.

Welcome to Kitchen Encounters

  • I am here for two reasons.......... read more

TO LEAVE A COMMENT. Click on the blue title of any post, scroll to the end of that post and type away, or, email me directly. I'll be looking forward to hearing from all of you!

WHVL-TV Kitchen Encounters Videos

Blog powered by TypePad
Member since 02/2010

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

05/05/2022

~The Retro History of Divine Divan Chicken Casserole~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bab6f0970bWhen I moved into my first apartment in 1974, Chicken Divan was the second meal I cooked -- lasagna was my first.  I didn't choose it randomly, it was a dish I loved to eat when I was growing up.  It was on page 306 of my bright red Betty Crocker's Cookbook.  "Betty" and the The Joy of Cooking were the only cookbooks I owned at the time and both served me, and continue to serve me, well.  Both contained wonderful recipes for my Divine Divan -- Betty Crocker's recipe was a bit less complicated, but, it was scratch-made (no cream of anything soup or mayonnaise).

6a0120a8551282970b01bb095d8e5e970dChicken divan is a baked casserole containing poached white-meat chicken and blanched broccoli florets enrobed in creamy béchamel sauce (it's called Morney sauce if cheese is added).  This rich-and-decadent creamy casserole was invented in the 1940's and was a popular, medium-budget chicken entrée on the menus of fine-dining restaurants and country club catering menus during the 1960's and 70's, which is where I originally encountered it. Chicken Divan is great served for brunch, lunch or dinner.  It can be baked in one large casserole and served family style, or, it can be baked in individual-sized casseroles to serve at a fancier gatherings.  It can be served with toast points, buttered noodles or steamed rice -- noodles are my favorite.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d243f1e0970cChicken divan is classic American. It was created in the 1940's in the Divan Parisienne Restaurant of New York City's Chatham Hotel by a chef named Lagasi.  He had entered his dish in a contest, and, after winning money for it, it became the hotel's signature dish.  In French the word "divan" means an elegant meeting place or great hall, and it was this meaning that caught the attention of the owners as they searched for a name implying continental elegance.  In America, the word "divan" had come to mean "sofa", and, in the 1940's and 50's, I have been told that in the Divan Parisien restaurant, diners ate at tables that were drawn up to small sofas (or divans).  Photo courtesy of Card Cow.

Try my Classic & Comforting Chicken Divan Casserole:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2447c33970cTry my Creamy & Comforting Retro Tuna Noodle Casserole too:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8b89322970b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

05/02/2022

~ Kebab, Kabob, Shish Kabob and lots of Kababba ~

6a0120a8551282970b0278807b7ca5200d 2Kabbaba is the ancient Aramaic word meaning to char or to burn.  Medieval Persian soldiers, who used their swords as instruments to grill food over open fires in the field of battle, are credited with inventing kabobs.  It was only natural that this simple method of cooking food relatively fast on a "sikh" (a metal skewer), made its way into the kitchens of the royal houses, then onto the tables of the common folk and eventually into the streets, where vendors cooked and sold them for breakfast, lunch and dinner (where they untreaded them onto or inside some form of flatbread). 

Modern day kebabs are defined as sizzling, even-sized pieces of marinated-or-not skewered meat, poultry, seafood or vegetables that get grilled on a gas or charcoal grill, or over an open flame, or in a grill pan, or, any other heat source that floats your boat.   There's more.  Name a country or a culture and they have some form of skewered and grilled food on a wooden stick or metal skewer.  Think up a way to serve kabobs for breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner or midnight snack -- not a problem.  It it can be skewered, it can be done and it's lots of fun for all involved.

The words kebab, kabob and shish kabob all refer to the same thing -- say one or the other and folks know what to expect.  However, the spelling kabob is used mostly by North Americans (as we tend to spell as we pronounce -- phonetically).  That said, shish kebab is called shish kabob almost exclusively by just us Americans, who make it by threading a variety of meat, poultry, seafood and.or vegetable on each wooden stick or skewer -- it should go without saying, this method works, but, isn't ideal because like items cook uniformly, a variety of items do not. 

Try my Persian-Style Ground Beef or Lamb Kababba:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb092529f2970d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/29/2022

~ The History of the Italian-Style Spiedie Sandwich ~

6a0120a8551282970b0240a47ac9a0200dThe word Spiedie comes from the Italian word spiede, meaning skewered food that gets cooked on a spit.  As for their origin of this very unique marinated-then-grilled sandwich, three people seemed to have played a part in their creation and popularization.  An Italian immigrant, Camillo Lacovelli claims to have invented the original spiedie in Endwell, NY. Via his brother, Agostino "Augie" Lacovelli, who put spiedies on his Augie's Restaurant (located in Endicott, NY) menu in 1939, they gained local popularity.  Augie's son Guido Lacovelli, continued the family-owned business into the 1990's, operating as many as 26 restaurants at the peak of his career.

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

As Philadelphia, PA = the cheesesteak capital of the world, &, Chicago, IL = the Italian-beef sandwich capital of the world...  Binghamton, NY = the spiedie capital of the world!

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4521163200cVisiting the Binghamton area not eating a spied sandwich would be like traveling to the Philadelphia or Chicago and not eating a cheesesteak sandwich or an Italian-beef sandwich.  Simply put, a spiedie consists of cubes of marinated chicken, pork, beef or lamb, skewered, char-grilled and served in a soft, hoagie-type roll (or a slice of Italian bread), with a bit of extra sauce (simmered marinade) drizzled on top.  The marinade is the star of the show and is similar to Italian dressing (containing oil, vinegar, paprika and a variety of Italian spices, including mint in many versions), which quickly caramelizes when it hits the grill, keeping the meat cubes tender on the inside.

 Use my Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Marinade:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4522254200cTo make my Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Sandwich:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a451a876200c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/26/2022

~ The History of Mexican-American Taco Bowl Salad ~

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4e5e79e200bServing taco salad in edible bowls is mealtime fun.  While they lend a festive, impressive "you cared enough to make the bowls" touch to the meal, they allow family and friends to add crunch to their salad as they work their way down, through and around all the goodies in the bowl. Speaking of goodies, taco salads come fully-loaded.  Pick and choose your favorite store-bought or made-from-scratch ingredients.  There's no right or wrong way to make taco salad -- just make it.

From a small tacup, the large taco salad was born. 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c05df9200dThe history of the taco-bowl salad, as per this book, Taco USA, How Mexican Food Conquered America:

The earliest record of taco salad dates back to the 1960's, with its predecessor being the small teacup-sized Tacup:  Ground beef, beans, sour cream and cheese served in a small bowl made entirely of Fritos.  

The Tacup was the creation of Fritos founder Elmer Doolin*, who invented all sorts of "strange stuff" spinned-off his Fritos: Frito sauce for meat, Frito Jell-O pie, Frito salad dressing, and, the Tacup (short for taco cup).  

Tacups were first served in Dallas, TX (where Doolin headquartered Frito), in the early 1950's, and by 1955, he was selling them in Fritos' flagship restaurant, Casa de Fritos, at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA.

The Tacup became popular enough that folks decided to make it bigger -- the taco salad, served in a full, main-dish-sized bowl was born.

*Doolin founded Fritos, bit its worth note that Fritos were a wholly Mexican creation, invented by an Oaxacon immigrant who sold his recipe and machine to Doolin in the 1930's.  It's also worth note that heading the Casa de Fritos were members of the Morales family, known for their XLNT tamale brand, and their family would go on to invent Doritos and the famous Doritos taco salad.

Try my version of the Taco-Tuesday Taco-Bowl Salad:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4980804200c"We are all in the food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/23/2022

~Hot Stuff -- Deep-Fried General Tso's Chicken Wings~

IMG_5487If you are a fan of Chinese-American cuisine and have a place in your heart for deep-fried chicken wings, welcome to this party.  This is not so much a recipe as it is a semi-homemade way to show ya'll a new crowd-pleasing twist on Buffalo-style chicken wings.  I'm not gonna lie.  All I do "for real" is deep-fry the chicken wings.  Past that I sauce them with my favorite store-bought General Tso's sauce then serve them over chicken-fried rice from my favorite Chinese restaurant.

General Tso's chicken, a Chinese-American creation of the latter 1970s, traces its roots to Pang's restaurant in New York City.  This spicy dish has a great history, and I for one am grateful to its creator, a Taiwanese Hunan-cuisine chef, Peng Chang-Kuei.  The dish also has a fun (but debunked) legend that claims the dish is named after Zuo Zongtang (1812-1885), a Qing Dynasty military leader and statesman, who lived with his wife in Xiangyin County the province of Hunan.

The secret to any General Tso's dish really is in the sauce:

6a0120a8551282970b0282e15259b8200bThe basic ingredients of General Tso's Chicken are indeed basic: dark chicken meat, shallots, rice wine vinegar, hot peppers, garlic and ginger.  The chicken pieces are breaded then deep-fried, then coated with a thick-ish slightly-sweet and spicy sauce.  The sauce, a bit more complicated, contains, water, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sugar, garlic and ginger.  The dish (mostly the sauce), varies depending on the cook or chef preparing it, meaning, creative license is usually taken to place the emphasis on sweet vs. spicy and vice versa.

Over time, inventive cooks and chefs have come up with creative variations on the original -- General Tso's meatballs, General Tso's chicken wings, and, General Tso's pork ribs (to name my favorites).  The secret to General Tso's  really is in the sauce, and, luckily, there are store-bought sauces and dry seasoning mixes and that turn a laborious task into a "walk in the park".

Three components + a deep-fryer  = dinner in 16 minutes.

IMG_54428  whole, unsectioned chicken wings

freshly-ground sea salt, for seasoning wings hot out of the fryer

1/2-3/4  cup store-bought General Tso's sauce, your favorite brand, for every batch of 8 whole, unsectioned chicken wings or 16-24 sectioned wings (flats and drumettes)

store-bought chicken fried rice, for accompaniment (optional)

IMG_5445 IMG_5445 IMG_5445 IMG_5445 IMG_5445 IMG_5445 ~Step 1.  Line any type of baking pan with several layers of paper towels.  Preheat oil in deep-fryer according to manufacturer's specs to 375º. Working in batches of 2-3 unsectioned wings or 4-6 sectioned wings (it's important not to overcrowd fryer basket), one-at-a-time lift each wing up and carefully lower it into the hot oil.  Close the lid on the fryer and fry wings for exactly 16 minutes.  Remove fryer basket to transfer wings to the baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.  Immediately season wings with a liberal grinding of sea salt.  Repeat this process until desired number of wings are deep-fried.

IMG_5473 IMG_5473 IMG_5473~ Step 2.  To sauce the wings, while the wings are still warm, use a pair of tongs to transfer them to a 1-gallon food-storage bag.  For every 8 whole, deep-fried unsectioned wings or 16-24 deep-fried sectioned wings (flats and drumettes), add 1/2-3/4 cup General Tso's sauce to the bag.  Seal the bag and toss the still-warm wings around in the sauce until wings are completely enrobed in the sauce.  Using the same pair of tongs, remove the wings from the bag.  Arrange wings on a serving platter or portion onto individual plates (atop a bed of optional chicken-fried rice) and serve immediately.  

Serve atop a bed of your favorite Chinese chicken-fried rice & turn General Tso's chicken wings into a full meal: 

IMG_5518Try My General Tso's Slow-Cooker Babyback Spareribs too:

IMG_5414Hot Stuff -- Deep-Fried General Tso's Chicken Wings:  Recipe yields instructions to make and serve as many chicken wings.

Special Equipment List:  deep-fryer preheated to 375° according to manufacturer's specification for preparing chicken wings; shallow baking pan; paper towels; 1 gallon food-storage bag; tongs

6a0120a8551282970b02942fa7050a200cCook's Note:  Chicken and waffles was a childhood favorite of mine.  Fast forward to adulthood -- it still is.  I love the Southern-style crispy-fried chicken kind and, the Yankee-style PA-Deutsch tender pulled-chicken w/gravy kind.  Cluck, cluck.  In my food world there's also a third variation:  Pub-grub-style deep-fried chicken wings and waffles.  On paper, this might sound like a rather strange duo, but, in reality, a steaming hot waffle with honey butter melting atop it is the ideal foil for some hot-out-of-the-deep-fryer RedHot-sauced Buffalo-style chicken wings.  Try my ~ RedHot & Honey Butter Chicken Wings & Waffles ~.

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

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

04/20/2022

~ My General Tso's Slow-Cooker Babyback Spareribs ~

IMG_5414General Tso's chicken, a Chinese-American creation of the latter 1970s, traces its roots to Pang's restaurant in New York City.  This spicy dish has a great history, and I for one am grateful to its creator, a Taiwanese Hunan-cuisine chef, Peng Chang-Kuei.  The dish also has a fun (but debunked) legend that claims the dish is named after Zuo Zongtang (1812-1885), a Qing Dynasty military leader and statesman, who lived with his wife in Xiangyin County the province of Hunan.

The secret to any General Tso's dish really is in the sauce:

6a0120a8551282970b0282e14fe6b3200bThe basic ingredients of General Tso's Chicken are indeed basic: dark chicken meat, shallots, rice wine vinegar, hot peppers, garlic and ginger.  The chicken pieces are breaded then deep-fried, then coated with a thick-ish slightly-sweet and spicy sauce.  The sauce, a bit more complicated, contains, water, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sugar, garlic and ginger.  The dish (mostly the sauce), varies depending on the cook or chef preparing it, meaning, creative license is usually taken to place the emphasis on sweet vs. spicy and vice versa.

IMG_5351Over the decades, inventive cooks and chefs have come up with creative variations on the original recipe -- General Tso's meatballs, General Tso's chicken wings, and, General Tso's pork ribs (to name my favorites).  The secret to General Tso's  really is in the sauce, and, luckily, there are  time-saving, store-bought sauces and dry seasoning mixes and that turn an otherwise laborious task into a "walk in the park".  These two are my favorites. 

Three components + Crockpot's casserole  = dinner in 4 hours.

IMG_53491  full rack baby back pork spareribs

1  packet General Tso's dry seasoning mix (about 3 tablespoons), your favorite brand

1  cup General Tso's sauce, your favorite brand

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing Crockpot casserole

IMG_5358 IMG_5358 IMG_5358 IMG_5358 IMG_5369 IMG_5369~Step 1. To prep the rack of ribs, remove them from the packaging and pat them dry in some paper towels and, using a paring knife, loosed then remove the silverskin from the underside of the rack. If you don't know how to do this, read my post ~ How to: Remove the Silverskin from Spareribs ~.  Using a large chef's knife, slice each rack into thirds or quarters (3-4 portions).  Sprinkle both sides, top and bottom with the dry seasoning blend, then, walk away for about 15-30 minutes, to give the dry seasoning ample time to "work its magic" and absorb excess moisture from the surface of the rib sections.

IMG_5373 IMG_5373 IMG_5373 IMG_5373 IMG_5373~Step 2. Spray the inside of the crock casserole with no-stick cooking spray.  Arrange the ribs to fit, in one row and slightly overlapping.  Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle 3/4 cup  General Tso's sauce over the tops of the ribs.  Using the back of a tablespoon, "smoosh" the sauce around over the tops a bit.  Put the lid on the crockpot casserole.  

IMG_5386 IMG_5386 IMG_5386 IMG_5386~Step 3.  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.

IMG_5401 IMG_5401 IMG_5401~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 the 1/4 cup additional barbecue sauce.  Finish ribs off under the broiler for 4-6 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and just starting to to show signs of light browning.  Watch carefully.  All barbecue sauces contain some form of sugar, which can and will go from lightly-browned to burned quickly.  Don't, just done, take your eyes off them after the 4 minute mark.

Plate & serve atop homemade or store-bought lo-mein:

IMG_5435My General Tso's Slow-Cooker Babyback Spareribs:  Recipe yields 1 rack spareribs/3-4 servings.

Special Equipment List: paper towels; paring knife; large chef's knife; Crockpot casserole; 1-cup measuring container; spoon; fork; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b02788040f2af200dCook's Note:  The machinations of making ribs in a slow cooker never seemed right to me -- kind of like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  I've seen people bend entire racks, slice and stack sections, even cut them into individual riblets   Their rib abuse is why I never attempted it, but, there was never a doubt the slow cooker could achieve perfection.  Thanks to Crockpot's Casserole, I now have ~ The Best Way to Make Slow-Cooker Babyback Ribs ~. 

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

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

04/17/2022

~ The History & Four Recipes for Chicken & Waffles ~

IMG_5337
Chicken and waffles might be well-known and popular throughout our American South and the Midwest, but, it does NOT have its roots in either venue.  It indisputably has its roots in the early Pennsylvania Deutsch communities that settled along the Schuylkill River.  Growing up in Pennsylvania Deutsch county, tender pulled-chicken served atop steamy-and-light hot-off-the-waffle-iron waffles all drizzled with gravy, it was a childhood favorite of mine.  Read on:

When you say PA Dutch, we correctly say PA Deutsch:

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcafef88970bI am here to make it clear that Pennsylvania Dutch cookery does not belong solely to PA and it is not Dutch either.  The term "Dutch" was the early English settlers slang for the German word "Deutsch".  So:  When most people incorrectly say "Pennsylvania Dutch", they should be saying "Pennsylvania Deutsch", crediting the Germanic or German-speaking immigrants from Germany and Switzerland for this cuisine.  The majority of these people were either Amish, Mennonite or Brethren, all of which were considered "Anabaptist".  

In Pennsylvania Dutch country, chicken and waffles is a common Sunday supper (they call "dinner" "supper" there).  The concept most likely evolved from "fried catfish and waffle" dinners served in the Philadelphia area in eateries along the Schuykill River (whose supplying creeks were full of fresh catfish). The Schuylkill Hotel (founded in 1813) was the first well-known place, along with the Catfish and Waffle House, located at the Schuylkill Falls, which from 1848 into the early 1900's did a thriving business purely by word-of-mouth. It doesn't take much imagination to rationalize a reason for the people of the surrounding PA Dutch farming communities (a very close knit family-oriented people who kept to themselves and never went out to eat) to adopt this inexpensive style of hearty eating as their own by substituting perfectly-roasted or stewed farm-raised chickens served atop light and fluffy waffles.  It's a short leap to see them substituting fried chicken for fried catfish too -- to invent fried chicken and waffles --  and I am grateful for both.

Try my Pennsylvania Deutsch-style chicken & waffles...

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d6a5262970d... along w/my version of Southern-style fried chicken & waffles:

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcb142e9970bKids & adults adore my easy RedHot chicken wings & waffles:

IMG_5302For a different twist, Thanksgiving turkey & stuffing waffles!

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d23f7cf3970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/14/2022

~ RedHot & Honey-Butter Chicken Wings & Waffles ~

IMG_5302Chicken and waffles was a childhood favorite of mine.  Fast forward to adulthood -- it still is.  I love the Southern-style crispy-fried chicken kind and, the Yankee-style PA-Deutsch tender pulled-chicken w/gravy kind.  Cluck, cluck.  In my food world there's also a third variation:  Pub-grub-style deep-fried chicken wings and waffles.  On paper, this might sound like a rather strange duo, but, in reality, a steaming hot waffle with honey butter melting atop it is the ideal foil for some hot-out-of-the-deep-fryer RedHot-sauced Buffalo-style chicken wings.  Trust me, skip the French fries -- the switch to waffles with wings will change your life, so invite some friends to the party!

Chicken & waffles is indeed well-known throughout the South, but it undisputedly has it's roots in PA Deutsch country:

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d6a5262970dIn Pennsylvania Dutch country, chicken and waffles is a common Sunday supper (they call "dinner" "supper" there).  The concept most likely evolved from "fried catfish and waffle" dinners served in the Philadelphia area in eateries along the Schuykill River (whose supplying creeks were full of fresh catfish). The Schuylkill Hotel (founded in 1813) was the first well-known place, along with the Catfish and Waffle House, located at the Schuylkill Falls, which from 1848 6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcb142e9970binto the early 1900's did a thriving business purely by word-of-mouth. It doesn't take much imagination to rationalize a reason for the people of the surrounding PA Dutch farming communities (close knit family-oriented people who kept to themselves and never went out to eat) to adopt this inexpensive style of hearty eating by substituting roasted or stewed farm-raised chickens served on waffles.  It's a short leap to see them substituting fried chicken for fried catfish -- to invent fried chicken and waffles.

Four components, homemade or stress-free store-bought:

For each serving:

2-3 deep-fried unsectioned chicken wings, or, 4-6 deep-fried sectioned chicken wings, hot out of the deep-fryer

1-2 waffles, homemade or store-bought, hot out of the waffle iron or toaster

honey-butter, homemade or store-bought, for generously slathering on each waffle

Buffalo-style RedHot 'n honey wing sauce, homemade or store-bought, for drizzling over each serving of wings and waffles

Wing it -- serve dinner for breakfast or breakfast for dinner, wings & waffles make everyone happy anytime of day.

IMG_5317RedHot & Honey-Butter Chicken Wings & Waffles:  Recipe yields instructions to serve as many chicken wings w/waffles as you want to.

Special Equipment List:  deep-fryer preheated to 375° according to manufacturer's specification for preparing chicken wings; waffle iron or toaster for preparing waffles; hand-held electric mixer for preparing honey-butter; saucepan and whisk for preparing wing sauce 

IMG_5278Cook's Note:  There are two types of chicken-wing aficionados -- those who dredge their wings in a  flour-based blend of seasonings, and, those who do nothing at all -- the latter group is know as the wing purists.  Trust me on this next point: One method is not better than the other.  One method, no matter what the claim, does not produce crispier wings.  Dredging wings in a seasoned-flour mixture prior to deep-frying, vs. deep- frying wings in the classic manner, naked in a bath of seething hot oil, accomplishes only one thing:  a bit of seasoning on your wings and a few more calories on your hips.  It's a matter of  preference.  You really gotta try my Buffalo-style ~ RedHot Seasoning Dredge for Chicken Wings ~.

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

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

04/11/2022

~ My RedHot Seasoning Dredge for Chicken Wings ~

IMG_5278 2There are two types of chicken-wing aficionados -- those who dredge their wings in a  flour-based blend of seasonings, and, those who do nothing at all -- the latter group is know as the wing purists.  Trust me on this next point:  One method is not better than the other.  One method, no matter what the claim, does not produce crispier wings.  Dredging wings in a seasoned-flour mixture prior to deep-frying, vs. deep- frying wings in the classic manner, naked in a bath of seething hot oil, accomplishes only one thing:  a bit of seasoning on your wings and a few more calories on your hips.  It's a matter of  preference.  That said, if you are a person who prefers to eat your wings without them dripping in sauce, dredging your wings is the path you want to take.

If you like wings w/sauce to the side, the dry dredge is for you:

IMG_5273Feel free to make a big batch & keep it on-hand in your pantry:

IMG_52221  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon coarse sea salt

2-3  tablespoons RedHot seasoning blend, meaning less hot or more hot to your liking

8-12 unsectioned chicken wings, or, 16-24 sectioned drumettes and flats

freshly ground sea salt, for seasoning finished deep-fry-cooked wings

IMG_5233 IMG_5233 IMG_5233~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, place and stir together the flour, coarse sea salt and RedHot seasoning blend.  If you have a large cheese-shaker-type jar, transfer the mixture to it -- this will make it easy to apply.

IMG_5239 IMG_5239 IMG_5239 IMG_5239 IMG_5239 IMG_5239 IMG_5239~Step 2.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper.  Arrange the wings on the parchment.  Sprinkle the tops of the wings (liberally, but do not overdo it) with the flour mixture.  Flip the wings over and season the second sides.  Flip the wings back to their topsides and give the tops a second light sprinkle of the flour mixture.  Set pan aside, uncovered and at room temperature, for 30 minutes.

IMG_5260 IMG_5260 IMG_5260~ Step 3.  Preheat oil in deep-fryer according to manufacturer's specs to 375º. Working in batches of 2-3 unsectioned wings or 4-6 sectioned wings (it is very important not to overcrowd the fryer basket), one-at-a-time lift each wing up, give it a quick shake to remove any excess flour mixture, and drop it into the hot oil. Close the lid on the deep-fryer and fry wings for exactly 16 minutes.  Remove fryer basket from the hot oil and transfer wings to a baking pan or casserole dish that has been lined with several layers of paper towels.  Immediately, aka ASAP, season wings with a grind of sea salt.

Toss w/sauce or serve w/sauce for dipping or drizzling...

IMG_5277... or eat 'em w/no sauce at all -- they've got plenty of flavor:

IMG_5282Crispy outside & pull off the bone tender inside:

IMG_5291My RedHot Seasoning Dredge for Chicken Wings:  Recipe yields 1 1/4 cups seasoned flour dredge/eough for 12 unsectioned chicken wings, or, two dozen drumettes and flats.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; spoon; 2 cup cheese-shaker-type container; 17  1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; deep-fryer preheated to 375° according to manufacturer's specifications; 9" x 13" x 2" baking pan; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09482ff0970dCook's Note: Wander into a bar -- any bar, anywhere in America.  Buffalo wings are on the pub grub menu. No description is necessary.  You know you're getting unbreaded, deep-fried wingettes and drumettes coated in a vivid-red vinegar-based cayenne pepper and melted butter sauce.  They'll arrive with celery and carrot sticks, and either blue cheese or ranch dressing for dipping or drizzling.  You will likely be asked to specify if you want your wings coated in a mild, medium or hot version of their Buffalo-style sauce. Try my favorite version of ~ Frank's-Style Buffalo-Style Chicken Wing Sauce ~.

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

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

04/08/2022

~The Chinese-American General Tso's Chicken Story~

IMG_5195General Tso's Chicken is a staple on every Chinese-Americane eat-in and take-out menu.  I personally am grateful for that, as, every week or two I crave Chinese fare and rare is the occasion when sweet, savory and spicy General Tso's Chicken is not a part of my order. Sometimes I eat it with some chicken fried rice and steamed broccoli as a main course, other times I eat it as an appetizer or a snack, but, eat it I do -- it's addicting and I adore it.

The basic ingredients are easy-to-find & indeed basic:

IMG_5193The basic ingredients of General Tso's Chicken are indeed basic: dark chicken meat, shallots, rice wine vinegar, hot peppers, garlic and ginger.  The chicken pieces are breaded then deep-fried, then coated with a thick-ish slightly-sweet and spicy sauce.  The sauce, a bit more complicated, contains, water, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sugar, garlic and ginger.  The dish (mostly the sauce), varies depending on the cook or chef preparing it, meaning, creative license is usually taken to place the emphasis on sweet vs. spicy and vice versa.

The General Tso's legend & the real General Tso's story:

Legend has it this spicy dish is named after Zuo Zongtang (1812-1885), a Qing Dynasty military leader and statesman, who lived with his wife in Xiangyin County the province of Hunan.  It's said that the general's wife created the dish for him upon his return from a great battle, with the dish consequently becoming a favorite of his, which in turn got passed along to others in the local community and gained in popularity throughout Hunan province.  Unfortunately, there is no recorded connection of the dish to either the Province or to him, and, Zuo's descendants, who are still living in Xiangyin County, claim they've never heard of it.  That said, the legend is fun to know.

In actuality, this spicy dish was likely invented by Taiwanese Hunan-cuisine chef Peng Chang-Kuei, an apprentice to chef Cao Jingchen, a leading early 20th-Century Chinese chef.  Peng became and worked as the Chinese Nationalist Government's banquet chef, until he fled back to Taiwan during the Chinese Civil War.  There he continued his career as the government's official chef until 1973, when he moved to New York City to open Peng's Restaurant on East 44th Street, where Peng made his newly created dish (made from commonplace ingredients), General Tso's Chicken, the house specialty.  A 1977 restaurant review of Pengs, mention's" "the General Tso's Chicken was a stir-fried masterpiece, sizzling hot both in flavor and temperature." 

General Tso's Chicken -- a stir-fried masterpiece -- sweet, savory & sizzling hot both in flavor & temperature.

IMG_5191"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/05/2022

~The Story Behind City Chicken -- aka Mock Chicken~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0915119b970dWhat looks like a chicken leg and tastes like chicken but isn't made from chicken?  City chicken. So, if it's not made from chicken, what is city chicken made from?  Coarse-ground pork and/or veal.  Still confused? You're not alone -- nowadays, many folks, even those who love to cook, have no idea what this intriguing, vintage, working-class main-dish is, or, the important part it played in our American culinary history.  Behind almost every recipe, there is a good story:

6a0120a8551282970b02788076d6bd200dDating back as early as the early 1900s, by the 1930s and '40s and into the '50s everyone knew what city chicken was.  Fast forward to present day, not so much, and even the iconic The Joy of Cooking, doesn't exactly clarify the dish for home cooks looking for a recipe.  

If one searches the index looking for "city chicken", and looks under "chicken", city chicken will not be there. That said, if one is looking for a generic pork or veal recipe, and looks under "pork or veal", they will stumble upon it referenced as "mock chicken or city chicken" (the recipe is on page 469).

City chicken -- A depression era meal born out of necessity. 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb091468d8970dA bit about chicken "sans volaille", which is French for chicken "without poultry":  City chicken is a depression era meal born out of necessity.  During the Presidential campaign of 1928, Herbert Hoover claimed that if he won, there would be "a chicken in every pot (and a car in every garage)" -- it was a promise of prosperity.  During that time period, unless you lived on a rural farm where you had the necessary space to raise a few chickens, chicken was very expensive to purchase, especially in the urban cities (chickens weren't raised in volume until the 1950's when refrigerated trucks could transport the poultry).  For city dwellers, it was only a wealthy man's family and guests that got to sit down to a well-appointed chicken dinner on a Sunday. That said, the slaughter houses (for pork, lamb, veal, and beef) were all located "in town", and the idea of fashioning the meat scraps into a makeshift faux-chicken drumstick became a cheap alternative.

Said to have originated in the city of Pittsburgh, butchers began placing inexpensive cubes of pork and veal along with a few wooden skewers in a package, so housewives could thread and fashion what (once dipped in an egg wash, dredged in breadcrumbs and baked or fried) mocked a chicken leg.  It was quite inventive.  Gravy was made from the pan drippings, mashed potatoes and a vegetable were served, and, the family enjoyed a very tasty, faux-chicken dinner.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09147e02970dIn Eastern Pennsylvania, where I grew up, my grandmother called it "chicken-on-a-stick", and she, in fact, did skewer cubes of pork and veal to make it.  In my lifetime, the cost of veal sky-rocketed, so I stopped including veal a while ago.

Back in the 1980's I became  friends with a meat-cutter here in Happy Valley who managed a popular mom and pop butcher shop.  While they 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09147ece970ddidn't sell city chicken "in the case", if you ordered it ahead, he and his wife would "make it up", and, a lot of caterers ordered large quantities to serve at big events.  Theirs was made from very coarsely ground pork (and veal too if you requested it and paid extra for it), and, it was formed in one of these nifty cast-aluminum gadgets (mine is pictured), with "chicken sans volaille" stamped on the side of it.

Coarse-ground pork &/or veal -- molded into the shape of a chicken leg, skewered, then sautéed in a skillet.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1fb5bc1970cTry my City Chicken -- It Literally is the Other White Meat:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09151a42970d 2"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/02/2022

~ Cheese-Stuffed Sausage and Mushroom Omelette ~

IMG_5154Nothing fancy, surely not gourmet, just three available-to-everyone ingredients, sausage, mushrooms and onions.  All three together as one, well, they're my favorite topping combo on a cheese- or double-cheese pizza, and, they're my favorite add-in combo to a cheese- or double-cheese omelette. For those two reasons alone I always keep my favorite brand of fully-cooked breakfast sausage, generic canned sliced-mushrooms and a sweet Vidalia onion or two on hand. Yes, my favorite toppings for my favorite pizza or bagel-bites snack pizza and my add-ins to my favorite omelette are indeed, always right at my fingertips -- and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Diced sausage, mushrooms and onion -- my favorite add-ins.  Feel free to substitute your three favorite add-ins.

IMG_5098For my favorite American-style omelette:

3  large eggs

4-6 tablespoons cup heavy cream

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

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

6  tablespoons fully-cooked small-diced breakfast sausage

4  tablespoons well-drained small-chopped sliced mushrooms

2 tablespoons small-diced yellow or sweet onion 

a generous 1/2  cup shredded Danish havarti cheese

1  teaspoon salted butter

IMG_5102 IMG_5102 IMG_5102 IMG_5102 IMG_5102 IMG_5102~Step 1. Prep the sausage, mushrooms and onions as directed, then use a box grater to shred the cheese and set it aside.  Crack the eggs into a 2-cup measuring container and add enough cream to total 3/4 cups total liquid (about 4 tablespoons). Add the spices:  the nutmeg, salt and pepper.  Using a fork, whisk vigorously, until thoroughly combined.  Add the add-ins:  the sausage, mushrooms and onions.  Whisk again.

IMG_5115 IMG_5115 IMG_5115 IMG_5115 IMG_5115 IMG_5115~Step 2.  In an 8" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Use the fork to briefly rewhisk the egg mixture, then pour it into the warmed skillet. By patiently manually lifting, lowering, and tilting the pan on and off the heat, allow the eggs to set a bit up and around the sloping sides of the skillet -- about 45 seconds w/no pressure to rush.

IMG_5130 IMG_5130Step 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_5136 IMG_5136 IMG_5136 IMG_5136~Step 4.  Decrease heat to low.  Scatter cheese, in a half-moon shape, over half the omelette. Give it 35-45 seconds to melt w/no pressure to rush.  Using a large spatula, lift the empty side of the omelette up and over the cheesy side.  Slide omelette from skillet to plate and serve.

Serve immediately -- the moment it hits the plate:

IMG_5158Dig in -- no omelette waits for any man, woman or child:

IMG_5172Cheese-Stuffed Sausage and Mushroom Omelette:  Recipe yields instructions to make one large, hearty American-style, fully-loaded cheese omelette/1 large serving or 2 smaller servings

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; 2-cup measuring container; fork; 8" nonstick skillet; large thin spatula; large wide spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0278805a86f6200dCook's Note:  I am a lover of omelettes.  I've always enjoyed a savory breakfast more than a sweet breakfast, and, the omelette easily turns two or three eggs into a satisfying meal.  That said, I am a much bigger fan of the fluffy American-style omelette vs the skinny French omelette,  Don't get me wrong, I do like them both, and, while a French omelette is iconic, in my opinion, miracle of miracles, we Americans improved it. ~ For the Love of Omelettes -- An Omelette Oration ~.

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

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

03/30/2022

~ Chick-fil-A -- Rave Review of Five-Dipping-Sauces ~

IMG_5092For the love of chicken sandwiches, I admit to being a fair-weather fan of our local Chick-fil-A fast-food chain restaurant.  All of THEIR not-my-cup-of-tea politics aside, on occasion, if it's a really nice day and I feel the need to relax and get away from my stove, I enjoy the drive across town to pick up one of their signature chicken sandwiches.  As one who loves chicken sandwiches many ways, their trademarked slogan, "We didn't invent the chicken, just the chicken sandwich,"  their "Eat more Chikin" cow commercials, and, Doodles, their mascot, all make me smile.

Chick_fil_A_LogoWhen one is perusing anything on the Chick-fil-A menu, it's important to know that whatever item you choose, the sauce you choose is equally, if not more, important. Chick-fil-A customers are cultishly dedicated to the condiments -- so much so, the chain has taken to selling them on the open market. Everyone has a favorite, everyone has an opinion and I am no exception.  That said, depending on what I'm cooking, all of them, from sweet to savory, have earned a place in my pantry.

Chick-fil-a-e1527184817408I'll just take them in alphabetical order and let which one you like best up to you.  The Chick-fil-A Barbecue Sauce, which is tomato- and brown sugar-based is slightly-sweet and very pleasant.  In addition to the smoke flavoring, it gets a bit of a citrusy tang from pineapple juice too.  Now, if you're a fan of ranch-type dressing, the buttermilk-based Chick-fil-A Garden Herb Ranch Sauce, which has just enough of garlic and onion flavor, is, well, absolution addicting -- just like your favorite ranch.  For honey-mustard aficionados, the Chick-fil-A Honey-Mustard Sauce is no slouch.  It's bold on mustard flavor and not as sweet as the typical honey-mustard dressing.  It gets its extra-tangy flavor from the addition of tamarind.  The Chick-fil-A Polynesian Sauce, which is a version of sweet and sour sauce, is a little more sweet than sour, getting its sweetness from both sugar and corn syrup, but in a tasty way.  If one is a fan of sweet sauces, this will not disappoint.  Last but not least, the signature creamy and flavorful Chick-fil-A Sauce has got it all.  It is literally a little bit over everything.  It's a lip-smacking combination of their barbecue sauce, a bit of honey-mustard sauce too, plus, the garden ranch sauce's creamy herbs and spices.

Chick-fil-A-Unveils-New-Grilled-Spicy-Chicken-Deluxe-SandwichMy personal recommendations for how to use these sauces:  Let's start with the signature Chick-fil-A Sauce -- to me, it reminds me of McDonald's special sauce, so, drizzling it on a 'burger is perfect.  That said, I like it slathered on deli-style turkey sandwiches too.  As for the Polynesian Sauce, I've found its sweetness a nice complement atop a salty soy-sauce marinated chicken sandwich or dipping my beer-batter-coated deep-fried shrimp into.  As for Honey-Mustard Sauce, in my food world, this honey-mustard was made for adding to my deviled-egg filling, and, a squire of it on a Philly-style soft pretzel is awesome.   Chick-fil-A's Garden Herb Ranch Sauce, which just might be my favorite, for me, goes with everything from chicken wings to garden salad to twice-baked potatoes.  Last, their slightly-sweet Barbecue Sauce , in the world of store-bought BBQ sauces, is a quality sauce, so, using it to glaze grilled ribs, chicken or chops is a natural choice. 

Choose one or all five -- there's one for everyone!

IMG_5092"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

03/27/2022

~ The Secret's in McDonald's Special Sauce Recipe ~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95a416c970b 2Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun is, in my opinion, the yummiest cheeseburger creation in the takeout-lane of the drive-thru fast-food circuit, and, for me, the secret to the Big Mac's success really is in the sauce.  Back in 2017, McDonald's released 10,000 special-edition bottles of its Big Mac sauce for purchase at select locations, which created an on-line buying frenzy when many people began selling them on eBay for upwards of $100 a bottle.  I won't lie, given the chance, I would have bought one.

6a0120a8551282970b02788073eba7200dSeptember 1968 -- The Bic Mac was invented in Pittsburgh by a McDonald's Franchise Owner named Jim Delligatti.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95b0bf3970bThe Big Mac, designed to compete with the Big Boy Restaurant chain's Big Boy Burger, had two previous names that failed:  Aristocrat and the Blue Ribbon burger.  The "Big Mac" was named by Esther Glickstein Rose, a 21-year old secretary working at corporate headquarters.  The "two-all beef patties" slogan was created by Keith Reinhard and his creative group at advertising agency Needham Harper and Steers.  The Big Mac, which contains two 1.6-ounce patties along with an array of other components was placed on a three-part bun because testing proved it too sloppy to eat otherwise -- it cost 45 cents.  As for the "secret sauce", a variant of Thousand Islands dressing, in 2012 McDonald's stated, "the primary sauce ingredients are not really a secret, and have been available on-line for years (sans specifics -- cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc.):  mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish and yellow mustard whisked together with vinegar, garlic and onion powder and paprika."

All-beef patties topped w/yellow American NOT cheddar.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95a3e3f970b-320wiAll McDonald's hamburgers are 100 percent beef with an 80/20 lean-to-fat ratio. The beef used in the burgers comes from whole cuts of forequarter and flank meat from the cow. In their kitchen: The burgers are never flipped, as the flat-topped mechanism that cooks them has a matching flat-topped top which, when lowered, cooks them on both sides at once (clam-shell-type style). All McDonald's hamburgers are topped with deli-sliced yellow American-processed cheese blend made from milk, milk fats and solids -- it melts great and make no mistake, it is not yellow cheddar.

Special Sauce.  Thousand Islands dressing -- it's not.

Screen Shot 2022-04-01 at 6.24.43 AMSince McDonald's special sauce remains "currently unavailable", take solace in knowing it is very easy to make a very close copycat version.  

Many folks assume the special sauce is Thousand Islands dressing. It's an easy assumption to make, as the two are similar enough -- mayonnaise-based and pickle-relish laced.  That said, I write a food blog, which made it necessary for me to head to the Golden Arches, in order to deconstruct a few Big Macs, so I could taste-test secret sauce side-by-side bottled store-bought and homemade Thousand Islands dressing.  The special sauce is indeed different.  It's more yellow than pink and more pungent too, which, (just as McDonald's stated), results from ordinary yellow ballpark-type mustard.

Fun secret sauce fact:  In our recent past, McDonald's lost the formula to their secret sauce, and, for a number of years it gradually grew "less special".  As a result, in 2004, the CEO scrapped the product and collaborated with the California supplier who had helped develop the original sauce -- they reconcocted the sauce.  End of story fact:  We now enjoy reconcocted secret sauce.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e448b8970c1  cup mayonnaise

1/4  cup each: ketchup and sweet pickle relish

1  tablespoon yellow mustard

1  teaspoon white vinegar

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

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

Special sauce makes all sorts of sandwiches special:

Mcdonalds_big_mac_2018The Secret's in McDonald's Special Sauce Recipe:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups special sauce.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95a5bf5970b-800wiCook's Note:   When my foodie friends (people who like to cook, can cook and cook often), start talking about a yummy salad made in the style of McDonald's iconic Big Mac, I listen.  I listen because these are friends I listen to, and, because I have been known to indulge in an occasional Big Mac.  After trying the recipe, I concur.  Ya gotta try ~ The McDonald's-Style Big Mac Cheeseburger Salad ~.

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

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

03/24/2022

~The History behind McDonald's Big Mac Hamburger~

Mcdonalds_big_mac_2018Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.  I'm guessing that anyone who reads that sentence or hears those words is positively certain it references McDonald's and its Big Mac hamburger.  McDonald's introduced this flagship product to the greater Pitsburgh area in 1967.  One short year later, it went nationwide.  That said, the it had two previous trial names, both of which failed in the marketplace:  The Aristocrat and the Blue Ribbon Burger.  The third time was the charm -- the Big Mac was born and the rest is history.

6a0120a8551282970b02788073eba7200dThe Big Mac was created in Pittsburgh by McDonald's first Franchise Owner, Jim Delligatti.  It sold for 45 cents.

6a0120a8551282970b0282e14c947c200bThe Big Mac, designed to compete with the Big Boy Restaurant chain's Big Boy Burger, had two previous names that failed:  Aristocrat and the Blue Ribbon burger.  The "Big Mac" was named by Esther Glickstein Rose, a 21-year old secretary working at corporate headquarters.  The "two-all beef patties" slogan was created by Keith Reinhard and his creative group at advertising agency Needham Harper and Steers.  The Big Mac, which contains two 1.6-ounce patties along with an array of other components was placed on a three-part bun because testing proved it too sloppy to eat otherwise -- it cost 45 cents.  As for the "secret sauce", a variant of Thousand Islands dressing, in 2012 McDonald's stated, "the primary sauce ingredients are not really a secret, and have been available on-line for years (sans specifics -- cups, tablespoons, teaspoons, etc.):  mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish and yellow mustard whisked together with vinegar, garlic and onion powder and paprika."

All-beef patties topped w/yellow American NOT cheddar.

6a0120a8551282970b02788073eb83200dAll McDonald's hamburgers are 100 percent beef with an 80/20 lean-to-fat ratio. The beef used in the burgers comes from whole cuts of forequarter and flank meat from the cow. In their kitchen: The burgers are never flipped, as the flat-topped mechanism that cooks them has a matching flat-topped top which, when lowered, cooks them on both sides at once (clam-shell-type style). All McDonald's hamburgers are topped with deli-sliced yellow American-processed cheese blend made from milk, milk fats and solids -- it melts great and make no mistake, it is not yellow cheddar.

Special sauce isn't a secret & NOT  Thousand Islands dressing.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95a416c970bMany folks assume the special sauce is Thousand Islands dressing. It's an easy assumption to make, as the two are similar enough -- mayonnaise-based and pickle-relish laced.  That said, I write a food blog, which made it necessary for me to head to the Golden Arches, in order to deconstruct a few Big Macs, so I could taste-test secret sauce side-by-side bottled store-bought and homemade Thousand Islands dressing.  The special sauce is indeed different.  It's more yellow than pink and more pungent too, which, (just as McDonald's stated), results from some brand of ordinary yellow ballpark-type mustard.

Fun secret sauce fact:  In our recent past, McDonald's lost the formula to their secret recipe for the special sauce, and, over a number of years it gradually grew "less special".  As a result, in 2004, the CEO scrapped the product completely and collaborated with the California supplier who had helped develop the original sauce recipe -- they reconcocted the sauce.  Long story short and end of story fact:  We now enjoy reconcocted special sauce, and, many of us make our own.

Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun.  The best 'burger ever:

Mcdonalds_big_mac_2018"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

03/21/2022

~No Secrets in Hidden Valley Ranch's Secret Sauces~

IMG_4962I am a huge fan of Hidden Valley ranch dressing.  If you and yours are too, be it a picnic, potluck or party, Hidden Valley Ranch has a secret sauce ready and waiting on a shelf in a grocery store near you.  Labeled as Golden, Spicy, Smokehouse and Original, there is one that is guaranteed to be a great mate to whatever fare you're serving.   No one enjoys a scratch-made condiment more than me and no one enjoys a creamy scratch-made condiment more than me, but, I gotta be honest, when I come across one or four in my store, no one enjoys a high-quality time-saving product as much as me either.  It's as if these four were made just for me -- lucky me.

No secrets in these off-the-shelf sauces -- they're all delicious.

What’s in their Secret Sauces?  Long story short, nothing exotic --  that said, they are all gluten-free, which is important information if you are a Celiac.  Hidden Valley has released these four distinctly different and delicious sauces, all of which are Hidden Valley ranch-dressing-based, and, all of which will add a unique and complimentary flavor to almost anything you want to sauce or slather a dressing on -- they'e simply ranch dressing with some common spices and flavors stirred in.  Interestingly, the brand didn't categorizie the flavors in terms of specific sauce names (honey-mustard, sriracha, barbecue, etc.), but rather, used general descriptors to let us consumers explore their unique tastes and possibilities.  The names of this foursome:  Golden, Spicy, Smokehouse, and, of course, Original.  I've tried them all, and I have a few favorite uses:

If you're a fan of a Big-Mac-type burger, I predict you'll be making their Original secret sauce a staple in your pantry.  And, take it from me, their slightly-sweet Golden secret sauce, which contains honey, is divine drizzled over fried buttermilk-brined chicken or beer-batter-dipped deep-fried fish sandwiches.  It goes without saying their Spicy version, which contains habanero pepper, will add creamy-heat to anything you like your hot sauce on -- I particularly like this one on beef tacos and chicken quesadillas.  It goes without saying that Smokehouse has the smokey undertones associated with all things Southwestern with a touch sweetness which comes from molasses.  Do I think any of them are compatibly appropriate for Asian fare?  The answer is:  no, not really, but, I can only hope they soon come out with one containing soy sauce or wasabi!

To learn the Hidden History of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing:

6a0120a8551282970b02788053ea80200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

03/18/2022

~ Bagel-Bites Mini-Bagel Sausage & Mushroom Pizza~

IMG_5082While no one agrees on who made or sold the first pizza bagel, in 1985, Stanley Garcaynski and Bob Mosher invented Bagel Bites using custom-made mini-bagels.  They adapted the recipe from the back of a package of Lender's bagels, and that little schtick made these two a lot of money really fast.  They began by marketing their edible pub-grub invention to local restaurants, bars and hotels, and, after almost instant success, within six short years, they sold the company and brand name "Bagel Bites" to Heinz (owner of Ore-Ida) in 1991.  The American dream come true.

The 90s -- they were the decade of Bagel Bites, aka mini-bagel frozen pizzas.  They got served at all sorts of gatherings , but mostly, they were the trendy after school snack of teens of the era. For the most part, I emerged from this frozen-convenience-food-frenzy unscathed: I escaped the worst of it -- my kids were in their 20s by 1996.  That said,  I remember these freezer-to-toaster-oven treats for one reason: the uber-annoying theme song of the Bagel Bites commercials:

"Pizza in the morning, pizza in the evening, pizza at suppertime.  When pizza is on a bagel, you can eat pizza anytime!".

6a0120a8551282970b02788072ff4d200dBagel Bites were/are not rocket science food.  They begin on a split mini-bagel. The halves get topped with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and sometimes, another topping or two -- pepperoni was what most kids liked best, but, my kids liked the sausage-topped Bagel Bites MORE. Straight from the box, they got placed (while till frozen) on a small baking sheet, then got baked in the toaster oven (a manageable task for 10-14 year olds) until molten hot -- kids gobbled them up faster than mothers could buy them.  And, as any mother who knew how to cook will tell you, back then, we could not purchase mini-bagels anywhere or we happily would have made mini-bagel pizzas in our own kitchens -- we knew we could have made them MUCH better, and twice as many, for a third the price, with our hands tied behind our apronless backs. Why not just make them on standard-sized bagel?  Simply stated:  they're not as much fun.

No fancy high-end ingredients -- keep 'em simple & enjoy:

IMG_5070Mini-bagels & fully-cooked sausage = kid-approved bagel bites:

IMG_4975mini bagels, your favorite brand

pizza sauce, your favorite brand

fine-grated Parmesan cheese, the "stuff" in shaker-jar, your favorite brand

pre-shredded mozzarella cheese, your favorite brand*

fully-cooked sausage patties, diced, your favorite brand

canned mushroom pieces, well-drained and chopped

small-diced onion (optional)

IMG_4984* Tip from Mel prior to starting:  Pre-shredded mozzarella cheese is one of my favorite time-saving  ingredients.  That said, when scattering it "as is" onto mini-bagels (or small-sized anything else), its size is rather large in comparison to the subject at hand.  For that reason, I like to use a serrated knife and a light touch to briefly saw through it, to make the pieces smaller.  In turn, you get more cheese on each piece and less waste, aka, the cheese stays on top of bagels rather than dripping down their sides, which makes a pretty presentation.

IMG_5033 IMG_5033 IMG_5033 IMG_5033 IMG_5033 IMG_5033 IMG_5033 IMG_5033~Step 1.  Prep the sausage patties, canned mushrooms and onion as directed.  Depending on how many bagel bites you want to make, on an appropriately-sized baking sheet, arrange the split mini-bagel halves side-by-side.  Spread about 1 tablespoon pizza sauce evenly across the surface of each bagel half -- do not be inclined to use too much sauce or the bagels will get soggy.  Lightly-sprinkle the surface of all the bagels with the Parmesan -- simply shake the can over the entire pan.  Next, on goes a scattering of 1 1/2-2 tablespoons mozzarella per bagel half. Add the toppings:  a scattering of the optional onions, chopped mushrooms and diced sausage.

Bake in 375° oven 8-10 minutes & serve immediately:  

IMG_5059Bagel Bites Mini-Bagel Sausage & Mushroom Pizza:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many bagel bites as you want to make.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; serrated bread knife; appropriately-sized baking sheet (toaster-oven or conventional-oven sized; tablespoon

6a0120a8551282970b02942fa0c629200cCook's Note: The pita pocket is a great foil for quick-to-make snack pizza too. These take less than 10 minutes to assemble and everyone just loves my ~ Tomato-Basil Pita Pizza:  My Personal Favorite Snack Pizza ~.  Give 'em a try!

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

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

03/15/2022

~Bagel Bites Mini-Bagel Mini-Pepperoni Snack Pizza~

IMG_5029It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  It was the 90s -- the decade of Bagel Bites, aka mini-bagel pizzas.  They were the trendy after school snack of the era.  For the most part, I emerged from this unscathed, meaning: I escaped the worst of it -- my kids were in their 20s by 1996.  That said,  I remember these freezer-to-toaster-oven treats for one reason:  the uber-annoying theme song of the Bagel Bites commercials -- "Pizza in the morning, pizza in the evening, pizza at suppertime.  When pizza is on a bagel, you can eat pizza anytime!".

Bagelbites_logoBagel Bites were/are not rocket science food.  They begin on a split mini-bagel. The halves get topped with pizza sauce, mozzarella cheese and sometimes, another topping or two -- pepperoni was what most kids liked best. Straight from the box, they got placed (while frozen) on a small baking sheet, then baked in the toaster oven (a manageable task for 10-14 year olds) until molten hot -- kids gobbled them up faster than mothers could buy them.  And, as any mother who knew how to cook will tell you, back then, we could not purchase mini-bagels or we happily would have made mini-bagel pizzas in our own kitchens -- we knew we could have made them MUCH better, and twice as many, for a third the price, with our hands tied behind our apronless backs. Why not just make them on standard-sized bagel?  Simply stated:  they're not as much fun.

While no one agrees on who made or sold the first pizza bagel, in 1985, Stanley Garcaynski and Bob Mosher invented Bagel Bites using custom-made mini-bagels -- they adapted the recipe from the back of a package of Lender's bagels.  They began by marketing their edible pub-grub invention to local restaurants, bars and hotels, and, after almost instant success, they sold the company and brand name "Bagel Bites" to Heinz (owner of Ore-Ida) in 1991.

No fancy high-end ingredients -- keep 'em simple & enjoy:

IMG_5024Mini-bagels & mini-pepperoni = kid-approved bagel bites:

IMG_4966

mini bagels, your favorite brand

pizza sauce, your favorite brand

fine-grated Parmesan cheese, the "stuff" in shaker-jar, your favorite brand

pre-shredded mozzarella cheese, your favorite brand*

mini-pepperoni, your favorite brand

IMG_4984* Tip from Mel prior to starting:  Pre-shredded mozzarella cheese is one of my favorite time-saving  ingredients.  That said, when scattering it "as is" onto mini-bagels (or small-sized anything else), its size is rather large in comparison to the subject at hand.  For that reason, I like to use a serrated knife and a light touch to briefly saw through it, to make the pieces smaller.  In turn, you get more cheese on each piece and less waste, aka, the cheese stays on top of bagels rather than dripping down their sides, which makes a pretty presentation.

IMG_4985 IMG_4985 IMG_4985 IMG_4985 IMG_4985~Step 1.  Depending on how many bagel bites you want to make, on an appropriately-sized baking sheet, arrange the split mini-bagel halves side-by-side.  Spread about 1 tablespoon pizza sauce evenly across the surface of each bagel half -- do not be inclined to use too much sauce or the bagels will get soggy.  Lightly-sprinkle the surface of all the bagels with the Parmesan -- simply shake the can over the entire pan.  Next, on goes a scattering of 1 1/2-2 tablespoons mozzarella per bagel half.  Lastly, place 6-8 pieces mini-pepperoni atop each one.

Bake in 375° oven 8-10 minutes & serve immediately:  

IMG_5006Bagel Bites Mini-Bagel Mini-Pepperoni Snack Pizza:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many bagel bites as you want to make.

Special Equipment List:  serrated bread knife; appropriately-sized baking sheet (toaster-oven or conventional-oven sized; tablespoon

6a0120a8551282970b017c31c62a01970bCook's Note:  The pita pocket is a great foil for quick-to-make snack pizza too. These take less than 10 minutes to assemble and everyone just loves my ~ Tomato-Basil Pita Pizza:  My Personal Favorite Snack Pizza ~.  Give 'em a try!

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

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

03/12/2022

~The History of Deviled in Deviled Eggs & Other Food~

IMG_4949Everyone knows what deviled eggs are, most folks know what deviled ham and deviled crab is, and, what's up with devil's food cake?  I always say that behind every recipe there is a story or a history, and, foods referred to as "deviled" are no exception.  While the origin of deviled eggs or any other deviled delight can't be pinned down to one person or one location, one thing food historians know for sure is:  the name emerged in the 18th century and evolved over time.

The word deviled first appeared in print in 1786 and was used to describe any highly-seasoned fried or boiled dish.  By the 1800s it had evolved to be the commonly-used culinary term for any fiery-hot-spiced fare or condiment.  The obvious use of the word deviled was in reference to the symbolism of the devil and the excessive heat of hell.  Into the 19th century, the word deviled began to infer hot seasonings, like cayenne pepper or mustard -- deviled = hot and spicy.

Th-1In the context of modern day marketing, the word deviled has a much broader meaning.  Deviled eggs aside, it is applied to a number of spicy dishes, with deviled ham being a popular one.  According to the Underwood company, in 1868, Underwood's sons began experimenting with a new product made from ground ham and special seasonings, dubbing the process for preparing the ham "deviling". The little red Underwood devil was born shortly afterward and in 1870 the Underwood Company was granted a patent on the logo, which is the oldest existing trademark still in use in the USA.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c78f918f970b 2As for the devil being in dark chocolate devil's food cake, that simply refers to the cake's sinfully delicious nature, or, quite possibly, because its dark color and heavy texture is the direct opposite of the white and light angel food cake. Food historians are quick to point out, however, that due to a chemical reaction between early varieties of cocoa powder (today's cooks use processed cocoa) and baking soda, the original cake was red in color, hence the devilish name.

Try GrandMa's Incredible Edible Defiled Eggs:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7a52749970bOr, my Jamaican Curried Deviled Eggs w/Mango Chutney:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d12d650a970cOr, my Devilishly Hot-Russian-Mustard Deviled Eggs:

6a0120a8551282970b0282e1492434200bAnd, my Pretty-in-Pink Pickled & Piped Deviled-Pickled Eggs

6a0120a8551282970b0282e1490ffe200b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

03/09/2022

~Pretty-in-Pink Pickled-&-Piped Deviled-Pickled Eggs~

IMG_4942Pickled eggs can be made several ways, but the ones I love and the ones my family always made were the Pennsylvania Deutsch version, which are sometimes referred to as pickled-beet eggs or red-beat eggs.  My mom and grandmother served them but once a year as a side-dish on our Easter feast table, but, in local Pennsylvania Deutsch communities, pickled eggs were and still are a very popular tavern food -- they can be found marinating in large jars on bar tops next to beer taps all over Pennsylvania.  It takes about five days for hard-cooked eggs to pickle, so, if you want to make some pickled eggs or deviled-pickled eggs, be sure to plan ahead.

Pickling isn't just for cucumbers, onions and peppers.  Pickling dates back to medieval times and was used to preserve foods of many types, including meat.  Without refrigeration, food spoiled quickly. Pickling was the way of preserving it for out-of-season eating, or, transport on a long journey. The word "pickle" comes from the Deutsch (German) word "pekel", meaning "brine" -- a simple mixture of vinegar, water, salt, sometimes sugar and/or spices.  Depending on the brining solution, pickled foods can take on all sorts of colors and flavors.  Pickled food can be sweet, sour and/or hot-and-spicy, as well as subtly-flavored with fresh herbs such as dill or thyme.

6a0120a8551282970b01901ee05043970bPennsylvania Deutsch Pickled Eggs -- aka red-beet eggs:

IMG_48702  dozen extra-large eggs

3-4  16-ounce jars store-bought, sliced, pickled beets, or, home-canned pickled beets (Note: This quantity will depend on the size of the jar(s) you're using to pickle the hard-cooked eggs.)

~Step 1.  In a 3-4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot, hard-cook the eggs via your favorite method.  I cook the eggs one dozen at a time to avoid crowding the pot.

IMG_4875 IMG_4875~ Step 2.  Rinse the cooked eggs under cold water, to cool to the touch, then carefully peel them -- experience has taught the eggs are much easier to peel when they are warm.  Repeat process with the second dozen of eggs.  Layer the eggs into one or two tall, wide-mouthed jars, alternating eggs with slices of beets.  Pour the pickled beet juice into the jars, filling them to the top.  Seal and refrigerate for 4-5 days.

IMG_4909 IMG_4911 IMG_4911~ Step 3.  Open the jars. Remove the eggs.  Using a sharp paring knife, slice each egg in half, then, using a small spoon, carefully remove the yellow yolk.  Arrange the hollowed-out pickled-egg white portions on egg plates or on a large platter.  Repeat  process until all the eggs are sliced.  Tip from Mel:  For clean cuts and a pretty presentation, wipe the knife in a wet paper towel after slicing each egg in half.

For my Pennsylvania Deutsch deviled-pickled egg filling:

IMG_4919 2all egg yolks, from above eggs

1  cup mayonnaise

1/2  cup Bookbinder's creamy horseradish sauce (Note:  This is not prepared horseradish, which is too harsh-tasting and coarse-textured.  This horseradish sauce, which is creamy and refined.)

1/4  cup minced, fresh dill weed

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_4922 IMG_4922~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients in the work bowl of food processor fitted with the steel blade -- the egg yolks, the mayonnaise, the horseradish sauce, the minced dill and the sea salt.  Using a series of 30-45 rapid on-off pulses, followed by the motor running for 30-45 second, process the ingredients to a creamy texture.  If a creamier mixture is desired, add 1-2 tablespoons additional mayonnaise and process again, about 15-20 seconds.  If a creamier and spicier mixture is desired, add 1-2 tablespoons additional horseradish sauce.

IMG_4926~ Step 2.  If you have a pastry bag with a star tip, now is the perfect time to use it.  Piping the creamy filling into the cavities of the eggs couldn't be quicker, easier or cleaner -- and, the end result, the beautiful presentation, is well-worth the small investment if you don't have one.  Simply spoon the filling into the bag (no more than 1/2-2/3 full per batch), twist the top end to close it, and squeeze the bag.

Creamy dill-laced centers w/perfectly-pickled tender whites: 

IMG_4928Pretty-in-Link Pickled-&-Piped Deviled-Pickled Eggs:  Recipe yields 48 pickled-deviled eggs.

Special Equipment List:  3-4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot;  2  large wide-mouth jars (large enough to hold 1 dozen hard-cooked eggs each); cutting board; sharp paring knife; paper towels; small spoon; food processor; pastry bag fitted w/medium star tip 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d12c4568970c 2Cook's Note:  As far back as the 18th century, "deviled" was used to describe spicy food, specifically: cooked eggs whose yolks were prepared with mustard, pepper and other flavorful additions, then returned to the cavities, which were used as portion-sized serving vessels.  Culinarily, "devil" means: to combine any food with hot/spicy seasonings (pepper, mustard, Worcestershire or cayenne pepper sauces etc.), resulting in a "devilish" dish.  Try ~ My Devilishly Hot-Russian-Mustard Deviled Eggs ~.

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

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

03/06/2022

~ Easy Linguine and Shrimp w/Tomato-Cream Sauce ~

IMG_4903 2Easy should never be a compromise.  It should simply be:  easy.  When you take the first taste or bite, it shouldn't be a dead giveaway that you didn't slave behind your stove all afternoon.  This luscious pasta dish is a prime example.  In my food world, I don't think anyone appreciates a great scratch-made marinara sauce more than I do, but, truth told, if one adds a bit of cream to store-bought, it turns into a decadent super-quick-to-make tomato-cream pasta sauce.  If you're the family cook, you'd be lying if you couldn't admit:   all of us home cooks love a great shortcut.

IMG_4897 2Because all of us cooks love a good shortcut (or two):

IMG_4889For the pasta:

8-9  ounces fresh linguine pasta, it must be fresh pasta not dried

12  ounces large shrimp (28-30 shrimp), peeled, deveined, tails on or off, your choice

2  teaspoons salt, for seasoning pasta water

6  tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

For the tomato-cream sauce:

3/4  cup marinara sauce

1/2  cup heavy or whipping cream

For the garnish:

1  tablespoon finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

6a0120a8551282970b0263e98ad03e200b 6a0120a8551282970b0263e98ad03e200b 6a0120a8551282970b0263e98ad03e200b 6a0120a8551282970b0263e98ad03e200b~Step 1.  To prepare the tomato-cream sauce, place marinara in a 1-quart saucepan.  Add and stir in the cream.  Over medium-low heat, stirring almost constantly, heat until sauce is steaming. Remove from heat, cover, and,  aside while preparing the pasta as directed below.

IMG_4817 IMG_4817 IMG_4817 IMG_4817 IMG_4817~Step 2.  In a shallow 3 1/2-quart enameled cast-iron casserole or 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, place 2-quarts of water and the 2-teaspoons of salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Add all of the fresh pasta and all of the shrimp all at once.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook until pasta is al dente, about 3-3 1/2 minutes -- the shrimp will cook perfectly in this same amount of time, which is why fresh pasta (not dried pasta) must be used to cook this dish.  Drain pasta and shrimp into a colander.  Do not rinse the pasta.

IMG_4836 IMG_4836 IMG_4892 IMG_4892~Step 3.  Working as quickly as possible, return still hot skillet to still hot stovetop.  Add the butter pieces and spices:  the garlic powder, red pepper flakes and salt.  Return the still steaming hot pasta and shrimp to skillet.  Using two large spoons or two large forks, toss until the pasta and shrimp are enrobed in a spicy butter mixture.  Add the warm tomato-cream sauce.   Toss again. Cover the skillet and allow to rest about 1 minute, to give the pasta time to soak up any excess sauce.  Remove the lid and give the mixture another thorough toss.  Portion into 2-4 pasta bowls and serve each portion immediately, garnished with a light sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Try my One-Skillet Creamy Parmesan Linguine & Shrimp too:

IMG_4853Easy Linguine and Shrimp w/Tomato-Cream Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 large or 4 smaller servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; paring knife; microplane grater; 1-quart saucepan w/lid; spoon; 3 1/2-quart shallow, wide-bottomed enameled cast-iron casserole or 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; colander; two large forks or two large spoons

IMG_4586Cook's Note:  The world is full of pasta-bilities.  Our modern marketplaces have supplied all of our demands with hundreds of shapes, sizes, and colors of dried and fresh pasta.  I suppose it is because pasta is relatively quick to cook that many cooks impulsively try to create their own versions of well-known pasta dishes having little knowledge of the tried-and-true principles and classic recipe techniques these recipes require. To learn more, read my post ~ Pasta - Choose, Portion, Cook, Sauce, Toss & Serve ~.

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

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

03/03/2022

~One-Skillet Creamy Parmesan Linguine and Shrimp~

IMG_4853 2If you're hankering for a seafood and creamy pasta dish for dinner -- no problem.  Splurge on a small, one-pound bag of flash-frozen, large shrimp, pick up a box of fresh linguine pasta, plus, a few other miscellaneous items -- fresh basil, sweet grape tomatoes and heavy cream (you've no doubt already got the cheese in your refrigerator).  Voila.  You and yours can be pouring a glass of wine and sitting down to a sumptuous, affordable, restaurant-quality dinner, from stovetop to table, in about 30-40 minutes (and there will be little cleanup afterward too).  This will be everything you'd craved all day:  a well-balanced mixture of buttery-rich and perfectly-cooked cream-enrobed, cheesy, garlicy, and, slightly-spicy pasta loaded with succulent shrimp.

IMG_4853Bring it on -- Buttery-rich & creamy, cheesy, garlicy & slightly-spicy perfectly-cooked pasta loaded w/succulent shrimp:

IMG_48108-9  ounces fresh linguine pasta, it must be fresh pasta not dried

12  ounces large shrimp (28-30 shrimp), peeled, deveined, tails on or off, your choice

2  teaspoons salt, for seasoning pasta water

6  tablespoons salted butter, cut into cubes

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  cup heavy or whipping cream

6  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

chiffonade of 5-6 fresh basil leaves, for garnish

12  grape tomatoes, sliced in half, for garnish

IMG_4817 IMG_4817 IMG_4817 IMG_4817 IMG_4817~Step 1.  In a shallow 3 1/2-quart enameled cast-iron casserole or 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, place 2-quarts of water and the 2-teaspoons of salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Add all of the fresh pasta and all of the shrimp all at once.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook until pasta is al dente, about 3-3 1/2 minutes -- the shrimp will cook perfectly in this same amount of time, which is why fresh pasta (not dried pasta) must be used to cook this dish.  Drain pasta and shrimp into a colander.  Do not rinse the pasta.

IMG_4836 IMG_4836 IMG_4836 IMG_4836~Step 2.  Working as quickly as possible, return still hot skillet to still hot stovetop.  Add the butter pieces and spices:  the garlic powder, red pepper flakes and salt.  Return the still steaming hot pasta and shrimp to skillet.  Using two large spoons or two large forks, toss until the pasta and shrimp are enrobed in a spicy butter mixture.  Add the cream and the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.   Toss again.  Cover the skillet and allow to rest about 1 minute, to give the pasta time to soak up any excess cream.  Remove the lid and give the mixture another thorough toss.  Portion into 2-4 pasta bowls or pasta plates and serve each portion immediately, garnished with a chiffanade of fresh basil leaves (or some torn basil leaves) and a few grape tomato halves.

Every bite = everything you were craving all day:

IMG_4859One-Skillet Creamy Parmesan Linguini and Shrimp:  Recipe yields 2 large or 4 smaller servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; paring knife; microplane grater; 1-cup measuring container; serrated tomato knife; 3 1/2-quart shallow, wide-bottomed enameled cast-iron casserole or 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; colander; two large forks or two large spoons

IMG_4586Cook's Note:  The world is full of pasta-bilities.  Our modern marketplaces have supplied all of our demands with hundreds of shapes, sizes, and colors of dried and fresh pasta.  I suppose it is because pasta is relatively quick to cook that many cooks impulsively try to create their own versions of well-known pasta dishes having little knowledge of the tried-and-true principles and classic recipe techniques these recipes require. To learn more, read my post ~ Pasta - Choose, Portion, Cook, Sauce, Toss & Serve ~.

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

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

02/28/2022

~ G. Washington's Instant Seasoning & Broth History ~

IMG_4808This granulated gluten-free, meat-free instant seasoning has been around for generations, and, interestingly, it's used as an ingredient in a surprising number of savory, vintage recipe.  It was a staple in my grandmother's pantry and my mother's pantry, and, for the love of making their recipes, it is a staple in mine too.  It's recognized as the very first seasoning and broth.  The brand has a strong loyalty amongst its users, but, because it contains MSG, it is not everyones cup-of-tea.  That said, if you've ever tasted anything made using it, you'd immediately recognize how special it truly is.  Easy to find?  It's readily available in most grocery stores and on-line too.

Washington_Coffee_New_York_Times_bIn 1908, Mr. George Washington, coincidentally a distant relative of General George Washington, established the G. Washington Coffee Refining Company, in Morris Plains, New Jersey -- he and his company were the pioneer of instant coffee.  Having successfully marketed his instant coffee, the company became interested in developing additional products.  In 1937, headquarter staff member, Paul J. Campbell, was served an exceptionally delicious dish while visiting friends.  Impressed with the flavor, he complimented the hostess, who was more than happy to him the seasonings she had used in its preparation.  He went right to work. 

Mr. Campbell almost immediately discovered these seasonings, when mixed with water, produced a pleasant meaty taste.  His idea was to add dehydrated onion, celery and other vegetables to the mix in the hopes of creating an instant broth that could be sold as a companion to instant coffee.

Working late night hours and having tried numerous failed experiments with the list of ingredients, Mr. Campbell awoke one night (morning) at 3 AM,  having had a dream in which he made certain changes that produced a successful formula.  Going to his kitchen, he recalled the changes made in his dream thus creating today's recipe for the broth.  One year later, in 1938, G. Washington's Seasoning & Broth was originally marketed as "Broth". It was distinctly packaged in tin foil packets called "Aces" with fifty Aces to a box.  Advertising via various mediums, including via the radio, made G. Washington's Seasoning & Broth a success right from the very beginning.

Initial distribution was in the New York City area.  This changed after the product was featured at the New York World's Fair of 1939 as the "Soup of Tomorrow".  During World War II, G. Washington's Seasoning and Broth was packed in "K" rations  for the troops, replacing bouillon paste.  As mentioned earlier, today it is recognized as the first of the "Instant Seasoning and Broths".  In 1945, American Home Foods acquired the G. Washington Coffee Refining Company. Under American Home Foods, packaging was improved and the product name changed from G. Washington's Broth to "G. Washington's Seasoning and Broth". This classification change added versatility and has contributed greatly to the product's success.  International Home Foods, purchased the brand from American Hot Foods and then sold it to ConAgra in August of 2000.  In October 2001, Homestat Farm, Ltd. purchased the brand from ConAgra.  In April, 2014, Homestat Farm was purchased from William Statlander vis family-owned Camden Holdings. 

Try it in My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf:

6a0120a8551282970b026bdefb190d200cOr in My Mom's Stuffed Cabbage Rolls (Holubki):

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4820d41200dOr, in My Deconstructed Crockpot Stuffed Cabbage:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a482096f200dAnd, at Thanksgiving in My Mom's Bundt-Pan Cracker Stuffing:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a1d75e200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

02/26/2022

~ All Politics Aside -- Laura Bush's Cowboy Cookies ~

IMG_4793All politics aside, former first Lady Laura Bush's recipe for cowboy cookies rocks.  Back in 1992, Family Circle magazine began the tradition of a friendly First-Lady Bakeoff contest during every presidential election year.  Hillary Clinton won the very first First Lady Bakeoff when her chocolate chip cookies beat Barbara Bush's chocolate chip cookie recipe.  Mrs. Clinton won again in 1996, with Hillary's same recipe for chocolate chip cookies winning over Elizabeth Dole's pecan roll cookie recipe.  Then, in 2000, Laura Bush debuted her Texas Governor's cowboy cookies, which won over Tipper Gore's ginger snap recipe.  While it's all in fun, unlike the other bakeoffs, Laura Bush's recipe became so popular, she gets credited for putting cowboy cookies on the map.

IMG_4800Sometimes called Ranger Cookies, the theory is, these HUGE 4"-5"-round cookies, loaded with a variety of add-in ingredients (much like kitchen-sink cookies), are hearty enough for a hard-working cowboy or a Texas ranger to appreciate. There are many versions of cowboy cookies -- Mrs. Bush's recipe simply made them famous.  I did very little to Mrs. Bush's original recipe -- mine contain an extra teaspoon of both baking powder and baking soda (for a better rise), a tablespoon of chocolate extract (an addition that takes the chocolate-flavor over-the-top), and, I make them smaller (it's a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop I use for 2 1/2"-round cookies).  

Laura Bush's recipe w/a few minor adjustments by me:

IMG_4729For the dry ingredients:

3  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder

1  tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking soda

1  tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

For the wet ingredients:

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

1 1/2  cups granulated sugar

1 1/2  cups firmly-packed dark brown sugar

3  large eggs

1  tablespoon pure chocolate extract

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

For the add-ins:

3  generous cups Nestlē Toll House semi-sweet chocolate morsels (22 ounces)

2  cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2  cups sweetened, flaked coconut

2  cups coarse-chopped, lightly-toasted pecans

IMG_4719 IMG_4719 IMG_4719 IMG_4719 IMG_4719 IMG_4719 IMG_4719~Step 1.  Preheat oven to 350°.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, baking powder, baking soda, ground cinnamon and salt.  Set aside.  In a second medium bowl, stir together the granulated sugar and brown sugar.  Set aside.  Coarse-chop the pecans, placing them in a shallow baking pan as you work.  Roast the pecans in 350° oven until lightly-toasted and fragrant, 6-8 minutes, stopping to stir them with a spoon halfway through the process.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool.  Line 6-8 half-sheet baking pans with parchment paper and set aside.

IMG_4737 IMG_4737 IMG_4737 IMG_4737~Step 2.  Place wet ingredients in a large bowl:  the butter, sugar mixture, eggs and both extracts. On high-speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the until creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula constantly during the process, about 2 minutes.  Lower mixer speed, add the flour mixture and gradually incorporate it into the mixture, until a smooth, sticky dough forms, again, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula.

IMG_4750 IMG_4750 IMG_4750 IMG_4750~Step 3.  Remove the mixer.  Using the rubber spatula, thoroughly fold in the chocolate chips, followed by all remaining add-ins:  the oats, coconut and pecans.  Take as much time as you need to do a thorough job of incorporating all of the add-ins evenly throughout the cookie dough.

IMG_4768 IMG_4768 IMG_4768 IMG_4768 IMG_4768~Step 4.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, firmly-pack and drop balls of cookie dough, well-apart, on parchment lined pans, 12 balls of dough on each pan. Bake cookies, one-pan-at-a-time on center rack of preheated 350° oven, 12-13 minutes, until light-golden. Remove from oven and cool cookies on pan, about 1-1 1/2 minute to give them time to firm up a bit, prior to using a small spatula to transfer to a wire cooling rack, to cool completely.

Great cookies to keep on-hand in your Summertime cookie jar:

IMG_4786All Politics Aside -- Laura Bush's Cowboy Cookies:  Recipe yields 9 1/2-10 dozen, normal-size, 2 1/2"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List:  spoon; cutting board; chef's knife; shallow baking pan; 6-8, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop; wire cooling rack; small thin spatula 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09087c56970dCook's Note:  Similar to cowboy cookies, cookie bars or cook squares are also loaded with lots of add-ins.  Congo bars for example.   In most circles, Congo squares or Congo bar-cookies are made by spreading a batch of Nestlé Toll House chocolate chip cookie batter into a square or rectangular pan, then cutting the big cookie into smaller, cookie-sized squares or bars after baking.  They shouldn't be confused with layered or 'magic' cookie bars -- the kind with a graham cracker crust and held together with condensed milk.  The Congo square is a WWII era pan-cookie dating back to 1942.  Try my ~ Tropical Fruit, Nut and Chocolate Chip Congo Bars ~.

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

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

02/23/2022

~ The Story Behind Our Retro Sloppy Joe Sandwich ~

IMG_4636In a nutshell, this one really is all in the name -- the Sloppy Joe sandwich.  The colorful name alone should clue the participant in for what they are about to experience, and, it's a messy one. After all, they didn't name it the neat-Nick sandwich.   The hamburger-type bun gets heaped with a loose, spoonable ground-beef and onion concoction then a tomato-based sauce gets stirred in, making it possible for the contents to drip out of the bun during consumption (or should I say impossible for the contents to stay in the sandwich during consumption). Some folks skirt around this by laying the bun halves side-by-side on a plate, topping them with the meat mixture, then eating it using a knife and fork -- me thinks that kinda takes all of the sport out of it.

IMG_4632The All-American sloppy Joe sandwich -- it was one of the most popular comfort foods of the 1950s. Moms across America were making them for their families, they quickly made their way into school lunchrooms, and, sloppy Joes showed up at parties, picnics and potlucks for all occasions.  Whether you love 'em or you don't, one bite of this now-retro sloppy-mess of a ground-beef and savory tomato-sauced sandwich is certain to conjure up a childhood memory or three.   As for me, I loved them, and my mom made them just the way I liked them -- using celery instead of the more commonly used green bell pepper, plus an extra spoonful of brown sugar because I liked them extra sweet and savory.  Sloppy Joes made many snow days, Summer days, and yes, even sick days better.

Part of the charm of the Sloppy Joe is that it's adaptable to suit anyones palate.  If you hate onions, don't put 'em in.  If you love garlic, add it.  Some like it hot -- for you folks, add a dash or three of hot sauce.  Side dishes are pretty easy to decide on too.  The sandwich pairs great with potato chips, potato salad or coleslaw -- some folks even like bake beans with theirs.

6a0120a8551282970b0278806da191200dThe original term "sloppy Joe" had nothing to do with a sandwich.  It was slangy code for any cheap restaurant or lunch counter-type establishment with a very relaxed dress code.  As for how the sandwich came to be named "sloppy Joe" (as if its being sloppy to eat isn't reason enough), the most believable story is that, in 1926, a creative restaurant cook named Joe, working at Floyd Angell's Cafe in Sioux City, Iowa, added tomato sauce and green pepper to what midwesterners refer to as "loose meat" sandwiches (which are a mixture of seasoned sautéed ground beef and onions served on a hamburger bun and sometimes topped with mustard and ketchup). That said, by the mid 1940s, the sloppy Joe sandwich was firmly established in America, and, in 1950 Libby introduced its canned Barbecue Sauce and Beef Sloppy Joe, which was the first of several canned sloppy Joe concoctions that could be kept in ones pantry -- all anyone needed to do was open the can, heat the contents and spoon it onto hamburger buns.  The Manwich was introduced in 1969 and lives on today -- it's a tomato-based sauce that one adds to their own browned ground beef.

Try my version of the  classic ground-beef sloppy-Joe sandwich:

IMG_4632 2And then try my version of the sloppy-Joe grilled-cheese sandwich:

IMG_4684"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

02/20/2022

~Snowy-Day Sloppy-Joe Grilled-Cheese Sandwiches~

IMG_4687While I adore my sloppy Joes served in the traditional manner, spooned generously onto a soft, white all-American hamburger roll, it's more than ok to get creative with ways to use the filling other than the iconic sandwich.  To  name a few:  sloppy-Joe cheese dogs, sloppy-Joe mac 'n cheese, sloppy-Joe nachos, sloppy-Joe pizza, and, my personal favorite, sloppy-Joe grilled-cheese sandwiches.  Because the sweet-and-savory sloppy-Joe ground-beef mixture is a natural when paired with melted cheese, the end justifies the means in the case of all of them.

IMG_4632The All-American sloppy Joe sandwich -- it was one of the most popular comfort foods of the 1950s. Moms across America were making them for their families, they quickly made their way into school lunchrooms, and, sloppy Joes showed up at parties, picnics and potlucks for all occasions.  Whether you love 'em or you don't, one bite of this now-retro sloppy-mess of a ground-beef and savory tomato-sauced sandwich is certain to conjure up a childhood memory or three.   As for me, I loved them, and my mom made them just the way I liked them -- using celery instead of the more commonly used green bell pepper, plus an extra spoonful of brown sugar because I liked them extra sweet and savory.  Sloppy Joes made many snow days, Summer days, and yes, even sick days better.

Manwichad1980sThe original term "sloppy Joe" had nothing to do with a sandwich.  It was slangy code for any cheap restaurant or lunch counter-type establishment with a very relaxed dress code.  As for how the sandwich came to be named "sloppy Joe" (as if its being sloppy to eat isn't reason enough), the most believable story is that, in 1926, a creative restaurant cook named Joe, working at Floyd Angell's Cafe in Sioux City, Iowa, added tomato sauce and green pepper to what midwesterners refer to as "loose meat" sandwiches (which are a mixture of seasoned sautéed ground beef and onions served on a hamburger bun and sometimes topped with mustard and ketchup). That said, by the mid 1940s, the sloppy Joe sandwich was firmly established in America, and, in 1950 Libby introduced its canned Barbecue Sauce and Beef Sloppy Joe, which was the first of several canned sloppy Joe concoctions that could be kept in ones pantry -- all anyone needed to do was open the can, heat the contents and spoon it onto hamburger buns.  The Manwich was introduced in 1969 and lives on today -- it's a tomato-based sauce that one adds to their own browned ground beef. 

When your ooey-gooey grilled cheese sandwich has a sweet 'n savory sloppy Joe center -- the world is a better place.

IMG_4600For the sloppy Joe's:

2-2 1/2  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

1  generous cup finely-diced yellow or sweet onion (6 ounces)

1  generous cup finely-diced celery, or, finely-diced green pepper (6 ounces)

1/2  teaspoon celery seed (omit if using green pepper)

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1  cup ketchup

2  tablespoon yellow "ballpark" mustard

4  tablespoons dark brown sugar

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

IMG_4645For each sandwich:

2  tablespoons salted butter

2  slices soft, white bread

2-4  slices yellow American cheese, the pre-packaged slices are the right thickness

3-4  tablespoons sloppy Joe mixture, from above recipe

serve with suggestions:  cream of tomato soup, crunchy potato chips, potato salad or coleslaw, &/or, dill pickle spears

IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602~Step 1.  To make the sloppy Joe's, place the ground beef in a 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides. Prep the onion and celery (or green pepper), placing them in the pan as you work.  Add the celery seed, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Using a large spoon or spatula, give the mixture a thorough stir, making sure all of the vegetables and the spices are evenly incorporated into the meat.  Sauté, over medium-high heat, using a spatula to stir frequently and break up the meat into small bits and pieces, until meat has lost its red color and almost no liquid remains in the bottom of the pan, about 20-30 minutes.

IMG_4620 IMG_4620 IMG_4620 IMG_4620~Step 2.  Add and use a large spoon to stir in the ketchup ketchup, mustard, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is steaming, 1-2 more minutes.  Remove from heat, cover the pan and allow to steep, about 15-30 minutes, to allow some time for the sweet and savory tomato-sauce-flavors to soak into the ground meat.  

IMG_4651 IMG_4651 IMG_4651 IMG_4651 IMG_4658 IMG_4661 IMG_4661 IMG_4661 IMG_4661~Step 3.  To assemble and cook the sloppy-Joe grilled-cheese sandwiches, melt two tablespoons butter in a 10" nonstick skillet over low heat.  Place 2 slices of bread in the skillet.  Top each slice with 1-2 slices yellow American cheese.  Gently and carefully, spoon and spread 3-4 tablespoons sloppy Joe mixture atop one slice of cheese-topped bread. Increase heat to medium- medium-low (error on the side of the heat being too low), place a lid on the skillet, and cook, watching carefully, 2-3 minutes (a glass lid allows you to keep an eye on things), until the cheese has melted and bread is lightly-and-nicely toasted.  Remove lid from the skillet.  Place the bread slice with the melted cheese on it, cheese-side-down, atop the bread slice with the sloppy Joe mixture on it.  Use a spatula to transfer the sandwich from skillet to plate. Using a serrated bread knife, slice and serve ASAP.  Repeat process with remaining sandwiches.

Bring on the tomato soup + a pickle -- & take that first bite:

IMG_4708Snowy-Day Sloppy-Joe Grilled-Cheese Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 6 cups sloppy Joe mixture/each 1 cup Sloppy Joe mixture is enough for 4 sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; 10" nonstick skillet/ lid; large spatula; large spoon; 10" nonstick skillet; spatula; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d26b186e970cCook's Note: On a 1917 episode of The Walking Dead, while scouting around in search of food and guns, Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and Michonne (Danai Gurira), fall through a rooftop into a room filled with just that, guns and miscellaneous canned foods and military RTE (ready-to-eat) meals. Rick goes full-blown romantic on Michonne.  After the obligatory sex, they eat a candlelit feeding-frenzy dinner and Rick presents her with a surprise, and it's not jewelry -- it's one last type of RTE meal. "I've been waiting to show you this one," Rick says, "It's chili. And mac 'n cheese.  Together."  Try my ~ Walking Dead:  It's Chili & Mac 'n Cheese.  Together. ~.

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

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

02/17/2022

~ Snowy-Day Ground-Beef Sloppy-Joe Sandwiches ~

IMG_4636The All-American sloppy Joe sandwich -- one of the most popular comfort foods of the 1950s. Moms across America were making them for their families, they made their way into school lunchrooms, and, they showed up at parties, picnics and potlucks.  Whether you love 'em or you don't, one bite of this now-retro sloppy-mess of a ground-beef and savory tomato-sauced sandwich is certain to conjure up a childhood memory or three.   As for me, I loved them, and my mom made them just the way I liked them -- using celery instead of the more commonly used green bell pepper, plus an extra spoonful of brown sugar because I liked them extra sweet and savory.  Sloppy Joes made snow days, Summer days, and yes, even sick days better.

Manwichad1980sThe original term "sloppy Joe" had nothing to do with a sandwich.  It was slangy code for any cheap restaurant or lunch counter-type establishment with a very relaxed dress code.  As for how the sandwich came to be named "sloppy Joe" (as if its being sloppy to eat isn't reason enough), the most believable story is that, in 1926, a creative restaurant cook named Joe, working at Floyd Angell's Cafe in Sioux City, Iowa, added tomato sauce and green pepper to what midwesterners refer to as "loose meat" sandwiches (which are a mixture of seasoned sautéed ground beef and onions served on a hamburger bun and sometimes topped with mustard and ketchup). That said, by the mid 1940s, the sloppy Joe sandwich was firmly established in America, and, in 1950 Libby introduced its canned Barbecue Sauce and Beef Sloppy Joe, which was the first of several canned sloppy Joe concoctions that could be kept in ones pantry -- all anyone needed to do was open the can, heat the contents and spoon it onto hamburger buns.  The Manwich was introduced in 1969 and lives on today -- it's a tomato-based sauce that one adds to their own browned ground beef. 

Please skip the canned stuff -- making Sloppy Joe's from scratch is almost as easy, &, so very much tastier:

IMG_46002-2 1/2  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

1  generous cup finely-diced yellow or sweet onion (6 ounces)

1  generous cup finely-diced celery, or, finely-diced green pepper (6 ounces)

1/2  teaspoon celery seed (omit if using green pepper)

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1  cup ketchup

2  tablespoon yellow "ballpark" mustard

4  tablespoons dark brown sugar

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602 IMG_4602~Step 1.  To make the sloppy Joe's, place the ground beef in a 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides. Prep the onion and celery (or green pepper), placing them in the pan as you work.  Add the celery seed, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Using a large spoon or spatula, give the mixture a thorough stir, making sure all of the vegetables and the spices are evenly incorporated into the meat.  Sauté, over medium-high heat, using a spatula to stir frequently and break up the meat into small bits and pieces, until meat has lost its red color and almost no liquid remains in the bottom of the pan, about 20-30 minutes.  

IMG_4620 IMG_4620 IMG_4620 IMG_4620~Step 2.  Add and use a large spoon to stir in the ketchup, mustard, brown sugar and Worcestershire sauce.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is steaming, 1-2 more minutes.  Remove from heat, cover the pan and allow to steep, about 15-30 minutes, to allow some time for the sweet and savory tomato-sauce-flavors to soak into the ground meat.

'Tis true:  Potato chips are to a sloppy Joe, what French fries are to a hamburger -- & in either case, hold my beer!

IMG_4642Snowy-Day Ground-Beef Sloppy-Joe Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 6 cups sloppy Joe mixture/enough for 12 sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; 12" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spatula; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b026bdefb196d200cCook's Note: The fabulous '50's may be gone forever, but they are certainly not forgotten.  Remember the stainless steel diner in your hometown that served up a thick slice of mouthwatering meatloaf smothered in a smooth and rich pan gravy alongside a big scoop of fluffy mashed potatoes? Remember meatloaf day in your school cafeteria with stewed tomatoes and macaroni and cheese?  Remember the Swanson frozen meatloaf dinner slathered with a thick brown gravy and French fries?  I remember them all, but, mostly, I remember ~ My Mom's "Special" All-Beef Meatloaf ~, and, the story of humble, homey All-American meatloaf is fascinating.  

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

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

02/14/2022

~ GF Deconstructed Slow-Cooker Stuffed-Cabbage ~

IMG_4591Feel free to assume I'm not a fan of trendy deconstructed dishes.  I am, however, the first to admit there are exceptions to every rule, and, my mom's recipe for deconstructed stuffed cabbage rolls is one such exception.  Why?  Because the end justifies the means in a big, beautiful way: Every forkful of the finished "deconstructed" version is uncompromisingly just as delicious as the classic original, and, the time saved by not cooking many of the components first, then assembling them in the typical manner is marked.  All I can say is:  Where had this "deconstructed" method been all my life?  It took years for mom to teach me to make her cabbage rolls to perfection (it takes a lot of work to construct a traditional cabbage roll), then, in 2016, she showed me how she makes her deconstructed cabbage rolls -- and it made my life a lot easier.

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

Here's my gluten-free twist on my mom's recipe:

IMG_44521 medium-sized head green cabbage (about 2 1/2 pounds)

3  pounds lean ground beef (90/10) 

2  medium-sized yellow onions, about 6-ounces each, finely-diced (about 2 cups)

1  cup uncooked long-grain white rice or basmati rice, not "Minute rice" (8 ounces)

1  seasoning packet from 1  box of  G.Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix  (Note:  This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture is both gluten-free and meat-free.  It was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant bouillon.  It was a well-known family secret ingredient of my grandmother's and I've keep it on-hand in my pantry specifically to duplicate her recipes without fail.  It's readily available at grocery stores and on-line.)

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

2  extra-large eggs

1  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 

3  32-ounce boxes + 2 cups gluten-free tomato soup tomato soup (Note:  Not all tomato soup, Campbell's for example, is gluten-free, so, be sure to check the label.)

2  additional teaspoons sea salt + 1 teaspoon additional coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_4458 IMG_4458 IMG_4458 IMG_4458 IMG_4458~Step 1.  To mix the meat and semi-form the meatballs, place the ground beef, diced onion, uncooked rice, G. Washington's seasoning, salt, pepper, eggs and Worcestershire sauce in a large bowl.  Mix thoroughly to combine -- the best and easiest way to do this is with your hands.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, form the meat mixtures into balls, dropping and dividing them equally between two plates, 24-26 on each plate.  Set aside.

IMG_4473 IMG_4473 IMG_4473 IMG_4473~Step 2.  To prep the cabbage, remove and reserve a few soft, leafy outer leaves from the head of cabbage.  Cut/remove the hard core from the center, then slice the head into two halves, then cut each half into two quarters.  Coarse-slice/1/2" shred the first two quarters, and set them aside.  Coarse-shred the second two quarters and set them aside (separate from the first two).

IMG_4483 IMG_4483 IMG_4483 IMG_4483 IMG_4483 IMG_4483 IMG_4483~Step 3.  Everybody into the crockpot. Between the palms of your hands, roll half (give-or-take) the meatballs into actual balls, placing them, side-by-side and in a single layer, in the bottom of the cabbage-leaf lined crockpot. Scatter half of the coarse-shredded cabbage atop the meatballs -- do not press down or try to compact the layers.  Between the palms of your hands, roll the remaining meatballs into actual balls, placing them, side-by-side and in a single layer atop the coarse-shredded cabbage.  Scatter the remaining half of the coarse-shredded cabbage atop the meatballs.  Add the tomato soup, giving it time to drizzle down through the cracks and crevices.  Sprinkle on the additional salt and pepper.  Do not press down or try to compact the layers.  Place the lid on the crockpot.

IMG_4500 IMG_4500 IMG_4500 IMG_4500~Step 4.  Slow-cook on high for 4 hours, then on low for 2 hours.  Lift the lid and smell the wonderfulness.  I like to serve these family style, but feel free to plate for each person.  To serve, using a large slotted spoon, transfer all the shredded cabbage to a 4-quart casserole.  Using the same spoon, transfer and arrange all the meatballs atop the cabbage.  Using a soup ladle, transfer a generous half of the sauce to the casserole.  Serve the remaining sauce at table side.

Just like grandma used to make -- (wink, wink) almost! 

IMG_4595GF Deconstructed Slow-Cooker Stuffed-Cabbage:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; cutting board; chef's knife; 6 1/2-7-quart crockpot; large slotted spoon; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4820b9d200dCook's Note: Known as holubki to me and many of you*, stuffed cabbage rolls are beloved in every Eastern European household. Everyone makes them a bit differently, with the constants being: ground meat (beef, pork and/or lamb), cooked rice, steamed green cabbage leaves and a tomato-based sauce.  Because they are labor-intensive, too often they're reserved for holidays or special occasions. That said, those of us in Eastern European inner-circles know there are other ways to bring this knife-and-fork savory comfort food to the weekday table in almost half the time. Here's ~ Five Ways to Enjoy Slovak-Style Stuffed Cabbage ~.  Give 'em a try!

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

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

02/11/2022

~Pasta - Choose, Portion, Cook, Sauce, Toss & Serve~

IMG_4586The world is full of pasta-bilities.  Our modern marketplaces have supplied all of our demands with hundreds of shapes, sizes, and colors of dried and fresh pasta.  I suppose it is because pasta is relatively quick to cook that many Americans impulsively try to create their own versions of well-known pasta dishes having little or no knowledge of the tried and true, time-honored principles and classic recipe techniques these recipes require.  What's worse, many American restaurants do the same.  Trust me when I say, I'm happy to overlook a slightly over-cooked or over-sauced pasta dish served by a friend who forth their best effor,.  That said, some of the lifeless, lack-luster, overly-sauced, overly-salted pasta dishes served at many restaurants should be outlawed.

#1.  Choosing pasta -- fresh vs. dried & what shape works best.

IMG_4512There are two types of pasta:  dried and fresh. Dried pasta is commercially made using semolina (wheat) and durum flour (wheat).  Fresh pasta is made with flour and eggs.  Both are available in countless shapes and sizes.  Do not fall into the snobbish trap of only eating fresh pasta, or only eating dried pasta, or only eating one shape of pasta.  Each type and shape has a specific purpose and they are usually not interchangeable.  The basic rule for both dried and fresh pasta is:  the more delicate the sauce, the more delicate the pasta.  Dried pasta (spaghetti and penne for example), hold up under the weight of heavy sauces.  Dried pasta shapes are also great for baked casseroles, like mac & cheese or stuffed shells.  Fresh pasta, which breaks more easily, requires a light sauce and/or should be used to to make filled-pasta like tortellini or ravioli.  As with all cooking, there are exceptions to every rule so:  when in doubt, trust the recipe.

As for trendy dried or fresh pasta found colored or flavored with exotic items like squid ink and truffle, simply stated:  for the most part they are a waste of money because flour and the cooking process deaden the expensive flavors.  On the other hand, gourmet pasta that contains herbs like, cracked pepper, basil or rosemary impart lovely flavor into the dish being served, as long as it is chosen to complement the dish being served.  That being said, colored pasta is a lot of fun to serve, especially the colors of the Italian flag:  egg (white), spinach (green), and, tomato (red).

#2.  Portioning pasta -- people eat more than the experts say.

IMG_4010Authorities proclaim that one pound of pasta will produce 4-6 servings, depending upon whether it is served as a starter, entree or side-serving.  I, however, find that realistically, one pound of pasta produces 3-5 servings, and, in the case of thin strands, like angel hair, it is best to plan on one pound of pasta producing just 2-4 servings.  If you are adding meat, seafood or vegetables to the dish, that will, of course, stretch it farther.  It's  amazing to me just how much pasta people eat.

#3A.  Cooking pasta, part 1:  boiling -- get out the big pot.

IMG_4515Pasta needs a large pot filled with enough water so it can move freely.  My general rule for 1-1 1/2 pounds of pasta is:  In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil. When the water reaches a rolling boil, add 1 1/2 teaspoons of sea salt.  Authorities say to add 1 or more tablespoons of salt, but I personally think that is too much -- I want my pasta to be mildly salted, not salty.  Many will tell you to add some oil to the water -- that's just wrong.  Never add oil to the pasta water.  Oil does nothing except enjoy a free ride on top of the water, which sticks to the surface of the pasta when it drains, which in turnprevents the sauce from sticking to the pasta. Once the salted water is boiling, gradually add the pasta to the water, in order to keep the water boiling and the pasta separated.  That said, once all of the pasta has been added, using a large spoon, stir it around until it has softened and is "swimming" freely around under the water.  Next, lower the heat to a steady simmer, as boiling damages even the heartiest pasta.

#3B.  Cooking pasta, part 2:  timing -- it's done when it's done.

IMG_4518Use the cooking instructions on the package combined with a reliable timer as a guideline.  The cooking time will vary with each type and shape of pasta, not to mention how you have the heat under the simmering pasta regulated.  Dried pasta will take considerably longer to cook than freshly made pasta, approximately 8-12 minutes depending upon the shape or thickness, with short pasta taking longer to cook than long, stranded pasta because short pasta is thicker.  Fresh pasta will cook quite quickly, in some cases as quickly as 1-2 minutes, but like dried pasta, shape and thickness will determine the time.  The longer fresh pasta dries, the longer the cooking time. When cooking dried or fresh pasta, be prepared to stand by the stove during the last 1-2 minutes and taste test as often as every 15-30 seconds. -- the difference between perfection and disaster.

IMG_4559Only a fool throws pasta against the wall to test for doneness.  The only test is "al dente", meaning "to the tooth", which means you have to taste it.  Pasta should be slightly resistant, yet cooked through and not soft or mushy.  Pasta continues to cook even after draining, so it is best to remove it from the heat slightly undercooked.  Also keep in mind that if pasta is to be baked after boiling, macaroni and  cheese for example, cook it even less.

#3C.  Cooking pasta, part 3: draining -- get out a colander.

IMG_4522Immediately and gently, transfer cooked pasta from the pot o a large colander -- for delicate or filled-pasta, use a hand-held colander to transfer the pasta into the large colander.   Give the colander a few gentle shakes to drain away all excess water.  Never rinse pasta in water, unless preparing a cold pasta dish, like macaroni salad, in which case it must be rinsed in very cold water to halt the cooking process.  Occasionally a recipe calls for reserved pasta water -- reserve this liquid (+ a bit extra) just prior to draining, then proceed with the recipe as directed.

#4.  Saucing pasta -- be judicious, less is more.

IMG_4547Be sure to have any sauce/and or other ingredients ready/warm and waiting for the pasta to cook, never vice versa.  Do not add all of the sauce at once.  The pasta may not need it, and extra sauce can be served at tableside to suit individual preferences.  A pasta dish that has been perfectly sauced and tossed has no sauce puddled on the plate or in the bottom of the bowl, before or after eating it.  Authentic Italian pasta is never soaked in or over-sauced.  This is typically the biggest mistakes Americans and American restaurants make.  As a guideline, for 12-16 ounces of spaghetti, I use 1-1/2-2 cups of sauce.  Depending upon the recipe or personal preference, consider stirring a bit of finely-grated cheese into the sauce too.  My favorite is Parmigiano-Reggiano and for 12-16-ounces of pasta you'll need about 3-4 tablespoons.  Other favorites of mine are Grana Padano (similar to Parm.-Regg.), Locatelli (Pecorino-Romano), or a well-aged Asiago.  Be sure to use a microplane grater to finely grate the cheese you are adding.

#5.  Tossing pasta -- transforming pasta & sauce into one dish.

IMG_4577Tossing is the step that transforms the sauce and the pasta into a single dish.  Immediately after draining the pasta into the colander, return the hot pasta to the still warm stockpot and place the stockpot on the still warm stovetop.  For every 2 ounces of pasta you have cooked, add 1 tablespoon of salted butter (preferably at room temperature). Give it a gentle but thorough stir, just until the pasta is evenly coated in the melted butter.  Cover and let it sit on stovetop 1-2 minutes, to allow the pasta time to absorb all of the butter.  The butter is going to impart rich flavor to your pasta (instead of just getting it from overly salted water) and it is actually going to encourage the sauce to stick to each buttery strand or piece of pasta.  My buttering trick complements any sauce you plan to add -- it is also why I am constantly asked why my pasta tastes better than everyones.  Add the sauce to the buttered pasta and toss until every piece or strand is enrobed.

Note:  If my "coat the hot pasta in butter" tip has you rolling your eyes or about to leave me a nasty comment, this is where we should part ways.  If you haven't tried it, you can't begin to understand, and, I could care less if you, your mama or your entire family hails from Italy.

IMG_4567 IMG_4571 IMG_4575To toss, use either two spoons or two forks, or, a pair of tongs -- I find that two spoons or two forks work best for short pasta (like penne and rigatoni), and tongs work best for stranded pasta (like linguini and spaghetti).

#6.  Serving pasta -- family-style vs. individual servings. 

IMG_4583 2Once the pasta is tossed, it is time to serve it.  There are two options. Family-style:  transfer pasta to a large, warmed serving platter; Individual portions:  transfer pasta to warmed, shallow pasta bowls. When serving individual portions, use tongs.  Twirl the pasta, to make it look like a bird's nest in the center of each bowl.  In either case, a wedge of cheese and a microplane cheese grater should be on the table -- along with any additional sauce for those who desire some. Always remember, from the minute the pasta is cooked, there is no time for pause or delay.

Would you like my recipe for meatballs with that?

6a0120a8551282970b02942f995e04200c-800wiChoosing, Portioning, Cooking & Saucing Pasta:  Recipe yields instructions to cook and sauce perfect pasta every time.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot w/lid (or stockpot sized appropriately for how much pasta is being cooked); colander; two large spoons or two large forks, or, a pair of tongs; microplane grater

6a0120a8551282970b027880115bbf200dCook's Note:  Even those of us who can and do make ravioli from scratch, don't typically serve them for a family-friendly weeknight meal. Why?  Making ravioli from scratch is a lot of work.  That's why these one-to-two-bite labors-of-love are usually reserved for holidays and celebrations. That said, high-quality store-bought ravioli can be found in the average grocery store.  Rana is my go-to brand, and, you won't find them in the frozen food aisle -- they're found in the refrigerated section where fresh pasta is sold.  When paired with an easy-to-make-from-scratch sauce, ravioli can be added to every pasta-loving family's weeknight meal rotation:  Try these three sauces!

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

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

02/08/2022

~Eat Some, Freeze Some -- A Big Batch of Meatballs~

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d909620970dEverybody loves meatballs, and, the night the family is eating spaghetti and meatballs for dinner is the most popular day in the weekly meal rotation.  For Italian-American families, that dinner is typically reserved for Sunday.  Tender, juicy, flavor-packed meatballs get slow-simmered in a pot of "gravy" (meaning red sauce), and, every Italian-American family claims to have the best, handed-down-for-generations, recipe for "polpette" (meaning "meatballs").  Enough said.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39a0a57200cMeatballs are a universal food, and, almost every culture has their own name for them and way to serve them using spices and sauces common to their cuisine.  They come in all sizes too:  tiny, pop-in-your-mouth sized ones served at coctail parties or put into soups; medium-sized ones served as an accompaniment to pasta or put in submarine-type sandwiches; and, large near baseball-sized ones served as a main course -- yep some people really do make them that large.  While meatballs aren't Italian per se, I'm pretty certain when most of us think of meatballs, we associate them with the pillowy-soft, melt-in-your-mouth, meatballs covered in red sauce of the Italian-American kind.  And, just like other cultures brought their meatball recipes with them, the Italian immigrants brought their traditional family meatball recipes to America with them.  That said, back in Italy, meatballs were not (initially) served with spaghetti.  They were served alone, as a meatball course, as was the pasta, as a pasta course, and the salad, as a salad course, etc.  These two items began being served together in Italian restaurants to appease Americans who wanted meat served with their pasta -- some changes really are for the better.

Here's my family's best Italian-American polpette recipe:

IMG_4382For the basic meat mixture:

4  pounds lean ground meat (90/10)

4  pounds pork tenderloin

12  ounces finely diced onion

For the wet mixture & seasonings:

12 ounces saltine crackers (6 crackers shy of 3 sleeves)

8  jumbo eggs

1  cup milk

2  teaspoons Italian seasoning blend

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper

4  ounces fine-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (about 1 cup)

For forming and frying:

1  24-ounce container plain, dry breadcrumbs

corn or peanut oil for frying

IMG_4388 IMG_4388~ Step 1.  To make the meat mixture, place all three ingredients in a very large bowl (the ground beef, ground pork and diced onion) and thoroughly combine.  The quickest and easiest way way to do this is with your hands.  Set mixture aside.

IMG_4393 IMG_4393 IMG_4393 IMG_4393 IMG_4393 IMG_4393 IMG_4393~Step 2.  To make the wet mixture, place crackers in a large-capacity food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of about 30 rapid on-off pulses, process the crackers to crumbs.  Open the lid of the processor and add the eggs, milk, Italian seasoning, sea salt and coarse-grind pepper.  Close the lid and with the motor running, process until the mixture is smooth, thick and pasty, about 15-20 seconds. Open the lid of the processor and add the fine-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Close the lid and process until the cheese is thoroughly incorporated, an additional 15-20 seconds.

IMG_4410 IMG_4410 IMG_4410~ Step 3. Transfer wet mixture to meat mixture. Using hands, thoroughly combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2-3 hours or overnight, to allow the flavors time to marry.  Uncover and briefly remix.

Forming, Frying & Freezing Meatballs:

The above meatball mixture, which is simple and straight-forward, makes a lot, about ten dozen. It takes no extra time to mix this big batch, just about 30 minutes of extra frying time, which is a small sacrifice considering the outcome.  Once the meatballs are fried, I portion and freeze them (unsauced), enough for 6-8 meals.  My method for frying meatballs, however, requires one extra, old and authentic step.  It is a step many American cooks don't know about, or skip.  The formed meatballs get rolled in breadcrumbs prior to frying.  This produces a lovely crisp, golden brown breadcrumb crust.  These are indeed, moist, juicy, melt-in-your-mouth incredible meatballs.

IMG_4417 IMG_4417~ Step 1.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place meatballs on 2 large, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans.  Cover with plastic wrap, and keep covered until you're ready to roll them in breadcrumbs and fry.  I fry my meatballs in my electric skillet -- it controls the temperature perfectly, and, is about the same size as a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole, which makes this similar-sized perfect to use as a vessel to hold the breadcrumbs.

IMG_4427 IMG_4427 IMG_4427Step 2.  Place about 2 cups of breadcrumbs in the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish -- add additional breadcrumbs as necessary throughout the process.  Place a scant 1/4" of oil in the bottom of an electric skillet and preheat to 275°.  Note:  In the case of my electric skillet, you can see that a 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish is the perfect gauge for how many meatballs to fry at one time.  Do not overcrowd the skillet.

IMG_4435 IMG_4435 IMG_4435~ Step 3.  Place about 12-16 meatballs in the breadcrumbs and roll to coat.  When all are coated, place them in the preheated skillet. Fry, until browned on both sides, but NOT completely cooked through, about 3-4 minutes per side. Do not overcook meatballs.  Using a pair of tongs remove from skillet and place in a large, flat-bottomed, paper-towel-lined disposable aluminum roasting pan to drain.

IMG_4444 IMG_4444 IMG_4444~ Step 4. Refrigerate meatballs on parchment-lined baking pans for 1-2 hours -- chilling prior to freezing prevents freezer burn. To freeze, I portion and place them onto inexpensive, disposable food service plates or trays that I buy at our local Sam's club.  Each tray gets double or triple wrapped in plastic, then placed in a food storage bag.  Lastly, I stack the trays neatly on top of each other in my freezer.

Drop frozen meatballs into sauce & simmer 10-12 minutes:

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d90917c970dEat Some, Freeze Some -- A Big Batch of Meatballs:  Recipe yields 10+ dozen meatballs.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; very large mixing bowl; large-capacity food processor; 1-cup measuring container; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 13" x 9" x 2" baking dish; electric skillet or large nonstick skillet; small fork; tongs; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b0133f33a94bc970bCook's Note:  To cook freshly-made lightly-sautéed or frozen (unthawed) meatballs, drop them into your favorite red sauce that is simmering in a chef's pan, saucepan or stockpot.  Gently simmer until just cooked through, 10-12 minutes. Need a sauce recipe?  Try my recipe for ~ Mel's Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~.

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

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

02/05/2022

~ Super-Easy Light & Skinny Tuna or Chicken Salad ~

IMG_4357Tuna salad and chicken salad -- they're two of my favorites.  Tuna I have on-hand in my pantry all the time, chicken breast I have leftover on a regular basis.  Tuna or chicken salad is nothing fancy -- and it's ertainly not gourmet.  Just a quick and easy-to-make lunch made from ingredients you most-likely have on hand in your pantry -- and it'll keep you smiling all afternoon too.  Why? Because besides being loaded with fat-free protein (from tuna packed in water or the meat from leftover chicken breasts, plus hard-cooked eggs), it's filling and packed-full of flavor (from all the wonderful spices in your favorite "lite" Italian dressing).  There's more. It's light -- a refreshing break from calorie-packed carbohydrates.  It's never to early to "think Spring".

Filling, packed-full of flavor & texture -- & light on calories too:

IMG_43321  12-ounce can packed-in-water Starkist albacore tuna, well-drained and chunked, or, 12-ounces meat from leftover poached or roasted chicken breast, pulled into bite-sized pieces

3  ounces diced celery (about 1/2 cup)

2  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (about 1/3 cup)

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

2  extra-large eggs, hard-cooked, peeled and chopped

6-8  tablespoons Wishbone light Italian salad dressing

IMG_4333 IMG_4333 IMG_4333 IMG_4333 IMG_4333 IMG_4333~Step 1. To make the tuna salad, open and place the tuna on a paper-towel-lined plate, long enough to drain all excess liquid, 3-4 minutes.  Using your fingertips, pull the tuna into bite-size pieces, transferring them to a medium bowl as you work.  If making chicken salad, use your fingers to pull the breast meat into bite-sized pieces. Dice the celery and onion, adding them to the bowl with the tuna.  Add the black pepper and six tablespoons of the light-Italian dressing.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the mixture together, to thoroughly combine.  Add the chopped hard-cooked eggs.  Using the same spatula, gently fold the eggs into the mixture.  Refrigerate tuna salad until well-chilled, 2-4-6 hours or overnight.  Once chilled, give it a taste and add additional Italian dressing if desired.

Try it in my Super-Easy Skinny Tuna Salad Pita Sandwiches:

IMG_4367Super-Easy Light & Skinny Tuna or Chicken Salad:  Recipe yields 4 cups tuna or chicken salad.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0278806a4c30200dCook's Note:  Occasionally my dad would fix his version of tuna salad. On a large platter, he'd make a bed of soft lettuce leaves, then add a layer of tomato slices followed by a sliced cucumber.  He'd scatter a lightly-drained can of chilled tuna-packed-in-oil over the veggies, followed by a few dollops of cottage cheese.  His creation ended with a sprinkling of salt and black pepper. Mom would make some rye toast, put a pitcher of iced tea on the table and lunch was served.  It wasn't fancy, but our family of four loved it. Try my twist and mixed-up version of Dad's deconstructed tuna salad:   ~ Lighten Up w/a Refreshing Tuna-Mac Garden Salad ~.  It goes without saying, this recipe can be made substituting chicken breast for tuna too!

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

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

02/02/2022

~ Super-Easy Skinny Tuna Salad Pita Sandwiches ~

IMG_4367Nothing fancy.  Certainly not gourmet.  Just a quick and easy-to-make lunch made from ingredients you most-likely have on hand in your pantry -- and it'll keep you smiling all afternoon too.  Why?  Because besides being loaded with fat-free protein (from tuna packed in water and hard-cooked eggs) it's filling and packed-full of flavor (from all the wonderful spices in your favorite "lite" Italian dressing) and texture (from crunchy celery, onion and lettuce), plus, it's light -- a refreshing break from calorie-packed carbohydrates.  It's never to early to "think Spring".

IMG_4380Filling, packed-full of flavor & texture -- & light on calories too:

IMG_4332For the tuna salad:

1  12-ounce can packed-in-water Starkist albacore tuna, well-drained and chunked

3  ounces diced celery (about 1/2 cup)

2  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (about 1/3 cup)

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

2  extra-large eggs, hard-cooked, peeled and chopped

6-8  tablespoons Wishbone light Italian salad dressing

IMG_4364Four ingredients for the skinny-tuna pita sandwiches:

4  white or whole wheat pita pockets, cut into 8 halves

1 1/2-2  cups iceberg or romaine lettuce, chopped or torn into small bite-sized pieces

4-6  small thin-sliced Campari tomatoes

4  cups chilled skinny tuna salad, from above recipe

IMG_4333 IMG_4333 IMG_4333 IMG_4333 IMG_4333 IMG_4333~Step 1.  To make the tuna salad, open and place the tuna on a paper-towel-lined plate, long enough to drain all excess liquid, 3-4 minutes.  Using your fingertips, pull the tuna into bite-size pieces, transferring them to a medium bowl as you work. Dice the celery and onion, adding them to the bowl with the tuna.  Add the black pepper and six tablespoons of the light-Italian dressing.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the mixture together, to thoroughly combine.  Add the chopped hard-cooked eggs.  Using the same spatula, gently fold the eggs into the mixture.  Refrigerate tuna salad until well-chilled, 2-4-6 hours or overnight.  Once chilled, give it a taste and add additional Italian dressing if desired.

IMG_4375 IMG_4375~ Step 2.  To assemble the pita sandwiches, split the pita pockets in half and gently open each half. Add a bed of lettuce pieces, then 3-4 tomato slices to each half.  Scoop a few (4-6) generous tablespoons tuna salad into each half and serve. 

It's never to early to "think Spring":

IMG_4370Super-Easy Skinny Tuna Salad Pita Sandwiches:  4 cup tuna salad/enough for 4 full-size pita sandwiches/8 pita sandwich halves.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49d3041200dCook's Note:  Occasionally my dad would fix his version of tuna salad. On a large platter, he'd make a bed of soft lettuce leaves, then add a layer of tomato slices followed by a sliced cucumber.  He'd scatter a lightly-drained can of chilled tuna-packed-in-oil over the veggies, followed by a few dollops of cottage cheese.  His creation ended with a sprinkling of salt and black pepper. Mom would make some rye toast, put a pitcher of iced tea on the table and lunch was served.  It wasn't fancy, but our family of four loved it. Try my twist and mixed-up version of Dad's deconstructed tuna salad:   ~ Lighten Up w/a Refreshing Tuna-Mac Garden Salad ~.

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

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

01/30/2022

~How to Prebake, Freeze, Thaw & Finish-Bake Pizza~

IMG_4235In terms of comfort food, pizza is at the top of the short list.  But, when the craving for a pizza hits, it's not exactly instant gratification -- eat-in requires a drive to your favorite pizza pub, delivery requires a wait to receive a less than idillic product, and, to make one from scratch requires even more time.  Tick, tock.  If you're looking for a way to work around this dilemma, you've come to the right place.  Here in my kitchen, when I make pizza, I make one and freeze one.  Keeping a few stored in my freezer means my family or friends can be enjoy a top-notch, ooey-gooey cheesy pizza whenever the mood strikes -- and it takes just twenty stress-free, mess-free minutes.

Start w/an unbaked, fully-topped pizza.

IMG_4198 IMG_4198 IMG_4198~ Step 1.  Start by making your favorite pizza dough. Pat it into a lightly-oiled 12"-round or 13" x 9"-rectangular pizza pan and top it with your favorite pizza sauce, cheese(s), and any additional meat or vegetable toppings.

Prebake pizza in pan, in 375° oven w/oven rack in center.

IMG_4206 IMG_4206 IMG_4206~ Step 2.  Bake the pizza on center rack of preheated 375° oven for exactly 18 minutes.  Cheese will be bubbling and melted, and crust will have puffed up.  Remove pizza from oven.  Using a large metal spatula, loosen/slide pizza from pan onto a cooling rack to cool completely, 1-1 1/2 hours. 

Tightly-wrap, refrigerate, then freeze pizza for several months.

IMG_4218 IMG_4218 IMG_4308 IMG_4308 IMG_4308~Step 3.  To avoid (at all cost) any type of freezer burn, first, triple wrap the completely cooled pizza in plastic wrap.  Next, seal the pizza it in a 2-2 1/2-gallon Ziplock bag, then, place it in the refrigerator for several hours to get it cold.  Once the pizza is cold, freeze it flat, and, if you continue to make additional pizzas, it is fine to stack them flat on top of each other.

Thaw & finish-bake directly on center oven rack, in 350° oven.

IMG_4327 IMG_4327 IMG_4327~ Step 4.  Thaw fully-wrapped pizza on the counter for about an hour, OR, gently and carefully on the defrost-cyle in the microwave oven for about 3 minutes.  Remove plastic wrap from thawed pizza.  Place pizza directly on center rack (or on a pizza stone placed on the center oven rack) of preheated 350° for 4-6 minutes, or, until the cheese is bubbly and the bottom of the crust has crisped up.

A freezer w/homemade frozen pizza = a family's best friend:

IMG_4323How to Prebake, Freeze, Thaw & Finish-Bake Pizza:  Recipe yields instructions fo prebake, freeze, thaw & finish-bake as many pizzas as you want to.

Special Equipment List: 1, 12"-round pizza pan or 1, "13" x 9"-rectangular baking pan; large metal spatula; pizza peel; pizza stone (optional); wire cooling rack; plastic wrap; 2 1/2-gallon Ziplock freezer bag 

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" meaning, "the time it takes for the dough to rise after it has been kneaded and bulk-proofed", is the most important step in the pizza making process. Sadly, it's all-too-often not taken seriously -- it gets rushed.  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 2022)

01/27/2022

~Beer-Batter-Dipped Deep-Fried Babyback Spareribs~

IMG_4291Yes, you read it right -- these ribs are beer-batter-dipped and deep-fried.  One could say strange things happen to people during a lengthy arctic-esque freeze stirred into a pandemic --  to name a few, we binge-watch way too much TV, eat way too many carbohydrates, and, push like to way too many Facebook memes.  BUT, as Cuckoo-for-Cocoa-Puffs as it might seem to many, batter-dipping and deep-frying spareribs isn't one of them -- the Chinese have been deep-frying ribs for centuries, and they're a popular item on many Chinese-American restaurant menus.

That said, it should come as no surprise that South of the Mason-Dixon Line, on occasion, folks deep-fry spareribs too -- after all, by definition, the phrase "Southern-fried" is not limited to chicken. So, once you pause to think about it for a moment or two, it will come as no shock that, done in the manner of batter-dipped Southern-fried chicken or catfish, spareribs are no different -- they're delicious.  Suck-it-up, close the lid on that grill, get out the deep-fryer and live dangerously.

Crispy outside, perfectly-cooked & full-flavored juicy-tender inside -- they're simply irresistible...

IMG_4276 2... but, they're filling, so, they're a great way to stretch one rack of ribs to feed a family of four or serve as hors d'oeuvres.

IMG_2756

1 or 2  full-racks babyback pork spareribs

1 or 2  12-ounce bottles beer, your favorite kind (one bottle of beer per rack of ribs)

4 1/2 or 9  cups pancake mix, your favorite kind (4 1/2 cups total for 1 rack of ribs, 9 cups total for 2 racks of ribs) (Note:  I use pancake mix in place of self-rising flour or flour mixed with baking powder and salt.  It works great, tastes fantastic, and, it's always on-hand in my pantry.)

corn or peanut oil for deep-frying

freshly-ground sea salt, for seasoning ribs as they emerge from the deep-fryer

IMG_2760 IMG_2760 IMG_2760 IMG_2760~Step 1.  To prep one or two full racks babyback pork spareribs, pat them dry in some paper towels, and, use a paring knife to remove the silverskin from the underside of each rack.  If you don't know how to do this, read my post ~ How to: Remove the Silverskin from Spareribs ~. Using a large chef's knife, slice between the rib bones to section each rack into 12-14 pieces.

IMG_4251 IMG_4251 IMG_4251Step 2.  For the dry dredge, in one medium-sized bowl, place 2 or 4 cups of pancake cake mix. Set aside.  For the beer batter, in a second medium-sized bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 or 5 cups of pancake mix along with 1 or 2 bottles of beer. Set aside for about 3 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken a bit, to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset) if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer to maintain a VERY drizzly consistency. For more info about beer batter, read my post ~ My All-Purpose Beer Batter for Deep-Frying Anything ~. Place a wire rack in a baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.  Heat oil in fryer to 375° according to manufacturer's specifications.

IMG_4257 IMG_4257 IMG_4257~ Step 3.  To dry dredge and batter dip the ribs, working in batches of two or three ribs at a time (so as not to overcrowd the fryer basket), dredge each rib in the dry pancake mix to lightly-coat it on all sides. Next, drop each rib in the beer batter and swish it around a bit, until coated.  Lift each rib out of the batter and hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the excess batter to drizzle back into the bowl.

IMG_4264 IMG_4264 IMG_4264 IMG_4264~Step 4.  To deep-fry the ribs, working in batches of two or three ribs at a time (so as not to overcrowd the fryer basket, which should be submerged in the oil), gently lower each rib into the hot oil and into the fryer basket.  Close the lid on the deep-fryer and fry ribs for exactly 12 minutes per batch.  Open fryer lid and slowly lift basket up and out of deep-fryer. Transfer the ris to a wire rack in a baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.  Tip:  To transfer the ribs, simply tilt the basket onto its side directly over the rack in the pan.  Using tongs is a mistake -- it's an easy way to damage the crust.  Once out of the fryer, immediately sprinkle ribs with freshly ground sea salt and repeat process until all batches are dipped and deep-fried. 

Serve w/Southern-style rice, mac & cheese, baked beans, corn, creamy coleslaw &/or cornbread -- & barbecue sauce:

IMG_4300Beer-Batter-Dipped Deep-Fried Babyback Spareribs:  Recipe yields 12-14 spareribs/4-6 servings per rack of ribs.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; paring knife; cutting board; chef's knife; whisk; deep-fryer; wire cooling rack; large baking pan

6a0120a8551282970b02788040f2af200dCook's Note:  We all know there are several ways to cook spareribs, and, for those of us who are fair-weather grillers exclusively, there are ways to enjoy wonderful ribs in the warmth of our kitchens.  Here's my recipe for ~ The Best Way to Make Slow-Cooker Babyback Spareribs ~.

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

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

01/24/2022

~ Pearl Tapioca, Minute Tapioca and Tapioca Starch ~

IMG_4307Tapioca -- tap-ee-oh-kuh.  You've seen it in your grocery store.  Perhaps you keep some form of it in your pantry.  Tapioca is a starch commonly used as a thickener, and, because it was a staple in my grandmother's and mother's pantries, it is in mine too.  My grandmother used tapioca powder to thicken jelly, quick-cooking tapioca granules to thicken pie fillings, and whole tapioca pearls to make one of my favorite childhood comfort-food desserts:  tapioca pudding.

6a0120a8551282970b01910444e3e0970cA bit about tapioca:  The name tapioca comes from the South American, Brazilian Tupi name "tipi-oka", which means "starch".  Tapioca doesn't grow on trees like fruit or in the garden like vegetables.  It is extracted from the root of the shrub-like cassava plant (also known as manioc) via a complex process that leaches out the toxins (cyanide) to get to the usable starch.  

The starch is then processed into several forms: powder (flour), granules (flakes) and balls (pearls), with stick form being the least common in the USA.

Cassava is native to South America and the Caribbean, but is grown worldwide, with Brazil, Nigeria and Thailand being three of the biggest producers.  Many cultures, including us in the US, have adopted tapioca for culinary use in their own cuisine.  After rice and 6a0120a8551282970b01910444f050970cmaize, cassava is the world's largest gluten-free source of carbohydrates (it's basically pure unadulterated starch), but, sadly, because it contains no protein or other nutritional value (zero), this is problematic in countries with malnurished populations that rely upon tapioca as a hunger-statisfying staple.

The flavor is neutral, making tapioca powder (also marketed as flour or starch) and granules (which come in quick-cooking or instant form), a great thickener for  both sweet and savory foods.

6a0120a8551282970b01901e4f705b970bWhole pearls (which come sized S, M or L), become soft and chewy when cooked, and, lend a whimsical "squishy" texture to smooth puddings and creamy soups. If a recipe instructs to soak tapioca in water prior to cooking it, do it.  Upon soaking or cooking, tapioca rehydrates and doubles in size. Upon cooking, soaked or unsoaked tapioca turns translucent.  Soaking (or not) affects how long it will take to cook and how much liquid it will absorb from the mixture it is being cooked in.

6a0120a8551282970b01901e57e134970bA bit about instant "minute" tapioca: As per the MINUTE Tapioca company, tapioca pudding was born in 1894 in the kitchen of Susan Stavers.  Mrs. Stavers, a Boston housewife who took in boarders for extra cash, took in an ailing sailor who had brought some cassava roots from his journeys.  Hoping to soothe the sailor's upset stomach, she made a sweet, delicious pudding from the roots.  To create a smoother consistency, Stavers took the sailor's suggestion and processed the roots through a coffee grinder. The pudding turned out smooth, and Susan received rave reviews from her other boarders.  Soon, Stavers began regularly grinding tapioca, packaging it in paper bags and selling it to the neighbors.  John Whitman, a newspaper publisher, heard of Susan's process and pudding, bought the rights to Susan's recipe, and, the MINUTE Tapioca Company was born.  It became part of General Foods in 1926 and Kraft Foods in 1989.

Try my Tapioca Pudding --  Just like Grandma used to Make:

6a0120a8551282970b01901e5059fa970b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

01/21/2022

~ A Bit about Vanilla Bean Paste and Vanilla Powder ~

IMG_4239Vanilla extract is the number one flavoring added to baked goods.  Vanilla extract, which is basically made by macerating ground vanilla beans in alcohol and water, is known for its enchanting scent and exotic taste.  Everyone who bakes stores high-quality pure vanilla extract in their pantry (not imitation vanilla flavoring), and usually a few precious vanilla bean pods too. Vanilla beans and vanilla extract are available everywhere, with extract being more economical than whole bean pods.  That said, there are two other lesser known, but not less important, vanilla-based products that I keep in my pantry too:  vanilla bean paste and vanilla powder.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c795181c970bVanilla bean paste is a sweet, syrupy mixture full of vanilla beans that have been scraped out of the pod.  Like vanilla extract, it's full of natural vanilla flavor, plus, it's got all the pretty speckled beans in it too.  

I think of it as a convenient cross between pure vanilla extract and the whole vanilla bean pod, and, I like to add it to cake batters because the syrupy texture ensures that the seeds distribute themselves evenly throughout the mixture.  

1 tablespoon paste = 1 tablespoon extract = 1 bean pod.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c79518ed970bVanilla powder is a free-flowing sugar which may be used in place of pure extract in any recipe.  It is great for stirring into beverages (like coffee and hot chocolate) and cocktails, (it's a great addition to  a chocolate martini) and, it loves to be sprinkled onto desserts.  

I particularly like it for making vanilla cake frosting because it doesn't affect the color like extract does, meaning it won't lend a brownish tinge to the finished product.  

1 tablespoon powder = 1 tablespoon extract.

For the Love of Vanilla Double-Vanilla Cupcakes:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c795ac09970b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

01/18/2022

~About Aged Asiago Cheese & Fresh Asiago Cheese~

6a0120a8551282970b01a73dc3ddb0970dOpen the deli-drawer of my refrigerator and there's a good chance you'll find a wedge or two of Asiago cheese in it -- it's one of my favorite Italian cow's milk cheese.  If you've never tried Asiago, you should, but, it's important to know there are two types, and, the one you choose will determine how you will use it.  Simply stated, one is hard, dry and gratable, the other is soft, sliceable and meltable.  Both start out the same, but, change textures during the aging process. Aged Asiago is pale-to-amber yellow, compact and very firm with a nutty aroma and strong flavor. Fresh Asiago is white-to-pale yellow with small irregular holes throughout a slightly-spongy texture with a delicate buttery aroma and sweet flavor.  Both are all to often under appreciated. 

A bit about Asiago cheese (ah-zee-AH-go) in general:  Originally, Asiago was a sheep's milk cheese produced on the Asiago plateau in the Veneto foothills of Italy -- the cheese-making tradition in the provinces of Vicenza and Trento date back more than a thousand years. Nowadays it is made from pasteurized cow's milk (occasionally unpasteurized cow's milk) and produced in many countries.  During the aging process, Asiago changes textures.  The aged (dry) version is known as Asiago d'allevo.  The fresh (soft) version is known as Asiago Pressato.

Asiago Pressato (fresh Asiago), aged for just 1-2 months, is sold as softer, mild cheese.  Asiago d'allevo (aged Asiago), a firmer, harder, grating cheese is aged for different time periods: Mezzano (4-6 months); Vecchio (10+ months), and; Stravecchio (2+ years).  Any aged Asiago is similar to Parmesan or Romano, with Parmesan being a little sharper and Romano being a lot sharper than Asiago.  You can substitute either Parmesan or Romano for Asiago in any recipe and vice versa, IF the cheese is to be sprinkled over a finished dish at the end, but, IF the cheese is to be cooked into the dish or melted on top of it, as is the case of a cheese sauce, neither Parmesan or Romano melt as evenly and creamily as their Asiago cousin does.

Try ~My Basic Asiago Cheese Sauce for Pasta/Veggies ~:

6a0120a8551282970b01a511bd4aa6970cOr, my ~ Roasted Compari Tomatoes w/Asiago & Basil ~:

6a0120a8551282970b01a511c498c5970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

01/15/2022

~Spellcheck Chile, Chili, Chile Powder or Chili Powder~

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a04382970cChile, chili, chile powder and/or chili powder.  How these words are spelled is not a regional preference, meaning it doesn't vary willy-nilly from manufacturer to manufacturer, brand to brand or cook to cook.  That said, all too many times they are used interchangeably, but the reality is: they should never be.  The spelling of these words is serious business, and, savvy shoppers know exactly what they are purchasing.  I grow chile peppers in the vegetable garden every year, and, I make a pot of chili or chili con carne several times a year.  I admit to having several jars of carefully-chosen chile powders and chili blends on my spice rack at all times.   It really is all in the spelling.  Once you know what the spelling means, you will know what is is and what's in it.

Once you know what the spelling means...

CHILE:  Spelled with an "e" at the end, refers to the fresh or dried plant or pod or fruit of any member of the pepper family (example:  chile peppers grow in the garden).

CHILI:  Spelled with an "i" at the end, refers to soups, stews and/or sauces made with fresh or dried chile peppers (example:  white chicken chili, chili con carne, chili sauce).

CHILE POWDER:  When spelled with an "e" at the end, means it is a powder made from one or more types of dried chiles exclusively.  This is sometimes referred to or marketed as POWDERED CHILES, or CHILE BLEND (if it contains more than one kind of chile powder).

CHILI POWDER:  When spelled with an "i" at the end means it is a mixture of chile powder and ground, dried spices (common examples:  ground cumin, garlic and/or onion powder), meaning: the manufacturer has added various spices to pure chile powder or a blend of chile powders.

... you will know what it is & what is in it! 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a04382970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

01/12/2022

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

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

Part One -- Making the meat sauce:

IMG_3885For the meat sauce:

3  tablespoons olive oil

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

1  pound sliced white button mushroom caps

1  tablespoon McCormick garlic powder

3  packets McCormick Thick & Zesty spaghetti sauce mix

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

1  pound Hatfield sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

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

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

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

Part Two -- Assembling & baking the lasagna:

IMG_3955For the assembly:

all the meat sauce,  from above recipe

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

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

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

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

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

1-2  teaspoons Italian seasoning blend, or dried oregano

no-stick cooking spray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01/09/2022

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

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

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

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

IMG_4121For the soup stock:

3  pounds chicken tenderloins

12  cups water

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

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

1  tablespoon each:  garlic and onion powder and sea salt

1 1/2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

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

IMG_4131For the add-ins

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

2  generous cups diced celery (12 ounces)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6a0120a8551282970b0278806529d9200dCook's Note:  If you've ever envisioned yourself being a restaurant chef, be careful what you wish for:  the pots are big, the load is heavy.  There's more.  As a home cook, in terms of slicing, dicing, chopping and mincing, you won't have any line cooks to perform those menial tasks for you.  Don't get me wrong (I'm not trying to talk you out of this), big batch cooking isn't necessarily hard, but, more-often than not, it is time consuming -- in many instances, it's prudent to do the majority of the prep work on one day and the actual cooking the next, so, be sure to schedule enough time.  Past that, it's also necessary to invest in some big-batch restaurant-sized equipment.  When armed with the right recipe, the right mindset, and the right equipment, the big batch reward is great. That said, preparing a big batch of almost anything is a bit different from regular cooking.  To learn why it's different, read my post ~ What to Consider Before Cooking in Big Batches ~.  

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

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

01/06/2022

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

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

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

IMG_40656  tablespoons corn oil

6  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

1  pound diced yellow or sweet onion

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

3  packets (12 tablespoons) McCormick original taco seasoning

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

3  tablespoons ground cumin

2  tablespoons garlic powder

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1  teaspoon sea salt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6a0120a8551282970b026bdeee6d36200cCook's Note: If you've ever envisioned yourself being a restaurant chef, be careful what you wish for:  the pots are big, the load is heavy.  There's more.  As a home cook, in terms of slicing, dicing, chopping and mincing, you won't have any line cooks to perform those menial tasks for you.  Don't get me wrong (I'm not trying to talk you out of this), big batch cooking isn't necessarily hard, but, more-often than not, it is time consuming -- in many instances, it's prudent to do the majority of the prep work on one day and the actual cooking the next, so, be sure to schedule enough time.  Past that, it's also necessary to invest in some big-batch restaurant-sized equipment.  When armed with the right recipe, the right mindset, and the right equipment, the big batch reward is great. That said, preparing a big batch of almost anything is a bit different from regular cooking.  To learn why it's different, read my post ~ What to Consider Before Cooking in Big Batches ~.

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

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

01/03/2022

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

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

Culinary Fisticuffs?  The Battle Between the Benedicts!!!  

HISstory vs. HERstory:  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/31/2021

~ And Just Like That -- Christmas Vacation was Over ~

IMG_4055Meet my Marty Moose eggnog cups.  Made famous in National Lampoon's 1986 flick Christmas Vacation, these glass cups have been serving eggnog to family and friends in my kitchen from the day I gleefully found out I could purchase a set.  They are just, plain, fun.  In the midst of all the fun and celebratory toasts, have you ever wondered why we drink egg nog over the holidays, and moreover, why we drink eggnog in small cups, or, why it's even called eggnog?

Why we drink eggnog to celebrate Christmas & New Year's:

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

Fast forward to present day.  Over the holidays, pasteurized eggnog is sold in milk-like cartons in almost every grocery store in America.  Here is where I stick my two cents in.  All store-bought eggnog is not created equal.  Most mass-produced name brands are cloyingly sweet, leaving an almost bubblegum-like aftertaste.  Most purists agree (I am one), those who don't like this traditional Yultide beverage have simply never had the opportunity to taste real-deal eggnog.

References to eggnog date back to the 1800s, when, even back then it was served during the Winter holiday season. Known as "egg milk punch", it was and still is a sweetened dairy-based beverage made with milk, sugar, raw egg yolks, whipped egg whites and a splash of rum and/or vanilla extract. Nowadays cream is always included in place of some or all of the milk, because today's milk has a much lower fat content than milk in the 1800's, which had cream on top.

Brandy, rum and/or bourbon are almost always added.  The plain truth:  Eggnog just tastes A LOT better with some alcohol in it.  Each smallish finished serving is poured into a punch cup, then it's topped off with a dollop of freshly-whipped cream and a sprinkling of freshly-ground nutmeg.

Slurp it down, suck it up & set the alarm, a new year starts now!

IMG_4055"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

12/27/2021

~ Thick-and-Zesty Gluten-Free Ground-Beef Lasagna ~

IMG_4011I'm not sure how many lasagna recipes one cook is supposed to have, but, I'm guessing most households have more than one.    Here in my kitchen, I make four different types of lasagna, each with its own unique sauce: Bolognese, seafood, vegetable, and, kid-friendly ground beef. Today, because a few of you have asked for a gluten-free lasagna recipe recently, I'm posting my easy-to-make version, which is a spin-off of my crowd-pleasing kid-friendly ground beef lasagna.

Notes before starting:  It goes without saying you'll need gluten-free lasagna noodles -- your favorite brand, your choice, that's fine, mine are brown rice noodles.  There's more.  Even though I do not boil any store-bought lasagna noodles to make lasagna,  I do not recommend any of the no-boil type noodles -- experience has taught they tend to get gummy.  Next, it's important to know that I use McCormick spices exclusively, because they guarantee all their products to be gluten-free.  I also specify Hatfield sausage, because it too is gluten-free too -- not all sausage products are.  One last point:  Generally speaking, I do not like to use shredded block cheeses when I make lasagna.  I prefer the block cheeses be sliced.  Why?  Because sliced cheese eliminates the airspace that shredded cheese creates, which makes for a prettier lasagna. Because the thickness of the cheese does matter, ask your deli-person to slice the cheese as thin as possible without the slices breaking or crumbling.  If the cheeses are sliced too thick, there'll be too much cheese, and you'll have a bubble-over mess in your oven when the lasagna bakes.

Part One -- Making the meat sauce:

IMG_3885For the meat sauce:

3  tablespoons olive oil

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

1  pound sliced white button mushroom caps

1  tablespoon McCormick garlic powder

3  packets McCormick Thick & Zesty spaghetti sauce mix

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

1  pound Hatfield sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

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

IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3907 IMG_3918 IMG_3918 IMG_3918 IMG_3918 IMG_3918~Step 2.  Add all of the ground beef and sweet sausage to onion/mushroom mixture.  Cook mixture over medium-high heat, stirring frequently and using the spatula to break up the meats into small bits and pieces, until the meat has lost its red color, is steamed through, and almost no moisture remains in the bottom of the pan, 25-30 minutes.

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

Part Two -- Assembling & baking the lasagna:

IMG_3948For the assembly:

all the meat sauce,  from above recipe

1  10-ounce box ruffled-edge gluten-free brown-rice lasagna noodles, uncooked

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

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

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

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

1-2  teaspoons Italian seasoning blend, or dried oregano

no-stick cooking spray

IMG_3957 IMG_3957 IMG_3957 IMG_3957 IMG_3967 IMG_3967 IMG_3967~Step 1.  Spray the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole with no-stick.  Spoon a thin but even layer of meat sauce in bottom of casserole dish.  Arrange lasagna noodles, side by side, over the sauce.  Four noodles will fit lengthwise.  Break one noodle to fit in the remaining space.  Arrange a single layer of Cooper CV cheese slices over the noodles.  Arrange a single layer of provolone slices over the CV.  Arrange a single layer of mozzarella slices over the provolone.  Spoon a second layer of meat sauce over the cheese layer.  Generously sprinkle Parmigianno-Reggiano over meat sauce.  

IMG_3975 IMG_3975 IMG_3975 IMG_3975 IMG_3987 IMG_3987 IMG_3987 IMG_3987~Step 2.  Arrange a second layer of lasagna noodles in the dish and repeat the above process (a second layer of cheeses, a third layer of meat sauce, plus a sprinkling of Parmigiano-Reggiano). Sprinkle Italian seasoning blend over all.  The lasagna is now ready for the oven or the freezer, or, it can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight, returned to room temperature (which takes about 3-4 hours) and baked the next day.  I highly recommend refrigerating it over night -- it's convenient, but more importantly, it gives all the great flavors time to marry.

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

One bite & all agree -- no need to reveal this as a GF recipe:

IMG_4043Thick-and-Zesty Gluten-Free Ground-Beef Lasagna:  Recipe yields 8-12 hearty servings. 

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

IMG_3873Cook's Note: For the record, I do not eat a gluten-free diet, nor do I recommend that anyone for any other reason than being a bona fide celiac adopt a gluten-free diet. Simply stated, depriving the body of gluten, meaning wheat or by-products of wheat, for any long-term length of time, causes. not cures, health problems -- research it.  That said, I do know two bona fide celiacs, and, when either pay a visit to my kitchen, I accommodate -- which isn't remarkably hard because lots of foods (meat, poultry, fish, seafood and vegetables), pantry ingredients and meals are gluten-free, and, for the record, there are some very good gluten-free pastas available, so know, a GF pasta dish or three are helpful to keep in your back pocket.  Here are ~ My Five Basic Tips for Foolproof GF Cookie Baking ~.  

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

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

12/24/2021

~ Why We Ring in the New Year w/Pork & Sauerkraut ~

IMG_3880If you ask Americans across our country what they're serving for dinner on New Year's Day, the most common response will be:  pork and sauerkraut -- and the reason is not just because it is a delicious meal.  It's a time-honored tradition based on the belief that pork and sauerkraut will bring luck and prosperity in the new year -- and who couldn't use a good bit of both.  This tradition is closely linked to the Pennsylvania Deutsch (crediting the Germanic or German-speaking immigrants from Germany and Switzerland for this cuisine, with the more commonly used term, Pennsylvania "Dutch", being the early English settlers slang for the German word "Deutsch").  

According to the folklore, the forward movement of pigs, when they root for food in the ground, aka a forward trajectory, combined with the green color of cabbage being the color of money, signified starting the year ahead with life on the right track (you wouldn't want to go backward into the new year) and a prosperous future (symbolically, the shreds of cabbage represent the amount of wealth you'll acquire in the new year).  Two foods you might consider avoiding:  Lobster, because they walk backwards, and, chicken, because they scratch the ground backwards. 

Eating pork and sauerkraut (singularly or together) started in the cold climates of Eastern Europe -- for practical purposes.  The Autumn slaughter of porcine has been going on for centuries, and, it just happened to coincide with the Fall cabbage harvest.  The onset of the cold months ahead meant that large cuts of meat could be kept safely chilled or frozen for consumption during the Winter.  The cabbage would be shredded, placed in large barrels or crocks, and allowed to slowly ferment, so it could be eaten until fresh vegetables became available again.  It only made sense that the New Year's Day choice of celebratory meat would be a prime-cut of rich porcine. The 'kraut crock was cracked open revealing the perfect side dish.  New Year's dinner was served.

When You Say PA Dutch, Why We Say PA Deutsch:

6a0120a8551282970b026be4149fdf200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

12/21/2021

~ My Five Basic Tips for Foolproof GF Cookie Baking ~

IMG_3873For the record, I do not eat a gluten-free diet, nor do I recommend that anyone for any other reason than being a bona fide celiac adopt a gluten-free diet.  Simply stated, depriving the body of gluten, meaning wheat or by-products of wheat, for any long-term length of time, causes. not cures, health problems -- research it.  That said, I do know two bona fide celiacs, and, when either pay a visit to my kitchen, I accommodate -- which isn't remarkably hard because lots of foods (meat, poultry, fish, seafood and vegetables), pantry ingredients and meals are gluten-free, and, for the record, there are some very good gluten-free pastas available, so know, a gluten-free pasta dish or three are helpful to keep in your back pocket.  I can count the number of gluten-free recipes in my repertoire on one hand, and, for my needs that's just fine.

Tip #1.  Cleanliness comes first -- zero cross-contamination.

While baking gluten-free cookies requires no special equipment, it is important the equipment you do use be spotless -- literally.  Why?  The answer is cross-contamination -- and it is very, very dangerous.  Celiac disease can be triggered by even the smallest spec of gluten. This means if you recently prepared foods using wheat flour, the first step (and it's a must) is to fully wipe down all baking surfaces, wash all hardware (mixing bowls, beater blades, baking pans, wire cooling racks, miscellaneous utensils, etc.), and, remove any products or gluten-containing ingredients that are nearby.  For an added layer of protection, I recommend placing a sheet of parchment on each baking pan that has been used previously to bake cookies/anything containing gluten.

Tip #2.  Use gluten-free all-purpose flour -- not a GF flour blend.

Generally speaking, the only thing that contains gluten in cookies is flour, which is made from wheat.  This means:  once you swap out the all-purpose flour and swap-in the gluten-free all-purpose flour, you've got a gluten-free cookie recipe.  Find a gluten-free all-purpose flour you like and use it exclusively.  Why?  This product does vary slightly from manufacturer to manufacturer, and, since baking is a science, a little can mean a lot.  I use King Arthur gluten-free all-purpose flour exclusively.  I do not recommend gluten-free flour blends unless you enjoy playing roulette with your outcome, and, that includes taste -- and many leave an unpleasant aftertaste in baked goods. When trying a recipe for the first time, use whatever is recommended in the recipe.

Tip #3.  Add extra leavener & salt + always add xanthan gum.

I like to add a 2:1 ratio of baking powder and baking to soda to all of my gluten-free cookie recipes, and, when converting a conventional recipe to a gluten-free recipe, I increase the amount by about 1/2  teaspoon.  I do the same with salt, meaning:  I increase the amount of salt by 1/2 teaspoon.  While on the topic of salt, when butter is called for in the recipe,  I always use salted butter -- trust me on this point.  Xanthan gum is a stabilizer that acts "sort of" like the gluten in wheat flour.  It keeps your cookies from falling apart, and, gives them a bit of elasticity ("chew") too.  King Arthur gluten-free all-purpose flour contains no xanthan gum, and, generally speaking, my gluten-free cookie recipes contain 1-2 teaspoons of this all-important stabilizer.

Tip #4.  Rest the dough, use smaller scoops, &, flatten balls.

My gluten-free cookie doughs are not "stickier" than conventional recipes.  At the onset, my general rule of thumb is to add two extra tablespoons all-purpose GF flour for every cup of all-purpose flour (example:  2 cups all purpose flour = 2 cups + 2 tablespoons all purpose gluten-free flour).  Once my dough is mixed and all add-ins (baking chips, nuts, etc.) have been folded in, rest the bowl of dough for 45-60 minutes.  Why?  GF flour has a grainier texture that all-purpose flour. This gives the GF flour time to absorb moisture from the "wet" ingredients (butter, eggs, sugar and extracts).  My standard rule is to use a 1 1/2" cookie scoop (smaller than the 1 3/4" scoop I use for conventional cookies).  After that, 90% of the time, using my fingertips, I flatten the balls.

Tip #5.  Lower oven temp by 25° & cool in the pan 1-1 1/2 minutes.

Experience has taught that gluten-free cookies benefit from a slightly lower oven temperature, and, on occasion, up to an extra 1-2 minutes of baking time.  Gluten-free cookies are at their best when just cooked through to their centers and light-golden in color on the bottoms.  A lower oven temperature gives them the time they need to do both.  Gluten-free cookies should remain the same taste as texture for as long as conventional cookies too -- up to two weeks.  A lower oven temperature, remarkably, achieves this.  Once the parchment-lined pan of cookies (always use parchment) is removed from the oven, allow the cookies to remain and cool in the pan for 1-1 1/2 minutes, to firm them up a bit, prior to transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Try my Simply-Delicious Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

6a0120a8551282970b026bdef3d0b2200c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

12/18/2021

~Crazy Good GF Chocolate Walnut & Craisin Cookies~

IMG_3861Dried cranberries, aka craisins, are one of my favorite dried fruits.  They are at the top of my list right next to dried sour cherries -- with craisins being more available and affordable.  So much so, there's always a bag on-hand in my kitchen for the sole purpose of snacking.  Craisins are not just tart and sweet, they're tart and sweet on steroids.  There's more.  They are fantastic incorporated into any raisin or sour cherry cookie recipe (in place of the raisins or sour cherries).  The recipe I'm sharing today is one of my favorite GF cookies to bake during the holidays -- with craisins, walnuts and Toll House chocolate chips being one of my favorite cookie combinations.  

IMG_3856For the record, I do not eat a gluten-free diet, nor do I recommend that anyone for any other reason than being a bona fide celiac adopt a gluten-free diet.  Simply stated, depriving the body of gluten, meaning wheat or by-products of wheat, for any long-term length of time, causes, not cures, health problems -- Google it you idiot.  That said, I do know two bona fide celiacs, and, when either pay a visit to my kitchen, I accommodate -- which isn't remarkably hard because lots of foods (meat, poultry, fish, seafood and vegetables), pantry ingredients and meals are gluten-free, and, for the record, there are some very good gluten-free pastas available, so know, a gluten-free pasta dish or three are helpful to keep in your back pocket.  I can count the number of gluten-free recipes in my repertoire on one hand, and, for my needs that's just fine.

My criteria:  GF cookies that taste as good as they look using readily-available ingredients, &, in the case of GF, cleanliness is next to godliness -- let's talk about cross-contamination:

While baking gluten-free cookies requires no special equipment, it is important the equipment you do use be spotless -- literally.  Why?  The answer is cross-contamination -- and it is very, very dangerous.  Celiac disease can be triggered by even the smallest spec of gluten. This means if you recently prepared foods using wheat flour, the first step (and it's a must) is to fully wipe down all baking surfaces, wash all hardware (mixing bowls, beater blades, baking pans, wire cooling racks, miscellaneous utensils, etc.), and, remove any products or gluten-containing ingredients that are nearby.  For an added layer of protection, I recommend placing a sheet of parchment on each baking pan that has been used previously to bake cookies/anything containing gluten.

My result:  A GF cookie no one will ever guess is GF:

IMG_3807For the dry ingredients:

2 1/4  cups gluten-free all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

2  teaspoons xanthan gum

1 1/4  teaspoons sea salt

For the wet ingredients:

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

2  large eggs

2  teaspoons pure chocolate extract

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1  cup very-lightly-packed dark brown sugar

1/2  cup granulated sugar

IMG_3822For the add-ins (feel free to eliminate or substitute add-ins, being sure to add 3 1/2 total cups) :

2  generous cups Nestlē Toll House semi-sweet chocolate morsels

1  very generous cup coarse-chopped walnuts, lightly-toasted in a 350° oven for 4-5 minutes

1  very generous cup craisins (dried cranberries)

IMG_3700~ Step 1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Line 5 large baking pans with parchment. In a medium bowl, place and thoroughly stir the dry ingredients: the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  When oven is preheated, place the walnuts on a small baking pan.  Roast on center rack of oven until lightly-toasted and fragrant, 5-6 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

IMG_3818 IMG_3818 IMG_3818 IMG_3818 IMG_3818~Step 2. In a small mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum and salt.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, place the butter, eggs, both extracts, brown sugar and granulated sugar.  On high-speed of hand-held mixer, beat until creamy, about 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Lower mixer speed and beat in the flour mixture until a smooth, sticky dough forms.

IMG_3832 IMG_3832 IMG_3832 IMG_3832~Step 3.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the chocolate chips, toasted walnuts and craisins -- adding them all at once is fine.  SET THE BOWL ASIDE AND ALLOW COOKIE DOUGH TO REST 45-60 MINUTES -- do not skip this step.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, drop cookies, slightly apart, by rounded tablespoonfuls onto each of 6, parchment-lined, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans.  Twelve balls of dough will fit nicely on each pan -- fifteen is ok too.

IMG_3845 IMG_3845~Step 4.  Bake, one-pan-at-a-time, on center rack of 350º oven, 10-11 minutes, until light-golden.  My cookies baked for exactly 11 minutes today. Remove from oven and use a small spatula to transfer to wire cooling rack to cool completely.

Simply perfect for the Thanksgiving & Christmas holidays too. 

IMG_3864Crazy Good GF Chocolate Walnut & Raisin Cookies:  Recipe yields 6 dozen, 2"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List: small shallow baking pan; 6, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; spoon; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop; thin spatula; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b026bdef3d0b2200cCook's Note:  Home-baked cookies.  They're one of life's simple pleasures, and perhaps, the quintessential sweet treat -- not to big, not to small, portable feel-good satisfaction.  While everyone has a favorite cookie, more often than not, folks will declare the chocolate chip to be their number-one favorite or a close second, and, everyone who bakes cookies has a favorite chocolate-chip cookie recipe (or three).  That said, if you're baking cookies for a celiac, you need a recipe you can rely on and mine is the one.  It's spot-on -- taste and texturally, there's no need to announce it's GF.  Be sure to try my ~ Keep-it-Simple Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies ~.

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

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

12/15/2021

~ Just Nuts - Salted Peanut & Peanut Butter Cookies ~

IMG_3795Is any celebratory cookie table display complete without a plate of some type of peanut butter cookies on it?  We all know the answer is no.  Peanut butter cookies are beloved by all, and, it genuinely saddens me that folks with peanut allergies will never know the joy of a salty and sweet peanut- and peanut-butter-laced cookie.  Some recipes contain oatmeal and chocolate chips, other recipes are simply over-the-top, I've likely baked them all.  In this version, salty cocktail peanuts get added, which adds to the peanutty goodness.  The ratio of wet-to-dry ingredients has been adjusted too, which produces crispy-on-the-outside and slightly-soft-in-the-center cookies.

Crispy on the outside & slightly-soft in the center...

IMG_3744For the dry ingredients:

2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

For the wet ingredients:

3/4  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 1/2 sticks)

2  large eggs

1  cup granulated sugar

1  cup lightly-packed dark brown sugar

2  teaspoons peanut butter flavoring

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1  cup creamy peanut butter

For the add-ins:

2  cups salted cocktail peanuts

IMG_3749 IMG_3749 IMG_3749 IMG_3749~Step 1.  In a large bowl, place the softened butter, eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar and peanut butter flavoring and vanilla extract.  On high speed of hand-held electric mixer, while scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula, beat until thoroughly combined and creamy, 30-45 seconds.  Lower the mixer speed and thoroughly fold in the peanut butter.  

IMG_3761 IMG_3761 IMG_3761 IMG_3761~Step 2.  Add the dry ingredients. On low speed of mixer and with the aid of a large rubber spatula, incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.  A thick, cookie dough will have formed.  Add the peanuts.  Using the spatula, thoroughly fold them into the cookie dough.

IMG_3772 IMG_3772 IMG_3772 IMG_3772 IMG_3772~Step 3. Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop, place 12-15 balls of cookie dough on each pan.  Bake cookies, one-pan-at-a-time, in preheated 350° oven, 10-11 minutes.  Cookies will be very lightly browned around the edges and slightly on the tops.  Do not over-bake these cookies.  Remove from oven and allow to cool and firm up on pan 1-1 1/2 minutes, then use a thin spatula to transfer cookies from pan to wire rack to cool completely.

... different from Grandma's Old-Fashioned Peanut Butter Cookies:

IMG_3802Just Nuts - Salted Peanut & Peanut Butter Cookies:  Recipe yields 5 1/2 dozen, 2"-round cookies.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4cf0bc2200dCook's Note: If it's full-throttle roasted-peanut flavor and crunch you crave, there's no need to look elsewhere for a peanut butter fudge recipe. Lightly-roasted peanuts, crunchy peanut butter, peanut-butter morsels, and, peanut butter flavoring team up in my version, and, trust me, nobody can eat just one piece of this peanutty fudge. This recipe (which has been tested, tasted and approved by many) is super-easy and foolproof, so, for those who've never tried making fudge before, or novice cooks, this recipe is ideal.  You gotta try my ~ Ultimate-Best Peanut Butter Fudge ~.

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

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

12/12/2021

~ Cranberry, Walnut & White Chocolate Chip Cookies ~

IMG_3734Dried cranberries, aka craisins, are one of my favorite dried fruits.  They are at the top of my list right next to dried sour cherries -- with craisins being more available and affordable.  So much so, there's always a bag on-hand in my kitchen for the sole purpose of snacking.  Craisins are not just tart and sweet, they're tart and sweet on steroids.  There's more.  They are fantastic incorporated into any raisin or sour cherry cookie recipe (in place of the raisins or sour cherries).  The recipe I'm sharing today is one of my favorite drop cookies to bake during the holidays -- with craisins, walnuts and white chocolate chips being one of my favorite cookie or quick-bread combinations.   

One of my favorite combination cookies all year long...

IMG_3698For the dry ingredients:

2 1/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon salt

For the wet ingredients:

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

2  large eggs

3/4   cup granulated sugar

3/4  cup lightly-packed dark brown sugar

2  teaspoons pure cranberry extract

2  teaspoons pure walnut extract

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the add-ins:

1  generous cup craisins (dried cranberries)

1  generous cup coarse-chopped walnuts, lightly-toasted in a 350° oven for 4-5 minutes

1  generous cup Nestlë white chocolate morsels

IMG_3700~ Step 1.  Preheat oven to 350°.  Line 5 large baking pans with parchment. In a medium bowl, place and thoroughly stir the dry ingredients: the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  When oven is preheated, place the walnuts on a small baking pan.  Roast on center rack of oven until lightly-toasted and fragrant, 5-6 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

IMG_3702 IMG_3702 IMG_3702 IMG_3702 IMG_3702 IMG_3702~Step 2.  In a large bowl, place the softened butter, eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar and all  extracts.  On high speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat until thoroughly combined and creamy, 30-45 seconds.  Add the dry ingredients. On low speed of mixer and with the aid of a large rubber spatula, incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.  A thick, cookie dough will have formed.  Add the craisins, walnuts and white chocolate chips.  Using the spatula, thoroughly fold the add-ins into the cookie dough.

IMG_3723 IMG_3723 IMG_3723~Step 3.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop, place 12-15 balls of cookie dough on each pan.  Bake cookies, one-pan-at-a-time, in 350° oven, 9-10 minutes.  Cookies will be very lightly browned around the edges and tops.  Do not over-bake these cookies.  Remove from oven and allow to cool on pan 1-1 1/2 minutes, then use a thin spatula to transfer cookies from pan to wire rack to cool completely.

... perfect for the Thanksgiving & Christmas holidays too. 

IMG_3739Cranberry, Walnut & White Chocolate Chip Cookies:  Recipe yields 5 1/2 dozen 2"-round cookies.  

Special Equipment List: 5, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; spoon; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop; thin spatula; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4cc256e200dCook's Note: Cherry-vanilla is one of my favorite flavor combinations. Cherry-vanilla or black-cherry-vanilla cream soda, cherry-vanilla ice-cream, cherry-vanilla milkshakes, cherry-vanilla yogurt and cherry-vanilla biscotti -- to name a few. I didn't invent the idea for cherry-vanilla fudge, but once I had a great base recipe for fudge, cherry-vanilla was my first spin-off. Try making my ~ Double-Cherry & Double-Vanilla Lover's Fudge ~ using craisins and cranberry extract in place of dried cherries and cherry extract.

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

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

12/09/2021

~ Cinnamon-Orange Choco-Walnut Brownie Cookies ~

IMG_3686Made using a box of store-bought brownie mix, if you're a chocolate lover and you've never tried chocolate brownie cookies, you are missing out on something good -- something very, very good. They're just the right ratio of crispy-on-the-outside to chewy-in-the-inside, and, they're loaded with ooey-gooey chocolate chips and crunchy toasted walnuts too.  In the case of my recipe, they're flavored with cinnamon and orange, which is the perfect compliment to all the chocolatey goodness.  There's more.  These really are best made using a store-bought brownie mix -- homemade recipes vary too much from cook to cook -- the mix takes all the guesswork out of it.

The right ratio of crispy-outsides to slightly-chewy centers...

IMG_3633For the dry ingredients:

1  18.3-ounce chocolate-fudge browning mix (Note:  I use Duncan Hines.)

7  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

2  teaspoons ground cinnamon

For the wet ingredients:

2  large eggs

5  tablespoons vegetable oil

1  tablespoon pure orange extract

For the add-ins:

3/4  cup Nestlê Toll House semi-sweet chocolate morsels

3/4  cup coarse-chopped walnuts, lightly-toasted in a 350° oven for 4-5 minutes

IMG_3636 IMG_3636~ Step 1.  Preheat oven to 350° and line 3 large baking pans with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, place and thoroughly stir the dry ingredients: the contents from brownie mix, the flour, the baking powder and ground cinnamon.

IMG_3642 IMG_3642 IMG_3642 IMG_3642 IMG_3642 IMG_3642~Step 2.  In a large bowl, place the eggs, vegetable oil and orange extract.  On high speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat until thoroughly combined and frothy, about 30-45 seconds.  Add the dry ingredients.  On low speed of mixer and with the aid of a large rubber spatula, incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients.  A thick, somewhat shiny, sticky but manageable cookie dough will have formed.  Add the chocolate chips and walnuts.  Using the spatula, thoroughly fold the add-ins into the cookie dough. 

IMG_3660 IMG_3660 IMG_3660 IMG_3660 IMG_3660~Step 3.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place 12-15 balls of cookie dough on each parchment-lined pan.  Bake cookies, one-pan-at-a-time, in preheated 350° oven, 9-10 minutes.  Cookies will be slightly flattened and crinkles will have started to form across the top.  Do not over-bake these cookies.  Remove from oven and cool on pan 1-1 1/2 minutes, then use a thin spatula to transfer cookies from pan to wire rack to cool completely.

... & loaded w/gooey chocolate chips & toasted walnuts too:

IMG_3693Cinnamon-Orange Chico-Walnut Brownie Cookies:  Recipe yields 3 1/2 dozen 2"-round cookies.  

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4eeafd7200bCook's Note:  Every chocolate lover remembers their first bite of fudge -- that creamy, semi-soft confection made with corn syrup and/or sugar, butter, cream and flavoring.  The most popular flavor is dark chocolate, with milk chocolate second.  Peanut butter, butterscotch, maple and vanilla are all contenders for third. When I was growing up, our neighbor loved to bake, and we adored her ~ Dark Chocolate Lover's Dark-Chocolate Fudge ~. 

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

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