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My Recipes-of-the-Week are featured here on my Home page. You can find 1000+ of my kitchen-tested recipes using the Recipes tab, watch nearly 100 Kitchen Encounters/WHVL-TV segments using the TV Videos tab, join the discussion about all of my creations using the Facebook tab, or Email your questions and comments directly to me--none go unanswered. "We are all in this food world together." ~Melanie

11/07/2018

~ Triple Chocolate & Peanut Butter Frosted Brownies ~

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

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

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

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

IMG_4934For the dry ingredients:

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

3/4  cup unsweetened cocoa powder (12 tablespoons)

1/2  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

For the wet ingredients:

2  extra-large eggs

3/4  cup light-brown sugar

1/4  cup granulated sugar

2  teaspoons pure chocolate extract

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

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

8  tablespoons salted butter (1 stick)

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

3/4  cup crunchy peanut butter

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

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

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

1  cup crunchy peanut butter (4 ounces)

1  cup Confectioners' sugar 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Store in refrigerator.  Serve at room temperature.

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

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

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

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

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

11/05/2018

~Bonjour French Onion & Swiss Smashburger Sliders~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 1/2  teaspoons salted butter

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

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

2  slices Swiss cheese, one slice per meat patty

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

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

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

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

IMG_4655For my seasoning blend:

2  teaspoons fine sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon beef boullion

IMG_4658Stir spices together. Makes a scant 2 Tbsp.

IMG_4793For my French onion spread:

1  cup mayonnaise

1  packet Lipton onion soup and dip mix 

1  teaspoon dehydrated onion

1  teaspoon dehydrated garlic

1  teaspoon cracked black pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11/03/2018

~ For the Love of Hamburgers: The Smashed Burger ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4655For my seasoning & the sauce:

2  teaspoons fine sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon beef boullion

IMG_4658Stir spices together. Makes a scant 2 Tbsp. 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e448b8970c1  cup mayonnaise

1/4  cup each: ketchup and sweet pickle relish

1  tablespoon yellow mustard

1  teaspoon white vinegar

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

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

To make my basic Smashburger-style smashed 'burger:

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

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

IMG_4681For each smashed 'burger & cheese:

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

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

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

For the rolls & the toppings for each sandwich:

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

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

4 sweet pickle chips per sandwich

3  thin slices Campari tomatoes per sandwich

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

3-4  small, soft Bibb lettuce leaves per sandwich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10/31/2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4767Double French Onion, Swiss & Smashburger Sliders:

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

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

10/28/2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4510For the dry ingredients:

1  1/2  cups all-purpose flour

6  tablespoons granulated sugar

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

2  teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

IMG_4518For the wet ingredients:

2  extra-large eggs

3/4  cup milk

1  teaspoon pure apple extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1  tablespoon vegetable oil

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

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

1 cup Confectioners' sugar

2  tablespoons warm water

1  teaspoon pure apple extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10/25/2018

~ Smoked Salmon & Folded Omelet Bagel Sandwich ~

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4457For each bagel sandwich (listed in order of assembly: 

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

2 tablespoons Philadelphia brand chive & onion cream cheese spread

3 thin slices smoked salmon*

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

baby arugula leaves, for garnish

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

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

1  jumbo egg, at room temperature

2  tablespoons heavy cream

2 grinds freshly-ground sea salt

4  grinds freshly-ground peppercorn blend

1  tablespoon minced chives

1  tablespoon minced red onion

2  teaspoons salted butter

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

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

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

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

Slice sandwiches into halves or quarters & serve ASAP:

IMG_4498Enjoy every dainty, delicious chive talkin' bagel bite: 

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

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

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

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

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

10/23/2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12  corn tortillas, lightly-fried as directed below

corn or peanut oil, for frying tortillas

sea salt, for sprinkling on fried tortillas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6  tablespoons Mexican crema

1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce  

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

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

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

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

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

IMG_4382The perfect amount of everything in a perfect taco:

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

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

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

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

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

10/21/2018

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

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

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

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

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

What do I know about making authentic Texas steak chili?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6  tablespoons corn oil

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

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

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

32  ounces beef stock

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

6  tablespoons masa harina

IMG_4153For the dry spice blend:

4  tablespoons ancho chile powder*

1  tablespoon chipotle chile powder*

1  teaspoon jalapeno chile pepper*

1  tablespoon Mexican-style chili powder*

IMG_41564  tablespoons ground cumin

2  tablespoons Mexican-style oregano

1  tablespoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

2  teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2  teaspoons sugar

1  tablespoon salt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10/18/2018

~ Steak My Day: Texas Steak Chili Seasoning Blend ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4153For the dry spice blend:

4  tablespoons ancho chile powder*

1  tablespoon chipotle chile powder*

1  teaspoon jalapeno chile pepper*

1  tablespoon Mexican-style chili pepper*

IMG_41564  tablespoons ground cumin

2 tablespoons Mexican-style oregano

1  tablespoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon ground cloves

2  teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2  teaspoons sugar

1  tablespoon salt

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

Use 2 tablespoons per every pound of beef or steak.

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

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

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

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

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

10/15/2018

~ Apple, Candied Pecan & Cheesecake Bundt Cake ~

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

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

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

IMG_4026For the cheesecake filling layers:

16  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1/2  cup sugar

2  large eggs

For the apple & candied-pecan cake batter:

1  cup vegetable oil

1 1/2  cups sugar

3  large eggs, at room temperature

1  teaspoon pure, all-natural apple extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoon apple pie spice

2  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

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

4  cups peeled and diced apples, about 3 apples

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing bundt pan

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

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

2  cups confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons butter-rum flavoring

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

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

4  ounces candied pecans, ground, for sprinkling on cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4103To prepare the cream cheese glaze & candied pecan topping:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10/12/2018

~ Spanish-Style Garlic-Lovers Shrimp & Pappardelle ~

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

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

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

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

IMG_3534For the shrimp:

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

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sweet, smoked Spanish paprika

1  teaspoon sea salt

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

8-10  large whole garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

4  small red chile peppers, super-thinly sliced

1  tablespoon sherry vinegar

1  tablespoon salted butter, for stirring into finished dish

1/4  cup minced fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

rustic bread slices, toasted or grilled, for accompaniment

IMG_3958For the pasta:

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

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning pasta water

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

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

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

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

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

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

Superb, succulent, extraordinary shrimp...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10/09/2018

~The Crispy Bits about Bruschetta, Crostini and Panini~

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

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

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

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

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

Crispy bruschetta, crostini or panini -- your choice!

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

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

10/07/2018

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

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

IMG_3874bready bit about Italian bruschetta, crostini & panini:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

16  slices dry salame, 2 slices per sandwich

24  slices hot sopresatta, 3 slices per sandwich

8  slices mortadella w/pistachios, 1 per sandwich

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10/05/2018

~ Buttery Rum and Raisin Croissant Bread Pudding ~

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

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

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

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

1 1/2 cups raisins

4  extra-large whole eggs

8  extra-large egg yolks

3  cups whole milk

2  cups cream

1 1/4  cups sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

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

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

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

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

Buttery croissants bake up puffy & beautiful every time:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10/03/2018

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

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

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

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

How to order tapas in a tapas bar or restaurant:

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

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

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

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

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sweet, smoked Spanish paprika

1  teaspoon sea salt

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

8-10  large whole garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

4  small red chile peppers, super-thinly sliced

1  tablespoon sherry vinegar

1  tablespoon salted butter, for stirring into finished dish

1/4  cup minced fresh parsley leaves, for garnish

rustic bread slices, toasted or grilled, for accompaniment

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3589Savor every superb, succulent, extraordinary shrimp: 

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

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

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

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

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

09/30/2018

~ Chick Flicks and Curried Chicken Salad Croissants ~

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

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

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

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

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

The following recipe is written to make two servings.

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

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

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

2  cups pulled chicken breast = about 2 servings

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

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

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

1/2  cup medium-diced celery

6  tablespoons raisins

3  tablespoons  small-diced roasted & salted cashews

1/2  cup high-quality mayonnaise

2  tablespoons Major Grey's original chutney

2  teaspoons Madras curry powder

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated onion flakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

Special Equipment List:  Cutting board; chef's knife; small capacity food processor; rubber spatula; 3-4-cup size food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08ba4581970dCook's Note:  ~ A Peachy All-White-Meat 'Melanie' Chicken Salad ~ is another example of how persnickety I am about my chicken salad.  This one is modeled after the famous Marshall Field's department store's chicken salad dressed with their Maurice dressing.

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

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

09/28/2018

~ Cinnamon 'n Raisin Bread Cinnamon-Swirl Muffins ~

IMG_3417There's nothing like waking up to the ethereal smell of freshly-baked cinnamon rolls.  That said, if you're the cinnamon-roll baker, unless your family sleeps until Noon, "pulling that off" means getting up long before dawn -- yawn.  My happy little twist on classic cinnamon rolls, which lets a pre-programmed bread machine mix and proof my recipe for cinnamon-raisin bread dough, will get you an extra 55-minutes of AM snooze time.  Tick, tock.  It's smooth and stress-free sailing after that.  The super-manageable dough pats out easily, store-bought cinnamon-sugar gets sprinkled on top, roll, slice and in the muffin tins they go to proof.  Poof -- bake and your done. 

A super-easy to "pat, roll & slice" bread machine dough...

IMG_3413... baked in muffin tins & a caramel glaze too!

IMG_33251  cup whole milk

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

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

2  extra-large eggs, preferably at room temperature, lightly beaten

4 1/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt

5  tablespoons cinnamon-sugar

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

1  cup raisins*

5-6  tablespoons additional cinnamon-sugar, for sprinkling on prepared dough

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing muffin tins

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fce19046970b* Note about adding raisins:  Most bread machines have an "add-in basket" with a 1/2 cup capacity, which adds dried fruits and/or nuts during the baking cycle. Because the  pizza dough cycle is used to knead and proof (not bake) the dough, the machine won't add them. Do not use the add-in basket.

6a0120a8551282970b01a5119139f9970c 6a0120a8551282970b01a511913afd970c~ Step 1. This is the rectangular-shaped bread pan that came with my machine.  The paddle (which will do the kneading) has been inserted.  The instruction manual said to always start with the paddle in this position before adding any ingredients, so I do.

IMG_3330 IMG_3330 IMG_3330~ Step 2.  Cube the butter as directed and set aside to soften, about 30 minutes, or, quickly soften or melt it in the microwave.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, salt, cinnamon-sugar and raisins.

IMG_3337 IMG_3337 IMG_3337 IMG_3337 IMG_3337 IMG_3348 IMG_3348 IMG_3348~Step 3.  In a 1-cup measuring container, heat milk and vanilla extract in the microwave until steaming.  Add the butter cubes.  Using a fork, stir until butter is melted.  If milk is steaming and butter is soft, this will only take a minute.  Add the liquid mixture to the bread pan.  Using the fork, whisk the eggs in the 1-cup measuring container, then add the eggs to the bread pan too.

IMG_3354 IMG_3354 IMG_3354 IMG_3359 IMG_3359 IMG_3359~Step 4.  Add the flour to the bread pan, spooning it right on top of the wet ingredients.  Do not mix or stir.  Using your index finger, make a small well in the top of the flour (but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer).  Add the yeast to the well.  Insert the pan into the bread machine, plug the machine in, press the "Select" button, choose the "Pizza Dough" cycle, then press "Start".  In 55 minutes, you'll have cinnamon-raisin bread dough.

IMG_3362 IMG_3362 IMG_3362 IMG_3362 IMG_3379 IMG_3379 IMG_3379~Step 5.  While  dough is kneading and proofing in bread machine, spread a bit of bench flour over the top of a large, 20" x 16" pastry board.  Remove the proofed dough from bread machine (the pan won't be hot) and transfer dough to the bench-flour covered board.  Using your fingertips, pat and press dough across the board, into a 1/2"-thick rectangle measuring approximately 18" x 14".  I do this with my fingertips (this dough is extremely manageable).  If you need the aid of a small rolling pin (which you should not), that's ok, just use a very light touch.  Generously sprinkle 5-6 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar over the surface to within 1/2" of the perimeter on all four sides.  Starting at the side closest to you, roll the dough, as tightly as possible, jelly-roll-style, into a cylinder.  Position the cylinder, seam-side-down on an end-to-end angle, then, pat, form and stretch it to a even-sized-throughout length of 22"-24".  This is ALL very, very, very (about 15-minutes-of-time) easy to do.

IMG_3385 IMG_3385 IMG_3385 IMG_3385 IMG_3397 IMG_3397 IMG_3397 IMG_3397~Step 6.  Spray the inside of 24, standard-size muffin cups with no-stick spray.  Using a serrated bread knife and a light touch, cut the cylinder into 1" thick slices, placing the slices, one in each muffin cup, as you work.  I yielded a grand total of 22 today.  Cover with a lint-free kitchen towel and set aside to rise for 1 hour.  Uncover and bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven, until "tops have popped" in their centers and rolls are lightly-browned, a short 14-16 minutes.  Do not over bake. Remove cinnamon rolls from oven and immediately transfer rolls from muffin cups to a wire rack to cool completely, 1-1 1/2 hours, prior to glazing (if desired) as directed below.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0884d1fb970dFor the optional sugary glaze:

2  cups Confectioners' sugar

3-4  tablespoons whole milk

1  tablespoon caramel flavoring

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d16ad7f5970c~ Step 7. In a small mixing bowl combine all ingredients together until smooth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit for about 5 minutes. Stir again.  Mixture will be thick, smooth and ribbonlike.

Drizzle glaze over barely-warm or room-temp swirl muffins...

IMG_3416... & put a big pot of coffee on for breakfast!

IMG_3423Reheat (1-2 day leftovers) in microwave, 10-12 seconds, uncovered.  Follow the steamy swirl.  

IMG_3425Cinnamon 'n Raisin Bread Cinnamon-Swirl Muffins:  Recipe yields 22-24 cinnamon 'n raisin-bread cinnamon-swirl muffins.

Special Equipment List:  bread machine; paring knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; large pastry board; serrated bread knife; standard-sized muffin tins, enough for 22-24 muffins; wire cooling rack; pastic squirt bottle, for applying glaze (optional) 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1879fba970cCook's Note:  Can I interest you in a make-ahead breakfast casserole to go with your cinnamon-swirl muffins?  My ~ Big Baked Denver Omelette Brunch Casserole ~, full of ham, cheese and veggies, is my favorite  crowd-pleasing recipe. 

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

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

09/24/2018

~ Mom's Crockpot Casserole Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ~

IMG_3304If you grew up in an Eastern European family, you grew up eating stuffed cabbage rolls -- known as "holupki" to me and "golumpki" to many of you.  From weeknight family-style dinners to holidays or special occasions, this beloved meal is a staple on the table.  Everyone makes them a bit differently, with the constants being: ground meat (beef, pork and/or lamb), rice or grain, green cabbage leaves and a tomato-based sauce.  If you grew up in an Eastern European family and you currently write a blog, you proclaim your family's stuffed cabbage to be the best.  I fall into the latter category and I am no exception.  My mom's stuffed cabbage rolls are the best.

A bit about Crockpot's Casserole Crocks:

IMG_2900 2Meet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vessel for cooking cabbage rolls, side-by-side and in a single layer, to cook evenly, in comfort -- spa-style.

IMG_2899 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3923c31200dI bought two. At about $45.00 each, it wasn't that big of an investment.  The crocks are the shape of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole, with the inside bottom dimensions of the crock being approximately 11" x 7" x 3". My rational: These are going to be awesome for making a slow-cooker version of my mom's holupki. I couldn't wait to plug 'em in.

Making Stuffed Cabbage in Crockpot's Casserole Crocks:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08f1f655970d1  large, firm head green cabbage without splits or tears (about 4 pounds)  (Note:  1 large head of cabbage will yield:  20-24 large-to-medium-sized stuffed cabbage rolls requiring 1/2-1/3 cup filling each.)

3  pounds lean ground beef (85/15)

2  teaspoons salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

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

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

1  seasoning packet from 1  box of G.Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix (1/2 teaspoon salt may be substituted)  (Note:  This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant broth/bouillon.  It was a well-known family secret of my grandmother's and I keep it on-hand in my pantry so I can duplicate her recipes without fail.  It's readily available to me at my local grocery store and on-line as well.)

2  large eggs, beaten 

For the sauce mixture:

4  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (2 cans per casserole crock)

4  cups water (2 cups per casserole crock)

all the water reserved from steaming the cabbage leaves (about 3/4 cup, divided between the two casserole crocks)

3 teaspoons each:  salt  and coarsely-ground black pepper (1 1/2 teaspoons in each casserole crock)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole crocks

IMG_5795 IMG_5795 IMG_5795 IMG_5795 IMG_5809 IMG_5809 IMG_5809 IMG_5809 IMG_5816 IMG_5816 IMG_5816 IMG_5816~Step 1.  Mixing the meat.  Place the ground beef in a large bowl. Sprinkle the salt and pepper evenly over the top.  Using a large spoon or your hands, mix to combine. Measure and sprinkle the rice over the top, then, give that a thorough mix too.  Finely dice the onion, add it along with the G.Washinton's seasoning packet and mix again.  In a small bowl, using a fork, beat the eggs, add them, and, you guessed it, give the whole thing one last very thorough mix.

IMG_3043 2 IMG_3043 2~ Step 2.  Coring the cabbage.  The core is what holds the cabbage leaves to the head.  In order for the leaves to separate easily during and after the steaming process, it is necessary to remove the core.  With a short-bladed coring knife, cut around the core to a depth of about 1 1/2"-2", or enough to start a separation of the outer leaves.

IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3174 IMG_3174 IMG_3174 IMG_3174 IMG_3174 IMG_3174~Step 3.  Microwave-steaming the cabbage leaves.  Place the cored head of cabbage, cored-side down, in a large mixing bowl.  Add 1 1/2 cups water to the bowl.  Do not cover.  Microwave on high for 12 minutes.  Remove from microwave.  With the aid of a fork and your fingertips, remove the loose outer leaves (3-4) from the the head.  Return to the microwave, on high, for 4 more minutes.  Remove from microwave and remove more loose outer leaves (4-5).  Continue this process of microwaving and removing leaves, 3-4 more times, until the size of the leaves become too small to affectively stuff and roll.  Reserve the core of the cabbage, along with the cabbage (acidulated) water too.  The entire steaming process typically takes about 28-34 minutes.

Tip from Mel:  About halfway through the process, use a pair of kitchen shears to trim and remove more of the core, which is now soft.  This will make removing the inner leaves easier.

IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3214 IMG_3245~Step 4.  Filling and rolling the cabbage leaves.  Generously spray the inside of both casserole crocks with no-stick cooking spray.  On a flat plate or work surface, place one cabbage leaf, convex side down, and using a paring knife, trim the thick core vein from the center of it. Depending upon the size and thickness of each cabbage leaf, this core vein can/will be large or quite small, but be sure to do it as it makes the rolling process easier and the finished product prettier.  Flip the cabbage leaf over, concave (cup) side up.  Using a 1/2 cup measure, scoop filling in the center of the leaf.  Lift side of the leaf closet to you up and over the filling, then lift and fold left and right sides of the leaf up and over the meat filling.  Continue to roll the filled leaf over until it sits seam side down.  Arrange the cabbage rolls, side-by-side, seam-sides-down in the prepared crocks as you work -- one dozen will fit in the bottom of each casserole crock.

Note:  It goes without saying that not all cabbages or cabbage leave are created equal.  My measurements today are for a large head with large outer and medium inner leaves.  Smaller heads yield smaller leaves, so the amount of filling must be downsized too -- 1/3 cup filling for medium leaves and 1/4 cup for small leaves -- sounds silly, but the leaves will let you know.

IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3236 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260 IMG_3260~Step 5.  Saucing and slow-cooking the cabbage rolls.  Pour 2 cups of water over the tops of the cabbage rolls in each casserole, then divide and add the reserved cabbage water to each crock casserole too.  Spoon and spread the contents from 2 cans tomato soup over the tops of the cabbage rolls, then sprinkle 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1 1/2 teaspoon pepper over the top of the soup in each one.  Cut the remaining core into eight wedges and arrange 4 wedges atop both casseroles.  Place the lids on the crocks and cook on high for 2 hours, low for 3 hours, then on warm for 1-2 hours, to allow the cabbage to soften a bit more and all the flavors to marry.

IMG_3277 IMG_3277 IMG_3277~Step 6.  Immediately after placing casseroles on warm setting, remove the cabbage wedges and set them aside.  Trust me, the cabbage-wedge lovers are going to like the texture of the wedges removed sooner than later.

My mom's crockpot-cooked stuffed cabbage rolls:

IMG_3309A forkful of slow-cooked childhood comfort food:

IMG_3317Coming soon to a freezer or lunchbox near you:

IMG_3209Mom's Crockpot Casserole Stuffed Cabbage Rolls:  Recipe yields approximately 24 cabbage rolls and 8-12 servings at 2-3 per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; short-bladed coring knife; large microwave-safe bowl; long-handled fork; kitchen shears; 2 crock casseroles

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1d82c2f970cCook's Note:  Mom's stuffed cabbage rolls were always cooked on the stovetop -- crockpots hadn't been invented yet.  That said, when she did buy a crockpot in the 1970's, her ~ Unstuffed: Deconstructed Stuffed Cabbage Rolls ~ were just as popular with our family, and, they took her a lot less time to make.

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

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

09/21/2018

~ Steaming & Separating Cabbage in the Microwave ~

IMG_3200Being a gal of Eastern European decent, I'm kind of a connoisseur of cabbage.  While cabbage eating isn't limited to Eastern European cuisine, it is indeed associated primarily with it.  In my family alone, from hot side-dishes like butter-braised cabbage and carrots and cabbage and egg noodles, to cold side-salads like creamy cole slaw and vinegary pepper slaw, to main-dish ham, cabbage and potato soup and stuffed cabbage rolls, I do not believe my mother's refrigerator was ever without a head of cabbage in it.  "Kapusta" or "cabbage" was a staple.

Cabbage is a staple in every Eastern European kitchen.

IMG_6742When I was a kid watching my mother and grandmother process cabbage, all I remember thinking was, "this is hard work".  Cabbage, no matter what they were making with it, had to be hand-cut or processed -- there were no short cut methods.  Back then, there were no food processors or microwave ovens.  When it came to steaming the cabbage leaves from the head to make stuffed cabbage rolls, it required carrying a big pot of water from the sink to the stovetop and standing over the steaming pot throughout the process -- it was literally a hot and heavy task.  Sigh.

Fast forward to present day.  I'm a home cook who's never been a huge fan of the microwave -- I've never cooked a meal in it from start-to-finish.  Not even once.  That said, as a serious home cook, I do consider the microwave oven a serious appliance which plays a significant role in the preparation of certain aspects of meal preparation, the reheating of leftovers, and, it sure is a time-savor with regards to certain culinary tasks:  steaming cabbage leaves is one such task.

One head cored cabbage + 1 1/2 cups water in a big bowl.

IMG_3043 2 IMG_3043 2~ Step 1.  Coring the cabbage.  The core is what holds the leaves to the head.  In order for the leaves to separate easily, during and after the steaming process, it is necessary to remove the core.  With a sharp short-bladed coring knife, cut around the core to a depth of 1 1/2"-2", or enough to start a separation of the outer leaves.

IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3162 IMG_3185 IMG_3193 IMG_3193~Step 2.  Microwave-steaming the cabbage leaves.  Place the cored head of cabbage, cored-side down, in a large mixing bowl.  Add 1 1/2 cups water to the bowl.  Do not cover.  Microwave on high for 12 minutes. Remove from microwave.  With the aid of a fork and your fingertips, remove the loose outer leaves (3-4) from the the head.  Return to the microwave, on high, for 4 more minutes.  Remove from microwave and remove more loose outer leaves (4-5). Continue this process of microwaving and removing leaves, 3-4 more times, until the size of the leaves become too small to affectively be of use in the specified recipe.  The steaming process typically takes about 28-34 minutes.

Tip from Mel:  About halfway through the process, use a pair of kitchen shears to trim and remove more of the core, which is now soft.  This will be easy and make removing inner leaves easier.  

Use as directed in specific recipe:

IMG_3197Mom's Crockpot-Casserole-Cooked Stuffed Cabbage Rolls:

IMG_3309Steaming & Separating Cabbage in the Microwave:  Recipe yields instructions to steam and separate leaves from a head of green cabbage using the microwave.

Special Equipment List:  short-bladed coring knife; 1-cup measuring container; large bowl; long-handled fork; kitchen shears

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d26c64c6970cCook's Note:  Throughout Eastern Europe, cooks make a side-dish that basically consists of green cabbage and egg noodles -- my family often added mushrooms too.  It's quick-and-easy, delicious, unpretentious, old-world comfort food.  I simply refer to it as "cabbage and noodles" or "cabbage noodles", because every country has their own ethnic name for it and every cook is adamant that "their people" invented it -- the Eastern Europeans are no different than the French or the Italians in that respect.  Sigh.

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

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

09/19/2018

~Lo & Slow-Cooker Jerk-Style Baby-Back Spare-Ribs~

IMG_2998Jerk seasoning was/is the dry spice blend used to season jerky, and Jamaican jerk seasoning, known for the flavors of allspice, cinnamon, cloves, thyme and Scotch bonnet pepper, is perhaps the most famous.  Throughout the Caribbean, islanders preserved/cured their spice-rubbed meats by drying them in the intense sun or over a slow fire -- this allowed the meat to be taken on long journeys and eaten as is or reconstituted in boiling water.  The word most likely transitioned to the verb, "jerking", in reference to the way the meat gets "jerked" around on the grill as it cooks.

The machinations of making ribs in a slow cooker never seemed right to me -- kind of like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  I've watched people bend racks, slice and stack sections, even cut them into individual ribs.   That type of rib abuse is why I never attempted it, but, as a person who likes my ribs fall-of-the-bone tender, there was never a doubt the slow cooker could achieve that.  After all, just like a Dutch oven placed on the stovetop or in the oven, it's what slow cookers do, tenderize meat -- especially the cheap, tough cuts.  The lid seals and traps the heat and moisture in the pot, preventing evaporation and heat loss, which provides plenty of time for everything-that-can-make-meat-tough (the muscle, connective tissue and fat) to break down.

IMG_2900Meet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vehicle for baby-back ribs (trimmed to fit into it's bottom), to cook evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

IMG_2899I bought two.  At about $45.00 each, it wasn't that big of an investment. My rational: Joe buys baby-back ribs vacuum-packed at Sam's club -- three racks per pack.  After eye-balling the dimensions of the Crockpot Casserole, I knew with certainty, that between the two, I could slow-cook all three racks -- to feed a crowd.  I bought them for last year's tailgate season, and, the moment they arrived, I couldn't wait to plug my two new toys in.

Important Note:  Armed with two crockpot casseroles, for my own purposes, I am slow-cooking three very large racks of baby-back spare-ribs this afternoon.  That said, it's worth noting that two small racks of ribs will fit in one crockpot casserole and affects nothing about the recipe.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09fc9b13970dBecause the inside bottom dimensions of the casserole are approximately 11" x 6", that requires cutting each rack of baby-back ribs into either 2, 11" lengths (cut each rack in half), or, 3, 6" lengths (cut each rack into thirds).  Besides being more manageable, I chose 6" lengths because they are a perfect portion for each person.

The "jerk" in jerk comes from the Spanish word via the Peruvian word "charqui", the noun for dried strips of meat now called "jerky".

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

Scratch-made or store-bought marinade?  Your choice.

IMG_2186The Jamaicans have cornered the market on marketing high-quality, bold-flavored dry spice blends and rubs, wet pastes and marinades, barbecue, steak and hot pepper sauces.  In a pinch there's no shame and little compromise in using them.  When it comes to making my jerk-style baby-back spare-ribs, I like to use a wet marinade (as opposed to a paste), and, when time is short, it's the Walkerswood brand that I reach for.

IMG_5761Note:  The following is recipe my copycat of theirs.  It makes  4 1/4 cups (36 ounces), which is about the equivalent of 2, 17-ounce bottles of store-bought (34 ounces), about 5 cups.  Two cups marinade is enough to marinate 3 large or 2 small racks of baby back ribs -- two cups is also enough to marinate 2 whole chickens that have been split in half (4 half chickens) to make jerk chicken.  I'm freezing the rest for a round of jerk on another day.

Making my all-purpose don't worry, be happy jerk marinade:

IMG_2156

8  ounces large-diced red onion (about 2 cups)

4  ounces diced green onion (about 1 cup)

2  ounces large-diced ginger root (about 1/3-1/2 cup)

1  ounce whole garlic cloves (about 6 large cloves)

4  Scotch bonnet peppers, with seeds, stems removed

1  cup lime juice, preferably fresh or high-quality organic, not from concentrate

1  cup malt vinegar

1/4  cup mild-flavored molasses

1/4  cup dark rum

2  tablespoons dried thyme leaves

6  teaspoons ground allspice

6  teaspoons ground cinnamon

2  teaspoons ground nutmeg

1  teaspoon ground cloves

4  teaspoons sea salt

4  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

1/4  cup vegetable oil

IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159~Step 1.  Prep and place red onion, green onion, ginger, garlic and Scotch bonnets in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses, very-finely mince the ingredients.  Open the processor lid and use a spatula to scrape down sides of work bowl.  Add the lime juice, vinegar, molasses, rum and all dry spices.  Process again, using a series of 10-20 rapid on-off pulses.  With motor running, through feedtube, drizzle in the oil, then process with motor running 30-45 more seconds.  There will be a generous 4 cups marinade.

 Prepping, marinating & slow-cooking the ribs:

IMG_5760 IMG_3109 IMG_3109 IMG_3109~Step 1.  To prep ribs for marination, remove from packaging, pat dry in some paper towels and remove the silverskin from the underside of each rack.  Don't know how?  Read ~ How to: Remove the Silverskin from Spareribs ~.  Using a large chef's knife, slice each rack into thirds.

IMG_2841 IMG_2841 IMG_2841~Step 2.  Stack the rib sections inside of a 2-gallon food storage bag that has been doubled for extra strength protection against leaks from sharp bones poking through.  Add two cups of the marinade (homemade or store-bought) to the bag.  Seal tightly.  Using your fingertips, squish the bag of rib section to evenly distribute the marinade.  Do this a few times until the ribs are thoroughly coated.  Place in the refrigerator 4-6 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.  Up to 48 hours is even better.

IMG_3143 IMG_2912 IMG_2912 IMG_2912~Step 3.  Spray the inside of the crock casseroles with no-stick cooking spray. Arrange the rib sections to fit, in a single layer, slightly-overlapping in a spot or two if necessary.  Four of the largest sections and five of the smallest sections, fit snugly and nicely between the two crocks respectively.  Use a spoon to distribute the marinade remaining in the bag over tops of ribs.

IMG_2916 IMG_2916 IMG_2919 IMG_2919 IMG_2925 IMG_2925 IMG_2925~Step 4.  Cover the crockpot. Cook on high for 2 hours, then, on low for 1-1/2-2 hours, depending upon your preference for doneness (to-the-tooth to fall-off-the bone). That said, the tip of a knife or the tines of a fork, when pierced between any two ribs should easily glide through and come out on the other side.

IMG_2935 2 IMG_2935 2~Step 5.  Preheat broiler with oven rack positioned about 5" under the heat.  Line a large baking pan with aluminum foil, then place a sheet of parchment in the bottom of pan.  Open crockpot and remove the ribs, arranging them slightly apart on the baking pan.  Finish ribs off under the broiler for 3-4 minutes, until bubbly and brown. 

Serve w/Cool & Crunchy Island-Style Jerk-Seasoned Slaw:

IMG_3029Tex-Mex ~ Bone-Suckin' Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare Ribs ~:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ea3f57970d-800wiAsian ~ Teriyaki-Style Slow-Cooker Baby-Back Spare Ribs ~:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9598585970bLo & Slow-Cooker Jerk-Style Baby-Back Spare-Ribs:  Recipe yields 2-4 servings per casserole (allowing 1/3-1/2-rack per person).

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; food processor; large rubber spatula; paper towels 2, 2-gallon food-storage bags; crockpot casserole; 1-cup measuring container; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; pastry brush

IMG_2298Cook's Note:  Prefer rice with your ribs?  In Jamaica, they make a dish, coconut rice, and it's served as a side-dish to fiery Caribbean-style chicken- or shrimp- curry dishes and jerk-seasoned meats.  This is my twist on it. In my recipe for ~ Island-Style Bejeweled Coconut & Black Bean Rice ~, I substitute black beans for pigeon peas (because I adore black beans), then, at the end, I bejewel it with the sweet flavors of ginger, mango, papaya and pineapple.

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

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

09/17/2018

~Tips and Things to Know about Granulated Gelatine~

IMG_2552Gelatine.  Dating back to Egyptian times, it's a substance derived from the processing of animal collagen (beef and/or pork).  That's important to know, as, I'm surprised by how many home cooks are under the mistaken impression this colorless, flavorless, pure-protein is vegetarian.  The word "gelatine" comes from Latin word "gelatus", which means "jellied".  Before the invention of our modern day forms (granulate and, sheet or leaf), gelatine was considered a sign of wealth.  It took hours of tedious work to render and clarify the collagen from cattle hides, pig skins and bones so it could be used in fancy sophisticated aspics, molded salads and elegant desserts.  It meant the host or hostess had the means to support a kitchen staff with well-honed culinary skills.

Gelatine granules & sheets -- same product?  Yes & no.

IMG_2874Today I'm focusing on granulated gelatine -- the kind that comes in a box of four packets.  The kind that's been dried and broken up into individual grains that makes it easy to measure.  Sheet gelatine (also known as leaf gelatin), of which I am a big fan, is made from gelatine that has been dried in flat sheets.  While sheets result in a clearer, more transparent final product, they are, in essence, just a different name for the same product.  That said, most recipes for the home kitchen were written by our mothers and grandmothers, who used the granulated gelatine packets. Granulated gelatin is easily found in grocery stores and is common to home cooks.  Sheet gelatin is found in specialty shops or on-line and is more common to professional chefs and bakeshops.

Substituting sheets for granules?  Sure, but, not so fast. 

IMG_2863In my kitchen, "if the recipe ain't broke, don't fix it", and, I'm here to tell you, substituting sheets for granules, due to the fact the strength of sheets varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and country to country (these are made with pork in Germany), the substitution of sheets in time-tested vintage recipes calling for granules is a tricky business which can end in disappointing results.  I do not recommend it for the average home cook.  If a recipe calls for sheets, by all means use them as directed, but don't off-handedly use them as a substitution for granules.

My general rule of thumb for substitution is based solely upon the brand of sheet gelatine I purchase: 1 sheet = gelatin to thicken 1/2 cup liquid; 2 sheets = gelatin to thicken 1 cup liquid; 6 sheets = gelatin to thicken 3 cups liquid; 6 sheets = 1 packet (1 tablespoon) gelatin granules.

A bit of history about powdered, sheets, granules & Jell-O too:

IMG_2858Unflavored, dry, powdered gelatine, "Cox's Gelatin", became available in 1845 from the J&G Company of Edinburgh, Scotland, and exporting to the USA began the same year.  Also in 1845, Peter Cooper, secured a US patent for a gelatine dessert powder called "portable gelatine", but, nothing would be done with this patent for another 50 years.  In 1895, he sold the patent to Pearl Walt, a cough syrup maker.  Together with his wife May, they experimented with adding fruit syrups (strawberry, raspberry, orange and lemon) to gelatine powder mixed with sugar.  May renamed the 88% sugar product, Jell-O, but, they were unsuccessful in selling it, and, sold the name and business to Orator Francis Woodward in 1899.  In 1904 the Jell-O-girl, holding a tea kettle in her left hand and a box of Jell-O in her right (just add hot water) was introduced.  

That said, in 1890, Charles Knox, of Jamestown NY, after watching his wife make calves' foot jelly, decided that a prepackaged, easy to use gelatine mix was what American housewifes needed.  In 1894 (a year prior to the portable gelatine powder patent), Charles developed the world's first pre-granulated gelatine, by experimenting until he found a process that dried unflavored gelatine into sheets.  He hired salesmen to travel door-to-door to sell and show housewives how to use it.  The sheets, however, fell by the wayside, when he rocked-the-world and introduced unflavored, granulated gelatine packets, which required no hands-on training for the home cook to use the product with extremely successful, almost foolproof, results.

 Tips & things to know about granulated gelatine packets:

IMG_2853Measuring:  If a recipe calls for a specific number of gelatine packets, empty and use the contents from the specified number of packets (1 packet, 2 packets, etc).  If a recipe calls for a specific measurement (1 teaspoon, 2 teaspoons, etc), open the packet(s) and measure the contents with a measuring spoon. One packet will firmly set 2 cups of liquid that, if desired, can be unmolded at serving time.  One packet will softly set 3 cups of liquid that cannot be unmolded at serving time.

1 packet (1/4 ounce) = 1 scant tablespoon (3 teaspoons)

1 packet will firmly set 2 cups liquid

1 packet will softly set 3 cups liquid

IMG_2876 IMG_2876 IMG_2876 IMG_2876 IMG_2893Blooming (hydrating) and warming (melting):  All gelatine must be softened prior to using.  The softening process is called "blooming".  It's done by sprinkling 1 packet gelation (or specified teaspoon measurement) over 1/4 cup cold water (or specified cold alcohol-free liquid) and setting the mixture aside, without stirring or whisking, "to bloom", 5-10 minutes. Once bloomed, heat/warm the gelatine, as directed.  This can be done on the stovetop, but my favorite method is to place "bloomed" gelatin, which is now very thick, in the microwave. Warm it without allowing to simmer or boil, 10-12 seconds, to 100°-110º, until melted  -- this insures gelatine will be evenly distributed throughout whatever it's added to.

Troubleshooting to insure a successful end result:

My gelatine didn't set.  If a gelatine-based dish doesn't set properly, the gelatine either didn't melt all the way or the gelatine mixture boiled.  If not melted all the way, simply heat it a few seconds longer.  If boiled, any type of gelatine loses its thickening power and won't set correctly.  

My gelatine clumped.  Avoid adding melted gelatin to ice-cold liquid or purée, as it could cause the gelatine to clump or seize -- work with warm, room temperature or moderately cool ingredients that have been removed from the refrigerator 30-45 minutes prior to adding gelatine.  

My end result is rubbery.  It's worth noting that foods set with any type of gelatine get stiffer the longer they sit, so, what was softly- and perfectly-set on Monday will be less wobbly and more rubbery on Thursday.  Gelatine desserts are best served 24-48 hours after preparation.

Pretty in Pink:  Easy, Elegant Strawberry Mousse:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07fed657970dPanna From Heaven:  A Divine Mango Panna Cotta:

IMG_2687"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

09/14/2018

~Toasted-Coconut-Kissed Butter-Rum Mango Cream~

IMG_2815In terms of relatively quick-to-make no-bake desserts, this five-ingredient show-stopper takes the cake. It's refreshingly-light and smooth-as-silk with a trio of flavors everyone loves about the Caribbean islands accounted for in every creamy bite -- mango, rum and coconut.  It's thickened by super-stiff whipped cream -- no eggs or gelatine.  No one needs to know these didn't take all day to make.  Serve 'em right after they're put together to quell a craving, or make 'em a day ahead to impress a few friends, just make 'em -- they are truly a don't worry, be happy dessert.

IMG_2810Fall back fifty years.  Peaches and cream.  Freshly-picked sliced peaches dolloped with soft-peaks of freshly-whipped sweetened cream. When I was growing up it was one of my favorite straight-up, unembellished, Summer,desserts. My grandmother's peach tree produced the best peaches, and, every year, after my dad picked them, mom would slice 'em, dollop 'em and serve 'em on our front porch at dusk -- where, a few nights in a row, we'd gobble 'em up listening to the chirp of the crickets. Peachy-keen memories indeed.  

It's not hard to see how easy it was to transition from peaches to mangos and come up with this tropical-flaired dessert.

IMG_27174 ripe mangos, split, pitted, fruit fruit removed from flesh and 1/2" diced, then puréed (as directed below), chilled

4  cups heavy cream, chilled

4  tablespoons sugar

2  tablespoons butter-rum extract

1/2  cup sweetened, flaked coconut, lightly toasted (fine-chopped and lightly-toasted cashews are a nice substitution) 

IMG_2743 IMG_2743~Step 1.  Spread coconut across bottom of small shallow baking pan and place on center rack of 350° oven until lightly-toasted, about 7-8 minutes stopping to stir with a spoon every 2-3 minutes (to insure even toasting).  Set aside to cool.

IMG_2722 IMG_2722 IMG_2722 IMG_2722~Step 2.  With the aid of an Oxo mango splitter-pitter, split and pit the mango.  Use a tablespoon to scoop the fruit from the flesh of each half.  Don't have a mango splitter?  Get one ($12.00).

IMG_2749 IMG_2753 IMG_2753 IMG_2753~Step 3.  Dice the fruit into 1/2" pieces, placing two-thirds of it in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, and setting the other one-third aside.  If you have a kitchen scale, now is a great time to use it.  Place 16 ounces in the food processor and set aside 8 ounces -- it you have 1-2-ounces of mango leftover, add it to the processor.  With motor running, process the mango to a smooth purée, about 45 seconds.  There will be 1 3/4-2 cups purée.

IMG_2766 IMG_2766 IMG_2769 IMG_2769~Step 4.  Place the sugar and butter-rum extract in a large bowl.  Give it a stir and allow it to sit for 3-5 minutes, to flavor and start to dissolve the sugar.  Add the cream.  Starting on lowest speed of hand-held electric mixer and working up to highest speed, whip the cream until very, very stiff, using a large rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl throughout the process, about 6 minutes.  Remove and set aside (in the refrigerator) 2 cups of the whipped cream.

IMG_2781 IMG_2781 IMG_2785 IMG_2787~Step 5.  Gently fold the mango purée into the whipped cream, in 4-5 increments.  Ladle the mango cream evenly into 6, 2-cup dessert bowls or glasses (these are stemless wine glasses).  If you have the time at this point, refrigerate for 30-60 minutes -- if you don't it'll be just fine.

IMG_2787 IMG_2787 IMG_2787 IMG_2787~Step 6.  At serving time, distribute a few diced mango cubes over their tops, followed by a few dollops (1/2 cup each) of the reserved whipped cream and a sprinkle of toasted coconut.

Impress a few family or friends w/a taste of the tropics:

IMG_2808Oh my butter-rum mango cream.  Sigh.

IMG_2835Toasted-Coconut-Kissed Butter-Rum Mango Cream:  Recipe yields 6, 1-cup-ish size servings.

Special Equipment List:  small shallow baking pan; mango pitter-splitter; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; kitchen scale; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula

IMG_2700Cook's Note:  Panna cotta is a softly-set dessert containing three ingredients:  cream, sugar and galatine. A fourth, flavoring, isn't necessary to achieve perfection, but, a splash of vanilla (or any other flavoring) takes it over-the-top. Some technique is involved (while the name implies 'cooked cream', the ingredients are only warmed enough to dissolve the gelatine and sugar), but it is quickly learned and requires knowing a bit about gelatine. ~ Panna from Heaven:  A Divine Mango Panna Cotta ~.

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

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

09/11/2018

~ Panna from Heaven: A Divine Mango Panna Cotta ~

IMG_2687Pretty as a picture and impressive indeed, "panna cotta" (Italian for "cooked cream") is, perhaps, the easiest of all the sweetened-cream-based, ramekin-molded type desserts.  That said, unlike recipes for puddings, pastry creams, custards and egg-custards, (like creme caramel or creme brûlée), in the case of panna cotta, a bakeless sweet treat, the cream is thickened with gelatine, rather than eggs.  Like all the aforementioned sweetened-cream desserts, every occasion, from blue-jean casual to high-heel upscale, is the right occasion to serve this dessert.

Panna cotta is a delicate, softly-set dessert containing three ingredients:  cream, sugar and galatine. A fourth ingredient, flavoring, isn't necessary to achieve panna cotta perfection, but, a splash of vanilla (or any other flavoring) takes it over-the-top.  There's some technique involved (while the name implies 'cooked cream', the ingredients are only warmed, just enough to dissolve the gelatine and sugar), but it is quickly learned and requires knowing just a bit about gelatine.

Things to know about gelatine packets & troubleshooting too:

IMG_2552I'm using granulated gelatine, the kind that comes in a box of four gelatine packets.  Gelatine sheets, which I am a big fan of, can be substituted, but, in the case of panna cotta,  I've been making it for over 40 years using the packets, and, in my kitchen, if the recipe ain't broke, don't fix it.  Here's a few things to know about the packets:  

1 packet (about 1/4 ounce) = 1 scant tablespoon (3 teaspoons).  

If a recipe calls for a specific number of gelatine packets, use the contents from the specified number of packets.  If a recipe calls for a specific measurement, open the packet(s) and measure the contents with a measuring spoon. One packet will firmly set 2 cups of liquid that, if desired, can be unmolded at serving time. One packet will softly set 3 cups of liquid that cannot be unmolded at serving time. Troubleshooting:  If a gelatine-based dish doesn't set properly, the gelatine didn't melt all the way or the gelatine mixture boiled. If boiled, it loses its thickening power and won't set correctly.

For the oh-so-divine mango-fruit layer:

IMG_25554 ripe mangos, split, pitted and fruit 1/2" diced*, then puréed

6  tablespoons mango juice from the mangos, or store-bought mango nectar, or, water

3  teaspoons granulated gelatine, 1 teaspoon for every 1 cup purée

*Note:  All fruit is not created equal. You'll need 3 cups of puréed mango fruit for this recipe.  In order to insure you'll have it, you'll need 4 mangos.  Yes, you might have a bit of leftover purée.  Deal with it.

There's more. Any fruit that purées well can be substituted to make today's panna cotta dessert. That said, keep in mind that certain fruits (figs, guava, kiwi, papaya and pineapple) contain an enzyme (bromelain) that prevents gelatine from thickening or thickening properly.  In order to use them, the puree must be simmered, as cooking (or the canning process) destroys the enzyme.

IMG_2571 IMG_2571 IMG_2571 IMG_2571 IMG_2571~Step 1.  Prepping the glasses and the pans.  I am using 12, 6-ounce (3/4-cup-size) glass punch-type cups.  I am fitting them into the cups of 12, standard-sized muffin cups.  I am tipping /angling each one against the side of the muffin cup.  To do this without them moving or slipping throughout the process, I am propping them up with, believe it or not, with 24 sour-cherry sour-ball candies -- two per muffin cup.  Old-fashioned cat's-eye marbles work well too.  Feel free to use some wadded up paper or paper towels, but, it won't be quite so precise.

IMG_2722 IMG_2722 IMG_2722 IMG_2722~Step 2.  With the aid of an Oxo mango splitter-pitter, split and pit the mango.  Use a tablespoon to scoop the fruit from the flesh of each half.  Don't have a mango splitter?  Get one ($12.00). 

IMG_2559 IMG_2559 IMG_2559 IMG_2559~Step 3.  With the aid of a sharp knife and a cutting board, 1/2" dice the mango fruit as directed, placing the fruit in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade as you work. With motor running, process to a smooth purée, about 20-30 seconds.  You will have 3+ cups purée.  Be sure to measure it precisely.  Transfer purée to a medium bowl and set aside.

IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2591 IMG_2618~Step 4.  Place 6 tablespoons mango juice, nectar or water in a 1-cup container.  Sprinkle gelatine granules over the top of the liquid and set aside to "bloom" for 10 minutes.  Do not stir.  Place gelatine, which is now thick, in the microwave.  Melt it, without allowing it to simmer or boil, 10-15 seconds (do not stir), then a second round of 10-15 seconds (do not stir).  Add the melted gelatine to the fruit purée. Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly (I mean thoroughly) stir the gelatine into the purée.  If you have a large squeeze bottle with a twist-on cap, the kind used to shake and distribute salad dressing, now is the time to use it.  Transfer the purée to the container -- it works great.

IMG_2620 IMG_2620 IMG_2620~Step 5.  Dispense the purée, through the squeeze bottle into the cups, dividing it equally between the cups.  This is 100% stress free and mess free, so much better than trying to spoon or ladle it in.  Place the pans of mango-purée filled cups in the refrigerator to chill until well set, six hours to overnight.

For the traditional panna-from-heaven panna cotta layer:

IMG_2697Panna cotta, said to hail from the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, is, to say the least, delicate -- so fragile it can barely support itself (although it does). It has a silky-smooth mouthfeel and melt-in-the-mouth texture.  It's dependent on gelatine.  Too little and the mixture won't set.  Too much and the mixture won't have it's signature "wobbly-jiggly" texture -- it will be gummy.  I use cream (no milk or half-and-half), and a cream-to-gelatin ratio of 1 teaspoon gelatin for every 1 cup cream -- if you choose to substitute milk, or half-and-half for a lower-fat version, it can cause complications with the amount of gelatine to add.  As for sugar, I use 2 tablespoons for every 1 cup cream.  It's foolproof perfection and I've got my creamy recipe committed to memory.

IMG_26333  cups heavy or whipping cream (divided into two parts, 1 1/2 cups and 1 1/2 cups, throughout recipe)

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1  teaspoon pure mango extract*

1/4  teaspoon salt

3  teaspoons granulated gelatine

6  tablespoons sugar

*Note:  If using another fruit purée (peaches, strawberries or bananas for example) substitute another flavor.  Butter rum is always yum.

IMG_2635 IMG_2635 IMG_2635 IMG_2635 IMG_2644 IMG_2644 IMG_2644~Step 1.  Place a 3-4-quart saucier or saucepan on the unheated stovetop. Add 1 1/2 cups of the cream (one-half of the cream). Add and thoroughly stir in the vanilla extract, mango extract and salt.  Sprinkle the gelatine granules over the top.  Do not stir.  Set aside 10 minutes.  Gelatin will swell and appear wrinkly.

IMG_2651 IMG_2651 IMG_2651 IMG_2651 IMG_2659 IMG_2659 IMG_2659~Step 2.  Turn the heat under the saucier to medium-low. Sprinkle the sugar atop the gelatin. Using a large spoon, begin stirring, and continue to stir for 3 full minutes, keeping the heat low to prevent the mixture from steaming or boiling.  Put the fingertip of your index finger and thumb into the tepid mixture to see if you can feel any grit.  If you feel any grit, the sugar is not completely dissolved -- stir for another minute.  Remove from heat and set aside, to cool to room temperature, about 1 hour. Transfer cream mixture to a 1-quart measuring container with pourer spout (a big measuring cup).

IMG_2670 IMG_2670 IMG_2670 IMG_2670 IMG_2678 IMG_2678 IMG_2678~Step 3.  Remove the pans of mango-purée gelatine from the refrigerator.  Remove the candies or marbles from the bottom and sit the cups upright.  Carefully, in a thin steady stream, pour the panna cotta mix into the empty side of each cup, until the purée gelatine is completely covered.  Return the pans to the refrigerator and keep them there until the panna cotta is set, 4-6 hours or overnight.

Oh my panna cotta.  You bring out the perfectionist in me: 

IMG_2690Oh my panna cotta perfection in every bite:

IMG_2711Pan From Heaven:  A Divine Mango Panna Cotta:  Recipe yields 12, 3/4 cup servings.

Special Equipment List:  mango splitter-pitter; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 1-quart measuring container; large squeeze condiment container with twist-on cap; 3-4-quart saucier w/rounded sides or a 3-4-quart saucepan; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07fed657970dCook's Note:  Other fruits can be substituted for mangos to make today's panna cotta dessert (peaches, strawberries and bananas are three of my favorites).  That said, any fruit that purées well, can be used to make a mousse too (a similar technique in that gelatine is used to set the fruit purée, but, instead of cooking the cream with gelatine, freshly whipped cream is carefully folded into the mixture to make it light and airy.  By all means, give my ~ Pretty in Pink:  Easy, Elegant Strawberry Mousse ~.

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

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

09/08/2018

~ Sweet Heat: Island-Style Mango or Pineapple Salsa ~

IMG_2486In my food world, one of the most common background noises is the chatter of friends or family talking about the great price they scored on a basket or flat of prime produce.  It's big news.  Last week I was the one bragging about the flat of perfect mangos I toddled into my kitchen with.  At 2-for-$1, it was exciting news.  On par with fresh pineapple, mangos are my favorite exotic fruit. Similar in taste and texture to peaches, my first taste of this juicy stone fruit came in Thailand, where a mango hedgehog* was served, compliments of the hotel, every morning with breakfast.

In my kitchen, there's no such thing as a surplus of mangos.

IMG_2438The color of a mango is not an indicator of its ripeness.  Similar to the avocado, a ripe mango will give slightly when pressed.

IMG_2471Mango salsa, full of sweet heat, is a favorite of mine served nachos made with jalapeño Jack cheese. That said, it's a show-stopper topper for Mexican Baja-style fish or seafood tacos, and, I serve it alongside Jamaican-style jerk chicken or pork too.  When I don't have mangos, I make it with pineapple.  Yes, of course it can be made with a combination of both, but, I prefer it with one or the other. While I'm generically referring to this condiment as salsa, technically it is a fruit-based pico de gallo.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08763663970dIn Mexican, "pico de gallo" literally translates to "rooster's beak". Native Mexicans of the Sonoran region explain that serrano chile peppers, a key component of the dish, resemble a rooster's beak.  Also referred to a "salsa fresca",  pico de gallo is a carefully concocted mixture of diced, fresh, uncooked "salad" ingredients: tomato, onion, cilantro, serrano peppers, salt and lime juice.  I simply swap mangos for tomatoes (in my pico de gallo recipe) to make mango salsa.

6 or 7 diced ingredients + 1 bowl = fresh & rustic salsa...

IMG_2446... with a crisp, clean burst of sweet & spicy heat in every bite.

IMG_2447For the mango pico de gallo:

3-3 1/2  cups 1/2"-diced split and pitted ripe mango flesh/fruit, from 3 ripe mangos, or diced pineapple

1  cup small-diced red bell pepper

3/4  cup each: small-diced red onion and minced, fresh cilantro

1-1 1/2-2  tablespoons fine-diced red serrano chile pepper, for mild, medium or hot, heat control 

1 1/2-2  tablespoons lime juice, fresh or high-quality store-bought not from concentrate

1/2-3/4  teaspoon sea salt, to taste

IMG_2722 IMG_2722 IMG_2722 IMG_2722~Step 1.  With the aid of an Oxo mango splitter-pitter, split and pit the mango.  Use a tablespoon to scoop the fruit from the flesh of each half.  Don't have a mango splitter?  Get one ($12.00).

IMG_2451 IMG_2451 IMG_2451 IMG_2451 IMG_2451 IMG_2451~Step 2.  Place the diced red onion, red bell pepper, and serrano chile pepper in a medium bowl.  Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of lime juice and 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.  Stir, then set aside about 10 minutes.  Add and stir in the cilantro, followed by the diced mangos (or pineapple).  Set aside at room temperature for 10 more minutes, then, stir and taste.  Add the additional salt and/or lime juice if you feel the mixture needs it -- I added no salt or additional lime juice today.  Refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 6 hours, to allow flavors to marry, prior to serving chilled or at room temperature.  While the mango or pineapple pico de gallo is marinating, stir it 3-4 times throughout this time, whenever it's convenient.

As a condiment to Caribbean-style plantain chips...

IMG_2482... or a topper for Texican-style jalapeño Jack nachos...

IMG_2523... mango or pineapple salsa lights my sweet & savory fire:

IMG_2513Sweet Heat:  Island Style Mango or Pineapple Salsa:  Recipe yields 4 cups salsa.

Special Equipment List: mango splitter-pitter; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; 4-cup food-storage container w/tight fitting lid

Mango_hedgehog*Cook's Note:  In order of largest to smallest mango production, India, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean (followed by frost-free areas of the USA) lead the world.  Because of it's large center pit and thick skin, unlike the peach, in order to eat this juicy fruit out-of-hand, the "hedgehog" technique is applied.  Once split and pitted, the flesh is scored into squares, then each concave half is picked up and the skin is pressed to a convex shape with the thumbs.

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

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

09/05/2018

~Jerk-Style Chicken & Slaw on Coco Bread Sandwich~

IMG_2371Don't worry, be happy -- especially if you've got some leftover Jamaican-style jerk chicken (or pork) on hand.  Warm or chilled, removed from the bones and pulled into succulent, bite-sized chucks and pieces, this full-of-Island-style aromatically-flavored poultry (or meat), when piled high on one of their signature freshly-baked and opened, rich-and-flaky coco bread sandwich rolls, is magnifique.  A slice of tomato or grilled pineapple and a heap of jerk-slaw takes it over the top.

IMG_2339Coco bread is an enriched Jamaican yeast bread that's a cross between a thin sandwich roll and a thick pocket bread. It's said the name comes from coconut due to its texture (a hard outside with a soft inside), not because coconut and/or coconut milk are ingredients (traditionally it contains neither). Like any bread, it can be eaten alone, broken apart and slathered with butter or dipped into Jamaican shrimp-,  chicken- or pork- curry dishes, it often used as a container for hot, savory, often sloppy fillings, by hollowing out the pocket with the fingertips to increase the size of the cavity.  I'm using it today in the same manner I would use a sandwich roll -- sliced to make a sandwich.  I purchase mine online from www.luciniasgourmetfood.com, a bakery in Long Island, NY.  They arrive fresh, six, 6-ounce individually-wrapped breads, which I freeze.

Herein lies the secret to my jerk-seasoned slaw:

IMG_2395Leave it to the Jamaicans.  I can't think of another exotic-to-me cuisine that does a better job of making my life easier.  I mean, seriously, they've cornered the market on marketing high-quality, bold-flavored dry-spice blends and rubs, wet pastes and marinades, barbecue, steak and hot pepper sauces, etc. -- when it comes to cooking Jamaican fare at home, some of their store-bought time-savers make me ponder why anyone would want to concoct "it" from scratch. Example:  A high-quality jerk barbecue sauce can transform a dollop of mayonnaise into a flavor bomb with one squirt.  Therein lies the secret to the dressing for my jerk-seasoned slaw.

IMG_231914  ounces bagged coleslaw mix

4  ounces bagged matchstick carrots (about 2 cups)

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

1  cup mayonnaise, chilled

1/4  cup Jamaican jerk BBQ sauce

1  tablespoon malt vinegar

1  teaspoon mild molasses

1/2  teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper

IMG_2326 IMG_2326 IMG_2326 IMG_2326~Step 1.  Slice red onion as directed, cut into half-moon shapes, then cut half-moons into thirds. Set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, jerk barbecue sauce, malt vinegar, molasses and Scotch bonnet pepper.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in coleslaw, carrots and onion.  Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.  Serve chilled.

For six of my over-the-top Jamaican-jerk chicken sandwiches:

IMG_23476  Jamaican coco bread rolls

2  heads Bibb lettuce, soft leaves removed (5-6 leaves per sandwich, depending on size)

2-3  ripe, garden-fresh tomatoes, sliced (2-3 slices per sandwich, depending on size)

2-3  half Jamaican Spice-is-Nice Oven-Roasted Jamaican-Jerk Chickens, warm or chilled, meat pulled from bones (about 5-6 cups, about 1/2-3/4 cup per sandwich)

1/2  cup Jamaican-jerk-seasoned barbecue sauce (1 generous tablespoon per sandwich)

3  cups Jamaican jerk-seasoned slaw, from above recipe (1/3-1/2 cup per sandwich)

IMG_2350 IMG_2350 IMG_2350 IMG_2350 IMG_2350 IMG_2350 IMG_2350 IMG_2350~Step 1.  Layer and assemble each sandwich as follows:  1 warm cocoa bread roll, split (Lucina's coco breads get reheated in the microwave for 1 minute); 5-6 soft lettuce leaves, 2-3 tomato slices; 1/2-3/4 cup pulled chicken; a generous drizzle of barbecue sauce; 1/3-1/2 cup slaw.  

Put a lid on it & serve this mouthful-of-happiness ASAP:

IMG_2416The Jerk Chicken & Slaw on Coco Bread Sandwich:  Recipe yields 6 large sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; whisk

IMG_1245Cook's Note:  Interestingly enough, ~ Don't Worry, Be Happy: Jamaican Beef Patties ~, an empanada-esque pastry is often stuffed inside a coco bread.  It seems odd to me too, but, when in Jamaica, don't question their food, just do as the Jamaican's do.  Eat.

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

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

09/03/2018

~Crunchy & Creamy Island-Style Jerk-Seasoned Slaw~

IMG_2407Coleslaw -- creamy and crunchy, sweet, savory and nicely-spiced, coleslaw is a make-my-day side-dish and my favorite sloppy-sandwich topper.  There's more.  By swapping out a few herbs and spices, coleslaw, "the chameleon of side-dishes", any coleslaw recipe can be prepared to complement any cuisine.  How convenient is that.  I came up with this version to serve with Jamaican-style jerk fare.  This simple, lip-smacking recipe has got a bit of coat-your-throat heat.

Herein lies the secret to my jerk-seasoned slaw:

Leave it to the Jamaicans.  I can't think of another exotic-to-me cuisine that does a better job of making my life easier.  I mean, seriously, they've cornered the market on marketing high-quality, bold-flavored dry-spice blends and rubs, wet pastes and marinades, barbecue, steak and hot pepper sauces, etc. -- when it comes to cooking Jamaican fare at home, some of their store-bought time-savers make me ponder why anyone would want to concoct "it" from scratch. Example:  A high-quality jerk barbecue sauce can transform a dollop of mayonnaise into a flavor bomb with one squirt.  Therein lies the secret to the dressing for my jerk-seasoned slaw.

IMG_231914  ounces bagged coleslaw mix

4  ounces bagged matchstick carrots (about 2 cups)

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

1  cup mayonnaise, chilled

1/4  cup Jamaican jerk BBQ sauce

1  tablespoon malt vinegar

1  teaspoon mild molasses

1/2  teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c959048b970bNote about adding pineapple:  I love pineapple as much as anyone, and, occasionally I add 1 1/2 cups diced pineapple to this recipe. It's scrumptious.   That said, pineapple contains an enzyme (bromelian) that is a powerful tenderizer.  Experience has taught that when adding pineapple to this slaw, unless you want coleslaw with a funked-up texture, it needs to be folded in just prior to serving (1-2 hours is ok).  To learn more, read my post ~ Fresh vs. Canned:  How Pineapple Reacts w/Proteins ~. 

IMG_2326 IMG_2326 IMG_2326 IMG_2326~Step 1.  Slice red onion as directed, cut into half-moon shapes, then cut  half-moons into thirds. Set aside.  In a large bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, jerk barbecue sauce, malt vinegar, molasses and Scotch bonnet pepper.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in coleslaw, carrots and onion.  Cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.  Serve chilled.

Try my Island-Style Jerk-Seasoned Salsa, piled high on...

IMG_2387... my Jerk-Style Chicken & Slaw on Coco Bread Sandwich:

IMG_2371Crunchy & Creamy Island-Style Jerk-Seasoned Slaw:  Recipe yields 5-6 cups coleslaw.

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

IMG_2298Cook's Note:  In Jamaica, they make a dish called coconut rice and peas -- it's usually served as an accompaniment to Caribbean-style chicken- or shrimp- curry dishes and jerk-seasoned meats. This is sort of not it.  This is my twist on it. In my recipe for ~ Island-Style Bejeweled Coconut & Black Bean Rice ~, I substitute black beans for pigeon peas (because I adore black beans), then, at the end, I bejewel it with the sweet flavors of ginger, mango, papaya and pineapple.

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

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

09/01/2018

~ Island-Style Bejeweled Coconut & Black Bean Rice ~

IMG_2306 2In Jamaica, they make a dish called coconut rice and peas -- it's usually served as an accompaniment to Caribbean-style chicken- or shrimp- curry dishes and jerk-seasoned meats. This is sort of not it.  This is my twist on it.  In Jamaica, beans are called peas, more specifically, pigeon peas -- they’re a staple in Indian, African, Latin and Caribbean cooking and are sold canned, dried or fresh.  In the Caribbean islands, kidney beans are a common substitution, which is a good, because, up until recently, pigeon peas were not something I could find in my Central PA stores.  While I like kidney beans (a lot), I love black beans, so, I use them.  We cool so far?

Traditionally, the rice is cooked on the stovetop, rice-pilaf-style.  That means, the dish (liberally seasoned in the style of the cuisine being cooked) is simmered in a flavored liquid (like meat, poultry or vegetable stock), instead of plain water -- as the rice cooks it absorbs an array of flavors.  Prior to adding the liquid, the process often starts by briefly sautéing the rice and/or some vegetables (like onion and garlic) in some butter or oil.  "In the style of the cuisine being cooked" means:  use seasonings and add ingredients common to the country of origin.  In the case of Jamaican-style rice and peas, besides the rice and peas, those ingredients would be: onion, garlic, Scotch bonnet pepper, thyme, chicken stock and/or coconut milk.  We cool so far?

For convenience w/o compromise, try my rice steamer method:

Rice steamer vs. stovetop.  I love my rice cooker/steamer and I'm pretty certain everyone else who owns one does too.  These modern marvels take all the guesswork out of cooking rice on the stovetop.  I use mine for steaming broccoli and cauliflower too.  By using dried herbs and spices in place of fresh, which kept the flavor profile the same as the Jamaian-style stovetop version, trust me when I tell you, my rice steamer version compromises neither flavor nor texture. After learning that ginger and brown sugar are sometimes added to the stovetop version, I took it upon myself to bejewel my version, island-style, with bits of candied fruit common to the Caribbean:  ginger, mango, papaya and pineapple.  It's over-the-top great.  We cool so far? 

IMG_22332  cups basmati rice

1  15 1/2-ounce can coconut milk + water to total 2 1/2  cups

1  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/2  teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder and salt

1/4  teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper powder

1  15 1/2-ounce can black beans, well-drained and rinsed, or:  

1 15 1/2-ounce can well-drained green or black pigeon peas*, or, kidney beans

IMG_2431 IMG_2431 IMG_2431*A bit about pigeon peas:  About the same size as a black bean, with the same nutty taste and grainy texture of all beans (not at all the taste and texture associated with green peas), feel free to use them.  If you use a brand packed in coconut milk, feel free to use the coconut milk they're packed in too.

IMG_2288To bejewel Coconut & Black Bean Rice island-style:

2  tablespoons small-diced candied ginger

2  tablespoons small-diced candied mango

2  tablespoons small-diced candied papaya

2  tablespoons small-diced candied pineapple

IMG_2248 IMG_2248 IMG_2248 IMG_2248~Step 1.  Using the measuring cup from the rice cooker, measure and place 2 level cups rice in steamer basket.  Using the measuring cup from the rice cooker, measure and add the coconut milk/water mixture to the steamer basket with the rice.  Rinse and drain the black beans.

IMG_2258 IMG_2262 IMG_2262 IMG_2262 IMG_2262 IMG_2262 IMG_2262~Step 2.  Add the dry spices (thyme leaves, garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and Scotch bonnet pepper powder to the rice and coconut milk in the steamer basket and give the mixture a thorough stir. Add the black beans and do not stir.  Close lid on the rice cooker and turn it on.  When rice cooker shuts off, open lid and immediately rake through rice with a fork to separate the grains.

~Step 3.  To bejewel the rice, which adds sweet, tart and edgy zing, stir in the candied ginger, mango, papaya and ginger.  Rake the candied fruits into coconut and black bean rice and serve.

IMG_2290 IMG_2290 IMG_2290

Bejewel: a verb meaning to ornament or encrust, as if with jewels.

IMG_2298Want Oven-Roasted Jamaican-Jerk-Chicken with this?

IMG_2059Island-Style Bejeweled Coconut & Black Bean Rice:  Recipe yields 5 1/2-6 cups.

Special Equipment List: electric rice cooker/steamer; measuring cup from rice cooker; small colander; spoon; cutting board; chef's knife

IMG_2130Cook's Note: Bananas and plantains -- they resemble each other, and they're related too.   I eat a banana every morning, but, I can't say the same for the plantain.  By accident or out of curiosity, if you've ever tasted a raw plantain, you knew you weren't eating a banana.  That said, when sautéed, the taste and texture of the yellow plantain is remarkable.  ~ Sweet & Caramelized Island-Spice Yellow Plantains ~ is another side-dish common to the fiery curry dishes and jerk-seasoned meats of the Caribbean islands.

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

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

08/30/2018

~Spice-is-Nice Oven-Roasted Jamaican-Jerk Chicken~

IMG_2058Leave it to the Jamaicans.  I can't think of another exotic-to-me cuisine that does a better job of making my life easier.  I mean, seriously, they've cornered the market on marketing high-quality, bold-flavored dry-spice blends and rubs, wet pastes and marinades, barbecue, steak and hot pepper sauces, etc. -- when it comes to cooking Jamaican fare at home, some of their store-bought time-savers make me ponder why anyone would want to concoct "it" from scratch.

That said, time spent in my kitchen is therapy -- it's my "don't worry, be happy" space.  It's the game-on place where movies and music play, all problems appear smaller and magic happens. Any reason to spend more time in the kitchen is a good reason.  Since cooking-from-scratch extends my stay in my playroom, the mouth-watering end result more than justifies the occasionally difficult means.  Jamaican-style jerk cooking does not fall into the category of difficult.

Charred & crispy skin w/moist, pull-apart pinky meat, jerk is... 

IMG_2218... nicely-spiced w/a warm heat that coats your throat...

IMG_2222... & a succulent sauce that'll make you smack your lips. 

IMG_2226In a (coco)nutshell, jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica.  It was developed by African slaves who escaped into the mountains of Jamaica after the British captured this island paradise from Spain in 1655.  Forced to adapt to their new surroundings, the Maroons (the name given to the escaped slaves) made use of the foods nature provided, by pulverizing the edibles they gathered into a fiery pasty rub.  By adding fruit and/or citrus juice, the fiery pasty rub became a spicy basting and dipping sauce.  When thinned down with a bit of drinking water or the milk from a coconut, the spicy sauce became a highly-flavored wet marinade -- over time, items from trades, like vinegar and/or rum were transitioned into the mixture.  Once rubbed and/or marinated, the meat or game they hunted was then slowly cooked over a smoking pimento-wood fire.

Originally used for pork, it's now common to "jerk" chicken, beef, fish & seafood too.

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

Making my marinade & roasting the chickens:

IMG_2186As mentioned above, the Jamaicans have cornered the market on marketing high-quality, bold-flavored dry spice blends and rubs, wet pastes and marinades, barbecue, steak and hot pepper sauces.  In a pinch there's no shame and little compromise in using them.  When it comes to making my oven-roasted jerk chicken, I like to use a wet marinade (as opposed to a paste), and, when time is short, it's the Walkerswood brand that I reach for.

Note:  My recipe is my copycat of their recipe.  It makes  4 1/4 cups (36 ounces), which is about the equivalent of 2, 17-ounce bottles of their store-bought (34 ounces).  One cup of marinade is enough for 1 whole chicken that has been split in half to form two pieces.  I'm using half today, to marinate and roast 4 half chickens, and, I'm freezing the rest for a round of jerk on another day. 

Making marinade, roasting chickens & simmering sauce:

IMG_2156For the chickens, marinade and dipping/barbecue sauce:

4  4-5 pound frying chickens, as even in size as possible, split in half, backbones removed, to form 8 pieces total (Note:  I ask my local butcher to do this for me.)

8  ounces large-diced red onion (about 2 cups)

4  ounces diced green onion (about 1 cup)

2  ounces large-diced ginger root (about 1/3-1/2 cup)

1  ounce whole garlic cloves (about 6 large cloves)

4  Scotch bonnet peppers, with seeds, stems removed

1  cup lime juice, preferably fresh or high-quality organic, not from concentrate

1  cup malt vinegar

1/4  cup mild-flavored molasses

1/4  cup dark rum

2  tablespoons dried thyme leaves

6  teaspoons ground allspice

6  teaspoons ground cinnamon

2  teaspoons ground nutmeg

1  teaspoon ground cloves

4  teaspoons sea salt

4  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

1/4  cup vegetable oil

IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159 IMG_2159~Step 1.  Prep and place red onion, green onion, ginger, garlic and Scotch bonnets in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 50-60 rapid on-off pulses, very-finely mince the ingredients.  Open the processor lid and use a spatula to scrape down sides of work bowl.  Add the lime juice, vinegar, molasses, rum and all dry spices.  Process again, using a series of 10-20 rapid on-off pulses.  With motor running, through feedtube, drizzle in the oil, then process with motor running 30-45 more seconds.  There will be a generous 4 cups marinade.

IMG_1956 IMG_1956 IMG_1956 IMG_1956~Step 2.  Place each split chicken in a heavy-duty 2-gallon-sized food storage bag, positioning the two halves so the sharp bones face the inside once the bag is sealed.  Pour 1 cup of the marinade into each bag.  Gather the bag tightly up around the chicken and twist or zip closed. Using your hands, massage each bag, until each chicken is thoroughly coated in the marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator 6-8 hours (minimum), overnight, or up to 48 hours (maximum) -- remove from refrigerator, to return to room temperature, 1 hour prior to roasting as follows:

IMG_2040 IMG_2040 IMG_2040 IMG_2040~Step 3.  To roast, insert a wire rack in the bottom of a large 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan, then place a sheet of parchment paper on the rack.  Open each bag of chicken. One-at-a-time lift each half chicken up and out, allowing the excess marinade to drizzle back into the bag*, then arrange the halves, side-by-side on the rack in prepared pan.  Roast, uncovered on center rack of 350º oven, 1 1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when the thigh is pierced with a tip of a knife.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 10-15 minute, prior to serving.

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

IMG_2189 IMG_2189 IMG_2189 IMG_2202~Step 4.  Transfer all of the flavorful pan-drippings from the roasting pan to a fat/lean separator. Pour the lean portion into a small 1-1 1/2-quart saucepan and discard the fat portion.  Add the marinade remaining in the bag(s), about 1/2-3/4 cup per bag.  Place on the stovetop and bring to a simmer over medium- medium-high heat and continue to simmer for 3-4 minutes.  After roasting 2 chickens (4 pieces), there will be about 1 1/2 cups barbecue sauce for dipping or drizzling.

Eat it w/your fingertips or fancy it up a bit served atop...

IMG_2068 2... my Island-Style Bejeweled Coconut & Black Bean Rice:

IMG_2090 2How about a Jerk-Chicken & Slaw on Coco Bread Sandwich?

IMG_2371Spice-is-Nice Oven-Roasted Jamaican-Jerk Chicken:  Recipe yields a generous 4 cups marinade/4-6 half chickens/4-6 servings/1 1/2-3 cups barbecue sauce for dipping or drizzling.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; food processor; large rubber spatula; 1-4 2-gallon food storage bags; 1-2, 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan(s); 1-2 parchment sheets; fat/lean separator; 1-1 1/2-quart saucepan

IMG_1236Cook's Note:  I don't cook Caribbean food often, but when I do, it's island-style good.  Thanks to a couple of chef friends, I know just enough about this cuisine to be dangerous without straying from the core flavors. ~ Don't Worry, Be Happy: Jamaican-Style Beef Patties ~. 

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

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

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

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

08/27/2018

~Sweet & Caramelized Island-Spiced Yellow Plantains~

IMG_2137The closest a plantain gets to a ripe banana is the black-streaked yellow plantain.  Eaten raw, it still doesn't taste quite like, or have the mouthfeel of, a yellow banana, but, when sautéed, because of its high-starch and fully-developed sugar content, it can do something the banana can't: caramelize without losing its textural integrity.  Sweet and caramelized, and slightly-sticky-without-sticking-together, this quick-to-make side-dish is the perfect sweet complement to the fiery-hot flavors of Caribbean-style chicken- or shrimp- curry dishes and jerk-seasoned meats.

Let's talk plantains:  Ripe or unripe, plantains are eaten cooked.

IMG_1910The best way for me to culinarily describe the difference between the banana and a plantain:  If bananas are the sweet dessert course, plantains are the savory potato side-dish.  In fact, throughout Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and South America, plantains are generically referred to as "cooking bananas", and bananas are referred to as "dessert bananas".

Like the banana, when it comes to the plantain, green denotes unripened, yellow denotes ripened, and everything in between is just another degree of ripe.  Unlike the banana, the dense, starchy plantain is almost always cooked before it's consumed -- while the fully-ripe yellow plantain can be eaten uncooked, for me, it's blandness makes it so boring, that after a bite or two, I just won't go on to finish it.  Depending on the recipe, sometimes it's desirable to choose the green, persnickity-to-peel-and-slice plantain.  Other times, you'll find the more agreeable, user-friendly mellow-yellow plantain on the ingredients list.  On this point, always follow the recipe.

For this reason, plantains are sold at all stages of culinary ripeness.  The all-green plantain can be peeled, diced and simmered in soups and stews.  A green- to- ever-so-slightly-yellow plantain can be peeled and sliced and kettle-fried until golden and crispy --  depending on how thick or thin the slices, they can be as crispy as a potato chips (chifles), or crispy-on-the-outside tender-on-the-inside and French-fry-esque (tostones).  The yellow- to- yellow-and-black-spotted plantain, when sliced to the desired thickness and sautéed will be done when it is soft throughout, golden and caramelized.  Plantains that ripen to a dark black color are well on their way to spoiling.

IMG_1316 IMG_1316 IMG_1316 IMG_1316 IMG_2312The riper a plantain is, the easier it is to peel and slice or dice as directed. Photos 1 & 2:  Yellow plantains are the easiest to peel -- use a paring knife to trim the ends, score the length of skin in one spot, remove the skin with your fingertips, then slice with the knife.  Photos 3 & 4:  Green plantains range from difficult to pain-in-the-a**-difficult to peel -- use a paring knife to trim the ends, score the length of the skin in several spots, remove the skin in strips with your fingertips, then slice with a mandolin.  Photo 5:  In the event the green skin is too tough to remove in strips with fingertips, slice/section the unpeeled plantain into three-four smaller lengths, stand them up on their flat sides, and use the knife to strip the skin away from the fruit.

Tajaditas Dulces de Plantano (sweet plantains) = yellow plantains.

IMG_2130Bananas and plantains -- they resemble each other, and they're related too.   I eat a banana almost every morning, but, I can't say the same for the plantain.  By accident or out of curiosity, if you've ever peeled a plantain and taken a taste, you knew you weren't eating a banana. That said, when sautéed, the taste and texture of the yellow plantain is remarkable.  As a lover of sautéed bananas, a la bananas foster for dessert, or atop eggnog pancakes w/sautéed butter-rum 'n nog bananas, I find this fascinating.

IMG_20943  black-streaked, not black, yellow plantains, peeled and cut into 3/4"-thick discs

6  tablespoons lightly-packed light-brown sugar

1/4  teaspoon ground Jamaican allspice

1/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

6  tablespoons peanut oil

IMG_2097 IMG_2097~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, stir to thoroughly combine the lightly-packed light-brown sugar with the ground Jamaican allspice, cinnamon, cloves and sea salt -- make sure the spices are thoroughly incorporated throughout.  Set aside.

IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2103~Step 2.  Peel and slice each plantain into 3/4"-thick coins, placing them in an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish as you work.  Even thickness = even cooking. Add the sugar mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula, toss plantains in sugar mixture to coat.  Note:  My baking dish has a lid so I just seal it tight and give the dish a few vigorous shakes.

IMG_2117 IMG_2117 IMG_2117 ~Step 3.  Place and heat the oil in a 12" nonstick skillet over medium- medium-high heat.  When the oil is hot, little waves will appear across the surface.  Using your fingertips, one-at-a time, gently place the plantains, side-by-side and in a single layer, in the hot oil.  Sauté until light-golden on the first side, about 4-5 minutes.  With the aid of a fork and/or a thin spatula, flip plantains over (without poking holes in them) and cook until light-golden on second sides, 4-5 minutes. Throughout the cooking process, regulate/adjust the heat as needed, to keep plantains sizzling without scorching.  

IMG_2148~ Step 4.  With the aid of a fork and/or a thin spatula transfer plantains (without poking holes in them) to 1-2 plates.  Allow plantains to rest on the plate, 1-1 1/2 minutes, then flip them over and allow them to rest again for 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Repeat the entire flipping process from start-to-finish one more time prior to transferring to a serving bowl -- plantains will be sticky, but manageable, and this post-sauté flipping process prevents them from sticking together when served.

Serve hot, warm or at room temp.  Once cooled, cover & store in refrigerator, then serve chilled or gently reheated in microwave.

IMG_2126Chifles (deep-fried plantain chips) = green plantains. 

IMG_2006Sweet & Caramelized Island-Spiced Yellow Plantains:  Recipe yields 4 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish, preferably w/a lid; large rubber spatula; 12" nonstick skillet; fork and/or thin spatula

IMG_1236Cook's Note:  I don't cook Caribbean food often, but when I do, it's island-style good.  Thanks to a couple of chef friends, I know just enough about this cuisine to be dangerous without straying from the core flavors. ~ Don't Worry, Be Happy: Jamaican-Style Beef Patties ~. 

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

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

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

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

08/24/2018

~Deep-Fried Green Plantain Chips & Island Salsa Dip~

IMG_2006Bananas and plantains.  Plantains and bananas.  They resemble each other, and they're even related.   I peel and eat a banana almost every morning, but, I can't say the same for the plantain. By accident or out of curiosity, if you've ever peeled a plantain and taken a taste, you knew immediately you were not eating a banana.  The best way for me to culinarily describe the difference:  If bananas are the sweet dessert, plantains are the savory potatoes.  In fact, throughout Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and South America, plantains are generically referred to as "cooking bananas", and bananas are referred to as "dessert bananas".

Let's talk plantains:  Ripe or unripe, plantains are eaten cooked.

IMG_1910Like the banana, when it comes to the plantain, green denotes unripened, yellow denotes ripened, and everything in between is just another degree of ripe.  Unlike the banana, the dense, starchy plantain is almost always cooked before it's consumed -- while the fully-ripe yellow plantain can be eaten uncooked, for me, it's blandness makes it so boring, that after a bite or two, I just won't go on to finish it.  Depending on the recipe, sometimes it's desirable to choose the green, persnickity-to-peel-and-slice plantain.  Other times, you'll find the more agreeable, user-friendly mellow-yellow plantain on the ingredients list.  On this point, always follow the recipe.

For this reason, plantains are sold at all stages of culinary ripeness.  The all-green plantain can be peeled, diced and simmered in soups and stews.  A green- to- ever-so-slightly-yellow plantain can be peeled and sliced and kettle-fried until golden and crispy --  depending on how thick or thin the slices, they can be as crispy as a potato chips (chifles), or crispy-on-the-outside tender-on-the-inside and French-fry-esque (tostones).  The yellow- to- yellow-and-black-spotted plantain, when sliced to the desired thickness and sautéed will be done when it is soft throughout, golden and caramelized.  Plantains that ripen to a dark black color are well on their way to spoiling.

IMG_1316 IMG_1316 IMG_1316 IMG_1316 IMG_2312The riper a plantain is, the easier it is to peel and slice or dice as directed. Photos 1 & 2:  Yellow plantains are the easiest to peel -- use a paring knife to trim the ends, score the length of skin in one spot, remove the skin with your fingertips, then slice with the knife.  Photos 3 & 4:  Green plantains range from difficult to pain-in-the-a**-difficult to peel -- use a paring knife to trim the ends, score the length of the skin in several spots, remove the skin in strips with your fingertips, then slice with a mandolin.  Photo 5:  In the event the green skin is too tough to remove in strips with fingertips, slice/section the unpeeled plantain into three-four smaller lengths, stand them up on their flat sides, and use the knife to strip the skin away from the fruit. 

Chifles (deep-fried plantain chips) are made w/green plantains. 

IMG_1951All my sources suggest that all-green plantains should never be eaten raw, and, that's probably good advice, as, it is about as palatable as any raw potato -- it's not.  That said, the green plantain is the only plantain that will get you a really crispy plantain chip -- yellow plantains, no matter how long you deep-fry them, will be soft-to-soggy.  Plantain chips have become so popular in recent years, they often replace peanuts as airline snacks.  Interestingly enough, if the green plantain has ripened just enough, to a state containing blushes of yellow on areas of the skin, plantain chips are allowed to be marketed as banana chips (the kind found in many tropical trail mixtures).

IMG_1914 IMG_1914 IMG_1914 IMG_1914 IMG_1914Specifics & tips.  Making plantain chips is straightforward.  Peeled green plantains, via the aid of a mandolin are very-thinly sliced.  The slices, about a scant 1/8"-thick, are dropped into the hot 360º corn or peanut oil of a deep-fryer or a heavy pot fitted with a candy thermometer, to deep-fry for 8-9 minutes.  Depending on their size, each plantain will yield 40-60 slices.  That said, because the slices discolor quickly after peeling, it's best to work assembly-line style, peeling and slicing one plantain at a time while the previous batch is in the fryer frying.

IMG_1328 IMG_1328 IMG_1328 IMG_1328Frying, draining & seasoning.  While oil is heating in fryer, line 1-2 baking pans with several layers of paper towels.  With the fryer basket submerged down in the oil, drop plantain chips from one plantain (40-60 chips) into the hot oil in such a manner that each one enters the oil separately (do not place chips directly in fryer basket and then submerge it).  This prevents chips from sticking together.  Close fryer lid and cook 8-9 minutes.  This will render chips crispy to very crispy, and, the chips will tip you off when they're done -- the oil around them will stop sizzling.  Carefully invert basket of chips onto the paper-towel-lined pan, quickly spread chips out in a single layer and give them a generous grind of sea salt.  The chips in the photo represent four plantains.

Please pass Joe's Island Salsa Dip w/my plantain chips:

IMG_2037Coming up with the ideal creamy dip for my plantains required pondering.  Compared to firm-textured tortilla chips, plantain chips, which are firm-textured, are tiny, which means they can't scoop up any type of loose salsa concoction.  That means the dip needs to be creamy, so it will stick to the chip -- the same principal used for the delicate-textured potato chip, except, with fresh, sweet, tropical flavors, instead of savory French onion and garlicy Hidden Valley flavors associated with dips for potato chips.  Meet my Trader Joe's Island Salsa & Sour Cream dip.

IMG_1985 2 IMG_1985 2 IMG_1985 2 IMG_1985 2Two ingredients and a 2:1 ratio.  For ever 2 tablespoons of Trader Joe's Island Salsa, stir in 1 tablespoon sour cream.  Refrigerate for about an hour and serve chilled with plantain chips.

The best green plantain chips w/the best plantain dip:

IMG_2032Try my Sweet & Caramelized Island-Spiced Yellow Plantains too:

IMG_2126Deep-Fried Green Plantain Chips & Island Salsa Dip:  Recipe yields instructions to deep-fry as many crispy green plantain chips as you want and as much island salsa as you need.

Special Equipment List:  paring knife; cutting board; mandolin; deep-fryer; 1-2 baking pans; paper towels

IMG_1236Cook's Note:  I don't cook Caribbean food often, but when I do, it's island-style good.  Thanks to a couple of chef friends, I know just enough about this cuisine to be dangerous without straying from the core flavors. ~ Don't Worry, Be Happy: Jamaican-Style Beef Patties ~. 

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

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

08/21/2018

~Crunchy Crabmeat Crostini w/Secret Seafood Sauce~

IMG_1870There's nothing like driving back from a trip to the Maryland shore with a few pounds of sweet blue crabmeat in a cooler in the back seat.  The mind races with all the mouthwatering options to enjoy after you pull in the driveway.  While fresh crab is best, happily, high-quality pasteurized crabmeat is available to us all all-year long, which makes my food world a kinder, gentler place. Beer-steaming live crabs and hand-cracking them to pick their meat, is, not a sport I partake in. Ugh.  I don't even enjoy sitting at a crab shack in front of a newspaper-covered tabletop waiting for them to dump a pile of steaming-hot Old-Bay-crusted crabs in front of me. Crabbing itself? Forget about it.  The crabmeat, sans the machinations to get to it, is all that interests me.

I make fantastic Maryland-style crab cake sandwiches, decadent crab Imperial, and, a divine crabmeat quiche.  My crabmeat stuffed omelette a la benedict is exquisite and my crabmeat topped chicken Oscar w/blender bernaise is a show stopper.  Amongst my snacky specialties, crab ballscrabmeat canapés, hot crab dip and crab rangoon, are all family favorites.  

IMG_1872Today I add my crabmeat crostini to KE's crabby selections:

IMG_1592For the crab mixture:

1  large egg, at room temperature

1-2  teaspoons Frank's RedHot cayenne pepper sauce, to taste

1  teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2  cup mayonnaise, your favorite brand

1  teaspoon Colman's dry English mustard

1  teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

1  tablespoon dried parsley flakes

1  teaspoon sugar

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1  cup crushed saltine crackers, crushed not crumbs, about 24 saltines

1  pound jumbo lump crabmeat, preferably Maryland blue crab, the best available

IMG_1758For the secret sauce:

2  teaspoons each: Frank's RedHot, Worcestershire, Coleman's mustard and Old Bay

1  teaspoon sugar

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1  tablespoon dried parsley flakes

1 cup high-quality mayonnaise

IMG_1780~ Step 1. Whisk all ingredients and chill, 1-2 hours.

Note:  One morning while combining the wet ingredients for my crab cakes, it occurred to me that without the raw egg and bit more mayo, the sauces and spices, in combination with mayo, would be the perfect complementary condiment and/or sandwich topper for my crab cakes and crab cake sandwiches.  After a short period of experimentation and tweaking, this concoction is now affectionately referred to as Mel's Secret Sauce for Seafood and Seafood Sandwiches.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3aaab56200bFor the crostini:

IMG_24091  12-ounce French batard, ends trimmed off, then sliced into 18-20 1/2"-thick slices

Note:  A French batard is first cousin to the baguette.  Batards are shorter than baguettes a bit plumper, and, contain fewer big air pockets, which gives my crostini the perfect surface area for any and all toppings.

IMG_1641 IMG_1641 IMG_1641 IMG_1641 IMG_1641~Step 1. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, RedHot and Worcestershire.  Whisk in the mayonnaise, followed by the mustard, Old Bay, parsley flakes, sugar and salt.  A creamy and tangy mayonnaise-based sauce will have formed.  FYI:  Skip the egg and incorporate 1/2 cup more mayo and you've got a stellar seafood-sandwich topper.

IMG_1632 IMG_1632 IMG_1632 IMG_1632~Step 2.  Place  saltines in a food storage bag and seal.  Use your fingertips to break crackers into chunky pieces, then, using a rolling pin, process until crushed into small pieces. Fine crumbs aren't desirable, so don't process in a food processor or substitute dry breadcrumbs.

IMG_1653 IMG_1653 IMG_1653 IMG_1653 IMG_1653 IMG_1653~Step 3.  Fold the crackers into the mayo mixture. Add and gently fold the crabmeat into the cracker mixture until thoroughly combined, doing your best not to mash the lumps out of the crabmeat.  Set crab mixture aside to rest,15-20 minutes.  This rest gives the crackers time to absorb moisture and soften.  You will have about 1 1/2 pounds.

IMG_1809 IMG_1809 IMG_1809 IMG_1809~Step 4.  Get out 2, 12 1/2" x 8 8/4" disposable aluminum broiler pans, or, 2, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans, line them with with parchment and insert a wire rack on top of the parchment in each pan. Arrange the bread slices, 8-10 in each pan.  Slather tops of bread slices with a light coating of secret sauce.  Place 6" underneath preheated broiler until golden, about 3 minutes.

IMG_1820 2 IMG_1820 2 IMG_1820 2 IMG_1820 2~Step 4.  Remove from oven, flip bread slices over and slather second sides with a light coating of secret sauce.  Top each slice with a scant 1 1/2 ounces, (almost 2 tablespoons) of the crab mixture. Return to broiler and cook until golden, about 4 minutes.  Remove from oven.

Once broiled as directed above, remove from oven:

IMG_1829Serve hot, warm or at room temp w/a drizzle of my secret sauce, garnished w/ parsley sprigs & lemon wedges:

IMG_1875Just me & my Maryland blue crabmeat crostini:

IMG_1893Crabmeat Crostini w/Secret Seafood Sauce:  Recipe yields 18-20 appetizers

Special Equipment List:  wire whisk; large rubber spatula; 1-gallon food storage bag; rolling pin; 1-2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; 2, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" disposable aluminum broiler pans (the kind with a corrugated bottom, or, 2, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans and 2 wire cooling racks; kitchen scale (optional)

IMG_1696Cook's Note:  My crabmeat crostini recipe, along with the secret sauce, is a spin-off of my Maryland crab cake sandwich recipe.  As we cooks all know, it's not uncommon to turn one dish into two or three slightly different ones.  That said, if your looking for a crab cake sandwich, made the Maryland way, I suggest you try my recipe for ~ My Maryland Crabcake, Tomato & Mayo Sandwich ~.  Got your own favorite crab cake recipe?  By all means, use it to make crostini!

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

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

08/19/2018

~ Mel's Secret Sauce for Maryland-Style Crab Cakes ~

IMG_1794If you've ever traveled to the areas in and around the Chesapeake Bay (Annapolis and/or Baltimore, Maryland, or, the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area in general), even if you are not a foodie, you can't help but notice that from white-linen restaurants to roadside stands, crab cakes and crab cake sandwiches are everywhere -- more specifically, Maryland blue crab cakes and blue crab sandwiches.  There's more.  If you ask any of the locals where to find the best crab cake or crab cake sandwich, you'll find they are fiercely loyal to their favorite place (and be prepared to listen, because they are going to tell you why), and, you'll rarely get the same answer twice.  For those who live in Maryland, eating Chesapeake blue crab is practically a religion.

I've eaten many crab cakes and crab cake sandwiches in Maryland. I've never encountered one I didn't like.  While all are a bit different, it was their similarities that struck me:  lots and LOTS of sweet, jumbo lump crabmeat with little filler (crushed saltine crackers, not breadcrumbs), a bit of mayo, dry mustard, Worcestershire and Frank's RedHot pepper sauce, and, an egg or two to bind it all together. All contain parsley, none contain celery, onion or bell pepper -- zero.  Most are pan-fried, some are broiled, and they're served on everything from sliced white bread to brioche to chiabatta, with lettuce, tomato and any one of several mayonnaise-based sauces.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c868a637970bSauces for seafood and shellfish in my repertoire include classic cocktail sauce, tangy tarter sauce and Cajun-Creole remoulade sauce.  I love them all, and, while they can't always be used interchangeably, they are appropriate for many appetizer, snack, and sandwich recipes containing crustaceans (crabmeat, shrimp, prawns and lobster) -- lesser so for the mollusks (clams, mussels, oysters and scallops).

IMG_1696All that said, one morning, while combining the wet ingredients for my Maryland blue-crab cakes, it occurred to me that without the raw egg and bit more mayo added to it, the sauces and spices used in combination with mayo would be the perfect (meaning:  100% perfect) complementary condiment and/or sandwich topper for my crab cakes and crab cake sandwiches.  After a short period of experimentation and tweaking, this concoction is now affectionately referred to as:

Mel's Secret Sauce for Seafood & Seafood Sandwiches.

IMG_17582  teaspoons Frank's RedHot cayenne pepper sauce, to taste

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

2  teaspoons Colman's dry English mustard

2  teaspoons Old Bay Seasoning

1  teaspoon sugar

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1  tablespoon dried parsley flakes

1 cup high-quality mayonnaise, your favorite brand

Note:  Please do not be inclined to add lemon juice to my sauce -- it muddles the flavors. Squeeze a fresh lemon wedge over the finished-dish at the very end to make the flavor "pop".

IMG_1760 IMG_1760 IMG_1760 IMG_1760 IMG_1760~Step 1.  In a small bowl, whisk together the RedHot, Worcestershire, Colman's, Old Bay, sugar and salt.  Add and whisk in parsley flakes and mayonnaise.  Transfer to a food storage container, cover and refrigerate until chilled and thickened, 2 hours or overnight.  Served chilled: for dipping, drizzling or slathering, or use as directed in specific recipe.

"The secret's always in the sauce."

IMG_1806It's perfect on my Crunchy Crabmeat Crostini too:

IMG_1872Mel's Secret Sauce for Maryland-Style Crab Cakes:  1 generous cup sauce.

Special Equipment List:  wire whisk; 1-2-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b022ad38a0770200dCook's Note:  Cook's Note:  As a gal who loves deli-, tuna- and egg-salad sandwiches, I am never 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 big jars, in two-packs.  When our garden tomatoes are ripe, I could 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 mayo-based tartar and remoulade sauces, or, oh my Thousand Islands salad dressing, and, I'm very proficient at making homemade mayonnaise.  I know my mayo: ~ Spreads go Bread to Bread:  Hellmann's vs Duke's ~.

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

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

08/17/2018

~ My Maryland Crabcake, Tomato & Mayo Sandwich ~

IMG_1696When I'm in Maine, you'll find me eating a lobster roll with potato chips.  When I'm in Florida, I'll be ordering a blackened mahi-mahi sammie topped with mango salsa.  When I'm at home here in Happy Valley, I'm feasting on Pennsylvania sweet corn, Jersey tomatoes and Maryland crab cakes.  When I enter my kitchen carrying a few fresh-from-the-vine tomatoes, the first thing I do is grab the Hellmann's, get out the Sunbeam and make a good old-fashioned tomato and mayo sandwich.  As much as I adore this down-home Summer indulgence, there is one thing I like more:  a tomato-and-mayo sandwich with a big, fat, freshly-fried Maryland-style crab cake on it. Serve it up with a cob of in-season Pennsylvania sweet corn -- baby, I'm in foodie heaven.

If you've ever traveled to the areas in and around the Chesapeake Bay (Annapolis and/or Baltimore, Maryland, or, the Baltimore-Washington D.C. area in general), even if you are not a foodie, you can't help but notice that from white-linen restaurants to roadside stands, crab cakes and crab cake sandwiches are everywhere -- more specifically, Maryland blue crab cakes and blue crab sandwiches.  There's more.  If you ask any of the locals where to find the best crab cake or crab cake sandwich, you'll find they are fiercely loyal to their favorite place (and be prepared to listen, because they are going to tell you why), and, you'll rarely get the same answer twice.  For those who live in Maryland, eating Chesapeake blue crab is practically a religion.

IMG_1698I've eaten many crab cakes and crab cake sandwiches in Maryland. I've never encountered one I didn't like.  While all are a bit different, it's their  similarities that struck me:  lots of sweet, jumbo lump crabmeat with little filler (saltine crackers, not breadcrumbs), a bit of mayo, dry mustard, Worcestershire and Frank's RedHot pepper sauce, and, an egg or two to bind it all together. All contain parsley, none contain celery, onion or bell pepper -- zero. Most are pan-fried, some are broiled, and they're served on everything from sliced white bread to brioche to chiabatta, with lettuce, tomato and a mayo-based sauce.

6a0120a8551282970b017d3c043c34970cFaidley's is a seafood restaurant in Baltimore's Lexington Market.  This still-family run business was founded by John Faidley, Sr. in 1886, making it one of the oldest in the Chesapeake Bay region.  Via a tip from a local, Joe and I wandered in there in 1996.  I ordered the crab cake sandwich and it was love at first bite -- the best one I'd ever tasted.  Imagine my glee when I found out that if you ask, they'll give you a copy of the recipe (nowadays, it's on the internet).  It seems their crab cakes are so popular, to prevent copycats from sharing inferior versions, they simply hand out their real-deal recipe.

For four big, fat, freshly-fried Maryland-style crab cakes:

IMG_1592For the crab cakes:

1  large egg, at room temperature

1-2  teaspoons Frank's RedHot cayenne pepper sauce, to taste

1  teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2  cup mayonnaise, your favorite brand

1  teaspoon Colman's dry English mustard

1  teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning

1  tablespoon dried parsley flakes

1  teaspoon sugar

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1  cup crushed saltine crackers, crushed not crumbs, about 24 saltines

1  pound jumbo lump crabmeat, preferably Maryland blue crab, the best available

corn or peanut oil oil, for frying crab cakes

IMG_1641 IMG_1641 IMG_1641 IMG_1641 IMG_1641~Step 1. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg, RedHot and Worcestershire.  Whisk in the mayonnaise, followed by the mustard, Old Bay, parsley flakes, sugar and salt.  A creamy and tangy mayonnaise-based sauce will have formed.  FYI:  Skip the egg and incorporate 1/2 cup more mayo and you've got a stellar seafood-sandwich topper.

IMG_1632 IMG_1632 IMG_1632 IMG_1632~Step 2.  Place  saltines in a food storage bag and seal.  Use your fingertips to break crackers into chunky pieces, then, using a rolling pin, process until crushed into small pieces. When making crab cakes, fine crumbs aren't desirable, so don't be inclined to use a food processor.

IMG_1653 IMG_1653 IMG_1653 IMG_1653 IMG_1653 IMG_1653~Step 3.  Fold the crackers into the mayo mixture. Add and gently fold the crabmeat into the cracker mixture until thoroughly combined, doing your best not to mash the lumps out of the crabmeat.  Set crab cake mixture aside to rest,15-20 minutes.

Note:  This rest period gives the crackers time to absorb moisture and soften, which is "the glue" that holds the crab cakes together.  You will have about 1 1/2 pounds of total crab cake mixture.

IMG_1668 IMG_1668 IMG_1668 IMG_1668~Step 4.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with parchment. Divide crab mixture into four parts. Using a kitchen scale, they'll be 6-ounces each. Form crab cakes by hand, into 3/1/2-4"-round discs, by gently but firmly compressing them between palms of hands.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2-4 hours or overnight.  Do not remove from refrigerator prior to frying.  Just prior to frying the crab cakes (as directed in the next step), prep the garnishes (as listed below).

IMG_1682 IMG_1682 IMG_1682 IMG_1682~Step 5.  Place 1/8" of corn or peanut oil in a 12" skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the crab cakes and fry, until golden brown on both sides, turning only once, about 3-3 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and rest, about 3-4 minutes prior to serving hot.

For four crab cake sandwiches & the assembly: 

IMG_1596For the crab cake sandwiches:

8  slices Wonder-type sandwich bread, super fresh, 2 per sandwich

8  large, soft Bibb lettuce leaves, 2 per sandwich

4-8  large, thick, slices of garden-fresh tomatoes, 1-2 per sandwich depending upon the size of the tomato

4  large, 3 1/2"-4"-round crab cakes, from above recipe, 1 per sandwich

mayonnaise, for drizzling, dolloping or slathering, your favorite brand

4  sprigs fresh parsley, for garnish

4  lemon wedges, for garnish and a spritz of lemon juice

sweet corn, for a highly-recommended accompaniment (optional)

~ Step 1.  In the order listed, assemble the sandwiches and serve accompanied by sweet corn.

Nothing fancy.  Just fantastic.

IMG_1700Here's lookin' at 'cha:

IMG_1719Try my Crunchy Crabmeat Crostini w/Secret Seafood Sauce too:

IMG_1872Mel's Crab Cake, Tomato & Mayonnaise Sandwich:  4 large Maryland-style crab cake sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  wire whisk; large rubber spatula; 1-gallon food storage bag; rolling pin; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; kitchen scale; plastic wrap; 12" nonstick skillet; spatula; paper towels; cutting board; serrated tomato knife

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d297c03f970cCook's Note:  As a gal who loves deli-, tuna- and egg-salad sandwiches, I am never 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 big jars, in two-packs.  When our garden tomatoes are ripe, I could 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 mayo-based tartar and remoulade sauces, or, oh my Thousand Islands salad dressing, and, I'm very proficient at making homemade mayonnaise.  I know my mayo: ~ Spreads go Bread to Bread:  Hellmann's vs Duke's ~.

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

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

08/15/2018

~My Texican Huevos Rancheros Taco Boat Breakfast~

IMG_1517Classically, soft-yolked fried eggs, served atop a lightly-fried corn tortilla, accompanied by a scoop of creamy refried beans, then drizzled with a cooked tomato-and-chile-pepper sauce (not fresh salsa), is known as: huevos rancheros.  Simple, straightforward and scrumptious, ranch eggs, rancher's eggs or ranch-style eggs was the typical big, bold stick-to-the-ribs start to the long, laborious dawn-to-dusk workdays of cattle ranchers and ranch hands throughout the wide-open cattle-grazing spaces of Mexico and the American Southwest.  It wasn't fancy, it was filling.

Huevos Rancheros = ingredients on-hand in a ranch kitchen.

IMG_1505As long as one can cook an egg, this dish is easy, as, sans the eggs, everything can be made ahead.  If you're Texican or cook Tex-Mex fare consistently, all the components are already in your kitchen.  The eggs are typically fried, sunny-side-up or over-easy, but poached are dreamy too.  Why? When you cut into breakfast, the yolk flows like lava into the rest of the meal.  If yolk lava doesn't float your boat, request or order Huevos Mexicana and "Cookie"* (see note below) will substitute scrambled eggs.

IMG_1578 IMG_1578 IMG_1578 IMG_1578 IMG_1578 IMG_1578 IMG_1578Corn tortillas are classic, but flour tortillas are popular too (especially with me), and, I'm using recently-invented stand-and-stuff flour tortilla boats today -- past adorable, they're practical (the boat/bowl-shape holds everything together), and, they're convenient (easy to portion and serve).  That said, when using taco boats, because of their compact size, I fry my eggs in ring molds, in order to corral them (to prevent them from spreading out across the skillet).  Spray the skillet and the inside of the rings with no-stick cooking spray, crack 1 large egg into each ring, then fry to desired degree of doneness.  Remove rings and season with sea salt and sriracha seasoning. Serve ASAP.

*Note:  The ranch's kitchen manager and/or mobile chuck-wagon cook was usually nicknamed “Cookie”. He was almost always a he, as he performed multiple heavy-duty tasks to meet the everyday needs of the ranch and/or its camp site du jour.  Additionally, he was second or third in command of the outfit, behind the ranch owner or his trail boss.  Due to his importance, the cook was paid about $45 - $50 per month -- the wranglers and cow punchers received $25 - $30 while on the trail, and much less (sometimes half pay) when working the ranch between cattle drives.

IMG_1531Huevos Rancheros = tortillas, eggs, refritos, chili sauce.

Back then, electricity and refrigeration hadn't been invented, and even afterward, it took years for either to reach remote locals.  Staples common to a well-stocked ranch kitchen and chuck wagon were limited to items that stored and traveled well -- in both cases, for long periods of time in a harsh environment.  Larders contained cured meats (bacon and ham), lard, onions and potatoes, dried beans, corn, peppers and fruit, uncooked rice and masa harina (corn flour), coffee beans, vinegar, and, sugar, salt and pepper.  As for the incredible, edible, protein-packed egg: chickens wandered around on every ranch -- and Cookie took his best laying hens along on every journey.

IMG_1554I like salsa fresca (uncooked salsa) as much as the next person, but, when I'm making huevos rancheros (ranch-style eggs) for breakfast or brunch, or, a Mexican-style drowned torta (a sandwich drenched in sauce) for lunch or dinner, I make an all-purpose Mexican-style sauce with a thick, semi-chunky consistency and a smokey, spicy, complex flavor, meaning: a cooked tomato & chile chili sauce that can be served hot or warm.  It's also a 15-20 minute quick-to-make sauce using pantry and refrigerator staples.

IMG_7888Refried beans are required.  I use my recipe for Creamy, Cheesy & E-Z Chile-Lime Refried Bean Dip. Mixed with a can of diced green chiles, salsa verde, lime juice, Mexican crema, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder and pepper Jack cheese, canned refried beans never tasted so good.  Prepare them as I direct, reheat them gently in the microwave, then dollop them on the huevos rancheros at serving time. These couldn't be any easier.

6a0120a8551282970b0223c849deb2200cFancy fresh garnishes or perishable appointments are not required. Cooking, in the days prior to electricity and refrigeration, was indeed a sport.  All the yummy stuff we can load atop our huevos rancheros today (grated cheese, guacamole, sour cream, shredded lettuce, minced cilantro, lime wedges and freshly-diced avocado and tomatoes, etc.), even if available to them, was impossible to store or transport.  That said Mexican-Style Adobo Rice is a fine addition to this manly breakfast -- it too loves to be bathed in egg yolk and a drizzle of tomato-chile sauce.

On each plate, in the following order, decoratively arrange:

IMG_1500corn or flour tortillas, or, individual-sized taco boats/bowls, 1 tortilla or 2 mini-sized boats/bowls per serving

soft-yolked fried or over-easy eggs, hot out of the skillet, 1-2 eggs per serving

Mexican-style refried beans, ready and warm, from above recipe, 1/4-1/2-3/4 cups per serving

Mexican-style adobo rice, ready and warm, from above recipe, for accompaniment, 1/4-1/2-3/4 cup per serving (optional)

Mexican-style tomato & chipotle-chile chili sauce, ready and warm, from above recipe, for drizzling or dipping, 2-4 tablespoons per serving

Bibb lettuce leaves, avocado and tomato slices, lime wedges and minced cilantro, because they look pretty and taste great with this mouth-watering breakfast 

"Come & get it while it's hot, then break an egg...

IMG_1540... & pass the spicy tomato & chipotle-chile chili sauce."

IMG_1563My Mexican Huevos Rancheros Taco Boat Breakfast:  Recipe yields instructions to prepare 12 servings tortilla-sized huevos rancheros, or, 12 servings of mini-taco bowl/boats.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; appropriately-sized skillet or saucepan for frying, poaching or scrambling eggs

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1870f13970cCook's Note:  If you were a cowboy on a cattle drive, whatever you ate for breakfast had to be substantial and the Denver omelette is another protein-packed morning meal.  For a home-home-on-the-range, more-modern-day breakfast, ~ My Kinda Cowboy Breakfast:   The Denver Omelette ~, is a must-try.

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

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

08/12/2018

~ Mexican-Style Tomato & Chipotle-Chile Chili Sauce ~

IMG_1554I like salsa fresca (uncooked salsa) as much as the next person, but, when I'm making huevos rancheros (ranch-style eggs) for breakfast or brunch, or, a Mexican-style drowned torta (a sandwich drenched in sauce) for lunch or dinner, I make an all-purpose Mexican-style sauce with a thick, semi-chunky consistency and a smokey, spicy, complex flavor, meaning: a cooked sauce that can be served hot or warm.  My 15-20 minute quick-to-make sauce uses on-hand pantry and refrigerator staples.  Why?  Tick, tock.  The people I know wake up hungry -- they don't want to wait or watch me stand around simmering sauce, and, the same can be said for anyone looking forward to a super-special hot sandwich with plenty of "gravy" on it for lunch or dinner.

I'll point out that using dried chile powders and dried chili powders in the home kitchen, in place of fresh and/or dried chile peppers is very convenient, and, if used corrrectly, compromises much less than the chile-pepper-police want you to believe.  That said, it helps to know what you are buying, and to know that, you need to check the spelling.  Once you know what the spelling means, you'll know what it is and what is in it, and that means knowing your e's from you i's:

6a0120a8551282970b017d4140a67a970cCHILE:  Spelled with an"e" at the end, refers to the fresh or dried plant or pod or fruit of any member of the pepper family.

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

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

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

Not typos:  My quick & easy tomato & chipotle-chile chili sauce:

IMG_14522  tablespoons corn oil

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

4  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1/2  teaspoon ancho chile pepper

3/4  teaspoon Mexican-style oregano

1  teaspoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

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

2  whole chipotle chile peppers packed in adobo, plus 1-2 tablespoons sauce from can, to taste

1/4  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves, some stems are ok

IMG_1454 IMG_1454 IMG_1454~ Step 1.  In a 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan, heat the corn oil over medium- medium-high heat.  Add the diced onion, pressed garlic, ancho chile pepper, Mexican-style oregano, ground cumin, sugar and salt.  Give the ingredients a thorough stir.  Adjust the heat to sauté gently, until onion is softened, 5-6 minutes.

IMG_1475 IMG_1475 IMG_1475 IMG_1475~Step 2.  Add the fire-roasted tomatoes, two whole chipotle chiles and 1 tablespoon sauce from can of peppers.  Stir to combine and adjust heat to simmer gently and steadily, 5-6 minutes. Reduce heat to low, then taste.  For more heat, add another tablespoon sauce from chipotles.

IMG_1475 IMG_1475 IMG_1475 IMG_1475 IMG_1475 IMG_1475 IMG_1475~Step 3.  Stir in the minced cilantro, adjust heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 1-2 more minutes.  Turn the heat off or remove from heat completely.  With the aid of a stick blender (also called an immersion blender), process the sauce to semi-chunky texture.  If you do not have a stick blender and are using a conventional blender, cool the sauce 1 hour prior to processing.  Transfer sauce to food storage container(s) and keep stored in refrigerator.  Reheat gently in the microwave.  Sauce freezes well.

"Break an egg, but before you do (huevos rancheros)...

IMG_1517... please pass the tomato & chipotle-chile chili sauce." 

IMG_1563Mexican-Style Tomato & Chipotle-Chile Chili Sauce:  Recipe yields 3 cups sauce.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; 1 1/2-2 quart saucepan; hand-held stick blender or conventional blender; appropriately-sized food storage container(s).

6a0120a8551282970b0223c84786a7200cCook's Note:  In Spanish, "ahogada" means "drowned", "drenched" or "drunk".  Culinarily it refers to a super-spicy, tawny-red sauce that gets poured over Mexican-style chopped, sliced or shredded, beef, pork, chicken or shrimp "tortas" ("sandwiches").  This working-mans-lunch is served on a semi-firm bolillo roll, in a bowl, "bien ahogada", "well drowned" (immersed end-to-end). For a smooth-textured, bold-flavored Mexican-style cooked sauce specific to one torta: ~ Ahogada Sauce for Mexican Drowned Sandwiches ~.

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

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

08/09/2018

~ Sweet & Hot Chili-Sauced Thai-Style Fried Chicken ~

IMG_1416Oh-My-Thai-style snacky-type appetizers.  Truth told, I could easily make a meal out of these, and, frankly so could every person I've ever served them to -- every sweet-heat-seeking man, woman and child (every last one of them).  Every now and then I get a hankering for fried-chicken -- the good old-fashioned batter-dipped and deep-fried kind -- crunchy on the outside, juicy and tender on the inside.  When the hankering hits, I've just gotta have it.  What could be better?  

Fried chicken with all the bold, bright flavors of Thailand.

IMG_1344Winner, winner Thai-style sweet & hot red chili sauce.

Simply irresistible indeed.  This is perhaps my favorite of all the Thai-style condiments I use for dipping and drizzling.  Next to spicy and slightly-salty peanut sauce, I could and do put it on and add it to almost anything Thai.  I got my first taste of sweet and hot Thai chili sauce (Mae Ploy) back in the 1990's and it rocked my food world.  That's why there's always sweet chili sauce in my refrigerator, and, I won't lie, it's often store-bought.  That said, sweet chili sauce is not hard to make.  If you're a purist, or simply curious, you should try making it at home at least at least once.

6a0120a8551282970b017ee7c78f95970d3/4  cup sugar

1/2  cup rice vinegar

1/4  cup water

1  tablespoon pressed garlic, about 4 large cloves run through a press, or 1 tablespoon store-bought garlic paste

1  tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

1  tablespoon cornstarch, stirred together with:

1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce

1  tablespoon cold water

IMG_1350 IMG_1350 IMG_1350 IMG_1350~Step 1.  In a 1-quart saucepan, stir together the sugar, vinegar and water.  Just stir long enough to combine, not to dissolve the sugar completely (that will come later).  Set aside.  Run the garlic through a press and set aside.  Stir together the cornstarch, fish sauce and cold water.  Set aside.

IMG_1354 IMG_1354 IMG_1354 IMG_1354 IMG_1354~Step 2.  Bring sugar mixture to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until  sugar is dissolved.  Add and stir in the pressed garlic and crushed red pepper.  Adjust heat (lower it a bit), to a steady simmer and cook, stirring constantly for 1 full minute.  Re-stir the cornstarch mixture.  Adjust heat to a gentle simmer (lower it more) and drizzle in the cornstarch slurry. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until nicely thickened, about 30-60 seconds.  Remove from heat, cover the saucepan, and set aside 15-30 minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a70199200bNote:  Homemade chili sauce made the way I'm making it today, using red pepper flakes, is not as red colored as the mass-produced, pasteurized, store-bought. That's because store-bought sweet chili sauce is made using loads of pulverized, bright-red, pickled, Thai bird chile peppers. Some recipes instruct to add Sriracha sauce to achieve the red color, but I find that product to vinegary for this culinary application.  For me, 4 drops of red food coloring works perfectly.

~ Step 3.  Transfer to a food storage container, cool to room temperature and store in refrigerator.

IMG_1392Winner, winner Thai-style marinated chicken tenderloins:

IMG_1043For the marinade:

2-4  pounds whole, boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins, about 10-20 large tenderloins, each tenderloin sliced into 4-5 nugget-sized pieces.

1/4  cup each:  honey, lime juice, &, Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons each: Thai fish sauce & sesame oil

1  tablespoon each:  garlic paste & ginger paste

1 teaspoon Sriracha seasoning blend

IMG_1050 IMG_1050 IMG_1050 IMG_1050~Step 1.  Slice each chicken tenderloin into 4-5 nuggets, placing them in a 1-gallon food storage bag as you work.  Even size = even cooking time, so decide, up front, on 5 smaller or 4 larger sized nuggets and cut every tenderloin the same way.  Place ingredients for marinade in a 1-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid and a pourer top, then vigorously shake to combine. Pour all  marinade into bag of chicken.  Seal the bag and marinate in the refrigerator for about 4-6 hours, overnight or up to two days. Remove from refrigerator 1-1 1/2 hours prior to deep-frying. Clip a hole in the corner of the bag, then drain and discard all excess marinade out of the bag.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad35bca62200cWinner, winner Thai-style batter-dipped, deep-fried chicken:

IMG_1396For the dry dredge, drizzly batter & crunchy coating:

1  cup pancake mix, for dredging

1 1/2 cup pancake mix, for batter

1  14-ounce can coconut milk

1/2  cups beer, your favorite brand (club soda may be substituted)

2-4  tablespoons Thai seasoning soy sauce, to taste

8 ounces panko breadcrumbs or sweetened flaked coconut, or a combination of both

all of the marinated chicken nuggets, from above recipe, drained of all excess marinade

IMG_1284 2Small bowl containing 1 cup dry pancake mix.

Medium bowl containing 1 1/2 cups pancake mix whisked with 1 can coconut milk, 1/2 cup beer and 2-4 tablespoons soy sauce, to taste.

An 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 8-ounces panko or coconut or a combination of both.

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

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1771171970cStep 1. To make the batter, whisk together the pancake mix, coconut milk, beer and soy sauce. Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken to a drizzly consistency.  If batter is too thick, or at any point the batter gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer to maintain a drizzly consistency.  If the batter seems too thin, whisk in 1-2-4 tablespoons pancake mix.

IMG_1287 IMG_1287 IMG_1287 IMG_1287 IMG_1287 IMG_1287 IMG_1287~Step 2.  Working in batches of 5-6 nuggets at a time, dredge each in the dry pancake mix to coat on all sides. Note:  I work and fry 5 at a time because that is what fits comfortably in the basket of my fryer without overcrowding it.  With the aid of a fork, move up the assembly line and dip each nugget into the batter. As you lift each one out of the batter, hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the batter to drizzle back into the bowl.  After dipping each nugget, place it into the dish of panko or coconut or a combo of both.  With the aid of a spoon, coat nuggets in the panko/coconut/combo.

IMG_1303 IMG_1303 IMG_1303 IMG_1303~Step 3.  Carefully place nuggets in fryer basket, then lower basket down into the hot, 360° oil. Close lid and fry at 360º for 5-6 minutes (5 minutes for smaller cut nuggets, 6 minutes for larger cut nuggets.  Lift  basket of golden nuggets out of fryer and allow a few seconds for excess oil to drip back into the fryer.  Invert the basket onto a wire rack that has been placed atop a few layers of paper towels -- using tongs is a mistake, as it's an easy way to damage their crust.  Season each batch of nuggets with a light grinding of sea salt the moment they are inverted onto the rack. Repeat the dredging, dipping and coating process until all fingers are deep fried.  Serve hot (almost immediately), warm (within 30 minutes), or at room temperature (within 1 hour).  There's more:  trust me when I tell you, nuggets will remain crunchy well past the six hour mark.

IMG_1338Winner, winner Thai-style golden-nuggets chicken dinner: 

IMG_1434Sweet & Hot Chili-Sauced Thai-Style Fried Chicken:  Recipe yields 1 cup sweet chili sauce.

Special Equipment List: garlic press; 1-quart saucepan w/lid; spoon; 1-cup food storage container w/tight fitting lid; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag;

6a0120a8551282970b022ad361697b200cCook's Note:  Peanut sauce is common to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Africa.  The main ingredients are roasted peanuts or peanut butter, coconut milk, soy sauce and palm sugar. Pulverized spices (red chiles, coriander, cumin, garlic, galangal and/or lemongrass, are also added. Purchase it, but, it's so easy to make, I don't know why you would. Try my ~ Thai-Style Spicy Peanut Sauce for Poultry or Pork ~.

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

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

08/07/2018

~Simply Irresistible: Sweet Heat Thai Red Chili Sauce~

IMG_1392Simply irresistible indeed.  This is perhaps my favorite of all the Thai-style condiments I use for dipping and drizzling.  Next to spicy and slightly-salty peanut sauce, I could and do put it on and add it to almost anything Thai.  I got my first taste of sweet and hot Thai chili sauce (Mae Ploy) back in the 1990's and it rocked my food world.  That's why there's always sweet chili sauce in my refrigerator, and, I won't lie, it's often store-bought.  That said, sweet chili sauce is not hard to make.  If you're a purist, or simply curious, you should try making it at home at least at least once.

Simply irresistible, &, it only takes about 5 minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a70199200bNote:  Homemade chili sauce made the way I'm making it today, using red pepper flakes, is not as red colored as the mass-produced, pasteurized, store-bought. That's because store-bought sweet chili sauce is made using loads of pulverized, bright-red, pickled, Thai bird chile peppers. Some recipes instruct to add Sriracha sauce to achieve the red color, but I find that product to vinegary for this culinary application.  For me, 4 drops of red food coloring works perfectly.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3873ad5200d3/4  cup sugar

1/2  cup rice vinegar

1/4  cup water

1  tablespoon pressed garlic, about 4 large cloves run through a press, or, 1 tablespoon store-bought garlic paste

1  tablespoon crushed red pepper flakes

1  tablespoon cornstarch, stirred together with:

1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce

1  tablespoon cold water

IMG_1350 IMG_1350 IMG_1350 IMG_1350~Step 1.  In a 1-quart saucepan, stir together the sugar, vinegar and water.  Just stir long enough to combine, not to dissolve the sugar completely (that will come later).  Set aside.  Run the garlic through a press and set aside.  Stir together the cornstarch, fish sauce and cold water.  Set aside.

IMG_1354 IMG_1354 IMG_1354 IMG_1369 IMG_1369~Step 2.  Bring sugar mixture to a rapid simmer over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved.  Add and stir in the pressed garlic and crushed red pepper.  Adjust heat (lower it a bit), to a steady simmer and cook, stirring constantly for 1 full minute.  Re-stir the cornstarch mixture.  Adjust heat to a gentle simmer (lower it more) and drizzle in the cornstarch slurry.  Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until nicely thickened, about 30-60 seconds.  Remove from heat, cover the saucepan, and set aside 15-30 minutes.

Transfer to a pretty container, cool, then store in refrigerator.

IMG_1402It's divine drizzled on my Thai-style fried chicken nuggets:

IMG_1419Simply Irresistible:  Sweet Heat Thai Red Chili Sauce:  Recipe yields 1 cup.

Special Equipment List:  garlic press; ramekin; spoon; 1-quart saucepan w/lid; 1-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c85cd7d5970bCook's Note:  Peanut sauce is common to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Africa.  The main ingredients are roasted peanuts or peanut butter, coconut milk, soy sauce and palm sugar. Pulverized spices (red chiles, coriander, cumin, garlic, galangal and/or lemongrass, are also added. Purchase it?  It's so easy to make, I don't know why you would.  Try my ~ Thai-Style Spicy Peanut Sauce for Poultry or Pork ~.

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

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

08/05/2018

~Don't Worry, Be Happy: Jamaican-Style Beef Patties~

IMG_1236One patty.  That's all it took.  A succulent, superbly-spiced, slightly-saucy shredded-meat mixture encased in a flaky, yellow-orange-tinged pie pastry -- similar to any savory turnover ("hand-pie"). It was simply divine, meaning a simple concept with complex flavor.  Fortunately, I found out after-the-fact it was prepared with finely-shredded goat meat -- back in my younger days, more likely than not, had I noticed the goats roasting on the spits to the rear of the building, I wouldn't have tried it. That said, a very nice woman at a Caribbean festival in the area of New York City offered me a Jamaican patty.  I took it, I ate the entire thing, and I loved every crumbly, succulent bite.

IMG_1245My patty encounter was in the early 1980's.  Jamaicans brought recipes for patties to the Southern port cities of the USA, and then to us Yankee's in the 1960's and 1970's, when they came to work as hospital orderlies, home health aides and nurses.  Generically referred to as "a patty", "patties" were popularized in restaurants in the New York Metropolitan Area (which had/has a large West Indian population). Prior to that, patties were the product of colonialism. The curry-laced Cornish pasty, a somewhat bland meat-filled pastry (associated with Cornwall, United Kingdom), was introduced to the peoples of the Caribbean Islands.  In turn, the pasty was introduced to the heat of the native-to-Jamaica, Scotch bonnet pepper and a few aromatic spices.

Today, August 5th, is National Jamaican patty day.

ThThroughout the Caribbean, "patties" are a staple, and depending on which country or island they are from or made on, the pastry crusts and the meat fillings (beef, goat, lamb, pork, chicken, fish or seafood) differ quite a bit.  Some crusts are baked, others are fried, and still others are more puff-pastry like than pie-dough like.  Some pastries contain lard, some contain shortening, others contain butter, and most contain curry powder (which contains turmeric) for color and flavor.  Some fillings are spicy hot, others are subdued and bland, and still others are spicy with a sweet edge to them.  There's more. Some fillings use ground meat, others use minced meat, and still others use shredded meat.

Part One:  Making shredded beef (not ground beef). 

I'm referring to my beef patties as Caribbean-style, because I've never been to Jamaica, nor am I in personal contact with any Jamaican chefs.  I'm preparing my patties to my liking, based on the patties I have tasted -- some of which I liked, others, not so much -- and that means I'm using some moist, succulent, long-simmered, shredded beef in place of store-bought and sautéed American ground meat.  Yes, ground meat versions are much easier to prepare, and, in fact, most Jamaican-Jamaican recipes instruct to use it.  That said, my first experience with a Jamaican meat patty contained almost-juicy shredded goat meat, and, the texture was succulent -- so much so, in good conscience, I cannot bring myself to use ground beef.  You can thank me later.

IMG_0906For the shredded beef mixture:

4-4 1/4  pounds 1"-1 1'2" lean beef cubes, trimmed from 6 1/2-7 pounds beef chuck roast

1  very large, whole, peeled sweet onion (12-16 ounces)

4  large garlic cloves

1/2  ounce bunch fresh thyme sprigs

8  whole allspice

2  whole bay leaves

8  whole cloves

1  tablespoons sea salt

1/4  teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper powder

10 cups beef stock

IMG_0883 IMG_0883 IMG_0883 IMG_0883~Step 1.  Using a large chef's knife, cube the chuck roast, trimming and removing the large pockets of fat as you work.  There will be about 4 pounds of lean, slightly-marbled beef cubes.

IMG_0908 IMG_0908~ Step 2.  Place the fresh thyme sprigs, whole allspice, bay leaves and cloves atop a small, 6"-8" length of cheesecloth.  Gather the cheesecloth up around the herbs and spices.  Using kitchen twine, tie, secure and clip the bundle closed.

IMG_0913 IMG_0913 IMG_0913 IMG_0913 IMG_0913 IMG_0938~Step 3.  Place the beef cubes in an 8-quart stockpot along with the onion, garlic cloves, bouquet garni (bundle of herbs and spices), sea salt and Scotch bonnet pepper powder.  Add the beef stock.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally with a large spoon.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, 2 hours. Remove from heat, cover pot and allow meat to steep in the broth for 1 hour.

IMG_0941 IMG_0941 IMG_0941 IMG_0941 IMG_0941 IMG_0941~Step 4.  Line the bottom of a large bowl with several layers of paper towels.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the beef from the stockpot to the bowl.  Allow the paper towels in the bowl time to absorb all the excess liquid from the beef, 15-20 minutes.  Remove the paper towels, then, using fingertips, fine shred the beef cubes.

Note:  Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the broth, to use as directed below.  The remainder, about 2 quarts, is perfectly-seasoned and ready to use in any Carribbean-style recipe that requires beef stock.

Part Two:  Making shredded-beef patty filling.

IMG_1064

6  cups shredded beef, from above recipe

1 1/2  cups hot beef stock, divided (1 cup + 1/2 cup), from above recipe

1  cup raisins

4  tablespoons Jamaican Pickapeppa steak sauce

1  teaspoon sugar

6  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil (vegetable oil colored with annatto)

4  tablespoons hot Jamaican-style curry powder

1/4  teaspoon each (I use a generous 1/4 teaspoon each):  ground allspice, ground cloves, ground thyme and Scotch bonnet pepper powder

1 1/2-2  cups finely-diced sweet onion

6  large, whole, garlic cloves, run through a press

2-4-6 tablespoons French-style breadcrumbs (optional and only if needed)*

*Note:  I add no bread crumbs, and, if you follow my recipe you won't need them.  That said, for those who make substitutions (you know who you are -- you don't follow a recipe, then you complain it doesn't work), if you end up with a soupy filling, stir in some bread crumbs to thicken it.

IMG_0922 IMG_0922 IMG_0922 IMG_0922 IMG_0953 IMG_1086~Step 1.  Place 1 cup raisins in 1-2-cup heatproof measuring container.  Ladle 1 cup of the hot beef stock over the raisins and set aside to steep for 30-45 minutes, to plump and soften them.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer raisins to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.  Set aside.  To the remaining raisin liquid, stir in 4 tablespoons Pickapeppa steak sauce, 1 teaspoon sugar and enough beef stock to total 1 cup.  Set aside. 

IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069~Step 2.  In a 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot, heat the 6 tablespoons achiote oil over medium heat and stir in the curry powder, ground allspice, cloves, thyme and Scotch bonnet pepper powder. Add the onion and garlic, adjust heat to medium-high and sauce gently until onion is soft and translucent, about 4 minutes.  Stir in the soaked raisins and continue to cook, stirring almost constantly until raisins are steaming, 30-60 seconds.

IMG_1091 IMG_1091 IMG_1091 IMG_1091 IMG_1091 IMG_1091~Step 3.  Reduce heat to low.  Stir in the warm or room temp shredded beef -- do this in 2-cup increments and give each addition time, 1-2 minutes, to heat up.  Once all the beef has been incorporated, turn heat off, cover pot, and allow the filling to steep on the still warm stovetop, about an hour, to give the flavors time to marry.

Step Three:  Making the flaky, curried pie pastry.

IMG_11045  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

4  tablespoons Jamaican-style hot curry powder

2  teaspoons salt

2  teaspoons sugar

12  ounces cold salted butter (3 sticks)

4  ounces cold butter-flavored shortening

1  cup cold water

2  tablespoons white vinegar

IMG_1109 IMG_1109 IMG_1113~ Step 1.  In a large bowl, stir together the flour, curry power, sugar and salt.  Set aside.  Using a chef's knife, cube the butter and cut the shortening into large pieces.  Return to the refrigerator for 30 minutes.  In a 1-cup measuring container, combine the water and vinegar.  Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

IMG_1121 IMG_1121 IMG_1121 IMG_1121 IMG_1135 IMG_1135 IMG_1135 IMG_1135~Step 2.  Place the flour mixture and the chilled butter-and-shortening pieces in the work bowl of a large-capacity food processor that has been fitted with the steel blade.  Using a series of 16-18 rapid on-off pulses, cut the shortening into the flour.  The mixture will look light and dry and resemble tiny, irregular flakes and crumbs.  Add 8 tablespoons of the acidulated cold water and process in 3-4 rapid-on off pulses.  Stop and feel the pastry.  It should be just damp enough to mass together but will not have formed a ball in the processor.  If necessary, add additional water, 1 tablespoon at a time, processing for just an instant, 1-2 pulses after each addition -- I used 18 tablespoons today.  Gather the rough dough up, being careful not to touch the sharp steel blade.

IMG_1145 IMG_1145 IMG_1145 IMG_1145 IMG_1145 IMG_1145 IMG_1145~Step 3.  Using a kitchen scale, divide dough into 6 parts, 8 ounces each, form each into a ball, then a disc.  Dust each of 6, 8"-9" light-weight disposable or reusable plates with bit of bench flour, then dust the top of each disc. Use a small roller to roll each pastry across the bottom of plate, stack the plates, wrap them in plastic and refrigerator 2 hours or overnight.  Tip from Mel:  This is a great way to refrigerate and/or freeze pastry because it comes to room temperature and/or thaws quicker, 15-30 minutes.

Part Four:  Rolling, filling & baking the patties.

IMG_1215Mise en place -- the French words for "everything in place", meaning:  prep all of your ingredients and gather all of your hardware before starting any cooking or baking process.  When it comes to rolling, filling and baking Jamaican patties successfully, they are words to live by.  Read the following instructions, a few times if necessary.  Picture in your mind how my method of removing the pastries from the refrigerator, one-at-a-time, at a designated time in the process, keeps the assembly line of rolling, filling and baking moving at all times.  It also keeps the pastry at the perfect, manageable temperature the entire time -- no sticking, ripping or tearing.  Never underestimate the power of organization, get your act together, and enjoy the process:  

IMG_1170 IMG_1170 IMG_1170~ Step 1.  Before rolling, filling and baking:  ready a large pastry board and line 3, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans with parchment (enough to bake 32 patties in 6 batches of 6 patties each, with time for each pan to cool to room temperature in between batches -- do not place filled patties on a warm pan).  Ready your favorite rolling pin, a 5"-round pastry cutter and about 1 cup of bench flour.  In a small ramekin, prepare the egg wash by beating 1 large egg with 2 tablespoons water, then, get out a pastry brush.

IMG_1173 IMG_1173 IMG_1173 IMG_1173 IMG_1173~Step 2.  Remove one plate of pastry from the refrigerator and allow it to sit at room temperature, to soften, about 15 minutes.  Spread some bench flour on the pastry board, place the pastry atop the flour and roll it into a rectangular shape, about 13"L x 6"D and about 1/8"-thick.  Use the pastry cutter to cut out two circles, gather up the scraps, then, between the palms of your hands form the scraps into another disk and set it aside.  Prior to filling the first two pastry circles, remove another plate of pastry from the refrigerator to soften for 15 minutes, and keep repeating this process until all of the pastries are filled and baked as follows:

IMG_1185 IMG_1185 IMG_1185 IMG_1185~Step 3.  Dollop a generous 2 tablespoons of shredded beef filling on one half of each pastry. Use your fingertips to form the meat mixture into an oval shaped mound.  Using a pastry brush, paint a bit of egg wash around the perimeter of the pastry.  Lift the empty half of the pastry up and over the mounded meat, to form a half moon shape, then gently press down on the edges with the pad of your fingertip.  After the edges are sealed with the fingertip, form a decorative edge by lightly pressing the tines of a fork around the half moon, being careful not to poke holes in the pastry.

IMG_1201 IMG_1201~ Step 4.  As you work, gently transfer pastries to prepared baking pan, six on a pan per batch, continuing to roll the disc of scraps until six pastries are on the baking pan.  Lightly paint the tops of patties with egg wash and bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven, 28-30 minutes until light golden.  Remove from oven and use a thin spatula to transfer to a wire rack to cool 5 minutes prior to serving.  The 18 patties in this picture represent three plates (half) of pastry dough and about three cups (half) of the shredded beef filling (both of which, dough and filling, can be frozen and used to fill 18 patties on another day).

Cool on wire rack about 5 minutes prior to serving freshly-made & warm: 

IMG_1213That's about as flaky as a shredded-beef patty pastry can be:

IMG_1248Don't Worry, Be Happy:  Jamaican-Style Beef Patties:  Recipe yields 6 cups shredded-beef filling  and 3 pounds pastry dough/enough to fill 32 "pop-tart-sized" beef patties.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; cheese cloth; kitchen shears; kitchen twine; 8-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; large slotted spoon; paper towels; 1-2-cup measuring container; 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot; large spoon; large-capacity food processor; kitchen scale; plastic wrap; pastry board; rolling pin; pastry brush; 3, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans; parchment paper; thin metal spatula; wire cooling rack  

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8e39d91970bCook's Note:  Every country and culture has their own type of savory, meat-filled pastry.  In the case of the Eastern European bierock, a picture is indeed worth a thousand words. Unlike pizza, hot dog, hamburger and taco, the word bierock conjures up no image in the mind of many foodies.  It's worth mention there is no mention of it in The Food Lover's Companion or The Oxford Companion to Food.  The ~ Bierock: A Savory  Meat, Cabbage & Onion Turnover ~.  

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

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

08/02/2018

~ Peanut Butter-Banana-Oat & Trail Mix Quick Bread ~

IMG_1003I'd love to tout this scrumptious breakfast treat as healthy -- I suppose in some oaty-grain fruit-and-nut-land sort of way it is, so, if that convinces you to give this recipe a try, I can live with that -- in the meantime, I'll just proclaim it to be a somewhat healthier option to most other sweets found in bakeries and coffeeshops (especially since my favorite way to indulge in a slice of this bread is toaster-oven-toasted and slathered with a touch of softened salted butter).  Just yum.

A bit about quick bread:  "Quick bread" is an American term that refers to bread that is quick to make because it doesn't require kneading or rising time.  It originated during the American civil war, when the demand for food and bread was high.  Innovative cooks began rapidly producing bread and baked goods that were leavened with baking soda rather than yeast.  Nowadays, the leavening agent is predominately double-acting baking powder, or, a combination of baking powder and baking soda.  In the case of baking powder, it is called "double acting" because the rising process starts the moment it makes contact with the liquids, and, gives a second burst of rising power when the bread enters the hot oven.  Typically, quick breads contain eggs, flour, salt and fat (butter, margarine, shortening or oil) and leavening.  That said, they can be sweet or savory and contain sugar, fruits, fruit purée, vegetables, vegetable purée and various liquids (milk, buttermilk, fruit juice or stock).  The wet and dry ingredients are mixed separately, in two different bowls, then briefly stirred together just prior to baking.  FYI:  Biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, scones, soda bread and waffles -- they all fall into the quick-bread category too.

Calling all lovers of peanut butter & bananas.

IMG_1020This bread is moist, chewy & chocked full of fruit & nut flavors.

IMG_07961 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

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

1/2  cup granulated sugar

1/2  cup lightly-packed light-brown sugar

2  teaspoons each:  pure banana and vanilla extract

2  large, 7 1/2-8-ounce bananas, smashed with a fork, about 1 1/2 cups smashed bananas

1/2  cup peanut butter, crunchy or smooth, your choice

2  cups tropical trail mix (dried coconut, mango, papaya and pineapple, raisins, banana chips, brazil nuts, cashews and peanuts), your favorite brand

IMG_0969~ Step 1.  Spray the insides of 4, 5 3/4" x 3 1/4" x 2" mini, 2-cup capacity loaf pans with no-stick cooking spray.  Feel free to bake this quick bread in one (8-cup capacity) or two (4-cup capacity) larger loaves, just know the baking time will be affected -- it will take somewhat longer.  I bake small loaves so Joe and I can eat one and freeze three for other days.

IMG_0807 IMG_0807 IMG_0807 IMG_0807 IMG_0807 IMG_0807~Step 2.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, oats, baking powder and salt.  In a 2-cup measuring container, mash the bananas with a fork -- there will be about 1 1/2 cups.  Stir the extracts into the smashed bananas, then, add and stir in the peanut butter -- there will be about 2 cups banana-peanut butter mixture.  Set aside.

IMG_0812 IMG_0812 IMG_0812 IMG_0812~Step 3.  In a large bowl, starting on low and working your way up to high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream the butter, sugars and egg together, while scraping down the sides of bowl with a large rubber spatula.  Lower mixer speed and fold in the banana-peanut butter mixture.

IMG_0826 IMG_0826 IMG_0826 IMG_0826~Step 4.  Remove the mixer.  Using the rubber spatula, alternating the dry flour-oat mixture with the trail mix, fold the two mixtures into the wet mixture, in two increments each (half then half).

IMG_0972 2 IMG_0972 2 IMG_0984 IMG_0986~Step 5.  Divide and transfer mixture to prepared pans -- I use a soup ladle and a kitchen scale. Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven, 30-35 minutes, or until lightly and nicely browned, puffed up through to the centers, and, a cake tester inserted into the thickest middle of each loaf comes out clean.  Remove from oven and cool, in pan on a wire rack, for 5-6 minutes prior to inverting from pans to cool completely, 1-2 hours or overnight, prior to slicing and serving.

Cool completely, 1-2 hours, prior to slicing & serving.

IMG_1011Dare to be square -- same recipe different pan -- for lunch boxes: 

IMG_0855Peanut Butter-Banana-Oat & Trail Mix Quick Bread:  Recipe yields 4, 5 3/4" x 3 1/4" x 2" mini-loaves/4 servings per loaf/2 slices per person.

Special Equipment List:  4, 5 3/4" x 3 1/4" x 2" mini, 2-cup capacity loaf pans; spoon; 2-cup measuring container; fork; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; soup ladle; kitchen scale; wire cooling rack

IMG_9571Cook's Note:  I enjoy making muffins and quick breads using Summer fruits.  That said, I enjoy bananas all year long, I eat one each and every day, and, when it comes to Summer berries, strawberries are my favorite. In my recipe for ~ Summer Strawberry and Banana Breakfast Muffins ~, I combine the two, and, on occasion, for crunch, I throw a cup of tropical trail mix in them too.

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

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

07/31/2018

~ Peanut Butter-Banana-Oat & Tropical Trail Mix Bars ~

IMG_0856Hot fun in the Summertime.  As a fan of peanut butter and banana sandwiches (no honey please, just smash a banana into some crunchy peanut butter and slather it between two slices of my Wonder bread or toast), when I decided to intervene in the world of recipes for peanut butter and banana bar cookies, I already knew my version was going to be loaded with one of my favorite snacks:  sweet and savory tropical trail mix (my favorite brand is a mix of dried coconut, mango, papaya and pineapple, raisins, banana chips, brazil nuts, cashews and peanuts).  Oh yum.

If you're looking for an easy dessert to make for a Summer brunch, take to the next picnic or barbecue, serve at a Fall tailgate, or brownbag to work or school any other time of year, this is it. In a cakey-brownie-esque sort of way, these are moist and chewy, only full of tropical flavors instead of chocolate.  I'd love to tout them as healthy -- I suppose in some oaty-grain fruit-and-nut-land sort of way they are, so, if that convinces you to give this recipe a try, I can live with that -- but, I'll just proclaim them to be a healthier option to other treats found at a bakery or coffeeshop.

IMG_0855They are 'da bomb of peanut butter & banana bars. 

IMG_07961 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

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

1/2  cup granulated sugar

1/2  cup lightly-packed light-brown sugar

2  teaspoons each:  pure banana and vanilla extract

2  large, 7 1/2-8-ounce bananas, smashed with a fork, about 1 1/2 cups smashed bananas

1/2  cup peanut butter, crunchy or smooth, your choice

2  cups tropical trail mix (dried coconut, mango, papaya and pineapple, raisins, banana chips, brazil nuts, cashews and peanuts), your favorite brand 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1eea553970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1eea553970c~ Step 1.  Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of an 8" x 8" square baking pan -- preferably one with a removable bottom.  Insert bottom of pan into pan and spray the bottom of the pan with no-stick cooking spray.  

Insert parchment and spray top of parchment and inside of pan with cooking spray too.  Set aside.

IMG_0807 IMG_0807 IMG_0807 IMG_0807 IMG_0807 IMG_0807~Step 2.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, oats, baking powder and salt.  In a 2-cup measuring container, mash the bananas with a fork -- there will be about 1 1/2 cups.  Stir the extracts into the smashed bananas, then, add and stir in the peanut butter -- there will be about 2 cups banana-peanut butter mixture.  Set aside.

IMG_0812 IMG_0814 IMG_0814 IMG_0814~Step 3.  In a large bowl, starting on low and working your way up to high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream the butter, sugars and egg together, while scraping down the sides of bowl with a large rubber spatula.  Lower mixer speed and fold in the banana-peanut butter mixture.

IMG_0826 IMG_0826 IMG_0826 IMG_0826~Step 4.  Remove the mixer.  Using the rubber spatula, alternating the dry flour-oat mixture with the trail mix, fold the two mixtures into the wet mixture, in two increments each (half then half).

IMG_0836 IMG_0836 IMG_0836 IMG_0836~Step 5.  Transfer mixture to prepared pan then use the spatula to spread it evenly into the sides. Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven, 30-35 minutes, or until lightly and nicely browned, puffed up through to the center, and, a cake tester inserted into the middle in several spots comes out clean.  Remove from oven and cool, in pan on a wire rack, for 30-45 minutes prior to removing sides from pan.  Cool completely, 3-4 hours or overnight, prior to slicing into squares and serving.

Cool completely prior to slicing into 2" squares & serving:

IMG_0861Peanut Butter-Banana-Oat & Tropical Trail Mix Bars:  16, 2"-square bar cookies.

Special Equipment List: 8" x 8" baking pan w/removable bottom; parchment paper; spoon; 2-cup measuring container; fork; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09087c56970dCook's Note:  Congo squares were/are a WWII era chocolate-chip-laced pan-cookie marketed by the Nestlé corporation to compete with Hershey's Tropical Bar cookies back in 1942.  My recipe for ~ Tropical Fruit, Nut and Chocolate-Chip Congo Bars ~ is full of the history surrounding these bar cookies, and, it's loaded with Congo flavors that Tarzan and King Kong would love: candied papaya, mango and ginger, chewy flaked coconut, crunchy macadamias and a trio of Nestlé's own milk-, semi-sweet- and white- chocolate chips.  Feel free to create your own Congo combo.

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

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

07/28/2018

~Thai-Style Grilled Chicken or Pork Tenderloin Sliders~

IMG_0791In Thailand, unlike here in America, sandwiches are not something one finds sold in shops or on the streets -- bread is not a part of the traditional Thai diet.  That said, East met West quite a few decades ago, and, we Americans love sandwiches -- if it can be eaten between two slices of bread, we Americans will figure out a way to do it and make it taste great.  To that end, A trip to Thailand will reveal that nowadays, a portion of the Thai population has come to appreciate and incorporate some bread (mostly flatbreads), in some very tasty Thai-style "fusion food" dishes.

IMG_0782All Thai-style sandwiches are American or Thai-American.  

When Thai cooks brought their food here to the USA, American chefs and cooks who fell in love with Thai flavors worked quickly and successfully at inventing all sorts of Thai-style wraps, Thai-style sandwiches, and Thai-style pizza too.  That's correct:  Thai wraps, sandwiches and pizza are all-American or Thai-American creations.  I know this because my own family thrives on my Thai-inspired creations.  Thanks to some hands-on traditional Thai-cooking training, many authentic recipes, and, yes, creative know-how, me and mine enjoy Thai-inspired fare quite often.

IMG_0561It is not unusual for me to marinate and grill some chicken or pork tenderloins over a Saturday or Sunday to have on-hand for Thai-style salads and sandwiches during the week.  My Basic Thai Marinade for Grilled Poultry or Pork produces succulent, full-throttle Thai-flavored chicken or pork, relatively quickly.  Grill one, the other, or both (detailed instructions for doing both are included in the recipe), then, slice thick or thick, into IMG_0719medallions or strips, chop into cubes, or pull into bite-sized pieces and serve, hot or cold.  Be creative, and, be prepared to accept compliments -- these are so good you'll even impress Thai friends.

When it comes to crunchy and fresh sandwich toppings, allow me to suggest some traditional Spicy Thai Quick-Pickled Cucumbers, or, my Thai Honey-Sesame Broccoli Slaw. That said, soft Bibb or crunchy gem lettuce leaves go with anything, and, who doesn't love a grilled pineapple slice on an Asian-style sandwich. As for drizzly condiments, traditional Spicy Thai Peanut Sauce takes just five-minutes to make, and, if you like Thai food, you already have a bottle of sweet chili sauce (Mae Ploy) in your pantry.  Traditional garnishes include:  lightly-toasted and chopped cashews or peanuts, thinly-sliced scallions, and, minced fresh cilantro leaves.

IMG_0615We can all agree that a soft, flour tortilla is the perfect foil almost any cuisine.  That said, if it's a sandwich roll you're looking for, you've gotta try my Easy Thai-Spiced Bread Machine Slider Rolls.  Laced with garlic and ginger powder, dried Thai basil and Sriracha seasoning, these soft, semi-firm rolls get mixed and proofed in my bread machine then baked in muffin tins, which, besides even-sizing, promotes a high rise and nicely-domed tops.  I bake all my slider rolls in muffin tins.

With any or all of these easy-to-make or prep ingredients...

IMG_0750... Thai-style sandwiches are moments from the lunch box:

IMG_0761Thai-Style Grilled Chicken or Pork Tenderloin Sliders:  Recipe yields instructions to make Thai-style slider rolls and toppings for Thai-style slider-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; serrated bread knife; hardware for specific toppings are listed in specific recipes

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d221395d970cCook's Note:  There's more than one way to fuse Asian fare with the American sandwich.  In my simple and straightforward recipe for ~ Asian Hot-Pot-Style Steak Sliders w/Broccoli Slaw ~, thinly-sliced raw flank steak is cooked Japanese shabby-shabu-style in a full-flavored appropriately-seasoned broth and piled high on slider rolls, and, topped with: my broccoli slaw.

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

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

07/25/2018

~ My Basic Thai Marinade for Grilled Poultry or Pork ~

IMG_0544For those who love Thai food, your search for an all-purpose marinade and method of cooking some chicken or pork, to bring the bold flavors of Thailand to your American dinner tables without consuming too much time, muss or fuss, is over.  Fact:  When it comes to our food, just when we should slow down, relax and make more time for our family and friends, we Americans always seem to be in a hurry.  While "eat and run" is not my style, this is my "go to" marinade, which produces succulent, full-throttle Thai-flavored chicken or pork, relatively quickly.  It's perfect to use the next day in a Thai-Style wrap, sandwichsalad or on a Thai pizza too.  After marinating the meat a few hours or overnight, I grill it indoors in my grill pan or outdoors on my gas grill.

Marination (which does not affect the cooking time), is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.

As a huge fan of Thai food, like many American cooks, I find myself improvising occasionally. Not, of course, when I'm preparing one of their many classic dishes (like Thai-Style Oven-Roasted Barbecued Half Chicken or Grilled Chicken or Pork Satay)  -- they require specific ingredients and a traditional method of cooking.  Improvisation enters my food world when I'm preparing one of my flash-in-the pan meals (a meal where the protein gets quickly grilled, grill-panned, pan-seared or broiled).  This all-purpose marinade, which contains many flavors basic to Thai fare, is my secret to imparting that all-important extra-layer of flavor into into my meal.

Simple, straightforward & scrumptiously to the point:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad35bca62200c IMG_0566I'm grilling chicken for our dinner tonight, but I love grilled pork too.  That said, whichever meat I choose to use, I always choose to use the tenderloin.  Why?  Because it stays remarkably juicier and moister than boneless, skinless chicken breasts or pork loin when subjected to the high, dry heat of any type of grill or grill pan.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a1a1f2200bFor the marinade:

2-4  pounds whole, boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins, about 10-20 large tenderloins, or, 2-4 pounds whole pork tenderloins, 2-4 tenderloins

1/4  cup each:  honey, lime juice, &, Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons each: Thai fish sauce & sesame oil

1  tablespoon each:  garlic paste & ginger paste

1/4  cup each:  minced cilantro leaves & thinly-sliced green onion

1-2  small, hot, cayenne chile peppers, minced, or, 1 teaspoon Sriracha seasoning blend

Option One:  Grilling whole chicken tenderloins:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad35bcaeb200c 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8fae755970b~ Step 1. Sandwich tenderloins between two pieces of plastic wrap on a flat work surface.  Using a flat-sided meat mallet, lightly pound them to a thickness of about 1/2" -- do not smash them to smithereens.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad35bcb6c200c 6a0120a8551282970b022ad381d933200d~ Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together all  the marinade ingredients.  Pour marinade into a 1-gallon food storage bag, add the pounded tenderloins, seal bag and toss to coat.  Marinate in refrigerator for about 4-6 hours or overnight. Remove from refrigerator 1-1 1/2 hours prior to grilling.

IMG_0185 IMG_0185 IMG_0185 IMG_0185~Step 3.  On the stovetop in a grill pan, on the countertop in an electric grill, or outdoors on a gas grill, spray grill grids with no-stick cooking spray and heat the grids over medium-high heat. Remove chicken from marinade (allowing excess marinade to drizzle back into the bag), place tenderloins, side-by-side on hot grill grids and cook until golden and just cooked through on both sides, turning only once, 7-9 total minutes, about 4-5 minutes on the first side and 3-4 minutes on the second side, regulating the heat carefully, as the honey in the marinade (like sugar) can scorch.  Transfer the meat to a plate and repeat process with remaining tenders.  Read on:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb099e0720970d 6a0120a8551282970b01bb099e0720970d 6a0120a8551282970b01bb099e0720970d 6a0120a8551282970b01bb099e0720970dNote:  Whether grilling in a grill pan on the stovetop, an electric grill on the countertop, or a gas grill outdoors on the patio, work in batches that are sized to comfortably fit the surface area of the grill, as well as your ability to manage the quantity, meaning:  know your own limitations.  

IMG_0204Option Two:  Grilling whole pork tenderloins:

IMG_0561 IMG_0561 IMG_0561 IMG_0561~Step 1.  Using a thin, sharp knife or a pair of kitchen shears, judiciously trim or snip tenderloins of any thick silverskin or excessive fat from their surfaces.  In a 1-cup measuring container or a small bowl, stir together all of the marinade ingredients as listed.  Pour the marinade into a 1-gallon food storage bag, add the  tenderloins, seal the bag and toss to coat.  Marinate in refrigerator for 4-6 hours or overnight.  Remove from refrigerator 1-1 1/2 hours prior to grilling.

IMG_0185 IMG_0185 IMG_0185 IMG_0185~Step 2.  On the stovetop in a grill pan, on the countertop in an electric grill, or outdoors on a gas grill, spray grill grids with no-stick cooking spray and heat the grids over medium heat. Remove tenderloins from marinade (allowing excess marinade to drizzle back into the bag), place tenderloins, side-by-side on hot grill grids and cook until golden and just cooked through on both sides, turning only once, about 6-7 minutes per side (for an initial total of 12-14 minutes).  

IMG_0667 IMG_0667 IMG_0667 IMG_0667 IMG_0667~Step 3.  With the aid of a spatula or a pair of tongs, working one-tenderloin-at-a-time, roll each tenderloin, left then right, onto its two un-seared sides, to put a quick sear on them as well, about 1 minute per tenderloin. Lower the heat to medium-low and, once again, continue to cook tenderloins on both sides, turning only once, about 6-7 minutes per side, or, until a meat-thermometer inserted into the thickest part of their centers reads 145º-150º.  

The total cooking time for four tenderloins is approximately 28-32 minutes.  

Turn the heat source off and allow the pork tenderloins to remain on the warm grill grids (or transfer them to the upper rack of an outdoor gas grill), about 10-15 minutes, turning occasionally during this rest period, prior to slicing, thick or thin, and serving as directed in specific recipe.

IMG_0736Slice, thick or thin, into strips or medallions, dice into cubes, or, pull into bite-sized pieces & serve, hot or cold, as directed. 

IMG_0719My Basic Thai Marinade for Grilled Poultry or Pork:  1 cup marinade to marinate 2-4 pounds chicken or pork; 10-20 chicken tenderloins/6-12 servings; or, 2-4 pork tenderloins/8-16 servings

Special Equipment List: plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; 1-gallon food-storage bag; grill pan on stovetop, electric countertop grill, or, outdoor gas grill; spatula or tongs; instant-read meat thermometer

IMG_7122Cook's Note:  If you are a lover of Tex-Mex fare too, I just happen to have a go-to marinade for that too. Try my garlic & onion powder, Mexican oregano, chili powder and lime laced ~ Tex-Mex Marinade for Beef, Poultry or Pork ~.

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

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