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

04/30/2024

~ Mexican-Style Shrimp Cocktail (a Salad in a Glass) ~

IMG_7071Cóctel de camarónes.  That's Spanish for cocktail of shrimp.  If you're a fan of Southwestern spice, but never tasted a shrimp cocktail prepared Mexican-style, I recommend giving this Southwestern perfect-for-Summer twist on the classic a try -- plenty of plump, tender, poached (sometimes lightly-grilled) shrimp, swimming around in a citrusy, tomato, cilantro and spicy-hot sauce, containing pieces of diced avocado, cucumber, onion and jalapeño.  It's a snazzy fork-friendly salad in a glass, not to be confused with its cousin, ceviche, which contains raw, cooked-via-marination fish and/or shellfish mixed with spices, citrus juice, vegetables and/or peppers. 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07aaa2a5970dTraditional shrimp cocktail, as we know it today, originated in the early 20th century, with oysters, not shrimp, being the original "cocktail hour" shellfish.  They were typically served in tiny cups as appetizers. The oysters were topped with a spicy ketchup-based sauce containing horseradish and Tabasco, which paired great with martinis and a handful of other pre-dinner cocktails.  Then, along came the 1920's:  the decade of Prohibition.  Bars and restaurants all across America were faced with a lot of idle stemware, until, a savvy bartender or restaurant owner somewhere got the idea to serve his/her shellfish appetizers in the cocktail glasses that were once used to serve alcoholic beverages.  The transition from oysters to whole shrimp did not happen in order to put the "tail" in "cocktail appetizer".  It came about to please the ladies.  The whole shrimp, complete with the pretty little red tail, served as a handle which enabled women to daintily pick-up, dip and eat.

6a0120a8551282970b0162fd15720a970dThe first mass produced shrimp cocktail was introduced to the American marketplace in December of 1948.  Sau Sea brand Shrimp Cocktail was invented in New York City by two entrepreneurs by the names of Abraham Kaplan and Ernest Schoenbrun.  The pair borrowed $1,500 dollars from relatives to start retailing individual, 5-ounce portions of ready-to-eat shrimp cocktail, packed in reusable, glass jars, for about 50 cents a piece.  It was just after WWII and frozen/pre-packaged foods and meals were just beginning to gain popularity.  Their timing could not have been better.   Their risky decision to try to take a restaurant delicacy and make it available to the masses paid off big time.

My experiences & my recipe for Mexican-Style shrimp cocktail:

I won't lie, I've only ever eaten Mexican-style shrimp cocktail in the Southwest three times, in this order: Tempe, AZ, Albuquerque, NM, and, San Antonio, TX.  Without being at all critical, because I know recipes vary from region to region, I least liked the Texican version.  The shrimp, lightly-grilled, were a bit dry, and, the sauce was ketchupy, meaning a tad too thick and sweet, not like what I'd experienced prior.  It wasn't bad, it was different, but, did result in my cutting back on the ketchup, then switching to chili sauce in my own version.  I simply preferred the sauces with a fresher-edge -- in the style of Mexican Pico de Gallo (Salsa Fresca/Fresh Salsa)

IMG_6990For the shrimp:

2  pounds extra-large shrimp (21/25 count) thawed if frozen, peeled, deveined tails left on  

(Note: I buy both fresh and frozen shrimp, but I always try to purchase tail-on, shell-on, deveined shrimp. To thaw frozen shrimp safely, place them in a bowl of very cold water and in about an hour they'll be completely thawed.)

3  cups water

2  cups white wine

1  large, juicy lemon, cut in half

4  medium-sized bay leaves

IMG_6993 IMG_6993 IMG_6993 IMG_6993~Step 1.  Place the wine and water in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan.  Squeeze the juice from the lemon into the pan, then throw in the rinds too.  Add the bay leaves.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Add the shrimp.  When the water returns to a boil, cook for exactly 1 minute.  Do not overcook.

IMG_7009 IMG_7009 IMG_7009~ Step 2.  Drain the shrimp into a colander and rinse under very cold water until shrimp are cool to the touch but still warm warm in their centers, about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Transfer shrimp to a 6-cup food storage container. Squeeze whatever liquid is left in the lemon rinds over the shrimp, then place the rinds and the bay leaves in the bowl.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, several hours or overnight.

Note:  This cook-and-chill method is my secret to succulent, perfectly-cooked flavorful shrimp.

IMG_7020For the Mexican cocktail sauce:

1  15-ounce can diced, fire-roasted tomatoes, undrained

1/4  cup Heinz chili sauce

1-2  tablespoons Mexican-style hot sauce, your favorite brand

1-2  tablespoons lime juice, preferably fresh

2  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1  jalapeño pepper, seeds and white ribs removed, finely-diced

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

3/4  cup diced sweet onion

1/2  cup minced cilantro leaves, mostly leaves, some stems ok

IMG_7024 IMG_7024 IMG_7024 IMG_7024~Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the tomatoes and chili sauce.  Add the hot sauce and lime juice, 1 tablespoon each.  Stir, take a taste, then, add more of one, the other, or both, to taste.  Add the garlic, jalapeños, scallions, onion and cilantro.  Stir, cover, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours, to allow flavors to marry.  There will be about 3 cups thick, chunky Mexican cocktail sauce.

IMG_7045For the add-ins and garnishes:

3  cups cooked and chopped shrimp, from above recipe

1  cup peeled, seeded and diced English cucumber 

2  ripe, Hass avocados, diced (add to bowl ofshrimp cocktail or each portion of shrimp cocktail at serving time)

1/4  cup minced cilantro leaves and lime wedges, for garnish

IMG_7037 IMG_7037 IMG_7037 IMG_7037~Step 1.  Remove the chilled shrimp from the refrigerator.  Sort through them, and, depending upon how many portions of shrimp cocktail you plan to serve, reserve a few of the prettiest ones, 2 per portion, and set them aside, to use as garnish.  Remove the tails from the rest and chop them into 2-3 bite-sized pieces each, placing them in the bowl of chilled cocktail sauce as you work.  Add the diced cucumbers.  Stir, cover and return the shrimp cocktail to the refrigerator again, to allow the flavors to marry, about 1 hour.  There will be 6 cups shrimp cocktail.

Just prior to serving, top w/fresh-diced avocado:

IMG_7065Serve garnished w/cilantro, lime wedge & whole shrimp: 

IMG_7073Mexican-Style Shrimp Cocktail (a Salad in a Glass):  Recipe yields 6 cups shrimp cocktail prior to adding the chopped avocado and garnishes/6-8 start-to-a-meal-sized 1-ish cup servings or 4 larger 2-ish cup luncheon-sized servings.

Special Equipment List:  3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; colander; 1-gallon food storage bag;  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7ee5f51970bCook's Note: Shrimp cocktail is not just an American delicacy.  The British refer to it as "prawn cocktail" and have been serving it as long as we have, but there it's served with a creamy cocktail sauce called Marie Rose sauce, or, Mary Rose sauce. My version of ~ The Prawn/Shrimp Cocktail w/Marie Rose Sauce ~ is fashioned after the one I fell in love with at Browns restaurant while in London in 1983. Give this "across the pond" recipe a try.

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

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

04/25/2024

~ Strawberry, Steak, Blue-Cheese and Arugula Salad ~

IMG_6752Strawberries aren't just for dessert, and, if the Northeast ever gets a break in the weather, the local strawberry season will be just around the corner.  That said, the California-grown Driscoll's strawberries I found in the grocery store yesterday are plump and sweet, and, one of the man-sized flank steaks my husband picked up at Sam's Club today are going to team up for a hearty, sweet-and-savory, main-dish salad for a delightfully-carnivorous Sunday dinner this evening.

IMG_6671Strawberries are no stranger to salads -- spinach and strawberry salads with poppyseed dressing were trendy on restaurant menus back in the 1970's.  Because of those spinach salads, I began experimenting with strawberries, when appropriate, in place of tomatoes, in select recipes.  There's more.  When it's a main-dish salad I'm wanting, unlike many, who pair salads containing strawberries with mild-flavored proteins like chicken or shrimp, as a card-carrying carnivore, trust me when I tell you, the strawberry holds it own next to bold-flavored meats like beef and lamb.

Something sweet, savory, salty & super-crunchy too:

IMG_6682For the salad:

1  2-2 1/2-pound flank steak, broiled and rested as directed in my recipe for Melanie's Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak

IMG_51303-4 whole heads hearts-of-romaine, the "hearts" being the inner leaves from the typical bushy head (about 12-16 ounces total weight), leaves torn into small, bite-sized pieces or cut chiffonade-style (into 1/2" strips or ribbons), washed, dried (preferably through a salad spinner) and chilled until very crisp

2-3  cups baby arugula leaves

1-1 1/2  cups very thinly-sliced (shaved) red onion, cut into half-moon shapes, half-moons cut in halves or thirds

2-2 1/2  cups ripe, hulled strawberries, sliced 1/4"-thick

1-1 1/2  cups blue cheese crumbles

1-1 1/2  cups (about 8-ounces) store-bought or homemade candied pecans

IMG_6571 IMG_6571 IMG_6571 IMG_6571 IMG_6595~Step 1.  Place a 2-pound flank steak on a disposable aluminum broiler pan and season with sea saltand peppercorn blend.  Place 5 1/2"-6" under preheated broiler for exactly 9 minutes.  Remove from oven, flip steak over (there's no need to season the second side), return to broiler and cook 9 more minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 9 minutes.  Holding a chef's knife at a 30º angle, slice steak into thin, 1/8"-1/4" thick strips. Note:  This is enough meat for one large or six individual, main-dish salads.  To make it ahead, wrap cooked, rested and unsliced flank steak in plastic and refrigerate overnight.  Return to room temperature, about 30 minutes, then warm it (warm not hot) in microwave, about 90 seconds.

IMG_5152~ Step 2.  Slice flank steak in half lengthwise, then, while holding the knife at a 30º oven, thinly-slice each half into thin (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips. Roll each strip up roulade-style*. *Note: A roulade (roo-LAHD) is a fancy French term for a thin slice of raw or cooked meat rolled around a filling then secured with some kitchen twine or a toothpick.  If the meat is raw, the roulade is cooked after rolling, if the meat is cooked, the roulade is ready for serving.

IMG_6712 IMG_6712 IMG_6712 IMG_6712 IMG_6732 IMG_6732 IMG_6805~Step 3.  To assemble one large or six individual-sized salads, on one large platter or six salad plates, layer and arrange the ingredients, in the following order:  The greens (romaine and arugula that have been briefly tossed together), red onion, strawberries, beef roulades, blue cheese and candied pecans. Drizzle with strawberry vinaigrette (recipe below) and serve with additional dressing at tableside:

IMG_6772All dressed up in a tangy & sweet, very-berry vinaigrette:

IMG_6687For the strawberry vinaigrette:

8-10  ounces fresh strawberries, cut into quarters (8-10 ounces after removing leafy green tops)

10  tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup honey

1/4  cup strawberry jam or strawberry preserves

1/2  teaspoon salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

6  tablespoons vegetable oil

IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689~Step 1.  Place the strawberries in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses followed by the motor running for 15-20 seconds, puree the strawberries.  Add all the remaining ingredients, except for the vegetable oil.  With motor running, process until thoroughly combined and smooth.  With motor running, through the feed tube and in a slow, steady stream, drizzle in the vegetable oil.  Dressing will be smooth and emulsified, and, there will be a generous 2 1/2 cups.  Leftovers (if there is leftover vinaigrette) store great in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

IMG_6809Tied-together in every delightfully-colorful Springtime bite:

IMG_6812Strawberry, Steak, Blue-Chees and Arugula Salad:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups dressing and 6-8 large, main-dish servings of salad.

Special Equipment List: 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom); cutting board; chef's knife; food processor

IMG_1104Cook's Note:  Want a super-easy super-strawberry Spring-Summer dessert to serve after your salad? Nothing could be finer than my super-special recipe for ~ Creamy-Dreamy No-Bake Strawberry Key-Lime Pie ~.  Think Spring.  Sigh.

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

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

04/20/2024

~Tangy-Sweet Strawberry White-Balsamic Vinaigrette~

IMG_6772Strawberries are no stranger to salads -- spinach and strawberry salads with poppyseed dressing were trendy on restaurant menus in the 1970's.  Those salads caused me to experiment with strawberries, when appropriate, in place of tomatoes, in salad recipes using a variety of other greens and proteins too.  It was only natural that I would experiment with sweet and savory salad dressings containing strawberries too.  This vinaigrette recipe is the one that captured my strawberry loving heart.  My Strawberry, Steak, Blue-Cheese and Arugula Salad (pictured in the background), is not only perfect for Spring, it's dazzling dressed with this vinaigrette:

IMG_6687For my strawberry vinaigrette:

8-10  ounces fresh strawberries, cut into quarters (8-10 ounces after removing leafy green tops)

10  tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup honey

1/4  cup strawberry jam or strawberry preserves

1/2  teaspoon salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

6  tablespoons vegetable oil

IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689~Step 1.  Place the strawberries in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 15-20 rapid on-off pulses followed by the motor running for 15-20 seconds, puree the strawberries.  Add all the remaining ingredients, except for the vegetable oil.  With motor running, process until thoroughly combined and smooth.  With motor running, through the feed tube and in a slow, steady stream, drizzle in the vegetable oil.  Dressing will be smooth and emulsified, and, there will be a generous 2 1/2 cups.  Leftovers (if there is leftover vinaigrette) store great in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.

For drizzling or dipping, even on an all-strawberry salad:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2eb34f0970cTangy-Sweet Strawberry White-Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups strawberry-balsamic vinaigrette.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; appropriately-sized food-storage containers with tight-fitting lids.

IMG_5827Cook's Note:  I have no idea who prepared the first salad.  Whoever it was, I'm guessing it was an accident, and likely a result of hunger.  Gathered from fields, around streams and in wooded areas, greens, an herb or two, mushrooms, flowers and berries and/or seeds would stave off hunger.  As time passed, a pinch of salt, later, a squirt of citrus, next a splash of vinegar, last: oil.  To learn what I know about vinaigrette, read:  ~ In the Beginning:  Demystifying Basic Vinaigrettes ~.

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

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

04/15/2024

~ The Japanese Take on Salisbury Steak: Hambagu ~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0a011943970dJapanese hamburger steak.  If it doesn't sound very Japanese, it's because its origin is not.  It's an all-American-inspired dish that's been culinarily Japanized and popularized by Japanese home cooks and yoshoku chefs (restaurants that serve Japanese versions of American- and European-style food).  It's a spin-off of our American bunless hamburger steak (aka the plump mini-meatloaf-esque knife-and-fork salisbury steak smothered in savory gravy).  It's so popular with both children and adults, it has earned a spot in classic bento-boxed lunches throughout Japan. 

Make no mistake though, hambagu is Japanese cuisine, so, substitutions like American Worcestershire in place of Japanese Worcestershire, or American pepper in place of Japanese pepper, are simply not going to render an authentic hambagu experience.  Mind your "ga's" and "gu's" too -- a "hambaga" (hahm-bah-gah) is what you order at a Japanese McDonald's. "Hambagu" (hahm-bah-goo) is a get-out-your-chopsticks and pull-up-a-chair, family-friendly, melt-in-your-mouth-tender, juicy meat patty drizzled with a tangy sweet sauce and served over rice. 

IMG_6442Japanese hambagu patties = a 1:1 ratio of beef to pork.

IMG_6322The secret to the traditional, juicy, flavorful Japanese hamburger steak patties is a 1:1 ratio of beef to pork. I grind my own (which only takes a few seconds in the food processor), and, I use a combination of 1 pound well-marbled Delmonico (rib-eye) steak and 1 pound pork tenderloin.  

Note:  If you skip the pork and use only beef, the patties will be good, but noticeably different.  All-beef patties will be dryer and less flavorful  -- more like a hambaga than true hambagu.

"ソース" = "sauce" in Japanese. "とんかつソース" = Tonkatsu.

Tonkatsu = the Japanese take on American steak sauce.

IMG_6369If you've ever gone into a Japanese market (which I have), and said, “I'd like a bottle of sauce”, you'd be handed a bottle of dark sauce that you think you're familiar with.  This "ソース" ("sauce") is what's referred to as Worcestershire in Japan. Unlike “sauce” in English, in Japan ソース refers to a dark, semi-thick line of sauces, such as: ウスターソース (Worcestershire Sauce), 中濃ソース (Vegetable & Fruit Sauce Semi-Sweet), and, とんかつソース(Vegetable & Fruit Sauce/Tonkatsu Sauce.  Other sauces, like soy, teriyaki, tomato or mayonnaise, etc., are called by their names -- not referred to generically as "sauce".

IMG_6407Note:  The sauce popularly used on hambagu is store-bought tonkatsu. It's a 100% vegetarian, uniquely-flavored, dark-colored, tangy, sweet-and-savory thick-and-drizzly sauce containing water, corn syrup, sugar, distilled vinegar, tomato paste, salt, rice-starch, apple purée, soy, prune paste, carrot, onion, spices and lemon juice.  While there are many recipes for mimicking tonkatsu in the home kitchen,  I liken the task of attempting to do that: like trying to duplicate your favorite A-1-type steak sauce at home.  

That said, in the Japanese home kitchen and in Japanese restaurants, tonkatsu (the sauce) is also the traditional condiment for tonkatsu (the meal), which is a breaded and fried pork cutlet.

My 5-minute food processor method for mixing the meat:

IMG_6336For the hambagu pattie mixture:

3/4  cup Japanese panko bread crumbs

6  tablespoons whole milk

1  pound well-marbled steak, cut into 1" cubes

1  pound pork tenderloin, cut into 1" cubes

4  ounces small-diced yellow or sweet onion (about 1 cup)

1  large egg

1  tablespoon Bull-Dog brand Japanese Worcestershire sauce (Note:  American Worcestershire sauce is onion-, anchovy-, garlic- and tamarind-flavored.  Japanese Worcestershire, while the same thin consistency and dark color as American Worcestershire, is flavored using the same ingredients as  tonkatsu.  Japanese Worcestershire sauce and tonkatsu sauce are 100% vegetarian, American Worcestershire is not.)

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon Japanese green pepper

3-4  tablespoons vegetable oil, for frying hambagu patties

3/4-cup Bull Dog brand tonkatsu sauce, for drizzling on patties

steamed white rice, to accompany hambagu patties

choice of garnishes:  crispy Asian-style fried onions (my favorite), sautéed onions &/or shiitake mushrooms, grated daikon

IMG_6343 IMG_6343~ Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the panko breadcrumbs and milk.  Set aside, until the breadcrumbs absorb the milk, soften, and become pasty, about 5 minutes.  While the breadcrumbs are softening:

IMG_6324 IMG_6324 IMG_6324 IMG_6324 IMG_6324 IMG_6324~Step 2.  Cube the delmonico steak and the pork tenderloin, placing the cubes in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade as you work. Dice the onion and add it to the work bowl along with the beef and pork cubes too.

IMG_6353 IMG_6353 IMG_6353~ Step 3.  Using a series of 40 on-off pulses, grind the meat and mince the onion. Add the pasty panko, whole egg, Japanese Worcestersauce, salt and Japanese pepper.  Using a second series of 30 on-off pulses, incorporate the wet ingredients and spices into the meat mixture.  Transfer meat mixture to a 1-gallon food storage bag and refrigerate 1 hour and up to overnight, to allow flavors to marry.

IMG_6372 IMG_6372~Step 4.  There will be 2 3/4 pounds meat mixture. Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide the mixture into 8, 5 1/2-ounce, 3 1/2"-round, plump, smooth* discs.  Place a thin-coating of oil in a 12" nonstick skillet and add the patties.

*Hambagu patties are thicker than American Salisbury steak, and, they're more refined looking too. Generally speaking, their smooth, almost manufactured appearance, comes from the addition of the pork -- mixing the meat in the food processor adds to an even more-perfect presentation.

IMG_6387~ Step 5.  Fry the patties over medium-, medium-high heat, until lightly-browned on the first side, about 6-7 minutes, flip burgers over, place a lid on the skillet and cook until lightly-browned on the second side, about 6-7 minutes.  

Note:  Placing the lid on the skillet during the cooking of the second side is the Japanese secret to keeping the patties plump and juicy.

IMG_6390 IMG_6390 IMG_6390 IMG_6390~Step 6.  Using a spatula, transfer the patties to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.  Add and stir the tonkatsu sauce into the pan drippings in the skillet.  Adjust heat to simmer for about 30-45 seconds, then transfer/pour the sauce into a small bowl.  Serve over steamed white rice with steamed or blanched vegetables of choice and tonkatsu sauce for dipping or drizzling.

Serve atop white rice & vegetables w/a drizzle of tonkatsu:

IMG_6428The Japanese Take on Salisbury Steak:  Hambagu:  Recipe yields 8, hearty servings (if served over rice with vegetables) and 1 cup sauce for dipping and drizzling.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 1-gallon food storage bag; kitchen scale (optional); 12" skillet, preferably nonstick, w/lid; spatula; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08c2da5c970dCook's Note:  Once a week, when mom or dad went grocery shopping, my brother and I were allowed to pick one TV Dinner, which we would eat on Thursday.  To this day, I associate Thursdays with TV Dinners.  Happy Thursday,  my recipe for: ~ Upscale TV-Dinner-Style Salisbury Steak & Gravy ~. Some things can't be changed.

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

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

04/10/2024

~ Melanie's Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak ~

IMG_6600When I want a perfectly-cooked, rare- to medium-rare steak, one that gets cooked indoors, next to the elegant filet mignon, the rustic flank steak is my choice.  That said, in terms of taste, texture, versatility and price, without compromise, hands-down the flank steak wins on all points -- which is why I purchase one or two almost every week.  In my food world, there's plenty of room for premium Delmonicos, NY strips, porterhouse and T-bones too, but, in terms of cooking steak indoors vs. grilling steak outdoors, those cuts typically "just don't do it" for me like filet or flank.

IMG_6557About this flat, oval-ish,  1"-1 1/2"-thick, stringy-grained steak:

6a0120a8551282970b019b00f22770970bA well done flank steak is not well done at all.  Flank steak, while it lends its succulent flavorful self to indoor cooking beautifully, if the lean and sexy flank steak is not quickly-cooked and served rare- medium-rare it is not worth eating. While I occasionally pan-sear it, my favorite method is to cook it under the broiler*.  My foolproof method takes all the guesswork out of it too.  Read on:

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

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

Place a 2-2 1/2-pound flank steak on a corrugated broiler pan -- allow to come to room temperature, about 20-30 minutes:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e97282970cSeason top with freshly-ground sea salt & peppercorn blend -- alternatively, season with a favorite steak seasoning:

IMG_6571Place 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler for exactly 9 minutes -- 5 1/2"-6" is a key measurement when broiling a flank steak:

IMG_6576Remove flank steak from oven:

IMG_6580Flip steak over (season second side if you like more spice):

IMG_6581Return to oven & broil exactly 9 more minutes:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e9747e970cRemove from oven & allow steak to rest for 9-10 minutes.

IMG_6587Holding knife at a 30° angle, slice flank steak  across the grain -- into thin, 1/8"-1/4"-thick strips of succulent, beefy lusciousness:

IMG_6595Use hot or cold as directed in recipes for appetizers or main-dishes, &/or, in sandwiches, on salads & even pizza:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95f458a970bMelanie's Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak:  Recipe yields instructions to broil the perfectly-cooked rare- medium-rare flank steak/4-6-8+ servings (depending on how it's served -- as appetizers, in sandwiches, on salads or as a main-dish -- and what it is served with).

Special Equipment List:  11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; cutting board; chef's knife

6a0120a8551282970b019b01135f38970dCook's Note:  My recipe for ~ Open-Sesame Flank Steak w/Garlic-Ginger Sauce ~, when served over steamed white rice with a simple vegetable stir-fry, is packed full of Asian flavors and classic flank-steak texture.  Two flanks steaks, with a marinade that gets simmered and served as a sauce for dipping and drizzling at serving time, easily feeds 6-8 people for a lot less money than Chinese takeout.

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

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

04/05/2024

~My 18-Minute Philly-Dilly Flank-Steak Cheesesteaks~

IMG_6664Knowledge is power.  As the 2018 "Dilly-dilly" Bud Light, Super Bowl commercial spiked in popularity, then filtered into the mantra for the Eagle's super-bowl victory parade in the form of "Philly-dilly", my curiosity caused me to research it -- and I'm glad I did.  I'm here to report "dilly" is a real word, and, as per Merriam-Webster, it's a noun that comes from an obsolete adjective that refers to something "delightful", "remarkable" or "outstanding", which describes with perfection:

My latest take on the cheesesteak -- The Philly-Dilly.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95fec95970bIf you have never eaten a cheesesteak sandwich in Philadelphia proper, you've never eaten a cheesesteak.  Like the soft pretzel, the iconic Philly cheesesteak just tastes better in The City of Brotherly Love.  Whether you're standing outside on a sticky-hot sidewalk next to a street vendor in Summer, or inside, doing the "Philly lean" over a counter in a sweaty-windowed sandwich shop in Winter, the experience, on several levels, cannot be duplicated elsewhere.  Many have tried, many have come remarkably close, but everyone agrees:  Philadelphia owns this sandwich.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07e2ba65970dA Philly cheesesteak is always made with high-quality, nicely-marbled, thinly-sliced, rib-eye steak. For example:  This 1"-thick rib-eye would be cut, while partially frozen, lengthwise into 5-6 thin steaks.  The meat gets cooked quickly, on a large lightly-greased flat-top griddle, getting chopped up as it cooks.

IMG_6562The flank steak, in terms of taste, texture and price holds its own next to any premium steak, plus, it's the perfect alternative for the home cook who wants to cook the steak indoors.  While I occasionally pan-sear it, my favorite method is to cook it under the broiler.  My foolproof broiler method takes all the guesswork out of it too.

Trust me when I tell you, my Philly-dilly's are dilly-dilly.

IMG_6600I'm only making one cheesesteak, in an 8" nonstick skillet today, because one is all I can eat, and, I'm on-my-own for dinner this evening.  I'll make more sandwiches tomorrow, with the leftover flank steak (enough for five more cheesesteaks), when Joe gets back home.  I've included my instructions for reheating leftovers in the recipe below. That said, to prepare multiple (2-4-6) sandwiches, be sure to use an appropriately-sized 10"-, 12"- or 14"-skillet to feed your family or friends.

While steak broils in the oven, onions caramelize on the stovetop.

IMG_6633For each 6" cheesesteak:

2  teaspoons salted butter

1/2  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

2-3  super-thin-slices deli-style provolone, or Velveeta if it's yellow cheese you crave

3/4  cup thinly-sliced rare-cooked and still-warm flank steak, prepared as directed in my recipe:  Melanie's 18-Minute Perfectly-Cooked Flank Steak

choice of optional toppings:  1/4 cup mild or hot, well-drained yellow pepper rings, sautéed bell peppers or mushrooms, &/or, 2-3  tablespoons red tomato-based pizza-type sauce

1  6"-8" high-quality, semi-firm Italian or brioche submarine-shaped roll

IMG_6571 IMG_6580 IMG_6580 IMG_6580 IMG_6595~Step 1.  Place a 2-pound flank steak on a disposable aluminum broiler pan and season with sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Place 5 1/2"-6" under preheated broiler for exactly 9 minutes.  Remove from oven, flip steak over (there's no need to season the second side), return to broiler and cook 9 more minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 9 minutes.  Holding a chef's knife at a 30º angle, slice steak into thin, 1/8"-1/4" thick strips. Note:  This is enough meat for six cheesesteaks.  To make it ahead, wrap cooked, rested and unsliced flank steak in plastic and refrigerate overnight.  Return to room temperature, about 30 minutes, then warm it (warm not hot) in microwave, about 90 seconds.  Slice and proceed with recipe as written.  While flank steak is broiling and resting, caramelize the onions as follows:

IMG_6628 IMG_6628 IMG_6628 IMG_6628 IMG_6531~Step 2.  In an 8" nonstick skillet, melt butter over low heat.  Add the diced onions.  Adjust heat to medium, medium-high, to gently and slowly sauté, stirring frequently until onions are caramelized to desired degree of pretty brown, 16-18 minutes, regulating the heat carefully during this process.  Adjust heat to low and arrange provolone slices over the onions, followed by the still-warm sliced flank steak.  

If desired, sprinkle a favorite topping or two over the top of the meat to customize your sandwich to your liking.  When cheese has melted, about 30-45 seconds, remove skillet from heat.

IMG_6532IMG_6532IMG_6532IMG_6532~Step 3.  Place your favorite roll (split open) on a piece of aluminum foil.  With the aid of a spatula, while tilting the skillet on an angle, slide/push the contents of the skillet directly into the roll, much like you would slide an omelette from pan to plate.  Wrap the sandwich tightly in the foil and set aside, about 1 minutes, to give the roll time to steam/soften a bit.  Using a serrated bread knife, slice the sandwich in half (a diagonal is nice), remove the foil and serve immediately. 

Delightfully, remarkably, outstanding?  You betcha.

IMG_6544It's a dilly of a cheesesteak -- It's a Philly-Dilly Cheesesteak!

IMG_6554My 18-Minute Philly-Dilly Flank-Steak Cheesesteaks:  Recipe yields 6, 6"-8" flank-steak w/caramelized-onion cheesesteaks.

Special Equipment List:  11 3/4" x 8 1/2" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; cutting board; chef's knife; appropriately-sized nonstick skillet; spatula; aluminum foil; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7c6bf05970bCook's Note:  Another take on the cheesesteak, and a favorite here in my kitchen, is my recipe for  ~ Philadelphia-Style Cheesesteak-Pizza a la Mel ~.  While it is luscious topped with my recipe for ~ Melanie's 18-Minute Perfectly-Cooked Flank Steak ~, I've written it with other options too.

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

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

03/30/2024

~Fresh vs. Canned: How Pineapple Reacts w/Protein~

IMG_5757It's natural to assume fresh fruit is better than canned, and, if you're eating fresh pineapple, fresh not only tastes better, it is indeed better for you and your digestive system.  That said, nothing is more disheartening than taking the time to prepare a marinade for your favorite protein made from fresh pineapple juice, or, folding a cup or two of diced pineapple into a favorite casserole and have the protein rendered mushy. The cause is an enzyme found in fresh-cut pineapple.

No matter how you slice it, dice it, or hollow it out:

IMG_5885Why did my marinated meat (poultry, seafood or fish) turn to mush?

IMG_5589The enzyme's name is bromelain (in papaya it's called papain and does the same thing), and it is a powerful tenderizer.  It plays a key role in the digestive process, most notably, breaking down tough protein chains -- it's sold in supplement form in health food stores as a digestive aid. It's why:  1) Pineapple processors wear gloves and masks (as it eventually eats away at the flesh on the hands and face).  2) When cutting up pineapple, if poked by a spiny edge, it's common to develop itchy skin &/or a sore.  3) Pineapple, on its own, won't form a jam or jelly.

Bromelain, the enzyme in fresh pineapple, is a powerful tenderizer.

IMG_5684Tenderizing protein is good to a point, but, when fresh pineapple juice is used in or as the marinade, the enzyme works fast -- in as little as 30 minutes for poultry and meat, and, in the case of fish, 10 minutes. That's great if time is short and the clock is ticking.  That said, if fresh pineapple chunks are stirred into a casserole, if left to sit just 1-2 hours prior to baking, it renders the protein mushy -- a problem when things need to be done in advance.  While keeping the marinating protein or the casserole mixture refrigerated will slow the enzyme activity down:

Here's the information every cook needs to know:

IMG_5708Bromelain is heat-inactivated.  This means:  If fresh pineapple is cooked first, separately from the protein, (prior to marinating it with or stirring it into raw or cooked protein), the bromelain gets neutralized -- this neutralization is achieved during the canning process, and, can also be achieved by grilling pineapple chunks or pieces, or, simmering fresh pineapple juice, crushed pineapple or pineapple purée.  So, if you want to buy some time in order to marinate your protein a few hours ahead or put your casserole together the night before, either cook the fresh pineapple first, or, without compromise, bypass the fresh produce department and head to the canned-fruit aisle.

Oh My Thai Chicken and Pineapple-Fried-Rice Casserole:

IMG_5746"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

03/25/2024

~Greek Hummus, Steak & Arugula-Salad Pita-Pizzas~

IMG_5549Everyone knows anything one can sandwich between two slices of bread can be tucked into a pita pocket to eat on the run.  Almost everyone knows that the flat round pita (or any flatbread) is a great foil for all sorts open-face knife-and-fork sandwich meals too.  What all busy moms know is: if the ingredients on the pita are amicable to being baked in the oven, and you refer to it as pizza, it's a sure-fire way to get children to venture into trying just about anything.

It's called "bending the rules for the common good", and, when my kids were young, I did it in creative ways.  If it looks like a sandwich and it's eaten like a sandwich, it must be a sandwich -- even if it is not between the definitive two slices of bread.  If it looks like a pizza and it's eaten like a pizza, it must be a pizza -- even if it doesn't have the typical tomato sauce and cheese on it. That said, in a world when no two family members will ever agree on sandwich stuffings or pizza toppings, make-your-own personal-size pockets or pizza for dinner is a solid solution.

IMG_5224My Greek-style pita pizzas, inspired by my recipe for ~ Greek-Style Flank-steak Salad or Pocket Sammies ~ start with a slathering of hummus and a layer of mozzarella. Next up, onion, briny olives and feta, and a few cherry tomatoes.  When these show-stopping snack-pizzas emerge from the oven, a mix of lightly-dressed arugula leaves and diced cucumber with bits of rare-cooked flank steak top them off. If you've made my steak salad, all you need is pita bread and hummus to quickly turn leftovers into pizza.* 

IMG_5462Greek pizza per se refers to the type of dough/style of crust -- in the same way New York-Neopolitan- or Sicilian-, Chicago- or Detroit-, or, St. Louis- styles refer to theirs. Greek-style crust is baked in a shallow, heavily-oiled pan, instead of directly on the bricks of a pizza oven, which renders it somewhat thick and puffy with a crispy, fried-like exterior and a tender, chewy interior, and, it's referred to as "Greek pizza" even when it has non-Greek toppings.  Because pita bread is common to all sorts of Greek-style sandwiches (like the iconic Greek Gyro Beef & Lamb Pita Sandwich), I'm gonna call it a day and suffice it to say:

My pita pizzas are sophisticated Greek-style savory w/snazz.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c957ee20970b*Note:  I won't lie.  Making these with ingredients leftover from my salad is quick and easy.  That's what I'm doing today.  That said, if you're looking for a sophisticated pizza snack to serve as an hors d'oeuvre,  making them in multiples and slicing them into wedges is well-worth the effort. 

IMG_54992 pita pockets, whole-wheat or white, your favorite brand

4-6  tablespoons hummus

4  slices deli-style mozzarella cheese

1/4  cup very-thinly-sliced (shaved) red onion

6-8  Greek kalamata black olives, well-drained and  cut in half

6-8  pimiento-stuffed Spanish green olives, well-drained and cut in half

6-8  grape tomatoes cut in half tomatoes

1/2  cup crumbled feta cheese, divided (1/4 cup for pizza, 1/4 cup for salad)

3/4-1  cup baby arugula leaves

1/4-1/2  cup peeled and diced Kirby cucumber

2  tablespoons Greek-style vinaigrette, preferably homemade, or high-quality store-bought

1  teaspoon Greek seasoning blend

6-8 small flank steak roulades, marinated in Greek-style vinaigrette as directed here and broiled as directed below (Note:  Feel free to skip the steak and serve these Greek pita pizzas a meatless meal.):

IMG_5061 IMG_5061 IMG_5061 IMG_5061 IMG_5061~Step 1.  Position oven rack about 8" underneath heating element and preheat broiler.  Remove the room temperature flank steak from the marinade and place on an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom).  Place the flank steak under the broiler and cook for 8-9 minutes, until steak is golden brown and bubbly. Remove from the oven and flip steak over.  Return to broiler and cook 8-9 more minutes, using an instant-read meat thermometer to test for doneness after 8 minutes. Remove from oven when it reaches an internal temperature of 130°-134°.  Allow to rest 10-15 minutes prior to slicing*.

*Note:  My favorite way to serve my Greek salad is with warm steak.  For my pita pizzas, it's best made with steak that's been chilled and returned to room temp (take it out of refrigerator about an hour prior to slicing), so, wrap the cooked steak in plastic wrap, refrigerate it, and slice it later.

IMG_5150 IMG_5150~ Step 2.  Slice meat in half lengthwise, then thinly-slice each half across the grain while holding the knife at a 30° angle, into thin (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips.  Roll each meat strip up roulade-style*, placing them in a bowl as you work.

*Note:  A roulade (roo-LAHD) is a fancy French term for a thin slice of raw or cooked meat rolled around a filling then secured with some kitchen twine or a toothpick.  If the meat is raw, the roulade is cooked after rolling, if the meat is cooked, the roulade is ready for serving.

IMG_5485 IMG_5485~ Step 3.  Typically the roulades are used as they are in my Greek salad.  Leftovers are stored in my refrigerator.  To turn yesterday's leftovers into today's pizza topping, "chiffonade" them (a Fancy french word meaning "to cut into ribbons").

IMG_5501 IMG_5501 IMG_5501~ Step 4.  Place two pita breads on a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan that has been lined with parchment. Use a knife to slather the top of each pita with 2-3 tablespoon hummus, to within 1/4" of the edge of the perimeter.

IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507 IMG_5507~Step 5.  Place two slices mozzarella cheese (atop the hummus) on each pita.  Scatter with shaved red onion, then arrange Greek and Spanish olives, followed by grape tomatoes over the cheese.  Sprinkle on half the crumbled feta.  Bake pita pizzas on center rack of 350º oven until mozzarella is melted and feta is just starting to show signs of browning, 11-12 minutes.

IMG_5524 IMG_5524~ Step 6.  While the pita pizzas are in the oven baking, in a medium bowl, toss the remain feta crumbles, arugula leaves and diced cucumber with 2 tablespoons of the Greek vinaigrette and 1 teaspoon Greek seasoning blend.  Remove pizzas from oven.  Plate pizzas and serve pizzas, whole or cut into wedges, topped with salad.

Cut into wedges & served as sophisticated appetizers:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9578b14970b 2Left whole & served as a hearty, personal-sized pizza meal:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e226f8970cGreek Hummus, Steak & Arugula Salad Pita-Pizzas:  Recipe yields instructions to make 2 Greek-style pita pitas/8 appetizers/2 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper

IMG_0451Cook's Note: I surely didn't invent the word pizz'alad, but it is catchy. That said, I'd been kinds making various versions of them at home for my kids for years (Philadelphia cheesesteak, Buffalo chicken and Texican taco to name three), before publications like Eating Well, Bon Appetít and Food and Wine started using this trendy term to describe a pizza with a salad on top.  Click here to get my basic (Crazy for Caprese) recipe for ~ Pizza' alads:  Salad Pizza (Pizza w/a Salad on Top) ~.

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

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

03/20/2024

~The McDonald's-Style Big Mac Cheeseburger Salad~

IMG_5964When 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.  Two 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.

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 6.55.21 AMSeptember 1968 -- The Bic Mac was invented in Pittsburgh by a McDonald's Franchise Owner named Jim Delligatti.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2ddfc8a970c-800wiIt cost 45 cents.

IMG_6020The 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.  As for the "secret sauce", which is indeed 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."

As one who believes she invented the chili-cheddar-cheeseburger salad, I cannot believe it never occurred to me to transfer my beloved Big Mac from bun to bowl.  In my food world, if given a choice, I'm the kinda girl who prefers to plant my roasted chicken breast or grilled strip steak atop a well-appointed salad, rather than position it next to a twice-baked fully-loaded baked potato, creamy potato salad or crunchy cole slaw.  It has nothing (zero) to do with cutting carbohydrates (my homemade croutons make up for the carbs) -- I just love the combination of perfectly-cooked hot-and-juicy protein atop a cold-and-crisp full-of-greens-and-goodies salad.

Part One:  Two all-beef patties topped w/yellow American.

MaxresdefaultAll 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.

Note:  Beef is beef and patty means disc.  That equates to 'burgers, not ground beef crumbles -- in my kitchen, two 3-ounce slider-sized patties per salad -- it's not a Big Mac unless it's got two. Once topped with the signature American-processed yellow cheese, a lid goes on long enough to melt it (tick,tock) -- this keeps the 'burgers hot-and-juicy, a la McDonald's flat-top-cooked 'burgers.

IMG_6853Newsflash:  McDonald's is almost ready to release never-frozen burgers this Spring. They've already quietly rolled-out their “fresh” beef burgers to test in Dallas, Tulsa, Miami, Orlando, and Nashville. Over the next month, the rollout-test will expand to Los Angeles, Houston, and San Francisco.  The rest of us will get to try them sometime May. In the beginning, they will be limited to a just a few of their sandwiches, and while the Big Mac will not be one of them, I have no doubt that never-frozen burgers will be a popular menu item.  It's all I ever use in my kitchen and I'm sticking with never-frozen beef today:

IMG_5912 IMG_5912 IMG_5912~ Step 1.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, form and place 8, 3-ounce, 2 1/2"-round, all-beef patties (1 1/2-pounds total ground beef) over medium-high heat --  I use a fat ratio of 90/10.  Don't add any oil or butter to skillet -- ground beef contains enough fat to do its thing.  Ever-so-lightly, season the patties with salt and pepper, and cook until barely-browned and just short of being cooked through, turning only once, about 4 minutes per side.  Do not overcook.  Error on the side of slightly-undercooking.

IMG_5924 IMG_5924 IMG_5924 IMG_5924 IMG_5924 IMG_5924~Step 2.  Turn the heat off.  It's 8 slices American-processed yellow cheese you'll need next. It's quick to melt to the perfect state without browning or drying out. Cut or break each slice into four quarters.  Arrange four quarters (1 slice) to fit atop each burger.  Place lid on  skillet, adjust the heat to low, and wait for cheese to melt, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and place two patties atop each salad as directed below.

Part Two:  Special Sauce.  Thousand Islands dressing -- not.

Tmg-facebook_socialMany 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 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.

IMG_59051  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

IMG_5901Whisk all ingredients together, cover and refrigerate 1 hour.  Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Part Three:  Lettuce, pickles, onion & sesame seeds sans bun.

IMG_5935For each salad (in each of 4, 6" salad plates, layer and arrange):

2  generous cups iceberg or romaine lettuce pieces

1/2  cup each: dill pickles, well-drained and 1/2"-diced, and, 1/2" chopped sweet onion

2  3-ounce hot-and-juicy burgers

1/2  teaspoon lightly-toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

1/4  cup secret sauce, for drizzling and dipping

IMG_5938 IMG_5938 IMG_5938 IMG_5938~Step 1.  Layer and arrange the veggies, plant the burgers, drizzle with dressing, then stick a knife and fork in it.  If you're thinking this salad could be more colorful, you'd be right, it could be -- but you would be wrong. This carefully-thought-through monochromatic melange of complex and conflicting flavors needs nothing else.  Adding anything else -- wouldn't be a Big Mac.

While special orders don't upset us, no tomatoes please:

6a0120a8551282970b01a511c4835a970c'Tis true and trust me, no one loves tomatoes more than me -- no one. So, if a tomato-loving Big Mac aficionado knows enough to not special order tomatoes on her sandwich, I'm sure not going to add them to my Big Mac salad -- nor am I going to write a recipe telling you it's a forgivable offense.  In all seriousness, the special sauce is all about contrasting flavors playing in harmony, and, the acidity in tomatoes just "breaks the spell".  

Dill pickles, not tomatoes, belong in a Big Mac salad.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09fd8a48970dEnjoy a homemade salad The McDonald's way today!

IMG_6002The McDonald's-Style Big Mac Cheeseburger Salad:  Recipe yields instructions to make 4, hearty main-dish salads.

Special Equipment List:  whisk; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" skillet w/lid, preferably nonstick; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0984a3a7970dCook's Note: Would you like chili instead?  As one who raised three boys with a Wendy's joint just a few miles down the street from us, my recipe for ~ Kids' Stuff:  Mel's Wendy's Chili Con Carne ~ was one of the first fast-foods I needed to find a way to duplicate at home.

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

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

03/15/2024

~ Thai-Style Chicken Salad w/Sweet Chili Vinaigrette ~

IMG_5395Mae Ploy brand sweet chili sauce, known in Thailand as "nam chim kai", "dipping sauce for chicken", is a staple in my refrigerator.  We use it as a dipping sauce for all sorts of things -- from lettuce wraps and spring rolls to deep-fried chicken wings, coconut shrimp and batter-dipped vegetables, almost everything tastes better with the sweet heat of this sauce.  Here in my kitchen, we affectionately refer to it as "the ketchup of Thailand."  Using it in conjunction with the right ratio of other Thai pantry staples renders a vinaigrette no store-bought brand can compete with.

IMG_5282A salad is only as good as the ingredients that go into it, and my Thai chicken salad is no exception. It starts with my Thai-Style Oven-Roasted Barbecued Chicken.  In the wide, wide world of food, almost every culture has a favorite way to serve grilled chicken. In Thailand, that would be gai yang.  Those are the Thai words for grilled chicken, more specifically a very small, whole or half chicken that's been marinated in a soy-and-fish-sauce- IMG_5327based coconut-creamy, cilantro-greeny mixture laced with fragrant lemongrass, ginger, garlic and scallions. Throughout Thailand, the recipe for gai yang does vary from cook-to-cook, but not very much.  In my Americanized version, the chicken emerges from the oven plump, juicy and melt-in-your mouth tender -- not to mention infused with authentic Thai flavors. Whenever I make it, 2-3 times a year, I make one extra -- to make this salad.  

Oh my Thai.  Sigh.  While I never make my salad without my special Thai BBQ chicken, if pressed to recommend a time-saving substitution (and I know some of you are going to ask), sans all of the wonderful flavor you'll be missing out on, head for a store-bought rotisserie bird.

To make 1 cup of my Peanutty Thai Sweet-Chili Vinaigrette:

IMG_5342

1/2  cup Mae Ploy brand sweet chili sauce

2  tablespoons Golden Mountain brand Thai seasoning soy sauce

1  tablespoon Squid brand Thai fish sauce

1  tablespoon lime juice, fresh or high-quality bottled concentrate

1  tablespoon Jiff extra-crunchy peanut butter

2  teaspoons ginger paste

1  teaspoon garlic paste

2  tablespoons peanut oil

1  tablespoon sesame oil

2  tablespoons rice vinegar

~ Step 1.  Measure and place all ingredients, as listed, in a 1-2-cup measuring container with a tight fitting lid and a pourer top.  Shake vigorously until peanut butter is completely dispersed and has rendered the vinaigrette a slightly-creamy texture.  Peanut butter is a flavored-stabilizer.  Like Dijon mustard in a classic vinaigrette, it slows the inevitable separation process down.

To make two, hearty, main-dish Thai-style chicken salads:

IMG_53452 1/2-3 cups cooked chicken, removed from 1/2 of 1, 3 1/2-4-pound Thai-Style oven-roasted barbecue chicken (leg, thigh, breast & wing meat from half a chicken), crispy skin left on or removed (your choice), pulled into bite-sized chards and pieces or sliced into thin strips 

IMG_51301  whole head hearts-of-romaine, the "hearts" being the inner leaves from the typical bushy head (about 6-8 ounces total weight), leaves torn into small, bite-sized pieces or cut chiffonade-style (into 1/2" strips or ribbons), washed, dried (preferably through a salad spinner) and chilled until very crisp

3/4-1  cup store-bought broccoli slaw, a mixture of shredded broccoli, carrots and red cabbage

3/4-1  cup halved cherry tomatoes

3/4-1  cup peeled and peeled and diced Kirby cucumber, 1/2 of a cucumber

1/2-3/4  cup thinly-sliced green onion, tender white and light-green parts only

1/2  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves

1/2  cup chopped and lightly-roasted, unsalted peanuts

1/2-1  cup Peanutty Thai Sweet Chili Vinaigrette, from above recipe

IMG_5349 IMG_5349 IMG_5349 IMG_5349 IMG_5362 IMG_5362 IMG_5362 IMG_5395~Step 1.  In each of two salad plates, compose the salad by dividing, layering and arranging ingredients in the following order:  the romaine chiffonade briefly tossed together in each bowl with the broccoli slaw, followed by the sliced green onion and diced cucumber.  Pile on the pulled or sliced chicken pieces and grape tomatoes then generously garnish each salad with a sprinkling of cilantro leaves and roasted peanuts.  Drizzle on the vinaigrette and stick a fork in it ASAP.

Drizzle on the vinaigrette & give it a decent dose too...

IMG_5379... then stick a fork in it & eat this special Thai salad ASAP:

IMG_5412Thai-Style Chicken Salad w/Sweet Chili Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 1 cup vinaigrette, and, 2, hearty, main-dish salads.

Special Equipment List:  1-2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid & pourer top; cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler

IMG_6958Cook's Note:  Cold main- or side-dish pasta or noodle salads of the American type are not something I gravitate toward.  That said, serve me one bursting with Thai-Asian flavors, you don't have to call me twice to the table.  My recipe for ~ Cold 'Chicken Noodle Salad' w/Thai Peanut Sauce ~ is a delightful combination of lo-mein noodles with wisps of chicken, matchstick carrots and green onion scattered throughout.  It's lunch-box kid-tested and mother approved too.

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

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

03/10/2024

~ Thai-Style Oven-Roasted Barbecued Half Chicken ~

IMG_5282In the wide, wide world of food, almost every culture has a favorite way to serve grilled chicken. In Thailand, that would be gai yang.  Those are the Thai words for grilled chicken, more specifically a very small, whole or half chicken that's been marinated in a soy-and-fish-sauce-based coconut-creamy, cilantro-greeny mixture laced with fragrant lemongrass, ginger, garlic and scallions. Throughout Thailand, the recipe for gai yang does vary from cook-to-cook, but not very much.

Not to be confused w/authentic Thai gai yang...

IMG_5323... mine = American chicken infused w/authentic Thai flavor.

05302013-grilled-free-range-chicken-largeIn Thailand, small, lean chickens are skewered, cooked over charcoal and sold as gnaw-off-the-stick street food*.  In my American-kitchen version, the chickens are plump, juicy and melt-in-your mouth tender.

Oh my Thai.  Too many Americans have the preconceived notion that Thai food is super-spicy -- fiery hot. It's not.  Like anything, one can make it super-spicy if one desires, but, if you ever eat a few meals in Thailand or in a Thai home kitchen, one quickly learns that Thai cuisine is an addictively well-balanced blend of sweet, sour, salty and subtle heat, with a bit of a citrusy, bitter edge.

There's more.  Aromatic herbs (like basil, cilantro and/or mint) and spices (like chile, galangal, garlic, ginger, lemongrass and/or scallion), all add to the unique aroma- and flavor-infusing process that distinguishes Thai food from others.

*The chickens raised in Thailand are small, lean and boney (scrawny) with an intense (gamey) flavor.  This does not mean they're inferior.  It means they are different from what we purchase in an American market.  If I cannot purchase a similar product here, it makes no sense for me to try to duplicate it.  That said, I sure can produce a Thai-style barbecued chicken that'll taste amazing.

Making the marinade & marinating the chickens:

All Thai recipes for barbecue chicken begin by making the marinade -- from this standpoint, my recipe is authentic.  Traditionally, many of the ingredients get pulverized in a stone mortar and pestle, but, here in my American home kitchen, I make short work of this laborious process by using my food processor -- why wouldn't I or anyone who owns a pulverizing machine not use it.

IMG_5080For the chickens and the marinade:

2  3 1/2-4-pound frying chickens, as even in size as possible, split in half, backbones removed, 4 pieces total (Note:  I call in advance and ask my local butcher to do this for me.)

4  ounces coarse-chopped green onion, tender white and light-green parts only

2 ounces coarse-chopped, fresh cilantro stems and/or roots (Note:  Save the delicate leaves for garnish.  The majority of the bold, earthy flavor is housed in the roots and/or stems.)

2  ounces coarse-chopped, fresh lemon grass, tender white and light-green parts only

2  ounces peeled and coarse-chopped fresh ginger root

1-1 1/2  ounces, whole, fresh garlic cloves (6-10, large whole cloves)

8-10  small Thai bird chile peppers, red, green or a combination of both (Note:  These are small but mighty.  I grow them in our garden and keep them on-hand in my freezer.  Because they are so hot, I hold each one by the stem and use a pair of kitchen shears to "snip it" into whatever I'm cooking -- this keeps the heat from getting on my hands -- or worse, in my eyes.)

3  tablespoons Thai Squid brand fish Sauce

3  tablespoons Thai Golden Mountain brand seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons sesame oil

2  tablespoons firmly-packed palm sugar, or light brown sugar

1  13 1/2-ounce can coconut milk

IMG_5083 IMG_5083 IMG_5083 IMG_5083 IMG_5083 IMG_5083 IMG_5083 IMG_5083~Step 1.  Prep green onion, cilantro, lemon grass, ginger, garlic and chile peppers, as directed, placing each one in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade as you work.  Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses, very-finely mince the ingredients.  Open the processor lid and use a spatula to scrape down sides of work bowl.  In a small bowl, stir together the fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, and brown sugar, to dissolve the sugar.  Add the sugar mixture to the work bowl, followed by the coconut milk.  Process again, using a series of 10-20 rapid on-off pulses followed by the motor running for 30-45 seconds.  There will be 3 3/4-4 cups marinade.

IMG_5103 IMG_5103 IMG_5103 IMG_5103 IMG_5103~Step 2.  Place each split chicken in a heavy-duty 2-gallon-sized food storage bag, positioning the halves so the sharp bones will face the inside once the bag is sealed.  Pour half of the marinade (about 2 cups) into each bag. Gather the bag tightly up around the chicken and twist or zip closed.  Using your hands, massage the bags, until each chicken is thoroughly coated in the marinade.  Allow to marinate in the refrigerator 6-8 hours (minimum), overnight, or up to 48 hours (maximum) -- remove from refrigerator 1 hour prior to roasting.

IMG_5245 IMG_5245 IMG_5275 IMG_5278~Step 3.  To roast, insert a wire rack in the bottom of a large 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan, then place a sheet of parchment paper on the rack.  Open each bag of chicken. One-at-a-time lift each half chicken up and out, allowing the excess marinade to drizzle back into the bag*, then arrange the halves, side-by-side on the rack in prepared pan.  Roast, uncovered on center rack of 350º oven, 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with a tip of a knife.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 10-15 minute, prior to serving.

*Note:  Do not discard the marinade in bags.  It will be used to make the sauce (recipe below).

Making & reducing the dipping & drizzling sauce:

What could be better than an aromatic, plump, moist, melt-in-your-mouth-juicy half chicken roasted in the oven?  How about a coconut-creamy, cilantro-dreamy to-die-for sauce.  Quickly and easily made on the stovetop from the marinade the chickens marinated in, plus a few on-hand additions, if your family is like mine, don't hesitate to make a double batch of this sublime sauce.

IMG_5249For the Sauce (use all marinade reserved from above, plus the following):

1  13 1/2-ounce can coconut milk 

3  tablespoons Thai Squid brand fish sauce

3  tablespoons Thai Golden Mountain brand seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons sesame oil

2  tablespoons firmly-packed palm sugar, or light brown sugar

1  packet Herb-Ox instant,  IMG_5254granulated chicken bouillon (1, small foil packet)

6-8  kaffier lime leaves (Note:  I purchase these unique flavor-packed leaves at my Asian market and keep them on-hand in my freezer. When it comes to Thai cooking, these are what gives it its signature herby-citrus flavor.)

IMG_5246 IMG_5246 IMG_5257~ Step 1.  Place all leftover marinade you can retrieve from the bags in a wide-bottomed chef's-type pan. Stir in the the coconut milk, fish sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, palm or brown sugar, instant bouillon and lime leaves.  Bring to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat, then adjust heat to gently simmer. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until nicely-thickened and reduced by about one-third, about 20 minutes.

The rice, the garnishes & serving up supper:

Jasmine rice, a fragrant-scented rice, is a very-important staple-ingredient in the Thai kitchen.  It's got a heavenly aroma, and, a lovely, fluffy texture when cooked.  In my kitchen, a simple bed of this freshly-steamed white rice, scattered with bits of sweet and tart pineapple, crunchy oven-roasted peanuts and delicate cilantro leaves are all I need to complete my family's Thai feast. 

IMG_5273For the rice and garnishes:

4  cups uncooked jasmine rice, 8 cups after steaming

2  cups diced pineapple (from 1 medium-large fresh pineapple)

1  cup chopped and lightly-roasted, unsalted peanuts

1/2  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves (reserved from above)

all  the sauce, for dipping and drizzling, prepared on stovetop as directed above

IMG_5263 IMG_5263 IMG_5263 IMG_5263 IMG_5287~Step 1.  On each of 4, 9"-10" warmed dinner plates (big plates for this big meal work best), prepare and make a bed of 2-cups jasmine rice. Scatter 6-8 tablespoons diced pineapple, 3-4 tablespoons chopped peanuts, and, 2 tablespoons cilantro leaves.  Top each portion with one split-chicken half and a small bowl of sauce for dipping and drizzling.

Oh my Thai-American oven-roasted barbecued half chicken:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2dfb1da970cWhen Thai flavors meet this American girl's kitchen:

IMG_5316My family's food world is a bigger, better place indeed:

IMG_5297Thai-Style Oven-Roasted Barbecued Half Chicken:  Recipe yields 4 very-hearty Thai-American servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; rubber spatula; 1-quart measuring container; 2, heavy-duty 2-gallon food storage bags; 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan; wire cooling-type rack; parchment paper; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon; electric rice steamer (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1ea2794970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8604f55970bCook's Note: For another classic Thai street food recipe (small marinated cubes or thinly-sliced chicken or pork threaded onto bamboo skewers and grilled), which can semi-easily be duplicated in the American home kitchen, try my recipe for ~ Thai-Style Chicken or Pork Satay w/Peanut Sauce ~.  It's family-friendly and a tailgate favorite of adults and most kids too.

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

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

03/05/2024

~ T.G.I. No-Fuss-Friday Greek Pizza for Mel Tonight ~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9574099970bI'm Mel -- I pretty much cook all week -- on weekends too.  I cook for my family, friends, and, friends-of-friends. I even cooked  on TV for about a decade, and it's all fun, but, every once in a while, I have occasion to cook just for myself. Tonight is such a night, and, I am going Greek -- it's also really easy and super-good.  Why cook for myself when I don't have to?  Because, with little effort, calorie for calorie, my food tastes much better than over-priced, lack-luster take out or delivery -- and in the case of tonight's Greek-style snack pizza, it's faster than take out or delivery.

IMG_5479When it comes to pizza just for me, I don't want to spend time kneading the dough and waiting for it to rise. When I'm craving crust, I want the end-in-sight as close-to-now as possible.  That said, pre-made pizza crusts and canned pizza dough, in my opionion, were not one of the best inventions of the 20th century. They taste like cardboard -- In my heart, I believe they contain cardboard.  There is one exception:

Boboli.  It's not only a very good and tasty product, it mimics the texture and thickness of Greek pizza nicely.

IMG_5482Boboli have been around for years now, and, for very good reason: Boboli gave us a great product at a reasonable price, and, to prove it, they've stood the test of time.  In my kitchen, they've been kid-tested and mother-approved too.  I've also used Boboli as a tasty, uniform foil to test many of my pizza sauces, cheese options and topping combinations.  I individually wrap a 2-pack of their mini 8" crusts in plastic.  I thaw one out in minutes, and, minutes later (tick, tock), I'm eating pizza for me -- with a slice or two for tomorrow too.

What exactly is authentic Greek-style pizza?

IMG_5421Greek pizza per se refers to the dough/style of crust -- the same way New York-Neopolitan- or Sicilian-, Chicago- or Detroit-, or, St. Louis- styles do.  Greek-style crust is butter- not olive-oil based, then, patted into and baked in a shallow, heavily-oiled pizza pan (not a deep-dish pan), instead of directly on the bricks of a pizza oven.  This renders it well-formed (not free-form) and somewhat thick with a fried-like exterior and a chewy interior.  This type of crust is referred to as "Greek pizza" even when the pizza comes with non-Greek topping options -- which are offered at "pizza-and-pasta"* or "house-of-pizza"* Greek-owned pizza joints (*code words signifying the eatery you are entering is not a classic Italian restaurant, but a classic Greek restaurant offering some Italian-style food).

IMG_5434Greek pizza toppings, as one would expect, revolve around authentic, common-to-the-cuisine Greek ingredients.  If tomato sauce is used, it is thick and tangy with a strong taste of garlic and oregano. Hummus or red pepper hummus are two other popular sauce options.  As for cheeses, it starts with deli-style mozzarella (to provide the ooey-gooey affect) and ends with crumbled feta (which softens but doesn't melt, for the classic briny edge). Other options include red onion, fresh or sun-dried tomatoes, a variety of Greek-style olives, marinated artichokes, and sometimes, fresh greens like spinach or arugula leaves. Wisps or chards of Gryro-style super-thinly-sliced roasted meats (marinated lamb and/or beef) replace Italian-style ground or cured meat options (beef, sausage, pepperoni and/or salami).

Atop 1, 8" Boboli pizza crust, layer:  5 slices deli-mozzarella, shaved pieces of red onion & sliced Campari tomatoes, 5 coined Kalamata & 5 pimiento-stuffed Spanish-style olives, feta cheese crumbles & a generous sprinkling of Greek seasoning blend:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e19737970cPlace pizza directly on rack of 425º toaster oven & bake for 8-10 minutes: 

IMG_5448Slide pizza from rack to plate then wait (tick, tock) 3-5 minutes, &, slice & eat:

IMG_5460T.G.I. No-Fuss-Friday Greek Pizza for Mel Tonight:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1, 8" Greek-style Boboli pizza/6 slices, enough to feed 1-2 people

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; toaster oven (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e0bba4970cCook's Note:  I surely didn't invent the word pizz'alad, but it is catchy. That said, I'd been kinda making various versions of them at home for my kids for years (Philadelphia cheesesteak, Buffalo chicken and Texican taco to name three), before publications like Eating Well, Bon Appetít and Food and Wine started using this trendy term to describe a pizza with a salad on top.  Click here to get my basic (Crazy for Caprese) recipe for ~ Pizza' alads:  Salad Pizza (Pizza w/a Salad on Top) ~.

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

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

02/29/2024

~ Greek-Style Flank Steak Salad or Pocket Sammies ~

IMG_5213I'm going Greek today.  It happens a few times a year -- my lust for lemon and garlic and oregano combined with crumbly feta cheese and/or creamy Greek yogurt takes over.  Thank goodness I have a few excellent recipes go to.  Sometimes I'm inclined to quash my craving by incorporating shrimp, other times I choose lamb, chicken is not off limits, but, one of my all-time favorites is flank stank.  When duly-marinated and rare-cooked via broiling or grilling, it is a carnivorous Greek goddess's dream come true.  I adore this hearty, main-dish salad topped plenty of crunchy herb-bread croutons, and, the only thing I enjoy more:  stuffing this salad into a pita pocket. 

IMG_5021Let me start by saying, my homemade Greek salad dressing (recipe below) turns this salad or sandwich from ordinary to extraordinary.  My secret ingredient is high-quality lemon-infused olive oil, with which even fresh lemon juice cannot compete.  That said, when one is using vinaigrette-type salad dressing to marinade meat, poultry or seafood, the marinade gets thrown away (unlike other types of marinades which get simmered on the stovetop and used as a sauce for dipping and drizzling).  

IMG_5029For that reason, I marinate my flank steak in a high-quality, store-bought Greek vinaigrette-type dressing containing no artificial flavorings or preservatives, but, a lot of spices that complement my own dressing.

IMG_5036In a 1-gallon ziplock bag, marinate for 4-6 hours at room temp or overnight in the refrigerator:

2-2 1/2 pound flank steak, in

1  cup Gazebo Room Greek dressing and marinade

"Gazebo Greek" is a fine product and I feel a lot less guilt pouring the store-bought marinade down the drain after the steak has marinated in it as opposed to my homemade dressing.

My Big Fat Greek Lemony-Garlic Salad Dressing:

6a0120a8551282970b019aff4d8c8b970d 21  cup red wine vinegar

1/4  cup lemon-infused olive oil

1/2  cup sugar

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

3-4  large garlic cloves, run through a garlic press

1/4  cup fine-crumbled feta

1  tablespoon Greek seasoning

1/4  teaspoon each:  sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid, place all ingredients.  Shake vigorously. You will have 1 1/2 cups of dressing. Set aside for 2-8 hours, at room temperature, to allow the flavors plenty of time to marry.

Note:  If you want to make the dressing further in advance, store it in the refrigerator and return it to room temperature prior to serving.  Because this dressing contains fresh garlic, use it within 3 days, as after that, the garlic can begin to grow bacteria that can make make you ill.

My Big Fat Greek Flank Steak Salad:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c954bf05970b1  2-2 1/2-pound flank steak, marinated as directed above and cooked as directed below

IMG_51303-4  heads hearts-of-romaine, "hearts" being inner leaves from the typical bushy head (12-16 ounces total weight), leaves torn into bite-sized pieces or cut chiffonade-style (into 1/2" strips), washed, dried (preferably through a salad spinner) and chilled until very crisp

1  cup very thinly-sliced (shaved) red onion

1 1/2  cups peeled and diced Kirby cucumber, 1 large cucumber

3/4  cup pimiento-stuffed green Spanish olives, well-drained and cut in half

3/4  cup pitted Greek kalamata olives, well-drained and cut in half

1 1/2-2  cups grape tomatoes, cut in half

1 1/2-2  cups crumbled feta cheese, 6-8 ounces

1 1/2-2  cups homemade croutons (for salad), or, pita pocket bread (for sammies)

1 1/2  cups salad dressing, from above recipe

IMG_5061 IMG_5061 IMG_5061 IMG_5061 IMG_5061~Step 1.   Position oven rack about 8" underneath heating element and preheat broiler.  Remove the room temperature flank steak from the marinade and place on an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom).  Place the flank steak under the broiler and cook for 8-9 minutes, until steak is golden brown and bubbly. Remove from the oven and flip steak over.  Return to broiler and cook 8-9 more minutes, using an instant-read meat thermometer to test for doneness after 8 minutes. Remove from oven when it reaches an internal temperature of 130°-134°.  Allow to rest 10-15 minutes prior to slicing*.

*Note:  My favorite way to serve this salad is while the flank steak is still warm.  That said, it is uncompromisingly-delicious served with steak that has been refrigerated overnight and returned to room temperature (take it out of the refrigerator about an hour prior to slicing it), so, feel free to wrap the cooked steak in plastic wrap, refrigerate overnight, and slice it the next day.

IMG_5150 IMG_5152~ Step 2.  Slice meat in half lengthwise, then thinly-slice each half across the grain while holding the knife at a 30° angle, into thin (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips.  Roll each meat strip up roulade-style*, placing them in a bowl as you work.

*Note:  A roulade (roo-LAHD) is a fancy French term for a thin slice of raw or cooked meat rolled around a filling then secured with some kitchen twine or a toothpick.  If the meat is raw, the roulade is cooked after rolling, if the meat is cooked, the roulade is ready for serving.

IMG_5162 IMG_5162 IMG_5162 IMG_5162 IMG_5162 IMG_5162 IMG_5162 IMG_5162 IMG_5202~Step 3.  In each of 6-8 individual salad plates, compose the salad by dividing, layering and arranging ingredients in the following order:  lettuce chiffonade, shaved red onion, diced cucumber, steak roulades, green olive-, kalamata olive- and grape tomato halves.  Sprinkle feta cheese crumbles over the top of each salad and top with a few crispy croutons.

Bring on the dressing, have a seat & hand out the forks:

IMG_5217Or, stuff it all into a pita pocket or two & eat 'em on the run:

IMG_5224Greek-Style Flank Steak Salad or Pocket Sammies:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups dressing and 6-8 large, main-dish servings of salad, or, 6-8 pita pocket sandwiches (12-16 half sandwiches).

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; 1-gallon food storage bag; 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" disposable aluminum broiler pan; instant-read meat thermometer; cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_9864Cook's Note: For me, it's impossible to walk past a vendor selling gyros -- the iconic Greek sandwich.  My first gyro encounters were limited to the Jersey Shore in the latter 1960's and Mr. Krinos (a friend of my cousin) explained they were, Greek-style, a combo of beef and lamb wrapped in a pocketless pita with lettuce, tomato and onion, and, served with a cucumber-yogurt-based tzatziki sauce.  Here's my recipe for ~ My Greek Gyro-Style Beef & Lamb 'Burger' Pitas ~.

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

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

02/25/2024

~ Creamy-Coconut & Spicy-Hot Jamaican Pork Curry ~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c94fd914970bThroughout the Caribbean, porcine reigns supreme, and, when it comes to perfectly-balanced, bright, slightly-sweet and spicy-hot curry blends, the Jamaicans have cornered the market.  That said, the world is full of curries, they are all different, and, for the home cook, it's almost impossible to prepare an authentic curry outside of the region it's prepared in, within its country of origin.  Why?  Because outside of the United States, curry is not a store-bought dried spice blend or wet paste that produces a predictable end result.  They're hand-made, mortar-and-pestle pulverized, dry or pasty concoctions of spices or herbs, the amounts of which vary to suit the palate of each family or cook -- on a daily basis -- Jamaican cooks are no exception.

Curry is anything but generic.  Culinarily, it's a complex topic:

"Curry" is a catch-all English (British) term used in Western cultures to denote stewike dishes from Southern and Southeast Asia, as well as Africa and the Caribbean. Dishes called curry are relatively easy to prepare and can contain meat, poultry, fish or shellfish. Seasonal vegetables can be included, or, the dish can be made only of vegetables (vegetarian). Some curries cook quickly, others cook slowly, some are thick, some are thin, many are economical weeknight meals, while others are expensive and reserved for celebrations.  Most curries are cooked in large shallow skillets or woks with lids, and, most curries are paired with some type of white rice.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2da44f4970cCurries can be "wet" or "dry".  What is common to wet curries is the use of cream, coconut milk or yogurt, and occasionally stock, to prepare the sauce ("kari" is the Indian word for "sauce").  They don't tend to be overly-thickened (gravylike), and, they aren't spicy hot (although they can be). This evolved out of necessity.  Water was often scarce and/or its use in cooking had to be avoided, so, the "creamers" were used as a silky, rich, substitution for water, not as a thickener. Dry curries are cooked in very little liquid in sealed pots.  Almost all of the liquid evaporates during the lengthy cooking process, leaving the ingredients heavily coated in the spice mixture.

The case for using commercial curry powders or pastes.

There are kitchen decisions that only the cook can make, and, in the American kitchen, for the average American cook, convenience typically triumphs over authenticity.  That said, it's not because the average American cook is lazy or uncreative.  In my case, I purchase high-quality blends or pastes because, on any given day, all the ingredients necessary to make a dry blend or a wet paste are not always available at the same time.  There's more.  Some concoctions contain ten or more sometimes-pricey ingredients, which after being mixed together, do not have a long shelf life, so, a portion of my investment and hard work can end up being thrown away.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d287a355970cCurry powders and pastes cannot be used interchangeably.

Curry blends and pastes are not created equal.  For example:  When I make curry, sometimes I make Thai curry (which requires green, red or yellow paste), sometimes I make Indian curry (which relies on garam masala), and, sometimes I make Jamaican curry, which has its own flavor profile.  Know the country of the curry you're preparing and don't substitute one type for another.

Jamaican-Style Curry Powder.

Jamaican curry powder contains allspice and Indian-style curry powder does not.  Indian curry powder contains cardamom and mace, Jamaican curry powder does not.  All Jamaican curries contain coconut milk, but only South Indian curries do.  Jamaican curries tend to be spicy and sweet while Indian curries are mild and slightly tart.

Tonight, creamy, spicy Jamaican curry is what I am craving:

This four-season recipe makes a good-sized quantity, twelve dinner-sized servings (or sixteen+ luncheon-sized servings). That sounds like a lot, but, leftovers reheat perfectly, so the little bit of extra slicing and dicing is worth the extra effort -- plus, it freezes well too.  There's more.  Like many stews, it tastes even better the second day, so, it can be made ahead and served with freshly-steamed rice without compromise -- which is convenient if you're entertaining. That said, if you don't want leftovers, cut the recipe in half (and prepare it in a smaller skillet).

IMG_33711  bone-in Boston butt pork roast, about 7-8 pounds total

4  tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil, for preparing skillet

2  teaspoons sea salt, total throughout recipe, 1 teaspoon for seasoning meat and 1 teaspoon for seasoning vegetables

2  cups each:  1/2" diced green and red bell pepper

IMG_45401-1 1/2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup chopped cilantro leaves + plus additional leaves for garnish

2  14 1/2-ounce cans diced tomatoes, well-drained

6  tablespoons hot Jamaican curry powder

2  teaspoons garlic paste

2  teaspoons ginger paste

1/2  teaspoon habanero powder IMG_4227(Note:  Jamaicans typically use fresh Scotch Bonnet chilies for heat, which I don't always have access too, but, the slightly-citrusy flavor of incendiary habanero powder, which I keep on my spice rack, is a marvelous substitute.)

3  14-ounce cans coconut milk, shaken or stirred prior to using

6  cups uncooked jasmine rice, or, 12 cups steamed jasmine rice, cooked via your favorite method

IMG_3376 IMG_3376 IMG_3376 IMG_3376 IMG_3376~Step 1.  Remove pork from packaging.  Trim off "fat cap" layer. Starting at bone-free-end, cut into 3/4"-1"-thick steaks, then, cut steaks into 1"-1 1/4" chunks.  When you get to the bone-in-end, do your best to cut around the bone, cutting the meat into 1"-1 1/4" chunks.  As you work, discard any chunks that are almost all fat.  When finished, there will be 4+ pounds of trimmed, nicely-marbled pork.  The goal is to have well-marbled pieces, not, fat-laden chunks.

IMG_3411 IMG_3411 IMG_3411 IMG_3411 IMG_3411~Step 2.  Place and heat the 1/4 cup oil in a 14" chef's pan over medium-high heat.  Add the pork cubes and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the sea salt.  Adjust heat to sauté, using a large spatula to stir frequently, until meat is lightly-browned on all sides, and almost no liquid remains in bottom of pan, about 18-20-22 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_4225 IMG_4225 IMG_4225 IMG_4225~Step 3.  Prep the green and red bell peppers, onion and cilantro as directed, placing them in the chef's pan as you work.  Add the diced tomatoes, curry powder, garlic paste, ginger paste and remaining 1 teaspoon sea salt.  Add the coconut milk and stir to thoroughly combine.

IMG_4243 IMG_4243 IMG_4243 IMG_4243 IMG_4243 IMG_4243~Step 4.  Over medium- medium-high heat bring mixture to a rapid simmer, stirring frequently.  Once simmering, adjust heat to a gentle simmer and continue to cook, stirring frequently for 40-45 minutes, until nicely thickened.  Turn heat off, cover pan, and allow the curry to steep on the warm stovetop, another 40-45 minutes to allow the flavors time to marry.  Steam rice while curry steeps and serve warm curry over steamed rice.

Serve warm curry over freshly-steamed white rice:

IMG_4559A creamy-rich & spicy hot bowl of Jamaican love: 

IMG_4564Creamy-Coconut & Spicy-Hot Jamaican Pork Curry:  Recipe yields 4-5 quarts/16-20 cups pork curry mixture/12 large dinner-sized servings or 16+ smaller luncheon-sized servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon; electric rice steamer (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fc4526c4970bCook's Note: I do not profess to knowing a lot about India or being an authority on authentic Indian cuisine.  I have never had the opportunity to travel there, however, I have had the pleasure of having been entertained, on several occasions back in the early 1980's, in the home of a neighborhood couple, who just happened to hail from India.  My recipe for ~ Easy Indian Curry in a Hurry w/No Worry ~, is a testament to one of the many wonderful dishes I was introduced to at their dinner table.

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

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

02/20/2024

~Pork Butt Blade Steaks w/Peachy Keen BBQ Sauce~

IMG_4501Known as pork steaks, pork butt steaks or pork blade steaks, these bone-in steaks are cut from the shoulder of the pig -- the same part of the porcine used to make pulled pork.  Similar in taste and texture to close-kin country-style spareribs*, they were invented in St. Louis, MO, and are a Midwest staple.  As a country-style spare rib lover living in central Pennsylvania, I ask my butcher to custom-cut these inexpensive, lesser-to-unknown-here steaks for me.  Perhaps this post will help them to catch on "here in the counties", and start showing up in our local markets.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d35058970c"Pork butt" or "Boston butt", is a bone-in cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the "pork shoulder" from the front leg of the hog. Smoked or barbecued, Boston butt is a southern tradition.  This cut of meat got its name in pre-Revolutionary War New England:

Butcher's in Boston left the blade bone in this inexpensive cut of pork 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ec4b35970dshoulder then packed and stored the meat in casks called "butts". They sold the pork shoulders individually to their customers, and, when they got popular, they began shipping "the butts" Southward and throughout the Colonies.  Simply stated:  the way the hog shoulder was butchered, combined with "the butt" they arrived in, evolved into the name "Boston butt".

IMG_4424Steaks cut from the pork shoulder are marbled with lots of fat and rich with collagen, which, like the roast, makes them extremely flavorful.  

Because overcooking renders them dry and tough, this quick-cooking cut is perfect for the grill, sauté pan or broiler.  Choose pinkish-gray steaks that are generally the same size and thickness (3/4"-thick is ideal), and, have been trimmed of excessive fat from around the fat-cap-side.

Note:  These 8 steaks, weighing a total of 8.05 pounds, cost $14.33.  That's a whole lot of economical wonderfulness -- especially if you've got a big family with big appetites to feed.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d8d4d3970cAs for seasonings, salt and pepper is all they require, but, they play well with dry seasoning blends or wet marinades too -- and, they love to be slathered with BBQ sauce at the end.

Choose side-dishes to complement the seasonings used & set the table:

Pork steaks cook to an internal temp of 145° in a short 5-6 minutes per side.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c87ff653970bThere are no words to tell you how well my Peachy Keen Barbecue Sauce for Poultry or Pork, which is made with my Perfect Peach Preserves from the Bread Machine (which I keep on hand in my freezer) and a host of aromatic spices (allspice, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, ginger and mace to name a few), pairs with these pork steaks. Store-bought peach preserves will work just fine too, so, don't let that sway you from taking the few minutes to make this divine sauce for your pork blade steaks.

How to cook great pork steak indoors on a grill pan:

IMG_4426 IMG_4426 IMG_4426Step 1.  I'm demo-ing one steak today, so I'm using my 10"-round grill pan.  To cook 4 steaks at once, I use my bigger double-burner-sized grill pan.  To cook 8 steaks at once, I use both of my double-burner grill pans.

IMG_4432 IMG_4432 IMG_4432 IMG_4432 IMG_4432 IMG_4432 IMG_4432~Step 2.  Spray a grill pan with no-stick spray and place over medium-high heat.  Place a 3/4"-thick, room-temperature pork butt blade steak on the hot grill grids.  Season with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, about 5 grinds of salt and 10 grinds of peppercorn blend.  If you have a bacon press, place it on top of steak -- this will hold it closer to the heat which makes for prettier grill marks -- if you don't have a bacon press, no big deal.  Cook steak on first side for 5 minutes, or until golden grill marks appear, but do not cook it longer than 6 minutes.  Flip steak over.  Season the cooked first side with salt and pepper, place the optional bacon press back on top and cook for 5 (and no more than 6) more minutes.  Turn the heat off and allow steak to rest, in pan, for 3 minutes.

Slice in half on a diagonal (half bone-in, half boneless)...

IMG_4478... & top w/a big dollop of Peachy Keen Barbecue Sauce:

IMG_4475Serve w/a side of my Creamy Crunchy Cole Slaw & dig in!

IMG_4531Pork Butt Blade Steaks w/Peachy Keen BBQ Sauce:  Recipe yields instructions to cook 3/4"-thick pork steaks indoors on a grill pan.

Special Equipment List:  appropriately sized grill pan (a sauté pan may be substituted); large spatula or bacon fork (for flipping steaks over); bacon press (optional)

IMG_3530Cook's Note:  Pork shoulder or pork butt, when trimmed and cut into 3/4"-1" cubes makes marvelous chili.  For one of my favorite New-Mexico-Style versions, try my recipe for Hatch Green Chile Chili with Pork and White Beans.  Make a big batch because it freezes great.

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

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

02/15/2024

~Moist & Juicy Breaded & Deep-Fried Chicken Cutlets~

IMG_4757Breaded chicken cutlets are a big time-saver for a working parent.  By keeping a bag on-hand in the freezer, after a quick thaw in the microwave, any number of kid-friendly meals can be put on the family dinner table in less than an hour.  That said, the chicken cutlets found in the frozen-food section of the grocery store, are, for the most part:  terrible.  From way-too-much-cardboard-esque-breading to skinny, dried-out and rubberlike, I find them reprehensibly unpalatable.  

When I was raising three boys, after trying two (maybe three) brands of frozen, breaded chicken cutlets, and proceeding to throw all the remains away, they were added to my list of store-bought items I simply refused to buy for my kids.  Trust me, when it comes to kids, when you put your foot down to time-saving junk like the USA's favorite brand of boxed macaroni and cheese, all-things that help hamburger, and, chicken cutlets, you'd better have a show-stopping alternative.

Tenderize the most tender part of the chicken:

IMG_4676 IMG_4676 IMG_4676For about $14-$15 at a any of my local markets, I can purchase a "value pack" of 6-pounds chicken breast tenderloins, It contains approximately 3o tenderloins, which when breaded and deep-fried, are good-sized cutlets -- one or per two person.  When I get them home, I arrange them side-by-side, on a large cutting board, between two sheets of plastic wrap.  Using the flat-side of a meat mallet, I lightly-pound them, with "lightly" being the key word here -- do not smash them to smithereens.   Start-to-finish, this process takes less than five minutes and renders them fork tender.

Set up the deep-frying assembly line (left to right):

IMG_4687Chicken tenderloins, prepped as directed above.

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 2 cups dry pancake mix.

One loaf-pan containing 2 1/2 cups pancake mix whisked with 22 ounces beer (Note:  Beer lends wonderful flavor with yeasty undertones to the breading.  That said, if I can't convince you that the heat of the deep-fryer will evaporate all the alcohol, feel free to substitute club soda.)

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 2, 8-ounces boxes panko breadcrumbs.

Deep-fryer w/corn or peanut oil heated to 360° according to manufacturer's specifications.

Misc:  forks, 3-minute timer, wire cooling rack, paper towels, sea salt grinder.

IMG_4709~ Step 1.  When everything is measured and in place, whisk together the pancake mix and beer (or club soda). Set aside for about 5 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 (or club soda) to maintain a very drizzly consistency.

IMG_4685~ Step 2.  This step is actually optional, so skip it if you like.  When it comes to chicken cutlets, I prefer the texture of my panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs) to be less coarse.  To make that happen:

Place panko in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses, process these super-crispy breadcrumbs to finer crumbs.

Fry Baby Fry -- It's all about Fearless Frying:

IMG_4718 IMG_4718 IMG_4718 IMG_4718 IMG_4718~Step 1.  Working in batches of 2 cutlets at a time, dredge each paid in the dry pancake mix to coat it on all sides.  Note:  I fry 2 at a time because that is what fits comfortably in the basket of my fryer without overcrowding it.  Next, move up the assembly line, and, one-at-a-time dip each cutlet into the batter.  As you lift each one out of the batter, hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the batter to drizzle back into the bowl.  As you batter dip each cutout, place it into the dish of panko. Dredge both of the cutlets in the panko ASAP.

IMG_4735 IMG_4735Step 2.  One-at-a-time, and with the aid of a fork, carefully lower the pair of breaded cutlets down into the 360° oil and into the fryer basket.  Close the lid and allow cutlets to deep-fry for 3 1/2-4 minutes.  Chicken cutlets will be a beautiful golden brown and just cooked through.  Do not overcook -- residual heat will continue to cook them.

IMG_4743Step 3.  Open fryer lid and slowly lift basket up and out of deep-fryer.  Transfer cutlets to a wire rack in a baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.  Tip:  To transfer the cutlets, simply tilt the basket onto its side directly over the rack.  Using tongs is a mistake -- an easy way to damage their crust.  Once out of the fryer, immediately sprinkle cutlets with freshly ground sea salt and repeat this process until all cutlets are breaded and fried.

IMG_4757~ Step 4.  Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature, as directed in specific recipe.  To freeze, place completely cooled cutlets on a large baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Freeze, uncovered, several hours to overnight (overnight is best). Transfer frozen cutlets to a ziplock bag.  When needed, thaw and reheat room temperature cutlets in a 350° oven until just heated through, about 10 minutes.

Slice & add to a favorite main-dish salad in lieu of croutons:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9514290970bServe Asian-style w/a veggie stir-fry, white rice & dipping sauce:

IMG_4793And please pass the lightly-sauced-pasta w/cheesy parmigiana:

IMG_4766Moist & Juicy Breaded & Deep-Fried Chicken Cutlets:  Recipe yields instructions to batter-dip, bread, deep-fry and freeze chicken cutlets.

Special Equipment List:  large cutting board; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes; 1, 9" x 5" x 4" loaf-type baking dish; whisk; forks; 3-minute timer; wire cooling rack; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d25243da970c 6a0120a8551282970b0192ac404b1a970dCook's Note: Batter dipping works great for other meats and vegetables too.  During the Summer zucchini onslaught, try making my ~ Batter-Dipped Panko-Crusted Deep-Fried Zucchini ~, and, in the Fall, my ~ Deep-Fried Pork Fingers w/Bone Suckin' Sauce ~ are a delightful alternative to ribs for a tailgate in front of the TV.

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

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

02/10/2024

~ Japanese Teriyaki Meets American Chicken Wings ~

IMG_4956Chicken wings are all-American and teriyaki is an all-Japanese method of cooking.  Trust me when I tell you, if you walk into a restaurant in Japan, you aren't likely to find teriyaki chicken wings on their menu.  That said, Japanese teriyaki sure does turn out a really good version of American chicken wings, however, unlike our traditionally-prepared wings, which are typically plunged into the hot oil of a deep fryer, teriyaki wings, in order to render their signature fall-off-the-bone tender interior with a slightly-crispy, sticky exterior, they require a kinder, gentler treatment. 

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f3cb15970dTeriyaki (tehr-uh-yah-kee):  Teriyaki is a Japanese term referring to a method of cooking beef, chicken, fish or seafood marinated (in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic and/or ginger) prior to being grilled, broiled or stir-fried. "Teri" is the Japanese word for "luster", and it is the sugar in the marinade that gives the food its "teri" or shiny glaze.  It's interesting to note that in Japan, there is no official teriyaki sauce.  Teriyaki sauce was invented by the early Japanese settlers to the islands of Hawaii.  They created:

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f5d322970d 2Because teriyaki sauce is sweet, a portion of the marinade is typically reserved to use as a dipping sauce served w/the dish.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f3cd81970dFor the teriyaki sauce:

1/2  cup tamari soy sauce or soy sauce

1/2  cup mirin (a cooking wine made from rice) or sake (sometimes thought of as beer because it's made from grain, but classified as a wine)

1/4 cup white or brown sugar or honey

1  tablespoon each: garlic and ginger garlic paste

4  teaspoons cornstarch or potato starch

4  teaspoons cold water

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2dade8b970cStep 1.  In a small bowl, whisk together the cold water and cornstarch until smooth.

Step 2.  In a 1-quart saucepan, stir together the tamari or soy sauce, mirin or sake, and, white or brown sugar or honey.  Add the garlic and ginger. Bring to a steady simmer over medium heat and cook about 1 minute.  Whisk cornstarch mixture into the sauce and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is drizzly but slightly-thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and use as directed in recipe.

To use as a marinade:  Cool teriyaki sauce to room temperature, or chill, prior to using as a marinade.  Keep any unused marinade, the stuff not used as a marinade for raw protein, stored in a tightly-covered container in the refrigerator for several weeks.  Any marinade used as a marinade must be reheated and simmered for 3-5 minutes prior to refrigerating and reusing.

Arrange 16-20 drumettes &/or wingettes in an 8" x 8" baking dish (save those flavorful wing tips for making chicken stock):

IMG_4899Add cooled teriyaki sauce & marinate at room temp 2-4 hours, or, overnight in the refrigerator, then return to room temperature:

IMG_4905Place in 325° oven for 2 hours, stirring every 20-30 minutes -- yes, the wings will slowly & gently simmer in & suck up flavor:

IMG_4910Remove from oven & reset oven to broil w/rack 5"-6" under heat:

IMG_4918Using tongs, remove wings from marinade, allowing excess liquid to drizzle off & place on a baking pan lined w/foil & parchment:

IMG_4921Broil until bubbly & charring, turning once, 3 minutes per side.  Allow wings to rest, on pan, for 4-6 minutes -- just do it.

IMG_4930Serve w/a bowl of the the super-flavorful warm marinade remaining in baking dish for dipping &/or drizzling:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2dcdbb4970c 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f5d604970dJapanese Teriyaki Meets American Chicken Wings:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups teriyaki sauce and 16-20 chicken wings.

Special Equipment List: 1-quart saucepan; whisk; poultry shears; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; tongs

IMG_3870 IMG_4890Cook's Note:  While related by sauce, when it comes cooking anything teriyaki-style, depending on what it is, each food gets treated and cooked a bit differently.  Two examples are my recipes for ~ Open Sesame:  Japanese Teriyaki Steak Skewers ~, and, ~ Japanese-Style Oven-Broiled Teriyaki-Style Cod Fish ~. 

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

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

02/05/2024

~ An Apple-a-Day & Granola Too, Breakfast for Two ~

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d6b8e4970cIf you're not too lazy to peel and slice one apple in the AM, and if you keep a bag of granola in your pantry, a steaming-hot, flavorful and filling breakfast is five-minutes from your fingertips. What I like about this "what I cook for me" recipe is:  everything.  As a kid, I loved stewed apples -- somewhere in between apple pie filling and chunky applesauce, they are less sweet with a less thickened, au natural, taste and texture.  My mother made stewed apples to serve with her pork roast for dinner, but, she'd always set a small bowl aside -- to stir into my morning oatmeal.

While not my mom's old-fashioned oatmeal w/stewed apples...

IMG_3983... it's just as yummy in a faster-food busy-day-breakfast way.

When I was growing up, granola, the kind we buy in our grocery stores nowadays, didn't exist -- ok, it might have existed but no one was marketing it.  Had it been available to me as a kid, I'd have been pouring milk on it, as, for my taste, dry granola, like all dried cereals, no matter how healthy they tout themselves, is not something I sit and snack on -- thank goodness because both are loaded with calories -- up to 250 per 1/2 cup serving.  In fact, the only thing I buy granola for is to make this small-portion, seriously-filling 5-minute-to-make microwave hot-breakfast.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d6be76970c 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09efbbb2970d1  6-oz. apple, peeled and sliced 1/4"-thick 

3/4 cup granola, 6 tablespoons per bowl

3/4 cup whole milk, 6 tablespoons per bowl

2  6-ounce cereal bowls

IMG_3946 IMG_3946 IMG_3946~ Step 1.  Peel, core and cut the apple into slightly-less-than 1/4"-thick slices. Divide the apples between 2, 6-ounce cereal bowls.

IMG_3955 IMG_3955 IMG_3955~ Step 2.  Place the granola on top of the apples, 6 tablespoons in each bowl.  Add the milk, 6 tablespoons in each bowl.

IMG_3967 IMG_3967 IMG_3967~ Step 3.  Cover the bowls so steam cannot escape.  I love these little silicone bowl covers.  Place in microwave on high power for 1 minute, 45 seconds.  The steam that builds up from the cooking apples and milk will soften the granola to a yummy consistency.  Remove from microwave, uncover the bowls and give each portion a thorough stir -- the volume will drop as soon as the steamed cereal hits the hot milk. 

Full of flavor, texture & stick-to-your-ribs happiness...

IMG_3997... a little bowl goes a long way to curb your enthusiasm...

IMG_4003... for the junk-food snacks for the rest of the day.

IMG_4008An Apple-a-Day & Granola Too, Breakfast for Two:  Recipe yields 2 small but hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; paring knife; 2, small 6-ounce bowls; 2, 4"-round, heat-proof, microwave-safe silicon bowl/cup covers (optional but helpful)

IMG_2731Cook's Note:  I've always liked and started my day with some fruit, in some capacity, in the morning.  For one of my favorite breakfast sandwiches, sans the egg, check out my recipe for ~ Sausage, Apple & Herbed-Brie Breakfast Burgers ~.  I like to go eggless once in a while -- it's a woman's prerogative.

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

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

01/31/2024

~ Open Sesame: Japanese Teriyaki Steak Skewers ~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c94ad1b1970bPlace a platter of these appetizers on the cocktail table and I'll bet they disappear before bets can be taken on how long it will take them to disappear.  Put a platter of them on the dinner table alongside a fresh vegetable stir-fry and some steamed white rice, and, when served as a family-friendly dinner, they won't last any longer.  A bottle of teriyaki sauce has been a staple condiment in my pantry for as long as I've had a pantry, standing right next to the elites:  Heinz ketchup, French's mustard, Hellman's mayonnaise and Lee & Perrin's worcestershire sauce.  That said, teriyaki sauce is seriously simple to make, and, it can be customized to suit your taste.

Served as a tailgate appetizer or a family-friendly dinner...

IMG_3864... it's impossible to make too many teriyaki skewers.

6a0120a8551282970b019104cecf48970cTeriyaki (tehr-uh-yah-kee):  Teriyaki is a Japanese term referring to a method of cooking beef, chicken or seafood that has been marinated (in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, garlic and/or ginger) prior to being grilled, broiled or stir-fried. "Teri" is the Japanese word for "luster", and it is the sugar in the marinade that gives the food its "teri" or shiny glaze.  It's interesting to note that in Japan, there is no official teriyaki sauce.  Teriyaki sauce was invented by the early Japanese settlers to the islands of Hawaii.  They created:  

IMG_3870A slightly-sweet nicely-thickened marinade/basting sauce using local, readily-available, easy-to-acquire Hawaiian products.  For example: pineapple juice (in place of the mirin or sake of their homeland) and wild garlic (in conjuction with ginger they brought with them), mixed with soy sauce and thickened with cornstarch.  The subject at hand (beef, chicken or seafood) is marinated for a minimum of 30 minutes, longer for a more pronounced flavor, then cooled. Because teriyaki sauce is sweet, a portion of the marinade is typically reserved to use as a dipping sauce when the dish is served.

Cook on an outdoor grill, grill pan, or, under a broiler...

IMG_3800... my foolproof preference is a grill pan on the stovetop.

IMG_3723For the teriyaki sauce:

1  cup tamari soy sauce or soy sauce

1  cup mirin (a cooking wine made from rice) or sake (sometimes thought of as beer because it's made from grain, but classified as a wine)

1/2 cup white or brown sugar or honey

2  tablespoons each: garlic and ginger garlic paste

8  teaspoons cornstarch or potato starch

8  teaspoons cold water

6a0120a8551282970b0148c7a5f446970cStep 1.  In a small bowl, whisk together the cold water and cornstarch until smooth.

Step 2.  In a 1-quart saucepan, stir together the tamari or soy sauce, mirin or sake, and, white or brown sugar or honey.  Add the garlic and ginger. Bring to a steady simmer over medium heat and cook about 1 minute.  Whisk cornstarch mixture into the sauce and continue to cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce is drizzly but slightly-thickened, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and use as directed in recipe.  

To use as a marinade:  Cool teriyaki sauce to room temperature, or chill, prior to using as a marinade.  Keep any unused marinade, the stuff not used as a marinade for raw protein, stored in a tightly-covered container in the refrigerator for several weeks.  Any marinade used as a marinade must be reheated and simmered for 3-5 minutes prior to refrigerating and reusing.

IMG_3726For the flank steak skewers:

3  total cups teriyaki sauce, from above recipe, 3 cups for marinating steak, and, to be reheated to use as dipping sauce

2 pounds flank steak, sliced across  grain into 1/4"-thick strips

30-36  8" wooden skewers

lightly-toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

scallion tops, for garnish

IMG_3729 IMG_3729 IMG_3729 IMG_3729 IMG_3746~Step 1.  Place the whole flank steak, flat, on a large cutting board. Using a large chef's knife held at a 30º angle, cut the meat, across the grain, into 1/4" inch-thick slices.  

~ Step 2.  One-at-a-time, thread each slice of steak onto a 10" long wooden skewer, to within 3" of the top of each skewer, which will serve as a handle for easily flipping the meat over on the grill pan.

IMG_3749 IMG_3749 IMG_3749~ Step 3.  Pictured here are 2, plastic, 1-quart food storage containers.  I got them for free, with the granola I purchase at the grocery store.  My kitchen is never without a stack of them.  With the containers laying on their sides, arrange the meat skewers inside each one, stacking the skewers on top of one another. Turn the containers upright, then, slowly drizzle all of the marinade between the two, 1 1/2 cups marinade in each container.  Place in the refrigerator to marinate the meat for 2-4-6 hours.

IMG_3771 IMG_3771 IMG_3771 IMG_3771 IMG_3771 IMG_3771~Step 4.  When the beef is finished marinating, pour the marinade from the containers into a 1-1 1/2-quart saucepan.  Bring to a simmer over medium heat and continue to simmer gently for 3-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

IMG_3769 IMG_3769 IMG_3769 IMG_3769 IMG_3769 IMG_3808 IMG_3808~Step 5.  Spray a large two-burner-sized grill pan with nonstick cooking spray.  Place the pan on stovetop, over two burners, over medium-high heat.  Place the skewers, side-by-side, and cook until sizzling and lightly-golden, turning only once, 3-3 1/2 minutes per side.  Serve hot, warm or room temperature.

Plate, garnish & serve hot, warm or at room temperature:

IMG_3825There's no need for me try to sell you on how good these are:

IMG_3877Open Sesame:  Japanese Teriyaki Steak Skewers:  Recipe yields 3 cups teriyaki sauce and 30-36 teriyaki-steak skewers.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; 1-quart saucepan; small whisk; cutting board; chef's knife; 30-36, 8" long wooden skewers; 2, 1-quart food storage containers, the reusable kind left from store-bought granola and various snacks;  large, 2-burner-sized grill pan placed on the stovetop 

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c86dc1e7970bCook's Note: Here in my Pennsylvania kitchen, my family prefers their teriyaki steak threaded onto skewers and cooked on the grill or grill pan.  When it comes to their teriyaki chicken, they prefer it presented stir-fry style.  Click on this link to get my recipe for ~ Dinner's in 20 Minutes:  Teriyaki Chicken ~.

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

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

01/25/2024

~ Deli Corned Beef on Swirl with Sauerkraut & Swiss ~

IMG_3673The Reuben sandwich.  I crave one once or twice a year.  And when I do, I don't waste time baking homemade rye bread, slow-cooking corned beef, long-simmering sauerkraut, or, whisking salad dressing.  I don't try to save time by ordering delivery or take out either -- I don't live anywhere close to a NY-style deli that can begin to make this sandwich the way I like it.  I take the 10-minute drive to the grocery store, pick up the ingredients and pass through the express checkout.  Store-bought everything is fine.  In about 45-minutes, including the drive time, I am eating my sandwich -- heaped with thin folds of meat and sloppy with sauerkraut, gooey cheese and creamy dressing on butter-crisped bread -- and I don't end up with a lot of leftover anything.  

When it comes to the combination of complex, briney flavors people expect on a Reuben, it's best to stick to simple, straight-forward, and most-importantly:  familiar.

IMG_3700The classic Reuben sandwich consists of rye bread, Swiss cheese, thinly sliced/shaved corned beef, sauerkraut and Russian dressing. The Rachel sandwich is a variation that substitutes pastrami for the corned beef, and, Thousand-Island-dressed-coleslaw for the sauerkraut and Russian dressing. Someone, somewhere, decided turkey would be a viable substitute for corned beef or pastrami when making a Rachel, so, if turkey is your thing, order your Rachel that way.

6a0120a8551282970b015391ee84b6970bAs you know, I usually like to do a little research about the history of the recipes I share with you.  I thought the story behind the classic Reuben would be interesting and straight-forward: Most likely named after someone named Reuben who accidentally put some sauerkraut on a corned beef sandwich and made history.  I was wrong. Official claim to the name of this sandwich has been in dispute for 90+ years. In my opinion, two claims seem to have some share in its name, but I lean towards Claim to Fame #1. You be your own judge and jury:

Claim to Fame #1:  Reuben Kulakofsky, a Lithuanian grocer from Omaha created a sandwich consisting of corned beef, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut on Russian rye bread for his poker buddies.  From 1920-1935, "the committee" as they called themselves, played weekly poker at The Blackstone Hotel.  The hotel's owner, Charles Schimmel was a member of the group. Schimmel put the sandwich on the hotel's lunch menu and named if after its creator, "Reuben". In 1956, Fern Snider, a former waitress at the Blackstone entered "The Reuben" in a national sandwich competition and she won.  I, for one, am grateful to Fern for doing that.

Claim to Fame #2:  Arnold Reuben, a German owner of Reuben's Delicatessen in New York City, invented the "Reuben's Special" in 1914. Late one night, a leading lady and close friend of Charlie Chaplin came into the deli and said, "Reuben, please make me a huge sandwich.  I'm so hungry I could eat a brick." The sandwich he presented to her consisted of:  rye bread, Virginia ham, roast turkey, Swiss cheese, cole slaw and his own house-made Russian dressing.  Upon tasting it, the lady said, "Reuben, this is the best sandwich I ever ate.  You should call it the Annette Seelos Special."  Reuben replied, "The hell I will, I'm calling it the Reuben's Special".

IMG_3592A bit about sauerkraut:  Although sauerkraut (German for "sour cabbage") is thought of as a German invention, Chinese laborers building The Great Wall of China over 2,000 years ago ate it as standard fare.  Chinese sauerkraut, made from shredded cabbage fermented in rice wine, eventually found its way to Europe, where the Germans and Alsatians adopted it as a favorite staple. Today's sauerkraut is made in the same manner: by combining shredded cabbage, salt and some spices, then allowing the mixture to ferment.  It is packaged in jars and cans and is found in almost every supermarket.  The best sauerkraut is sold by the pound in delicatessens, as well as in the refrigerated section of grocery stores, where it is packaged in plastic bags.  All sauerkraut should be rinsed in cold water before being served as a side-dish, being cooked in casseroles, or, topping sandwiches.

IMG_3628For each deli-style sandwich:

2  slices Pepperidge Farm swirl bread (rye and pumpernickel)

2  tablespoons salted butter

4 ounces shredded Danish Havarti cheese, or Swiss cheese

6  ounces thin-sliced corned beef

4  ounces sauerkraut 

4  teaspoons Russian dressing

IMG_3608For 1 pound (2 cups) sauerkraut:

1  pound deli-style sauerkraut

1/2  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

4 tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick butter)

1/2  teaspoon caraway seeds

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_3596For 1 1/2 cups "Russian" Dressing:

IMG_3599Thousand Islands and Russian dressings are similar, with Russian dressing having a spicy edge.  To mimic it:

3/4  cup 1000 Island Dressing

1/2  cup Heinz chili sauce

1  tablespoon prepared, white horseradish

IMG_3602Stir dressing, chili sauce & horseradish together and set aside while preparing sauerkraut and sandwiches.  Refrigerate leftovers.

IMG_3610 IMG_3610 IMG_3610 IMG_3610 IMG_3610 IMG_3610~Step 1.  Place the sauerkraut in a colander. Thoroughly rinse it under cold water.  Allow it to drain for about 5 minutes.  In a large skillet, melt butter over low heat.  Stir in the caraway seeds, sea salt and black pepper pepper.  Add the diced onion.  Adjust heat to sauté for 3 minutes.  Add the sauerkraut, give the mixture a thorough stir, and continue to sauté, stirring frequently for 6 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Note:  Technically, once  taken out of the package, drained, and rinsed, sauerkraut is fully-cooked and ready to eat.  That said, it's awesome when briefly sautéed with some butter, onion and seasonings.  Skip this step and use it "as is', right out of the colander if that is your preference. 

IMG_3632 IMG_3632 IMG_3632 IMG_3632 IMG_3632 IMG_3632~Step 2.  Cut two slices of bread in half to form 4 pieces.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over low heat.    Add bread to the skillet and increase heat to medium-high, to gently fry, until slices are lightly golden on both sides, 45-60 seconds per side.  Transfer the lightly-toasted bread to a paper towel lined plate. 

IMG_3651 IMG_3651 IMG_3651 IMG_3651 IMG_3651 IMG_3651~Step 3.  Top two of the halves with 2 ounces grated cheese, followed by 3 ounces corned beef, followed by 2 ounces sauerkraut.  Place the untopped halves on top of each to form sandwich halves.  Place on an appropriately-sized baking pan that has been lined with parchment, or, a disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom).  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven or toaster oven, until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 4 minutes.  Remove from oven, lift the top slice of bread from each half sandwich and drizzle with Russian dressing.  Serve immediately with pickles and potato chips.

Lift up the lids (tops) & drizzle w/Russian dressing:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed603d970dIndulge in crunchy, cheesy, meaty, briny brilliance:

IMG_3718Deli Corned Beef on Swirl with Sauerkraut & Swiss:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups Russian dressing, 2 cups sauerkraut, and, instructions to make as many Reuben sandwiches as you want to make.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; spoon; colander; cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides, or large skillet; large spoon; hand-held box grater; 10" nonstick skillet; paper towels; kitchen scale (optional but helpful); appropriately-sized baking pan; parchment paper or toaster-oven sized disposable aluminum broiler pan

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d26416b1970c-800wiCook's Note: I put my ~ Pretty in Pink:  Thousand Island Dressing ~ on deli-style and my own oven-roasted chicken and turkey sandwiches all the time.  To use it in a Rachel Sandwich made with turkey or pastrami, simply use it to dress a bag of store-bought coleslaw mix -- it's truly yummy.

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

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

01/20/2024

~ Say Cheese Please: Making Perfect Welsh Rarebit ~

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d01ceb970cWelsh rarebit -- the original cheese toast.  It's worth mention that I've only eaten what I believe to be the real-deal once.  It was in the latter 1990's, in Wales, in the exquisite Coed-Y-Mwstwr Hotel (coy-dee-moo-ster).   It came to me as a complimentary side to a lovely salad (which I ordered after returning from shopping in the city of Cardiff).  The cheese toast, along with everything else in this hotel, was perfect.  I kicked off my high-heels and enjoyed it in my lavish room, overlooking the How-Green-was-My-Valley countryside, with a very English G&T too.

I gave cheese toast a lot more thought after that trip.  

IMG_3077Welsh rarebit or rabbit = molten cheese on toast. 

Welsh rarebit (pronounced rabbit) is a traditional British dish made by ladling a thickened, sometimes roux-based, cheese sauce over crustless, thick-sliced ever-so-slightly-toasted bread, then quickly broiling the two until the sauce is bubbling and barely-light-golden.  Basic rarebit sauce is made by melting a hard English cheese (like cheddar, gloucester, cheshire or lancashire) with cayenne pepper, English mustard, a splash of Worcestershire sauce, milk and beer.  Another, easier (cheaters) method, it to simply melt sliced cheese atop lightly-toasted bread that has been slathered with mixture of softened butter, mustard, Worcestershire and cayenne pepper. 

Welsh rabbit is the original name, and, the dish is Welsh in origin, dating back to the 1700's.  The Welsh, who are famous for their love of cheese, claim to be among the first to use cheese in various dishes and sauces.  In their food world, the original name, rabbit, was an affectionate way to say, "we prefer eating cheese to eating rabbit".  In their real world, Wales was an impoverished nation and many a Welshman couldn't afford even the cheapest meat.  Others claim the original name, after making its way into English kitchens, was meant to cast aspersions on the Welsh, who were allegedly not adept at catching rabbits -- and "rabbit" changed to "rarebit" spurred by the need for political correctness.  Still others claim the Welsh peasants, who weren't allowed to eat the rabbits caught during the hunts on the estates of the nobles, eating melted cheese and bread as a substitute, named the dish.  Culinary authorities, like Auguste Escoffier, say the spelling was changed from "rabbit" to "rarebit" merely to emphasize it not being a meat dish.

IMG_29932  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons flour

1   teaspoon dry English mustard

1  teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2  teaspoon onion salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2  cup milk

1/2  cup beer, your favorite brand 

1 1/4  cups shredded yellow cheddar cheese

1/2"-thick slices brioche-type bread*, preferably my recipe for bread machine brioche

*Note:  Ordinary soft, white sandwich bread will not work in this recipe.  Prior to toasting and broiling, the bread needs to be firm enough to hold the weight of the cheese and not get soggy.

IMG_2995 IMG_2995 IMG_2995~ Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, combine the milk, beer and Worcestershire sauce.  Set aside.  Place the flour in a small bowl and add the dry English mustard, onion salt and cayenne pepper.  Set aside.

IMG_3006 IMG_3006 IMG_3006 IMG_3006 IMG_3015 IMG_3015 IMG_3015 IMG_3015 IMG_3015 IMG_3015~Step 2.  Melt the butter in a 1 1/2-quart saucepan over low heat.  Add the flour and spices.  Whisk constantly for 1 full minute.  Add the milk mixture. Adjust heat to simmer. Whisk constantly until nicely-thickened, about 3 minutes.  Turn the heat off and add the cheese. Whisk until cheese is melted and a thick, drizzly sauce has formed.  

IMG_3038~ Step 3.  Remove from heat.  There will be 1 1/2 cups of cheese sauce. Use immediately to make classic Welsh rarebit (as directed below), or, a Welsh rarebit fondue.  Cheese sauce can be made a day or three ahead, covered, and kept stored in the refrigerator.  Reheat gently in the microwave or on the stovetop, stirring frequently.  Do not freeze.

IMG_3039 IMG_3039 IMG_3039 IMG_3039 IMG_3039 IMG_3039~Step 4.  For each serving of classic Welsh rarebit, from the loaf of brioche, cut two 1/2"-thick slices of bread, then, trim the crust.  Ever-so-lightly-toast the bread.  Remove bread from toaster and place on a baking pan that has been lined with parchment.  Place and spread two tablespoons of the rarebit sauce over the surface of each slice, stopping just short of the edges.  Place pan on a rack positioned 5" underneath the broiler and cook until bubbly, about 3 minutes.  Garnish with minced parsley or chives.

Serve ASAP -- while hot & bubbling.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d01e02970cPick up a knife & stick a fork in it:

IMG_3085Say Cheese Please:  Making Perfect Welsh Rarebit:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups Welsh rarebit sauce, enough to coat 12 standard-sized slices bread.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held box grater; 1-cup measuring container; 1 1/2-quart saucepan; whisk; cutting board; serrated bread knife; appropriately-sized baking pan; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b019aff73c661970bCook's Note:  Cheddar cheese sauce in general is really easy to make.  It only takes about five minutes, so please refrain from purchasing the store-bought glop. Even though I don't think vegetables need any livening up, it was one of my secret weapons to get our boys to eat their veggies.  Try ~ My Basic Cheddar Cheese Sauce for Vegetables ~.  This recipe is kid tested and mother approved.

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

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

01/15/2024

~ Well-Seasoned Vegetarian Vegetable & Bean Soup ~

IMG_2977I adore our country's famous Senate bean soup  -- chocked full of navy beans, shards of meat from ham hocks or shanks, onion and celery.  Everything from its rich history to is smokey flavor and creamy texture is perfection -- I've even had the pleasure of eating in the Senate dining room in Washington, D.C.  That said, I have vegetarian friends -- not many, but, they enjoy making their presence known in my kitchen.  When they do, I'm happy to go meatless for a few hours.  Yesterday was one such afternoon.  A pot of this relatively-easy-to-make vegetarian version of my senate bean soup, a rustic loaf of whole-grain bread with a big wedge of herbed-brie, and, of course, a bottle of white wine.  It was a lovely way to fritter away a snowy afternoon.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c873f614970bI won't lie, I'm not a snob when it comes to canned beans.  They're a time-saving convenience.  My pantry contains a nice variety of beans, both dried and canned.  Like all conveniences, pound for pound, canned beans are more expensive than dried ones, but they hardly fall into the category of "pricey". There's more:  Both canned and dried are healthy. There is little nutritional difference between canned and dried beans (about the same amount of fiber, protein and calories), except for sodium content: canned = 450 mg./dried = 0 mg.

Note:  1 pound of dried beans (depending upon type and size), yields approximately 2 1/3-2 1/2 cups dried beans.  1  pound of dried beans after soaking overnight (depending upon type and size), yields approximately 5-5 1/2 cups of soaked beans -- when soaked, beans double in size. For "how to" instructions read my post ~ Quick-Soaking Dried Beans vs. Overnight Soaking ~.

Everybody into the pot:  One-Step Vegetarian Bean Soup.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09e7cbad970d1 1/2  quarts homemade vegetable stock, or, Kitchen Basics unsalted vegetable stock (6 cups)

IMG_29713  40-ounce cans great northern beans, undrained (each 40-ounce can of beans contains about 1 1/2 cups of liquid and 4 cups pre-cooked, via the canning process, cooked-in-the-can-beans)

1  tablespoon minced garlic, or, 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder

2  cups peeled and small-diced carrots 

2  cups small-diced celery 

2  cups small-diced onion

4  cups peeled and small-diced gold potatoes 

1  cup, minced, fresh parsley 

4  whole bay leaves

4  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarsely-ground or cracked black pepper

1 1/2  teaspoons poultry seasoning

IMG_2943 IMG_2943 IMG_2943 IMG_2943 IMG_2965 IMG_2965~Step 1.  Prep and place all ingredients in an 8-quart stockpot.  Using a large spoon, give it a thorough stir.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer, partially cover the stockpot and continue to simmer for 1 - 1 1/2 hours, stopping to stir every 10-15 minutes.  Turn the heat off. Cover the pot and set aside to steep for 2 - 2 1/2 hours, or overnight, for flavors to marry.

Simple, Straightforward & Scrumptious.  Serve:

IMG_2990Well-Seasoned Vegetarian Vegetable & Soup:  Recipe yields 6 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 8-quart stockpot w/lid

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fccf9945970bCook's Note:  While any bean soup is comfort food at its best on a cold Winter's day, some of my fondest memories are of eating it (out of a styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon) in the Summer at church picnics, backyard barbecues, block parties, family reunions and my father's workplace's annual company clambake.  My mom's recipe for, ~ A Hearty Fifteen-Bean Ham & Vegetable Soup ~, made from dried beans, is worth the extra effort.

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

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

01/10/2024

~ Filling, Braiding & Baking Store-Bought Puff Pastry ~

IMG_2263Everyone loves a home-baked sweet or savory pie or quiche, but, for those times when you are out of time, or, just don't want to take the time, from appetizers to entrées to desserts, making a puff pastry braid using store-bought puff pastry is a valuable skill to have.  As long as you play by the rules, they bake up perfectly 100% of the time.  What are the rules?  I'm glad you asked.

My three basic rules/guidelines for filling a pastry braid:

IMG_2269 IMG_2315 IMG_24961)  With the exception of the obvious (any liquid or liquid concoction that pours or flows), any solid ingredient, or a  concoction of ingredients with a sticky or gluey viscosity, can be used as a filling for a puff pastry braid.  Almost anything you can wrap your head around:  meat, poultry, seafood, cheese, fruit, vegetables, chocolate, nuts, etc.  

IMG_2194 IMG_2194 IMG_25342)  The filling can be added to the pastry by stacking and layering thin slices or strips of one or more ingredients on top of each other, or, by spooning a mixture of minced or diced ingredients into the center, or a combination of doing both.  That said, any ingredient that won't fully-cook or soften to an edible texture in a 375° oven in 18-20 minutes, or, any ingredient that will exude a lot of moisture as it cooks, needs to be cooked or semi-cooked first.  For example:  Adding raw sausage or ground beef will render the braid greasy/watery, and, 18-20 minutes is not enough time for a raw apple or pear to fully-cook.  

IMG_2189 IMG_2189 IMG_21893)  Lastly, never overstuff a puff pastry braid.  The size of the puff pastry sheet matters, and, the sheets I use are 8 1/2"-ounce, 9" x 9" tri-folded squares exclusively.  For stacked and layered fillings, go no higher than 1 1/2".  For sticky concoctions, no more than 2-2 1/4 total cups, and, mound the filling towards the center.

My method of braiding & baking a puff pastry braid:

IMG_2500No special tools are required to make a puff pastry braid.  Ideally, a large 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan lined with parchment paper, a 6" ruler and a paring knife (for measuring and scoring the pastry), and a pastry brush (for applying the egg wash), should all be on-hand in your kitchen.

IMG_2146 IMG_2149 IMG_2149 IMG_2149 IMG_2159~Step 1.  Remove pastry from packaging and place, lengthwise, on prepared baking pan.  Using fingertips, carefully open the tri-folded sheet.  Where the pastry was folded, will define three, even-sized thirds, each approximately 9"L x 3"W.  Using a paring knife and a ruler, slice 3"L x 1/2"W "tabs" along the lower and upper thirds of the pastry (18 tabs on each third of the pastry), leaving the center third (which is where the filling will go) uncut.  If at any time while you are slicing the tabs, the pastry gets sticky, return pan to refrigerator for 5-6 minutes to firm it up again (and again).  Cutting the tabs is very easy if pastry is kept cold.

IMG_2201 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09e5c67b970d-120wi 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09e5c67b970d-120wi 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09e5c67b970d-120wi~Step 2.  Once the filling has been layered and placed in the center third of the pastry (as per the recipe's directions), starting at one end and working all the way to the other, alternately crisscross the tabs up and over filling (as pictured in rule/guideline 2).  When you get to the end, trim and remove the last two tabs of pastry, along with any excess scraps of pastry.  As per ~ Step 1, if the tabs get sticky or start to stick to the pan, refrigerate for 5-6 minutes, then proceed.  Tuck the ragged edges evenly underneath the pastry braid. Use the two trimmed tabs and ragged edges to seal the open end where you started.  Both ends will now be sealed and tucked -- the ends don't have to look perfect.  Trust me, the patchwork puff pastry will bake up to be picture perfect.

IMG_2215 IMG_2215 IMG_2239~Step 3.  In a small bowl, whisk 1 egg and 1 tablespoon water together. Using a pastry brush, lightly paint egg wash over the entire surface of the puff pastry braid.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375° oven, 18-20 minutes. Pastry will be golden brown and bubbling and filling might be starting to bubble from the nooks and crannies. Remove from oven and cool on pan 30-45 minutes.  Use a spatula to aid in transferring to a serving plate prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.

IMG_2411A bit about store-bought puff pastry sheets:  

IMG_2267For home cooks who like to entertain, don't like to entertain, or, simply don't have a lot of time to entertain, store-bought puff pastry is a high-quality, time-saving ingredient -- especially during the holiday season.  As one who takes the better part of two days to make real-deal, all-butter, high-quality-butter, puff-pastry from scratch (to make Danish for special occasions), trust me, for certain culinary applications, store-bought puff-pastry is a relatively small compromise I am willing to make.  There's two boxes stashed in my freezer at all times.

Like many, I discovered puff pastry sheets in the 1980's.  Grocery stores were becoming grocery chains, which expanded our choices and selections of long established and new products exponentially.  Cooks embraced this product, and, before long, we were all using it in creative ways to make appetizers, entrées and desserts.  Here's three of my favorites:

Appetizer:  Cloudberry Jam, Brie & Almond Braid.

IMG_2290Entrée:  Sweet Sausage, Apple & Cheddar Braid.

IMG_2453Dessert:  Swiss Chocolate, Cherry & Almond Braid.

IMG_2595

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

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

01/05/2024

~Swiss Chocolate, Cherry & Almond Puff Pastry Braid~

IMG_2595Imagine eating a freshly-baked, still-warm chocolate croissant at your favorite coffee shop.  Just thinking about one of those divinely decadent indulgences makes me happy.   Now imagine it super-sized, more than enough to feed four, with sweet cherries and crunchy almonds added to it too.  Need I say more?  Valentine's Day will be here before we know it, and, if you're looking to surprise the chocolate lover in your life with something truly sweet, stash the ingredients on this list in your pantry and freezer, then, start counting the days to February 14th.  Tick, tock.    

IMG_2522From appetizers to entrées to desserts...

IMG_2263... making a puff pastry braid is a valuable skill to have.

IMG_2267For home cooks who like to entertain, don't like to entertain, or, simply don't have a lot of time to entertain, store-bought puff pastry is a high-quality, time-saving ingredient -- especially during the holiday season.  As one who takes the better part of two days to make real-deal, all-butter, high-quality-butter, puff-pastry from scratch (to make Danish for special occasions), trust me, for certain culinary applications, store-bought puff-pastry is a relatively small compromise I am willing to make.  There's two boxes stashed in my freezer at all times.  

Like many, I discovered puff pastry sheets in the 1980's.  Grocery stores were becoming grocery chains, which expanded our choices and selections of long established and new products exponentially.  Cooks embraced this product, and, before long, we were all using it in creative ways to make appetizers, entrées and desserts.  Here's one of my desserts:

IMG_24961  8 1/2-ounce, 9" x 9" store-bought & tri-folded puff pastry sheet

1  3 1/2-ounce bar Lindt bittersweet chocolate, chopped into pieces

1  21-ounce can cherry pie filling, or, my Seriously Simple Stovetop Sour Cherry Pie Filling

1/4  cup lightly-toasted slivered almonds 

1  large egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water, to be used as an egg wash for assembled pastry braid

IMG_2136 IMG_2136 IMG_2502~ Step 1.  Place slivered almonds on a small baking pan.  Roast on center rack of preheated 375° oven, until lightly-toasted and fragrant, 5-6 minutes, stopping to stir the almonds around in pan half way through the process (so they brown evenly).  Remove from oven and set aside to cool to room temperature, about 15-20 minutes.  Using a large chef's knife, chop the chocolate into small bits and pieces.  Set aside.

IMG_2146 IMG_2146 IMG_2146 IMG_2156 IMG_2159~Step 2.  Remove pastry from packaging and place, lengthwise, on prepared baking pan.  Using fingertips, carefully open the tri-folded sheet.  Where the pastry was folded, will define three, even-sized thirds, each approximately 9"L x 3"W.  Using a paring knife and a ruler, slice 3"L x 1/2"W "tabs" along the lower and upper thirds of the pastry (18 tabs on each third of the pastry), leaving the center third (which is where the filling will go) uncut.  If at any time while you are slicing the tabs, the pastry gets sticky, return pan to refrigerator for 5-6 minutes to firm it up again (and again).  Cutting the tabs is very easy if the pastry is cold.

IMG_2507 IMG_2507 IMG_2507 IMG_2507~Step 3.  Scatter the chocolate, in a single layer, over the center third of the pastry sheet. Sprinkle the almonds over the chocolate.  Place the cherry pie filling in a bowl, and working a couple of tablespoons at a time, remove and scoop the cherries from the pie filling over the chocolate, mounding it towards the center -- discard the excess red cornstarch glop remaining in bowl.  

IMG_2524 IMG_2524 IMG_2524 IMG_2524 IMG_2524 IMG_2524~Step 4.  Starting at one end and working all the way to the other, alternately crisscross the tabs up and over filling.  When you get to the end, trim and remove the last two tabs of pastry, along with any excess scraps of pastry. As per ~ Step 4, if the tabs get sticky or start to stick to the pan, refrigerate for 5-6 minutes, then proceed.  Tuck the ragged edges evenly underneath the pastry braid. Use the two trimmed tabs and ragged edges to seal the open end where you started.  Both ends will now be sealed and tucked -- the ends don't have to look perfect, the patchwork puff pastry will bake up to be picture perfect.

IMG_2210 IMG_2210 IMG_2210 IMG_2210 IMG_2563 IMG_2568 IMG_2568~Step 5.  In a small bowl, whisk the second egg and water together.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint egg wash over the entire surface of the puff pastry braid.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375° oven, 18-20 minutes. Pastry will be golden brown and bubbling and cherry juices will be starting to bubble from the nooks and crannies. Remove from oven and cool on pan 30-45 minutes.  Use a spatula to aid in transferring to a serving plate prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.

Cool this culinary work of art 15-20 minutes...

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c942a322970b... prior to slicing & serving warm or at room temperature.

IMG_2606Indulge in each & every divinely, decadent bite: 

IMG_2611Swiss Chocolate, Cherry & Almond Puff Pastry Braid:  Recipe yields 8-10 appetizer-sized desserts/4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  small baking pan; cutting board; chef's knife; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; paring knife; fork; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b017c32320db8970b 6a0120a8551282970b017d3c582479970cCook's Note: An  elegant entrée, which pairs perfectly with today's dessert, is :  ~ My Love Affair with: Individual Beef Wellingtons ~.

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

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

12/30/2023

~ Sweet Sausage, Apple & Cheddar Puff Pastry Braid ~

IMG_2453We all have our favorite breakfast and brunch casserole recipes -- I'd be lost without mine. They taste great, they're typically relatively easy and budget-friendly to prepare, and some can even be made ahead (mornings are hard enough as it is), but, let's be honest: casseroles aren't elegant. They're low-key, family-style, comfort food -- the blue jeans of the food world.  Newsflash:  Occasionally, it's necessary to dress up for a special occasion -- and that extends to the food.  If I told you I have a small repertoire of AM meals that make a stunning presentation, taste as good as they look, and, are relatively easy to prepare, would you want the recipes?  I thought so.

From appetizers to entrées to desserts...

IMG_2263... making a puff pastry braid is a valuable skill to have.

IMG_2267For home cooks who like to entertain, don't like to entertain, or, simply don't have a lot of time to entertain, store-bought puff pastry is a high-quality, time-saving ingredient -- especially during the holiday season.  As one who takes the better part of two days to make real-deal, all-butter, high-quality-butter, puff-pastry from scratch (to make Danish for special occasions), trust me, for certain culinary applications, store-bought puff-pastry is a relatively small compromise I am willing to make.  There's two boxes stashed in my freezer at all times.  

Like many, I discovered puff pastry sheets in the 1980's.  Grocery stores were becoming grocery chains, which expanded our choices and selections of long established and new products exponentially.  Cooks embraced this product, and, before long, we were all using it in creative ways to make appetizers, entrées and desserts.  Here's one of my entrées:

IMG_23151  8 1/2-ounce, 9" x 9" store-bought & tri-folded puff pastry sheet

8  ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed

1/2  cup 1/4"-diced yellow or sweet onion

1/2-3/4  cup  1/4"-1/2" diced peeled and diced Granny Smith apple

1/2  teaspoon apple pie spice

1  cup shredded white sharp cheddar cheese

1  large egg, for mixing into sausage mixture

1  large egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water, to be used as an egg wash for assembled pastry braid

~ Step 1.  Preheat oven to 375°.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment. Grate the cheese, then return it to the refrigerator.  Dice the onion and apple as directed and set aside.

IMG_2318 IMG_2318 IMG_2318 IMG_2318 IMG_2318 IMG_2334 IMG_2334~Step 2.  Using your fingertips,  pull the sausage into small bits and pieces, adding them to a 10" nonstick skillet as you work.  Add the diced onion to skillet.  Over medium- medium-high heat, sauté, stirring frequently with a nonstick spatula, until sausage is cooked through (without browning) and onion is soft and translucent, about 6-8 minutes.  Add the diced apple and apple pie spice.  Continue to sauté, stirring constantly until apple is just beginning to soften, about 2-2 1/2 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool to almost room temperature, about 30 minutes. -- or longer.

IMG_2341 IMG_2341 IMG_2341 IMG_2341 IMG_2351~Step 3.  To mix the filling, transfer the cooled sausage mixture to a large bowl.  Add the grated cheese and stir until cheese is evenly incorporated throughout sausage.  

In a small bowl, use a fork to whisk one of the eggs.  Add the whisked egg to the sausage mixture, and, using your hands, mix the mixture, as you would a meatloaf.  Set the filling aside while prepping the puff pastry as directed below:

IMG_2146 IMG_2146 IMG_2146 IMG_2146 IMG_2159~Step 4.  Remove pastry from packaging and place, lengthwise, on prepared baking pan.  Using fingertips, carefully open the tri-folded sheet.  Where the pastry was folded, will define three, even-sized thirds, each approximately 9"L x 3"W.  Using a paring knife and a ruler, slice 3"L x 1/2"W "tabs" along the lower and upper thirds of the pastry (18 tabs on each third of the pastry), leaving the center third (which is where the filling will go) uncut.  If at any time while you are slicing the tabs, the pastry gets sticky, return pan to refrigerator for 5-6 minutes to firm it up again (and again).  Cutting the tabs is very easy if the pastry is cold. 

IMG_2358 IMG_2358 IMG_2358 IMG_2358 IMG_2358 IMG_2358~Step 5.  Spoon and place the filling over the center third of the pastry sheet, mounding it towards the center. Starting at one end and working all the way to the other, alternately crisscross the tabs up and over filling.  When you get to the end, trim and remove the last two tabs of pastry, along with any excess scraps of pastry. As per ~ Step 4, if the tabs get sticky or start to stick to the pan, refrigerate for 5-6 minutes, then proceed.  Tuck the ragged edges evenly underneath the pastry braid. Use the two trimmed tabs and ragged edges to seal the open end where you started.  Both ends will now be sealed and tucked -- the ends don't have to look perfect, the puff pastry will bake up beautifully.

IMG_2214 IMG_2214 IMG_2214 IMG_2389 IMG_2398 IMG_2398~Step 6.  In a small bowl, whisk the second egg and water together.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint egg wash over the entire surface of the puff pastry braid.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375° oven, 18-20 minutes.  Pastry will be golden brown and bubbling and cheese will be just short of oozing from the nooks and crannies. Remove from oven and cool on pan 15-20-30 minutes.  Use a spatula to aid in transferring to a serving plate prior to slicing and serving semi-hot, warm or at room temperature -- it's delish any way.

Cool this culinary work of art 15-20 minutes...

IMG_2432... prior to serving & serving warm or at room temp.

IMG_2466Enjoy every meaty, cheesy & fruity, bite:

IMG_2486Sweet Sausage, Apple & Cheddar Puff Pastry Braid:  Recipe yields 8-10 appetizers/4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; hand-held box grater; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; nonstick spatula; paring knife; fork; pastry brush

IMG_2286Cook's Note: For a companion puff pastry braid to serve with your sausage, apple and cheddar pastry braid, allow me to suggest my ~ Cloudberry Jam, Brie & Almond Puff Pastry Braid ~ and ring in the New Year with this pair!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

12/25/2023

~ Cloudberry Jam, Brie, Almond & Puff Pastry Braid ~

IMG_2290Circa 1980-1985 -- better known as the cloudberry jam period of my life.  One of my husband's business associates (a man from Norway temporarily working here in Happy Valley) introduced us to a Norwegian specialty: small squares of grilled bread cheese topped with cloudberry jam.  It was served as an appetizer at a cocktail hosted by Rolf and his Swedish wife. I fell in love with this cheesy treat immediately -- and said so.  When I reciprocated the invitation, I was gifted a jar of the jam, a small brick of bread cheese, plus, a tin of stroopwaffes as a hostess gift.

From appetizers to entrées to desserts...

IMG_2263... making a puff pastry braid is a valuable skill to have.

6a0120a8551282970b0177447f484f970dFor several years, I ordered cloudberry jam, six at a clip, via State College's Cheese Shoppe.  I served it with crackers and soft, mild cheeses, like Brie and St. Andre (bread cheese was not readily available to me at the time), at my own parties.  Nowadays cloudberry jam is available on line.  It's still pricey, about $15.00 a jar, but, for a holiday or special occasion indulgence, it's well worth the cost.  

6a0120a8551282970b0177447f3491970d-800wiIt's only recently (within the past 4-5 years) that I've started noticing vacuum-packed, inexpensive, bread cheese being sold in our local grocery stores (Wegman's and Weis to be exact.).  

A bit about cloudberries:  This wild plant, with a very short growing season, grows naturally in cool/cold mountainous regions of the Northern Hemisphere (like Canada and Alaska) and in the Nordic countries 1024px-Cloudberriesof the Baltic states.  The berries, a bit resemblant of raspberries, are soft, juicy and rich in vitamin C. They're used to make jam, juice, cakes, tarts, tea and liqueur.   In Finland, they use the jam as a topping for the above-named squeaky cheese (the nickname for bread cheese).  In Sweden, cloudberry jam is used as a topping for ice cream, pancakes and waffles -- although I much prefer it with cheese.  In Norway, they sometimes mix the jam with whipped cream to make a dessert called "multekrem", or, "cloudberry cream".  Alaskans mix the berries with reindeer or caribou fat, fish oil and sugar to make "akutaq" or "Eskimo ice cream" (now doesn't that just sound appetizingly wonderful) -- not.

IMG_2267A bit about store-bought puff pastry sheets:

For home cooks who like to entertain, don't like to entertain, or, simply don't have a lot of time to entertain, store-bought puff pastry is a high-quality, time-saving ingredient -- especially during the holiday season.  As one who makes all-butter, high-quality-butter, puff-pastry from scratch (to make Danish for special occasions), trust me, for certain culinary applications, store-bought puff-pastry is a relatively small compromise I am willing to make.  There's two boxes stashed in my freezer at all times.  Like many of my friends, I discovered puff pastry sheets in the 1980's. Grocery stores were becoming grocery chains, which expanded our choices and selections of established and new products exponentially.  Cooks embraced this product, and, before long, we were all using it in creative ways to make appetizers, entrées and desserts.  Here's one of my appetizers:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9415ec4970b1  8 1/2-ounce, 9" x 9" store-bought & tri-folded puff pastry sheet

6  tablespoons cloudberry jam

8  ounce wedge of Brie, cold

1/4  cup lightly-toasted slivered almonds

1  large egg whisked with 1 tablespoon water, to be used as an egg wash for the entirely assembled pastry braid just before baking

IMG_2130 IMG_2130~ Step 1.  Preheat oven to 375°.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper. Remove Brie from refrigerator.  Without removing packaging (it's easier to slice), cut into 1/4"-thick slices, alternating cutting from the right and left side of the wedge as you slice.  Remove and discard the packaging.  Return Brie to refrigerator.

IMG_2136 IMG_2136~ Step 2.   Place slivered almonds on a small baking pan.  Roast on center rack of preheated 375° oven, until lightly-toasted and fragrant, 5-6 minutes, stopping to stir the almonds around in pan half way through the process (so they brown evenly).  Remove from oven and set aside to cool to room temperature, about 15-20 minutes.

IMG_2146 IMG_2146 IMG_2146 IMG_2146 IMG_2159~Step 3.  Remove pastry from packaging and place, lengthwise, on prepared baking pan.  Using fingertips, carefully open the tri-folded sheet.  Where the pastry was folded, will define three, even-sized thirds, each approximately 9"L x 3"W.  Using a paring knife and a ruler, slice 3"L x 1/2"W "tabs" along the lower and upper thirds of the pastry (18 tabs on each third of the pastry), leaving the center third (which is where the fillings will go) uncut.  If at any time while you are slicing the tabs, the pastry gets sticky, return pan to refrigerator for 5-6 minutes to firm it up again (and again).  Cutting the tabs is very easy if the pastry is cold.

IMG_2171 IMG_2171 IMG_2171 IMG_2171~Step 4.  Place and spread the cloudberry jam over the center third of the pastry sheet.  Arrange a layer of sliced cheese, lengthwise atop the jam.  Cut and arrange a second layer of cheese, atop and in the opposite direction of first layer.  Sprinkle the toasted almonds over the cheese.

IMG_2194 IMG_2194 IMG_2194 IMG_2194~Step 5.  Starting at one end and working all the way to the other, alternately crisscross the tabs up and over filling.  When you get to the end, trim and remove the last two tabs of pastry, along with any excess scraps of pastry.  As per ~ Step 3, if the tabs get sticky or start to stick to the pan, refrigerate for 5-6 minutes, then proceed.  Tuck the ragged edges evenly underneath the pastry braid. Use the two trimmed tabs and ragged edges to seal the open end where you started.  Both ends will now be sealed and tucked -- it doesn't have to be perfect, it will bake up beautifully.

IMG_2214 IMG_2214 IMG_2214 IMG_2214~Step 6.  In a small bowl, whisk the egg and water together.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint egg wash over the entire surface of the puff pastry braid.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375° oven, 18-20 minutes.  Pastry will be golden brown and bubbling and cheese will be just short of oozing from the nooks and crannies.  Remove from oven and cool on pan 15-20 minutes.  Use a spatula to transfer to serving plate prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.

Cool this culinary work of art 15-20 minutes...

IMG_2276... prior to slicing & serving warm or at room temp.

IMG_2306Enjoy every rich, delightfully-satisfying, beautiful bite: 

IMG_2296Appetizer:  Cloudberry Jam, Brie & Puff Pastry Braid:  Recipe yields 8-10 appetizers/4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef'ss knife; small baking pan; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; paring knife; ruler; fork; pastry brush; large metal spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01bb081b4532970d 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c77698ac970bCook's Note: It wasn't long before puff pastry was available to us cooks, not just in sheets, but in precut shells and cups.  They were another welcome convenience and I embraced them too.  This recipe gets served in baked puff pastry shells. try my recipe for this retro classic,  ~ Seafood Newburg: Shrimp, Scallops & Crabmeat ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

12/20/2023

~ Over-the-Top Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies ~

IMG_1287Amongst the foodie cravings I get, chocolate isn't in my top ten.  That said, I confess to a weakness for Reese's peanut butter cups and Snickers bars.  There's just something about the combination of mellow milk chocolate and salty peanuts or peanut butter that I find hard to resist. I love it enough to keep a bag of mini-Reese's cups and a bag of snack-sized peanut-butter Snickers bars in my freezer.  A bite-sized nibble of either one and I am a happy woman. 

0100bdaf-ad5f-4856-acc3-190309dea9b9Two things transpired this week:  I replenished my supply of mini-Reese's cups via Amazon. My candy delivery prompted me to get on the internet and search "Reese's peanut butter cup cookies".  I wanted to see if I could find something other than the original Peanut Butter Cup Cookies that I've made in the past, courtesy of Betty Crocker (pictured here).  I found several on the Hershey corporation's site -- a company website is a good place to start when looking to cook or bake using one of their products.  When I was finished perusing Hershey's recipes, I noticed three or four sites touting a recipe for Over-the-Top-Peanut-Butter-Cookies.  When the blogging community is giving accolades for a common recipe, and more importantly, crediting the source, that's a recipe I'm inclined to try.

The recipe originated at a blog called Real Mom Kitchen.  As Laura explains in her post:  in Utah there is a cookie shop by the name of Over the Top Cookies. Instead of mixing specialty ingredients, like unique candy pieces, into their cookie dough, they scatter them over the tops of the cookies (hence the name of their shop).  What Laura shared was her copycat recipe for their Peanut Butter Cup Collision Cookies -- a peanut butter cookie with peanut butter cups on top.

I wish this recipe had been around when my kids were young.

Besides adding my signature step-by-step photos and detailed instructions, the changes I made to Laura's recipe, while small, are worth noting:  I made the cookies smaller by using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop instead of a 2 1/2" ice-cream scoop (which Laura did not specify in her recipe).  My recipe yields 3 dozen, 3"-round cookies.  Laura's yields 18 larger cookies.  I did this for no other reason than a big cookie is too much richness in one sitting for me.  I chose to use crunchy peanut butter too -- a preference of mine.  To insure that all of my cookies baked up identically, I chose to chill each pan of cookie dough for exactly 15 minutes, as well as keep the chopped Reese's cups chilled too, prior to baking -- a technique I highly recommend to you.

IMG_11753/4  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft

1  cup sugar

1  cup light brown sugar

1  cup Jiff extra-crunchy peanut butter

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 1/4  teaspoons baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2  cups milk chocolate chips

45  mini-Reeses peanut butter cups

IMG_1177~ Step 1.  While the butter and eggs are coming to room temperature, unwrap, then chill the peanut butter cups for about an hour.  Once they are cold, which makes them easier to cut, slice each one into four pieces, placing the pieces in a  bowl as you work.  Place the bowl of chilled peanut butter cup pieces back in the refrigerator and keep them chilled for the entirety of the the mixing, and parts of the baking process, meaning:  remove them from the refrigerator on an as-needed basis as you bake.

IMG_1181 IMG_1181~Step 2.  In a large bowl, on medium-high speed of electric mixer, place and thoroughly combine butter, sugar, brown sugar, peanut butter, eggs and vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula, about 1 minute.

IMG_1187 IMG_1187 IMG_1187 IMG_1187~Step 3.  Remove the mixer.  Add the flour, baking soda and salt.  Using the rubber spatula, thoroughly fold in the the flour -- this will take a minute or two.  A thick, uniformly colored cookie dough will have formed.  Add and fold the milk chocolate chips into the cookie dough.

IMG_1200 IMG_1200 IMG_1200 IMG_1200~Step 4.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place 12 rounded-scoops of cookie dough, well-apart on each of 3, 17 1/2" x 11 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment paper (12 cookies on each pan).  Using the palm of your hand, slightly flatten the tops of the cookies.  When all cookies are on the pans and all the cookies are slightly flattened:

IMG_1221 IMG_1221 IMG_1221 IMG_1221 IMG_1234~Step 5.  Work one-pan-at-a-time, meaning:  Chill a pan of cookies in the refrigerator for 15 minutes. When first pan comes of out of refrigerator, place the second pan in. When the second pan comes out, place the third pan in.  When each pan comes out of refrigerator:  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven for 10 minutes -- cookies will be very soft but puffed through to their centers.  Remove from oven and lightly press 5 pieces of chilled and chopped Reese's cups into the top of each cookie.  Return to oven and bake an additional 3 1/2-4 minutes.  Cookies will be slightly brown around the edges.  Cool cookies, on pans, about 5 minutes, then use a spatula to transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.

Cool on pans 5 minutes.  Cool completely on wire rack.

IMG_1250Cooled Reese's will firm-up-slightly but remain pleasantly soft.

IMG_1262Milk chocolate and peanut butter nirvana:

IMG_1313Over-the-Top Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies:  Recipe yields 3 dozen, 3"-round cookies.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb094ab501970d-800wiCook's Note:  To make candy out of milk chocolate and peanut butter, I can't say enough about the recipe I was given by my friend and pastry chef from Ohio:  ~ Confection Perfection:  Theresa's Buckeye Candies ~.  There are a lot of recipes for these famous candies out there, but, they all pale in comparison to hers.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

12/15/2023

~ The Difference Between Chow Mein and Lo Mein ~

IMG_1891Chinese-American fare.  It's a favorite in our house.  About once a week, we either order take-out or delivery from our two favorite places, or, I take the time to make some.  Each of us has our favorite menu item -- the one that we crave and can't wait to plunge our chopsticks into.  For me, it's chow mein or lo mein -- two of China's most iconic dishes.  "What exactly is the difference between the two?"  When I got asked that very question last night, I decided to transcribe the discussion into a blog post today -- while it's still fresh on my mind and I have leftovers.

Mein = noodles.  Chow mein = fried noodles.  Lo mein = tossed noodles.

IMG_1925In a world full of famous Chinese dishes, chow mein and lo mein are two noodle dishes that every Chinese chef skillfully knows how to prepare, but, they're two that are hard for many non-Chinese cooks to distinguish between.  It's commonly thought the difference between the two lies in the type of noodle used. It's not.  The type of noodle is the same -- fresh Chinese Egg Noodles. Literally translated, "mein" means "noodles", "chow mein" means "fried noodles", and, "lo mein" means "tossed noodles" -- the exact same  noodles are used to make both.  

It's the way the noodles are cooked and used during the cooking process that distinguishes the two, but, depending upon the chef who's cooking the dish, or the preference of the person eating the dish, when placed side by side, the differences between how the two can look and taste range from almost identical to dramatically different.  It's all in the details.  Read on:

IMG_1883Similarities = Chinese egg noodles, stir-fried veggies, sauce & protein.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08b463ee970d-120wiA bit about Chinese Egg noodles:  The Chinese have an almost overwhelming variety of noodles to choose from.  Fresh Chinese egg noodles (the four most common being thin or wide wonton noodles, and, Hong-Kong-style chow mein noodles or lo mein noodles), found in all Asian markets (and larger grocery stores) are made with wheat flour and eggs and are yellow in color (which is often attributed to the addition of yellow dye).  Fresh egg noodles are also cooked to the point of only needing to be briefly reheated in a pot of simmering water or broth, and/or, tossed into a stir-fry at the beginning and/or end of the cooking process.  If kept sealed, they keep in the refrigerator about a week, and, once opened, for best results, should be used within 24 hours.

Chow mein and lo mein are 100% Chinese, although after the Chinese brought their recipes to America, they quickly got Americanized.  Initially, this was done out of necessity, using ingredients available to the area it was being prepared in, then, eventually, to suit the tastes of locals.

IMG_1902Example:  The chicken chow mein Americans have to come to expect to eat in our favorite Chinese-American restaurants -- a stewy melange of tender strips or chunks of velvety white chicken and crunch-tender celery, onions, bean sprouts, cabbage and water chestnuts enrobed in a lightly-colored soy and chicken-stock-based sauce -- it's beautifully monochromatic to look at and undeniably delicious.   It's also emblematic of 1950's Chinese-American food, and, there's almost nothing Chinese about it.  

6a0120a8551282970b019b0134f884970dPast the egg noodles, traditional Chinese versions contain a variety of stir-fried vegetables with a brown soy-based sauce, and, can contain beef, pork, chicken, seafood or tofu. When it comes to the protein, "velveting" is an ancient Chinese technique used to coat proteins to protect them from overcooking.  To learn how Chinese restaurant chefs achieve that signature "velvety" soft texture we all love, read my post  ~ How to Velvet (Tenderize) Protein the Chinese Way ~.  

Difference = the preparation of and when the noodles enter the dish.

In the case of chow mein, which means fried noodles, it implies a method in which the noodles are fried at the beginning of the cooking process, set aside, and then added back to the stir-fry at serving time: soft fried = authentic Chinese, crisp fried = Americanized.  The noodles get cooked twice.  As a result, the noodles do not absorb the sauce, which is why chow mein contains a judicious amount of sauce.  Americanized chow mein sauce is light in color and runny.  

In the case of lo mein, which means tossed noodles, it implies a method in which the egg noodles get tossed into the stir-fry at the end of the cooking process.  The noodles get cooked once.  As a result, the noodles absorb some sauce and stay soft while the other previously-cooked ingredients get distributed evenly throughout, which is why lo mein dishes contain a more generous amount of sauce.  American and Chinese lo mein sauce is dark in color and drizzly.

And now for something completely different -- Italian style?

IMG_1860In the case of canned chow mein (which was my first experience with Chinese food as a kid in the early 1960's), it was the creation of Jeno Paulucci, the son of Italian immigrants, who, oddly, had a notion that chow mien seasoned with Italian spices would cater to the palates of European immigrants.  In 1946, Chun King marketed his kettle stewed version -- the meat, seasonings and vegetables got dumped into a kettle and stewed for hours.  All the home cook had to do was put the contents into a saucepan and reheat the stew.  

Each portion got topped with some crispy store-bought chow mein noodles and dinner was served.  If he had paired his Italian-themed chow mein with a box of dried spaghetti-type chow-mein noodles that required boiling, I'd have spent my childhood eating Italian-themed lo mein too. Paulucci's company became so successful selling canned chow mein and chop suey (a similar dish, only served over steamed white rice) that President Gerald Ford quipped, "What could be more American than a business built on a good Italian recipe for chow mein and chop suey." Paulucci sold Chun King in 1966, then it was sold several more times, then dissolved in 1995.

Chow mein or lo mein?  I think I'll have a bit of both!

IMG_1901"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

12/10/2023

~ Cranberry and Soy Sauce Glazed Pork Loin Sliders ~

IMG_1415Intermittently halting the holiday preparations to interject an impromptu movie night into the festivities is a pleasant break from the upcoming hullabaloo.  Who doesn't love kicking back on the couch to watch a movie or two for a few hours -- for me, the feeling is akin to playing hookie from school. That said, coming up with a menu (after the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone and before the Christmas gluttony begins), is, in it's own small way, tricky -- for me, it's gotta be low-key, stress-free, easy, and, seriously over-the-top tasty.  A simple family-night -- we all need one.

Did you know that sweet and tart whole-berry cranberry sauce (the store-bought stuff), when whizzed in the blender along with a bit of soy sauce, some five-spice powder and sesame oil is a delightful marinade for pork tenderloins?  It is -- with a subtle Asian twist.  There's more.  After cooking a twenty-two pound turkey two weeks ago, and, prior to cooking a eighteen pound standing rib roast two weeks from now, marinating and roasting a package of pork tenderloins and mixing up a package of store-bought broccoli slaw is the culinary equivalent of: easy street.

Part One:  Mixing the Marinade & Marinating the Pork

IMG_1364 IMG_1332

~ Step 1.  In a small food processor or blender, whir together these ingredients union smooth:

12  tablespoons whole-berry cranberry sauce

6  tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

2  tablespoons honey

1  tablespoon sesame oil

1/2  teaspoon Chinese five-Spice powder

IMG_1344 IMG_1344 IMG_1344~ Step 2.  Place 2, 1 pound pork tenderloins in a 1-gallon bag, add marinade and seal bag. Using your fingertips, squish bag around a bit, until entire surface of the tenderloins are coated.  Marinate in refrigerator 24-48 hours.  Remove from refrigerator and return to room temperature, 1 hour, prior to roasting.

IMG_1366 IMG_1366~ Step 3.  Remove tenderloins from marinade (discard remaining marinade) and place on a baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Roast on center rack of 350° oven until an instant-read meat thermometer placed in the thickest part of a tenderloin reads 138º-140°, 25-30 minutes.  Remove from oven and rest 15-20 minutes prior to slicing.  Serve warm meat, on slider rolls, topped with chilled Asian broccoli slaw.

IMG_1399Part Two:  Mixing & Marinating the Broccoli Slaw

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8974027970bNo pretense here.  They day I came across store-bought "broccoli cole slaw mix" (cole slaw mix made with crunchy green broccoli stems instead of green cabbage), my mind immediately raced to the flavors of soy sauce and sesame oil.  Why?  Broccoli is classic Asian.  There's more.  I didn't have to experiment with the perfect dressing for it -- I'd already come up with one for my Asian chicken salad recipe.  After a quick mix of the pre-shredded store-bought raw vegetables and my honey-sesame dressing, Asian slaw perfection was revealed.  The brand I use is organic, and, contains just three crunchy ingredients:  broccoli, carrots and red cabbage. It truly is a high-quality time-saving mixture that any busy cook can and should appreciate.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d220c634970c1/4  cup each: vegetable oil and white rice vinegar

1  tablespoon each: sesame oil and Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons honey

1, 12-ounce bag store-bought broccoli cole slaw

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d220c74e970cStep 1.  In a measuring container w/a tight fitting lid, combine all the liquid ingredients.  Shake vigorously.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb093a6eeb970d 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d220c78f970cStep 2. Place the broccoli cole slaw in a medium bowl and add all of the dressing.  Give it a thorough stir.

Place the slaw in the refrigerator for 2-6 hours (or overnight will work too), stopping to stir it about every 30-45 minutes in the beginning so that all the slaw gets to absorb the dressing equally.  Note:  This recipe yields 3/4 cup of salad dressing and 4 cups of broccoli cole slaw.

Sandwich some sliders in between your holiday festivities:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c93ca878970bCranberry and Soy Sauce Glazed Pork Loin Sliders:  8-12, 3"-3 1/2"-round slider-sized sandwiches (depending upon how much pork you heap on each one) and 4 cups broccoli slaw.  Both the pork and the slaw are great leftover the next day, so, not worries!

Special Equipment List:  mini-food processor or blender; 1-gallon food storage bag; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; instant-read meat thermometer; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid & pourer top; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8a677ba970bCook's Note:  Buffalo-style everything and anything has become synonymous with game day fare.  So -- If it's buffalo-style you're searching for, or, you simply prefer chicken to pork, and, if you've got a bit more time to spare on the preparation, another one of my game-day crowd-pleasing recipes is: ~ Buffalo-Style Chicken 'n Slaw Sliders ~, appropriately-topped with my ~ Buffalo-Style Blue-Cheese & Celery Slider Slaw ~.  When the time is right, this is one you might want to add to your holiday game-day lineup in the near future.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

12/05/2023

~ My Favorite Big Salad: A Hoagie Chef Sans Bread ~

IMG_1147Let's discuss it over a salad at lunch.  There's no counting how many times I've said those words. One thing is for certain, I said them and I meant them, because: a classically-made chef salad is my favorite item to order on a lunch menu.  Let's be clear -- I don't diet and don't believe in dieting unless it's for real-deal medical reasons.  Eating real and well, anything I want, in moderation + avoiding the drive-thru, has always worked for me.  My opinion of trend-setting self-imposed diets is one you don't want to hear -- you can't handle the truth.  That said, after Thanksgiving and prior to Christmas, I'm ready to eat a few less carbohydrates, so, I eat a few more salads.  It's easy for me to do -- I love salad, and, they do not necessarily have to be fancy-schmancy.  I made the one in the photo this morning.  I'll eat half for lunch and half for dinner. That said, it's harder than one might think to serve me a salad that'll thrill me, and I'm talking about restaurant salads.  

Dear restaurant chef:  Take the salads you serve seriously.

IMG_1146If you bring me a salad with brown-tinged or wet lettuce, or, so help me, hard-cooked eggs with horrid green rings around the yolks, it's going to be sent back to you -- as many times as it takes for your kitchen to get it right.  If I request extra onion and tomato, they'd better be there in force -- piled high for me to sit up and take notice (I am happy to pay extra for extras I ask for).  If I ask for all turkey and no ham, or vice versa, and I find a chard of either, I will know someone picked through a previously-constructed salad and served it to me.  I always ask for my dressing to the side, and, if you do not comply, there's a very good chance I will leave a tip but refuse to pay for your shoddy salad.  And, always remember:  We eat with our eyes first.  Salad is no exception and when mine arrives at the table, you should want it to bring a giant smile to my face.

Make me a great chef's salad:  I'll be loyal to you forever.

IMG_1152Truly I will.  I am of the opinion that:  If a restaurant kitchen can't pull off a proper salad, there's little hope for the rest of their menu.  I don't mind croutons occasionally -- as long as they're made fresh in your kitchen -- if they aren't, leave them out.  Trust me, no one likes cardboard croutons. I don't mind, under the right circumstances, your using deli-meat -- as long they're of high-quality and my salad isn't your reason to use up the "sticky stuff" that's too old to put on sandwiches -- one touch of my fingertip and I will know.  That said, if it's chicken, steak or shrimp you're peddling, it needs to be perfectly-cooked and freshly-cooked -- tender, moist and at the proper temperature -- if it's been previously-cooked and refrigerated, don't serve it to me.   While I would prefer your dressing be made in house, even I have some store-bought favorites in my own refrigerator, so, you get a pass for that -- unless it comes in those horribly silly packets.  Sigh.

Even if it arrives via delivery to me:  Make my dang day.

IMG_1169Yours truly, Your local salad snob.

IMG_1123 IMG_1123 IMG_1123 IMG_1123 IMG_1123 IMG_1123 IMG_1123Iceberg lettuce leaves, diced sweet onion and seedless cucumber, Campari tomato and hard-cooked egg wedges, plus, super-thin-sliced deli- American cheese, turkey breast, deluxe ham and hard salami were used in the construction of this fantastic salad.  The dressing is courtesy of Wish-Bone Lite Italian.

IMG_1155My Favorite Big Salad:  A hoagie Chef Sans Bread:  Recipe yields instructions to construct one classic chef-type salad.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1, 9"-round, shallow, rimmed soup-type or untrimmed pasta-type bowl; 1 condiment dish (coupelle)

IMG_2190Cook's Note:  ~ The Maurice Chef Salad ~ was the #1 selling item in the history of all the Marshall Field's Michigan restaurants.  Composed a bit differently than today's chef salad, this one is indeed: All about the scratch-made Maurice salad dressing -- lemony, laced with sweet pickles and mayonnaise-based.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

11/30/2023

~ Some Hot & Savory Open-Faced Sandwich History ~

IMG_0737There's no time like the week after Thanksgiving to dive into a discussion about open-faced sandwiches.  After all, a great percentage of our United States's population just spent the weekend making hot, open-faced sandwiches using their leftover turkey, dressing and gravy.  I'm no exception.  Shortly after sitting down to write my recipes for Kentucky's Classic Hot Brown and Pittsburgh's Original Devonshire, two iconic hot turkey sandwiches, both with rich histories, I took a break to research the finer-points of the open-faced sandwich. Why? Technically, open-faced sandwiches aren't sandwiches in the true sense of the word.

Unlike traditional sandwiches, open-faced sandwiches never sandwich anything between two slices of bread, & typically don't get picked up to eat with the hands.

IMG_0722The definition & origin(s) of the open-faced sandwich.

According to Wikipedia, an open-faced sandwich, also known as an open-face sandwich, bread platter, or, tartine (a fancy French word for an open-faced sandwich made with spreadable ingredients), consists of a single slice of fresh bread with one or more foods piled on top.  During the middle ages in 15th Century England, thin slices of coarse-grained bread, called "trenchers" were used as plates.  At the end of the meal, the food-soaked trencher was eaten by the diner (referred to as a "trencherman"), fed to a dog, or, given to a beggar.  Trenchers were not only the harbinger of today's open-faced sandwiches are they were the first disposable plates.

The precursor to the English open-faced trencher is:

IMG_0411The Scandinavian-style served-cold open-sandwich.

The precursor to the English open-faced sandwich (not known to the English at the time), is the iconic Scandinavian open sandwich (Danish:  smørrebrød, Norwegian:  smørbrød, Swedish: smørgäs), consisting of one buttered piece of bread, usually whole-grained rye,  topped with thinly-sliced cold items (cheese, steak, ham, turkey, shrimp, smoked salmon, caviar, cooked eggs, bacon, herring, fish filets, liver pâté, etc.).  A condiment, such as mayonnaise, or a mayo-based dressing was/is usually included too.  In the 17th Century, naturalist John Ray, wrote about what he experienced while in the Netherlands:  "In the taverns, beef hung from the rafters, which they cut into thin slices to eat with bread and butter, heaping the slices upon the butter."  

Versions of the cold Scandinavian-type open sandwich are served all over the world.  That said, in Great Britain, open sandwiches are rare outside of a Scandinavian delicatessen, except for the famous Welsh rarebit and Scotch woodcock (a fondue-like cheese sauce "on toast"), historically served at the colleges of the University of Cambridge. The hot, hearty and somewhat messy-looking open sandwich, usually consisting of warm, sliced meat and a generous drizzle of gravy, or leftover sliced meat reheated in simmering gravy, is the traditional sandwich in poorer Eastern European countries, where they are eaten with a knife and fork for breakfast, lunch or dinner -- to turn leftovers into a meal.  The latter is the type of open-faced sandwich, I grew up eating.

IMG_0730When to call the food police about your open-faced sandwich:

130328_FoodPoliceBadge-picIn the United States, in the court case of White City Shopping Ctr., LP v. PR Rests, LLC, 21 Mass. L. Rep. 565 (2006), the judge ruled that to be called a true sandwich (from a legal perspective) the dish must include at least two slices of bread.  In many restaurants, many open-faced sandwich do not meet this criteria, although most served in diners and restaurants here in the Northeastern states where I live generally do pile the meat and gravy atop two overlapping slices of bread.  Oh my.  I'll no longer be throwing the term "open-faced sandwich" loosely around. Important:  before you pick up your knife and fork: 

If on your dish doesn't appear two slices of bread, (side-by-side or slightly-overlapping), you're only being served "half-an-open-faced sandwich".

IMG_0759"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023) 

11/25/2023

~ The Classic Kentucky Hot Brown Turkey Sandwich ~

IMG_0931Simply known as "the hot brown", or "Louisville hot brown", this Kentucky sandwich is a culinary legend.  Invented in 1926 by Fred K. Schmidt at The Brown Hotel in Louisville, unlike many other famous sandwiches, this one was no accident.  It was specifically created, from some carefully-selected, well-thought out ingredients, to please his hungry late-night crowd.  It was a sort-of spin-off of the British Welsh rarebit and Scotch woodcock (a fondue-like cheese sauce "on toast").

We're not talking deli-turkey & store-bought cheese sauces.

IMG_0834The original, now classic, hot brown was an open-faced sandwich consisting of oven-roasted sliced turkey on white or brioche bread, covered in Mornay (Gruyère cheese) sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, then placed under the boiler until the sauce began to bubble and brown. Crisply-fried bacon strips and a few pimentos were added at serving time.  Let me be very clear,  we're not talking about deli-meat and store-bought cheese sauces.  

When Mr. Schmidt created his sandwich, roasted and sliced turkey was a rarity, as turkey was usually reserved for holiday feasts -- at the time, turkeys were only sold during the Thanksgiving and Christmas season and had just become available to restaurants all year long.  The Hotel's dance band played each night from 10:00PM-1:00AM, and he wanted to offer something different to his after-the-dance customers.  What he came up with was a unique alternative to the typical ham-and-egg-on-toast suppers available to late night clientele at that time -- it's why the original did not contain ham.  It quickly became the choice of 95% of the customers to the hotel's restaurant, but, from 1971 to 1985, while the hotel was sadly shut down, it was hard to find elsewhere.

Cold Browns, Prosperity Sandwiches & Turkey Devonshire:

IMG_0849Variations on the original hot brown included a version in which Chef Schmidt, upon request, would include a slice of baked ham along with the turkey, and, as alternative garnishes, sliced tomatoes and/or sautéd  sliced mushrooms.  

The cold brown, which is rarely served anymore, consists of an open-faced rye bread sandwich topped with chicken or turkey, hard-cooked egg, lettuce, tomato and a generous drizzle of Thousand Islands salad dressing.  

At St. Louis's Mayfair Hotel, the 1930's Prosperity Sandwich, strikingly similar to the original hot brown, got named as a snarky joke about President Hoover's (POTUS #31 -- 1929-1933) incessant Great Depression-era promise:  "prosperity is just around the corner".  In Pittsburgh, at the English-atmosphered Stratford Club, Frank Blandi's 1934 twist on the hot brown, The Devonshire, was topped with  cheddar cheese sauce in place of the Mornay sauce.

Get out your favorite 8" oven-safe skillet:

IMG_0853Overlap 2 thick-sliced brioche bread slices in the bottom:

IMG_0867Arrange 6-8 ounces pulled or sliced turkey atop bread:

IMG_0872Drizzle 1/2-3/4 cup warm Mornay sauce over the top:

IMG_0884Four tomato slices (or some diced pimientos) are nice:

IMG_0889Sprinkle w/2 teaspoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c938d1dd970b6" under the broiler for 6-8 minutes it goes, lightly-browned & bubbly it emerges, add 3 slices bacon & a parsley garnish:

IMG_0893Eat, drink & be very, very merry:

IMG_0937The Classic Kentucky Hot Brown Turkey Sandwich:  Recipe yields instructions to construct and broil one large, hot and hearty, open-faced sandwich.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; 8" oven-proof skillet

IMG_0737Cook's Note:  While writing this post, I took a break to research the finer-points of open-faced sandwiches. Why?  In the true sense of the word, open-faced sandwiches, technically, aren't sandwiches.  Unlike traditional sandwiches, they never sandwich anything between two slices of bread, and typically, they don't get picked up to eat with the hands.  To learn more about this, read my post ~ Some Hot & Savory Open-Faced Sandwich History ~.  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

11/20/2023

~ Thanksgiving to Tailgate: Stuffing Stuffed 'Shrooms ~

IMG_0690For the family cook, entertaining for Thanksgiving is a labor of love, but, if he or she is a college football fan too, that can mean entertaining for a tailgate party as well, which can be overwhelming.  That said, if you've got a game plan in place in advance, transitioning your formal Turkey Day feast into a relaxing tailgate on your coffee table, can be almost effortless.  One of my gameday-after-the-holiday tailgate menus is:  stuffing stuffed mushrooms with turkey-club sliders.

IMG_0658Any leftover stuffing* recipe can be used to stuff mushrooms.  I Love My Mom's Cracker Stuffing Casserole.  It's lightly and nicely seasoned, and, crushed saltine crackers that have been soaked in milk replace the usual breadcrumbs. That said, when it comes to using leftover stuffing to stuff mushrooms, I try to avoid using any of the crispy browned outside edges

Note:  Typically, uncooked stuffing is a bit too loose to stuff into mushroom caps -- you can't pile it high enough, and, even if it is of a more viscous consistency (sticky or gluelike), in the time it requires to fully-cook the stuffing to a food-safe temperature (most recipes contain raw eggs), the mushroom caps tend to get overcooked.  I recommend using leftover, cooked stuffing. 

IMG_0680Any size mushrooms can be used, but, the larger the mushroom cap, the more stuffing you'll need, and, the cooking time will be a bit longer too.  I like to use 1 1/2"-2"-size white button mushroom caps, and, I choose even-sized ones to insure they cook evenly.  I serve them as appetizers.  That said, larger caps easily turns these two-bite snacks into a fun and filling side-dish to an open-faced turkey sandwich.  

Transitioning a Turkey Day side-dish to a tailgate appetizer:

IMG_0664 IMG_0664 IMG_0664 IMG_0664 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7ffe322970b~Step 1.  Using a damp paper towel, gently wipe any dirt from caps.  

Note: Never wash or soak fresh mushrooms in water as they absorb moisture like a sponge and will become mushy.  Using your fingertips, remove the stems, being careful not to break or crack the caps.  Using a sharp paring knife, trim the perimeter of the caps. Place caps, side-by-side, on a baking pan that has been generously sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.

Using an appropriately-sized ice-cream scoop (1 1/2" scoop was used today), place a generous scoop of stuffing into each mushroom cap.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven, 18-20 minutes.

Remove 'shrooms from oven & place on serving platter:

IMG_0682Drizzle w/turkey gravy & top w/a dollop of cranberry sauce:

IMG_0686What a yummy transition from Turkey Day to tailgate:

IMG_0696Thanksgiving to Tailgate:  Stuffing Stuffed Mushrooms: Recipe yields instructions to make as many mushrooms (appetizer- or side-dish-sized) as you have stuffing for.

Special Equipment List:  paring knife; appropriately sized baking pan; appropriately-sized ice-cream scoop

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d23f7cf3970c IMG_2214Cook's Note: Stuffing waffles. Made on the waffle grids of my Cuisinart Griddler, waffles made from leftover stuffing and topped with reheated thanksgiving leftovers (sweet potatoes, pulled turkey breast, gravy and cranberries sauce) is:  The breakfast of champions, and, I've got a family full of them.~ The Morning After: Thanksgiving Stuffing Waffles ~ are the best Turkey Day leftovers.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

11/15/2023

~ Confessions from an Instant Ramen Noodle Junkie ~

IMG_0495While watching a late-night episode of "Locked Up" on some obscure channel last night -- yes, channel surfing is a favorite sport of mine -- I learned an interesting fact about those super-curly square-block instant ramen noodles:  They are the #1 selling item in prison commissaries.  That didn't surprise me as much as the reason:  Prisoners buy them for the seasoning packets, not the noodles.  It seems that prison cafeteria food is so lacking in salt, those packets get sprinkled on or stirred into almost everything.  Get in my my soup!  I learn something new every day (or night).  In my kitchen it's the opposite, we use the noodles, not the seasoning packets.

IMG_0502Amongst other things, in the course of a year, I make several soup stocks:  beef, chicken, Thai chicken, veal, shrimp and vegetable.  They're carefully-simmered, seasoned to suit my palate, portioned into containers and stacked neatly in my freezer.  As every well-seasoned cook will tell you, homemade stock turns an ordinary meal into an extraordinary one.  There's more:  If I get a soup craving, I thaw a 2-cup container of stock, simmer it with a handful or two of frozen mixed vegetables, then, I drop a square block of ramen noodles into the saucepan.

  2 cups soup stock + 2 handfuls of frozen mixed vegetables +

IMG_0526a block of instant ramen = (3 minutes later), a luscious lunch. 

Perhaps it's because I never had to live on instant ramen noodles in college that I agree with a Japanese poll done in 2000:  They voted "dried noodle blocks" their best invention of the 20th century -- noodles that simply need to be cooked or soaked in boiling water before eating.  The main ingredients used in dried noodles are usually wheat flour, palm oil and salt.  The ingredients in the seasoning packets are salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG), seasonings and sugar.  

Invented by Momofuku Ando of Nissin Foods in 1958, these inexpensive (cheap) dried noodle blocks are created by flash-frying cooked noodles (the main method used in Asian countries), and, air-drying (to sell to Western countries).  Both types have a shelf-life of well over a year, and, while they might not look like it in their dry state, they have higher elasticity than other types of noodles (like udon or flat noodles).  They cook up perfectly in a short 3-4 minutes too.

51rTOVjBYwL._SY450_Instant Ramen Trivia includes: When first introduced, instant ramen was considered a luxury item in supermarkets.  It's the #1 selling item in prison commissaries, and, guards are permitted to provide hot water to cook them in the cells. Only "Oriental" and "Chili" flavors of Nissin ramen are vegetarian.  David Chang, founder of the Momofuku restaurant empire, reminisces about uncooked ramen sprinkled with seasoning as an after-school snack. "Ramen" is the Japanese word for the Chinese word "lo mein".  China consumes more instant ramen than any other country.  The Japanese consider ramen their best invention. It would cost about $150 to eat instant ramen for every meal.  There is a museum in Yokohama, Japan, dedicated to the history of "cup noodles", called The Cup of Noodles Museum.  The first noodles eaten in space were instant ramen noodles.

Three minute instant ramen noodles...

IMG_0514... sans the seasoning packet:  Get in my soup! 

IMG_0519Confessions from an Instant Ramen Noodle Junkie:  Recipe yields 2, 2 cup servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucepan; colander (optional); soup ladle

IMG_9113Cook's Note:  Much like learning to make sushi, learning to make real-deal ramen noodles is a highly-respected art form in Japan.  I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to experience both of them on a trip to Tokyo back in the 1990's.  To learn a bit more about the rich history of real-deal, scratch-made ramen, read my recipe for ~ Cooking 101 for One: Asian Ramen & Steak Salad ~. This cold salad is another one of my favorite quick-to-make lunches (when I've got some leftover steak).

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

11/10/2023

~ Dare to be a Square: Individual Breakfast Frittatas ~

IMG_0468As an egg lover, for me, a frittata is a relatively-easy quick-to-make hunger-satisfying meal any time of the day -- for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner or late night snack.  It tastes great served hot, warm, at room temperature or cold, and, leftovers reheat beautifully in the microwave.  A bit of slicing, dicing or chopping is typically required, but it's minimal, and, since frittata can also be a tasty way to use up leftovers from a previous meal, in some instances, no knife is required.  In my food world, making individual-sized frittatas, a perfectly-portioned quick-as-heck protein-packed meal or snack that I can reheat and eat in seconds, is an efficient use of my time. 

IMG_0418My girlfriend Elaine was a Pampered Chef representative. Over the years, I've purchased gadgets and specialty items (from her and others), and, I've never been disappointed in the quality.  A few years ago, while browsing through the catalog, when I came across these "individual brownie pans", with shallow, "square cups" (for folks who want four crispy sides on each and every brownie), I ordered two -- glad I did too.  

That said, I didn't buy them with the intent of baking brownies.  I bought them to make small-sized individual frittatas because:  the size (2 1/2" x 2 1/2") and depth (1") of each cup makes for perfect portions that cook up evenly each and every time.  If you've ever baked individual frittatas in traditional muffin tins, you know that the depth and shape of that cup is not exactly ideal for this eggy concoction -- centers undercooked, perimeters overcooked.

IMG_6400To know a traditional frittata, is to love any frittata.

IMG_6345Commonly referred to as "the Italian version of an omelette", a frittata is a concoction of whisked eggs and real-deal cream, sliced, diced or chopped always-previously-cooked vegetables, meat or seafood and/or grated cheese.  I prefer to compare it to a custard-like quiche without a crust rather than an omelette because, like a quiche, a frittata is traditionally round and rather thick -- not at all elongated and comparatively flat (like the French and American omelettes I've encountered).  There's more.  I think of an omelette as something that goes from stovetop to table in a few short moments -- that's not the case with a frittata, which takes 30+ minutes.

IMG_6358The egg mixture is poured into the same oven-safe (usually cast-iron) skillet the vegetables and/or meats have been cooked or placed in.  The Frittata is started on the stovetop for a few moments, just long enough to allow the bottom of the mixture to solidify a bit, then finished in a moderate oven for 30-45 minutes depending on its size and the recipe.  That said, a frittata can be prepared in the skillet entirely on the stovetop, or, in a casserole entirely in the oven (usually to make a large-size frittata).  Frittata can be served directly from the pan, but, family-friendly-sized frittata is often inverted onto a platter, to reveal its golden crust, then sliced into wedges.

IMG_6362Sautéed vegetables or a medley of vegetables, any kind you like, can be added, as long as they are cooked in some manner first.  Why? Vegetables, particularly those that contain lots of liquid, unless cooked first, will render the frittata watery. Root vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, won't fully-cook if not given a head start on the stovetop. Onions and/or garlic are almost always added. Other options include asparagus, broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, peas, and/or mushrooms. They all work great.  Extremely watery vegetables, like tomatoes, summer squash and and zucchini work well too, but the extra step of seeding prior to sautéing is recommended.

IMG_6376When it comes to meat or seafood, the same rules apply:  if it's cooked first it can be added. Leftover diced porcine, like ham or sausage crumbles, along with crispy-fried bacon bits are my three meaty favorites, and, crab meat or shrimp, or both, are divine.  My teenage boys liked frittata made with diced salami or pepperoni as a late night snack.   That said, if you like to eat steak with your eggs, by all means, throw in slivers of that leftover roasted or grilled red meat. Feel free to disagree, but, for my taste, poultry has no place in a frittata -- there is just something about chicken or turkey in an egg dish like this that I find unappealing (save it for a sandwich).

Making individual frittatas is efficient & just plain smart.

The Italian word "frittata" derives from the word "friggere", which roughly means "fried".  This is why frittata is traditionally associated with a skillet, namely a cast-iron skillet.  If a casserole dish is more convenient, by all means use one -- simply season and sauté your fillings ingredients in a skillet, and toss them into the bottom of a casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick spray, add the whisked egg and cream mixture and bake as directed.   Making individual-sized frittatas is not much different than making a frittata in a casserole, but, you've got to know the capacity of the cups in the pans, and, shorten the cooking time, to accommodate the smaller size of each one. Each square cup in this Pampered Chef pan holds slightly less than 1/2 cup, so, to fill all twelve, I need 6 cups total filling -- the same amount used for a frittata baked in a 1 1/2-quart casserole.

IMG_62911  cup diced, previously cooked meat or seafood, or, 8-ounces uncooked ground beef or sausage (Note:  I'm using sweet sausage today.)

1/2  cup diced sweet onion

1 1/2   cups diced, cooked vegetables or a combination of vegetables, your choice (Note: I'm using green bell pepper, red bell pepper and mushrooms today.

sea salt and coarsely-ground black pepper, for lightly seasoning vegetables 

3/4  cup grated melting cheese (Note:  I'm using yellow cheddar today.)

6  extra-large eggs

3/4  cup cream (Note:  You can substitute half and half or whole milk, but anything less than full-fat dairy renders a rubbery rather than an unctuous frittata.)

1/4 teaspoon sea salt and coarsely-ground black pepper, for seasoning egg mixture

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

sliced or diced tomato, cilantro leaves & your favorite hot sauce, for garnish & accompaniment

IMG_6295 IMG_6295 IMG_6295Step 1.  Using an old-fashioned hand-crank egg beater, whisk the eggs, cream, salt and pepper together.  Set aside.

IMG_6306 IMG_6306 IMG_6306 IMG_6306~Step 2.  Place the sausage in an appropriately sized skillet over medium-high heat.  Sauté, using the side of a spatula to break the meat into small bits and pieces, until cooked through, about 6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the sausage from the skillet to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain, allowing the flavorful drippings to remain in skillet.

IMG_6318 IMG_6318 IMG_6318 IMG_6318 IMG_6318 ~Step 3.  Adjust heat to medium.  Add onion, bell peppers and mushrooms.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.  Stirring almost constantly, sauté until vegetables have lost about half of their volume and are starting to show signs of browning (which means they are becoming flavorful), 5-6 minutes.  Stir in the sausage.  Remove from heat.

IMG_0422 IMG_0422 IMG_0422 IMG_0422 IMG_0445~Step 4.  Spray the inside of each "square cup" with no-stick spray. Portion some of the vegetable/meat mixture into the bottom of each one, about 3 tablespoons in each. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon grated cheese over the top of the vegetable meat mixture.  Using a fork, briefly rewhisk the egg mixture, and, slowly, in a thin stream, gently fill cups to just short of the top.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven 16-18 minutes, until puffed up in centers. Remove from oven and cool in pans about 5 minutes prior to using a thin spatula to serve. Frittatas deflate and firm up as they cool.  Garnish w/tomato, cilantro & your favorite hot sauce.

Bake on center rack of 350° oven, 16-18 minutes:

IMG_0440Cool in pans 5-6 minutes prior to serving:

IMG_0448Frittatas will deflate a bit & firm up as they cool:

IMG_0460Garnish w/tomato, cilantro & serve w/your favorite hot sauce:

IMG_0483Dare to be a Square:  Individual Breakfast Frittatas:  Recipe yields 6-12 servings/1-2 per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; 2-cup measuring container; old-fashioned hand-crank egg beater (optional); appropriately sized oven-safe skillet or casserole of choice; thin spatula

IMG_9460Cook's Note:  In the event you need to feed a lot of people for breakfast or brunch, an eggy casserole is always a crowd pleaser.  ~ My Big Baked Denver Omelette Brunch Casserole ~, which is in actuality a frittata disguised under a different name, is an example of a frittata baked in a casserole dish.  It contains ham (in place of sausage) and has a distinctive Southwestern flair.  It's been a favorite of our tailgate group for years.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

11/05/2023

~ My Mom's Old-Fashioned Home-Canned Peach Pie~

IMG_0405The Summer peach season is long over, but, in my kitchen, that is not a reason to not bake a peach pie.  Yes, you can use canned peaches to make a peach pie, and, if the peaches are home-canned with love, the pie is just as good, if not better, than a pie made with fresh peaches. I'm not joking.  Women have been doing it for generations.  They water-bath-canned large quantities of fruits and vegetables so the family could enjoy them during the cold weather months.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09671996970dMy mother's pantry was never without home-canned peaches.  My grandmother had a green thumb, and, in her smallish, in-town back yard, for as many years as she lived there, her peach tree gifted us with some the best peaches I have ever tasted -- I'm not just saying that because she was my grandmother. The peaches were exquisite, and, she did a stunning job of canning them.  They were pretty as a picture and tasted even better -- "to the tooth" (not at all mushy) and pleasantly, not cloyingly, sweet.

I do not know if it was my grandmother, mother, or someone else of their time who came up with our family's canned peach pie recipe.  What I do know is there isn't much to it.  After all, the hard work was done up front in the canning.

Every slice is plump w/peaches, nicely-spiced, & ...

IMG_0384... a canned-peach pie is one of the easiest pies to make too.

IMG_03052   9" pie pastries for a double-crust pie, preferably homemade pie pastry (pâte brisée)

7  cups sliced or chunked, very-well-drained canned peaches (Note:  If using store-bought peaches, drain 3, 29-ounce cans packed in light syrup.  Once I drain the liquid, I put the peaches on a paper-towel-lined plate for a few minutes, to remove as much excess liquid as possible.)

2  teaspoons lemon juice

2  teaspoons pure peach extract (optional)

1/2  cup granulated sugar

5  tablespoons minute tapioca

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1  tablespoon salted butter, softened

1  large egg white, ideally at room temperature

additional granulated sugar, for sprinkling on top of pie prior to baking

IMG_0307 IMG_0307 IMG_0307 IMG_0307~Step 1.  Roll and fit one 9" pie pastry in the bottom of a 9" pie dish.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim it to hang slightly over the perimeter (about 1/8").  Set aside.  Thoroughly drain the peaches, placing them in a large bowl as you work.  In a medium-bowl, stir together the sugar, tapioca, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Add the lemon juice and peach extract too.  Using a rubber spatula, gently toss to thoroughly combine the peaches with the tapioca/sugar/spice mixture.

IMG_0326 IMG_0326 IMG_0326~Step 2.  Spoon the peach pie filling into the pie pastry, mounding it slightly towards the center. Dot the top of the pie filling with the softened butter.  Place the second pie pastry over the top, and, using the kitchen shears, trim it around the perimeter to match the overhang of the bottom pastry (about 1/8").  Using your fingertips, seal the two crusts together and form a decorative edge all the way around perimeter.

IMG_0335 IMG_0335 IMG_0335 IMG_0335~Step 3.  Using a fork, whisk egg white until frothy.  Using a pastry brush, paint the smooth surface of top crust (not the decorative edge) with egg white, then, using your fingertips, sprinkle a light coating of sugar over the glossy top.  Using the sharp tip of a knife, poke a few small holes in the top pastry (to allow steam to escape as pie bakes).  Bake on center rack of 350° oven until golden brown and bubbly, 50-55 minutes, stopping to give the pie a quarter turn every 15 minutes, to insure even browning.  Place on wire rack to cool completely, about 3-4 hours, prior to slicing.

Bake on center rack of 350° oven, 50-55 minutes:

IMG_0359Place on a wire rack to cool completely, 3-4 hours:

IMG_0355Slice & serve ever-so-lightly warm or at room temperature:

IMG_0379And enjoy a peachy-keen taste of Summer all year round:

IMG_0408My Mom's Old-Fashioned Home-Canned Peach Pie:  Recipe yields 1, 9" double-crust pie/8-10 servings.

Special Equipment List:  pastry board; rolling pin; 9" pie dish, preferably glass; kitchen shears; cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; fork; pastry brush; sharp paring knife; wire cooling rack

IMG_4817Cook's Note:  Back in the 1990's, I was given this recipe, ~ Alice's Super-Simple Georgia Peach-Pie Cobbler ~, from a tailgating girlfriend.  Alice hailed from Atlanta. She made no secret of the fact that she detested the sport of cooking -- which complicates things for a woman in a tailgate group like ours. That said, she participated and prepared something good each week, and, this recipe is even easier than making a canned-peach pie!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

10/30/2023

~ The Ideal Cubano: La Ideal's Cubano Sandwich ~

IMG_4884Almost all famous sandwiches got their iconic status thanks to the working class people -- Cuba's Cubano is one such sandwich.  In the early 20th Century, vendors who were stationed inside the workplaces, sold hot meat and cheese sandwiches to the workers.  When these workers made their way to the USA, usually to regions in Southern Florida, they, like all immigrants, brought their recipes and traditions with them -- that included their institutional but beloved Cuban sandwich.

Pan-cubanoA bit about the Cubano:  Like all sandwiches, it starts with the bread. Cuban bread is light and crusty -- alot like a French bread loaf.  Cuban bakeries baked through the early AM hours and delivered the bread to customers by hanging it on a nail outside their door.  Because Cuban bread had a short shelf life, Cuban sandwiches were typically made within a few hours of receiving it.

The Cuban bread gets sliced down the middle hoagie- or submarine-style, then slathered with yellow mustard.  Thinly-sliced deli-style dill pickles, Swiss cheese and ham get layered on, followed by shards of mojo-marinated Cuban-style pulled pork roast.  Traditionally, mustard is the only condiment added (although after-the-fact, it's not unusual for some folks to add mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato).  While a Cubano can be served cold, it's almost always heated in a sandwich press (a panini grill) until the cheese is melted and the bread is grilled to golden.

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

Much like the Philadelphia cheesesteak, Cubano enthusiasts say the most authentic version is found in the Tampa, Florida region, where the Americanized version of the sandwich is said to have originated.  Today I'm featuring the Cuban Sandwich recipe from my favorite Cuban cookbook:  Eating Cuban, written by Beverly Cox and Martin Jacobs, copyright 2006, and, published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang.  As the cover says, "120 Authentic Recipes from the Streets of Havana to American Shores".  As I say, "120 Authentic, Spot-On Cuban Recipes that Work in the American Home Kitchen".  The photography is super-gorgeous as well.

While Eating Cuban is my favorite Cuban cookbook --

IMG_4812Thanks to great recipes in all seven of the cookbooks I purchased in Florida, I've been able to bring the unique taste of Cuban spice into my home kitchen. Because my experiences with Cuban cuisine are limited to trips to Miami, without them, how would I learn that "mojo (MOH-hoh)" means "sauce" in Spanish, and, in Cuban cooking, it's a sauce made with olive oil, garlic, cilantro, mint and oregano leaves, cumin and bitter orange juice.

La Ideal's Cuban Sandwich.  As per Eating Cuban:

La_ideal2Located in what was once an old grocery store, La Ideal is a favorite neighborhood hangout for members of Tampa's Cuban-American community.  The scene is animated and relaxed.  Regulars chat from table to table, but the feeling is inclusive, with visitors made to feel like members of the family.  A dynamic force behind the atmosphere at La Ideal is Majito, Mario Aguila Jr. Majito's dad.  Mario Sr. moved his family to the United States from Cuba in 1966.  After ten years in New York City, the family settled in Tampa, Florida and opened La Ideal.  In 2005, Mario Sr. sold La Ideal to Luis and Juanita Tejada.  The ownership has changed, but Mojito has stayed on at the front of the house, and with Juanita in charge in the kitchen, the food is still great. Cuban sandwiches (Cubanos), toasted in a large sandwich press, are a specialty of their house.

IMG_4875For each sandwich (which can be assembled and wrapped in plastic wrap 1-2 hours prior to grilling, which is convenient if you're making them for a crowd):

1  4 1/2"-5" section of a loaf of very fresh French bread that has been trimmed of ends then cut into lengths that will accommodate panini press (Note: La Ideal's recipe uses an 8"-9" section of bread.  That said, in the home kitchen, I find a 4 1/2"-5" section to be more manageable.)

1  tablespoon yellow mustard

1  tablespoon mayonnaise

1  dill pickle, cut into 2 long, thin strips, or, 2-4 dill pickle chips

2  thin slices deli-style Swiss cheese

2  thin slices deli-style ham

1/2  cup pulled and diced or thinly-sliced mojo-marinated Cuban-style pork roast (3-4 ounces)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing grill grids on panini press

IMG_4847 IMG_4851 IMG_4852 IMG_4855 IMG_4860 IMG_4865~Step 1.  To assemble sandwiches, trim ends from bread, cut into desired sized sections, then split sections in half lengthwise.  Spread mustard on cut side of each bottom half and mayonnaise on each top half.  Layer pickle slices on top of mustard, then add 2 slices Swiss cheese, 2 slices ham, and finally, a generous pile of pulled pork.

IMG_4871 IMG_4878 IMG_4883~ Step 2.  Preheat the grill press to medium-high and when light goes on, spray grids with no-stick.  Place assembled sandwich on hot grill grids.  Place top of press directly on top of sandwich.  Firmly, but gently, using the press's handle, press down on the sandwich for 45--60 seconds.  You are NOT trying to squish the sandwich to oblivion.  You ARE trying to put just enough pressure on it to steam and crisp the bread a bit.  Let go.  Continue to cook until crisp, golden and cheese is melted, 4-6 minutes.  Use a spatula to remove sandwich from grids and allow to rest 1-2 minutes prior to slicing and eating.

The only thing more beautiful than an assembled Cubano...

IMG_4870... is a grilled Cubano.  Patience -- let it rest a minute or two.

IMG_4879And every bite of a Cubano is an absolute delight: 

IMG_4907The Ideal Cubano:  La Ideal's Cubano Sandwich:  Recipe yields instructions to assemble and grill as many Cubano sandwiches as desired.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; serrated bread knife; panini press; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd0c433e970bCook's Note:  Those of you who know me know I consider a high-quality, well-constructed sandwich to be the perfect, well-balanced, portion-controlled meal.  For me, a sandwich is much more than just putting a few ingredients between two slices of bread to stave off a hunger attack.  Like meal making, sandwich making requires thought, and, I consider myself to be a very thoughtful sandwich crafter.  For my own famous grilled-sandwich recipe, I invented this one just for me.  Try my recipe for ~ Roasted-Chicken Caesar-Salad Focaccia Panini ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

10/25/2023

~ Mojo-Marinated Cuban-Style Pulled-Pork Shoulder ~

IMG_4783My experiences with Cuban food, all good ones, are limited to a few trips to Miami.  I know that "mojo (MOH-hoh)" means "sauce" in Spanish, and, in Cuban cooking, it specifically applies to a sauce made with olive oil, garlic, fresh cilantro, mint and oregano leaves, cumin and bitter orange juice.  I also must say that without more than a few well-written recipes in the seven Cuban cookbooks, that I purchased during my visits to Florida, I'd stand little chance of bringing the unique taste of Cuban spice into my home kitchen -- they've all contributed to my recipes:

IMG_4812Pulled pork is popular in many parts of the Caribbean, and, when cooked in the traditional manner, just like throughout The Barbecue Belt here in the USA, they go:  whole hog, low and slow, over carefully-tended wood-fired heat sources for a long period of time.  That said, depending on where you are in the Caribbean, it is seasoned and/or sauced differently.   The first time I ordered Cuban-style pulled pork, which arrived in the form of their signature Cubano sandwich, I ordered it because I like pulled pork.  What I didn't know was how uniquely-different it would be from the Southern-style barbecue I was used to.  The difference between a Carolina-style pulled pork sandwich and a Cuban-style pulled pork sandwich is astounding -- the bold citrus (in place of vinegar) and herb flavors were right up my alley. I knew I needed to figure out how to make it at home -- in a manner that didn't require an entire hog or building a barbecue pit.

Pork_101_final_b-fixedA bit about the pork:  "Boston butt", is a bone-in cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the "pork shoulder" from the front leg of the hog.  It got its name in pre-Revolutionary War New England:

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

IMG_4670For the meat and marinade:

1  7-8  pound bone-in Boston butt pork shoulder roast, untrimmed (do not remove fat cap)

3/4  cup extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Spanish

3/4  cup orange juice, preferably freshly-squeezed with the zest from 1 orange stirred in 

1/2  cup lime juice, preferably freshly-squeezed

1  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves, some stem included is fine

1/4  cup minced, fresh mint leaves, leaves only

2  tablespoons minced, fresh oregano leaves, leaves only, no woody stems

8  large garlic cloves, run through a press 

1  tablespoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon dried Mediterranean oregano leaves

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_4673 IMG_4680~ Step 1.  Prep ingredients as directed, placing in a 2-gallon Ziplock bag as you work.  Briefly toss marinade to combine, then, add pork to bag.  Seal and marinate in refrigerator overnight, stopping to flip bag over (to turn roast) as often as possible/whenever convenient.  Overnight is best.  Remove the bag from the refrigerator and return the roast and marinade to room temperature 1-2 hours.  Preheat oven to 320º-325°.

IMG_4683 IMG_4686 IMG_4690 IMG_4720 IMG_4715~Step 2.  Remove roast from bag and place it, fat-side-up, on a rack in a roasting pan.  Reseal bag and refrigerate remaining marinade until roast is out of the oven and resting.  Roast meat, uncovered on center rack of preheated oven, 7-8 hours, or until an instant-read thermometer placed several inches into the thickest part of the meat in 2-3 places reads 190°-195°.*  Remove from oven, seal pan with foil, and allow roast  cool enough to be manageable to pull with your fingertips (about 1-1 1/2 hours). Reminder from Mel:  Remove the marinade from the refrigerator during this rest period.  

*Note:  After the first 60-75 minutes of roasting, loosely place a piece of aluminum foil over the top of the fat cap (after it is nicely-browned).  This will shield it from over-browning or burning.

IMG_4726 IMG_4729 IMG_4731 IMG_4732 IMG_4736 IMG_4743 IMG_4739~Step 3.  Remove and discard the foil and transfer the roast to a large carving board.  Pour the drippings from the bottom of roasting pan into a fat/lean separator.  Add the lean portion of the drippings, about 1/4 cup, to a 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan.  Add 2 cups diced yellow or sweet onion to the saucepan, adjust heat on stovetop to medium- medium-high and cook until there is almost no liquid left in the bottom of the saucepan and onions are beginning to caramelize, 10-12 minutes, stirring constantly, to avoid scorching, during the last 3-4 minutes.  Add all of the marinade to the onions.  Adjust heat to a steady, rapid simmer and cook, stirring constantly for 4-5 minutes.  Remove mojo from heat.

IMG_4747~ Step 4.  Using your fingertips or a pair of meat claws designed to pull or shread meats (available on Amazon), do as follows:  Begin by pulling the roast into 5-6 large chunks and pieces that have naturally formed during the lengthy cooking process, meaning, if you tried to pick the entire roast up, it would almost naturally fall apart into 5-6 pieces.  Next, pull each chunk into large, succulent, strands, doing your best to keep them bite-sized (not small and stringy).  Some folks prefer to use a cleaver to chop the meat into pieces -- the choice is yours.  While working remove and discard any pieces of gristle, but, hang onto all the caramelized, crispy, full-flavored and fatty brown exterior bark.

Drizzle w/mojo sauce & serve w/mojo black beans & rice:

IMG_4801Side-Dish: Cuban-Style Mojo Black Beans & Rice:

IMG_4804Mojo-Marinated Cuban-Style Pulled-Pork Shoulder:  Recipe yields 8+ cups pulled pork/8 servings/8 pulled-pork sandwiches/16 Cubano sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; citrus juicer; garlic press; 2-gallon Ziplock bag; roasting rack; roasting pan; instant-read meat thermometer; aluminum foil; carving board; fat/lean separator; 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan

IMG_7003Cook's Note: The Carolinas hold a unique position in terms of Southern barbecue because theirs is believed to be the oldest form of American barbecue.  For a period of time I had family who lived in both North and South Carolina, so I became familiar with "their many styles" of pulled pork.  There's more.  No two cook's make their sauce the same and everybody is a critic.  ~ My Carolina-Style Pulled-Pork BBQ (Oven Method) ~ is:  my recipe, the way I like it.  It's been tailgate tested and tailgate accoladed too.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

10/20/2023

~ Nothing Fancy: Old-Fashioned Autumn Apple Pie ~

IMG_4609The best apple pie recipes aren't fancy -- they're special.  Just put one in the oven and see what happens.  Word travels fast.  Everyone wants a slice of old-fashioned appleiscious goodness. "It's as easy as apple pie."  Truth told, that's a kind of misleading statement.  Baking a really good apple pie is not as easy as "A, B, C", "one, two three" or even "snap, crackle, pop".  Too many people think that just because they've baked an apple pie it automatically qualifies for awesome apple pie status.  It does not.  I have encountered more than a few nasty renditions:  from overcooked to undercooked, sickeningly sweet to vapid, and, soupy to pasty -- anything but the "pleasant and accommodating" experience Mark Twain painted in his 1885 novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (the sequel to his 1876 novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer).

IMG_4608Pastry, apples, sugar & cinnamon & into the oven it went.

The phrase "it's as easy as pie" originated over a century ago when almost every American homemaker baked pies several times a week.  It was a task so familiar, it was done without any real effort.  When it came to apple pies, they used the apples that grew in their climate and adapted the recipes of their family's heritage to suit those apples.  More often than not, they picked them off of a tree in their backyard or bartered for a basket from their neighbor.  They did not have the luxury of walking into a market and choosing from five or six varieties (from the hundreds of varieties mass produced in the world today).  It really was a kinder, gentler time and "as easy as pie."  Pastry, apples, sugar and cinnamon and into the oven it went.  No complaints.

An apple a day might keep the doctor away, but, according to the experts, all apples are not created equally.  

IMG_3132"Because an apple tastes good doesn't make it pie-friendly."

PICT1581Nowadays, everybody is a critic. Experts will tell you, "just because an apple tastes good does not make it pie-friendly."  For example: My favorite eating apple is the soft-fleshed, creamy McIntosh, and, while I use them to make pies (because my grandmother made great pie with them), a quick internet search will tell you they're not ideal. My husband grows Fugi, Macintosh and Granny Smith's in our backyard -- they all taste great and do well in our Central PA climate.  Fuji's are relative newcomers to America's apple scene.  They're crisp, sweet and, similar to the Red Delicious, are best eaten raw in salads and slaws.  As for the Granny Smith, originally from Australia, with its bright-green skin, tart taste and crisp texture, not only is it pie friendly, it is wonderful when cooked with savory foods (like onions) or served with salty foods (like cheese). I could go on -- and on -- there are hundreds of varieties of apples in the world, with about 60 of them mass grown in America.  My point is:  before you put an apple in a pie, try to find out if it is pie-friendly, or, find a recipe that makes it pie-friendly.  I'm using freshly-picked Macintosh apples today.

IMG_45272   9" pie pastries for a double-crust pie, preferably homemade pie pastry (pâte brisée)

7  cups peeled and thinly-sliced Macintosh apples, from 7-8 apples

1  tablespoon lemon juice

1/2  cup granulated sugar

1/2  cup lightly-packed light brown sugar

4  tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/4  teaspoon ground ginger

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1  tablespoon salted butter, softened

1  large egg white, ideally at room temperature

additional granulated sugar

IMG_4531 IMG_4538 IMG_4540 IMG_4544~Step 1.  Roll and fit one 9" pie pastry in the bottom of a 9" pie dish.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim it to hang slightly over the perimeter (about 1/8").  Set aside.  Peel and slice the apples, placing them in a large bowl as you work.  Add the lemon juice to the bowl and toss to coat the apples.  In a medium-bowl, stir together the sugars, flour, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, nutmeg and salt.  Add the sugar mixture to the apples and toss to thoroughly combine.

IMG_4547 IMG_4551 IMG_4553 IMG_4556~Step 2.  Spoon the apple pie filling into the pie pastry, mounding it slightly towards the center. Dot the top of the pie filling with the softened butter.  Place the second pie pastry over the top, and, using the kitchen shears, trim it around the perimeter to match the bottom pastry.  Using your fingertips, seal the two crusts together and form a decorative edge all the way around.

IMG_4562 IMG_4565 IMG_4568 IMG_4570~Step 3.  Using a fork, whisk egg white until frothy.  Using a pastry brush, paint the smooth surface of top crust (not the decorative edge) with egg white, then, using your fingertips, sprinkle a light coating of sugar over the glossy top.  Using the sharp tip of a knife, poke a few small holes in the top pastry (to allow steam to escape as pie bakes).  Bake on center rack of 350° oven until golden brown and bubbly, 55-60 minutes, stopping to give the pie a quarter turn every 15 minutes, to insure even browning.  Place on wire rack to cool completely, about 3-4 hours, prior to slicing.

Bake on center rack of 350° oven 55-60 minutes:

IMG_4579Place on wire rack to cool completely, 3-4 hours:

IMG_4577Slice & serve ever-so-slightly warm or at room temperature:

IMG_4600Take a bite of old-fashioned appleicious goodness:

IMG_4619Nothing Fancy:  Old-Fashioned Autumn Apple Pie:  Recipe yields 1, 9" double-crust pie/8-10 servings.

Special Equipment List:  pastry board; rolling pin; 9" pie dish, preferably glass; kitchen shears; cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; large spoon or spatula; fork; pastry brush; sharp paring knife; wire cooling rack

IMG_4589Cook's Note:  The Pennsylvania Deutsch are famous for their streusel-topped pies, and one of my all-time favorites is their Dutch Apple.  Click on the link to get my recipe for ~ Dutch Apple, Sour Cream & Walnut-Streusel Pie ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

10/10/2023

~ Quick & Easy Bread & Butter Refrigerator Pickles ~

IMG_4660When I was a kid, during the late Summer and Fall, my grandmother, my great aunt, and my mother used to can -- a lot.  There were days when one of their respective kitchens was filled with boxes of fresh fruits or vegetables and huge pots, and, the dining room table was lined with neat rows of freshly-sterilized mason jars -- dozens and dozens of them.  They'd start at sunrise and wouldn't stop until each one of those jars was filled.  I enjoyed those nights, snuggled in my bed, forcing myself to stay awake to hear "the pop" of each jar lid (the indicator of a proper seal).  We would crunch and munch on those pickles through to the following season when they got made all over again -- I loved them atop my cheeseburger and in place of relish on my hotdog.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09671996970d PICT0196As a kid, those were fun times for me.  I found the process fascinating, but, I wasn't the one doing the work.

As an adult, while I do can a few fruits and vegetables in the traditional manner (peaches and red beets to name two), I honestly do not love the exhausting, time-consuming process -- I also do not have a sister and/or a daughter to stand by my side and help.  I much prefer quick-pickling in small batches or freezing in large quantities, if or when either process can be applied without compromise (peaches do not freeze well, and beets are best pickled or canned in the traditional manner).

What's the difference between pickling & quick-pickling?

IMG_4654Pickle comes from the Dutch=Deutsch=German word "pekel", which means "brine" (not "cucumber" as is easy enough to assume).  A brine is nothing more than a mixture of vinegar, water, salt, sugar, and usually, some dry spices or fresh herbs. Depending upon the solution, pickled foods can take on all sorts of colors and flavors.  Pickled foods can be sweet, sour, sweet and sour, or spicy.  At the the whim of the cook, any of them can be piquant or pedestrian.

Pickling per se is canning.  It's easy but time consuming.  Get out the big canning pot and special utensils, boil the mason jars to sterilize them, add the appropriately-prepped fruit, vegetables or food to the jars, add the brine, immerse jars in boiling water for a designated amount of time, then, remove from the water bath and let cool until the lids "pop", which means they are properly sealed.  In the case of water-bath-canned anything, if stored in a cool, dry place, the food can last for a year or two. Pickling/canning dates back to medieval times and is how our ancestors preserved all types of food prior to refrigeration. Without refrigeration, food spoiled quickly and pickling was a means of preserving it for out-of-season use or transporting it for a long journey.

Quick-Pickling is considerably easier than traditional pickling and almost any raw or blanched vegetable can be quick-pickled.  All that's needed is a saucepan, any type of clean jars, vinegar, sugar and a few herbs and/or dry spices.  The prepped vegetables get placed in the jars, the seasoned vinegar-sugar mixture gets simmered in the saucepan for a few short minutes, then the solution (sometimes boiling hot, sometimes completely cooled, so follow the recipe on this point) gets ladled over the veggies in the jars.  The lids get placed on the jars and the quick-pickled food gets stored in the refrigerator until they get eaten or up to two weeks.  Because the shelf-life is short and the jars take up refrigerator space, quick-pickles are usually made in small batches.

What are bread & butter pickles?

IMG_4640Bread and butter pickles, also known as sweet and sour pickles are on the sweet end of the pickle spectrum, but not quite as sweet as sweet pickles, and, decidedly different than the sharp bite of dill pickles.  They're typically crinkle-cut sliced, which makes them ideal for topping hamburgers and a variety of sandwiches.  I often serve them as a side-dish, and, occasionally, dice them to add to salads or mince them to add to relishes.  Interestingly enough, my family never made homemade bread and butter pickles.

We lived in Eastern Pennsylvania, the land of the Pennsylvania Deutsch (the German-speaking people who immigrated to PA and surrounding areas, along with their many, many, pickle recipes).

Ihwx.5431a462-d5ca-41c9-b47c-74fa6bfd7bc9.500.500In the tradition of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, the Wos-Wit brand has been canning delicious relishes, dressings, preserves and various garden vegetables. Beginning in the 1940's, as a small farm producing Pennsylvania Dutch products by canning the excessive vegetable bounty, the Pennsylvania Dutch label "WOS-WIT" ("what do you want") has a rich and extensive history. Originally owned by John and Dorothy Kresge, in 1983 the business was sold to Paul Zukovich, a long time farmer who now operates the canning facility on his 80 acre farm: Grouse Hunt Farms. His family continues to use all of the Kresge's original recipes. 

Wos-Wit Bread & Butter Pickles contain all the traditional ingredients and no artificial preservatives:  sliced cucumbers, vinegar, sugar, onions, red peppers, salt, tumeric and spices.

IMG_4626

For the brine mixture:

1  cup distilled white vinegar (5% acidity)

1  cup distilled apple cider vinegar (5% acidity)

2  cups granulated sugar

1/4  cup pickling or Kosher salt

1  tablespoon mustard seeds

1/2  teaspoon each:  celery seeds, dry mustard, red pepper flakes and ground turmeric

8  whole allspice berries

8 whole cloves

IMG_4631 IMG_4635Step 1.  To prepare brine, stir all ingredients together in a 2-quart saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat, adjust heat to a steady simmer and cook 3 full minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool slightly while prepping vegetables:

IMG_4643For the cucumber mixture:

3  pounds cucumbers, 1/4"-thick sliced into coins, preferably crinkle cut

1/2  pound small-diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup small-diced red bell pepper

~ Step 2.  Prep vegetables as directed placing them in a large bowl as you work.  Add all the warm-hot brine and stir.  Refrigerate for 6-8 hours, stirring frequently.

~ Step 3.  Remove bread and butter pickles from the refrigerator.  Using a slotted spoon transfer pickles to desired-sized, mason-type jars (although any type of lidded jar will work just fine), lightly-packing them into each.  Using a small ladle, add brine to the neck of each jar of pickles.  

Seal jars & keep stored in refrigerator for 7-10 days:

IMG_4662Quick & Easy Bread & Butter Refrigerator Pickles:  Recipe yields enough pickles to fill 40 total ounces/8, 5-ounce mason jars were filled today.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; 2-quart saucepan; large spoon; large slotted spoon; small ladle; desired sized mason-type jars with tight-fitting lids

6a0120a8551282970b01901ee05043970bCook's Note:  When I was growing up, there was almost always a jar of pickled eggs in our refrigerator.  If there wasn't, it was time to make more.  To this day, my mother's recipe for   ~ Pretty in Pink: Pennsylvania Dutch Pickled Eggs ~, is one of my favorite snacks. They are made via the quick-pickling method too, and, here in my Happy Valley kitchen, I make them with our own home-grown home-canned red beets.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

10/05/2023

~ Amish Honey-Mustard & Pickle-Relish Pasta Salad ~

IMG_4977Walk into any Amish or Pennsylvania Dutch grocery store or a market that caters to a region with a large Amish population, then, walk up to the refrigerated deli-case.  There you'll find several traditional, high-quality side-dishes:  eggy-rich macaroni- and potato- salads, creamy cole slaw, sweet 'n sour slaw and pepper-cabbage.  Next, take a stroll down the condiment isle and gaze at the array of honey-mustard- and sweet and sour- salad dressings, dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, vinegar-marinated vegetables or mustardy chow-chows (a crunchy vegetable medley in mustard sauce).  Lastly, check out the sweet treats:  streusel-topped Dutch-apple, rhubarb-streusel and shoo-fly pies, crumb cake and coffeecake, apple dumplings, and, sand-tart or snickerdoodle cookies (to name a few).  Eat your sweet and savory heart out.

Med_1145608712-6If you "shop Amish", you know what to expect.  If you're a tourist, be prepared to break your budget, but not because the food is over-priced -- it's not.  You are simply not going to be able to resist wanting to take a taste of everything home with you.  Lucky me.  Not only did I grow up in the Lehigh Valley region Eastern Pennsylvania where a lot this wonderfulness takes place, I married into a family where Nana (grandmother) was Pennsylvania Deutsch.  She, like all women of her persuasion, was an incredible cook.  I was in my late teens and early twenties at the time, but even back then, I was a smart enough cookie to "take advantage" of time spent with her in her kitchen, and enjoyed learning many of her recipes.  I've done very little to make them my own.

Amish macaroni salad recipes are all on the sweet side.

IMG_4981There are plenty of recipes for Amish macaroni salad in cookbooks and on-line.  They're all good, they're all a bit different, but, they're all similar on one point:  Amish macaroni salad is on the sweet side. Nana's recipe contains all the traditional ingredients (macaroni, celery, onion and bell pepper).  That said, she didn't add diced, crunch-tender blanched carrots  (as most traditional recipes do).  She used pimentos instead.  I can only assume for their sweet, tangy flavor and pretty red color.  There's more. Nana's secret was to add honey-mustard salad dressing into the mix, and, it adds absolutely delightful flavor.  This macaroni salad is so delightful, I'm always asked:

"This macaroni salad is special." "What's your secret?"

IMG_49181  pound medium pasta shells

1  tablespoon sea salt, for adding to boiling water for pasta

6  large eggs, hard-cooked 

1  3-ounce jar chopped pimientos

1  cup each:  medium-diced green bell pepper, celery and onion

1/2 cup well-drained and diced bread and butter pickles, preferably homemade, or, high-quality store-bought 

1 1/2  cups mayonnaise

1/2  cup sour cream

1/2  cup honey-mustard salad dressing (not honey-mustard)

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2  teaspoon each:  celery seed, garlic powder, paprika, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_4921 IMG_4925 IMG_4911 IMG_4913 IMG_4915 IMG_4929~Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil and add the 1 tablespoon salt.  Add the pasta and cook until al dente.  Do not overcook.  Drain pasta into a colander and begin adding very cold tap water to cool it to room- or below-room temperature.  Give the colander a few good shakes, to remove excess moisture, then, spread pasta out on a baking pan that has been lined with a few layers of paper towels.  Set aside to "dry", meaning, not dry out, just dry of all moisture.  In a 2-quart saucepan, hard-cook the eggs -- no green rings please.  Drain the pimentos onto a small paper-towel-lined plate too.

*Note:  When chopping eggs for salads like egg, tuna- or pasta-, both of my grandmothers taught me to chop the yolk separately from the white.  It's not necessary, but it does look prettier.  

IMG_4934 IMG_4937 IMG_4938 IMG_4943~Step 2.  Transfer pasta to a large bowl.  Dice eggs, celery, bell pepper, onion and pickles*, placing them in the bowl as you work.  In a medium bowl, stir together the mayo, sour cream, honey-mustard dressing, celery seed, garlic powder, paprika, sugar, salt and black pepper.

*Note:  Because almost all Amish and Pennsylvania Deutsch women make homemade bread and butter pickles, also known as sweet and sour pickles, there's no need to purchase sweet pickle relish.  Finely-diced bread and butter pickles are the best sweet pickle relish you will ever taste.

IMG_4947 IMG_4952 IMG_4955 IMG_4960~Step 3.  Fold the mayonnaise mixture into the pasta mixture.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, several hours to overnight.  Overnight is best.  Keep stored in refrigerator for 7-10 days, adding additional honey-mustard salad dressing, in small amounts, if necessary, to enhance its sweet and savory flavor and creamy texture.  Keep stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Portion into 1-quart containers & store in refrigerator: 

IMG_4964Would you like a crostini w/bacon, bread & butter pickles, roasted chicken breast & honey-mustard w/your Amish pasta salad?

IMG_4973Amish Honey-Mustard & Pickle-Reslish Pasta Salad:  Recipe yields approximately 4 1/2 pounds/3 quarts/12 cups.

Special Equipment List:  8-quart stockpot; colander; large baking pan; paper towels; 2-quart saucepan; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcafef88970bCook's Note:  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". They were fleeing the mountains of Switzerland and southern Germany to avoid religious persecution and established several communites in the Lehigh Valley.  Why? Thank William Penn for his free-thinking, open-door, equal-opportunity-for-all of any religion or race politics.  Pennsylvania set an example for the other colonies, who all had established an official "State" religion.  Pennsylvania:  The first to welcome people of all beliefs and walks of life.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

09/30/2023

~ Chicken, Cheddar, Bacon, Apple & Honey Mustard ~

IMG_3586Write this list of five ingredients down.  Why?  Together, they are a stellar Fall sandwich (or salad) combination.  Piled high between two slices of bread or tossed together in a bowl, along with some thinly-sliced onion and a few greens, they constitute a complete and salivatingly satisfying meal -- savory, sweet, and ever-so-slightly-salty, with plenty of meaty protein, tangy cheese, tart fruit and crisp vegetables.  It all gets pulled together with a drizzly dressing made of honey, mustard and mayonnaise, which complements each and every component perfectly.  

I like to stuff everything into a pita pocket, but, I have been known to serve 'em up on homemade cheddar biscuits, when I've got time and am inclined to bake biscuits.  Served on either, it's an exquisite sandwich.  That said, I put some thought into the "construction", meaning:  the order in which the ingredients would be layered.  While sandwiches can be as simple as "catch-as-catch-can", "grab the stuff and out the door you run", all sandwiches are not created equal:  

Some are hot and some are cold.  Some need to be eaten ASAP and some can be wrapped and transported long distances.  Some are neat and can be picked up to eat, others are sloppy and require a knife and fork.  In the case of this sandwich, I wanted it layered in a manner that kept it from deconstructing itself as I ate it -- I wanted it to stay relatively intact to the very last bite.  

IMG_3575A great sandwich is a properly-constructed sandwich:

For each sandwich:

1  pita pocket, sliced in half to form 2 half-moon shapes

2-3  tablespoons honey-mustard dressing, a generous 1 tablespoon per half sandwich

2  slices sharp yellow cheddar cheese, sliced in half to form 4 triangles, 2 triangles per half sandwich

2  very-thin slices red onion, sliced in half to form 4 half-moon shapes, 2 half-moon shapes per half sandwich

12 thin slices poached or roasted chicken breast, 6 thin slices per half sandwich

2  slices oven roasted bacon or pan-fried bacon, each slice cut into 4 pieces per half 

6  crisp and crunchy, in-season, unpeeled and thinly-sliced, half-moon-shaped apple slices, your favorite Fall apple, 3 half-moon-shaped slices per half sandwich 

4-6 generous tablespoons shredded iceberg lettuce (or your favorite crisp greens), about 2-3 tablespoons shredded lettuce per half sandwich

additional honey-mustard dressing, preferably homemade, for dipping or drizzling

potato chips or potato salad, for accompaniment

IMG_3545 IMG_3549 IMG_3555 IMG_3559~Step 1.  Slice 1 pita pocket in half and open each half up.  Using a teaspoon or a butter knife, slather the inside, top and bottom, of each pita half, with about 1 generous tablespoon honey mustard dressing.  Cut 2 slices yellow sharp cheddar cheese in half to form 4 triangles and layer 2 pieces of cheese in the bottom each pita half.  Cut 2 very-thin slices red onion in half to form 2 half-moon shapes.  Place/distribute 2 of the half-moons, atop the cheese in each half.

IMG_3563 IMG_3569 IMG_3570 IMG_3574~Step 2.  Atop the onion, arrange 6 thin slices poached or roasted chicken breast meat in each pita half.  Atop the chicken, arrange 4 quarter-pieces bacon (1 slice bacon cut into 4 pieces).  In each pita half, arrange 3 thin half-moon shaped apples slices atop the bacon.  Atop the apples slices in each pita half, "stuff" 2-3 tablespoons shredded lettuce.  It's pretty as a picture:

Drizzle w/additional honey-mustard dressing & serve:

IMG_3596Absolutely fantastic to the very last bite: 

IMG_3616Chicken, Cheddar, Bacon, Apple & Honey Mustard:  Recipe yields instructions to construct 1 pita sandwich/2 halves per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; teaspoon or butter knife

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd0c433e970bCook's Note:  Those of you who know me, know I love roasted chicken, and, I truly do roast two chickens almost every week, just to have the meat on-hand for sandwiches and salads.  It's so much better than salty, store-bought deli-meat chicken. During the Fall and Winter months, I love to bake focaccia too, to have on-hand for sandwiches.  Got roasted chicken and focaccia too?  Check out my recipe for ~ Roasted-Chicken Caesar-Salad Focaccia Panini ~. It's more than worth the effort.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023) 

09/25/2023

~How to: Make Roasted Chicken Carcass Soup Stock~

IMG_3267As unappetizing as the two words chicken carcass sound, culinarily, those are the words that describe what's left of a boned chicken (what's left after the meat has been removed from the bones), and, truth told, whether the carcass is raw or has been roasted, there is a ton of flavor in those bones.  There's more, and this is important:  Discarding a chicken carcass without extracting the flavor from it is such a waste it should be a crime.  Whether I have raw ones (which I rarely do) or roasted ones (which I often do), even if I don't have time to "deal with them" immediately, I put them in a bag in the freezer and make a date with them for another time.  

IMG_8322One of the benefits of roasting two chickens each week, is my ability to make a lot of "roasted chicken carcass soup stock".  Yes, I really do roast two chickens almost every week.  Rotisserie chicken is not my "gig" -- I find it to be overly greasy and I don't feel well after I eat it. Instead, I choose to put two six-pound chickens on a rack in a pan in a 350º oven for two hours.  When they come out, we enjoy one hot meal (usually with gravy and mashed or roasted potatoes), and, for the rest of the week, I have leftovers for sandwiches and salads.

IMG_3084 IMG_3088 IMG_3091~ Step 1.  Carve and remove the white breast meat and dark leg/thigh meat from both roasted chickens.  Using your fingers, remove and discard as much of the roasted skin from the two carcasses.  Place the carcasses in a 16-quart stockpot.  If the chickens have been roasted as per my directions, there will be some flavorful dripping in the bottom of the roasting pan.  Pour the drippings into a fat/lean separator, add the lean portion only to the stockpot, then, discard the fat portion.

IMG_3096~ Step 2.  To the stockpot with the carcasses and drippings, add:

10  quarts cold water

1  1/2  pounds large whole, peeled yellow or sweet onions

1  1/2-2  pounds whole, peeled carrots*

3/4  pound whole celery stalks

4  tablespoons dried parsley

4  tablespoons sea salt & 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely-ground black pepper

*Note:  If this seems like a case of "carrot excess", it is.  I love lots carrots in my soup, and, since I use this stock to make soup, I cook a lot of them, all at once.  When portioning the stock into containers for the freezer, I place a few whole cooked carrots in each container.

IMG_3099 IMG_3104~ Step 3.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Unlike making soup with meat-on whole chickens or raw chicken carcasses, there will be very little of the whitish/gray foamy matter that floats to the surface.  That said, if some surfaces, use a large slotted spoon or skimmer to remove and discard it.  Adjust heat to a gentle ready simmer. Continue to simmer, uncovered for 3 hours.  The soup will have reduced quite and bit, which will render it tastily rich.  Turn the heat off, cover pot and allow soup to steep for 3 more hours.

IMG_3107~ Step 4.  There will be 7-7 1/2 quarts of perfectly-seasoned chicken-soup stock.  Ladle the stock through a fine mesh strainer into desired-sized food storage containers (for the freezer) or jars (for the refrigerator).  These are 2-quart sized containers into which some of the whole, cooked carrots have been placed.  Use immediately as directed in recipe, or, refrigerate stock for up to 1 week, or keep frozen for 6-8-12 months.

Loads of rich, roasted flavor from roasted chicken carcasses:

IMG_3086Liquid gold-- Perfect for an upcoming chilly day lunch: 

IMG_3257How to:  Make Roasted Chicken Carcass Soup Stock:  Recipe yields 7-7 1/2 quarts perfectly-seasoned chicken-soup stock.  Simply add some diced celery, onion, and/or potatoes and simmer until veggies are tender.  Add cooked homemade egg noodles and it's time to eat.

Special Equipment List:  16-quart stockpot w/lid; fat/lean separator; large slotted spoon or skimmer; soup ladle; fine mesh strainer

6a0120a8551282970b015392bcbb3e970bCook's Note:   Making chicken stock to use all year long is a big event in my kitchen.  I usually make it on one of the coldest days of the year, so that I can use the great outdoors (a secure area on my patio), to refrigerate the entire 24-quart stockpot overnight.  To get my recipe for chicken stock made with whole, meat-on-the-chickens chicken-soup stock, click this link to read my post ~ It's National Chicken Stock Day -- In Mel's Kitchen ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

09/20/2023

~Grillmarked: Thai-Inspired Hot & Sticky Honey Wings~

IMG_4148Wings and tailgate.  Tailgate and wings.  If two words ever went hand-in-hand onto the gridiron, yep, it would be those two.  If I say tailgate, you say wings, and, if there is one thing we tailgaters can't resist, it's a new wing-flavor-profile to experiment with.  I came across this one in the Parade Magazine insert of my mom's local newspaper about a decade ago.  Parade credits the recipe to Michael Gulotta, chef-owner of MoPho and Maypop restaurants in New Orleans.  It's a keeper.

IMG_4153The moment I read through the ingredients list, I knew I was gonna love this recipe.  For starters the combination of Greek-style yogurt and honey is, um, the bees knees. It's divine.  Stir in some Thai seasoning soy, fish sauce and Sriracha.  What's not to love about that trio.  Personally, I'd be willing to drink the marinade -- it is that good. Chef Gulatta cooks his outside on a gas grill, turning them frequently, while keeping the grill covered in between turns.  I did mine inside, in my grill pan, on my gas stove, uncovered.  They cooked longer, 25 minutes, but came out perfect.

Hey, Honey!  I've got a hankering for some wings!

IMG_40832  pounds, large, meaty chicken wings, about 20-24 wings (Note from Mel:  If you want to push the wing count to 3 pounds, about 30-36 wings, the marinade amount can handle it.)

1  cup plain yogurt, preferably Greek-style

1/2  cup honey

1  tablespoon Thai fish sauce

2  tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce

1-2  tablespoons Sriracha sauce, to taste (Note:  Chef Gulatta says Sambal chile paste can be substituted.)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing grill grids or grill pan

lime wedges for garnish and for squirting lime juice on wings

2-3  tablespoons chopped cilantro leaves, for sprinkling on wings prior to serving + cilantro sprigs for garnish

IMG_4090 IMG_4091 IMG_4093 IMG_4097~Step 1.  In a small bowl, place the yogurt, honey, Thai fish sauce, Thai seasoning soy sauce (not Chinese soy sauce) and Sriracha.  Thoroughly stir it all together.  Place wings in a 1-gallon ziplock bag.  Add all the marinade to bag.  Close bag, toss to evenly and thoroughly coat wings in marinade and place in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours, turning/tossing occasionally.

Note.  Remove the wings 45-60 minutes prior to cooking them (so they are not ice cold going onto the hot grill grids).  Open the bag and using a pair of tongs, remove wings from the marinade, gently shaking all the excess marinaded off, allowing it to drizzle back down into the bag. Transfer marinade to a small bowl and set aside -- it will get used as a basting sauce.

IMG_4102 IMG_4104 IMG_4107 IMG_4111 IMG_4116 IMG_4121 IMG_4123 IMG_4126~Step 2.  Liberally spray gill pan with no-stick, place on the stovetop and heat over medium- medium-high.  Add the wings to pan, as many as will fit without crowding the pan.  Cook, regulating the heat over medium- medium-high, using a pair of tongs to turn the wings four times, about every 5 minutes, for 20 minutes, until golden brown and crisp, about 20 minutes, using a pastry brush to lightly baste (dab their tops) every time you flip them over.  After 20 minutes, stop basting and spend the next 5-6 minutes turning & flipping the wings constantly, until they are nicely-browned over their entire surface area.  The entire process will take 25-30 minutes.

Garnish w/cilantro & lime wedges.  Asian broccoli slaw anyone?

IMG_4149Simply & undeniably some of the best wings I've ever eaten:

IMG_4133Grillmarked:  Thai-Inspired Hot & Sticky Honey Wings:  Recipe yields 20-24 appetizers/4-6 servings/4-6 wings per person.

Special Equipment List:  poultry shears; 1-gallon ziplock bag; outdoor gas grill or grill pan on stovetop; tongs; silicon (high-heat safe) pastry brush

IMG_0990Cook's Note:  To make my Asian Broccoli Slaw w/Honey-Sesame Dressing, in a medium bowl, place:

1, 12-ounce bag store-bought broccoli cole slaw  

For the dressing, whisk together:

1/4  cup each: vegetable oil and white rice vinegar

1  tablespoon each: sesame oil and Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons honey

Add all of the dressing to slaw, toss together and refrigerate until well-chilled  1-2 hours or overnight.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

09/15/2023

~ My Thai-Inspired Sesame Chicken Thigh Paillards ~

IMG_4059Once upon a time there was a woman in Happy Valley Pennsylvania who was planning to make chicken Milanese for dinner.  "In the style of Milan", it refers to a thinly-sliced and lightly-pounded protein dredged in flour, dipped in egg, then coated with breadcrumbs.  It's quickly-sautéed in butter and/or olive oil until golden. It's crispy outside, juicy and fork-tender inside, and, after squirt of lemon and a parsley garnish it's served the moment it comes out of the skillet.  It couldn't be easier, especially when cooking for just two.  I refer to it as one of my flash-in-the-pan dinners.  

IMG_7761(Italian Chicken Milanese - top photo.  Thai-style Milanese - bottom photo.)  I cook several flash-on-the-pan meals just for us two, and, we adore classic Italian Milanese.

That said, as that day progressed, I wondered if I could fuse the concept of Milanese with another cuisine? Namely, Thai-Asian.  You betcha. After I pounded the chicken thighs, I started by substituting sesame and peanut oil for butter and olive oil.  I whisked Thai seasoning soy and fish sauces into the egg mixture, instead of adding salt and pepper to the flour dredge. The decision to use IMG_4049Japanese panko breadcrumbs in place of Italian-style breadcrumbs was a no-brainer.  A garnish of lime and cilantro, instead of lemon and parsley finished my new dish off, and, I served it atop freshly-steamed jasmine rice with a side of broccoli, instead of my saffron rice which contains peas.  When we sat down to dinner, we were thrilled with our Thai-style Milanese -- complete with my homemade Thai peanut sauce  for dipping and drizzling too.

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

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

IMG_39746  large boneless, skinless chicken thighs (Note:  This is approximately the equivalent of 3, boneless, skinless chicken breast halves that have been butterflied to form 6 pieces/portions.)

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

IMG_3980 IMG_3982~ Step 2. Remove and discard the top layer of plastic wrap and lightly sprinkle the tops of the perfectly-pounded thighs with:

Wonder Quick-Mixing flour for Sauce and Gravy (a granular flour which doesn't clump),  or, ordinary all-purpose flour

IMG_3990~ Step 3.  Allow the chicken to rest 5-10 minutes, to allow the flour time to absorb moisture from chicken.  

During this rest time, sprinkle a light layer of flour in the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 12", 3-quart casserole, and, in a 1-cup measuring container, using a fork, vigorously whisk together:

4 large eggs with 1  tablespoon Thai seasoning soy sauce and 1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce.

IMG_3992 IMG_3996 IMG_3998 IMG_4002~Step 4.  Pick up each piece of chicken and place, floured side down in the lightly-floured casserole. Flour the second sides (now the top sides) and set aside another 5-10 minutes.  Add the whisked egg mixture to the casserole and allow the chicken to rest in the egg mixture, using a fork to stop and "flip-flop" chicken around in the eggs two-three times for 5-10 last minutes.

IMG_4011 IMG_4012 IMG_4016~ Step 5.  In each of two, shallow 9" pie-type dishes, place 1 cup panko breadcrumbs.  Place three chicken thighs in each dish and coat in crumbs, taking time, 3-5 total minutes, to stop and "flip-flop" them, 2-3-4 times, to evenly and completely coat.  Taking time to do this "right", insures the crumbs will stay in place as they sauté -- because they've absorbed lots of moisture from the egg mixture.

IMG_4019 IMG_4025 IMG_4031 IMG_4038 IMG_4034~Step 6.  In a 16" electric skillet over low heat (225°), heat 6 tablespoons peanut oil with 2 tablespoons sesame oil.  Increase heat to medium- medium-high (240°-250°). Add the cutlets to skillet.  Sauté gently until light-golden in color on both sides, turning only once, about 6-7 minutes per side, adjusting the heat as needed to prevent over-browning (which will dry them out). Season tops with freshly-ground sea salt and serve immediately.

Note:  If doubling or tripling the recipe to feed more people, transfer cooked cutlets to a wire cooling rack that has been placed on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking sheet lined with parchment in a modest 225°-230° oven (for up to 30 minutes) while continuing to dredge, dip, coat and dry.

Serve atop steamed jasmine rice w/Thai peanut sauce:

IMG_4063Garnished w/a lime wedge & a sprig of cilantro.

IMG_4072My Thai-Inspired Sesame Chicken Thigh Paillards:  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 2, 9" pie dishes; 16" electric skillet; long-handled fork and/or spatula; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; wire cooling rack

IMG_1616Cook's Note:  For a similar dish (a variation of the same theme without the crispy breadcrumb coating), containing white wine, capers and lemon, click into Categories 12, 20 or 26 to read my recipe ~ For those Times When Ya Just Gotta Have Piccata ~.  In Italian, "piccata" translates to "piquant" or "tangy" or "zesty", and, in the case of this recipe, a few pats of cold butter are stirred into the pan-drippings to make a tangy sauce for drizzling over the top of the finished dish.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

09/10/2023

~ Thai-Style Chicken-Tender Peanut-Butter Red Curry~

IMG_3692Peanut butter?  Yep.  Pulverized wok-roasted peanuts are commonly served with or in Thai food, and:  Oh my Thai -- if you love Thai food, as I do, you want this recipe in your recipe box.  If you cook Thai food, as I do, even if only on an occasional basis, I'm guessing you already have everything you need in the Asian section of your pantry and refrigerator to make this meal without making a special trip to your local Asian market.  Is this an authentic Thai recipe?  Yes and no. Yes, in that the flavors are authentic Thai.  No, in that I took a few shortcuts (mostly in the form of a can of store-bought red curry paste and some Jiff extra-crunchy peanut butter), but, nothing that a Thai cook would call me out on. Ok, perhaps a few Thai cooks would call me out, but, too bad. I'm an American gal in an American kitchen and I love Thai food.  To my Thai friends, be flattered.

IMG_3687In my food world, curries are comfort food.  Served steeping hot over or with freshly-steamed rice, they're perfect for the crisp, cold days of Fall and Winter.  Once the ingredients are prepped, which typically takes me about 30 minutes, Thai curries are relatively quick and easy to prepare. They can contain meat, poultry, fish or shellfish (never a combination, but, one can be substituted for another, so feel free to do so), and they range in texture from very soupy to very thick and stewlike.  That said, they differ from other curries (like Indian and Jamaican), in that they rely upon a variety of freshly-made pulverized "wet" curry pastes rather than "dry" curry powders.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0904d5f8970dNowadays, busy cooks, even Thai cooks, purchase canned curry pastes, and, the ones sold in Asian markets are of high-quality. That said, savvy Thai cooks add a few things to store-bought curry paste to brighten and personalize the flavor -- which is exactly what I've learned to do.

Today's stewlike red chicken curry recipe is a dish I was taught to make back in 1993 by a Home Economist from Thailand living in Happy Valley with her husband Fu. Kanya and I became foodie friends fast, and, over the course of two years, I had the priviledge of learning how to combine Thai ingredients to properly balance the classic four Thai flavors -- hot, sour, sweet & salty -- and serve them in authentic Thai style too.

Two time-savers: canned curry paste & peanut butter:

IMG_36292 1/2  pounds chicken breast tenderloins, sliced into 1"-1 1/2" pieces

1  8-ounce can sliced water chestnuts, well-drained

6  tablespoons sesame oil

2  teaspoons curry powder

1  teaspoon powdered turmeric

1-1 1/2  4-ounce cans Thai red curry paste (Note:  Red curry paste is your heat gauge.  Use 1 can for less spice, 1 1/2 cans for medium spice, and, 2 cans for a lot of spice.  I use 1 1/2 cans.)

1 1/2  cups medium-diced red bell pepper

1  cup thinly-sliced green onion, white and light-green part only (diced yellow or sweet onion may be substituted

1  15-ounce can straw mushrooms, well-drained, 1 generous cup

1  13 1/2-ounce can coconut milk

1  tablespoon Thai fish sauce (Note: Thai fish sauce is the "salt" of Thailand.)

2  tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce (Note:  Thai soy sauce differs from Chinese soy sauce, so, make sure the label reads "seasoning soy" or "Thai soy" sauce.)

2  tablespoons Thai palm sugar or light brown sugar 

4  tablespoon crunchy-style peanut butter

3/4  cups chopped, wok-roasted peanuts, from 1 cup blanched, unsalted peanuts (Note: See Cook's Note at end of post.

4-6  fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves  (Note:  I keep fresh ones in my freezer and dried ones in my pantry at all times.)

1  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish

6  cups steamed jasmine rice (Note:  This allows 1-1 1/2 cups steamed rice per person.)

IMG_3638 IMG_3640 IMG_3645~ Step 1.  Slice and place the chicken cubes in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, along with the well-drained water chestnuts.  Using a series of about 20 rapid on-off pulses, coarsely grind the chicken and rough chop the water chestnuts.  Remove from work bowl and set aside.

IMG_3652 IMG_3654 IMG_3658 IMG_3661~Step 2.  In a 16" electric skillet, heat 6 tablespoons of sesame oil over 250° (medium-high on the stovetop).  Add the red curry paste, curry powder and powdered turmeric.  Using a large nonstick spoon, work the wet curry and the dry spices into the sesame oil and cook until curry paste is bubbling and fragrant, about 30-45 seconds.  Add chicken/water chestnut mixture, bell pepper, scallions and straw mushrooms.  Stir until ingredients are evenly-coated in curry and spices.

Note:  I prefer to use a 16" electric skillet to prepare this type of Thai curry dish for my family. Why?  It has the capacity to make enough to feed 6-8 people + enough surface area to produce a rather quick evaporation of liquid, which thickens the curry, and, it controls the heat perfectly too (a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight-deep sides on the stovetop may be substituted).

IMG_3665 IMG_3670 IMG_3671 IMG_3684~Step 3.  Sauté, stirring constantly, until chicken is cooked through, 6-8 minutes.  Add and stir in the coconut milk, fish sauce, seasoning soy, palm or light-brown sugar, peanut butter, kaffir lime leaves and 1/4 cup of wok-roasted peanuts.  Stir until all ingredients are thoroughly combined and curry sauce is uniform in color, 1-2 minutes.  Adjust heat to simmer gently but steadily, about 220°-225° (medium on the stovetop), until curry sauce is nicely thickened, about 15-20 minutes. Turn heat off, cover skillet and allow to steep while steaming rice and mincing cilantro garnish. 

"When in Rome."  A bit of Thai-style mealtime etiquette:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1eb32ea970cWe've all heard the saying, "when in Rome, do as the Romans."  It means, when in a foreign country, or, being entertained by foreigners:  respect their customs.  In Thailand, meals are served family-style.  Each dish is served in its own vessel, and, after the food is on the table, everyone sits down together.  The food is passed and it's impolite to take too much of any one item at one time, but, it's very polite to go back for seconds or thirds.  There's more.  Because Thai food is bite-sized (sliced, diced, chopped, or pulverized), you will never find a knife on a Thai table.  For a proper Thai place setting:  a plate and/or bowl, a fork and a spoon, and, a water glass.

Portion some rice in a bowl, top generously w/chicken curry, then, garnish w/a sprinkling of peanuts & cilantro: 

IMG_3686Oh my Thai -- that very first Thai-licious forkful:

IMG_7164Thai-Style Chicken-Tender Peanut-Butter Red Curry:  Recipe yields 9-10 cups thick, hearty, stewlike curry/6-8 servings.  Leftovers freeze, thaw and reheat (in the microwave) really well.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 16" electric skillet w/lid or 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides on stovetop; large nonstick spoon; electric rice steamer (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0904fbcf970d 6a0120a8551282970b01bb0904fc13970dCook's Note: To wok-roast the peanuts, place a thin coating of sesame oil in bottom of a wok and swirl to coat the wok a few inches up the sides -- the amount of oil will vary depending upon size of  wok. Heat over medium-high, add peanuts and stir-fry, stirring constantly, until golden, 1-2-3 minutes.  Cool and chop the nuts.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

09/05/2023

~Grillmarked: Ground Chicken Caprese-Style Burgers~

IMG_3854Today is a glorious day in early-September, but unless we get a wealth of warm weather and sunshine for at least three more weeks, it's probable that I picked the last substantive batch of garden tomatoes this morning -- and it's been a banner year.  While walking my basket of dew-covered beauties back to my kitchen, I passed by my last full-leafed basil plant, the one I've been saving for that celebratory "last caprese day" of the season.  Today ended up being the day.

IMG_6487While I'm always, and I mean always, in the mood for a classic caprese salad (sliced same-day-picked garden tomatoes, fresh buffalo-milk mozzarella cheese, basil leaves, a drizzle of fruity olive oil -- occasionally a splash of balsamic vinegar too -- freshly-ground sea salt and pepper), I reminded myself how much Joe was looking forward to my thick, juicy chile cheddar cheeseburgers w/chile-lime mayo for an early dinner on our deck tonight.  A promise is a promise, and, when a man's got cheeseburgers on his mind, it's pretty hard to change it. Then it not only rained, it poured.

The move indoors opened the topic up for discussion, which was convenient because I'd had "this caprese thing" rattling around in my head all morning.  Very diplomatically, I said, "How about chicken-burgers done in the grill pan instead.  I've got all the stuff on-hand to make them caprese-style.  We can make cheeseburgers anytime."  Joe's response:  "Sounds like a plan."  Joe likes plans.  Dinner was divine -- Joe still got a great burger and I quelled my caprese craving:

IMG_3873A moist, juicy chicken burger full of caprese flavors + a drizzle of some awesome balsamic mayonnaise = a great burger.

IMG_3795For the chicken burgers:

2  pounds chicken breast tenderloins, sliced into 1"-1 1/2" pieces

1  medium yellow or sweet onion, medium-diced, 6-7 ounces, about 1 1/2 cups 

2  large garlic cloves

1/2  cup chiffonade of fresh basil leaves

1  extra-large egg

1/2  teaspoon dried basil leaves

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

16  slices deli-style mozzarella cheese, or, 8 slices deli-style mozzarella cheese + 8 slices deli-style provolone cheese, your choice

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing grill pan

For the assembly and garnishes:

8  burger rolls of choice

2-3 cups shredded romaine lettuce, a generous 1/4 cup per sandwich

16-24 tomato slices, 2-3 per sandwich depending upon size of tomatoes

balsamic mayonnaise (Note:  See Cook's Note at end of recipe.)

16-24 large, whole, fresh basil leaves, 2-3 per sandwich

IMG_3800 IMG_3802 IMG_3807 IMG_3812 IMG_3815~Step 1.  Slice and place the chicken piecess in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, along with the diced onion and basil chiffonade.  Using a series of 20 rapid on-off pulses, coarsely-grind the chicken, along with the onion and basil.  Add the egg, dried basil, sea salt and pepper to work-bowl of processor.  With processor motor running for 10-15 seconds, incorporate the egg and spices throughout the now finely-ground chicken.  Refrigerate 1-2 hours.

Note:  You will have a little over 2 1/2 pounds chicken mixture.  The mixture will resemble the soft "sticky" consistency of a meatloaf mixture rather than a typical burger mixture.  This is intentional. Because ground chicken is naturally dry when it is cooked, extra moisture must be added to the poultry mixture at the outset, and, it was done in the form of onion, garlic and fresh basil.

IMG_3819 IMG_3822 IMG_3824~ Step 2.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper.  Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide poultry mixture into 8, 5-ounce portions, form the portions into 3 1/2"-round x 3/4"-thick discs, placing them side-by-side on pan.  While you can form the burgers, like you would less-sticky hamburgers, using your hands, if you have a 3 1/2" food ring and a tablespoon, it'll be incredibly easy (and you won't get "sticky chicken goo" all over your fingers and palms of hands).  Cover pan with plastic wrap and partially-freeze burgers for 55-60 minutes, no longer than that.

Note:  Partially freezing the burgers makes them easy to handle when it comes time to put them on the grill pan (or on the grids of a gas grill outdoors).  Do not freeze the burgers completely. You want them just firm enough to easily lift off the parchment while maintaining their shape.

IMG_3827 IMG_3836 IMG_3842 IMG_3849~Step 3.  Spray grill pan with no-stick cooking spray and place over medium heat on stovetop. Place as many chicken burgers as will comfortably fit (without crowding pan) on the grill grid. Cook, turning only once, until burgers are golden on both sides, about 13-15 minutes per side, lowering the heat if and when necessary to keep them from over-browning or burning before they cook through to their centers. Safe temperature = safe-to-eat poultry:  use an instant-read meat thermometer to insure burgers have reached an internal temperature of 165°.  

IMG_3914Once an internal temperature of 162°-165º has been reached, adjust heat as low as it will go, top each burger with 2 mozzarella slices, cover the grill pan and wait for cheese to melt, 1-1 1/2 minutes.  

Note:  Grill pans don't come with lids.  The lid to my 16"-quart Cuisinart stockpot fits on my Cuisinart grill pan.  Can't find a lid? Cover the pan with a piece of foil.

Note:  To cook on an outdoor gas grill, preheat grill to medium.  Place burgers, side-by-side, either over indirect heat or on the upper rack of grill (if you have one).  Close lid and allow to cook 13-15 minutes.  After 13-15 minutes, open the grill lid.  Using a long-handled grilling spatula, flip burgers over.  They will have firmed up and be golden brown on the first side.  Close the grill lid and continue to cook on the second side for 13-15 minutes, or, to an internal temperature of 165°.

Some assembly required:

IMG_4160Bun, shredded lettuce, burger, tomatoes, mayo & basil:

IMG_3860Pick it (or half of it) up in your mitt:

IMG_3883Savor each & every end-of-caprese-season bite:

IMG_3890Grillmarked:  Ground Chicken Caprese-Style Burgers:  Recipe yields 8 large, hearty caprese-style chicken burgers & 1/2 cup balsamic mayonnaise/1 tablespoon mayo per burger.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; kitchen scale; 3 1/2" food ring and tablespoon; grill pan w/lid; instant-read meat thermometer

IMG_3711 IMG_3706Cook's Note: To make 1/2 cup balsamic mayo, in a small bowl, stir together:

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1  tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1/4  teaspoon each:  garlic powder, onion powder, dried basil, coarsely-ground black pepper and sea salt

Refrigerate 1 hour prior to serving.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

08/30/2023

~ Nice & Easy No-Nonsense Quick-Mix Apple Bread ~

IMG_2889Nice and easy, no-nonsense, quick-to-mix.  One bowl, a whisk and a spatula -- no mixer required. Yep.  Those words accurately sum up this recipe, and, the end more than justifies the means, meaning:  it's hard to believe something this easy can taste this divine.  While apple bread isn't the most photogenic (brown food in general isn't), don't let its monochromatic appearance fool you.  It's dense but not heavy, has a delicately-moist crumb, and, it's bursting with apple flavor -- perfect for any Fall breakfast or brunch buffet table.  Me?  I love it toasted (on the rack of my toaster oven, not a conventional toaster) and slathered with soft, creamy butter.

IMG_2829A bit about quick bread:  "Quick bread" is an American term that refers to bread that is quick to make because it doesn't require kneading or rising time.  It originated during the American civil war, when the demand for food and bread was high.  Innovative cooks began rapidly producing bread and baked goods that were leavened with baking soda rather than yeast.  Nowadays, the leavening agent is predominately double-acting baking powder, or, a combination of baking powder and baking soda.  In the case of baking powder, it is called "double acting" because the rising process starts the moment it makes contact with the liquids, and, gives a second burst of rising power when the bread enters the hot oven.  Typically, quick breads contain eggs, flour, salt and fat (butter, margarine, shortening or oil) and leavening.  That said, they can be sweet or savory and contain sugar, fruits, fruit purée, vegetables, vegetable purée and various liquids (milk, buttermilk, fruit juice or stock).  The wet and dry ingredients are mixed separately, in two different bowls, then briefly stirred together just prior to baking.  FYI:  Biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, scones, soda bread and waffles -- they all fall into the quick-bread category too.

Fall is in the air & that means apple season is here!

IMG_27731  cup vegetable oil

3  large eggs

1  teaspoon pure apple extract (optional)

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2  cups sugar

2 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon apple pie spice

3 cups peeled and medium-diced apples, about 3, 8-10-ounce apples

Sugan 'n Cinnamon, for topping loaves

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans

IMG_2774 IMG_2780 IMG_2784~ Step 1.  In a large bowl, whisk the oil, extracts and eggs together until smooth. Add the sugar and whisk again, to thoroughly combine.  Set aside 5-10 minutes, to give the sugar plenty of time to dissolve, then whisk again.

IMG_2789 IMG_2790 IMG_2793 IMG_2796 IMG_2799~Step 2.  While the oil mixture is resting, peel and dice the apples.  

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and apple pie spice.  Add half of the flour mixture to the oil mixture. Using a large rubber spatula, fold the flour into the oil.  Add the second half of the flour and repeat, folding until the ingredients are just moistened.  A thick batter will have formed.  Fold in all of the apples.

IMG_2803 IMG_2807 IMG_2808 IMG_2815~Step 3.   Spoon and divide batter between two loaf pans that have been sprayed with no-stick. Generously sprinkle top of each loaf with Sugar 'n Cinnamon.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven, 55-60 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.  Remove from oven and place loaves, in pans, on a wire rack to cool for 15-20 minutes prior to inverting them out of pans onto rack to cool 1 1/2-2 hours, prior to slicing warm or at room temperature.

Bake in 325° oven, 55-60 minutes & cool in pans 15-20 minutes prior to inverting onto wire rack to cool completely:

IMG_2810Dense but not heavy, delicately moist & slathered w/butter:

IMG_2885Nice & Easy No-Nonsense Quick-Mix Apple Bread:  Recipe yields 2 loaves, approximately 10 slices per loaf, depending upon how thick or thin loaves are sliced.

Special Equipment List:  wire whisk; large rubber spatula; 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2", 1 1/2-quart loaf pans, preferably glass; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b017c32821725970bCook's Note:  Whether we want to admit it or not, Fall is just around the corner.  Pumpkins are synonymous with Fall, and, my husband Joe grows them in our backyard -- the little sweet "sugar pumpkins" as they are affectionately called.  If you're so inclined, check out my recipe for Joe's Favorite Roasted-Pumpkin Quick Bread.  Paired with today's apple bread, they're a dynamite duo on any breakfast or brunch table.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023) 

08/25/2023

~Oatmeal Peanut-Butter Milk-Chocolate-Chip Cookies~

IMG_2969At 4:30AM I took my poodle outside.  The sun wasn't up, but the dairy cows in the pasture next-door, affectionately referred to by me as the think-tank, were laying down on the ground, and, just as they often do, making snorting noises.  The thing about cows is, when they are laying down, whether you believe the "old wives tale or not, nine out of ten times you can expect rain or a rainy day.  While walking my pooch back to the house, I decided to bake cookies today.

Oatmeal, peanut butter & chocolate chip: 3 favorites in 1 cookie.

IMG_29071/2  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 stick)

1/2  cup lightly-packed light brown sugar

1/2  cup sugar

3/4  cup crunchy peanut butter

1  large egg

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1  cup unbleached-all-purpose flour

3/4  cup old-fashioned rolled oats, not instant oatmeal

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/4  teaspoon salt

1  cup milk-chocolate chips

IMG_2912 IMG_2916 IMG_2918 IMG_2922~Step 1.  In a large bowl, place butter, brown sugar, sugar, peanut butter, egg and vanilla.  On high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream ingredients together, while scraping sides of bowl down with a rubber spatula, about 1 full minute.  Lower mixer speed to medium and incorporate the flour, baking soda and salt, followed by the oatmeal, scraping down sides of bowl as you mix.

IMG_2923 IMG_2929 IMG_2932 IMG_2937~Step 2.  Remove mixer.  Using spatula, fold in the chocolate chips.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place balls of cooking dough, well-apart, on each of 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment.  Bake, one-pan-at-a-time on center rack of 340º oven, 12-14 minutes, until barely browned.  Remove from oven and cool, in pans, 3 minutes prior to using a spatula to transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely, 1-1 1/2 hours.

Bake in 340° oven, 12-14 minutes, remove from oven & cool in pans 3 minutes, transfer to wire rack to cool completely: 

IMG_2953Crispy outside & chewy inside w/a salty edge -- perfection:

IMG_2983Oatmeal Peanut-Butter Milk-Chocolate-Chip Cookies:  Recipe yields 2 dozen, 3"-round cookies.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d29456a8970cCook's Note:  For generations, we Americans have had a love affair with chocolate chip cookies. Surveys unanimously and overwhelmingly place the chocolate chip cookie at the top of our all-time favorite cookie list for over three-quarters of our population, and, it all started with the all-American Toll House cookie.  Who do we thank for and what's the history behind this iconic cookie?  To find out, read my post  ~ The Original Nestlé's Toll House Cookie Recipe ~.  Trust me. I'm certain you'll find it fascinating.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2023)

08/20/2023

~ Creamy Old English and Pimento Cheese Crab Dip ~

IMG_3275During the college football season, I add a few staples to my pantry and refrigerator lineup.  When you live in a college town, you never (and I mean never) know when you're going to need to fix a quick appetizer.  I make sure I'm never without pasteurized crabmeat in my refrigerator and Kraft Old English and Pimento Cheese spreads in my pantry.  If the doorbell rings or the fans on the couch run out of wings, I can have crab dip on the cocktail table in about five minutes.

IMG_3284Give me five minutes, I'll make you some great crab dip:

IMG_32691-pound pasteurized crabmeat, drained of any excess moisture

8  tablespoons salted butter, melted (1 stick)

1/4-1/2  teaspoon (a generous/heaping 1/4 teaspoon) garlic powder

1/4-1/2  teaspoon (a generous/heaping 1/4 teaspoon) onion powder

1  5-ounce jar Kraft Old English Cheese Spread, softened-slightly in the microwave

1, 5-ounce jar Kraft Pimento Cheese Spread

1/2  cup high-quality mayonnaise, preferably Duke's or Hellmann's

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a5e3d2970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a5e3ec970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c91b744e970b 6a0120a8551282970b01bb09beb415970d 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a5e405970c~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, place the butter, garlic and onion powders.  In the microwave, mel