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My Recipes-of-the-Week are featured here on my Home page. You can find 2000 of my kitchen-tested recipes using the Recipes tab, watch over 125 Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV segments using the TV Videos tab, join the discussion about all of my creations using the Facebook tab, or Email your questions and comments directly to me--none go unanswered. "We are all in this food world together." ~Melanie

07/21/2021

~ My Fajita Rice for Chicken or Steak Fajita-Burritos ~

IMG_2559I love fajitas and I adore fajita-burritos.  Sometimes I make chicken or steak fajitas for the sole purpose of taking the well-seasoned, sautéed bell pepper, onion and chicken or steak mixture, and wrapping it up burrito-style in a large flour tortilla that's been slathered with refried beans topped with a scattering of spiced rice and shredded cheddar.  Interestingly, because fajitas are seasoned with a specific scratch-made or store-bought spice blend, and Mexican-rice recipes or Mexican-style rice mixes are not seasoned with the same seasoning, many times, the flavor of the seasoned rice can compete or clash with the fajita seasoning.  Call me finicky, picky or whatever, but that bothered me enough to come with my own fajita-seasoned rice to put in fajita burritos.

Whenever I'm making fajita-burritos, my rule of thumb is:

IMG_2563Put fajita-seasoned rice into fajita-seasoned fajita-burritos.

IMG_25351/2  cup basmati rice or extra-long grain white rice  (Note:  I choose to use basmati rice for it's earthy, slightly nutty flavor.)

1 1/2  cups water

1  teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1  teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

2  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or a favorite store-bought seasoning mix

a light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper

1/4  teaspoon salt

2  tablespoons salted butter

IMG_2542 IMG_2542 IMG_2542 IMG_2542~Step 1.  In a 1 1/2-quart saucepan, using a rice-cup measure, place 1 1/2 cus water, along with the dehydrated garlic and onion, fajita seasoning, jalapeño pepper, salt and butter.  Bring water to a boil over high heat.  When butter has melted, sprinkle in the rice (do not dump it all at once) and give the mixture a quick stir.  Place the lid on the saucepan and adjust heat to a very gentle but ready simmer.  Continue to cook, without opening lid or stirring the rice, for 18 minutes. 

IMG_2552 IMG_2552 IMG_2552~ Step 2.  After 18 minutes, lift the lid and take a peek.  Small holes (caused by evaporation as the rice simmered) should be present across the surface of the rice and no or almost no water should remain in the bottom of the pan.  Now, taste a few grains, the rice should be cooked to-the-tooth, meaning, not hard in the center nor mushy.  If either of these scenarios has not happened, cover saucepan and cook for 1-2 more minutes.  Turn the heat off and rake through the rice with a fork to separate the grains. Put the lid back on the saucepan and allow to rest for 2-3 minutes prior to serving.

Authentic?  No.  Untraditional?  Yes, & absolutely appropriate. 

IMG_2576My Fajita Rice for Chicken or Steak Fajita-Burritos:  Recipe yields 1 1/2-2 cups of fajita rice.

Special Equipment List:  rice cup measure; 1 1/2-quart saucepan w/tight-fitting (preferably glass) lid; spoon; fork

6a0120a8551282970b0223c849deb2200cCook's Note: Mexican rice became a staple on our family's table back in the 1980's.  Whenever we ate in a Mexican restaurant, remarkably, our three kids would eat the side-dishes: the muli-colored veggie-bejeweled rice, the murky-earthy slightly-soupy refried beans, and, the bright-green garlic-laced guacamole.  Without complaint or prodding, they'd slather and scoop 'em onto and into tacos, fajitas, carnitas (or whatever else they were eating), along with red or green salsa and the bottled hot-sauce du jour.  Go figure, and, "shut my mouth wide open."  I started stocking my pantry with whatever Texican-type ingredients I could find in our Central, PA grocery stores.   Try my more traditional ~ Mexican-Style Adobo Rice (Meatless Spanish Rice) ~.

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

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

07/18/2021

~ That's a Wrap Cheesy Flank-Steak-Fajita Burritos ~

IMG_2509A fajita-burrito has its origins in Mexico and features the best of two South-of-the border worlds -- all those luscious strips of well-seasoned grilled or sautéd chicken or steak, bell peppers and onions that go into fajitas, wrapped-and-rolled, burrito-style, in a large, warm flour tortilla that's been slathered with refried beans and scattered with a layer of Spanish-style rice and shredded cheese.  The outcome is indeed the best of two worlds and, there's no need for embellishments either.  Hold the guacamole, sour cream and/or salsa.  Pick 'em up 'cause they're ready-to-eat.

No need for embellishments.  Pick 'em up -- they're ready to eat:

IMG_2528The "burrito", or: "the food from the little donkey"!

6a0120a8551282970b026bdedce277200cA bit about burritos:  A burrito is a portable sandwich found in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.  It consists of a large flour tortilla that has been wrapped or folded to fully encase a filling. Before serving, it gets lightly-grilled or steamed, to soften the tortilla.  Refried beans, Mexican rice and meat (or a meat mixture) are typically the only fillings used, and, burritos are served unembellished, in order for them to be eaten with the hands.   In Spanish, "burrito" means "little donkey", coming from the word "burro", which means "donkey".  

During the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921), in the El Paso area, a street-food vendor named Juan Mendez sold tacos at his street stand.  Because of the war, for safety sake, it became necessary to continually pack up and move his stand/street-cart from place to place.  He began using his donkey to transport him and his food.  In order to keep the food warm as it traveled, Juan had the idea of wrapping it in large flour tortillas.  His food invention became so popular, consumers began traveling to him from other places around the Mexican border in search of:

6a0120a8551282970b026bdedce2c5200cA bit about fajitas:  Originally named tacos-al-carbon, fajitas were served as portable food, ready-to-eat-with-the-hands, by wrapping strips of unpretentious skirt steak that had been cooked over a campfire or on a grill, in a warm corn or flour tortilla, meaning they were served taco-style.  "Faja" is the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", and, with "ita" added to the end, it means "a little strip, band, sash or belt", meaning the ingredients for fajitas are always cut into strips.

The dish dates back to cattle ranching life along the Rio Grande Valley regions of the Texas-Mexico border in the 1930's.  Throwaway items (heads, entrails and meat trimmings) were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay, resulting in some of the first Tex-Mex border dishes: barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak).  Because of the limited number of skirts per animal, the meat wasn't available for sale, so, for years it remained obsure to all except the vaqueros, butchers and their families.

The "fajita", or: "faja" & "ita", meaning "little strips"!

IMG_2472For each burrito:

1, 9 1/2" round burrito-size flour tortilla

1/2  cup refried beans or refried bean dip

3/4  cup prepared, fajita-seasoned Mexican rice, or, Mexican-style adobo rice, my recipe or your favorite boxed Spanish-style rice mix

1/2-3/4 cup prepared flank steak fajita filling, my recipe or your favorite recipe

1/4  cup shredded yellow cheddar cheese

IMG_2473 IMG_2473 IMG_2473 IMG_2482 IMG_2482 IMG_2482 IMG_2482~Step 1. To assemble each fajita burrito, place one tortilla on a flat work surface.  Using a butter knife, spread the beans or bean dip to within 1/2" of the perimeter of the tortilla.  Scatter the Mexican rice atop the beans, and, using fingertips, gently pat rice into beans (this will keep the rice in place when wrapping and rolling the burritos).  Carefully spoon and mound the chicken-fajita filling (atop the rice) in a long strip across the center.  Place the cheese atop and along the strip of steak-fajita filling.

IMG_2493 IMG_2493 IMG_2493Step 2.  To wrap, and heat burritos, lift the side of tortilla closest to you up and over the filling -- far enough so it wraps all the way around the filling.  Pick up left and right sides of tortilla and fold them atop filling.  Roll tortilla over, seam side down, to fully encase and secure filling in a tight roll.   Transfer each burrito to a plate, or, place all burritos on a platter.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Microwave 1-1 1/2 minutes.

When ready to eat, heat one or all of them.  Serve for lunch, dinner or a very special late night snack attack:

IMG_2503That's a Wrap Cheesy Flank-Steak-Fajita Burritos:  Recipe yields enough ingredients to make 12 large burritos.

Special Equipment List:  butter knife, hand-held box grater, slotted spoon, plastic wrap 

6a0120a8551282970b0278803122fe200dCook's Note: Tacos and fajitas.  Akin to Cheeseburgers and pizza, I can't much conjure up more kid-friendly meals.  That said, if you're a mom or dad attempting to get your kids to eat more vegetables, fajitas are an argument-free way way to get the job done.  If you're a mom or dad trying to cut some fat out of your life, chicken fajitas will accomplish that too. There's more.  Got a big family to feed? dNeed to feed a crowd? Double the recipe quantities -- in about the same amount of time, voila: the hungry mob is fed.  In the event you prefer chicken to steak, try making burritos using my ~ Kids-Stuff One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken Fajita Filling ~ in place of my steak filling.

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

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

07/15/2021

~ Kids-Stuff Tex-Mex Broiled-Flank-Steak Fajita Filling ~

IMG_2444 2Newsflash.  A flank steak does not have to be grilled outdoors to be a great flank steak.  While grilled is very, very good, truth told, my oven broiler method does a marvelous job with no stress, guess nor mess.  The end result is wonderfully seasoned, perfectly-cooked medium-rare steak.   The process is so foolproof, I prefer it.  There's more.  Once sliced, a flank steak feeds an entire family.  When the flank steak gets added to an easy-to-make sautéed vegetable medley, this meal feeds a crowd.  It's perfect for any indoor or outdoor gathering any time of year.

When the steak is seasoned fajita-style, magic happens:

IMG_2419A bit about this flat, oval, 1"-1 1/2"-thick, stringy-grained steak:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e96596970cA well done flank steak is not well done at all.  Flank steak, while it lends its succulent flavorful self to indoor cooking beautifully, if the lean and sexy flank steak is not quickly-cooked and served rare- medium-rare it is not worth eating. While I occasionally pan-sear it, my favorite method is to cook it under the broiler*.  My foolproof method takes all the guesswork out of it too.  Read on:

My rule of thumb is to purchase the biggest flank steak I can find -- two pounds is perfect, but, if I come across one that's larger, into my cart it goes.  I'd be crazy not to spend the extra pennies, and, it's not because bigger is better.  It's because leftovers go into sandwiches and onto salads -- zero waste.  Depending on the recipe du jour, sometimes I marinate flank steak, sometimes I don't.  When it comes to flank steak, absorb this: marination (which does not affect the cooking time), is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.  Perfectly-cooked flank steak is super-tender with zero marination.  Example:  my marinated Greek-Style Flank Steak Salad or Pocket Sammies.

* 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.

Savory, succulent & ready to eat in about 45 minutes:

IMG_2371For the flank steak & seasonings:

1  large flank steak (about 2-2 1/2) 

3  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or, a favorite store-bought seasoning mix, about 3 tablespoons (1, 1-ounce envelope store-bought)

a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt 

For the vegetables & seasonings:

2-3  tablespoons vegetable oil

3  cups 1/4"-thick sliced yellow or sweet onion, slices cut into half-moon shapes

1  1/2  cups each, julienne of:  green, red, orange and yellow bell pepper

3  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or a favorite store-bought seasoning mix (1, 1-ounce envelope store-bought)

a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin 

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt

IMG_2373 IMG_2373 IMG_2373 IMG_2373 IMG_2388 IMG_2388 IMG_2388 IMG_2388~Step 1.  To season and broil the flank steak, place it on a a corrugated, disposable aluminum broiler pan and allow it to come to room temperature for 20-30 minutes -- just do it.  Season the top liberally with fajita seasoning, moderately with cumin, followed by a light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt.  Place pan 5 1.2"-6" under preheated broiler for exactly 9 minutes -- nine minutes is a key measurement when broiling a flank steak.  Remove flank steak from oven and flip it over.  Season the second side exactly like the first side was seasoned.  Return the steak to the broiler for exactly 9 more minutes.  Remove flank steak from oven and set aside to rest, about 15 minutes, then, prepare the vegetable medley as directed in the next step.

IMG_2400 IMG_2400 IMG_2400 IMG_2400 IMG_2400 IMG_2400 IMG_2400~Step 2.  In a 12" nonstick skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium- medium high heat.  Add all of the onions and bell peppers to the skillet, spreading them out across the surface of the bottom of pan.  Season the vegetables by sprinkling with all of the fajita seasoning, a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin, and, a very-light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt. Using two large slotted spoons, give the mixture a thorough stir.  Sauté the vegetables until crunch-tender, about 3-4 minutes.  Turn heat off.  Do not cover skillet or the vegetables will steam and vegetables need to remain crunch tender.  

IMG_2419 IMG_2419 IMG_2419 IMG_2419~Step 3.  Place the well-rested but still warm flank steak on a large cutting board.  Holding a chef's knife at a 30° angle, slice the steak into strips, THIN strips, as thin as you can.  Add all of the steak to the skillet and give the mixture a thorough stir,  Transfer to a large bowl.  Serve.

Serve immediately, piled high into warm, fresh corn tortillas:

IMG_2437Kid-friendly, adult-friendly, crowd-friendly goodness:

IMG_2449Kids-Stuff Tex-Mex Broiled-Flank-Steak Fajita Filling:  Recipe yields 7-8 cups fajita filling/enough to fill 24, 5 1/2"-round flour tortillas.

Special Equipment List: 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; two large slotted spoons

IMG_1864Cook's Note:  Tacos and fajitas.  Akin to Cheeseburgers and pizza, I can't much conjure up four more kid-friendly meals.  That said, if you're a mom or dad attempting to get your kids to eat more vegetables, it goes without saying, fajitas are an argument-free way way to get the job done. If you're a mom or dad trying to cut some fat out of your life, chicken fajitas will accomplish that too.   If you prefer chicken to steak, try my  ~ Kids-Stuff One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken-Fajita Filling ~.

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

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

07/12/2021

~ Making the Most of the Short & Sweet Corn Season ~

IMG_9991What a wonderful gift the Native Americans gave to the world.  Everything on the corn plant can be used:  the husks for tamales, the silks for tea, the kernels for food and the stalks for fodder.  Modern day horticulturists developed our two most popular varieties: white (Country Gentleman) and yellow (Golden Bantam).  White corn kernels are smaller and sweeter.  Yellow corn kernels are larger and fuller-flavored.  The more recently developed hybrid (Butter & Sugar Corn) produces ears speckled with both yellow and white kernels -- my personal favorite.  

Almost nothing beats a serving of fresh, steaming corn on the cob lacquered with sweet cream butter and sprinkled with salt.  Here in our beautiful and scenic "rolling hills of Pennsylvania", cornfields, miles of them, are a very common sight.  Sweet corn, hands down, is my family's favorite choice as a Summer vegetable.  Unfortunately, corn has a relatively short season, not being at its peak until late July or August and past its prime by Labor Day.  As soon as it's picked, the corn's sugar immediately begins to convert to starch, which lessens its natural sweetness.  Therefore, it is important to buy corn as soon after it is picked as possible.  Corn connoisseurs claim to be able to tell immediately when corn hasn't been cooked the same day it's been picked.

6a0120a8551282970b013486f877cc970cHow to choose & how to cook great sweet corn every time:

Choose ears that are bright green with snugly fitting husks and golden brown silk.  Gently strip/peel back a small portion of the outer husk.  The kernels should be plump and the rows should be tightly spaced.  Pierce down into a kernel with your thumbnail.  If the kernal squirts a wet, milky juice, the corn is young, tender and ready to cook and eat.

6a0120a8551282970b014e5ffe0d91970cTo cook sweet corn you will need:

6-8  freshly, same-day picked, carefully selected, cobs of corn, husks stripped away and silk carefully removed (discard or compost both)

2-4  tablespoons sugar (optional but highly recommended)

8  tablespoons salted butter 

freshly ground sea salt, to taste  

In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add the sugar.  Ease the corn cobs, one at a time, into the pot of boiling water.  After the last cob has been added and the water has returned to a rolling boil, cover and cook for 5 minutes -- not longer, not shorter, exactly 5 minutes. Remove from heat and drain thoroughly.  Return corn to still warm stockpot and add the butter.  Cover and allow the butter to melt, about 2-3 minutes.  Give the pot a few gentle tosses to coat the corn in the butter.  Serve ASAP with s sprinkling of sea salt to taste.

Easy peasy, perfectly-cooked sweet corn each & every time:

IMG_9998To learn ~ How to: Shave Corn off the Cob with Zero Mess ~:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4bbb3a4200b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

07/09/2021

~Make Tortillas de Maize from Scratch - Corn Tortillas~

IMG_2361Tortillas de Maize, meaning corn tortillas, originated in Mexico during pre-Columbian times -- the cultures that evolved in parts of Mexico, Central America and Western South America prior to the Spanish conquest during the 16th Century.  This means the corn tortilla predates the wheat-flour tortilla, as wheat was not not grown in the the Americas prior to European colonization in the mid-1500s.  In Aztec times, two or three corn tortillas would have been eaten with each meal.    Maize itself has been a Mexican staple food for centuries and remains the most planted crop in the regions of Mexico, and, you guessed it, gently-cooked soft corn tortillas are consumed daily.

IMG_8374Traditionally, corn tortillas were made by hand by Aztec women by flattening the balls of fresh dough between the palms of their hands and slapping them back and forth between their hands until they created a round, thin flat disc.  Corn tortillas are remarkably easy to make, especially if you own an inexpensive tortilladora, known to most of us as a tortilla press.  Usually made of cast aluminum or cast iron, this mechanical contraption consists of a pair of flat approximately 8"-round surfaces and a handle that presses 1" balls of smooth, soft corn tortilla dough (between two layers of deli paper or wax paper), into thin, flat corn tortillas*.

Once the tortillas are flattened into thin, less than 1/8"-thick discs, each one is placed on a cast iron comal or in a cast iron or nonstick skillet for a brief time, until firm-yet pliable and very lightly-flecked with brown on both sides, about 2 minutes on the first side and 1 minute on the second.

* Unlike the corn tortilla, the flour tortilla is typically rolled thin (interleaved between two pieces of wax paper or plastic wrap) using a small wooden rolling pin.  In the event you don't have a tortilla press, or, don't want to make the modest $15.00 - $20.00 investment in a tortilla press (which I highly recommend you do), the rolling-pin method can be used to make corn tortillas too,

IMG_2355Just three ingredients, & two of them are water & salt! 

To make corn tortillas, you will need to pick up a bag of easy-to-find masa harina.  Period.  No substitutions.   This ingredient might look a lot like finely-ground cornmeal, but it's an entirely different product altogether.  Masa is a stable in Latin American cuisine.  When masa is made the tough outer husks of field-corn kernels are removed to make them easier to digest. Next, the kernels are boiled in a lime solution for about 15 minutes then left to soak in it for about 24 hours. After a thorough rinsing, the mixture gets ground into a very fine paste, dried, then ground again.

IMG_22741 1/2  cups masa harina, no substitutuions

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

1 cup + 2 tablespoons warm water, plus, additional warm water, added one tablespoon at a time, if necessary as directed below 

IMG_2279 IMG_2279 IMG_2279 IMG_2279 IMG_2290 IMG_2295 IMG_2295~Step 1.  In a medium bowl, combine the masa and salt, then make a well in the center (similar to making pasta).  Add the water to the well.  Using a tablespoon, and towards the end your hands, incorporate the water into the masa.  The dough should be stiff enough to hold together and should be very smooth in appearance, meaning: not raggedy or crumbly.  If it is not, add water by tablespoonfuls, kneading after each addition until dough is a large, smooth, moist-but-not-sticky, pliable ball.

IMG_2301 IMG_2301 IMG_2301~ Step 2.  To make 4"-round street-size tortillas, using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, portion the dough into 20-22 pieces, then, roll each piece between the palms of hands to form a round ball.  When finished, place the balls back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow them to rest about 15 minutes.  

Note:  To make larger tortillas, use a larger ice-cream scoop to make larger (and fewer) balls. 

IMG_2313 IMG_2313 IMG_2313 IMG_2313 IMG_2313 IMG_2313~Step 3.  To flatten each tortilla, place one ball of dough on the bottom center of the tortilla press that has been lined with an inexpensive sheet of deli-paper or wax-paper.  Place a second sheet of deli paper or wax paper atop the ball of dough. Lower the top of the tortilla press down over the dough, then, judiciously press the handle down to flatten the dough ball to a scant 1/8" thick.  Do not be zealous when pressing the handle down -- if the tortilla becomes to be too thin around the edges, it will rip or tear when trying to release it from between the paper sheets.  Test one to check -- if the paper peels off easily off, repeat process until all tortillas are flattened.  Do not remove any of the papers until finished with all tortillas.

IMG_2342 IMG_2342 IMG_2342~ Step 4.  To cook the tortillas, heat a 10" comal or nonstick skillet over medium- medium-high heat.  Remove the paper from and place three street-sized corn tortillas on the heated surface*.  Cook until top surface appears dry and feels firm, yet very pliable, about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Using a spatula flip the tortillas over onto the second side.  Continue to cook until top, once again, appears dry and feels firm, yet very pliable, about 45-seconds to 1 minute.  Transfer tortillas from comal (or skillet) to a plate.  Repeat this process until all the tortillas are cooked.  Once all tortillas are cooked, wrap the plate in a large flour-sack-type towel to steam for a few moments prior to serving warm.

* Note:  If larger corn tortillas have been prepared, cook the tortillas just one or two at a time.

One tortilla, two tortillas, 20-22 warm, soft & fresh corn tortillas:

IMG_2369Make Tortillas de Maize from Scratch - Corn Tortillas:  Recipe yields instructions to makes 20-22 small, 4" round street-size corn tortillas.

Special Equipment List: ordinary tablespoon; tortilla press; plastic wrap; 40-44 (inexpensive) deli-paper or wax paper sheets; 10" comal or nonstick skillet; spatula; flour-sack-type kitchen towel

6a0120a8551282970b0263e9570fe0200b-800wiCook's Note:  Nothing is as good as made-from-scratch tortillas.  That said, store-bought fresh corn tortillas are, in fact, a high-quality convenience product. On the other hand, nothing is quite as bad as a taco shell that comes out of a box -- just don't do it. While making tortillas from scratch is not hard, the fresh corn tortillas found in grocery stores nowadays are quite good, and, they fry up exactly like scratch-made.  To learn how to do it, read my post:  ~ Store-Bought Corn Tortillas & the Perfect Taco Shell ~.

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

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

07/06/2021

~Herb-Sour-Cream Cucumber or Tomato Salad Cups~

IMG_2263Summer is prime time for big main-dish salads and small side-dish salads.  In the case of the latter, in my kitchen, one quick-to-fix creamy sour-cream-based dressing has me eating a side of crunchy cucumber or tangy tomato salad in the time it takes the average steak to grill.  Yes, of course, go ahead, do the math and double, triple or quadruple this recipe to make a bigger batch, but, in my kitchen, I don't make more than me or my family is going to eat in one sitting.  Why?  I don't like leftover cucumber or tomato salad -- simply stated: neither is better the next day.

Make one of each & enjoy a side-dish-salad feast: 

IMG_2234For the dressing for each salad:

2  tablespoons sour cream

1/2  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence (Note:  Herbes de Provence is an all-purpose mixture of rosemary, marjoram, thyme and savory, which I like to use because it lends itself to the flavor profile of almost anything I decide to serve as a main-course.)

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

1/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

For the cucumbers or tomatoes & onions:

1 generous 1/2 cup of peeled and thinly-sliced, seedless cucumber

1  generous 1/2 cup of small Campari tomatoes wedges

1/4  cup thinly-sliced red onion, cut into half-moon shapes, half-moon shapes cut in half

IMG_2240 IMG_2240 IMG_2240 IMG_2240 IMG_2240~Step 1.  To make the dressing for each salad, in each of two small bowls, place and thoroughly stir together the sour cream, herbes de Provence, dehydrated garlic, dehydrated onion, pepper and salt.  Using a small rubber spatula, add and fold the onions into each bowl.  Allow this mixture to sit about 5 minutes for the  dehydrated onion and garlic to soften and the flavors to marry.  Add the sliced cucumbers to one bowl and the tomato wedges to the other bowl.  Very gently, fold the cucumbers and tomatoes into the dressing in each bowl.

Serve immediately or refrigerate 1-2 hours until serving time:

IMG_2257Herb-Sour-Cream Cucumber or Tomato Salad Cups:  Recipe yields 3/4-1 cup cucumber or tomato salad/1 serving each.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable peeler; cutting board; chef's knife; serrated tomato knife; spoon, small rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b026bded704b0200cCook's Note: I'm a lover of potato salad, but, when a hankering for it hits, I don't want to waste a lot of time getting from point A to point B. I want potato salad ASAP. For that reason, this is my "go to" recipe -- it's nothing fancy, but, it's done within the hour (and in potato salad time, that's quick).  There's more. While the potatoes are in the microwave, I often chop some additions (celery, onion and/or hard-cooked egg), and mix them in, but, I'm here to tell you, this quick-fix potato salad, pure and simple, tastes great just as it is. Try my ~ My Dijonnaisse-Dressed Baked Russet Potato Salad ~.

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

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

07/03/2021

~The Cool History behind the Composed Cobb Salad~

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28e7ab9970cThe Cobb salad, affectionately called the California Cobb, was invented in 1937 at Hollywood's Brown Derby Restaurant by the owner, Robert Cobb.  As the story goes, it's said to have been composed for some hungry late night diners.  Mr. Cobb carefully chose from a variety of uniformly sliced and diced ingredients from the day's fare, arranging them in unusually neat lines atop a bed of lettuce as he plated.  Another tale (of woe) says that Mr. Cobb threw the salad together to satisfy the appetite of a loyal customer to came into the restaurant complaining of a toothache, so, Cobb kindly sliced the ingredients finely, so they wouldn't need to be chewed.  Shortly thereafter, his work-of-art salad became a famous menu item, remaining very much the same to this day.

The ingredients for a classic Cobb salad are very specific.  

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28e2953970cSaid to have been inspired by the chef's salad, a Cobb salad is a "composed salad", meaning, they're pretty-to-look-at, arranged-on-a-plate, high-quality, meals unto themselves -- a perfectly-balanced mixture of color, flavor and texture. That said, while the Cobb and chef salad are both composed, they are distinctly different  In the case of the chef's salad, at the discretion of the chef, a combination of impeccably-fresh vegetables and perfectly-cooked protein(s) get carefully-selected and meticulously sliced, diced, minced, julienned or chiffonade -- it's a cooking lesson.  

In the case of the Cobb salad, the ingredients are quite specific.  It starts with a lettuce mixture, typically, iceberg, romaine and a few bitter greens too, which dramatically afters the flavor profile of the salad, making it much more interesting.  While poached or roasted chicken breast is classic, ham is sometimes substituted, and crisply-fried bacon always makes an appearance. Other must-haves are: hard-cooked egg, avocado, tomato, and, blue or roquefort cheese.  Buttery croutons add the crunch and a red-wine vinaigrette (no creamy dressing) pulls it all together.

For a fun twist, try my Open-Faced Sandwich-Style Cobb salad:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28e3f4b970cCheck out The Cool History behind the Composed Chef Salad:

IMG_2218"We are all in the food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyrigh 20201)

06/30/2021

~ The Cool History behind the Composed Chef Salad ~

IMG_2221A restaurant that serves a great chef's salad for lunch is a restaurant I will frequent.  Like Seinfeld's Elaine, I like a big salad, and I don't mean a big bowl of lettuce.  I mean a lot of perfectly-cooked good stuff in it, right down to more-than-a-few crunchy, buttery-rich croutons on top.  The chef's salad is exactly that salad -- it's not served before the meal or after the meal, it is the meal.  The chef salad is a "composed salad", meaning, it is a pretty-to-look-at, arranged-on-a-plate, high-quality, salad -- a perfectly-balanced mixture of color, flavor and texture.  At the discretion of the chef, one or a combination of impeccably-fresh and perfectly-cooked proteinss (via poaching, simmering, boiling, marinating, roasting, broiling, baking, grilling, etc.) get carefully-selected and meticulously sliced, diced or minced, pulled, julienned or chiffonade.

The chef salad = an artfully composed salad full of carefully-selected, impeccably-fresh, high-quality ingredients.  

IMG_2218Historically, the chef salad was the precursor to a 17th Century protein-packed meal called salmagundi.  It consisted of cooked meat, poultry or fish, various cheeses, fresh, blanched or marinated vegetables, cooked eggs and/or toasted nuts or seeds, served on a bed of greens with a vinaigrette.  Although historians are unclear as to the recipe origin of the salad, they generally agree that is was popularized when Chef Louis Diat of The Ritz-Carlton hotel in New York City put his protein-packed version of it on the menu in the 1940's, which included julienne strips of turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, wedges of hard-cooked egg and a creamy salad dressing.

Try my version of my favorite smoked-turkey chef's salad:

IMG_2220Or, try my Buffalo-chicken chef w/RedHot Ranch & Croutons:

6a0120a8551282970b02788035b72e200dAnd it's always the right time to enjoy a classic hoagie chef:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09dd9d66970d-800wiCheck out The Cool History behind the Composed Cobb Salad:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28e7ab9970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

06/27/2021

~ Pack a Picnic-Basket w/Boxed Turkey Chef Salads ~

IMG_2070I might not be an outdoor kinda gal, but, I do enjoy an occasional picnic, if it's a Hallmark Card kinda day.  That said, if I'm the one in charge of the food, I'm not one to traipse around the great outdoors carrying a basket full of food containers that are gonna cause me a whole lot of cleanup when I get back home.  When I pack a picnic, boxed lunches are my way of enjoying the day and the return trip.  There's more.  It's doesn't matter what I'm making and taking, everyone gets a bit of everything portioned into one container just for them -- boxed up, beautiful, and ready-to-eat.

I fell in love with the chef salad in September of 1974.  I had just moved to Happy Valley in August, and, my first friend, a gal I worked with, invited me to lunch, at the now defunct Autoport on South Atherton Street.  "Try their turkey chef salad", Sally said.  A short few minutes later, two big rimmed-bowls arrived, and, atop the requisite lettuce, they were full of goodies: strips of turkey breast and Swiss cheese, hard-cooked egg wedges, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, and, diced onions.  There's more.  Every salad came with a warm, mini-loaf of house-baked bread and a crock of honey butter.  For decades, every time I invited a friend to lunch, I took him or her there.

The chef salad = an artfully composed salad full of carefully-selected, impeccably-fresh, high-quality ingredients.

IMG_2073A restaurant that serves a great chef's salad for lunch is a restaurant I will frequent.  Like Seinfeld's Elaine, I like a big salad, light on the lettuce with a lot of perfectly-cooked good stuff in it, right down to more-than-a-few crunchy, buttery-rich croutons on top.  The chef's salad is a "composed salad", meaning, it is a pretty-to-look-at, arranged-on-a-plate, high-quality, meal unto itself -- a perfectly-balanced mixture of color, flavor and texture.  At the discretion of the chef, a combination of impeccably-fresh and perfectly-cooked ingredients (via poaching, simmering, boiling, marinating, roasting, broiling, baking, grilling, etc.) get carefully-selected and meticulously sliced, diced or minced, pulled, julienned or chiffonade.  Historically, the chef salad was the precursor to a 17th Century protein-packed meal called salmagundi.  It consisted of cooked meat, poultry or fish, various cheeses, fresh, blanched or marinated vegetables, cooked eggs and/or toasted nuts or seeds, served on a bed of greens with a vinaigrette.  Chef Louis Diat of The Ritz is credited for popularizing it in the 1940's.

The chef salad = a cold, refreshing meal unto itself.  Chef salads are perfect for boxing up to serve out of a picnic basket!

IMG_2184For each salad

2-3  ounces your favorite creamy salad dressing (Note:  I like to use Chick-Fil-A sauce, as it has a smoky flavor which pairs well with smoked turkey breast.

5  ounces torn iceberg lettuce leaves

1  ounce Spring mix greens

3  ounces peeled and thin-sliced  seedless cucumber, (about 16 slices)

2  small Campari tomatoes, each cut into 4 wedges (a total of 8 wedges)

1  extra-large egg, hard-cooked, peeled and sliced into 6 wedges

1 1/2-2   ounces very-thin-sliced red onion

4-5  ounces julienne of smoked turkey breast per salad -- scattered atop the red onion (Note:  I use Boar's Head PitCraft Slow-Smoked Turkey Breast.  It's smoked with real mesquite wood chips to give it a real pit-smoked flavor and seasoned with an authentic dry rub that consists of paprika, brown sugar and Mexican chilies, including Guajillo Peppers.)

2-3  ounces julienne of American cheese

12-16   croutons, store-bought or homemade (Note:  I like to use butter-and-garlic flavored croutons.)

IMG_2190 IMG_2190 IMG_2190~Step 1.  To assemble each chef's salad, in a main-dish sized food storage container (with a tight-fitting lid), in the following order, place a sealed condiment-cup containing 2 1/2-3 ounces creamy salad dressing. Place the torn iceberg lettuce and Spring mix in the container and briefly toss the two together. Arrange the cucumber slices around the entire perimeter of the container.  Slice the tomatoes into 4 wedges each and arrange them, spacing them, around the perimeter, then, slice the hard-cooked egg into 6 wedges and arrange the egg wedges in between the tomatoes. 

IMG_2204 IMG_2204 IMG_2204 IMG_2204~Step 2.  Slice the red onion as directed and scatter it atop the lettuce mixture.  Julienne the smoked turkey breast, scattering it atop the onion, then, julienne the American cheese and scatter it atop the smoked turkey.  Close the box and refrigerate for 2-4-6-8 hours.  Open the container and scatter  the croutons evenly over all.  Serve immediately.

Crispy, crunchy, cold & creamy main-dish salad perfection:

IMG_2086Pack a Picnic-Basket w/Boxed Turkey Chef Salads:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many hearty, boxed lunch, main-dish salads as you want to.

Special Equipment List: main-dish size food storage containers w/tight-fitting lids, 3-ounce size condiment cups w/tight-fitting lids; cutting board; chef's knife, vegetable peeler; serrated tomato knife;

6a0120a8551282970b026bde9d871b200cCook's Note: In my food world, if I could conjure up the ideal, somewhat-healthy, girly pub-grub menu item, it would be a chef's-type Buffalo-style-chicken salad.  It would be served to me while sitting in my favorite sportsbar, in front of a straight-out-of-the-tap frosty brew with a college football game on the flatscreen.  Nothing fancy, just a bowl full of crisp lettuce, diced carrots and sliced celery tossed with salty blue cheese crumbles and topped with strips of thin-sliced Boar's Head, Blazing Buffalo-style chicken, plus, crunchy, Buffalo-spiced croutons.  There's more.  When it comes to dressing my salad, it's got to be full of RedHot Buffalo wing-sauce flavor blended with the creamy-dreamy coolness that only Hidden Valley Ranch dressing can offer -- the best of both worlds.  Try my "girly pub grub" version of ~ Buffalo-Chicken Chef w/RedHot Ranch & Croutons ~.

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

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

06/24/2021

~The Sizzling History behind Fajitas (Tacos al Carbon)~

IMG_2053Fajitas were originally named tacos-al-carbon and were served as portable food, ready-to-eat-with-the-hands, by wrapping strips of unpretentious skirt steak that had been cooked over a campfire or on a grill, in a warm corn or flour tortilla, meaning they were served taco-style.  "Faja" is the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", and, with "ita" added to the end, it means "a little strip, band, sash or belt", meaning the ingredients for fajitas are always cut into strips.

The dish dates back to cattle ranching life along the Rio Grande Valley regions of the Texas-Mexico border in the 1930's.  Throwaway items (heads, entrails and meat trimmings) were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay, resulting in some of the first Tex-Mex border dishes: barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak).  Because of the limited number of skirts per animal, the meat wasn't available for sale, so, for years it remained obsure to all except the vaqueros, butchers and their families.

Fahitas transition from tortillas to sizzling plates in 1969: 

6a0120a8551282970b02788030868b200dFajitas made their first commercial debut in September 1969 when Sonny Falcon, an Austin meat market manager opened a taco concession in rural Kyle.  The same year, Otilia Garza began selling them in her Round-Up Restaurant in Pharr, only she presented hers on a sizzling platter with warm flour tortillas, condiments and cheese to the side -- so everyone could make their own.  In 1973, Nifa Rodrigues Laurenzo opened Nifa's in Houston and sold his prewrapped "tacos al carbon" called "tacos al la Nifa". 

Thanks to folks like Sonny, Otilia and Nifa, fajitas did gain in popularity, slowly spreading via rodeos, fairs and festivals into the surrounding Southwestern states of Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, but, national attention didn't come to the fajita until 1982.  George Weidmann, a very creative chef at the fancy-schmancy Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin, recognized the potential for putting a home-grown Tex-Mex dish on his menu.  He, like Otilia, put panache into his presentation, by serving them on sizzling, attention-grabbing cast-iron skillets.  Thanks to George, this now trendy dish was put on Hyatt Regency menus almost everywhere, and, that is when and how I caught fajita-fever (in their Century Plaza restaurant in Los Angeles).  Before long, to please the palates of the clientele, thin strips of boneless chicken were offered as an option to beef.

Try my recipe for One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken Fajita Filling:

IMG_1936Try my Wrapped and Rolled Cheesy Chicken-Fajita Burritos:

IMG_2148Try my Nacho Mama's Sheet-Pan Chicken-Fajitas Nachos too:

IMG_2020 2"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

06/20/2021

~Wrapped and Rolled Cheesy Chicken-Fajita Burritos~

IMG_2148A fajita-burrito has its origins in Mexico and features the best of two South-of-the border worlds -- all those luscious strips of well-seasoned grilled or sautéd chicken or steak, bell peppers and onions that go into fajitas, wrapped-and-rolled, burrito-style, in a large, warm flour tortilla that's been slathered with refried beans and scattered with a layer of Spanish-style rice and shredded cheese.  The outcome is indeed the best of two worlds and, there's no need for embellishments either.  Hold the guacamole, sour cream and/or salsa.  Pick 'em up 'cause they're ready-to-eat.

No need for embellishments.  Pick 'em up -- they're ready to eat:

IMG_2161The "burrito", or: "the food from the little donkey"!

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4463726200cA bit about burritos:  A burrito is a portable sandwich found in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.  It consists of a large flour tortilla that has been wrapped or folded to fully encase a filling. Before serving, it gets lightly-grilled or steamed, to soften the tortilla.  Refried beans, Mexican rice and meat (or a meat mixture) are typically the only fillings used, and, burritos are served unembellished, in order for them to be eaten with the hands.   In Spanish, "burrito" means "little donkey", coming from the word "burro", which means "donkey".  

During the Mexican Revolution (1910-1921), in the El Paso area, a street-food vendor named Juan Mendez sold tacos at his street stand.  Because of the war, for safety sake, it became necessary to continually pack up and move his stand/street-cart from place to place.  He began using his donkey to transport him and his food.  In order to keep the food warm as it traveled, Juan had the idea of wrapping it in large flour tortillas.  His food invention became so popular, consumers began traveling to him from other places around the Mexican border in search of:

The "fajita", or: "faja" & "ita", meaning "little strips"!

6a0120a8551282970b026bdedb2eca200cA bit about fajitas:  Originally named tacos-al-carbon, fajitas were served as portable food, ready-to-eat-with-the-hands, by wrapping strips of unpretentious skirt steak that had been cooked over a campfire or on a grill, in a warm corn or flour tortilla, meaning they were served taco-style.  "Faja" is the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", and, with "ita" added to the end, it means "a little strip, band, sash or belt", meaning the ingredients for fajitas are always cut into strips.

The dish dates back to cattle ranching life along the Rio Grande Valley regions of the Texas-Mexico border in the 1930's.  Throwaway items (heads, entrails and meat trimmings) were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay, resulting in some of the first Tex-Mex border dishes: barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak).  Because of the limited number of skirts per animal, the meat wasn't available for sale, so, for years it remained obsure to all except the vaqueros, butchers and their families.

Burritos + fajitas = a crowd-pleasing Tex-Mex family-favorte!

IMG_2087For each burrito:

1, 9 1/2" round burrito-size flour tortilla

1/2  cup refried beans or refried bean dip

3/4  cup prepared fajita-seasoned rice, or, Mexican-style adobo rice, my recipe or your favorite boxed Spanish-style rice mix

1/2-3/4 cup prepared chicken fajita filling, my recipe or your favorite recipe

1/4  cup shredded white cheddar cheese

IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2115 2 IMG_2115 2 IMG_2115 2~Step 1.  To assemble each fajita burrito, place one tortilla on a flat work surface.  Using a butter knife, spread the beans or bean dip to within 1/2" of the perimeter of the tortilla.  Scatter the Mexican rice atop the beans, and, using fingertips, gently pat rice into beans (this will keep the rice in place when wrapping and rolling the burritos).  Carefully spoon and mound the chicken-fajita filling (atop the rice) in a long strip across the center.  Place the cheese atop and along the strip of chicken-fajita filling.

IMG_2122 2 IMG_2122 2 IMG_2122 2 IMG_2122 2 IMG_2135 2~Step 2.  To wrap, roll and heat burritos, lift the side of the tortilla closest to you up and over the fajita filling -- far enough so it wraps all the way around the filling.  Pick up left and right sides of tortilla and fold them atop the filling.  Roll the tortilla over, seam side down, to fully encase and secure the filling in a tight roll.   Transfer each burrito to a plate, or, place all of the burritos on a platter.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Reheat in microwave 1-1 1/2 minutes.

When ready to eat, heat one or all of them.  Serve for lunch, dinner or a very special late night snack attack:

IMG_2156That's a Wrap, try my ~Cheesy Flank-Steak Fajita Burritos ~ too:

IMG_2503Wrapped & Rolled Cheesy Chicken-Fajita Burritos:  Recipe yields enough ingredients to make 12 large burritos

Special Equipment List:  butter knife, hand-held box grater, slotted spoon, plastic wrap 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a46f8c09200dCook's Note: Inform the family chili is simmering on the stovetop -- you won't have to call them twice to dinner.  Tell the family you're making chili-cheese burritos for dinner -- you won't have to call them at all.  They'll be sitting around the table waiting. Once assembled, if individually wrapped in plastic or foil, they're great to take to school or the office. They reheat perfectly in the microwave or in the oven, and for tailgate, I reheat the foil-wrapped packets on hot grill grids.  The chili-cheese burrito is how one gets to eat chili in a sandwich.  Try my recipe ~ That's a Wrap:  Big Beautiful Chili Cheese Burritos ~.

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

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

06/16/2021

~ Nacho Mama's Sheet-Pan Chicken-Fajitas Nachos ~

IMG_2025Spicy fajitas and cheesy nachos.  Together.  Carefully layered on top of each other on a sheet pan.  Yes, a sheet pan.  Why?  Because nachos require a perfect ratio of cheese-to-toppings on each chip and the sheet pan provides the surface area needed to accomplish that.  Nothing is sadder than picking up a cheesy nacho to find no goodies on top of it, or worse, picking up a nacho chip overloaded with goodies to the point they all slide off onto the plate or your lap. 

Research has revealed that nachos made their debut in Northern Mexico in the 1940's when a large group of hungry servicemen wandered into a restaurant where Ignacio Anaya was cooking. The savvy chef quickly threw some cheese over a big pan of leftover tortillas.  When it emerged from the broiler, he scattered his creation with jalapeño peppers.  When he presented the soldiers with his group-sized appetizer, after devouring it, they took it upon themselves to spread the word. Popularity came fast, and, along the way, nachos acquired an assortment of toppings.

Nachos need a perfect ratio of cheese to toppings on each chip.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4907b77200bThat's easy.  That's what I said, until I watched Alton Brown (on The Food Network) make nachos, and, from him I learned how to build better nachos. First, he used a sheet pan to increase the surface area so the tortilla chips can sprawl out (no more crowding them in a 13" x 9" casserole for me).  Second, he took ample time to top them, almost one chip at a time, to make sure that every chip had the perfect ratio of cheese to toppings.  Once you do it his way once, there's no going back.

Building better nachos, one tortilla chip at a time.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a46bde46200dIn my kitchen, nachos aren't always a snack.  Sometimes they're a meal. When I serve 'em as a snack, I make them on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheet pan that's been covered with foil and a sheet of parchment -- so cleanup is a snap.  When I serve 'em as a meal, I make 'em the same way, but, layer them in my oven-safe ceramic skillets -- a bit of cleanup, but a great presentation. One sheet pan feeds 6-8 people snacks. The same ingredients feed four as a main-dish in four 6 1/2"-7" skillets.

Make your dinner & a movie night special w/fajitas nachos:

IMG_195430  5"-round fresh corn tortillas (about 1 pound, 4 ounces), deep-fried as directed below, or, 1, 16-ounce bag store-bought restaurant-style corn tortilla chips

1  pound (16  ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 6 cups)

2  9-ounce cans refried bean dip

3-3 1/2  cups my recipe for One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken Fajita Filling, warmed slightly in the microwave (Note:  All fajita filling is not created equal. My recipe is full of lightly-pounded chicken paillards, bell peppers,  onion, and, seasoned with my own fajita seasoning blend.)

1  cup spicy avocado crema, a 2-3 minute task to process mixture of 1 cup mashed, ripe Hass avocado (store-bought Wholly Guacamole may be substituted) with 6 tablespoons Mexican crema or sour cream, and, 1-2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce

1  cup Mexican crema or sour cream

6a0120a8551282970b0240a442d4f2200c 6a0120a8551282970b0240a4909106200b 6a0120a8551282970b0240a46bf15a200d 6a0120a8551282970b0240a46bf160200d~Step 1. To deep-fry fresh tortillas, divide tortillas into two stacks and cut each stack into six wedges.  Heat corn or peanut oil in deep-fryer, according to the manufacturer's specifications, to 375º.  When the deep fryer is ready:  Fry 2 stacks (two sixths) of the tortilla triangles for 40-45 seconds.  Chips will be lightly-browned and puffed in spots. Transfer to a large baking pan that's been lined with 3-4 layers of paper towels. Using a spatula, quickly and randomly separate the chips into a single layer and lightly salt their tops ASAP.  Repeat process 5 more times.

IMG_1958 IMG_1958 IMG_1958 IMG_1958 IMG_1972~Step 2.  To assemble the nachos, line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with aluminum foil, then, place a piece of parchment paper in the bottom. Arrange chips across the bottom of pan, in a semi-single layer, allowing them to overlap and double-up occasionally.  Scatter about two-thirds (4 cups) of the shredded Monterey Jack cheese over the surface of the tortilla chips.  By teaspoonfuls, drop blotches of refried bean dip over the Jack cheese.  Scatter the chicken fajita mixture over the entire surface, followed by the remaining shredded cheese.

IMG_1978 IMG_1978 IMG_1978~Step 3.  To bake and garnish the nachos, place on center rack of 350º oven and bake until Jack cheese is melted and shows bubbly signs of light-browning, 6-7 minutes. Remove from oven.  Without hesitation decoratively drizzle with the avocado crema and Mexican crema or sour cream.  Serve ASAP.

Place pan on table or cocktail table & get out the napkins:

IMG_2020

A perfect ratio of chips & cheese-to-toppings?  You judge!

IMG_2026Nacho Mama's Sheet-Pan Chicken-Fajitas Nachos:  Recipe yields 6-8 snack-size servings/4 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; deep-fryer (optional); hand-held box grater; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheet pan or 6, 8" oven-safe ceramic skillets; aluminum foil; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b0240a47f922d200cCook's Note: Nowadays, the tortilla chip, just like the pizza crust, can be used as a foil for all sorts of creative takes on traditional Tex-Mex-style nachos. Anything that can be adapted to make a pizza can be transitioned to nachos: Philly cheesesteak nachos, Cincinnati chili nachos, Carolina pulled-pork nachos, Jamaican jerk nachos, etc. Simply pick one innocuous cheese with great melting qualities (Monterey Jack is my choice), then, season the protein accordingly and pick the toppings, meaning, stick to the flavor profile.  No one is surprised by fusion-food nachos -- they just can't wait to try 'em: ~ Nacho Mama's Buffalo Chicken Sheet-Pan Nachos ~

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

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

06/13/2021

~Kids-Stuff One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken-Fajita Filling~

IMG_1936Tacos and fajitas.  Akin to Cheeseburgers and pizza, I can't much conjure up four more kid-friendly meals.  That said, if you're a mom or dad attempting to get your kids to eat more vegetables, it goes without saying, fajitas are an argument-free way way to get the job done. If you're a mom or dad trying to cut some fat out of your life, chicken fajitas will accomplish that too. There's more.  If you've got a big family to feed or the need to feed a crowd, simply do the math and double the quantities.  In about the same amount of time, voila: the hungry mob is fed.  

Savory, succulent, in one skillet & ready to eat in 30-40 minutes:

IMG_1797For the chicken & seasonings:

6  large (about 2 1/2-3 pounds) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, lightly-pounded into paillards

2-3  tablespoons vegetable oil

3  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or, a favorite store-bought seasoning mix, about 3 tablespoons (1, 1-ounce envelope store-bought)

a sprinkling of ground cumin

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt 

For the vegetables & seasonings:

3  cups 1/4"-thick sliced yellow or sweet onion, slices cut into half-moon shapes

1  1/2  cups each, julienne of:  green, red, orange and yellow bell pepper

3  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or a favorite store-bought seasoning mix (1, 1-ounce envelope store-bought)

a sprinkling of ground cumin 

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt

IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1822~Step 1.  To season and cook chicken on first side, heat the oil in a 16" electric skillet over low heat.  Add the chicken paillards to the skillet. Liberally season the top side with half of the fajita seasoning (1 1/2 tablespoons), followed by a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin, followed by a very-light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt.  Increase skillet temperature to 225°.  Sauté the chicken until nicely-golden on the bottom, about 6-7 minutes.

IMG_1824 IMG_1824 IMG_1824 IMG_1824 IMG_1842~Step 2.  Using a fork or a spatula, flip the chicken over.  To season and cook the chicken on the second side, repeat the seasoning process on the second side, and, sauté until golden on the bottom, another 6-7 minutes. Flip the chicken over one more time and cook for 1 additional minute. Turn the heat off.  Remove the chicken from the skillet (leaving all of the flavorful pan drippings in the bottom.  Slice the chicken into very thin strips and set aside.

IMG_1844 IMG_1844 IMG_1844 IMG_1844 IMG_1857 IMG_1857 IMG_1857~Step 3.  Add all of the onions and bell peppers to the chicken drippings in the skillet, spreading them out across the surface of the bottom of pan.  Season the vegetables by sprinkling them with all of the fajita seasoning, a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin, and, a very-light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt. Using two large slotted spoons, give the mixture a thorough stir. Adjust the heat to 225° and sauté the vegetables until crunch-tender, about 3-4 minutes.  Add all of the chicken strips, give the mixture a thorough stir and continue to cook until chicken is just heated through, about 1 minute. Turn the heat off.  Transfer chicken/veggie mixture to a large bowl.  Serve immediately.

Serve immediately w/warm flour tortillas & lime wedges:

IMG_1864Kid-friendly, adult-friendly, crowd-friendly goodness:

IMG_1940Kids-Stuff One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken-Fajita Filling:  Recipe yields 6 cups fajita filling/enough to fill 24, 5 1/2"-round flour tortillas.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; flat-sided meat mallet; 16" electric skillet w/lid; fork; large spatula; 2 large slotted spoons

IMG_1913Cook's Note: Fajitas were originally named tacos-al-carbon and were served ready-to-eat-with-the-hands, by wrapping strips of unpretentious skirt steak that had been cooked over a campfire or on a grill, in a warm corn tortilla, meaning they were served taco-style.  "Faja" is the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", and, with "ita" added to the end, it means "a little strip, band, sash or belt", meaning the ingredients for fajitas are always cut into strips.  Try some of my ~ Tex-Mex Skinny Chicken-Fajita Corn-Tortilla Tacos ~ too.

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

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

06/10/2021

~ Tex-Mex Skinny Chicken-Fajita Corn-Tortilla Tacos ~

IMG_1879 2Fajitas were originally named tacos-al-carbon and were served as portable food, ready-to-eat-with-the-hands, by wrapping strips of unpretentious skirt steak that had been cooked over a campfire or on a grill, in a warm corn or flour tortilla, meaning they were served taco-style.  "Faja" is the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", and, with "ita" added to the end, it means "a little strip, band, sash or belt", meaning the ingredients for fajitas are always cut into strips.

The dish dates back to cattle ranching life along the Rio Grande Valley regions of the Texas-Mexico border in the 1930's.  Throwaway items (heads, entrails and meat trimmings) were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay, resulting in some of the first Tex-Mex border dishes: barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak).  Because of the limited number of skirts per animal, the meat wasn't available for sale, so, for years it remained obsure to all except the vaqueros, butchers and their families.

IMG_1873Fahitas transition from taco shells to sizzling plates in 1969: 

6a0120a8551282970b01a73defa9f9970dFajitas made their first commercial debut in September 1969 when Sonny Falcon, an Austin meat market manager opened a taco concession in rural Kyle.  The same year, Otilia Garza began selling them in her Round-Up Restaurant in Pharr, only she presented hers on a sizzling platter with warm flour tortillas, condiments and cheese to the side -- so everyone could make their own.  In 1973, Nifa Rodrigues Laurenzo opened Nifa's in Houston and sold his prewrapped "tacos al carbon" called "tacos al la Nifa". 

Thanks to folks like Sonny, Otilia and Nifa,  fajitas did gain in popularity, slowly spreading via rodeos, fairs and festivals into the surrounding Southwestern states of Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, but, national attention didn't come to the fajita until 1982.  George Weidmann, a very creative chef at the fancy-schmancy Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin, recognized the potential for putting a home-grown Tex-Mex dish on his menu.  He, like Otilia, put panache into his presentation, by serving them on sizzling, attention-grabbing cast-iron skillets.  Thanks to George, this now trendy dish was put on Hyatt Regency menus almost everywhere, and, that is when and how I caught fajita-fever (in their Century Plaza restaurant in Los Angeles).  Before long, to please the palates of the clientele, thin strips of boneless chicken were offered as an option to beef.    

IMG_1895 2Fajitas -- easy-to-make Tex-Mex fare that any home cook can make better than any drive-thru or restaurant, anywhere, anytime.

IMG_1797For the chicken & seasonings:

6  large (about 2 1/2-3 pounds) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, lightly-pounded into paillards

2-3  tablespoons vegetable oil

3  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or, a favorite store-bought seasoning mix, about 3 tablespoons (1, 1-ounce envelope store-bought)

a sprinkling of ground cumin

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt 

For the vegetable medley & seasonings:

3  cups 1/4"-thick sliced yellow or sweet onion, slices cut into half-moon shapes

1  1/2  cups each, julienne of:  green, red, orange and yellow bell pepper

3  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or a favorite store-bought seasoning mix (1, 1-ounce envelope store-bought)

a sprinkling of ground cumin 

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt

IMG_1867For the assembly:

24  5 1/2"-round fresh corn tortillas, formed into taco shells & lightly deep-fried in corn or peanut oil for 28 seconds each

all of the cooked & seasoned meat/vegetable mixture, prepared as directed below

avocado crema (a mixture of puréed avocado, Mexican crema & Sriracha sauce), for garnish

IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1815 IMG_1815~Step 1.  To season and cook chicken on first side, heat the oil in a 16" electric skillet over low heat.  Add the chicken paillards to the skillet. Liberally season the top side with half of the fajita seasoning (1 1/2 tablespoons), followed by a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin, followed by a very-light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt.  Increase skillet temperature to 225°.  Sauté the chicken until nicely-golden on the bottom, about 6-7 minutes.  

IMG_1824 IMG_1824 IMG_1824 IMG_1842 IMG_1842~Step 2.  Using a fork or a spatula, flip the chicken over.  To season and cook the chicken on the second side, repeat the seasoning process on the second side, and, sauté until golden on the bottom, another 6-7 minutes. Flip the chicken over one more time and cook for 1 additional minute. Turn the heat off.  Remove the chicken from the skillet (leaving all of the flavorful pan drippings in the bottom.  Slice the chicken into very thin strips and set aside.

IMG_1842 IMG_1844 IMG_1845 IMG_1845 IMG_1845 IMG_1857 IMG_1857 IMG_1857~Step 3.  Add all of the onions and bell peppers to the chicken drippings in the skillet, spreading them out across the surface of the bottom of pan.  Season the vegetables by sprinkling them with all of the fajita seasoning, a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin, and, a very-light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt.  Using two large slotted spoons, give the mixture a thorough stir. Adjust the heat to 225° and sauté the vegetables until crunch-tender, about 3-4 minutes.  Add all of the chicken strips, give the mixture a thorough stir and continue to cook until chicken is just heated through, about 1 minute.  Turn heat off.  Transfer chicken/veggie mixture to a large bowl.

IMG_1913~ Step 4.  Using a large slotted spoon, portion the hot chicken-vegetable mixture into up to 24, 6" taco shells.  That said, do not fill any more taco shells than your expecting your family or friends to eat at one sitting.  Drizzle some avocado crema atop each filled taco and serve immediately.  Store leftover chicken-vegetable filling in the refrigerator (I do not recommend freezing) for up to 2-3 days and reheat gently in the microwave.

Of course you want a drizzle of avocado crema on these fajitas:

IMG_1896Tex-Mex Skinny Chicken-Fajita Corn-Tortilla Tacos:  Recipe yields 24 5 1/2"-round chicken-fajita tacos.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; flat-sided meat mallet; 16" electric skillet w/lid; fork; large spatula; 2 large slotted spoons

6a0120a8551282970b01bb092a1480970dCook's Note: Elote (ay-loht) is the Spanish word for "corn", and in Mexico, it typically references a very special street-snack food:  grilled corn-on-the cob slathered in a crema and chili-powder and lime-laced sauce, then sprinkled with crumbled cotija cheese.  Street vendors typically pull back the husk but leave it attached, remove all of the silk, return the husk to its original position, secure it at the open end with twine and place it over hot coals. In home kitchens, it's common to remove the husks and simply place the cobs on a the grill to char.  For the perfect side to your fajitas, try my recipe for ~ Classic Grilled Mexican Sweet Street Corn (Elotes) ~.

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

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

06/07/2021

~Caramelized Onion, Gruyère & Dijonnaise Omelette~

IMG_1787As a bigger fan of fluffy American-style omelettes vs skinny French omelettes, and, as an advocate for savory breakfasts over cloyingly-sweet breakfasts, this egg-cellent caramelized onion-stuffed cheese omelette is one of my favorite ways to break the fast -- it tastes every bit as good as it looks  There's more.  It pairs perfectly with a bloody Mary for breakfast (no orange or grapefruit juice with this omelette please), a glass of wine for lunch, or, a pilsner of beer for dinner.

IMG_1630 2Caramelized onions seem to slip through the cracks when many of us are pondering breakfast. Trust me when I tell you, eggs love caramelized onions.  While I adore them in an omelette, they're excellent mixed into a frittata, layered into a quiche, or, folded into scrambled eggs too. it does take a bit of time and patience (not energy) to properly caramelize  onions, about 40 minutes, but, on average, that's how long it takes onions to properly caramelize on the stovetop.

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

IMG_1724For each omelette:

3  large eggs, preferably at room temperature

1/4  cup cream or half-and-half

2  tablespoons Dijonaisse, (Note: My recipe for Dijonaisse is a mixture of mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, dehydrated minced garlic, dehydrated minced onion, and, coarse-grind black pepper.

1/2  cup shredded gruyère cheese

1/2  cup caramelized onions

2  teaspoons salted butter

For the optional accompaniment:

1  medium handful mixed Spring greens

6-8  cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters or sliced into coins

IMG_1731 IMG_1731~Step 1. Crack the large eggs into a 1-cup measuring container and add enough cream or half-and-half to total 3/4 cups total liquid (about 4 tablespoons).  Add the Dijonnaise.  Use a fork to whisk vigorously, until thoroughly combined.

IMG_1735 IMG_1735 IMG_1735 IMG_1743 IMG_1743~Step 2.  In an 8" nonstick skillet, melt butter over low heat.  When butter has melted, use the fork to briefly rewhisk egg mixture, then pour it into the warmed skillet. By patiently manually lifting, lowering, and tilting the pan on and off the heat, allow eggs to set up a bit around the sides of the skillet -- about 45 seconds over low heat w/no pressure to rush.

IMG_1751 IMG_1751 IMG_1751~Step 3.  Increase heat to medium.  In various spots around the entire perimeter of the skillet, slip a thin spatula under the setting eggs.  In each of those spots use the spatula to lift the eggs up, while, at the same time, tilting the pan in the direction of the spatula to allow the remaining liquid to flow down and into the setting eggs -- about 45 seconds over medium heat w/no pressure to rush.  The surface of the omelette should be semi-moist and glistening with no liquid or little liquid puddling on the top

IMG_1760 IMG_1760 IMG_1760 IMG_1760 IMG_1786~Step 4.  Decrease the heat to low.  Scatter the Gruyère cheese, in a half-moon shape, over half of the omelette, then, scatter the caramelized onions atop the cheese.  Give cheese about 45 seconds to soften over low heat with no pressure to rush.  Using a large spatula, lift the empty side of the omelette up and over the cheesy side of the omelette.  Allow the omelette to rest in the pan about 45 seconds.  With the aid of a wide spatula, gently slide omelette from skillet to plate and serve immediately with the Spring mix and tomatoes.  

Transfer to plate & serve w/Spring mix & tomatoes:

IMG_1774Caramelized Onion, Gruyère & Dijonnaise Omelette:  Recipe yields instructions to make one hearty omelette/1-2 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; fork; hand-held box grater; 8" nonstick skillet; large thin spatula; large wide spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a48937be200dCook's Note: I declare:  I love briny tapenade in an omelete as much as I like caramelized onions in an omelette.  Throw in a few salty crumbles of feta cheese, place it on a bed of bright green baby arugula or baby spinach leaves and garnish with a few diced tomatoes.  Toast goes nicely, but there's no need for bacon or sausage with this any-time-of-the-day meal.  Life in the 'burbs with this omelet in it is very, very good.  ~ Mediterranean-Style Olive Tapenade & Feta Omelette ~.

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

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

06/04/2021

~ My Dijonaisse-Dressed Baked Russet Potato Salad ~

IMG_1689I'm a lover of potato salad, and, when a hankering for it hits, I don't want to waste a lot of time getting from point A to point B, meaning, I want potato salad, aka as quickly as possible. For that reason, this is my "go to" recipe --  it's nothing fancy, but, it's done within the hour (and in potato salad time, that's quick).  There's more.  While the potatoes are in the microwave oven baking, I often chop some optional additions (celery, onion and/or hard-cooked egg), and mix them in too, but, I'm here to tell you, this quick-fix potato salad, pure and simple, tastes great just as it is.

Do we need another potato salad recipe in a long line of potato salad recipes?  You betcha.  This one is one more to love:

6a0120a8551282970b0264e2e2ff8f200dThe cook in every family has a favorite potato salad recipe. From my Eastern European heritage family, in my repertoire, Classic Creamy Potato and Egg SaladBaked Russet-Potato Salad, Red Potato Salad w/Horseradish-Mayonnaise, and, Vintage Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier, are amongst my family's favorites. That said, unlike almost all of our grandmothers and grandfathers, we of subsequent generations began moving or traveling to different areas of the US and/or started traveling around the world -- we eat globally and regionally, as well as locally. Our pantries contain spices and ingredients from many cultures, and, because potatoes are a great foil for foodie creativity, it should come as no shock to anyone that potato salad has been fused with flavors from other cuisines.  Example:  My Russet & Sweet Potato Salad w/Chile-Lime Mayo, pairs great with almost any Tex-Mex-style grilled chicken, steak or spareribs.

Got a hankering for potato salad?  Ready, set, go:

IMG_1494For my French-style Dijonnaise:

3/4  cup high-quality mayonnaise, Hellmann's or Duke's

6  tablespoons Grey Poupon Dijon mustard

2  generous teaspoons dehydrated minced garlic

2  generous teaspoons dehydrated minced onion

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_1713For the potatoes & optional add-ins:

4  large or 5 medium Russet potatoes, baked in the microwave and chopped as directed below

4-6 large hard-cooked and chopped eggs (optional)

3/4-1  cup diced celery (optional)

1/2-3/4  cup diced yellow or sweet onion (optional)

IMG_1501 IMG_1501 IMG_1501~ Step 1.  Measure and place all ingredients in a 2-cup-size food-storage container.  Stir to combine. While the potatoes are baking in the microwave (about 15 minutes), refrigerate the Dijonnaise --  just to chill it down a bit.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad384d13e200c 6a0120a8551282970b022ad384d147200c 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ca8044200b~ Step 2.  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 to quickly cool the potatoes to below room temperature.  If you want to add any of the optional add-ins, read Step 3.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ca80aa200b 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3aad67c200d 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ca80b1200b 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ca80b6200b 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3aad689200d~Step 3.  The moment the potatoes go into the microwave, now's the time to prep any or all of the optional add-ins. Hard-cook the eggs (either via the blue link to my method or your favorite method) as directed.  Do not overcook the eggs -- everyone detests those greenish-gray halos around overcooked yolks. Peel and dice the eggs into 3/4" bite-sized pieces and set aside.  Dice the celery and onions -- small or medium dice, your choice.  Set aside.

IMG_1716 IMG_1716 IMG_1716~ Step 4.  Place potatoes in a large bowl.  Add the Dijonaisse.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold Dijonaisse into potatoes. Add and fold in any of the optional additions too.  Cover and refrigerate 30-60 minutes.

It's a great cool-down side-dish to Buffalo chicken wings:

IMG_1670And perfect alongside a cheeseburger craving too:

IMG_1647My Dijonaisse-Dressed Baked Russet Potato Salad:  Recipe yields 6-8 cups/6 cups without additions/8 cups with additions/8-10 servings.

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

6a0120a8551282970b02788019d282200dCook's Note: Mom's macaroni salad. This, now retro, 1950's era recipe is nothing fancy, nothing special, and, definitely not gourmet.  It's simply old-fashioned, pull-a-chair-up-to-the-table lip-smacking goodness. There's more, if one keeps this easy--to-make, creamy-crunchy picnic-and-potluck side-dish staple on-hand in their refrigerator, it only takes one scoop from the bowl to a plate to turn anything, from a lunchtime sandwich to a dinnertime pork chop, into a delightful meal. Try ~ Mom's No-Nonsense Elbow Macaroni & Egg Salad ~.

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

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

06/01/2021

~So You'd Like Perfectly Caramelized Onions on That~

IMG_1641Caramelized onions are a marvelous condiment to have on-hand.  They're an awesome topper for a hamburger, steak or cheesesteak, they're wonderful on pizza, and, oh-my-sigh, I love them in a cheese omelette for breakfast. That said, it does take a bit of time and patience (not energy) to properly caramelize  onions, about 40 minutes, but, on average, that's how long it takes onions to properly caramelize on the stovetop, and, after all, one can't serve French onion anything without properly caramelized onions -- quite frankly, they're the star of any French onion show. The words I use to describe the task of caramelizing onions on the stovetop:  a super-easy babysitting job.

6a0120a8551282970b017d3bf9e9ba970c 2Caramelizing onions = a super-easy babysitting job.

6a0120a8551282970b026bded58163200cFor the caramelized onions:

1 pound (after peeling) 1/8"-1/4"-thick-sliced half-moon-shaped sweet onion  

2  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons olive oil

1  teaspoon granulated sugar 

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

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

6a0120a8551282970b0278802d7740200d 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d7740200d 6a0120a8551282970b026bded5823a200c 6a0120a8551282970b026bded5823a200c 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d7772200d 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d7772200d 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d7772200d~Step 1. Peel and slice onions.  Over low heat, in a 12" skillet, melt butter into olive oil.  Add onions to skillet.  Season with sugar and salt.  Using a slotted spoon or spatula, stir until the onions are coated in oil/butter.

6a0120a8551282970b0282e105d4bc200b 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d77b8200d 6a0120a8551282970b026bded58278200c 6a0120a8551282970b0282e105d4c1200b 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d77d2200d 6a0120a8551282970b026bded58289200c 6a0120a8551282970b026bded582a3200c~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 the onions are nicely-browned and truly beginning to caramelize.  Keep going.

6a0120a8551282970b026bded582be200cNote:  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 skip it.  Transfer  the caramelized onions to a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.

You'll love 'em on my Pan-Seared French-Onion Burgers

IMG_1594You'll love 'em in my breakfast, lunch or dinner Caramelized Onion, Gruyère & Dijonaisse Omelette too:

IMG_1787Would You Like Caramelized Onions on the Burger?:  Recipe yields 1 cup caramelized onions.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; large slotted spoon or spatula; paper towels

IMG_1628Cook's Note: As far as mayonnaise-based condiments go, this is the condiment that makes everything taste fancy schmancy in a French kinda way, and, it complements caramelized onions perfectly.  It is sooooo good on sooooo many things.  To name a few: French fries, steamed or grilled vegetables, an ordinary ham or turkey sandwich, and, of course, a mouth-watering cheeseburger.  There's more.  It's great used as a dressing for potato salad.  Make a big batch or a small batch, whatever you need, it's only going to take five minutes.  Try my  ~ Dijonnaise -- Mayonnaise, Dijon Mustard and Spices ~.

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

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

05/29/2021

~Dijonnaise -- Mayonnaise, Dijon Mustard and Spices~

IMG_1628As far as mayonnaise-based condiments go, this is the condiment that makes everything taste fancy schmancy in a French kinda way.  It is sooooo good on sooooo many things.  To name a few: French fries, steamed or grilled vegetables, an ordinary ham or turkey sandwich, and, of course, a mouth-watering cheeseburger.  There's more.  It's great used as a dressing for potato salad.  Make a big batch or a small batch, whatever you need, it's only going to take five minutes.

Make a big batch or a small batch -- whatever you need:

IMG_1494For my French-style Dijonnaise:

6  tablespoons high-quality mayonnaise

3  tablespoons Grey Poupon Dijon mustard

1  generous teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1  generous teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_1501 IMG_1501 IMG_1501~ Step 1.  Measure and place all ingredients in a 1-cup-size food-storage container.  Stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours prior to serving time to allow flavors to marry.  Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Try it on my French Onion Burgers w/Caramelized Onions:

IMG_1594Dijonnaise -- Mayonaise, Dijon Mustard and Spices:  Recipe yields about 3/4 cup.

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

IMG_1239Cook's Note: For me, it's salad season the entire year, however, now that the warm weather has finally arrived, it's real-deal salad season.  I'm talking Summer salads made with a wider variety of higher-quality vegetables from local farmers' markets, and, in the upcoming weeks and months, veggies picked from my own garden.  These are salads I love to serve next to my favorite grilled meats, poultry, and, yes, even seafood...For that reason, I find myself taking the time to scratch-make dressings and vinaigrettes on a regular basis.  For another Dijon-based dressing, try my ~ Sweet & Tangy Honey-Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette ~.

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

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

05/26/2021

~ Pan-Seared French-Onion Burgers with Dijonnaise ~

IMG_1594Easy and decadent?  Yes, decadent.  That's how I describe these cheeseburgers.  Trust me.  All the steps are truly easy -- very, very easy.  That said, it will take a bit of time, not energy, to properly caramelize the onions, about 40 minutes, but, on average, that's how long it takes onions to properly caramelize on the stovetop, and, after all, one can't serve French onion anything without properly caramelized onions -- quite frankly, they're the star of the French onion show. The words I use to describe caramelizing onions on the stovetop:  a super-easy babysitting job.  

IMG_1628As for the contents of envelope of the store-bought French onion soup mix that I (along with many others) fold into the meat mixture, don't leap into the food-snob mindset over the addition this ingredient because, this dry mix really takes the flavor of the burger meat over-the-top, and, the small packet of granulated beef bouillon that I throw in too beefs up the flavor even more.  As for the Gruyère (groo-YAIR) cheese, it's a bit of a splurge price wise, but, as far as cow's milk Swiss cheeses go, this one, with its slightly-nutty flavor, is their premiere melting cheese.  In the case of French onion burgers, I've determined that bigger is better, so, it's 6-ouncers that I make, and, my roll of choice is made of enriched Brioche -- although an onion roll works nicely too.  As for the Dijonnaise, a combination of Dijon mustard, mayonnaise and spices:  it completes this burger-eating experience in true French style.

French onion burgers -- perfect for any Summer get-together:

IMG_1512For the French onion burgers:

1 1/2  pounds 90/10 ground beef

1  envelope French onion soup

1  packet granulated beef bouillon

2  cups shredded Gruyère cheese

3/4  cup Dijonnaise dressing*

1 very large sweet onion*

1 1/2-2  cups baby arugula leaves

4  brioche hamburger buns, toasted or untoasted, your choice

2  tablespoons salted butter + 2  tablespoons olive oil, for pan-searing 'burgers

* Prepare the Dijonnaise, and, slice and caramelize the onion as directed in the recipe below.

IMG_1514 IMG_1514 IMG_1514~ Step 1. In a medium bowl, place the ground beef, along with the contents from the envelope of onion soup mix and the contents from the packet of granulated beef bouillon.  Using your hands, thoroughly incorporate the dry soup mix and the bouillon into the meat.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for about 1 hour or refrigerate for several hours (or overnight), to give the flavors time to marry.  Using a hand-held box grater, shred the cheese.  Cover and refrigerate cheese until assembly time.

IMG_1494For the Dijonnaise:

6  tablespoons high-quality mayonnaise

3  tablespoons Grey Poupon Dijon mustard

1  generous teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1  generous teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_1501 IMG_1501 IMG_1501~ Step 1.  Measure and place all ingredients in a 1-cup-size food-storage container.  Stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours prior to serving time to allow flavors to marry.  Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3cf4c1e200bFor the caramelized onions:

1 pound (after peeling) 1/8"-1/4"-thick-sliced half-moon-shaped sweet onion  

2  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons olive oil

1  teaspoon granulated sugar 

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

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

IMG_7374 IMG_7374 IMG_7374 IMG_7388 IMG_7388 IMG_7388 IMG_7388~Step 1.  Peel and slice onions.  Over low heat, in a 12" skillet, melt butter into olive oil.  Add onions to skillet.  Season with sugar and salt.  Using a slotted spoon or spatula, stir until the onions are coated in oil/butter.  

IMG_7394 2 IMG_7394 2 IMG_7394 2 IMG_7394 2 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 the onions are nicely-browned and truly beginning to caramelize.  Keep going.

IMG_7417Note:  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 skip it.  Transfer  the caramelized onions to a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.

Ready, set, go -- it's time to make French onion cheeseburgers:

IMG_1528 IMG_1528 IMG_1528~ Step 1.  Divide the meat mixture into four equal parts (6 ounces each). Using your hands and fingertips, form, pat and press each part into a 4 1/2"-round disc about 3/4"-thick.  I use a kitchen scale to be sure all four weigh the same.  Common sense says:  Equal weight + even size and thickness = even cooking.

IMG_1540 IMG_1540 IMG_1540 IMG_1548 IMG_1548 IMG_1548 IMG_1548~Step 2.  In the same 12" skillet used to caramelize the onions, melt the 2 tablespoons salted butter into the olive oil over low heat.  Place the burger patties in the skillet.  Increase heat to medium- medium-high and sauté until lightly-golden brown on both sides, about 5 minutes per side, turning only once.

IMG_1572 IMG_1572~ Step 2.  Turn heat under burgers to low. Heap 1/2 cup shredded Gruyère atop each patty and place a lid on the skillet.  Wait a few seconds, 30-45-60, until cheese melts.  Remove burgers from skillet and assemble as directed in next step.

IMG_1562 IMG_1562 IMG_1562 IMG_1578 IMG_1578~Step 3.  Slather a toasted or untoasted Brioche roll (I highly recommend lightly-toasting the roll) on bottom half with some of the Dijonnaise.  Place a handful of baby arugula leaves atop the tangy dressing.  Place a cheeseburger atop the arugula, followed by a generous mound of caramelized onions.  Put the top on and serve immediately.

Take a bite, a big bite -- you won't stop 'till it's gone.  You won't.

IMG_1609Pan-Seared French-Onion Burgers with Dijonnaise:  Recipe yields 4 large cheeseburgers.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup food-storage container w/tight-fitting lid; spoon; plastic wrap; hand-held box grater; plastic wrap; cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet w/lid; large slotted spoon or spatula; paper towels; kitchen scale (optional)

IMG_1490Cook's Note: Rain or shine, Winter or Summer -- I make these potato nuggets often (although, sometimes, I cut them into French fries instead of bite-sized nuggets), and, experience has taught two things:  I can never make enough, and, no one cares that an envelope of store-bought onion soup mix is used. You gotta try these ~ Oven-Roasted French-Onion Gold-Potato Nuggets ~.  Amongst other things, they're the perfect side-dish to today's French onion burgers.

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

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

05/23/2021

~ Oven-Roasted French-Onion Gold Potato Nuggets ~

IMG_1477When raindrops require moving your outdoor-cooked get-together into the dry, warm comfort of the great indoors, a toaster oven or two, in addition to your full-size oven or two, can be your best friend.  When this scenario played out for me this weekend, in a properly-timed manner, I simply put four ribeye steaks under the broiler in one of my two ovens, put my marinated chicken quarters in the other one to roast, and, transitioned my baked potatoes into something fanciful: French-onion toaster-oven-roasted gold potato nuggets (affectionately named such by my kids back in the 80's).  Rain or shine, Winter or Summer -- I make these often (sometimes I cut them into French fries instead of bite-sized nuggets), and, experience has taught two things:  I can never make enough, and, no one cares that an envelope of store-bought onion soup mix is used. 

IMG_1490Gold potatoes + onion soup mix + olive oil = gold nuggets: 

IMG_14511 1/4-1 1/2  pounds peeled and 3/4" bite-size diced gold potatoes

3  ounces yellow or sweet onion, very-thinly-sliced into half-moon shapes (about 3/4 cup)

1  1-ounce envelope from 1, 2-ounce box dry onion soup mix

2  tablespoons olive oil

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_1454 IMG_1454 IMG_1454 IMG_1454~Step 1.  Peel the potatoes, slice each into 4 wedges and cut the wedges into 3-5 bite-sized pieces, placing them in a 1-gallon food storage bag as you work.  Slice the onions as directed and place them in the bag with the potatoes along with the contents from the envelope of onion soup mix.  Seal bag and toss to thoroughly incorporate the dry mix with the vegetables.  Open the bag, add the olive oil, seal the bag and toss again, until everything is lightly-coated in olive oil.

IMG_1463 IMG_1463 IMG_1463 IMG_1463~Step 2.  Line a toaster-oven-sized baking pan with aluminum foil and place a piece of parchment paper atop the foil.  Empty the potato-onion mixture onto the prepared pan and spread it out in an even layer.  Lightly-season the top of potatoes with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend. Bake, without tossing or stirring, on rack of preheated 425° toaster oven for 30 minutes, or until a nice golden brown.  Remove from oven, transfer to individual plates or a bowl and serve ASAP.

As easy as 1-2-3 basic ingredients & 30-minutes: 

IMG_1476Oven-Roasted French-Onion Gold Potatoes Nuggets:  Recipe yields 2 large or 4 smaller side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food-storage bag; toaster-oven-size baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b0240a51bba18200bCook's Note: ~ Would You Like Onion-Laced Steak Fries with That? ~.  Of course you would, and these couldn't be easier.  All you need is two pounds of your favorite gold, red or Russet potatoes, some olive oil and one packet of the onion soup mix you forgot you had in your pantry.  It's a souper seasoning for oven-roasted steak fries, and, after five minutes of prep time, they'll need 1 hour, 15 minutes to roast in a 350° oven, which frees of your hands for other tasks.  Because steak fries are best served hot out of the oven, plan for them to be the last item to go on the table.

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

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

05/20/2021

~ Esther's Buttery Sugar-Topped Pecan Shortbread ~

IMG_1447Esther's been a friend of ours for over 40 years.  Last Tuesday morning she stopped over for coffee -- after a year of quarantine, it was not only great to see her again, it felt great to invite a friend into the kitchen for a person-to-person visit.  I made some of my super-easy Grand's cinnamon-rolls cups, which got the two of us chit-chatting about quick-and-easy sweet treats that go great with the first cup of AM caffeine.  Esther mentioned a shortbread recipe she makes a lot, as in: for all occasions.  I asked her for the recipe and I wrote it down as she dictated it.

A bit about shortbread & shortbread cookies in general: 

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 -- more specifically, one part sugar, two parts butter, and, three parts white flour.  After this super-easy to make dough is mixed together, it can be be baked in several forms.  Many home cooks pat the dough into one or two flat, round discs that get cut into wedges as soon as they emerge from the oven.  Most manufacturers bake it in rectangular molds then cut it into fingers.  Because the dough holds shapes very well, it's ideal for either cut- or drop- cookies that can be patterned/decorated with the simple tines of a fork or an elaborate stamp.  It's common for various extracts, citrus oils and/or aromatic spices to be used as subtle flavorings.  In all cases, shortbread is baked in a moderate oven to render its signature pale ever-so-slightly brown color.

Ready, set, mix & in the oven to bake in less than 15 minutes.

IMG_13812  cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

1/2  cup sugar

6  tablespoons cornstarch, do not pack it, just measure it

2  sticks salted butter

2  teaspoons pecan flavoring

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  cup small-chopped lightly-toasted pecans, or, honey-glazed candied pecans, your choice (4 ounces)

IMG_1370 IMG_1370 IMG_1370~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container, melt butter in microwave.  Stir in the pecan flavoring, vanilla extract and salt.  Set aside.

IMG_1385 IMG_1385 IMG_1385 IMG_1393 IMG_1393 IMG_1393 IMG_1403 IMG_1403~Step 2.  Place the flour, sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, stir the dry ingredients together.  Add the melted, flavored butter to the dry ingredients.  Esther said to use a hand-held electric mixer to incorporate the butter into the flour mixture, but, I didn't find it necessary -- I used the rubber spatula to incorporate the butter and it alone worked just fine.  You will have a ball of somewhat-sticky dough.  Add and fold in the toasted or candied pecans. 

IMG_1411 IMG_1411 IMG_1419~Step 3.  Transfer dough to an 11" x 7 1/2" x 2" 2-quart casserole.  Using the back of rubber spatula, press  dough evenly into bottom of dish.  Bake on center rack of 325° oven until just set and barely brown, 25-30 minutes.

IMG_1419 IMG_1419 IMG_1419 IMG_1427 IMG_1427~Step 4.  Remove from oven and place casserole on a wire cooling rack. Using a large chef's knife, slice the shortbread, while it is hot, into 24 squared, then, while it is hot, sprinkle with a light coating of granulated sugar.  Allow shortbread to cool to room temperature about 1-2 hours prior to slicing through it a second time and removing from casserole.

Slightly-salty & slightly-sweet -- shortbread squares go great w/coffee, tea, hot chocolate, milk &/or ice-cream:

IMG_1444Esther's Buttery Sugar-Topped Pecan Shortbread:  Recipe yields 24, 1 1/2"-1 3/4" squares.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 2-cup measuring container; hand-held electric mixer (optional); large rubber spatula; 11" x 7 1/2" x 2", 2-quart casserole; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0263e9818d18200bCook's Note:  Shortbread is one of my top three cookies, and, for that reason a box of Lorna Doone's is always in my pantry.   Making a cheesecake pie is a quick way to quell a craving for classic cheesecake.  Sometimes known as poor man's cheesecake, this particular easy-to-make, lightly-baked cheesecake pie is remarkably resemblant of a New York-style cheesecake, complete with a two-ingredient, Lindy's-type short-pastry cookie-type crust -- meaning, not a run-of-the-mill graham cracker crust:  ~ Cheesecake Pie w/Lorna Doone Shortbread Crust ~.

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

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

05/17/2021

~ Sweet Potato Salad w/Apples and Candied Pecans ~

IMG_1365If you'd like to try, or are in search of, a uniquely-different delightfully-delicious starchy side-dish to serve with those barbecued spareribs, smoked pork chops or perfectly-grilled chicken at your upcoming outdoor get-together, this vinegar-based sweet potato salad, in place of traditional mayonnaise-based potato salad, is the ticket.  Porcine or poultry, sweet potatoes, and apples, are a common, not to mention very popular, trio.  The pickiest of eaters mostly agree they all taste great on the same plate because the flavors and textures simply put: all complement each other.  

The vinaigrette for this salad remarkably easy to make, as well as remarkably popular -- after all, almost everyone likes the sweet-and-savory combination of honey-and-mustard.  It requires few ingredients and takes just a few minutes.  In true vinaigrette style, it's thin and drizzly, but, it contains just enough Dijon mustard to keep it emulsified for a longer time, meaning, it doesn't separate like typical oil-and-vinegar mixtures.  It's fantastic on any cold vegetable salad or any hot roasted or grilled vegetable medley, and, it goes particularly well with grilled pork or poultry. There's more.  Because it's mayonnaise free, it's simply perfect for outdoor entertaining.

Because it's mayo free, it's perfect for outdoor entertaining:

IMG_12705-6 cups peeled and 1/2"-cubed sweet potatoes, cooked as directed below (1 1/2-1 3/4 pounds after peeling)

1  cup small-diced celery

1/2  cup fine-diced yellow or sweet onioin

1 generous cup skin-on thin-sliced honey-crisp apples, slices cut in half  (1 large apple)

1/2  cup small-chopped honey-glazed pecans, with 6-8 whole candied pecans reserved for garnishing each portion (1, 4-ounce bag honey-glazed pecans total)

3/4  cup my recipe for Sweet and Tangy Honey-Dijon White Balsamic Vinaigrette, total throughout recipe (1/2 cup for tossing into the initial sweet potato mixture, 1/4 cup for tossing in with apples and pecans just prior to serving.)

baby arugula leaves, one big handful

IMG_1266 IMG_1266 IMG_1266 IMG_1284 2 IMG_1284 2 IMG_1284 2~Step 1.  Peel, slice and cube the sweet potatoes as directed.  In a 4-quart saucepan, bring 3-quarts lightly-salted water (1 teaspoon sea salt) to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add the cubed sweet potatoes and adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer.  Continue to cook until just fork tender, 4-5 minutes, checking often after 3 1/2 minutes.

IMG_1290 IMG_1290 IMG_1290 IMG_1301 IMG_1301~Step 2.  Drain the potatoes into a colander and run cold tap water through them to halt the cooking process and cool them to below room temperature.  Place a few layers in the bottom of a large bowl and add the potatoes to the bowl.  Let potatoes rest, about 15 minutes, to drain of all excess moisture and cool a bit more.  Remove the paper towels.

IMG_1309 IMG_1309 IMG_1309 IMG_1318 IMG_1318~Step 3.  Add the diced celery and onion to the bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold them into the sweet potatoes.  When the vegetables are thoroughly combined, drizzle in 1/2 cup of the honey-mustard white-balsamic vinaigrette and fold again.  When all of the veggies are enrobed in the flavorful dressing, cover the bowl and refrigerate about 1 hour prior to serving time (or overnight if not serving salad until the next day).

IMG_1324 IMG_1324 IMG_1324 IMG_1330 IMG_1330 IMG_1330 IMG_1330~Step 4.  Remove the sweet potato, celery and onion mixture from the refrigerator.  Prep the onions and pecans as directed.  Using the large rubber spatula, gently fold in the apples, followed by the pecans.

IMG_1345 IMG_1345 IMG_1345 IMG_1345~Step 5.  Add the remainder of the vinaigrette to the salad and fold again, until all the ingredients are coated in even more of the flavorful dressing.  Add a heaping handful of baby arugula to the bowl -- no measurement here, just grab a big handful and throw it in.  Using a pair of salad servers, toss until the arugula is coated in dressing too.  The salad is ready to serve, and, leftovers, with very little compromise, will store, tightly covered, nicely in the refrigerator overnight.

Serve it rain or shine, w/your favorite poultry or porcine:

IMG_1364Sweet Potato Salad w/Apples and Candied Pecans:  Recipe yields 6-8 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; colander; paper towels; large rubber spatula; salad servers

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a8531d200dCook's Note: Horseradish.  It's powerful stuff and most folks aren't on the fence about it.  They either love it or hate it.  If you are a lover of the stuff, you know you've got to carefully pick and choose what you pair it with and how you do it too. For my taste, freshly-grated horseradish, prepared horseradish and horseradish- cream, mustard or mayo go best with beef and ham. Some folks like it with lamb, not me, but it's an option.  If it's beef or lamb your planning on cooking for your upcoming outdoor gathering, consider serving my  ~ Beef Eatin' Horseradish-Mayo Red-Skinned Potato Salad ~.  Fire up the grill! 

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

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

05/14/2021

~ Sweet and Tangy Honey-Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette ~

IMG_1239For me, it's salad season the entire year, however, now that the warm weather has finally arrived, it's real-deal salad season.  I'm talking Summer salads made with a wider variety of higher-quality vegetables from local farmers' markets, and, in the upcoming weeks and months, veggies picked from my own garden.  These are salads I love to serve next to my favorite grilled meats, poultry, and, yes, even seafood -- no other side dishes need apply.  For that reason, I find myself taking the time to scratch-make dressings and vinaigrettes oftener, meaning, on a regular basis.

This vinaigrette is remarkably easy to make, as well as remarkably popular -- after all, almost everyone likes the sweet-and-savory combination of honey-and-mustard.  It requires just a few ingredients and takes just a few minutes.  In true vinaigrette style, it's thin and drizzly, but, it contains just enough Dijon mustard to keep it emulsified for a longer time, meaning, it doesn't separate like typical oil-and-vinegar mixtures.  It's fantastic on any cold vegetable salad or any hot roasted or grilled vegetable medley, and, it goes particularly well with grilled pork or poultry. There's more.  Because it's mayonnaise free, it's simply perfect for outdoor entertaining.

After all, who doesn't like combination of honey & mustard.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09c2342e970dA bit about honey:  The earliest written reference to honey dates back to the Egyptians in 5500 B.C., but, honeybees were making honey long before historical records were written.  Only relatively recently, mid 19th Century, did sugar become available and affordable to the average Westerner.  Prior to that, it was a very expensive luxury for the wealthy, because it had to be imported over long distances. Honeybees native to Asia, were brought to the New World by the Colonists in 1622, and honey was their primary sweetening agent for tea, cakes, cookies and candies. Once it got introduced to the Native Americans, honey became a popular item to trade too.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a9567d970cA bit about mustard:  Mustard is the world's oldest manmade condiment. There are recipes for mustard that date back to 42 A.D. in Roman writings, but, it wasn't popularized until their seeds were exported to Gaul (France).  By the 13th Century, food peddlers were selling their homemade mustard concoctions all over France, and, in the 16th Century, legal protection was given to the mustard makers and their secret recipes (which varied greatly from maker to maker).  In time, a few mustard makers began experimenting with substituting green grape juice ("verjus" -- "green juice") for vinegar, which produced a milder taste we now associate with their white-wine-made Dijon.

A bit about honey-mustard:  It was only a matter of time before the mustard makers added a bit of honey to sweeten their Dijon a tad, to gentle it down even further.  Next, French chef's began adding honey-and-mustard to their mayonnaise-based dressings and oil-and-vinegar-based vinaigrettes, along with other ingredients: various herbs (basil, dill, rosemary, thyme), garlic and onion.  I'd say that was the beginning of the honey-mustard dressing/vinaigrette/sauce industry.

White balsamic vinegar -- it's the key ingredient in my very special sweet-&-savory honey-mustard vinaigrette:

IMG_12156  tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

6  tablespoons olive oil

6  tablespoons honey

3  tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind pepper

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_1218 IMG_1218 IMG_1236~ Step 1.  Measure and place all ingredients, as listed, into a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Secure the lid and shake vigorously until the vinaigrette is smooth and emulsified, about 30 seconds.  Store, covered and at room temperature, until serving time.  Shake the dressing again briefly just prior to serving.  For long-term storage, place in the refrigerator.  Return to room temperature prior to shaking and serving.

Drizzle over your favorite salad -- a little goes a long way:

IMG_1264Try it on my Sweet Potato Salad w/Apples & Candied Pecans:

IMG_1364Sweet and Tangy Honey-Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields a generous 3/4 cup. 

Special Equipment List:  small jar w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a96508970cCook's Note:  Honey mustard.  It's one of the simplest condiments in the food world to make.  In my kitchen, I use it as a salad dressing, a sandwich spread, a dip for vegetables, and occasionally, a glaze for baked ham.  In the '80's, when my kids were in elementary school, there was always a jar on my refrigerator door.  When we were traveling, if an eatery had chicken tenders and honey-mustard sauce on their list of menu options, our boys were happy -- given a choice, all three preferred it to ranch dressing, so, that's quite an endorsement.  As for me, I love it on onion rings and Philly-style soft pretzels.  ~ Hey Honey -- Pass the Honey-Mustard Dressing ~.

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

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

05/11/2021

~ Three Ways to Cook Smoked Bone-In Pork Chops ~

IMG_1178Smoked porcine (bacon, ham, sausage pork chops, etc.), when properly smoked, is enhanced with a sublime slightly-smoky flavor and an enticing pinkish color, meaning the aroma is pleasant (not at all overpowering), and the visual is pretty. There's more.  The smoking process renders the meat cooked, meaning, it only needs to be heated to a safe internal temperature prior to eating and the information is indicated on the label:  125° if fully-cooked, and, 145° if not fully-cooked.  

In the case of smoked pork chops, in my kitchen there are three quick-and-easy options for cooking:  a broiler pan in the oven (for dry-heat broiling), a skillet on the stovetop (for sauté frying), or, the grill-grids of an outdoor grill or grill pan (for searing).  Whatever one chooses, the trick is not to overthink or overcook them -- which will just dry them out.  They require only a relatively short period of time to reheat, approximately fifteen minutes from start-to-finish.

Paint 1 1/4"-thick chops, both sides, w/olive oil, &, season w/S & P:

IMG_1185Broil, 5 1/2"-6" under 350° broiler, 6-8 minutes per side:

IMG_1194In a skillet, sauté over medium-high heat, 6-8 minutes per side:

IMG_1206Grill or grillpan over medium-high heat, 6-8 minutes per side:

IMG_1203"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

05/08/2021

~Making Great Cheese Quesadillas with Corn Tortillas~

IMG_1164We all have a few favorite food combinations, meaning, two foods that go hand-in-hand together. A duo you can't emotionally separate because you can't enjoy one without the other.  A few of my cheesy favorites:  a cup of tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich, my mom's meatloaf with some macaroni and cheese, my favorite cheeseburger with a side of fries.  Another personal favorite:  a bowl of Wendy's-style chili with a few quick-to-make cheesy quesadilla wedges.

IMG_1160"Queso (KAY-soh)" is the Spanish word meaning "cheese", and, a quesadilla is a tortilla containing ooey-gooey melted cheese.

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

Start-to-finish:  Five minutes from stovetop-to-table:

IMG_1136For each corn-tortilla cheese quesadilla:

2  6"-round soft, fresh corn tortillas

6  generous tablespoons shredded yellow cheddar cheese

1-2  teaspoons vegetable oil, for preparing skillet

IMG_1044 IMG_1044 IMG_1051 IMG_1051 IMG_1139 IMG_1139~Step 1. Place 1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil in an 8" nonstick skillet.  Use a paper towel to distribute it evenly in bottom of the skillet and absorb excess.  Do not turn the stove on.  Place one tortilla in skillet and scatter the cheese across its surface, mounding it slightly towards the center. Place second corn tortilla on top of cheese.

IMG_1148 IMG_1148 IMG_1155 IMG_1155~Step 2.  Turn heat on to medium- medium-high.  Once skillet heats up, 30-45 seconds, sauté quesadilla until sizzling and light golden on bottom, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Using a wide spatula, carefully flip quesadilla over and continue to sauté until the second side is light golden, 2-2 1/2 minutes.  Turn heat off.  The moment the taco-quesadilla is cooked, slide it from the skillet onto a cutting board.  Exercise some patience and let the cheese "set up" for about a minute -- this will prevent it from oozing out when you slice into it.  Using a large chef's knife, cut into four wedges.

After slicing into ooey gooey quarters, serve immediately:

IMG_1176Try my Cheesy Ground-Beef Corn-Tortilla Taco-Quesadillas too:

IMG_1108Making Great Cheese Quesadillas with Corn Tortillas:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many corn-tortilla cheese quesadillas as you want to.

Special Equipment List:  8" nonstick skillet; paper towels spatula; cutting board; chef's knife

6a0120a8551282970b0282e101a064200bCook's Note: Undercover nacho tester.  I suppose it could get boring, but, because every eatery I've ever been to makes this Tex-Mex pub-grub staple a bit different, I'd be willing to risk running into some occasional repetition and hard-earned heartburn.  From nibbling on basic nachos consisting of deep-fried corn tortillas topped with melty cheese sauce, to digging-into nachos-grande, nachos-supreme, fully-loaded nachos or ultimate-nachos piled high with a plethora of enough savory stuff to qualify for full-meal status, yes, I think undercover nacho tester is a job for me.  Try my ~ Na-Cho Mama's Fully-Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos ~.  A perfect ratio of cheese to toppings on every chip.

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

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

05/05/2021

~Cheesy Ground-Beef Corn-Tortilla Taco-Quesadillas~

IMG_1102Everyone I know loves a taco or three.  No one I know loves a taco that's been made using a taco-shell that came out of a box -- they taste like the cardboard they came packed in, and, unless the fillings sit in the shells for several minutes, the shells shatter like glass -- bring out the knives-and-forks because everyone's dinner just landed on their plate.  It's a less than ideal situation.  In a perfect world, everyone would make fresh corn tortillas from scratch, but, in today's busy real world, that time-consuming process is, frankly, unrealistic.  That's where store-bought, soft, fresh corn tortillas come into play.  That said, many home cooks have a fear of, or aversion to, deep-frying, which, causes them to resort to buying a box of cardboard-esque taco shells.  It's a viscious, frustrating circle, but, there is an easy end-around that solves the problem:

Taco quesadillas -- Quesadillas made w/corn tortillas.

In most American home kitchens, mine included, tacos are considered a relatively easy-to-make meal typically associated with dinner.  On the other hand, quesadillas, like nachos, are considered a super-fast way to quell the craving for an any-time-of-the-day cheesy snack.  There's more.  In my kitchen, like most American home kitchens, tacos are typically associated with corn tortillas and quesadillas are associated with flour tortillas -- don't ask me why because, FYI, there's no culinary rule on that point.  That said, on frequent occasions, I combine the two, by turning quesadillas into a knife-and-fork way to serve American-style ground beef tacos (using corn tortillas) into a main-dish -- because they taste the same and they're quicker to make than tacos.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a46e604b200dQuesadilla (keh-sah-DEE-yah):  A round, flat, cooked-until-soft corn or flour tortilla, folded in half to form a half-moon with a savory filling sandwiched in the center.  It is fried on a well-seasoned cast-iron comal (a flat, round griddle), using no or very little oil, although in many modern kitchens, mine included, a grill pan is a common substitution.

IMG_1122Almost any cooked and chopped or shredded meats and/or vegetables can be used as a filling for a quesadilla (fish and seafood are not typically used) -- the meats and vegetables must always be cooked first because a quesadilla cooks in a few short minutes.  That said, since "queso (KAY-soh)" is the Spanish word for "cheese":  a quesadilla is a container for ooey, gooey melted cheese.  Be sure to purchase:

your favorite brand of 6"-round yellow or white corn tortillas

After assembling the ingredients, start to finish, each taco quesadilla takes 5 minutes to layer & cook:

IMG_1131For each taco quesadilla:

2  6"-round soft, fresh corn tortillas

4  generous tablespoons shredded yellow cheddar cheese, divided

4  generous tablespoons (a generous 1/4 cup) American-style ground-beef taco filling, (Note:  All taco filling is not created equal. My chunky beef recipe is full of onion, garlic, bell pepper and tomatoes, and, seasoned with my homemade Tex-Mex taco seasoning blend.) 

1-2  teaspoons vegetable oil

6a0120a8551282970b0240a493347c200bFor my favorite store-bought and fresh toppings and garnishes:

pico de gallo or store-bought salsa fresca

fine-shredded iceberg lettuce and lime wedges

Mexican crema or sour cream

spicy avocado crema or store-bought guacamole

Choose to useall of them, none of them or some of them.  Your choice.

IMG_1044 IMG_1044 IMG_1051 IMG_1051 IMG_1057 IMG_1057 IMG_1064 IMG_1064 IMG_1070~Step 1.  Place 1-2 teaspoons oil in an 8" nonstick skillet.  Use a paper towel to distribute it evenly in the bottom of the skillet and absorb any excess.  Do not turn the stove on yet.  Place one corn tortilla in the skillet and scatter 2 generous tablespoons shredded cheese across its surface. Using a spoon dollop and distribute a generous 1/4 cup ground-beef taco filling atop the cheese.  Scatter a second 2 generous tablespoons shredded cheese atop the taco filling, then, finish the assembly by placing the second corn tortilla on top of the fillings.

IMG_1075 IMG_1075~ Step 2.  Turn the heat on to medium- medium-high.  Once the skillet heats up, 30-45 seconds, sauté the quesadilla until it is sizzling and light golden on bottom, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Using a wide spatula, carefully flip the quesadilla over and continue to sauté until the second side is light golden, about 2-2 1/2 minutes.  Turn heat off.

IMG_1081 IMG_1082 IMG_1084 IMG_1096~Step 3.  The moment the taco-quesadilla is cooked, slide it from the skillet onto a plate.  Without delay, spread a generous dollop (about 2 tablespoons) pico de gallo or fresh salsa over the top. Scatter some shredded lettuce (about 1/4 cup) atop the salsa, followed by a dollop of crema or sour cream, a dollop of avocado crema or guacamole, and, a lime wedge.  Serve ASAP.

As pretty as a picture, &, hearty & satisfying too:

IMG_1108Pick up your knife, pick up your fork & dig in ASAP:

IMG_1118Cheesy Ground-Beef Corn-Tortilla Taco-Quesadillas:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many 6"-round taco quesadillas as you want to.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 8" nonstick skillet; paper towel; wide nonstick spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a442e6e9200cCook's Note: Undercover nacho tester.  I suppose it could get boring, but, because every eatery I've ever been to makes this Tex-Mex pub-grub staple a bit different, I'd be willing to risk running into some occasional repetition and hard-earned heartburn.  From nibbling on basic nachos consisting of deep-fried corn tortillas topped with melty cheese sauce, to digging-into nachos-grande, nachos-supreme, fully-loaded nachos or ultimate-nachos piled high with a plethora of enough savory stuff to qualify for full-meal status, yes, I think undercover nacho tester is a job for me.  Try my ~ Na-Cho Mama's Fully-Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos ~.  A perfect ratio of cheese to toppings on every chip.

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

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

05/02/2021

~ Apple-Pie Chicken Paillards and Stuffing Casserole ~

IMG_0996Chicken and stuffing.  The two go hand-in-hand, and I can't fathom my food world without this combination.  As a young girl, roast chicken with mom's stuffing and gravy was our Sunday dinner twice-a-month.  Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter, be it a Sunday or a weeknight, it's always prime-time for chicken and stuffing on my dinner table, and, this super-easy casserole is a spin-off of my Aunt's apple-pie pork-chop and stuffing casserole recipe -- which, uses two boxes of Stovetop stuffing mix in place of classic white bread stuffing, plus, a can of apple pie filling is added to the bottom of the casserole for an added, sweet-and-savory surprise. 

Paillard is a fancy French word, a verb, meaning "to pound":

6a0120a8551282970b01bb098fc7e8970dA bit about paillard (PI-yahrd):  This fancy French word means "to pound", and, references a lightly-pounded portion-sized slice or medallion of meat, poultry or seafood that gets quickly sautéed. A paillard is not madly smashed to smithereens.  Pounding should make it wider and thinner, with the point being to pound it in a manner that makes it even in thickness --  to break down the fibers, to tenderize it, and, to make it cook evenly.  It's done with a flat-sided meat mallet, not a sharp, pyramid-toothed gadget guaranteed to pulverize.  To those who smack away using the back of a heavy skillet, while the bravado is amusing, it's less than affective, as you can't concentrate the necessary force directly on the places that need it to do a truly expert job.

The taste and texture of lightly-pounded paillards is an extra step well worth the effort. I find it to be a time-saver too.  The time it takes to pound six boneless skinless chicken thighs, including the time to get out a cutting board, the plastic wrap and a flat-sided meat mallet is about five minutes. Once done, cooking the paillards is considerably faster and easier, had I not taken the time.

IMG_0983This quick & easy sweet & savory chicken dinner is applicious:

IMG_09274  tablespoons corn or peanut oil, for sautéing paillards

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for seasoning paillards

2  22-ounces can apple pie filling

2  6-ounce boxes Stove-Top Chicken Stuffing Mix

1  generous cup diced celery

1  generous cup diced onion

2  cups chicken broth

6a0120a8551282970b0263e99dfa26200b6  large boneless, skinless chicken thighs (Note:  This is approximately the equivalent of 3, boneless, skinless chicken breast halves that have been butterflied to form 6 pieces/portions.)

~ Step 1.  Place the thighs between two large layers of plastic wrap and lightly pound with the flat side of a meat mallet to a thickness of more than a 1/4" and less than 1/2".

6a0120a8551282970b026bdecb4568200c~ Step 2. Remove and discard the top layer of plastic wrap and lightly sprinkle the tops of paillards with:

Bone Suckin' Sauce Seasoning and Rub 

In a 16" electric skillet on low heat, heat:

6 tablespoons corn or peanut oil

Increase heat to medium- medium-high (240°-250°).

6a0120a8551282970b0263e99dfaba200b 6a0120a8551282970b026bdecb4600200c 6a0120a8551282970b0263e99dfaea200b 6a0120a8551282970b027880233296200d~Recap: Cover a large cutting board with plastic wrap.  Unravel/unroll the chicken thighs and place them, flat and slightly apart, atop the plastic. Cover with a second sheet of plastic.  Using a flat-sided meat mallet, pound to a thickness of 1/4"-1/2".  Remove and discard top layer of plastic.

IMG_0930 IMG_0930 IMG_0940 IMG_0940 IMG_0948 IMG_0948~Step 3.  Add the paillards to the hot oil in the skillet.   Season their tops (liberally) with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend. Sauté gently until light-golden in color on both sides, turning only once, about 7-8 minutes per side, turning the heat down, if necessary, to prevent scorching. Turn the heat off.  Using a fork, transfer the paillards from the skillet to a plate and briefly set aside (leave drippings in bottom of skillet).

IMG_3890 IMG_3890 IMG_3896 IMG_3896 IMG_3903 IMG_3903 IMG_3908~Step 4.  Return heat in skillet to 225º and wait 30-60 seconds, just long enough to reheat the chicken drippings,  Add the celery and onion.  Sauté the vegetables, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until crunch tender, 2-3 minutes.  Add the chicken broth and the stuffing mix.  Stir until the stuffing is thick and has absorbed the broth.  Turn the heat off, cover the skillet, and let sit for 5-6 minutes.

IMG_0922 IMG_0922 IMG_0960 IMG_0960~Step 5.  Open one can of apple pie filling and use a spoon to scoop and distribute it evenly in the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole.  Uncover the skillet.  Use the spoon to scoop and evenly distribute the stuffing atop the apple pie filling.  Open the second can of pie filling and distribute it evenly atop the stuffing.  Arrange the still warm chicken paillards atop the pie filling.    

IMG_0966 IMG_0970~Step 6.  Cover casserole with aluminum foil and bake on center rack of 325° oven 30 minutes. Uncover and continue to bake another 15 minutes, or until stuffing is turning golden on top. Remove from oven, place it on the table and serve ASAP.

Place it on the table & serve it up.  Leftovers reheat great too:

IMG_0981Apple Pie Chicken Paillard and Stuffing Casserole:  Recipe yields 6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: large cutting board; plastic wrap; flat-sized meat mallet; 16" electric skillet w/lid; fork and/or spatula; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; large spoon; 2-cup measuring container; 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop; aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b0263e99dfaaa200bCook's Note:  A Paillard, a noun, is a thin, lightly-pounded cut, large or small, of any type of meat -- most commonly beef, chicken, lamb, pork or veal.  That said, occasionally, in certain culinary applications, firm seafood, like lobster, shrimp or scallops, can, for the right reason, become a paillard.  It's also possible to use some vegetables to make a paillard.  Paillard, the verb, generally speaking, means to lightly-pound. I'm using a boneless chicken thighs as an example: ~ To Paillard or Not to Paillard -- & Define a Paillard ~.

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

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

04/29/2021

~Steak My Day - Summer-Up & Try Pork Blade Steak~

6a0120a8551282970b0223c8493631200c-1The pork blade steak is my new-to-me muse -- in my own words, it's a bone-fide kick-butt man-sized pork chop.  Known as pork steak, pork butt steak or pork blade steak, 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".

*Country-style ribs are cut from the blade end of the loin close to the shoulder. They're meatier than other ribs.  They contain no rib bones, but contain parts of the shoulder blade bone.

6a0120a8551282970b0224df30e276200b-1"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:

Butcher's 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".

6a0120a8551282970b0223c8493631200c-1Steaks 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. As for seasonings, salt and pepper is all they require, but, they play well with dry seasoning blends or wet marinades too -- and, hear this, they love to be slathered with BBQ sauce at the end.

Because overcooking renders them tough, this quick-cooking pork steak is perfect for the grill, grill pan, sauté pan or broiler.  

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d8d4d3970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/26/2021

~How to Bake a Pullman Loaf in a Pullman Bread Pan~

IMG_0868The Pullman loaf is the quintessential white sandwich loaf. The name "Pullman" comes from its use in the kitchens of the Pullman Company's railway cars of the 1800s, and, the Pullman company is credited with inventing the rectangular-shaped lidded baking pans (which coincidentally resembled the shape of the railroad cars).  Baking bread in a pan with a lid is, functionally a bit different than baking bread in an open-topped pan, which, of course, affects the crumb structure.  The confined space, which doesn't allow most of the steam to escape, prevents big air bubbles from forming, which keeps the crumb fine and tight, which renders it easy to slice thin, and, it keeps the crust to a minimum too. There's more. Because the Pullman loaf produces perfectly square slices, it's hands-down the bread-of-choice for making sandwiches, plus, the thin crust means there's very little waste when a perfect presentation requires trimming off the crust.

IMG_0849The traditional Pullman loaf is an enriched white bread.  This means besides yeast and white flour, the dough is enriched with butter, sugar and salt, and, milk is often used in place of water.  The ratios of ingredients depend on the level of sweet or savory desired, at the discretion of the baker, but, only judicious amounts of each are used to keep the bread's signature mild, buttery flavor.  Once the dough is kneaded and proofed, it goes into the Pullman pan to rise again prior to sliding the lid on the pan and baking it in the oven.

I use my bread machine brioche recipe to mix & proof the dough:

Feel free to use your own recipe and feel free to mix and proof it in the traditional manner, but, in my kitchen, the bread machine is my tool-of-choice for these tasks.  It takes me five-to-ten short minutes to prep and get the ingredients in the bread pan, and after that, the machine does all the kneading.  About an hour-and-a-half later, my dough is proofed and ready to go into the Pullman pan for its last rise.  It's such a convenience, I have no desire to do it the old-fashioned way.  

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8e379fa970b1  cup whole milk

5  tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces

4  tablespoons sugar

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

2  large eggs, lightly beaten

4 1/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons granulated dry yeast, NOT rapid-rise (1 packet)

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c87bca29970b 2~ Step 1. Always follow the instructions that came with your bread machine -- they all vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer. 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 states to always insert the paddle this this position before adding any ingredients, so I do.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d205a25d970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c87bca44970b 6a0120a8551282970b01bb091f4a10970d 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c87bca68970b 6a0120a8551282970b01bb091f4a2e970d 6a0120a8551282970b01bb091f4a36970d~Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, heat the milk until steaming.  This is quickly and easily done in the microwave.  Add the sugar, salt and butter to the hot milk.  Using a fork, stir until butter has melted.  Pour this mixture into the bread pan.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c87bcab5970b 6a0120a8551282970b01bb091f4a6e970d~ Step 3.  In the same 1-cup measure and using the same fork, whisk the egg to lightly beat it.  Add the beaten egg to the milk mixture in bread pan. Note:   "Wet ingredients first/dry ingredients second" is a rule in bread machine baking.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb091f4ad1970d-120wi 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d205a339970c-120wi 6a0120a8551282970b01bb091f4af1970d-120wiStep 4.  Add the flour to bread pan.  Do not mix or stir.  Using your index finger, make a small indentation in the top of the flour, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer.  Add/pour the yeast into the indentation.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c87bcbcd970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c87bcbd6970b 6a0120a8551282970b01bb091f4b40970d~ Step 5.  Insert bread pan into bread machine and press down until it is "clicked" securely in place. Close the lid and plug the machine in.  Press "select".  Next, select the "loaf size" and choose the 2 pound option. Lastly, choose the "dough" cycle.  Press "start".  In my machine, my dough will have been kneaded, proofed, and, have gone through a first rise in 1 1/2 hours -- the dough is now ready to go.

IMG_0800 IMG_0807~ Step 6.  Open the lid of the machine and remove the pan of dough.  Using your fingertips, pull the dough away from the sides of the pan, punching it down as you work, then remove the dough from the pan.  Between the palms of your hands form the bread into a loaf-looking shape, and, proceed with the Pullman bread as directed below. 

Spray the inside of an 8.35" x 4.5" x 4/5" Pullman half-loaf pan & inside of lid w/no-stick:

IMG_0796Gently place the once-proofed bread dough in the bottom of prepared pan:

IMG_0809Cover the top of the loaf pan w/plastic wrap & rise 25-30 minutes:

IMG_0812When the center of the highest point of dough is just below top of pan, remove plastic:

IMG_0819Slide lid on pan & bake on center rack of 350° oven 25-30 minutes:

IMG_0823Remove pan from oven & slide lid open to check doneness by gently tapping on the top of the loaf w/knuckle of index finger -- it will have a hollow sound when bread is done.  Slide the lid back on the pan & invert pan (lid on the bottom) onto a wire rack:

IMG_0827Slide lid off bottom of pan (pictured above), remove top pan from loaf & cool completely:

IMG_0829How to Bake a Pullman Loaf in a Pullman Bread Pan:  Recipe yields instructions to bake one half-loaf in an 8.35" x 4.5" x 4/5" Pullman loaf pan.

Special Equipment List:  bread machine; 2-cup measuring container; fork 8.35" x 4.5" x 4/5" Pullman loaf pan w/lid; wire cooling rack 

IMG_0851Cook's Note: A flat-topped loaf of white sandwich bread that gets baked in a square-sided loaf pan with a lid is, culinarily, known as a Pullman loaf.  The technical term for the loaf pan itself is a Pullman pan. The French terms for a Pullman loaf are "pain-de-mie" ("pain" meaning "bread", and "mie" meaning "the soft white inner part of the loaf"), and, "pain anglais" (meaning "English loaf").  It's a loaf of firm-yet-soft enriched white bread with perfectly square sides and minimal crust.  It slices easily, making it the quintessential sandwich loaf.  To learn more, read my post: ~ What Exactly is a Pullman Loaf and a Pullman Loaf Pan ~.

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

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

04/23/2021

~ What Exactly is a Pullman Loaf & Pullman Loaf Pan ~

IMG_0851A flat-topped loaf of white sandwich bread that gets baked in a square-sided loaf pan with a lid is, culinarily, known as a Pullman loaf.  It goes without saying, the technical term for the loaf pan itself is a Pullman pan.  The fancy French terms for a Pullman loaf are "pain-de-mie" ("pain" meaning "bread", and "mie" meaning "the soft white inner part of the loaf"), and, "pain anglais" (meaning "English loaf").  It's a loaf of somewhat-firm-yet-soft enriched white bread with perfectly square sides and minimal crust.  It slices easily, making it the quintessential sandwich loaf.

The Pullman loaf is the quintessential white sandwich loaf:

IMG_0849The history behind the Pullman pan & the story of the loaf:

R4312The name "Pullman" comes from its use in the kitchens of the Pullman Company's  railway cars of the 1800s.  The company is credited with inventing the rectangular-shaped lidded baking pans (which coincidentally resembled the shape of the railroad cars).  Baking bread with the lids on the pans created flat-topped loaves, which made it possible to efficiently stack more loves in a smaller space compared to loaves with rounded tops -- three flat-topped Pullman loaves occupied about the same amount of space as two standard round-topped loaves in the small Pullman kitchen. 

IMG_0862Baking bread in a pan with a lid is, of course, functionally a bit different than baking bread in an open-topped pan, which, of course, affects the crumb structure.  The confined space, which doesn't allow most of the steam to escape, prevents big air bubbles from forming, which keeps the crumb fine and tight, which renders it easy to slice thin, and, it keeps the crust to a minimum too. There's more.  Because the Pullman loaf is a perfectly square loaf, uniform in shape throughout its length, it's hands-down the bread-of-choice for making user-friendly sandwiches, plus, the thin crust means there's very little waste when a perfect presentation requires trimming off the crust.

The Pullman loaf pan = A rectangular pan w/straight sides & lid.  Full-loaf-size pan (yields a 2-pound loaf) = approx. 13" x 4.8" x 4.8".  Half-loaf pan (yields a 1-pound loaf) = approx. 8.35" x 4.5" x 4.5":

IMG_0865The Pullman loaf = A flat-topped sandwich loaf w/minimal crust & square, fine-&-tight-crumbed easy-to-slice-thin slices: 

IMG_0868Try my recipe & learn to bake a Pullman loaf in a Pullman pan:

IMG_0854"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/20/2021

~ Peanut Butter, Oatmeal & Chocolate Chip Cookies ~

IMG_0767Everyone I know loves a basic chocolate-chip cookie.  I've never met a person who'd refuse an old-fashioned oatmeal cookie, and, unless one has an allergy to peanuts, the classic peanut butter cookie has earned its place in the cookie jars of America.  Three great reasons for me to combine the flavors of three great cookies into one great cookie.  No out-of-the-ordinary ingredients list and certainly not gourmet -- just a very special kid-tested mother-approved recipe.

Take a step into that well-stocked pantry & open the refrigerator.  You've probably got all the ingredients on-hand.

IMG_07011 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon sea salt

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

1  teaspoon pure chocolate extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4  cup granulated sugar

3/4  cup dark brown sugar

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1 cup creamy or crunchy peanut butter

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2 1/2-3  cups milk chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips, your choice (Note:  I use milk chocolate chips -- a full 3 cups.)

IMG_0709 IMG_0702 IMG_0706~ Step 1. Line four large (17 1/2" x 12 1/2") baking pans with parchment paper and set aside.  In a medium bowl, measure and stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350°.

IMG_0714 IMG_0718 IMG_0720 IMG_0724~Step 2.  Place the butter, eggs and extracts in a large bowl.  Over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream ingredients together, about 1 full minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula the entire time.  Add the sugars and thoroughly incorporate them, 30-45 more seconds, again, scraping down the sides of the bowl with the rubber spatula.  Add the peanut butter and continue to beat until mixture is smooth and uniform in color, about 30 seconds.

IMG_0727 IMG_0727 IMG_0733 IMG_0733 IMG_0736 IMG_0741~Step 3.  Lower the mixer speed to low.  Add the dry ingredients to the bowl (the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Over low speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl constantly with the spatula, incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, about 1 full minute. Remove the mixer (you will not need it any more). Use the spatula to add and thoroughly fold in the rolled oats, followed by the chocolate chips.

IMG_0742 IMG_0746 IMG_0751~ Step 4.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, drop balls of cookie dough, well-apart, onto each prepared pan, 12 on each pan.  Bake cookies, one-pan-at-a-time on center rack of 350° oven, for 13-14 minutes or until lightly brown around the edges and bottoms. Remove from oven and allow to cool on pan for about 1 minutes, then, use a spatula to transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely.

Slightly-salty & satisfyingly not too sweet -- what a treat:

IMG_0770Peanut Butter, Oatmeal & Chocolate-Chip Cookies:  Recipe yields 44-46 (not quite 4 dozen), 2"-round cookies.

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

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3c74e03200bCook's Note: ~ My Favorite Sugar Cookie is:  The Snickerdoodle ~. A traditional snickerdoodle is a flat, golden, crispy on the outside, slightly-chewy on the inside, sugar cookie made with butter and shortening, then dusted with cinnamon and sugar prior to baking.  It doesn't contain chocolate or white chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts, other embellishments or flavorings. Spare me any recipes that attempt to make this cookie gourmet.  As for the name:  it's believed it's  German in origin, from the German word "Schnickennudeln", which is a cinnamon-dusted sweet roll.

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

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

04/17/2021

~All in the Family Oven-Baked Cheddar Cheese Dogs~

IMG_0912When a family as a unit unanimously agrees that hot dogs require cheese, assembling them upfront, then baking them all at once in the oven, as many as the family can eat at one sitting, makes short work of getting lunch or dinner for the entire family on the table.  Once assembled and lined-up slightly apart on a baking sheet, it only takes 10-12 minutes in a 375° for the cheese to melt, the hotdogs to heat through and the buns to toast.  When they come out, everyone gets to top theirs with their own personal-favorite toppings -- let the family-style funtime begin. 

Ready, set, assemble & bake as many as you want to make!

IMG_08771-2-3  high-quality Hebrew National all-beef hot dogs per person

1-2-3  top-split hot dog bun per person

1/2  cup shredded yellow cheddar cheese per hot dog

1-2  tablespoons finely-diced yellow or sweet onion per hot dog (optional)

IMG_0883 IMG_0885 IMG_0890Step 1.  Preheat oven to 375°.  Depending on how many cheese dogs you're baking, ready an appropriate-sized baking pan that has been lined with a sheet of parchment paper, or, in an appropriately-sized casserole that has a been sprayed with no-stick spray.  Arrange the rolls, side-by-side, in the prepared pan, about 2" apart (so the bread will toast on the sides).  Open each roll and place about 2 tablespoons shredded cheese in the bottom.  Place a hot dog on top of the cheese in each bun.  

IMG_0894 IMG_0899 IMG_0909 IMG_0915~Step 2.  Top each hot dog with a generous/heaping 1/4 cup shredded cheese and 1-2 tablespoons optional diced onion.  Bake on center rack of 375° oven 10-12 minutes or until cheese is melted and buns are lightly-toasted.  Remove from oven and add desired toppings.  

Toasty, cheesy & steaming -- ready, set, add the toppings:

IMG_0908All in the Family Oven-Baked Cheddar Cheese Dogs:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many baked cheddar cheese dogs as you want to.

Special Equipment List:  appropriately-sized baking pan or casserole; parchment paper

IMG_0673Cook's Note: Cheesies.  That's the name.  If you're in your sixties or older, you know a slice of white bread is a perfect substitute for a hot dog roll.  Truth told, sometimes I prefer the bread, and, cheesies, kid-tested mother-approved blast-from-my-past snack sandwiches are the reason.  There's more.  They're not just a blast from my past.  My husband Joe told me when he was student at Penn State in the 60's, the lines were long in the campus' dining halls on the nights cheesies were served.  For a variation on the baked hot dog theme, try my ~ Baked Hot Dog Cheeses & Creamy Tomato Soup ~ recipe.

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

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

04/14/2021

~ Baked Hot Dog Cheesies & Creamy Tomato Soup ~

IMG_0673Cheesies.  That's the name.  If you're in your sixties or older, you are well aware how, without compromise, a slice of white sandwich bread is a perfect substitute for a hot dog roll.  Truth told, sometimes I prefer the slice of bread to the roll, and, cheesies, kid-tested mother-approved blast-from-my-past snack sandwiches are the reason.  There's more.  They're not just a blast from my past.  My husband Joe told me the tale of how, when he was student at Penn State during the latter 60's, the lines were long in the campus' dining halls on the nights cheesies were served.

What to expect when ordering a cheesie: 

IMG_0670Order a cheesy and you're going to receive a hot dog that has been placed atop and wrapped in a slice of white sandwich bread (that has been slathered with a mayonnaise and ballpark mustard concoction) plus a slice or two of white or yellow American cheese.  Occasionally, diced onions are added right after the hot dog goes on.  Most cheesies are lightly-painted with a bit of melted butter just before baking in a 375° oven -- long enough for the cheese to melt, the bread to slowly toast and hot dogs to heat through, about 10-12 minutes.  My mom served them to my brother and I with baked beans and home-fried potatoes, my kids loved them with a side of mac and cheese.  Nowadays, I'm satisfied with one or two sitting next to a cup of tomato soup.

Set 'em down next to a cup of tomato soup and call it a day.

IMG_06112  slices soft white sandwich bread*

4  teaspoons mayonnaise

1  teaspoon ballpark mustard

1/8  teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/8  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

2  tablespoons finely-diced yellow or sweet onion (optional)

2  hot dogs (Note:  My favorite brand is Hebrew National all-beef franks.)

2  tablespoons finely-diced yellow or sweet onion (optional)

1  tablespoon salted butter, melted in the microwave

IMG_0615*The Little Miss Sunbeam Story: Created by children's book illustrator Ellen Segner in the 1940's, Little Miss Sunbeam was drawn from real life and based on a little blue-eyed blond girl Ellen saw playing in New York City's Washington Square Park. From her  drawings, Ms. Segner developed the original oil painting that became the Sunbeam trademark. Little Miss Sunbeam on the label has meant quality baked bread and bread products for over three generations of bread buyers.

IMG_0618 IMG_0619 IMG_0625 IMG_0629 IMG_0632 IMG_0628~Step 1. In a small ramekin, stir together the mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and pepper.  Set aside.  Dice the optional onion and set aside.  In a second small ramekin, melt the butter, set aside and ready a pastry brush.  Line a small, toaster-oven-sized baking pan with parchment paper and preheat toasted oven to 375°.

IMG_0634 IMG_0634 IMG_0639 IMG_0639 IMG_0647 IMG_0647~Step 2.  To assemble the cheesies, place two slices of white sandwich bread on a work surface. Using a small knife, slather the top surface of each bread slice with the mayo-mustard mixture.  Place a slice of white or yellow American cheese atop each bread slice.  Place one hot dog, on the diagonal (corner-to-corner) atop the cheese.  If desired, scatter a few of the optional diced onions to one side of each hot dog.  Lift the two open corners of the bread up and over the hot dog, then secure it closed with a sandwich pick or two.

IMG_0655 IMG_0656~Step 3.  Using a pastry brush, paint the surface of the parchment paper with some of the melted butter, then, place the hot dogs, slightly apart on the parchment.  Use the pastry brush and a light touch to paint (dab) the surface area of the sides (the white part) of the sandwich with the rest of the butter.  Bake on center rack of preheated toaster oven 10-12 minutes, or until bread is very lightly browned and cheese is bubbling.

Remove from oven, say "cheesie" & eat 'em up:

IMG_0676Baked Hot Dog Cheesies & Creamy Tomato Soup:  Recipe yields instructions to make 2 cheesies/1-2 servings.

Special Equipment List: 2 small ramekins; small knife; cutting board; chef's knife; small, toaster-oven-sized aluminum baking pan; parchment paper; 2-4 wooden sandwich picks; pastry brush

IMG_0603Cook's Note:  I can't prove this, meaning, no research reveals it, but, it's my guess that cheesies evolved directly from humble cheese toast. It's just common sense.  One fine day a mother, while making cheese toast for her kids, decided to transition their snack to a hearty meal by adding a hot dog to the cheese toast and fold it up.  After all, necessity is the mother of invention. ~ Unembellished Perfection -- Classic Cheese Toast ~.

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

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

04/11/2021

~ Unembellished Perfection -- Classic Cheese Toast ~

IMG_0582Cheese toast served with a side of tomato soup.  Also known as cheese-on-toast, these two go hand-in-hand together, and, truth told, I enjoy dipping this munchy-crunchy oven-toasted side-dish into my creamy-steamy soup better than the overwhelming favorite amongst the masses: the slightly-greasy skillet-fried grilled cheese sandwich (served with a side of tomato soup).  I'm not sure why.  Perhaps it's because my dad preferred cheese toast to grilled cheese, or, perhaps it's because it was one of the first meals my mom allowed me to prepare sans supervision.

To a budding young cook -- kitchen independence is bliss.

IMG_0603Everyone makes cheese toast a bit differently, but, the worst thing you can do is overthink it.  It's cheese on toast.  Period -- and ordinary white bread will do just fine.  My mom started by stirring a bit of mayonnaise, ballpark (yellow) mustard, a drop or two of Worcestershire sauce and a scant amount of black together in a small bowl.  Sometimes she used two slices of white American cheese, sometimes she used two slices of yellow American cheese, sometimes she used one slice of each -- whatever she had on hand was fine.  There's no need to take the time to slice the cheese slices into thin strips, but, she did, and for some reason, the cheese seems to melt better.

It's cheese on toast.  Period.  Please don't overthink it:

IMG_05701  slice White bread

2  teaspoons mayonnaise

1/2  teaspoon ballpark mustard

2  drops Worcestershire sauce

1/8  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

2  slices American cheese, white or yellow or one slice of each, slices cut into thin strips

IMG_0558 IMG_0563 IMG_0567 IMG_0575~Step 1.  In a small ramekin, stir together the mayonnaise, mustard, Worcestershire sauce and pepper.  Using a chef's knife, slice the cheese into thin strips and set aside.  Place the slice of bread in the toaster and lightly-toast it, just until barely brown, about 45-60 seconds.  Keep an eye on it because you do not want to over-toast the bread.  Remove the toast from the toaster and place it on a small broiler pan that will fit in the toaster oven.  Preheat the toaster oven to broil.

IMG_0575 IMG_0576 IMG_0579~ Step 2.  Slather the bread with the mayonnaise concoction.  Scatter the thin-sliced cheese slices on top. Place under the broiler of toaster oven until cheese is bubbly and melted, 30-45 seconds. Watch carefully as the the cheese will go from melted and bubbly to browned and burned quickly. Serve immediately.

Serve immediately w/a side of creamy tomato soup: 

IMG_0607Unembellished Perfection -- Classic Cheese Toast:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1 slice cheese toast.

Special Equipment List:  small ramekin; spoon; cutting board; chef's knife; small, disposable, toaster-oven-sized aluminum broiler pan, preferably the kind with a corrugated bottom

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d01ceb970cCook's Note:  ~ Say Cheese Please:  Making Perfect Welsh Rarebit ~. It's the original cheese toast and worth mention that I've only eaten what I believe to be the real-deal once.  It was in the latter 1990's, in Wales, in the exquisite Coed-Y-Mwstwr Hotel (coy-dee-moo-ster).   It came to me as a complimentary side to a lovely salad (which I ordered after returning from shopping in the city of Cardiff).  The cheese toast, along with everything else in this hotel, was perfect.  I kicked off my high-heels and enjoyed it in my lavish room, overlooking the How-Green-was-My-Valley countryside, with a very English G&T too.  After that trip, I not only gave cheese toast a lot more thought, I started taking it seriously.  Unembellished perfection.

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

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

04/08/2021

~ Bone-Suckin'-Sauced Boneless Chicken Paillards ~

IMG_0544Bone Suckin' Sauce.  If this is product you've never tried, I suggest you make the pilgrimage to your nearest Lowe's (yes folks, our local Lowe's home improvement and appliance retailer is the only place we can buy it here in Happy Valley -- they sell the sauce in the same spot they sell barbecue grills, which, makes sense), or, get it on-line on their website.  My son in Pittsburgh introduced me to Bone Suckin' Sauce about fifteen years ago, and, without exaggeration, the first taste changed my life.  Before long, I was buying this sauce, on-line, by the case.  Over the years, their Bone Suckin' Seasoning & Rub, Bone Suckin' Steak Seasoning & Rub, and, Bone-Suckin' Lemon-Pepper Seasoning have earned a permanent spot in my pantry. 

Bone Sucking' Sauce is non GMO, gluten free, &, fat free:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ea441d970dBone Sucking' Sauce:  Tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, honey, molasses, mustard, horseradish, lemon juice, onions, garlic, peppers, natural hickory smoked flavor, natural spices, salt and xanthan gum.  It's the xanthan gum, which they used in place of cornstarch as a thickener, that makes it gluten-free and keeps it a transparent light-red color.  Bone Suckin' Sauce hails from Raleigh, NC, and, is the brainchild of Phil Ford. Back in 1987, Phil was trying to copy his mother's recipe for a western North Carolina-style barbecue sauce.  His creation was so delicious his sister-in-law, Sandi Ford, convinced Phil to partner with her and her husband to sell it. It was coined "bone suckin' " because it made Sandi suck on the rib bones to glean every last drop of flavor from them.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d147c0970cBone Suckin' Sauce and Bone Suckin' Seasoning and Rub -- together.  Oh.  My.  Sigh.

My pantry nor I would never be caught without this dynamic duo in it -- I buy the sauce by the case.  My family would simply disown me. Created to go together, they're an addictive, well-balanced blend of sweet-savory BBQ perfection -- both are bright, fresh and crisp with a hint of smokey flavor.  For sprinkling and rubbing to dipping, drizzling, slathering, or basting, there isn't anything, from A-Z in the world of barbecue, they're not fantastic on.

Paillard is a fancy French word, a verb, meaning "to pound":

6a0120a8551282970b01bb098fc7e8970dA bit about paillard (PI-yahrd):  This fancy French word means "to pound", and, references a lightly-pounded portion-sized slice or medallion of meat, poultry or seafood that gets quickly sautéed. A paillard is not madly smashed to smithereens.  Pounding should make it wider and thinner, with the point being to pound it in a manner that makes it even in thickness --  to break down the fibers, to tenderize it, and, to make it cook evenly.  It's done with a flat-sided meat mallet, not a sharp, pyramid-toothed gadget guaranteed to pulverize.  To those who smack away using the back of a heavy skillet, while the bravado is amusing, it's less than affective, as you can't concentrate the necessary force directly on the places that need it to do a truly expert job.

The taste and texture of lightly-pounded paillards is an extra step well worth the effort. I find it to be a time-saver too.  The time it takes to pound six boneless skinless chicken thighs, including the time to get out a cutting board, the plastic wrap and a flat-sided meat mallet is about five minutes. Once done, cooking the paillards is considerably faster and easier, had I not taken the time.

This easy winner winner chicken dinner is awesome:

IMG_04821 1/4-1 1/2  cups Bone Suckin' thicker-style sauce, plus, additional sauce for dipping or drizzling at tableside

6-8  tablespoons water (3-4-ounces)

6a0120a8551282970b0263e99973f3200b6  large boneless, skinless chicken thighs (Note:  This is approximately the equivalent of 3, boneless, skinless chicken breast halves that have been butterflied to form 6 pieces/portions.)

~ Step 1.  Place the thighs between two large layers of plastic wrap and lightly pound with the flat side of a meat mallet to a thickness of more than a 1/4" and less than 1/2".

6a0120a8551282970b026bdec6c2a8200c~ Step 2. Remove and discard the top layer of plastic wrap and lightly sprinkle the tops of paillards with:

Bone Suckin' Sauce Seasoning and Rub 

In a 16" electric skillet on low heat, heat:

6 tablespoons corn or peanut oil

Increase heat to medium- medium-high (240°-250°).

6a0120a8551282970b027880210c7b200d 6a0120a8551282970b026bdec92284200c 6a0120a8551282970b026bdec922a1200c 6a0120a8551282970b027880210c9b200d~Recap: Cover a large cutting board with plastic wrap.  Unravel/unroll the chicken thighs and place them, flat and slightly apart, atop the plastic. Cover with a second sheet of plastic.  Using a flat-sided meat mallet, pound to a thickness of 1/4"-1/2".  Remove and discard top layer of plastic.

IMG_0497 IMG_0497 IMG_0504 IMG_0504 IMG_0519 IMG_0519 IMG_0519 IMG_0519 IMG_0527 IMG_0527 IMG_0535 IMG_0535~Step 3.  Add the paillards to the hot oil in the skillet.   Season their tops (liberally) with the Bone Suckin' Seasoning and Rub.  Sauté gently until light-golden in color on both sides, turning only once, about 7-8 minutes per side, turning the heat down, if necessary, to prevent scorching.  Add the Bone Suckin' Sauce to the chicken in the skillet, followed by the water.  Quickly heat the sauce to bubbling, stirring in and around and under the paillards constantly for a moment or two to incorporate the sauce into the flavorful pan drippings.  Adjust the heat to a very gentle simmer (steady yet very gentle), and continue to simmer very gently, uncovered, about 20 more minutes.

Try it served atop some slightly-spicy Mexican-style rice

IMG_0553Bone-Suckin'-Sauced Boneless Chicken Paillards:  Recipe yields 6 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  large cutting board; plastic wrap; flat-sized meat mallet; 16" electric skillet w/lid; 1-cup measuring container; fork and/or spatula; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b02788021145d200dCook's Note: A Paillard, a noun, is a thin, lightly-pounded cut, large or small, of any type of meat -- most commonly beef, chicken, lamb, pork or veal.  That said, occasionally, in certain culinary applications, firm seafood, like lobster, shrimp or scallops, can, for the right reason, become a paillard.  It's also possible to use some vegetables to make a paillard.  Paillard, the verb, generally speaking, means to lightly-pound. I'm using a boneless chicken thighs as an example: ~ To Paillard or Not to Paillard -- & Define a Paillard ~.

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

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

04/05/2021

~ Cheese Ravioli w/Butter, Garlic & Cottage Cheese ~

IMG_0436I'm often asked what I cook just for myself, meaning:  what I eat when no one else is around or no one else is looking.  My answer is always the same:  Most times I make a sandwich or nuke some soup (which require no actual cooking), but, when I do want to place a pot on the stovetop, I treat myself to a super-quick, super-easy pasta dish that is a spin-off of a childhood favorite (my dad's version of mac and cheese) which was an odd combination of hot, buttered-macaroni tossed with cold cottage cheese and seasoned with garlic powder, salt and crushed red pepper flakes.

Steaming-hot cheese ravioli tossed w/ice-cold cottage cheese?

IMG_0449If you can't quite wrap your head around the concept of hot and cold in in the same pasta bowl, rethink your position.  Resist every urge to heat or melt the cottage cheese, or, God forbid, create a baked casserole out of this recipe (which actually might be good but totally misses the point). This meatless meal is wonderful just as it is, and, if you happen to have a tomato and/or some fresh parsley, don't hesitate to chop either or both and toss them in at the end as well.

A one-pot cheese ravioli dish that goes from stovetop-to-table in 10-15 minutes.  It's as close to instant-gratification as it gets:

IMG_04096  ounces frozen cheese ravioli (1/2 of a 12-ounce bag)

3  tablespoons salted butter, cut into pieces

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder, more or less, to taste

1/4-  teaspoon sea salt, more or less, to taste

1/4-1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes, more or less, to taste

1  tablespoon finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1/2  cup large-curd cottage cheese, somewhat cold (Note:  Just before you're ready to start boiling the water for the ravioli, remove the cottage cheese from the refrigerator and set it aside. At serving time, it will be cold, but not ice cold.)

6-8 small, sliced cherry or grape tomatoes (optional)

1-2 teaspoons minced fresh parsley leaves (optional)

IMG_0413 IMG_0413 IMG_0419 IMG_0422~Step 1.  In an 2-quart saucepan, bring 1 1/2 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add the ravioli and cook, according to package directions, until al dente, about 5-6 minutes.  Transfer to a colander. Drain well and return hot ravioli to still warm stockpot on still warm stovetop.  

IMG_0425 IMG_0428 IMG_0431 IMG_0431~Step 2.  Add the butter, garlic powder, salt and red pepper flakes, followed by the Parmigiana-Reggiano cheese.  Using two forks or two spoons, gently toss as you would a salad, until butter is melted and ravioli are evenly coated.  Add the cottage cheese along and lightly toss, just to distribute the creamy cheese throughout ravioli.  Remove from stovetop and serve immediately.

Toss in some sliced cherry tomatoes &/or parsley too:

IMG_0464Dig into some cheesy, creamy & slightly-spicy comfort food:    

IMG_0467Cheese Ravioli w/Butter, Garlic & Cottage Cheese:  Recipe yields 1 hearty main-course servings, or, 2 smaller side-servings.

Special Equipment List: 2-quart saucepan; colander; large spoon; cutting board; chef's knife

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7f6a67a970bCook's Note: My dad's mac & cheese is a comforting, flavor-packed dish that will provide almost instant gratification because it goes from stovetop to table in the time it takes to cook the macaroni.  His unusual combination of hot, spicy, buttered elbow macaroni, tossed with cold cottage cheese (he liked farmers' cheese but began substituting cottage cheese as farmers' cheese started to get hard to come by) literally bursts with flavor.    ~ Dad's Mac & Cheese, or:  What I cook Just for Me ~.

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

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

04/02/2021

~ Easiest Ham & Cheesy Boxed Scalloped Potatoes ~

IMG_0396I know I'm not alone on this point, C-19 has changed what I store in my pantry -- truth told, it's not bad, just different.  In preparation for the lock down that occurred a few months ago, I stocked several boxes of Rice-a-Roni, four boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese, a big box of Hungry Jack instant mashed potatoes, and, a few boxes of Stovetop stuffing mix and Betty Crocker cheesy scalloped potatoes.  Thanks to them being staples in my mom's pantry, I knew these easy-to-make convenience-food side-dishes not only have a long shelf life, they're tasty.

In the case of the scalloped potatoes, my mom made them often, sometimes even for company and holidays.  She had her method for "doctoring up" (her words) these boxes of dehydrated potatoes.  There were never any complaints and never any leftovers -- everyone gobbled them up.  I so forgot how much like them, I've taken to making them occasionally.  In my kitchen, they're no longer "just in case" food.  They're scrape-the-casserole-clean comfort food.  Today, I'm adding some ham (leftover from the Easter holiday) to turn this side-dish into a main course.

Steamy & creamy w/a crispy top & loaded w/smokey ham:

IMG_03581  7-ounce box Betty Crocker's cheesy scalloped potates

2 1//4  cups whole milk (in place of water)

2  tablespoons salted butter, sliced or cubed

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

8-10  ounces sliced or diced ham (a generous 2 cups)

IMG_0360 IMG_0360 IMG_0365 IMG_0365 IMG_0370~Step 1.  Open the box and empty the packet of dry cheese-sauce mix into the bottom of a 1 1/2-quart casserole.  Place the milk in a 2-cup measuring container along with the butter and nutmeg and heat it, in the microwave, to steaming.  Give the liquid mixture a thorough stir, add it to the dry mixture in the casserole, then, thoroughly stir the two together.

IMG_0374 IMG_0374 IMG_0385~ Step 2.  Add the dehydrated potatoes and the ham to the casserole and stir them into the hot liquid.  Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes, to allow the potatoes to start to soften, then, stir again.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of 350° oven 35-40 minutes.  Casserole will be bubbling throughout and potatoes will be golden brown.  Remove from oven and place on a rack to cool slightly, 5 minutes.  Serve hot.

Scoop out a heaping helping & gobble up the goodness:

IMG_0398Easiest Ham & Cheesy Boxed Scalloped Potatoes:  Recipe yields 4 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; 8" x 8"-square, 1 1/2-quart casserole; spoon; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0278800f01c5200dCook's Note: I'm no different than a lot of you when it comes to weeknight dinners.  Sometimes I put a small chicken in the oven to roast, other times I fry a few pork chops, sometimes I roast or poach a turkey tenderloin -- easy to make, minimum-fuss fare.  Stuffing goes great with all of them.  That said, on a busy week day, many times, all I  have the time or inclination to make are two easy-peasy satellite side-dishes -- a bag of our favorite steam-in-bag vegetables, and, a box of "doctored up" Stovetop-type stuffing -- and there's no shame in either one.  That's why I keep Stovetop brand stuffing in my pantry at all times -- of course there are other brands, I like Stovetop.

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

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

03/30/2021

~ Easy One-Skillet Teriyaki Chicken-Thigh Paillards ~

IMG_0350As a lover of Asian fare, teriyaki-in-general is one of my favorite ways to cook.  Teriyaki is as well known outside of Japan as sushi or ramen is, so, most American people, kids included, will give "teriyaki anything" a try.  A bottle of teriyaki sauce has been a staple condiment in my pantry for as long as I've had a pantry, standing right next to the elites:  Heinz ketchup, French's mustard, Hellman's mayonnaise, K.C. Masterpiece barbecue sauce, and, Lee & Perrin's worcestershire sauce.  That said, teriyaki sauce is seriously simple to make, and, it can be customized to suit your family's taste.  I typically prepare a double- or triple-sized batch, then keep what I don’t use in the refrigerator (stored in there it keeps almost forever), so it's ready to reheat the next time a "teriyaki anything" craving hits me or mine -- sometimes as often as once a week.

Teriyaki sauce was invented by Japanese settlers to Hawaii.

6a0120a8551282970b0263e997f5f1200bTeriyaki (tehr-uh-yah-kee):  Teriyaki is a Japanese term referring to a method of cooking beefchicken, ribs, or seafood that has been marinated (in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic and/or ginger) prior to being grilled, broiled or stir-fried. "Teri" is the Japanese word for "luster", and it is the sugar that gives the food its "teri" or shiny glaze.  It's interesting to note that in Japan, there is no official teriyaki sauce.  Teriyaki sauce was invented by the early Japanese settlers to the islands of Hawaii.  They created:

A slightly-sweet nicely-thickened marinade/basting sauce using local, readily-available, easy-to-acquire Hawaiian products.  For example: pineapple juice (in place of the mirin or sake of their homeland) and wild garlic (in conjuction with ginger they brought with them), mixed with soy sauce and thickened with cornstarch.  The subject at hand (beef, chicken, pork, fish or seafood) is marinated for a minimum of 30 minutes, longer for a more pronounced flavor, then cooked.

6a0120a8551282970b0263e997f63d200bHomemade teriyaki sauce is thick and drizzly.  At its thinnest, it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and, at the discretion of the cook, in many cases thicker than that.  That said, many store-brought brands are watery (similar in consistency to soy sauce), and, they will not work in this recipe.  Ideally, the teriyaki sauce should be similar in consistency to a hearty barbecue sauce.  What I keep on-hand and recommend is: Panda Express Mandarin brand teriyaki sauce.

Paillard is a fancy French word, a verb, meaning "to pound":

6a0120a8551282970b01bb098fc7e8970dA bit about paillard (PI-yahrd):  This fancy French word means "to pound", and, references a lightly-pounded portion-sized slice or medallion of meat, poultry or seafood that gets quickly sautéed. A paillard is not madly smashed to smithereens.  Pounding should make it wider and thinner, with the point being to pound it in a manner that makes it even in thickness --  to break down the fibers, to tenderize it, and, to make it cook evenly.  It's done with a flat-sided meat mallet, not a sharp, pyramid-toothed gadget guaranteed to pulverize.  To those who smack away using the back of a heavy skillet, while the bravado is amusing, it's less than affective, as you can't concentrate the necessary force directly on the places that need it to do a truly expert job.

The taste and texture of lightly-pounded paillards is an extra step well worth the effort. I find it to be a time-saver too.  The time it takes to pound six boneless skinless chicken thighs, including the time to get out a cutting board, the plastic wrap and a flat-sided meat mallet is about five minutes. Once done, cooking the paillards is considerably faster and easier, had I not taken the time.

Teriyaki chicken-thigh paillards are one of my favorite things.

IMG_03091 1/4-1 1/2  cups Panda Express Mandarin teriyaki sauce, plus, additional teriyaki sauce for dipping or drizzling at tableside

6-8  tablespoons water (3-4-ounces)

6a0120a8551282970b0263e99973f3200b6  large boneless, skinless chicken thighs (Note:  This is approximately the equivalent of 3, boneless, skinless chicken breast halves that have been butterflied to form 6 pieces/portions.)

~ Step 1.  Place the thighs between two large layers of plastic wrap and lightly pound with the flat side of a meat mallet to a thickness of more than a 1/4" and less than 1/2".

6a0120a8551282970b026bdec6c2a8200c~ Step 2. Remove and discard the top layer of plastic wrap and season the tops of paillards with:

nothing -- add no seasoning

In a 16" electric skillet on low heat, heat:

4 tablespoons vegetable oil, and, 2  tablespoons sesame oil 

Increase heat to medium- medium-high (240°-250°).

6a0120a8551282970b026bdec6fcf6200c 6a0120a8551282970b0263e999ac40200b 6a0120a8551282970b0263e999ac40200b 6a0120a8551282970b0263e999ac4f200b~Recap:  Cover a large cutting board with plastic wrap.  Unravel/unroll the chicken thighs and place them, flat and slightly apart, atop the plastic. Cover with a second sheet of plastic.  Using a flat-sided meat mallet, pound to a thickness of 1/4"-1/2".  Remove and discard top layer of plastic.

IMG_0310 IMG_0316 IMG_0320 IMG_0322 IMG_0326 IMG_0329 IMG_0333 IMG_0334 IMG_0336 IMG_0340 IMG_0345 IMG_0348~Step 3.  Add the paillards to the (now fragrant) hot oil in the skillet.  Sauté gently until light-golden in color on both sides, turning only once, about 8-9 minutes per side.  Add the teriyaki sauce to the chicken in the skillet, followed by the water.  Quickly heat the teriyaki sauce to bubbling, stirring in and around and under the paillards constantly for a moment or two to incorporate the sauce into the flavorful pan drippings.  Adjust the heat to a very gentle simmer (steady yet very gentle), and continue to simmer very gently, uncovered, about 20 more minutes.

This recipe is so good it put take-out teriyaki in my past:

IMG_0349Try my Barbecue-Sauced Chicken-Thigh Paillard Salad too:

IMG_0253Easy One-Skillet Teriyaki Chicken-Thigh Paillards:  Recipe yields 6 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  large cutting board; plastic wrap; flat-sized meat mallet; 16" electric skillet w/lid; 1-cup measuring container; fork and/or spatula; large spoon

IMG_0203Cook's Note: A Paillard, a noun, is a thin, lightly-pounded cut, large or small, of any type of meat -- most commonly beef, chicken, lamb, pork or veal.  That said, occasionally, in certain culinary applications, firm seafood, like lobster, shrimp or scallops, can, for the right reason, become a paillard.  It's also possible to use some vegetables to make a paillard.  Paillard, the verb, generally speaking, means to lightly-pound. I'm using a boneless chicken thighs as an example: ~ To Paillard or Not to Paillard -- & Define a Paillard ~.

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

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

03/27/2021

~The Lunch Special BBQ-Sauced Chicken Sandwich~

IMG_0291More than a few foodie people I know, me included, secretly fantasize about owning a small-town, mom-and-pop-type diner -- a simple little eatery, with a dozen or so counter stools, plus a few booths lined up in front of a row of windows too.  A safe harbor where the local clientele can meander in almost any time of day for a cup of coffee and breakfast, the lunch or dinner special, or, a slice of lemon meringue pie.  A big piece of juicy barbecued chicken, hot out of the skillet, slathered in a copious amount of semi-caramelized barbecue sauce served up in a brioche roll with a side macaroni or potato salad would be one such special on Mel's Diner menu.

Mom-&-pop diner fare is perhaps some of my favorite food.

IMG_02624-6  hot-out-of-the skillet, whole barbecue-sauced chicken-thigh paillards

4-6  brioche hamburger-type rolls, preferably toasted, 1 roll per sandwich

8-12  slices yellow American or yellow cheddar cheese, 2 slices cheese per sandwich

2  cups baby romaine leaves, 1/3 cup lettuce per sandwich

1-1 1/4  cups thin-sliced red onion pieces, 1/4 cup onion pieces per sandwich

4-6  sliced Campari tomatoes, 3-4 small, Campari tomato slices per sandwich

IMG_0264 IMG_0266 IMG_0269 IMG_0270 IMG_0275 IMG_0276 IMG_0278 IMG_0280~Step 1.  To assemble each sandwich, place the bottom of a toasted roll on a plate.  Arrange two slices of cheese atop the warm roll, followed by a hot, barbecue chicken-thigh paillard.  Place a generous layer of baby romaine atop the the chicken, followed by a scattering of onion pieces and 3-4 small slices of Campari tomatoes.  Add the toasty top of the roll and eat ASAP.   

Add a BBQ-sauced chicken sandwich to your diner menu:

IMG_0282Try my Barbecue-Sauced Chicken-Thigh Paillard Salad too:

IMG_0256The Lunch Special BBQ-Sauced Chicken Sandwich:  Recipe yields 4-6 chicken sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; serrated bread knife; toaster or toaster oven

IMG_0203Cook's Note: A Paillard, a noun, is a thin, lightly-pounded cut, large or small, of any type of meat -- most commonly beef, chicken, lamb, pork or veal.  That said, occasionally, in certain culinary applications, firm seafood, like lobster, shrimp or scallops, can, for the right reason, become a paillard.  It's also possible to use some vegetables to make a paillard.  Paillard, the verb, generally speaking, means to lightly-pound. I'm using a boneless chicken thighs as an example: ~ To Paillard or Not to Paillard -- & Define a Paillard ~.

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

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

03/24/2021

~ To Paillard or Not to Paillard -- and Define a Paillard ~

IMG_0203A Paillard, a noun, is a thin, lightly-pounded cut, large or small, of any type of meat -- most commonly beef, chicken, lamb, pork or veal.  That said, occasionally, in certain culinary applications, firm seafood, like lobster, shrimp or scallops, can, for the right reason, become a paillard.  It's also possible to use some vegetables to make a paillard.  In certain areas of the United States, paillards are simply referred to as "cutlets".  Paillard, the verb, generally speaking, means to lightly-pound.  I'm using a few boneless, skinless chicken thighs as an example.   

6a0120a8551282970b01bb098fc7e8970dPaillard (PI-yahrd):  This fancy French word dating back to the 19th century means "to pound", and, references a lightly-pounded, large-and-flat cut or portion-sized slice or medallion of meat, poultry or seafood that will cook quickly.  A paillard is not madly smashed to smithereens.  Pounding should make it wider and thinner, with the point being to pound it in a manner that makes it even in thickness so as to break down the fibers, tenderize it, and, make it cook evenly.  It's best done with a flat-sided meat mallet, not a sharp, pyramid-toothed gadget guaranteed to pulverize.  To those who smack away using the back of a heavy skillet, while the bravado is amusing, it's less than affective, as you can't concentrate the necessary force directly on the places that need it -- a skillet might be fun, but, it won't do an expert job -- it's amateurish.  Taking the time to paillard correctly produces a professional outcome end ensures a pretty presentation, not to mention a perfectly-cooked end product.  Be professional.

The taste and texture of lightly-pounded paillards is an easy extra step that is well worth the effort. In the long run, I often find it to be a time-saver too.  The time it took to pound these six boneless skinless chicken thighs, including the time to get out a cutting board, the plastic wrap and a flat-sided meat mallet is about five minutes. Once done, cooking the paillards is considerably faster and easier, had I not taken the time.  Experience has taught that it is best to paillard the protein du jour while it is cold and easier to control the thickness.  On another note, I like to place "the victim" between two pieces of plastic wrap to paillard.  This enables me to see clearly what is happening with every strike of the meat mallet.  Others prefer wax paper or parchment paper  -- both work.

IMG_0180 IMG_0181 IMG_0184 IMG_0186Example:  Cover a large cutting board with plastic wrap.  Unravel/unroll the chicken thighs and place them, flat and slightly apart, atop the plastic. Cover with a second sheet of plastic.  Using a flat-sided meat mallet, pound to a thickness of 1/4"-1/2".  Remove and discard top layer of plastic. Proceed with recipe as directed, as, there are several options, each depending on the method being used to cook them (sauté in a skillet, grill indoors or out, bake in the oven, deep-fry, etc):  

At the very least, the tops of the tenderized and delicate paillards typically get seasoned with sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Sometimes, the paillards are placed in a marinade to season them (marinades are flavorizers not tenderizers).  Other times, a stuffing is placed on top of them and the paillards get rolled and secured prior to cooking.  Still other times, the paillards go through a classic breading process -- dredged in flour, dipped in eggs, coated in bread crumbs.

To paillard or not to paillard -- always a step worth taking:   

IMG_0203"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

03/21/2021

~Easy One-Skillet Barbecued Chicken-Thigh Paillards~

IMG_0256Next to Buffalo-style chicken anything, a big piece of juicy barbecued chicken, hot off the outdoor grill grids, slathered in a copious amount of semi-caramelized barbecue sauce is one of my favorite things.  There's more.  I like to take that seething hot piece of barbecued chicken and plop it atop a cold, crisp salad.  Yes, of course, the hot chicken semi-wilts some of those greens, but when I put a knife-and fork to this barbecued chicken salad meal, I can't stop eating.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09c6f476970dA bit about paillard (PI-yahrd):  This fancy French word means "to pound", and, references a lightly-pounded portion-sized slice or medallion of meat, poultry or seafood that gets quickly sautéed. A paillard is not madly smashed to smithereens.  Pounding should make it wider and thinner, with the point being to pound it in a manner that makes it even in thickness --  to break down the fibers, to tenderize it, and, to make it cook evenly.  It's done with a flat-sided meat mallet, not a sharp, pyramid-toothed gadget guaranteed to pulverize.  To those who smack away using the back of a heavy skillet, while the bravado is amusing, it's less than affective, as you can't concentrate the necessary force directly on the places that need it to do a truly expert job.

The taste and texture of lightly-pounded paillards is an extra step well worth the effort. I find it to be a time-saver too.  The time it takes to pound six boneless skinless chicken thighs, including the time to get out a cutting board, the plastic wrap and a flat-sided meat mallet is about five minutes. Once done, cooking the paillards is considerably faster and easier, had I not taken the time.

Chicken-Thigh Paillards + Barbecue Sauce + Salad = Happy Me.

IMG_01961 1/4-1 1/2  cups K.C. Masterpiece original barbecue sauce, plus, additional barbecue sauce for dipping or drizzling at tableside

6-8  tablespoons water (3-4-ounces)

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09c74648970d6  large boneless, skinless chicken thighs (Note:  This is approximately the equivalent of 3, boneless, skinless chicken breast halves that have been butterflied to form 6 pieces/portions.)

~ Step 1.  Place the thighs between two large layers of plastic wrap and lightly pound with the flat side of a meat mallet to a thickness of more than a 1/4" and less than 1/2".

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2ae80a4970c~ Step 2. Remove and discard the top layer of plastic wrap and lightly sprinkle the tops of paillards with:

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

In a 16" electric skillet on low heat, heat:

6 tablespoons corn or peanut oil

Increase heat to medium- medium-high (240°-250°).

IMG_0180IMG_0180IMG_0184IMG_0184IMG_0190~Recap:  Cover a large cutting board with plastic wrap.  Unravel/unroll the chicken thighs and place them, flat and slightly apart, atop the plastic. Cover with a second sheet of plastic.  Using a flat-sided meat mallet, pound to a thickness of 1/4"-1/2".  Remove and discard top layer of plastic.  Season tops of paillards with sea salt and peppercorn blend.  

IMG_0214 IMG_0214 IMG_0222 IMG_0222 IMG_0233 IMG_0236 IMG_0240 IMG_0243 IMG_0243~Step 3.  Add the paillards to the hot oil in the skillet.  Sauté gently until light-golden in color on both sides, turning only once, about 7-8 minutes per side.  Add the barbecue sauce to the chicken in the skillet, followed by the water.  Quickly heat the barbecue sauce to bubbling, stirring in and around and under the paillards constantly for a moment or two to incorporate the sauce into the flavorful pan drippings.  Adjust the heat to a very gentle simmer (steady yet very gentle), and continue to simmer very gently, uncovered, about 20 more minutes.

Serve alongside or atop a generous helping of a nicely-dressed salad w/additional barbecue sauce for dipping or drizzling:

IMG_0253Easy One-Skillet Barbecued Chicken-Thigh Paillards:  Recipe yields 6 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  large cutting board; plastic wrap; flat-sized meat mallet; 16" electric skillet w/lid; 1-cup measuring container; fork and/or spatula; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b026bdebbeec1200cCook's Note: When my kids were little kids then teenagers, barbecue-sauced pork chops, served up atop a bed of my easy-to-make recipe for better than store-bought stovetop macaroni and cheese was one of their favorite weeknight meals.  No one needed to be called to the table twice on barbecued pork chop night, and, I didn't have to spend all afternoon cooking in order to reap the reward of their accolades.  All I had to do was brown the chops on both sides and then let them slow simmer in a mixture of barbecue sauce and water for about 30 minutes until fork tender.  One-skillet perfection.  Try my ~ Easiest One-Skillet Barbecued-Sauced Pork Chops ~.

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

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

03/18/2021

~ In a Jiffy Corn Pancakes -- The Best of Both Worlds ~

IMG_0159The best of both worlds -- corn pancakes.  They're a combination of pancake batter and Johnny cake batter mixed together in one bowl to make:  corn pancakes.  They're wonderful -- slightly sweeter and considerably-lighter than typical Johnny cakes.  In a perfect world, I'd get up in the wee hours of the AM and make 'em from scratch.  Well, newsflash, it's not a perfect world, and, I can still make a great corn pancake breakfast by combining store-bought pancake mix and store-bought corn-muffin mix.  No eye rolling please -- once you stick a fork in one of these and take a taste, the outlook on the day ahead of you is going to improve.  Served with pure maple syrup and country sausage -- early morning breakfast perfection with no stress and no mess.

Johnnycakes.  The precursor to American pancakes.

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

0ebda5e1-45d3-44d6-a586-dc5cb97fb591 2In their purest form, Johnny cakes are made from yellow or white corn meal, boiling water, salt and sometimes sugar.  The corn meal gives them their unique, kinda gritty dense texture, but, they get most of their flavor from what they are cooked in, so, bacon drippings or butter, or either, combined with some oil are always used.  The batter has the consistency of loose mashed potatoes, and, while many versions contain milk and egg, unlike pancakes they don't contain any leavening (baking powder or baking soda), which is great because you can mix 'em in advance.

Corn pancakes.  Light like pancakes w/the flavor of corncakes:

IMG_01031  cup whole milk or buttermilk

1  large egg

3/4  cup Aunt Jemima original pancake & waffle mix

1/2  cup Jiffy corn muffin mix

corn or vegetable oil, for frying

salted butter pats, for topping pancakes

pure maple syrup, for drizzling over pancakes

country sausage patties, for accompaniment 

IMG_0107 IMG_0107 IMG_0112 2 IMG_0112 2 IMG_0116 IMG_0116 IMG_0120~Step 1. To make the batter, in a 2-cup measuring container, place and whisk together the milk (or buttermilk) and egg.  Measure and add the dry Jiffy mix mixture to the wet mixture and whisk it in. Measure and add the dry pancake mix to the wet mixture and whisk it in -- there is no need to worry about getting out all of the lumps.  Cover and set the batter aside for about 5-10 minutes. Afterward, check the consistency, and, if the mix seems too thick, whisk in a splash of milk or buttermilk.

IMG_0124 IMG_0124 IMG_0131 IMG_0131 IMG_0138 IMG_0138 IMG_0142 IMG_0142~Step 2.  To cook/fry the corn pancakes, in any size nonstick skillet, place a thin coating of corn or vegetable oil.  Place skillet over medium- medium-high heat.  For each pancake, pour about 4 tablespoons batter into the hot the oil.  The pancake will form itself.  Once bubbles form across the surface, and the perimeter of the pancake looks slightly-dryer than the middle, use a spatula to flip the pancake over -- this will take about 1 1/2-2 minutes. After flipping, cook pancake on the second side, for about 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Pancakes will be lightly golden with slightly-crispy edges.

Note:  For evenly-shaped, evenly-cooked pancakes, I like to fry them individually, in 1-2, 8" skillets -- two skillets on the stovetop at once.  After each 1-2 cook, I add a splash of additional oil to each pan, and, continue to cook until all of the batter has been used.  Try it my way -- each pancake comes out perfect every time.  Trust me -- one pancake per skillet is the ticket to perfection.

Tea for two & two for tea & two of everything for me:

IMG_0176In a Jiffy Corn Pancake & Sausage Patty Breakfast:  Recipe yields 10, 3 1/2"-4" round corn pancakes/2-4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; whisk; 8" nonstick skillet; 2-ounce ladle; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4acbc41200cCook's Note: Sausage and eggs. It might sound kind-of run-of-the-mill, but, when the sausage is homemade, and the eggs are fried in the luscious sausage drippings, it's remarkable.  And newsflash: While making breakfast sausage is not quite as easy as picking up a package of loose or link sausage at the store, it's pretty darn close, AND, trust me, after one taste of, you'll never look at store-bought the same way again.  Period.  Try ~ Mel's Herbaceous All-Purpose Breakfast Sausage ~.

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

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

03/15/2021

~ Open Sesame -- Easiest Teriyaki Pork Tenderloins ~

IMG_0088Can a really, I mean REALLY good dinner entrée be made using three ingredients?  Yes, on occasion it can, and, let's be honest, whether your food world moves at a fast pace or a slow pace, a three-ingredient dinner entrée recipe in-the-style of this one (meaning you're proud to plate and serve it to your family, or, to a few guests), is: a recipe worth having -- it's "the stuff" good home cooks are made of.  There's no shame in shortcuts as long they are high-quality ones. For example:  Using a bottle of seriously-good store-bought teriyaki sauce, instead of making it from scratch.  If it looks and tastes great, does anyone really need to know?  I think not.

As a lover of Asian fare, teriyaki-in-general is one of my favorite ways to cook.  Teriyaki is as well known outside of Japan as sushi or ramen is, so, most American people, kids included, will give "teriyaki anything" a try.  A bottle of teriyaki sauce has been a staple condiment in my pantry for as long as I've had a pantry, standing right next to the elites:  Heinz ketchup, French's mustard, Hellman's mayonnaise and Lee & Perrin's worcestershire sauce.  That said, teriyaki sauce is seriously simple to make, and, it can be customized to suit your family's taste.  I typically prepare a double- or triple-sized batch, then keep what I don’t use in the refrigerator, so it's ready to reheat the next time a "teriyaki anything" craving hits me or mine -- as often as once a week.

6a0120a8551282970b0263e95ca6aa200bTeriyaki (tehr-uh-yah-kee):  Teriyaki is a Japanese term referring to a method of cooking beefchicken, ribs, or seafood that has been marinated (in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic and/or ginger) prior to being grilled, broiled or stir-fried. "Teri" is the Japanese word for "luster", and it is the sugar that gives the food its "teri" or shiny glaze.  It's interesting to note that in Japan, there is no official teriyaki sauce.  Teriyaki sauce was invented by the early Japanese settlers to the islands of Hawaii.  They created:

A slightly-sweet nicely-thickened marinade/basting sauce using local, readily-available, easy-to-acquire Hawaiian products.  For example: pineapple juice (in place of the mirin or sake of their homeland) and wild garlic (in conjuction with ginger they brought with them), mixed with soy sauce and thickened with cornstarch.  The subject at hand (beef, chicken, pork, fish or seafood) is marinated for a minimum of 30 minutes, longer for a more pronounced flavor, then cooked.

6a0120a8551282970b026be408b9ea200dHomemade teriyaki sauce is thick and drizzly.  At its thinnest, it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and, at the discretion of the cook, in many cases thicker than that.  That said, many store-brought brands are watery (similar in consistency to soy sauce), and, they will not work in this recipe.  Ideally, the teriyaki sauce should be similar in consistency to a hearty barbecue sauce.  What I keep on-hand and recommend is: Panda Express Mandarin brand teriyaki sauce.

Three ingredients + two quick sides = one wonderful Asian entrée:

IMG_00341  vacuum-packed package of 2 whole pork tenderloins, about 3 1/2-4 pounds total

1/2  cup Mandarin brand teriyaki sauce, or your favorite brand

about 1 tablespoon sesame seeds

steamed basmati rice, suggested accompaniment

steam-in-bag Asian vegetables, suggested accompaniment

IMG_0036 IMG_0036 IMG_0041 IMG_0041 IMG_0049~Step 1.  One-at-a-time remove the tenderloins from the vacuum packaging, using a few paper towels to pat each one dry, placing them together in a 1-gallon food storage bag as you work.  Add 1/2  cup of teriyaki sauce to the bag, then securely seal the bag.  Using your fingertips, "smoosh" the bag around to make sure both tenderloins are fully-coated in the teriyaki sauce.  Refrigerate 4-8 hours or overnight -- overnight is best.

IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052~ Step 2.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with aluminum foil, then place a piece of parchment paper atop the foil.  Remove the tenderloins from the marinade, shaking each one gently, to allow excess marinade to drizzle back into the bag.  Place the tenderloins, side-by-side, on prepared baking pan.  Sprinkle sesame seeds evenly over the surface of both tenderloins.  Discard the bag and the marinade.

IMG_0066 IMG_0066~ Step 3.  Bake tenderloins, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350° oven, about 30-35 minutes, or until the desired degree of doneness is reached.  I always use an instant-read meat thermometer and remove them when they have reached 138°-140°.  When the tenderloins are removed from the oven, tightly cover the pan with aluminum foil rest for 15-30 minutes, during which time carryover heat will continue to work its magic.  For best results, follow my instructions, meaning, do NOT cook past 140° or they will dry out (you were warned).  While tenderloins are resting, prepare the recommended side-dishes.

Slice & serve tenderloins w/steamed basmati rice, steam-in-bag vegetables & additional teriyaki sauce for dipping & drizzling:

IMG_0079This is a meal I like to serve plated in perfect-sized portions:

IMG_0095Open Sesame -- Easiest Teriyaki Pork Tenderloins:  Recipe yields 8-12 servings/4-6 servings each pork tenderloin.

Special Equipment List: paper towels; 1-gallon food storage bag; 1 cup measuring container; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; aluminum foil; instant-read meat thermometer (optional but recommended); chef's knife

6a0120a8551282970b0263e95cb855200bCook's Note: Americans adore teriyaki-style almost anything.  This is not an assumption on my part. Beef or chicken teriyaki appear as a skewered appetizer option on menus in almost all Japanese-American and Chinese-American restaurants.  Make no mistake, teriyaki is a 100% Japanese-invented method of cooking (read paragraph three), and, once Americans here in the states got a taste for its soy- and ginger-based flavors (thanks to our soldiers returning to the homeland after WWII), Chinese-American restaurants adopted it, to please the palates of their customers.  For another super-easy recipe, try my ~ Japanese-Teriyaki-Style Roasted Chicken Quarters ~.

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

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

03/12/2021

~A Slice of Hometown Pie -- My Hometown Pizza Pie~

IMG_9978When I was three, my parents built a home in the suburbs of Tamaqua, PA -- Hometown, PA. Hometown, was/is a community of mostly one-story ranch and bi-level homes that is best described as where the post-WWII generation built their dream homes in the latter 1950's, 60's and 70's -- homes with one or two car garages or an occasional car port, well-maintained lawns with backyard patios, swing sets and badminton nets, barbecue grills, etc. -- a great neighborhood to raise kids.  Amongst other things, Hometown had its own fire company, elementary school, a couple of gas stations, a diner, a small hotel and restaurant with a doctor's office on the top floor, a great drive-up place to buy burgers and hand-dipped ice-cream, a weekly farmers' market, a bowling alley, and, a pizza place -- all five-minutes from home, no matter where you lived.

It was an idillic lifestyle -- a real slice of Americana.

6a0120a8551282970b027880189f70200dIt's worth mention, nine-out-of-every-ten-times, I mix and first-proof my pizza dough in my bread machine.  The bread machine, in 55 minutes from beginning to end, does a superb job with pizza dough, and frees up my hands to prep ingredients for the toppings.  Feel free to proof your yeast, mix, knead and proof your dough in the traditional manner, but, don't tell me it's better. It's simply a different method producing the same result.  

Hometown:  Complete w/a signature "upside down" pizza.  

Vitale's restaurant.  What I write in the following paragraphs are the recollections of a girl (me) who's family of four ordered Vitale's pizza often -- and we adored it.  That said, they are the recollections of a girl (me) from elementary school through to high school, so, they span just shy of two decades.  Vitale's operated for almost 50 years, and, as I recall, the famous "upside down" pizza remained, sort of, for the most part, unchanged.  That said, after moving out of the area in 1974, I began serving my own version of Vitale's pizza, as per my recollections of what it looked and tasted like, so, no criticisms please.  Their recipe remains a secret to this day.  Mine does not.

169177953_10208288972459527_2048124597350509320_nVitale's Country House, an Italian-American restaurant and pub, located on Route 54 in Hometown, PA, opened in 1959.  Besides their unique "upside down pizza" (cheese on the bottom and sauce on top), great pasta dishes and classic dinner favorites like veal parmigiana and lasagna, they were known for steaks, veal chops, lobster tails, and steamed clams too -- my dad loved the clams, my mom loved their veal. My brother and I were there for the pizza.  In the early 1960's a fire caused the restaurant to close, but, the owner, Louie Vitale rebuilt and reopened, until sadly, it closed its doors permanently in 1994. Their recipe for their pizza crust, sauce, and toppings was, sadly, never shared. My recollections are:

IMG_9987Vitale's pizza crust was thin and crispy -- not super-thin and cracker-like, simply thin and crispy. The cheese(s), common to the era, would have been limited to provolone and/or mozzarella and a sprinkling of Parmesan, so, that's what I use -- not too much, not too little, just enough.  The sauce was dark in color, deep-flavored and not too sweet, probably a slow-simmered cooked sauce -- not too much, not too little, just enough. The sauce got dolloped on top of the cheeses, and, for a period in time, was "smooshed" around with a spoon to spread it atop the cheese as best one could -- somewhere along the line the "smooshing" stopped and the sauce remained in dollops (which I honestly didn't like as well).  A light sprinkling of powdery Parmesan went on top, along with a sprinkling of oregano -- I assumed it was oregano because small shaker-type containers of oregano could be found on every table (along with Parmesan cheese) throughout the restaurant -- simply oregano.

My version of Vitale's Pizza -- the way I remember it.

IMG_9870For the dough for two 12-round thin-and-crispy light-and-airy pizzas:

3/4  cup + 2 tablespoons flat beer or water (Note:  I like the yeasty-flavor that flat beer adds to the crust, but, water works just fine.  Your choice.)

1  tablespoon olive oil

2 1/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon dried oregano

1  teaspoon salt

1  teaspoon sugar

1  packet granulated yeast

For the toppings:

6-7  very-thin (paper thin) slices provolone cheese per pie

1 1/4-1 1/2  cups shredded mozzarella cheese per pie

3/4  cup pizza sauce per pie

1-1 1/2  tablespoons finely-shredded Parmesan cheese per pie

a sprinkling of dried oregano leaves per pie, for seasoning pizza 

IMG_9876 IMG_9876 IMG_9881 IMG_9881 IMG_9885~Step 1. Place the beer and olive oil in the the bread pan of the bread machine.  Add the all-purpose flour, followed by the sugar, salt and optional oregano.  Note:  When making any type of bread machine bread or bread machine dough, it's very important to always add the wet ingredients (anything liquid or pourable) first and the dry ingredients last.

IMG_9887 IMG_9887 IMG_9891 IMG_9891~Step 2. Insert the bread pan into the machine.  Close lid and push the "select" button.  Choose the "pizza dough" cycle. Push "start".  When the machine signals the dough is done (it will have risen once too), remove pan of dough from the machine.  In my machine this takes 55 minutes.

IMG_9934 IMG_9934 IMG_9939~ Step 3. Place 1 1/2-2 tablespoons of olive on each of two 12"-round pizza pans and use a paper towel to oil the inside surface of the pans.  Use a few drops of olive oil to lightly oil your fingertips and use your fingertips to turn the ball of dough out of the bread pan and into your hand.  Divide the dough in half, then place each half onto a prepared pan.  Allow the dough to rest on the pan about 15-20 minutes.  Note:  This 15-20 minute rest will make dough easy to pat onto pizza pan. Using your fingertips and a light touch, pat and press dough across bottom of pan.  I do this in 3 parts taking 5-10 minutes, allowing dough to rest 3-4 minutes each time before patting and pressing again.

IMG_9944 IMG_9944 IMG_9944 IMG_9952 IMG_9952 IMG_9952 IMG_9960~Step 4.  To top the pizza, arrange 6-7 very thin slices provolone cheese in a single layer across the surface of each pie. Scatter 1 1/4-1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella over the provolone on each pie.  Using a tablespoon, dollop the sauce, atop the shredded cheese, onto each pizza.  Using the tablespoon and a light touch, "smoosh" the sauce around over the cheese or don't -- your choice, but, I like it "smooshed".  Sprinkle the Parmesan over the the sauce, followed by a sprinkling of oregano.

IMG_9964~ Step 5.  Baking one-at-a-time, place a pan of pizza on pizza stone on center rack of preheated 350° oven for 10 minutes. Using a spatula, lift a corner of the pie up and using your other hand (via a pot holder or mitt), tilt pan and slide pie off the pan onto the stone.  Continue to bake for 3-4 more minutes.  Crust will be nicely-brown and nice-and-crispy on the bottom and cheeses will be bubbling up through sauce. 

Transfer to a wooden or high-heat-safe board & slice:

IMG_9967Thin crust pizza waits for no one -- slice & serve ASAP:

IMG_9979A Slice of Hometown Pie -- My Hometown Pizza Pie:  Recipe yields 2, 12"-round pizza pies/6-8 slices each.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; bread machine; paper towel; 1, 12"-round pizza pan; paper towel; tablespoon; pizza stone; large metal spatula; pizza peel; large cooling rack; pizza wheel 

6a0120a8551282970b017c3545a504970bCook's Note: On New Years Eve 2012, my husband reminisced to me about a pizza he used to eat when he was growing up:  Pioneer Club Pizza. He asked if I would try to replicate a version of this thin-crust pizza, which was unique in itself, and, to his hometown of Jessup, PA. Developing a recipe for something that you've never seen or tasted, as well as a product that hasn't existed for 30 years, is:  tricky business.  I began by asking Joe to write down his recollections of the Pioneer Club and their pizza.  He did, and, after a few attempts on my part: ~ A Blast from Jessup PA's Past:  Pioneer Club Pizza ~.

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

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

03/09/2021

~ Put the Beer in the Pizza Dough Thin-Crust Pizza ~

IMG_0018If you're a fan of, or prefer, a thin-and-crispy light-and-airy crust as the foil for your pizza or pizza creations, this is the recipe you've been searching for.  Thanks to a pizza-pro friend who schooled me on the virtues of beer in his pizza dough (by emptying almost an entire bottle of beer into his flour mixture in place of water), all it took was one taste when his pizza was done for me to try it in my own home kitchen.  It changed one of my pizza dough recipes forever -- my thin crust recipe.  

One ingredient, one substitution, one change-of-heart.

6a0120a8551282970b027880189f70200dIt's worth mention, nine-out-of-every-ten-times, I mix and first-proof my pizza dough in my bread machine.  The bread machine, in 55 minutes from beginning to end, does a superb job with pizza dough, and frees up my hands to prep ingredients for the toppings.  Feel free to proof your yeast, mix, knead and proof your dough in the traditional manner, but, don't tell me it's better. It's simply a different method producing the same result.

Beer in place of water.  Why didn't I think of that?

IMG_9872For the dough for two 12-round thin-and-crispy light-and-airy pizzas:

3/4  cup + 2 tablespoons beer

1  tablespoon olive oil

2 1/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon dried oregano (optional)

1  teaspoon salt

1  teaspoon sugar

1  packet granulated yeast

IMG_9876 IMG_9876 IMG_9881 IMG_9883 IMG_9885~Step 1. Place the beer and olive oil in the the bread pan of the bread machine.  Add the all-purpose flour, followed by the sugar, salt and optional oregano.  Note:  When making any type of bread machine bread or bread machine dough, it's very important to always add the wet ingredients (anything liquid or pourable) first and the dry ingredients last.

IMG_9887 IMG_9887 IMG_9891 IMG_9891~Step 2.  Insert the bread pan into the machine.  Close lid and push the "select" button. Using your index finger, make a shallow well in the center of the flour and add the granulated yeast to the well  Choose the "pizza dough" cycle. Push "start".  When the machine signals the dough is done (it will have risen once too), remove pan of dough from the machine.  In my machine this takes 55 minutes. Note:  You will have a total of 1-pound 2-ounces  pizza dough.

IMG_9934 IMG_9934 IMG_9939~ Step 3. Place 1 1/2-2 tablespoons of olive on each of two 12"-round pizza pans and use a paper towel to oil the inside surface of the pans.  Use a few drops of olive oil to lightly oil your fingertips and use your fingertips to turn the ball of dough out of the bread pan and into your hand.  Divide the dough in half, then place each half onto a prepared pan.  Rest dough on the pans about 10-15 minutes. Note:  This 10-15 minute rest will make dough easy to pat onto the pizza pans. Using your fingertips and a light touch, pat and press dough across bottom of pan.  I do this in 3 parts taking 5-10 minutes, allowing dough to rest 3-4 minutes each time before patting and pressing again.  

IMG_9997 IMG_9997~ Step 4. Top your pizza in your favorite way, and, while today's subject is not toppings, FYI, each pizza is topped w/6 slices provolone cheese, 3/4 cup pizza sauce, 1 1/4 cups shredded mozzarella and a sprinkling of dried oregano. Baking one-at-a-time, place a pan of pizza on pizza stone on center rack of preheated 350° oven for 10 minutes. Using a spatula, lift a corner of the pie up and using your other hand (via a pot holder or mitt), tilt pan and slide pie off the pan onto the stone. Continue to bake for 3-4 more minutes.  Crust will be nicely-brown and crispy on the bottom and cheese will be molten on the top. Using a pizza peel, transfer pizza to cutting board.  Slice and serve immediately.

Transfer to a wooden or high-heat-safe board & slice:

IMG_0008Thin crust pizza waits for no one -- slice & serve ASAP:

IMG_0021Put the Beer in the Pizza Dough Thin-Crust Pizza:  Recipe yields dough for 2, 12"-round pizzas/6-8 servings each pizza.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; bread machine; paper towel; 1, 12"-round pizza pan; paper towel; pizza stone; large metal spatula; pizza peel; high-heat-safe board

IMG_9586Cook's Note: Experimenting with pizza dough is not something I do often.  Why?  Because one has to be willing to run the risk of sacrificing a pizza in the event it doesn't work.  Let's put it another way, one has to be of the mindset to experiment with a new dough or a variation on an existing one, and (chuckle if you want to but it's really not a laughing matter if you're wed to eating pizza), for a few short hours, one must throw caution to the wind and live dangerously.  I did this today.  Ya gotta try my recipe for ~ Beer in the Pizza Dough & a Semolina Pizza Crust ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)

03/06/2021

~ Quick-to-Fix Ground-Beef Chili Sauce for Hot Dogs ~

6a0120a8551282970b0134892e6577970cI was a hot dog in a past life.  A hot dog a day keeps the doctor away.  I say silly stuff like this all the time.  But, why wouldn't I?  I am the hot dog queen in my kitchen.  My husband's an aficionado of Italian-American-style sausage, pepper and onion sandwiches (which I can take-or-leave).  In my food world, the hot dog reigns supreme, and, I like all kinds too -- from New-York-style Dirty Water Dogs, to New Jersey-style Italian hot dogs, to, last but not least, Chicago-style hot dogs.  That said, my hands-down favorite is:  Texas-Style.  Read on:

Texas chili dogs are slathered with yellow mustard and topped with an ever-so-slightly chunky, to-the-tooth chewy, aromatic all-meat chili.  You'd think they were from Texas, but they actually were the invention of an unnamed Greek gentlemen who owned and operated a small restaurant in Paterson, New Jersey.  In 1924, he devised a chili sauce that drew upon flavors and spices of his heritage.  Much like Cincinnati chili, a dish also created by Greek immigrants, Texas chili sauce included cloves as well as garlic and other spices.  According to legend, because the chili was made with hand-ground steak, not ground beef, it earned the "Texas" part of its name.

Steak is always great, but, ground beef is super-good too:

IMG_98042  pounds high-quality 90/10 ground beef, no substitutions

8  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion

8  ounces diced celery

1  cup ketchup

1  cup chili sauce

2  tablespoons yellow mustard

1  tablespoon cayenne pepper sauce

1  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

1  tablespoon chili powder

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

IMG_9819 IMG_9819~ Step 1. Dice the celery and onion as directed, placing them in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, as you work.  Using a series of 30-35 rapid on-off pulses, finely mince and combine the two.  You want the veggies to be as finely minced as possible without puréeing them or becoming soupy.  Set aside.

IMG_9806 IMG_9808 IMG_9810 IMG_9810 IMG_9812~Step 2. To make the sauce, in a 2-cup measuring container or a small mixing bowl (the measuring container is easier), use a spoon to stir together the ketchup, chili sauce, yellow mustard, cayenne pepper sauce and Worcertershire sauce. Add and stir in the chili powder, garlic powder and ground cloves.  Stir until smooth and uniform in color.  Set aside.

IMG_9828 IMG_9828 IMG_9836 IMG_9836 IMG_9842 IMG_9846~Step 3.  Place the ground beef in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan.  Add and stir in the onion-celery mixture. Over medium- medium-high heat, cook the mixture, stirring frequently, until the meat has lost all of its red color and is steamed through.  Keep your heat adjusted so that at no time, no browning occurs.  Continue to cook, again, stirring frequently, until almost no moisture/liquid remains in the bottom of pan, about 30 minutes.

IMG_9849 IMG_9851 IMG_9855 IMG_9856 IMG_9861 IMG_9734~Step 4.  Add the ketchup/chili sauce concoction to the skillet and give the mixture a thoroughly stir. Adjust heat to a gentle simmer and continue to cook, stirring frequently (to avoid any chance of scorching), 15 more minutes.  Turn the heat off and cover the pan.  Allow the mixture to steep, another 15-30 minutes, or up to 1-2 hours (or overnight in the refrigerator) prior to serving or freezing for several more chili dog dinners.

Recipe makes 6 cups sauce, &, each 1 cup tops 4-6 chili dogs:

Texas Chili Dogs #1 ( 2 Dogs Intro Picture)Texas-Style Ground-Beef Chili-Sauce for Hot Dogs:  Recipe yields 6 cups/enough to sauce 24-36 hot dogs.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 2-cup measuring container; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; spatula; large spoon; 6, 1-cup freezer-safe food-storage containers (or containers of desired size) 

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c947fa7f970bCook's Note: Mexi-Hots is a Pennsylvania, registered, fictitiously-named business, originally filed on February 4, 1948 (the company will celebrate it 70th birthday on February 4th, 2018).  The filing status is active.  The company's principal address, originally on the the corner of College Avenue and Pugh Street in downtown State College and owned by the Carelas family, is currently located at 2390 South Atherton Street -- Pop's Mexi-Hots are now made by and sold at Meyer's Dairy.  Try my recipe for ~ Happy Valley PA's Pop's Mexi-Hots Hot Dog Sauce ~.

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

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

03/03/2021

~Slow-Cooker Buffalo-Style St. Lewis-Style Spareribs~

IMG_9771Try as I might, I can't let more than a month or two go by without either:  succumbing to the craving to deep-fry and eat Buffalo-style chicken wings, or, experiment with a new way to enjoy the sweet-heat of Buffalo-sauced anything.  Today, I decided to try my hand at low-and-slow cooked Buffalo-style pork ribs -- when they were done, I finished them off under the broiler, just to crisp the fat cap and caramelize the sauce a bit.  Remember the famous ad-man line, "pork -- the other white meat"?  Well, I'll be making these again, and often.  Life in the 'burbs -- burp.

IMG_9376What started in 1964 as late-night pub grub at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, deep-fried chicken wings, is now found in many forms. Truth told, there's not much that Buffalo-style chicken can't do, and applying Buffalo wing sauce as a glaze to oven-roasted chicken leg-thigh quarters, or, stirring it into some previously roasted or poached chicken is the perfect way to transition this iconic game day snack into all sorts of other appetizers, sandwiches, main or side-dish salads, or, main-dish meals.  Trust me, as a lady who loves her deep-fried wings, but, in the privacy of her own home (where she's free to lick fingers, smack lips, pick teeth, and, drip sauce), while different, my Buffalo-Style delicacies are every bit as enjoyable as classic wings.

A bit about the rack of meaty pork ribs I use to make these:

When it comes to purchasing pork spareribs, we cooks almost always have a choice to make: babyback (sometimes labeled "pork back ribs"), or, St. Louis-style (sometimes labeled "breastbone-off, pork ribs").  To the eye, babybacks are smaller (which appeals to many home cooks because they're more manageable), but, please know, this has nothing to do with the size of the pig (meaning, for those spreading false information: they're not taken from baby pigs).

6a0120a8551282970b0263e9553c34200bBabybacks are cut from where the rib meets the spine after the loin is removed.  Each rack weighs about 1 1/2-2 pounds and averages 10-13 curved, 4"-5"-long ribs.  In our house, one rack will feed 2 people. St. Lewis- Style refers to the way the ribs are cut, not a style of barbecue.  They are larger, meatier, and cut from the belly after the belly is removed.  They get trimmed in the style of St. Lewis butchers, by cutting away the breastbone and cartilage to form a rectangular shape.  Each rack weighs about 2 1/2-3 pounds and averages 12-14 flatfish, 6"-7"-long ribs.  When serving these, I plan on one rack feeding 3-4 people.

A bit about the crockpot I use to slow-cook them in:

6a0120a8551282970b0263ec1abf5d200cMeet 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 one small rack of St. Lewis-style ribs, to slowly cook in sauce, evenly and in comfort -- spa-style.

My slow-cooker method for Buffalo-style St. Lewis-Style ribs:

IMG_96251  smallish-sized rack St. Lewis-style spareribs, about 3 pounds

Frank's RedHot Ranch, dry seasoning blend, for seasoning ribs

1  12-ounce bottle Frank's RedHot wing sauce

6  tablespoons salted butter

1/2  cup honey

IMG_9601 IMG_9601 IMG_9606 IMG_9606 IMG_9606~Step 1.  To make my special sweet-heat wing sauce from the bottle of wing sauce, in a 2-quart saucepan, place: the contents of the bottle of wing sauce and the butter.  Over medium-low heat, melt the butter into the wing sauce.  Add the honey and whisk until the honey is thoroughly incorporated into the wing sauce/butter mixture.  Sweet heat.

IMG_9631 IMG_9631 IMG_9637 IMG_9637 IMG_9645 IMG_9645 IMG_9653~Step 2. To prep and season the rack of ribs, remove ribs from packaging and pat dry in paper towels.  Flip the rack, bottom side up and place it on a large work surface.   Using a chef's knife or a pair of kitchen shears either remove the flap of meat that's up against the bone or trim it off.  This choice is yours -- I leave it on as I adore these "bonus bites".  Using a sharp-tipped paring knife, gently raise and loosen the membrane (called the silver skin) from the first rib, then, using a paper towel or two to get a grip on the membrane, slowly, but firmly, tear it off.  Next, cut the rack of ribs in half.  Now, lastly, season the ribs liberally on both sides with the RedHot Ranch seasoning -- don't skimp.

IMG_9657 IMG_9660 IMG_9660 IMG_9668 IMG_9668~Step 3. Arrange the ribs to fit in bottom of crockpot, in a single layer, slightly-overlapping the two sections is just fine (and will probably by necessary).  Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle 3/4 cup wing sauce over the tops of the ribs. Cover the crockpot. Cook on high for 2 hours, then, low for 2 hours. The tip of a knife or the tines of a fork, when pierced between any two ribs will easily glide through and come out on the other side.  If desired, adjust heat to keep ribs warm for up to 1 hour prior to finishing them as directed in the next step.

IMG_9676 IMG_9676 IMG_9682 IMG_9682 IMG_9689~Step 4. Preheat broiler with oven rack positioned about 5" under the heat.  Line a large baking pan with aluminum foil, then place a sheet of parchment in the bottom of pan.  Open crockpot and remove the ribs, arranging them slightly apart on the baking pan.  Using a large pastry brush generously slather the the tops with additional wing sauce.  Finish ribs off under the broiler for 3-4 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and just starting to to show signs of light browning.  Watch carefully  -- ribs can and will go from lightly-browned to burned quickly.

Serve 'em up atop a bed of my recipe for RedHot-Ranch Slaw:

IMG_9764Slow-cooked to tender perfection & gnawsomely awesome:

IMG_9785Slow-Cooked, Buffalo-Style St. Lewis-Style Spareribs:  Recipe yields one rack of ribs/4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucepan; whisk; paper towels; chef's knife or kitchen shears; paring knife; Crockpot casserole; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b0264e2e7a029200dCook's Note: Not everyone is a master of the barbecue or smoker. Newsflash.  Not everyone wants to be. While I'm more than competent on a gas grill, charcoal gives me fits and the smell of smoke gives me a headache. There's more.  When the temperature in the great outdoors is threatening to blow the top off my thermometer, you won't find me outside torturing myself in the blazing heat just to prepare a rack of ribs.  It's the AC for me baby, and, trust me, you're gonna love the ribs I'm making in the cool oasis called "Melanie's Kitchen". Ya gotta try my ~ Broiled & Baked Rack of St. Lewis-Style Spareribs ~.

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

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

02/28/2021

~ Mom's No-Nonsense Elbow Macaroni & Egg Salad ~

IMG_9748Mom's macaroni salad.  This, now retro, 1950's era recipe is nothing fancy, nothing special, and, certainly not gourmet.  It's simply old-fashioned, pull-a-chair-up-to-the-kitchen-table lip-smacking goodness.  There's more, if one keeps this easy--to-make, creamy-crunchy picnic-and-potluck side-dish staple in their refrigerator, it only takes one scoop from the bowl to a plate to turn anything, from a lunchtime sandwich to a dinnertime pork chop, into a delightful meal.

A bowl of no-nonsense, easy-to-make old-fashioned goodness:

IMG_96933/4  cup high-quality mayonnaise

2  tablespoons ballpark-style yellow mustard

4  tablespoons sweet pickle relish

1/2  teaspoon celery seed

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

6  ounces diced celery (about 1 3/4 cups)

3  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (about 3/4 cup)

6  large or extra-large eggs, hard-cooked, peeled and chopped

12  ounces elbow macaroni, cooked and drained as directed below

IMG_9695 IMG_9698 IMG_9704 IMG_9705~Step 1.  In a large bowl, use a rubber spatula to stir together the mayonnaise, mustard, relish, celery seed, salt and pepper.  Dice the celery and onion, adding them to bowl as you work.  Add the chopped, hard-cooked eggs.  Fold the veggies and eggs into the mayo mixture. Set aside.

IMG_9714 IMG_9714 IMG_9719 IMG_9719 IMG_9721~Step 2.  In a 4-quart stockpot, bring 2 1/2-3 quarts of water to a boil over high heat.  Add the macaroni, adjust heat to simmer steadily, and cook according to package directions, until macaroni are al dente, about 9-11 minutes -- do not overcook.  Drain macaroni into a colander and rinse under cold running water, to halt cooking process and cool to room temperature.  Set aside to drain, in colander 2-3 minutes.  In the meantime line a large baking pan with parchment paper.  Transfer and spread the macaroni across the parchment-lined pan and set aside for 15-20 minutes, to dry, meaning: not to dry out, just to dry of excess moisture.

IMG_9727 2 IMG_9729~ Step 3.  Add the "dried" macaroni to the bowl with the vegetables and eggs.  Use the spatula to gently fold and thoroughly incorporate the macaroni into the mixture.  Cover the bowl and refrigerate until well-chilled, 1-2 hours or overnight.

Macaroni salad turns any meal (anything from a lunchtime sandwich to a dinnertime pork chop), into a meal: 

IMG_9745Mom's No-Nonsense Elbow Macaroni and Egg Salad:  Recipe yields 2 quarts. 8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List: large rubber spatula; cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart stockpot; colander; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b0264e2e2ff8f200dCook's Note: For most of us, potato salad conjures up memories of exactly what our grandmothers made.  And, for the most part, those recipes for potato salad do not vary much.  Various quantities of the usual suspects:  potatoes, eggs, celery and/or onion, with a dressing made of mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, pepper, sometimes pickles or pickle relish and/or a dash of mustard, plus, an occasional fresh herb. Voila:  potato salad.  While we all have our favorite recipe or recipes, when offered potato salad at a gathering, this is the kind we Americans expect to be served.  To hasten up chilling any potato salad, try my spread it on a sheet pan method.  Here's another oldie-but-goodie favorite that my mom made often.  Try the recipe for ~ Hellmann's Original Eight-Ingredient Potato Salad ~.

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

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

02/26/2021

~ Beer in the Pizza Dough & a Semolina Pizza Crust ~

IMG_9586Experimenting with pizza dough is not something I do often.  Why?  Because one has to be willing to run the risk of sacrificing a pizza in the event it doesn't work.  Let's put it another way, one has to be of the mindset to experiment with a new dough or a variation on an existing one, and (chuckle if you want to but it's really not a laughing matter if you're wed to eating pizza), for a few short hours, one must throw caution to the wind and live dangerously.  I did this today, and, I gotta say, I came through it victorious.  So victorious, this is my new favorite pizza dough recipe.

6a0120a8551282970b026bde9755bf200cIt's worth mention, nine-out-of-every-ten-times, I mix and first-proof my pizza dough in my bread machine.  The bread machine, in 55 minutes from beginning to end, does a superb job with pizza dough, and frees up my hands to prep ingredients for the toppings.  Feel free to proof your yeast, mix, knead and proof your dough in the traditional manner, but, don't tell me it's better. It's simply a different method producing the same result.

Crispy on the outside soft & tender on the inside:

IMG_9578Light as a feather w/a to-the-tooth, New-York-style chew too!

IMG_95203/4 cups + 2 tablespoons at-room-temperature beer

1  tablespoon olive oil

2  tablespoons barley malt syrup

1  teaspoon sea salt

2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2  cup semolina flour

1  packet granulated yeast

1 1/2-2 additional tablespoons olive oil, for preparing pizza pan

IMG_9521 IMG_9521 IMG_9528 IMG_9528 IMG_9533~Step 1. Place the beer, olive oil, barley malt syrup and sea salt in the the bread pan of the bread machine. Add the all-purpose flour and semolina flour. Using your index finger, make a well in the top of the flour and add the yeast to it.  Note:  When making any type of bread machine dough, always add the wet ingredients first and the dry ingredients last.

IMG_9534 IMG_9534 IMG_9542 IMG_9544~Step 2.  Insert the bread pan into the machine.  Close lid and push the "select" button.  Choose the "pizza dough" cycle. Push "start".  When the machine signals the dough is done (it will have risen once too), remove pan of dough from the machine.  In my machine this takes 55 minutes.

IMG_9551 IMG_9551 IMG_9551Step 3.  Place 1 1/2-2 tablespoons of olive on a 12"-round or 13" x 9"-rectangular pizza pan and use a paper towel to oil the inside surface of the pan.  Use a few drops of olive oil to lightly oil your fingertips and use your fingertips to turn the ball of dough out onto the prepared pan.  Allow the dough to rest on the pan about 15-20 minutes.  Note:  This 15-20 minute rest will make dough easy to pat onto pizza pan.

IMG_9558 IMG_9558 IMG_9563 IMG_9563~Step 4.  Using your fingertips and a light touch, pat and press dough evenly across bottos and evenly up sides of pan.  I do this in 3 parts taking 10-15 minutes, allowing dough to rest 3-4 minutes each time before patting and pressing again.  Top your pizza in your favorite way, and, while today's subject is not toppings, FYI, this pizza is topped w/6 slices provolone cheese, 3/4 cup pizza sauce, 2 cups shredded mozzarella and a sprinkling of dried oregano.  Cover the topped pizza with a lint-free cotton (flour-sack-type) towel.  Set aside to proof the pizza a second time:  one, two or three hours -- one hour is good, two hours is better, three hours is best.

IMG_9575~ Step 5. Place pan of pizza on pizza stone on center rack of preheated 350° oven for 12-14 minutes. Using a spatula, lift a corner of the pie up and using your other hand (via a pot holder or mitt), tilt pan and slide pie off the pan onto the stone. Continue to bake for 2-3 more minutes.  Crust will be lightly-brown and cheese will be molten. Using a pizza peel, transfer pizza to a wire rack to cool for 3-5 minutes.

Slice, grab a piece, eat, repeat, repeat again & again:

IMG_9588Beer in the Pizza Dough & a Semolina Pizza Crust: Recipe yields dough for 1, 12" round, or, 1, 13" x 9" rectangular pizza.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; bread machine; paper towel; 1, 12"-round pizza pan, or, 1, "13" x 9" baking pan; paper towel; lint-free flour-sack-type towel; pizza stone; large metal spatula; pizza peel; large cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0263e8602140200dCook's Note: Wouldn't it be great if the moment the smooth, round ball of pizza dough was kneaded we could slap it on the pan, pat it out, slather it with sauce, layer it with toppings and pop it in the oven? It sure would, but, unfortunately, we can't -- well, we can, but the end result is somewhat less than palatable. "Proofing" pizza dough, meaning, "the time it takes for the dough to rise after it has been kneaded and initially proofed", it's the most important step in the pizza making process.  Sadly, it's all-too-often not taken seriously. Great crust comes to those who wait. ~ How and Why to Proof Pizza Dough Two Easy Ways ~.

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

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

02/23/2021

~ Homestyle Beef Tips, Gravy & Amish Egg Noodles ~

IMG_9493Beef tips and gravy.  It's one of those humble-yet-hearty, frugally-inexpensive, weeknight meals our moms and grandmoms served to a hungry family after purchasing a pound or three of cheap-at-twice-the-price odds-and-end chunks of beef cubes (aka "stew beef") at the butcher shop.  No one had to be called to the table twice when this dinner was goin' on the table.  Some families preferred their meal ladled atop white rice, others liked it ladled atop mashed potatoes, and, still others served it ladled atop buttered egg noodles.  My family fell into the egg noodle category.

My recipe came via my mother and her recipe came from her mother, which means this recipe has been kitchen-tested and mother-approved through three generations.  I doubt it differs much from most family recipes for beef tips and gravy.  That said, it's worth mention that neither my mom or my grandmother used the type of prepackaged "stew beef" we find in our grocery stores today.  Why?  What we buy today is a random sampling of various beef cuts.  Some are marbled with fat and others are not, and, that can only mean one thing, some of the cubes will end up tender and others will end up shoe leather.  It's frustrating, so, for that reason, I recommend using inexpensive chuck steak exclusively.  Of course it is your choice, but, you've been warned.    


IMG_9406For prepping, seasoned-flour dredging & lightly-browning the beef
:

2 1/2-3  pounds 3/4"-1"-cubed beef chuck steak or chuck roast

1/2  cup Wondra quick-mixing flour for sauces and gravy

1  packet granulated beef bouillon

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon onion powder

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarse-grind pepper

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  tablespoons salted butter

IMG_9482For the vegetable add-ins:

1  cup medium-diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup peeled and thinly-sliced carrot

1  cup thinly-sliced celery

1  4-ounce can sliced mushrooms, well-drained, liquid reserved to be added to beef stock mixture below

IMG_9459For the liquids to make the gravy:

3  cups beef stock

1/4  cup reserved liquid from the can of mushrooms

1/4  cup port wine

1  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

~ Step 1.  Add the beef stock, reserved liquid from the can of mushrooms, port wine and Worcestershire sauce to a 1-quart measuring container.  Set aside.

IMG_9360 IMG_9364 IMG_9364 IMG_9414 IMG_9417~Step 2.  Using a large chef's knife, cube the beef as directed, discarding any large fat pockets you will find along the way.  To dredge the beef, place the flour, granulated bouillon, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Toss to incorporate the spices throughout the flour.  In three batches, add the beef cubes to the seasoned flour, thoroughly tossing to coat the beef cubes in flour on all sides after each addition.

IMG_9400 IMG_9407 IMG_9421 IMG_9424~Step 3.  Place oil and butter n a 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven.  Over low heat, melt butter into the oil.

IMG_9426 IMG_9426 IMG_9434 IMG_9437 IMG_9442~Step 4.  Increase the heat under the Dutch to medium-high and wait a moment for butter and oil to get hot.  Add all the flour-dredged beef cubes. Using a large slotted spoon or spatula to keep the meat moving around almost constantly, sauté until beef is ever-so-slightly browned and swimming in a flavorful gravy, about 10-12 minutes.

IMG_9448 IMG_9450 IMG_9454~ Step 5.  Add all of the vegetables to the beef in the Dutch oven (the diced onion, sliced carrot, sliced celery and drained mushrooms).  Continue to cook, stirring frequently with the slotted spoon or spatula, until onions are tender and all vegetable are steaming and cooked through, about 10-12 more minutes.

IMG_9460 IMG_9460 IMG_9468 IMG_9473 IMG_9475 IMG_9478 IMG_9400~Step 6.  Add the 3 1/2 cups of liquid (the beef stock, liquid from the mushrooms, wine and Worcestershire sauce) to the Dutch oven.  Give the mixture thorough stir.  When the mixture returns to a boil, adjust (lower) the heat to a gentle simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 45-60 minutes.  The gravy will be nicely thickened and the beef tips will be tender.  Partially cover the Dutch oven and allow the mixture to steep, about 30 minutes, to allow all the flavors time to marry.

While beef is steeping, prepare noodles (or potatoes or rice): 

IMG_9499Homestyle Beef Tips, Gravy & Amish Egg Noodles:  Recipe yields 6-8 hearty main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-quart measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon ziplock bag; 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven or 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot w/lid; large slotted spoon or spatula; soup ladle  

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4d83358200bCook's Note: Soups and stews.  We can't seem to get enough of them this time of year -- I know I can't. The difference between the two is easy to describe.  If you started by simmering meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables in a pot of seasoned water-, wine-, juice- or milk- based liquid, you've made soup.  If it is thickened at the end of the process, a soup can be stew-like.  If you started by cooking/sautéing meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables in a small amount of seasoned oil, butter or fat, then added just enough of flour and liquid or thickened liquid to it to bring it to an almost gravy-like consistency, you've made a stew.  If only a small amount of flour is used, a stew can be quite soupy.  Soup or stew?  Thick or thin, it's all about how you began the process.  ~ My Pennsylvania Deutsch-Style Beef Noodle Soup ~.

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

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