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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

01/12/2019

~ Herbaceous Caramelized-Onion & Boursin Burgers ~

IMG_7487Eating à la Française, in the the style of the French people, is a remarkable experience.  As a person who is 100% willing to throw calories under the bus for outstanding fare, dining in France is literally at the top of my food chain.  Speaking of chains, over the past few decades, "le fast food chaînes" have indeed invaded France, but, only to the point of being easier to find without replacing "haute cuisine" (fine dining) or interrupting eating "en famille" (family-style meals).  

That said, for a culture that loves "pissaladière" (the French answer to pizza) and has long-established ties to "pommes frites" (French fries), a "hambourgeous-fromage" (a hamburger with cheese), unless it is purchased at a "Quick" (a fast-food chain), is different from the American-style hamburger or cheeseburger in that it is made with "biftek haché" (chopped beefsteak), which gives it a coarser, slightly dryer, not to be confused with dried-out texture -- it's wonderful.  One more bit of trivia: It's not a "Royale with cheese", juste "le Royale cheese".  C'est la vie!

As the French say:  "Du pain, du vin, du Boursin."

Translates to:  "Some bread, some wine, some Boursin."

6a0120a8551282970b022ad386a1bc200cBoursin is classified as a "specialty" cheese, but, I classify it as "party cheese" -- serve it at a party with crackers or toasts and people flock to it.  This cow's milk cheese has a creamy, buttery texture and a full flavor, similar to cream cheese, which makes it perfect to serve with wine or cocktails.  The Boursin brand is available in five flavors, (Garlic & Fine Herbs is my favorite). Whichever one you choose, there are two constants in each variety of Boursin:  garlic and peppercorns.  

IMG_7362Boursin was the creation of François Boursin in 1957, in Normandy.  It was "his take" on the French tradition of serving cheese with an assortment of minced, fresh herbs, which guests sprinkled atop the cheese to suit their own palate. Here's one last bit of trivia: When you are purchasing Boursin, if the package does not say "all natural Gournay cheese on it", it is not authentic Boursin.  "Gournay" is the word François Boursin picked (naming it after the town he grew up in) when he was required to declare its origin to customs officials.  The Boursin brand was first advertised on television in France using the slogan, "Du pain, du vin, du Boursin", meaning, "some bread, some wine, some Boursin".

Want caramelized onions on your 'burger?  Make 'em first:

6a0120a8551282970b017d3bf9e9ba970cOnions contain a lot of sugar and slowly cooking them on the stovetop draws out their natural sweetness. The longer and slower they cook, the sweeter they get.  When lightly-browned or browned, they take on a pleasant, nutty taste.  When caramelized to a deep amber color, they get sweet.  Caramelizing onions is easy, but, if it's a deep caramel color you want, you'll need to allow a good 35-45 minutes.  

IMG_7417Technically, any onion can be caramelized, but I think sweet onions work best, with yellow onions being my second choice -- I don't recommend caramelizing red onions.  My favorites are: Vidalia, Walla Walla, Maui, Texas Sweet and NuMex.  Here are two tips:

1)  To insure even cooking, slice to a consistent thickness.

2)  Onions will loose about 2/3 of their volume, so start with a lot more than you think you need.

IMG_73801 1/2 pounds (after peeling) 1/8"-1/4"-thick-sliced half-moon-shaped sweet onion (6 cups) 

3  tablespoons olive oil

3  tablespoons salted butter

1  teaspoon granulated sugar 

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2-4  tablespoons sweet white wine, for deglazing pan (vegetable stock or plain water may be substituted)

6a0120a8551282970b017d3bf9e9ba970c IMG_7370 IMG_7370 IMG_7374 IMG_7386 IMG_7386 IMG_7386 IMG_7386~Step 1.  Peel and slice the onions as directed.  Over low heat, in a 12" skillet, melt the butter into the olive oil.  Add the onions to the skillet.  Season with the sugar and salt.  Using a large slotted spoon or spatula, toss until the onions are evenly coated in the oil/butter mixture.  

IMG_7394 2 IMG_7394 2 IMG_7394 2 IMG_7394 2 IMG_7401 IMG_7401 IMG_7401 IMG_7401~Step 2.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Continue to slowly cook, stirring occasionally.  After 10 minutes, onions will have lost a lot of volume and will be limp and steamed through.  There won't be any browning just yet.  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, another 10 minutes. It's now that you are going to start to see what I refer to as light browning.  Continue to cook, stirring more frequently, another 10 minutes. Now onions are nicely-browned and truly beginning to caramelize.

Note:  From this point on, do not leave the stove.  The onions will require almost constant stirring, and, they can and will go from browned to burned quickly.  My onions cooked for another 5 minutes today, with me stirring constantly, before I added the wine and quickly (30-45 seconds) deglazed the pan, or, for a total of 35 minutes.  Deglazing the pan is an important step that takes caramelized onions from ordinary to extraordinary, so don't be inclined to skip it.

Parameters for my American-French cheeseburger:

IMG_7512Every once in a while I like to pretend I'm from France.  Today, my inner-French-self decided to come up with a to-die-for American-French-style cheeseburger that would make any Frenchican or American proud to eat.  My parameters were quickly established.  Start with a 2:1 ratio of American, store-bought ground beef to French-style processor-minced steak (flank steak). Liberally season the meat mix plenty of dried/dehydrated garlic, onion, salt, pepper, French herbes de Provence + a boost of granulated beef bouillon.  The steaky-textured 'burgers get pan-seared, relatively-quickly in a bit of melted butter, then topped with a creamy, flavor-packed French cheese, Boursin, and, caramelized onions.  Served on a French roll (there is no substitute for brioche) with green-leaf-lettuce, these moist, juicy burgers need no special sauce.

IMG_7421For the beef and seasoning mixture:

2  pounds 85/15 (85% lean/15% fat) ground beef

1  pound flank steak

2  teaspoons herbes de Provence

2  teaspoons fine sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1  teaspoon dehydrated, minced garlic

1  teaspoon dehydrated, minced onion

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1  generous teaspoon granulated beef bouillion (1 packet)

IMG_4661 IMG_4661 IMG_4661 IMG_4661 IMG_4661 IMG_4661 IMG_4661~Step 1.  Place 2 pounds ground beef (32 ounces) in a large bowl. Cut 1 pound flank steak (16 ounces) flank steak into 1 1/2" chunks.  Place the chunked steak in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade -- depending upon the size of the food processor, working in two batches may be necessary.  Using a series of 30 rapid on-off pulses, process/grind/mince the meat.  Place the ground steak in the bowl with the ground beef.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine the two.

IMG_7425 IMG_7425 IMG_7425 IMG_7425 IMG_7425~Step 2.  In a small bowl, thoroughly stir the herbs and seasonings together.  Sprinkle the seasoning blend over the top of the meat mixture. Using your hands, thoroughly combine the two.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator 1-2 hours, or overnight, to allow the flavors time to marry -- if you have the time, overnight is terrific.

My American-French cheeseburger -- the Boursin burger:

IMG_7452For the 'burgers, the toppings & the buns:

3  pounds Mel's-meat mixture, divided into 8, 6-ounce portions, each portion (initially) formed into, 4"-round 'burgers

1 5-ounce wheel garlic-and-fine-herb-flavored Boursin cheese, cut into 8 wedges, at room temperature, very soft

1-1 1/2 cups caramelized onions, from above recipe

8  4"-round brioche hamburger rolls, sliced in half horizontally, toasted or untoasted, your choice

1  head, soft Bibb lettuce, 2-4 leaves per sandwich

3 tablespoons salted butter, divided in half, for preparing electric skillet

IMG_7446 IMG_7446 IMG_7256 IMG_7256~Step 1.  Divide the meat mixture into 8 portions, then using your hands and the aid of a 4"-round food-ring, pat and press them into thick discs, about 4"-round (they will get flattened more during cooking process).  Set aside, to come to room temp, about 30 minutes.  Cut Boursin into wedges and set aside, covered with plastic wrap, to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

IMG_7458 IMG_7458 IMG_7458 IMG_7458~Step 2.  In electric skillet, melt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter over low heat.  When melted, using a pastry brush, paint bottom of skillet. Increase the heat to 385° and wait 30 seconds.  

IMG_7469 IMG_7469 IMG_7474 IMG_7474 IMG_7474~Step 3.  Place four 'burgers in the skillet and using a grill press or a spatula, firmly press each 'burger down, lifting and lowering the press 2-3 times to make sure the surface has been evenly pressed (into a free-form, craggy-edged 4 1/2"-5"-sized patty).  Sauté for 2 minutes.  Flip the 'burgers over and cook for another 2 minutes (1 1/2 minutes for rare-ish, 2 minutes for medium-rare-ish).  Turn heat off.  When the butter-sputtering stops, use a spatula to transfer to rolls topped as directed below.  Repeat process with remaining four 'burgers.

Brioche bun, lettuce, 'burger, Boursin, onions, eat:

IMG_7498Herbaceous Caramelized-Onion & Boursin Burgers:  Recipe yields 1-1 1/2 cups caramelized onions/8 Boursin burgers.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale; 12" nonstick skillet; large spoon; paper towels; plastic wrap; 4"-round food ring (optional); 16" electric skillet; pastry brush; 'burger press or spatula; wide spatula;  serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ce3e35200bCook's Note: Mashed, smashed or whipped potatoes, made from Russets, reds or golds, skins on or skins off, baked in the oven, boiled on the stovetop or cooked in the microwave -- a case can be made, and a recipe developed, for each and every scenario, and, as long as the end justifies the means, the basic machinations for potato perfection is, for the most part, personal. ~ Buttery-Rich & Boursin-Cheesy Whipped Potatoes ~ are a personal favorite.

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

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

01/09/2019

~ Buttery-Rich and Cream-Cheesy Copycat Boursin ~

IMG_7362Hospitality at-the-drop-of-a-hat -- it's the name-of-the-game friends, and no self-respecting cook gets caught without a block of semi-soft-, wedge of soft-, or a spreadable-cheese on-hand. Get out the cheese board, the corkscrew, and voila, instant hospitality.  A little effort and as little as thirty short minutes of spirited conversation (tick, tock) can build friendships that last a lifetime. Next to the port wine cheese, you'll find Boursin in my refrigerator -- both have relatively long shelf lives.  That said, given enough time and/or notice I make my own copycat versions*.

*Note:  Making a case for making your own port wine cheese and Boursin is easy:  In the case of both, sans the spices for the Boursin (which I have on hand all the time), you can make twice as much for half the price.  Example:  One wheel of store-bought Boursin costs almost $8.00.  I can make two wheels for slightly less than $4.00.  Suffice it to say, "it makes cents".

IMG_7355As the French say:  "Du pain, du vin, du Boursin."

6a0120a8551282970b022ad386a1bc200cBoursin is classified as a "specialty" cheese, but, I classify it as "party cheese" -- serve it at a party with crackers or toasts and people flock to it.  This cow's milk cheese has a creamy, buttery texture and a full flavor, similar to cream cheese, which makes it perfect to serve with wine or cocktails.  The Boursin brand is available in five flavors, (Garlic & Fine Herbs is my favorite). Whichever one you choose, there are two constants in each variety of Boursin:  garlic and peppercorns.  

Boursin was the creation of François Boursin in 1957, in Normandy.  It was "his take" on the French tradition of serving cheese with an assortment of minced, fresh herbs, which guests sprinkled atop the cheese to suit their own personal palate.  Here's one last bit of trivia about Boursin: When you are purchasing Boursin, if the package does not say "all natural Gournay cheese on it", it is not authentic Boursin.  It seems that "Gournay" is the word François Boursin picked (naming it after the town he grew up in) when he was required to declare its origin to customs officials.  The Boursin brand was first advertised on television in France and Britain using the slogan, "Du pain, du vin, du Boursin", meaning, "some bread, some wine, some Boursin".

Translates to:  "Some bread, some wine, some Boursin."

IMG_72968  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft (1 large package)

4  ounces salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 stick)

1  tablespoon dried herbs de Provence

1  teaspoon dehydrated, minced garlic

1  teaspoon dehydrated, minced onion

1/2  teaspoon granulated garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon granulated onion powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

IMG_7299 IMG_7299 IMG_7307 IMG_7307~Step 1.  Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and thoroughly stir them together -- there will be 1 1/2 total cups.  Cut and line two 3/4-cup ramekins with enough aluminum foil to overhang the sides by 1 1/2".  Fill both containers (full and level with the tippy top) with the Boursin.  Cover the ramekins with the overhanging foil and refrigerate 1-2 hours or overnight.

Note:  Boursin can be made 3-5 days in advance of serving and keeps nicely in the refrigerator for at least a week.  Remove from refrigerator about 1 hour prior to serving -- homemade Boursin softens, time wise and texturally, like butter softens (slightly-, semi-, very-soft and spreadable).

IMG_7315 IMG_7315 IMG_7315 IMG_7315 IMG_7315~Step 2.  Once Boursin has been removed from the refrigerator, loosen the foil from the top, then, use the foil as a handle to lift cheese from ramekin.  Peel back the foil.  Invert a small plate over the top, then invert the plate and Boursin to the upright position and remove the foil.  Continue to let cheese sit at room temperature until desired consistency is reached.

Cream cheese & butter + herbs & seasonings + 5 minutes:

IMG_7342Buttery-Rich and Cream-Cheesy Copycat Boursin:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups copycat Boursin cheese and two small wheels (similar in size to the store-bought wheels).

Special Equipment List:  spoon; 2, 3/4-cup-size ramekins; aluminum foil

IMG_7290Cook's Note: Mashed, smashed or whipped potatoes, made from Russets, reds or golds, skins on or skins off, baked in the oven, boiled on the stovetop or cooked in the microwave -- a case can be made, and a recipe developed, for each and every scenario, and, as long as the end justifies the means, the basic machinations for potato perfection is, for the most part, personal. ~ Buttery-Rich & Boursin-Cheesy Whipped Potatoes ~ are a personal favorite.

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

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

01/07/2019

~ Buttery-Rich & Boursin-Cheesy Whipped Potatoes ~

IMG_7291Mashed, smashed or whipped potatoes, made from Russets, reds or golds, skins on or skins off, baked in the oven, boiled on the stovetop or cooked in the microwave -- a case can be made, and a recipe developed, for each and every scenario, and, as long as the end justifies the means, the basic machinations for potato perfection is, for the most part, personal.  Truth told, while I like some versions better than others, and, with the exception of one experience (where the gal unforgivably served unpalatably "soupy potatoes" made with chicken stock in place of cream, to cut back on fat, with a consistency that bastardized the word purée), I've never eaten mashed potatoes I didn't like -- in the end, salt, pepper, a pat of butter or some gravy can fix anything.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27640d2970c~ I Love My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf ~, and, as we all know, like 'burgers-and-fries and steak-and-baked, meatloaf-and-mashed go hand-in-hand.  When mashing, smashing or whipping potatoes, everyone knows a goodly amount of soft or melted butter is a must.  For creaminess, some add warm cream or milk, others add buttermilk or sour cream.  Past that, common additions include:  bits of onion or garlic, bacon, and/or shredded cheddar or cream cheese.

Like cream cheese in your mashed potatoes?  

6a0120a8551282970b014e6067cfa0970cBoursin is classified as a "specialty" cheese, but, I classify it as "party cheese" -- serve it at a party with crackers or toasts and people flock to it.  This cow's milk cheese has a creamy, buttery texture and a full flavor, similar to cream cheese, which makes it perfect to serve with wine or cocktails.  The Boursin brand is available in five flavors, (Garlic & Fine Herbs is my favorite). Whichever one you choose, there are two constants in each variety of Boursin:  garlic and peppercorns.  

Boursin was the creation of François Boursin in 1957, in Normandy.  It was "his take" on the French tradition of serving cheese with an assortment of minced, fresh herbs, which guests sprinkled atop the cheese to suit their own personal palate.  Here's one last bit of trivia about Boursin: When you are purchasing Boursin, if the package does not say "all natural Gournay cheese on it", it is not authentic Boursin.  It seems that "Gournay" is the word François Boursin picked (naming it after the town he grew up in) when he was required to declare its origin to customs officials.  The Boursin brand was first advertised on television in France and Britain using the slogan, "Du pain, du vin, du Boursin", meaning, "some bread, some wine, some Boursin".

You're gonna love Boursin in your mashed potatoes.

IMG_72372  pounds small, "baby" red potatoes, as evenly-sized as possible, cut in half

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning the water

1  stick salted butter, at room temperature

3/4  cup cream

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated, minced onion

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated, minced garlic

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  5-ounce wheel garlic-and-fine-herb-flavored Boursin cheese, cut into pieces, at room temperature, softened (Note:  Homemade Boursin is super-easy to make -- check out my copycat recipe -- softened butter & cream cheese, herbs & seasonings + 5 minutes.)

IMG_7236 IMG_7236 IMG_7236 IMG_7236~Step 1.  Remove the Boursin from the refrigerator.  Open the package and cut it into wedges.  Set it aside to soften, while proceeding with recipe as directed below:

IMG_7242 IMG_7242 IMG_7242 IMG_7242 IMG_7242 IMG_7242 IMG_7242~Step 2.  Slice potatoes in half and place in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot as you work.  Cover with 2-quarts cold water and add 1 tablespoon sea salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook until potatoes are fork tender through to their centers, 16-18 minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a colander to thoroughly drain.  Return steaming hot potatoes to still hot stockpot and return to still warm stovetop.  Add the Boursin, cover the pot and wait about 5 minutes.

IMG_7247 IMG_7247Step 3.  While the potatoes are simmering, place cream, butter, minced garlic, minced onion, salt and pepper in a 1-cup measuring container.  Place in microwave to warm up gently, until butter has melted.  Remove from microwave and set aside.

IMG_7270 IMG_7270 IMG_7270 IMG_7270 IMG_7270~Step 4.  Remove potatoes from stovetop and uncover pot.  On medium speed of hand-held electric mixer, incorporate the Boursin and half the butter/cream mixture.  Add the second half of the butter/cream mixture and gradually increase mixer speed to high, whipping the potatoes while scraping down the sides of the pot with a large rubber spatula until smooth and creamy (except for the pretty chards of red potato skins), about 1-2 minutes.

Smashed, mashed or whipped, try a bit of Boursin next-time:

IMG_7290Buttery-Rich & Boursin-Cheesy Whipped Potatoes:  Recipe yields about 6 cups whipped potatoes.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart wide-bottom stockpot w/lid; colander; 1-cup measuring container; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0dfb3b0970cCook's Note:  Lots of folks add cheddar cheese to mashed or smashed potatoes.  It's a well-documented fact that "everthing tastes betta with chedda".  That said, if you've never tasted cheddar potatoes with dried mint flakes added to them, I implore to take a page out of my playbook.  Don't roll your eyes.  I've served these potatoes to a couple of schooled restaurant chefs who have changed their menus to serve "Mel's potatoes" with lamb or lamb chops. You gotta trust me on this one. I didn't invent the pairing of potatoes, cheese and mint.  My Eastern European ancestors did that for me. Where my people came from, parts of Russia and the now surrounding countries, the climate was cold and the growing season was short.  Along with chives, dill and parsley, mint was a hearty herb that grew like a weed.  It was the first to come to life in the Spring, but, it was the last to die in the Winter.  Click here to check out my recipe for ~ Creamy Smashed Cheddar 'n Mint Gold Potatoes ~.

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

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

01/04/2019

~ Slovak-Style Butter-Bean & Mushroom Sauerkraut ~

IMG_7226This is my father's family's recipe for sauerkraut, and as Eastern Europeans, sauerkraut wasn't reserved for ringing in the New Year -- we ate it all year long.  The only thing that could improve upon the recipe would be my grandfather's home-fermented 'kraut -- which, as a young child, I remember being kept in a large, wooden, lidded barrel sitting in the corner of his dark, cool, earthen-floored basement, which I also remember being a somewhat scary place.  In the family's vegetable garden, they grew their cabbage.  In a small barn, next to the vegetable garden and also a scary place, were three or four large slaw cutters, which, once the cabbage got harvested, were used by members of the family-of-seven to make short work of the shredding process.

Butter beans & mushrooms in sauerkraut?  You betcha! 

In my family, my father picked mushrooms in the Spring, then my mother cleaned, blanched and froze them in small packages.  Amongst other things (like scrambled eggs and mushrooms for breakfast), she always added mushrooms to sauerkraut along with a can of butter beans, which neutralized some of the sauer in the 'kraut.  It is a very filling, stick-to-the-ribs combination, and it might even sound a bit odd a first too, but, it is sigh-oh-my, truly delicious.  Served with some PA Deutsch-style buttered noodles and some form of porcine (ham, sausage, roast, chops, steaks), the complete meal is fit for a king.  While this side-dish is quick to make (5-10 minutes of prep and 45-50 minutes of simmer time), it is almost better to prepare it the day before you plan to serve it, to allow the flavors to marry -- simply reheat it gently on stovetop or in microwave.  

IMG_70942  pounds fresh sauerkraut, thoroughly drained for about 10 minutes

2  15-ounce cans butter beans, well-drained, liquid reserved (about 2 generous cups)

8  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (about 2 cups)

3  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, well-drained (about 2 cups)

6  ounces salted butter (1 1/2 sticks)

1 1/2  teaspoons Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Salt

1 1/2  teaspoons Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Pepper

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097~Step 1. Drain the sauerkraut, beans and mushrooms as directed, then dice the onion.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, melt butter over low heat.  Stir in Jane's seasonings and the black pepper.  Add the onion and increase heat to medium-, medium-high, and sauté/simmer until softened, about 5-6 minutes.

IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114~Step 2.  Add sauerkraut, beans and mushrooms.  Stir.  Add about half the reserved sauce/liquid from the beans and stir again.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook, stirring regularly, 20-25 minutes.  Add and stir in the remainder of the sauce/liquid from the beans, stir, and continue to simmer, stirring frequently, 20-25 more minutes -- the point of adding the liquid in two increments is to sauté the mixture in a scant amount sauce, not boil it in a lot of liquid, which gives the beans the time they need to absorb the excess moisture.  Remove pan from heat, cover and allow to sauerkraut time to steep, so flavors can marry, about 30-60+ minutes.

Serve in bowls or a large bowl as a side-serving...

IMG_7228... or layer it between pork blade steak & buttered noodles:

IMG_7214Slovak-Style Butter-Bean & Mushroom Sauerkraut:  Recipe yields  2 quarts/8 cups sauerkraut.

Special Equipment List:  colander; cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8e4ec5c970bCook's Note:  Another side-dish that often made it's way onto our family's table was ~ Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier ~.  It too was made with ingredients grown in the garden. Also known as "Salad Olivier" or "Salad Olivye", and, "Russian Salad", there are as many variations of it as there are cooks willing to take the time to do a precise job of uniformly cubing and dicing the components. For young girls, who were required to assist their mother in the kitchen, it was how they honed their knife skills for life in their own kitchens (while the father was teaching the boys to fish, hunt, gather and/or farm).

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

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

01/02/2019

~ Happy New Year Pork Blade Steak and Sauerkraut ~

IMG_7214Throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and into the Midwest, some form of porcine and sauerkraut is the traditional meal to properly ring in the New Year in order to receive a years worth of good luck, health and prosperity.  In my grandmothers' and mother's kitchens, they roasted a pork loin or braised a pork butt to serve with the briny sauerkraut my grandfathers' or father fermented in their 'kraut crocks for 6-8 weeks.  I never questioned why we ate this meal.  I simply assumed that Santa  dropped by everyones home with presents on Christmas Eve, and, everyone ate pork and sauerkraut (plus  leftover Christmas cookies) on New Year's Day -- both rituals were fine by me.

Why do we ring in the New Year eating pork & sauerkraut?

Anywhere you find a gathering of Pennsylvania Dutch (Dutch=Deutsch=German) or Eastern Europeans, you'll find them eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day -- it's a combination of tradition steeped in superstition backed up by practical purpose.  Where I grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania, we had a large population of both.  My family was Eastern European, we knew many PA Deutsch folks, and, both cuisines intersected in numerous ways, starting with:  both are porcine-raising cabbage-growing cultures who wrote the book on pork and cabbage recipes.

It's a combination of PA Dutch & Eastern European tradition...

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0b81e8f970cPractical purpose turned into tradition.  Pork and sauerkraut didn't start out as a dish associated with New Year's Day -- it evolved into one.  It was common for individuals in farming communities to raise a backyard pig or three, or raise pigs for a living.  Those who raised pigs slaughtered them in the Fall, because the time-consuming task of butchering a large animal is considerably more food-safe during cold weather months.  In turn, this meant that cuts of pork (hams, sausages, roasts, etc.) were more plentiful in the weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year (so, if one didn't raise a pig, one could purchase or barter for a choice cut).  As for sauerkraut, the cool weather months are prime cabbage-harvesting time, which resulted in pickling vats of it in order to preserve it -- timing is everything, and, after fermenting, the 'kraut was done just in the nick of time for the holidays.

... steeped in superstition & backed by a dose of practical purpose.

IMG_0840Tradition steeped in superstition.  As any PA Deutsch person will be quick to tell you, "the pig roots forward as it eats", which is a symbol of forward progress (the direction people hope to go in the new year), and, raising a big, fat pig, fed a family for a long time, a symbol of prosperity (which people hope to achieve in the new year) -- this is opposed to "the chicken and turkey scratches backward as it eats", which is a symbol of a year no better, or worse than, the previous one (undesirable to say the least).  As any Eastern European person will tell you, "the long shredded-strands of sauerkraut  symbolize a long, healthy life", and, "freshly-picked cabbage is green, which is the color of cash money, which symbolizes prosperity".  The moral of the story: Place a beautiful, well-seasoned pork roast surrounded by mounds of briny sauerkraut or cooked cabbage on your New Year Day table and you're walking on sunshine until next year.

My family's Slovak-style butter bean & mushroom sauerkraut:

IMG_7226While this is quick to make (5-10 minutes of prep and 45-50 minutes of stovetop time), it can be simmering while the pork blade steaks are broiling for 22-minutes, so, prepare it first or a day ahead.  In my family, my father picked mushrooms in the Spring, then my mother blanched and froze them. Amongst other things, she always added mushrooms to the sauerkraut along with a can of butter beans, which cut the acid from sauerkraut.  It is a very filling and stick-to-the-ribs combination, and it might even sound a bit odd a first too, but, it is sigh-oh-my delicious.  Served with some PA Deutsch-style buttered noodles and some pork, the complete meal is fit for a king.

IMG_70942  pounds fresh sauerkraut, thoroughly drained for about 10 minutes

2  15-ounce cans butter beans, well-drained, liquid reserved (about 2 generous cups)

8  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (about 2 cups)

3  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, well-drained (about 2 cups)

6  ounces salted butter (1 1/2 sticks)

1 1/2  teaspoons Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Salt

1 1/2  teaspoons Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Pepper

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097~Step 1.  Drain the sauerkraut, beans and mushrooms as directed, then dice the onion.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, melt butter over low heat.  Stir in Jane's seasonings and the black pepper.  Add the onion and increase heat to medium-, medium-high, and sauté/simmer until softened, about 5-6 minutes.

IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114~Step 2.  Add sauerkraut, beans and mushrooms.  Stir.  Add about half the reserved sauce/liquid from the beans and stir again.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook, stirring regularly, 20-25 minutes.  Add and stir in the remainder of the sauce/liquid from the beans, stir, and continue to simmer, stirring frequently, 20-25 more minutes -- the point of adding the liquid in two increments is to sauté the mixture in a scant amount sauce, not boil it in a lot of liquid, which gives the beans the time they need to absorb the excess moisture.  Remove pan from heat, cover and allow to sauerkraut time to steep, so flavors can marry, about 30-60+ minutes, while broiling the blade steaks as directed below and preparing (optional, but recommended) the buttered noodles.

The pork blade steak -- a German-Midwest invention & staple.    

IMG_7201A few things did rock my food world in 2018, and, the pork blade steak was one of them. It quickly became 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, these bone-in steaks are cut from the shoulder of the pig -- the same part of the porcine used to make pulled pork.  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-our-locale steaks for me.  Perhaps this post will help them to catch on "out here in the counties".  Trust me when I tell you, this cut of porcine makes short work out of serving pork and sauerkraut for New Year's Day, especially if you are short on time and/or neither want or need a lot of leftovers.

6a0120a8551282970b0224df30e276200b"Pork butt" or "Boston butt", is a bone-in cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the "pork shoulder" from the front leg of the hog. Smoked or barbecued, Boston butt is a southern tradition.  This cut of meat got its name in pre-Revolutionary War New England:

Butchers in Boston left the blade bone in this inexpensive cut of pork 6a0120a8551282970b0223c84936d8200cshoulder then packed and stored the meat in casks called "butts". They sold the pork shoulders individually to their customers, and, when they got popular, they began shipping "the butts" Southward and throughout the Colonies.  Simply stated:  the way the hog shoulder was butchered, combined with "the butt" they arrived in, evolved into the name "Boston butt".

6a0120a8551282970b0223c8493631200cSteaks 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 above, 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 with big appetites. Depending on the recipe du jour, sometimes I marinate these steaks, sometimes I don't.  When it comes to pork blade steaks, absorb this: marination (which does not affect the cooking time), is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.  Please know: these steaks are super-tender with zero marination.

* Note:  I have electric ovens and none of mine have a hi or low setting for the broiler.  With the door cracked (which is how broiling, a from-the-top-down dry-heat-method of cooking, is done in an electric oven), an oven-thermometer reads 325-ishº throughout the cooking process.

IMG_7401 IMG_7401~ Step 1.  Place 2, 3/4"-1"-thick, bone-in pork butt blade steaks, about 1 1/2-1 3/4-pounds each on a corrugated broiler pan -- allow to come to room temperature, 20-30 minutes.  Season tops with freshly-ground sea salt & peppercorn blend.

IMG_7430 IMG_7430 IMG_7430 IMG_7430 IMG_7430 IMG_7430~Step 2.  Place steaks 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler for exactly 11 minutes -- 5 1/2"-6" is a key measurement when broiling pork blade steaks.  Remove steaks from oven, flip steaks over, season the second sides with a bit (not too much) more sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Return to oven and broil for exactly 11 more minutes.  Remove from oven, set aside, and allow steaks to rest, in pan, for 10-12 minutes.

IMG_7454 IMG_7456 IMG_7456Step 3.  To slice steaks, slice each rested-but-warm blade steak, on a diagonal, in half lengthwise -- half bone-in, the other boneless.  If desired, thinly-slice the boneless half across the grain while holding the knife at a 30° angle, into (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips.  If desired, strips can be diced and tossed into the sauerkraut. Carve meat away from bone on the second half, then slice and/or dice that meat too.

Serve pork steak atop a bed of sauerkraut & buttered noodles:

IMG_7211Happy New Year Pork Blake Steak and Sauerkraut:  Recipe yields 8 generous servings.

Special Equipment List:  colander; cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2"-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon; 2, 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcafef88970bCook's Note: I am here to make it clear that Pennsylvania Dutch cookery does not belong solely to PA and it is not Dutch either.  The term "Dutch" was the early English settlers slang for the German word "Deutsch".  So:  When most people incorrectly say "Pennsylvania Dutch", they should be saying "Pennsylvania Deutsch", crediting the Germanic or German-speaking immigrants from Germany and Switzerland for this cuisine.  The majority of these people were either Amish, Mennonite or Brethren, all of which were considered "Anabaptist", and, oh boy, they knew how to cook!

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

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

12/31/2018

~ Ringing in the New Year Eating Pork & Sauerkraut ~

IMG_7201Anywhere you find a gathering of Pennsylvania Dutch (Dutch=Deutsch=German) or Eastern Europeans (primarily throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and into the Midwest), you'll find them ringing in the New Year by eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day, in order to receive a years worth of good luck, health and prosperity.  It's a combination of tradition steeped in superstition backed up with a dose of practical purpose.  Where I grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania, we had a large population of both.  My family was Eastern European, we knew many PA Deutsch folks, and, both cuisines intersected in numerous ways, starting with:  both are porcine-raising cabbage-growing cultures who wrote the book on pork and cabbage recipes.

It's a combination of PA Dutch & Eastern European tradition...

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3caf5dc200bPractical purpose turned into tradition.  Pork and sauerkraut didn't start out as a dish associated with New Year's Day -- it evolved into one.  It was common for individuals in farming communities to raise a backyard pig or three, or raise pigs for a living.  Those who raised pigs slaughtered them in the Fall, because the time-consuming task of butchering a large animal is considerably more food-safe during cold weather months.  In turn, this meant that cuts of pork (hams, sausages, roasts, etc.) were more plentiful in the weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year (so, if one didn't raise a pig, one could purchase or barter for a choice cut).  As for sauerkraut, the cool weather months are prime cabbage-harvesting time, which resulted in pickling vats of it in order to preserve it -- timing is everything, and, after fermenting, the 'kraut was done just in the nick of time for the holidays.

... steeped in superstition & backed by a dose of practical purpose.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3caf5a7200bTradition steeped in superstition.  As any PA Deutsch person will be quick to tell you, "the pig roots forward as it eats", which is a symbol of forward progress (the direction people hope to go in the new year), and, raising a big, fat pig, fed a family for a long time, a symbol of prosperity (which people hope to achieve in the new year) -- this is opposed to "the chicken and turkey scratches backward as it eats", which is a symbol of a year no better, or worse than, the previous one (undesirable to say the least).  As any Eastern European person will tell you, "the long shredded-strands of sauerkraut  symbolize a long, healthy life", and, "freshly-picked cabbage is green, which is the color of cash money, which symbolizes prosperity".  The moral of the story: Place a beautiful, well-seasoned pork roast surrounded by mounds of briny sauerkraut or cooked cabbage on your New Year Day table and you're walking on sunshine until next year.

And it couldn't be a tastier way to embrace a new beginning:

IMG_7211"We are all in the food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

12/28/2018

~ This Spud's for You: Game-On Baked-Potato Salad ~

IMG_6974When one lives in a college town associated with a big-time football program, one has honed the skills necessary to transition from the traditional Christmas Eve and Christmas Day festivities to ringing in the New Year with a bowl-game tailgate.  It's a tough job but somebody's got to do it, and, here in Happy Valley, PA, the home of Penn State's Nittany Lions, an entire community of fellow blue-and-white-clad cooks are capable of changing lanes with ease.  This year, it's gonna be deli-sandwiches and potato salad on our cocktail table in front of our lunch-timed game-day TV.  We'll serve our good-luck pork-and-sauerkraut for another school's dinner-timed game.

IMG_7017Pieracini's deli-sandwiches & my baked-potato salad.

IMG_6949I've got a favorite Italian, mom-pop-and-family-operated (since 1919) market in my hometown that makes game-winningly delicious hoagie sandwiches, right down to the home-baked Italian rolls they serve them on:  Pieracini's.  With a choice of traditional hoagie, beef, turkey (or an assortment of all three), there are 15-, 30- or 45-piece trays, but, if it's wrap- or pretzel-bread sandwiches you prefer, they too are options -- and reasonably priced.  For a small establishment their menu is big, with a selection of all-homemade hot meals, soups, salads and baked goods too long to mention.       

IMG_7034I won't lie, I am a potato salad snob -- most folks who like potato salad are.  That said, when it comes to potato salad recipes, I have several, using different varieties of potatoes and employing different cooking methods.  When it comes to making potato salad, the best tip I can give anyone is:  follow the recipe, as different potatoes usually require different cooking methods.  In this recipe, I save time by not peeling Russet potatoes, and, while they're "baking" in the microwave for 16-18 minutes, I hard-cook the eggs, chop the onion and celery and collect my spices and refrigerated ingredients.

Clock ticking down to kick off?  Game on with this game plan:

IMG_70705  13-14-ounce Russet potatoes

5-6  extra-large eggs

1  generous cup diced celery

1  generous cup diced yellow or sweet onion

8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) mayonnaise, + 1-2 tablespoons additional mayo, if desired, chilled

2  tablespoons Dijon mustard, chilled

2  tablespoons sweet pickle relish, chilled

1  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon celery seed

IMG_7055 IMG_7055 IMG_7055~ Step 1.  Rinse the Russet potatoes, and, using the sharp tip of a paring knife, pierce their skin in 4-5 spots. Microwave until potatoes are fork-tender, yet still-firm and slightly undercooked.  In my microwave this takes about 18 minutes.  Remove from microwave.  Slice the Russet into 1/2" - 3/4" discs, then, peel back the skins from the discs.  Slice the discs into 1/2"-3/4 chunks, placing them on a baking pan as you work.  Place the potatoes in the refrigerator for 8-10 minutes (or 30-60 minutes if you have the extra time) to quickly cool the potatoes to below room temperature.

IMG_7041 IMG_7041 IMG_7041 IMG_7041 IMG_7041~Step 2.  When potatoes go into the microwave, hard-cook the eggs (either via the link to my method or yours) as directed.  Do not overcook the eggs -- everyone detests those greenish-gray halos around the yolks. Peel and dice the eggs into 3/4" pieces and set aside.  Dice the celery and onions -- small or medium dice, your choice.  Set aside.

IMG_7073 IMG_7073 IMG_7073 IMG_7073 IMG_7081 IMG_7081 IMG_7081 IMG_7081~Step 3.  In a large bowl, using a large rubber spatula, stir together the mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, sweet pickle relish, salt, pepper and celery seed.  Add and fold in the celery and onions, followed by the cooled potatoes, and, last but not least, the delicate eggs.  Add 1-2 more tablespoons mayonnaise to adjust creaminess, if desired -- I added none today.

Get the sandwiches & potato salad out, then turn on the TV:

IMG_6952The game's coming on so I gotta run & stick a fork in it:

IMG_7022This Spud's for You: Game-On Baked-Potato Salad:  Recipe yields 12 cups/3 quarts potato salad.

Special Equipment List:  paring knife; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07cebeb8970dCook's Note: For potato salad recipes that suit several occasions, many cuisines and all seasons, check out my repertoire: ~ Spring-Forward Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier ~, ~ Lemony English Pea, Mint and Gold Potato Salad ~, ~  Baked Russet & Sweet Potato Salad w/Chile-Lime Mayo ~, ~ Roast Beef Eatin' Horseradish-Mayo Potato Salad ~, ~ Russian Red-Potato, Beet, Onion & Radish Salad ~, and, ~ The Gold Standard:  Creamy Gold Potato and Egg Salad ~.  

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

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

12/25/2018

~Christmas Cookies 2018 with a Winter White Theme~

IMG_6924Because there are not enough days in the week preceding Christmas for me to bake as many varieties of cookies as I would like, every year my Christmas cookie trays are different.  Each year I pick a theme and bake four kinds.  For example:  Last year I baked Four Kid-Friendly Candy-Bar Cookies of My Youth.  Each cookie contained a different candy bar:  Reeses's Cups, Snickers, Kit-Kat's and Whoppers.  This year, for a small gathering of adults, I chose Winter White -- cookies that pair well with creamy rum-laced eggnog and cream-in-your-coffee or tea.

Home for the Holiday Eggnog-Laced Snickerdoodles:

IMG_6592Let it Snow-Capped Ricotta & Coconut Cookies:

IMG_6707The Holly & the Ivy Tart-Cherry & Pistachio Biscotti:

IMG_6819Over-the-Moon Candied-Pecan & Toffee Crescents:

IMG_6915Merry Christmas to All & to All a Goodnight!

IMG_6928"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

12/23/2018

~ Over-the-Moon Candied-Pecan & Toffee Crescents ~

IMG_6915This version of these buttery rich, melt-in-your-mouth, sweet and salty, crunchy-crumbly-munchie confections, which are loaded with honey-glazed candied pecans and English-style toffee bits, will, if you're not forewarned, glue you to the holiday dessert table.  I call them confections because, while they are classified as a cookie, they have all the panache of a candy.  During the holiday season, these cookies show up in the crescent shape, but, other times of the year, they're typically shaped into rounds and referred to as "tea cakes" or "English tea cakes".

There are as many variations on this English recipe which dates back to the middle ages -- all contain nuts, with walnuts or pecans being the most common, and, authentic recipes never contain baking powder, baking soda, eggs or milk (keep in mind the ingredients available in that time period of history -- baking powder and baking soda did not exist back then).  They are made from the typical middle-ages-type pastry mixture of flour, sugar, ground nuts, butter and water.

Tea cakes, English tea cakes or holiday crescent cookies:

IMG_6823

 

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

1  cup confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons pecan flavoring

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

8  ounces honey-glazed candied pecans

1/2  cup English toffee bits

2 1/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

4-6  tablespoons cold water

additional confectioners' sugar, for dusting cookies

IMG_6830 IMG_6830 IMG_6830 IMG_6830 IMG_6830 IMG_6846 IMG_6846~Step 1.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, using a series of 45-50 rapid on-off pulses, pulverize pecans to small bits and pieces.  Transfer to a medium bowl (there will be 1 1/2 cups), then, stir in the toffee bits (to total 2 cups).  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour and salt.  Set aside. Line 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350º.

IMG_6852 IMG_6852 IMG_6852 IMG_6852~Step 2.  In a large bowl, on medium-high mixer speed, cream together the butter, sugar and extracts, 1 minute.  Lower mixer speed, add pecan mixture and fold it into butter mixture, scraping down sides of bowl with a spatula until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, 1 minute.

IMG_6861 IMG_6861 IMG_6861 IMG_6861~Step 3.  Add the flour and salt.  Continue mixing on low speed and scraping down sides of bowl with the spatula, until flour is thoroughly incorporated.  Mixture will resemble coarse crumbs. Remove mixer.  Add 4 tablespoons water and use the spatula to blend it in.  If mixture doesn't come together to form a ball, add 2 more tablespoons water.  Mixture will have formed a ball.

IMG_6870 IMG_6870 IMG_6870 IMG_6870~Step 4.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, roll balls of dough between your fingertips to form 3"-3 1/2" logs.  Shape logs into crescents and place, 1 1/2"-2" apart on prepared pans, 20 on each pan.  Use your index fingertip and thumb to taper either end of each crescent.

IMG_6873Tip from Mel:  For evenly-shaped and sized crescents, which makes for a prettier presentation, place each log into a 2 1/2" round jar lid, use the lid to form the crescent shape, then invert the lid onto the baking pan -- the crescent will drop right out.  The "lid" in this photo is actually the bottom of a red Solo cup which I cut with a pair of kitchen shears. 

IMG_6884 IMG_6884 IMG_6884 IMG_6901 IMG_6901~Step 5.  One-pan-at-a-time, bake cookies on center rack of preheated 350º oven, until puffed and lightly-browned, 12-14 minutes.  Do not over-bake/over-brown.  Remove from oven and cool on pan about 1 minute prior to using a thin spatula to transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely, 1-2 hours, prior to lightly-dusting with confectioners' sugar.

Lightly-dust cooled crescents w/confectioners' sugar & serve:

IMG_6905Over-the-Moon Candied-Pecan & Toffee Crescents: Recipe yields 40-44, 3 1/2" cookies.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; spoon; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 1/2" ice-cream/cookie scoop; thin spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0224df349c26200bCook's Note:  For a different-type cookie with the same theme, my ~ Buttery Candied-Pecan and Toffee Bit Shortbread ~ cookies will disappear almost as fast as you can bake them. Throughout the United Kingdom, shortbread has been a tradition at tea time since medieval days.  As the name implies, shortbread contains shortening in the the form of butter, plus sugar and flour.  After this super-easy to make dough is mixed, it can be be baked in several forms.

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

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

12/20/2018

~ The Holly & the Ivy: Tart-Cherry & Pistachio Biscotti ~

IMG_6819Bold and beautiful, bright-red holly berries, clustered amongst shiny, deep-green, pointy-edged ivy leaves, are colors and symbols we associate with Christmas.  Right from the first, meaning the first time my tart-cherry and toasted-pistachio biscotti revealed their sliced selves, I began calling them "holly and ivy biscotti", and, they're a great way to get into the spirit of holiday baking.

One biscotto, three biscotti & my version pales to none:

IMG_6803The word biscotti (three biscotti, one biscotto) originates form the Latin word "biscoctus", which means "twice cooked".  Biscotti, as we know them, are oblong shaped, dry, crunchy biscuit-esque cookies that get baked twice -- once in loaf form and a second time after the loaf is sliced.  That said, the word also references any oven-baked goods that get baked twice, until very dry, so they can be stored for a long time.  In ancient times, this type of non-perishable was useful on long-journeys -- they were a wartime staple of the Roman legions.  Traditionally almond flavored, modern versions have come a long way baby, and my version, which beside the tart cherries and salty pistachios contains pure, organic cherry and pistachio extracts, pales to none. 

IMG_67256 1/2  ounces salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 2/3 sticks)

1  cup sugar

3  extra-large eggs

2  teaspoons pure pistachio extract

1  teaspoon pure cherry extract

1/2  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6  ounces chopped dehydrated tart cherries (about 1 1/2 cups)

6  ounces chopped roasted and salted shelled pistachios (about 1 1/2 cups)

3  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour + 1/2  cup additional bench flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

IMG_6735 IMG_6735 IMG_6735 IMG_6735~Step 1.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper and ready a wire rack that will fit in the pan, a kitchen scale, a 12" ruler and a serrated bread knife.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Chop cherries and pistachios and set aside.  Stir together the flour and baking powder.  Set aside.

IMG_6736 IMG_6736 IMG_6736 IMG_6736 IMG_6736 IMG_6736~Step 2.  In a large mixing bowl, on medium- medium-high speed of electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, eggs and extracts, about 1 minute.  Add and beat in the cherries and pistachios, about 1 minute.  Lower the mixer speed.  In two or three increments, fold in the flour mixture.  Continue to mix until ingredients are thoroughly combined and a sticky, yet manageable dough has formed, about 1 minute.

IMG_6754 IMG_6754 IMG_6754 IMG_6761 IMG_6761 IMG_6761 IMG_6761 IMG_6761~Step 3.  Dust a wooden pastry board with 1-2 tablespoons bench flour.  Turn the dough out onto the floured surface and knead, adding bits of flour, in increments, as necessary, until dough is smooth and no longer sticks to hands.  Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide the dough into 4 equal parts, about 11-ounces each.  On the same lightly-floured surface, use your hands to roll and from each segment into a 10"-long cylindrical log -- this is super-quick and easy to do.  

IMG_6779 IMG_6779Step 4. Transfer logs to prepared baking pan, placing them well apart and super-straight.  Bake logs on center rack of preheated 350º oven 16-18 minutes.  Logs will have doubled in size, will be soft to the touch and lightly-browned, yet, have a hollow sound when gently tapped with the knuckle of index finger -- they will not and should not have a crusty or crisp exterior.  Remove pan from oven and set aside until loaves have cooled enough to handle with your hands,  about 30 minutes.  Do not turn the oven off.

IMG_6786 IMG_6786 IMG_6786 IMG_6786 IMG_6786~Step 5.  Remove logs from pan.  Fit a cooling rack into the baking pan. Using a serrated bread knife, gently but firmly cut the logs into slightly-less than 3/4"-thick slices, 15-16 per log.  Arrange the slices, side-by-side on rack in pan.  Return to oven and bake on center rack of 350º oven, 8-10 minutes, until edges of biscotti are beginning to turn light brown.  Remove from oven and set pan of biscotti aside to cool completely, 1-2 hours or overnight (overnight is best because it gives biscotti a chance to air-dry a crisp up through to their centers).

Note:  Store in an airtight container, separating layers with wax paper, for as long as they last.

Serve 'em w/coffee, cappuccino & espresso, or, dunk 'em in your favorite sweet, red Italian dessert wine: 

IMG_6820The Holly & the Ivy:  Tart-Cherry and Pistachio Biscotti:  Recipe yields 4 1/2 dozen, 3"-long cookies.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; wooden pastry board; kitchen scale; 12" ruler; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; serrated bread knife; wire cooling rack

IMG_6708Cook's Note: Attend an Italian birthday or graduation party, bridal or baby shower, wedding or christening, etc. Name an occasion -- next to the biscotti, ricotta cookies will be on the table, especially during the holidays.  If they aren't served, you showed up at the wrong address.  Every family has a favorite recipe, but, aside from the flavoring, color of the glaze and sugar crystals or jimmies that get sprinkled on top, all recipes are remarkably similar. For another classic Italian Christmas cookie (which is super-easy and served year-round), check out my twist on ~ Let it Snow-Capped Ricotta and Coconut Cookies ~.

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

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

12/17/2018

~ Let it Snow-Capped Ricotta and Coconut Cookies ~

IMG_6708Attend an Italian birthday or graduation party, bridal or baby shower, wedding or christening, etc. Name an occasion -- if it is being hosted in or by an Italian-American family, ricotta cookies will be on the dessert table, especially during the holidays.  If ricotta cookies aren't served, you showed up at the wrong address.  Every family has a favorite recipe, and, while no two recipes are exactly alike, aside from the choice of flavoring, color of the glaze and the decorative sugar crystals or jimmies that get sprinkled on top, all recipes for these beloved cookies are remarkably similar.

6a0120a8551282970b0154383f535b970cI am a big fan of this type of soft cakey-textured and glazed cookie. My recipes for banana-walnut-, pumpkin-spice-, eggnog-, and, all-purpose celebration- cookies, are prime examples.  In the case of the ricotta cookie, there are no rules regarding the flavoring or flavoring combination used.  Lemon or orange in conjunction with a splash of vanilla are the most common followed by almond or anise, but use whatever puts a smile on your face.

Every recipe for ricotta cookies is an easy one.  It is worth noting, however, that no matter what kind of cookie pans/sheets you use, I recommend lining them with parchment paper, to keep the bottoms of the cookies from over-browning, as these are pale, barely-browned cookies.  Also, if you're using dark colored sheets/pans, be sure to lower the oven temperature from 350º to 325º, because dark sheets/pans conduct heat differently than light-colored pans.  Carry on. 

When ya gotta ricotta -- make ricotta cookies!

IMG_6617For the wet ingredients:

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

2  large eggs

2  teaspoons pure coconut extract

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2  cups sugar

16  ounces whole milk ricotta cheese (2  cups)

1  generous cup sweetened, flaked coconut  

For the dry ingredients:

4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

1  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_6665For the glaze and sprinkles:

2  cups confectioners' sugar

3-4  tablespoons milk

2  teaspoons coconut extract

2  teaspoons vanilla extract

4-6  tablespoons coarsely-ground sparkling white sugar crystals,

and/or:

4-6  tablespoons white jimmies, one, the other, or both 

IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622~Step 1.  To mix wet ingredients, in a large  bowl, over medium- medium-high speed of hand-held mixer, cream the butter, eggs and extracts for one full minute, then, add the sugar and mix for another full minute.  Lower mixer speed and fold in the ricotta, followed by the coconut, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula during this entire process.

IMG_6620 IMG_6620 IMG_6620~Step 2.  To mix in the dry ingredients, in a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. On medium-low mixer speed, working your way up to medium, incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients by adding the flour mixture to the ricotta mixture in two-three increments.  When all the dry ingredients are incorporated, a thick, manageable cookie dough will have formed.

IMG_6644 IMG_6644 IMG_6644 IMG_6644 IMG_6644 IMG_6644~Step 3.  Line 4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment and ready a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop.  Using the scoop as a measure, gently drop level balls of dough, well-apart, onto each prepared pan, 15 per pan.  Bake cookies, one-pan-at-a-time, on center rack of 350º oven, 9-10 minutes.  Cookies should be puffed through to their centers, pale-colored and just showing signs of starting to brown.  Remove from oven and cool in pan about 1 minute prior to transferring to a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.

IMG_6667 IMG_6667 IMG_6667 IMG_6667 IMG_6667 IMG_6667~Step 4.  To prepare the glaze, place the powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Add and stir in the coconut and vanilla extracts.  One tablespoon at a time, add and stir in the milk, until a smooth drizzly consistency is reached.

IMG_6679 IMG_6679 IMG_6679~Step 5.  To glaze and top the cookies, one-at-a-time dip the top (just the top not the sides) in the glaze, lift it out and allow all excess glaze to drizzle back into bowl.  After glazing a dozen cookies, sprinkle the glazed tops with sugar and/or jimmies -- it's important to sprinkle while the glaze is still wet.  Allow cookies to sit on countertop, uncovered, until glaze has hardened, several hours (4-6 hours) or overnight.

Allow glaze to harden several hours or overnight:

IMG_6699Note:  Store cookies in an airtight container, separating the layers with wax paper for up to two weeks.  Once glaze hardens, the tops will stay firm and pretty as long as they are stored.

It really is the most wonderful time of the year: 

IMG_6717Let it Snow-Capped Ricotta and Coconut Cookies:  Recipe yields 4 1/2 dozen 2 1/2"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 4, 17 1/2 x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 3/4" ice-cream/cookie scoop; thin spatula; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08a30027970dCook's Note: There are two kinds of people.  Those who finished their holiday and those who haven't started.  If your holiday is under control, the force is with you and you need no help from me.  If, however, you fall into the category of "just got home from doing gift and grocery shopping" and find yourself in the kitchen in need of a last-minute cookie recipe, preheat your oven to 325º now, take a deep breath and relax.  ~ My Six-Ingredient Last-Minute Shortbread ~ is for you.

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

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

12/15/2018

~Home for the Holiday Eggnog-Laced Snickerdoodles~

IMG_6594The humble snickerdoodle is my all-time favorite sugar cookie.  I've been told it was the first cookie I was ever allowed to taste, so, if my mind hasn't changed by now, it is not likely to happen. A traditional snickerdoodle is a flat, pale-to-golden, crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside cookie made with butter and/or shortening, and, cinnamon and/or nutmeg .  It never (don't go there with this cookie) contains additions like chocolate chips, dried fruit or nuts.  If flavoring is added, it is always a simple and subtle splash of vanilla.  That said, snickerdoodles are the perfect foil for eggnog or eggnog flavoring, and, a splash of rum or butter-rum is delightful too.

IMG_6597Snickerdoodles are German and evolved from "Schnickennudeln", a cinnamon-dusted sweet roll.  I grew up in the Lehigh Valley region of PA, known as "Pennsylvania Dutch Country".  I'm here to say: Pennsylvania Dutch cookery does not belong to PA and it isn't Dutch either.  "Dutch" was the slang word for "Deutsch", so, when people say PA Dutch, they mean PA Deutsch, crediting the many German-speaking peoples for this cuisine.

Eggnog means "eggs in a small cup" & used on both sides of the Atlantic to toast to health.  "Nog" is an English term for a wooden cup.

IMG_6600References to eggnog date back to the 1800's, when, even back then it was served during the Winter holiday season. Known as "egg milk punch", it was and still is a sweetened dairy-based beverage made with milk, sugar, raw egg yolks, whipped egg whites and a splash of rum and/or vanilla extract. Nowadays cream is always included in place of some or all of the milk, because today's milk has a much lower fat content than milk in the 1800's, which had cream on top. Brandy, rum and/or bourbon are almost always added.  The plain truth:  Eggnog tastes better with alcohol in it.  Each finished serving is poured into a punch cup, then it's topped off with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of nutmeg.

IMG_6603Eggnog means "eggs in a small cup", and it is used on both sides of the Atlantic to toast to health.  "Nog" is an old English term for a small wooden cup.  As an English creation, it descended from the hot British drink, posset, made from eggs beaten with milk, sugar and some type of spirit. During that period, alcoholic drinks were served at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because it was cooked, posset traveled and adapted well to local tastes wherever it landed.  One such place:  our American colonies -- full of farms, chickens, cows and cheap rum (our signature ingredient). 

Where I grew up, snickerdoodles were served year-round, including the holidays, almost everywhere we went:

IMG_6518For the dry ingredients:

4 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons cream of tartar

1 1/2  teaspoons baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

For the wet ingredients:

2  large eggs

3/4  cup high-quality, store-bought, pasteurized eggnog

1  teaspoon eggnog flavoring

1  teaspoon butter-rum flavoring

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

2 1/4  cups sugar

For sprinkling on the batter-balls:

1-2  tablespoons store-bought cinnamon-sugar

IMG_6522 IMG_6522 IMG_6522 IMG_6522 IMG_6522 IMG_6522 IMG_6539~Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and sea salt.  Set aside.  In a 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to lightly-whisk the eggs, add enough eggnog to total 1 cup, then stir in the eggnog- and butter-rum flavorings.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, place the butter and sugar.  Set aside.  Line 4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment and ready a hand-held electric mixer, large rubber spatula, 1 1/2" cookie scoop and a thin spatula.

IMG_6542 IMG_6542 IMG_6542 IMG_6542 IMG_6542~Step 2.  On medium- medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula, about 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Lower the mixer speed, and, in a thin stream, incorporate the egg/eggnog mixture. Continuing at low speed, in two or three increments, incorporate the flour mixture until a sticky but manageable cookie batter forms, about 1-1 1/2 minutes.

IMG_6559 IMG_6559 IMG_6559 IMG_6559 IMG_6559~Step 3.  Using a 1 1/2" cookie scoop, gently drop balls of dough, well-apart, 15 on the first prepared pan.  Lightly sprinkle tops with cinnamon-sugar. Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven 8-10 minutes, or until cookies have puffed through to their centers, look "crackly", and, have just started to deflate a bit.  Watch very carefully after 7 minutes of baking time.  Eight minutes will render a pale chewier cookie, 10 minutes a golden, crunchier cookie -- bake to suit yourself.  Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool, in pan for 1 minute.  Use a thin spatula to transfer cookies to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.  Repeat process, using the remaining three pans and working assembly-line-style, until all cookies are baked and cooled.

Note:  Dont have 4 baking pans?  Reuse the pans you've got and bake as directed, but pans must be completely cool and lined with fresh parchment before placing unbaked balls of cookie dough on them.  Warm pans and/or reused parchment will compromise the end result. 

8 minutes = pale & chewier.  10 minutes = golden & crunchier.

IMG_6570Place a plate of eggnog snickerdoodles & some eggnog next to the tree on Christmas Eve before you go to bed:  

IMG_6592Word on the street is:  Santa loves snickerdoodles & eggnog!

IMG_6611Home for the Holiday Eggnog-Laced Snickerdoodles:  Recipe yields 5-5 1/2 dozen, 2 1/2"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List:  spoon; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; hand-held electric mixer, large rubber spatula, 1 1/2" ice-cream/cookie scoop; thin spatula; large wire cooling rack

IMG_9233Cook's Note:  The best place to buy the best pasteurized eggnog is at your local dairy, and, I'm thrilled that our community's Meyer Dairy makes creamy-dreamy eggnog that is full of flavor and not cloyingly sweet -- they make eggnog ice cream that's just as good too.  For one of my more recent cookie creations, an eggnog-laced cake-like cookie glazed with eggnog frosting, try my recipe for ~ Mel's Happy-Valley Meyer-Dairy Eggnog Cookies ~.

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

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

12/12/2018

~ Wing-Night with Oven-Baked Jamaican-Jerk Wings ~

IMG_6508In our house, chicken wings appear on our table or cocktail table on a regular basis -- like pizza, my kids crave them often, Joe and I do our best to eat them in moderation, and, while each one of us has his or her personal favorite, there is unanimous agreement that once I've agreed to make pizza or wings for supper or snacks, compromise on the type can quickly be achieved -- and many times, the decision simply comes down to how much time I've got to quell their cravings.

IMG_6454How we cook 'em & country of origin is always up for debate: 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09436912970dJoe's Deep-Fried to Perfection Wings or Summertime Grilled Chicken Wings w/Peachy Keen Barbecue Sauce and my Seriously E-Z Oven-Fried Chicken Wings are examples of how we cook 'em. Classic Buffalo-Style Wing Sauce is the overwhelming favorite, but, in terms of culinary trips around the world, favorites include winging it with my Chinese Open-Sesame Ginger & Garlic Sauced Chicken WingsJapanese Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings, Thai-Inspired Hot & Sticky Honey Wings, or, today's Island-Style Jamaican-Jerk Wings.

IMG_6446My Jamaican-style wings are modeled after my recipe for jerk-style chicken.  They get marinated, then, like many marinated wing recipes, they get baked/roasted in a hot 425º oven.  At the end of the process, which can be done several hours in advance of serving, under the broiler they go, for 1-1 1/2 minutes per side, to crisp the skin.  I serve 'em up with a cool and creamy dip that's flavored with store-bought Jamaican-jerk barbecue-sauce.

Jamaican-Jerk 101:  Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3669ed9200cIn a (coco)nutshell, jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica.  It was developed by African slaves who escaped into the mountains of Jamaica after the British captured this island paradise from Spain in 1655.  Forced to adapt to their new surroundings, the Maroons (the name given to the escaped slaves) made use of the foods nature provided, by pulverizing the edibles they gathered into a fiery pasty rub. By adding fruit and/or citrus juice, the fiery pasty rub became a spicy basting and dipping sauce.  When thinned down with a bit of drinking water or the milk from a coconut, the spicy sauce became a highly-flavored wet marinade -- over time, items from trades, like vinegar and/or rum were transitioned into the mixture.  Once rubbed and/or marinated, the meat or game they hunted was then slowly cooked over a smoking pimento-wood fire.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad38d1183200dThe "jerk" in jerk comes from the Spanish word via the Peruvian word "charqui", the noun for dried strips of meat now called "jerky".  Jerk seasoning was/is the dry spice blend used to season jerky, and Jamaican jerk seasoning, known for the flavors of allspice, thyme and pepper, is perhaps the most famous. Throughout the Caribbean, islanders preserved/cured their spice-rubbed meats by drying them in the intense sun or over a slow fire -- this allowed the meat to be taken on long journeys and eaten as is or reconstituted in boiling water.  The word most likely transitioned to the verb, "jerking", in reference to the way the meat gets "jerked" around over the hot coals as it cooks. Originally used for pork, it's now common to "jerk" chicken, beef, fish and seafood too.  Jerk chicken is obviously the inspiration for my wings.

Wings 101:  Sectioning 5 1/2-6 pounds fresh chicken wings. 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3c63c30200b~ Step 1.  Using a pair of poultry shears, cut 5 1/2-6 pounds of wings, at their two joints, into 3 sections:  the drumette, the wing, and the "skinny" wing tip.

Some folks like to fry and eat the wing tips, I do not, but that is your choice.  Without frying the wing tips, this recipe will yield about 4 dozen chicken wings.

The wing tips can be frozen and used to make stock, as while they are "skinny", they are flavorful.

Jamaican-Jerk Chicken meets American Chicken Wings

IMG_6317 IMG_6317 IMG_6317~ Step 2.  Place the sectioned chicken wings in each of two 1-gallon food storage bags, the drumettes in one bag, the wings in the other -- I do this separately because they each have slightly-different cooking times. Add 1 cup Homemade Jamaican-Style Jerk Marinade (or your favorite high-quality store-bought brand) to each bag.  Seal the bags and refrigerate for 4-6 hours or overnight (over night is best).  Remove from refrigerator 1-2 hours prior to roasting and grilling as follows:

IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6350 IMG_6350 IMG_6350 IMG_6350 IMG_6350 IMG_6350~Step 3.  Insert a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" rack in a large, 20" x 12" x 6" disposable aluminum roasting pan, then place a piece of parchment paper on the rack.  Open the bag of the marinated chicken wing sections.  Remove the wings from the bag and arrange them, side-by-side on the parchment.  Bake on center rack of preheated 425º oven 20 minutes.  Remove from oven. With the aid of a fork, flip wings over and return to oven to continue to bake 20 more minutes.  Transfer wings to a paper towel lined plate to drain and set aside.  

IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6392 IMG_6392~Step 4.  Replace the parchment paper and repeat the above process with the drumettes, baking the drumettes for 23 minutes per side (2 minutes longer per side than the wing sections). To this point, all of the wings can be baked and set aside, uncovered for a few hours (2-4) ahead of broiling (as directed below) and serving hot.  

IMG_6399 IMG_6399 IMG_6399~Step 5.  Reset the oven to broil, allowing the oven rack to remain in the center.  Remove the parchment paper from the roasting pan, exposing the wire rack.  Arrange all of the wing sections and drumettes atop the rack.  Return to preheated broiler to crisp the skin, about 1-1 1/2 per side, turning only once.

Four-Ingredient Cool & Creamy Jamaican-Jerk Chicken Wing Dip:

IMG_6328 IMG_6328 IMG_6328~ Step 4.  In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup each: mayonnaise, sour cream, Jamaican-jerk barbecue sauce (your favorite high-quality store-bought brand) and thinly-sliced scallions (white and light green parts only, reserving scallion tops for garnish).  Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Don't worry, be happy -- it's wing night -- Jamaican-style...

IMG_6461... w/crispy-spicy skin, tender-pink meat & cool-creamy dip.

IMG_6500 2Wing-Night with Oven-Baked Jamaican-Jerk Wings:  Recipe yields about 3 1/2-4 dozen chicken wings or 4 dozen appetizers/snacks. 

Special Equipment List:  poultry shears; 2, 1-gallon food storage bags; 20" x 12" x 6" disposable aluminum roasting pan; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" wire cooling rack; parchment paper; fork; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3c03904200bCook's Note:  As an accomplished cook, I've posted all sorts of scratch-made 'za: Thin-crust St. Louis-style, Deep-Dish Chicago-style, Detroit-Style Brick Cheese & Pepperoni Pizza, Philly-Style Cheesesteak PizzaPizza alla Puttanesca, French Caramelized-Onion & Gruyère Cheese PizzaThai-Style Grilled Chicken Pizza, a Blast from My Husband's Past Pioneer-Club Pizza, a Nobody's Pizza for the Somebody in All of Us, a holiday Pizza Wreath, plus, the family recipes for Preschutti Pizza Crust, My Guy's Italian-American Sicilian-Style Pie, and, My All-Purpose Time-Saving Bread Machine Pizza Dough, a host of recipes for making snack pizza using flatbreads (pita, naan, tortillas and boboli) as foils, as well as my Stranger Things: 1980's-Style Retro French Bread Pizza, which is a late-night favorite.

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

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

12/09/2018

~Cool & Creamy Island-Style Jamaican-Jerk Wing Dip~

IMG_6439Wander into a bar anywhere in America.  Buffalo wings are on the pub grub menu.  No description is necessary.  You know you're getting deep-fried wingettes and drumettes coated in a vivid-red vinegar-based cayenne pepper and melted butter sauce.  They'll arrive with celery and carrot sticks, and blue cheese or ranch dressing.  You'll likely be asked to specify if you want your wings tossed in a mild, medium or hot version of the sauce.  Buffalo wing sauce is a classic.

Chicken wings have come a long way baby.  What started as a late-night snack served by Frank and Teresa Bellisimo in a little place called the Anchor Bar and Grill in Buffalo, NY in 1964, has gone global.  Name a cuisine and you're sure to find a chicken wing recipe to go with it.  Why? Americans love chicken wings.  I've got almost more wing recipes than I can count, each one with a unique flavor profile and a special concoction for dipping or drizzling to serve with them.

IMG_6461My Jamaican-style wings are modeled after my recipe for jerk-style chicken.  They get marinated, then, like many marinated wing recipes, they get baked/roasted in a hot 425º oven.  At the end of the process, which can be done several hours in advance of serving, under the broiler they go, for 1-1 1/2 minutes per side, to crisp the skin.  I serve 'em up with a cool and creamy dip that's flavored with store-bought Jamaican-jerk barbecue-sauce.

Four-Ingredient Cool & Creamy Jamaican-Style Chicken Wing Dip:

IMG_6328 IMG_6328 IMG_6328~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup each: mayonnaise, sour cream, Jamaican-jerk barbecue sauce (your favorite high-quality store-bought brand) and thinly-sliced scallions (white and light green parts only, reserving scallion tops for garnish).  Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Try Wing Night with Oven-Baked Jamaican-Jerk Wings:

IMG_6508Dipped in Cool & Creamy Island-Style Jamaican-Jerk Wing Dip: 

IMG_6490Cool & Creamy Island-Style Jamaican-Jerk Wing Dip:  Recipe makes 2 cups dip/enough for 3 1/2-4 dozen chicken wings..

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

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3809027200cCook's Note:  My repertoire is full of wing recipes. Joe's Deep-Fried to Perfection Wings and Grilled Chicken Wings w/Peachy Keen Barbecue Sauce and my Seriously E-Z Oven-Fried Chicken Wings are examples of how we cook 'em. Classic Buffalo-Style Wing Sauce is the overwhelming favorite, but, globally, other favorites include my Chinese Open-Sesame Ginger & Garlic Sauced Chicken WingsJapanese Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings, Thai-Inspired Hot & Sticky Honey Wings, or, Island-Style Jamaican-Jerk Wings.

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

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

12/07/2018

~Island-Style Jamaican-Italian-American Rasta Pasta~

IMG_6201My only experience with Rasta Pasta, references the original Colorado Springs restaurant. Guy Fieri, host of the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, paid them a visit, and, if you watch enough episodes of this show, you know when Guy is super-jazzed about an eatery.  This was one such episode.  On camera he tried their signature and namesake dish, the Rasta Pasta, a creamy, Jamaican-spiced penne pasta, studded with colorful vegetables topped with jerk chicken.  It was, in fact, the Jamaican take on the Italian-American alfredo primavera topped with grilled chicken, which Guy declared to be "funky" in a winner-winner chicken-dinner way.

4The owners of Rasta Pasta, the Taraborelli family, specialize in fusing two of the unlikeliest of culinary bedfellows:  the island flavors of Jamaica with their Italian-American background.  Yes, you read that correctly.  It's easy to assume the title "Rasta" is associated with Rastafarianism, which would require the fare to be vegetarian -- no meat or shellfish.  No Mon.  It implies the colors of the veggies:  red, yellow and green.

Research revealed a full range of opinions regarding the origin of this dish (which has developed a cult following), as Caribbean restaurants across the USA, many them in New York City which has a large Jamaican population, have a version of rasta pasta on their menu.  They all left me completely up-in-the-air on the subject and unwilling to pass any along.  My best guess:  It is a savvy Jamaican-American cook's creation that got popularized in America, then made its way back to Jamaica, where it quickly became as popular as it is here.  All I can say with certainty:  It's a delicious twist on your typical creamy pasta dish, and, it appealed to me from the start. 

My Coconut-Creamy Island-Style Vegetarian Rasta Pasta.

IMG_6193One of my favorite entrées in an Italian-American restaurant is Fettucchini Alfredo and I always order it a la primavera-style, meaning I'm asking for vegetables to be tossed into it, hence the name of my own recipe, Fabulous Fettuccine Alfredo a la Primavera-Style.  I could easily choose to order the Alfredo with the very popular chicken or shrimp options, but, neither appeals to me.  The rich, creamy, parmesan-laced sauce that enrobes the tender strands of al dente egg-pasta and colorful crunch-tender blanched veggies needs no meat or seafood to entice me. That said, carry on mon, feel free to add some Jamaican-jerk chicken or shrimp to this dish.

Making my easy, coconut-creamy, Rasta Pasta Sauce:

IMG_60734  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons, unbleached all-purpose flour

2  tablespoons jerk seasoning

1  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/8  teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper powder

2  13 1/2-ounce cans coconut milk

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

1  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081~Step 1.  In a small ramekin, stir together the flour and dry spices: the jerk seasoning, thyme leaves, garlic powder and Scotch bonnet pepper powder. In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt butter over low heat.  Increase heat to medium and stir in the flour, jerk seasoning, thyme leaves, Scotch bonnet pepper powder and garlic powder.  Using a large spoon, stirring constantly, cook until mixture (roux) is thick and bubbly, 30-45 seconds.

IMG_6103 IMG_6103 IMG_6103 IMG_6103~Step 2.  Add the coconut milk, in a slow steady stream, stirring constantly and vigorously.  Stir in the diced tomatoes.  Carefully adjust heat to a gentle simmer (not too high or it will scorch) and continue to cook until smooth, thickened and drizzly, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Turn the heat to low.

IMG_6116 IMG_6116 IMG_6116~ Step 3.  Sprinkle in the Parm-Regg.  The finely-grated cheese will melt evenly, quickly and almost instantly.  Stir until the mixture is smooth and ribbon like.  You will have 6 cups of coconut-creamy, rasta pasta sauce, better than any store-bought sauce packet can deliver.  Cover and remove from heat.

Note:  This sauce can be made 1-3 days in advance, stored in the refrigerator and gently reheated on the stovetop or in the microwave when ready to proceed with recipe.  

Making the penne pasta & sautéing the vegetables:

IMG_612916  ounces penne pasta

4  tablespoons salted butter

3 1/2-4 cups sweet onion, sliced into half-moons then into thirds

1 1/2-2 cups each:  red, orange and green bell pepper strips strips cut in half

1/2  teaspoon each:  garlic powder and dried thyme leaves

3  cups rasta pasta sauce, from above recipe 

IMG_6143 IMG_6143 IMG_6143 IMG_6143 IMG_6143 IMG_6143~Step 1.  In a 12" skillet, melt butter over low heat. Add the vegetables:  onion, and, red, orange and green bell peppers.  Sprinkle the veggies with the thyme leaves, plus, a very light sprinkling of sea salt.  Increase heat to medium-high- to high, to sauté, until veggies are crunch tender, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

IMG_6156 IMG_6156 IMG_6156 IMG_6156 IMG_6156 IMG_6156 IMG_6156~Step 2.  In a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil.  Add the pasta. Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer and continue to cook, according to package directions, until al dente (to-the-tooth tender).  Do not overcook the pasta.  Drain pasta into a colander.  Do not rinse the pasta. Immediately return the steaming hot pasta to the hot stockpot and place it on the still warm stovetop.  Add all of the vegetables and all of the buttery juices.  Give the mixture a thorough stir. Add three cups of the Rasta Pasta Sauce, then give the mixture another thorough stir.

Portion into warmed main- or side-dish-sized serving bowls, then garnish w/a sprinkling of Parm-Regg cheese:

IMG_6203Don't worry, be happy, stick a fork in it, &, Rasta Pasta!

IMG_6224Island-Style Jamaican-Italian-American Rasta Pasta:  Recipe yields 6 cups sauce (enough for 2 meals)/4-6 servings main-dish servings each meal/ 8/12 side-dish servings each meal.

Special Equipment List:  small ramekin; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon or wire whisk; cutting board; chef's knife; 12" skillet; 8-quart stockpot; colander

6a0120a8551282970b022ad386cf7f200dCook's Note: Throughout the Caribbean, "patties" are a staple, and depending on which country or island they are from or made on, the pastry crusts and the meat fillings (beef, goat, lamb, pork, chicken, fish or seafood) differ quite a bit.  Some crusts are baked, others are fried, and still others are more puff-pastry like than pie-dough like.  ~ Don't Worry, Be Happy:  Jamaican-Style Beef Patties ~ is my take on this Caribbean-Island classic.

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

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

12/05/2018

~ Coconut-Creamy, Island-Style, Rasta-Pasta Sauce ~

IMG_6281One of my favorite entrées in an Italian-American restaurant is Fettucchini Alfredo and I always order it a la primavera-style, meaning I'm asking for vegetables to be tossed into it, hence the name of my own recipe, Fabulous Fettuccine Alfredo a la Primavera-Style.  I could easily choose to order the Alfredo with the very popular chicken or shrimp options, but, neither appeals to me.  The rich, creamy, parmesan-laced sauce that enrobes the tender strands of al dente egg-pasta and colorful crunch-tender blanched veggies needs no meat or seafood to entice me.

Jamaican cuisine fused w/Italian-American cuisine?  Yea mon.

IMG_6224If you have a Caribbean-style restaurant in your proximity, a dish called Rasta Pasta is most likely on the menu -- a creamy, Jamaican-spiced penne pasta, studded with colorful vegetables and often served with or to the side of Jamaican-jerk chicken or shrimp.  It is the Jamaican take on the Italian-American Alfredo primavera.  It's easy to assume the title "Rasta" is associated with Rastafarianism, which would require the fare to be vegetarian -- no meat or shellfish.  No Mon.  It implies the colors of the veggies used, which are bell peppers:  red, orange or yellow and green.

IMG_6134Like Fettuccini Alfredo, Rasta Pasta is not hard to make, and, also like Fettuccini Alfredo, there are time-saving store-bought options available.  For Rasta Pasta, the most popular is Knorr's Parma Rosa dry sauce mix.  Simply combine the contents with 1 1/4 cups milk, a bit of butter, plus a tablespoon of Jamaican jerk seasoning blend, simmer it on the stovetop until it thickens, and, voila -- quickie Rasta Pasta sauce.  It is tasty, but, c'mon mon, I can do better than that.

My Coconut-Creamy Island-Style Rasta Pasta sauce:

IMG_60734  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons, unbleached all-purpose flour

2  tablespoons jerk seasoning

1  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/8  teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper powder

2  13 1/2-ounce cans coconut milk

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

1  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081~Step 1.  In a small ramekin, stir together the flour and dry spices: the jerk seasoning, thyme leaves, garlic powder and Scotch bonnet pepper powder. In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt butter over low heat.  Increase heat to medium and stir in the flour, jerk seasoning, thyme leaves, Scotch bonnet pepper powder and garlic powder.  Using a large spoon, stirring constantly, cook until mixture (roux) is thick and bubbly, 30-45 seconds.

IMG_6103 IMG_6103 IMG_6103 IMG_6103~Step 2.  Add the coconut milk, in a slow steady stream, stirring constantly and vigorously.  Stir in the diced tomatoes.  Carefully adjust heat to a gentle simmer (not too high or it will scorch) and continue to cook until smooth, thickened and drizzly, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Turn the heat to low.

IMG_6116 IMG_6116 IMG_6116~ Step 3.  Sprinkle in the Parm-Regg.  The finely-grated cheese will melt evenly, quickly and almost instantly.  Stir until the mixture is smooth and ribbon like.  You will have 6 cups of coconut-creamy, Rasta Pasta Sauce, better than any store-bought sauce packet can deliver.  Cover and remove from heat.

Note:  This sauce can be made 1-3 days in advance, stored in the refrigerator and gently reheated on the stovetop or in the microwave when ready to proceed with recipe.

Coconut-creamy bold-flavored Island-style pasta sauce: 

IMG_6125Creamy, pink, pretty & ready to sauce my Rasta Pasta:

IMG_6305Coconut-Creamy, Island-Style, Rasta-Pasta Sauce:  Recipe yields 6 cups sauce, enough to sauce 2 pounds pasta.

Special Equipment List:  3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b022ad37f6db2200cCook's Note: Throughout the Caribbean, "patties" are a staple, and depending on which country or island they are from or made on, the pastry crusts and the meat fillings (beef, goat, lamb, pork, chicken, fish or seafood) differ quite a bit.  Some crusts are baked, others are fried, and still others are more puff-pastry like than pie-dough like.  ~ Don't Worry, Be Happy:  Jamaican-Style Beef Patties ~ is my take on this Caribbean-Island classic.

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

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

12/03/2018

~Sausage and Everything Bagel Breakfast Casserole~

IMG_6054Sausage, egg and cheese bagel sandwiches are my specialty.  I make ten of them every Sunday, wrap 'em in plastic and stack 'em in the refrigerator.  Monday thru Friday (the work week), these ten tasty sandwiches are breakfast for my husband and myself.  When I tip-toe down the stairs in the dark (at the ungodly-dark hour of 4:20AM), I take one out and let it warm up on the counter for about 30 minutes.  After 1 1/2 minutes in the microwave, I'm eating my breakfast.  I repeat the process in the daylight, when my husband makes his appearance in the kitchen.  

IMG_5999That said, occasions arise, which require me to rethink my laid-back AM sandwich scenario, namely: entertaining a group during the tailgate season and/or on holiday weekends. That's when having a few hearty breakfast casserole recipes in my repertroire comes in handy.  This one is simple and straightforward, and, is remarkably resemblant of my sausage and everything bagel sandwiches. Served steaming hot, it is meaty, eggy-rich and cheddar-cheesy too.

The above said, leave this casserole recipe alone.  If you wouldn't put it on your sausage sandwich for breakfast, please don't add it to this casserole. This recipe is a convenient alternative to making breakfast sandwiches to feed a crowd.  Do not be inclined to add onions, mushrooms, bell peppers or tomatoes in an attempt to "gourmet it up" -- just don't do it, it's missing the point.  Those watery additions just muck-up the flavors in the bagel seasoning blend: sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dehydrated onion, dehydrated garlic and sea salt. 

IMG_6062A savory make-ahead stay-the-weekend breakfast or brunch casserole -- it reheats like a charm in the microwave.

It's been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  I whole-heartedly believe it, but, I also have strong opinions about it.  The first:  A protein-packed breakfast is better than a sugar-shocked one.  I love pancakes, waffles and French toast as much as the next person, and indulging in them occasionally is divine, but, on a daily basis, I don't believe them to be the best way to start the day.  The second:  In today's busy food world, folks will put down the sweet pop tart in exchange for a savory sandwich if it can be made in advance, or several days in advance. The third:  When entertaining stay-the-weekend guests, keep the morning meal simple and casual -- focus your time and energy on fancy-schmancy upscale fare for cocktails and dinnertime.   

IMG_589910  sandwich-sized sweet sausage links (2 1/4-2 1/2 pounds)

6-8  high-quality New York-style everything bagels (1-1/4-1 1/2 pounds)

12  large eggs (2 1/2  cups when cracked)

3  cups whole milk

3  tablespoons everything bagel topping

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

2-3  cups shredded yellow cheddar cheese (8-12 ounces)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dish

IMG_5817 IMG_5817 IMG_5817~ Step 1. Using a pair of kitchen shears, remove and discard the casings from the sausage links. Using your fingertips, pull the sausage into little pieces, dropping them in a 14" chef's pan as you work.  Over medium-high heat, fry the sausage crumbles, stirring frequently with a large slotted spoon, until just cooked through and beginning to turn brown, 6-8 total minutes.  Turn the heat off.  Using the slotted spoon, transfer the cooked sausage  pieces to a paper-toweled-lined plate to drain and cool.

IMG_5909 IMG_5909 IMG_5909~ Step 2.  Using a serrated bread knife, slice the bagels in half horizontally, then slice the halves into 1/2"-3/4" cubes and pieces, placing the bagel cubes in a large 2-gallon food storage bag as you work.

IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921 IMG_5921~Step 3.  Crack eggs into an 8-cup measuring container.  Using a hand-held egg beater, whisk until uniform in color.  Add milk to total 5 1/2 cups of liquid (about 3 cups).  Add the bagel topping, followed by the salt and pepper and beat the mixture again, until all seasonings are thoroughly incorporated into the eggs.

IMG_5947 IMG_5947 IMG_5947~Step 4.  Pour all of the egg mixture from the container into the food-storage bag of bagel cubes.  Seal the bag. Using your fingers, lightly squish (don't mash) the bag in order to get the milk incorporated into bagel pieces.  After that, lay the bag flat on the the countertop, flipping it over every 5 minutes for about 20-30 minutes, to give the bagel cubes time to evenly absorb most of the excess liquid.

IMG_5953 IMG_5953 IMG_5953 IMG_5953~Step 5.  Unseal the bag.  Add all of the sausage pieces, immediately followed by the shredded cheese to the bag.  Using your fingers, lightly squish (don't mash) the bag in order to incorporate the sausage pieces and shredded cheese throughout the moistened bagel pieces.

IMG_5965 IMG_5965 IMG_5965 IMG_5965~Step 6.  Spray a 13" x 9" x 2" (3-quart) casserole with no-stick cooking spray.  Empty the contents of the food storage bag into the casserole.  The casserole will be very full and mounded through to the center.  Using the back of a large spoon, press down to compact and flatten the ingredients into the dish -- it will be filled to the brim.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.  Remove casserole from the refrigerator 2 hours prior to baking as follows:

IMG_6026 IMG_6026 IMG_6026 IMG_6026~Step 7.  Remove plastic wrap and recover casserole with aluminum foil.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven, 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and remove foil.  Return casserole to oven and bake until puffed up through to the center, golden and bubbling, about 15 minutes.  Serve hot.

IMG_6066~ Step 8.  Got leftovers?  Want to brown bag a piece to enjoy with your coffee at the office?  After the casserole has baked and cooled to room temperature, use a sharp knife to cut into desired-sized squares and wrap each square tightly in plastic wrap.  Keep stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.  To reheat, remove a piece from refrigerator and set it on the counter to warm up a bit 30-45 minutes -- do not remove the plastic wrap.  Reheat, wrapped in the plastic wrap, on high power in microwave for 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Serve hot.   

Full-flavored, steaming-hot, eggy-rich, & cheddar-cheesy:

IMG_6046Sausage and Everything Bagel Breakfast Casserole:  Recipe yields 16-20 servings.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; 12" nonstick skillet; large slotted spoon; cutting board; serrated bread knife; 2-gallon food storage bag; 8-cup measuring container; hand-held egg beater; 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole; aluminum foil; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1879fba970cCook's Note:  If it's a breakfast casserole full veggies you're looking for, ~ My Big Baked Denver Omelette Brunch Casserole ~, which is based on my recipe for ~ My Kinda Cowboy Breakfast:  The Denver Omelette ~ will deliver. 

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

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

11/30/2018

~ Sausage and Everything Bagel Breakfast Sandwich ~

IMG_5994It's been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  I whole-heartedly believe it, but, I also have strong opinions about it.  The first:  A protein-packed breakfast is better than a sugar-shocked one.  I love pancakes, waffles and French toast as much as the next person, and indulging in them occasionally is divine, but, on a daily basis, I don't believe them to be the best way to start the day.  The second:  In today's busy food world, folks will put down the sweet pop tart in exchange for a savory sandwich if it can be made in advance, or several days in advance.

A work week of made-ahead breakfast sandwiches.

IMG_5999Sausage, egg and cheese bagel sandwiches are my specialty.  I make ten of them every Sunday, wrap 'em in plastic and stack 'em in the refrigerator.  Monday thru Friday (the work week), these tasty ten sandwiches are breakfast for my husband and myself.  When I tip-toe down the stairs in the dark (at the ungodly hour of 4:20AM), I take one out and let it warm up on the counter for about 30 minutes.  After 1 1/2 minutes in the microwave, I'm eating my breakfast.  I repeat the process in the daylight, when my husband makes his appearance in the kitchen. 

IMG_585210  high-quality New York-style same-day-baked everything bagels, the kind bought at a bakery rather than found in the bread section of the average grocery store

10  sweet sausage links

10  large, medium or jumbo eggs

10-20 slices yellow cheddar cheese (1 or 2 per sandwich)

IMG_5828 IMG_5828 IMG_5828~ Step 1.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, remove the casings from ten sweet sausage links and form each link into into a 4"-round patty.  Place five sausage patties in a 12" skillet.  Over medium heat, fry the sausage patties, until cooked through and lightly-golden on both sides, using a spatula to flip them over once during the process, about 8 minutes per side.  Remove sausage patties to a paper-towel lined plate and set aside.  Repeat this process with the remaining five sausage patties.

IMG_5839 IMG_5839 IMG_5839~ Step 2.  Crack 10 eggs into the sausage drippings remaining in the skillet. Lightly-season tops with salt and pepper.  Over medium-high heat, fry the eggs to desired degree of yolky doneness.  Towards the end of the process, I like to place a lid on the skillet for about a minute to form an opaque and protective skin atop the still jiggly yolks. Remove the skillet of eggs from stovetop, cover and set aside.

IMG_5854 IMG_5854 IMG_5854 IMG_5854 IMG_5854 IMG_5854 IMG_5854~Step 3.  To assemble the sandwiches, using a serrated bread knife, slice all ten bagels in half horizontally.  Depending on the size of your toaster, lightly-toast one or two bagels.  As bagels emerge from the toaster, top the bagel bottoms with one or two slices of cheddar cheese, a still warm sausage patty and an egg.  Add the top of the bagel, wrap each bagel sandwich in aluminum foil and set aside -- wrapping the warm sandwich and its warm components in foil steams the bread to the perfect texture.  Repeat process until all ten bagel sandwiches are assembled and wrapped in foil.

IMG_5873 IMG_5873 IMG_5873 IMG_5873~Step 4.  Starting with the first sandwiches you wrapped in foil and working your way to the last sandwiches that got wrapped, remove the foil and tightly-wrap each sandwich in plastic wrap (preferably commercial food service film which is heavier and higher-quality than ordinary Glad- and Saran-type wrap).  Stack the sandwiches neatly on a shelf in the refrigerator.  To reheat, remove a sandwich from the refrigerator and set it on the counter for 30-45 minutes.  In the meantime, take a shower, put the coffee on, check your e-mails -- whatever.  Place the plastic wrapped sandwich in the microwave oven on high power for 90 seconds.  Unwrap and eat.

The perfect protein-packed & savory start to the workday...

IMG_6014... & hearty enough to eat one half & share the other half: 

IMG_6025Got guests coming for the weekend or a large crowd to feed? Sausage & Everything Bagel Breakfast Casserole:

IMG_6054Sausage and Everything Bagel Breakfast Sandwich:  Recipe yields 10 breakfast sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; 12" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula; paper towels; cutting board; serrated bread knife; toaster; aluminum foil; plastic wrap

IMG_4484Cook's Note:  Another one of my favorite everything bagel sandwiches, the ~ Smoked Salmon & Folded Omelet Bagel Sandwich ~ contains all the components of a classic bagels and lox presentation. The folded omelette that goes atop this sandwich, is a great substitution for the fried eggs featured today.  

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

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

11/28/2018

~ Glorious Golden Potato and Onion Sandwich Rolls ~

IMG_5798Get out the deli-roast beef, Swiss cheese and horseradish sauce.  An onion roll turns any plain-Jane roast-beef sandwich into an extraordinary roast-beef sandwich.  I love potato bread and any type of slightly-sweet and pillowy-soft potato rolls in general. Unless I am specifically looking for a crusty, semi-firm roll, 'tater-type rolls are my all-purpose sandwich rolls of choice -- that includes hamburger and hot dog rolls too.  The only thing better than a soft, slightly-sweet potato-sandwich roll is a soft, slightly-sweet potato-sandwich roll laced with small bits of onion and herbs.

I tout these for roast-beef sandwiches -- they're great 'burger rolls too.

IMG_5769Imagine my glee when I successfully turned my brioche in the bread machine recipe into glorious, golden potato rolls.

IMG_5695

1/2  cup buttermilk

3  tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces, preferably at room temperature

1/2  cup mashed Yukon gold potato, from 1 medium-large potato that has been microwave-baked (I use a slightly-generous half cup)

1  extra-large egg, lightly-beaten 

3  tablespoons sugar

2  1/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon each:  dried herbes de Provence, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

2  teaspoons onion powder

2  tablespoons dehydrated minced onion

1  packet Fleischmann's granulated yeast, not rapid-rise yeast granules

no-stick cooking spray

IMG_5702 IMG_5706 IMG_5706 IMG_5706 IMG_5706~Step 1. In a 1-cup measuring container, in the microwave, heat the buttermilk to steaming, 30-45 seconds.  Add the butter cubes.  Using a fork, stir until the butter is melted into the buttermilk.  Add the mashed gold potato.  Stir until nicely incorporated.  Using the fork, in a small bowl, whisk the egg, then stir it into the mixture.  Add and stir in the sugar.

IMG_5717 IMG_5717 IMG_5717 IMG_5717 IMG_5717~Step 2.  Add the liquid buttermilk/potato mixture to bread pan of bread machine.  In a medium bowl, measure and place the flour, herbes de Provence, salt, pepper, onion powder and dehydrated minced onion, then, using the fork give the dry ingredients a gentle stir.  Scoop dry ingredients atop wet ingredients.  DO NOT STIR.  Using your index finger, make a shallow well in the top of the flour mixture and pour the yeast granules into the well.

IMG_5728 IMG_5728 IMG_5732~Step 3.  Insert the bread pan into the bread machine.  Select the "dough" cycle for a 1-pound loaf, then press "start".  In less than 1 1/2 hours you will have a light, manageable dough that has proofed twice.

IMG_5736 IMG_5736 IMG_5736 IMG_5736 IMG_5752 IMG_5752~Step 4.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment.  When bread machine signals the dough has proofed, lightly-spray a light-weight plate with no-stick and lightly-oil your fingertips with a bit of the no-stick spray from the plate. Using your oiled fingertips, transfer dough to prepared plate, which has been place on a kitchen scale.  You will have 1 1/2 pounds dough.  Using the scale as a measure, divide dough into 8, 3-ounce pieces.  Between the palms of your hands, roll each piece into a ball and arrange the balls of dough, well-apart, on prepared pan.  Cover the pan with a lint-free cotton flour-sack-type towel and allow to rise a third time, by about 1/2 half (not doubled), about 45 minutes.

IMG_5756 IMG_5756 IMG_5756~Step 5.  Bake rolls on center rack of preheated 350º oven, until golden brown, and, when tapped with the knuckle of your index finger, they sound hollow, about 18-20 minutes.  Do not over bake.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, 1-2 hours.  Best served same-day-baked, but they're fine the next day too.

IMG_5773 IMG_5773 IMG_5773 IMG_5773 IMG_5773 IMG_5773~Step 6.  My favorite sandwich served on these onion rolls:  a copious slather of horseradish sauce, a generous layer of shaved red onion, a heaping handful of very-thinly-sliced rare-roasted deli-beef, and two thin slices of lacy Swiss cheese.

Cool rolls completely, 1-2 hours, then slice & serve:

IMG_5810Top w/horseradish sauce, red onion, a heap of beef & Swiss:

IMG_5813Glorious Golden Potato and Onion Sandwich Rolls:  Recipe yields 8, 3 1/2"-4"-round sandwich rolls.

Special Equipment List: bread machine; 1-cup measuring container; fork; bread machine; kitchen scale; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; lint-free flour-sack-type towel; wire cooling rack; serrated bread knife

IMG_5577Cook's Note:  I adore sweet potatoes.  As long as I can find them in the grocery store, which is about nine months out of the year, I keep them on hand always, as, for me, a humble, baked sweet potato slathered with butter is a meal.  That said, for a variation on the potato-roll theme, one that I make each year for Thanksgiving,  try my recipe for  ~ Sweet & Savory Herbed Sweet Potato Dinner Rolls ~. 

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

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

11/26/2018

~ Stick a Chip in It: Mel's Ultimate French Onion Dip ~

IMG_5670Stir a packet of Lipton's dehydrated French Onion Soup mix into a cup of sour cream and you will get no complaints from me -- zero.  I love the stuff.  I grew up watching TV shows (Bewitched, the Beverly Hillbillies, Andy of Mayberry, Gilligan's Island, Patty Duke, the Flintstones, etc.), to the crackling sound of a bag of Ruffles as I readied each chip for a copious glop of this beloved stuff. Those were good times.  There were obviously no calories in it, because I was a stick figure.

Nostalgic memories.  We all have them.  That said, times change, people change.  I still love French onion dip made via the 1960's seasoning-packet-stirred-into-sour-cream method, but, I really, really, really love my 1980's amped-up version.  It's easy enough to make -- no chopping, dicing or slicing (unless you want to go unnecessarily old-school rogue and caramelize onions to stir into it), but, trust me, it deserves to be served with pride and a slightly-cocky attitude, because, this made-from-scratch concoction is gonna have everyone asking for this recipe.

From California Dip in 1954 to French Onion Dip in 1960 -- Lipton cornered the market on it.

IMG_5659A bit about French onion dip, also known as California dip.  It's an all-American sour-cream-based dip* for potato chips that is flavored with onion and other herbs and seasonings.  Said to have been created by an unknown French cook in Los Angeles in 1954, it was intended to mimic the taste of French onion soup.  The recipe became such a popular addition to the fare served in martini-drinking social circles, it got printed in a local newspaper.  Shortly after, in 1955, the Lipton company promoted it on the TV show "Arthur Godfry's Talent Scouts", touting it as "Lipton California Dip", and followed that up with ad campaigns in supermarkets and on television.  In 1959, the recipe was added to the Lipton instant onion soup package, where it remains today.  By the 1960's, the name had transitioned to "French onion dip", as it remains today.

*Note:  Mayonnaise may be substituted for the sour cream in order to turn the dip into a tangy sandwich spread, but, for the love of mankind, please do not add cream cheese to this dip. 

No slicing or dicing, &, one step to classic chip-dip perfection:

IMG_56401 1/2  cups sour cream

1 1/2  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence

1  teaspoon dehydrated, minced garlic

1 1/4  teaspoons dehydrated, minced onion

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

3/4  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon celery salt

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1-2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, to taste

IMG_5632 IMG_5632 IMG_5646~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup food-storage container measure and place all ingredients. Give the mixture a thorough stir, then give it another thorough stir.  In two three increments, stir in a small amount of Worcestershire sauce, to taste. Cover and refrigerate at least one hour, 4-6 hours is much better, and overnight is perfect.

Snuggle up on the sofa, tune the TV to some classic reruns...

IMG_5684... stick a chip in it & take a trip back in time:

IMG_5690Stick a Chip in It:  Mel's Ultimate French Onion Dip:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups classic chip dip.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup food-storage container w/tight-fitting lid; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01901e603938970bCook's Note:  A favorite of my children's generation (ranch dressing hadn't been invented when I was a child), if you liked my French onion dip (for potato chips), you just might want to give  ~ Mel's Happy-Valley Hidden-Valley Ranch-Style Salad Dressing ~ (for veggies) recipe a try.  It's kid's stuff! 

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

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

11/23/2018

~ Sweet Potato, Apple & Sausage Bundt-Pan Stuffing ~

IMG_5472Stuffing baked in a bundt pan makes for a picture-perfect presentation that brings a smile to everyone.  From a practical standpoint, it feeds a crowd (or a small gathering of stuffing lovers) and it's very user-friendly:  it easy to portion, slice and serve at the table or on the buffet line, and, slices are especially convenient on closed or open-faced turkey sandwiches.  Stuffing slices can be wrapped, stacked and frozen too -- for those times when one has to have a slice of stuffing.

Nicely-sliced stuffing is not new-to-me -- it's old-school brilliance.  My grandmother always baked her stuffing in two loaf pans because it was an efficient use of oven space.  As a savvy cook, she figured out that two, high, narrow loaf pans took up less oven space than a low, shallow casserole while yielding about the same amount.  Her stuffing loaves baked on either side of the roasting turkey with miscellaneous other casseroles strategically placed on the remaining upper rack.

I say, "stuffing", and you say, "dressing".  Who's right?

IMG_5460We both are.  The terms are used interchangeably.  The Food Lover's Companion defines both  as "a mixture used to stuff poultry, fish, meat and some vegetables."  I did not always know that.

Where I grew up in Eastern PA, if someone said, "please pass the dressing", they got the salad dressing.  When someone said she was "dressing the turkey", it meant she was preparing it for roasting (which could include removing its innards and plucking the feathers).  Stuffing per se, was the stuff she stuffed into the bird.  The stuff that didn't fit in the bird, meaning the extra stuffing she'd purposely made so she'd have enough to feed a crowd, got baked in a buttered casserole dish alongside the bird.  Neither turned into "dressing" when it went on the table.  Stuffing went into her oven, stuffing came out of her oven and stuffing went onto her table.  I spent the first fourteen years of life completely unaware stuffing had another name.  It happened by accident.

I was having an after-school dinner at my girlfriend Susie's house.  Susie's mom Jeanne was born and raised in the South and talked with one of those great Andy of Mayberry Southern drawls. Susie's mom served cast-iron-skillet fried chicken dinner that night, with cornbread dressing.  I was a pretty picky eater back then and wanted to know what I was eating before I put in on my plate (because according to my family's rules, once it was on my plate I was required to eat it). So I asked, "is this dressing the same thing as stuffing?"  In a lovely, ladylike, upbeat Southern drawl, I was told, "Oo honn-ey -- it's jus' the same --  we'all jus' call it dressin' down South."

My Southern-Style Sweet Potato, Apple & Sausage Stuffing:

IMG_53892  pounds sweet sausage, hot sausage may be substituted

4  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1  teaspoon poultry seasoning

2  packets from 1 box G. Washington's Golden Seasoning and Broth Mix

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

8-10  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (1 1/2-2 cups)

8-10  ounces diced celery (1 1/2-2 cups)

1 1/2 pounds peeled and 1/2" diced sweet potatoes (about 6 cups)

12  ounces peeled and 1/2" diced tart apples (about 3 cups)

8  jumbo eggs

2  cups whole milk

2  1-pound loaves potato bread, cut into 1/2"-3/4" cubes

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing bundt pan

IMG_5392 IMG_5392 IMG_5392 IMG_5392~Step 1.  Using your fingertips, pull the sausage into little pieces, dropping them in a 14" chef's pan as you work.  Over medium-high heat, fry sausage bits, stirring frequently with a large slotted spoon, until just cooked through and beginning to turn brown, 6-8 minutes.  Turn heat off.  Using the slotted spoon, transfer cooked sausage to a paper-toweled-lined plate to drain and cool.

IMG_5401 IMG_5401 IMG_5401 IMG_5401~Step 2.  Over low heat, melt the butter into the sausage drippings remaining in the bottom of the pan.  Add and stir in the spices:  the nutmeg, poultry seasoning, G. Washington's packets, salt and pepper into the butter and sausage drippings.  Add the onion, celery and sweet potatoes.

IMG_5408 IMG_5408 IMG_5408 IMG_5408 IMG_5408 IMG_5408 IMG_5408~Step 3.  Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté, stirring frequently, until onion is soft and sweet potatoes are beginning to soften, 10-12 minutes.  Add and stir in the diced apples.  Continue to sauté, stirring frequently, until apples just begin to soften, 3-4 additional minutes.  Add and stir in the drained sausage bits and pieces.  Remove the pan from heat and set aside for mixture cool about 30-40 minutes.

IMG_5425 IMG_5425 IMG_5425 IMG_5425 IMG_5425 IMG_5425 IMG_5425~Step 4.  In two or three increments, add and fold all of the bread cubes into the still-warm vegetable-sausage mixture in pan. Using a fork, vigorously whisk the eggs.  Add all of the eggs to the pan and thoroughly fold them in, taking enough time to make sure all of the ingredients are enrobed in the eggs.  Add the milk. Fold, fold, and fold again, until bread has absorbed all of the milk, giving it about 10 full minutes.

IMG_5439 IMG_5439 IMG_5439 IMG_5457~Step 5.  Transfer stuffing mixture to a 12-cup bundt pan that has been sprayed with no-stick. The bundt pan will be filled to the top.*  Cover pan with aluminum foil.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325º oven for 1 hour.  Remove the foil and continue to bake for 45 more minutes. Remove from oven and rest 45-60 minutes.  Use a paring knife to loosen stuffing from the exterior and interior edges of the pan, place a plate on top and invert stuffing onto the plate.

*Note:  Stuffing contains no leaveners, so, worry not about filling the pan to the top -- filling the bundt pan to the brim actually makes it easier to unmold onto the plate after it bakes.

Slice & serve savory-sausage-stuffing perfection:

IMG_5480The Morning After?  Thanksgiving Stuffing Waffles:  

IMG_3385Sweet Potato, Apple & Sausage Bundt Pan Stuffing:  Recipe yields 18-20 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; serrated bread knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large slotted spoon; paper towels; 12-cup bundt pan; aluminum foil; wire cooling rack; paring knife

IMG_5358Cook's Note: Before baking stuffing in a bundt pan, there are a few things you need to know.  In my post ~ Nicely-Sliced:  Stuffing in a Bundt Pan Stuffing Ring ~ you'll find my tips on the adjustments that need to be made to bake any stuffing recipe in a bundt pan.

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

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

11/20/2018

~ Nicely-Sliced: Stuffing in a Bundt Pan Stuffing Ring ~

IMG_5358Nicely-sliced stuffing is not new-to-me -- it's old-school brilliance.  My grandmother always baked her stuffing in two loaf pans because it was an efficient use of oven space.  As a savvy cook, she figured out that two, high, narrow loaf pans took up less oven space than a low, shallow casserole while yielding about the same amount.  Her stuffing loaves baked on either side of the roasting turkey with miscellaneous other casseroles strategically placed on the remaining upper rack.

Some fun facts about making stuffing in a bundt pan:

IMG_5310Making Thanksgiving stuffing in a 12-cup bundt pan does not take up less oven space.  That said, it's a picture-perfect presentation that makes everyone smile.  From a practical standpoint, it feeds a crowd (or a small gathering of stuffing lovers) and it's very user-friendly:  it easy to portion, slice and serve at the table or on the buffet line, and, slices are especially convenient on those closed or open-faced turkey sandwiches the next day.  Stuffing slices can be wrapped, stacked and frozen too -- for those desperate times when one just has to have a slice of stuffing.

Tips for successfully making beautiful bundt pan stuffing:

IMG_5329The ties that bind -- add eggs.  Any stuffing recipe will work (or can be made to work) as long as it contains enough eggs to bind it together.  So, if you're a fan of crumbly cornbread-type or loose broth-based eggless stuffings, if six lightly-beaten eggs do not get folded into it, the stuffing will just fall apart when unmolded -- which is the point of baking stuffing in a bundt pan.  There's more, if your stuffing recipe already contains four eggs, add two more -- don't ask questions, just do it.

IMG_5331Lower temperature, longer time.  Stuffing is dense and stuffing baked in a bundt pan (instead of a shallow casserole) requires more time.  Generally an extra 15-30 minutes.  Because it is so dense, in order for it to cook through to the center without over browning on the outside, lower the oven temperature to 325º.  Spray a 12-cup bundt pan with no-stick and fill it to the top with stuffing.  Cover with aluminum foil.  Bake, covered, 1 hour.  Uncover and bake 45 minutes. 

IMG_5335Resting and unmolding.  Stuffing contains no leaveners, so, worry not about filling the pan to the top -- it actually makes it easier to unmold.  There's more.  Because bundt pan stuffing is dense from the get-go, it takes a long time to cool down.  Just as the turkey rests 30-45 minutes prior to carving, rest the stuffing for 30-45 minutes.  Using a thin spatula, carefully loosen stuffing from the edges, place a plate atop the bundt pan and invert the stuffing out onto the plate. 

IMG_5340Take a stuffing slice or three & gobble, gobble, gobble!

IMG_5377Nicely-Sliced:  Stuffing in a Bundt Pan Stuffing Ring:  Tips for successfully baking stuffing in a bundt pan/16-20 servings.

Special Equipment List: 12-cup bundt pan; wire cooling rack; plate; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b022ad37bad17200cCook's Note: ~ I Just Love My Mother's Cracker Stuffing Casserole ~, and, it's the recipe pictured throughout this post.  It's a simple mixture of saltine crackers soaked in milk and eggs with sautéed celery, onions and ground beef.  Yes, I ground beef.  Mom disliked turkey giblets, so, she substituted the ground meat to mimic their look and mouth feel, which makes it versatile enough to serve with a prime rib roast for the Christmas or New Years holidays. 

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

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

11/17/2018

~ Sweet & Savory Herbed Sweet Potato Dinner Rolls ~

IMG_5577I love potato bread and any type of slightly-sweet and pillowy soft potato rolls in general. Unless I am specifically looking for a crusty, semi-firm roll for a specific reason, rolls of the 'tater-type are my all-purpose sandwich roll of choice -- that includes hamburger and hot dog rolls too.   That said, I like the sweet potato even more than I like the red, Russet or gold potato.  As long as I can find sweet potatoes in the grocery store, which is about nine months out of the year, I keep them on hand always, as, for me, a humble, baked sweet potato slathered with butter is a meal.

Imagine my glee when I successfully turned my brioche in the bread machine recipe into a delightful recipe for sweet potato dinner rolls.

IMG_54861/2  cup buttermilk

3  tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces, preferably at room temperature

1/2  cup mashed sweet potato, from 1 small sweet potato that has been microwave-baked (I use a slightly-generous half cup)

1  extra-large egg, lightly-beaten 

3  tablespoons sugar

2  1/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon each:  dried herbes de Provence, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

1  packet Fleischmann's granulated yeast, not rapid-rise yeast granules

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pans

1-2  tablespoons additional butter, melted, for brushing over tops of finished rolls

IMG_5489 IMG_5489 IMG_5489 IMG_5489 IMG_5489 IMG_5489~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, in the microwave, heat the buttermilk to steaming, 30-45 seconds.  Add the butter.  Using a fork, stir until the butter is melted into the buttermilk.  Add the sweet potatoes.  Stir until nicely incorporated. Whisk the egg.  Using the fork, whisk the egg into the mixture.  Add and stir in the sugar.

IMG_5502 IMG_5502 IMG_5502 IMG_5502 IMG_5502~Step 2.  Add the liquid mixture to bread pan of bread machine.  In a medium bowl, place the flour, herbs de Provence, salt and pepper, then give the dry ingredients a gentle stir.  Scoop dry ingredients atop wet ingredients.  DO NOT STIR.  Using your index finger, make a shallow well in the top of the flour mixture and pour the yeast granules into the well.

IMG_5516 IMG_5516 IMG_5516~ Step 3.  Insert the bread pan into the bread machine.  Select the "dough" cycle for a 1-pound loaf, then press "start".  In less than 1 1/2 hours you will have a light, manageable dough that has  proofed twice.

IMG_5533 IMG_5533 IMG_5533 IMG_5533~Step 4.  Spray 2, 8" round cake pans with no-stick cooking sparay.  When the bread machine signals that the dough has proofed, lightly oil your fingertips with a bit of the no-stick spray from one of the pans and transfer the dough to a plate that has been place on a kitchen scale.  You will have 1 1/2 pounds of dough.  Using the kitchen scale as a measure, divide the dough into 12 equal pieces that weigh 2 ounces each.  Between the palms of your hands, roll each piece into a ball and arrange six balls of dough in the bottom of each prepared pan.  Cover the pan with a lint-free cotton flour-sack-type towel and allow to rise a third time, until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

IMG_5546 IMG_5546 IMG_5546 IMG_5546 IMG_5560 IMG_5560~Step 5.  Bake rolls on center rack of preheated 350º oven, until golden brown, and, when tapped with the knuckle of your index finger, they sound hollow, about 18-20 minutes.  Mine baked for 18 minutes today.  Do not over bake these rolls.

With a light touch, paint tops with melted butter...

IMG_5605... & delight in every soft, sweet & savory bite:

IMG_5614Sweet & Savory Herbed Sweet Potato Dinner Rolls:  Recipe yields 12 dinner/slider-sized rolls.

Special Equipment List:  bread machine; 1-cup measuring container; fork; bread machine; kitchen scale; 2, 8"-round cake pans w/straight sides; wire cooling rack; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b019b0031ac11970bCook's Note: My three boys grew up calling these "Mom's Pull-Aparts", but this recipe for classic ~ Buttery & Easy-to-Make Pull-Apart Dinner Rolls ~ is not mine. Back in the 1980's (before home computers, the information super-highway or Food TV), we moms often mailed a box top or two, and sometimes $1.00, to receive a booklet of recipes from a particular company.  I did that a lot back then.  This dinner roll recipe is courtesy of either Fleischmann's yeast or Land O Lakes.

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

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

11/15/2018

~ Slightly-Spicy and Creamy-Rich Sweet Potato Soup ~

IMG_5297As a gal who eats sweet potatoes all year long, I pay particular homage to them at Thanksgiving. Sometimes I present them as a cup of sweet potato soup as the starter to the meal, sometimes they arrive in the form of a side-dish sweet potato and caramelized apple casserole, other times they're the sweet potato, apple and sausage stuffing/dressing side-kick to my turkey, and, always but always, my traditional Turkey Day feast includes a sweet potato pie.

Sweet potato soup is a savory starter.  Season it accordingly.

When it comes to sweet potato soup, think "savory soup" not "sweet dessert" and season accordingly.  Sweet potato soup does not need sugar, brown sugar or honey added to it -- sweet potatoes are full of flavor, texture and they're naturally sweet.  When served as a savory starter to a meal it's my opinion they shouldn't contain commonly used pie spices -- no cinnamon or nutmeg please.  Herbes de Provence, cracked black pepper and a kiss of fresh rosemary do it for me.

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 silky-smooth, creamy-rich herbes de Provence, cracked black pepper & rosemary-kissed sweet potato soup:

IMG_52583  cups smashed sweet potatoes, removed from 3 pounds sweet potatoes after baking or microwave-baking the potatoes

1 1/2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion (8 ounces)

1  cup diced celery (4 ounces)

2  tablespoons butter

1 1/2  teaspoons herbes de Provence (a blend of dried rosemary, marjoram, thyme and savory)

2  teaspoons sea salt

1 1/2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

2 1/2  cups high-quality, unsalted vegetable stock

1/2  cup heavy or whipping cream 

3-4  3"-4"-long fresh rosemary sprigs 

crème fraîche (sour cream or Greek-style yogurt may be substituted), for garnish 

small fresh rosemary sprigs, for garnish

IMG_5257Step 1.  Using the tip of a sharp paring knife, pierce tops of sweet potatoes in 4-5 spots.  Microwave-bake them until soft -- in my microwave this takes about 18 minutes.  Set aside until cool enough to comfortably handle with your hands, 15-20 minutes.  Using the paring knife and an ordinary tablespoon slice the potatoes in half, scoop out the soft centers, transfer them to a medium bowl and smash them with a fork.  Set aside.  This task can be done several hours or a day or two in advance.

IMG_5260 IMG_5260 IMG_5260 IMG_5260 IMG_5260~Step 2.  In a 3 1/2-quart wide-bottomed chef's pan melt the butter over low heat.  Add the diced onion and celery to the pan.  Season the vegetables with the herbes de Provence, salt and coarse-grind black pepper.  Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté, stirring frequently, until onion is softening and celery is crunch tender, 5-6 minutes.

IMG_5273 IMG_5274 IMG_5279 IMG_5279 IMG_5279 IMG_5279 IMG_5279~Step 3.  Add the sweet potatoes and stir them into the vegetables.  Add the vegetable stock and bring to a simmer.  Add and stir in the cream.  Place the rosemary sprigs on the surface of the soup and reduce heat to simmer gently, about 5-6 minutes.  Remove from heat, remove and discard the rosemary sprigs and serve immediately, garnishing each portion with a dollop of crème fraîche and a rosemary sprig.

Serve garnished w/crème fraîche & a sprig of rosemary:

IMG_5290Can be made 3-5 days ahead -- reheat gently to steaming:

IMG_5308Silky-Smooth and Creamy-Rich Sweet Potato Soup:  Recipe yields 2 quarts/8 cups/8 servings. Can be made 3-5 days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.  Does not freeze well.

Special Equipment List:  paring knife; spoon; fork; cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart wide-bottomed chef's pan; large spoon; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8b25c14970bCook's Note:  While butternut squash and sweet potatoes are not directly related to each other, culinarily, almost anything you can do with any Winter squash you can do with a sweet potato (and vice versa).  One more point: when it comes to the butternut squash, I prefer it to its blander cousin, the pumpkin.   That said, if you're a person who prefers the butternut squash to the sweet potato, try my ~ Easy Rosemary-Kissed Butternut Squash Bisque ~.

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

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

11/13/2018

~ Stranger Things: Revisit Retro French Bread Pizza ~

IMG_5235Binge-watching Stranger Things on Netflix started conjuring up fond food memories from the 1980's.  OMG -- the many scenes with the Eggos, not to mention the perfectly-timed Jiffy-Pop explosion, the  invitation to the KFC dinner, and, the Reese's pieces conversation in the shrinks office.  They all left my mind wondering about what's to eat in Season three.  Stouffer's French bread pizza was the first thing that popped into my head -- with frozen yogurt coming in second.

IMG_5115I know everything there is to know about French bread pizza, as back in the '80's, even I dove into the frozen food section of my grocery store once a week to pick up a box -- it was one of my "busy mom late-night snack-attack solutions" -- I usually ate it whenever my husband was on a business trip, sitting with my feet up watching movies in the family room, while my kids slept upstairs (cognizant that Domino's ringing the doorbell would turn my quiet time into a kids party.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb088cbd77970dAs an accomplished cook, I've posted all sorts of scratch-made 'za: Thin-Crust St. Louis-style, Deep-Dish Chicago-style, Detroit-Style Brick Cheese & Pepperoni Pizza, Philadelphia-Style Cheesesteak PizzaPizza alla Puttanesca, French-Style Caramelized-Onion & Gruyère Cheese PizzaThai-Style Grilled Chicken Pizza, a Blast from My Husband's Past Pioneer-Club Pizza, a Nobody's Pizza for the Somebody in All of Us, a holiday Pizza Wreath, plus, the family recipes for Preschutti Pizza Crust, My Guy's Italian-American Sicilian-Style Pie, and, My All-Purpose Time-Saving Bread Machine Pizza Dough, not to mention a host of recipes for making snack pizza using flatbreads like pita, naan, tortillas and boboli as foils.  

IMG_5198French bread pizza of the semi-homemade-type is one of my favorite "what to cook for me" meals or late-night snacks.

IMG_51372  8-ounce, 10"-11"-long French batards, preferably fresh, but, if it has been tightly-wrapped in plastic, 1-2 days old is just fine

4-6  tablespoons salted butter, at room temperature, very soft

1 1/2-2  cups pizza sauce, high-quality store-bought, or, my recipe for Preschutti Pizza Sauce, which is full of fresh basil, onion, garlic, and, is basically a concentrated (reduced) version of  My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara)

1  pound deli-style brick mozzarella, hand shredded

2  teaspoons minced fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried basil

a light sprinkling of dried red pepper flakes

my favorite add-on topping suggestions:  crisply-fried sweet sausage crumbles, sautéed mushrooms, and/or thinly-sliced red onion pieces

IMG_5141 IMG_5141 IMG_5146~ Step 1.  Slice each batard in half horizontally, to form four pieces, then slice each half into four quarters to form 16 pieces. Arrange on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan lined with parchment paper.  Place a second baking pan over the top and press down, to remove about 2/3 of the volume from the bread.

IMG_5147 IMG_5147 IMG_5147~ Step 2.  Lightly slather each piece with about 1-1 1/2 teaspoons of the butter, then place pan 5 1/2"-6" under preheated broiler until bubbly and slightly browned around edges, about 2 minutes.  Remove from oven.

IMG_5168 IMG_5168 IMG_5168~ Step 3.  Evenly top each lightly-toasted piece with a generous tablespoon of pizza sauce, followed by a generous 2-3 tablespoons of shredded mozzarella and a sprinkling of basil and red pepper flakes.  Add your favorite toppings (or none) and bake on center rack of 375º oven until cheese is melted, 8-10 minutes.

Serve ASAP & grab one fast before they're...

IMG_5214... going, going, gone (into the Upside Down*)!

(*In the Netflix series, Stranger Things, the Upside Down is an alternative dimension in the universe that runs parallel to the human world.)

IMG_5250Stranger Things:  Revisit Retro French Bread Pizza:  Recipe yields 4 French bread pizza loaves/16 pieces/6-8 servings at 2-3 pieces per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; skillet (optional); 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07e6f222970dCook's Note:  French bread pizza is one of the newest oldest tricks in the KISS Book of Entertaining (Keep It Simple Stupid). Making pizza on French bread was made famous in the 1960's by Bob Petrillose, the founder of the legendary Hot Truck on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. His experiment not only spread like wildfire, it was eventually licensed to Stouffer's. After that, it quickly made its way into home kitchens nationwide -- mine being one of them.

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

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

11/10/2018

~ Side-by-Side: Texican Chili & Mexican Rice Bowls ~

IMG_5085Side by side.  Arm in arm.  Hand in hand.  The combination of steaming-hot Tex-Mex-style chili and Mexican-style rice teamed up in the same bowl is a hearty, satisfying, yummalicious meal.  I was, however, taken aback to learn, that, unlike spaghetti and meatballs for example, it's not a duo that most folks pair together right "off the top of their head".  When my neighbor dropped by yesterday to borrow some herbs de Provence from my spice rack, she found me eating a chili-rice bowl for lunch.  With a look of wonderment, she said, "why didn't I think of that?"  She went home with a new serving idea for chili, I finished my lunch, and you all are getting a blog post.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39ae65a200dWhile chili taste great just as it it is, whether it's chili con carne or chunky steak chili, there are lots of ways to jazz up its service (or stretch leftovers).  Some folks put chili over spaghetti and others make chili mac and cheese.  Some folks ladle it over French fries or cheese fries and kids love it on twice baked potatoes of the taco 'tater type -- it's common to ladle it over nachos or wrap it in tortillas to make chili tacos too.  When I have leftover chili in the refrigerator or freezer, we've always enjoyed it with rice -- specifically Mexican-style adobo rice, which contains sweet corn and fire-roasted tomatoes.

6a0120a8551282970b0223c849deb2200cThe difference between Mexican and Spanish rice is akin to the difference between a side-salad and a chef's salad.  Both contain similar ingredients, but, the first is a side-dish and the latter a main course. While both are Spanish, when I think "Mexican rice", I think "tawny-red-tinged, onion-and-garlic laced, side-dish riddled with bits of vegetables (beans, corn and/or tomatoes, or peas and carrots)".  When I think "Spanish rice", I think "protein-packed main-dish-rice chocked full of meat, poultry or shellfish".

Got chili?  Make rice. Try a chili-rice bowl. 

IMG_5096"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

11/07/2018

~ Triple Chocolate & Peanut Butter Frosted Brownies ~

IMG_5057In a nutshell, the problem with loving the combination of chocolate and peanut butter is you can't eat Reese's peanut butter cups with your morning coffee -- well, you can, you just can't admit to it. These brownies, inspired by a version my mom used to make using a Duncan Hines brownie mix, are a pitch-perfect reason to skip waffles and pancakes and start the day with a brownie.  Back in the days when no one ever heard of a peanut allergy, they made great lunch box treats too.

A rich triple-chocolate layer, &, a thin salty peanut-butter layer sandwiched between dreamy peanut-butter cream-cheese frosting.

IMG_5053Things I know:  I know I will always choose a chocolate brownie over a slice of chocolate cake.  I know I will always choose chunky over smooth peanut butter too.  I like the informality of the pick-up-and-eat moist and cohesive user-friendly brownie over the refined use-a-fork-and-don't-get-any-crumbs-on-my-floor, moist and grainy cake.  As for peanut butter, I choose Jiffy over Skippy, never was a fan of Peter Pan, and I adore the flavor and texture that roasted peanuts add to it.  I know that chocolate and peanut butter is an irresistible combination.  Put peanut butter frosting on a chocolate brownie and I'll follow you anywhere -- right after I eat one, two or three.

The brownie is an all-American chocolate confection, and, the first printed recipe referencing a "brownie" to describe a mildly-chocolate cake-like dessert appeared in 1896, in Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School Cookbook.  By 1910, the brownie had taken on its current form and the word "brownie" was the term used to describe a rich, dense, chewy, fudge-esque, chocolatey dessert that is eaten out-of-hand -- a sort of cross between a small cake and a very soft cookie. 

IMG_4934For the dry ingredients:

3/4  cup unbleached all-purpose flour (12 tablespoons)

3/4  cup unsweetened cocoa powder (12 tablespoons)

1/2  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

For the wet ingredients:

2  extra-large eggs

3/4  cup light-brown sugar

1/4  cup granulated sugar

2  teaspoons pure chocolate extract

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the chocolate add-ins and salty peanut butter layer:

8  tablespoons salted butter (1 stick)

6  ounces semi-sweet chocolate morsels (about 1 cup)

3/4  cup crunchy peanut butter

IMG_5017For the crunchy peanut-butter cream-cheese frosting layer:

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

1  cup cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft (1, 8 ounce brick)

1  cup crunchy peanut butter (4 ounces)

1  cup Confectioners' sugar 

IMG_4938 IMG_4940Step 1.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, cut an 8"-square of parchment.  Spray the inside of an 8" x 8" x 2" square baking pan with no-stick cooking spray, place the parchment in the bottom, spray the top of the parchment and set aside.  

IMG_4951 IMG_4951 IMG_4951 IMG_4951 IMG_4951 IMG_4951~Step 2.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients:  the eggs, brown sugar, granulated sugar and both extracts.  In a double-boiler with 1"-1 1/2" of water in the bottom, placed on the stovetop over medium heat, melt the butter and chocolate, whisking throughout the process until both are thoroughly combined.

IMG_4972 IMG_4972 IMG_4972 IMG_4972 IMG_4972 IMG_4972~Step 3.  Using a large rubber spatula, add and fold all of the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, just until moistened.  Add the melted chocolate and continue to fold until thoroughly combined and a thick batter has formed.  In microwave, heat the peanut butter to a drizzly consistency, about 30-40 seconds.

IMG_4990 IMG_4990 IMG_4990 IMG_4990 IMG_4990 IMG_4990~Step 4.  Transfer batter to prepared pan and use the spatula to spread it evenly across bottom and into sides.  Drizzle the peanut butter over the top. Using the tip of a paring knife and a light touch, create some swirls across the top, to spread it evenly across the top of the batter and into the corners.  Bake brownies on center rack of 350º oven, 25-28 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean when inserted into center.  Place on a wire rack to cool, about 1 hour, prior to removing bottom from pan and cooling completely.

IMG_5021 IMG_5026 IMG_5026 IMG_5026~Step 5.  To prepare the frosting, in a medium bowl, on medium-high speed of mixer, cream the butter, cream cheese and peanut butter.  Add Confectioner's sugar.  On low mixer speed and working your way up to high, beat until frosting is smooth and creamy, about 1-1 1/2 minutes.  

IMG_5036~ Step 6.  Transfer frosting to top center of brownie.  Using a butter knife, working from the center out, spread frosting evenly toward the edges. Technically brownie is ready to slice and serve.  That said, I put it in the refrigerator to chill for several hours, to firm the frosting up. This makes for clean cuts and a pretty presentation.  Serve cut brownies at room temp.

Store in refrigerator.  Serve at room temperature.

IMG_5060Chocolate & Crunchy Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies:  Recipe yields 16, 2"-square brownies.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; parchment paper; 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, preferably with removable bottom; whisk; large rubber spatula; sharp paring knife; cake tester; wire cooling rack. 

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c93bc544970bCook's Note:  As a chocolate and peanut butter lover, if you prefer cookies to brownies, allow me to suggest you try my ~ Over-the-Top Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies ~.  They don't imitate the taste of Reese's peanut butter cups, they're topped with Reese's cups.

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

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

11/05/2018

~Bonjour French Onion & Swiss Smashburger Sliders~

IMG_4854For a straight path to my heart:  put onions on it.  In my food world, with rare exception, a sandwich sans onion is incomplete -- unfinished.  Under the right circumstances, if caramelized onions are an option -- tick tock.   I finally met my mouthwateringly onionalicious match -- the double French onion and Swiss Smashburger: Two juicy-drippy sublimely-seasoned smashed 'burger patties, piled high with shaved and sweet caramelized onions, served on an onion roll that has been slathered with (oh yum) a mayonnaise-based French onion spread.  Because a double smashed 'burger is too much food for me, I'm downsizing to sliders, and even they are huge.

 Smashburger, smashing 'burgers, &, my smashed 'burgers:

IMG_4777If you ate in some of the mom and pop establishments I grew up eating in (in the small towns of Pennsylvania and New Jersey), I am here to tell you, the concept of smashing 'burgers isn't new -- it has merely been revisited and remarketed.  As a kid living in the pre-McDonald's food world, I watched many grill-cooks grab and slap an ill-formed ball of ground beef onto a seething-hot flat-top-griddle, give it a solid whack with a big, heavy all-purpose spatula to smash it into a patty, then quickly season it with salt and pepper.  Juices would bubble up around the sides, but, they cooked so fast there was no reason to worry that might be cause to dry them out -- they were drippy-juicy to a fault.

SmashburgerSmashburger is an American 'burger chain that was founded in Denver, CO, in 2007.  It currently has over 370 franchises in 37 states and 9 countries.  The name explains what they do, as they literally smash secret-seasoned 'burgers on a flat-topped griddle over high heat, so the fat and juices stay trapped inside. American cheese gets melted over the top, then, crusty and cragged-edged, they are served with various customized toppings on a soft, sweet secret-sauced bun.

Screen-Shot-2015-06-17-at-7.48.45-AMWhile the technique for the 'burgers is precisely the same in all locations, everything else is open to interpretation.  To  avoid the stigma of a fast-food chain, after doing localized market research, every menu includes a signature 'burger crafted for the locals.  Colorado locations serve 'em topped with roasted green chiles; Miami's come with grilled chorizo; in Minneapolis, which has a big Scandinavian populous, Swiss and caramelized onion goes on; Oklahoma features fried-pickles, and, in Boston, it's onions and cranberry chutney (supplied by Ocean Spray).

To make my Smashburger-style double-decker (two patties) French Onion & Swiss Smashed-'Burger Sliders:

IMG_4691If you're thinking a smashed 'burger is a thin, scrawny, bordering-on-dry-edged 'burger, you'd be wrong. Smashed 'burgers are thickish and juicy crispy-edged perfection.  The only thing that can change that is if YOU overcook this all-beef plus American-cheese patty served on a Brioche roll topped with secret sauce, sweet pickle chips, acidy tomato slices, shaved red onion, and, soft Bibb lettuce leaves.  

One more noteworthy point:  In order to maintain the perfect temperature of 385º in the home kitchen, I turn to my trusty flat-surfaced 16" electric skillet to cook them and it works perfectly. While I am demonstrating one slider (two patties) today, the skillet is large enough to easily make two-at-a-time (four patties) -- or four sliders if you don't want to serve double deckers.  On a cheese-melting note, I have two cheese-melting domes which I can maneuver to accommodate four patties, but, there's no need for them -- just put the lid on the skillet and the cheese will melt.

IMG_4807For each double French-onion smashed-'burger slider:

2  3-ounce loosely-packed balls of meat mixture, prepared as directed below

1 1/2  teaspoons salted butter

1/3  cup shaved sweet onion, prepped as directed below

4-6  generous pinches Mel's seasoning blend, prepared as directed below

2  slices Swiss cheese, one slice per meat patty

1  3"-round slider-sized onion roll, sliced in half horizontally, toasted or not, your choice

1  tablespoon Mel's French onion sandwich spread, prepared as directed below

IMG_4661 IMG_4661 IMG_4661 IMG_4661 IMG_4670 IMG_4670 IMG_4670~Step 1.  Place 2 pounds ground beef (32 ounces) in a large bowl.  Cut 1 pound flank steak (16 ounces) flank steak into 1 1/2" chunks.  Place the chunked steak in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade -- depending upon the size of the food processor, working in two batches may be necessary.  Using a series of 30 rapid on-off pulses, process/grind/mince the meat.  Place the ground steak in the bowl with the ground beef.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine the two.

IMG_4642 IMG_4642~ Step 2.  Peel 1  large, 16-ounce Vidalia onion. Slice the onion in half.  Using a very sharp chef's knife and a precise hand (or a mandoline if your knife skills aren't sharp), slice/shave the onion into almost see-through half-moon shapes. The thinner the onions, the quicker they cook -- and smashed 'burgers are all about express (fast) cooking. There will be about 3 cups shaved onion -- you will need a generous 1/3 cup per slider.

IMG_4655For my seasoning blend:

2  teaspoons fine sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon beef boullion

IMG_4658Stir spices together. Makes a scant 2 Tbsp.

IMG_4793For my French onion spread:

1  cup mayonnaise

1  packet Lipton onion soup and dip mix 

1  teaspoon dehydrated onion

1  teaspoon dehydrated garlic

1  teaspoon cracked black pepper

IMG_4799Whisk or stir all ingredients together, cover and refrigerate 1 hour.  Makes 1 cup.

IMG_4706 IMG_4706 IMG_4803 IMG_4808 IMG_4810 IMG_4810 IMG_4810 IMG_4810 IMG_4822 IMG_4822 IMG_4822 IMG_4822 IMG_4834 2 IMG_4834 2 IMG_4834 2~Step 1.  To cook the 'burgers and onions, in electric skillet, melt butter over low heat.  When melted, using a pastry brush, paint bottom of skillet.  Increase the heat to 385°.  For every slider you plan to cook, scatter a generous 1/3 cup of shaved onion in the skillet.  Place two-to-four lightly-compacted 3-ounce balls of meat mix on the skillet.  Using the grill press, smash them down, lifting and lowering the press to make sure the entire surface has been evenly smashed (into free-form, craggy-edged 3"-3 1/2"-sized patties).  Lightly-season tops of 'burgers and onions.  Sauté for 2 minutes, using a spatula to keep moving the onions around during this time.  Flip 'burgers over, then scrape up and transfer the caramelized onions to a small plate or bowl.  Top each' patty with a slice of Swiss cheese, place cheese domes on (or lid of electric skillet) and cook for another 1-1 1/2 minutes (1 minute for rare-ish, 1 1/2 minutes for medium-rare-ish).  Turn the heat off.  When the butter-sputtering stops, use a spatula to transfer 'burgers to rolls and top as directed below.

IMG_4842 IMG_4842 IMG_4842 IMG_4842 IMG_4842~Step 2.  Slice onion rolls and lightly-toast, if desired (mine were placed on the rack of my toaster oven for less than 1-minute -- to ever-so-slightly toast the surface and gently heat the roll).  Place the bottom of the roll on a plate and slather 1 tablespoon French onion spread over the surface. Place and stack two smashed 'burger patties atop the sauce. Top with the caramelized onion and put the top of the roll on.  Serve (with napkins) and eat immediately.

French Onion, Swiss & Caramelized-Onion Smashed-'Sliders:

IMG_4860They're about as French & onion-loving as a 'burger can get:

IMG_4910French Onion Soup & Swiss Smashburger Sliders:  Recipe yields meat mixture for 8 double-pattied  sliders or 16 single-pattied sliders (3-ounce-size patties)/2 tablespoons secret-seasoning/1 cup French onion dip/instructions to smash, cook and top smashed-'burger sliders. 

Special Equipment List:  ramekin; 1-cup measuring container; small whisk; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; kitchen scale; 16" electric skillet; pastry brush; 'burger press; cheese-melting dome; wide spatula; serrated bread knife; toaster oven (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39dd8d6200dCook's Note:  Armed with the right equipment (a skillet, a lid, and a heat source) hamburgers or cheeseburgers can be made anywhere, anytime -- even under the worst of circumstances.  My recipe for  ~ The  Iwatani 12-Minute Tornado Cheeseburger ~ is proof that just because you have no electricity for a week, is no reason to not eat great food.

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

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

11/03/2018

~ For the Love of Hamburgers: The Smashed Burger ~

IMG_4777I have always contended that hamburgers cooked in a skillet or on a flat-topped griddle are the best.  I won't turn down a hamburger hot-off-the-grill, but, sorry my friends, it's just not as moist and juicy as a hamburger that seared in its own juices.  As a 'burger lover, I'm always looking for and open to a new-to-me 'burger combination.  I wasn't, however, expecting to come across an old method for cooking 'burgers touted as a new method for cooking 'burgers.  Huh?  Read on.

If you ate in some of the mom and pop establishments I grew up eating in (in the small towns of Pennsylvania and New Jersey), I am here to tell you, the concept of smashing 'burgers isn't new -- it has merely been revisited and remarketed.  As a kid living in the pre-McDonald's food world, I watched many grill-cooks grab and slap an ill-formed ball of ground beef onto a seething-hot flat-top-griddle, then give it a solid whack with a big, heavy all-purpose spatula to smash it into a patty.  A few juices would bubble up around the sides, but, these 'burgers cooked so fast there was no reason to worry that might be cause to dry them out -- they were drippy-juicy to a fault.

Hold the presses:  I'm adding the Smashburger to KE today.

SmashburgerSmashburger is an American 'burger chain that was founded in Denver, CO, in 2007.  It currently has over 370 franchises in 37 states and 9 countries.  The name explains what they do, as they literally smash secret-seasoned 'burgers on a flat-topped griddle over high heat, so the fat and juices stay trapped inside. American cheese gets melted over the top, then, crusty and cragged-edged, they are served with various customized toppings on a soft, sweet secret-sauced bun.

SmashBurger-logoFounders, Rick Schaden and Tom Ryan are veterans of the restaurant-chain  world, with Ryan inventing some legendary items.  At pizza hut, he was behind the Lover's Line of toppings, and, the Stuffed Crust.  At McDonald's, the Dollar Menu, McFlurries  and McGriddles are all his.  At Quiznos he played a leading roll in developing Steakhouse Beef Dip and the Prime Rib Sub.

4-smasher-smashburgerAt Smashburger, Ryan put his PhD in Flavor and Fragrance Chemistry to use.  Every burger is made the same, using never-frozen chuck & steak trimmings, which resemble being chopped or food processored rather than ground.  Loose balls of meat, not patties, go on on a butter-brushed 385° flat-top griddle, and smashed with his invention, the multismasher, to create almost-instant crusty-caramelization.

The patented multismasher at Smashburger, with about 3/8" lip of headspace to insure consistent thickness, makes four burgers at one time.  The loose texture of the meat being smashed below its weight allows meat juices to bubble up, creating and trapping steam. After 90 seconds of additional cooking, the burger gets flipped and it's finished cooking in three total minutes.

Smashburger isn't another cookie-stamp fast-food chain.

Screen-Shot-2015-06-17-at-7.48.45-AMWhile the technique for making the 'burger is precisely the same in each and every location, everything else is left open to controlled interpretation.  In order to  avoid the stigma of a fast-food chain, after doing extensive localized market research, every menu includes at least one signature 'burger crafted for the locals.  For example:  Colorado locations serve 'burgers topped with roasted green chiles; Miami's locations serve 'em with grilled chorizo; in Minneapolis, which has a big Scandinavian populous, Swiss and caramelized onion goes on;  Oklahoma features fried-pickles, and, in Boston, it's onions and cranberry chutney (supplied by Ocean Spray).

The bread and sauces on the signature 'burgers are also regionally inspired:  Sourdough in San Francisco; telera rolls in California;  pretzel buns in Chicago, onion rolls in Minnesota, and; brioche in New York.  In Michigan the bread is slathered with cherry barbecue sauce; in Chicago, Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce; in Tennessee you'll get Jack Daniels barbecue sauce; Florida's sauce contains orange juice;  New Orlean's makes theirs with Barq's root beer syrup, and: in Utah (The Behive State), it's honey barbecue.  One more tidbit:  In 2012 a program to partner with regional craft beer breweries to pair and serve local beers was launched too.

For my basic smashed-'burger seasoning, sauce & beef:

IMG_4695Both the Smashburger seasoning and Smashburger sauce are pretty well-guarded secrets.  That said, research reveals the seasoning contains:  salt, black pepper, garlic powder and granulated beef flavoring.  Research also reveals the sauce contains:  mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles and lemon juice.  Armed with that information, I simply concocted my own versions, to my liking.  As for the beef, I've been grinding my own in the food processor for decades -- there is indeed a discernible difference between its texture and traditional ground.  For my smashed 'burgers, I am using a 2:1 ratio of 85/15 (85% lean/15% fat) ground beef and food processor ground flank steak. Feel free to use all 85/15 ground beef -- they'll taste great, but the texture will be different.

IMG_4661 IMG_4665 IMG_4665 IMG_4665 IMG_4670 IMG_4670 IMG_4670~Step 1.  Place 2 pounds ground beef (32 ounces) in a large bowl.  Cut 1 pound flank steak (16 ounces) flank steak into 1 1/2" chunks.  Place the chunked steak in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade -- depending upon the size of the food processor, working in two batches may be necessary.  Using a series of 30 rapid on-off pulses, process/grind/mince the meat.  Place the ground steak in the bowl with the ground beef.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine the two.

IMG_4655For my seasoning & the sauce:

2  teaspoons fine sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon beef bouillion

IMG_4658Stir spices together. Makes a scant 2 Tbsp. 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e448b8970c1  cup mayonnaise

1/4  cup each: ketchup and sweet pickle relish

1  tablespoon yellow mustard

1  teaspoon white vinegar

1/2  teaspoon each:  garlic and onion powder and paprika

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e4490f970cWhisk all ingredients together, cover and refrigerate 1 hour.  Makes 1 1/2 cups.

To make my basic Smashburger-style smashed 'burger:

IMG_4691If you're thinking a smashed 'burger is a thin, scrawny, bordering-on-dry-edged 'burger, you'd be wrong. Smashed 'burgers are thick and juicy crispy-edged perfection.    The only thing that can change that is if YOU overcook this all-beef plus American-cheese patty served on a Brioche roll topped with secret sauce, sweet pickle chips, acidy tomato slices, shaved red onion, and, soft Bibb lettuce leaves.  

One more noteworthy point:  In order to maintain the perfect temperature of 385º in the home kitchen, I'm turn to my trusty flat-surfaced 16" electric skillet to cook them and it works perfectly. While I am demonstrating one today, the skillet is large enough easily make two-at-a-time.  On a cheese-melting note, I have two cheese-melting domes which accommodates both 'burgers, but, there's no need for them -- just put the lid on the skillet and wait for the cheese to melt.

IMG_4681For each smashed 'burger & cheese:

6  ounces Mel's-meat mixture per sandwich, prepared as directed above

2  pinches Mel's-'burger seasoning blend per sandwich, prepared as directed above

1-2  slices yellow American cheese, 1 or 2, your choice

For the rolls & the toppings for each sandwich:

1  4"-round brioche hamburger roll, sliced in half horizontally

1-1 1/2  tablespoons Mel's-'burger sauce per sandwich, prepared as directed above

4 sweet pickle chips per sandwich

3  thin slices Campari tomatoes per sandwich

10-12 thinly-sliced red onion pieces (half-moon shapes) per sandwich

3-4  small, soft Bibb lettuce leaves per sandwich

1 1/2 teaspoons salted butter, for preparing electric skillet or flat-topped grill

IMG_4694 IMG_4694 IMG_4694 IMG_4694 IMG_4716 IMG_4716 IMG_4716 IMG_4716 IMG_4726 IMG_4726 IMG_4726 IMG_4726~Step 1.  In electric skillet, melt butter over low heat.  When melted, using a pastry brush, paint bottom of skillet.  Increase the heat to 385°.  Place a lightly-compacted 6-ounce ball of meat mix on the skillet.  Using the grill press, smash it down, lifting and lowering the press 2-3 times to make sure the entire surface has been evenly smashed (into a free-form, craggy-edged 4"-4 1/2"-sized patty).  Lightly-season top of 'burger.  Sauté for 2 minutes.  Flip the 'burger over, top with 1-2 slices of cheese (one is traditional, two is additional), place cheese dome on and cook for another 1-1 1/2 minutes (1 minute for rare-ish, 1 1/2 minutes for medium-rare-ish).  Turn heat off.  When the butter-sputtering stops, use a spatula to transfer to rolls topped as directed below.

IMG_4740 IMG_4740 IMG_4740 IMG_4740 IMG_4749 IMG_4749 IMG_4749 IMG_4749~Step 2.  Slice each brioche roll horizontally and place the bottom half on a plate.  Slather the bottom half of the brioche roll with 1-1 1/2 tablespoons of the secret sauce.  Plop a hot cheese-topped smashed-'burger on top.  Coming up next: four sweet pickle slices, three small Campari tomato slices, and, a scattering of red onion.  Finish these beautiful 'burgers with a few small, soft Bibb lettuce leaves.  Put the bun tops on and enjoy each and every drippy-juicy bite.

Once you've smashed a 'burger, you'll never grill a 'burger:

IMG_4767Enjoy each & every drippy-juicy succulently-seasoned bite:

IMG_4783For the Love of Hamburgers:  The Smashed Burger:  Recipe yields meat mixture for 8 (6-ounce) single-pattied 'burgers/2 tablespoons secret-seasoning/1 1/2 cups secret sauce/instructions to smash, cook and top smashed-'burgers. 

Special Equipment List:  ramekin; 1-cup measuring container; small whisk; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; kitchen scale; 16" electric skillet; pastry brush; 'burger press; cheese-melting dome; wide spatula;  serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27ff4dc970cCook's Note:  Armed with the right equipment (a skillet, a lid, and a heat source) hamburgers or cheeseburgers can be made anywhere, anytime -- even under the worst of circumstances.  My recipe for  ~ The  Iwatani 12-Minute Tornado Cheeseburger ~ is proof that just because you have no electricity for a week, is no reason to not eat great food.

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

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

10/31/2018

~ It's in the Name: Smashburger & Smashed Burgers ~

IMG_4761If you ate in some of the mom and pop establishments I grew up eating in (in the small towns of Pennsylvania and New Jersey), I am here to tell you, the concept of smashing 'burgers isn't new -- it has merely been revisited and remarketed.  As a kid living in the pre-McDonald's food world, I watched many grill-cooks grab and slap an ill-formed ball of ground beef onto a seething-hot flat-top-griddle, then give it a giant whack with a big, heavy all-purpose spatula to smash it into a patty.  A few juices would bubble up around the sides, but, these 'burgers cooked so fast there was no reason to worry that might be cause to dry them out -- they were drippy-juicy to a fault.

If you've ever longed for a drippy-juicy old-fashioned 'burger, you'd be wanting to check out Smashburger.

SmashburgerSmashburger is an American 'burger chain that was founded in Denver, CO, in 2007.  It currently has over 370 franchises in 37 states and 9 countries.  The name explains what they do, as they literally smash secret-seasoned 'burgers on a flat-topped griddle over high heat, so the fat and juices stay trapped inside. American cheese gets melted over the top, then, crusty and cragged-edged, they are served with various customized toppings on a soft, sweet secret-sauced bun.

SmashBurger-logoFounders, Rick Schaden and Tom Ryan are veterans of the restaurant-chain  world, with Ryan inventing some legendary items.  At pizza hut, he was behind the Lover's Line of toppings, and, the Stuffed Crust.  At McDonald's, the Dollar Menu, McFlurries  and McGriddles are all his.  At Quiznos he played a leading roll in developing Steakhouse Beef Dip and the Prime Rib Sub.

4-smasher-smashburgerAt Smashburger, Ryan put his PhD in Flavor and Fragrance Chemistry to use.  Every burger is made the same, using never-frozen chuck & steak trimmings, which resemble being chopped or food processored rather than ground.  Loose balls of meat, not patties, go on on a butter-brushed 385° flat-top griddle, and smashed with his invention, the multismasher to create almost-instant crusty-caramelization.

The patented multismasher at Smashburger, with about 3/8" lip of headspace to insure consistent thickness, makes four burgers at one time.  The loose texture of the meat being smashed below its weight allows meat juices to bubble up, creating and trapping steam. After 90 seconds of additional cooking, the burger gets flipped and it's finished cooking within three minutes.

Smashburger isn't another cookie-stamp fast-food chain.

Screen-Shot-2015-06-17-at-7.48.45-AMWhile the technique for making the 'burger is precisely the same in each and every location, everything else is left open to controlled interpretation.  In order to  avoid the stigma of a fast-food chain, after doing extensive localized market research, every menu includes at least one signature 'burger crafted for the locals.  For example:  Colorado locations serve 'burgers topped with roasted green chiles; Miami's locations serve 'em with grilled chorizo; in Minneapolis, which has a big Scandinavian populous, Swiss and caramelized onion goes on;  Oklahoma features fried-pickles, and, in Boston, it's onions and cranberry chutney (supplied by Ocean Spray).

The bread and sauces on the signature 'burgers are also regionally inspired:  Sourdough in San Francisco; telera rolls in California;  pretzel buns in Chicago, onion rolls in Minnesota, and; brioche in New York.  In Michigan the bread is slathered with cherry barbecue sauce; in Chicago, Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce; in Tennessee you'll get Jack Daniels barbecue sauce; Florida's sauce contains orange juice;  New Orlean's makes theirs with Barq's root beer syrup, and: in Utah (The Behive State), it's honey barbecue.  One more tidbit:  In 2012 a program to partner with regional craft beer breweries to pair and serve local beers was launched too.

For the Love of Hamburgers -- My Smashed 'Burger Recipe:

IMG_4767Double French Onion, Swiss & Smashburger Sliders:

IMG_4860"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

10/28/2018

~ Old-Fashioned Deep-Fried & Glazed Apple Fritters ~

IMG_4610Fall is when we all start gravitating to apple desserts, and, while pie is the first thing that comes to most folks minds, I have a date with my grandmother's apple fritters today.  Here in Pennsylvania, I grew up eating savory deep-fried corn fritters in July and August (when local sweet corn is in season) and sweet apple fritters in September and October (when local apples are in season).  

I grew up eating potato pancakes as well, which are technically a type of fritter, but, we don't refer to them as such because they are pan-fried.  Doughnuts were/are made on Doughnut Day, and, even though they're deep-fried, we don't refer to doughnuts as fritters either. Why? Like their precursor cousin, the beignet, doughnuts don't contain any chopped protein, fresh or dried fruits and/or vegetables, and, with or without holes, they're just plain old deep-fried dough.

IMG_4627Fritters are deep-fried.  Fritters contain protein, fruit or veggies.

A bit about fritters:  Defined as small, sweet or savory, deep-fried (not pan fried), dough- or batter-based cakes (fritters contain no bread or bread crumbs) made by combining chopped food (not whole pieces or chunks) with a thick, seasoned batter, dropped into hot oil and deep-fried until crisp on the outside and cooked-through on the inside. Depending on the consistency of the batter, fritters can emerge flat (like pancakes) or round (like golf balls).  Once chopped, almost anything can be made into a fritter:  meat, poultry, fish, seafood, fruits or vegetables.  

Fritters can be served for breakfast, lunch or dinner, as a snack, side-dish, main-course or dessert.  Fritters are sold on street corners and in five-star restaurants where they can be picked up and eaten with the hand or eaten with a fork.  Fritters are the original fast food and pub grub. Fritters are multi-cultural -- you can find a fritter anywhere in the world where they deep-fry food.

Stop frittering around. It's time to become a fearless fryer:

IMG_4510For the dry ingredients:

1  1/2  cups all-purpose flour

6  tablespoons granulated sugar

1  teaspoon apple pie spice (Note: If it was good enough for my grandmother, it is indeed good enough for me, and, trust me on this one, apple pie spice is great.

2  teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

IMG_4518For the wet ingredients:

2  extra-large eggs

3/4  cup milk

1  teaspoon pure apple extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1  tablespoon vegetable oil

4  cups small-diced McIntosh apples, from 3 large apples

IMG_4578For the very-thin, watery, pastry-brush paintable glaze*:

1 cup Confectioners' sugar

2  tablespoons warm water

1  teaspoon pure apple extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

*Note:  Error on the side of too watery.  Once applied, this glaze needs to be waxed-paper thin.

IMG_4511 IMG_4511 IMG_4511~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir dry ingredients together:  flour, sugar, apple pie spice, baking powder and salt.

IMG_4517 IMG_4517 IMG_4517~ Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, whisk the wet ingredients together:  eggs, milk, extracts and oil.

IMG_4527 IMG_4527 IMG_4527 IMG_4527 IMG_4537 IMG_4537 IMG_4537~Step 3.  Peel and dice the apples.  In a large bowl, using a large rubber spatula place the dry ingredients.  Add the wet ingredients and fold until ingredients are moistened, about 30 seconds.  Fold in the diced apples.

IMG_4545 IMG_4545 IMG_4545 IMG_4545 IMG_4557 IMG_4557 IMG_4557 IMG_4557~Step 4.  Place and heat corn or peanut oil in a deep-fryer, to 375º.  With the fryer basket lowered into the fryer, using a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, drop 4 scoopfuls of batter into hot oil.  Do not place scoopfuls of the batter directly on the the fryer basket or they will stick. Close the lid and deep-fry a 6 full minutes -- open lid once or twice during the process, and with the aid of a fork, flip fritters over.  Using a large slotted spatula, transfer fritters to a wire rack that's been placed over a few layers of paper towels.  Repeat process until all fritters are fried.

IMG_4578 IMG_4578 IMG_4578 IMG_4578 IMG_4586 IMG_4586 IMG_4586 IMG_4586~Step 5.  To prepare the glaze, place the Confectioners' sugar in a small bowl.  Add the extracts. Stir in the warm water.  Set aside about 5 minutes and stir again.  The glaze should be completely smooth and very drizzly -- it should seem almost too drizzly.  If it is not, add another 1-2 teaspoons of warm water.  Error on the side of too watery.  Once applied and after it firms up, it should be waxed-paper thin and crackly looking.  When the fritters are cool enough to handle with hands, using a soft pastry brush and a light touch, paint the tops of the fritters with the glaze. 

Warm or at room temp, fritters are the perfect Fall treat:

IMG_4615The apple of my better-than-a-doughnut eye -- Sigh, oh my:

IMG_4633Old-Fashioned Deep-Fried & Glazed Apple Fritters:  Recipe yields 12, 2 1/2" round apple fritters/12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  spoon; 1-cup measuring container; fork; vegetable peeler; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; deep-fryer heated to manufacturer's specifications; large slotted spatula; paper towels; wire cooling rack; soft pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8883a1e970bCook's Note:  I love corn fritters, and, while I loved my grandmother's fritters, I particularly like ~ My Deep-Fried Mexican Sweet Street Corn Fritters ~ too.  In Mexico, venders sell these savory snacks on the streets, and, they are to die for.

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

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

10/25/2018

~ Smoked Salmon & Folded Omelet Bagel Sandwich ~

IMG_4484Very special.  That's how I describe this sandwich.  That said, for me, every component must be "just so".  It's got to be a lightly-toasted New York-style bagel -- preferably an everything bagel, but, an egg bagel is perfectly acceptable too.  As for the requisite cream cheese, it's gotta be Philadelphia brand chive and onion spread.  I prefer smoked salmon to lox and prefer lox to gravlax, so, let's leave it at "smoked salmon, lox or gravlax, in order of preference".  Also, no breakfast sandwich would be complete without an egg or two, and a tender, light chive- and onion-laced creamy-dreamy folded French omelette (which I affectionately refer to as "upscale scrambled eggs") is what initially turned me on to this over-the-top, very-very-special sandwich.

IMG_4478Lox, gravlax, and smoked salmon -- they're all cured salmon products, & while they look similar, they are different.

Lox is associated with breakfast or brunch -- at least for me it is.  Derived from the Yiddish word lax, meaning salmon, lox is taken from the belly of the fish then very-thinly-sliced.  It gets salt-cured about three months and does not undergo any smoking process afterward. 

Gravlax is pretty much the same thing as lox -- it undergoes the salt cure and does not get smoked. That said, gravlax has spices added to the salt cure (usually sugar, salt and dill), then it's prepped with a seasoning that often includes juniper berry, pepper, and aquavit.

Smoked salmon is salt cured and smoked afterward, one of two ways: hot-smoked (at 145º for about 8 hours) and cold-smoked (no higher than 80º for about 15 hours).  Hot-smoked salmon is dryer and smokier, while cold-smoked is moister, less smoky and more similar to lox.

IMG_4457For each bagel sandwich (listed in order of assembly: 

1  New York-style everything or egg bagel per sandwich, split in half and lightly-toasted

2 tablespoons Philadelphia brand chive & onion cream cheese spread

3 thin slices smoked salmon*

1  chive- & onion-laced folded French omelette, prepared as directed below

baby arugula leaves, for garnish

* Note:  The package of smoked salmon in the photo weighs 4 ounces (and it's also lemon-pepper flavored, which is a favorite of mine).  In my kitchen this yields three sandwiches with a goodly amount of salmon on each large-sized bagel sandwich -- adjust the amount to your liking. 

IMG_4419For each chive- & onion-laced folded French omelette:

1  jumbo egg, at room temperature

2  tablespoons heavy cream

2 grinds freshly-ground sea salt

4  grinds freshly-ground peppercorn blend

1  tablespoon minced chives

1  tablespoon minced red onion

2  teaspoons salted butter

IMG_4423 IMG_4423 IMG_4423 IMG_4423 IMG_4435 IMG_4435~Step 1. In a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, whisk together the egg, cream, sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Mince the chives and red onion.  In an 8" omelette pan over low heat, melt the butter.  Increase heat to medium (no higher), briefly rewhisk egg mixture and pour it into pan.  Sprinkle the chives and onions over the top.

IMG_4442 IMG_4442 IMG_4442 IMG_4442~Step 2.  Be prepared to work quickly.  Grab the pan with your dominant hand, and, via tilting the pan at various angles in conjunction with lifting the pan on and off the heat, cook the omelette for 45-60 seconds, and stop immediately when the surface is still slightly-creamy and shiny.

IMG_4449 IMG_4451 IMG_4451 IMG_4451~Step 3.  Remove the pan from the heat.  With the aid of a spatula fold the left and right sides of the omelette up and into the center.  With the aid of the spatula, fold the remaining top and bottom sides over the right and left sides to form a neat packet, about the size of the bagel.

IMG_4459 IMG_4459 IMG_4459 IMG_4459 IMG_4471 IMG_4471~Step 4.  To assemble the sandwiches, slice and lightly toast the bagel.  Spread 2 tablespoons of the chive and onion cream cheese spread over the bottom of each bagel half.  Cut and arrange 3  thin slices of salmon to fit on the bottom half.  Gently place the omelette atop the salmon -- if you were wondering about that thin spot in the center of the omelette, you can stop, the bagel has a hole in the center.  Garnish with arugula leaves.  

Slice sandwiches into halves or quarters & serve ASAP:

IMG_4498Enjoy every dainty, delicious chive talkin' bagel bite: 

IMG_4506Smoked Salmon & Folded Omelet Bagel Sandwich:  Recipe yields instructions to make folded French omelettes, and, assemble smoked salmon and folded-omelette bagel sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; fork; cutting board; chef's knife; 8" nonstick skillet; spatula; toaster or toaster oven; butter/cream cheese spreader

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7f25a28970bCook's Note:  So what is a frambled egg?  A funny typo?  "Frambled" is supposed to mean "a cross between a fried egg and a scrambled egg".  For fifty years I've been calling these "lazy scrambled eggs", because it is easier than making scrambled eggs.  For forty years my kids have been calling them "ugly eggs" because they are.  Ugly maybe, but  ~ Lox, Caviar & Frambled Egg Breakfast ~ is a decidedly easy and delicious way to turn ordinary into extraordinary.

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

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

10/23/2018

~ Crispy Texas Steak-Chili Tacos w/Avocado Crema ~

IMG_4369If you're like me, an American cook with a fondness for Texican fare, you most likely have a recipe-or-seven for tacos (American-style ground beef tacos, grilled-beef tacos al carbonshredded-pork carnitas tacosshredded-pork tacos al pastorchicken tacosfish tacos, spicy Mexican ahogada-style grilled shrimp tacos, etc.).  Today I'm adding another one, and the inspiration for this one was simply for me find one more sublime way to serve my decadent Texas-style bowl-of-red steak chili.  It's also great way to serve or stretch leftover chili -- after the meat has had one-two days in the refrigerator to soak up some of the spicy sauce.

IMG_4278Chunky and melt-in-your-mouth tender Texas-style steak chili, made with ribeye steak, plenty of onion and garlic, and seasoned with earthy cumin plus ancho-, chipotle- and jalapeño- pepper, is at the heart of these tacos -- the unequivocal Lone Star of an otherwise typical lettuce-, tomato-, onion- & cheese-topped taco-eating extravaganza. Served on lightly-fried, corn tortillas, which pairs with the masa used to thicken the chili, a squirt of avocado crema pulls 'em all together.

Stuffing "anything beef" in a tortilla is a cowboy tradition. 

IMG_4339Mexicans have been eating what we Americans call tacos for thousands of years -- they've been stuffing, rolling and/or wrapping freshly-made and leftover ingredients, whatever they had on hand or available to them, into corn or flour tortillas since the tortilla was invented.  That said, the Mexican landscape (desserts, tropics, mountain ranges and grasslands) varies greatly, and, no different than our own United States, Mexican cuisine varies from region to region.  Depending on where your eating food stuffed into a tortilla in Mexico, fillings include charcoal grilled, pan-fried or stewed concoctions of beef, pork, chicken, seafood and/or vegetables.  All of Northern Mexico is beef country and the idea of heaping "anything beef" into or onto a tortilla for breakfast, lunch or dinner is a cowboy tradition.  I'm pretty certain some cowboy, somewhere, had to have ladled his steak chili out of of his cast iron skillet into a tortilla or three and ate his dinner taco style.

Ingredients are listed in order of assembly.  Taco-eating etiquette: never overstuff a taco -- make three instead of two.    

IMG_4341For my over-the-top steak-chili tacos (listed in order of assembly):

12  corn tortillas, lightly-fried as directed below

corn or peanut oil, for frying tortillas

sea salt, for sprinkling on fried tortillas

2-2 1/2  cups shredded jalapeño Jack cheese (2-3 tablespoons per taco)

4 cups Texas-style steak chili, steaming hot (1/3 cup per taco)

1  cup thinly-sliced then diced red onion (2 tablespoons per taco)

2-2 1/2  cups shredded iceberg lettuce (2-3 tablespoons per taco)

1  cup "coined" ("slice into coins") grape tomatoes (4-6 coins per taco)

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d29db51d970c1  cup recipe for my 4-ingredient ~ Spicy Avocado Crema: Avocado, Crema & Sriracha ~

cup (16 tablespoons) avocado, scooped from 2 Hass avocados

6  tablespoons Mexican crema

1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce  

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c913222f970bWhiz together in a mini-food processor until smooth.

IMG_4316 IMG_4316 IMG_4316 IMG_4316 IMG_4326 IMG_4328 IMG_4328 IMG_4336~Step 1.  To fry the corn tortillas, remove the fryer basket from the deep-fryer, then preheat oil to 375°.  Using a pair of taco tongs, fry tortillas one-at-a-time, 40-45 seconds.  Do not over-fry the tortillas -- you want them to be crispy, yet pliable, not tortilla-chip-crunchy, at assembly time. Remove from fryer, place in a medium baking pan that has been lined with 2-3 layers of paper towels.  Lightly sprinkle with sea salt the moment each tortilla comes out of the the oil.

IMG_4347 IMG_4347 IMG_4347 IMG_4347 IMG_4357 IMG_4357 IMG_4357~Step 2.  To assemble the tacos, place two or three tacos on a plate (a small bed of lettuce underneath helps to keep them from sliding around.  Sprinkle 2-3 tablespoons shredded jalapeño jack in the bottom of each tortilla, followed by about 1/3 cup steaming-hot chili (if the chili is hot, it will melt the cheese for you).  Top chili with a few red onions, followed by 2-3 tablespoons shredded lettuce and 4-5 coined grape tomatoes.  Add a drizzle of avocado crema -- they're finished and you're ready to eat.

By the time the tacos are assembled, the steaming hot chili will melt the shredded jalapeño Jack cheese for you:

IMG_4382The perfect amount of everything in a perfect taco:

IMG_4396Crispy Texas Steak-Chili Tacos w/Avocado Crema:  Recipe yields 12 Texas steak chili tacos/4-6 servings/2-3 tacos per serving.

Special Equipment List:  deep-fryer w/oil heated according to manufacturer's specifications; taco tongs; baking pan; paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d3698c970cCook's Note:  A similar version of tacos can be made by substituting my ~ Hatch Green Chile Chili with Pork and White Beans ~ for the steak chili.  Native to Northern Mexico, chili verde (green chili) is a slow-simmered, broth-based stew made with pork butt, green chile peppers, onions and a variety of herbs and spices.  For a citrusy tang, lime juice is typically squeezed over each portion just prior to serving, and, other versions include tomatillos for more tang, and, a deeper, more complex flavor.

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

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

10/21/2018

~ Steak My Day: Texas-Style Bowl-of-Red Steak Chili ~

IMG_4278About this time every year, as soon as the frost is on the pumpkin so-to-speak, a pot of chili is simmering on my stovetop.  There's nothing to think about.  The first frost, the pot comes out. Chilly weather requires chili.  This year I'm making my version of what Texans hang their cowboys hats on:  steak chili.  It's decidedly different from my Wendy's copycat ground beef chili con carne, hatch green chile chili with pork and white beans, white-out white chicken 'n corn chili, slow-cooker sweet potato and ground beef chili, and, Cincinnati-style chili.  

As the Texans say, I'm in the mood for a "bowl-of-Texas-red". 

What does a bowl-of-Texas-red consist of?  The short-version the foodie authorities give is: tender, fork-tender stewed chunks or slices of beef steak, swimming in a spicy, masa (corn flour)-thickened cumin and chile-pepper-laced deep-red sauce made from dried red chiles and/or red chile pepper -- amongst purists, tomato products are frowned upon, but beans 100% disqualify it from steak-chili status. Personally, I find that to be a backwards argument, since, on the long cattle drives, the chuck wagon, which had no refrigeration, was not stocked with perishables. Fresh tomatoes were not on board (I cannot vouch for sun-dried tomatoes, which were available), but, dried beans most certainly were.  I can't imagine not using them.

Texas steak chili, the legislated official state dish, is said to have been invented in San Antonio (the part of Texas I am most familiar with).  As any Texan will tell you, if you're not Texas born, you're not preparing the real-deal -- I can live with that, I've never wanted to be from Texas.

What do I know about making authentic Texas steak chili?

IMG_4290Simmer down.  Enough to be pretty kick-ass dangerous.  

Texas chili is essentially a chile-flavored beef stew -- that's how it was explained to me by the woman and friend who taught me how to make it.  Antoinette (Toni) was Mexican-American and hailed from San Antonio.  Toni made her Texas beef chili using chuck roast.  I'm making my Texas steak chili using ribeye steak.  Both have the requisite marbling which will render fork-tender meat, with the latter producing a chunked, rather than shredded end result -- the choice is yours.

Toni seasoned her beef chili using a head-spinning quantity of whole, dried chiles that were pulverized into a powder and mixed together with other native-to-Mexican-cuisine spices.  She had access to them here in my state of Pennsylvania, because her relatives mailed them to her.  I save tons of time (and eliminate the mess) by purchasing three pre-ground pepper powders -- ancho (made of dried poblanos), chipotle (made of dried and smoked jalapeños), and, jalapeño.  

Toni added a scant amount of tomato paste, to achieve the requisite acidity to pull off any good chili recipe, and admitted (to me) that even in Texas, many of the best cooks sneak it in undetected.  I hit upon adding diced fire-roasted tomatoes a few years ago and never looked back -- they melt into the sauce, and seriously, improve the Lone Star State's steak chili.  Simmer down.  You don't want 'em in there?  Leave 'em out and get on with it -- don't yap about it here.

IMG_41636 1/2-7 pounds nicely-marbled boneless ribeye steak, trimmed of excess fat and fat pockets, cut into 3/4"-1" cubes (6 1/2-7 pounds meat after trimming) (Note:  True.  I often purchase an entire tenderloin of beef to make this chili.  It is the pinnacle of chili-eating decadence and excellence.  My family affectionately refers to it as "chili mignon".

1-1 1/2  pounds 1/2"-diced yellow or sweet onion (about 6 cups diced onion)

8  large garlic cloves, minced (about 6 tablespoons minced garlic)

6  tablespoons corn oil

1  teaspoon sea salt, for lightly-seasoning onions, garlic and beef

2  14 1/2-ounce cans, diced fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained (optional)

Mel's Dry-Spice Blend for Texas-Style Chile, stirred together as directed below

32  ounces beef stock

1  12-ounce bottle beer (12-ounces additional beef stock may be substituted for beer)

6  tablespoons masa harina

IMG_4153For the dry spice blend:

4  tablespoons ancho chile powder*

1  tablespoon chipotle chile powder*

1  teaspoon jalapeno chile pepper*

1  tablespoon Mexican-style chili powder*

IMG_41564  tablespoons ground cumin

2  tablespoons Mexican-style oregano

1  tablespoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

2  teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2  teaspoons sugar

1  tablespoon salt

IMG_4162* Note:  CHILE:  Spelled with an"e", refers to the fresh or dried plant or pod or fruit of any member of the pepper family.  CHILI:  Spelled with an "i", refers to soups, stews and/or sauces made with fresh or dried chile peppers (like chili con carne). CHILE POWDER:  When spelled with and "e", means it's a powder made from one or more dried chiles exclusively.  This is sometimes referred to or sold as POWDERED CHILES, or CHILE BLEND (if it contains more than one kind of chile powder). CHILI POWDER:  When spelled with an "i" means it's a mixture of dried spices (example:  cumin, garlic, onion) and chile powder, meaning:  the manufacturer added spices to the chile powder or a blend of chile powders.

IMG_4167 IMG_4167 IMG_4167 IMG_4167~Step 1.  Heat the oil, in a wide-bottomed 14" chef's pan w/straight-deep sides, over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and garlic.  Sprinkle with the 1 teaspoon of salt -- just enough to lightly season.  Sauté, using a large slotted spoon or spatula to stir occasionally, until light-browning starts, the beginning stages, mostly with the bits of garlic, about 9-10 minutes.  

IMG_4177 IMG_4177 IMG_4177 IMG_4177 IMG_4189~Step 2.  Add the beef.  Continue to sauté, and stir occasionally, then adjust heat to simmer rapidly, so the beef cooks in its own juices, until a slight coating of liquid remains in the bottom of pan and light-browning is at the beginning stages, about 30 minutes -- this is a marvelous method for cooking the beef cubes without searing in the beginning.

IMG_4196 IMG_4196 IMG_4196 IMG_4196 IMG_4196 IMG_4196 IMG_4213 IMG_4213 IMG_4221~Step 3.  Add the fire-roasted tomatoes and give the mixture a good stir. Add the dry spice blend, all of it at once, and stir again, to thoroughly combine.  Add the beef stock and beer.  Adjust heat to a rapid simmer, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer and continue to cook, stirring occasionally and more frequently towards the end, 30-45 minutes.  

IMG_4222 IMG_4222 IMG_4222~Step 4.  Sprinkle in the masa, stir, and continue to simmer 15 additional minutes, stirring regularly. Turn the heat off, cover the pan, and, allow the chili to steep, 2 hours prior to serving, to allow flavors time to marry.  

Note:  As with many things, if you've got the refrigerator space, refrigerate overnight, return to room temperature, reheat and serve the next day.  This is a truly extraordinary recipe.

Set a spell, take your shoes off.  I'll get out the pot passers...

IMG_4289... we'll slobber over Jack & Texas-tea-style chili nachos:

IMG_4302Or a Texas steak-chili taco w/avocado crema or two:

IMG_4396Steak My Day:  Texas-Style Bowl-of-Red Steak Chili:  Recipe yields 4 quarts chili.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid (capacity of 7-8-quarts); large slotted spoon or spatula

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ba5ea3200b 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ba5eb0200bCook's Note: Cornbread is often served with a bowl-of-Texas red. That said, choose between my divine recipes for ~ Triple-Corn Jalapeño Cornbread ~, or, ~ Triple-Corn Jalapeño Corn Muffins ~.  Bread is bread.  Muffins are muffins.  You choose your favorite. 

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

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

10/18/2018

~ Steak My Day: Texas Steak Chili Seasoning Blend ~

IMG_4299While store-bought seasoning packets are indeed convenient, they are loaded with salt and miscellaneous preservatives we can all do without.  It's why I make my own.  Prime examples with respect to Tex-Mex fare are taco seasoning and fajita seasoning.  If you're curious about the difference between those two, you can read about it here -- it's more than just a little bit of this and a little bit of that.  Back in the latter '70's, thanks to a close girlfriend from San Antonio, Texas, I was able to come up with an all-purpose seasoning for Texas-style beef or steak chili too.

What does a bowl of Texas beef or steak chili consist of?

IMG_4290The short-version the foodie authorities give is: tender, fork-tender stewed chunks or slices of beef steak, swimming in a spicy, masa (corn flour)-thickened cumin and chile pepper laced deep-red sauce made from dried red chiles and/or red chile pepper -- amongst purists, tomato products are frowned upon, but beans 100% disqualify it from steak-chili status. Personally, I find that to be a backwards argument, since, on the long cattle drives, the chuck wagon, which had no refrigeration, was not stocked with perishables. Fresh tomatoes were not on board (I cannot vouch for sun-dried tomatoes, which were available), but, dried beans most certainly were.

Me, Toni & an all-purpose spice blend for Texas-style chili.

IMG_4156Texas chili is essentially a chile-flavored beef stew -- that's how it was explained to me by the woman and friend who taught me how to make it.  Antoinette (Toni) was Mexican-American and hailed from San Antonio.  Toni made her Texas beef chili using chuck roast.  I'm making my Texas steak chili using ribeye steak.  Both have the requisite marbling which will render fork-tender meat, with the latter producing a chunked, rather than shredded end result -- the choice is yours.

Toni seasoned her beef chili using a head-spinning quantity of whole, dried chiles that were pulverized into a powder and mixed together with other native-to-Mexican-cuisine spices.  She had access to them here in my state of Pennsylvania, because her relatives mailed them to her.  I save tons of time (and eliminate the mess) by purchasing three pre-ground pepper powders -- ancho (made of dried poblanos), chipotle (made of dried and smoked jalapeños), and, jalapeño.  

Toni added a scant amount of tomato paste, to achieve the requisite acidity to pull off any good chili recipe, and admitted (to me) that even in Texas, many of the best cooks sneak it in undetected.  I hit upon adding diced fire-roasted tomatoes a few years ago and never looked back -- they melt into the sauce, and seriously, improve the Lone Star State's steak chili.  Simmer down.  You don't want 'em in there?  Leave 'em out and get on with it -- don't yap about it here.

IMG_4153For the dry spice blend:

4  tablespoons ancho chile powder*

1  tablespoon chipotle chile powder*

1  teaspoon jalapeno chile pepper*

1  tablespoon Mexican-style chili pepper*

IMG_41564  tablespoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons Mexican-style oregano

1  tablespoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

2  teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2  teaspoons sugar

1  tablespoon salt

IMG_4162* Note:  CHILE:  Spelled with an"e", refers to the fresh or dried plant or pod or fruit of any member of the pepper family.  CHILI:  Spelled with an "i", refers to soups, stews and/or sauces made with fresh or dried chile peppers (like chili con carne). CHILE POWDER:  When spelled with and "e", means it's a powder made from one or more dried chiles exclusively.  This is sometimes referred to or sold as POWDERED CHILES, or CHILE BLEND (if it contains more than one kind of chile powder). CHILI POWDER:  When spelled with an "i" means it's a mixture of dried spices (example:  cumin, garlic, onion) and chile powder, meaning:  the manufacturer added spices to the chile powder or a blend of chile powders.

Use 2 tablespoons per every pound of beef or steak.

IMG_4278Steak My Day:  My Texas Steak Chili Seasoning Blend:  Recipe yields 1 cup seasoning blend.

Special Equipment List:  measuring spoon; 1-cup capacity jar w/tight-fitting lid

IMG_4289Cook's Note:  My recipe for ~ Steak My Day:  Texas-Style Bowl-of-Red Chili ~ cannot be denied as anything less than extraordinary.  It has overwhelming received the real-deal seal of approval from family, friends and tailgate guests from the Lone Star State.  Topped with a dollop of crema and squirt of lime, then served with jalapeño Jack nachos or classic cornbread, this is a recipe you'll be proud to have in your repertoire and serve to your guests.  Trust me on this one.

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

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

10/15/2018

~ Apple, Candied Pecan & Cheesecake Bundt Cake ~

IMG_4126Spice is always nice, but, let's all admit, when the cool weather hits, the aroma of spices baking in the oven or braising on the stovetop simply smell better -- they go from smelling mouth-wateringly good to ethereal.  In this over-the-top moist, tender, calories-be-damned cake you'll find a batter loaded with loads of diced tart apples and candied pecans sandwiched in between two slightly-sweetened cream cheese, cheesecake-esque layers.  The spice is right too: apple pie spice --

My grandmom used it, mom used it & I adore it:  apple pie spice.

IMG_4105Cheese-cake & candied pecans in their apple cake was my idea. 

IMG_4026For the cheesecake filling layers:

16  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1/2  cup sugar

2  large eggs

For the apple & candied-pecan cake batter:

1  cup vegetable oil

1 1/2  cups sugar

3  large eggs, at room temperature

1  teaspoon pure, all-natural apple extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoon apple pie spice

2  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

4  ounces candied pecans, diced, a scant 1 cup diced pecans

4  cups peeled and diced apples, about 3 apples

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing bundt pan

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8f38a50970b-320wiFor the cream cheese glaze & candied topping:

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

2  cups confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons butter-rum flavoring

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

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

4  ounces candied pecans, ground, for sprinkling on cake

IMG_4055 IMG_4055~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, on medium, then medium-high, then high-speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, 1/2 cup sugar and 2 eggs together until smooth, about 1 1/2 full minutes.  Set aside.

IMG_4034 IMG_4034 IMG_4034 IMG_4034~Step 2.  In a large bowl, on medium-high mixer speed, beat the wet ingredients:  the oil, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 3 eggs and extracts, about 1 full minute.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, apple pie spice, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.

IMG_4043 IMG_4043 IMG_4043 IMG_4043 IMG_4043~Step 3.  Using a chef's knife, small dice the candied pecans.  Peel and medium dice the apples.  Place apples and pecans in a medium bowl. Add and toss the apples and pecans with 4 tablespoons (1/4 cup) of the spiced flour mixture.  Set aside.  Tossing the apples and pecans with a bit of the flour keeps them from settling to the bottom of cake as it bakes.

IMG_4058 IMG_4058 IMG_4058 IMG_4058~Step 4.  To mix the cake batter, add the flour mixture to the oil and egg mixture.  Beat over medium mixer speed until thoroughly combined and a thick batter forms, about 1-1 1/2 minutes. Remove mixer.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in all of the the apple pecan mixture.

IMG_4072 IMG_4072 IMG_4072 IMG_4072 IMG_4072~Step 5.  Generously spray a 12-cup bundt pan with no-stick spray. Spoon 2 1/2-3 cups of batter into the bottom.  Give pan a few shakes to evenly distribute the batter.  Using a second spoon, dollop half of cream cheese filling over batter.  Do not shake pan.  Spoon another 2 1/2-3 cups of the batter over the cream cheese mixture, using the spoon to gently spread the batter over the cream cheese mixture and into the sides of the pan.  Dollop the last half of the cream cheese filling over the batter.  Spoon the last 2 1/2-3 cups of the batter over the top of the cream cheese filling, once again, spreading the batter into the sides of pan.

IMG_4093 IMG_4093 IMG_4093~ Step 6.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven, 52-55 minutes, or, until puffed through to the center and a cake tester inserted in several spots comes out clean.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool, in pan, 30-45 minutes, prior to gently inverting onto wire rack and cooling completely 3-4 hours.

IMG_4103To prepare the cream cheese glaze & candied pecan topping:

IMG_8410 IMG_8410 IMG_8410 IMG_8410~Step 1.  To prepare the cream cheese glaze and pecan topping, if you have a small, "mini" food processor, now is the time to use it.  Place the remaining 1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans in the work bowl and using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process them to small bits and pieces.

IMG_8431 IMG_8431 IMG_8431 IMG_8431~Step 2.  In a food processor fitted with steel blade, place cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, butter-rum flavoring, vanilla extract and 2 tablespoons milk.  Starting with 5-10 on-off pulses and then with motor running, process for 25-30 seconds until smooth and drizzly.  If necessary, through feed tube, add 1-2 teaspoons additional milk, until desired consistency is reached.

IMG_4105Step 3.  When cake has cooled completely, and with the cake on the wire rack: holding your hand 4"-6" above the surface of the cake and moving it (your hand) back and forth, in a slow, steady stream, drizzle glaze over cake, while turning the wire rack about 1/4" with every back-and-forth drizzle, until all the glaze is gone. While glaze is still moist/sticky, sprinkle the ground candied pecans evenly over the top. Allow glaze to dry (stiffen up) a bit prior to transferring cake to a serving plate, slicing and serving cake, about 1 hour or overnight.

Moist, tender apple & crunchy candied pecan cake...

IMG_4150... sandwiched between two creamy cheese-cake-esque swirls:

IMG_4134Apple, Candied Pecan & Cheesecake Bundt Cake:  Recipe yields 16-20 rich-as-heck servings.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; large rubber spatula; 12-cup bundt pan; cake tester; wire cooling rack; mini-food processor; food processor

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27d969e970cCook's Note:  Best described by me as "an extremely moist, banana and pineapple, cinnamon 'n spice cake containing toasted pecans and topped with cream cheese frosting", this absolutely scrumptious cake concoction is impossible for me to resist.  It's simply irresistible.  If you're like me, when you hear "bananas and pineapple", you likely say "that sounds tropical, akin to the Caribbean islands, more than it does Southern."  That's because it is: ~ Charmingly Southern: Hummingbird (Bundt) Cake ~.

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

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

10/12/2018

~ Spanish-Style Garlic-Lovers Shrimp & Pappardelle ~

IMG_3998While pasta is not an ingredient any of us foodies would off-handedly associate with Spain or Spanish cuisine, it has been incorporated into their diets.  It's not commonly found on restaurant menus, but, in their home kitchens, it is used as an occasional substitution for Spain's claim-to-fame staple, rice, in some of their dishes.  Gambas al ajillo (gam-bus alla-jheero), is one of Spain's most popular tapas dishes, my personal favorite tapas, and, from the moment I tasted it, I knew it could be turned into an extraordinary Italian-pasta meets Spanish tapas main-course.

IMG_3632Gambas al ajillo is a Spanish classic, and, relatively speaking, it is pretty easy to make at home. It is also an example of a "ración" ("family-style meal") turned into one of Spain's most popular pub-grub tapas.  Sweet shrimp are sautéed on the stovetop (in a seasoned 10" terra cotta "cazuela" (ka-sway-la) -- a glazed, earthenware skillet shaped similar to a straight-sided chef's pan) in a goodly amount of Spanish olive oil that has been infused with lots of garlic (shaved and/or minced) and a sprinkling of sliced small red chiles, to taste, for heat. When the shrimp are just short of being cooked through, about 3 minutes, a splash of sherry vinegar, plus a pat of butter to finish off the sauce get added, and the dish, complete with the oily garlic-sauce and a parsley garnish goes on the table.  The dish is served ASAP, family-style, in the cazuela, with plenty of grilled rustic bread slices for sopping up the garlicy oil.

IMG_3958Pappardelle is a broad, 3/4"-wide flat ribbony pasta shape.  While this pasta is traditionally served with rich, thick heavy sauces, it handles the rich, highly-flavored chile-garlic-oil of gambas al ajillo perfectly. Typically, pappardelle is made with an egg-based dough, which renders it richer and fluffier.  The wide surface area of the ribbons render it very absorbent and sturdy, which means pair perfectly with the succulent extra-jumbo shrimp.

When a Spanish tapas dish meets Italian pasta, magic happens.

IMG_3534For the shrimp:

2  pounds extra-jumbo shrimp (16-20 count), peeled, deveined, tails left on (32-40 shrimp)

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sweet, smoked Spanish paprika

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  1/4  cups high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish, divided thoroughout recipe, 1/4 cup for tossing into shrimp and spices, 3/4 cup for infusing with the garlic and chile peppers

8-10  large whole garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

4  small red chile peppers, super-thinly sliced

1  tablespoon sherry vinegar

1  tablespoon salted butter, for stirring into finished dish

1/4  cup minced fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

rustic bread slices, toasted or grilled, for accompaniment

IMG_3958For the pasta:

12-16  ounces egg pappardelle pasta, cooked al dente, cooking time to be determined by package directions

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning pasta water

IMG_3537 IMG_3537 IMG_3537 IMG_3537 IMG_3537 IMG_3537 IMG_3537~Step 1.  In a large bowl, using a large spoon, toss the shrimp with the baking soda, Spanish paprika, sea salt and 1/4 cup olive oil. Set aside at room temperature.  Slice the garlic cloves and the chile peppers, placing them in a small bowl as you work.  Add the remaining 1 cup olive oil to the garlic and chiles and set aside, to steep, at room temperature, 1 hour.  During this hour, stir the shrimp a few times.

IMG_3555 IMG_3555 IMG_3555~ Step 2.  Place the garlic-chile pepper-oil in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pans.  Heat over low heat, until garlic is softened, very fragrant, ever-so-gently sizzling and moving around in the pan by itself, but not browning, 8-10 minutes. The garlic and chile peppers "slow poach", in that, both soften and release their flavor without browning (which renders both bitter).  Turn heat off and cook pasta as directed in next step.

Note:  When preparing classic gambas al ajillo, you would not turn the heat of now.  You would add the shrimp, briefly cook them, and finish the dish -- a process that takes less than 5 minutes. In order for the shrimp to be tender and succulent when the finished pasta dish is taken to the table, the pasta must be ready and waiting for the shrimp the moment they are finished.

IMG_3963 IMG_3963 IMG_3963 IMG_3963 IMG_3963 IMG_3963~Step 3.  In a 4-5-quart stockpot, bring 3 quarts of water to a rolling boil and add the salt.  Add the pappardelle.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and cook until al dente.  In the case of my papparadelle, that takes 9-10 minutes.  Drain pasta into a colander then immediately return drained pasta to the still hot stockpot and place it back on the still warm stovetop.  Transfer and gently toss 6 tablespoons of the garlic-chili-oil from the skillet into the shrimp.  Partially cover the pot of pasta and finish the shrimp as directed.

IMG_3567 IMG_3567 IMG_3567 IMG_3567 IMG_3567 IMG_3567~Step 4.  Adjust heat under the skillet of chile-garlic-oil  to medium-high.  Once it is hot, add shrimp and cook, stirring constantly, until turning pink, firming up and just short of being cooked through, 3-4 minutes.  (There is no big sizzle when the shrimp hit the pan. The baking soda, gives the exterior of the shrimp the signature "pop", not to be confused with "crunch" and it works magic.  DO NOT, overcook the shrimp -- they will continue to cook while butter melts, parsley gets stirred in, and, while tossing into the pasta.)   Stir in sherry.  Turn heat off.  Stir in  butter.  When butter has melted, stir in half the parsley.

IMG_3987 IMG_3990 IMG_3990~Step 5.  Add all of the shrimp and all of its flavorful oil to the pot of pasta.  Gently toss, and continue to toss, on occasion, for about a full minute, to thoroughly enrobe the pasta in the garlic-chili oil.  Portion into 4-6 shallow bowls, garnish each portion with the remaining parsley and serve immediately.

Superb, succulent, extraordinary shrimp...

IMG_4001... & eggy pasta enrobed in garlic-chile-oil.  Divine.

IMG_4007Spanish-Style Garlic-Lovers Shrimp & Pappardelle:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon; 1-cup measuring container; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; 4-5-quart stockpot; colander 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d17d6a16970cCook's Note:  A shrimp with the tail left on is a very pretty presentation, and, depending upon the dish being served, if there is a chance the diner can enjoy the shrimp whole, it serves as a convenient "handle" -- especially if there is a sauce it can be dipped into.  There's more:  As all shrimp connoisseurs know, the last bite of shrimp (located inside the tail), is the most succulent, tasty bite of shrimp.  That said:  Whether in the home kitchen or in a restaurant, peeling shrimp is labor intensive. Leaving the tail on is an indication that the cook or chef cares about you and is serving you the best quality shrimp possible.

The only reason to remove the tail is when the shrimp, usually smaller size ones, are inclusive in the dish, meaning:  the diner needs a fork, spoon and/or knife to eat the dish.

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

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

10/09/2018

~The Crispy Bits about Bruschetta, Crostini and Panini~

IMG_3899Bread comes in many forms.  I am of the opinion that bread IS the staff of life, and, I average one serving of bread per day.  Sans the occasional requisite soft-textured grilled-cheese sliced white, the hot-dog roll and the hamburger bun, any humble flatbread or pita pocket, along with the breakfast-y bagel and English muffin, the display here represents a sampling of my personal artisanal favorites.  Except for one, the delicate croissant, they are all firm-textured, and, by choosing the correct shape, I can make make one of three crispy Italian-style specialties.

IMG_3916Bruschetta (broo-skeh-tah) means "oiled slice" and comes from the word "bruscare" (broo-scar-ay), which means "to roast over coals". Bruschetta is the original garlic toast.  Traditionally, large, thick slices of firm, crusty bread are toasted over a wood fire, rubbed with plenty of garlic while they are still warm, drizzled with the finest olive oil available, sprinkled lightly with salt and pepper, then served warm.  They are classically served with freshly-picked basil, tomatoes and same-day-made buffalo-milk mozzarella, but when paper-thin slices of Italian meats, cheeses and vegetables (grilled, roasted or marinated) are added, they can turn into a hearty knife-and-fork open-faced sandwich meal.

IMG_3932Crostini in Italian simply means "little toast", and also means they don't always get drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic.  Just like bruschetta, crostini are topped with any number of savory toppings. Unlike bruschetta, they are usually made using smaller, cylindrical-shaped breads, like a baguette. Crostini are almost always served as a snack or an appetizer before a meal, but, a basket of them can be served as an accompaniment to the meal.  That said, in the case of both bruschetta and crostini, any size, color or flavor of rustic bread can be used, as long as it has a firm texture and have a good crust -- ciabatta, focaccia, michetta, baguette or batard, and sourdough are prime examples.

IMG_3862Panini is the Italian word for a grilled sandwich made with the same type of firm, crusty bread (or rolls) used to make bruschetta and crostini.  "One panino, two panini" are the singular and plural forms (which derive from the Italian "pane" and Latin "panis", referring to bread), but the use of panino is uncommon and almost never used. Panini sandwiches, served hot off the grill, were traditionally filled with the same thin-sliced specialty deli-meats and cheese served with or on bruschetta and crostini (capicola, ham, mortadella, salami, soppresatta, provolone, etc.), meaning they're associated with Italian fare, but, nowadays a panini can find itself fused with any cuisine.  

IMG_2214A panini press is basically a double-sided contact grill that cooks both sides of a sandwich at once. Much like a grill pan, the grids of a panini press give these sandwiches their signature grill marks.  There are several good brands, in all price ranges, on the market.  My Cuisinart Griddler is about 5 years old.  It doesn't take up too much space, controls heat perfectly, and, I love it. This gadget has earned its rightful place on my kitchen counter.

Crispy bruschetta, crostini or panini -- your choice!

IMG_3939"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

10/07/2018

~ Grillmarked: Italian-Style Panini-Croissant-Crostini ~

IMG_3862Panini-croissant-crostini.  That's a lot to digest, and if you're of Italian-heritage, simmer down, lighten up, and read on before criticizing my fun-loving play on mouth-watering words.  Sandwich-press-grilled panini, full of cured Italian meats and cheese, substituting mini-croissants for the traditional rustic Italian bread (I've affectionately added the word crostini to describe them, because I serve them, crostini-style, as 3-4 bite appetizers), are crowd-pleasing snacks that get gobbled up at a tailgate party faster than beer flows at a fraternity house.  While crusty, firm-textured rustic-type breads make marvelous panini, I am here to tell you, if you've never made a panini using a light and airy buttery-rich croissant, you are missing out on one of the best panini-sandwich-eating experiences of your life -- every savory bite literally melts in your mouth -- the croissant is cottony enough inside and crackly enough outside to produce extraordinary results.

IMG_3874bready bit about Italian bruschetta, crostini & panini:

Bruschetta (broo-skeh-tah) means "oiled slice" and comes from the word "bruscare" (broo-scar-ay), which means "to roast over coals".  Bruschetta is the original garlic toast.  Traditionally, large, thick slices of firm, crusty bread are toasted over a wood fire, rubbed with plenty of garlic while they are still warm, drizzled with the finest olive oil available, sprinkled lightly with salt and pepper, then served warm.  They are classically served with fresh basil, tomatoes and buffalo-milk mozzarella, but when paper-thin slices of Italian meats, cheeses and vegetables (grilled, roasted or marinated) are added, they can turn into a hearty knife-and-fork open-faced sandwich meal.

Crostini in Italian simply means "little toast", and also means they don't always get drizzled with olive oil and rubbed with garlic.  Just like bruschetta, crostini are topped with any number of savory toppings. Unlike bruschetta, they are usually made using smaller, cylindrical-shaped breads, like a baguette.  Crostini are always served as a snack or an appetizer before a meal, or, an accompaniment to the meal.  That said, in the case of both bruschetta and crostini, any size, color or flavor of rustic bread can be used, as long as it has a firm texture and have a good crust -- ciabatta, focaccia, michetta, baguette or batard, and sourdough are prime examples.

Panini is the Italian word for a grilled sandwich made with the same type of firm, crusty bread (or rolls) used to make bruschetta and crostini.  "One panino, two panini" are the singular and plural forms of the word (which derive from the Italian "pane" and Latin "panis", referring to bread), but the use of panino is uncommon and unused nowadays.  Panini sandwiches, served hot off the grill, were traditionally filled with the same thin-sliced specialty deli-meats and cheese served with or on bruschetta and crostini (ham, mortadella, salami, provolone, etc.), meaning they were associated with Italian fare, but, nowadays a panini can find itself fused with any cuisine.  

IMG_2214A panini press is basically a double-sided contact grill that cooks both sides of a sandwich at once. Much like a grill pan, the grids of a panini press give these sandwiches their signature grill marks.  There are several good brands, in all price ranges, on the market.  My Cuisinart Griddler is about 5 years old.  It doesn't take up too much space, controls heat perfectly, and, I love it. This gadget has earned its rightful place on my kitchen counter.

The meat, cheese, condiments & how-to assemble tips:

IMG_3774With the bread or rolls in hand, find a market with a selection of high-quality cured Italian meats -- trust me, there are a lot of options in every large market, some at the deli-counter and some prepackaged. Choose 3-5 of your favorites plus provolone cheese (mozzarella is typically not put on an Italian panini).  Ask the person at the counter to slice the cold-cuts as thin as possible -- just short of falling apart. If the meat is sliced too thick, the panini sandwiches will be texturally off balance -- too chewy and dense.  The traditional order atop the bread:  a thin coating of butter or a creamy, smooth, flavorful sandwich spread, a cheese slice, the meat(s), soft leafy greens and/or herbs, and (optional) onion, roasted red pepper, or, a pickled vegetable or veggie mixture.

My favorite combo for 8, 3" snack-sized sandwiches or 16 appetizers, listed in order of assembly:

1/2  cup my recipe for Balsamic Mayonnaise:  The Other Italian Dressing*   

8  small 3" croissants, a total of about 9 ounces

8  slices provolone cheese folded in half, 1 full-round slice per sandwich

16  slices dry salame, 2 slices per sandwich

24  slices hot sopresatta, 3 slices per sandwich

8  slices mortadella w/pistachios, 1 per sandwich

32 wispy slices dry-aged hot capicola, 4 per sandwich 

a few, 6-8-10, baby arugula leaves per sandwich  

IMG_3761 IMG_3761* For dressing:  In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon each:  garlic powder, onion powder and Italian seasoning blend. Refrigerate 1 hour, to allow flavors time to marry.

IMG_3777 IMG_3777 IMG_3777~Step 1.  Slice each mini-croissant in half horizontally, then slather each half (both top and bottom and bottom halves) with 1 generous teaspoon of the balsamic mayonnaise.  Take one slice of provolone cheese, fold it in half (to form, essentially, two pieces) and place it on the bottom of the croissant.

IMG_3790 IMG_3790 IMG_3790 IMG_3790 IMG_3790 IMG_3790 IMG_3790~Step 2.  Place 2 slices of the dry-aged salami, 3 slices of the sopresatta, and, 1, carefully-folded-to-fit slice of mortadella atop the cheese on each panini-crostini.  Finish by placing 4 wispy pieces of the capicola on top, followed by about 8-10 baby arugula leaves and put the top on each of the sandwiches.

IMG_3814 IMG_3814 IMG_3814 IMG_3814 IMG_3814~Step 3.  Spray grill grids of panini press, top and bottom with no-stick cooking spray.  Close  grill and preheat to medium-high on grill-panini setting.  When green light turns on, place 2-4 mini-croissant-crostini on hot grill grids.  I'm demonstrating two, because it is easier to photograph -- four will easily fit, six in two rows of three can be achieved.

IMG_3833 IMG_3887~Step 4.  Place the top of the press on the sandwiches. Firmly, but gently, using the press's handle, press down on the sandwiches for 30-45 seconds.  You are NOT trying to squish the sandwiches, but, you are trying to put just enough pressure on them to steam and crisp the bread a bit.  Let go.  Allow sandwiches to grill 3-4 minutes, until cheese is oozing and bread is crispy.  If they don't look perfect, they're perfect.

Transfer from grill, wait 1-1 1/2 minutes, slice on a diagonal...

IMG_3855... & serve, as is & unembellished, as the star of any party:

IMG_3883Grillmarked: Italian-Style Panini-Croissant-Crostini:  Recipe yields 16 appetizers, or, 8 snack-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  small bowl; spoon; cutting board; chef's knife; panini contact-grill; thin spatula; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b01a511bbddf7970cCook's Note:  When it comes to making panini, the best thing to do is be creative, meaning:  test grill-pressed sandwiches using ingredients that 100% that appeal to you.  I would never have created my own ~ Roasted-Chicken Caesar-Salad Focaccia-Panini ~ without one or two experiments.  They don't call it 'wichcraft for no reason. Concocting a well-constructed sandwich is a serious undertaking.

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

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

10/05/2018

~ Buttery Rum and Raisin Croissant Bread Pudding ~

IMG_3700A humble bread pudding is the perfect use for past-its-prime bread, and, in my kitchen, next to a French baguette or batard, I believe buttery croissants to be perfect foil for flavor-laced eggy custard.  In fact, croissants make such superb bread pudding, if I know I've got guests coming for the weekend (especially during the tailgate and holiday season), I purposely buy croissants two or three days ahead of time, just to be able to serve it as a sweet treat with breakfast or brunch.

Croissants, split in half, w/raisins sandwiched in between...

IMG_3745 2... swimming in a butter-rum & vanilla custard.  Yum.

IMG_36366  large, 2-3-day old croissants, about 10-ounces

1 1/2 cups raisins

4  extra-large whole eggs

8  extra-large egg yolks

3  cups whole milk

2  cups cream

1 1/4  cups sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  tablespoon each: butter-rum flavoring and pure vanilla extract

IMG_3638 IMG_3638 IMG_3638 IMG_3638 IMG_3638 IMG_3638 IMG_3638~Step 1.  In an 2-quart measuring container or a large bowl, using a hand-held egg beater, whisk together the extra-large eggs, egg yolks, milk, cream, sugar, salt, butter rum flavoring and vanilla extract.  Set aside.

IMG_3659 IMG_3659 IMG_3659 IMG_3659 IMG_3659~Step 2.  Spray a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole dish with no-stick cooking spray. Slice croissants through their centers horizontally.  Arrange the bottoms of croissants in the bottom of casserole.  Sprinkle the raisins over the croissants in the casserole, then place the tops on the croissants.  Slowly pour the custard mixture over the croissants.  Set aside for 45 minutes, to allow croissants time to soak up custard.  During this 45 minutes, occasionally press down gently on the tops of the croissants, and, use a small ladle to drizzle custard over their tops too.

IMG_3682 IMG_3682 IMG_3682 IMG_3682~Step 3.  Cover the top of the casserole with aluminum foil.  Using a sharp paring knife, poke 12-16 holes in the foil (this will allow steam to escape).  Bake, covered, on center rack of preheated 325º, 45 minutes.  Remove the foil, lower the oven temperature to 300º and continue to bake until custard is just set, about 35-40 minutes.  Remove from oven snd place on a wire rack to cool about 30-40 minutes or longer, prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.

Buttery croissants bake up puffy & beautiful every time:

IMG_3703It serves up pretty-as-a-picture slices too:

IMG_3723With no need for sugary sauce or whipped cream on top:

IMG_3742Buttery Rum and Raisin Croissant Bread Pudding:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings

Special Equipment List:  2-quart measuring container; hand-held egg beater; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; small ladle; aluminum foil; paring knife wire cooling rack

IMG_3497Cook's Note:  To make use of same-day-baked and ready-for-prime-time croissants, serve my recipe for ~ Chick Flicks and Curry-Chicken-Salad and Croissant Sandwiches ~.  Laced with Madras curry powder, plump, sweet raisins, and, celery and cashews for salty crunch, it's simply perfect for brunch or lunch.

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

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

10/03/2018

~ Time for Tapas: Spanish-Style Garlic-Lovers Shrimp ~

IMG_3599 2A small portion of any hot or cold, savory edible that can be eaten in just a few bites, forkfuls or slurps.  Here in America, we call them "snacks".  In Spain they're called "tapas".  Like the American snack, anything can be a tapas if eaten in a small enough portion.  In Spain, tapas is a style of eating, and going out for tapas is one of their most popular activities.  When going out for tapas, you're not going out for dinner (although, if you eat enough tapas, they can be the equivalent of a meal).  You start out eating tapas and finish eating tapas, meaning, tapas is not a starter to a meal.  I describe it as going out for "drinks and snacks" -- skipping dinner so to speak.

What to expect when eating in a tapas bar or restaurant:

IMG_3590In Spain, dinner is usually eaten between 9:00 PM and 12:00 Midnight.  After work, it is common practice to meet at a bar for "tapas", "drinks and snacks", then go home to relax and go back out for a late dinner.  Historically, pre-19th Century, tapas were small complimentary offerings served by innkeepers at the bar to patrons, or in the rooms of travelers.  Most innkeepers couldn't write and most travelers couldn't read, so, tapas offered a sample of the dishes available from the kitchen that evening.  Nowadays, it is very common for small bars to keep 8-12 tapas in warmers for customers to eat while drinking -- sometimes they are free, other times the cost is minimal.

How to order tapas in a tapas bar or restaurant:

IMG_3595There is a protocol for ordering tapas too.  In many establishments tapas are only served at the bar, not at the tables.  If this is the case, what you will be able to order at the table are "raciónes" ("large, shared plates"), a collection of small dishes brought to the table on a platter.  The Spanish word for this style of tapas eating is "tabla".  Whether seated at the bar or at a table, don't order too many tapas at once  -- the tapas are already prepared, meaning, there's little wait time and ordering 5-6 could bring too many to you at same time.  Another reason:  Rolling tapas carts typically pass by tables so diners can pick items that appeal to them as the carts "walk by".

Gambas al ajillo (garlicy shrimp sautéed in garlicy olive oil) = one of & perhaps Spain's most popular tapas.

IMG_3632Gambas al ajillo is a Spanish classic, and, relatively speaking, it is pretty easy to make at home. It is also an example of a "ración" ("family-style meal") turned into one of Spain's most popular pub-grub tapas.  Sweet shrimp are sautéed on the stovetop (in a seasoned 10" terra cotta "cazuela" IMG_3756(ka-sway-la) -- a glazed, earthenware skillet shaped similar to a straight-sided chef's pan) in a goodly amount of Spanish olive oil that has been infused with lots of garlic (shaved and/or minced) and a sprinkling of sliced small red chiles, to taste, for heat.  When the shrimp are just short of being cooked through, about 3 minutes, a splash of sherry vinegar, plus a pat of butter to finish off the sauce get added, and the dish, complete with the oily garlic-sauce and a parsley garnish goes on the table.  The dish is served ASAP, family-style, in the cazuela, with plenty of grilled rustic bread slices for sopping up the garlicy oil. 

IMG_35342  pounds extra-jumbo shrimp (16-20 count), peeled, deveined, tails left on (32-40 shrimp)

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sweet, smoked Spanish paprika

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  1/4  cups high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish, divided thoroughout recipe, 1/4 cup for tossing into shrimp and spices, 3/4 cup for infusing with the garlic and chile peppers

8-10  large whole garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

4  small red chile peppers, super-thinly sliced

1  tablespoon sherry vinegar

1  tablespoon salted butter, for stirring into finished dish

1/4  cup minced fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

rustic bread slices, toasted or grilled, for accompaniment

IMG_3537 IMG_3537 IMG_3537 IMG_3537 IMG_3537 IMG_3537 IMG_3537~Step 1.  In a large bowl, using a large spoon, toss the shrimp with the baking soda, Spanish paprika, sea salt and 1/4 cup olive oil. Set aside at room temperature.  Slice the garlic cloves and the chile peppers, placing them in a small bowl as you work.  Add the remaining 1 cup olive oil to the garlic and chiles and set aside, to steep, at room temperature, 1 hour.  During this hour, stir the shrimp a few times.

IMG_3555 IMG_3555 IMG_3555~ Step 2.  Place the garlic-chile pepper-oil in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pans.  Heat over low heat, until garlic is softened, very fragrant, ever-so-gently sizzling and moving around in the pan by itself, but not browning, 8-10 minutes.

IMG_3567 IMG_3567 IMG_3567 IMG_3567 IMG_3567 IMG_3578 IMG_3578~Step 3.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Add shrimp and cook, stirring constantly, until turning pink, firming up and just short of being cooked through, 3-4 minutes.  Stir in sherry.  Turn heat off.  Stir in  butter.  When butter has melted, stir in half the parsley.  Portion into desired-sized serving bowls.  Serve immediately with garlic sauce drizzled over the tops.  Garnish each with remaining parsley.

What this dish is, what it is not, &, troubleshooting tips:

IMG_3581 2Troubleshooting Tips from Mel:  Prepared as directed, this dish renders some of the most tender, succulent shrimp you will ever eat.  Do not confuse this process with deep-frying because it IS NOT. The garlic and chile peppers "slow poach", in that, both soften and release their flavor without browning (which renders both bitter).  There is no big sizzle when the shrimp hit the pan. The baking soda, gives the exterior of the shrimp the signature "pop", not to be confused with "crunch" and it works magic.  DO NOT, DO NOT, DO NOT overcook the shrimp -- they will continue to cook while the butter melts, the parsley gets stirred in, and, on the trip to the table.    

Serve ASAP garnished w/toasted bread for sopping up sauce:

IMG_3589Savor every superb, succulent, extraordinary shrimp: 

IMG_3623Time for Tapas:  Spanish-Style Garlic-Lovers Shrimp:  6 tapas-size servings @ 5-6 shrimp per serving.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon; 1-cup measuring container; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides

6a0120a8551282970b0224e034f978200dCook's Note:  Cóctel de camarónes. That's Spanish for cocktail of shrimp.  If you're a fan of Southwestern spice, but never tasted a shrimp cocktail prepared Mexican-style, I recommend giving this Southwestern twist on the classic a try -- plump, tender, poached (sometimes lightly-grilled) shrimp, swimming around in a citrusy, tomato, cilantro and spicy-hot sauce, containing diced avocado, cucumber, onion and jalapeño. : ~ Mexican-Style Shrimp Cocktail (a Salad in a Glass) ~.

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

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

09/30/2018

~ Chick Flicks and Curried Chicken Salad Croissants ~

IMG_3497It's no secret I'm a movie buff.  I've watched movies every day since I was ten-ish. My favorites, old or new, are based on true-stories, history or best-selling books.  My least favorites are star-warrian and science-fictionous, and, I have no interest in fantasy or animation.  I enjoy a good whodunnit crime drama or an occasional action-packed adventure but won't watch horror-infused slashing-for-shock-value movies. Comedies and satires are great, but, romantic, tear-jerking or feel-good chick flicks are better.  You know the ones -- those you can't pay the guy in your life to sit and watch with you (but it would be worth the price of admission just to watch him watch).

A well-made chicken salad is divine & we all have preferences. 

IMG_3522Just like I have preferences in movies, I have preferences in chicken salads. I prefer white-breast- over dark-thigh- meat, roasted chicken over poached, greasy rotisserie chicken makes me cringe, and, I want my chicken hand-pulled instead of diced or cubed, because the latter looks plasticy and fake.  Error on the side of under-dressing mine, as I want to taste the chicken, but yes, by all means, please add some lightly-toasted seeds or nuts for crunch.  I enjoy it served as a forkable salad or as a sandwich, but, if served as a salad I want it on tender soft lettuce leaves, and if served as a sandwich, I want it on soft-textured bread --  bibb lettuce and croissants are ideal.

When it comes to chicken salad, it's all about the chicken.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c92e1f14970bJulia Child said, "you can always judge the quality of a cook or a restastaurant by their roast chicken." I concur. If chicken is dry, I won't touch it.  It's gotta be moist, fork tender, nicely-seasoned, and, for chicken salad, snowy white. Poaching breasts or tenders in a mild court bouillon accomplishes that (and feel free to do it), but, there is nothing tastier than the juicy white meat pulled away from the breast bone of a perfectly-roasted whole chicken:  ~ This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken ~.

The following recipe is written to make two servings.

Because I prefer to eat chicken salad after being chilled 2-4 hours or the same day it's prepared, although the next day is ok too, I don't much enjoy it past that point, so I only make as much as I need, which is enough for 2 days.  As written, my recipe makes two very generous servings -- three smaller servings.  Want to make more?  Do the math with the help of this:

1/2 of a whole chicken breast split in half = about 8-9 ounces

8-9 ounces chicken breast = about 2 cups pulled chicken

2  cups pulled chicken breast = about 2 servings

2  servings my curried chicken salad = about 2 3/4-3 cups

2 servings = enough to generously fill 4 mini or 2 large croissants 

IMG_34351/2 of a whole roasted chicken breast, pulled into bite-sized pieces, about 2 cups

1/2  cup medium-diced celery

6  tablespoons raisins

3  tablespoons  small-diced roasted & salted cashews

1/2  cup high-quality mayonnaise

2  tablespoons Major Grey's original chutney

2  teaspoons Madras curry powder

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated onion flakes

2-4  soft bibb lettuce leaves per salad or sandwich, depending on size of lettuce leaves

IMG_3441 IMG_3441 IMG_3441 IMG_3441 IMG_3441~Step 1.  Place chicken, celery, raisins and cashews in a medium bowl. Set aside.  In a small-capacity food processor fitted with steel blade, place mayonnaise, chutney, curry powder and onion flakes.  With motor running, process until thoroughly combined, 45-60 seconds.  Using a rubber spatula, transfer mayo mixture to chicken mixture and gently fold all the ingredients together.  Cover and place in the refrigerator until well-chilled, 2-4 hours or overnight.

Served in a pretty bowl on a bed of lettuce leaves with a fork...

IMG_3527... or on a croissant as a light and dainty tea-type sandwich:

IMG_3483There's something about a chick flick & a curried chicken croissant.

IMG_3513Chick Flicks and Curried Chicken Salad Croissants:  Recipe yields 2 3/4-3 cups curried chicken salad.

Special Equipment List:  Cutting board; chef's knife; small capacity food processor; rubber spatula; 3-4-cup size food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08ba4581970dCook's Note:  ~ A Peachy All-White-Meat 'Melanie' Chicken Salad ~ is another example of how persnickety I am about my chicken salad.  This one is modeled after the famous Marshall Field's department store's chicken salad dressed with their Maurice dressing.

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

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

09/28/2018

~ Cinnamon 'n Raisin Bread Cinnamon-Swirl Muffins ~

IMG_3417There's nothing like waking up to the ethereal smell of freshly-baked cinnamon rolls.  That said, if you're the cinnamon-roll baker, unless your family sleeps until Noon, "pulling that off" means getting up long before dawn -- yawn.  My happy little twist on classic cinnamon rolls, which lets a pre-programmed bread machine mix and proof my recipe for cinnamon-raisin bread dough, will get you an extra 55-minutes of AM snooze time.  Tick, tock.  It's smooth and stress-free sailing after that.  The super-manageable dough pats out easily, store-bought cinnamon-sugar gets sprinkled on top, roll, slice and in the muffin tins they go to proof.  Poof -- bake and your done. 

A super-easy to "pat, roll & slice" bread machine dough...

IMG_3413... baked in muffin tins & a caramel glaze too!

IMG_33251  cup whole milk

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

6  tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces, preferably at room temperature

2  extra-large eggs, preferably at room temperature, lightly beaten

4 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

5  tablespoons cinnamon-sugar

2  teaspoons granulated dry yeast, not rapid-rise yeast (1 packet)

1  cup raisins*

5-6  tablespoons additional cinnamon-sugar, for sprinkling on prepared dough

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin tins

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fce19046970b* Note about adding raisins:  Most bread machines have an "add-in basket" with a 1/2 cup capacity, which adds dried fruits and/or nuts during the baking cycle. Because the  pizza dough cycle is used to knead and proof (not bake) the dough, the machine won't add them. Do not use the add-in basket.

6a0120a8551282970b01a5119139f9970c 6a0120a8551282970b01a511913afd970c~ Step 1. This is the rectangular-shaped bread pan that came with my machine.  The paddle (which will do the kneading) has been inserted.  The instruction manual said to always start with the paddle in this position before adding any ingredients, so I do.

IMG_3330 IMG_3330 IMG_3330~ Step 2.  Cube the butter as directed and set aside to soften, about 30 minutes, or, quickly soften or melt it in the microwave.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, salt, cinnamon-sugar and raisins.

IMG_3337 IMG_3337 IMG_3337 IMG_3337 IMG_3337 IMG_3348 IMG_3348 IMG_3348~Step 3.  In a 1-cup measuring container, heat milk and vanilla extract in the microwave until steaming.  Add the butter cubes.  Using a fork, stir until butter is melted.  If milk is steaming and butter is soft, this will only take a minute.  Add the liquid mixture to the bread pan.  Using the fork, whisk the eggs in the 1-cup measuring container, then add the eggs to the bread pan too.

IMG_3354 IMG_3354 IMG_3354 IMG_3359 IMG_3359 IMG_3359~Step 4.  Add the flour to the bread pan, spooning it right on top of the wet ingredients.  Do not mix or stir.  Using your index finger, make a small well in the top of the flour (but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer).  Add the yeast to the well.  Insert the pan into the bread machine, plug the machine in, press the "Select" button, choose the "Pizza Dough" cycle, then press "Start".  In 55 minutes, you'll have cinnamon-raisin bread dough.

IMG_3362 IMG_3362 IMG_3362 IMG_3362 IMG_3379 IMG_3379 IMG_3379~Step 5.  While  dough is kneading and proofing in bread machine, spread a bit of bench flour over the top of a large, 20" x 16" pastry board.  Remove the proofed dough from bread machine (the pan won't be hot) and transfer dough to the bench-flour covered board.  Using your fingertips, pat and press dough across the board, into a 1/2"-thick rectangle measuring approximately 18" x 14".  I do this with my fingertips (this dough is extremely manageable).  If you need the aid of a small rolling pin (which you should not), that's ok, just use a very light touch.  Generously sprinkle 5-6 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar over the surface to within 1/2" of the perimeter on all four sides.  Starting at the side closest to you, roll the dough, as tightly as possible, jelly-roll-style, into a cylinder.  Position the cylinder, seam-side-down on an end-to-end angle, then, pat, form and stretch it to a even-sized-throughout length of 22"-24".  This is ALL very, very, very (about 15-minutes-of-time) easy to do.

IMG_3385 IMG_3385 IMG_3385 IMG_3385 IMG_3397 IMG_3397 IMG_3397 IMG_3397~Step 6.  Spray the inside of 24, standard-size muffin cups with no-stick spray.  Using a serrated bread knife and a light touch, cut the cylinder into 1" thick slices, placing the slices, one in each muffin cup, as you work.  I yielded a grand total of 22 today.  Cover with a lint-free kitchen towel and set aside to rise for 1 hour.  Uncover and bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven, until "tops have popped" in their centers and rolls are lightly-browned, a short 14-16 minutes.  Do not over bake. Remove cinnamon rolls from oven and immediately transfer rolls from muffin cups to a wire rack to cool completely, 1-1 1/2 hours, prior to glazing (if desired) as directed below.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0884d1fb970dFor the optional sugary glaze:

2  cups Confectioners' sugar

3-4  tablespoons whole milk

1  tablespoon caramel flavoring

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d16ad7f5970c~ Step 7. In a small mixing bowl combine all ingredients together until smooth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for about 5 minutes. Stir again.  Mixture will be thick, smooth and ribbonlike.

Drizzle glaze over barely-warm or room-temp swirl muffins...

IMG_3416... & put a big pot of coffee on for breakfast!

IMG_3423Reheat (1-2 day leftovers) in microwave, 10-12 seconds, uncovered.  Follow the steamy swirl.  

IMG_3425Cinnamon 'n Raisin Bread Cinnamon-Swirl Muffins:  Recipe yields 22-24 cinnamon 'n raisin-bread cinnamon-swirl muffins.

Special Equipment List:  bread machine; paring knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; large pastry board; serrated bread knife; standard-sized muffin tins, enough for 22-24 muffins; wire cooling rack; pastic squirt bottle, for applying glaze (optional) 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1879fba970cCook's Note:  Can I interest you in a make-ahead breakfast casserole to go with your cinnamon-swirl muffins?  My ~ Big Baked Denver Omelette Brunch Casserole ~, full of ham, cheese and veggies, is my favorite  crowd-pleasing recipe. 

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

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

09/24/2018

~ Mom's Crockpot Casserole Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ~

IMG_3304If you grew up in an Eastern European family, you grew up eating stuffed cabbage rolls -- known as "holupki" to me and "golumpki" to many of you.  From weeknight family-style dinners to holidays or special occasions, this beloved meal is a staple on the table.  Everyone makes them a bit differently, with the constants being: ground meat (beef, pork and/or lamb), rice or grain, green cabbage leaves and a tomato-based sauce.  If you grew up in an Eastern European family and you currently write a blog, you proclaim your family's stuffed cabbage to be the best.  I fall into the latter category and I am no exception.  My mom's stuffed cabbage rolls are the best.

A bit about Crockpot's Casserole Crocks:

IMG_2900 2Meet 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 2" 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 cabbage rolls, side-by-side and in a single layer, to cook evenly, in comfort -- spa-style.

IMG_2899 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3923c31200dI bought two. At about $45.00 each, it wasn't that big of an investment.  The crocks are 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". My rational: These are going to be awesome for making a slow-cooker version of my mom's holupki. I couldn't wait to plug 'em in.

Making Stuffed Cabbage in Crockpot's Casserole Crocks:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08f1f655970d1  large, firm head green cabbage without splits or tears (about 4 pounds)  (Note:  1 large head of cabbage will yield:  20-24 large-to-medium-sized stuffed cabbage rolls requiring 1/2-1/3 cup filling each.)

3  pounds lean ground beef (85/15)

2  teaspoons salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1  cup uncooked long-grain white rice, not "Minute rice" (8 ounces)

2  medium-sized yellow onions, about 6-ounces each, finely diced (about 2 cups)

1  seasoning packet 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, beaten 

For the sauce mixture:

4  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (2 cans per casserole crock)

4  cups water (2 cups per casserole crock)

all the water reserved from steaming the cabbage leaves (about 3/4 cup, divided between the two casserole crocks)

3 teaspoons each:  salt  and coarsely-ground black pepper (1 1/2 teaspoons in each casserole crock)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole crocks

IMG_5795 IMG_5795 IMG_5795 IMG_5795 IMG_5809 IMG_5809 IMG_5809 IMG_5809 IMG_5816 IMG_5816 IMG_5816 IMG_5816~Step 1.  Mixing the meat.  Place the ground beef in a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt and pepper evenly over the top.  Using a large spoon or your hands, mix to combine. Measure and sprinkle the rice over the top, then, give that a thorough mix too.  Finely dice the onion, add it along with the G.Washinton's seasoning packet and mix again.  In a small bowl, using a fork, beat the eggs, add them, and, you guessed it, give the whole thing one last very thorough mix.

IMG_3043 2 IMG_3043 2~ Step 2.  Coring the cabbage.  The core is what holds the cabbage leaves to the head.  In order for the leaves to separate easily during and after the steaming process, it is necessary to remove the core.  With a short-bladed coring knife, cut around the core to a depth of about 1 1/2"-2", or enough to start a separation of the outer leaves.

IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3174 IMG_3174 IMG_3174 IMG_3174 IMG_3174 IMG_3174~Step 3.  Microwave-steaming the cabbage leaves.  Place the cored head of cabbage, cored-side down, in a large mixing bowl.  Add 1 1/2 cups water to the bowl.  Do not cover.  Microwave on high for 12 minutes.  Remove from microwave.  With the aid of a fork and your fingertips, remove the loose outer leaves (3-4) from the the head.  Return to the microwave, on high, for 4 more minutes.  Remove from microwave and remove more loose outer leaves (4-5).  Continue this process of microwaving and removing leaves, 3-4 more times, until the size of the leaves become too small to affectively stuff and roll.  Reserve the core of the cabbage, along with the cabbage (acidulated) water too.  The entire steaming process typically takes about 28-34 minutes.

Tip from Mel:  About halfway through the process, use a pair of kitchen shears to trim and remove more of the core, which is now soft.  This will make removing the inner leaves easier.

IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3245~Step 4.  Filling and rolling the cabbage leaves.  Generously spray the inside of both casserole crocks with no-stick cooking spray.  On a flat plate or work surface, place one cabbage leaf, convex side down, and using a paring knife, trim the thick core vein from the center of it. Depending upon the size and thickness of each cabbage leaf, this core vein can/will be large or quite small, but be sure to do it as it makes the rolling process easier and the finished product prettier.  Flip the cabbage leaf over, concave (cup) side up.  Using a 1/2 cup measure, scoop filling in the center of the leaf.  Lift side of the leaf closet to you up and over the filling, then lift and fold left and right sides of the leaf up and over the meat filling.  Continue to roll the filled leaf over until it sits seam side down.  Arrange the cabbage rolls, side-by-side, seam-sides-down in the prepared crocks as you work -- one dozen will fit in the bottom of each casserole crock.

Note:  It goes without saying that not all cabbages or cabbage leave are created equal.  My measurements today are for a large head with large outer and medium inner leaves.  Smaller heads yield smaller leaves, so the amount of filling must be downsized too -- 1/3 cup filling for medium leaves and 1/4 cup for small leaves -- sounds silly, but the leaves will let you know.

IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260~Step 5.  Saucing and slow-cooking the cabbage rolls.  Pour 2 cups of water over the tops of the cabbage rolls in each casserole, then divide and add the reserved cabbage water to each crock casserole too.  Spoon and spread the contents from 2 cans tomato soup over the tops of the cabbage rolls, then sprinkle 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 1/2 teaspoon pepper over the top of the soup in each one.  Cut the remaining core into eight wedges and arrange 4 wedges atop both casseroles.  Place the lids on the crocks and cook on high for 2 hours, low for 3 hours, then on warm for 1-2 hours, to allow the cabbage to soften a bit more and all the flavors to marry.

IMG_3277 IMG_3277 IMG_3277~Step 6.  Immediately after placing casseroles on warm setting, remove the cabbage wedges and set them aside.  Trust me, the cabbage-wedge lovers are going to like the texture of the wedges removed sooner than later.

My mom's crockpot-cooked stuffed cabbage rolls:

IMG_3309A forkful of slow-cooked childhood comfort food:

IMG_3317Coming soon to a freezer or lunchbox near you:

IMG_3209Mom's Crockpot Casserole Stuffed Cabbage Rolls:  Recipe yields approximately 24 cabbage rolls and 8-12 servings at 2-3 per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; short-bladed coring knife; large microwave-safe bowl; long-handled fork; kitchen shears; 2 crock casseroles

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1d82c2f970cCook's Note:  Mom's stuffed cabbage rolls were always cooked on the stovetop -- crockpots hadn't been invented yet.  That said, when she did buy a crockpot in the 1970's, her ~ Unstuffed: Deconstructed Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ~ were just as popular with our family, and, they took her a lot less time to make.

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

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

09/21/2018

~ Steaming & Separating Cabbage in the Microwave ~

IMG_3200Being a gal of Eastern European decent, I'm kind of a connoisseur of cabbage.  While cabbage eating isn't limited to Eastern European cuisine, it is indeed associated primarily with it.  In my family alone, from hot side-dishes like butter-braised cabbage and carrots and cabbage and egg noodles, to cold side-salads like creamy cole slaw and vinegary pepper slaw, to main-dish ham, cabbage and potato soup and stuffed cabbage rolls, I do not believe my mother's refrigerator was ever without a head of cabbage in it.  "Kapusta" or "cabbage" was a staple.

Cabbage is a staple in every Eastern European kitchen.

IMG_6742When I was a kid watching my mother and grandmother process cabbage, all I remember thinking was, "this is hard work".  Cabbage, no matter what they were making with it, had to be hand-cut or processed -- there were no short cut methods.  Back then, there were no food processors or microwave ovens.  When it came to steaming the cabbage leaves from the head to make stuffed cabbage rolls, it required carrying a big pot of water from the sink to the stovetop and standing over the steaming pot throughout the process -- it was literally a hot and heavy task.  Sigh.

Fast forward to present day.  I'm a home cook who's never been a huge fan of the microwave -- I've never cooked a meal in it from start-to-finish.  Not even once.  That said, as a serious home cook, I do consider the microwave oven a serious appliance which plays a significant role in the preparation of certain aspects of meal preparation, the reheating of leftovers, and, it sure is a time-savor with regards to certain culinary tasks:  steaming cabbage leaves is one such task.

One head cored cabbage + 1 1/2 cups water in a big bowl.

IMG_3043 2 IMG_3043 2~ Step 1.  Coring the cabbage.  The core is what holds the leaves to the head.  In order for the leaves to separate easily, during and after the steaming process, it is necessary to remove the core.  With a sharp short-bladed coring knife, cut around the core to a depth of 1 1/2"-2", or enough to start a separation of the outer leaves.

IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3185 IMG_3193 IMG_3193~Step 2.  Microwave-steaming the cabbage leaves.  Place the cored head of cabbage, cored-side down, in a large mixing bowl.  Add 1 1/2 cups water to the bowl.  Do not cover.  Microwave on high for 12 minutes. Remove from microwave.  With the aid of a fork and your fingertips, remove the loose outer leaves (3-4) from the the head.  Return to the microwave, on high, for 4 more minutes.  Remove from microwave and remove more loose outer leaves (4-5). Continue this process of microwaving and removing leaves, 3-4 more times, until the size of the leaves become too small to affectively be of use in the specified recipe.  The steaming process typically takes about 28-34 minutes.

Tip from Mel:  About halfway through the process, use a pair of kitchen shears to trim and remove more of the core, which is now soft.  This will be easy and make removing inner leaves easier.  

Use as directed in specific recipe:

IMG_3197Mom's Crockpot-Casserole-Cooked Stuffed Cabbage Rolls:

IMG_3309Steaming & Separating Cabbage in the Microwave:  Recipe yields instructions to steam and separate leaves from a head of green cabbage using the microwave.

Special Equipment List:  short-bladed coring knife; 1-cup measuring container; large bowl; long-handled fork; kitchen shears

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d26c64c6970cCook's Note:  Throughout Eastern Europe, cooks make a side-dish that basically consists of green cabbage and egg noodles -- my family often added mushrooms too.  It's quick-and-easy, delicious, unpretentious, old-world comfort food.  I simply refer to it as "cabbage and noodles" or "cabbage noodles", because every country has their own ethnic name for it and every cook is adamant that "their people" invented it -- the Eastern Europeans are no different than the French or the Italians in that respect.  Sigh.

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

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

09/19/2018

~Lo & Slow-Cooker Jerk-Style Baby-Back Spare-Ribs~

IMG_2998Jerk seasoning was/is the dry spice blend used to season jerky, and Jamaican jerk seasoning, known for the flavors of allspice, cinnamon, cloves, thyme and Scotch bonnet pepper, is perhaps the most famous.  Throughout the Caribbean, islanders preserved/cured their spice-rubbed meats by drying them in the intense sun or over a slow fire -- this allowed the meat to be taken on long journeys and eaten as is or reconstituted in boiling water.  The word most likely transitioned to the verb, "jerking", in reference to the way the meat gets "jerked" around on the grill as it cooks.

The machinations of making ribs in a slow cooker never seemed right to me -- kind of like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  I've watched people bend racks, slice and stack sections, even cut them into individual ribs.   That type of rib abuse is why I never attempted it, but, as a person who likes my ribs fall-of-the-bone tender, there was never a doubt the slow cooker could achieve that.  After all, just like a Dutch oven placed on the stovetop or in the oven, it's what slow cookers do, tenderize meat -- especially the cheap, tough cuts.  The lid seals and traps the heat and moisture in the pot, preventing evaporation and heat loss, which provides plenty of time for everything-that-can-make-meat-tough (the muscle, connective tissue and fat) to break down.

IMG_2900Meet 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 3" 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 vehicle for baby-back ribs (trimmed to fit into it's bottom), to cook evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

IMG_2899I bought two.  At about $45.00 each, it wasn't that big of an investment. My rational: Joe buys baby-back ribs vacuum-packed at Sam's club -- three racks per pack.  After eye-balling the dimensions of the Crockpot Casserole, I knew with certainty, that between the two, I could slow-cook all three racks -- to feed a crowd.  I bought them for last year's tailgate season, and, the moment they arrived, I couldn't wait to plug my two new toys in.

Important Note:  Armed with two crockpot casseroles, for my own purposes, I am slow-cooking three very large racks of baby-back spare-ribs this afternoon.  That said, it's worth noting that two small racks of ribs will fit in one crockpot casserole and affects nothing about the recipe.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09fc9b13970dBecause the inside bottom dimensions of the casserole are approximately 11" x 6", that requires cutting each rack of baby-back ribs into either 2, 11" lengths (cut each rack in half), or, 3, 6" lengths (cut each rack into thirds).  Besides being more manageab