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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

06/25/2020

~ Slightly-Spicy Garlic & Italian-Herbs Buttered Pasta ~

IMG_3262The perfect foil means, the perfect background.  Paint anything edible into this photo and it will be great meal.  Tick, tock.  In the case of this 15-minute to make side-dish, truer words were never spoken. When you have no time to make a run to the grocery store but still have a hungry family to please, this is the perfect side to serve -- everyone loves pasta.  It goes great with a broiled chicken breast, a grilled pork chop, a pan-seared steak, a handful of steamed shrimp, etc.  Add a steamed green vegetable or garden salad and dinner is on the table, and, your day is done. 

True story.  When I was a kid, my kid brother would only eat pasta with butter.  While the rest of us were slurping our marinara sauced and Parmesan cheese topped mounds, he'd sit and watch those yellow pats melt over his bowl of steaming hot spaghetti, tossing and twirling it until it was enrobed and glistening.  Sometimes he'd add cheese, other times, not.  I swear, he could eat his weight in it.  And you know what?  It got the best of us.  It became so mouth-watering to watch him do it, mom started tossing ALL of our spaghetti with salted butter, a few dried spices and a pinch of red pepper flakes, BEFORE she added the sauce -- pasta simply loves to suck up all those flavors.  To this day, everyone asks me why my pasta tastes better than anyone elses.

My brother's favorite pasta the way mom made it for him:  

IMG_32231  pound thick spaghetti

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning water for pasta

8 tablespoons salted butter (1 stick, cut into 8-12 pieces)

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, slightly more or less, for heat

IMG_3226 IMG_3226 IMG_3226 IMG_3226 IMG_3240 IMG_3240 IMG_3240~Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven or a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot, bring 2 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon salt, followed by the spaghetti.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook until pasta is al dente, about 10-11 minutes.  Turn heat off and remove pot from heat.

IMG_3248 IMG_3248 IMG_3248 IMG_3248 IMG_3248~Step 2.  Drain pasta into a colander and immediately return the steaming hot pasta to the still hot pot and place the pot back on the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter pieces, garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend and red pepper flakes.  Using a large spoon stir until butter has melted and pasta is enrobed in a flavorful garlic-butter and herb sauce.  

Plate & serve immediately with or without cheese:   

IMG_3257Slightly-Spicy Garlic & Italian-Herbs Buttered Pasta:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List: 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven or 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot; colander; cutting board; paring knife; large spoon; microplane grater (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b0264e2dbc0e3200dCook's Note: Choose from any number of proteins we make for dinner.  Examples:  roasted chickengrill-panned steaks or pork chops, slow-cooker spareribs, pan-seared ham slices, broiled fish fillets, steamed or poached shellfish, etc.  I refer to these as flash-in-the pan meals because they go from oven or cooktop in relatively short order.  All you need is a side-dish -- a seriously scrumptious all-purpose side-dish. Try my ~ Egg Noodles & Broccoli in Spicy Garlic-Butter Sauce ~.

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

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

06/23/2020

~Old-School One-Skillet Golden Home-Fried Potatoes~

IMG_3199Home-fried potatoes, also known as cottage fries -- potatoes, peeled or unpeeled, sliced into thinnish discs, lightly-seasoned and pan-fried with some sliced onion in a bit of oil and/or butter (shredded or diced potatoes are called hash browns).  Home fries are as delicious for breakfast as they are with dinner.  That said, when it comes to making home fries, there are two schools of thought.  One is to pan-fry par-cooked (steamed, boiled or microwaved baked) potatoes.  The other is to pan-fry raw potatoes.  In my food world, be it for breakfast or dinner, I don't need the added step of par-cooking the potatoes.  In a diner/restaurant, yea, I get it, this task can be done ahead of time and actually saves time.  In my home kitchen, par-cooking misses the point.

Thoughts & musings about home fries in my kitchen:

IMG_3174Some folks use Russet potatoes, and, that's fine. That said, over the years, I've fallen in love with Yukon golds, and, I adore home fries made with them. There's more. While salt and pepper are the only seasonings I use on my humble home fries, feel free to substitute garlic- or onion-salt for salt.  I fry in a mixture of butter and oil (to prevent the butter from burning).  My potatoes get peeled and sliced to a thickness of about 1/4".  Using peeled or unpeeled potatoes, making home fries with raw potatoes takes 28-30 minutes.

No razzle, no dazzle, just humble home fries:  

IMG_31762  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons corn or vegetable oil

2 1/4-2 1/2 pounds gold potatoes, peeled and thinly, 1/4"-thick sliced, 5-6 potatoes

1 1/2-2  cups 1/4"-thick sliced yellow or sweet onion, cut into half-moon shapes, half-moon shapes cut in half

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_3179 IMG_3179 IMG_3179 IMG_3179 IMG_3179 IMG_3179 IMG_3179~Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven or 12" cast-iron skillet, melt the butter into the oil over low heat. Season the mixture with about 15 grinds each of sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Distribute about half of the potatoes in the bottom of the pan.  Scatter the onions over the potatoes and season with another 15 finds of sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Distribute the second half of the potatoes atop the onions and, once again, season with 15 grinds each of sea salt and peppercorn blend.

IMG_3198 IMG_3198~ Step 2.  Increase heat to medium, cover the skillet and allow potatoes to cook, covered, for 12 minutes.  This will start to steam the potatoes and onions.  Remove the lid and increase heat to medium-high.  Continue to cook, uncovered, until potatoes are browning to a golden color on the the bottom, about 8 minutes.  Using a large spatula, work your way around the pan, flipping the potatoes over.  Continue to cook on second sides until potatoes are browning to a golden color on the bottom, about 8 additional minutes.

The best 30-minutes you'll ever spend cooking a side-dish: 

IMG_3202Old-School One-Skillet Golden Home-Fried Potatoes:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable peeler (optional); cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven or 12" cast-iron skillet w/lid; spatula

IMG_3158Cook's Note: When I was growing up, one of my favorite dinners was pork chops served with my dad's home-fried potatoes and my mom's ~ Campfire or Stovetop -- Dutch-Oven-Baked Beans ~.  It was a three-skillet dinner that I never had to be called twice to the table to eat!

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

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

06/21/2020

~ Campfire or Stovetop -- Dutch-Oven-Baked Beans ~

IMG_3159Manifest Destiny, the 19th-century doctrine that the United States had the right and duty to expand throughout the North American continent, brought the cowboys and their cattle drives up through Mexico and Texas and into the wide-open grazing spaces of Colorado and northward into the Midwest.  These (often accidental) East-meets-West crossover points are where Easterners, bound for the Southwest and West, often encountered their first tastes of their final destinations.

Dutch-oven-baked beans were a chuck-wagon staple.

Fresh and dried peppers native to Mexico, dried beans, corn and rice, cornmeal and flour, salt, honey and/or unrefined sugar, coffee, cured ham, bacon and dried meats, which traveled well over the long haul, were all staples of a well-stocked chuck wagon.  Live chickens were usually brought along by the cook ("cooky"), so, eggs as protein were common too.  Wild onions and an occasional herb or two got picked along the way.  Next to a hot pot of coffee, Dutch-oven-baked beans were a daily chuck-wagon staple.  The cattle needed to be watched 24/7, so cowboys worked in shifts, meaning, they were constantly coming and going from wherever base camp was.  Those riding into camp were exhausted.  Before getting some shuteye and heading out again, they filled their plate full of hearty and hot bacony beans and wiped it clean with a piece of corn or soda bread.  One of cooky's responsibilities was to keep the beans going low and slow over the campfire's coals, adding more beans, bacon and water to the pot almost nonstop.  

Lots of smoky bacon = the main flavoring for these beans.

IMG_31161  pound, thick-sliced applewood- or  hicory-smoked bacon (8-9 slices)

1  40-ounce can butter beans (limas), well-drained

1  28-ounce can pork & beans, your favorite brand, undrained

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

1 1/2  cups ketchup, or, barbecue sauce for BBQ-style beans

6  tablespoons yellow mustard

4  tablespoons pure maple syrup

3/4-1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_3119 IMG_3119 IMG_3119 IMG_3119 IMG_3119~Step 1. Slice bacon into 2" pieces, placing them in bottom of 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven as you work.  Place this heavy, enameled cast iron piece of equipment over medium-high heat.  Fry bacon, using a large slotted spoon or spatula to keep it moving in the pan until crisp and golden, 12-14 minutes.  Transfer bacon to paper-towel-lined plate to drain and cool.

IMG_3129 IMG_3129 IMG_3129 IMG_3129 IMG_3139 IMG_3139 IMG_3139 IMG_3139 IMG_3139 IMG_3139 IMG_3139 IMG_3157~Step 2. Add the onions to the bacon drippings remaining in the skillet.  Fry onions until soft and translucent, stirring constantly, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the butter beans, baked beans, ketchup, maple syrup, mustard and black pepper.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer.  Partially cover the pot and continue to cook until mixture is thickened and reduced by about 1/4, 45-60 minutes.  

Stir in bacon pieces & serve ASAP or reheated the next day:  

IMG_3158Campfire-Style One-Skillet Bacony Barbecue Beans:  Recipe yields 2 quarts baked beans/14, 1/2-cup side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart enameled cast-iron Dutch oven or large cast iron skillet w/lid; large slotted spoon or spatula; paper towels

IMG_9993Cook's Note: When my mom announced she was making pork and beans for dinner, she didn't mean she was opening a can of pork and beans -- in a way, kinda sorta she was, but, there was a bit more to it. It meant she had asked Vince, the butcher at The Valley Meat Market, to slice 8, 1/2"-3/4"-thick bone-in pork loin chops, plus a pound of smoky bacon, so she could make her very special recipe for ~ Pork Chop & Baked Bean Casserole -- Pork & Beans ~.

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

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

06/18/2020

~Ham and Cheese in a Folded Egg Pocket Sandwich~

IMG_4586This is the breakfast sandwich I send my husband carrying in-hand out the door with a to-go cup of coffee when he's leaving on a business trip at 4:30AM.  This is the breakfast I made for my three boys, one-at-a-time, as they took turns in the shower, dressed, and straggled down the stairs before school -- our 'Johnny-come-lately' would eat his while walking to the school bus stop. This is the one I make for myself when everyone has left the building and I'm (finally) home alone. Making these to order ("with or without", meaning cheese) on my little camp stove for early morning Penn State tailgates at Beaver Stadium was hugely popular -- they pair great with a Bloody Mary (most men wanted seconds).  Once you make one, you won't need a recipe. 

IMG_45111  teaspoon salted butter

2  extra-large eggs

2-3  tablespoons water

a literal pinch of sea salt

2 very-thin slices lean, deli-syle ham, your favorite kind

2  tablespoons finely-grated (not sliced) cheddar or Swiss cheese

1  English muffin, split and toasted

IMG_4516 IMG_4516~ Step 1. Place eggs in a 1-cup measuring container plus add enough water to total 1/2 cup liquid, about 2-3 tablespoons.  Add a pinch of sea salt -- there is no need to measure salt.  More than a pinch is too much salt.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt 1 teaspoon salted butter over medium heat.

IMG_4523 IMG_4523 IMG_4523 IMG_4523~Step 2.  In a gentle, slow, steady stream, add the beaten eggs to the moderately hot skillet.  Do nothing for 10-15 seconds, until the eggs just start to set up on the bottom.

IMG_4528 IMG_4528 IMG_4528Step 3.  In a series of "skillet on and off an on the heat" moves, lift the skillet up and off the heat, swirl the pan to distribute the egg mixture up and around the sides of the pan and return the skillet to the heat. Repeat this 4-6 more times, until the remaining liquid doesn't want to move around in the pan.  Without swirling, spend about 15-20 more seconds lifting the pan on and off the heat until the remaining eggs START to look dry on the surface and steam bubbles are building up underneath.

Note:  All the "on and off lifting" keeps the eggs from overcooking and browning.  Browning = Dry.

~ Step 4.  Filling and folding eggs goes super-fast so pop that English muffin into the toaster now.

IMG_4628 IMG_4628 IMG_4628 IMG_4628 IMG_4628 IMG_4628 IMG_4628~Step 5. Place two slices of deli-style ham on top of the eggs, leaving a 1 1/2" border around the perimeter of the pan.  If you like cheese on your breakfast sandwiches (Joe does, I do not) now is the time to add 2 tablespoons of grated, not sliced, cheddar or Swiss.  Sprinkle it in a 4" circle over the ham. To fold, using a large spatula, fold the side closest to you up and into the center.  Fold the left side into the center, followed by the right side into the center.  Fold the last remaining side, the one farthest away from you, to the center to form a perfect square w/filling(s) encased.

Note:  Wouldn't it just be easier to slap a slice of cheese on top of the ham?  Well, yes it would, but, when it comes time to fold the eggs, you would find that a square of not-yet completely melted cheese causes the fragile eggs to crack around the corners, and, the most beautiful part about this sandwich is how the fillings stay totally encased in the eggs until it is time to eat.

IMG_4661 IMG_4566 2~ Step 6. Flip the egg pocket over. Place the bottom of the hot English muffin on a piece of foil, place the egg pocket on top, followed by the hot muffin top.  Seal foil around the sandwich, to allow bread to steam a bit, about 1-minute.  Use this time wisely:  wash and dry the skillet.

Ok -- open the foil -- take a look, take a second look too:

IMG_4667Welcome to McMel's early morning kitchen:

IMG_4705Ham and Cheese in a Folded Egg Pocket Sandwich:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1 egg pocket sandwich at a time.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; fork; 10" nonstick skillet; spatula; toaster; aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3950339200dCook's Note: There's nothing like waking up to the ethereal smell of freshly-baked cinnamon rolls.  That said, if you're the cinnamon-roll baker, unless your family sleeps until Noon, "pulling that off" means getting up long before dawn -- yawn. My happy little twist on classic cinnamon rolls, which lets a pre-programmed bread machine mix and proof my recipe for cinnamon-raisin bread dough, will get you an extra 55-minutes of AM snooze time.  Tick, tock.  It's smooth and stress-free sailing after that.  The super-manageable dough pats out easily, store-bought cinnamon-sugar gets sprinkled on top, roll, slice and in the muffin tins they go to proof.  Poof -- bake and your done. To try another one of McMel's breakfast kitchen favorites:  ~ Cinnamon 'n Raisin Cinnamon-Swirl Muffins ~.

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

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

06/15/2020

~ No-Pain Stay-Sane Pantry-Cooking Pork Lo-Mein ~

IMG_3094Lo mein.  In Chinese it literally means "tossed noodles", and, it implies a method in which cooked wheat noodles get tossed into almost any type of stir-fry at the end of the cooking process.  As a result, the noodles absorb some sauce and stay soft while the other previously-cooked ingredients (meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables) get distributed evenly throughout. An example of the opposite would be chow mein, which means "fried noodles", and implies a method in which the noodles are fried to a crispy state at the beginning of the cooking process.

Lo-Mein.  Like spaghetti, I want it when I want it.  ASAP.

Noodles are universally popular and lo mein is extremely popular in Chinese restaurants all over the world.  I for one have eaten in Chinese restaurants all over the world and have never encountered a Chinese menu sans lo mein.  That would be the equivalent of walking into an Italian restaurant and not being able to order a simply-sauced bowl of stranded pasta.  It's unthinkable.  The same goes in my home kitchen too, and it's why this lo-mein lover came up with a quick-to-make pantry-staple-recipe to quickly satisfy my cravings for lo-mein any time of the day or night.  Just like eating a bowl of spaghetti at midnight, I want it when I want it -- ASAP.

Get out a few pantry staples, slice pork & cook noodles:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb095ecaf4970dFor the marinade/sauce (1 1/4 cups -- 1/2  cup for marinade/3/4 cup to sauce stir-fry) & noodles: 

8  tablespoons tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

3  tablespoons each:  hoisin sauce, oyster-flavored sauce, Sriracha sauce and sesame oil

16  ounces lo-mein noodles or spaghetti, cooked according to package directions, drained and briefly rinsed under cold running water to keep them from sticking together 

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbdde3970bFor the stir-fry:

2  pounds pork tenderloin, prepped and marinated as directed below

1/2  cup marinade/sauce, from above recipe, for marinating pork

2  tablespoons sesame oil 

1  tablespoon bottled minced garlic or garlic paste

2  tablespoons bottled minced ginger or ginger paste

1  generous cup thinly-sliced sweet onion, half-moon shapes cut into halves

1 1/2-2  cups frozen peas and carrots

1  4 1/2-6-ounce jar sliced mushrooms, well-drained

cooked lo-mein noodles and marinade/sauce, from above recipe

6a0120a8551282970b01bb095ecdd9970d IMG_3035 IMG_3035 IMG_3035 IMG_3035~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the ingredients for the marinade/sauce.  Slice the tenderloins into thin, 1/8"-1/4"-thick disks, then cut the disks into thin strips, placing them in a 1-gallon food storage bag as you work.  Add 1/2 cup of the marinade/sauce mixture to the pork and close the bag.  Using your fingertips, "massage" the bag of pork until the meat is evenly coated in marinade and set aside.  Dice the onion and set aside.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbd680970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbd680970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbd680970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbd680970b~Step 2.  While pork is marinating, cook lo-mein noodles as directed, drain into a colander and rinse under cold running water.  For a moment or two, give the colander several vigorous shakes to insure excess water is removed.  Set aside to thoroughly drain while preparing stir fry.

Note:  While spaghetti may be substituted for lo-mein noodles without any compromise in taste or texture, be aware that lo-mein noodles cook to al dente in a short 3-4 minutes  and  spaghetti will take a bit longer, 10-11 minutes.  Be sure not to overcook either one.

IMG_3044 IMG_3044 IMG_3049 IMG_3049 IMG_3049 IMG_3049~Step 3.  In a 16" electric skillet, heat sesame oil to 325° (medium-high).  Add the garlic and ginger paste and cook, stirring constantly, until bubbling and fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the pork and all of it's marinade in the bag.  Stir-fry, stirring constantly, until pork is turning opaque and just short of being cooked through, about 3 minutes.  

IMG_3061 IMG_3061 IMG_3061 IMG_3061 IMG_3061 IMG_3061~Step 4.  Add the onion, frozen vegetables and mushrooms. Continue to stir-fry, stirring constantly, until veggies are just thawed, about 3 more minutes.  Drizzle in 1/2 cup of the sauce and stir until all ingredients are completely and evenly coated.  Note:  There will be a generous 1/4 cup marinade/sauce left for the next and last step.

IMG_3078 IMG_3078 IMG_3078~ Step 5.  Add the cooked lo mein noodles to the skillet.  Using two large spoons or two forks, toss, like you would a salad, until noodles are coated in sauce, adding the additional sauce, until the noodles are evenly coated and heated through, about 1-2 minutes.  Portion into warm bowls & serve ASAP.

Portion into warm bowls & serve ASAP:

IMG_3099Skip the take-out or delivery -- get it from your pantry!

IMG_3109No-Pain Stay-Sane Pantry-Cooking Pork Lo-Mein:  Recipe yields 6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot; colander; 16" electric skillet, or, 12" stir-fry pan or skillet, preferably nonstick; two large slotted spoons or forks

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbe5d6970bCook's Note:  The secret to a great stir-fry is a great sauce and the concoction I used in this recipe, a 2:1  ratio of soy sauce to equal parts hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, Sriracha sauce and sesame oil takes a back seat to none.  I use it as an easy-to-make go-to Asian brown sauce in all sorts of stir-fries.

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

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

06/12/2020

~ Melt-in-Your-Mouth Tangy Cream Cheese Cookies ~

IMG_3030While this is one of the easiest cookie recipes in my repertoire, it is also one of the most used cookie recipes in my repertoire.  After the butter and cream cheese come to room temperature, start-to-finish, I can be done baking them in under an hour (including cleanup).  The end result is a not-too-sweet, melt-in-your-mouth cookie that takes-the-edge-off any cravings for overly-indulgent sweets.  For me, nibbling on one after breakfast in the morning, on the run in the middle of the day, or parked in front of the television in the evening, is a sweet spot during a busy day.

Eight ingredients = One melt-in-your-mouth batch of cookies:

IMG_2970

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

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature (very soft)

1  cup sugar

1  extra-large egg, at room temperature

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting cookies (optional, but, I don't go there)

IMG_2973 IMG_2973 IMG_2973 IMG_2973~Step 1.  In a small bowl, stir together the flour, salt and baking powder.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream together the butter and cream cheese.  Lower mixer speed to medium and blend in the sugar, egg and vanilla, scraping down the sides of a bowl with a large rubber spatula while mixing -- this mixture will be silky smooth.

IMG_2985 IMG_2985~Step 2.  Lower mixer speed to low.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients .  Beat until dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, maybe a minute, and again, while using the rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl.

IMG_2994 IMG_2994 IMG_2994 IMG_2994 IMG_2994~Step 3.  Working one pan at a time while using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, drop balls of dough, well apart onto 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment.  When first pan is filled, place it in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.  While first pan is in the refrigerator, ready the second pan.  Bake cookies, one-pan-at-a-time on center rack of 350° oven until the edges are just set and starting to turn golden, 12-13 minutes. Remove from oven and use a thin spatula to gently transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.  Once cool, dust with a very light coating of (optional ) Confectioners' sugar, if desired.

Take a taste.  These WILL melt-in-your mouth:

IMG_3026Melt-in-Your-Mouth Tangy Cream Cheese Cookies:  Recipe yields 20-22 cookies.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8f4d147970bCook's Note:  If it's a drizzle of glaze you think you'd like on these cookies (which is so much better than a dusting of Confectioners' sugar), try my ~ Five-Minute Food-Processor Cream-Cheese Glaze ~.  Pictured here on a cake, it is just as scrumptious on these cookies (just be sure to cut the recipe in half, as the full recipe makes too much for one batch of cookies).

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

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

06/09/2020

~ Hellmann's Original Eight-Ingredient Potato Salad ~

IMG_2968Want to make a country-style potato salad just like your grandmother used to make?  The kind that allows the potato to be the star of the show?  Of course you do or you wouldn't be Googling around the internet looking for a basic, vintage recipe reminiscent of kinder, gentler, traditional times -- a recipe absent of a long-list fancy-schmancy ingredients (no special heirloom potatoes, no gourmet vinegars, no crazy-hot sauces, no silly spices, no asinine add-ins), that, while exciting-to-the-palate for the first few bites, just grow old in your mouth while muddlling up the flavor of the perfectly-cooked spuds.  If you've ever watched The Waltons ready themselves for a picnic up on the mountain, you know that grandma didn't toil over the task of making the potatoe salad any longer than it took the kids to gather their things and pile in to the back of the truck.

Yes, for most of us, potato salad conjures up memories of exactly what our grandmothers made. And, for the most part, those recipes for our grandmother's potato salad do not vary much. Various quantities of the usual suspects:  potatoes, eggs, celery and/or onion, with a dressing made of mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, pepper, sometimes pickles or pickle relish and/or a dash of mustard, plus, an occasional fresh herb.  Voila:  potato salad.  While we all have our favorite recipe or recipes, when offered potato salad at a gathering, this is the kind we Americans expect to be served.  To hasten up chilling any potato salad, try my spread it on a sheet pan method.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49c3900200dThe cook in every family has a favorite potato salad recipe. From my Eastern European heritage family, in my repertoire, Classic Creamy Potato and Egg SaladBaked Russet-Potato Salad, Red Potato Salad w/Horseradish-Mayonnaise, and, Vintage Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier, are amongst my family's favorites. That said, unlike almost all of our grandmothers and grandfathers, we of subsequent generations began moving or traveling to different areas of the US and/or started traveling around the world -- we eat globally and regionally, as well as locally. Our pantries contain spices and ingredients from many cultures, and, because potatoes are a great foil for foodie creativity, it should come as no shock to anyone that potato salad has been fused with flavors from other cuisines.  Example:  My Russet & Sweet Potato Salad w/Chile-Lime Mayo, pairs great with almost any Tex-Mex-style grilled chicken, steak or spareribs.

Simple, straightforward & on point, Hellmann's potato salad:

IMG_29322  pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 3/4" chunks

1  cup Hellmann's Mayonnaise

2  teaspoons white vinegar

1 1/2  teaspoons salt

1  teaspoon sugar

1/4  teaspoon black pepper

1  cup thinly-sliced celery

1/2  cup diced onion

IMG_2941 IMG_2941 IMG_2941Step 1.  Peel and cube the potatoes, placing them in a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan with straight-deep sides. Cover potatoes with cold water and add 1 teaspoon sea salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat, adjust temperature to a steady simmer and continue to cook until al dente (to the tooth), just shy of being cooked through to their centers, about 6-7 minutes after the water boils.  Do not overcook potatoes.  Drain potatoes into a colander.  Do not rinse potatoes.  Set aside to drain and cool for 10 minutes.

IMG_2934 IMG_2934 IMG_2934 IMG_2934 IMG_2934~Step 2.  While potatoes are cooling, in a large bowl, place and stir together the mayonnaise, white vinegar, salt, sugar and black pepper. Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the celery and onion.  Add and gently fold in the still-warm potatoes.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerator for 2-3 hours or overnight.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Everything tastes better with Hellmann's:  

IMG_2961Hellman's Original Eight-Ingredient Potato Salad:  Recipe yields about 5 cups.

Special Equipment List: vegetable peeler; cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; colander; large rubber spatula.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d297c03f970cCook's Note: Mayonnaise.  As a gal who loves deli-, tuna- and egg-salad sandwiches, I am never too far from my mayo.  During the picnic and tailgate season, when side-dishes like macaroni salad, potato salad, cole slaw and deviled eggs reign supreme, I purchase bigger jars, in two-packs.  When our garden tomatoes are ripe, I could (and will) eat a freshly-picked sliced-tomato sandwich, on white bread, with a big slather of mayonnaise, every day.  There's more.  I can't imagine my life without mayonnaise-based tartar and remoulade sauces in it, or, oh my Thousand Islands salad dressing, and, I'm very proficient at making homemade mayonnaise ("mayo") from scratch too.  These two ~ Spreads go Bread to Bread:  Hellmann's vs Duke's ~.  To find out who gets my #1 vote, read my post.

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

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

06/07/2020

~Sour Cherry Preserves & Balsamic Port-Wine Sauce~

IMG_2909Looking for something to liven up your pan-seared pork loin chops or grilled chicken breasts? Reach into the panty for some high-quality sour cherry preserves, or, better yet, into the freezer for some homemade sour cherry jam or preserves and you're about ten minutes away from a lip-smacking, sweet-and-savory, restaurant-quality, pan sauce.  It's worth mention the same sauce can be made with blueberry or peach jam or preserves too -- I like to serve blueberry sauce with duck or quail, and, man-oh-man, peach sauce is marvelous with ribs or chicken.

IMG_28534  thin-ish (about 1/2"-thick) bone-in pork loin chops

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

all pan drippings from pork chops

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

a sprinkling of garlic powder

a sprinkling of onion powder

1/2  cup chicken stock

1/2  cup port wine

1  teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1  teaspoon herbes de Provence

1/4  teaspoon ground allspice

3/4  cup sour cherry jam or preserves

IMG_2858 IMG_2858 IMG_2858 IMG_2858 IMG_2858~Step 1.  Over low heat, in a 12" nonstick skillet, heat oil.  Add chops and lightly-season tops with sea salt, peppercorn blend, and, a sprinkling of garlic and onion powder.  Increase heat to medium-high and sauté chops until just cooked through and light golden, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer chops to a plate and cover with a piece of foil to keep warm.

IMG_2873 IMG_2873 IMG_2873 IMG_2879 IMG_2882 IMG_2882 IMG_2882 IMG_2882 IMG_2882 IMG_2882~Step 2.  To make the sauce, in a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the chicken stock, wine and balsamic vinegar.  Add the liquid to the hot skillet.  Using a spatula, deglaze the pan by scraping up all the flavorful browned bits.  Add the herbs de Pprovence and allspice.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook until mixture is reduced by half, about 6 minutes.  Stir in the sour cherry jam or preserves.  Continue to simmer, stirring almost constantly, until mixture is reduced by half again, about 6 more minutes. Remove from heat and set pan aside about 6 more minutes -- sauce will thicken as it cools a bit. Store leftovers in refrigerator and reheat in the microwave -- sauce will loosen as it heat up.

Simply lip-smacking perfect on poultry or pork: 

IMG_2921Sour Cherry Preserves and Balsamic Pork-Wine Sauce:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup sauce and 2 large, or, 4 small servings.

Special Equipment List:  12" nonstick skillet; fork; aluminum foil; spatula; 1-cup measuring container; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08558965970dCook's Note: If I've said it once, I've said it a million times, "almost everything tastes better with a perfectly executed sauce on top of it, underneath it or to the side of it." I stand by these words with barbecue being no exception.  When I'm eating barbecue, more often than not, it's the sauce that "turns me on". For every style there is a sauce, and while I know what type of sauce to pair with which each style of barbecue, I also know when not to sauce at all (Texicans are crazy). Try my ~ Sweet and Savory K.C.-Style Cherry BBQ Sauce ~

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

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

06/05/2020

~ The Fried-Egg Sandwich from the Front Street Deli ~

IMG_2842Did you order a fried egg sandwich from the Front Street Deli?  That line from the movie The Firm, gets me salivating every time I hear it.  The Front Street Deli is the oldest deli in Memphis, Tennessee, the city in which the movie was filmed, and, the deli, which is located in a historic building built in 1853, was a featured location in the film.  This bustling eatery serves lunch and dinner plus touts a gorgeous view of the mighty Mississippi River too.  The deli has been in operation since 1976 and proudly continues "the breakfast sandwich tradition" set by the original owner: five sandwich choices, plus, a build-your-own option.  As for the rest of the menu, the deli is themed "all things Tom Cruise", with menu items being named after his many movies.

IMG_2840A bit about The Firm:  Based on the novel by John Grisham, Mitch McDeer (Tom Cruise) is a young man from a poor Southern family who struggled through Harvard Law School to graduate fifth in his class. Mitch entertains offers from firms in New York and Chicago, but, when Memphis-based Bendini, Lambert, & Locke offer him a 20% higher salary than his best offer (in addition to perks and benefits), he decides to sign on and stay in the South. Mitch's wife, Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn), warns him the deal sounds too good to be true, but it's not until after several weeks of working with Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman) that Mitch discovers the vast majority of BL&L's business is tied to organized crime, with crime boss Joey Morolto (Paul Sorvino) using the firm to launder Mafia money. FBI agents Wayne Tarrance (Ed Harris) and F. Denton Voyles (Steven Hill) try to blackmail Mitch into helping them make a case against the firm, while BL&L's "security director" William Devasher (Wilford Brimley) is blackmailing him to do as he's told after Mitch foolishly allows himself to be seduced by a prostitute secretly hired by the firm.
 

Front_street_deli_patio-thumb1000x1000The build-your-own Front-Street-Deli breakfast sandwich:

BREAD:  grilled croissant, steamed biscuit, or, toasted white, wheat or rye

MEAT:  fried bacon strips, sausage patty, country ham slice, shaved turkey or pastrami

CHEESE:  one slice of American, cheddar, pepper Jack, provolone or Swiss (Note:  This is NOT a grilled-cheese sandwich, so, go easy on the cheese.)

EGGS:  two, fried-to-your liking or scrambled

ADDS:  mayonnaise, baby greens, sliced tomato and/or avocado

IMG_2817 2~ Step 1.  For my sandwich, I'm using (in order of assembly):

4 teaspoons butter

2 large eggs

2 slices brioche bread,

2-3 teaspoons mayonnaise

1 slice American cheese

3 strips oven-fried bacon

a few baby greens

4 small Campari tomato slices

IMG_2819 2 IMG_2819 2 IMG_2819 2 IMG_2819 2 IMG_2819 2~Step 2.  For each sandwich, in a 10" nonstick skillet, melt 2 teaspoons butter, then fry or scramble two eggs, to your liking (mine are soft-yolked sunny-side-up).  Transfer eggs from skillet to plate, tent with a piece of foil and briefly set aside.  Add remaining 2 teaspoons butter to the pan (and give it a few seconds to melt), followed by 2 slices bread, one of which has been slathered with mayo on the top side.  Place the cheese on the mayonnaise-topped bread slice, followed by the bacon, greens and tomato.  Top with the fried or scrambled eggs.  By the time the assembly is finished, the bread will be grilled.  Transfer to a plate and enjoy.

This IS the ULTIMATE egg-sandwich combination:

IMG_2847The Fried-Egg Sandwich from the Front Street Deli:  Recipe yields instructions to make one build-your-own fried-egg breakfast sandwich.

Special Equipment List: 10" nonstick skillet; aluminum foil; spatula

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

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

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

06/02/2020

~About Fideo, the Traditional Noodle (Dish) of Mexico~

IMG_2737Fideo is a traditional noodle dish or soup.  It's popular in homes and restaurants throughout Mexico and the Southwestern United States.  No two cooks make it the same way.  Hey!  It's noodles.  Had I not had a lovely Mexican-American woman as a neighbor here in PA back in the latter 70s, I'd have missed out on this easy-to-prepare Mexican-, Mexican-American comfort food. Like noodles and pasta in general, home cooks and restaurant chefs prepare this versatile and inexpensive ingredient in all sorts of creative ways, using spices, flavorings, and/or vegetable-, protein- additions authentic to the region they live in.  Fideo is comfort food.  Fideo is said to have come to Mexico via the Spanish of Cavite (a province in the Philippines) in the 1600s. 

IMG_2789In Spanish, fideo means noodles. Fideo noodles are fine noodles, usually made with durum wheat and water, rolled, then cut into about 1"-1 1/2" pieces and dried. Depending on the region, recipes occasionally call for substituting broken pieces of vermicelli, angel hair pasta, or even spaghetti. What makes fideo uniquely different from other pastas or noodles is the method by which they get cooked. Once broken into short pieces, the noodles are always toasted in some oil and/or butter until nicely-golden and crisp.  After this all-important first step, they are either left in the pan to be further cooked in a specific main-course or side-dish recipe, or, transferred into a tomato-based soup for further cooking.

When served as a main-dish or a side-dish, the concoction, which varies from cook-to-cook, is very often referred to as "Mexican spaghetti", or, simply "fideo".  That said, more-often-than-not, all versions contain a various amount of liquid (water, stock or sauce), and almost all contain some form of tomato, plus onion, garlic and/or cilantro.  Many are made spicy or extra-spicy by adding chile powder and/or hot sauce.  When serving this starchy side-dish as a main-dish, it is usually presented as a flavorful bed for traditionally-seasoned (sliced, diced or shredded, roasted grilled or stewed), chicken, beef or pork.  When served as a soup, it's referred to as "sopa de fideo", and, while, with additions, it can be served as a main-dish, it is typically served as a starter course, or to cure a hangover or flu, or, to simply soothe the soul on a damp, cold day.

Toasted until golden & crisp, fideo noodles = the perfect foil for many Mexican-style noodle dishes & soups:    

IMG_2806"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

05/31/2020

~Souper Mexican-Style Noodle Soup (Sopa de Fideo)~

IMG_2789To the best of my knowledge, every culture has a special feel-good soup recipe known for its powers and abilities to right wrong, or, transform bad into good.  More often than not, it's a relatively easy-to-prepare recipe that is said to quickly quell hunger pangs, turn angst into calm, cure a hangover or a flu, or, simply soothe the soul on a damp or cold day. Sopa de fideo is, perhaps, Mexico's most famous comfort-soup recipe, and, it's said to have come to Mexico via the Spanish residents of Cavite (a province located in the Philippines) in the 1600s. 

In Spanish, "sopa" means "soup" & "fideo" means "noodles".

IMG_2737Sopa de fideo loosely translates to noodle soup. That said, not just any noodles can be used.  It's made with fideo noodles. These are fine noodles, usually made with durum wheat and water, rolled, then cut into about 1"-1 1/2" pieces and dried. The soup can be made with (homemade or store-bought) beef, chicken or vegetable stock (there is no right or wrong on this point) plus (fresh or canned) tomatoes and spices, but, the part that makes this Mexican noodle soup authentic is toasting the fideo noodles in a bit of oil before making the soup.

In English, a few pantry staples + fideo = fantastic Mexican-style noodle soup, in minutes, from start-to-finish. 

IMG_27392  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil (a yellow-orange hued oil that gets is color from annatto), or any plain (clear) ordinary vegetable oil

8  ounces fideo noodles

2  tablespoons fajita seasoning, homemade or store-bought*

1/4  teaspoon jalapeño pepper

6  cups unsalted vegetable stock

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

1  cup diced yellow onion

2-3  large cloves garlic

1/2-ounce bouquet garni of flavor-packed cilantro stems, reserve the leaves for garnish

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

lime wedges and/or cilantro sprigs, for garnishes

*Note:  Fajita seasoning is the perfect all-purpose seasoning blend for this Mexican-soup or almost any Mexican soup.  After all, its purpose is to season beef or chicken and all the yummy vegetables that typically season fajitas -- all the same ingredients that show up in Mexican-style soups.  When I used store-bought fajita seasoning to make this soup, I use McCormick brand.

IMG_2743 IMG_2743 IMG_2743 IMG_2743~Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart wide-bottomed Dutch oven or similarly-shaped chef's pan with straight, deep sides, heat oil over medium- medium-high heat.  Add the fideo.  Using a large spoon, sauté the noodles, stirring constantly, until light golden in color, 3 1/2-4 minutes.  Turn heat off.

IMG_2745 IMG_2745~ Step 2.  In a food processor fitted with steel blade, place the fire-roasted diced tomatoes, diced onion, garlic cloves, fajita seasoning and jalapeño pepper powder.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process to a thin sauce.  Set aside.

IMG_2758 IMG_2758 IMG_2758 IMG_2758~Step 3.  Return heat under fideo to medium-, medium-high.  Add the stock, followed by the tomato sauce and the cilantro-stem bouquet garni.  Adjust heat to a gentle steady simmer.

IMG_2767 IMG_2767 IMG_2767 IMG_2767 IMG_2767~Step 4.  Continue to simmer, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes, until fideo is al dente.  Turn the heat off and cover the pot.  Allow the soup to steep for 8-10 more minutes, to allow soup to thicken slightly and flavors to marry a bit.  Serve immediately.  Note:  Leftovers continue to thicken.  Reheat leftovers on the stovetop adding additional vegetable stock as required.

Meet the Mexican-style oodles-of-noodles bowl.  Cha-cha-cha.  What a perfect middle-of-, or, end-of the day pick-me-up.

IMG_2793Souper Mexican-Style Noodle Soup (Sopa de Fideo):  Recipe yields 3-quarts soup/6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List: 3 1/2-quart wide-bottomed Dutch oven or chef's pan w/lid; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor or blender; kitchen-safe twine; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b0240a47da212200dCook's Note: When I use my crockpot, it's not because I have no time to cook, it's because what I'm letting it cook for me, without compromise, is really good.  It's no secret, I've never been a crockpot kinda gal, but, over the past few years I've mellowed.  For one of our family's favorite Tex-Mex-style soups, try ~ Easy-Does-It: Crockpot Chicken Enchilada Soup ~.  Using pantry staples, this recipe takes almost no time to put in the crock and tastes reminiscent of a tasty trip South of the border.

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

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

05/28/2020

~ About Creste di Gallo or Crest of the Rooster Pasta ~

IMG_2706Coming up on eleven years of food blogging and I've never taken-on pontificating about a pasta shape. Until now, there was no reason.  After all, there are over 400 shapes of pasta in this food world.  Some are fresh, some are dried, all took shape for a reason, and all have a purpose, with some being better suited to certain dishes or sauces than others, and, everyone has their favorite. There's never been reason for me to interfere in any of the good-spirited Italian-, Italian-American banter about the best pasta for whatever the purpose -- long strands or fork-friendly count me in.

That said, over the Memorial Day weekend I made a flank-steak pasta-salad, which I shared with my neighbors across-the-way and friends a few miles away.  While we weren't sitting at the same table this year, the after-dinner phone calls were "all about the pasta."  Even though creste di gallo has been around for centuries, it seems it was new to my friends.  It was a genuine conversation starter -- a whole new topic to discuss amongst pandemic-weary foodie friends.

D556a06a9eeb47d71f7e4868d6082dd2In Italian, the word "gallo" translates to "rooster" (a male chicken). The literal translation of creste di gallo is "coxcomb", of which the crest shape of this short, fork-friendly, ruffle-edged, tubular pasta resembles. The word coxcomb dates back to the 1500s when it referenced the handsome, regal, slightly-unruly red comb of a rooster.  Unfortunately, it was also used as a derogatory slang term for the village idiot or any random fool.  Jesters played the role of fools to entertain people, and their caps were intricately fashioned to imitate the combs of male chickens.

Similarly, this is why Yankee Doodle Dandy stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni.  In this time period, this British war song was their way of making fun of American colonists, who they deemed to be poor, backward, lowly, uneducated, "bumpkins" or "hicks". The British slang for idiot was "doodle", hence the name Yankee Doodle (or Yankee idiot).  It, too, was a nasty slur.

Roosters to the rescue?  This is a pasta to crow about!

IMG_2732The significance of the rooster in this legend-has-it pasta story dates back to the mid-to-latter 1400s and is tied to the Medici family* -- the most powerful family in Florence at that time.  As the story goes, another wealthy-but-jealous family, the Pazzis, came up with a plan to have the Medici brothers, Giuliano and Lorenzo, killed.  The Pazzis' hired assassins lie-in-wait for a time when the Medici brothers would throw one of their extravagant feasts -- the kind where wine flowed until the guests and guards often passed out.  When all was quiet, the killers began to sneak through the barnyard.  The plan was foiled when the roosters began to cock-a-doodle-doo with enough intensity to awaken the drunken party-participants.  In a show of gratitude, Giuliano and Lorenzo commissioned earthenware wine pitchers made in the shape of roosters, and glazed stoneware plates emblazoned with images of their cocky birds, plus, last but not least, threw a party serving a pasta resemblant of the rooster crest, to thank the angry birds for their loyalty and courage.    

While not readily found in grocery-store chains, creste di gallo pasta is easily found in specialty stores and on-line (which is where I purchase mine).  This tubular pasta with its unique ruffled edge makes it ideal for a wide-range of sauces.  Its shape will stand up to everything from a thick, hearty meat sauce, to a watery, fresh tomato sauce, to a delicate cream sauce.  It's marvelous tossed hot with something as simple as butter, salt, red pepper and a grating of cheese too.  Its resilience makes it ideal to use in hot soups or cold salads, and, it's fantastic baked in casseroles.

*FYI:  The Medici family, or House of Medici, attained political power in Florence via its success in commerce and banking starting in 1434, with the rise to power of Cosimo de’ Medici (or Cosimo the Elder).  His support of the arts and humanities turned Florence into the cradle of the Renaissance, rivaled only by ancient Greece. The Medicis produced four popes (Leo X, Clement VII, Pius IV and Leo XI), and their genes married into many of Europe’s royal families. The last Medici ruler died without a male heir in 1737, ending the family dynasty after three centuries.

Can't find rooster crest?  Substitute elbow macaroni or penne.

IMG_2719"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

05/25/2020

~ Memorial Day Road Trip to Champ's BBQ Chicken ~

IMG_2494Enjoy the long, relaxing Memorial Day holiday weekend by scoring a complete barbecue chicken dinner from Champs Sports Grill.  Located at 1611 North Atherton Street, State College, in Happy Valley, PA, this three day special event features an outdoor roadside grill and guarantees pull-up and pick up within three minutes of arrival in the parking lot.  This winner-winner chicken dinner can be preordered for a specifically-timed curbside pickup by phoning 234-7700 too.

$39.99 feeds four-six people.  It contains four perfectly-grilled, juicy and tender half-chickens with Mel's BBQ sauce, a pan of Mel's bacon-y baked beans, Champs creamy-crunchy cole slaw, Scott's macaroni salad, and, a big bag of Middleswarth BBQ chips. $10.99 feeds one person.

Available: Saturday and Sunday (5/23 and 5/24) 12:00PM-7:00PM, and, Monday (5/25) 12:00PM-5:00PM.  Come out and show your support for one of State College's all-time best eateries.

Can't make this better at home for less!

IMG_2523"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

05/22/2020

~ Platter Up a Steak, Pasta, Fontina & Catalina Salad ~

IMG_2659No special marinade, no fancy ingredients, no fuss, no muss, no stress.  Yes, you read that right, and, when you and yours sit down to this start-to-finish forty-five-minute main-dish salad, if you aren't smacking your lips while plating your second helping with a satisfied smile on your face, I'll be shocked.  Of course you can embellish it (sprinkle the flank steak your favorite steak-seasoning, grill the steak along with the tomatoes and onion outdoors, and/or make the salad dressing and crunchy croutons from scratch), but, trust me when I tell you, there is no need.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c2b5f2200dAs a lover of sweet and tanilizingly savory combinations, Catalina dressing was always on the door of my mom's refrigerator.  While she and dad didn't, for the most part, ever stray past the bottle of Wish-Bone Italian dressing, for some reason my brother and I gravitated to this red-orange concoction.  While I enjoyed it on chef-type salads that contained "the works" (lots of cheeses and meats), my brother would drench large chunks or wedges of iceberg lettuce with it.

My perfectly-broiled 18-minute flank steak is the centerpiece... 

IMG_65571  large 2-2 1/2  pound flank steak (Note:  At approximately $6.50. per pound, this $25.00-$30.00 steak when paired with a hearty salad will feed 6-8 people.)

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_6570 IMG_6570 IMG_6576 IMG_6576 IMG_6576 IMG_6576~Step 1.  Place flank steak on a corrugated broiler pan and let it come to room temperature about 20-30 minutes.  Season top with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Place 5 1/2"-6" under preheated broiler and cook for exactly 9 minutes. Remove steak from oven.  Flip the steak over and season second side with salt and pepper. Return to broiler and cook another 9 minutes.  Remove from oven and rest steak 9-10 minutes.

IMG_6587 IMG_6587 IMG_6587~Step 2.  Transfer steak to a large cutting board. Holding a large chef's knife at a 30° angle, thinly-slice steak, against the grain, into 1/4" pieces.  Arrange sliced steak atop salad (prepared as directed below while the steak was broiling and resting).  Top the salad with the crunchy croutons and serve immediately drizzled with 1/2 cup Catalina dressing, plus, additional dressing at tableside.

... atop a bed of tomatoey pasta, fontina & Catalina salad:

IMG_25921  pound fork-friendly pasta, drained, rinsed, cooled, dried and lightly-tossed in 1/2  cup dressing dressing (Note:  I'm using "creste-di-gallo", "rooster crest" pasta.  It's one of my favorite shapes, and, I describe it as a, tubular, elbow-macaroni shaped, frilly-edged fancy-shmancy version of penne.)

1  head romaine lettuce, cut into 1/2" strips

2-2 1/2  ounces spring mix greens

1/2-3/4  cup very-thinly-sliced red onion, cut into half-moon shapes

1  large seedless cucumber, peeled and thinly-sliced

10  ounces halved grape tomatoes

4-6  ounces shredded Fontina cheese

4  ounces crunchy, Parmesan- or Caesar-seasoned croutons

1 1/2  cups tomatoey Catalina dressing, store-bought or my scratch-made recipe

IMG_2536 IMG_2536 IMG_2536 IMG_2536 IMG_2536 IMG_2536 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2558~Step 1.  To prepare the pasta portion of dinner, in a 5-quart stockpot, bring 3 quarts water to a boil over hight heat and add 1 tablespoons sea salt. Add pasta, adjust heat to a rapid simmer, and cook to al dente, 9-10 minutes.  Drain into a colander and rinse thoroughly under cold water to halt cooking process, and, slightly chill the pasta.  Place pasta on a baking pan that has been lined with plastic wrap and a sheet of parchment.  Set aside to allow pasta to dry free of excess moisture, 10 minutes.  Transfer pasta to a large bowl and add 3/4 cup Catalina dressing.  Toss to coat pasta in dressing and set aside.

IMG_2595 IMG_2595 IMG_2595 IMG_2595 IMG_2595 IMG_2595 IMG_2595~Step 2.  To assemble the salad portion of dinner, chiffonade the romaine and mound it in the center of a large platter.  Arrange the dressed pasta around the romaine.  Top the romaine and parts of the pasta with a layer of spring mix, followed by a layer of onions, cucumbers and tomatoes.  Scatter shredded fontina evenly over all and follow it up with a drizzle of about 1/2 cup dressing.  Arrange the sliced steak on top, scatter the croutons around it, then drizzle the last 1/4 cup dressing over the steak.

Top salad w/sliced steak, croutons & Catalina dressing:

IMG_2654Plate a heaping helping & enjoy some carnivorous heaven: 

IMG_2689Platter Up a Steak, Pasta Fontina & Catalina Salad:  Recipe yields instructions to broil the perfectly-cooked rare- medium-rare flank steak/6-8 servings hearty main-dish salad meals.

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; 5-quart stockpot; colander; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; plastic wrap; parchment paper; 1-cup measuring container: large rubber spatula; vegetable peeler; hand-held box grater

6a0120a8551282970b0240a51ae87f200bCook's Note: For those who have a family to feed, current food costs are cause to take many things off the table.  That said, by purchasing a steak and serving it portioned and sliced atop a simple, uncomplicated, well-dressed salad (alongside a side of simple, uncomplicated, well-seasoned steak fries), it turns out to be kinda economical.  For another of my family's favorite steak salads (this one made with a T-Bone and dressed with Wishbone Italian) try my ~ Steakhouse Steak Salad w/Onion-Laced Steak Fries ~.

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

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

05/19/2020

~Eight Delightfully Delicious Rice-a-Roni Dinner Ideas~

IMG_0296Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat, was a savvy entrepreneur's son's take on rice pilaf.  Italian born immigrant Domenico (Charlie) DeDomenico moved to California in 1895 to open a fresh produce store.  After becoming a successful businessman, he married Maria Ferrigno, an immigrant from Salerno, Italy, where her family owned a pasta factory.  In 1912, Maria persuaded Charlie to set up a similar business in the Mission District of San Francisco.  Gragnano Products, Inc., was born and began delivering pasta to Italian restaurants and stores throughout the area.

Maria and Charlie's sons, Paskey, Vince, Tom and Anthony worked in the family business, and, in 1934, Paskey changed the name to the Golden Grain Macaroni Company. Tom's wife Lois fell in love with a pilaf recipe she received from an Armenian immigrant, Mrs. Pailadzo Captanian, which she served at a family gathering.  After tasting the unique pilaf, which was made by sautéing a combination rice and pasta in butter before adding chicken broth and seasonings, Vince went to work developing a new product.  In 1958, his creation, named Rice-a-Roni, was introduced to the NW United States as "The San Francisco Treat".  Four years later, in 1962, it went nationwide.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a5229337200bComing up with copycat recipes for three flavors of made-at-home Rice-a-Roni (chicken, beef and Spanish-style) made for a fun few days.  Truth told, I love developing copycat recipes -- I'm good at it too. From sea to shining sea, as items we've come to take for granted disappear from our store shelves, many have reached out to express appreciation for these recipes. There's more.  Many have reached out to request more copycat recipes. ~ Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix & My Copycat Recipe ~  is one example.

~ Spicy Creole-Style Shrimp and Rice-a-Jamba Roni ~

IMG_0911~ Cajun-Style Chicken, Sausage & Rice-a-Jamba Roni ~

IMG_1009~ Oh-My-Goodness-Good Retro Rice-a-Burger Roni ~

IMG_1156~ Homestyle Chicken and Vegetable Rice-a-Roni Pilaf ~

IMG_1459~ Oh My Long Grain & Wild Rice-a-Roni Turkey Dinner ~

IMG_2205~ Mexican-Style Rice-a-Roni and Chorizo Meatballs ~

IMG_1873~ Easy Chinese-Style Pork-Fried Rice-a-Roni Stir-Fry ~

IMG_1365~ Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings & Rice-a-Roni Bowls ~

IMG_2469"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

05/17/2020

~ Slightly-Spicy Garlic-Butter and Herb Penne Pasta ~

IMG_2363In terms of the easiest-to-make, nicely-spiced, full-of-flavor pasta dish that serves as a foil for almost any Italian-American entrée that contains or is gonna get sauced with red gravy, this is it -- chicken, veal or eggplant Parmesan and chicken cacciatore are off-the-top-of-my-head examples. While you might be temped to toss some Parmesan cheese into this at the end, I don't recommend it.  Trust me, not everything tastes better with cheese riddled through it.  Save the cheese to top the dish in its entirety (even when serving it as a side-dish or eating by itself).

Penne for your thoughts?

IMG_2357Penne is short, tube-shaped fork-friendly durum-wheat pasta shape that originated in Campania, a region in Southern Italy.  Next to spaghetti, it's one of, if not the, most well-known and popular shapes. In Italian circles, it's sometimes referred to as mostaccioli, which references an Italian dish that features this shape.  Dishes made with penne frequently show up on restaurant menus at Italian eateries, especially here in the USA -- we Americans and Italian-Americans have a bone fide love affair with it. The name "penne" comes from the word "pen", which resemble the angled ends of the tip of a quill pen.

Everything tastes better with fork-friendly penne!

IMG_23281  pound penne pasta

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning water for pasta

8 tablespoons salted butter (1 stick, cut into 8-12 pieces)

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, slightly more or less, for heat

IMG_2334 IMG_2334 IMG_2334 IMG_2334~Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot, bring 3 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add 1 tablespoon salt, followed by the penne.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook until pasta is al dente, about 10-11 minutes.  Turn heat off and remove pot from heat.  

IMG_2346 IMG_2346 IMG_2346 IMG_2346~Step 2.  Drain pasta into a colander and immediately return the steaming hot pasta to the still hot stockpot and place the pot back on the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter pieces, garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend and red pepper flakes.  Using a large spoon stir until butter has melted and pasta is enrobed in a flavorful garlic-butter and herb sauce.  Plate and serve immediately. 

Try it w/my Crockpot Hunter's-Style Chicken-Thigh Cacciatore:

IMG_2392Slightly-Spicy Garlic-Butter and Herb Penny Pasta:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart stockpot; colander; cutting board; paring knife; large spoon; microplane grater

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4e50139200dCook's Note: Choose from any number of proteins we make for dinner.  Examples:  roasted chickengrill-panned steaks or pork chops, slow-cooker spareribs, pan-seared ham slices, broiled fish fillets, steamed or poached shellfish, etc.  I refer to these as flash-in-the pan meals because they go from oven or cooktop in relatively short order.  All you need is a side-dish -- a seriously scrumptious all-purpose side-dish. Try my ~ Egg Noodles & Broccoli in Spicy Garlic-Butter Sauce ~.

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

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

05/15/2020

~ Crockpot Hunter's-Style Chicken-Thigh Cacciatore ~

IMG_2392In the style of the hunter, aka the catcher.  Traditional cacciatore was a thick, rustic stew prepared primarily when the hunter bought home "white meat" to feed his family -- partridges, pheasants or rabbits.  In Italian, the word "cacciatore" means "hunter", and, the term "alla cacciatore" means "in the style of the hunter".  The Italian-American term infers a chicken stew prepared with mushrooms, onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, olives, herbs and red wine. It's pretty easy to imagine how the dish transitioned from game birds and rabbits in Italy to chicken here in America.

Traditional cacciatore is prepared on the stovetop.

Cacciatore is a slow-cooked stew that's traditionally prepared on the stovetop -- the culinary term is "stovetop-braised".  It starts by heating some olive oil in a large skillet.  The "white meat" (I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs) gets dusted with salt, pepper and flour, sautéed until golden brown on both sides, then removed from the skillet.  The pan gets deglazed with the red wine and the flavorful juices are used to sauté the earthy vegetables.  After that, the chicken is returned to the pan, tomatoes are added, and the mixture gently simmers, low and slow, for 1 1/2-2+ hours.

Chicken cacciatore, essentially a slow-cooked stovetop stew, as it turns out, is a delightful dish to cook in the crockpot too.

Because cacciatore is essentially a slow-cooked stew, it is a dish that adapts very well to the crockpot.  That said, for the best flavor, texture and presentation, begin by browning the chicken thighs in some oil in a skillet on the stovetop before putting them in the crockpot.  Past that, all the ingredients, as listed below, just get layered on top of the browned chicken.  The crockpot gets turned to high, and four hours later:  Luscious, succulent chicken thighs swimming in a thick, rich, divinely-seasoned vegetable-laced sauce are ready to serve atop of bed garlic-butter pasta. 

IMG_3106Meet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vehicle for 12 large chicken thighs, to slowly cook in sauce, evenly and in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

IMG_2279To brown the chicken and sausage:

12  large boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1  pound country-style breakfast sausage links

Wondra quick-mixing flour for sauce and gravy, for dusting chicken thighs

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for seasoning chicken thighs

4-6  tablespoons olive oil, for browning chicken thighs

1/2  cup inexpensive port wine, for deglazing pan

For the vegetable additions:

1  cup diced onion

1  cup peeled and diced carrot

1  cup diced red bell pepper

1  4-ounce can sliced mushrooms, well-drained

1  4-ounce can sliced black olives, well-drained

For the sauce and spices:

1  6-ounce can tomato paste

1  tablespoon Italian seasoning blend

2  teaspoons dehydrated minced garlic

2  teaspoons sea salt

1 1/2  teaspoons sugar

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

IMG_2241 IMG_2241 IMG_2241 IMG_2241 IMG_2241 IMG_2241~Step 1.  Place the chicken thighs, as is (meaning do not unroll them), smooth sides up, on a plate or platter.  Lightly dust their tops with flour, following by a grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend. Set aside. Place 4-6 tablespoons olive oil, enough to coat bottom, in a 12" skillet.  Add the sausage links. Over medium-high heat, brown the sausage, about 3-4 minutes per side.  Remove the sausage links from the skillet and set aside.

IMG_2245 IMG_2245 IMG_2245 IMG_2245 IMG_2257~Step 2.  Add the chicken thighs, smooth flour-dusted sides down, to the hot skillet.  Dust the undersides of thighs with flour and lightly-season with sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Adjust heat to sauté, until chicken is golden on both sides, turning only once, about 15-20 minutes (8-10 minutes per side.  While the chicken is sautéing, quickly slice the sausage links into 1/2"-thick coins.  Using a pair of tongs, remove the thighs from the skillet and arrange them, in a single layer, in bottom of crockpot.  Scatter the sausage coins over the chicken.

IMG_2261 IMG_2261 IMG_2261~ Step 3.  Add the wine to the drippings in the skillet. Over medium-high heat, use a large spoon or spatula to deglaze the pan by scraping the stirring to loosen the browned bits from the bottom, cooking and stirring for about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and pour the mixture over the chicken and sausage in crockpot.

IMG_2282 IMG_2282 IMG_2282 IMG_2282 IMG_2282 IMG_2295 IMG_2295 IMG_2295~Step 4.  Scatter the vegetables, the diced onions, carrots, red bell peppers over the chicken thighs and sausage, followed by the well-drained sliced mushrooms and black olives.  Dollop the tomato paste atop the vegetables, followed by the seasonings and the crushed tomatoes.  Using the back of a large spoon and a light touch, spread  crushed tomatoes to the edges of the crock.

IMG_2304 IMG_2304 IMG_2311 IMG_2317 IMG_2317~Step 5.  Cover the crockpot and cook on high for 4 hours.  Remove the lid from Crockpot casserole.  Using a large slotted spoon, gently remove the chicken thighs to a large plate or platter, allowing excess sauce to drizzle back into crock.  Give the sauce a thorough stir.  Portion and serve chicken and a ladle-full of sauce atop garlic-butter and herb pasta.

Serve sauced atop garlic-butter and herb penne pasta:

IMG_2412Crockpot Hunter's Style Chicken-Thigh Cacciatore:  Recipe yields 12 chicken thighs/6 servings and 2 quarts of sauce.

Special Equipment List: 12" nonstick skillet; tongs; cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon or spatula; vegetable peeler; large slotted spoon; ladle

IMG_2363Cook's Note:  To make my slightly-spicy garlic-butter and herb penne pasta:  Over high heat, cook 1 pound penne as package directs, to al dente. Drain thoroughly and return hot pasta to hot stockpot on still warm stovetop. Add 8 tablespoons salted butter (1 stick, cut into pieces), 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend3/4 teaspoon sea salt, and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Stir until butter has melted and pasta is coated.

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

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

05/12/2020

~Oh My Long Grain & Wild Rice-a-Roni Turkey Dinner~

IMG_2205As a creature of habit, Sunday is my day to roast something -- sometimes it's a long and lean eye-of-round beef roast, others times it's one or two plump roasting chickens or the biggest whole turkey breast I can find.  Oddly, this "roast du jour" is rarely our Sunday dinner.  I do it to have on hand to round-out a quick-to-make weeknight dinner or two, or to slice and eat in place of deli-meat in weekday sandwiches.  Today I'm talkin' winner-winner flash-in-the-pan turkey dinner.

Let's talk winner-winner flash-in-the-pan turkey dinner.

IMG_2223A box or three of Uncle Ben's long-grain & wild rice mix was a staple in my mom's pantry and I've carried on the tradition with Rice-a-Roni's version.  It and its seasoning packet combine to make a quick side-dish that generically (without additions) pairs well with almost anything (beef, poultry or pork).  By adding a vegetable or two to the mix during the last few minutes of the cooking process, it can be turned into a deliciously-easy one-skillet meal -- in less than 30 minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a5229337200bIn the case of this long-grain & wild Rice-a-Roni turkey dinner dinner recipe, I'm not posting one of my copycat recipes for Rice-a-Roni, meaning,  I'm using the boxed mix and seasoning packet just as they are.  By simply adding several on-hand kitchen-, pantry- and freezer-staple vegetable additions. It's these additions that turn this boxed mix into an absolutely-delightful super-easy-to-make one-skillet dinner: one cup each of diced celery, onion and apple, a can of sliced mushrooms, and a bag of frozen sweet potatoes.

IMG_2131Oven-Braising a Whole Turkey Breast couldn't be easier. Oven-braising is a cooking method that combines moist and dry heat.  The process starts on the stovetop (in a Dutch oven), where it is seared in fat or oil, to seal in the juices (in the case of an oven-braised turkey breast, there is no need for this cumbersome task). The vessel of food is then placed, tightly covered, at a high, low, or combination of high and low heat, to braise in the moist heat created inside the vessel.

Long grain & wild rice + apples, celery, onion, mushrooms & sweet potatoes -- what a sweet and savory combination. 

IMG_2168For the Long-Grain & Rice-a-Roni Turkey dinner:

3  tablespoons salted butter

2  4.3-ounce boxes Long Grain & Wild Rice-a-Roni Rice + seasoning packets

1 1/2  cups peeled and diced apple

1  cup diced onion

1  cup diced celery

3 1/3  cups water, which includes 1/2 cup liquid from 1, 4-ounce can sliced mushrooms (from below), 3 1/2 total cups liquid

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon poultry seasoning

1  4-ounce can sliced mushrooms, well-drained

1  9-ounce bag brown-sugar-seasoned steam-in-bag sweet potatoes, steamed according to package directions

1  oven-braised turkey breast, sliced

homemade or store-bought turkey gravy, your favorite brand, warmed, for dipping or drizzling, for accompaniment

applesauce sauce, for accompaniment

IMG_2173 IMG_2173 IMG_2173 IMG_2173~Step 1. Over low heat, melt the butter in bottom of pan.  Prepare the long-grain and wild Rice-a-Roni according to package directions, starting by stirring the long-grain and white rice into the melted butter, while stirring constantly for about 1 minute until mixture is foamy.  Stir in the diced apple, celery and onions and cook about 1 more minute, again, stirring constantly.

IMG_2185 IMG_2185 IMG_2185Step 2. Slowly add the water to pan --  steam will billow up, so, be careful. Add the seasonings (the packet from the box, plus the 1 teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning).  Give the mixture a thorough stir and wait for it to return to a simmer, 1-2 minutes.  Adjust heat to a simmer gently.

IMG_2191 IMG_2191 IMG_2191 IMG_2191~Step 3. Cover pan and adjust heat to gently simmer until rices are cooked through and have absorbed almost all liquid, 25-30 minutes.  Do not uncover pan during this time.  Add sweet potatoes and mushrooms.  Cover and let residual heat to heat sweet potatoes and mushrooms, about 5 minutes.  Uncover and gently stir potatoes and mushrooms into rice mixture.

Good enough to put on anyone's table for dinner:

IMG_2209Oh My Long Grain & Wild Rice-a-Roni Turkey Dinner:  Recipe yields 6 hearty servings.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a500475e200d 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c92e1f14970bCook's Note: Everyone and anyone who cooks has an opinion on roasting chicken, and, mine is quite basic.  Two chickens, two hours. Read all about:  This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken. For a variation on the same Rice-a-Roni theme, try my recipe for ~ Homestyle Chicken and Vegetable Rice-a-Roni Pilaf ~.

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

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

05/09/2020

~Oven-Braising a Turkey Breast without a Dutch Oven~

IMG_2131Let's talk turkey.  Whole frozen birds and whole thawed breasts, were, for the most part, always available year round, but, at present, folks seem to be noticing them more -- especially the whole breasts.  Considering the increasing scarcity, not-to-mention skyrocketing prices of beef and pork products, people are in search of relatively inexpensive alternatives that can feed an entire family. A whole turkey breast is one wise-choice item, but, based on the questions coming to me via KE recently, many first-time stay-at-home-full-time cooks find themselves overwhelmed, intimidated and confused by a product they've passed by more times than they'd like to admit.  

While almost everyone knows how to, or has some experience with, roasting a whole turkey, when in the possession of a whole turkey breast, one of two questions frequently come my way.  #1) I purchased a whole turkey breast.  What's the best way to cook it?  #2)  I roasted a whole turkey breast and it was dry.  What did I do wrong?  The answers:   The best way to cook a turkey breast is to oven-braise it.  While you roast a whole turkey, you can't roast a turkey breast. There's more.  While braising is usually done in an expensive pot called a "Dutch oven", when it comes to braising a turkey breast, there's no need to throw down your trust fund to purchase one.

A relatively expensive, not-to-mention heavy Dutch oven is not required to perfectly oven-braise a turkey breast.

IMG_2043Newsflash.  You do not need a heavy, expensive Dutch oven to successfully oven-braise a turkey breast.  Full stop.  Do not let anyone tell you you do.  Period.  Le Creuset, Staub, Lodge, Cuisinart, AmazonBasics, to name a few, they're all excellent products that all do the same thing and they do it well.  I've got a few different brands, and, as a seasoned chef, trust me, past the price differential, there is no discernible difference between any of these brands.  If you've got one, flaunt it, but, if you don't, and don't have a budget to support the purchase, worry not.  

A wire rack inserted in a $1.69 disposable aluminum pan tightly-covered with aluminum foil does the same thing.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c48035200dIn my kitchen, turkey has never been a once-a-year celebratory meal complete with pomp and circumstance.  Oven-roasted turkey, oven-braised turkey breast, and, poached turkey tenderloins get served a few times a year. Sometimes it arrives at the dinner table in the form of a simplified turkey dinner with gravy, other times it arrives at the table in the form of turkey à la king, turkey tetrazzini, turkey divan, classic hot brown sandwiches, turkey chef salads, or cold turkey sandwiches.  That said, aside from our Turkey day celebration, for the rest of the year it's a whole turkey breast that I choose to use, and, I never, EVER, bring out one of my fancy Dutch ovens to do the job.  Why?  There's simply no reason to make an already heavy pot heavier by adding a turkey breast, especially when I won't be impressing anyone by serving my turkey out of it.  Save the pot for something elegant.

What's the difference between roasting & oven-braising?  

Roasting is a cooking method that uses dry heat.  The food is placed in a roasting pan, atop a rack or a melange of vegetables (to keep it from "stewing in it's own juices").  The food is placed in the oven, uncovered, at a high, low, or combination of high and low heat, to roast in the dry heat of the oven until the desired internal temperature is reached.  The food is usually, but not always, basted regularly during the cooking process to retain moisture and enhance flavor.

Oven-Braising is a cooking method that typically combines moist and dry heat.  The process starts on the stovetop (in a Dutch oven), where it is seared in fat or oil, to seal in the juices (in the case of an oven-braised turkey breast, there is no need for this cumbersome task).  The vessel of food is then placed, tightly covered, at a high, low, or combination of high and low heat, to braise in the moist heat created inside the vessel, until the desired internal temperature is reached.

My recipe for turkey breast + drippings to make plenty of gravy:

IMG_20521  whole thawed turkey breast, at or close to room temperature

2  cups chicken stock (16 ounces)

1/2  cup diced onion

1/2  cup diced celery

3-4  small fresh rosemary sprigs

2  tablespoons butter, melted

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_2059 IMG_2059 IMG_2059 IMG_2059~Step 1.  Insert a wire rack in a 13" x 9" x 4" disposable aluminum pan to which 2 cups chicken stock, 1/2 cup diced onion, 1/2 cup diced celery and 3-4 small fresh rosemary sprigs have been added.  Stand the turkey breast upright on the rack.  If turkey breast does not want to stand upright, use a pair of poultry shears to quickly trim a few rib bones off bottom of breast.

IMG_2069 IMG_2069 IMG_2069 IMG_2069 IMG_2069 IMG_2069~Step 2.  In small bowl or ramekin, melt the butter in the microwave.  Using a pastry brush, paint the entire surface area of the turkey breast. Generously season the breast with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Using a large sheet of heavy duty aluminum foil, cover and tightly seal the turkey, air-tight, in the pan.  In the event you accidentally perforate, tear or rip the foil, start over with a new sheet of foil.

Meet the oven-braising chart I've compiled over 40 years:

~ Step 3.  On lowest rack of 450º oven, time and cook tightly-covered turkey breast as follows:

1 hour, 30 minutes (for a 3-3 1/2-pound split, turkey breast half)

1 hour, 45 minutes (for a 4-4 1/2-pound split, turkey breast half)

2 hours (for a 5-6-pound whole turkey breast)

2 hours, 15 minutes (for a 6-7-pound whole turkey breast)

2 hours, 30 minutes (for a 7-8-pound whole turkey breast)

2 hours, 45 minutes (for an 8-9-pound whole turkey breast)

3 hours (for a 9-10-pound whole turkey breast)

IMG_2098 IMG_2098~ Step 4.  Plan A.  When breast has braised according to the specified amount of time, remove it from the oven.  Allow to rest, covered, for 30-45 minutes prior to uncovering, removing the turkey meat from the breast bones, slicing and serving.

Plan B:  When breast has braised according to the specified amount of time, remove it from the oven.  Uncover pan (reserve the foil).  Transfer breast to a plate or platter, cover it with reserved foil and set aside to rest, covered, for 30-45 minutes, while preparing the gravy as follows:

IMG_2148 IMG_2148~Step 5.  Lift up the pan and pour the flavorful drippings into a 1-quart-sized fat/lean separator. After discarding the fat portion, there will be 3-3 1/2 cups of very nicely-seasoned drippings (which may be refrigerated or frozen for a later date).

IMG_6258 IMG_6258 IMG_6258 IMG_6258 IMG_6258 IMG_6258 IMG_6258~Step 6.  To make gravy, in a 2-quart saucepan, over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons salted butter over low heat.  

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0a00852d970d~ Step 6.  As pictured above, whisk in 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning. Increase heat to medium and whisk until mixture is thick, pasty and foamy.  Whisk in all of the fat-free drippings.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer, while continuing to whisk constantly, and cook until gravy has has thickened to your liking and coats the back of a spoon, about 2-3 minutes.  Yield: 3-3/12 cups gravy. Store leftovers in refrigerator.

Mouthwateringly moist, fork-tender all-white meat turkey breast:  

IMG_2128Oven-Braising a Turkey Breast without a Dutch Oven:  Recipe yields instructions to oven-braise one whole turkey breast and make 3-3 1/2 cups gravy/6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2-cup measuring container; 13" x 9" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan; wire rack; poultry shears (optional); small bowl or ramekin; pastry brush; heavy duty aluminum foil; 1-quart fat/lean separator; 2-quart saucepan; wire risk 

6a0120a8551282970b0263e947b836200bCook's Note:  Got chicken on your mind? Rotisserie chicken is not my "gig".  It takes all the sport out of cooking.  I roast chickens.  I have roasted many chickens in my life, and, I've been roasting chickens since before some of you were born.  I've never served roasted chicken to a guest that didn't mention how moist and perfectly cooked it was and ask how in the world I got it that way.  Everyone and anyone who cooks has an opinion on roasting chicken, and, mine is quite basic: two chickens, two hours. Try ~ This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken + My Stressfree Carving-for-Dummies Methodology ~.  Gobble, gobble.

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

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

05/07/2020

~ Making Slow-Cooker Buffalo-Style Chicken Wings ~

IMG_2111When it comes to Buffalo-style wings, my mindset is, everybody into the pot.  Nothing beats the 14-minute deep-fry.  Sure, wings can be oven-roasted or grilled, but, it's my opinion those two methods compromise the end result -- the first doesn't render them crispy enough, the latter dries them out.  Oh gosh yes, for chicken-wing lovers who are fearful of frying, they are seemingly wonderful.  That said, nothing can compete with a deep-fried chicken wing straight out of the fryer basket -- crispy outer skin, fall-off-the-bone tender inner meat.  That's my opinion.  That said:

The crockpot?  Yes.  It's a decidedly different approach with a decidedly different, but lip-smackingly good outcome.

As odd as this is going to sound, the crockpot works great too.  Huh?  The crockpot?  Yep, crazily it does.  First, the wings gently cook in the orange-colored vinegary sauce for a lengthy, 3 hours (aka they've got plenty of time to suck up all that flavor).  Second, they go under the broiler for a brief, 4-5 minutes to sort-of crisp them up.  It's a decidedly-different approach resulting in a decidedly-different outcome from traditional deep-fried wings, but, they are oh-so flavorful. They're downright mouth-watering, slightly-sticky and lip-smacking succulent.  Different, but really good.

IMG_2114Meet my Crockpot Casserole Crock:

IMG_3106Meet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vehicle for 2 1/2-3 pounds of chicken wings, to cook evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

2 1/2-3  pounds chicken wings, drumettes and flats

1 112-ounce bottle Frank's RedHot Buffalo Wing Sauce, or your favorite brand of wing sauce

6  tablespoons honey

4  tablespoons salted butter

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole

celery and carrot sticks, for garnish

blue cheese or Ranch dressing, for dipping or drizzling

6a0120a8551282970b0263e9466eaa200b 6a0120a8551282970b0263e9466eaa200b~ Step 1. Spray the inside of the crock casserole with no-stick cooking spray. Arrange the wings, in a single layer, side-by-side and close together, slightly-overlapping if necessary (just be sure not to pile them on top of each other).

IMG_1979 IMG_1979 IMG_1979~ Step 2.  In a 1 1/2-quart saucepan place wing sauce, honey and butter over medium heat.  Whisking constantly, cook until the butter has melted into the wing sauce and the mixture is uniform in color, about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a 2-cup measuring container.  Yield:  2 cups sauce.

IMG_1986 IMG_1986 IMG_1986 IMG_1986~Step 3. Slowly drizzle 1 cup of the wing sauce evenly over the tops of wings. Cover crockpot. Cook on high for  2 1/2-3 hours (2 1/2 hours for smaller wings, 3 hours for larger wings).

IMG_2002 IMG_2002 IMG_2002 IMG_2002 IMG_2002IMG_2017IMG_2017~Step 4. Preheat broiler with oven rack positioned about 5" under the heat. Line a large 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with aluminum foil, then place a sheet of parchment in the bottom of pan, followed by a wire rack.  Remove the lid from crockpot.  One-at-a-time remove the wings.  Arrange the wings, side-by-side and slightly-apart (no overlapping) on prepared baking pan.  Using a pastry brush generously paint the the tops, sides and undersides with additional wing sauce (about 1 cup).

IMG_2023 IMG_2023~ Step 5. Place pan of wings under the broiler 4-5 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and wings are starting to showing signs of browning and charring. Watch carefully.  Wing sauce contains sugar, which goes from browned to burned quickly.

Take a taste & plate 'em & serve 'em (w/plenty of napkins):

IMG_2035Making Slow-Cooker Buffalo-Style Chicken Wings:  Recipe yields 20-24 wings/4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List: Crockpot's casserole crock or Crockpot; 1 1/2-quart saucepan; wire whisk; 2-cup measuring container; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; wire cooling rack; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b0263ec18400e200cCook's Note: 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's the sugar that gives the food its "teri" or shiny glaze.  In Japan, there is no official teriyaki sauce.  Teriyaki sauce was invented by the early Japanese settlers to the islands of Hawaii.  Try my  ~ Slow-Cooker Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings ~.

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

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

05/05/2020

~Slow Cooker Japanese Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f5d2e8970dWhen it comes to Buffalo-style wings, my mindset is, everybody into the pot.  Nothing beats the 14-minute deep-fry.  Sure, wings can be oven-roasted or grilled, but, it's my opinion those two methods compromise the end result -- the first doesn't render them crispy enough, the latter dries them out.  Oh gosh yes, for chicken-wing lovers who are fearful of frying, they are seemingly wonderful.  That said, nothing can compete with a deep-fried chicken wing straight out of the fryer basket -- crispy outer skin, fall-off-the-bone tender inner meat.  That's my opinion.  Period.  

As odd as this is going to sound, the crockpot works great too.  Huh?  The crockpot?  Yep, crazily it does.  First, the wings slowly and gently cook in almost any type of sauce for a lengthy, 3 hours (aka they've got plenty of time to suck up all that flavor).  Second, they go under the broiler for a brief, 5-6 minutes to sort-of crisp them up.  It's a decidedly-different approach resulting in a decidedly-different outcome from traditional deep-fried wings, but, they are oh-so flavorful. They're downright mouth-watering, slightly-sticky and lip-smacking succulent.  Different, but really good.

A bit about teriyaki and teriyaki sauce:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2dcd867970cTeriyaki (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.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9596c70970bHomemade teriyaki sauce is thick and drizzly.  At its thinnest, it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, and, at the discretion of the cook, in many cases thicker than that.  That said, many store-brought brands are watery (similar in consistency to soy sauce), and, they will not work in this recipe.  Ideally, the teriyaki sauce should be similar in consistency to a hearty barbecue sauce.  What I keep on-hand and recommend is: Panda Express Mandarin brand teriyaki sauce.

Meet my Crockpot casserole crock:

IMG_3106Meet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vehicle for 2 1/2-3 pounds of chicken wings, to cook evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

Japanese teriyaki meets American chicken wings:

IMG_19112 1/2-3  pounds chicken wings, drumettes and flats

1 1/2-2  cups from 1, 20-ounce bottle Panda Express Mandarin Teriyaki sauce, or my homemade teriyaki sauce

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole

sesame seeds, for garnish

thinly-sliced scallion tops, for garnish

additional teriyaki sauce, for dipping and drizzling

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09fc9b8f970d IMG_1912Step 1.  Spray the inside of the crock casserole with no-stick cooking spray. Arrange the wings, in a single layer, side-by-side and close together, slightly-overlapping if necessary (just don't pile them on top of each other).

IMG_1919 IMG_1919 IMG_1919 IMG_1928~Step 2. Slowly drizzle 3/4 cup teriyaki sauce, evenly over the tops of the wings. Cover crockpot. Cook on high for  2 1/2-3 hours (2 1/2 hours for smaller wings, 3 hours for larger wings).

IMG_1930 IMG_1930 IMG_1930 IMG_1952 IMG_1952~Step 3. Preheat broiler with oven rack positioned about 5" under the heat.  Line a large 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with aluminum foil, then place a sheet of parchment in the bottom of pan, followed by a wire rack.  Remove the lid from crockpot.  One-at-a-time remove the wings.  Arrange the wings, side-by-side and slightly-apart (no overlapping) on prepared baking pan.  Using a pastry brush generously paint the the tops, sides and undersides with additional teriyaki sauce (about 3/4 cup).  Lightly-sprinkle tops of wings with sesame seeds.

IMG_1956 IMG_1956~ Step 4. Place pan of wings under the broiler 5-6 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and sesame seeds are starting to show signs of light browning. Watch carefully.  Teriyaki sauce contains sugar, which goes from nicely-browned to burned quickly.

Take a taste & plate 'em & serve 'em (w/plenty of napkins):

IMG_1967Slow Cooker Japanese Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings: Recipe yields 20-24 wings/4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  Crockpot's casserole crock or Crockpot; 2-cup measuring container; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; wire cooling rack; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9598585970bCook's Note: How you cook spare-ribs is your business.  Here in Happy Valley, sometimes we smoke 'em, sometimes we grill 'em, occasionally I make them in the oven, and, recently, I've started experimenting with slow-cooking them.  Past that, even if you aren't a fan of crocket science, it might interest you to know that Japanese-seven-spice blend and teriyaki sauce is a delicious alternative to typical ribs: ~ Teriyaki Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare-Ribs ~.

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

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

05/03/2020

~How and Why to Proof Pizza Dough Two Easy Ways~

IMG_1638Wouldn't it be great if the moment the smooth, round ball of pizza dough was kneaded we could slap it on the pan, pat it out, slather it with sauce, layer it with toppings and pop it in the oven? It sure would, but, unfortunately, we can't -- well, we can, but the end result is somewhat less than palatable. "Proofing" pizza dough, meaning, "the time it takes for the dough to rise after it has been kneaded and initially bulk-proofed", is the most important step in the pizza making process. Sadly, it's all-too-often not taken seriously -- it gets rushed.  Great crust comes to those who wait.

  Plan ahead.  A great crust comes to those who wait.

After the ingredients have been mixed and kneaded together, everyone knows to cover the dough, place it in a warm place and wait for it to double in size.  This takes roughly 45-60 minutes.  During this time, the dough fills itself with carbon dioxide (CO2) bubbles --  this is what gives the finished crust a light, airy texture. After this initial "bulk rise" it's time to give the dough another brief knead, to knock the big bubbles out, split dough into balls and give it the all important second proof, which develops more flavor and texture. This second proof requires time, a couple hours or overnight, via either the "quick-proof method" or the "cold-proof method".

As for the quick-proof method:  It's indeed faster.  Let's face it, when the craving for pizza hits, no one is in the mood to wait any longer than necessary.  This method will produce a dense, sort of chewy, decidedly thinner crust with a hint of the taste of the yeast.  It will take a bit of time, 10-15 minutes, to pat it out in the pan, as it doesn't stretch as easy as the the cold-proof method.

As for the cold-proof method:  The tortoise and the hare scenario.  The flavor is much improved. Tick, tock.  The time spent waiting allows this dough to develop lots of extra air bubbles, resulting in a decidedly lighter, airier, thicker crust with a crispier bottom.  It only takes a few moments, 2-3 minutes, to pat it out in the pan, as it stretches much easier than the quick-proof method.

For demo purposes:  An all-purpose pizza dough recipe.

IMG_16341 1/2  cups warm water

2  tablespoons olive oil

4 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons sugar

2  packets granulated dry yeast

Yield:  2-pounds, 2-ounces dough/2, 12" pizzas.

************

Short on time?  The quick-proof method.

Place 1 ball of dough on a lightly-oiled 9" plate:

IMG_1663Cover w/a large glass bowl & set aside 2 hours:

IMG_1664Uncover & proceed w/recipe as directed:

IMG_1668************

Got time on your side?  The cold-proof method.

Place 1 ball of dough in a lightly-oiled 2-quart bowl:

IMG_1649Cover w/an oiled lid or plastic wrap.  Refrigerate 24-48 hours:

IMG_1653Return to room temp (2 hrs.) & proceed w/recipe as directed:

IMG_1674************

IMG_1707************

IMG_1895 2"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

04/30/2020

~Cinnamon-Raisin English Muffin Breakfast Casserole~

IMG_1572I don't need to be entertaining a crowd to have a reason to make a giant-sized breakfast casserole.  With Joe and I both working-from-home at present, having a fully-cooked breakfast pre-made and ready to slice and reheat in the microwave (by pushing a button) saves me a bunch of time on weekday mornings.  There's also plenty to share a few squares with a couple of friends and neighbors.  Here in our neighborhood, my friends call these acts of kindness "ding-dong drop-offs".  Truth told, social-distancing foodie life in the 'burbs is better-than-good, it's very tasty.

Muffins + sausage + apples + onions + eggs + milk + cheddar =

IMG_1557Breakfast to feed a crowd, or breakfast to eat for a week:

IMG_14772  pounds country-style sausage

2  large, 11-12-ounce apples, green Granny Smith or red Honeycrisp, peeled and medium-diced

1 1/2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion (6 ounces diced onion)

1 1/2  teaspoons dried, rubbed Dalmatian sage

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1  teaspoon sea salt 

14  large eggs

1  quart half-and-half

1 1/2  teaspoons additional sea salt

1  additional teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

2  13-ounce packages Thomas's cinnamon-raisin English muffins (12 English muffins, divided through recipe

2  8-ounce bags store-bought shredded white cheddar cheese (4 cups, divided through recipe)

no-stick cooking spray

IMG_1481 IMG_1485 IMG_1485 IMG_1485~Step 1.  Using your fingertips, crumble the country sausage into a 14" nonstick skillet.  Place the skillet over medium- medium-high heat.  Sauté the sausage, stirring constantly with a large slotted spoon or spatula, until sausage is just cooked through, about 6-7 minutes.  Do not brown the sausage.  Remove from heat.  Using the slotted spoon or spatula, transfer to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and cool, allowing all the flavorful drippings to remain in bottom of skillet.

IMG_1494 IMG_1494 IMG_1494~ Step 2.  Add the apples and onion to drippings in the skillet along with the sage, salt and pepper. Sauté over medium- medium-high heat, until onion is softening, 2-3 minutes.  Remove skillet from heat and set aside.

IMG_1504 IMG_1504 IMG_1504 IMG_1504 IMG_1512 IMG_1512~Step 3.  Crack eggs into an 8-cup measuring container.  Add half-and-half, along with the salt and pepper.  Using a hand-held rotary-type egg beater, whisk until smooth and uniform in color. Set aside and assemble casserole as directed:

IMG_1518 IMG_1518 IMG_1518 IMG_1518 IMG_1530 IMG_1530 IMG_1530 IMG_1530~Step 4.  To assemble the casserole, slice one package (6) English muffins into bite-sized pieces and scatter them, in a single layer, in the bottom of a 4-quart casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray.  Scatter half of the sautéed sausage (about 11 ounces) evenly over the muffins, followed by half of the apple-onion mixture (about 11 ounces).  Open and scatter one bag of cheddar cheese evenly over all.  Repeat this layering process with the remaining package of English muffins, sautéed sausage, apple-onion mixture and package of cheddar cheese.

IMG_1539 IMG_1539 IMG_1539~ Step 5.  Briefly stir the egg mixture.  In a slow steady stream, moving back and forth across the surface of the casserole, drizzle the egg mixture over the surface of the casserole, to allow plenty of time for the liquid to drizzle down through the nooks and crannies.  Cover casserole with plastic wrap and set aside, at room temperature for four hours, or overnight in the refrigerator (to allow muffins to absorb the liquid).  Remove from refrigerator 1-2 hours prior to baking according to the following directions:

IMG_1548 IMG_1565~ Step 6.   Remove the plastic wrap and replace it with a sheet of aluminum foil.  Bake casserole on center rack of preheated 325° oven 45 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake, uncovered, until golden brown, bubbling, and puffed through to the center, 25-30 additional minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 15 minutes prior to slicing and serving.  Store leftovers in the refrigerator. Slice and reheat leftovers in microwave.

Remove from oven & rest on wire rack 15 minutes:

IMG_1562Slice, serve hot-out-of-the-oven or reheated in the microwave:

IMG_1587And start your day w/a forkful of a ready-made breakfast:  

IMG_1598Cinnamon-Raisin English Muffin Breakfast Casserole:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  14" nonstick skillet; cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; large slotted spoon or spatula; paper towels; 4-quart casserole;  8-cup measuring container; hand-held rotary-type egg-beater or whisk; plastic wrap; aluminum foil; wire rack 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad37edab3200cCook's Note: It's been said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.  I whole-heartedly believe it, but, I also have strong opinions about it.  The first:  A protein-packed breakfast is better than a sugar-shocked one.  I love pancakes, waffles and French toast as much as the next person, and indulging in them occasionally is divine, but, on a daily basis, I don't believe them to be the best way to start the day. The second:  In today's busy food world, folks will put down the sweet pop tart in exchange for a savory sandwich if it can be made in advance, or several days in advance. The third:  When entertaining stay-the-weekend guests, keep the morning meal simple and casual -- focus your time and energy on fancy-schmancy upscale fare for cocktails and dinnertime.  Don't have English muffins on hand?  Try my  ~Sausage and Everything Bagel Breakfast Casserole ~.  Carry on.

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

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

04/28/2020

~ Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings & Rice-a-Roni Bowls ~

IMG_2469Of the original three Rice-a-Roni flavors (chicken, beef and Spanish-style), chicken is the undisputed favorite, with beef and tomatoey Spanish-style coming in a close second and third. Growing up in the 60's, all three flavors of "the San Francisco treat" were always in my mom's pantry, and, as a savvy cook and recipe developer, I'm proud of my copycat recipes for all three.  Over the decades, Rice-a-Roni has added many other flavors to their menu (long-grain & wild rice, rice pilaf, Japanese teriyaki, Chinese fried-rice, and Mexican-Style), twenty-six to be exact, along with other Pasta-Roni products.  Teriyaki flavor  is one of my recent favorites.

6a0120a8551282970b0263ec18400e200cIn the case of this Japanese-Style Rice-a-Roni-for-dinner recipe, I'm using the boxed mix and seasoning packet "as is".  I simply add a box of steam-in-bag Asian-style vegetables (a mixture of broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas and water chestnuts) at the end of the cooking process. This time-saving box mix plus a bag of vegetables transitions my recipe for slow cooker Japanese Teriyaki-style chicken wings. from a movie night snack into a hearty, family-friendly weeknight dinner.

Good things happen when the taste of Japanese Teriyaki teams up with American Chicken Wings & Rice-a-Roni:

IMG_2432For the teriyaki-Rice-a-Roni and steamed vegetables:

2  tablespoons sesame oil

1  teaspoon ginger paste

1/2-1  teaspoon garlic paste

1  6.2-ounce box Teriyaki Rice-a-Roni + seasoning packet

2  cups water

1  10.8-ounce steam-in-bag stir-fry vegetables (a mixture of broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas and water chestnuts)

IMG_2428 IMG_2428 IMG_2428 IMG_2428 IMG_2428 IMG_2428 IMG_2428 IMG_2428~Step 1.  In the chef's pan, heat the sesame oil over low heat. Add the garlic paste and ginger paste. Increase heat to medium-high.  Prepare the Rice-a-Roni according to package directions, starting by browning the rice and vermicelli in the sesame oil (in place of butter).  Add the water and contents of seasoning packet.  Adjust heat to simmer, covered, for 14-15 minutes.  About 12 minutes into the simmering process, steam the stir-fry vegetables in the microwave.  When steamed, open the bag and drain them thoroughly (I use a paper-towel lined plate).

IMG_2461 IMG_2461 IMG_2461 IMG_2461~Step 2.  Uncover the pan.  Using a fork, rake the Rice-a-Roni to separate the rice grains and pasta strands.  Add and stir in the stir-fried pork-scallion mixture and any and all juices in the bowl.  Add and stir in the well-drained steamed vegetables.  Serve ASAP with teriyaki wings.

Serve teriyaki Rice-a-Roni ASAP w/teriyaki chicken wings: 

IMG_2472Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings & Rice-a-Roni Bowls:  4-6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides; 2-cup measuring container; large spoon or spatula; paper towels; fork

6a0120a8551282970b0240a524b302200bCook's Note:  My family has always loved Asian fare, and, when my three kids were growing up, I can tell you, they all loved Rice-a-Roni too.  For a variation on the Asian-style Rice-a-Roni theme, try my recipe for  ~ Easy Chinese-Style Pork-Fried-Rice-a-Roni Stir-Fry ~.

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

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

04/25/2020

~ Mexican-Style Rice-a-Roni and Chorizo Meatballs ~

IMG_1857Cinco de Mayo Rice-a-Roni?  You betcha and cha-cha-cha.  This fun to celebrate holiday is less than ten days away, so, no time like the present to plan something fun for dinner.  While we all gotta do what we all gotta do, and, while desperate times do call for desperate measures, this spicy rice-a-roni and meatball dinner is so dang delicious, I guarantee you'll make it even during the best of times.  I'm proud to say I invented it back when I was trying to keep three growing boys fed (aka "bottomless pits" as we moms refer to them), and they loved this one.  I'm also proud to report I took the "invent a Rice-a-Roni dish" page straight out of my mom's playbook:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a5229337200bBack in the 1960's my mom was the queen of Rice-a-Roni recipes.  I was the princess who loved them.  If I was feeling under the weather, she knew I'd rather have a bowl of chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni than a bowl of Campbell's chicken-noodle soup.  She served the prince (my brother) and I the aforementioned hamburger patties atop a bed of beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni drizzled with some store-bought beef gravy to prevent us from bugging her to buy Salisbury-steak TV dinners.  To two boxes of Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni she added two cans of stewed tomatoes and two pounds of peeled and sautéed shrimp.  In our kingdom, our family of four ate it as a sort-of Creole-style jambalaya dinner.  To two boxes of Chicken Rice-a-Roni, she'd add sautéed chicken thighs or tenders along with some sausage.  We four enjoyed it as a sort-of Cajun-style jambalaya dinner. It was my brother who named these meals, "jamba-roni" and "burger-roni.  Try my recipes for all three: copycat chicken, beef, &, Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni.

Ground beef & chorizo together = Mexican-Style perfection.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4996f17200dIt's worth mention that aside from the bright-to-tawny red color, Mexican chorizo and Spanish chorizo are not the same, so, purchase with precision.  Mexican chorizo is a fresh, ground-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold loose or in a casing, it is raw and must be cooked before eating it. Spanish chorizo is a dried and fully-cured or semi-cured chopped-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold in a casing, fully-cured is fully-cooked and can be eaten as is, while semi-cured requires cooking prior to eating.

Part One:  Making Mexican Meatloaf-Style Meatballs

IMG_1729For 3 dozen Mexican-style meatballs:

1 1/2  pounds lean or extra-lean ground beef (85/15 or 90/10)

1  pound ground Mexican chorizo sausage

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

1  cup milk

2  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

3  tablespoons salted butter

1  cup thin-sliced green onion, white and light green parts only

1 cup small-diced green bell pepper

1  cup small-diced red bell pepper

1  cup small-diced yellow bell pepper

1  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves and some tender stems

1  tablespoon chili powder

1  tablespoon ground cumin

2  teaspoons sea salt

1 1/2-2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans

IMG_1733 IMG_1733 IMG_1733 IMG_1733 IMG_1733 IMG_1733 IMG_1733~Step 1.  Place crackers in a large bowl.  Using your fingers, crush crackers into small bits and pieces.  Add the 1-cup milk and stir to combine.  In the same 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to lightly-beat the 2 eggs, then stir them into the cracker mixture.  Set aside about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the crackers time to absorb all of the liquid.  The resulting mixture will be thick and pasty.

IMG_1757 IMG_1757 IMG_1757 IMG_1757 IMG_1757 IMG_1757 IMG_1757~Step 2.  In a 10" skillet melt butter over low heat. Add the bell peppers and green onion.  Season with the chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté until peppers are softened but still crunch-tender, 3-4 minutes.  Stir in the cilantro, remove from heat and cool 20-30 minutes.

IMG_1778 IMG_1778 IMG_1778 IMG_1778~Step 3.  While veggie mixture is cooling, add the ground beef and chorizo to the cracker mixture. Using your hands thoroughly incorporate the meats into the pasty mix.  Add the cool but still slightly-warm vegetable mix to meat mixture.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_1795 IMG_1795 IMG_1795~Step 4.  To form and bake meatballs, using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, roll level scoops between palms of hands, placing them on a wire rack that has been placed in a large baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven, 15-16 minutes, until just cooked through.  Do not overcook meatballs.  This recipe yields 4 1/2-5 dozen meatballs -- that's a lot. That said, I freeze them in packages of 12 meatballs each, for quick-and-easy future meals. 

Part Two:  Making the Mexican-Style Rice-a-Roni

IMG_1805For the rice-a-roni & meatball dinner:

3  tablespoons salted butter

1  6.8-ounce box Rice-a-Roni Mexican Rice Mix + seasoning packet

2  cups water

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon chili powder

1/2  teaspoon ground cumin

1/4  teaspoon jalapeño pepper powder (optional, for extra heat)

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

1 15-ounce can well-drained canned corn kernels

1/2  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

1  dozen meatballs, from above recipe

fresh salsa or pico de gallo, your favorite brand, for dipping or drizzling

Mexican crema or sour cream, for garnish

minced cilantro leaves, for garnish

IMG_1808 IMG_1808 IMG_1808 IMG_1808 IMG_1808~Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt butter over low heat.  Prepare the Rice-a-Roni according to package directions starting by browning the rice and pasta in the melted butter, stirring constantly.  This takes about 3-4 minutes, and the butter will get very foamy just before the rice and the pasta start to brown (during the last minute of cooking time).

IMG_1806 IMG_1806 IMG_1806 IMG_1806 IMG_1827 IMG_1827~Step 2. Slowly add the water* to pan -- steam will billow up, so, be careful.  Add the seasonings (the packet from the box, garlic and onion powder, chili powder, cumin and optional jalapeño pepper). Stir in the tomatoes, corn and diced onion.  Give the mixture a thorough stir and wait for it to return to a simmer, 1-2 minutes.  Adjust heat to a simmer.

*Note:  For added flavor, when I drain the canned corn kernels, I drain the liquid (which amounts to about 1/2 cup) into a 2-cup measure, then, I add water to the container to total 2 cups.

IMG_1832 IMG_1832 IMG_1832~ Step 3. Cover the pan and simmer until rice and pasta are cooked through and have absorbed almost all liquid, 14-16 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside 5 minutes.  Remove lid and rake through the mixture with a fork to fluff and separate the rice grains and pasta pieces.  Portion onto plates or into shallow serving bowls.  Top each portion with a beef patty and a generous drizzle of gravy.  Serve ASAP.

Top each portion w/4-5 meatballs & drizzle w/crema:

IMG_1873Stick a fork in it.  Enjoy every savory, succulent bite:

IMG_1875Mexican-Style Rice-a-Roni and Chorizo Meatballs:  Recipe yields 4 1/2-5 dozen meatballs; 4-6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; fork; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; large spoon or spatula; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; wire cooling rack; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight-deep sides; 2-cup measuring container

IMG_1156Cook's Note: When I was a kid, my mom invented a beefy Rice-a-Roni dinner that kept my brother and I from bugging her to buy us an occasional, to quote mom, "over-priced, over-rated TV dinner".  As they say on the Rice-a-Roni website: Prepare for a stampede to the dinner table when you serve our delicious rice and vermicelli blended with the savory flavors of onions, carrots, beef broth and garlic.  It's true. ~ Oh-My-Goodness-Good Retro Rice-a-Burger-Roni ~

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

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

04/22/2020

~ My Cut-to-the-Chase Pan-Seared Meatloaf Burgers ~

IMG_1227Eating a meatloaf sandwich the day after a meatloaf dinner is like eating a turkey sandwich the day after Thanksgiving -- the anticipation of the ritual gives you a reason to get out of bed in the morning.  I adore a good old-fashioned back-to-basics meatloaf dinner with all the trimmings (with mashed potatoes and gravy or macaroni and cheese) as much as I adore a traditional, well-appointed Turkey dinner.  It's simple, straightforward, mouthwatering comfort food.  That said, in my food world, the all-important sandwich I indulge in the following day is almost better.  

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27640d2970cIt goes without saying, everyone has a favorite meatloaf recipe -- including me.  None of that greasy meatloaf mix for me, and, dry, bland ground turkey need not apply.  My meatloaf (my mother's recipe) is made exclusively with ground beef, and, slapping bacon on it or painting it with ketchup or barbecue sauce is strictly prohibited in my kitchen.  My meatloaf is crispy-on-the-outside and fork-tender-'n-juicy on the inside, with enough drippings to make some gravy too. The leftovers are unadulterated -- ready to be slapped between two slices of soft Wonder white bread.

IMG_1102All said, when it's a mouthwatering meatloaf sandwich I'm craving, I cut straight to the chase.  I get out my skillet and pan-sear some meatloaf burgers.  My recipe makes 8, 8-ounce burgers, enough for Joe and I to enjoy in different ways for four full days.

IMG_1032For eight burger patties:

2 1/2-3  pounds extra-lean ground beef (90/10)

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

1  cup milk

2  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

2  tablespoons salted butter

1  cup small-diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup small diced celery

2  tablespoons dried parsley leaves

2  teaspoons granulated beef bouillon

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

6  tablespoons corn oil, just enough to coat bottom of pan, for frying burger patties

1/2  cup water, (optional), for deglazing pan if gravy is wanted 

IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036~Step 1.  Place crackers in a large bowl.  Using your fingers, crush crackers into small bits and pieces.  Add the 1-cup milk and stir to combine.  In the same 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to lightly-beat the 2 eggs, then stir them into the cracker mixture.  Set aside about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the crackers time to absorb all of the liquid.  The resulting mixture will be thick and pasty.

IMG_1055 IMG_1055 IMG_1055 IMG_1055 IMG_1055 IMG_1055~Step 2.  In a 10" skillet melt butter over low heat. Add the onion and celery along with the parsley flakes, beef bouillon, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium and sauté until onion and celery are nicely softened, 4-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool about 10 minutes.  Stir the still-warm vegetable mixture to the cracker mixture.

IMG_1076 IMG_1076 IMG_1076~Step 3.  Add the ground beef to the cracker and vegetable mixture.  Using your hands (it's the most efficient), combine the two.  Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divided mixture into 8 equal portions, about 8-ounces each.

IMG_1086 IMG_1086 IMG_1101 IMG_1101 IMG_1101 IMG_1101~Step 4.  Form the burger portions into 4"-round patties, placing them in a 12", 5 1/2-quart chef's pan to which 6 tablespoons corn oil has been added.  Turn heat on to medium- medium-high and sauté patties until golden on both sides, about 10-12 minutes per side, flipping them over only once during the cooking process.  Transfer burgers to a large plate or platter and set aside.  Add 1/2 cup water to the pan.  Using a spatula, deglaze the pan by scraping the flavorful browned bits from the bottom and continue to cook until almost all water has evaporated and only loosened brown bits remain in bottom of pan, about 1 minute. In this same pan of meat drippings, prepare gravy, according to the following directions:

IMG_1195 IMG_1195 IMG_1195 IMG_1210 IMG_1210 IMG_1210 IMG_1210 IMG_1210~Step 5.  To prepare the optional gravy (read Cook's Note below), over low heat, melt 6 tablespoons salted butter into drippings.  Once butter has melted, stir in 6 tablespoon flour. Increase heat to medium.  Stir until  mixture (referred to as a roux) is pasty (it will not be completely smooth because there are bits of ground beef goodness in there), 1-2 minutes.  Add 2 cups beef stock to pan. Adjust heat to medium-high and simmer, until nicely thickened to your liking, about 3 minutes.  Taste and season with salt and pepper.  Recipe yields 2 cups gravy.

Served hot w/shredded lettuce, steak sauce & French fried onions:

IMG_1263Served cold w/mayo, shredded lettuce & sliced tomato:

IMG_1235Served hot or cold w/creamy coleslaw & dill pickle chips:

IMG_1252My Cut-to-the-Chase Pan-Seared Meatloaf Burgers:  Recipe yields 8, 8-ounce meatloaf patties/8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 10" skillet; large spoon; kitchen scale; 12"-14" chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; spatula

IMG_1156Cook's Note:  Meatloaf burgers are great served exactly like sliced meatloaf, on a plate to be eaten with a knife-and-fork.  There are enough drippings in the pan to make 2 cups of flavorful gravy, which makes them great served next to some mac and cheese, or, atop a bed of fluffy mashed potatoes with a green vegetable to the side.  For another way to serve meatloaf burgers as a knife-and-fork meal, try my easy recipe for ~ Oh-My-Goodness Retro Rice-a-Burger-Roni ~. 

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

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

04/20/2020

~Homestyle Chicken and Vegetable Rice-a-Roni-Pilaf~

IMG_1459Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat, was a savvy entrepreneur's son's take on rice pilaf.  Italian born immigrant Domenico (Charlie) DeDomenico moved to California in 1895 to open a fresh produce store.  After becoming a successful businessman, he married Maria Ferrigno, an immigrant from Salerno, Italy, where her family owned a pasta factory.  In 1912, Maria persuaded Charlie to set up a similar business in the Mission District of San Francisco.  Gragnano Products, Inc., was born and began delivering pasta to Italian restaurants and stores throughout the area.

Maria and Charlie's sons, Paskey, Vince, Tom and Anthony worked in the family business, and, in 1934, Paskey changed the name to the Golden Grain Macaroni Company. Tom's wife Lois fell in love with a pilaf recipe she received from an Armenian immigrant, Mrs. Pailadzo Captanian, which she served at a family gathering.  After tasting the unique pilaf, which was made by sautéing a combination rice and pasta in butter before adding chicken broth and seasonings, Vince went to work developing a new product.  In 1958, his creation, named Rice-a-Roni, was introduced to the NW United States as "The San Francisco Treat".  Four years later, in 1962, it went nationwide.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a51a5586200bIn the case of this homestyle roasted chicken and Rice-a-Roni-for-dinner recipe, I'm not posting one of my copycat recipes for Rice-a-Roni, meaning,  I'm using the boxed mix and seasoning packet just as they are.  I simply adding several on-hand kitchen-, pantry- and freezer-staple vegetable additions. It's these additions that turn this boxed mix into an absolutely-delightful super-easy-to-make one-skillet dinner: one cup each of diced celery and onion, a can of sliced mushrooms, and one cup of frozen peas and carrots.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09befcf4970dRotisserie chicken is not my "gig".  It takes all the sport out of cooking.  I roast chickens.  I have roasted many chickens in my life, and, I've been roasting chickens since before some of you were born.  I've never served roasted chicken to a guest that didn't mention how moist and perfectly cooked it was and ask how in the world I got it that way. Everyone and anyone who cooks has an opinion on roasting chicken, and, mine is quite basic.  Two chickens, two hours.  Read all about:  This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken.

Homestyle winner-winner chicken dinner:

IMG_1405For the Rice-a-Roni-Pilaf dinner:

3  tablespoons salted butter

1  7.2-ounce box Rice-a-Roni Rice Pilaf Mix + seasoning packet

1  cup diced onion

1  cup diced celery

1 1/2  cups water, including 1 cup liquid from 2, 4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms (from below), 1 1/2 cups total liquid

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon poultry seasoning

2  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, well-drained

1  cup frozen peas and carrots, unthawed

1  pound chicken breast or thigh meat, hand-pulled into bite-sized pieces, leftover chicken from 1 roasted chicken or rotisserie chicken

store-bought chicken gravy, your favorite brand, warmed, for dipping or drizzling (optional)

IMG_1410 IMG_1410 IMG_1410 IMG_1410 IMG_1410 IMG_1410 IMG_1410~Step 1. Over low heat, melt the butter in bottom of pan.  Prepare the Rice-a-Roni according to package directions, starting by browning the rice and pasta in the butter, while stirring constantly for 2-3 minutes.  Stir in the diced celery and onions and cook about 1 more minute, again, stirring constantly.

IMG_1428 IMG_1428 IMG_1428 IMG_1428 IMG_1428~Step 2. Slowly add the water containing the mushroom liquid to pan --  steam will billow up, so, be careful.  Add the seasonings (the packet from the box, plus the 1 teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning).  Give the mixture a thorough stir and wait for it to return to a simmer, 1-2 minutes.  Adjust heat to a simmer gently.

IMG_1441 IMG_1441 IMG_1445 IMG_1445 IMG_1445 IMG_1445~Step 3. Cover the pan and simmer until rice and pasta are cooked through and have absorbed almost all liquid, 14-16 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside 5 minutes.  Remove lid and rake through the mixture with a fork to fluff and separate the rice grains and pasta pieces.  Add and stir in the pulled chicken.  Cover and allow residual heat to heat chicken, about 5 minutes.  Portion onto plates or into shallow serving bowls.

Good enough to put on anyone's table for dinner:

IMG_1473Roasted Chicken and Vegetable Rice-a-Roni-Pilaf:  Recipe yields 6 hearty servings.

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

IMG_0579Cook's Note: Chicken-noodle soup is the quintessential comfort food. While nourishing the body, chicken-noodle soup channels ones mind back to kinder, gentler, childhood times. When I was growing up, I don't remember eating canned chicken-noodle soup.  Mom always had homemade chicken soup in the freezer.  When it was gone, she made more.  That was that.  No canned soup for me.  While stocking my pantry with a few chicken-y staples (chicken stock, granulated chicken bouillon, and, bags of wide egg noodles), my mind wandered to back to mom's absolutely wonderful ~ Oodles of Tender Chicken and Noodles Casserole ~.

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

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

04/18/2020

~ Easy Chinese-Style Pork-Fried-Rice-a-Roni Stir-Fry ~

IMG_1365Of the original three Rice-a-Roni flavors (chicken, beef and Spanish-style), chicken is the undisputed favorite, with beef and tomatoey Spanish-style coming in a close second and third. Growing up in the 60's, all three flavors of "the San Francisco treat" were always in my mom's pantry, and, as a savvy cook and recipe developer, I'm proud of my copycat recipes for all three.  Over the decades, Rice-a-Roni has added many other flavors to their menu (long-grain & wild rice, rice pilaf, Japanese teriyaki, Chinese fried-rice, and Mexican-Style), twenty-six to be exact, along with other Pasta-Roni products.  Their stir-fried rice is one of my recent favorites.

In the case of this Chinese-Style Rice-a-Roni-for-dinner recipe, I'm not posting a copycat recipe for the rice and vermicelli, or, the seasoning packet, meaning,  I'm using the boxed mix and seasoning packet just as they are.  I simply adding several yummy Chinese-style pantry additions. It's these additions that turn this boxed mix into an absolutely-delightful super-easy-to-make one-skillet dinner:  sesame oil, diced pork loin, thinly-sliced fresh scallions, a can of well-drained straw mushrooms, garlic paste, ginger paste and Chinese soy sauce, plus, at the very end, a steamed, steam-in-bag bag of broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas and water chestnuts gets stirred in.

IMG_1273For the pork stir-fry:

2  tablespoons sesame oil

2  tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

1  tablespoon hoisin sauce

2  teaspoons ginger paste

1 1/2-2  teaspoons garlic paste

1  pound pork tenderloin, sliced into very-thin strips

1  cup thin-sliced green onions, white and light green parts only

IMG_1277 IMG_1277 IMG_1277~ Step 1.  Slice pork as directed.  In a 1-gallon food storage bag, place sesame oil, soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ginger and garlic past.  Add pork to bag.  Seal the bag.  Using your fingertips, massage the bag to coat pork strips in marinade.  Marinate 30-60 minutes or longer -- this can be done the night before or in the morning and refrigerated.  Return to room temperature, about 1 hour, prior to stir-frying.

IMG_1284 2 IMG_1284 2 IMG_1284 2~ Step 2.  Heat a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan over medium-high.  Add the pork and all of the marinade, along with the green onions.  Using a large spoon, stir-fry the pork, stirring constantly, until just cooked through, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Do not overcook pork.  Transfer the stir-fried pork mixture to a medium bowl.

For the Fried-Rice-a-Roni and steamed vegetables:

3  tablespoons sesame oil

1  teaspoon ginger paste

1/2-1  teaspoon garlic paste

1  6.8-ounce box Stir-Fried Rice-a-Roni + seasoning packet

2  cups water

2  tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

1  15-ounce can straw mushrooms, well-drained

1  10.8-ounce steam-in-bag stir-fry vegetables (a mixture of broccoli, carrots, sugar snap peas and water chestnuts)

IMG_1288 IMG_1288 IMG_1296 IMG_1296 IMG_1296 IMG_1296 IMG_1296 IMG_1296 IMG_1296 IMG_1296 IMG_1296~Step 1.  In the chef's pan, heat the sesame oil over low heat. Add the garlic paste and ginger paste. Increase heat to medium-high.  Prepare the Rice-a-Roni according to package directions, starting by browning the rice and vermicelli in the sesame oil (in place of butter).  Stir in soy sauce and  mushrooms.  Add the water and contents of seasoning packet.  Adjust heat to simmer, covered, for 14-15 minutes.  About 12 minutes into the simmering process, steam the stir-fry vegetables in the microwave.  When steamed, open the bag and drain them thoroughly (I use a paper-towel lined plate).

IMG_1319 IMG_1324 IMG_1328 2 IMG_1328 IMG_1335 IMG_1341~Step 2.  Uncover the pan.  Using a fork, rake the Rice-a-Roni to separate the rice grains and pasta strands.  Add and stir in the stir-fried pork-scallion mixture and any and all juices in the bowl.  Add and stir in the well-drained steamed vegetables.  

Portion into bowls & serve immediately.  Take a bite.

IMG_1384Yea, you're coming back for more until this is gone.

IMG_1387Easy Chinese-Style Pork-Fried-Rice-a-Roni Stir-Fry:  Recipe yields 6-8 hearty servings.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4dc7788200dCook's Note: Want to learn how to stir-fry or teach someone how to stir-fry?  Start with Chinese-American chicken and broccoli.  It is the quintessential basic stir-fry.  One protein (chicken).  One vegetable (broccoli).  One sauce (brown). Steamed rice (white).  Nine out of ten times, there will be some garlic, ginger and green onions in the mix too.  Chicken and Broccoli is on every Chinese take-out menu, it's one of the most popular Chinese chicken dishes, and, it is almost always the first stir-fry home cooks try to duplicate.  There's more.  No special hardware is required.  While stir-frying is typically done in a traditional wok or in an Americanized stir-fry pan, a skillet or an electric skillet work equally fine too.  Try my super-easy recipe for ~ Stir fry 101. Chinese-American Chicken & Broccoli ~.

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

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

04/15/2020

~ Oh-My-Goodness-Good Retro Rice-a-Burger-Roni ~

IMG_1156When I was a kid, my mom invented a beefy Rice-a-Roni dinner that kept my brother and I from bugging her to buy us an occasional, to quote mom, "over-priced, over-rated TV dinner" -- which, to us kids of the era, were nothing more than a trendy novelty.  As they say on the Rice-a-Roni website: Prepare for a stampede to the dinner table when you serve our delicious rice and vermicelli blended with the savory flavors of onions, carrots, beef broth and garlic.  It's true.

Mom would carefully shape hamburger patties, prepared meatloaf-style (meaning mixed with a binder, some milk, an egg, and diced celery and onion), to look like the oval salisbury steaks pictured on the Swanson box.  She'd brown them on both sides in a skillet,  Next, she'd pour about half a jar of beef gravy over the top, cover the skillet and let the patties simmer gently for a few moments.  Mom would serve us her burgers and gravy atop beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni laced with peas and carrots. It was simple semi-homemade comfort food -- and we adored it.

My younger brother named mom's dish "burger-roni".

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4fc20c6200dBack in the 1960's my mom was the queen of Rice-a-Roni recipes.  I was the princess who loved them.  If I was feeling under the weather, she knew I'd rather have a bowl of chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni than a bowl of Campbell's chicken-noodle soup.  She served the prince (my brother) and I the aforementioned hamburger patties atop a bed of beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni drizzled with some store-bought beef gravy to prevent us from bugging her to buy Salisbury-steak TV dinners.  To two boxes of Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni she added two cans of stewed tomatoes and two pounds of peeled and sautéed shrimp.  In our kingdom, our family of four ate it as a sort-of Creole-style jambalaya dinner.  To two boxes of Chicken Rice-a-Roni, she'd add sautéed chicken thighs or tenders along with some sausage.  We four enjoyed it as a sort-of Cajun-style jambalaya dinner. It was my brother who named these meals, "jamba-roni" and "burger-roni.  Try my recipes for all three: copycat chicken, beef & Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni.

Part One:  Making Mom's Perfect Meatloaf-Style Burger Patties

IMG_1032For eight burger patties:

2 1/2-3  pounds extra-lean ground beef (90/10)

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

1  cup milk

2  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

2  tablespoons salted butter

1  cup small-diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup small diced celery

2  tablespoons dried parsley leaves

2  teaspoons granulated beef bouillon

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

4  tablespoons corn oil, just enough to coat bottom of pan, for frying burger patties

1/2  cup water, for deglazing pan

IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036 IMG_1036~Step 1.  Place crackers in a large bowl.  Using your fingers, crush crackers into small bits and pieces.  Add the 1-cup milk and stir to combine.  In the same 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to lightly-beat the 2 eggs, then stir them into the cracker mixture.  Set aside about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the crackers time to absorb all of the liquid.  The resulting mixture will be thick and pasty.

IMG_1055 IMG_1055 IMG_1055 IMG_1055 IMG_1068 IMG_1068~Step 2.  In a 10" skillet melt butter over low heat. Add the onion and celery along with the parsley flakes, beef bouillon, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium and sauté until onion and celery are nicely softened, 4-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and allow to cool about 10 minutes.  Stir the still-warm vegetable mixture to the cracker mixture.

IMG_1076 IMG_1076 IMG_1076~Step 3.  Add the ground beef to the cracker and vegetable mixture.  Using your hands (it's the most efficient), combine the two.  Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divided mixture into 8 equal portions, about 8-ounces each.

IMG_1086 IMG_1086 IMG_1086 IMG_1086 IMG_1086 IMG_1086~Step 4.  Form the burger portions into 4"-round patties, placing them in a 12", 5 1/2-quart chef's pan to which 6 tablespoons corn oil has been added.  Turn heat on to medium- medium-high and sauté patties until golden on both sides, about 10-12 minutes per side, flipping them over only once during the cooking process.  Transfer burgers to a large plate or platter and set aside.  Add 1/2 cup water to the pan.  Using a spatula, deglaze the pan by scraping the flavorful browned bits from the bottom and continue to cook until the water has evaporated, until only loosened brown bits remain in bottom of pan, about 1 minute. In this same pan of meat drippings, prepare Rice-a-Roni, according to the following directions:

Part Two:  Making the Rice-a-Roni or my Copycat Rice-a-Roni 

IMG_1105For the rice-a-burger-roni dinner:

3  tablespoons salted butter

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  cup diced onion

1/2  cup diced celery

2  6.8-ounce boxes Rice-a-Roni Spanish Rice Mix + seasoning packets*, or, 2  times (double) my recipe for copycat Beef Rice-a-Roni, prepared using 1 1/2-2 cups frozen peas and carrots in place of small-diced fresh carrots + diced celery and onion (listed above)

5  cups water

1 1/2-2  cups frozen peas and carrots, unthawed

all of the beef patties, from above recipe

store-bought beef gravy, your favorite brand, warmed, for dipping or drizzling

IMG_1110 IMG_1110 IMG_1110 IMG_1110 IMG_1110 IMG_1110~Step 1.  Over low heat, melt the butter into the pan drippings.  Stir in the garlic and onion powder. Prepare the Rice-a-Roni according to package directions, or my copycat directions, starting by browning the rice and pasta in the buttery drippings.  Stir in the diced celery and onions and cook about 1 more minute, stirring constantly.

IMG_1122 IMG_1122 IMG_1122 IMG_1122 IMG_1122~Step 2. Slowly add the water to pan --  steam will billow up, so, be careful.  Add the seasonings (the packets from the boxes, or, the 2 tablespoons granulated beef bouillon and 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder as directed in my recipe).  Give the mixture a thorough stir and wait for it to return to a simmer, 1-2 minutes.  Adjust heat to a simmer gently.

IMG_0991 IMG_0991 IMG_0991~ Step 3. Cover the pan and simmer until rice and pasta are cooked through and have absorbed almost all liquid, 14-16 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside 5 minutes.  Remove lid and rake through the mixture with a fork to fluff and separate the rice grains and pasta pieces.  Portion onto plates or into shallow serving bowls.  Top each portion with a beef patty and a generous drizzle of gravy.  Serve ASAP.

Top each portion of Roni w/a patty & a drizzle of gravy:

IMG_1186Stick a fork in it.  Enjoy every savory, succulent bite:

IMG_1177Oh-My-Goodness-Good Retro Rice-a-Burger Roni:  Recipe yields 8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; fork; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; kitchen scale; 12", 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight-deep sides; spatula; 1-quart measuring container; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0a011943970dCook's Note: The Japanese Take on Salisbury Steak is an interesting one.  If this doesn't sound very Japanese, it's because its 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).

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

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

04/13/2020

~Cajun-Style Chicken, Sausage & Rice-a-Jamba-Roni~

IMG_1009In my kitchen, this one-skillet dish is affectionately referred to as Jamba-Roni.  Why?  This quick-to-make mixture of lightly-sautéed long-grain rice and vermicelli, plus tender chicken, spicy sausage, flavorful bell peppers, celery and onions simply reminds everyone who eats it of jambalaya (a rustic one-pot meal containing long-grain white rice with meat, poultry or shellfish, pork or sausage, and, the Cajun-Creole "holy trinity" -- onion, celery and green bell pepper).

IMG_0911Creole-style jambalaya, sometimes called red jambalaya, incorporates tomato.  The most popular Creole jambalaya contains shrimp (or crawfish).  Cajun-style jambalaya, sometimes called brown jambalaya, doesn't contain tomato.  The most popular Cajun jambalaya contains chicken (or alligator). Jambalaya comes from the French word jambalaia, meaning "to mix or mash" and "a rice pilaf".  The finished dish resembles Spanish paella, which is a rice pilaf cooked with broth.

My younger brother named mom's dish "jamba-roni".

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4fb60ad200dBack in the 1960's my mom was the queen of Rice-a-Roni recipes.  I was the princess who loved them.  If I was feeling under the weather, she knew I'd rather have a bowl of chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni than a bowl of Campbell's chicken-noodle soup.  She served the prince (my brother) and I pan-seared hamburgers and gravy atop a bed of beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni, to prevent us from bugging her to buy overpriced Salisbury-steak TV dinners.  To two boxes of Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni she added two cans of stewed tomatoes and two pounds of peeled and sautéed shrimp.  In our kingdom, our family of four ate it as a sort-of Creole-style jambalaya dinner.  To two boxes of Chicken Rice-a-Roni, she'd add sautéed chicken thighs or tenders along with some sausage.  We four enjoyed it as a sort-of Cajun-style jambalaya dinner. It was my brother who named these meals, "jamba-roni".  Fond memories indeed. Try my super-easy recipes for all three: copycat chicken, beef & Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni.

Diced "holy trinity" & three easy steps:

IMG_09382  tablespoons olive oil

1  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon garlic powder

2  pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenders or thighs, sliced into bite-sized pieces

IMG_093212  ounces Cajun-style andouille sausage, sliced into 1/4"-thick coins

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

4  ounces diced celery (about 1 cup)

4  ounces each: diced green bell pepper, red bell pepper and yellow bell pepper (about 1 cup each)

6  tablespoons salted butter

2  6.8-ounce boxes chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni + seasoning packets*, or, 2  times (double) my recipe for for copycat chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni  

5  cups water

1-2  teaspoons red pepper flakes

cayenne pepper sauce (Louisianna Gold, Crystal, Frank's RedHot, etc., your favorite brand), for accompaniment 

IMG_0941 IMG_0941 IMG_0941 IMG_0941 IMG_0941 IMG_0941 IMG_0941 IMG_0959 IMG_0959 IMG_0965 IMG_0965~Step 1.  To sauté the chicken, sausage and the vegetables, in a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan, heat the olive oil over low heat.  Stir in the garlic and onion powder,  Add the chicken and sausage and increase heat to medium- medium-high.  Using a large slotted spoon, sauté, stirring constantly, until chicken is just of cooked through, about 7-8 minutes.  Do not over-cook chicken.  Using the slotted spoon, transfer chicken and sausage to a large bowl, leaving all the flavorful juices in the pan.  Add all of the diced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently, until nicely-softened but still crunch tender, about 5-6 minutes.  Do not overcook veggies.  Turn the heat off. Using the slotted spoon, transfer veggies to the bowl with the chicken and set aside.  Use a paper towel or three to mop up (absorb) and discard any excess juices that might remain in the bottom of the pan.

IMG_0973 IMG_0973 IMG_0973 IMG_0973 IMG_0973 IMG_0973 IMG_0973 IMG_0973 IMG_0991~Step 2.  In the same chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat.  Prepare the Rice-a-Roni according to package directions, or my copycat directions (brown the rice and vermicelli in the butter, add the water, seasonings and 1-2 teaspoons red pepper flakes) and gently simmer, covered, 14-15 minutes.  Do NOT lift the lid during the simmering process.

IMG_0993 IMG_0993 IMG_1001 IMG_1001~Step 3.  Uncover the pan, and, using a fork, rake the Rice-a-Roni to separate the rice grains and pasta strands.  Stir the chicken, sausage and veggies into the rice. Turn heat off.  Cover and rest on hot stovetop 5 minutes.  Residual heat will reheat the chicken, sausage and vegetables.

Portion into bowls & serve ASAP w/your favorite hot sauce:

IMG_1023Cajun-Style Chicken, Sausage & Rice-a-Jamba-Roni:  Recipe yields 6-8 hearty main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; paper towels; 1-quart measuring container; large spoon or spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d8e6ef5970dCook's Note: Red beans and rice, a signature dish of Louisiana, became known as "the washday dinner", because Monday was typically when women worked outdoors washing and drying their family's clothes for 4-6 hours.  The meal was prepared with Sunday supper's leftover ham bone.  It was convenient, because dinner cooked itself on the stovetop, or over an outdoor fire, while the women worked and commiserated about the week ahead and caught up on neighborhood gossip. Try my recipe for ~ Monday's Washday Dinner:  Red Beans and Rice ~.  

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

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

04/10/2020

~ Spicy Creole-Style Shrimp and Rice-a-Jamba-Roni ~

IMG_0911In my kitchen, this one-skillet dish is affectionately referred to as Jamba-Roni.  Why?  This quick-to-make mixture of tomato-laced long-grain white rice and vermicelli, plus lots of succulent shrimp and flavorful bell peppers, celery and onions simply reminds everyone who eats it of jambalaya (a rustic one-pot meal that combines long-grain white rice with meat, poultry or shellfish, pork or sausage, and, the Cajun-Creole culinary "holy trinity" -- onion, celery and green bell pepper).

IMG_1009Creole-style jambalaya, sometimes called red jambalaya, incorporates tomato.  The most popular Creole jambalaya contains shrimp (or crawfish).  Cajun-style jambalaya, sometimes called brown jambalaya, doesn't contain tomato.  The most popular Cajun jambalaya contains chicken (or alligator). Jambalaya comes from the French word jambalaia, meaning "to mix or mash" and "a rice pilaf".  The finished dish resembles Spanish paella, which is a rice pilaf cooked with broth.

My younger brother named mom's dish "jamba-roni". 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a51a5586200bBack in the 1960's my mom was the queen of Rice-a-Roni recipes.  I was the princess who loved them.  If I was feeling under the weather, she knew I'd rather have a bowl of chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni than a bowl of Campbell's chicken-noodle soup.  She served the prince (my brother) and I pan-seared hamburgers and gravy atop a bed of beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni, to prevent us from bugging her to buy overpriced Salisbury-steak TV dinners.  To two boxes of Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni she added two cans of stewed tomatoes and two pounds of peeled, sautéed shrimp.  In our kingdom, our family of four ate it as a sort-of Creole-Style jambalaya dinner. To two boxes of Chicken Rice-a-Roni, she'd add sautéed chicken thighs or tenders along with some sausage.  We four enjoyed it as a sort-of Cajun-style jambalaya dinner. It was my brother who named these meals, "jamba-roni".  Fond memories indeed. Try my super-easy recipes for all three: copycat chicken, beef & Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni.  

Diced "holy trinity" & three easy steps:

IMG_08352  tablespoons olive oil

1  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon garlic powder

2  pounds medium shrimp (41-50 count), peeled and deveined, tails off

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

4  ounces diced celery (about 1 cup)

4  ounces each: diced green bell pepper, red bell pepper and yellow bell pepper (about 1 cup each)

6  tablespoons salted butter

2  6.8-ounce boxes Rice-a-Roni Spanish Rice Mix + seasoning packets*, or, 2  times (double) my recipe for copycat Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni, prepared using stewed tomatoes in place of fire-roasted diced tomatoes + red pepper flakes 

4  cups water

2  14 1/2-ounce cans stewed tomatoes

1-2  teaspoons red pepper flakes

cayenne pepper sauce (Louisianna Gold, Crystal, Frank's RedHot, etc., your favorite brand), for accompaniment 

IMG_0841 IMG_0841 IMG_0845 IMG_0845 IMG_0845 IMG_0845 IMG_0845 IMG_0845 IMG_0845 IMG_0863~Step 1.  To sauté the shrimp and the vegetables, in a 5 1/2-quart chef's pan, heat the olive oil over low heat.  Stir in the garlic and onion powder,  Add the shrimp and increase heat to medium- medium-high.  Using a large slotted spoon, sauté the shrimp, stirring constantly, until shrimp are just short of being cooked through, about 3-4 minutes. Do not fully-cook shrimp.  Using the slotted spoon, transfer shrimp to a large bowl, leaving all the flavorful juices remaining in the pan.  Add all of the diced vegetables and sauté, stirring frequently, until nicely-softened but still crunch tender, about 5-6 minutes.  Do not overcook veggies.  Turn the heat off.  Using the slotted spoon, transfer veggies to the bowl with the shrimp and set aside.

IMG_0868 IMG_0870 IMG_0870 IMG_0870 IMG_0876 IMG_0876 IMG_0882 IMG_0883 IMG_0883 IMG_0889 IMG_0889 IMG_0889~Step 2.  In the same chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat.  Prepare the Rice-a-Roni according to package directions, or my copycat directions (brown the rice and vermicelli in the butter, add the water, seasonings and tomatoes) and cook, covered for 14-15 minutes, adding two cans of stewed tomatoes in place of diced tomatoes, plus 1 teaspoon of red pepper flakes.

IMG_0896 IMG_0900~ Step 3.  Using a fork, rake the Rice-a-Roni to separate the rice grains and pasta strands.  Stir the warm shrimp and vegetables into the rice. Turn heat off.  Cover and rest on hot stovetop 5 minutes.  Residual heat will finish-cook shrimp.

Portion into bowls & serve ASAP w/your favorite hot sauce:   

IMG_0921Spicy Creole-Style Shrimp and Rice-a-Roni:  Recipe yields 6-8 hearty main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 5 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; 1-quart measuring container; large spoon or spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c879404d970bCook's Note: Shrimp a la Creole or Creole-style shrimp is the first Creole recipe I ever cooked, and, I made it because I wanted to try my 19-year-old hand at something "new to me".  I was a new bride and the recipe was on page 311 of the 1974 Edition of Betty Crocker's Cookbook.  While their recipe was "quick and easy", it was fundamentally sound and it tasted good too.  It served its purpose in that its success prompted me to try more sophisticated versions, the best one made with fresh Gulf shrimp in the New Orleans French Quarter in the 1980's.  Try my ~ Shrimp Creole:  The King of Creole Shrimp Dishes ~.

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

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

04/07/2020

~Cheesy Ham, Green Bean & Hash Brown Casserole~

IMG_0811After our Easter feast, before we even washed the dishes, mom would put together a casserole from three of the leftovers.  It wasn't rocket science, but, it was made from high-quality scratch-made ingredients.  About three cups of cubed baked ham and two cups of buttery green (string) beans got stirred into the remaining cheesy scalloped potatoes.  The following night, upon reheat, no one had to be called twice to the dinner table -- we four loved this meal.

This is not that recipe.  This is similar dish, made from pantry and freezer staples, for those times when you don't have leftovers from a traditional Easter feast, but are craving those familiar flavors.  I'd refer to it as a "desperate times call for desperate measures" casserole, but, it's not. It's downright delicious (and, uh, yes, I do approve of using the word delicious to describe delicious food, so, to all recipe critics and editors: get over yourselves and move along).

All the familiar flavors of Easter without the work.

IMG_0749For the cheese sauce:

4  tablespoons salted butter

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

3  packets granulated vegetable bouillon

1/4 cup Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

3 cups whole milk

8  ounces shredded finely-shredded Colby-Jack cheese (2 cups)

For the add-ins:

3  cups diced, cooked ham

2 cups cooked (steam-in-bag, stovetop simmered or microwaved) cut green beans, well-drained and snipped or sliced into 1/2" lengths

1  30-ounce bag frozen shredded hash browns

IMG_0754 IMG_0754 IMG_0754Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot over low heat, melt the butter.  Add the onion.  Increase heat to medium and cook, stirring almost constantly with a large spoon until onion has softened, without browning, 3-4 minutes.

IMG_0766 IMG_0766 IMG_0766 IMG_0766 IMG_0766 IMG_0766~Step 2.  Add and stir in the dry spices:  the onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper and contents from bouillon packets.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until a dry, foamy, pasty mess forms in the bottom of the pot, about 30-60 seconds. Stirring constantly, slowly and in a thin stream, add the milk.  Adjust heat to a very gentle simmer and continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, until mixture is nicely-thickened.  Turn the heat off and stir in the cheese.  It will melt almost instantly and the cheese sauce will be finished.

IMG_0785 IMG_0785 IMG_0785 IMG_0785~Step 3.  Add and stir in the diced ham and green beans.  Before opening the bag of frozen hash browns, use your hands to "crunch" the bag in several spots, to loosen them up a bit.  Add the frozen hash browns and stir until they are enrobed in the cheese sauce.  Remove from heat.

IMG_0798 IMG_0798~ Step 4.  Transfer the casserole mixture to the casserole dish.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375° oven, 40-45 minutes.  Casserole will be bubbling around the edges, slightly bubbling in the center, and lightly but nicely browned on the top.  Remove from oven and allow casserole to rest 5-10 minutes before slicing and serving.

Cheesy potatoes with ham & green beans?  Oh yum!

IMG_0823Perfect for any day-after-Easter brunch or lunch:

IMG_0833Cheesy Ham, Green Bean & Has Brown Casserole:  Recipe yields 8-12 hearty, main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-quart measuring container; 8-quart stockpot; large spoon; 13" x 9" x 2"/3-quart casserole

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4aa4853200bCook's Note:  Perhaps it's ham and asparagus you have leftover from your Easter feast. Every once in a while (not often, but it does happen) you'll come across a recipe that goes from ordinary to extraordinary by using a store-bought, instead of a scratch-made, dry sauce or seasoning packet.  While it is next-to-impossible to make a quiche using scratch-made hollandaise or béarnaise sauce (in place of the typical whisked cream and egg mixture), because either will breakdown in a hearts-beat or three, it is possible to add a dry, high-quality, store-bought, hollandaise or or béarnaise sauce-mix to season and enrich the cream and egg mixture.  In fact, it propels the end product into the stratosphere.  You gotta try my ~ Smoked Ham and Asparagus in a Béarnaise Quiche ~.

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

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

04/04/2020

~My Cheesy Corned-Beef on Rye Reuben Casserole~

IMG_0724I cook corned beef regularly -- three-four times a year.  It's always available at our local Sam's Club, and it has a long shelf-life too, meaning the expiration date is often a month or more out on the calendar.  I always buy two and I always cook two.  After discarding the seasoning packets, I cook them my way, slowly in the crockpot, in a tomato mixture laced with aromatic allspice, cinnamon and cloves.  When done, I cover the tops with brown sugar and bake them in a 350° oven for 20-25 minutes until the sugar crust is bubbly and caramelizing.  It is amazing.  

6a0120a8551282970b0240a44ada52200cMy brown-sugar-crusted corned beef sandwiches served on my homemade bread machine caraway-seeded rye bread have, literally, been described by many as "the best corned beef sandwich you'll ever eat".  That said, I typically don't serve them Rueben-style (with the 'kraut).  We two prefer to eat ours made grilled-cheese-style with a big scoop of Russian- or Thousand Islands-dressed potato salad or cole slaw to the side.

Meet my amazing sugar-crusted corned beef brisket:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4740b87200dWhat does "corned" mean & what is a corned beef brisket?

6a0120a8551282970b0240a44ab822200cA bit about corned beef:  Corned beef is beef brisket that has been brine-cured in a solution of salt and water typically used for pickling or preserving food.  Brisket is the cut of beef taken from the breast section under the first five ribs.  It is sold without the bone and divided into two sections.  The flat-cut has minimal fat and is more expensive than the more flavorful point-cut. 

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

About my cheesy corn-beef on rye Reuben-style casserole:

IMG_0691My husband loves a good Reuben sandwich.  When sitting in a real-deal deli, besides a bowl of matzo-ball soup, I don't recall him EVER ordering anything other than a Reuben.  That said, I never expected he would like a Reuben casserole.  It's one of the few times I've been wrong, and, after making one for the first time three-fours years ago, I regret having waited so long.  Recipes don't vary too much, some folks use pastrami (pastrami is a corned and smoked brisket, corned beef is a corned and simmer-cooked brisket), so, feel free to make that substitution.  As for the bread, any nice light or dark rye bread will work fine.  That said, my recipe is "a cut above" in that it is made with homemade corned beef and homemade rye bread.  Eat your heart out.

IMG_0607For the casserole assembly:

6  slices caraway-seeded rye bread, (12 ounces) preferably home-baked

1  pound thinly-sliced corned beef, preferably home-cooked, divided in half

1  pound bag sauerkraut, rinsed and well-drained

1  pound julienne of thinly-sliced imported Swiss cheese, divided in half 

2  teaspoons caraway seeds, divided in half

1/2  cup dill pickle relish

IMG_0638For the drizzly wet mixture:

1  cup milk

3  large eggs, lightly beaten

6  tablespoons Russian dressing, preferably homemade

1/4  cup whole-grain mustard

IMG_0643~ Step 1. Whisk all ingredients together in a 2-cup measuring container and set aside.

IMG_0614 IMG_0614 IMG_0614 IMG_0614 IMG_0614 IMG_0614 IMG_0614 IMG_0614 IMG_0614 IMG_0614~Step 2.  Spray an 11" x 7" x 2" casserole with no-stick cooking spray.  Cut and arrange four slices of the bread in the bottom of casserole.  Layer 1/2 of the corned beef atop the bread, followed by the sauerkraut, pickle relish and 1 teaspoon of the caraway seeds.  Scatter 1/2 of the Swiss cheese over the top of the sauerkraut layer.  Top with the remaining 1/2 of the corned beef.  Gently, but firmly, press down on the surface to compact it a bit.  Top with the remaining 1/2 of the Swiss cheese and 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds.

IMG_0646 IMG_0646 IMG_0646~ Step 2.  Using a back and forth motion, slowly, and in a thin stream, drizzle the milk mixture over the surface of the casserole, in order to allow the liquid adequate time to filter down through the nooks and crannies.

IMG_0658 IMG_0658 IMG_0658~Step 3.  Tear the remaining 2 slices of bread into pieces and place it in a medium-capacity food processor.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process to crumbs.  Scatter the crumbs evenly over the surface of casserole.  At this point, I like to set the casserole aside for about 30-60 minutes (or longer if I have the time), to give the bread at the bottom time to soak up the liquid.  Cover with foil and bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven 45-50 minutes.  Remove the foil for and continue to bake 5-10 minutes, until the bread crumbs on the top are golden and crisp (watch them carefully so they don't burn).  Remove from oven and allow to rest 10-15 minutes prior to serving.

Enjoy eating a Rueben sandwich w/a knife & fork: 

IMG_0739My Cheesy Corned-Beef on Rye Reuben Casserole:  Recipe yields 8-10 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small colander; 2-cup measuring container; fork; 11" x 7" x 2" casserole; aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b0240a44ab00e200cCook's Note: While I can make two corned beef in my crockpot casserole, in one big pot on the stovetop, in three hours, I can make three corned beef:  one for our favorite sandwiches, one for my Reuben casserole, and, one to cube and freeze in three, 1-pound packages, which, is enough to make three hearty corned beef hash breakfasts at a later date. Check out my simple recipe for ~ The Lazy Lady's Corned Beef Hash ~.

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

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

04/02/2020

~Oodles of Tender Chicken & Egg Noodle Casserole~

IMG_0579Chicken-noodle soup is the quintessential comfort food.  While nourishing the body, chicken-noodle soup channels the mind back to kinder, gentler, childhood times. When I was growing up, I don't remember eating canned chicken-noodle soup.  Mom always had one-quart containers of homemade chicken soup in the freezer.  When it was gone, she made more.  That was that, haha, no canned chicken-noodle soup for me.  While stocking my pantry with a few chicken-y staples (four boxes of chicken stock, two jars of granulated chicken bouillon, and, two double-size bags of wide egg noodles), my mind wandered to mom's chicken noodle casserole.

Mom's pantry-staple-based chicken-noodle casserole was different from the chicken-noodle casseroles my friends' moms made.   

Our family didn't eat a lot of casseroles (dad didn't care for casseroles), but, we ate this one. Mom's pantry-staple-based chicken-noodle casserole was different from the chicken-noodle casseroles my friends' moms made in that mom didn't use cream of chicken soup and she didn't use store-bought canned chicken (which was a common ingredient back in the 1950s and 60s. Mom used bouillon, water and a bit of cream, plus, all-white oven-roasted chicken breast. Feel free to substitute two poached chicken breasts or the breast meat from a rotisserie chicken. There's more.  Mom's casserole wasn't cheesy or cheese-topped.  It wasn't topped with bread crumbs or a buttery-rich and crispy Ritz cracker topping either (but those are options).  Left uncovered and alone, the tops of the curly-edged egg noodles brown and crisp on their edges.  

Mom's chicken-noodle casserole was an unembellished dish of humble, pantry-staple, made-with-love wonderfulness.

IMG_050612  ounces wide egg noodles, cooked according to directions below, well-drained

2  cups frozen peas and carrots, steamed in the microwave or cooked on the stovetop, according to package directions

8  tablespoons butter, divided, 5 tablespoons (sliced) for coating noodles and 3 tablespoons for sautéing vegetables

4  tablespoons granulated chicken bouillon, divided, 2 tablespoons for cooking noodles, 2  tablespoons for sautéing vegetables

1  cup small-diced onion

1  cup small-diced celery

2 1/2  cups water

1  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

3/4  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/4  cup Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

4  cups hand-pulled or diced cooke chicken breast

IMG_0473 IMG_0473 IMG_0473 IMG_0473 IMG_0473 IMG_0473 IMG_0473 IMG_0473 IMG_0498 IMG_0498~Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil.  Add 3 tablespoons granulated bouillon to the water (1 1/2 tablespoons salt may be substituted, but the bouillon flavors the noodles as they cook) along with the noodles. Adjust heat to a simmer and cook until noodles are al-dente, about 8-9 minutes.  Drain into a colander and return noodles to pan on still hot stovetop.  Add 5 tablespoon sliced butter and toss until noodles are coated in butter.  Microwave or simmer the peas and carrots, drain them into the colander, then add them to the buttered noodles.  Transfer mixture to a large bowl and set aside.

IMG_0508 IMG_0508 IMG_0508 IMG_0508 IMG_0508 IMG_0508 IMG_0508 IMG_0508~Step 2.  Over low heat, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in the same pan.  Add the diced onions and celery.  Increase heat to medium- medium-high and sauté, stirring constantly until vegetables are softening, 2-3 minutes.  Add the 2 1/2 cups water and stir in 2 tablespoons chicken bouillon, 1 teaspoon onion powder and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder.  Bring to a simmer.

IMG_0529 IMG_0529 IMG_0529 IMG_0529 IMG_0529 IMG_0529 IMG_0529 IMG_0529~Step 3.  In the meantime, in a 1-cup measuring container, use a spoon to stir together the cream and Wonder flour.  The mixture will be thick.  Add it to the now simmering mixture on the stovetop. Stirring constantly, simmer gently until nicely-, but not overly-thickened, about 2-3 minutes.

IMG_0557 IMG_0557 IMG_0557 IMG_0557~Step 4.  Transfer chicken-in-sauce mixture to  the noodle mixture in bowl.  Using a large spoon or rubber spatula, fold to combine.  Transfer casserole mixture to casserole dish.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of 350° oven, 25-30 minutes, until lightly-browned and bubbling.

Stay home & relish in a retro comfort casserole:

IMG_0577Bring on some nice plates & take a generous scoop:

IMG_0594Try a taste of retro-vintage & frugal pantry cooking:

IMG_0597Oodles of Tender Chicken & Egg Noodle Casserole:  Recipe yields 6-8 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; colander; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; large spoon; 1-cup measuring container; spoon; large spoon or rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a501325b200bCook's Note: It gets made in a pot of stock but it's not a soup.  It's not a stew either.  This heartwarming, down-home comfort-food dish is the great-grandmother of all noodle bowls.  Some refer to it as Southern, my experience with it is as an Eastern European, and, I know from first-hand experience the Pennsylvania Deutsch make it too.  I suspect they make it in Midwest as well. It's bite-sized pieces of tender chicken cooked in well-seasoned chicken stock with aromatic carrots, celery, onion and potatoes.  Egg noodles go directly into the pot to cook and absorb almost all the flavorful broth.  When executed properly, there's no need for a slurry (a bland-tasting thickener) -- the starch in the noodles does the work.  Try my recipe for ~ No Soup for You Home-Style Chicken Noodle Bowls ~.

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

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

03/30/2020

~Would You Like Onion-Laced Steak Fries with That?~

IMG_0371Of course you would, and these couldn't be easier.  All you need is two pounds of your favorite gold, red or Russet potatoes, some olive oil and one packet of the onion soup mix you forgot you had in your pantry.  Yes my friends, a packet of onion soup mix is a souper seasoning for oven-roasted steak fries.  After five minutes of prep time, they'll need 1 hour, 15 minutes to roast in a 350° oven, which frees of your hands for other tasks.  That said, because steak fries are best served hot, right out of the oven, plan for them to be the last item to go on the dinner table.

IMG_03292  pounds potatoes, gold, red or russet, your choice

1/4  cup olive oil

1 packet from one box of onion soup mix, your favorite brand

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole 

serve with suggestions:  steak, chicken, ribs or chops, prepared as directed in specific recipe, plus a tossed salad and/or sweet corn, for accompaniments

IMG_0334 IMG_0334 IMG_0334 IMG_0334 IMG_0334~Step 1. Spray a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole with no-stick.  Slice the potatoes into large, "meaty" wedges, 6-8 per potato depending on the type and size of potato, placing the potatoes in a 1-gallon food storage bag as you work. Add the olive oil and the onion soup mix to the bag.  Seal bag and toss until the potatoes are evenly coated in the oil and onion seasoning.

IMG_0351 IMG_0351 IMG_0351~ Step 2.  Transfer potatoes to prepared casserole.  Oven-roast the potatoes on center rack of preheated 350º oven for 1 hour, 15 minutes, stopping to toss the potatoes with a large spoon or spatula every 15 minutes throughout the process.  Remove the golden steak fries from oven and serve immediately.

Would You Like Onion-Laced Steak Fries with That?  Recipe yields:  4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; large spoon or spatula

IMG_0403Cook's Note: Along with every protein, the price of steak has gone through the roof.  For those who have a family to feed, these costs are cause to take many things off the table.  It's disheartening.  That said, by purchasing steak and serving it portioned and sliced atop a simple, uncomplicated, well-dressed salad (alongside a side of simple, uncomplicated, well-seasoned steak fries), it turns out to be reasonably economical.  ~ Steakhouse Steak Salad w/Onion-Laced Steak Fries ~

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

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

03/27/2020

~Copycat Chicken, Beef & Spanish-Style Rice-a-Roni~

IMG_0296Coming up with copycat recipes for three flavors of made-at-home Rice-a-Roni made for a fun few days.  Truth told, I love developing copycat recipes -- I'm good at it too.  From sea to shining sea, as items we've come to take for granted disappear from our store shelves, many have reached out to express appreciation for these recipes.  There's more.  Many have reached out to request these recipes. ~ Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix & My Copycat Recipe ~  is one example.

Rice-a-Roni -- The San Francisco Treat.

Italian born immigrant Domenico (Charlie) DeDomenico moved to California in 1895 to open a fresh produce store.  After becoming a successful businessman, he married Maria Ferrigno, an immigrant from Salerno, Italy, where her family owned a pasta factory.  In 1912, Maria persuaded Charlie to set up a similar business in the Mission District of San Francisco.  Gragnano Products, Inc., was born and began delivering pasta to Italian restaurants and stores throughout the area.

IMG_9880Maria and Charlie's sons, Paskey, Vince, Tom and Anthony worked in the family business, and, in 1934, Paskey changed the name to the Golden Grain Macaroni Company. Tom's wife Lois fell in love with a pilaf recipe she received from an Armenian immigrant, Mrs. Pailadzo Captanian, which she served at a family gathering.  After tasting the unique pilaf, which was made by sautéing a combination rice and pasta in butter before adding chicken broth and seasonings, Vince went to work developing a new product.  In 1958, his creation, named Rice-a-Roni, was introduced to the NW United States as "The San Francisco Treat".  Four years later, in 1962, it went nationwide.

Amongst Rice-a-Roni aficionados, chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni is still the undisputed favorite.

~ Copycat Chicken Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat ~

IMG_9879~ Copycat Beef Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat ~

IMG_0054~ Copycat Spanish-Style Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat

IMG_0281"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

03/24/2020

~ Spanish-Style Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat ~

IMG_0281

Back in the 1960's my mom was the queen of Rice-a-Roni recipes.  I was the princess who loved them.  If I was feeling under the weather, she knew I'd rather have a bowl of chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni than a bowl of Campbell's chicken-noodle soup.  She served the prince (my brother) and I pan-seared hamburgers and gravy atop a bed of beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni, to prevent us from bugging her to buy overpriced Salisbury-steak TV dinners.  To two boxes of Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni she added two pounds of peeled, raw shrimp.  In our kingdom, our family of four we ate it as a sort-of jambalaya dinner.  Fond memories of kinder, gently times indeed. 

Rice-a-Roni -- The San Francisco Treat.

IMG_0230Italian born immigrant Domenico (Charlie) DeDomenico moved to California in 1895 to open a fresh produce store.  After becoming a successful businessman, he married Maria Ferrigno, an immigrant from Salerno, Italy, where her family owned a pasta factory.  In 1912, Maria persuaded Charlie to set up a similar business in the Mission District of San Francisco.  Gragnano Products, Inc., was born and began delivering pasta to Italian restaurants and stores throughout the area.

IMG_0280Maria and Charlie's sons, Paskey, Vince, Tom and Anthony worked in the family business, and, in 1934, Paskey changed the name to the Golden Grain Macaroni Company. Tom's wife Lois fell in love with a pilaf recipe she received from an Armenian immigrant, Mrs. Pailadzo Captanian, which she served at a family gathering.  After tasting the unique pilaf, which was made by sautéing a combination rice and pasta in butter before adding broth and seasonings, Vince went to work developing a new product.  In 1958, his creation, named Rice-a-Roni, was introduced to the Northwestern United States as "The San Francisco Treat".  Four years later, in 1962, it went nationwide.

Copycat Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni is super-easy to make, tastes the same or better, &, saves money at the checkout:

IMG_0221For the 6 1/2 total ounces (1 cup) of rice & pasta:

3 3/4 ounces long grain white rice (about 1/2 cup)*

2 3/4 ounces fideo, cut spaghetti  (about 1/2 cup)*

*Note:  Yes.  I really did sit around for two hours one afternoon separating the rice grains from the vermicelli pasta, from one box of Rice-a-Roni, to make sure the measurements are correct.

For the 1/2 total ounces (2 tablespoons) seasoning blend packet:

2  tablespoons Knorr granulated tomato bouillon w/chicken flavoring (Note:  Contains salt, sugar, cornstarch, dehydrated tomato powder, chicken flavoring, turmeric (for color) and annatto (for color).)

1 teaspoons onion powder

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

For the sauté and simmer:

2-3  tablespoons salted butter, for sautéing the pasta and rice mixture (Note:  I use three. The box calls for two.  I never thought two was enough.  It isn't.)

2  cups water, for simmering the Copycat Rice-a-Roni

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

2  tablespoons dehydrated green & red bell peppers (Note:  1/4  cup each, small diced green and red bell pepper may be substituted.)

IMG_0233 IMG_0233 IMG_0233 IMG_0233 IMG_0233~Step 1. In a wide-bottomed 3 1/2-quart chef's pan with straight, deep sides (or a 10" skillet with a tight-fitting lid), melt 3 tablespoons butter over low heat.  Add and stir in the 1/2 cup rice and 1/2 cup fideo.  Increase heat to medium- medium-high.  Using a large slotted spoon, stir constantly and sauté until rice and pasta are light golden, about 3-4 minutes.

IMG_0248 IMG_0248 IMG_0248 IMG_0248 IMG_0248~Step 2.  Slowly add the water to the pan -- lots of steam will billow up, so, be careful.  Add the diced tomatoes followed by the seasonings: the chicken-tomato bouillon, onion powder, garlic powder and dehydrated bell peppers.  Give the mixture a thorough stir and wait for it to return to a simmer, about 1 minute.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer.

IMG_0260 IMG_0260 IMG_0260 IMG_0260 IMG_0260~Step 3. Cover the pan and adjust heat to simmer gently until rice and pasta are cooked through and have absorbed almost all liquid, 14-16 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside 5 minutes.  Remove lid and rake through the mixture with a fork to fluff and separate the rice grains and pasta pieces.  Transfer to a bowl or plate and serve immediately.

Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni -- "The San Francisco Treat!":

IMG_0284Spanish-Style Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat:  Recipe yields 4 cups/4-6 servings.

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

IMG_9248Cook's Note: In New England, baked cod with crunchy Ritz-cracker topping is everywhere.  The first time I tasted this delightful dish was in the restaurant of the Killington Resort's, VT ski slope.  Most eateries, from big city restaurants to small town diners, have it on their menu.  Recipes for this cracker-topped fish-dish don't vary much.  ~ Baked Lemon-Pepper Cod w/Ritz Cracker Topping ~  served with a side of buttery green beans atop a bed of Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni is a delightfully easy weeknight dinner.

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

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

03/22/2020

~Steakhouse Steak Salad w/Onion-Laced Steak Fries~

IMG_0403Grocery shopping has become a sport and pantry cooking has become an art form.  Three out of seven ingredients I wanted were gone from the shelves yesterday, and, along with every protein, the price of steak has gone through the roof.  For those who have a family to feed, these costs are cause to take many things off the table.  It's disheartening.  That said, by purchasing steak and serving it portioned and sliced atop a simple, uncomplicated, well-dressed salad (alongside a side of simple, uncomplicated, well-seasoned steak fries), it turns out to be kinda economical.

IMG_0310 2Joe bought a two-pack of 1" thick steaks (one is a T-bone and one is a Porterhouse) at Sam's club.  At $12.59 a pound these two steaks weighed in at 2 1/2 pounds and cost him $31.48.  That said, when sliced and served atop my tossed salad and fries they'd easily feed six people, which comes to roughly $5.25 per person, which isn't a bad deal.  It's twice as much as we two need, but, as two card-carrying carnivores, we'll be happy to eat steak salad two nights in a row.

Note:  T-Bone, Porterhouse, Delmonico, Ribeye and NY strip steaks, as long as they are 1" thick all work nicely without compromise, so, choose your favorite, or, what's available to you.

IMG_0315 IMG_0315 IMG_0315 IMG_0315 IMG_0315 IMG_0315~Step 1.  Place the steaks on an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan (the type that has a corrugated bottom).  Season the tops of steaks with freshly-round sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Place the pan of steaks 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler to cook 8-9 minutes per side, turning only once for a total of 16-18 minutes.  Time the steaks carefully: 16 total minutes = medium-rare, 18 total minutes = medium. Remove steaks from oven, loosely tent the pan with aluminum foil and set aside.

Would you like steak fries with your steak salad?

IMG_0371Of course, and these couldn't be easier.  All you need:  two pounds of your favorite potatoes (gold, red or Russet, your choice), some olive oil and one packet of the onion soup mix you forgot you had in your pantry.  Yes my friends, a packet of onion soup mix is a souper seasoning for oven-roasted steak fries.  Because steak fries are best served hot out of the oven, if you only have one oven, you do want to broil the steaks first, to give the steaks ample time to rest prior to slicing them slightly-warm or at room temperature.  When the steaks come out, reset the oven to bake at 350°.  While the fries are roasting, prepare your tossed salad and slice the steaks.

IMG_0329 22  pounds potatoes, gold, red or russet, your choice

1/4  cup olive oil

1 packet from one box of onion soup mix, your favorite brand

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole 

all steak (from above recipe), and your favorite tossed salad and salad dressing

IMG_0334 IMG_0334 IMG_0334 IMG_0334 IMG_0334~Step 1.  Spray a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole with no-stick.  Slice the potatoes into large, "meaty" wedges, 6-8 per potato depending on the type and size of potato, placing the potatoes in a 1-gallon food storage bag as you work. Add the olive oil and the onion soup mix to the bag.  Seal bag and toss until the potatoes are evenly coated in the oil and onion seasoning.

IMG_0351 IMG_0351 IMG_0351~ Step 2.  Transfer potatoes to prepared casserole.  Oven-roast the potatoes on center rack of preheated 350º oven for 1 hour, 15 minutes, stopping to toss the potatoes with a large spoon or spatula every 15 minutes throughout the process.  Remove the golden steak fries from oven and serve immediately.  

IMG_0438 IMG_0438 IMG_0438~ Step 3.  While fries are roasting, prepare the salad, then slice the steak, by removing the meat from the bones and slicing it into 1/4"-thick strips.  The salad in the photo: torn iceberg lettuce, diced sweet onion, sliced cucumber and Campari tomato wedges tossed with store-bought Wishbone Lite Italian dressing.

Assemble the salads & serve -- Presentation is everything! 

IMG_0409Steakhouse Steak Salad w/Onion-Laced Steak Fries:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List: 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; aluminum foil; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; large spoon or spatula

6a0120a8551282970b022ad35987d7200c 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95f458a970bCook's Note: Perhaps you'd like your steak salad with a fillet of beef. If that's the case, I do not recommend the dry heat of the broiler.  ~ The Perfect 12-13-Minute 2"-Thick, Grill-Pan Fillet ~ is made on the stovetop.  Perhaps it's a flank steak you've got on hand. My ~ Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak ~ is made in the broiler the same way as the bone-in steaks.

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

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

03/19/2020

~ Buttery Curried Pita Chips & Curried Chicken Salad ~

IMG_0191I'm an eater of snacks -- a slice or two of cheddar and a few apple slices, a piece or three of deli-meat rolled up with a slather of whole-grain mustard inside, a tablespoon or two of tuna or egg salad dolloped on a couple of buttery crackers.  Just a few examples of the way I like to eat.  Yes, when left to my own devices, I'm happy to skip three squares and snack my way through the day.

Pita bread is always on-hand in my kitchen.  I purchase a package almost every week, because, everything tastes great stuffed inside a pita pocket -- even a judiciously dressed tossed green salad.  Try it.  You'll be surprised -- if you like eating salad with a fork, try it in a pita pocket.  Back to topic.  Occasionally I have a few pocket breads that, while not stale, are past prime.  It only takes a few minutes to turn them into pita chips.  By adding a flavor-appropriate dried herb or spice to the butter and honey mixture, I can customize them to go with whatever I'm serving.

IMG_0179For my sweet-&-savory butter-&-honey curried pita chips:

IMG_01462  6" round pita pockets, white or whole wheat

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

2  tablespoons honey

1  teaspoon curry powder

1  teaspoon onion powder

IMG_0156 IMG_0156 IMG_0156~ Step 1.  Using kitchen shears, cut each pita bread around its circumference, to form 2 discs.  You will have 4  total discs.

IMG_0149 IMG_0149~ Step 2.  In a small bowl, use a spoon to thoroughly stir together the softened butter, honey, curry powder and onion powder -- "thoroughly" is a key word here.  The mixture should be uniform in color (no streaks), very soft, and spreadable.

IMG_0163 IMG_0163 IMG_0163 IMG_0163~Step 3.  Using a thin spatula or an ordinary butter knife, spread a thin but even coating of the butter mixture evenly over the "inside" (the rough side that was originally the inside of each pocket bread)) surface of each disc.  Using a chef's knife, cut each pita disc into six wedges.

IMG_0170 IMG_0170 IMG_0170~ Step 4.  Arrange the pita wedges, side-by-side and not overlapping on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven for 13-15 minutes, or until brown and bubbly.  Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, about 45-60 minutes.  Pita chips will continue to crisp up as they cool and will become very crunchy.

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

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

The following recipe is written to make two servings.

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

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

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

2  cups pulled chicken breast = about 2 servings

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

2 servings = enough to top 2 dozen curried pita chips

6a0120a8551282970b022ad36f67e4200c-800wi1/2 of a whole roasted chicken breast, pulled into bite-sized pieces, about 2 cups

1/2  cup medium-diced celery

6  tablespoons raisins, golden or dark raisins, your choice

3  tablespoons small-diced roasted & salted cashews

1/2  cup high-quality mayonnaise

2  tablespoons Patak's sweet mango chutney

2  teaspoons Madras curry powder

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated onion flakes

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

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

All-white chicken, sweet raisins, salty cashews, crunchy celery + some mango chutney, mayo & a bit of curry heat:

IMG_0183One of many reasons to snack your way through the day:

IMG_0204 2Buttery Curried Pita Chips & Curried Chicken Salad:  Recipe yields 2 3/4-3 cups curried chicken salad/2 dozen pita chips.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; small capacity food processor; rubber spatula; 3-4-cup size food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; kitchen shears; spoon; thin spatula or butter knife; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2 baking pan; parchment paper; wire cooling rack

IMG_3483Cook's Note: It's no secret I'm a movie buff.  I've been watching movies since I was ten-ish. My favorites are based on true-stories, history or books.  My least favorites are star-warrian and science-fictionous, and, I have no interest in fantasy or animation.  I enjoy a good whodunnit crime drama or an occasional action-packed adventure but won't watch horror-infused slashing-for-shock-value movies. Comedies and satires are great, but, romantic, tear-jerking or feel-good chick flicks are better --the ones you can't pay the guy in your life to sit and watch with you (but it would be worth the price of admission just to watch him watch). I love ~ Chick Flicks and Curried Chicken Salad Croissants ~ too.

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

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

03/17/2020

~ Pantastic Sizzling One-Sheet-Pan Chicken Fajitas ~

IMG_0133Sheet pan meals have become remarkably popular over the past two-three years.  The concept of tossing an array of ingredients together, scattering them around in a single layer on one pan, then roasting them in a hot oven, appeals to both novice and experienced cooks.  The prep time is reasonably short, and, once the food's in the oven, the hands are free to tend to other things.  If the sheet pan has been lined with aluminum foil first, clean up -- uh, there is almost no cleanup.

I was late to the sheet pan dinner party, meaning, sheet-pan meals were not something I made for our family of five.  That said, I'm a savvy cook, and after recently trying my hand at a few of these meals, I learned I get better results using one pan in two steps, meaning:  cook the protein first, cook the vegetables second.  Why?  Proteins require a rest time in order to remain juicy -- they rest while the veggies roast.  Why not use two pans in the same oven to save time?  The surface area of two pans creates too much moisture in the air, causing food to steam instead of brown.  

Tip: If you own a pizza stone, now is a great time to use it.  Preheating the oven with the stone in it and placing the sheet pan of food on the hot stone promotes extra browning and carmelization.

The large surface area of one sheet pan makes quick work of feeding a family one of their favorite restaurant meals -- fajitas.  

6a0120a8551282970b0223c846f14d200cFor the chicken and the marinade:

3  pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs*

12  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or vegetable oil (3/4 cup)**

6  tablespoons white vinegar

6  tablespoons lime juice, fresh or lime juice not from concentrate

1  tablespoon ground cumin

1  tablespoon dried Mexican oregano and Mexican-style chili powder

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

1/2  cup minced cilantro leaves

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

6a0120a8551282970b0224df2eb2e0200b-120wi 6a0120a8551282970b0224df2eb2e4200b-120wi 6a0120a8551282970b0224e035b27e200d-120wi 6a0120a8551282970b0224e035b285200d-120wi~Step 1.  In a small capacity food processor or blender, measure and place all ingredients as listed:  vegetable oil, vinegar, lime juice and all of the dry spices.  Mince and add the cilantro. Process or blend, until smooth and emulsified, about 15-20 seconds.  Yield:  1 1/4 cups marinade.

IMG_0065 IMG_0065 IMG_0065 IMG_0065~Step 2.  Unpackage the chicken thighs and open each thigh up so it sits flat on the work surface. Using a chef's knife, slice into 1/4"-to-slightly-less-than 1/2" strips.  Transfer to a 1-gallon food storage bag and add all marinade.  Seal bag.  Use your fingertips to massage the chicken until it is evenly coated in the marinade.  Marinate for 1/2-1-3 hours or overnight.  The longer, the better.

*Note:  While boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be substituted for thighs, when it comes to making sheet-pan fajitas, experience has taught me that the bit of extra fat on dark-meat chicken thighs helps them to caramelize and keeps them from drying out in the dry high heat of the oven.

IMG_0083For the vegetables & the fajitas:

all of the marinated chicken strips, from above recipe

1-1 1/4  pounds 1/4"-1/2" thick sliced sweet onion, cut into half-moon shapes

5-6  ounces each:  1/4"-1/2" julienne green, red and yellow bell pepper (1-1 1/4 pounds total)

12-16 flour tortillas

Optional accompaniments and garnishes:  refried bean or refried bean dip, Mexican rice, fresh salsa or pico de gallo, avocado slices or guacamole, Mexican crema or sour cream, cilantro sprigs, lime wedges

Pantastic sizzling sheet-pan fajitas in two easy steps:

IMG_0092 IMG_0092 IMG_0092 IMG_0092 IMG_0092~Step 1.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil.  Position oven rack in the center.  Place pizza stone on oven rack and preheat oven to 500°.  While oven is heating, use a pair of tongs to remove chicken from marinade, placing it on a paper-towel-lined plate as you work (to absorb moisture), allowing all excess marinade to drain back into and remain in the bag.  Place/scatter the chicken, in a single layer (slightly overlapping is ok), on the prepared pan.  Transfer the onion and bell peppers to the ziplock bag with the remaining marinade.  Seal the bag and toss the vegetables to lightly-coat and lightly-season them.

IMG_0111 IMG_0111 IMG_0111 IMG_0111 IMG_0111 IMG_0143 IMG_0131~Step 2.  Place pan of chicken (on the optional pizza stone) in the hot oven to roast, until just cooked through, about 15-18 minutes*.  Remove chicken from oven and use a large slotted spoon transfer to a large plate and loosely tent with aluminum foil.  Dump (I hate that word, but it works) the vegetables onto the still-hot sheet pan, scatter them around, and place the pan of vegetable (on the optional pizza stone) in the hot oven to roast until crunch-tender, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Add the chicken to the pan and toss to combine.  Tightly wrap the flour tortilla in aluminum foil and place them on the top of the pan.  Return the pan to the oven to heat through, about 4-5 minutes.

*Troubleshooting for you:  Know your oven and its limitations -- all ovens are different and is this no joke.  Mine gets really hot, which makes short work of evaporating the excess chicken juices. Check in on the chicken strips after 10-12 minutes.  If for any reason it looks like the chicken seems to be simmering in too many juices, remove it from the oven and use a few paper towels to blot/remove some of the excess liquid, then return the pan to the oven and continue with recipe.

Remove from oven, unwrap tortillas & serve ASAP:

IMG_0136Pantastic Sizzling One-Sheet-Pan Chicken Fajitas:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  small-capacity food processor or blenders; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; tongs; 17 1/2 x 12 1/2" half-sheet pan; heavy-duty aluminum foil; paper towels; pizza stone (optional); large slotted spoon

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

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

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

03/14/2020

~Pork Chop & Baked Bean Casserole - Pork & Beans~

IMG_9993When my mom announced she was making pork and beans for dinner, she didn't mean she was opening a can of pork and beans -- in a way, kinda sorta she was, but, there was a bit more to it. It meant she had asked Vince, the butcher at The Valley Meat Market, to slice 8, 1/2"-3/4"-thick bone-in pork loin chops, plus a pound of bacon, so she could make her recipe for pork chop and homemade baked bean casserole.  She started by seasoning and browning the chops in a skillet -- that took about 15 minutes.  Next, she'd mix the ingredients for the beans together (all pantry staples) in a bowl -- that took about 15 minutes.  Last, she'd sandwich the chops between two layers of the bean mixture, cover the casserole with foil, then, she baked it for 1 1/2 hours.  

The house smelled wonderful & dinner was marvelous.

IMG_9912For the pork chops:

8  1/2"-3/4"-thick bone-in pork loin chops

garlic powder

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend or black pepper

IMG_9915~ Step 1. Place the pork chops on a flat surface and season their tops with a generous sprinkling of garlic powder, sea salt and peppercorn blend.

IMG_9920 IMG_9920 IMG_9920 IMG_9920 IMG_9920~Step 2.  In a large 12"-14" skillet heat 3-4 tablespoons corn or vegetable oil over medium- medium-high heat.  Working in two batches, place 4-5 pork chops, seasoned sides down, in the oil.  Season the unseasoned tops of the chops with garlic powder, sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Sauté/fry chops until light golden on both sides, turning only once, about 5-6 minutes per side.  Transfer to and stack chops on a large plate and set aside.  

IMG_9939For mom's bacon-lovers bacon-y baked beans:

1  40-ounce can butter beans (limas), well-drained

2  16-ounce cans pork & beans, your favorite brand, undrained

1  pound, thick-sliced bacon

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup ketchup

4  tablespoons pure maple syrup

6  tablespoons yellow mustard

3/4-1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_9702 IMG_9702~ Step 1. Place bacon, slightly overlapping is fine, in an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom).  Roast on center rack of 375º oven, 20-25 minutes, or until bacon is golden, crispy and desired degree of doneness is reached, stopping to flip the slices over, with a long-handled bacon fork, half-way through process.  Transfer bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and cool, about 15 minutes.  When cool enough to handle with hands, chop into bite-sized pieces.

IMG_9944 IMG_9944 IMG_9944 IMG_9944~Step 2. In a large bowl, place the butter beans, baked beans, chopped bacon and diced onions. Using a large rubber spatula, toss ingredients together.  Add the ketchup, maple syrup, mustard and black pepper.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine all of the ingredients.  

IMG_9958 IMG_9958 IMG_9958 IMG_9958 IMG_9970 IMG_9970~Step 3.  Transfer about 2/3 of the bean mixture to casserole, loosely spreading it evenly in the bottom -- precise measurements are important. Arrange pork chops atop the bean layer, overlapping them slightly.  Spoon remaining bean mixture on and around chops, allowing the "bone-in" parts of the chops to remain exposed. Cover with foil.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven, 1 hour.  Beans will be bubbling.  Uncover and continue to bake at 325º, 20-30 additional minutes, until golden and caramelized.  Remove from oven and allow to rest, about 10 minutes, prior to serving hot with sweet corn in some form.

Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall, mom always served this dish w/or atop some form of sweet corn:

IMG_9982Fork-tender pork chops sandwiched between two layers of tangy, saucy baked beans.  Eat & enjoy:

IMG_9996Pork Chops & Baked Bean Casserole -- Pork & Beans:  Recipe yields 8 hearty main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: 12"-14" skillet; 14" x 9" x 2"/4.8-quart casserole; 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom (or skillet) for preparing bacon; cutting board; chef's knife; very large mixing bowl; rubber spatula;

6a0120a8551282970b01a73e0c7a6f970dCook's Note: Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter, in season, out of season, fresh, frozen, on the cob, off the cob, steamed, simmered, baked, roasted, grilled or microwaved, sweet corn in any form is the perfect side-dish to baked beans.  Like peanut butter and jelly, these two just go hand-in-hand together. My Midwestern-style ~ Rich & Creamy Baked Sweet Corn Casserole ~ is one of many recipes for sweet corn you'll find here on my Kitchen Encounters blog.  Give it a try!

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

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

03/11/2020

~ Copycat Beef Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat ~

IMG_0054Amongst Rice-a-Roni aficionados, chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni is the undisputed favorite. That said, I have a soft spot in my heart for beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni too, which is why it has a spot on my pantry shelves at all times.  When I was a kid, my mom invented a beefy Rice-a-Roni dinner that kept my brother and I from bugging her to buy us an occasional "over-priced, over-rated TV dinner" -- which, to us kids, was nothing more than a novelty.  As they say on the Rice-a-Roni website: Prepare for a stampede to the dinner table when you serve our delicious rice and vermicelli blended with the savory flavors of onions, carrots, beef broth and garlic.  It's true.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08c2da5c970dMom would shape two hamburger patties to look like oval salisbury steaks then brown them on both sides in a skillet,  Next, she'd pour about half a jar of beef gravy over the top, cover the skillet and let the patties simmer gently for a few moments.  Mom would serve us her burgers and gravy with a side of beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni and peas. It was simple semi-homemade comfort food -- and we adored it.

Rice-a-Roni -- The San Francisco Treat.

IMG_0016

Italian born immigrant Domenico (Charlie) DeDomenico moved to California in 1895 to open a fresh produce store.  After becoming a successful businessman, he married Maria Ferrigno, an immigrant from Salerno, Italy, where her family owned a pasta factory.  In 1912, Maria persuaded Charlie to set up a similar business in the Mission District of San Francisco.  Gragnano Products, Inc., was born and began delivering pasta to Italian restaurants and stores throughout the area.

IMG_0057Maria and Charlie's sons, Paskey, Vince, Tom and Anthony worked in the family business, and, in 1934, Paskey changed the name to the Golden Grain Macaroni Company. Tom's wife Lois fell in love with a pilaf recipe she received from an Armenian immigrant, Mrs. Pailadzo Captanian, which she served at a family gathering.  After tasting the unique pilaf, which was made by sautéing a combination rice and pasta in butter before adding broth and seasonings, Vince went to work developing a new product.  In 1958, his creation, named Rice-a-Roni, was introduced to the Northwestern United States as "The San Francisco Treat".  Four years later, in 1962, it went nationwide.

Copycat beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni is super-easy to make, tastes the same or better, &, saves money at the checkout:

IMG_0028For the 6 1/2 total ounces (1 cup) of rice & pasta:

3 3/4 ounces long grain white rice (about 1/2 cup)*

2 3/4 ounces fideo, cut spaghetti  (about 1/2 cup)*

*Note:  Yes.  I really did sit around for two hours one afternoon separating the rice grains from the vermicelli pasta, from one box of Rice-a-Roni, to make sure the measurements are correct.

For the 1/2 total ounces (2 tablespoons) seasoning blend packet:

2  tablespoons Herb Ox granulated beef bouillon (Note:  Contains salt, spices, dehydrated cooked beef and onion powder.)

1 1/2  teaspoons onion powder

For the sauté and simmer:

2-3  tablespoons salted butter, for sautéing the pasta and rice mixture (Note:  I use three. The box calls for two.  I never thought two was enough.  It isn't.)

2 1/2 cups water, for simmering the Copycat Rice-a-Roni

1/2  cup peeled and very small-diced carrots (Note:  The spice packet in the boxed mix contains small bits of dehydrated carrots.)

IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826~Step 1. In a wide-bottomed 3 1/2-quart chef's pan with straight, deep sides (or a 10" skillet with a tight-fitting lid), melt 3 tablespoons butter over low heat.  Add and stir in the 1/2 cup rice and 1/2 cup fideo.  Increase heat to medium- medium-high.  Using a large slotted spoon, stir constantly and sauté until rice and pasta are light golden, about 3-4 minutes.

IMG_9842 IMG_9842 IMG_0032 IMG_0032 IMG_0032 IMG_0032~Step 2.  Slowly add the water to the pan  -- lots of steam will billow up, so, be careful.  Add the seasonings: 2 tablespoons beef bouillon, 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder, and, 1/2 cup diced carrot.  Give the mixture a thorough stir and wait for it to return to a simmer, about 1 minute.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer.

IMG_0041 IMG_0044 IMG_0044 IMG_0044~Step 3. Cover the pan and simmer until rice and pasta are cooked through and have absorbed almost all liquid, 14-16 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside 5 minutes.  Remove lid and rake through the mixture with a fork to fluff and separate the rice grains and pasta pieces.

Copycat beef Rice-a-Roni -- "The San Francisco Treat!":

IMG_0051Copycat Beef Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat:  Recipe yields 4 cups/4-6 servings.

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

IMG_9083Cook's Note: Pilaf is an ancient dish dating back to the 5th Century BCE (before common era), likely in the Middle East, although some credit the Persian Empire with its creation. Due to extensive trading with the Persians, the dish was popularized in the Mediterranean and parts of Eastern Europe.  Pilaf is recognized as a method of cooking, and, while mostly associated with rice, it's worth mention that it can be prepared as a side-dish using almost any grain -- as long as the rice or grain is simmered in stock instead of water.  Try my ~ Nice & Easy Basic All-Purpose 30-Minute Rice Pilaf ~.

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

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

03/09/2020

~Mel's Copycat Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat~

IMG_9879I believe I could live on Rice-a-Roni.  I suppose I'd get tired of it eventually, but, it could be worth the experiment simply to see how long it would take.  I love the stuff, and, it's one of the few convenience foods I indulge in.  As a kid, if I was feeling under the weather, I always preferred a dish of chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni over a bowl of Campbell's chicken noodle soup.  If that sounds odd, it's not, as the seasoning packet contains nothing more than dry chicken soup mix. As an adult, beef-favored and Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni have earned spots in my pantry too.

IMG_9814Rice-a-Roni -- "The San Francisco Treat!"

Italian born immigrant Domenico (Charlie) DeDomenico moved to California in 1895 to open a fresh produce store.  After becoming a successful businessman, he married Maria Ferrigno, an immigrant from Salerno, Italy, where her family owned a pasta factory.  In 1912, Maria persuaded Charlie to set up a similar business in the Mission District of San Francisco.  Gragnano Products, Inc., was born and began delivering pasta to Italian restaurants and stores throughout the area.

IMG_9880Maria and Charlie's sons, Paskey, Vince, Tom and Anthony worked in the family business, and, in 1934, Paskey changed the name to the Golden Grain Macaroni Company. Tom's wife Lois fell in love with a pilaf recipe she received from an Armenian immigrant, Mrs. Pailadzo Captanian, which she served at a family gathering.  After tasting the unique pilaf, which was made by sautéing a combination rice and pasta in butter before adding broth and seasonings, Vince went to work developing a new product.  In 1958, his creation, named Rice-a-Roni, was introduced to the Northwestern United States as "The San Francisco Treat".  Four years later, in 1962, it went nationwide.

Copycat chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni is super-easy to make, tastes the same or better, &, saves money at the checkout:

IMG_9816For the 6 1/2 total ounces (1 cup) of rice & pasta:

3 3/4 ounces long grain white rice (about 1/2 cup)*

2 3/4 ounces fideo, cut spaghetti  (about 1/2 cup)*

*Note:  Yes.  I really did sit around for two hours one afternoon separating the rice grains from the vermicelli pasta, from one box of Rice-a-Roni, to make sure the measurements are correct.

For the 1/2 total ounces (2 tablespoons) seasoning blend packet:

2  tablespoons Herb Ox granulated chicken bouillon (Note:  Contains salt, dehydrated parsley, dehydrated cooked chicken, onion powder, garlic powder, turmeric for color.)

1  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

For the sauté and simmer:

2-3  tablespoons salted butter, for sautéing the pasta and rice mixture (Note:  I use three. The box calls for two.  I never thought two was enough.  It isn't.)

2 1/2 cups water, for simmering the Copycat Rice-a-Roni

IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826~Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 3 1/2-quart chef's pan with straight, deep sides (or a 10" skillet with a tight-fitting lid), melt 3 tablespoons butter over low heat.  Add and stir in the 1/2 cup rice and 1/2 cup fideo.  Increase heat to medium- medium-high.  Using a large slotted spoon, stir constantly and sauté until rice and pasta are light golden, about 3-4 minutes.

IMG_9842 IMG_9842 IMG_9842 IMG_9842 IMG_9842~Step 2.  Slowly add the 2 1/2 cups water to the pan of sautéing rice and pasta -- lots of steam will billow up, so, be careful.  Add the seasonings: 2 tablespoons chicken bouillon, 1 teaspoon onion powder and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder.  Give the mixture a thorough stir and wait for it to return to a simmer, 1-2 minutes.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer.

IMG_9858 IMG_9858 IMG_9858~ Step 3.  Cover the pan and simmer until rice and pasta are cooked through and have absorbed almost all of the liquid, about 14-16 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside 5 minutes.  Remove the lid and rake through the mixture with a fork to fluff and separate the rice grains and pasta pieces.  Serve immediately.

Copycat chicken Rice-a-Roni -- "The San Francisco Treat!":

IMG_9875Mel's Copycat Rice-a-Roni, The San Francisco Treat:  Recipe yields 4 cups/4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List: 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides and lid; large slotted spoon or spatula; 2-cup measuring container; fork

IMG_9005Cook's Note: In my food world, three meals require a side of orange-and-cheddary creamy-dreamy macaroni-and-cheese:  meatloaf, fish sticks, and, chili dogs.  There's more.  If you're looking for the perfect side-dish to turn Buffalo chicken wings into dinner, set your sights on mac and cheese. When I was growing up, when we sat down to eat meatloaf, fish sticks or chili dogs, my mom indulged my brother and I in a side-serving of mac and cheese. Interestingly, she didn't buy the stuff in the blue box.  She refused.  She made her own copycat version of it on the stovetop.  It was fabulous -- it's also the same recipe I used to indulge my kids.  Try my ~ Better than Store-Bought Stovetop Mac & Cheese ~.

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

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

03/07/2020

~Five Fun Family-Friendly Weeknight Quiche Dinners~

IMG_9746When I lived alone in my apartment back in 1978, I made a quiche every Sunday.  I ate one slice, then took one slice to work with me every day for lunch. After a few weeks, my new boss and other co-workers started hinting, then expecting me to bring them quiche too.  For a period of time, I took an entire quiche to work with me almost every Monday.  Fun times, great memories.  I suppose, at the time, I could have referred to myself as the Happy Valley Quiche Queen!

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

Quiche originated in northeastern France, in the region of Alsace-Lorraine.  It consists of a pastry shell filled with a savory custard made of eggs, cream, seasonings and various other ingredients such as onions, mushrooms, porcine (ham, bacon or sausage), shellfish (lobster, shrimp or crabmeat) or herbs.  The most notable of these savory pies is the famous Quiche-Lorraine, which has crisp bacon bits and Gruyère cheese added to the custard filling.  Quiches can be served as a lunch, brunch or dinner entree, as well as a first course or an hors d'oeuvre.

~ Broccoli, Cauliflower & Cheddar Main-Dish Quiche ~

IMG_9524~ Creamy Chicken & Whole-Grain Mustard Quiche ~

IMG_9607~ Breakfast for Dinner Basic Bacon & Eggs Quiche ~

IMG_9768~ Mel's Cheeseburger Quiche w/Special Sauce Salad ~

IMG_9681~ An End of Winter Ricotta & Spinach Pizza Quiche ~

IMG_7837"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

03/05/2020

~Simple and Basic Bacon and Eggs Breakfast Quiche~

IMG_9756Bacon and eggs.  It's so simple even a caveman can do it.  It's rustic man food -- put the two in a skillet and fry 'em up.  Men love to fry food -- I think it's the sizzle that attracts them.  Bacon and eggs plus cheese and cream whisked together and gently baked in a flaky pie pastry -- it could be described as refined woman food.  Generally speaking, women enjoy fussing with food and fussy foods.  While I'm uncertain as to the percentage of men who would make a quiche for themselves, I can attest to the fact that rustic real men are indeed happy to eat a bacon and egg quiche.  

This is, perhaps, the only quiche recipe you'll ever need:

IMG_9730Quiche reheats perfectly, which makes it great lunchbox fare:

IMG_97061  7 1/2-ounce boxed, refrigerated pie pastry, at room temperature, fitted into a 9" quiche dish and decoratively edged

1  pound thick-sliced bacon, crisply-fried and chopped into small bits and pieces

8  ounces finely-shredded white sharp cheddar cheese

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

1 1/2  cups heavy or whipping cream

4  jumbo eggs

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

IMG_9702 IMG_9702~ Step 1.  Place bacon, slightly overlapping is fine, in an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom).  Roast on center rack of 375º oven, 20-25 minutes, or until bacon is golden, crispy and desired degree of doneness is reached, stopping to flip the slices over, with a long-handled bacon fork, half-way through process.  Transfer bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and cool, about 15 minutes.  When cool enough to handle with hands, chop into small bits and pieces.

IMG_9711 IMG_9711 IMG_9711~ Step 2. In a large bowl place the chopped bacon, shredded white cheddar cheese and Wondra flour.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss, as you would a salad, until all ingredients are evenly coated in the flour. Spoon meat-and-cheese mixture into pie pastry. Distribute it evenly throughout, and, mound it towards the center, but, do not compress or press down on it.  You want it to remain light and airy.

IMG_9722 IMG_9722 IMG_9722~ Step 3. In a 4-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk together the cream, eggs, nutmeg, salt and cayenne pepper.  Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle the cream-and-egg mixture over and around the surface of the quiche.  Go very slowly, so as to give the liquid all the time it needs to slowly drizzle down into the cracks and crevasses of the bacon and cheese mixture.

IMG_9733~ Step 4. Bake on center rack of 325º oven for 50-55 minutes, stopping to give the quiche a quarter-turn every 15 minutes so it browns evenly. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack 30-60 minutes prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.  Leftovers reheat great in the microwave (which makes lunch 45-seconds away), but, do not freeze well.

Cool at least 15 minutes, & up to 30-45-60 minutes:

IMG_9768Slice & serve hot, warm or at room temperature:

IMG_9777For breakfast, brunch, lunch or breakfast for dinner:

IMG_9797Simple and Basic Bacon and Eggs Breakfast Quiche: Recipe yields 8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; long-handled bacon fork; paper towels; 9" quiche dish; cutting board; chef's knife; 2 forks or 2 spoons; 4-cup measuring container; whisk; wire cooling rack 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb081f7977970dCook's Note: In our house, Sunday mornings are very laid back and relaxed.  No alarm clocks, lots of coffee and tea drinking, newspaper and magazine reading, TV watching, and, always a cooked breakfast.  In the Winter we watch the skiers come down Tussey Mountain through our kitchen windows.  In the Summer, we often cook and eat outside while watching the joggers and bikers on Bear Meadows Road. Sundays are perfect for ~ Fluffy Scrambled Eggs and Bacon ~.

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

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

03/03/2020

~ Mel's Cheeseburger Quiche w/Special Sauce Salad ~

IMG_9677Cheeseburger pie was not something my mom ever made -- it existed back in the 1950's and 60's, she just never made it.  As I recall, the recipe moms across America were using then was made popular by Bisquick.  Mom probably didn't make it because dad wouldn't eat anything "casserole-ish".  A cheeseburger pie or quiche was not something I thought I would ever make -- it existed in the 1970's and 80's, I just never felt like making it.  That said, when you're a mom of three boys in the 1970's and 1980's and one of them comes home after a sleepover bragging about the great cheeseburger pie his best friend's mom made, you rethink things.  I, of course, went straight to the source.  I called up the kids mom and asked her for her recipe.  While, admittedly, it was indeed tasty, it did require a few changes (on my part).  Read on: 

Wouldn't put it in or on a cheeseburger?  Don't add it to this recipe.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39e2eff200dThis isn't a taco pie, nor, for that matter, a pizza pie.  It is a cheeseburger quiche (formerly known as a cheeseburger pie).  If you wouldn't put an ingredient in or on your your cheeseburger, it has no place in this recipe.  Zero.  I have seen recipes that add chopped bell peppers to the mix and season it with hot pepper sauce.  Really?  I have seen recipes that season the ground beef mixture with oregano and top the pie with Parmesan cheese.  Seriously?  And, as for garlic?  When was the last time you added garlic to a cheeseburger. Sigh, oh my.  That said, if you adore bacon on your cheeseburger, feel free to add 1/2 cup crisply-fried, finely-chopped bacon bits.

Mel's version of the cheeseburger quiche (cheeseburger pie):

IMG_9621For my version of the cheeseburger quiche:

1  7 1/2-ounce boxed, refrigerated pie pastry, at room temperature, fitted into a 9" quiche dish and decoratively edged

1  pound lean ground beef (90/10)

1  cup diced onion

1  packet granulated beef bouillon (about 1 teaspoon)

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

4  tablespoons dill or sweet pickle relish, your choice (Note:  I use sweet relish.)

8  ounces shredded yellow sharp cheddar cheese

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/2  cup mayonnaise

3  jumbo eggs

3  tablespoons ketchup

1  tablespoon yellow mustard

1  teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

For the lettuce-tomato garnish:

1-1 1/2  cups lettuce chiffonade

1/2-3/4  cup diced tomatoes

For my secret-sauce drizzle:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e448b8970c1  cup mayonnaise

1/4  cup each: ketchup, and, dill or sweet pickle relish

1  tablespoon yellow mustard

1  teaspoon white vinegar

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

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

IMG_9626 IMG_9626 IMG_9626 IMG_9626 IMG_9626 IMG_9626~Step 1.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, place the ground beef, diced onion, granulated beef bouillon, salt and pepper.  Over medium-, medium-high heat, sauté for 9-11 minutes, using a spatula to break up and stir the meat, until meat is cooked through, onions are soft, and, almost no liquid remains in the bottom of skillet.  Turn the heat off and stir in the pickle relish.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool to the touch, 20-30 minutes.

IMG_9641 IMG_9641 IMG_9641~ Step 2. In a large bowl place the cooled beef mixture, shredded yellow cheddar cheese and Wondra flour.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss, as you would a salad, until all ingredients are evenly coated in the flour. Spoon meat-and-cheese mixture into pie pastry. Distribute it evenly throughout, and, mound it towards the center, but, do not compress or press down on it.  You want it to remain light and airy.

IMG_9654 IMG_9654 IMG_9654~ Step 3. In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk together the cream, mayonnaise, eggs, ketchup, mustard and Worcestershire sauce.  Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle the cream-and-egg mixture over and around the surface of the quiche.  Go very slowly, so as to give the liquid all the time it needs to slowly drizzle down into the cracks and crevasses of the ground beef mixture.

IMG_9674~ Step 4. Bake on center rack of 325º oven for 50-55 minutes, stopping to give the quiche a quarter-turn every 15 minutes so it browns evenly. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack 30-60 minutes prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.  Leftovers reheat great in the microwave (which makes lunch 45-seconds away), but, do not freeze well.

Cool at least 15 minutes, & up to 30-45-60 minutes before serving hot, warm or at room temperature:

IMG_9671Slice & serve each wedge of quiche garnished w/shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes & a drizzle of special sauce:

IMG_9681Yes.  It does taste just like a well-appointed cheeseburger:

IMG_9688Mel's Cheeseburger Quiche w/Special Sauce Salad:  Recipe yields 8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  9" quiche dish; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" skillet, preferably nonstick; spatula; 2 forks or 2 spoons; 2-cup measuring container; wire cooling rack 

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95a5bf5970bCook's Note: When my foodie friends 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've 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 perhaps the yummiest cheeseburger in the takeout-lane. Try my ~ The McDonald's-Style Big Mac Cheeseburger Salad ~.

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

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

02/29/2020

~ Creamy Chicken and Whole-Grain Mustard Quiche ~

IMG_9582Tender, juicy roast chicken served with a drizzle of mustard-laced cream sauce is one of my favorite dinners.  Transitioning those mouth-watering textures and flavors into a quiche was one of the best ideas I ever had.  It is exquisite, understated, elegance.  I typically serve this for brunch or lunch with a side of buttery green beans almandine, a glass of white wine or champagne and "something chocolate" for dessert.  Trust me, this is a restaurant-quality meal.  That said, I'm a bit of a snob about this quiche.  Only all-white breast meat please, meaning:  roasted breasts or poached tenderloins.  Don't go breakin' my heart by using a store-bought rotisserie chicken.

IMG_95421  7 1/2-ounce boxed, refrigerated pie pastry, at room temperature, fitted into a 9" quiche dish and decoratively edged

1  pound roasted or poached chicken breast or chicken tenderloins, pulled or chopped into bite-sized pieces

4  ounces diced shallots or sweet onion (about 1 cup)

8  ounces shredded Gruyère cheese

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

3  jumbo eggs

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/2  cup mayonnaise

3  tablespoons whole-grain mustard

1/2  teaspoon nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

IMG_9544 IMG_9544 IMG_9544~ Step 1. In a large bowl place the chicken, shallots or onion, Gruyére, and flour.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss, as you would a salad, until ingredients are thoroughly mixed together and lightly coated in flour.

IMG_9439 IMG_9439Step 2. Spoon chicken-and-cheese mixture into prepared pie pastry. Distribute mixture evenly throughout, and mound it towards the center, but, do not compress or press down on it.  It is important the mixture remain light and airy.

IMG_9556 IMG_9556 IMG_9556~ Step 3. In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk together the cream, mayonnaise, eggs, whole-grain mustard, nutmeg and white pepper.  Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle the cream-and-egg mixture over and around the surface of the quiche.  Go very slowly, so as to give the liquid all the time it needs to slowly drizzle down into the cracks and crevasses of the chicken mixture.

IMG_9576~ Step 4. Bake on center rack of 325º oven for 60 minutes, stopping to give the quiche a quarter-turn every 15 minutes so it browns evenly. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack 30-60 minutes prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.  Leftovers reheat great in the microwave (which makes lunch 45-seconds away), but, do not freeze well.

Cool on wire rack 30-60 minutes prior to slicing.

IMG_9574Served hot, warm or at room temperature...

IMG_9607... every luscious, tangy bite is full of tender all-white meat chicken & perfectly-seasoned creamy cheese.

IMG_9609Creamy Chicken and Whole-Grain Mustard Quiche: Recipe yields 8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: 9" quiche dish; cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; 2 forks or 2 spoons; 2-cup measuring container; wire cooling rack

IMG_9510Cook's Note: I love broccoli and cauliflower.  When my mom would put a drizzle of cheddar cheese sauce on either, the rest of my dinner became irrelevant.  Every now and then I fall prey to a craving for broccoli and/or cauliflower drizzled with cheddar cheese sauce, and, because once it's on the table dinner is still irrelevant, for that reason, I long ago decided to team them up together in a quiche and serve it as a main dish.  Try my decadent ~ Broccoli, Cauliflower & Cheddar Main-Dish Quiche ~.

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

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

02/27/2020

~ Broccoli, Cauliflower & Cheddar Main-Dish Quiche ~

IMG_9510Eat your broccoli.  I love broccoli.  Eat your cauliflower.  I love cauliflower.  I always have.  When my mom would put a drizzle of cheddar cheese sauce on either, the rest of my dinner became irrelevant.  All I wanted was the side-dish.  Every now and then I fall prey to a craving for broccoli and/or cauliflower drizzled with cheddar cheese sauce, and, because once it's on the table dinner is still irrelevant, for that reason, I long ago decided to team them up together in a quiche and serve it as a main dish.  Back in the 1970's, when I lived alone in an apartment, I'd make one on a Sunday morning and take a piece to work for lunch every day.  After I got married, I'd make it on evenings when my husband was traveling or the kids weren't coming home for dinner.  

As it turned out, the husband & kids loved it too.

IMG_9489Saying more is wasting words, so, here's the recipe:

IMG_9452

1  7 1/2-ounce boxed, refrigerated pie pastry, at room temperature, fitted into a 9" quiche dish and decoratively edged

8  ounces finely-shredded Colby-Jack cheese blend

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

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

8-10  ounces each, lightly-steamed or blanched, fresh or frozen broccoli and cauliflower florets (about 2 generous cups each)

1 1/4 cups heavy or whipping cream

3 jumbo eggs

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_9454 IMG_9454 IMG_9454 IMG_9454~Step 1.  In a large bowl place the finely-shredded Colby-Jack cheese, diced onion and Wondra flour.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss, as you would a salad, until onions and cheese are evenly coated in the flour.  Add the cooked broccoli and cauliflower florets and toss again.

IMG_9439 IMG_9439 IMG_9439~ Step 2.  Spoon veggie-and-cheese mixture into prepared pie pastry. Distribute mixture evenly throughout, and, mound it towards the center, but, do not compress or press down on it.  You want it to remain light and airy.

IMG_9476 IMG_9476 IMG_9476 IMG_9476~Step 3.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk together the cream, eggs, cayenne pepper and black pepper.  Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle the cream-and-egg mixture over and around the surface of the quiche.  Go very slowly, so as to give the liquid all the time it needs to slowly drizzle down into the cracks and crevasses of the veggie mixture.

IMG_9486~ Step 4.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven for 60 minutes, stopping to give the quiche a quarter-turn every 15 minutes so it browns evenly. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack 30-60 minutes prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.  Leftovers reheat great in the microwave (which makes lunch 45-seconds away), but, do not freeze well.

Served hot, warm or at room temperature...

IMG_9524... every bite is full of veggies & loaded w/cheese.

IMG_9533Perhaps the best worst fabulous quiche photo ever: 

IMG_9537Broccoli, Cauliflower & Cheddar Main-Dish Quiche:  Recipe yields 8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: 9" quiche dish; cutting board; chef's knife; 2 forks or 2 spoons; 2-cup measuring container; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b019aff73c661970bCook's Note:   If it's straight-up full-throttle cheddar cheese sauce you want for your steamed broccoli or cauliflower, trust me, ~ My Basic Cheddar Cheese Sauce for Vegetables ~ is not going to let you down.  As a mom, it got our three boys to eat their vegetables!

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

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

02/24/2020

~All-Purpose Dry Seasoning Dredge for Fried Chicken~

IMG_9429Fried chicken is one of Americas favorite foods.  Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall,  in my food world, if I say "fried chicken", I don't have to call anyone to the dinner table twice.  And, whether it's skillet-or deep-fryed in the traditional way, oven-fried, or, just a big ole bucket of KFC, we cooks can all agree on one thing: it's all about the herbs and spices in the dry-flour dredge baby. Recipes for it are everywhere, and every one is a bit different.  Why?  Because it's personal.

IMG_93271  cup all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon cornstarch

1 1/2  teaspoons garlic powder

1 1/2  teaspoons onion powder

1 1/2  teaspoons poultry seasoning

1  tablespoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

IMG_9326 IMG_9326 IMG_9326~ Step 1.  To make the dry-spice blend, in a 2-cup bowl, stir together the flour, cornstarch and spices: garlic powder, onion powder, poultry seasoning, sea salt, black pepper, white pepper and cayenne pepper.  Stir in an airtight container in the pantry for 2-3 months and use as directed in specific recipe.

Try my Crispy Outside, Tender Inside Oven-Fried Chicken:

IMG_9395All-Purpose Dry Seasoning Dredge for Fried Chicken:  Recipe yields 1 1/4 cups/ enough to coat 6 bone-in leg-thigh quarters, or, 12 legs or 12 thighs, or, 6 breasts. 

Special Equipment List:  1 1/2-2 cup food-storage container w/tight-fitting lid; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4eb4fdd200dCook's Note:  I refer to my recipe for Southern fried chicken and waffles as "Yankee-style" because I've never eaten chicken and waffles on the same plate below the Mason-Dixon line. I've traveled through many Southern states, and eaten a few meals in Tennesee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana. I have eaten some fine fried chicken, but, I do not recall the option of a waffle with it or underneath it.  My great Aunt (a South Carolina gal) repeatedly drawled "there is no such thing as this dish in the South" every time she served it to us Yankees here in PA.  Try my  ~ Yankee-Style Souther-Fried Chicken & Waffles ~.

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

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

02/22/2020

~ Crispy Outside, Tender Inside, Oven-Fried Chicken ~

IMG_9389The best oven-fried chicken has a crispy-crunchy outer coating encasing the juicy-tender meat. It's succulent.  That said, to proclaim oven-fried chicken is as good as, rivals, or is better than traditional skillet- or deep-fried chicken is not something I'm willing to do.  Truth told, it's neither better nor worse.  It's different.  Two different cooking methods produce two different results.  Both qualify for fried-chicken status and both are marvelous, but, they're two different birds.

Skillet- or deep-fried chicken vs. oven-fried chicken:

IMG_9395Two different birds indeed.  Immersing traditional fried chicken in hot-oil (or shortening or lard) in a skillet or in a deep-fryer crisps the outer skin while cooking the inner meat, in a relatively short period of time.  That said, the dry, high, oven heat fries chicken by cooking the inner meat while the outer skin gently crisps, in a relatively long period of time.  The coating ingredients for traditional fried chicken are mostly limited to a dry dredge in seasoned flour, sometimes followed by a wet dip in a flour-based batter and a second dry dredge.  There are a variety of coating ingredients for oven-fried chicken, ranging from crushed cornflakes and crackers to toasted breadcrumbs.  Lastly, traditional fried chicken is limited to corn, peanut or vegetable oil (or shortening or lard), and requires a lot of it.  Butter and flavored olive oils, which are not suitable for preparing traditional fried chicken, can be used to add additional flavor to oven-fried chicken.

Oven-fried requires less oil.  Traditional fried requires more oil. 

IMG_9398The method for oven-frying chicken is always the same.  Dip the chicken pieces in a liquid prior to dredging it in a seasoned flour or the desired crunchy coating -- the wet coat helps the dry coat adhere to the chicken.  The liquid can be or contain beaten eggs, melted butter, or a drizzly milk-and-flour based batter.  As for seasonings, most recipes incorporate garlic and onion powder, an herb or combination of herbs, salt, and some form of pepper.  As each chicken piece receives its dry coat, it is placed a rack in a pan to allow the hot oven air to circulate around it on all sides -- as a group, for the same reason, the chicken pieces should be placed slightly-to-well-apart.

Oil = Crispy.  Oven-fried is crispy.  Traditional-fried is crispier.  

IMG_9403My mother-in-law Phyllis made great oven-fried chicken.  She kept it simple too.  As little mess as possible.  She painted the chicken with some melted butter, sprinkled the chicken pieces with a super-flavorful flour and dry spice blend and popped it in a hot oven for 70-75 minutes.  While the chicken was in the oven, her hands were free to make a salad or a couple of hot side dishes. Was it as crispy as traditional fried chicken?  No it was not, nor was anyone expecting it to be. Was it crispy?  Yes it was, plus, it had a lot more flavor than traditional Southern fried chicken.  

IMG_93364  bone-in chicken leg-thigh quarters, or, 4 legs and 4 thighs, or, 6 chicken breasts

1  cup all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon cornstarch

1 1/2  teaspoons garlic powder

1 1/2  teaspoons onion powder

1 1/2  teaspoons poultry seasoning

1  tablespoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1  stick salted butter

1  large egg

IMG_9326 IMG_9326 IMG_9326~ Step 1.  To make the dry-spice blend, in a 2-cup bowl, stir together the flour, cornstarch and spices: garlic powder, onion powder, poultry seasoning, sea salt, black pepper, white pepper and cayenne pepper.  Set aside.

IMG_9340 IMG_9340 IMG_9416 IMG_9416 IMG_9416 IMG_9416 IMG_9416~Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, melt butter in microwave and set aside to cool for 5-10 minutes.  In a small bowl, use a fork to which the egg, then whisk the beaten egg into the butter mixture.  If you have a container with wide holes on the top (the type used to shake cheese onto a pizza), transfer flour mixture to it, as it makes coating the chicken a breeze.  Ready a pastry brush.  Insert a wire rack into bottom of a large, disposable aluminum roasting pan or 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan.

IMG_9351 IMG_9351 IMG_9351~ Step 4.  Working one piece of chicken at a time, use the pastry brush to paint surface on all sides with butter-egg mixture, then, sprinkle all sides with a light coating of the flour mix (chicken should not be packed with coating) -- I like to pick each piece up in my fingertips and shake the excess off.

IMG_9359 IMG_9359~ Step 5.  As you work, arrange the chicken pieces well-apart on the rack in the pan.  When all chicken pieces have been placed on the rack, allow to rest about 30 minutes, to allow the flour to absorb excess moisture.  Do not skip this rest.

IMG_9368 IMG_9368~ Step 6.  Oven-fry chicken pieces on center rack of preheated 375º oven for 70-75 minutes.  Avoid opening the oven door.  Chicken will be deep golden, and skin will feel crisped when touched. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Tender & juicy w/a thin & crispy edible skin:

IMG_9413Crispy Outside, Tender Inside, Oven-Fried Chicken:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List: 2-cup bowl; spoon; 1-cup measuring container; pastry brush; wire cooling rack; large disposable aluminum roasting pan or 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcb142e9970bCook's Note: I refer to my recipe for Southern fried chicken and waffles as "Yankee-style" because I've never eaten chicken and waffles on the same plate below the Mason-Dixon line. I've traveled through many Southern states, and eaten a few meals in Tennesee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana.  I have eaten some fine fried chicken, but, I do not recall the option of a waffle with it or underneath it.  My great Aunt (a South Carolina gal) repeatedly drawled "there is no such thing as this dish in the South" every time she served it to us Yankees here in PA.  Try my  ~ Yankee-Style Souther-Fried Chicken & Waffles ~.

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

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