IMG_0855 IMG_0855 IMG_0855 IMG_0855 IMG_0855~Step 1.  Mixing the meatballs.  Place the ground beef in a large bowl along with the dehydrated minced garlic and onion, salt and pepper, and, contents of the G. Washington's seasoning packets.  Using your hands, mix to combine.  Add the rice and mix again.  Add the eggs, and, you guessed it, give the whole thing one last very, very thorough mix.

IMG_0872 IMG_0872~ Step 2. Forming the meatballs. Using a 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, form balls and roll between the palms of hands into 1" meatballs, placing them on a parchment-lined baking pan as you work.  If you have the time, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-3 hours, to give rice time to soften.  There will be 10+ dozen meatballs.

IMG_0890 IMG_0890 IMG_0890~Step 3.  Cooking the meatballs. Return soup base to a simmer over medium-high heat.  One or two at a time, drop meatballs into simmering soup (do it this way to keep soup simmering).  When meatballs have been added, adjust heat to a gentler simmer, partially-cover pot and cook 20-25 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow soup to steep, about 30-60 minutes, prior to serving.  

IMG_0922Note:  If you have the time, refrigerate the entire pot of soup overnight, then, reheat gently on the stovetop, because, like many things, this soup tastes even better the next day.  There's more.  It freezes great. The entire batch will fill four, two-quart sized freezer containers with tight-fitting lids.  In either case, the rice is going to continue to absorb some more of the moisture, so, be prepared to add a bit more beef stock during the reheat process.

Cabbage rolls served soup-style -- it's what's for dinner:

IMG_0907Simply sublime, simply divine -- to the very last slurp:

IMG_0918Slovak-Style Stuffed-Cabbage Soup with Meatballs: Recipe yields 5 quarts cabbage soup base/8 quarts total soup/10-11 dozen small 1"-round meatballs and 12-16 hearty main-dish servings.  

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale (optional); wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop; 2, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans or 1, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper

IMG_0734Cook's Note:  Keeping in mind that Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner, here's another recipe along the same lines as today's, with a completely different flavor profile.  If you've ever traveled South of the American-Southwest border, you have encountered albóndigas (which means meatballs in Spanish).  This meatball soup, with a rich history, made its way to Mexico via the Spanish conquistadors.  Try my luscious ~ Sopa de Albóndigas (Mexican-Style Meatball Soup ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/17/2019

~ An All-Purpose Mexican-Style Soup or Soup Base ~

IMG_0788 2My kitchen is no different than anyone elses.  The cuisine we're in the mood changes from day to day -- Asian, French, Greek, Indian, Italian, Jamaican or Texican (to name a few of our favorites). For the past few days, we've been hungry for Tex-Mex, and, like all of our other favorites, having an all-purpose marinade, a seasoning blend or two, along with a sauce for dipping or drizzling, suited specifically to this South-of-the-border flavor profile, makes meal prep easy, not to mention creative and fun.  Trust me, any way you cook it, every dish prepared in the home kitchen doesn't have to be authentic, classic, or traditional.  It just has to look and taste great.

To make my all-purpose Mexican-style soup or soup base:

IMG_06522  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) ordinary vegetable oil

1  tablespoon fajita seasoning, homemade or store-bought (Note:  Fajita seasoning is the perfect all-purpose seasoning blend for this all-purpose Mexican-soup or soup base.  After all, its purpose is to season beef or chicken and all the yummy vegetables that typically season fajitas -- the all same ingredients included in this recipe.)

1  1/2 -2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

2  large cloves garlic, run through a press

1 1/2-2  cups peeled and sliced or diced carrots

1  cup diced celery

2  quarts chicken stock

1  quart beef stock

1  14 1/2-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained

1/2-3/4-ounce bouquet garni of cilantro

1/2-1  teaspoon sea salt, to taste (optional) (Note:  Depending on the amount of salt in the fajita seasoning, which varies from recipe to recipe and manufacturer to manufacturer, it may or may not be necessary to add additional salt to the soup stock.)

IMG_0656 IMG_0656 IMG_0656~ Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the achiote oil and fajita seasoning.  Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the vegetables in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0666 IMG_0666 IMG_0666 IMG_0666~Step 2.  Add the chicken stock, beef stock, fire-roasted tomatoes, and cilantro.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer and cook until carrots are soft, about 20 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep for 1-2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.  Overnight is best.

A tasty foil for many a Mexican-style soup meal. 

IMG_0763Add another veggie or two (we like black beans and corn)...

IMG_0769... perhaps some cooked & shredded chicken or beef too...

IMG_0771... & maybe some deep-fried corn tortilla wisps for garnish:

IMG_0779Try my Sopa de Albóndigas (Mexican-Style Meatball Soup):

IMG_0734An All-Purpose Mexican-Style Soup or Soup Base:  Recipe yields 4 quarts soup/soup base.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; vegetable peeler; kitchen-safe twine; 8-quart wide-bottomed stock pot w/lid; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c807903f970bCook's Note:  When I use my crockpot, it's not because I have no time to cook, it's because what I'm letting it cook for me, without compromise, is really good.  It's no secret, I've never been a crockpot kinda gal, but, over the past few years I've mellowed.  For one of our family's favorite Tex-Mex-style soups, try ~ Easy-Does-It: Crockpot Chicken Enchilada Soup ~.  Using pantry staples, this recipe takes almost no time to put in the crock and tastes reminiscent of a tasty trip South of the border.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/15/2019

~ Sopa de Albóndigas (Mexican-Style Meatball Soup) ~

IMG_0734Soup with meatballs swimming in it -- it's common in almost all cultures, and, there is a common reason for it too.  In the history of food, and throughout all the documented ages, meat was for the wealthy.  In spite of that, savvy cooks minced or ground unwanted scraps or lesser cuts of meat and combined them with inexpensive binders like breadcrumbs or rice, a liquid or egg, plus some common-to-the cuisine seasonings.  They are to be commended for developing great-tasting meatball recipes which allowed the poorer classes to partake in a diet richer in protein.

IMG_0697Albóndigas = meatballs, in Spanish.  Albunduq = hazelnut or small, in Arabic. 

In the case of this soup, albóndigas is the Spanish word for meatballs, and, this now-deemed Mexican soup meal traces its roots back to the sixth century, when Islamic influence dominated Southwestern Europe.  In the thirteenth century (700 years later), Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquered these Muslim-occupied territories, and, over time, Islamic culinary traditions naturally integrated into the Spanish-style of eating.  After that, albóndigas soup made its way to Mexico via the conquistadors.  I mention this informative trail of historical breadcrumbs because, at first glance, some might question one or two ingredients that don't fit the presupposed profile for Spanish and/or Mexican cuisine -- I know, I questioned it the first time I made this soup.

Hazelnut-sized Spanish meatballs contain a protein + rice & egg (to bind) & mint.

The earliest of recipes used lamb, along with rice and mint to make the meatballs.  In Spain, lamb transitioned to beef, pork or chicken.  In Mexico, beef, chicken and/or chorizo became the predominant proteins. In the language of any cuisine, this is easy to understand as ingredients are always dependent upon the geography and climate of the region.  That said, while the proteins changed with the landscape, two constants remained in the making of albóndigas: rice and mint. Imagine small, minty meatballs swimming around in a light but nicely-seasoned chicken broth, with colorful orange carrots, red tomatoes and a green vegetable (green beans, peas or spinach are common), or, black beans and sweet corn kernels (what I like to use).

For my nicely-seasoned & easy-to-make Mexican-style soup base:

IMG_0652For the Mexican-style soup base:

2  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) ordinary vegetable oil

1  tablespoon fajita seasoning, homemade or store-bought (Note:  Fajita seasoning is the perfect all-purpose seasoning blend for sopa de albóndigas and for seasoning the albóndigas too. After all, its purpose is to season beef or chicken and all the yummy vegetables that typically season fajitas -- all the same ingredients included in this recipe.)

1 1/2-2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

4  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1 1/2-2  cups peeled and sliced or diced carrots

1  cup diced celery

2  quarts chicken stock 

1  quart beef stock 

1  14 1/2-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained

1/2-3/4-ounce bouquet garni of cilantro

1/2-1  teaspoon sea salt, to taste (optional) (Note:  Depending on the amount of salt in the fajita seasoning, which varies from recipe to recipe and manufacturer to manufacturer, it may or may not be necessary to add additional salt to the soup stock.)

IMG_0656 IMG_0656 IMG_0656~ Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the achiote oil and fajita seasoning.  Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the vegetables in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0666 IMG_0666 IMG_0666 IMG_0666~Step 2.  Add the chicken stock, beef stock, fire-roasted tomatoes, and cilantro.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer and cook until carrots are soft, about 20 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep for 1-2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.  Overnight is best.

For my spice-is-right Mexican chorizo & ground beef meatballs: 

IMG_0701For the Mexican-style mini-meatballs:

1/2  pound chorizo sausage

1/2  pound 85% lean ground beef

2  teaspoons fajita seasoning, homemade or store-bought

2  teaspoons dried mint leaves

6  tablespoons uncooked long-grain white rice

1  large egg, raw

IMG_0683 IMG_0683 IMG_0683Step 1.  In a medium mixing bowl, place the Mexican chorizo sausage, ground beef, fajita seasoning, dried mint leaves and rice.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine.  Add the egg and combine again.

IMG_0692 IMG_0692 IMG_0692~Step 2.  Using a 1" ice-cream scoop as a measure, form balls and roll between the palms of hands into 3/4" meatballs, placing them on a parchment-lined baking pan as you work.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2-3 hours, to give rice time to soften a bit.  There will be 5-dozen meatballs.

IMG_0713For the add-in's and garnishes:

1  cup well-drained and rinsed black beans*

1  cup well-drained sweet corn kernels

minced cilantro or cilantro sprigs

*Note:  In the Fall/Winter months, I like to add spinach.  In the Summer, when my garden produces them, I add green and yellow zucchini.

IMG_0710 IMG_0710 IMG_0710 IMG_0710 IMG_0710 IMG_0710~Step 3.  Bring soup to a simmer over medium-high heat.  One or two at a time, drop meatballs into simmering soup (do it this way to keep soup simmering).  When meatballs have been added, adjust heat to a gentler simmer, partially cover pot and cook 10-12 minutes.  Add black beans and corn and simmer, uncovered, 2-3 more minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow soup to steep, about 30-45 minutes, prior to serving.

Ladle into soup bowls & garnish as you wish:

IMG_0737So delish you'll want another dish:

IMG_0752Sopa de Albondigas (Mexican-Style Meatball Soup):  Recipe yields 4 quarts soup/soup base, 5 dozen small 3/4"-round meatballs and 8-10 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; vegetable peeler; kitchen-safe twine; 8-quart wide-bottomed stock pot w/lid; large spoon; 1" ice-cream-type scoop; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c807903f970bCook's Note: When I use my crockpot, it's not because I have no time to cook, it's because what I'm letting it cook for me, without compromise, is really good.  It's no secret, I've never been a crockpot kinda gal, but, over the past few years I've mellowed.  For one of our family's favorite Tex-Mex-style soups, try ~ Easy-Does-It: Crockpot Chicken Enchilada Soup ~.  Using pantry staples, this recipe takes almost no time to put in the crock and tastes reminiscent of a tasty trip South of the border.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/12/2019

~ The Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Marinade ~

IMG_0647The hamlet of Endwell, the village of Endicott, and, the city of Binghamton.  What do these three places in upstate New York have in common?  They each own a piece of the claim to creating a sandwich unique to their area, and, popularizing it to the point to hold an annual three-days-in-August food festival and hot-air balloon rally that attracts over 100,000 people to celebrate.  The "Spiedie" comes from the Italian word "spiede", as-in cubes of skewered meat cooked on a "spit".

Spiediefest08_400x400An Italian immigrant, Camillo Lacovelli is said to have introduced the original spiedie to Endwell, NY, in the early 1930's. Via his brother, Agostino "Augie" Lacovelli, who put spiedies on his Augie's Restaurant (located in Endicott) menu in 1939, they gained local popularity.  Augie's son Guido Lacovelli, continued the family business into the 1990's, owning as many as 26 restaurants at the peak of his career.  It was only natural for the spiedie sandwich to make its way to the big city of Binghamton -- its initial appearance was in 1947 at the still very popular Sharky's Bar & Grill, owned by Peter Sharak.  The rest is history.

Binghamton is the spiedie capital of the world.  

IMG_0614The secret to a great spiedie is the tangy and tart marinade.

IMG_0465Visiting this region of New York and not eating a spiedie would be tantamount to a foodie traveling to Philadelphia or Chicago and not eating a cheesesteak sandwich or an Italian-beef sandwich. My classic spiedie recipe consists of cubes of marinated chicken, pork, beef, veal or lamb, skewered, char-grilled and served in a soft, hoagie-type roll (or a slice of Italian bread), with a bit of extra sauce (simmered marinade) drizzled on top.  The marinade is the star of the show and is similar to Italian dressing (oil, vinegar, paprika and a variety of Italian spices, including mint in many versions), which quickly caramelizes when it hits the grill, keeping the meat cubes tender on the inside.  

For a tasty store-bought version, Lupo's is the brand I recommend, and, was the flavor profile I used to come up with my own recipe.  That said, while the original Italian-style spiedie marinade is the most popular, spiedie marinades have crossed cultural borders.  Variations in the marinade make it possible to make and serve them Asian-, Greek-, Jamaican-, Tex-Mex-, etc., style, and, eaten straight off the skewer or in salads or stir-fries, they're not limited to sandwiches anymore.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad35bca62200c 6a0120a8551282970b0223c8493631200c IMG_1279My marinade = enough to marinate 5-6 pounds 1"-cubed boneless, skinless chicken thighs or tenderloins, pork blade steak or pork tenderloin, or, nicely-marbled beef steak.  Because marinade works exclusively as a flavorizer, not a tenderizer, I avoid meat like chicken breasts, pork loin and sirloin steak, which tend to get tough.

In all cases, marination is a flavorizer not a tenderizer...

IMG_0624For 2 1/2 cups marinade (enough for 5-6 pounds meat cubes):

3/4  cup  corn oil

3/4  cup malt vinegar

6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or high-quality store-bought organic lemon juice not from concentrate

2  tablespoons sugar

2  teaspoons Italian seasoning

2  teaspoons dried mint

1  tablespoon garlic salt

1  tablespoon onion salt

2  teaspoons paprika

2  teaspoons sea salt

IMG_0627 IMG_0627~ Step 1.  To make marinade, in a 1-quart "shaker" container (the type used to shake salad dressing in order to stabilize it) or jar with a tight fitting lid, place all ingredients as listed.  Cover and shake container.  If you have that time, set the marinade aside for several hours, or overnight, to allow the flavors time to marry.  It may be prepared several days in advance, and, like any vinaigrette, stored in the refrigerator indefinitely too.

IMG_0477Note:  After marinating the meat, the leftover marinade may be transferred to a small 1-quart saucepan and gently simmered 3-4 minutes to use as a flavorful sauce for dipping or drizzling over finished sandwiches -- and a wee drizzle goes a long way.  There's more.  For a sweeter version of the simmered sauce, add 2 tablespoons honey to the mixture -- be aware that sweet marinades can and will burn or boil over quickly on the grill or stovetop, so be sure to watch carefully. 

&, the length of marination time does not affect the grilling time.

IMG_0483Try my classic Italian-style spiedies w/bell peppers & onions:

IMG_0544Or, my Tex-Mex-marinated spiedies w/Texican barbecue sauce:

IMG_0568The Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Marinade:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups marinade for 5-6 pound chicken, pork or beef cubes.

Special Equipment List: 1-quart measuring container w/pourer top and lid, or, 1-quart jar w/tight-fitting lid; 2-gallon ziplock bag

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0909e769970dCook's Note:  For a similar sandwich, which isn't a spiedie because the meat doesn't get marinated, my recipe for ~ Herbed Pork Skewers w/Apricot-Mustard Sauce ~ is a keeper.  That said, in the event you'd like to transition it into a spiedie that uses pork tenderloin (it would be easy to do), my step-by-step directions will show you how to slice and fold the pork slices (not cut it into cubes), which keeps this cut of pork super-tender.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/10/2019

~ The Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Sandwich ~

IMG_0614Endicott, NY, is off the beaten path for some, which is why the spiedie sandwich just might be the best sandwich a lot of folks never heard of.  The odd part is, growing up with parents who pretty much stuck close to their home in Eastern, PA, as a family we actually made it to New York every now and then, and, everyone in our family, including grandma, loved a spiedie sandwich.  It was back in the 1960's, and, I was so young, I didn't even know I was eating an official spiedie.

B146b8f0f761201051e282db4e01d334--seneca-dodge-dartMy grandmother, my mom's mother, had a  friend who lived in Endicott New York (a town West of Binghamton).  For 6-8 years, once every Summer, our family of four plus grandma, arranged ourselves in dad's brand-new all-white, 1960 Dodge Dart Seneca and headed North.  It was a long day (we left early in the morning and returned late in the evening), but just before arriving at our destination, we stopped to eat spiedies for lunch (our hostess always made dinner).

^^^ I stole this photo after an internet search for a white, four-door, 1960 Dodge Dart Seneca.

As Philadelphia, PA = the cheesesteak capital of the world, &, Chicago, IL = the Italian-beef capital of the world...

IMG_0465The spiedie is a sandwich local to the Binghamton area, and, visiting this region and not eating a spiedie would be like traveling to the Philadelphia or Chicago and not eating a cheesesteak sandwich or an Italian-beef sandwich.  Simply put, a spiedie consists of cubes of marinated chicken, pork, beef or lamb, skewered, char-grilled and served in a soft, hoagie-type roll (or a slice of Italian bread), with a bit of extra sauce (simmered marinade) drizzled on top.  The marinade is the star of the show and is similar to Italian dressing (containing oil, vinegar, paprika and a variety of Italian spices, including mint in many versions), which quickly caramelizes when it hits the grill, keeping the meat cubes tender on the inside.  For a tasty store-bought version, which will give you a flavor profile to follow, should you be inclined to make your own, Lupo's is the brand I recommend.

... Binghamton, NY = the spiedie capital of the world!

IMG_0604"Spiedie" comes from the Italian word "spiede", as-in skewered food cooked on a "spit".  As for their origin, three people seemed to have played a part in their creation and popularization.  An Italian immigrant, Camillo Lacovelli claims to have invented the original spiedie in Endwell, NY. Via his brother, Agostino "Augie" Lacovelli, who put spiedies on his Augie's Restaurant (located in Endicott) menu in 1939, they gained local popularity.  Augie's son Guido Lacovelli, continued the family business into the 1990's, owning as many as 26 restaurants at the peak of his career.

  And this Italian-heritaged sandwich has plenty of variations. 

IMG_0544It was only natural for the spiedie sandwich to make its way to the big city of Binghamton -- its initial appearance was in 1947 at Sharky's Bar & Grill, owned by Peter Sharak.  The rest is history and Binghamton, is now the spiedie capital of the world, with an annual three-day Spiedie Festival and Balloon Rally that attracts over 100,000 people.  While the original Italian-style spiedie is still the most popular, spiedies have crossed cultural borders.  Variations in the marinade make it possible to make and serve them Asian-, Greek-, Jamaican-, Tex-Mex-, etc., style, and, eaten straight off the skewer or in salads or stir-fries, they're not limited to sandwiches anymore.

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 9.34.22 AMFor my version of the Classic Italian Spiedie Sandwich:

IMG_0480For the meat:  

2 1/2-3 pounds boneless chicken thighs or tenderloins, or pork blade steak (trimmed of excess fat) or pork tenderloin, cut into 1" cubes, marinated as directed below (Note:  Nicely-marbled steak or leg of lamb options too.)

2  each:  green and red bell peppers, sliced into 1" squares* 

1  large sweet onion, sliced into 1" squares*

*Note:  While a classic Italian spiedie is traditionally just marinated and grilled meat placed in an Italian roll or on slice of Italian bread, bell pepper and onions are classic Italian ingredients, and, my family will not allow me to make Italian spiedies without them.  The choice is yours. 

IMG_0624To make 1 1/4 cups marinade (enough for 2 1/2-3 pounds meat cubes):

6  tablespoons  corn oil

6  tablespoons malt vinegar

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or store-bought organic lemon juice, not from concentrate

1  tablespoon sugar

1  teaspoon Italian seasoning

1  teaspoon dried mint

1 1/2  teaspoons  garlic salt

1 1/2  teaspoons onion salt

1  teaspoon paprika

1  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_0597 IMG_0597~ Step 1.  To make marinade (which can be prepared several hours or days in advance), in a 2-cup "shaker" container (the type used to shake salad dressing in order to stabilize it), place all ingredients as listed.  Cover and shake container.

Note: After marinating the meat, the leftover marinade may be transferred to a small 1-quart saucepan and gently simmered 3-4 minutes to use as a flavorful sauce for dipping or drizzling over finished sandwiches -- and a wee drizzle goes a long way.  There's more.  For a sweeter version of the simmered marinade/sauce, add 2 tablespoons honey to the mixture, but, be aware that a saucepan containing a sweet marinade can and will burn or boil over quickly on the grill or stovetop, so be sure to watch carefully.   In the case of ALL things marinated: 

Marination is a flavorizer not a tenderizer, &, the length of the marination time does not affect the grilling time.

IMG_0467 IMG_0467 IMG_0467 IMG_0467~Step 2. Place chicken or pork cubes in a 1-gallon ziplock bag. Add the marinade and seal the bag.  Marinate the chicken or pork cubes, in the refrigerator, for 6-12-24 hours (the longer the better), stopping to squish the bag occasionally (if convenient), throughout the process.

IMG_0483~Step 3.  To assemble 16, 8" bamboo skewers, thread one marinated meat cube, followed by one slice each of green bell pepper, onion and red bell pepper.  Continue alternating meat cubes and vegetable, until each skewer contains 4 cubes of meat and 3 groups of peppers and onion.  To this point, spiedie skewers can be assembled several hours and up to a day in advance of grilling.

IMG_0491~Step 4.  To grill skewers on an outdoor gas grill (or indoors using a grill pan), arrange skewers, side-by-side, on grill grids over direct heat on medium-high heat of gas grill, or, on grill grids of a large grill pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop. The heat on all grills and stovetops is not even close to being created equal, so be sure to monitor the process, which, is easy to do and goes relatively quickly.

IMG_0496 IMG_0496 IMG_0496 IMG_0496~Step 5.  Grill (all at once or in batches depending upon the size of grill or grill pan), turning four times, until meat is cooked through and light golden on all sides, and peppers are showing signs of light charring around the edges.  On grill or in grill pan, this will take about 14-15 total minutes.

Unthred onto buns & serve w/marinade for dipping or drizzling:

IMG_0546The Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Sandwich: Recipe yields 16 skewers, enough for 8 large hoagie-sized sandwiches or 16 smaller hot-dog-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 2-cup "shaker" container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; 1-gallon ziplock bag; 16, 8" bamboo skewers; gas barbecue grill or large grill pan

IMG_0568Cook's Note:  Variations in the marinade make it possible to serve spiedies Asian-style, Greek-style, Jamaican-style, etc, so, do not hesitate to be creative.  Allow me to suggest you try my ~ Texican-Style Pork Steak and Bell Pepper Spiedies ~.  These are marinated in a tangy lime- and cilantro-laced marinade and accompanied by my ~ Easy Sweet & Spicy Tex-Mex-Style Barbecue Sauce ~. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/08/2019

~ Texican-Style Pork Steak and Bell Pepper Spiedies ~

IMG_0537My grandmother, my mother's mother, had a close friend who lived in Endicott New York (a village just West of Binghamton).  For a period of six-eight years, once every Summer, our family of four plus grandma, arranged ourselves in my dad's all-white, 1960 Dodge Dart Seneca and headed North.  It was a very long day (we left early in the morning and returned late in the evening), but just before arriving at our destination, we stopped to eat spiedies for lunch (our hostess made us dinner). Our family, including grandma, loved the classic Italian spiedies in Endicott -- Dad and I liked ours made with pork, while my brother, mom and grandma preferred theirs with chicken.

This was us (photo of Dodge Dart Seneca is carped from internet):

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49eb600200b

As Philadelphia, PA = the cheesesteak capital of the world, &, Chicago, IL = the Italian-beef capital of the world... 

IMG_0465The spiedie is a sandwich local to the Binghamton area, and, visiting this region and not eating a spiedie would be like traveling to the Philadelphia or Chicago and not eating a cheesesteak sandwich or an Italian-beef sandwich.  Simply put, the classic Italian spiedie consists of cubes of marinated chicken, pork, beef or lamb, skewered, grilled, and served in a long, soft roll (or on a slice of Italian bread), with a bit of sauce (simmered marinade) drizzled on top.  The marinade is the star of the show and similar to Italian dressing (containing oil, vinegar, lemon, paprika and a variety of Italian spices, including mint in most versions), which quickly caramelizes when it hits the grill, keeping the meat tender on the inside.  For a tasty store-bought version, which will provide a flavor profile, if you're inclined to make your own, I recommend Lupo's.

... Binghamton, NY = the spiedie capital of the world!

"Spiedie" comes from the Italian word "spiede", as-in skewered food cooked on a "spit".  As for their origin, three people seemed to have played a part in their creation and popularization.  An Italian immigrant, Camillo Lacovelli claims to have invented the original spiedie in Endwell, NY. Via his brother, Agostino "Augie" Lacovelli, who put spiedies on his Augie's Restaurant (located in Endicott) menu in 1939, they gained local popularity.  Augie's son Guido Lacovelli, continued the family business into the 1990's, owning as many as 26 restaurants at the peak of his career.

  And this Italian-heritaged sandwich has plenty of variations. 

It was only natural for the spiedie sandwich to make its way to the big city of Binghamton -- its initial appearance was in 1947 at Sharky's Bar & Grill, owned by Peter Sharak.  The rest is history and Binghamton, is now the spiedie capital of the world, with an annual three-day Spiedie Festival and Balloon Rally that attracts over 100,000 people.  While the original Italian-style spiedie is still the most popular, spiedies have crossed cultural borders.  Variations in the marinade make it possible to make and serve them Asian-, Greek-, Jamaican-, Tex-Mex-, etc., style, and, eaten straight off the skewer or in salads or stir-fries, they're not limited to sandwiches anymore.

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 9.34.22 AMArmed w/a cuisine-appropriate marinade, I make spiedies several ways throughout the grilling season.  Today = Tex-Mex-Style.

IMG_7102To make 1 1/4 cups marinade:

3/4 cup achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) vegetable oil*

6  tablespoons white vinegar

6  tablespoons lime juice, fresh or high-quality organic lime juice

1  tablespoon ground cumin

1  tablespoon dried Mexican oregano and Mexican-style chili powder

2  teaspoons each: garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  cup minced cilantro leaves

*Note:  Achiote oil, which is readily available everywhere, has annatto added to it, which is what gives it its signature pretty orange color, and, ever-so-slight hint of earthy, musty, peppery flavor. Annatto is the seed of the achiote tree, which is indigenous to Central and South America.  The seeds are usually ground to a powder or steeped in oil prior to adding to all sorts of Spanish-style fare.  If you don't do a lot of this type of cooking, don't buy it, or, if you don't want the orange color added to the dish you are serving, simply substitute vegetable oil without compromise.

IMG_7103 IMG_7103 IMG_7108 IMG_7108~Step 1.  In a small capacity food processor or blender, measure and place all ingredients as listed:  vegetable oil, vinegar, lime juice and all of the dry spices.  Mince and add the cilantro. Process or blend, until smooth, about 15-20 seconds.  Marinate pork for 6-12-24 hours.

Note:  After marinating the pork, the leftover marinade may be transferred to a small 1-quart saucepan and gently simmered for 4-5 minutes to use as a very-flavorful sauce for dipping or drizzling over the finished sandwiches -- a little goes a long way.  There's more.  For a sweeter version of the marinade (or the simmered sauce), add 2 tablespoons honey to the mixture -- be aware that sweet marinades can and will burn or boil over quickly on the grill or stovetop, so be sure to watch carefully under either circumstance.  In the case of ALL things marinated: 

Marination does not affect cooking time, it is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.

IMG_0467To marinate the pork:

2 1/2-3  pounds pork blade steak*, trimmed of excessive outer fat and cut into 1" cubes, two 3/4"-1"-thick steaks cut by your butcher as directed below

all marinade, from above recipe

6a0120a8551282970b0223c8493631200c-1*Steaks cut from the pork shoulder are marbled with lots of fat and rich with collagen, which, like the roast, makes them extremely flavorful.  

Because overcooking renders them dry and tough, this quick-cooking cut is perfect for the grill, sauté pan or broiler.  Choose pinkish-gray steaks that are generally the same size and thickness (3/4"-1" thick is ideal), and, have been trimmed of excessive fat from the fat-cap-side. The four steaks pictured here, weighing a total of 6.48 pounds, cost $10.87.  That's a whole lot of economical porcine wonderfulness -- especially if you've got a big family.

IMG_0471 IMG_0471 IMG_0471~Step 1. Place pork cubes in a 1-gallon ziplock bag. Add the marinade and seal the bag.  Marinate the pork, in the refrigerator, for 6-12-24 hours, stopping to squish the bag occasionally (if convenient), throughout the process.

IMG_0480To assemble and grill 16, 8" pork steak skewers:

2  each:  green and red bell peppers, sliced into 1" squares 

1  large sweet onion, sliced into 1" squares

all of the marinated pork cubes, from above recipe

8  Italian-cheesesteak-type rolls, thick-sliced Italian bread, or, 16 brioche hot dog rolls, your choice

IMG_0483~ Step 1.  To assemble 16, 8" bamboo skewers, thread one marinated meat cube, followed by one slice each of green bell pepper, onion and red bell pepper.  Continue alternating pork cubes and vegetable, until each skewer contains 4 cubes of pork and 3 groups of peppers and onion.  To this point, spiedie skewers can be assembled several hours and up to a day in advance of grilling.

IMG_0491~Step 2.  To grill skewers on an outdoor gas grill (or indoors using a grill pan), arrange skewers, side-by-side, on grill grids over direct heat on medium-high heat of gas grill, or, on grill grids of a large grill pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop. The heat on all grills and stovetops is not even close to being created equal, so be sure to monitor the process, which, is easy to do and goes relatively quickly.

IMG_0496 IMG_0496 IMG_0496 IMG_0496~Step 3.  Grill (all at once or in batches depending upon the size of grill or grill pan), turning four times, until pork is cooked through and light golden on all sides, and peppers are showing signs of light charring around the edges.  On grill or in grill pan, this will take about 14-15 total minutes.

Unthred onto buns & serve w/Texas-Style Barbecue Sauce...

IMG_0568... drizzled over the top of this mouthwatering sandwich: 

IMG_0583Tex-Mex-Style Pork Steak and Bell Pepper Spiedie:  Recipe yields 16 skewers, enough for 8 large hoagie-sized sandwiches or 16 smaller hot-dog-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small capacity food processor; 1-cup measuring container; 1-gallon ziplock bag; 16, 8" bamboo skewers; gas barbecue grill or large grill pan

6a0120a8551282970b0224df3140c6200bCook's Note: The pork blade steak is my new-to-me muse -- in my own words, it's a bone-fide kick-butt man-sized pork chop.  Known as pork steak, pork butt steak or pork blade steak, and similar in taste and texture to close-kin country-style spareribs, they were invented in St. Louis, MO, and are a Midwest staple.  As a country-style spare-rib lover living in central Pennsylvania, I ask the Sam's Club butcher to custom-cut these inexpensive, lesser-to-unknown-to-my-community steaks for me.  Give 'em a try!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/05/2019

~Easy Sweet & Spicy Tex-Mex-Style Barbecue Sauce~

IMG_0526Simmer down.  I am well aware that authentic Texas-style barbecue requires no sauce, and, its purist fans proclaim perfectly-smoked beef, poultry or pork is so lip-smacking fantastic sauce ruins it. I'm neither here to disagree nor apologize -- I'm just a Yankee gal that likes a special or secret sauce with, or on, almost everything that comes off a grill or out of a smoker.  There's more. I have absolutely no idea what might constitute the perfect Tex-Mex-style barbecue sauce, I'm simply here to share my culinary concoction of sweet and savory pleasing-to-me perfection.

Specific to no one dish, but loyal to the cuisine du jour.

My kitchen is no different than anyone elses.  The cuisine we're in the mood changes from day to day.  Be it Asian, Greek, Italian, Jamaican or Texican (to name a few of our favorites), having an all-purpose marinade or dry rub, along with a sauce for dipping or drizzling, suited specifically to the flavor profile for any cuisine, makes meal preparation for any family easy, not to mention creative and fun.  Trust me when I tell you, any way you cook it, every dish prepared in the home kitchen doesn't have to be authentic, classic, or traditional.  It just has to look and taste great.

IMG_04222  8-ounce cans tomato sauce

1/4  cup light-flavored molasses

6  tablespoons Worcestershire

1  tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1  teaspoon dry English mustard

1  teaspoon Mexican oregano

1/2  teaspoon each:  ground cinnamon and cumin

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon each: garlic and onion powder

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

IMG_0426 IMG_0426 IMG_0426 IMG_0426 IMG_0426~Step 1.  Place all ingredients as listed in a 1-quart saucepan.  Bring to a steady simmer over medium heat and continue to cook, stirring constantly, 5-6 minutes.  Sauce will be thick, but not too thick -- perfect for dipping or drizzling on almost any Tex-Mex-style grilled meat, poultry or pork.  Place in a food storage container and store in refrigerator up to 3-4 weeks.

Try my Texican-style Pork Steak & Bell Pepper Spiedies

IMG_0519Easy Sweet & Spicy Tex-Mex-Style Barbecue Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups barbecue sauce.

Special Equipment List:  1-quart saucepan; spoon; appropriate-sized food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b019102de4b79970cCook's Note: I'm a sauce-a-holic.  I think almost everything tastes better with a perfectly executed sauce on top of it, underneath it or to the side of it.  I think a saucier (a person who devotes oneself to the art of saucemaking) is the most valuable person in the kitchen. From appetizers to desserts, a simple or sophisticated sauce not only enhances food, it can mask a minor mishap or mistake.  ~ Kansas City BBQ Sauce:  Sweet, Spicy & Smokey ~, is one of my favorites.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/03/2019

~Spicy Southwestern-Style Candied Sweet Potatoes~

IMG_0389April showers bring May flowers, tick-tock, and so starts the prime-time grilling season.  Across the country, home cooks and grill-masters are already concocting their secret recipes for sweet and savory wet sauces and spice-is-nice dry rubs.  Once the chicken and ribs start hitting the grill grids, neighborhoods everywhere will be filled with the ethereal smell of barbecue.  Get out the paper plates and napkins, place the side-dishes on the table, pop a beer and pull up a chair.

Speaking of side-dishes (notice how I snuck that in), while Northeastern Deutsch-Amish potato-salads, macaroni-salads and coleslaws reign undeniably supreme (as far as cold, starchy side-dishes to eat during the Summer season), if you're looking for a hot option, in place of the ever-popular Midwestern baked bean- and/or baked-corn- casserole, allow me to suggest some spicy-and-syrupy Southwestern-style candied sweet potatoes to go with your poultry or porcine.

Times change, people change, &, candied sweet potatoes aren't just for Easter ham & Thanksgiving turkey anymore.

As a kid, I never understood why our family didn't eat sweet potatoes more often.  Mom served them twice a year.  Once in the Spring, with our Easter ham, and, once in the Fall, with our Thanksgiving turkey -- at both holidays, a table full of family and friends ate them enthusiastically. Even though I didn't waste a lot of time pondering this situation as a child, when I got older, I asked my mom.  She served them twice a year because her mother served them twice a year.

0-Yucatan-peninsula-on-the-map'Tis true.  Most of us don't start thinking about sweet potatoes until the leaves turn color in the Fall, and, I was in that rut too, until I attended an outdoor wedding with a pig-roast reception several years ago. While I don't remember if the wedding was in July or August, I can't forget the big platters, heaped with chunks of perfectly-cooked porcine surrounded by creamy sweet-potatoes enrobed in a brown-sugar-, cinnamon-, clove-, cumin- and cayenne-laced sauce.  What's not to love.

The main difference between Mexican-style candied sweet potatoes & all other American-regional candied sweet potatoes is...

The catering team was a Texican-American man and a woman who hailed from the Yucatan Peninsula. The camotes enmielados, or Mexican-style candied sweet potatoes, were remarkable.  My friend and mother-of-the-bride was kind enough request the recipe details on my behalf. Interestingly, the method is not that different from making Southern-style or any type of candied sweet potatoes -- even the spices (sans the earthy cumin and spicy cayenne) are similar.

... Piloncillo (or Panela) -- Mexican brown cane-sugar cones.

IMG_0331I was pleasantly surprised to find them on the shelves of my grocery store. As it turns out, piloncillo is a brown form of Mexican sugar known for its strong molasses flavor (which comes from the sugar being left unrefined, not from adding molasses).  In Mexican cuisine, it's used in recipes that are enhanced by a strong molasses flavor (beverages, gingerbread, flan, etc.). Sometimes sold in bricks, it's mostly packed in 2-, 4- or 8-ounce cones, but, if you can't find piloncillo, dark brown sugar may be substituted. That said, recipes using piloncello are always weight specific, so substitute brown sugar accordingly.

For this Southwestern version of Mexican candied sweet potatoes:

IMG_03422 1/2-3  pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, ends trimmed, cut into 1 1/2"-thick discs

1  8-ounce piloncillo cone

1  cup water

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, more or less, for heat, to taste

IMG_0349 IMG_0349 IMG_0349 IMG_0349 IMG_0349~Step 1.  Rinse the potatoes under cold water to remove any grit.  Trim off the woody ends, then, slice the potatoes into 1 1/2"-thick discs.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, place the water and all spices.  Add the sweet potato discs (it is ok to stack them in two layers) and the whole piloncillo cone, making certain the piloncillo cone makes contact with the water.  

IMG_0363 IMG_0363 IMG_0363 IMG_0363~Step 2.  Cover pan.  Bring water to a rapid simmer over medium- medium-high heat. Adjust (lower) heat to a gentle but steady simmer and continue to cook for 30 minutes. Remove lid. Insert the tines of a fork into the tops of one or two of the potatoes.  If the lid has remained on the pan throughout the entire cooking process, the potatoes will be be steamed-through and tender to their centers, and, the piloncillo cone will be completely dissolved.  Turn the heat off.  Using a slotted spatula, transfer the potatoes from the sugary-liquid to a shallow serving bowl.

IMG_0377 IMG_0377 IMG_0377~Step 3.  Return the sugary-liquid, which is still quite thin, to a steady simmer and cook, uncovered, 5-6 minutes, to thicken to the consistency of maple syrup.  Remove from heat and drizzle the syrup over the sweet potatoes.  Serve ASAP with grilled chicken, pork chops or blade steaks, or, pulled pork.

Serve w/grilled poultry or porcine & watch the crowd to go wild:

IMG_0395Spicy Southwestern-Style Candied Sweet Potatoes:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; 1-cup measuring container; fork; slotted spatula

IMG_0277Cook's Note:  Anything a Russet potato can do, a sweet potato can do better.  Put a baked sweet potato on a plate and I require little else. On occasion, I microwave-bake one for me, to eat in place of dinner -- a pat or three of butter, a grind or two of sea salt and peppercorn blend, tick-tock, I'm fed.  This applies to twice-baked potatoes too, and, for another year-round sweet potato treat, you should try my recipe for ~ Twice-Baked Fully-Loaded Texican Sweet Potatoes ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/31/2019

~ Twice-Baked Fully-Loaded Texican Sweet Potatoes ~

IMG_0277In my food world, as far as I'm concerned, anything a Russet potato can do, a sweet potato can do better. Put a baked sweet potato on my plate and I require little else.  Truth told, on occasion, I microwave-bake one just for me, to eat in place of dinner -- a pat or three of butter, a grind or two of sea salt and peppercorn blend, tick-tock, I'm fed.  I love sweet potatoes, and, when it comes to baked potatoes, I will always choose a creamy sweet potato over a fluffy Russet potato.

For me, as recent as three decades ago, sweet potatoes were reserved for Thanksgiving dinner. We had three boys and during the '80's and into the '90's, the Russet ruled the roost.  If Joe was grilling steaks for dinner, my twice-fried French-fries or twice-baked potatoes, loaded with bacon, cheddar and broccoli, were our family's favorite side dishes.  That said, when Joe was traveling, every now and then I'd make the kids twice-baked taco taters, loaded with cheddar, American-style ground-beef taco meat topped with sour cream and salsa, for dinner. 

Making twice-baked potatoes is a method, not an exact recipe.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08596ffe970dA twice baked potato is exactly what the name implies:  It's a potato that gets baked in the oven twice.  After the first bake, the potato is sliced in half and the light, fluffy soft-center is carefully scooped out, leaving the shell/the potato skin undamaged. The cooked center is then mashed, mashed-potato-style, with butter, salt, pepper and/or various seasonings and creamy options like sour cream, yogurt and/or cream cheese.  Then the fun begins:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a014be200dAdd-ins, absolutely anything you want, usually family-friendly favorites (like the combination of bits of crispy chopped bacon and blanched chopped broccoli topped with shredded cheddar cheese in photo above), get folded in.  The flavor-packed potato mixture is scooped back into the the potato skins and baked a second time, which makes the skin crispy and melts the cheese on top -- they're the Rolls Royce of the baked-potato world.  For me, anything a Russet potato can do, a sweet potato can do better, except for one thing:

When baking or twice-baking sweet potatoes, because the tough sweet potato skin is a less than desirable eating experience, there is no reason to take the time to roast them in the oven -- the microwave does it in half the time.  That said, the reverse is true for Russets -- when oven-roasted correctly, they emerge with a crispy, edible skin, which the microwave cannot achieve.

An inconvenient truth:  A sweet potato is not a yam.

IMG_8026A bit about sweet potatoes:  Sweet potatoes were first introduced to North America when Columbus brought them over from the island of St. Thomas, where this large edible root (which belongs to the morning-glory family) is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.  There are many varieties of sweet potato, but the two most widely grown commercially are a pale sweet potato and a dark-skinned variety Americans erroneously call "yam" (the true yam is not even related to the sweet potato).  The pale potato has a thin, light yellow skin and pale yellow flesh. Its flavor is not sweet, and, after being cooked, the pale sweet potato is dry and crumbly, similar to that of a Russet potato. The darker variety (pictured above) has a thicker, dark-orange skin and vivid-orange, sweet flesh.  When cooked it has a very sweet flavor and a creamy texture. The dark-skinned, orange-colored variety is the only kind I use in my recipes.

IMG_5635When buying sweet potatoes, choose plump, firm even-sized ones with no cracks. Like regular potatoes they should never be stored in the refrigerator, but do need to be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place. If the temperature is above 60 degrees, they'll begin to sprout, get woody and/or shriveled.  Cooked sweet potatoes, if stored in the refrigerator, last about a week.  Like regular potatoes, sweet potates are always eaten cooked, never raw.

My recipe = cheese on the bottom & top of the filling.

Great twice-baked potatoes or twice-baked sweet potatoes are not pot-luck or a place to throw your leftovers -- they are usually very-well conceived.  I've tasted a lot of creative versions and the best combinations always contain some type of cooked meat, poultry or porcine, a vegetable or two, and, grated cheese.  That said, I've never tasted a low-calorie or low-fat version of a twice-baked potato that had a purpose.  Who in the world counts calories when eating these?

IMG_0224For 6-8 twice-baked fully-loaded sweet potatoes:

6-8  large 15-16-ounce sweet potatoes

6-8  ounces finely-shredded Mexican cheese blend

6-8  ounces queso blanco or queso fresco cheese, minced or crumbled

4  cups chorizo sausage filling, prepared as directed below:

IMG_0191For 4 cups chorizo sausage filling:

3/4-1  pound Mexican-chorizo sausage

3/4-1  cup thinly-sliced scallions, white and light-green parts only

1/2-3/4  cup minced, fresh cilantro

3/4-1  cup rinsed and well-drained black beans (half a 15-ounce can)

3/4-1  cup well-drained sweet corn kernels (half a 15-ounce can)

IMG_0270For the accompaniments (about 1 tablespoon each per potato) and final garnish:

1/2  cup Mexican crema or sour cream

1/2  cup avocado crema or guacamole

1/2  cup pico de gallo or salsa fresca

minced cilantro leaves or thinly-sliced scallion tops, for garnish

IMG_0226 IMG_0226 IMG_0226~Step 1.  To microwave-bake sweet potatoes, use the tines of a fork to prick the skin of their tops in several (5-6) spots.  Arrange potatoes, side-by-side on a microwave-safe plate and cook, as per the instruction booklet of your microwave.  My GE Advantium oven bakes four potatoes at a time, according to size and weight (small, medium or large).  Today's potatoes should be done in 18 1/2 minutes.  If they are not, I will finish cook them on express (high) in 1 1/2-2 minute increments until they are.  

IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194~Step 2.  To make the chorizo sausage filling, place sausage in a 10" nonstick skillet and use a nonstick spatula to break it up into rough pieces.  Add the scallions and cilantro.  Adjust heat under skillet to medium- medium-high and gently sauté until sausage is just cooked through, 5-6 minutes, continuing to use the spatula to break sausage up into small bits and pieces as it cooks. Add and stir in the black beans and corn, and continue to cook, 1 more minute.  Remove from heat and transfer chorizo sausage filling to a paper-towel-lined plate to thoroughly drain.

IMG_0234 IMG_0234 IMG_0234 IMG_0234 IMG_0234 IMG_0234~Step 3.  Remove potatoes from microwave and set aside 5-10 minutes to cool slightly.  At a slight angle, vertical-slice the left and right ends down to within 1/4" of bottom of potato.  Horizontal-slice through the middle of the potato down to within 1/4" of bottom.  Use a fork to loosen and fluff the tender interior.  Using your fingertips, sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of Mexican cheese blend into the cavity, followed by a generous 1/2 cup of the sausage filling, followed by about 2 tablespoons of the queso fresco cheese.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and return to microwave to express cook 30-60 seconds.  Serve immediately.

Serve ASAP (w/guacamole, crema & salsa fresca): 

IMG_0304Don't wait or hesitate -- Stick a fork in it & dig in:

IMG_0322Twice-Baked Fully-Loaded Texican Sweet Potatoes:  Recipe yields 6-8 large, hearty, main-course, what's-for-dinner servings.

Special Equipment List:  fork; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula; paper towels; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3c11477200bCook's Note:  Sweet potatoes are a fantastic substitution for Russets in potato- or baked-potato- soup too. That said, when it comes to sweet potato soup, think "savory soup" not "sweet dessert" and season accordingly. Sweet potato soup needs no sugar, brown sugar or honey -- sweet potatoes are full of flavor, texture and are naturally sweet. When served as a savory starter to a meal -- no cinnamon or nutmeg please.  Herbes de Provence, cracked black pepper and a kiss of fresh rosemary does it all.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/28/2019

~Mexican Chorizo Sausage & Scrambled Egg Burrito~

IMG_0110If hearty, protein-packed eating is the perfect start to the day, Texicans make the best breakfasts. While I occasionally enjoy a steak-and-egg omelette, serve me a Ham-Packed Denver Omelette instead and I'm doin' a happy dance.  Porcine (bacon, sausage and ham) have always been at the top of my what-meat-to-eat-with-my-AM-eggs list, and, I'm here to tell you, Mexican-chorizo is quickly becoming my new muse.  If like me, you enjoy a bit of huevos rancheros or chorizo con huevos kinda heat to start your day, this type of chorizo has cha-cha-cha.

IMG_0031It's worth mention that aside from the bright-to-tawny red color, Mexican chorizo and Spanish chorizo are not the same, so, purchase with precision.  Mexican chorizo is a fresh, ground-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold loose or in a casing, it is raw and must be cooked before eating it. Spanish chorizo is a dried and fully-cured or semi-cured chopped-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold in a casing, fully-cured is fully-cooked and can be eaten as is, while semi-cured requires cooking prior to eating.

The chorizo con huevos "hearty hangover breakfast burrito"...

IMG_0109I'm not touting this one as traditional, I'm touting it as fantastic. Traditionally, fried chorizo sausage crumbles get doused with a scrambled egg mixture and the two are served as one, as a scrambled egg breakfast -- Chorizo con Huevos (Mexican Sausage Scrambled Eggs) is a traditional Mexican breakfast.  It's commonly served with some refried beans and/or rice along with a soft-flour- or pliable-corn- tortilla, but, that's the extent of the fanfare.  I won't lie, it wasn't my eggstraordinary idea to roll these scrambled eggs up in a refried-bean-and-cheese-lined flour tortilla to serve burrito-style with a drizzle of warm queso and cool salsa.  My pub-owning friend Toni (Antoinette), a Mexican-American gal from San Antonio, TX, created it as her signature "hearty-hangover breakfast-burrito" which, once on her menu, was soon available all day long.

... is not traditional, but it's fantastic, &, it's how I serve it.

IMG_0034For 2 servings Mexican sausage and scrambled eggs:

1/3  pound ground Mexican chorizo sausage (roughly 5-5 1/2 ounces)

6  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions

3  tablespoons minced cilantro

3  jumbo eggs 

3  tablespoons milk

1/8  teaspoon salt

IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 ~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk together eggs, milk and salt.  Set aside.  Place the sausage in an 8" nonstick skillet along with scallions and cilantro.  Cook over medium- medium-high heat until sausage is cooked through, about 5-6 minutes, using a nonstick spatula to break sausage up into small bits and pieces as it cooks.  

IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052~Step 2.  When the sausage is cooked through pour egg mixture over sausage mixture, then use the spatula to scramble the eggs into the sausage. Remove from heat, cover skillet and set aside while prepping the burrito as directed.  These scrambled eggs, on their own without the beans, cheese and flour tortilla are eggstraordinary.

IMG_0071For two chorizo con huevos breakfast burritos:

2  large, 9 1/2"-10" burrito-sized soft flour tortillas

1  cup creamy-style refried beans

1 1/2  cups finely-shredded Mexican-style cheddar-Jack cheese blend

all of the chorizo con huevos (scrambled eggs), divided into two portions, from above recipe

For the recommended accompaniments and/or garnish options:

warm chile con queso (or store-bought salsa con queso) and cold pico de gallo (or store-bought salsa fresca), Mexican crema (or sour cream) and/or avocado crema (or guacamole), and, thinly-sliced scallion tops and/or cilantro leaves 

IMG_0073 IMG_0073 IMG_0073 IMG_0073~Step 1.  To assemble first burrito, place one tortilla on a plate or flat work surface.  Using a butter knife, distribute half the refried beans evenly over surface  Sprinkle half the shredded cheese evenly over surface.  Spoon and mound half the still-warm but not steaming-hot scrambled eggs, in a tubular shape, in the center of the tortilla.  Repeat this process with the second burrito.

IMG_0093 IMG_0093 IMG_0093~Step 2.  To wrap each burrito, lift side closest to you up and over top enough to tuck the end under the eggs on the opposite side.  Next, fold left and right sides of tortilla up and towards the center, to seal the burrito at either end.  Last, roll the tortilla over, so that it sits, fully-encased, seam side down.  To finish-cook burritos, wrap in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and heat in the microwave for 1-1 1/2 minutes, or, in 350º oven 6-8 minutes, just long enough to warm through and melt the cheese.

I'm not here to compete (w/other recipes), I'm just here to eat:

IMG_0129Try Chorizo con Huevos (Mexican Sausage & Scrambled Eggs):

IMG_0157Mexican Chorizo Sausage & Scrambled Egg Burrito:  Recipe yields instructions to make 2 large burritos/2 large servings or 4 smaller servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 8" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula; butter-type knife; plastic wrap; serrated bread knife

IMG_9652Cook's Note: ~ Spicy and Cheesy Breakfast-for-Dinner Scrambled-Egg Quesadillas ~.  Put a plate of these on the table any time of day and you'll have 'em eating out of your hand. They've got everything anyone could want in terms of Tex-Mex flavor and texture. Creamy refried beans, gooey cheddar-Jack cheese, and, Sriracha- cilantro- and scallion-laced scrambled eggs between crisp-tender flour tortillas. Top with pico de gallo, Mexican crema and/or guacamole -- who could possible ask for more? 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/25/2019

~ Chorizo con Huevos -- Mexican Sausage and Eggs ~

IMG_0144Porcine (bacon, sausage and ham) have always been at the top of my what-meat-to-eat-with-my-AM-eggs list, and, I'm here say, Mexican-chorizo is quickly becoming my new muse.  Chorizo con huevos, a Mexican sausage and scramble egg breakfast staple, is as delightful to eat as it is easy-to-prepare. Traditionally, fried chorizo crumbles get doused with a scrambled egg mixture and the two are served as one, as a protein-packed scrambled egg breakfast.  It's commonly served with some Mexican adobo rice, refried beans, and, soft flour or pliable corn tortillas. That's the extent of the fanfare.  It's simple, straightforward, slightly spicy, and, seriously filling.

IMG_0031It's worth mention that aside from the bright-to-tawny red color, Mexican chorizo and Spanish chorizo are not the same, so purchase with precision.  Mexican chorizo is a fresh, ground-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold loose or in a casing, it is raw and must be cooked before eating it. Spanish chorizo is a dried and fully-cured or semi-cured chopped-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold in a casing, fully-cured is fully-cooked and can be eaten as is, while semi-cured requires cooking prior to eating.

Chorizo con Huevos (Mexican sausage & eggs) for two:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb086c5071970dI'm preparing two servings today, but, by simply doubling or tripling, etc. the recipe, and increasing the size of the skillet accordingly, it serves a crowd as quickly as it feeds two. Having made it for my tailgate group, when served with rice, beans and tortillas, I can tell you with certainty that six times the recipe (do the math), if prepared in a 16" electric skillet will easily feed twelve.

IMG_0034For 2 servings Mexican sausage and scrambled eggs:

1/3  pound ground Mexican chorizo sausage (roughly 5-5 1/2 ounces)

6  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions

3  tablespoons minced cilantro

3  jumbo eggs 

3  tablespoons milk

1/8  teaspoon salt

IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk eggs, milk and salt.  Set aside.  Place sausage in an 8" nonstick skillet along with scallions and cilantro.  Cook over medium- medium-high heat until sausage is cooked, 5-6 minutes, using a nonstick spatula to break sausage up into small bits and pieces as it cooks.

IMG_0050 IMG_0050 IMG_0050 IMG_0050 IMG_0050 IMG_0050

~Step 2.  When the sausage is cooked through pour egg mixture over sausage mixture, then use the spatula to scramble the eggs into the sausage. Remove from heat and serve with Mexican-style rice, refried beans and soft flour or corn tortillas.

If hearty, protein-packed eating is the perfect start to the day...

IMG_0157... Mexicans & Texicans make the best breakfasts.

IMG_0172Try my Mexican Chorizo Sausage & Scrambled Egg Burrito too:

IMG_0110Chorizo con Huevos -- Mexican Sausage and Eggs:  Recipe yields 1 large or 2 small servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 8" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a44b3164200cCook's Note: ~ Spicy and Cheesy Breakfast-for-Dinner Scrambled-Egg Quesadillas ~.  Put a plate of these on the table any time of day and you'll have 'em eating out of your hand. They've got everything anyone could want in terms of Tex-Mex flavor and texture. Creamy refried beans, gooey cheddar-Jack cheese, and, Sriracha- cilantro- and scallion-laced scrambled eggs between crisp-tender flour tortillas. Top with pico de gallo, Mexican crema and/or guacamole -- who could possible ask for more?

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/22/2019

~ My Brown-Sugar-Crusted Corned Beef Sandwiches ~

IMG_0013Everyone I know associates corned beef and cabbage with St. Patrick's Day, but, tick-tock, I'd rather show up a day or two later for a corned beef sandwich.  Truth told, Joe and I like corned beef sandwiches enough for me to buy corned beef a few times a year.   That said, I typically don't serve them Rueben-style (with the 'kraut).  We two prefer to eat ours made grilled-cheese-style with a big scoop of Russian- or Thousand Islands-dressed potato salad or cole slaw to the side.  Having made Rachel sandwiches for our green-for-a-day holiday, I was thrilled to find corned beef BOGO'd yesterday because I knew what dinner and this blog post was going to be.

Meet my amazing sugar-crusted corned beef brisket:

IMG_9995What does "corned" mean & what is a corned beef brisket?

6a0120a8551282970b0147e2f8418d970bA bit about corned beef:  Corned beef is beef brisket that has been brine-cured in a solution of salt and water typically used for pickling or preserving food.  Brisket is the cut of beef taken from the breast section under the first five ribs.  It is sold without the bone and divided into two sections.  The flat-cut has minimal fat and is more expensive than the more flavorful point-cut. 

Brisket requires long, slow cooking and is best when braised.  The term "corned" comes from the English use of the verb "corn", meaning: a process in which small particles, such as grains of salt have been added to liquid.  Two types of corned beef are available and depend upon the butcher and/or the region.  Old-fashioned corned beef is grayish-pink in color and very salty.  New-style, the kind that is vacuum-sealed that most of us purchase, has less salt and is a bright rosy red.

Cooking corned beef in any slow cooker works great, but: 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3b31910200bMeet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 6a0120a8551282970b022ad393e564200d 22" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vessel for cooking two corned beef briskets, side-by-side and in a single layer, to cook evenly, in comfort -- spa-style -- I love it when I trust my gut, as it worked beautifully.  There's more:

At about $45.00, it wasn't that big of an investment.  The crock is the shape of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole, with the inside bottom dimensions of the crock being approximately 11" x 7" x 3".

Making Corned Beef in Crockpot's Casserole Crock:

IMG_99491  cup water

2  3 1/2-4-pound flat- or point-cut corned beef

1 1/2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

3/4  teaspoon ground allspice

2  whole bay leaves

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4  cup dark brown sugar

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 1/2-3  cups additional dark brown sugar, for finishing under broiler

IMG_9954 IMG_9954 IMG_9954 IMG_9954 IMG_9954 IMG_9954~Step 1.  Remove brisket from package (discard seasoning packet) and rinse meat under cold water.  Spray inside of Crockpot casserole with no-stick cooking spray, add 1 cup water to the crock, then, place the corned beef, side-by-side without overlapping, in bottom.  Distribute and scatter the onions, all of the spices, the brown sugar and the crushed tomatoes on top of the two roasts.  Cover and cook on high for four hours.

IMG_9973 IMG_9973 IMG_9973 IMG_9973 IMG_9986 IMG_9991 2~Step 2.  Uncover the crock.  Using a fork and the aid of a spatula, carefully flip the meat over.  Put the lid back on and continue to cook on high for two more hours.  Turn the crockpot off.  Using the fork and spatula, carefully transfer each brisket to a plate to cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Spoon 3/4-1 cup brown sugar over the surface of each brisket*, then, use your fingertips to pat and press it down to form a thin coating over the surface. 

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c771f1cd970b~ Step 3.  Place each sugar-crusted brisket on a rack in a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole containing about 1/4" tepid tap water in its bottom.  

Note:  Adding the water to the bottom of the casserole will prevent any melting sugar that drips to the bottom of the dish from smoking or burning on contact, which in turn makes cleanup a lot easier.  

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c771f220970b~ Step 4.  Place one or both casseroles* on center rack of 350º oven until sugar is bubbling and golden, 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest, uncovered, about 15 minutes, to allow the sugar to harden and form a crunchy crust.

*Note:  I sugar-crust and bake one, storing the uncrusted one in the refrigerator to use later or freeze.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0fbf417970c~Step 5.  After the meat has rested, carve the corned beef by first slicing it in half, with the grain (which keeps it from falling apart), to form two easier-to-manage pieces.  Next slice each half, as thick or thin as you like it, cutting it against the grain (which gives it a shred-y kind-of falling-apart texture). Serve it warm, at room temperature or even cold:  It's fantastic.  To make the sandwiches:

IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_0003 IMG_0003 IMG_0003~Step 6. For each sandwich, cut 2 slices of rye, pumpernickel or swirl bread in half to form 4 pieces.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over low heat.  Add bread to skillet and immediately top each half-slice with 2-3 very-thin slices Lacey Swiss cheese per half-slice.  Increase heat to medium-low, to slowly grill the bread on the bottom and melt the cheese on the top, about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Remove skillet from heat or turn the heat off.  Heap thinly-sliced sugar-crusted corned beef atop two halves, top with the remaining two half-slices of cheese-topped bread and serve.

Serve ASAP w/Russian-dressed potato salad & pickles:

IMG_0020My Brown-Sugar-Crusted Corned Beef Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 2 corned beef briskets, and, enough meat to make 4-6 thick, hearty sandwiches per brisket.

Special Equipment List:  fork; spatula; Crockpot casserole; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1be3dad970cCook's Note: I never make just one corned beef brisket.  Simply stated: It is 100% counter-productive. While I can make two in my crockpot casserole, in one big pot, in three hours, I can make three:  one to eat that day, one for sandwiches during the week, and, one to cube and freeze in 3, 1-pound packages, which, is enough to make 3 hearty corned beef hash breakfasts. Check out my recipe for ~ The Lazy Lady's Corned Beef Hash ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/20/2019

~ Russian or Thousand Islands Potato Salad or Slaw ~

IMG_9940Tick, tock.  The Summer season is fast approaching and once we Americans fire up our outdoor grills, we'll be faced with more reasons than we can count to whip up a big bowl of the family's favorite tried-and-true mayonnaise-based potato and egg salad or creamy-crunchy coleslaw. That said, because one can never have too many variations on potato salad or coleslaw, consider dressing either of them with spicy Russian- or sweet Thousand Islands- dressing.

Your preference is your choice -- swap 'em out as you please:

IMG_9934For 5 cups Russian or Thousand-Islands-dressed potato salad or coleslaw:

5-6 medium-large Russet potatoes, baked in the microwave until fork-tender, cooled, peeled and 1/2"-3/4" diced, or, 1 16-ounce bag store-bought coleslaw mix

4  ounces diced celery or matchstick carrots (celery for potato salad/carrots for coleslaw)

3/4-1  cup diced red onion, for either potato salad or coleslaw, add to both

1-1 1/2  cups Russian or Thousand Islands salad dressing, preferably homemade as per either of my recipes (Note:  Be wary of substituting even high-quality store-bought dressings as they vary greatly in taste and consistency.  Ken's SteakHouse is the brand I recommend.)

IMG_9944~Step 1.  Place the diced potatoes (or slaw mix), and, celery (or carrots), along with 1 cup onion and 1 cup dressing-of-choice in a large bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine. Add additional dressing in small increments until desired consistency is reached. Transfer to a 2-quart size food-storage container, cover and refrigerate 4-6 hours or overnight (overnight it best). This simple formula makes 5-6 cups of potato salad or coleslaw relatively quickly.

Note:  Use this dressing-to-ingredients ratio as a guideline.  Do you like diced bell peppers in your coleslaw?  How about chopped hard-cooked egg in your potato salad?  If so, add whatever you like, just know you'll need a bit of extra dressing in order to coat any extra add-in ingredients.

Whether it's Russian or Thousand Islands, either makes... 

IMG_9913... a great side-dish to my Rueben or a classic Rueben...

IMG_0030... & a fantastic topper for a Rachel-My-Way sandwich.

IMG_9857Russian or Thousand Islands Potato Salad or Slaw:  Recipe yields 5-6 cups potato salad or coleslaw.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; 2-quart food-storage container w/tight fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d495a2970cCook's Note: In the Greater New York area, a sloppy Joe is a different sandwich than what the rest of us have stereotyped in our minds.  It is a very large, layered sandwich, containing three slices of bread (usually rye and/or pumpernickel), two or three varieties of paper-thin sliced deli-meat, cheese and Russian or Thousand Island dressing.  ~ Another Sloppy Joe? There is one?  You Betcha! ~.  It always comes with a side-serving of potato salad or coleslaw too.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/17/2019

~ Green-for-the-Day Pistachio Pudding Bundt Cake ~

IMG_9541A green cake is not something one sees everyday, but, a green cake would obviously be an ideal dessert to serve for your St. Patrick's Day celebration.  That said, this recipe came into my life for a very different celebration -- my bridal shower.  My (now retro) signature color was a pale shade of prissy avocado green.  A close friend of my mother offered to bake the cakes -- three, three-layer cakes decoratively slathered with a lovely shade of pastel-green frosting presented on three graduated-height cake pedestals.  Agnes loved to bake and was a wonderful baker.

Use a boxed cake mix?  In the case of this cake -- you betcha.

IMG_9549The cakes tasted as good as they looked, and, a few weeks later, in August, for my 21st birthday, my mom to asked Agnes to bake the same cake, as, the peridot, my birthstone, is also a similar green color.  As it turns out, Agnes was headed to Florida to visit her sister (meaning she couldn't bake the cake), so, she gave my mom the recipe, which, surprisingly used a boxed cake mix. Agnes explained, "You can't make this cake from scratch, it just doesn't come out the same."

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d11b9142970c 6a0120a8551282970b01bb07e5756c970dAgnes was correct.  I tried transitioning this recipe into my recipes for double-vanilla cake or cupcakes, and, sweet cream sheet cake, and, it doesn't come out the same.  As for the flavorings, both cakes tasted great, but, the pudding alters their density, which is why baking is considered a science, and, why you are getting a recipe using a boxed cake mix from me.  As my grandmother said often, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  Simply enjoy this easy cake recipe just as it is.

It can't be made from scratch -- it won't come out the same.

IMG_9444For the cake

1  15.25-ounce Duncan-Hines classic yellow boxed cake mix

1  3.4-ounce package Jell-O instant pistachio pudding

4  large eggs

1/4  cup vegetable oil

2  teaspoons pure pistachio extract

1  teaspoon pure almond extract

1 1/4  cups water

2  drops green food coloring (optional)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing bundt pan

IMG_9446 IMG_9446 IMG_9446 IMG_9446 IMG_9446~Step 1.  In a large bowl, place the dry cake mix and instant pudding. Add the eggs, oil and extracts.  Add the water followed by the optional food coloring (because of the pudding, the cake will still be a pale green without the food coloring).  Over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the mixture until thick and smooth, about 2 minutes.

IMG_9460 IMG_9460 IMG_9460~Step 2.  Transfer batter to a bundt pan prepared with no-stick cooking spray.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven 50-55 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in several spots comes out clean.  Remove cake from oven and cool, in pan, 15-20 minutes, prior to inverting onto rack to cool completely, about 2 hours.

IMG_9484For the cream-cheese drizzle:

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

2  cups Confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons pure pistachio extract

1  teaspoon pure almond extract

1  drop green food coloring

2  tablespoons milk, plus 1-2 teaspoons more, if necessary

1/4  cup lightly-toasted and finely-ground pistachios

IMG_9487 IMG_9487 IMG_9492 IMG_9492~Step 1.  In work bowl of mini-food processor, grind the pistachios and set aside.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, place all the remaining ingredients:  the cream cheese, Confectioners' sugar, extracts, food coloring and 2 tablespoons milk.  With motor running, process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the work bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice during the process.  Process in additional milk, by teaspoonfuls, to reach desired drizzly consistency.

IMG_9496 IMG_9496~ Step 2.  Transfer the drizzly glaze to a 1-cup measuring container with a pourer spout or into a plastic squeeze bottle/condiment dispenser.  Using a slow back and forth motion, drizzle all of the glaze evenly over the top of the cake.  While the glaze is still shiny and wet, sprinkle the nuts evenly over the top.

Slice & serve for any occasion requiring a green dessert:

IMG_9508St. Patricks's Day, a bridal or baby shower, or, an August birthday:

IMG_9536Green-for-the-Day Pistachio Pudding Bundt Cake:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; rubber spatula; cake tester; wire cooling rack; mini-food processor; food processor

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8dffe67970bCook's Note: For a few of my St. Patrick's Day celebratory main-dish meals, allow me to suggest you try my: ~ Easy Cottage Pie (Beef) & Shepherd's Pie (Lamb) ~, ~ Brown Sugar Crusted Corned Beef Sandwiches ~, or, ~ Another Crockpot Corned Beef & Cabbage Recipe ~.  That said, whatever you choose to serve, be sure to serve it with ~ Irish Eyes are Smilin' on Mary's Irish Soda Bread ~ slathered with  Irish butter.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/15/2019

~ The Secret's in the Slaw Rachel-on-Rye Sandwich ~

IMG_9857I crave a Reuben sandwich once or twice a year.  The Rachel sandwich, on the other hand, is: standard operating procedure in my kitchen.  My refrigerator is rarely without some super-thin sliced deli turkey breast and/or pastrami, and, my favorite Lacey Swiss cheese -- it often has a container of semi-homemade or deli-style coleslaw in it too.  That means, with a slice or two of lightly-toasted Jewish-style rye bread, a Racheal sandwich is only a few short minutes away.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed603d970dWhen I crave a Reuben sandwich, I'm more inclined to make one or all of the components from scratch: bake a loaf of homemade bread-machine rye bread, slow-cook a crockpot corned beef, stovetop-simmer sauerkraut, and, stir together some Russian or Thousand Islands salad dressing. It's a production, but, because I don't live anywhere close to a NY-style deli that can begin to make this sandwich the way I like it, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

The Lovely Rachel-on-Rye made-my-way to make-my-day... 

IMG_9865 2When I crave a Rachel Sandwich, on the occasions when I have some leftover perfectly-roasted turkey breast, I use it.  That said, high-quality deli-style turkey breast and/or pastrami is no compromise. And, after shopping the deli-counter, I reach for a bag of slaw mix instead of a container of prepared coleslaw. Why?  When I'm planning on lunching on Rachels for the week, instead of using my five-minutes-to-make Russian or Thousand Islands dressing as a spread for the bread, I use it to dress the slaw instead -- and it is amazing.

... the secret's in the slaw & it's amazing.

IMG_9805For each Rachel-my-way sandwich:

2  slices Jewish-rye bread, deli-swirl bread may be substituted

2  tablespoons salted butter

4  thin slices Lacey Swiss cheese

8 thin-slices pastrami

8 thin-slices turkey breast

2/3  cup creamy Russian- or Thousand Islands-dressed coleslaw, from recipe below, or your favorite deli-style slaw

IMG_9787For a weeks worth of coleslaw (Note:  I'm using Russing dressing today, but use Thousand Islands all the time too.  Both are great.):

1  16-ounce bag coleslaw mix

4  ounces matchstick carrots

1-1 1/2  cups Russian or Thousand Islands salad dressing, preferably homemade as per either of my recipes (Note:  Be wary of substituting even high-quality store-bought dressings as they vary greatly in taste and consistency.  Ken's SteakHouse is a good one, but it pales in comparison to my own Russian dressing.)

IMG_9788 IMG_9788 IMG_9788 IMG_9788 IMG_9788~Step 1.  Place slaw mix, carrots and 1 cup of the dressing in a large bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine.  Add additional dressing in small increments until desired consistency is reached. Transfer to a 2-quart size food-storage container, cover and refrigerate 4-6 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best. Recipe yields 5 cups.

IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811~Step 2.  Cut the 2 slices of bread in half to form 4 pieces.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Add bread to skillet and increase heat to medium-high, to gently grill, until slices are light golden on both sides, 45-60 seconds per side.  Transfer the lightly-toasted bread to a toaster-oven sized disposable aluminum broiler pan.

IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9841~Step 3.  Top each of two halves with one large slice of Swiss cheese (folded in half to fit the bread).  Place two folded slices pastrami atop the cheese.  Place four folded slices turkey breast atop the pastrami, followed by one more large folded-in-half slice of Swiss atop the pastrami. Top with the remaining two half slices of lightly-grilled rye bread, to form two half sandwiches.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven or toaster oven, until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 6 minutes.  Remove from oven, lift the top slice of bread from each half sandwich and top each half with about 1/3 cup of coleslaw.  Serve immediately accompanied by potato chips and or pickles.

Top with slaw & eat as soon as you can wrap a hand around it:

IMG_9883The Secret's in the Slaw Rachel-on-Rye Sandwich:  Recipe yields instructions to build 1 deli-style sandwich/1-2 servings.

Special Equipment List:  large rubber spatula; 1-cup measuring container; large rubber spatula; 2-quart size food storage container w/lid; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; nonstick spatula; toaster-oven-sized disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom)

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d495a2970cCook's Note: In the Greater New York area, also know as the Tri-State Area a sloppy Joe is a completely different sandwich than what the rest of us have stereotyped in our minds.  It is a very large, layered sandwich, containing three slices of bread (usually rye and/or pumpernickel), two or three varieties of paper-thin sliced deli-meat, cheese and a dressing such as Russian or Thousand Island.  ~ Another Sloppy Joe?  There is one?  You Betcha! ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/12/2019

~Russian Dressing & How it Differs from 1000 Islands~

IMG_9913It's almost understandable why most home cooks don't know what the difference between Russian and Thousand Islands dressing is, but, it's head-scratchingly odd that many restaurant chefs don't.  Truth told, when I order a Rueben or a Rachel sandwich, one dressing or the other, whichever is offered, will do nicely -- they're both favorites of mine.  That said, when a menu states Russian dressing, I expect Russian dressing and vice versa.  These two condiments, while they can be used interchangeably as a matter of preference, are not interchangeable.

While Russian dressing is not Russian, it is a compilation of ingredients very common to the cuisine of Russia.

In my food world, the most pronounced difference between the two is huge: Russian dressing contains horseradish (no surprise if you're familiar with Russian cuisine). When was the last time your Thousand Islands dressing tasted of horseradish?  Never, and if it did, it was Russian dressing.  Next, Russian dressing contains paprika (again, no surprise) . When was the last time your lemony-sweet Thousand Islands dressing had a spicy-earthy edge to it?  Never, and if it did, it was Russian dressing.  Past those two differences, the two are quite similar, right down to their mayo-base, the use of a tomato product, pickles or pickle relish, and, some optional hard-cooked egg (every single ingredient on this list is common to everyday, run-of-the-mill Russian cooking).

Russian dressing requires horseradish & paprika.

IMG_9768Both dressings are all-American early-1900's condiments with Russian dressing coming along prior to Thousand Islands (and being sold commercially since 1910).  There's no doubt in my mind the creator of Thousand Island dressing knew he or she was concocting a spin-off of Russian dressing.  That said, Russian dressing has been seemingly tossed aside in favor of its sweeter counterpart.  It's literally disappearing from menus and supermarkets, while Thousand Islands takes over -- even McDonald's "secret sauce" is undisputedly a variation on the recipe.  The one pictured here in the photo is the best of the few I can find in my supermarket, but, even though it has a spicy edge to it, it doesn't have the requisite horseradish on the ingredients list.

IMG_9889Nowadays, both dressings are used primarily as a sandwich spread, but, I'm here to say either is fantastic in place of the blue cheese dressing on a classic wedge salad.  There's more. Whenever I'm making a Rachel sandwich, which requires cole slaw, instead of using the dressing as a spread for the bread, I use it to dress the slaw instead -- and it is amazing.  That said, a Russian dressing recipe documented in a 1910 catering book recommends it as an alternative to vinaigrette to dress tomatoes, asparagus and other blanched vegetables, and hard-cooked eggs.

The earliest Russian dressing was created by James Colburn, a wholesale grocer of Nashua, NH, in early 1910, and, it's said by some to have originally contained caviar, which was later replaced by pickles to dress a version of the classic Russian Salad Olivier.  That said, by 1914, Colburn was manufacturing and distributing it to retailers and hotels.  Thousand Islands Dressing traces its roots to, and is named for, the upper St. Lawrence River region between the Unites States and Canada.  A few claims to its invention exist, but it's believed to be the creation of a fishing guide's wife, Sophia LaLonde.  It has a romantic history that includes a castle and a heart-shaped island, and, was made famous by Chef Oscar Tschirky of the Waldorf Astoria. The earliest print references to it appear in 1912.

Full-throttle Russian dressing is not for the faint-of-heart.

IMG_97611/2  cup horseradish mayonnaise, the best available, preferably Russian Zakuson brand

2  tablespoons chili sauce, or a bit more, to taste

2  tablespoons sweet pickle relish, or a bit more, to taste

1  teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1/2  teaspoon paprika

1/4  teaspoon turmeric

IMG_9770 IMG_9782~Step 1. Place all of the ingredients in a 2-cup food storage container.  Stir to thoroughly combine the dressing.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, 2-4 hours or overnight.  Overnight is great because it gives the flavors time to marry.

Thousand Islands Dressing is dainty & pretty in pink.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb097cd673970d1  cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup chili sauce, or a bit more, to taste, ketchup may be substituted

1/4 cup sweet pickle relish, or a bit more, to taste

1  hard-cooked egg, white and yolk separated and minced separately (optional)

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, or a bit more, to taste, lemon juice may be substituted

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8d9b4d3970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8d9b4d3970b~Step 1.  Place all of the ingredients in a 2-cup food storage container.  Stir to thoroughly combine the dressing.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, 2-4 hours or overnight.  Overnight is great because it gives the flavors time to marry.

Enjoy Russian- or Thousand Islands- spread on any sandwich...

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed603d970d... most notably, the Rueben (above) or the Rachel (below):

IMG_9865Russian Dressing & How it Differs from 1000 Islands:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup salad dressing/sandwich spread

Special Equipment List: 2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d495a2970cCook's Note:  In the Greater New York area, also know as the Tri-State Area a sloppy Joe is a completely different sandwich than what the rest of us have stereotyped in our minds.  It is a very large, layered sandwich, containing three slices of bread (usually rye and/or pumpernickel), two or three varieties of paper-thin sliced deli-meat, cheese and a dressing such as Russian or Thousand Island.  ~ Another Sloppy Joe?  There is one?  You Betcha! ~

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/09/2019

~ That's a Wrap: Big Beautiful Chili-Cheese Burritos ~

IMG_9721Inform the family you've got chili simmering on the stovetop -- you won't have to call them twice to the dinner table.  Tell the family you're making chili-cheese burritos for dinner -- you won't have to call them at all.  They'll all be sitting around the table waiting to eat.  Tick, tock.  Once assembled, if individually wrapped in plastic or in aluminum foil, they're great to take to school or the office. They reheat perfectly in the microwave or in the oven, and for tailgate, I reheat the foil-wrapped packets on hot grill grids.  The chili-cheese burrito is how one gets to eat chili in a sandwich.

6a0120a8551282970b0177446bc1ca970dA bit about burritos:  A burrito is a portable sandwich found in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.  It consists of a large flour tortilla that has been wrapped or folded to fully encase a filling. Before serving, it gets lightly-grilled or steamed, to soften the tortilla.  Refried beans, Mexican rice and meat (or a meat mixture) are typically the only fillings used, and, burritos are served unembellished, in order for them to be eaten with the hands.   In Spanish, "burrito" means "little donkey", coming from the word "burro", which means "donkey".  

During the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921), in the El Paso area, a street-food vendor named Juan Mendez sold tacos at his street stand.  Because of the war, for safety sake, it became necessary to continually pack up and move his stand/street-cart from place to place.  He began using his donkey to transport him and his food.  In order to keep the food warm as it traveled, Juan had the idea of wrapping it in large flour tortillas.  His food invention became so popular, consumers began traveling to him from other places around the Mexican border in search of:

The "burrito", or: "the food from the little donkey"!

Taco-bell-chili-cheese-burritoChili-cheese burrito, it's all in the name:  chili or chili con carne and shredded cheddar cheese encased in a large flour tortilla -- absolutely nothing more, nothing less.  

Back in the 1980's, my kids loved Taco Bell's Chilito (the name was later changed to the Chili-Cheese Burrito when the company became enlightened to the derogatory Spanish definition of the word "chilito" -- an embarrassing marketing blunder to say the least). I found it to be barely palatable.

The chilito and the chili-cheese burrito contained a homogenous mixture of mystery-ground-beef seemingly pressure-cooked in some sort of dry-seasoning-blend mixed with water and hot sauce -- it had the consistency of something one would expect to come out of a can.  Enough said.  If you're one of the many in search of a copycat of their "secret-menu" recipe (even though discontinued, it's said Taco Bell still makes these upon request), you're in the wrong place.

IMG_9756For each chili-cheese burrito:

1  large 9 1/2"-10" burrito-sized soft flour tortilla

3/4  cup finely-shredded Mexican-style cheddar-Jack cheese blend

2  tablespoons minced, fresh cilantro leaves

2  tablespoons very-thinly sliced scallions

1/2  cup thick* Texas-steak chili or chili con carne

1  tablespoon corn, peanut or vegetable oil

pico de gallo (or salsa fresca), Mexican crema (or sour cream) and/or avocado crema (or guacamole), for accompaniment and/or garnish

* Note:  In order to pick chile-cheese burritos up in your hands to eat them sandwich-style, the chili needs to be thick (not overly juicy or soupy).  If that is the case, stir 1 tablespoon ground restaurant-style corn tortilla chips into every 1 cup warm chili. After a few minutes, the chips will absorb the excess moisture and thicken the chili.  Still soupy?  Add more ground tortilla chips.

IMG_9682 IMG_9682 IMG_9682 IMG_9682 IMG_9682~Step 1.  To assemble each burrito, place one tortilla on a plate or flat work surface.  Sprinkle the shredded cheese evenly over the surface, followed by the cilantro and scallions.  Spoon and mound the chili, cold or slightly-warm but not steaming-hot, in a tubular shape, in the center of the tortilla.  Repeat this process until all burritos are assembled.

IMG_9675 IMG_9675 IMG_9675 IMG_9696 IMG_9696~Step 2.  Place oil in a 10"-12" nonstick skillet and use a paper towel to spread a thin-coating of oil across the bottom and slightly up the sides. Lift and place one assembled tortilla into skillet.  Over low heat, cook until cheese has melted enough to adhere to the surface, less than 1 minute. Remove from heat and return tortilla to plate or flat work surface.

IMG_9700 IMG_9700 IMG_9700 IMG_9700~Step 3.  To wrap the burrito, fold the left and right sides of the tortilla up and over the chili.  Next, fold the side of the tortilla closest to you up and over the top.  Turn the plate around (so the open side is facing you), then lift the last flap up and over the top. Roll the tortilla over, so that it sits seam side down.  To finish cook the burritos, tightly-wrap each burrito in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and heat in the microwave for 45-60 seconds, or, in a 350º oven for 6-8 minutes.

Remove from microwave or oven & slice into three ASAP...

IMG_9711... & gobble 'em up garnished w/your favorite toppings:

IMG_9753That's a Wrap:  Big Beautiful Chili-Cheese Burritos:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1 large burrito/3 pieces/1 serving.

Special Equipment List:  10"-12" nonstick skillet; paper towels; 1-cup measure; plastic wrap or aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d26b186e970cCook's Note: Hamburger Helper entered the marketplace in 1970, and Chili-Mac Hamburger Helper entered in 1971.  Packaged by General Mills and sold as  part of the Betty Crocker line of products, the mascot is a "helping hand" named "Lefty" -- a four-fingered, left-handed, white glove with a face. Each box contains dried pasta and packets of powdered sauce and seasonings.  For my scratch-made recipe:  ~ Walking Dead:  It's Chili & Mac and Cheese Together ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/07/2019

~ Spicy and Cheesy Breakfast-for-Dinner Quesadillas ~

IMG_9657Dinner-for-breakfast or breakfast-for-dinner, put a platter of these portable five-bite snacks on the table at any time of day and you'll have everyone eating out of your hand.  They've got it all -- everything anyone could want in terms of Tex-Mex start-to or end-of the day flavor and texture. Creamy refried beans, gooey cheddar-Jack cheese, and, Sriracha- cilantro- and scallion-laced scrambled eggs sandwiched between crisp-tender flour tortillas.  Topped with a bit of pico de gallo, a drizzle of Mexican crema and a dollop of guacamole, who could ask for anything more?

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d15ed99a970cQuesadilla (keh-sah-DEE-yah):  A round, flat, cooked-until-soft corn or flour tortilla, 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 many modern kitchens, mine included, a grill pan is a common substitution.

IMG_9556Almost 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.  That said, since "queso (KAY-soh)" is the Spanish word for "cheese":  a quesadilla is a container for ooey, gooey melted cheese.  Be sure to purchase:

your favorite brand of 8" round taco-size soft flour tortillas

IMG_9571For the scrambled eggs* for each quesadilla:

1  teaspoon salted butter

2  jumbo eggs + a pinch of salt

2  tablespoons milk

2  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions

1  tablespoon minced, fresh cilantro leaves

2-3  teaspoons Sriracha sauce

*These herbaceous scrambled eggs, on their own without a flour tortilla:  are eggstraordinary. 

IMG_9572 IMG_9572 IMG_9572 IMG_9572 IMG_9572~Step 1.  Slice the scallions and mince the cilantro.  In a 1-cup measuring container, whisk together the eggs, pinch of salt and milk.  Add the scallions and cilantro and whisk again.  Add the Sriracha and whisk one last time.   I add 2 teaspoons Sriracha for myself.  I add 3 teaspoons when making these quesadillas for my heat-seeking husband Joe. 

IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580~Step 2.  Melt butter in an 8" nonstick skillet over low heat.  When butter is foamy, pour in the egg mixture, and, scramble away for about 1 minute.  Remove eggs from heat, cover and set aside.

IMG_9594To assemble/cook each quesadilla:

1  tablespoon corn or canola or vegetable oil

1  taco-size soft flour tortilla

6  tablespoons creamy refried beans

8  tablespoons finely-shredded Mexican cheddar-Jack cheese blend

all the scrambled eggs, from above recipe

IMG_9602 IMG_9602 IMG_9602 IMG_9602~Step 1.  Slather the tortilla with refried beans, then scatter shredded cheese evenly over the top. 

IMG_9597 IMG_9597 IMG_9597 IMG_9597 IMG_9597 IMG_9597~Step 2. Place oil in a 10" nonstick skillet.  Use a paper towel to coat the bottom and sides of pan with the oil.  Adjust heat on stovetop to medium- medium-low.  Lift and carefully place the tortilla in the skillet.  Using a spoon, place the scrambled eggs over half of the surface (think half-moon of scrambled eggs).  Cook until cheese is melted and bottom of tortilla is golden brown, but not brittle, about 1 minute.  Lift the "empty" side of the tortilla up and over the side with the eggs.  Slide quesadilla from skillet to plate or cutting board.

IMG_9672For my favorite accompaniments and garnishes:

pico de gallo or store-bought salsa fresca

Mexican crema or sour cream

spicy avocado crema or store-bought guacamole

thin-sliced scallion tops and/or minced, fresh cilantro leaves

~Step 1.  Use all of them, none of them or some of them.  Your choice.

Have a moment of mouthwatering patience (tick, tock)...

IMG_9623... you gotta wait 1 minute before slicing it into three wedges.

IMG_9625Salsa fresco, Mexican crema & Wholly guacamole!  Let's eat:

IMG_9660Spicy and Cheesy Breakfast-for-Dinner Quesadillas:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1 breakfast quesadilla/3 hearty pieces/1 serving.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1 cup measuring container; fork; 8" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula; 10" nonstick skillet; paper towels; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0945149d970dCook's Note:  At risk of sounding sexist:  Buffalo wings are man food. To state it another way, if I'm inviting a group of women to my home for lunch, serving chicken wings is "off the table".  If I'm inviting men, chicken wings are "on the table". That said, for a casual gathering for men and women, there are ways we can all work together to include user-friendly buffalo-style snacks and appetizers for all to enjoy: ~ Spicy Blue-Cheesy & Buffalo-Chicken Quesadillas ~  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/05/2019

~ Na-Cho Mama's Fully-Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos ~

IMG_9362Undercover nacho tester.  I suppose it could get boring, but, because every eatery I've ever been to makes this Tex-Mex pub-grub staple a bit different, I'd be willing to risk running into some occasional repetition and hard-earned heartburn.  From nibbling on basic nachos consisting of deep-fried corn tortillas topped with melty cheese sauce, to digging-into nachos-grande, nachos-supreme, fully-loaded nachos or ultimate-nachos piled high with a plethora of enough savory stuff to qualify for full-meal status, yes, I think undercover nacho tester could be my dream job.

Research has revealed that nachos made their debut in Northern Mexico in the 1940's when a large group of hungry servicemen wandered into a restaurant where Ignacio Anaya was cooking. The savvy chef quickly threw some cheese over a big pan of leftover tortillas.  When it emerged from the broiler, he scattered his creation with jalapeño peppers.  When he presented the soldiers with his group-sized appetizer, after devouring it, they took it upon themselves to spread the word. Popularity came fast, and, along the way, nachos acquired an assortment of toppings.

Use homemade or store-bought ingredients, or a combo of both.

6a0120a8551282970b01a73df7e18c970dWe can all agree, you only get out of something what you put into it, but, when the hankering for nachos hits, no one wants to wait longer than the time it takes to preheat the oven, visit the pantry and open a beer. That said, if one it willing to take the time to deep-fry fresh corn tortillas, instead of opening a bag of tortilla chips, nachos become a great deal better.  There's more.  If you're like me, fully-loaded nachos require (must have) meat or protein, and here are a few options:  

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0984a3a7970dMy family's favorites (and the two most common additions) are American-style kid-friendly ground-meat taco filling or chili con carne -- and both are always on hand in my freezer.  That said, white chicken chili or Texas-style steak chili (as long as they are thick and chunky not stringy and soupy), and, the filling for classic pork carnitas are all excellent alternatives.  In fact, any protein concoction that works when served in a crispy taco shell will work. 

Nachos need a perfect ratio of cheese to toppings on each chip.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d10e0e73970cThat's easy.  That's what I said, until I watched Alton Brown (on The Food Network) make nachos, and, from him I learned how to build better nachos. First, he used a sheet pan to increase the surface area so the tortilla chips can sprawl out (no more crowding them in a 13" x 9" casserole for me).  Second, he took ample time to top them, almost one chip at a time, to make sure that every chip had the perfect ratio of cheese to toppings.  Once you do it his way once, there's no going back.

Building better nachos, one tortilla chip at a time.

IMG_9298In my kitchen, nachos aren't always a snack.  Sometimes they're a meal. When I serve 'em as a snack, I make them on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheet pan that's been covered with foil and a sheet of parchment -- so cleanup is a snap.  When I serve 'em as a meal, I make 'em the same way, but, layer them in my oven-safe ceramic skillets -- a bit of cleanup, but a great presentation. One sheet pan feeds 6-8 people snacks. The same ingredients feed four as a main-dish in four 6 1/2"-7" skillets.  

Make movie night or TV tailgate special w/fully-loaded nachos. 

Make these nachos as homemade or semi-homemade as you want.  For example:  I rarely make them without deep-frying the tortillas -- it's a simple task that makes a huge difference.   In the Summer, when my vegetable garden is at its peak and local sweet corn is in season, my pico de gallo is homemade and my corn kernels are shaved straight from the cobs of leftover cooked corn.  If I don't have the time or inclination, I use store-bought salsa con queso without hesitation. Don't like black beans?  Don't complain to me.  Use kidney or pinto beans or skip the beans.

IMG_9322  

26  5"-round fresh corn tortillas (about 1 pound, 4 ounces), or 1, 16-ounce bag store-bought restaurant-style tortilla chips

1 1/2  cups chile con queso or 1, 15-ounce jar store-bought salsa con queso, warmed slightly in the microwave (Note:  The cheese options for nachos vary.  Ultimately, that decision lies with the cook.  While shredded cheddar is the most common, I'm not a fan of it on it's own, as, cheddar, while tasty, is not a great ooey-gooey melting cheese unless it is mixed with a great melting cheese like Monterey Jack or jalapeño Jack.)

3-3 1/2  cups American-style ground-beef taco filling, warmed slightly in the microwave (Note:  All taco filling is not created equal. My chunky beef recipe is full of onion, garlic, bell pepper and tomatoes, and, seasoned with my homemade Tex-Mex taco seasoning blend.  If you decide to use chile con carne instead, omit the can of black beans below.)

1  8-12-ounce jar pickled, sliced jalapeño wheels, well-drained, liquid reserved (3/4-1 cup)

1  15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and well-drained (1 1/2-2 cups)

1  15-ounce can whole corn kernels, well-drained (1 1/2-2 cups)

8  ounces shredded jalapeño Jack cheese (about 3 cups)

1  cup pico de gallo or store-bought salsa fresca, well-drained

1  cup spicy avocado crema, a 10-second task to process mixture of 1 cup mashed, ripe Hass avocado (store-bought Wholly Guacamole may be substituted) with 6  tablespoons Mexican crema and 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce

1  cup Mexican crema or sour cream, thinned to a drizzly consistency by stirring in 4-6 tablespoons liquid reserved from pickled jalapeños

1  cup thin-sliced scallions, white and light green parts, for final garnish

IMG_9304 IMG_9304 IMG_9304 IMG_9304~Step 1.  To deep-fry fresh tortillas, divide tortillas into two stacks and cut each stack into six wedges.  Heat corn or peanut oil in deep-fryer, according to the manufacturer's specifications, to 375º.  When the deep fryer is ready:  Fry 2 stacks (two sixths) of the tortilla triangles for 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Chips will be lightly-browned and puffed in spots. Transfer to a large baking pan that's been lined with 3-4 layers of paper towels. Using a spatula, quickly and randomly separate the chips into a single layer and lightly salt their tops ASAP.  Repeat process 5 more times.

IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325~Step 2.  To assemble the nachos, arrange chips across the bottom of the pan, in a semi-single layer, allowing them to overlap and double-up occasionally.  Drizzle and plop blotches of warm queso over the surface of the tortilla chips.  By generous teaspoonfuls, plop blotches of the warm taco-filling over the cheese. Arrange the jalapeño slices over the taco-filling.  Scatter the black beans, followed by the corn kernels over the jalapeño slices and taco-filling.  Sprinkle the shredded jalapeño Jack over all.

IMG_9348 IMG_9348 IMG_9348 IMG_9348 IMG_9348~Step 3.  To bake and properly garnish the nachos, place on center rack of 350º oven and bake until jalapeño Jack cheese is melted and bubbly, and, sweet corn is showing signs of light-browning, about 6 minutes. Remove from oven.  Without any hesitation, plop blotches of the well-drained pico de gallo over the top, followed by a drizzle of my avocado crema and Mexican crema.  Sprinkle the sliced green onion over all and serve immediately.

Place pan on table or cocktail table & get out the napkins:

IMG_9360Snack your way from the outside of pan to center of pan:

IMG_9398Perfect ratio of chips & cheese to toppings?  You be the judge!

IMG_9415Na-Cho Mama's Fully-Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos:  6-8 snack-size servings/4 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; deep-fryer (optional); hand-held cheese grater; colander; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheet pan or 6, 8" oven-safe ceramic skillets; aluminum foil; parchment

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3904a89200dCook's Note: Mango salsa, full of sweet heat, is a favorite of mine served with nachos that are made with jalapeño Jack cheese. Prepared as an alternative to pico de gallo, in the event you are a sweet-heat-seeking-missile like me, try my ~ Sweet Heat:  Island-Style Mango or Pineapple Salsa ~. When mangos are in season and inexpensive, it's a wonderful alternative to what we associate with traditional Summertime salsa.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)