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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

05/15/2019

~Bacon, Lettuce,Tapenade & Chicken Club Sandwich~

IMG_1588There is nothing quite as satisfying as a BLT or a club sandwich, made with a just-picked perfectly-ripe tomato.  Tick, tock.  It is going be an impatient two-month wait for my own or any locally-grown tomatoes to be at my fingertips, so, hold-that-beautiful-thought, give pause to the beloved tomato for a moment, and allow me to change the conversation:  there is another tart fruit to consider.  It's the brine-cured olive, and, in the form of tapenade, a Mediterranean relish-type condiment, there is no reason to compromise your BLT with a not-at-its-peak tomato.

Try a BLT or Club w/my tapenade instead of tomato. It's T-rrific:

IMG_1590Making a BLT sandwich is simple and straightforward:  Crisp bacon, tender lettuce, sliced tomato and your favorite bread -- mayonnaise is optional.  Regarding the bread, it's a personal decision. Some folks like their BLT on soft Wonder-type white, while others prefer the crusty firm-textured rustic kind.  Toasted or untoasted bread? You guessed it, it's up to you.  This combination of ingredients on a sandwich dates back to the early 1900's but became extremely popular after World War II when Hellmann's Mayonnaise advertised their mayo as traditional to the sandwich. Oddly, using the initials "BLT" to refer to it, wasn't common until the 1970's.  Today, the BLT is ranked the second most popular sandwich in the USA.  Oddly, the ham sandwich is ranked #1.

Although the ingredients for the BLT existed for many years, there is little-to-no written evidence of it prior to 1900.  That said, in 1903, The Good Housekeeping Everyday Cookbook, published a recipe by Dr. Kevin Zinter for a Club Sandwich -- bacon, lettuce, tomato, mayonnaise and sliced chicken sandwiched between two slices of bread -- not three slices of bread, known as "double decker style", as it is commonly served today (which I find annoyingly hard to manage).  In 1904, three restaurants at the St. Louis World's Fair featured the club sandwich in various forms.

"Tapenade" derives from the Provençal word for caper, "tapeno".

IMG_1521Hailing from the Mediterranean and dating back to Roman times, a traditional tapenade contains few ingredients:  black olives, caper berries, anchovies, garlic, olive oil, pepper, an occasional herb and/or a squirt of fresh lemon.  The texture of tapenade is personal, ranging from puréed or pounded to a paste, to finely-minced or slightly chunky. The tools of the trade used to achieve the desired texture range from the ancient mortar and pestle to the ordinary chef's knife and/or the high-tech food processor.  Tapenade should be allowed to rest a few hours prior to serving at room temperature, and, when stored in the refrigerator, the oil will preserve it for up to a month.

IMG_14561  9 1/2-10-ounce jar pitted, black kalamata olives, well-drained

1  9 1/2-10-ounce jar pitted, green garlic-stuffed olives, well-drained

1  2-ounce tin rolled anchovy fillets, with capers, packed in olive oil, undrained

2  tablespoons drained capers

1  teaspoon each: dried herbes de Provence and minced fresh thyme leaves

1  teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2  tablespoons fruity olive oil

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_1485 IMG_1485 IMG_1485~ Step 1.  Place all ingredients, as listed, in work bowl of food processor fitted with the steel blade. Place the lid on the processor. Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process until mixture is minced and mixed.  If a finer consistency is desired, pulse a few more times. Transfer to a 4-cup food-storage container, cover and set aside several hours (4-6) for flavors to marry.  Store in the refrigerator.

IMG_1571~ Step 2.  Choose a favorite loaf of bread, a favorite brand of bacon, and a favorite type of lettuce.  I'm using my oven-roasted chicken breast, sometimes I use perfectly-roasted turkey breast, but, high-quality sliced deli-meat works too.

IMG_1155Crisply fry the bacon. I like to roast bacon in the oven.

Can you take over these sandwiches from here?  T-rrific:

IMG_1592Bacon, Lettuce & Tapenade Chicken Club Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 3 1/2 cups tapenade and basic instructions for making chicken club sandwiches 

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 4-cup food-storage container w/tight-fitting lid; cutting board; chef's knife; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3b83ba8200bCook's Note:  Bread is perhaps the most important component to making any well-constructed sandwich.  There's more.  While bruschetta is simply a slice of oiled toast, almost any sandwich can be served crostini- or panini-style.  I played by the traditional BLT rules today and used a store-bought bake-at-home French batard, but, f you can't decide what road to take, read ~ The Crisy Bits about Bruschetta, Crostini and Panini ~. Bread is indeed the staff of life.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

05/12/2019

~ Briny, Garlicy & Herbaceous Greek-Olive Tapenade ~

IMG_1521My pantry and/or refrigerator are never without a can or two of inexpensive, mild-flavored ripe, black olives and a big jar of tangy green pimiento-stuffed olives too.  Throughout the year, I toss either one or both, whole into garden salads, or, slice and use them to top an occasional pizza. That said, at the end of a long Summer's day, there is nothing like a well-chilled cocktail out on the deck with a salty snack to nibble on.  A cracker or two with a slather of soft brie or chèvre topped with a dollop of tapenade is a favorite, but, I don't reach for my generic go-to olives to make it.

When I'm making tapenade, I raise the bar and use a combination of two Greek-style olives:  briny black kalamata and garlic-stuffed green.  When it comes to tapenade, higher-quality fruit does make a difference, and, while tapenade is traditionally only made from black olives (kalamata or niçoise), I like the slight astringency that garlic-stuffed green olives bring to this nosh.  It only takes me 5-10 minutes to make tapenade, but I always do it first thing in the morning, to give all the flavors time to marry until cocktail hour, and, I also make enough to enjoy all week long.    

IMG_1522Olive tapenade, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways:

This easy-to-make salty, briny condiment atop a cracker or a baguette slice brings out the flavor in a glass of vino, and, pairs perfectly with martinis and an array of cocktails too.  It's a welcome addition to any cheese tray or charcuterie board, and, it's divine in the center of a French-style omelette or atop a classic deviled egg.  This relish is not not shy about being used to top a humble hot dog or hamburger, get stirred into an ordinary pasta salad or used as a topper for poached poultry or fish dishes.  That said, tapenade is often confused with New Orleans olive salad, a critical component of the iconic muffalata sandwich -- seriously, the two are quite different.  Olive salad is a giardiniera and contains cauliflower, carrots and celery and no capers.

IMG_1539"Tapenade" derives from the Provençal word for caper, "tapeno".

Hailing from the Mediterranean and dating back to Roman times, a traditional tapenade contains few ingredients:  black olives, caper berries, anchovies, garlic, olive oil, pepper, an occasional herb and/or a squirt of fresh lemon.  The texture of tapenade is personal, ranging from puréed or pounded to a paste, to finely-minced or slightly chunky.  The tools of the trade used to achieve the desired texture range from the ancient mortar and pestle to the ordinary chef's knife and/or the high-tech food processor.  Tapenade should be allowed to rest a few hours prior to serving at room temperature, and, when stored in the refrigerator, the oil will preserve it for up to a month.

IMG_14561  9 1/2-10-ounce jar pitted, black kalamata olives, well-drained

1  9 1/2-10-ounce jar pitted, green garlic-stuffed olives, well-drained

1  2-ounce tin rolled anchovy fillets, with capers, packed in olive oil, undrained

2  tablespoons drained capers

1  teaspoon each: dried herbes de Provence and minced fresh thyme leaves

1  teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2-4  tablespoons fruity olive oil

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_1458 IMG_1458 IMG_1458 IMG_1458~Step 1.  Place the black and green olives in a colander to drain thoroughly, about 3-5 minutes. Place the drained olives in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade along with the undrained anchovies and the drained capers.  Trust me, this is not too many anchovies.

IMG_1470 IMG_1470 IMG_1470 IMG_1470~Step 2.  Measure, mince and add the dried and fresh herbs, the lemon juice and the olive oil.

IMG_1479 IMG_1479 IMG_1479 IMG_1479 IMG_1479~Step 3.  Season with the salt and pepper.  Place the lid on the processor. Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses, process until mixture is minced and mixed.  If a finer consistency is desired, pulse a few more times. Transfer to a 4-cup food-storage container, cover and set aside several hours (4-6) for flavors to marry.  Store leftovers in the refrigerator.

Roasted garlic bread & gruyère crostini w/olive tapenade:

IMG_1557Bacon, Lettuce, Tapenade & Chicken Club Sandwich:

IMG_1588Greek Pasta Salad w/Tapenade, Tuna & Tomato:

IMG_1644Mediterranean-style Olive Tapenade & Feta Omelette:

IMG_1735Herbaceous Black & Green Greek-Olive Tapenade:  Recipe yields about 3 1/2 cups tapenade.

Special Equipment List:  colander; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 4-cup food-storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8255ff1970b-800wiCook's Note: This mouthwatering crostini recipe pairs perfectly with tapenade.  The two complement a host of foods, and, can be served at casual or upscale gatherings.  Both pair well with cocktails, as well as red or white wine.  They can be passed prior to an entrée of fish, seafood, poultry, porcine or meat. They too are meatless, which makes them great for meatless meals, certain religious holidays, and, entertaining vegetarian friends. There's more.  They're are, easy to make:  ~ Meatless Mushroom Duxelles & Gruyère Crostini ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

05/09/2019

~Smoked Ham and Asparagus in a Béarnaise Quiche~

IMG_1420Every once in a while (not often, but it does happen) you'll come across a recipe that goes from ordinary to extraordinary by using a store-bought, instead of a scratch-made, dry sauce or seasoning packet.  This is one such recipe.  While it is next-to-impossible to make a quiche using scratch-made hollandaise or béarnaise sauce (in place of the typical whisked cream and egg mixture used to prepare a quiche), because either will breakdown in a hearts-beat or three, it is possible to add a dry, high-quality, store-bought, hollandaise or or béarnaise sauce-mix to season and enrich the cream and egg mixture.  In fact, it propels the end product into the stratosphere.

6a0120a8551282970b0162fd6207eb970dIn the latter 1970's and into the 1980's, quiche became very trendy and I for one was on the bandwagon. The quiche tsunami occurred in 1982 when a man by the name of Bruce Feirstein wrote the bestseller Real Men Don't Eat Quiche.  As you can see, I still have my copy.  It coined the phrases "quiche-eater" and "real man" and separated them into two groups.  There was a third category too: "Guys who think they're real men but really aren't".   A "real man" might enjoy a bacon-and-egg pie if his wife made it for him, while a "sensitive guy" would make it himself and clean up afterwards.  The book is hilarious.  It was written after a decade of feminist critiques ("The Women's Movement") on traditional male roles and beliefs.  I for one had a lot of fun during 1982-1983 as serving quiche spawned spirited conversation each and every time.

Quiche (keesh):  A pastry crust filled w/a savory custard consisting of eggs, cream, herbs & seasonings, plus, cheese, & meat, seafood &/or vegetables.

IMG_1450Quiche originated in northeastern France, in the region of Alsace-Lorraine. The most notable of these savory pies is their famous Quiche-Lorraine, which has crisp bacon bits and grated Gruyère cheese added to the custard filling.  In my opinion, no self-respecting cook should be without at least one quiche recipe tucked in their apron pocket.  I find my quiche recipes to be particularly valuable over holiday weekends, or whenever I have overnight guests (creamy, crustless crabmeat quiche and succulent shiitake mushroom and gruyère cheese quiche are two of my family's favorites). Quiche is an easy way to feed a group of people breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner without dragging out every pot and pan in the kitchen.  Because it's great served at any temperature, whenever guests meander to the table, all you have to worry about is putting it on their plate.  Besides all of the above, quiche is a meal that just plain makes people happy.  

Julia Child is credited w/introducing quiche to the US in the 1960's.

IMG_1436Hollandaise Sauce + Shallots + Tarragon = Béarnaise Sauce.  

Béarnaise is a French sauce made of butter emulsified in egg yolks and white wine vinegar.  It is considered to be a "child" of of the mother hollandaise sauce (one of the five mother sauces in French cuisine).  The difference is only in the flavorings with béarnaise using shallot, peppercorns and tarragon, and hollandaise being stripped down (plainer), using lemon juice and white wine.

IMG_13871  basic pie or quiche pastry (pâte brisée), preferably homemade, rolled out, placed in a 9" quiche dish, then decoratively edged 

1  pound, 1/4" diced, baked, smoked ham, the best available (Note:  The ham in this photo is not deli-meat, it is baked ham leftover from our Easter feast.)

4  ounces finely-diced shallots or sweet onion

8  ounces shredded Gruyère cheese

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

3  jumbo eggs

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/2  cup mayonnaise

2  .9-ounce packets Knorr Béarnaise Sauce Mix, 1 packet for the ham filling mixture and 1 packet for the egg mixture

36  4"-long, pencil-thin, fresh asparagus spears, blanched as directed below

IMG_1402~ Step 1.  Blanching the asparagus before it goes atop the quiche and into the oven will keep it moist and tender.  In a 2-quart saucepan, bring about two inches of water to a rolling boil with 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt. Add the trimmed asparagus.  Adjust heat to simmer, 45-60 seconds. Rinse under cold water to halt the cooking process, drain thoroughly, then place atop a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.

IMG_1392 IMG_1392 IMG_1392 IMG_1406~Step 2.  In a large bowl, using a large rubber spatula, toss together the ham, shallots, cheese, flour and one packet of the béarnaise mix, until ingredients are evenly coated in flour and béarnaise. Transfer the mixture to the pastry in the quiche dish.  Do not pat or press down on the filling -- it should be light and airy with nooks and crannies for the liquid to drizzle down through. Like spokes in a wheel, decoratively trim and arrange the asparagus spears over the top.

IMG_1408 IMG_1408 IMG_1408 IMG_1408~Step 3.  In a 2-cup measuring container, whisk the eggs, cream, mayonnaise, and the second packet of béarnaise.  Slowly, in a thin stream, drizzle the creamy liquid over the surface of the ham mixture.  Go slowly, to give liquid time to drizzle down into the light and airy filling mixture.

IMG_1428~ Step 4.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350° oven for 55-60 minutes. Quiche will be golden brown, puffed through to the center and a knife inserted into the center will come out clean.  Transfer to a wire rack to cool 15-20 minutes, or longer, prior to serving hot, warm or at room temperature.  Leftovers reheat perfectly in the microwave the next day.

Serve quiche hot, warm or at room temperature:

IMG_1438Leftovers reheat perfectly in the microwave the next day:

IMG_1445Smoked Ham and Asparagus in a Béarnaise Quiche:  Recipe yields 1, 9" quiche/8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  9"  quiche dish; cutting board; chef's knife; 2-quart saucepan; paper towels; hand-held box grater; large rubber spatula; 1-quart measuring container; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01bb080c3d4d970dCook's Note: The first time I ate "Oscar" was in 1983 and I was in "The Big Easy".  Four of us were in the New Orleans French-Quarter restaurant, Arnoud's, listening to a jazz band and groovin' to the tunes. My meal arrived:  a lightly-pounded, gently-sautéed, succulent, fork-tender veal paillard, piled high with tender Louisiana crayfish, drizzled with buttery béarnaise sauce and garnished with steamed asparagus:  ~ All that Jazz:  Chicken Oscar with Easy Blender Béarnaise ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

05/07/2019

~Kid's Stuff: Souper Fix-Quick Bowling-Night Meatloaf~

IMG_1340Bowling night.  When I was growing up, depending on what league my parents were in, bowling night was either a Tuesday or a Thursday.  They got my brother and I a babysitter, went out with their friends, and, on that night, we were allowed to stay up later than usual.  We ate either a TV dinner, or, my favorite, mom's bowling-night meatloaf dinner.  On the floor we two siblings sat, "Indian-style" (knees bent, ankles crossed) with one-foot-high TV trays in front of us (I had a Barbie tray, David had a Batman tray).  In front of the television we ate dinner while arguing over programs to watch on the thirteen-channel cable lineup.  Those were kinder, gentler times.

Be it ever so humble, there's no place like eating meatloaf...

IMG_1348This meatloaf was nothing fancy and it wasn't particularly pretty either, but, keeping things in perspective, it was made at home with love, as opposed to 'burgers and fries from a drive-thru.  It was, genuinely kid-friendly delicious, and, we particularly loved it served with macaroni and cheese.  As a matter of fact, the combination of this meatloaf served with macaroni and cheese, is (in a not-so-odd way) the carnivorous equivalent of a grilled cheese sandwich served with a bowl of tomato soup.  It's a priceless blast from my past, which, I occasionally crave to this day.

My recollection of the origin of the meatloaf recipe I am posting today (my mom's rendition), is:  I believe it to be a combination of several.  The Campbell's Soup Company had their own, the Lipton Soup Company had their own, and, back in the 1960's newspaper columnist Ann Landers published her recipe, which was a combination of both companies -- she put the soup and the dry soup mix into hers, and, substituted meatloaf mix for ground beef.  Her recipe became so popular, she printed it in her column once a year.  My mother took Ann Landers' recipe and substituted saltine crackers for breadcrumbs and milk for water.  That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

... at home on the floor, sitting cross-legged in front of the TV.

IMG_12882 1/2  pounds meatloaf mix (a store-bought mixture of beef, pork & veal)

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

1/2  cup milk

1  tablespoon Lee & Perrin's worcestershire sauce

1  10 3/4-ounce can Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup 

1  envelope Lipton Recipe Secrets Onion Soup Mix

2  large eggs

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans

IMG_1292 IMG_1292 IMG_1292 IMG_1292~Step 1.  Place the sleeve of crackers in a large bowl.  Using your hands, crush them into small bits and pieces.  Add the milk and worcestershire sauce, followed by the tomato soup and give the mixture a thorough stir.  Set aside about 5-10 minutes, to give the crackers time to soften.

IMG_1303 IMG_1303 IMG_1303 IMG_1303 IMG_1303~Step 2.  In the same measuring container the milk was measured in, use a fork to whisk the eggs, then add them to the bowl along with the contents from the onion soup packet.  Give the mixture a thorough stir. Add the meatloaf mix.  Using your hands (this is truly the best way to do this), thoroughly combine the meatloaf mix with the pasty cracker mixture.

IMG_1316 IMG_1316 IMG_1316~ Step 3.  Spray 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2", 1 1/2-quart loaf pans*, with no-stick cooking spray.  Divide the meat mixture in half, form each half into a very rough loaf shape and place one in each pan.  If you have a kitchen scale, now is an ideal time to use it.  There will be approximately 3 pounds of meatloaf mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula or your fingertips, pat and press the meatloaf mixture flat into the pans.

*Note:  My grandmother and mother always baked meatloaf in clear glass dishes and so do I.  The advantage is being able to see exactly how fast and how well the loaves are browning.

IMG_1327 IMG_1327~ Step 4.  Bake meatloaves on center rack of 350° oven for 1 hour, 15 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer placed in the the thickest part of the center reaches 168°-170º.  Loaves will be bubbling and juices will be running clear.  Remove from oven and place, in pans, on a wire rack to cool about 15 minutes.  Use a spatula to remove loaves from pans.  Slice and serve hot, or, warm or cool to room temperature and refrigerate.

Humble & homey, this meatloaf recipe, served w/mac & cheese...

IMG_1357... is as heartwarming as a grilled cheese w/tomato soup. 

IMG_1375Kid's Stuff: Souper Fix-Quick Bowling-Night Meatloaf:  Recipe yields, 2, 1 1/2-pound meatloaves.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; fork; 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2", 1 1/2-quart loaf pans, preferably glass; kitchen scale; large rubber spatula (optional); instant-read meat thermometer; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27640d2970cCook's Note: Bowling night was bowling night.  Understandably, it was all about fixing a great-tasting kid-friendly meal in as little time as possible.  That said, my mom had a "special meatloaf" recipe too.  It was full of sautéed onions and celery, and was oh-so-moist and tender. ~ I Love My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf ~.  Humble and homey, great-tasting, comfort food.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

05/04/2019

~ Tangy Mustard- and Chive-Laced Cheese Omelette ~

IMG_1277Forgive me if I type fast, as I'm anxious to eat the mouth-watering plate of food in this photograph. As a bigger fan of a fluffy American-style omelette vs a skinny French omelette, and, as an advocate for savory breakfasts over cloyingly sweet breakfasts, this egg-cellent little number is one of my ideal ways to break the fast.  For those who don't know, mustard is more than just a condiment that goes on your hot dogs.  Mustard is to an omelette, what mustard is to macaroni and cheese, potato salad and/or almost any creamy salad dressing one can mention:  A secret ingredient that provides a subtle but uplifting zing to the flavor of the end result.  In the case of this omelette, it's got double zing, in that I use both whole-grain mustard and dry English mustard.

Whole-grain & dry English mustard + dried herbes de Provence & fresh chives w/eggs & cream = an egg-cellent omelette:

IMG_1222For the savory American-style omelette:

3  extra-large eggs, preferably at room temperature

1/4  cup half and half

1  tablespoon whole-grain mustard

1/2  teaspoon each:  dry English mustard and Herbes de Provence

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

2  tablespoons thinly-sliced fresh chives

a generous 1/2  cup shredded Danish havarti cheese

1  teaspoon salted butter

IMG_1226 IMG_1226 IMG_1226~ Step 1.  Crack the eggs into a 1-cup measuring container and add enough half and half to total 3/4 cups total liquid (about 4 tablespoons).  Add the whole-grain mustard, dry English mustard, sea salt and herbs.  Use a fork to give the mixture a brief whisk.  Slice and add the fresh chives.  Whisk vigorously, until thoroughly combined.  Using a hand held box grater, shred the cheese as directed and set aside.

IMG_1233 IMG_1233 IMG_1233 IMG_1233 IMG_1233~Step 2.  In an 8" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Use the fork to briefly rewhisk the egg mixture, then pour it into the warmed skillet. By patiently manually lifting, lowering, and tilting the pan on and off the heat, allow the eggs to set a bit up and around the sloping sides of the skillet -- about 45 seconds over low heat w/no pressure to rush.

IMG_1249 IMG_1249Step 3.  Increase heat to medium.  In various spots around the entire perimeter of the skillet, slip a thin spatula under the setting eggs.  In each of those spots use the spatula to lift the eggs up, while, at the same time, tilting the pan in the direction of the spatula to allow the remaining liquid to flow down and into the setting eggs -- about 45 seconds over medium heat w/no pressure to rush.  The surface of the omelette should be semi-moist and glistening with no liquid or little liquid puddling on the top.

IMG_1253 IMG_1253~ Step 4.  Decrease the heat to low.  Place the grated cheese, in a half-moon shape, over half of the omelette.  Give it about 45 seconds to melt over low heat with no pressure to rush.  Using a large spatula, lift the empty side of the omelette up and over the cheesy side of the omelette.  Slide the omelette from skillet to plate and serve.

Tangy & ooey, gooey, cheesy too...

IMG_1276... stick a fork in it & enjoy the zippy zing of mustard:

IMG_1281Tangy Mustard- and Herb-Laced Cheese Omelette:  Recipe yields instructions to make one tangy American-style cheese omelette.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; fork; cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; 8" nonstick skillet; large thin spatula; large spatula

IMG_1118 IMG_1192Cook's Note: Over the past week, I've been taking a fresh look at the word savory as far as mustard is concerned when it comes to breakfast or brunch.  My first example was ~ Savory Brioche french Toast w/Fried Ham & Eggs  ~, which is perhaps the best way ever to celebrate ham and eggs.  For you bacon lovers, the next day I used some of the leftover French toast to make ~ Mustard & Herb-Laced Brioche French Toast BLT's  ~, which just might change the way you look at breakfast sandwiches forever.  Sigh.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

05/02/2019

~ Mustard & Herb-Laced Brioche French Toast BLT's ~

IMG_1192A BLT served on savory whole-grain mustard- and herbs de Provence-laced brioche French toast -- need I say more?  If these adorable little sliders don't change the way you think about breakfast or brunch, I'm clueless as to what will.  Pair them with a bloody Mary or three and you've got a party.  Invite some friends and you've got a bigger party.  The best part is, I made these as an experiment, using day old savory French toast that had been in the refrigerator overnight, so, whipping them up for breakfast took only a little longer than it took to oven-roast this bacon:

IMG_1155

Sweet and savory French toast is common in European countries.  The French words for "French toast" are "pain perdu", meaning "lost bread", because it is a way of reviving bread which becomes dry after a day or two.  The basics of any French toast recipe are pretty simple:  Thickly-sliced, 2-3-day old bread is dipped into a flavored egg/cream sweet or savory mixture, then fried in a skillet containing a coating of oil or a combination of butter and oil.  When executed correctly, it emerges from the skillet crisp and golden brown on both sides with a creamy center.

IMG_1046For the savory French toast:

6,  3/4"-thick slices, 2-3 day old bread machine brioche

4  jumbo eggs

1  cup half and half

2  tablespoons whole-grain mustard

1  teaspoon each:  dry English mustard, Herbes de Provence and sea salt

1/2  teaspoon peppercorn blend 

4-6   tablespoons peanut or corn oil, for frying

6a0120a8551282970b0147e0e131e0970b 9.58.04 AM~ Step 1.  Using a serrated bread knife, slice the bread.  This is a picture of my bread-machine brioche.  If you have a bread machine, I obviously encourage you give this recipe a try.  If you are not using my brioche, I recommend that whatever bread you are using be sliced to the thickness of 3/4".  If it is thinner or thicker, it will affect the frying time and texture.  In my opinion:  All French toast starts with properly, 3/4"-thick sliced brioche.

IMG_1048 IMG_1048Step 2.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk the eggs, half and half, whole grain mustard, English mustard, herbes de Provence, sea salt and peppercorn blend.  For six slices of bread, the magic measurement is 2 cups of liquid.

IMG_1053 IMG_1053 IMG_1053 IMG_1053 IMG_1053~Step 3.  Arrange bread slices in 13" x 9" x 2" casserole -- overlapping is ok.  Pour egg mixture over bread and wait 2-3 minutes.  Flip bread slices over on their second sides and wait another 2-3 minutes.  Flip the bread over again, then, maybe once more, to make sure each slice is thoroughly coated and almost all liquid has been absorbed.  Briefly set aside.

IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069~Step 4.  Preheat enough oil to coat the bottom (about 1/16") of a 16" electric skillet over 260°-275° (medium on the stovetop).  Add the egg-soaked bread and gently cook, about 2-3 minutes per side, using a spatula to flip it over once, until golden on both sides.  Turn heat off and transfer French toast to a paper-towel-lined plate.  Cool to room temp, about one hour, then, assemble as directed, or cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight.

IMG_1161 IMG_1167 IMG_1169 2 IMG_1173 IMG_1176~Step 5.  One slice of French toast will yield two slider-sized sandwiches. I'm making four sliders today using two slices of savory French toast that have been cut into quarters to form eight pieces.  On each of four pieces of French toast, slather a scant 1 teaspoon of whole grain mustard. Next, fold and place 1 leaf Boston or bibb lettuce atop the mustard and fasten the lettuce with a toothpick.  Atop each lettuce leaf, add 2 thin slices Campari tomato to the toothpick on each slider, followed by 1 strip of the bacon that has been cut into thirds.  

Place the French toast tops on the slider sandwiches:

IMG_1178A savory French toast BLT is not a well-dressed sandwich...

IMG_1191... but it just might be the the perfect BLT of all time:

IMG_1214Mustard & Herb-Laced Brioche French Toast BLT's:  Recipe yields 6 slices savory French toast/enough for 12 BLT slider-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; serrated bread knife; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; 2-cup measuring container; fork; 16" electric skillet; spatula; paper towels; plastic wrap; toothpicks

IMG_1118Cook's Note: Once a year, the day after Eastern European Orthodox Easter to be specific, my mother made one of my favorite breakfasts: Savory French toast w/Fried Ham & Eggs. She lightly-fried slices of baked ham (also leftover from Easter), soft-yolked, sunny-side-up eggs, and a fresh chive garnish (which grew in dad's garden).  Mom made this but once a year because that was when she had the very-specific ingredients at her fingertips -- and we all looked forward to it.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/30/2019

~ Savory Brioche French Toast w/Fried Ham & Eggs ~

IMG_1118Once a year, the day after Eastern European Orthodox Easter to be specific, my mother made one of my favorite breakfasts:  savory French toast.  To make it, she soaked thick slices of the round loaf of leftover paska (a brioche-type bread enriched with milk, eggs, butter, sugar and salt) in a tangy, whole-grain mustard-laced milk and egg mixture.  She served it with lightly-fried slices of baked ham (also leftover from Easter), soft-yolked, sunny-side-up eggs, and a fresh chive garnish (which grew in dad's garden).  Mom made this but once a year because that was when she had the very-specific ingredients at her fingertips -- and we all looked forward to it.  

IMG_1141Because I make brioche in my bread machine, the long task of baking brioche from scratch is eliminated.  This enables me to make this breakfast more than once a year, switching ham for bacon or sausage on occasion, and, substituting fried eggs with poached (when I'm inclined to steam asparagus and make hollandaise in my blender to accompany it). Like mom and dad, I always have chives growing in my garden.

Sweet and savory French toast is common in European countries.  The French words for "French toast" are "pain perdu", meaning "lost bread", because it is a way of reviving bread which becomes dry after a day or two.  The basics of any French toast recipe are pretty simple:  Thickly-sliced, 2-3-day old bread is dipped into a flavored egg/cream sweet or savory mixture, then fried in a skillet containing a coating of oil or a combination of butter and oil.  When executed correctly, it emerges from the skillet crisp and golden brown on both sides with a creamy center. 

IMG_1046For the savory French toast:

6,  3/4"-thick slices, 2-3 day old bread machine brioche

4  jumbo eggs

1  cup half and half

2  tablespoons whole-grain mustard

1  teaspoon each:  dry English mustard, Herbes de Provence and sea salt

1/2  teaspoon peppercorn blend 

4-6   tablespoons peanut or corn oil, for frying

IMG_1103For the ham, eggs & garnish:

12  thinly-sliced baked-smoked ham slices, sautéed in 1 tablespoon salted butter (2 slices ham per slice French toast)

6  jumbo eggs, seasoned with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, lightly-sautéed in the drippings left from sautéing the ham slices (1 sunny-side-up egg per slice of French toast)

snipped fresh chives, for garnish

6a0120a8551282970b0147e0e131e0970b~ Step 1.  Using a serrated bread knife, slice the bread.  This is a picture of my bread-machine brioche.  If you have a bread machine, I obviously encourage you give this recipe a try.  If you are not using my brioche, I recommend that whatever bread you are using be sliced to the thickness of 3/4".  If it is thinner or thicker, it will affect the frying time and texture.  In my opinion:  All French toast starts with properly, 3/4"-thick sliced brioche.

IMG_1048 IMG_1048Step 2.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk the eggs, half and half, whole grain mustard, English mustard, herbes de Provence, sea salt and peppercorn blend.  For six slices of bread, the magic measurement is 2 cups of liquid.

IMG_1053 IMG_1053 IMG_1060 IMG_1060 IMG_1060~Step 3.  Arrange bread slices in 13" x 9" x 2" casserole -- overlapping is ok.  Pour egg mixture over bread and wait 2-3 minutes.  Flip bread slices over on their second sides and wait another 2-3 minutes.  Flip the bread over again, then, maybe once more, to make sure each slice is thoroughly coated and almost all liquid has been absorbed.  Briefly set aside.

IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069 IMG_1069~Step 4.  Preheat just enough oil to thinly-coat the bottom (about 1/16") of a 16" electric skillet over 260°-275° (medium on the stovetop).  Add the egg-soaked bread and gently cook, about 2-3 minutes per side, using a spatula to flip it over only once, until golden on both sides.  Turn the heat off and transfer the French toast to a paper-towel-lined plate.

Serve French toast w/ham slices, fried eggs & mustard for dipping:

IMG_1124Savory French toast is a sublime way to celebrate ham & eggs:

IMG_1152Got leftover French toast?  Try my French toast BLT sliders:

IMG_1192Savory Brioche French Toast w/Fried Ham & Eggs:  Recipe yields 3 large servings or 6 smaller servings. 

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; 2-cup measuring container; fork; 16" electric skillet; spatula; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d18d60ff970cCook's Note: I won't lie, I don't love steak and eggs for breakfast.  I don't hate it, I just like bacon, sausage or ham better in the morning -- there is just something about porcine in the AM that makes me happy.  That said, I do like a steak omelette for dinner.  In fact, it's one of my favorite 'breakfast for dinner' meals. Don't try to psychoanalyze this -- it makes no sense.  Let's move on. ~ Steak, Peppers & Cheddar Chimichurri Omelette ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/27/2019

~ Five Ways to Enjoy Slovak-Style Stuffed Cabbage ~

IMG_3304When it comes to making cabbage rolls, like meatloaf or meatballs, most cuisines have a traditional recipe for them, and, all make use of on-hand ingredients.  For instance:  If they live in an area suited for raising sheep, lamb is in their cabbage rolls.  If they live in a climate where vegetables grow year round, you'll find veggies like bell peppers and chunky tomatoes in them.  I will, however, go out on a limb and state:  when I say "cabbage roll", you should say "Eastern European", because that is the cuisine they're hands-down most commonly associated with.

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

*Note: Here are some other names for stuffed cabbage rolls as per Wikipedia: golubtsy (Russia); golabki (Poland); halubcy (Belarus); holubtsi (Ukraine); kohlroulade (Germany & Austria); sarma (Balkans & Turkey).  The literal translation of the word holubki is:  "little doves" or "little pigeons".

1) Classic Cabbage Rolls on the Stovetop or in the Crockpot:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0d76434970c2) Unstuffed Deconstructed Cabbage Rolls in the Crockpot:

IMG_59393) Slovak-Style Stuffed Cabbage Soup w/Mini-Meatballs:

IMG_09104) Slovak Unstuffed Cabbage Stew w/Ground Beef & Rice:

IMG_10365) Slovak-Style Vegetarian Cabbage & Tomato Soup w/Egg Noodles:

IMG_0965"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/24/2019

~Slovak Vegetarian Cabbage & Tomato Lover's Soup~

IMG_0945I come from a long line of cabbage lovers.  Known as kapusta in Eastern European inner circles, a week rarely passes that cabbage doesn't make it's way onto the dinner table in some form.  Like my mother, the vegetable bin of my refrigerator is rarely without a head of green cabbage in it. Braised cabbage and carrots and butter-braised cabbage with egg noodles were two of our family's favorite side-dishes.  Mom's stuffed cabbage rolls (made on the stovetop or in the crockpot) and my grandmother's stuffed cabbage soup with mini-meatballs (or with ground beef and rice) were two of our favorite main-dish meals.  That said, her cabbage soup recipe is thick and hearty enough to be served as a meatless meal too -- bring on the bread and butter.

IMG_6742For my nicely-seasoned easy-to-make cabbage-soup:

IMG_0813For the cabbage and tomato soup and soup base:

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

1  quart tomato or V-8 juice (Note:  My preference is V-8.  The choice is yours.)

1  quart vegetable stock (Note:  My family is not vegetarian and we prefer ours made with beef stock.)

1 quart water

2  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (Note:  My grandmother used this beloved soup in place of tomato sauce or tomato paste -- and trust me it is wonderful.)

4  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, undrained

2  15 1/2-ounce cans diced-tomatoes, undrained

IMG_0801 IMG_0801 IMG_08011  3-pound head green cabbage, cored and cut into 6 wedges, wedges cut into 1/2"-wide egg-noodle-type strips

IMG_0814 IMG_0814 IMG_0814~ Step 1. Making the soup/soup base.  In a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the oil, salt and black pepper.  Add the diced onions.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the onions in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0830 IMG_0830 IMG_0830 IMG_0830 IMG_0830 IMG_0830 IMG_0830~Step 2.  Add the tomato or V-8 juice, stock, water, tomato soup, undrained mushrooms and diced tomatoes.  Bring to a steady simmer, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat.  Stir in the cabbage (pot will be quite full), partially cover the pot and cook until cabbage is tender and lost about half its volume, about 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep, while preparing the meatballs as directed below, or, overnight in the refrigerator.  If you have the time, overnight is best, not to mention convenient.

Try it with my mom's homemade egg noodles in it too:

IMG_0965Slovak Vegetarian Cabbage & Tomato Lover's Soup:  Recipe yields Recipe yields 5 quarts soup/12-16 1-1/2-2 cup servings + more if 1-1 1/2 pounds cooked egg noodles are added.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale (optional); wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed9264970dCook's Note: When I was growing up, I don't ever remember eating canned soup (except for Campbell's tomato soup which to this day I love), but, I do remember eating a lot of wonderful soups.  My maternal grandmother made a lot of soups, but one in particular, her heavenly chicken soup served with homemade noodles was served at her kitchen table on Sunday's after church more times than I can count. It is chicken soup for the soul.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/22/2019

~ Slovak Unstuffed-Cabbage Stew with Beef & Rice ~

IMG_1036While I was growing up and thru to today, my mother's stuffed cabbage rolls (made on the stovetop or in the crockpot) and my grandmother's stuffed cabbage soup with mini-meatballs were two of our family's favorite main-dish meals.  The latter is the easier of the two ways to bring this traditional Eastern European comfort food to the table, but, I am here to tell you, there is a third, even easier method: Stir sautéed and nicely-seasoned ground beef and cooked rice to the easy-to-make cabbage soup base.  From start to finish, it's on the table in 45 minutes.  That said, even though the rice is precooked (steamed or boiled, your choice), it is going to absorb a good bit of the broth, which give this meal a thick, stew-like consistency.

For my nicely-seasoned easy-to-make cabbage-soup base:

IMG_0813For the cabbage and tomato soup and soup base:

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

1  quart tomato or V-8 juice (Note:  My preference is V-8.  The choice is yours.)

1  quart beef stock

1 quart water

2  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (Note:  My grandmother used this beloved soup in place of tomato sauce or tomato paste -- and trust me it is wonderful.)

4  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, undrained

2  15 1/2-ounce cans diced-tomatoes, undrained

IMG_0801 IMG_0801 IMG_08011  3-pound head green cabbage, cored and cut into 6 wedges, wedges cut into 1/2"-wide egg-noodle-type strips

IMG_0814 IMG_0814 IMG_0814~ Step 1. Making the soup/soup base.  In a wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the oil, salt and black pepper.  Add the diced onions.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the onions in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822 IMG_0822~Step 2.  Add the tomato or V-8 juice, beef stock, water, tomato soup, undrained mushrooms and diced tomatoes.  Bring to a steady simmer, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat.  Stir in the cabbage (pot will be quite full), partially cover the pot and cook until cabbage is tender and lost about half its volume, about 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep, while preparing the meatballs as directed below, or, overnight in the refrigerator.  If you have the time, overnight is best, not to mention convenient.

IMG_0991For the meat and rice mixture:

3  pounds ground beef (90/10)  

2  teaspoons salt

1  teaspoon cracked black pepper

2  seasoning packets from 1  box of G.Washington's Rich Brown Seasoning and Broth Mix (Note: This WWII-era dehydrated spice mixture was created by Paul J. Campbell in 1937 to replace instant broth/bouillon.  It was a pantry staple of my grandmother's and I keep it on-hand in my pantry so I can duplicate her recipes.)

1 1/2  cups uncooked long-grain white rice, steamed in a rice steamer or cooked on stovetop

IMG_0992 IMG_0992 IMG_0992 IMG_0992 IMG_0998 IMG_0998~Step 1. Cook the rice your favorite way.  On the stovetop the common formula is: bring 2 cups water + 2 tablespoons butter or oil to a boil over high heat for every 1 cup of long-grain white rice. Slowly sprinkle the rice into the boiling water, give it a quick stir, adjust heat to a gentle simmer, cover pot and allow to simmer, without lifting the lid off the pot, 22-24 minutes.  When I am cooking rice on the stovetop, I always use a pot with a glass lid, so I can keep a careful eye on the process.  You will know the rice is finished when the bubble slow to an almost halt and small holes, where the bubbles were rising to the surface, have formed.  Remove from heat and use a fork to rake through the rice to separate the grains.

IMG_1004 IMG_1004 IMG_1004 IMG_1004 IMG_1014 IMG_1014 IMG_1014 IMG_1014~Step 2.  In a 12" skillet place the ground beef and use a spatula to break it up a bit.  Season the beef with the salt, pepper and G. Washington's seasoning.  Over medium heat, cook the beef, stirring constantly and breaking it up into bits and pieces with the spatula, until it has lost it's pink color and is just steamed through, about 6-8 minutes. Do not overcook the beef, do not brown the beef, simply render the fat from it.  Turn the heat off.  Using a few wadded-up paper towels, blot up the greasy liquid.  Add the rice to the skillet.  Stir the two together and remove from stovetop.

Note:  The reason to gently cook the ground beef in a skillet before adding it to the soup is to remove a good deal of its fat.  If you're questioning why this is not done in the case of stuffed cabbage soup w/mini-meatballs, here's the answer:  The meat and the rice in that soup are added uncooked -- the rice absorbs the fat/juices from the meatballs as they cook in the soup.  

Stir beef & rice mixture into stew & simmer 5-10 minutes:

IMG_1027Slovak Unstuffed-Cabbage Stew with Beef & Rice:  Recipe yields 5 quarts cabbage soup base/8 quarts total soup/12-16 hearty main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale (optional); wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; 12" nonstick skillet; 2-quart saucepan w/lid or electric rice steamer; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcd8fbfd970bCook's Note:  After the Easter holiday, each and every year, my mother always reserved the bone from her baked ham, being careful to leave a copious amount of meat clinging to it.  For another delightful and traditional Eastern European soup, try ~ My Mom's Traditional Ham, Cabbage & Potato Soup ~. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/20/2019

~ Slovak-Style Stuffed-Cabbage Soup with Meatballs ~

IMG_0910Known as holubki to me and golabki to many of you, stuffed cabbage rolls are beloved in every Eastern European household.  Everyone makes them a bit differently, with the constants being: ground meat (beef, pork and/or lamb), cooked rice, steamed green cabbage leaves and a tomato-based sauce.  Because they are labor-intensive, too often they're reserved for holidays or special occasions.  That said, those of us in Eastern European inner-circles know there's another form of this knife-and-fork meal that brings this savory comfort food to the weekday table in half the time. Get out the bowls and spoons and meet my grandmother's sublime stuffed cabbage soup.

Soup w/meatballs swimming it is common in many cultures:

IMG_0916Soup with meatballs swimming it?  It's common in almost all cultures, and, there is a common reason for it too.  In the history of food, and throughout all the documented ages, meat was for the wealthy.  In spite of that, savvy cooks minced or ground unwanted scraps or lesser cuts of meat and combined them with inexpensive binders like breadcrumbs or rice, a liquid or egg, plus some common-to-the cuisine seasonings.  They are to be commended for developing great-tasting meatball recipes which allowed the poorer classes to partake in a diet richer in protein.

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

For my nicely-seasoned easy-to-make cabbage-soup base:

IMG_0813For the cabbage soup base:

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

1  quart tomato or V-8 juice (Note:  My preference is V-8.  The choice is yours.)

1  quart beef stock

1 quart water

2  10 1/4-ounce cans Campbell's tomato soup (Note:  My grandmother used this beloved soup in place of tomato sauce or tomato paste -- and trust me it is wonderful.)

4  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, undrained

2  15 1/2-ounce cans diced-tomatoes, undrained

IMG_0801IMG_0801IMG_08011  3-pound head green cabbage, cored and cut into 6 wedges, wedges cut into 1/2"-wide egg-noodle-type strips

IMG_0814 IMG_0814 IMG_0814 ~Step 1.  Making the soup base.  In a wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the vegetable oil, salt and black pepper.  Add the diced onions.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the onions in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0822IMG_0822IMG_0822IMG_0822 IMG_0834 IMG_0834 IMG_0834 IMG_0834 IMG_0834 IMG_0834~Step 2.  Add the tomato or V-8 juice, beef stock, water, tomato soup, undrained mushrooms and diced tomatoes.  Bring to a steady simmer, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat.  Stir in the cabbage (pot will be quite full), partially cover the pot and cook until cabbage is tender and lost about half its volume, about 20 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep, while preparing the meatballs as directed below, or, overnight in the refrigerator.  If you have the time, overnight is best, not to mention convenient.

For my spice-is-right ground beef & rice meatballs:

IMG_0852For the meatballs:

3  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

2  teaspoons dehydrated minced garlic

2  teaspoons dehydrated minced onion

2  teaspoons salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

1  cup uncooked long-grain white rice, not "Minute rice" 

2  seasoning packets 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

IMG_0855 IMG_0855 IMG_0855 IMG_0855 IMG_0855~Step 1.  Mixing the meatballs.  Place the ground beef in a large bowl along with the dehydrated minced garlic and onion, salt and pepper, and, contents of the G. Washington's seasoning packets.  Using your hands, mix to combine.  Add the rice and mix again.  Add the eggs, and, you guessed it, give the whole thing one last very, very thorough mix.

IMG_0872 IMG_0872~ Step 2. Forming the meatballs. Using a 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, form balls and roll between the palms of hands into 1" meatballs, placing them on a parchment-lined baking pan as you work.  If you have the time, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-3 hours, to give rice time to soften.  There will be 10+ dozen meatballs.

IMG_0890 IMG_0890 IMG_0890~Step 3.  Cooking the meatballs. Return soup base to a simmer over medium-high heat.  One or two at a time, drop meatballs into simmering soup (do it this way to keep soup simmering).  When meatballs have been added, adjust heat to a gentler simmer, partially-cover pot and cook 20-25 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow soup to steep, about 30-60 minutes, prior to serving.  

IMG_0922Note:  If you have the time, refrigerate the entire pot of soup overnight, then, reheat gently on the stovetop, because, like many things, this soup tastes even better the next day.  There's more.  It freezes great. The entire batch will fill four, two-quart sized freezer containers with tight-fitting lids.  In either case, the rice is going to continue to absorb some more of the moisture, so, be prepared to add a bit more beef stock during the reheat process.

Cabbage rolls served soup-style -- it's what's for dinner:

IMG_0907Simply sublime, simply divine -- to the very last slurp:

IMG_0918Slovak-Style Stuffed-Cabbage Soup with Meatballs: Recipe yields 5 quarts cabbage soup base/8 quarts total soup/10-11 dozen small 1"-round meatballs and 12-16 hearty main-dish servings.  

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale (optional); wide-bottomed 12-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop; 2, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans or 1, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper

IMG_0734Cook's Note:  Keeping in mind that Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner, here's another recipe along the same lines as today's, with a completely different flavor profile.  If you've ever traveled South of the American-Southwest border, you have encountered albóndigas (which means meatballs in Spanish).  This meatball soup, with a rich history, made its way to Mexico via the Spanish conquistadors.  Try my luscious ~ Sopa de Albóndigas (Mexican-Style Meatball Soup ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/17/2019

~ An All-Purpose Mexican-Style Soup or Soup Base ~

IMG_0788 2My kitchen is no different than anyone elses.  The cuisine we're in the mood changes from day to day -- Asian, French, Greek, Indian, Italian, Jamaican or Texican (to name a few of our favorites). For the past few days, we've been hungry for Tex-Mex, and, like all of our other favorites, having an all-purpose marinade, a seasoning blend or two, along with a sauce for dipping or drizzling, suited specifically to this South-of-the-border flavor profile, makes meal prep easy, not to mention creative and fun.  Trust me, any way you cook it, every dish prepared in the home kitchen doesn't have to be authentic, classic, or traditional.  It just has to look and taste great.

To make my all-purpose Mexican-style soup or soup base:

IMG_06522  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) ordinary vegetable oil

1  tablespoon fajita seasoning, homemade or store-bought (Note:  Fajita seasoning is the perfect all-purpose seasoning blend for this all-purpose Mexican-soup or soup base.  After all, its purpose is to season beef or chicken and all the yummy vegetables that typically season fajitas -- the all same ingredients included in this recipe.)

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

2  large cloves garlic, run through a press

1 1/2-2  cups peeled and sliced or diced carrots

1  cup diced celery

2  quarts chicken stock

1  quart beef stock

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

1/2-3/4-ounce bouquet garni of cilantro

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

IMG_0656 IMG_0656 IMG_0656~ Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the achiote oil and fajita seasoning.  Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the vegetables in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0666 IMG_0666 IMG_0666 IMG_0666~Step 2.  Add the chicken stock, beef stock, fire-roasted tomatoes, and cilantro.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer and cook until carrots are soft, about 20 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep for 1-2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.  Overnight is best.

A tasty foil for many a Mexican-style soup meal. 

IMG_0763Add another veggie or two (we like black beans and corn)...

IMG_0769... perhaps some cooked & shredded chicken or beef too...

IMG_0771... & maybe some deep-fried corn tortilla wisps for garnish:

IMG_0779Try my Sopa de Albóndigas (Mexican-Style Meatball Soup):

IMG_0734An All-Purpose Mexican-Style Soup or Soup Base:  Recipe yields 4 quarts soup/soup base.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; vegetable peeler; kitchen-safe twine; 8-quart wide-bottomed stock pot w/lid; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c807903f970bCook's Note:  When I use my crockpot, it's not because I have no time to cook, it's because what I'm letting it cook for me, without compromise, is really good.  It's no secret, I've never been a crockpot kinda gal, but, over the past few years I've mellowed.  For one of our family's favorite Tex-Mex-style soups, try ~ Easy-Does-It: Crockpot Chicken Enchilada Soup ~.  Using pantry staples, this recipe takes almost no time to put in the crock and tastes reminiscent of a tasty trip South of the border.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/15/2019

~ Sopa de Albóndigas (Mexican-Style Meatball Soup) ~

IMG_0734Soup with meatballs swimming in it -- it's common in almost all cultures, and, there is a common reason for it too.  In the history of food, and throughout all the documented ages, meat was for the wealthy.  In spite of that, savvy cooks minced or ground unwanted scraps or lesser cuts of meat and combined them with inexpensive binders like breadcrumbs or rice, a liquid or egg, plus some common-to-the cuisine seasonings.  They are to be commended for developing great-tasting meatball recipes which allowed the poorer classes to partake in a diet richer in protein.

IMG_0697Albóndigas = meatballs, in Spanish.  Albunduq = hazelnut or small, in Arabic. 

In the case of this soup, albóndigas is the Spanish word for meatballs, and, this now-deemed Mexican soup meal traces its roots back to the sixth century, when Islamic influence dominated Southwestern Europe.  In the thirteenth century (700 years later), Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquered these Muslim-occupied territories, and, over time, Islamic culinary traditions naturally integrated into the Spanish-style of eating.  After that, albóndigas soup made its way to Mexico via the conquistadors.  I mention this informative trail of historical breadcrumbs because, at first glance, some might question one or two ingredients that don't fit the presupposed profile for Spanish and/or Mexican cuisine -- I know, I questioned it the first time I made this soup.

Hazelnut-sized Spanish meatballs contain a protein + rice & egg (to bind) & mint.

The earliest of recipes used lamb, along with rice and mint to make the meatballs.  In Spain, lamb transitioned to beef, pork or chicken.  In Mexico, beef, chicken and/or chorizo became the predominant proteins. In the language of any cuisine, this is easy to understand as ingredients are always dependent upon the geography and climate of the region.  That said, while the proteins changed with the landscape, two constants remained in the making of albóndigas: rice and mint. Imagine small, minty meatballs swimming around in a light but nicely-seasoned chicken broth, with colorful orange carrots, red tomatoes and a green vegetable (green beans, peas or spinach are common), or, black beans and sweet corn kernels (what I like to use).

For my nicely-seasoned & easy-to-make Mexican-style soup base:

IMG_0652For the Mexican-style soup base:

2  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) ordinary vegetable oil

1  tablespoon fajita seasoning, homemade or store-bought (Note:  Fajita seasoning is the perfect all-purpose seasoning blend for sopa de albóndigas and for seasoning the albóndigas too. After all, its purpose is to season beef or chicken and all the yummy vegetables that typically season fajitas -- all the same ingredients included in this recipe.)

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

4  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1 1/2-2  cups peeled and sliced or diced carrots

1  cup diced celery

2  quarts chicken stock 

1  quart beef stock 

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

1/2-3/4-ounce bouquet garni of cilantro

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

IMG_0656 IMG_0656 IMG_0656~ Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot over low heat, stir together the achiote oil and fajita seasoning.  Add the onions, garlic, carrots and celery.  Give the mixture a stir, to thoroughly coat the vegetables in the seasoned oil, increase/adjust heat to sauté and continue to cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until onions are softening, without showing signs of browning.

IMG_0666 IMG_0666 IMG_0666 IMG_0666~Step 2.  Add the chicken stock, beef stock, fire-roasted tomatoes, and cilantro.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer and cook until carrots are soft, about 20 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep for 1-2 hours, or overnight in the refrigerator.  Overnight is best.

For my spice-is-right Mexican chorizo & ground beef meatballs: 

IMG_0701For the Mexican-style mini-meatballs:

1/2  pound chorizo sausage

1/2  pound 85% lean ground beef

2  teaspoons fajita seasoning, homemade or store-bought

2  teaspoons dried mint leaves

6  tablespoons uncooked long-grain white rice

1  large egg, raw

IMG_0683 IMG_0683 IMG_0683Step 1.  In a medium mixing bowl, place the Mexican chorizo sausage, ground beef, fajita seasoning, dried mint leaves and rice.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine.  Add the egg and combine again.

IMG_0692 IMG_0692 IMG_0692~Step 2.  Using a 1" ice-cream scoop as a measure, form balls and roll between the palms of hands into 3/4" meatballs, placing them on a parchment-lined baking pan as you work.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2-3 hours, to give rice time to soften a bit.  There will be 5-dozen meatballs.

IMG_0713For the add-in's and garnishes:

1  cup well-drained and rinsed black beans*

1  cup well-drained sweet corn kernels

minced cilantro or cilantro sprigs

*Note:  In the Fall/Winter months, I like to add spinach.  In the Summer, when my garden produces them, I add green and yellow zucchini.

IMG_0710 IMG_0710 IMG_0710 IMG_0710 IMG_0710 IMG_0710~Step 3.  Bring soup to a simmer over medium-high heat.  One or two at a time, drop meatballs into simmering soup (do it this way to keep soup simmering).  When meatballs have been added, adjust heat to a gentler simmer, partially cover pot and cook 10-12 minutes.  Add black beans and corn and simmer, uncovered, 2-3 more minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow soup to steep, about 30-45 minutes, prior to serving.

Ladle into soup bowls & garnish as you wish:

IMG_0737So delish you'll want another dish:

IMG_0752Sopa de Albondigas (Mexican-Style Meatball Soup):  Recipe yields 4 quarts soup/soup base, 5 dozen small 3/4"-round meatballs and 8-10 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; vegetable peeler; kitchen-safe twine; 8-quart wide-bottomed stock pot w/lid; large spoon; 1" ice-cream-type scoop; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c807903f970bCook's Note: When I use my crockpot, it's not because I have no time to cook, it's because what I'm letting it cook for me, without compromise, is really good.  It's no secret, I've never been a crockpot kinda gal, but, over the past few years I've mellowed.  For one of our family's favorite Tex-Mex-style soups, try ~ Easy-Does-It: Crockpot Chicken Enchilada Soup ~.  Using pantry staples, this recipe takes almost no time to put in the crock and tastes reminiscent of a tasty trip South of the border.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/12/2019

~ The Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Marinade ~

IMG_0647The hamlet of Endwell, the village of Endicott, and, the city of Binghamton.  What do these three places in upstate New York have in common?  They each own a piece of the claim to creating a sandwich unique to their area, and, popularizing it to the point to hold an annual three-days-in-August food festival and hot-air balloon rally that attracts over 100,000 people to celebrate.  The "Spiedie" comes from the Italian word "spiede", as-in cubes of skewered meat cooked on a "spit".

Spiediefest08_400x400An Italian immigrant, Camillo Lacovelli is said to have introduced the original spiedie to Endwell, NY, in the early 1930's. Via his brother, Agostino "Augie" Lacovelli, who put spiedies on his Augie's Restaurant (located in Endicott) menu in 1939, they gained local popularity.  Augie's son Guido Lacovelli, continued the family business into the 1990's, owning as many as 26 restaurants at the peak of his career.  It was only natural for the spiedie sandwich to make its way to the big city of Binghamton -- its initial appearance was in 1947 at the still very popular Sharky's Bar & Grill, owned by Peter Sharak.  The rest is history.

Binghamton is the spiedie capital of the world.  

IMG_0614The secret to a great spiedie is the tangy and tart marinade.

IMG_0465Visiting this region of New York and not eating a spiedie would be tantamount to a foodie traveling to Philadelphia or Chicago and not eating a cheesesteak sandwich or an Italian-beef sandwich. My classic spiedie recipe consists of cubes of marinated chicken, pork, beef, veal or lamb, skewered, char-grilled and served in a soft, hoagie-type roll (or a slice of Italian bread), with a bit of extra sauce (simmered marinade) drizzled on top.  The marinade is the star of the show and is similar to Italian dressing (oil, vinegar, paprika and a variety of Italian spices, including mint in many versions), which quickly caramelizes when it hits the grill, keeping the meat cubes tender on the inside.  

For a tasty store-bought version, Lupo's is the brand I recommend, and, was the flavor profile I used to come up with my own recipe.  That said, while the original Italian-style spiedie marinade is the most popular, spiedie marinades have crossed cultural borders.  Variations in the marinade make it possible to make and serve them Asian-, Greek-, Jamaican-, Tex-Mex-, etc., style, and, eaten straight off the skewer or in salads or stir-fries, they're not limited to sandwiches anymore.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad35bca62200c 6a0120a8551282970b0223c8493631200c IMG_1279My marinade = enough to marinate 5-6 pounds 1"-cubed boneless, skinless chicken thighs or tenderloins, pork blade steak or pork tenderloin, or, nicely-marbled beef steak.  Because marinade works exclusively as a flavorizer, not a tenderizer, I avoid meat like chicken breasts, pork loin and sirloin steak, which tend to get tough.

In all cases, marination is a flavorizer not a tenderizer...

IMG_0624For 2 1/2 cups marinade (enough for 5-6 pounds meat cubes):

3/4  cup  corn oil

3/4  cup malt vinegar

6 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or high-quality store-bought organic lemon juice not from concentrate

2  tablespoons sugar

2  teaspoons Italian seasoning

2  teaspoons dried mint

1  tablespoon garlic salt

1  tablespoon onion salt

2  teaspoons paprika

2  teaspoons sea salt

IMG_0627 IMG_0627~ Step 1.  To make marinade, in a 1-quart "shaker" container (the type used to shake salad dressing in order to stabilize it) or jar with a tight fitting lid, place all ingredients as listed.  Cover and shake container.  If you have that time, set the marinade aside for several hours, or overnight, to allow the flavors time to marry.  It may be prepared several days in advance, and, like any vinaigrette, stored in the refrigerator indefinitely too.

IMG_0477Note:  After marinating the meat, the leftover marinade may be transferred to a small 1-quart saucepan and gently simmered 3-4 minutes to use as a flavorful sauce for dipping or drizzling over finished sandwiches -- and a wee drizzle goes a long way.  There's more.  For a sweeter version of the simmered sauce, add 2 tablespoons honey to the mixture -- be aware that sweet marinades can and will burn or boil over quickly on the grill or stovetop, so be sure to watch carefully. 

&, the length of marination time does not affect the grilling time.

IMG_0483Try my classic Italian-style spiedies w/bell peppers & onions:

IMG_0544Or, my Tex-Mex-marinated spiedies w/Texican barbecue sauce:

IMG_0568The Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Marinade:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups marinade for 5-6 pound chicken, pork or beef cubes.

Special Equipment List: 1-quart measuring container w/pourer top and lid, or, 1-quart jar w/tight-fitting lid; 2-gallon ziplock bag

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0909e769970dCook's Note:  For a similar sandwich, which isn't a spiedie because the meat doesn't get marinated, my recipe for ~ Herbed Pork Skewers w/Apricot-Mustard Sauce ~ is a keeper.  That said, in the event you'd like to transition it into a spiedie that uses pork tenderloin (it would be easy to do), my step-by-step directions will show you how to slice and fold the pork slices (not cut it into cubes), which keeps this cut of pork super-tender.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/10/2019

~ The Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Sandwich ~

IMG_0614Endicott, NY, is off the beaten path for some, which is why the spiedie sandwich just might be the best sandwich a lot of folks never heard of.  The odd part is, growing up with parents who pretty much stuck close to their home in Eastern, PA, as a family we actually made it to New York every now and then, and, everyone in our family, including grandma, loved a spiedie sandwich.  It was back in the 1960's, and, I was so young, I didn't even know I was eating an official spiedie.

B146b8f0f761201051e282db4e01d334--seneca-dodge-dartMy grandmother, my mom's mother, had a  friend who lived in Endicott New York (a town West of Binghamton).  For 6-8 years, once every Summer, our family of four plus grandma, arranged ourselves in dad's brand-new all-white, 1960 Dodge Dart Seneca and headed North.  It was a long day (we left early in the morning and returned late in the evening), but just before arriving at our destination, we stopped to eat spiedies for lunch (our hostess always made dinner).

^^^ I stole this photo after an internet search for a white, four-door, 1960 Dodge Dart Seneca.

As Philadelphia, PA = the cheesesteak capital of the world, &, Chicago, IL = the Italian-beef capital of the world...

IMG_0465The spiedie is a sandwich local to the Binghamton area, and, visiting this region and not eating a spiedie would be like traveling to the Philadelphia or Chicago and not eating a cheesesteak sandwich or an Italian-beef sandwich.  Simply put, a spiedie consists of cubes of marinated chicken, pork, beef or lamb, skewered, char-grilled and served in a soft, hoagie-type roll (or a slice of Italian bread), with a bit of extra sauce (simmered marinade) drizzled on top.  The marinade is the star of the show and is similar to Italian dressing (containing oil, vinegar, paprika and a variety of Italian spices, including mint in many versions), which quickly caramelizes when it hits the grill, keeping the meat cubes tender on the inside.  For a tasty store-bought version, which will give you a flavor profile to follow, should you be inclined to make your own, Lupo's is the brand I recommend.

... Binghamton, NY = the spiedie capital of the world!

IMG_0604"Spiedie" comes from the Italian word "spiede", as-in skewered food cooked on a "spit".  As for their origin, three people seemed to have played a part in their creation and popularization.  An Italian immigrant, Camillo Lacovelli claims to have invented the original spiedie in Endwell, NY. Via his brother, Agostino "Augie" Lacovelli, who put spiedies on his Augie's Restaurant (located in Endicott) menu in 1939, they gained local popularity.  Augie's son Guido Lacovelli, continued the family business into the 1990's, owning as many as 26 restaurants at the peak of his career.

  And this Italian-heritaged sandwich has plenty of variations. 

IMG_0544It was only natural for the spiedie sandwich to make its way to the big city of Binghamton -- its initial appearance was in 1947 at Sharky's Bar & Grill, owned by Peter Sharak.  The rest is history and Binghamton, is now the spiedie capital of the world, with an annual three-day Spiedie Festival and Balloon Rally that attracts over 100,000 people.  While the original Italian-style spiedie is still the most popular, spiedies have crossed cultural borders.  Variations in the marinade make it possible to make and serve them Asian-, Greek-, Jamaican-, Tex-Mex-, etc., style, and, eaten straight off the skewer or in salads or stir-fries, they're not limited to sandwiches anymore.

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 9.34.22 AMFor my version of the Classic Italian Spiedie Sandwich:

IMG_0480For the meat:  

2 1/2-3 pounds boneless chicken thighs or tenderloins, or pork blade steak (trimmed of excess fat) or pork tenderloin, cut into 1" cubes, marinated as directed below (Note:  Nicely-marbled steak or leg of lamb options too.)

2  each:  green and red bell peppers, sliced into 1" squares* 

1  large sweet onion, sliced into 1" squares*

*Note:  While a classic Italian spiedie is traditionally just marinated and grilled meat placed in an Italian roll or on slice of Italian bread, bell pepper and onions are classic Italian ingredients, and, my family will not allow me to make Italian spiedies without them.  The choice is yours. 

IMG_0624To make 1 1/4 cups marinade (enough for 2 1/2-3 pounds meat cubes):

6  tablespoons  corn oil

6  tablespoons malt vinegar

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, or store-bought organic lemon juice, not from concentrate

1  tablespoon sugar

1  teaspoon Italian seasoning

1  teaspoon dried mint

1 1/2  teaspoons  garlic salt

1 1/2  teaspoons onion salt

1  teaspoon paprika

1  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_0597 IMG_0597~ Step 1.  To make marinade (which can be prepared several hours or days in advance), in a 2-cup "shaker" container (the type used to shake salad dressing in order to stabilize it), place all ingredients as listed.  Cover and shake container.

Note: After marinating the meat, the leftover marinade may be transferred to a small 1-quart saucepan and gently simmered 3-4 minutes to use as a flavorful sauce for dipping or drizzling over finished sandwiches -- and a wee drizzle goes a long way.  There's more.  For a sweeter version of the simmered marinade/sauce, add 2 tablespoons honey to the mixture, but, be aware that a saucepan containing a sweet marinade can and will burn or boil over quickly on the grill or stovetop, so be sure to watch carefully.   In the case of ALL things marinated: 

Marination is a flavorizer not a tenderizer, &, the length of the marination time does not affect the grilling time.

IMG_0467 IMG_0467 IMG_0467 IMG_0467~Step 2. Place chicken or pork cubes in a 1-gallon ziplock bag. Add the marinade and seal the bag.  Marinate the chicken or pork cubes, in the refrigerator, for 6-12-24 hours (the longer the better), stopping to squish the bag occasionally (if convenient), throughout the process.

IMG_0483~Step 3.  To assemble 16, 8" bamboo skewers, thread one marinated meat cube, followed by one slice each of green bell pepper, onion and red bell pepper.  Continue alternating meat cubes and vegetable, until each skewer contains 4 cubes of meat and 3 groups of peppers and onion.  To this point, spiedie skewers can be assembled several hours and up to a day in advance of grilling.

IMG_0491~Step 4.  To grill skewers on an outdoor gas grill (or indoors using a grill pan), arrange skewers, side-by-side, on grill grids over direct heat on medium-high heat of gas grill, or, on grill grids of a large grill pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop. The heat on all grills and stovetops is not even close to being created equal, so be sure to monitor the process, which, is easy to do and goes relatively quickly.

IMG_0496 IMG_0496 IMG_0496 IMG_0496~Step 5.  Grill (all at once or in batches depending upon the size of grill or grill pan), turning four times, until meat is cooked through and light golden on all sides, and peppers are showing signs of light charring around the edges.  On grill or in grill pan, this will take about 14-15 total minutes.

Unthred onto buns & serve w/marinade for dipping or drizzling:

IMG_0546The Classic Italian Endicott-Style Spiedie Sandwich: Recipe yields 16 skewers, enough for 8 large hoagie-sized sandwiches or 16 smaller hot-dog-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 2-cup "shaker" container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; 1-gallon ziplock bag; 16, 8" bamboo skewers; gas barbecue grill or large grill pan

IMG_0568Cook's Note:  Variations in the marinade make it possible to serve spiedies Asian-style, Greek-style, Jamaican-style, etc, so, do not hesitate to be creative.  Allow me to suggest you try my ~ Texican-Style Pork Steak and Bell Pepper Spiedies ~.  These are marinated in a tangy lime- and cilantro-laced marinade and accompanied by my ~ Easy Sweet & Spicy Tex-Mex-Style Barbecue Sauce ~. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/08/2019

~ Texican-Style Pork Steak and Bell Pepper Spiedies ~

IMG_0537My grandmother, my mother's mother, had a close friend who lived in Endicott New York (a village just West of Binghamton).  For a period of six-eight years, once every Summer, our family of four plus grandma, arranged ourselves in my dad's all-white, 1960 Dodge Dart Seneca and headed North.  It was a very long day (we left early in the morning and returned late in the evening), but just before arriving at our destination, we stopped to eat spiedies for lunch (our hostess made us dinner). Our family, including grandma, loved the classic Italian spiedies in Endicott -- Dad and I liked ours made with pork, while my brother, mom and grandma preferred theirs with chicken.

This was us (photo of Dodge Dart Seneca is carped from internet):

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49eb600200b

As Philadelphia, PA = the cheesesteak capital of the world, &, Chicago, IL = the Italian-beef capital of the world... 

IMG_0465The spiedie is a sandwich local to the Binghamton area, and, visiting this region and not eating a spiedie would be like traveling to the Philadelphia or Chicago and not eating a cheesesteak sandwich or an Italian-beef sandwich.  Simply put, the classic Italian spiedie consists of cubes of marinated chicken, pork, beef or lamb, skewered, grilled, and served in a long, soft roll (or on a slice of Italian bread), with a bit of sauce (simmered marinade) drizzled on top.  The marinade is the star of the show and similar to Italian dressing (containing oil, vinegar, lemon, paprika and a variety of Italian spices, including mint in most versions), which quickly caramelizes when it hits the grill, keeping the meat tender on the inside.  For a tasty store-bought version, which will provide a flavor profile, if you're inclined to make your own, I recommend Lupo's.

... Binghamton, NY = the spiedie capital of the world!

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

  And this Italian-heritaged sandwich has plenty of variations. 

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

Screen Shot 2019-04-09 at 9.34.22 AMArmed w/a cuisine-appropriate marinade, I make spiedies several ways throughout the grilling season.  Today = Tex-Mex-Style.

IMG_7102To make 1 1/4 cups marinade:

3/4 cup achiote vegetable oil, or any plain (clear) vegetable oil*

6  tablespoons white vinegar

6  tablespoons lime juice, fresh or high-quality organic lime juice

1  tablespoon ground cumin

1  tablespoon dried Mexican oregano and Mexican-style chili powder

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

1/2  cup minced cilantro leaves

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

IMG_7103 IMG_7103 IMG_7108 IMG_7108~Step 1.  In a small capacity food processor or blender, measure and place all ingredients as listed:  vegetable oil, vinegar, lime juice and all of the dry spices.  Mince and add the cilantro. Process or blend, until smooth, about 15-20 seconds.  Marinate pork for 6-12-24 hours.

Note:  After marinating the pork, the leftover marinade may be transferred to a small 1-quart saucepan and gently simmered for 4-5 minutes to use as a very-flavorful sauce for dipping or drizzling over the finished sandwiches -- a little goes a long way.  There's more.  For a sweeter version of the marinade (or the simmered sauce), add 2 tablespoons honey to the mixture -- be aware that sweet marinades can and will burn or boil over quickly on the grill or stovetop, so be sure to watch carefully under either circumstance.  In the case of ALL things marinated: 

Marination does not affect cooking time, it is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.

IMG_0467To marinate the pork:

2 1/2-3  pounds pork blade steak*, trimmed of excessive outer fat and cut into 1" cubes, two 3/4"-1"-thick steaks cut by your butcher as directed below

all marinade, from above recipe

6a0120a8551282970b0223c8493631200c-1*Steaks cut from the pork shoulder are marbled with lots of fat and rich with collagen, which, like the roast, makes them extremely flavorful.  

Because overcooking renders them dry and tough, this quick-cooking cut is perfect for the grill, sauté pan or broiler.  Choose pinkish-gray steaks that are generally the same size and thickness (3/4"-1" thick is ideal), and, have been trimmed of excessive fat from the fat-cap-side. The four steaks pictured here, weighing a total of 6.48 pounds, cost $10.87.  That's a whole lot of economical porcine wonderfulness -- especially if you've got a big family.

IMG_0471 IMG_0471 IMG_0471~Step 1. Place pork cubes in a 1-gallon ziplock bag. Add the marinade and seal the bag.  Marinate the pork, in the refrigerator, for 6-12-24 hours, stopping to squish the bag occasionally (if convenient), throughout the process.

IMG_0480To assemble and grill 16, 8" pork steak skewers:

2  each:  green and red bell peppers, sliced into 1" squares 

1  large sweet onion, sliced into 1" squares

all of the marinated pork cubes, from above recipe

8  Italian-cheesesteak-type rolls, thick-sliced Italian bread, or, 16 brioche hot dog rolls, your choice

IMG_0483~ Step 1.  To assemble 16, 8" bamboo skewers, thread one marinated meat cube, followed by one slice each of green bell pepper, onion and red bell pepper.  Continue alternating pork cubes and vegetable, until each skewer contains 4 cubes of pork and 3 groups of peppers and onion.  To this point, spiedie skewers can be assembled several hours and up to a day in advance of grilling.

IMG_0491~Step 2.  To grill skewers on an outdoor gas grill (or indoors using a grill pan), arrange skewers, side-by-side, on grill grids over direct heat on medium-high heat of gas grill, or, on grill grids of a large grill pan over medium-high heat on the stovetop. The heat on all grills and stovetops is not even close to being created equal, so be sure to monitor the process, which, is easy to do and goes relatively quickly.

IMG_0496 IMG_0496 IMG_0496 IMG_0496~Step 3.  Grill (all at once or in batches depending upon the size of grill or grill pan), turning four times, until pork is cooked through and light golden on all sides, and peppers are showing signs of light charring around the edges.  On grill or in grill pan, this will take about 14-15 total minutes.

Unthred onto buns & serve w/Texas-Style Barbecue Sauce...

IMG_0568... drizzled over the top of this mouthwatering sandwich: 

IMG_0583Tex-Mex-Style Pork Steak and Bell Pepper Spiedie:  Recipe yields 16 skewers, enough for 8 large hoagie-sized sandwiches or 16 smaller hot-dog-sized sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; small capacity food processor; 1-cup measuring container; 1-gallon ziplock bag; 16, 8" bamboo skewers; gas barbecue grill or large grill pan

6a0120a8551282970b0224df3140c6200bCook's Note: The pork blade steak is my new-to-me muse -- in my own words, it's a bone-fide kick-butt man-sized pork chop.  Known as pork steak, pork butt steak or pork blade steak, and similar in taste and texture to close-kin country-style spareribs, they were invented in St. Louis, MO, and are a Midwest staple.  As a country-style spare-rib lover living in central Pennsylvania, I ask the Sam's Club butcher to custom-cut these inexpensive, lesser-to-unknown-to-my-community steaks for me.  Give 'em a try!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/05/2019

~Easy Sweet & Spicy Tex-Mex-Style Barbecue Sauce~

IMG_0526Simmer down.  I am well aware that authentic Texas-style barbecue requires no sauce, and, its purist fans proclaim perfectly-smoked beef, poultry or pork is so lip-smacking fantastic sauce ruins it. I'm neither here to disagree nor apologize -- I'm just a Yankee gal that likes a special or secret sauce with, or on, almost everything that comes off a grill or out of a smoker.  There's more. I have absolutely no idea what might constitute the perfect Tex-Mex-style barbecue sauce, I'm simply here to share my culinary concoction of sweet and savory pleasing-to-me perfection.

Specific to no one dish, but loyal to the cuisine du jour.

My kitchen is no different than anyone elses.  The cuisine we're in the mood changes from day to day.  Be it Asian, Greek, Italian, Jamaican or Texican (to name a few of our favorites), having an all-purpose marinade or dry rub, along with a sauce for dipping or drizzling, suited specifically to the flavor profile for any cuisine, makes meal preparation for any family easy, not to mention creative and fun.  Trust me when I tell you, any way you cook it, every dish prepared in the home kitchen doesn't have to be authentic, classic, or traditional.  It just has to look and taste great.

IMG_04222  8-ounce cans tomato sauce

1/4  cup light-flavored molasses

6  tablespoons Worcestershire

1  tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1  teaspoon dry English mustard

1  teaspoon Mexican oregano

1/2  teaspoon each:  ground cinnamon and cumin

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon each: garlic and onion powder

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

IMG_0426 IMG_0426 IMG_0426 IMG_0426 IMG_0426~Step 1.  Place all ingredients as listed in a 1-quart saucepan.  Bring to a steady simmer over medium heat and continue to cook, stirring constantly, 5-6 minutes.  Sauce will be thick, but not too thick -- perfect for dipping or drizzling on almost any Tex-Mex-style grilled meat, poultry or pork.  Place in a food storage container and store in refrigerator up to 3-4 weeks.

Try my Texican-style Pork Steak & Bell Pepper Spiedies

IMG_0519Easy Sweet & Spicy Tex-Mex-Style Barbecue Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups barbecue sauce.

Special Equipment List:  1-quart saucepan; spoon; appropriate-sized food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b019102de4b79970cCook's Note: I'm a sauce-a-holic.  I think almost everything tastes better with a perfectly executed sauce on top of it, underneath it or to the side of it.  I think a saucier (a person who devotes oneself to the art of saucemaking) is the most valuable person in the kitchen. From appetizers to desserts, a simple or sophisticated sauce not only enhances food, it can mask a minor mishap or mistake.  ~ Kansas City BBQ Sauce:  Sweet, Spicy & Smokey ~, is one of my favorites.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

04/03/2019

~Spicy Southwestern-Style Candied Sweet Potatoes~

IMG_0389April showers bring May flowers, tick-tock, and so starts the prime-time grilling season.  Across the country, home cooks and grill-masters are already concocting their secret recipes for sweet and savory wet sauces and spice-is-nice dry rubs.  Once the chicken and ribs start hitting the grill grids, neighborhoods everywhere will be filled with the ethereal smell of barbecue.  Get out the paper plates and napkins, place the side-dishes on the table, pop a beer and pull up a chair.

Speaking of side-dishes (notice how I snuck that in), while Northeastern Deutsch-Amish potato-salads, macaroni-salads and coleslaws reign undeniably supreme (as far as cold, starchy side-dishes to eat during the Summer season), if you're looking for a hot option, in place of the ever-popular Midwestern baked bean- and/or baked-corn- casserole, allow me to suggest some spicy-and-syrupy Southwestern-style candied sweet potatoes to go with your poultry or porcine.

Times change, people change, &, candied sweet potatoes aren't just for Easter ham & Thanksgiving turkey anymore.

As a kid, I never understood why our family didn't eat sweet potatoes more often.  Mom served them twice a year.  Once in the Spring, with our Easter ham, and, once in the Fall, with our Thanksgiving turkey -- at both holidays, a table full of family and friends ate them enthusiastically. Even though I didn't waste a lot of time pondering this situation as a child, when I got older, I asked my mom.  She served them twice a year because her mother served them twice a year.

0-Yucatan-peninsula-on-the-map'Tis true.  Most of us don't start thinking about sweet potatoes until the leaves turn color in the Fall, and, I was in that rut too, until I attended an outdoor wedding with a pig-roast reception several years ago. While I don't remember if the wedding was in July or August, I can't forget the big platters, heaped with chunks of perfectly-cooked porcine surrounded by creamy sweet-potatoes enrobed in a brown-sugar-, cinnamon-, clove-, cumin- and cayenne-laced sauce.  What's not to love.

The main difference between Mexican-style candied sweet potatoes & all other American-regional candied sweet potatoes is...

The catering team was a Texican-American man and a woman who hailed from the Yucatan Peninsula. The camotes enmielados, or Mexican-style candied sweet potatoes, were remarkable.  My friend and mother-of-the-bride was kind enough request the recipe details on my behalf. Interestingly, the method is not that different from making Southern-style or any type of candied sweet potatoes -- even the spices (sans the earthy cumin and spicy cayenne) are similar.

... Piloncillo (or Panela) -- Mexican brown cane-sugar cones.

IMG_0331I was pleasantly surprised to find them on the shelves of my grocery store. As it turns out, piloncillo is a brown form of Mexican sugar known for its strong molasses flavor (which comes from the sugar being left unrefined, not from adding molasses).  In Mexican cuisine, it's used in recipes that are enhanced by a strong molasses flavor (beverages, gingerbread, flan, etc.). Sometimes sold in bricks, it's mostly packed in 2-, 4- or 8-ounce cones, but, if you can't find piloncillo, dark brown sugar may be substituted. That said, recipes using piloncello are always weight specific, so substitute brown sugar accordingly.

For this Southwestern version of Mexican candied sweet potatoes:

IMG_03422 1/2-3  pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, ends trimmed, cut into 1 1/2"-thick discs

1  8-ounce piloncillo cone

1  cup water

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, more or less, for heat, to taste

IMG_0349 IMG_0349 IMG_0349 IMG_0349 IMG_0349~Step 1.  Rinse the potatoes under cold water to remove any grit.  Trim off the woody ends, then, slice the potatoes into 1 1/2"-thick discs.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, place the water and all spices.  Add the sweet potato discs (it is ok to stack them in two layers) and the whole piloncillo cone, making certain the piloncillo cone makes contact with the water.  

IMG_0363 IMG_0363 IMG_0363 IMG_0363~Step 2.  Cover pan.  Bring water to a rapid simmer over medium- medium-high heat. Adjust (lower) heat to a gentle but steady simmer and continue to cook for 30 minutes. Remove lid. Insert the tines of a fork into the tops of one or two of the potatoes.  If the lid has remained on the pan throughout the entire cooking process, the potatoes will be be steamed-through and tender to their centers, and, the piloncillo cone will be completely dissolved.  Turn the heat off.  Using a slotted spatula, transfer the potatoes from the sugary-liquid to a shallow serving bowl.

IMG_0377 IMG_0377 IMG_0377~Step 3.  Return the sugary-liquid, which is still quite thin, to a steady simmer and cook, uncovered, 5-6 minutes, to thicken to the consistency of maple syrup.  Remove from heat and drizzle the syrup over the sweet potatoes.  Serve ASAP with grilled chicken, pork chops or blade steaks, or, pulled pork.

Serve w/grilled poultry or porcine & watch the crowd to go wild:

IMG_0395Spicy Southwestern-Style Candied Sweet Potatoes:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

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

IMG_0277Cook's Note:  Anything a Russet potato can do, a sweet potato can do better.  Put a baked sweet potato on a plate and I require little else. On occasion, I microwave-bake one for me, to eat in place of dinner -- a pat or three of butter, a grind or two of sea salt and peppercorn blend, tick-tock, I'm fed.  This applies to twice-baked potatoes too, and, for another year-round sweet potato treat, you should try my recipe for ~ Twice-Baked Fully-Loaded Texican Sweet Potatoes ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/31/2019

~ Twice-Baked Fully-Loaded Texican Sweet Potatoes ~

IMG_0277In my food world, as far as I'm concerned, anything a Russet potato can do, a sweet potato can do better. Put a baked sweet potato on my plate and I require little else.  Truth told, on occasion, I microwave-bake one just for me, to eat in place of dinner -- a pat or three of butter, a grind or two of sea salt and peppercorn blend, tick-tock, I'm fed.  I love sweet potatoes, and, when it comes to baked potatoes, I will always choose a creamy sweet potato over a fluffy Russet potato.

For me, as recent as three decades ago, sweet potatoes were reserved for Thanksgiving dinner. We had three boys and during the '80's and into the '90's, the Russet ruled the roost.  If Joe was grilling steaks for dinner, my twice-fried French-fries or twice-baked potatoes, loaded with bacon, cheddar and broccoli, were our family's favorite side dishes.  That said, when Joe was traveling, every now and then I'd make the kids twice-baked taco taters, loaded with cheddar, American-style ground-beef taco meat topped with sour cream and salsa, for dinner. 

Making twice-baked potatoes is a method, not an exact recipe.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08596ffe970dA twice baked potato is exactly what the name implies:  It's a potato that gets baked in the oven twice.  After the first bake, the potato is sliced in half and the light, fluffy soft-center is carefully scooped out, leaving the shell/the potato skin undamaged. The cooked center is then mashed, mashed-potato-style, with butter, salt, pepper and/or various seasonings and creamy options like sour cream, yogurt and/or cream cheese.  Then the fun begins:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a014be200dAdd-ins, absolutely anything you want, usually family-friendly favorites (like the combination of bits of crispy chopped bacon and blanched chopped broccoli topped with shredded cheddar cheese in photo above), get folded in.  The flavor-packed potato mixture is scooped back into the the potato skins and baked a second time, which makes the skin crispy and melts the cheese on top -- they're the Rolls Royce of the baked-potato world.  For me, anything a Russet potato can do, a sweet potato can do better, except for one thing:

When baking or twice-baking sweet potatoes, because the tough sweet potato skin is a less than desirable eating experience, there is no reason to take the time to roast them in the oven -- the microwave does it in half the time.  That said, the reverse is true for Russets -- when oven-roasted correctly, they emerge with a crispy, edible skin, which the microwave cannot achieve.

An inconvenient truth:  A sweet potato is not a yam.

IMG_8026A bit about sweet potatoes:  Sweet potatoes were first introduced to North America when Columbus brought them over from the island of St. Thomas, where this large edible root (which belongs to the morning-glory family) is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.  There are many varieties of sweet potato, but the two most widely grown commercially are a pale sweet potato and a dark-skinned variety Americans erroneously call "yam" (the true yam is not even related to the sweet potato).  The pale potato has a thin, light yellow skin and pale yellow flesh. Its flavor is not sweet, and, after being cooked, the pale sweet potato is dry and crumbly, similar to that of a Russet potato. The darker variety (pictured above) has a thicker, dark-orange skin and vivid-orange, sweet flesh.  When cooked it has a very sweet flavor and a creamy texture. The dark-skinned, orange-colored variety is the only kind I use in my recipes.

IMG_5635When buying sweet potatoes, choose plump, firm even-sized ones with no cracks. Like regular potatoes they should never be stored in the refrigerator, but do need to be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place. If the temperature is above 60 degrees, they'll begin to sprout, get woody and/or shriveled.  Cooked sweet potatoes, if stored in the refrigerator, last about a week.  Like regular potatoes, sweet potates are always eaten cooked, never raw.

My recipe = cheese on the bottom & top of the filling.

Great twice-baked potatoes or twice-baked sweet potatoes are not pot-luck or a place to throw your leftovers -- they are usually very-well conceived.  I've tasted a lot of creative versions and the best combinations always contain some type of cooked meat, poultry or porcine, a vegetable or two, and, grated cheese.  That said, I've never tasted a low-calorie or low-fat version of a twice-baked potato that had a purpose.  Who in the world counts calories when eating these?

IMG_0224For 6-8 twice-baked fully-loaded sweet potatoes:

6-8  large 15-16-ounce sweet potatoes

6-8  ounces finely-shredded Mexican cheese blend

6-8  ounces queso blanco or queso fresco cheese, minced or crumbled

4  cups chorizo sausage filling, prepared as directed below:

IMG_0191For 4 cups chorizo sausage filling:

3/4-1  pound Mexican-chorizo sausage

3/4-1  cup thinly-sliced scallions, white and light-green parts only

1/2-3/4  cup minced, fresh cilantro

3/4-1  cup rinsed and well-drained black beans (half a 15-ounce can)

3/4-1  cup well-drained sweet corn kernels (half a 15-ounce can)

IMG_0270For the accompaniments (about 1 tablespoon each per potato) and final garnish:

1/2  cup Mexican crema or sour cream

1/2  cup avocado crema or guacamole

1/2  cup pico de gallo or salsa fresca

minced cilantro leaves or thinly-sliced scallion tops, for garnish

IMG_0226 IMG_0226 IMG_0226~Step 1.  To microwave-bake sweet potatoes, use the tines of a fork to prick the skin of their tops in several (5-6) spots.  Arrange potatoes, side-by-side on a microwave-safe plate and cook, as per the instruction booklet of your microwave.  My GE Advantium oven bakes four potatoes at a time, according to size and weight (small, medium or large).  Today's potatoes should be done in 18 1/2 minutes.  If they are not, I will finish cook them on express (high) in 1 1/2-2 minute increments until they are.  

IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194~Step 2.  To make the chorizo sausage filling, place sausage in a 10" nonstick skillet and use a nonstick spatula to break it up into rough pieces.  Add the scallions and cilantro.  Adjust heat under skillet to medium- medium-high and gently sauté until sausage is just cooked through, 5-6 minutes, continuing to use the spatula to break sausage up into small bits and pieces as it cooks. Add and stir in the black beans and corn, and continue to cook, 1 more minute.  Remove from heat and transfer chorizo sausage filling to a paper-towel-lined plate to thoroughly drain.

IMG_0234 IMG_0234 IMG_0234 IMG_0234 IMG_0234 IMG_0234~Step 3.  Remove potatoes from microwave and set aside 5-10 minutes to cool slightly.  At a slight angle, vertical-slice the left and right ends down to within 1/4" of bottom of potato.  Horizontal-slice through the middle of the potato down to within 1/4" of bottom.  Use a fork to loosen and fluff the tender interior.  Using your fingertips, sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of Mexican cheese blend into the cavity, followed by a generous 1/2 cup of the sausage filling, followed by about 2 tablespoons of the queso fresco cheese.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and return to microwave to express cook 30-60 seconds.  Serve immediately.

Serve ASAP (w/guacamole, crema & salsa fresca): 

IMG_0304Don't wait or hesitate -- Stick a fork in it & dig in:

IMG_0322Twice-Baked Fully-Loaded Texican Sweet Potatoes:  Recipe yields 6-8 large, hearty, main-course, what's-for-dinner servings.

Special Equipment List:  fork; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula; paper towels; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3c11477200bCook's Note:  Sweet potatoes are a fantastic substitution for Russets in potato- or baked-potato- soup too. That said, when it comes to sweet potato soup, think "savory soup" not "sweet dessert" and season accordingly. Sweet potato soup needs no sugar, brown sugar or honey -- sweet potatoes are full of flavor, texture and are naturally sweet. When served as a savory starter to a meal -- no cinnamon or nutmeg please.  Herbes de Provence, cracked black pepper and a kiss of fresh rosemary does it all.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/28/2019

~Mexican Chorizo Sausage & Scrambled Egg Burrito~

IMG_0110If hearty, protein-packed eating is the perfect start to the day, Texicans make the best breakfasts. While I occasionally enjoy a steak-and-egg omelette, serve me a Ham-Packed Denver Omelette instead and I'm doin' a happy dance.  Porcine (bacon, sausage and ham) have always been at the top of my what-meat-to-eat-with-my-AM-eggs list, and, I'm here to tell you, Mexican-chorizo is quickly becoming my new muse.  If like me, you enjoy a bit of huevos rancheros or chorizo con huevos kinda heat to start your day, this type of chorizo has cha-cha-cha.

IMG_0031It's worth mention that aside from the bright-to-tawny red color, Mexican chorizo and Spanish chorizo are not the same, so, purchase with precision.  Mexican chorizo is a fresh, ground-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold loose or in a casing, it is raw and must be cooked before eating it. Spanish chorizo is a dried and fully-cured or semi-cured chopped-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold in a casing, fully-cured is fully-cooked and can be eaten as is, while semi-cured requires cooking prior to eating.

The chorizo con huevos "hearty hangover breakfast burrito"...

IMG_0109I'm not touting this one as traditional, I'm touting it as fantastic. Traditionally, fried chorizo sausage crumbles get doused with a scrambled egg mixture and the two are served as one, as a scrambled egg breakfast -- Chorizo con Huevos (Mexican Sausage Scrambled Eggs) is a traditional Mexican breakfast.  It's commonly served with some refried beans and/or rice along with a soft-flour- or pliable-corn- tortilla, but, that's the extent of the fanfare.  I won't lie, it wasn't my eggstraordinary idea to roll these scrambled eggs up in a refried-bean-and-cheese-lined flour tortilla to serve burrito-style with a drizzle of warm queso and cool salsa.  My pub-owning friend Toni (Antoinette), a Mexican-American gal from San Antonio, TX, created it as her signature "hearty-hangover breakfast-burrito" which, once on her menu, was soon available all day long.

... is not traditional, but it's fantastic, &, it's how I serve it.

IMG_0034For 2 servings Mexican sausage and scrambled eggs:

1/3  pound ground Mexican chorizo sausage (roughly 5-5 1/2 ounces)

6  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions

3  tablespoons minced cilantro

3  jumbo eggs 

3  tablespoons milk

1/8  teaspoon salt

IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 ~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk together eggs, milk and salt.  Set aside.  Place the sausage in an 8" nonstick skillet along with scallions and cilantro.  Cook over medium- medium-high heat until sausage is cooked through, about 5-6 minutes, using a nonstick spatula to break sausage up into small bits and pieces as it cooks.  

IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052~Step 2.  When the sausage is cooked through pour egg mixture over sausage mixture, then use the spatula to scramble the eggs into the sausage. Remove from heat, cover skillet and set aside while prepping the burrito as directed.  These scrambled eggs, on their own without the beans, cheese and flour tortilla are eggstraordinary.

IMG_0071For two chorizo con huevos breakfast burritos:

2  large, 9 1/2"-10" burrito-sized soft flour tortillas

1  cup creamy-style refried beans

1 1/2  cups finely-shredded Mexican-style cheddar-Jack cheese blend

all of the chorizo con huevos (scrambled eggs), divided into two portions, from above recipe

For the recommended accompaniments and/or garnish options:

warm chile con queso (or store-bought salsa con queso) and cold pico de gallo (or store-bought salsa fresca), Mexican crema (or sour cream) and/or avocado crema (or guacamole), and, thinly-sliced scallion tops and/or cilantro leaves 

IMG_0073 IMG_0073 IMG_0073 IMG_0073~Step 1.  To assemble first burrito, place one tortilla on a plate or flat work surface.  Using a butter knife, distribute half the refried beans evenly over surface  Sprinkle half the shredded cheese evenly over surface.  Spoon and mound half the still-warm but not steaming-hot scrambled eggs, in a tubular shape, in the center of the tortilla.  Repeat this process with the second burrito.

IMG_0093 IMG_0093 IMG_0093~Step 2.  To wrap each burrito, lift side closest to you up and over top enough to tuck the end under the eggs on the opposite side.  Next, fold left and right sides of tortilla up and towards the center, to seal the burrito at either end.  Last, roll the tortilla over, so that it sits, fully-encased, seam side down.  To finish-cook burritos, wrap in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and heat in the microwave for 1-1 1/2 minutes, or, in 350º oven 6-8 minutes, just long enough to warm through and melt the cheese.

I'm not here to compete (w/other recipes), I'm just here to eat:

IMG_0129Try Chorizo con Huevos (Mexican Sausage & Scrambled Eggs):

IMG_0157Mexican Chorizo Sausage & Scrambled Egg Burrito:  Recipe yields instructions to make 2 large burritos/2 large servings or 4 smaller servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 8" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula; butter-type knife; plastic wrap; serrated bread knife

IMG_9652Cook's Note: ~ Spicy and Cheesy Breakfast-for-Dinner Scrambled-Egg Quesadillas ~.  Put a plate of these on the table any time of day and you'll have 'em eating out of your hand. They've got everything anyone could want in terms of Tex-Mex flavor and texture. Creamy refried beans, gooey cheddar-Jack cheese, and, Sriracha- cilantro- and scallion-laced scrambled eggs between crisp-tender flour tortillas. Top with pico de gallo, Mexican crema and/or guacamole -- who could possible ask for more? 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/25/2019

~ Chorizo con Huevos -- Mexican Sausage and Eggs ~

IMG_0144Porcine (bacon, sausage and ham) have always been at the top of my what-meat-to-eat-with-my-AM-eggs list, and, I'm here say, Mexican-chorizo is quickly becoming my new muse.  Chorizo con huevos, a Mexican sausage and scramble egg breakfast staple, is as delightful to eat as it is easy-to-prepare. Traditionally, fried chorizo crumbles get doused with a scrambled egg mixture and the two are served as one, as a protein-packed scrambled egg breakfast.  It's commonly served with some Mexican adobo rice, refried beans, and, soft flour or pliable corn tortillas. That's the extent of the fanfare.  It's simple, straightforward, slightly spicy, and, seriously filling.

IMG_0031It's worth mention that aside from the bright-to-tawny red color, Mexican chorizo and Spanish chorizo are not the same, so purchase with precision.  Mexican chorizo is a fresh, ground-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold loose or in a casing, it is raw and must be cooked before eating it. Spanish chorizo is a dried and fully-cured or semi-cured chopped-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold in a casing, fully-cured is fully-cooked and can be eaten as is, while semi-cured requires cooking prior to eating.

Chorizo con Huevos (Mexican sausage & eggs) for two:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb086c5071970dI'm preparing two servings today, but, by simply doubling or tripling, etc. the recipe, and increasing the size of the skillet accordingly, it serves a crowd as quickly as it feeds two. Having made it for my tailgate group, when served with rice, beans and tortillas, I can tell you with certainty that six times the recipe (do the math), if prepared in a 16" electric skillet will easily feed twelve.

IMG_0034For 2 servings Mexican sausage and scrambled eggs:

1/3  pound ground Mexican chorizo sausage (roughly 5-5 1/2 ounces)

6  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions

3  tablespoons minced cilantro

3  jumbo eggs 

3  tablespoons milk

1/8  teaspoon salt

IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk eggs, milk and salt.  Set aside.  Place sausage in an 8" nonstick skillet along with scallions and cilantro.  Cook over medium- medium-high heat until sausage is cooked, 5-6 minutes, using a nonstick spatula to break sausage up into small bits and pieces as it cooks.

IMG_0050 IMG_0050 IMG_0050 IMG_0050 IMG_0050 IMG_0050

~Step 2.  When the sausage is cooked through pour egg mixture over sausage mixture, then use the spatula to scramble the eggs into the sausage. Remove from heat and serve with Mexican-style rice, refried beans and soft flour or corn tortillas.

If hearty, protein-packed eating is the perfect start to the day...

IMG_0157... Mexicans & Texicans make the best breakfasts.

IMG_0172Try my Mexican Chorizo Sausage & Scrambled Egg Burrito too:

IMG_0110Chorizo con Huevos -- Mexican Sausage and Eggs:  Recipe yields 1 large or 2 small servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 8" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a44b3164200cCook's Note: ~ Spicy and Cheesy Breakfast-for-Dinner Scrambled-Egg Quesadillas ~.  Put a plate of these on the table any time of day and you'll have 'em eating out of your hand. They've got everything anyone could want in terms of Tex-Mex flavor and texture. Creamy refried beans, gooey cheddar-Jack cheese, and, Sriracha- cilantro- and scallion-laced scrambled eggs between crisp-tender flour tortillas. Top with pico de gallo, Mexican crema and/or guacamole -- who could possible ask for more?

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/22/2019

~ My Brown-Sugar-Crusted Corned Beef Sandwiches ~

IMG_0013Everyone I know associates corned beef and cabbage with St. Patrick's Day, but, tick-tock, I'd rather show up a day or two later for a corned beef sandwich.  Truth told, Joe and I like corned beef sandwiches enough for me to buy corned beef a few times a year.   That said, I typically don't serve them Rueben-style (with the 'kraut).  We two prefer to eat ours made grilled-cheese-style with a big scoop of Russian- or Thousand Islands-dressed potato salad or cole slaw to the side.  Having made Rachel sandwiches for our green-for-a-day holiday, I was thrilled to find corned beef BOGO'd yesterday because I knew what dinner and this blog post was going to be.

Meet my amazing sugar-crusted corned beef brisket:

IMG_9995What does "corned" mean & what is a corned beef brisket?

6a0120a8551282970b0147e2f8418d970bA bit about corned beef:  Corned beef is beef brisket that has been brine-cured in a solution of salt and water typically used for pickling or preserving food.  Brisket is the cut of beef taken from the breast section under the first five ribs.  It is sold without the bone and divided into two sections.  The flat-cut has minimal fat and is more expensive than the more flavorful point-cut. 

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

Cooking corned beef in any slow cooker works great, but: 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3b31910200bMeet 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 6a0120a8551282970b022ad393e564200d 22" 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 two corned beef briskets, side-by-side and in a single layer, to cook evenly, in comfort -- spa-style -- I love it when I trust my gut, as it worked beautifully.  There's more:

At about $45.00, it wasn't that big of an investment.  The crock is 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".

Making Corned Beef in Crockpot's Casserole Crock:

IMG_99491  cup water

2  3 1/2-4-pound flat- or point-cut corned beef

1 1/2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

3/4  teaspoon ground allspice

2  whole bay leaves

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4  cup dark brown sugar

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 1/2-3  cups additional dark brown sugar, for finishing under broiler

IMG_9954 IMG_9954 IMG_9954 IMG_9954 IMG_9954 IMG_9954~Step 1.  Remove brisket from package (discard seasoning packet) and rinse meat under cold water.  Spray inside of Crockpot casserole with no-stick cooking spray, add 1 cup water to the crock, then, place the corned beef, side-by-side without overlapping, in bottom.  Distribute and scatter the onions, all of the spices, the brown sugar and the crushed tomatoes on top of the two roasts.  Cover and cook on high for four hours.

IMG_9973 IMG_9973 IMG_9973 IMG_9973 IMG_9986 IMG_9991 2~Step 2.  Uncover the crock.  Using a fork and the aid of a spatula, carefully flip the meat over.  Put the lid back on and continue to cook on high for two more hours.  Turn the crockpot off.  Using the fork and spatula, carefully transfer each brisket to a plate to cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Spoon 3/4-1 cup brown sugar over the surface of each brisket*, then, use your fingertips to pat and press it down to form a thin coating over the surface. 

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c771f1cd970b~ Step 3.  Place each sugar-crusted brisket on a rack in a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole containing about 1/4" tepid tap water in its bottom.  

Note:  Adding the water to the bottom of the casserole will prevent any melting sugar that drips to the bottom of the dish from smoking or burning on contact, which in turn makes cleanup a lot easier.  

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c771f220970b~ Step 4.  Place one or both casseroles* on center rack of 350º oven until sugar is bubbling and golden, 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest, uncovered, about 15 minutes, to allow the sugar to harden and form a crunchy crust.

*Note:  I sugar-crust and bake one, storing the uncrusted one in the refrigerator to use later or freeze.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0fbf417970c~Step 5.  After the meat has rested, carve the corned beef by first slicing it in half, with the grain (which keeps it from falling apart), to form two easier-to-manage pieces.  Next slice each half, as thick or thin as you like it, cutting it against the grain (which gives it a shred-y kind-of falling-apart texture). Serve it warm, at room temperature or even cold:  It's fantastic.  To make the sandwiches:

IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_0003 IMG_0003 IMG_0003~Step 6. For each sandwich, cut 2 slices of rye, pumpernickel or swirl bread in half to form 4 pieces.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over low heat.  Add bread to skillet and immediately top each half-slice with 2-3 very-thin slices Lacey Swiss cheese per half-slice.  Increase heat to medium-low, to slowly grill the bread on the bottom and melt the cheese on the top, about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Remove skillet from heat or turn the heat off.  Heap thinly-sliced sugar-crusted corned beef atop two halves, top with the remaining two half-slices of cheese-topped bread and serve.

Serve ASAP w/Russian-dressed potato salad & pickles:

IMG_0020My Brown-Sugar-Crusted Corned Beef Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 2 corned beef briskets, and, enough meat to make 4-6 thick, hearty sandwiches per brisket.

Special Equipment List:  fork; spatula; Crockpot casserole; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1be3dad970cCook's Note: I never make just one corned beef brisket.  Simply stated: It is 100% counter-productive. While I can make two in my crockpot casserole, in one big pot, in three hours, I can make three:  one to eat that day, one for sandwiches during the week, and, one to cube and freeze in 3, 1-pound packages, which, is enough to make 3 hearty corned beef hash breakfasts. Check out my recipe for ~ The Lazy Lady's Corned Beef Hash ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/20/2019

~ Russian or Thousand Islands Potato Salad or Slaw ~

IMG_9940Tick, tock.  The Summer season is fast approaching and once we Americans fire up our outdoor grills, we'll be faced with more reasons than we can count to whip up a big bowl of the family's favorite tried-and-true mayonnaise-based potato and egg salad or creamy-crunchy coleslaw. That said, because one can never have too many variations on potato salad or coleslaw, consider dressing either of them with spicy Russian- or sweet Thousand Islands- dressing.

Your preference is your choice -- swap 'em out as you please:

IMG_9934For 5 cups Russian or Thousand-Islands-dressed potato salad or coleslaw:

5-6 medium-large Russet potatoes, baked in the microwave until fork-tender, cooled, peeled and 1/2"-3/4" diced, or, 1 16-ounce bag store-bought coleslaw mix

4  ounces diced celery or matchstick carrots (celery for potato salad/carrots for coleslaw)

3/4-1  cup diced red onion, for either potato salad or coleslaw, add to both

1-1 1/2  cups Russian or Thousand Islands salad dressing, preferably homemade as per either of my recipes (Note:  Be wary of substituting even high-quality store-bought dressings as they vary greatly in taste and consistency.  Ken's SteakHouse is the brand I recommend.)

IMG_9944~Step 1.  Place the diced potatoes (or slaw mix), and, celery (or carrots), along with 1 cup onion and 1 cup dressing-of-choice in a large bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine. Add additional dressing in small increments until desired consistency is reached. Transfer to a 2-quart size food-storage container, cover and refrigerate 4-6 hours or overnight (overnight it best). This simple formula makes 5-6 cups of potato salad or coleslaw relatively quickly.

Note:  Use this dressing-to-ingredients ratio as a guideline.  Do you like diced bell peppers in your coleslaw?  How about chopped hard-cooked egg in your potato salad?  If so, add whatever you like, just know you'll need a bit of extra dressing in order to coat any extra add-in ingredients.

Whether it's Russian or Thousand Islands, either makes... 

IMG_9913... a great side-dish to my Rueben or a classic Rueben...

IMG_0030... & a fantastic topper for a Rachel-My-Way sandwich.

IMG_9857Russian or Thousand Islands Potato Salad or Slaw:  Recipe yields 5-6 cups potato salad or coleslaw.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d495a2970cCook's Note: In the Greater New York area, a sloppy Joe is a different sandwich than what the rest of us have stereotyped in our minds.  It is a very large, layered sandwich, containing three slices of bread (usually rye and/or pumpernickel), two or three varieties of paper-thin sliced deli-meat, cheese and Russian or Thousand Island dressing.  ~ Another Sloppy Joe? There is one?  You Betcha! ~.  It always comes with a side-serving of potato salad or coleslaw too.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/17/2019

~ Green-for-the-Day Pistachio Pudding Bundt Cake ~

IMG_9541A green cake is not something one sees everyday, but, a green cake would obviously be an ideal dessert to serve for your St. Patrick's Day celebration.  That said, this recipe came into my life for a very different celebration -- my bridal shower.  My (now retro) signature color was a pale shade of prissy avocado green.  A close friend of my mother offered to bake the cakes -- three, three-layer cakes decoratively slathered with a lovely shade of pastel-green frosting presented on three graduated-height cake pedestals.  Agnes loved to bake and was a wonderful baker.

Use a boxed cake mix?  In the case of this cake -- you betcha.

IMG_9549The cakes tasted as good as they looked, and, a few weeks later, in August, for my 21st birthday, my mom to asked Agnes to bake the same cake, as, the peridot, my birthstone, is also a similar green color.  As it turns out, Agnes was headed to Florida to visit her sister (meaning she couldn't bake the cake), so, she gave my mom the recipe, which, surprisingly used a boxed cake mix. Agnes explained, "You can't make this cake from scratch, it just doesn't come out the same."

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d11b9142970c 6a0120a8551282970b01bb07e5756c970dAgnes was correct.  I tried transitioning this recipe into my recipes for double-vanilla cake or cupcakes, and, sweet cream sheet cake, and, it doesn't come out the same.  As for the flavorings, both cakes tasted great, but, the pudding alters their density, which is why baking is considered a science, and, why you are getting a recipe using a boxed cake mix from me.  As my grandmother said often, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  Simply enjoy this easy cake recipe just as it is.

It can't be made from scratch -- it won't come out the same.

IMG_9444For the cake

1  15.25-ounce Duncan-Hines classic yellow boxed cake mix

1  3.4-ounce package Jell-O instant pistachio pudding

4  large eggs

1/4  cup vegetable oil

2  teaspoons pure pistachio extract

1  teaspoon pure almond extract

1 1/4  cups water

2  drops green food coloring (optional)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing bundt pan

IMG_9446 IMG_9446 IMG_9446 IMG_9446 IMG_9446~Step 1.  In a large bowl, place the dry cake mix and instant pudding. Add the eggs, oil and extracts.  Add the water followed by the optional food coloring (because of the pudding, the cake will still be a pale green without the food coloring).  Over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the mixture until thick and smooth, about 2 minutes.

IMG_9460 IMG_9460 IMG_9460~Step 2.  Transfer batter to a bundt pan prepared with no-stick cooking spray.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven 50-55 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in several spots comes out clean.  Remove cake from oven and cool, in pan, 15-20 minutes, prior to inverting onto rack to cool completely, about 2 hours.

IMG_9484For the cream-cheese drizzle:

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

2  cups Confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons pure pistachio extract

1  teaspoon pure almond extract

1  drop green food coloring

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

1/4  cup lightly-toasted and finely-ground pistachios

IMG_9487 IMG_9487 IMG_9492 IMG_9492~Step 1.  In work bowl of mini-food processor, grind the pistachios and set aside.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, place all the remaining ingredients:  the cream cheese, Confectioners' sugar, extracts, food coloring and 2 tablespoons milk.  With motor running, process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the work bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice during the process.  Process in additional milk, by teaspoonfuls, to reach desired drizzly consistency.

IMG_9496 IMG_9496~ Step 2.  Transfer the drizzly glaze to a 1-cup measuring container with a pourer spout or into a plastic squeeze bottle/condiment dispenser.  Using a slow back and forth motion, drizzle all of the glaze evenly over the top of the cake.  While the glaze is still shiny and wet, sprinkle the nuts evenly over the top.

Slice & serve for any occasion requiring a green dessert:

IMG_9508St. Patricks's Day, a bridal or baby shower, or, an August birthday:

IMG_9536Green-for-the-Day Pistachio Pudding Bundt Cake:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; rubber spatula; cake tester; wire cooling rack; mini-food processor; food processor

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8dffe67970bCook's Note: For a few of my St. Patrick's Day celebratory main-dish meals, allow me to suggest you try my: ~ Easy Cottage Pie (Beef) & Shepherd's Pie (Lamb) ~, ~ Brown Sugar Crusted Corned Beef Sandwiches ~, or, ~ Another Crockpot Corned Beef & Cabbage Recipe ~.  That said, whatever you choose to serve, be sure to serve it with ~ Irish Eyes are Smilin' on Mary's Irish Soda Bread ~ slathered with  Irish butter.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/15/2019

~ The Secret's in the Slaw Rachel-on-Rye Sandwich ~

IMG_9857I crave a Reuben sandwich once or twice a year.  The Rachel sandwich, on the other hand, is: standard operating procedure in my kitchen.  My refrigerator is rarely without some super-thin sliced deli turkey breast and/or pastrami, and, my favorite Lacey Swiss cheese -- it often has a container of semi-homemade or deli-style coleslaw in it too.  That means, with a slice or two of lightly-toasted Jewish-style rye bread, a Racheal sandwich is only a few short minutes away.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed603d970dWhen I crave a Reuben sandwich, I'm more inclined to make one or all of the components from scratch: bake a loaf of homemade bread-machine rye bread, slow-cook a crockpot corned beef, stovetop-simmer sauerkraut, and, stir together some Russian or Thousand Islands salad dressing. It's a production, but, because I don't live anywhere close to a NY-style deli that can begin to make this sandwich the way I like it, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

The Lovely Rachel-on-Rye made-my-way to make-my-day... 

IMG_9865 2When I crave a Rachel Sandwich, on the occasions when I have some leftover perfectly-roasted turkey breast, I use it.  That said, high-quality deli-style turkey breast and/or pastrami is no compromise. And, after shopping the deli-counter, I reach for a bag of slaw mix instead of a container of prepared coleslaw. Why?  When I'm planning on lunching on Rachels for the week, instead of using my five-minutes-to-make Russian or Thousand Islands dressing as a spread for the bread, I use it to dress the slaw instead -- and it is amazing.

... the secret's in the slaw & it's amazing.

IMG_9805For each Rachel-my-way sandwich:

2  slices Jewish-rye bread, deli-swirl bread may be substituted

2  tablespoons salted butter

4  thin slices Lacey Swiss cheese

8 thin-slices pastrami

8 thin-slices turkey breast

2/3  cup creamy Russian- or Thousand Islands-dressed coleslaw, from recipe below, or your favorite deli-style slaw

IMG_9787For a weeks worth of coleslaw (Note:  I'm using Russing dressing today, but use Thousand Islands all the time too.  Both are great.):

1  16-ounce bag coleslaw mix

4  ounces matchstick carrots

1-1 1/2  cups Russian or Thousand Islands salad dressing, preferably homemade as per either of my recipes (Note:  Be wary of substituting even high-quality store-bought dressings as they vary greatly in taste and consistency.  Ken's SteakHouse is a good one, but it pales in comparison to my own Russian dressing.)

IMG_9788 IMG_9788 IMG_9788 IMG_9788 IMG_9788~Step 1.  Place slaw mix, carrots and 1 cup of the dressing in a large bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine.  Add additional dressing in small increments until desired consistency is reached. Transfer to a 2-quart size food-storage container, cover and refrigerate 4-6 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best. Recipe yields 5 cups.

IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811~Step 2.  Cut the 2 slices of bread in half to form 4 pieces.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Add bread to skillet and increase heat to medium-high, to gently grill, until slices are light golden on both sides, 45-60 seconds per side.  Transfer the lightly-toasted bread to a toaster-oven sized disposable aluminum broiler pan.

IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9841~Step 3.  Top each of two halves with one large slice of Swiss cheese (folded in half to fit the bread).  Place two folded slices pastrami atop the cheese.  Place four folded slices turkey breast atop the pastrami, followed by one more large folded-in-half slice of Swiss atop the pastrami. Top with the remaining two half slices of lightly-grilled rye bread, to form two half sandwiches.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven or toaster oven, until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 6 minutes.  Remove from oven, lift the top slice of bread from each half sandwich and top each half with about 1/3 cup of coleslaw.  Serve immediately accompanied by potato chips and or pickles.

Top with slaw & eat as soon as you can wrap a hand around it:

IMG_9883The Secret's in the Slaw Rachel-on-Rye Sandwich:  Recipe yields instructions to build 1 deli-style sandwich/1-2 servings.

Special Equipment List:  large rubber spatula; 1-cup measuring container; large rubber spatula; 2-quart size food storage container w/lid; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; nonstick spatula; toaster-oven-sized disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom)

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d495a2970cCook's Note: In the Greater New York area, also know as the Tri-State Area a sloppy Joe is a completely different sandwich than what the rest of us have stereotyped in our minds.  It is a very large, layered sandwich, containing three slices of bread (usually rye and/or pumpernickel), two or three varieties of paper-thin sliced deli-meat, cheese and a dressing such as Russian or Thousand Island.  ~ Another Sloppy Joe?  There is one?  You Betcha! ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/12/2019

~Russian Dressing & How it Differs from 1000 Islands~

IMG_9913It's almost understandable why most home cooks don't know what the difference between Russian and Thousand Islands dressing is, but, it's head-scratchingly odd that many restaurant chefs don't.  Truth told, when I order a Rueben or a Rachel sandwich, one dressing or the other, whichever is offered, will do nicely -- they're both favorites of mine.  That said, when a menu states Russian dressing, I expect Russian dressing and vice versa.  These two condiments, while they can be used interchangeably as a matter of preference, are not interchangeable.

While Russian dressing is not Russian, it is a compilation of ingredients very common to the cuisine of Russia.

In my food world, the most pronounced difference between the two is huge: Russian dressing contains horseradish (no surprise if you're familiar with Russian cuisine). When was the last time your Thousand Islands dressing tasted of horseradish?  Never, and if it did, it was Russian dressing.  Next, Russian dressing contains paprika (again, no surprise) . When was the last time your lemony-sweet Thousand Islands dressing had a spicy-earthy edge to it?  Never, and if it did, it was Russian dressing.  Past those two differences, the two are quite similar, right down to their mayo-base, the use of a tomato product, pickles or pickle relish, and, some optional hard-cooked egg (every single ingredient on this list is common to everyday, run-of-the-mill Russian cooking).

Russian dressing requires horseradish & paprika.

IMG_9768Both dressings are all-American early-1900's condiments with Russian dressing coming along prior to Thousand Islands (and being sold commercially since 1910).  There's no doubt in my mind the creator of Thousand Island dressing knew he or she was concocting a spin-off of Russian dressing.  That said, Russian dressing has been seemingly tossed aside in favor of its sweeter counterpart.  It's literally disappearing from menus and supermarkets, while Thousand Islands takes over -- even McDonald's "secret sauce" is undisputedly a variation on the recipe.  The one pictured here in the photo is the best of the few I can find in my supermarket, but, even though it has a spicy edge to it, it doesn't have the requisite horseradish on the ingredients list.

IMG_9889Nowadays, both dressings are used primarily as a sandwich spread, but, I'm here to say either is fantastic in place of the blue cheese dressing on a classic wedge salad.  There's more. Whenever I'm making a Rachel sandwich, which requires cole slaw, instead of using the dressing as a spread for the bread, I use it to dress the slaw instead -- and it is amazing.  That said, a Russian dressing recipe documented in a 1910 catering book recommends it as an alternative to vinaigrette to dress tomatoes, asparagus and other blanched vegetables, and hard-cooked eggs.

The earliest Russian dressing was created by James Colburn, a wholesale grocer of Nashua, NH, in early 1910, and, it's said by some to have originally contained caviar, which was later replaced by pickles to dress a version of the classic Russian Salad Olivier.  That said, by 1914, Colburn was manufacturing and distributing it to retailers and hotels.  Thousand Islands Dressing traces its roots to, and is named for, the upper St. Lawrence River region between the Unites States and Canada.  A few claims to its invention exist, but it's believed to be the creation of a fishing guide's wife, Sophia LaLonde.  It has a romantic history that includes a castle and a heart-shaped island, and, was made famous by Chef Oscar Tschirky of the Waldorf Astoria. The earliest print references to it appear in 1912.

Full-throttle Russian dressing is not for the faint-of-heart.

IMG_97611/2  cup horseradish mayonnaise, the best available, preferably Russian Zakuson brand

2  tablespoons chili sauce, or a bit more, to taste

2  tablespoons sweet pickle relish, or a bit more, to taste

1  teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1/2  teaspoon paprika

1/4  teaspoon turmeric

IMG_9770 IMG_9782~Step 1. Place all of the ingredients in a 2-cup food storage container.  Stir to thoroughly combine the dressing.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, 2-4 hours or overnight.  Overnight is great because it gives the flavors time to marry.

Thousand Islands Dressing is dainty & pretty in pink.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb097cd673970d1  cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup chili sauce, or a bit more, to taste, ketchup may be substituted

1/4 cup sweet pickle relish, or a bit more, to taste

1  hard-cooked egg, white and yolk separated and minced separately (optional)

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, or a bit more, to taste, lemon juice may be substituted

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8d9b4d3970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8d9b4d3970b~Step 1.  Place all of the ingredients in a 2-cup food storage container.  Stir to thoroughly combine the dressing.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, 2-4 hours or overnight.  Overnight is great because it gives the flavors time to marry.

Enjoy Russian- or Thousand Islands- spread on any sandwich...

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed603d970d... most notably, the Rueben (above) or the Rachel (below):

IMG_9865Russian Dressing & How it Differs from 1000 Islands:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup salad dressing/sandwich spread

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d495a2970cCook's Note:  In the Greater New York area, also know as the Tri-State Area a sloppy Joe is a completely different sandwich than what the rest of us have stereotyped in our minds.  It is a very large, layered sandwich, containing three slices of bread (usually rye and/or pumpernickel), two or three varieties of paper-thin sliced deli-meat, cheese and a dressing such as Russian or Thousand Island.  ~ Another Sloppy Joe?  There is one?  You Betcha! ~

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/09/2019

~ That's a Wrap: Big Beautiful Chili-Cheese Burritos ~

IMG_9721Inform the family you've got chili simmering on the stovetop -- you won't have to call them twice to the dinner table.  Tell the family you're making chili-cheese burritos for dinner -- you won't have to call them at all.  They'll all be sitting around the table waiting to eat.  Tick, tock.  Once assembled, if individually wrapped in plastic or in aluminum foil, they're great to take to school or the office. They reheat perfectly in the microwave or in the oven, and for tailgate, I reheat the foil-wrapped packets on hot grill grids.  The chili-cheese burrito is how one gets to eat chili in a sandwich.

6a0120a8551282970b0177446bc1ca970dA bit about burritos:  A burrito is a portable sandwich found in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.  It consists of a large flour tortilla that has been wrapped or folded to fully encase a filling. Before serving, it gets lightly-grilled or steamed, to soften the tortilla.  Refried beans, Mexican rice and meat (or a meat mixture) are typically the only fillings used, and, burritos are served unembellished, in order for them to be eaten with the hands.   In Spanish, "burrito" means "little donkey", coming from the word "burro", which means "donkey".  

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

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

Taco-bell-chili-cheese-burritoChili-cheese burrito, it's all in the name:  chili or chili con carne and shredded cheddar cheese encased in a large flour tortilla -- absolutely nothing more, nothing less.  

Back in the 1980's, my kids loved Taco Bell's Chilito (the name was later changed to the Chili-Cheese Burrito when the company became enlightened to the derogatory Spanish definition of the word "chilito" -- an embarrassing marketing blunder to say the least). I found it to be barely palatable.

The chilito and the chili-cheese burrito contained a homogenous mixture of mystery-ground-beef seemingly pressure-cooked in some sort of dry-seasoning-blend mixed with water and hot sauce -- it had the consistency of something one would expect to come out of a can.  Enough said.  If you're one of the many in search of a copycat of their "secret-menu" recipe (even though discontinued, it's said Taco Bell still makes these upon request), you're in the wrong place.

IMG_9756For each chili-cheese burrito:

1  large 9 1/2"-10" burrito-sized soft flour tortilla

3/4  cup finely-shredded Mexican-style cheddar-Jack cheese blend

2  tablespoons minced, fresh cilantro leaves

2  tablespoons very-thinly sliced scallions

1/2  cup thick* Texas-steak chili or chili con carne

1  tablespoon corn, peanut or vegetable oil

pico de gallo (or salsa fresca), Mexican crema (or sour cream) and/or avocado crema (or guacamole), for accompaniment and/or garnish

* Note:  In order to pick chile-cheese burritos up in your hands to eat them sandwich-style, the chili needs to be thick (not overly juicy or soupy).  If that is the case, stir 1 tablespoon ground restaurant-style corn tortilla chips into every 1 cup warm chili. After a few minutes, the chips will absorb the excess moisture and thicken the chili.  Still soupy?  Add more ground tortilla chips.

IMG_9682 IMG_9682 IMG_9682 IMG_9682 IMG_9682~Step 1.  To assemble each burrito, place one tortilla on a plate or flat work surface.  Sprinkle the shredded cheese evenly over the surface, followed by the cilantro and scallions.  Spoon and mound the chili, cold or slightly-warm but not steaming-hot, in a tubular shape, in the center of the tortilla.  Repeat this process until all burritos are assembled.

IMG_9675 IMG_9675 IMG_9675 IMG_9696 IMG_9696~Step 2.  Place oil in a 10"-12" nonstick skillet and use a paper towel to spread a thin-coating of oil across the bottom and slightly up the sides. Lift and place one assembled tortilla into skillet.  Over low heat, cook until cheese has melted enough to adhere to the surface, less than 1 minute. Remove from heat and return tortilla to plate or flat work surface.

IMG_9700 IMG_9700 IMG_9700 IMG_9700~Step 3.  To wrap the burrito, fold the left and right sides of the tortilla up and over the chili.  Next, fold the side of the tortilla closest to you up and over the top.  Turn the plate around (so the open side is facing you), then lift the last flap up and over the top. Roll the tortilla over, so that it sits seam side down.  To finish cook the burritos, tightly-wrap each burrito in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and heat in the microwave for 45-60 seconds, or, in a 350º oven for 6-8 minutes.

Remove from microwave or oven & slice into three ASAP...

IMG_9711... & gobble 'em up garnished w/your favorite toppings:

IMG_9753That's a Wrap:  Big Beautiful Chili-Cheese Burritos:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1 large burrito/3 pieces/1 serving.

Special Equipment List:  10"-12" nonstick skillet; paper towels; 1-cup measure; plastic wrap or aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d26b186e970cCook's Note: Hamburger Helper entered the marketplace in 1970, and Chili-Mac Hamburger Helper entered in 1971.  Packaged by General Mills and sold as  part of the Betty Crocker line of products, the mascot is a "helping hand" named "Lefty" -- a four-fingered, left-handed, white glove with a face. Each box contains dried pasta and packets of powdered sauce and seasonings.  For my scratch-made recipe:  ~ Walking Dead:  It's Chili & Mac and Cheese Together ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/07/2019

~ Spicy and Cheesy Breakfast-for-Dinner Quesadillas ~

IMG_9657Dinner-for-breakfast or breakfast-for-dinner, put a platter of these portable five-bite snacks on the table at any time of day and you'll have everyone eating out of your hand.  They've got it all -- everything anyone could want in terms of Tex-Mex start-to or end-of the day flavor and texture. Creamy refried beans, gooey cheddar-Jack cheese, and, Sriracha- cilantro- and scallion-laced scrambled eggs sandwiched between crisp-tender flour tortillas.  Topped with a bit of pico de gallo, a drizzle of Mexican crema and a dollop of guacamole, who could ask for anything more?

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d15ed99a970cQuesadilla (keh-sah-DEE-yah):  A round, flat, cooked-until-soft corn or flour tortilla, folded in half to form a half-moon with a savory filling sandwiched in the center.  It is fried on a well-seasoned cast-iron comal (a flat, round griddle), using no or very little oil, although in many modern kitchens, mine included, a grill pan is a common substitution.

IMG_9556Almost any cooked and chopped or shredded meats and/or vegetables can be used as a filling for a quesadilla (fish and seafood are not typically used) -- the meats and vegetables must always be cooked first because a quesadilla cooks in a few short minutes.  That said, since "queso (KAY-soh)" is the Spanish word for "cheese":  a quesadilla is a container for ooey, gooey melted cheese.  Be sure to purchase:

your favorite brand of 8" round taco-size soft flour tortillas

IMG_9571For the scrambled eggs* for each quesadilla:

1  teaspoon salted butter

2  jumbo eggs + a pinch of salt

2  tablespoons milk

2  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions

1  tablespoon minced, fresh cilantro leaves

2-3  teaspoons Sriracha sauce

*These herbaceous scrambled eggs, on their own without a flour tortilla:  are eggstraordinary. 

IMG_9572 IMG_9572 IMG_9572 IMG_9572 IMG_9572~Step 1.  Slice the scallions and mince the cilantro.  In a 1-cup measuring container, whisk together the eggs, pinch of salt and milk.  Add the scallions and cilantro and whisk again.  Add the Sriracha and whisk one last time.   I add 2 teaspoons Sriracha for myself.  I add 3 teaspoons when making these quesadillas for my heat-seeking husband Joe. 

IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580~Step 2.  Melt butter in an 8" nonstick skillet over low heat.  When butter is foamy, pour in the egg mixture, and, scramble away for about 1 minute.  Remove eggs from heat, cover and set aside.

IMG_9594To assemble/cook each quesadilla:

1  tablespoon corn or canola or vegetable oil

1  taco-size soft flour tortilla

6  tablespoons creamy refried beans

8  tablespoons finely-shredded Mexican cheddar-Jack cheese blend

all the scrambled eggs, from above recipe

IMG_9602 IMG_9602 IMG_9602 IMG_9602~Step 1.  Slather the tortilla with refried beans, then scatter shredded cheese evenly over the top. 

IMG_9597 IMG_9597 IMG_9597 IMG_9597 IMG_9597 IMG_9597~Step 2. Place oil in a 10" nonstick skillet.  Use a paper towel to coat the bottom and sides of pan with the oil.  Adjust heat on stovetop to medium- medium-low.  Lift and carefully place the tortilla in the skillet.  Using a spoon, place the scrambled eggs over half of the surface (think half-moon of scrambled eggs).  Cook until cheese is melted and bottom of tortilla is golden brown, but not brittle, about 1 minute.  Lift the "empty" side of the tortilla up and over the side with the eggs.  Slide quesadilla from skillet to plate or cutting board.

IMG_9672For my favorite accompaniments and garnishes:

pico de gallo or store-bought salsa fresca

Mexican crema or sour cream

spicy avocado crema or store-bought guacamole

thin-sliced scallion tops and/or minced, fresh cilantro leaves

~Step 1.  Use all of them, none of them or some of them.  Your choice.

Have a moment of mouthwatering patience (tick, tock)...

IMG_9623... you gotta wait 1 minute before slicing it into three wedges.

IMG_9625Salsa fresco, Mexican crema & Wholly guacamole!  Let's eat:

IMG_9660Spicy and Cheesy Breakfast-for-Dinner Quesadillas:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1 breakfast quesadilla/3 hearty pieces/1 serving.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1 cup measuring container; fork; 8" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula; 10" nonstick skillet; paper towels; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0945149d970dCook's Note:  At risk of sounding sexist:  Buffalo wings are man food. To state it another way, if I'm inviting a group of women to my home for lunch, serving chicken wings is "off the table".  If I'm inviting men, chicken wings are "on the table". That said, for a casual gathering for men and women, there are ways we can all work together to include user-friendly buffalo-style snacks and appetizers for all to enjoy: ~ Spicy Blue-Cheesy & Buffalo-Chicken Quesadillas ~  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/05/2019

~ Na-Cho Mama's Fully-Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos ~

IMG_9362Undercover nacho tester.  I suppose it could get boring, but, because every eatery I've ever been to makes this Tex-Mex pub-grub staple a bit different, I'd be willing to risk running into some occasional repetition and hard-earned heartburn.  From nibbling on basic nachos consisting of deep-fried corn tortillas topped with melty cheese sauce, to digging-into nachos-grande, nachos-supreme, fully-loaded nachos or ultimate-nachos piled high with a plethora of enough savory stuff to qualify for full-meal status, yes, I think undercover nacho tester could be my dream job.

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

Use homemade or store-bought ingredients, or a combo of both.

6a0120a8551282970b01a73df7e18c970dWe can all agree, you only get out of something what you put into it, but, when the hankering for nachos hits, no one wants to wait longer than the time it takes to preheat the oven, visit the pantry and open a beer. That said, if one it willing to take the time to deep-fry fresh corn tortillas, instead of opening a bag of tortilla chips, nachos become a great deal better.  There's more.  If you're like me, fully-loaded nachos require (must have) meat or protein, and here are a few options:  

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0984a3a7970dMy family's favorites (and the two most common additions) are American-style kid-friendly ground-meat taco filling or chili con carne -- and both are always on hand in my freezer.  That said, white chicken chili or Texas-style steak chili (as long as they are thick and chunky not stringy and soupy), and, the filling for classic pork carnitas are all excellent alternatives.  In fact, any protein concoction that works when served in a crispy taco shell will work. 

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d10e0e73970cThat's easy.  That's what I said, until I watched Alton Brown (on The Food Network) make nachos, and, from him I learned how to build better nachos. First, he used a sheet pan to increase the surface area so the tortilla chips can sprawl out (no more crowding them in a 13" x 9" casserole for me).  Second, he took ample time to top them, almost one chip at a time, to make sure that every chip had the perfect ratio of cheese to toppings.  Once you do it his way once, there's no going back.

Building better nachos, one tortilla chip at a time.

IMG_9298In my kitchen, nachos aren't always a snack.  Sometimes they're a meal. When I serve 'em as a snack, I make them on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheet pan that's been covered with foil and a sheet of parchment -- so cleanup is a snap.  When I serve 'em as a meal, I make 'em the same way, but, layer them in my oven-safe ceramic skillets -- a bit of cleanup, but a great presentation. One sheet pan feeds 6-8 people snacks. The same ingredients feed four as a main-dish in four 6 1/2"-7" skillets.  

Make movie night or TV tailgate special w/fully-loaded nachos. 

Make these nachos as homemade or semi-homemade as you want.  For example:  I rarely make them without deep-frying the tortillas -- it's a simple task that makes a huge difference.   In the Summer, when my vegetable garden is at its peak and local sweet corn is in season, my pico de gallo is homemade and my corn kernels are shaved straight from the cobs of leftover cooked corn.  If I don't have the time or inclination, I use store-bought salsa con queso without hesitation. Don't like black beans?  Don't complain to me.  Use kidney or pinto beans or skip the beans.

IMG_9322  

26  5"-round fresh corn tortillas (about 1 pound, 4 ounces), or 1, 16-ounce bag store-bought restaurant-style tortilla chips

1 1/2  cups chile con queso or 1, 15-ounce jar store-bought salsa con queso, warmed slightly in the microwave (Note:  The cheese options for nachos vary.  Ultimately, that decision lies with the cook.  While shredded cheddar is the most common, I'm not a fan of it on it's own, as, cheddar, while tasty, is not a great ooey-gooey melting cheese unless it is mixed with a great melting cheese like Monterey Jack or jalapeño Jack.)

3-3 1/2  cups American-style ground-beef taco filling, warmed slightly in the microwave (Note:  All taco filling is not created equal. My chunky beef recipe is full of onion, garlic, bell pepper and tomatoes, and, seasoned with my homemade Tex-Mex taco seasoning blend.  If you decide to use chile con carne instead, omit the can of black beans below.)

1  8-12-ounce jar pickled, sliced jalapeño wheels, well-drained, liquid reserved (3/4-1 cup)

1  15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and well-drained (1 1/2-2 cups)

1  15-ounce can whole corn kernels, well-drained (1 1/2-2 cups)

8  ounces shredded jalapeño Jack cheese (about 3 cups)

1  cup pico de gallo or store-bought salsa fresca, well-drained

1  cup spicy avocado crema, a 10-second task to process mixture of 1 cup mashed, ripe Hass avocado (store-bought Wholly Guacamole may be substituted) with 6  tablespoons Mexican crema and 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce

1  cup Mexican crema or sour cream, thinned to a drizzly consistency by stirring in 4-6 tablespoons liquid reserved from pickled jalapeños

1  cup thin-sliced scallions, white and light green parts, for final garnish

IMG_9304 IMG_9304 IMG_9304 IMG_9304~Step 1.  To deep-fry fresh tortillas, divide tortillas into two stacks and cut each stack into six wedges.  Heat corn or peanut oil in deep-fryer, according to the manufacturer's specifications, to 375º.  When the deep fryer is ready:  Fry 2 stacks (two sixths) of the tortilla triangles for 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Chips will be lightly-browned and puffed in spots. Transfer to a large baking pan that's been lined with 3-4 layers of paper towels. Using a spatula, quickly and randomly separate the chips into a single layer and lightly salt their tops ASAP.  Repeat process 5 more times.

IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325~Step 2.  To assemble the nachos, arrange chips across the bottom of the pan, in a semi-single layer, allowing them to overlap and double-up occasionally.  Drizzle and plop blotches of warm queso over the surface of the tortilla chips.  By generous teaspoonfuls, plop blotches of the warm taco-filling over the cheese. Arrange the jalapeño slices over the taco-filling.  Scatter the black beans, followed by the corn kernels over the jalapeño slices and taco-filling.  Sprinkle the shredded jalapeño Jack over all.

IMG_9348 IMG_9348 IMG_9348 IMG_9348 IMG_9348~Step 3.  To bake and properly garnish the nachos, place on center rack of 350º oven and bake until jalapeño Jack cheese is melted and bubbly, and, sweet corn is showing signs of light-browning, about 6 minutes. Remove from oven.  Without any hesitation, plop blotches of the well-drained pico de gallo over the top, followed by a drizzle of my avocado crema and Mexican crema.  Sprinkle the sliced green onion over all and serve immediately.

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

IMG_9360Snack your way from the outside of pan to center of pan:

IMG_9398Perfect ratio of chips & cheese to toppings?  You be the judge!

IMG_9415Na-Cho Mama's Fully-Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos:  6-8 snack-size servings/4 main-dish servings.

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

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3904a89200dCook's Note: Mango salsa, full of sweet heat, is a favorite of mine served with nachos that are made with jalapeño Jack cheese. Prepared as an alternative to pico de gallo, in the event you are a sweet-heat-seeking-missile like me, try my ~ Sweet Heat:  Island-Style Mango or Pineapple Salsa ~. When mangos are in season and inexpensive, it's a wonderful alternative to what we associate with traditional Summertime salsa.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

03/03/2019

~ Using Natural and Dutch-Process Cocoa Powders ~

IMG_9274It's not a matter of what's on-hand in the pantry, what mom or grandma used, brand recognition or cost.  There is a difference between natural and Dutch-process cocoa powder, and, it is rocket science.  The word is "acidity".  Those of the mindset the two can be used interchangeably, babbling on about it being mostly a matter of preference (I have witnessed it said many times), are contributing to recipe failure -- which is the number one reason why some folks hate to bake.

Embedded_raw_cocoa_beans_toxicThe cocoa bean is a dried, fatty seed found inside a 10"-12" cocoa pod, and, each pod is home to 30-50 beans. Once the beans are roasted and shelled, a product called cocoa nibs remain. The nibs get milled to produce cocoa liquor, which gets pressed to extract the cocoa butter, which leaves a solid called a cocoa press cake. Cocoa powder is the powder created from pulverizing the press cake.  

All chocolate is naturally acidic.  Until the mid-1800's there was only one type of cocoa powder: Natural cocoa powder.  It has a pH (acidity level) between 5 and 6, which gives it its sharp, slightly-bitter edge (and light brown color).  Then, along came Coenraad Johannes van Houten, a Dutch chocolate-maker, who discovered a way to process the cocoa nibs to neutralize the acid. Dutch-process cocoa powder is washed with a potassium carbonate solution, which neutralizes the pH (the acid) to 7, which gives it a smooth, mellow taste (and dark brown color).

Natural = predominantly baking powder.  Dutched = predominantly baking soda. 

IMG_9277Because natural cocoa powder (like Hershey's) is acidic and Dutch-process (or "Dutched") cocoa had its acid removed, it's seriously important to follow the recipe. Typically, recipes calling for natural cocoa powder are leavened predominantly by baking soda, while recipes calling for Dutch process, which doesn't react well with an alkaline leavener like baking soda, rely heavily on baking powder.  

When a recipe specifies both baking powder and baking soda, know it has been written in a manner that the cocoa's acidity and the natural acids in the ingredients list strike a balance.

Go natural --  Must Have Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a48f48c9200bGo Dutched -- Chocolate, Buttermilk & Sour Cream Pound Cake:

IMG_9251"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)  

02/28/2019

~ Chocolate, Sour Cream and Buttermilk Pound Cake ~

IMG_9251I'd never proclaim to have the best recipe for pound cake (unless I did and I do) because almost everyone claims their mother or grandmother made the best pound cake.  Truth told, in many cases, these are false claims.  I know, because I've had to test and taste a few recipes that left a lot to be desired in the (lack of) flavor and (dried out) texture departments.   That said:  My grandmother made the best buttery vanilla pound cake I ever tasted -- her recipe is so spot on perfect, no one I know who has tried hers has ever reported looking elsewhere for one.  Like all pound-cake-baking grandmas, she used the same basic ingredients as everyone (flour, sugar, butter and eggs plus vanilla extract), but then, she incorporated two tangy ingredients common to her heritage and always on-hand in any Eastern European kitchen:  sour cream and buttermilk.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb097d3e86970dA bit about pound cake ("quatre-quarts" in French, meaning "four fourths":  Originally, this fine-textured cake was baked exclusively in a loaf pan. It was made with 1-pound each of flour, sugar, butter and eggs, plus a flavoring, most commonly vanilla. That is the recipe, nothing more, nothing less -- one pound of everything.  Out of curiosity, I did try it once -- it didn't happen twice.  Let's just say, we bakers have come a long way baby!

Over the years, variations evolved, mostly adding leaveners like baking powder and baking soda to encourage rising, resulting in a less dense cake.  Vegetable oil is sometimes substituted in place of some of the butter, to produce a moister cake.  "Sour cream pound cake" and "buttermilk pound cake" recipes substitute sour cream or buttermilk in place of some of the butter to produce a moister cake with a pleasant tang too.  My savvy grandmother used a bit of both.

Now it's time to bake an old-school chocolate pound cake...

IMG_9265Beginning with my grandmothers basic pound cake recipe, it didn't take me long to come up with a chocolate version.  While it's an easy cake to bake, please use Dutch process cocoa powder -- it does matter (see not below)*.  Also, it's important to make sure that the butter is very soft and the eggs are at room temperature.  I remove the butter 2 1/2-3 hours prior to baking the cake and my eggs about an hour in advance.  The extra step of separating the eggs and whipping the whites before folding them in the batter is well worth the extra few moments it takes.  That said, before whipping those whites, be sure to wash and dry the beaters or the whites won't whip.

... w/an optional but decadent peanut-butter glaze!

IMG_9121

6 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

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

3  cups sugar 

2 1/2  cups, unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4  cup Dutch-process cocoa powder*

1  tablespoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon sea salt (not a typo, 1 teaspoon)

1/2  cup sour cream

3/4  cup buttermilk

1  tablespoon chocolate extract

1  tablespoon vanilla extract

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

* Note:  There is a difference between natural (think Hershey's) and Dutch process (or "Dutched") cocoa powder.  All chocolate is naturally acidic.  Natural cocoa powder has a pH between 5 and 6, which gives it its sharp, slightly-bitter edge.  Dutch process cocoa powder is washed with a potassium carbonate solution, which neutralizes the pH to 7, which gives it a smoother, more-mellow taste.  Recipes calling for natural cocoa powder are typically leavened predominantly by baking soda, while recipes calling for Dutch process rely heavily on baking powder.

IMG_9137 IMG_9131 IMG_9131 IMG_9125 IMG_9125 IMG_9125~Step 1.  Separate the eggs, placing the egg whites in a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.  In a second medium bowl, rough-stir the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the sour cream, buttermilk and both extracts, until smooth.  Set aside. Spray a 15-cup bundt pan with no-stick cooking spray and preheat oven to a moderate 325°-330°.

IMG_9142 IMG_9142 IMG_9142 IMG_9142 IMG_9142 IMG_9142 IMG_9142~Step 2.  In a large bowl, place butter, sugar and egg yolks.  Beat on medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer for three full minutes. Reduce mixer speed to medium and in a thin stream add and thoroughly incorporate the sour cream/buttermilk/extract mixture, increase speed to medium-high and beat for about another minute.  Lower mixer speed.  In 3 increments, incorporate the flour mixture, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula constantly.  Increase mixer speed to medium-high again and beat about two more minutes.  Set batter batter aside for a moment, while:

IMG_9155 IMG_9155 IMG_9155 IMG_9155 IMG_9171 IMG_9171 IMG_9171~Step 3.  Without delay, wash and thoroughly dry beaters.  On  high speed, whip the egg whites until stiff curly peaks form, about 3 minutes.  Using the spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

IMG_9180 IMG_9187 IMG_9205~Step 5.  Transfer batter by large scoopfuls to prepared pan.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven 50-55 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool, in pan, 15-20 minutes.  Invert cake onto rack to cool completely, 2-3 hours.

IMG_9224For the optional peanut butter glaze:

1/2  cup creamy peanut butter 

2  cups confectioners' sugar

1  tablespoon peanut butter flavoring

1  teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup milk, + up to 2 more tablespoons 

1/2  cup toasted, ground peanuts

IMG_9227 IMG_9227~Step 1.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, place the peanut butter, confectioners' sugar, peanut butter flavoring, vanilla extract and 1/2 cup milk.  With motor running, process until smooth, about 30 seconds.  Check consistency and process in up to 2 more tablespoons milk, in small increments, if necessary.  Drizzle over cooled cake and immediately sprinkle with lightly-toasted and finely-ground peanuts. 

Pound cake going into 325° oven to bake for 50-55 minutes:

IMG_9177Pound cake out of oven, cooling in pan for 15-20 minutes:

IMG_9194Poundcake inverted on rack to cool completely, 2-3 hours:

IMG_9209Drizzled w/peanut butter glaze & sprinkled w/toasted peanuts:

IMG_9234Time to dig in to the very first irresistible slice:

IMG_9242Chocolate, Sour Cream and Buttermilk Pound Cake:  Recipe yields 12-16-20 servings, depending on how thick or thin you slice it.

Special Equipment List:  plastic wrap; 1-cup measuring container; spoon; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 12-cup bundt pan; wire cooling rack; cake tester

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0992d5b9970dCook's Note:  Mayonnaise is a concoction of oil (which makes cakes tender), eggs and a bit of flavor-boosting acid (like vinegar or lemon juice) -- all common-to-cake ingredients.  Most folks think this cake was invented by Hellmann's and that's a natural assumption. It was not.  The earliest recipe in print titled "Mayonnaise Cake" was published in 1927.  The Hellmann's brand didn't come along until 1937. That said, their aggressive ad campaign for "Mayonnaise Cake", sure did popularize it with World War II/depression era housewives, who were in the market for inexpensive substitutions for butter and milk. When you get right down to the common sense of it, a cake recipe containing mayonnaise is not much different than a cake recipe containing sour cream or buttermilk.  ~ A Must Have Recipe:  Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

02/25/2019

~ Secrets to the Italian-American Sausage Sandwich ~

IMG_9063Whether one is at the ballpark, a carnival, or entering a shopping mall, one can't help but notice the line in front of the vendor selling Italian sausage sandwiches. Hot-off-the-griddle, a succulent link of sweet or hot sausage on a medium-textured Italian roll, heaped with a savory mélange of griddle-sautéed peppers and onions: it's next to impossible to resist.  If you've ever eaten one, you've also noticed they taste immensely better than the majority of home-grilled versions. Why is this?  Read on, and "don't knock it until you've tried it", so, criticize this post with caution.

The best technique for charcoal- or gas- grilling "Italian sausage" -- The moist-heat-first, dry-heat-second technique.

IMG_9086I've never been a fan of charcoal- or gas-grilled sausage (links or coils), because most people don't know how not to dry it out, starting with: don't poke holes in the casing.  Folks don't realize, and mostly refuse to be enlightened, that the key to perfectly-grilled sausage is to start it in a moist mélange of sautéing vegetables to slow-cook it, to marry the flavors of the sausage with the veggies and vice versa, then, finish-off the gently-cooked, juicy-on-the-inside sausage on the grill grids, just enough to crisp it up -- over medium- (not high) heat, so the casing doesn't split. This kinder, gentler moist-heat-first, dry-heat-second technique produces perfectly-grilled sausage links or coils.  Learning it rocked my sausage-grilling world, and enabled me to come up with my indoor method for perfectly-cooked, succulent Italian-American sausage sandwiches.

"You want a sassidge sangwitch? I'll give you a sassidge sangwitch." ~ Tony Soprano

"Backyard grilling was uncommon until the 1950's American middle-class began to boom and move to the grass-lawned suburbs.  Long before that, sausage sandwiches had become a popular street food sold in the cities by vendors with steam-heated pushcarts, while apartment dwellers living high above the busy streets cooked almost everything in a skillet, including their sausage sandwiches.  I blame 1950's America for the ill-conceived sausage sandwich." ~ Melanie

In Italy, "sausage" does not refer to "Italian Sausage".

IMG_8961"Italian sausage" is a term Americans coined.  In Italy, there is no product resembling the USA's product referred to as "Italian sausage".  In Italy, there are many salsiccia and salame (each region has its specialties), but the word implies cured meats like cotechino, soppressata, Genoa salami and mortadella.  FYI:  What we Americans call bologna is not found in Bologna -- the local sausage in the town of Bologna is mortadella.

"Italian Sausage" is a term coined in America. 

IMG_8967Called "sosizza" on the streets, in restaurants, and in Italian-American kitchens, in the USA, it refers to ground pork sausage in natural casings, containing about 20%-25% fat with a fennel and garlic flavor. It's mainly sold raw (but can be found cured or smoked) in 5"-6" links, coiled ropes or in loose burger-meat-type form.  It comes in three flavors (sweet, mild and hot) with seasonings varying-slightly from butcher shop to butcher shop.

WARNING:  Sausage in this recipe refers exclusively to:  pork sausage.  Sausage containing chicken, turkey, vegetarian soy or byproducts therein are not considered or acknowledged to be "real" sausage in Melanie's Kitchen. Comments or questions regarding the substitution of these (or any other) sausage impostors will not be replied to.

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

IMG_9077Fantastic "Italian sausage" can also be, & is, cooked indoors.

IMG_9018We can all agree a sausage link or coil needs ample time to cook through, 25-30 minutes.  Many will disagree, but, the dry heat of a barbecue grill over 25-30 minutes, is NEVER going to produce a succulent sausage with a golden-brown casing and the "snap and squirt" of the first bite.  It'll be good, just not great -- unless that's the only way you've ever experienced it. The best sausage is cooked indoors, and an electric skillet is an excellent substitution for the moister heat of the flat-topped griddle.

The following method for gently steaming the sausage through, then crisping the casing produces moist, juicy sausage, plus provides a pan of flavorful drippings for the vegetable sauté too.  

IMG_8971For the sausages:

10-12  5"-6" high-quality sausage-sandwich-sized links (sweet-, mild, or hot-, or a combination), about 2 total pounds sausage (a 2 pound coil of sausage may be substituted  without compromise)

about 1 1/4 cups water, enough to fill the skillet with 1/4" water

6  tablespoons olive oil

4  tablespoons salted butter

IMG_8974 IMG_8974 IMG_8974 IMG_8974~Step 1.  Place a little over 1/4" of water in a 16" electric skillet -- do not be inclined to substitute wine, beer or stock as they will muddle-up the flavorful drippings.  Add the sausage, sweet or hot (links or an entire coil).  Bring to a boil over high heat (400º).  Adjust heat to a steady but gentle simmer (325º) and continue to cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until almost all of the liquid has evaporated from pan.  Using a pair of tongs, NOT a fork (do NOT poke holes in the casings), turn the sausage over onto second side about halfway through the simmering process.

IMG_8995 IMG_8995 IMG_8995 IMG_8995 IMG_8995 IMG_8995~Step 2.  Turn the heat off.  Add the olive oil and butter to the skillet.  Adjust heat to medium (300º). Gently sauté the sausage, regulating the heat carefully (up or down), so as to brown not burn, until the sausage is golden brown on both sides, turning only once, 4-6 minutes per side.  Turn the heat off.  Once again, using tongs, NOT a fork, transfer the sausage to a plate or a platter.  Cover sausage with aluminum foil and set aside.

IMG_9021For the spices and vegetable sauté:

1  tablespoon fennel seed

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes 

2-3  teaspoons sea salt, to taste

2  pounds thinly-sliced onion

1  pound each: thinly-sliced green and red bell pepper strips

1  14 1/2-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, well-drained 

IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027~Step 1. Measure spices and prep vegetables, adding them to the flavorful drippings in the skillet as you work.  Adjust heat to gently sauté (250º).  Using a large slotted spoon or a spatula, keep the vegetables moving in the skillet, until vegetables are softened and just cooked through, yet still colorful and crunch tender, 6-8 minutes.  Do not overcook the vegetables.  Taste for salt and add 1 teaspoon if desired.  Stir in the well-drained diced tomatoes and cook until steaming, about 1 minute.   Adjust heat to "warm" setting.

IMG_9051 IMG_9051 IMG_9051~Step 2.  Return the still-warm sausage to skillet, cover the skillet and set aside 5-10 minutes -- just enough to reheat sausages.  To serve, slice your favorite steak-type rolls. Generously spoon some warm vegetable mixture into bottom of each roll.  Add a sausage and top with another scoop of vegetables.

Try it or don't, but, kindly don't knock it, unless you do:

IMG_9098Secrets to the Italian-American Sausage Sandwich:  Recipe as written above yields 10-12 Italian sausage, pepper & onion sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  16" electric skillet; tongs; aluminum foil; cutting board; chef's knife; large slotted spoon or spatula; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b014e8c358dbd970dCook's Note:  Sausage making is one of the oldest forms of prepared food and was the product of efficient butchery -- tissues, organs, various meat scraps and fat were salted and stuffed into cleaned animal intestines, then preserved by cooking, curing or drying.  No one is, or can be, directly credited for inventing the process, but, it is known to have existed thousands of years before the Romans.  The word "sausage" was first used in English in the mid-15th century and spelled "sawsyge".  This word came from the Old North French word "saussiche", which came from the Latin "salsicus", meaning "seasoned with salt", with "salsus" meaning "salted".  The most popular sausage in the U.S. is:  the hot dog.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

02/22/2019

~ Just Say Yes to Canned Peaches to Make Clafoutis ~

IMG_8938What a wonderful way to make a Summer fruit dessert in the middle of Winter.  It's no secret that, without exception, I'll always choose to make a fruit dessert over any dessert -- and that causes me problems when lot of my favorite stone fruits and berries are out of season.  I'm always hesitant to substitute canned fruit in a recipe that calls for fresh (everyone should be), but, yesterday, on a whim, I decided to give the two 29-ounce cans of sliced peaches in my pantry a try in my clafoutis recipe.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained and I gained big time.  It is wonderful.

Home- or store-bought- canned peaches make great clafoutis.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09671996970dA bit about clafoutis (kla-foo-tee): Hailing from the Limousin region in Central Southern France, this country-style dessert is made with unpitted black cherries -- which lend a slight almond flavor to the dessert. The name is derived from the verb "clafir", which means "to fill" (the thick, flan-like batter with cherries). Purists will tell you that if made with anything other than black cherries, the name of the dessert changes to "flaugnarde" (which, to me, sounds like a derogatory term for a clafoutis that got thrown under the bus).

After baking, clafoutis is usually served warm with a dusting of Confectioners' sugar or a dollop of freshly-whipped cream. Depending who's making it, where and what recipe, a clafoutis can have a cake-like texture, but French farm-kitchen versions, which are the most luxurious, are typically pudding-like.  In either case, it's an impressive dessert that can be successfully made by novice cooks.  Once you make one once, you'll make it again and again.

Clafoutis:  It's smooth & creamy & not-too-sweet...

IMG_8944... & it's even easier to make than a cobbler, crisp or crumble.

IMG_88791 1/2-1 3/4  pounds well-drained, canned peaches (from 2, 29-ounce cans store-bought peaches) 

3  large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/4  cups heavy or whipping cream, at room temperature

1/2  cup sugar

1  tablespoon pure peach extract (Note:  I purchase peach extract on-line from www.OliveNation.com.  If you are not inclined to do that, substitute an equal amount of peach brandy.)

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2  teaspoon pure almond extract (almond extract is common to all clafoutis recipes)

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour (10 tablespoons)

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

2  tablespoons salted butter, melted and cooled

Confectioners' sugar and/or freshly whipped cream, for garnish and topping

IMG_8885 IMG_8885 IMG_8885~ Step 1.  Drain peaches as thoroughly as possible. My way is:  after removing the bulk of liquid, place them on a plate that has been lined with paper towels.  If using peach halves, cut them into chunks, if using peach slices, slice the slices in half (I cut the slices with a pair of kitchen shears).  Place the peaches in the bottom of an 11" x 7", 1 1/2-quart casserole, NOT a 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole.  Set aside.

IMG_8330 IMG_8330 IMG_8330 IMG_8330~Step 2.  Melt butter and set aside to cool slightly.  In a 1-quart measuring container, place eggs, cream, sugar, extracts, flour and salt.  Using a hand-held rotary mixer, whisk the mixture until smooth, about 1 minute.  Drizzle in the butter and whisk again, until butter is incorporated.

IMG_8893 IMG_8893 IMG_8893~ Step 3.  Slowly drizzle the batter over the peaches, allowing the batter time to seep down through all the cracks and crevices.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven 40-45 minutes, or until puffed up to center, lightly-browned and set.  Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool, 45-60 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temp with a dusting of Confectioners' sugar or a dollop of whipped cream.

Read the recipe, place peaches in an 11" x 7", 1 1/2-quart casserole, NOT a 13" x 9", 3-quart casserole:

IMG_8892Slowly drizzle the batter methodically over the peaches:

IMG_8902Bake in 325º oven 40-45 minutes & cool on wire rack 40-45 minutes:

IMG_8911Slice & serve warm or at room temperature: 

IMG_8953Just Say Yes to Canned Peaches to Make Clafoutis:  Recipe yields 12-14-16 servings.

Special Equipment List: paper towels; kitchen scale; kitchen sheers; 1-cup measuring container; 1-quart measuring container; hand-held rotary mixer, or, hand-held electric mixer; 1 1/2-quart casserole, NOT, a 3-quart casserole, preferably ceramic; wire cooling rack

IMG_8373Cook's Note: I'm continually astonished by how many cooks have no idea what clafoutis is, or, assume from its name that it's hard to make.  If I were to write The Big Book of No-Brainer Desserts, clafoutis would be on the cover.  For another luscious clafoutis recipe, try my~ Effortlessly-Regal No-Brainer Blackberry Clafoutis ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

02/19/2019

~ Creamy & Chunky Chicken & Mushroom Chowder ~

IMG_8848Whether it be a quick-to-make brothy soup or a long-simmered thick stew, a steamy-hot cup or a whole damned bowl of either is my idea of the ideal take-a-break and sit-down-to-eat meal. Add a handful of cooked noodles or rice and I'm as happy as a clam.  Speaking of clams brings chunky chowder to mind, and, every time I make chowder, I ask the same question, "why don't I make this more often?"  I love everything about it, right down to the little crackers that get crumbled in.

6a0120a8551282970b019aff34d937970cChowder is a rich soup chocked full of chunky-chopped protein and vegetables. It's mostly associated with fish or seafood because it gets its name from the French word "chaudiere", which refers to the cauldron fishermen made their fresh stews in over open fires on the boat docks (with clam chowder being the most popular and most famous).  That said, chowder can be made with any meat or poultry too. Here in America, chowders are made two ways: New England-style, with cream and/or milk in the broth, and, Manhattan-style, with tomatoes added to the broth.  In the case of a well-made New England-style chowder, the broth should be rich, silky and slurpy -- not overly-thickened glop tasting of bland flour.

Once you drive South of New England, through the metropolitan areas of Boston or New York and Manhattan proper, and arrive here in the rural Northeast, you're more likely to find corn or chicken chowders on the menus of our eateries.  It's only natural.  The farther inland you go, access to fresh fish or seafood dwindles as the price skyrockets.  That said, our farms consist of vast fields of sweet corn, and, if they don't raise dairy cows, they own a poultry farm.  It's farm country.

IMG_87626  tablespoons olive oil (Note:  Chowder is traditionally started by frying bacon in the bottom of the pot.  The crisp bacon is removed, chopped, and returned to the soup near the end of the process and/or used as garnish.  The bacon drippings that remain are used to sauté the protein and/or vegetables.  Feel free to skip the olive oil and use bacon drippings.  That said, in this particular recipe, I do not.  For my taste, bacon overpowers its luscious flavor.)

2 pounds uncooked, trimmed of any fat, 1/2" diced boneless, skinless chicken thighs (chicken tenderloins may be substituted)

16-18  ounces medium-diced yellow or sweet onion (about 3 cups)

12-14  ounce peeled and 1/4"-thick sliced carrots (about 3 cups)

8-10  ounces diced celery (about 2 cups)

1 1/2  pounds thinly-sliced crimini or white button mushroom caps, no stems, or a combination of both

4-8  large garlic cloves, run through a press, about 3-4 tablespoons pressed garlic

6  tablespoons salted butter

6  tablespoons Wondra quick-mixing flour for sauce and gravy

4  cups chicken stock

2  cups cream + up to 1 cup whole milk (to achieve desired consistency)

2  tablespoons dried herbes de Provence (a mixture of rosemary, marjoram, thyme and savory)

2 1/2-3  pounds gold potatoes, peeled and 3/4" diced (about 5-6 cups)

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, added as directed throughout recipe

minced, fresh parsley, for garnish

mini-saltine crackers, for accompaniment

IMG_8765 IMG_8765 IMG_8765 IMG_8765~Step 1.  In a 14", 8-quart chef's pan (or an 8-quart Dutch oven), place the olive oil. Add the diced chicken, onion, carrots and celery.  Season with sea salt and peppercorn blend (about 40 grinds salt and 50 grinds pepper). Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté, stirring almost constantly, until the chicken is just short of being cooked and the vegetables are softening, 8-10 minutes.

IMG_8776 IMG_8776 IMG_8776 IMG_8776 IMG_8776 IMG_8776 IMG_8776 IMG_8776~Step 2.  Sprinkle the garlic over the chicken and add the mushrooms to the pan.  Briefly stir to combine.  Season again with sea salt and peppercorn blend (about 40 grinds salt and 50 grinds pepper).  Continue to sauté over medium-high heat until the mushrooms have lost their volume and moisture and almost no liquid remains in bottom of pan, 25-30 additional minutes.

IMG_8795 IMG_8795 IMG_8795 IMG_8795~Step 3.  Adjust heat to medium-low.  Add butter to pan, followed by the flour and herbes de Provence.  Stir constantly until ingredients are thoroughly combined and mixture is thickened and steaming, about 1 minute.  Turn heat off just long enough to peel and dice potatoes as directed.

IMG_8804 IMG_8804 IMG_8804 IMG_8804 IMG_8804 IMG_8804 IMG_8804 IMG_8840~Step 4.  Add the chicken stock to pan, followed by the cream.  Thoroughly stir.  Add potatoes and adjust heat to medium- medium-high.  Bring to a gentle, steady simmer.  Continue to simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer, stirring frequently, until potatoes are cooked through to their centers, 25-30 minutes.  After potatoes are cooked, if desired, stir in some additional milk, to adjust consistency and simmer 1-2 more minutes.  Cover pan and allow the mixture to steep, on the still warm stovetop, for 30-60 minutes, to give flavors time to marry.

Note:  Leftover chowder will thicken in the refrigerator.  Reheat gently in the microwave or on the stovetop, and, plan on needing to add additional milk to adjust consistency.

Five Quarts Creamy & Chunky Chicken & Mushroom Chowder:

IMG_8847Serve steaming hot garnished w/parsley & mini-saltines:

IMG_8874Creamy & Chunky Chicken & Mushroom Chowder:  Recipe yields 5 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; garlic press; kitchen scale (optional but recommended) 14", 8-quart chef's pan w/straight-deep sides & lid, or, 8-quart Dutch oven w/lid; large slotted spoon and/or spatula; soup ladle

IMG_8714Cook's Note:  I'm not gonna lie, I came up with this chowder recipe (today), because I had a package of boneless chicken thighs and a goodly amount of mushrooms leftover from my ~ Perfectly-Prepared Chicken and Mushroom Risotto ~ (which I made and posted over the Valentine's Day weekend). With a snowstorm happening in Happy Valley today, this chowder is going to be a warm and hearty, "winner, winner Wintertime dinner!"

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

02/17/2019

~ Perfectly-Prepared Chicken and Mushroom Risotto ~

IMG_8708Risotto is traditional Italian cooking at its best.  Risotto is more of a method than a recipe, and it requires respect.  There are no two ways to make risotto.  Make it right or it's not risotto.  Don't deviate from the method, don't take shortcuts and don't make substitutions.  Risotto cannot be rushed -- it requires patience.  It cannot be made in advance, it needs to be carefully watched, methodically stirred, and served immediately.  Risotto is done when it is done, and only the cook knows when it is done, but, when it is done right, it's a meal fit for a kind or a queen.

The word "risotto" is related to the Italian word "riso", or "rice".  Rice came to Northern Italy first, via Middle Easterners, and risotto, said to be the oldest and most common way of preparing rice, is Italy's contribution to rice cookery.  Typically served as a first- or appetizer-course, and primarily prepared in Northern Italy, Central and Southern Italy have claim to their own traditional recipes, using ingredients readily-available to their climate and landscape as well.  Without creating more controversy than is already "out there", it is this cook's opinion that it is not possible to cut a few corners and still come up with anything more than a presentable dish -- cheating breaks the spell.

IMG_8714There are no two ways to make risotto.  Make it right or it's not risotto.

IMG_8491Risotto is typically made in a heavy pot with round, sloping sides, which promote evaporation -- similar in shape to a saucier, the one in the photo is enameled cast-iron with a four-quart capacity. Risotto is traditionally stirred with a wooden spoon with a hole in the center, which allows the rice grains to flow freely during the constant stirring process.  Risotto requires a special, Italian-grown short-medium-grained, plump and polished rice with a high-starch content.  Arborio (are-bore-ee-oh) is the most readily available, with other choices being carnaroli (car-no-row-lee) and vialone nano (vee-a-low-na-no).  Because starch is the key, never rinse the rice before cooking.

IMG_8494While risotto can technically be made with rice and water, the dish will be tasteless, so, before making risotto, one must decide what kind to make (meat-, seafood-, poultry- or vegetable-based), and that requires a corresponding fully-seasoned and preferably homemade stock (meat, seafood, poultry or vegetable).  The general rule is: six cups stock to one pound risotto rice and the stock must be kept steaming hot (not simmering or boiling) throughout the cooking process to enable the rice to release its starch, which is what makes risotto creamy.  If the stock is boiling (too hot), the rice can be mushy.  If the stock it not steaming (too cold), the rice can seize and be gummy.

IMG_8535Once the stock has been prepared, what I refer to as "the add-ins", the smaller-than-bite-sized bits and morsels of food that typically get stirred into risotto at the end of the cooking process, must be cooked in some manner.  The add-ins, the meat, seafood, poultry or vegetables, while it's acceptable if they consist of small pieces or chards of proteins or vegetable from the stock, I much prefer to start with a raw protein and usually one fresh vegetable too.  I lightly-season them, then sauté them with a few fresh-pressed garlic cloves in a bit of olive oil.  A moist, succulent, nicely-seasoned protein in conjunction with a seasonal vegetable is add-in perfection.

IMG_8627When properly prepared, risotto has a rich, creamy texture, with every grain of rice being plain to see and having a hint of a bite -- rather than soft through to the center or mushy. Risotto begins by sautéing finely-diced onions in some olive oil in the bottom of the risotto pot (sometimes garlic is added too, although I prefer to add the garlic to my add-ins), until the onions are translucent and very, very, soft -- so the onions disappear into the finished dish. Next, the rice gets stirred in and cooked until every grain is coated in oil and ever-so-slightly toasted.  At that instant, a splash of white wine  goes in and the mixture is stirred until it has evaporated.

IMG_8689 2Next, the broth is added, in small increments, in a well-orchestrated manner, while the cook constantly and methodically stirs -- the rice is kept moving at all times.  As the rice absorbs  broth, more broth is added, and so on, until rice is cooked to the perfectly, slightly-chewy "to the tooth" texture (or, to slightly less than "to the tooth", at which time the add-ins get stirred in, which creates a heartier dish -- after that, more broth is added, until the rice reaches perfection).  During the last seconds, the dish is finished by stirring in pieces of cold butter and finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (which adds to the luxurious consistency and provides glistening eye appeal).

Click here to watch my KE on WHVL-TV video:  Perfectly-Cooked Risotto.

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

General rules of thumb for 12 cups risotto/12-16 starter-, or 6-8 main-dish servings:

Heat 6 cups stock to steaming for every 1-pound risotto rice being cooked.

Be sure to finely-dice the 1 1/2 cups onion & use 1/4 cup wine to deglaze pot. 

Plan on adding a minimum of 5 cups stock & needing up to 6 cups.

Approximately 3-3 1/2 cups of sautéed add-ins is ideal.

Finish w/4 tablespoons cubed butter & 6-8 tablespoons finely-grated Parmesan.

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

IMG_8726For the stock:

6 cups fully-seasoned steaming-hot chicken stock, your favorite recipe or mine

Note:  Be sure to taste and season whatever chicken stock or chicken stock recipe you are using prior to adding it to the rice.  Stock is "liquid gold" (the primary flavoring) to risotto:  the finished dish is only going to taste as good as the stock that got added to it tastes.  Risotto cannot be seasoned after-the-fact -- that's a fact.  If the stock is lacking salt or any other seasoning, the risotto will taste like any unseasoned rice would taste -- bland and boring.

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

IMG_8498For the chicken and mushroom add-ins to the risotto:

1-1 1/4 pound uncooked, trimmed of any fat, 1/2" diced boneless, skinless chicken thighs (chicken tenderloins may be substituted)

8  ounces thinly-sliced crimini or white button mushroom caps, no stems, or a combination of both

4-6  large garlic cloves, run through a press, about 2 tablespoons pressed garlic

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

4  tablespoons olive oil

IMG_8499 IMG_8499 IMG_8499 IMG_8499~Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, place the olive oil. Add the diced chicken and lightly-season with sea salt and peppercorn blend (about 15 grinds salt and 25 grinds pepper). Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté until the chicken is just short of being cooked, through, 3-4 minutes.

IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510~Step 2.  Sprinkle the garlic over the chicken and add the mushrooms to the pan.  Briefly stir to combine.  Lightly season with sea salt and peppercorn blend (about 10 grinds salt and 15 grinds pepper). Continue to sauté over medium-high heat until the mushrooms have lost all of their moisture and almost no liquid remains in bottom of pan, 4-6 minutes. Consistency is more important than the time it takes.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

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

IMG_8538For the risotto:

4  tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2  cups finely-diced onion

1  pound arborio, carnaroli, or, vialone nano rice

1/4  cup sweet white wine

4  tablespoons salted butter

6-8  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

6  cups chicken stock

3-3 1/2 cups chicken and mushroom "add-in" mixture (from above recipe)

IMG_8541 IMG_8546 IMG_8546 IMG_8546 IMG_8546 IMG_8546~Step 1.  Heat the olive oil in the risotto pot over medium heat.  Stir in the onion.  Cook, over medium- medium-high, stirring almost constantly with a large wooden spoon (Italians insist it be wooden), until onion is soft, tender, translucent and just beginning to brown, 8-10 minutes.  During this process, regulate the heat carefully, up or down, in order to keep the onions sautéing gently.  Stir constantly and do not try to rush it.

IMG_8564 IMG_8564 IMG_8564 IMG_8564 IMG_8564~Step 2.  Stir in the Arborio rice and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the grains are coated with oil and the edges are ever-so-slightly toasted, about 2-3 minutes.  Add and stir in the wine and cook until the liquid has all evaporated, 20-30 seconds, stirring constantly.  This step goes very quickly.  Be prepared to start adding stock almost immediately.

IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580~Step 3.  Ladle enough hot stock into pot to cover  rice, about 1 1/2 cups. On this first addition of stock, make certain the rice is fully covered. Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until all of the stock gets absorbed and you can see the bottom of the pot, about 3-4 minutes.  Once again, time is not as important as the end result.

IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8620 IMG_8620 IMG_8620 IMG_8620 IMG_8628 IMG_8628 IMG_8628 IMG_8628 IMG_8628 IMG_8628 IMG_8642 IMG_8642 IMG_8642 IMG_8642 IMG_8642~Step 4.  Continue the process of adding stock, about 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly after each addition, until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid, about 3-4 minutes, three more times, for a total of 9-12 total minutes.  To this point in the risotto making process, a total of 4 1/2-5 cups of stock will have been added to the rice.

IMG_8654 IMG_8654 IMG_8654 IMG_8654 IMG_8654 IMG_8662 IMG_8662 IMG_8662 IMG_8662~Step 5.  Stir in the chicken mixture and get out a tasting spoon.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and add additional stock in 1/4 cup increments, stirring 1-2 minutes after each addition, until rice is al dente or "to the tooth" and cooked to your liking.  I added, 3/4 cup of stock, in three 1/4 cup additions, tasting after each one, to get to desired doneness.

Note:  Experts all explain that risotto will not cook the same, or in the same amount of time every time, which is why risotto is more about understanding the method than having a recipe.  At the very end, the rice should be to your liking -- some like it crunch tender, others prefer it very soft.

IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675~Step 6.  Stir in the butter and grated cheese.  When the butter is melted and thoroughly incorporated, remove the pan from the heat, cover it, then, let it sit for 2-3 minutes.

Ladle into shallow bowls & garnish with freshly-ground sea salt, peppercorn blend & Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

IMG_8724Perfectly-Prepared Chicken and Mushroom Risotto:  Recipe yields 12 cups/12-16 starter- or 6-8 main-dish servings. 

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucepan; cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides & lid; spatula; kitchen scale; 4-quart risotto pot/saucier w/lid; wooden risotto spoon or wooden spoon; 1 cup-sized ladle; 1/4 cup-sized ladle; tasting spoon 

IMG_8699Cook's Note:  I'm pretty sure I covered all the pertinent facts is this particular risotto post.  That said, should you be inclined, for an expanded, even more verbose explanation, I share everything I know about risotto, including my KE/WHVL-TV episode in my post ~ No two ways about it: Make it right or it's not Risotto ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

02/15/2019

~ No two ways about it: Make it right or it's not Risotto ~

IMG_8705Risotto is traditional Italian cooking at its best.  Risotto is more of a method than a recipe, and it requires respect.  There are no two ways to make risotto.  Make it right or it's not risotto.  Don't deviate from the method, don't take shortcuts and don't make substitutions.  Risotto cannot be rushed -- it requires patience.  It cannot be made in advance, it needs to be carefully watched, methodically stirred, and served immediately.  Risotto is done when it is done, and only the cook knows when it is done, but, when it is done right, it's a meal fit for a kind or a queen.

Risotto is Italy's contribution to rice cookery.

IMG_8699The word "risotto" is related to the Italian word "riso", or "rice".  Rice came to Northern Italy first, via Middle Easterners, and risotto, said to be the oldest and most common way of preparing rice, is Italy's contribution to rice cookery.  Typically served as a first- or appetizer-course, and primarily prepared in Northern Italy, Central and Southern Italy have claim to their own traditional recipes, using ingredients readily-available to their climate and landscape as well.  Without creating more controversy than is already "out there", it is this cook's opinion that it is not possible to cut a few corners and still come up with anything more than a presentable dish -- cheating breaks the spell.

The pot, the spoon & the rice.

IMG_8491Risotto is typically made in a heavy pot with round, sloping sides, which promote evaporation -- similar in shape to a saucier, the one in the photo is enameled cast-iron with a four-quart capacity. Risotto is traditionally stirred with a wooden spoon with a hole in the center, which allows the rice grains to flow freely during the constant stirring process.  Risotto requires a special, Italian-grown short-medium- grained, plump and polished rice with a high-starch content.  Arborio (are-bore-ee-oh) is the most readily available, with other choices being carnaroli (car-no-row-lee) and vialone nano (vee-a-low-na-no).  Because starch is the key to risotto, never rinse the rice before cooking.

The stock -- meat, seafood, poultry or vegetable.

IMG_8494While risotto can technically be made with rice and water, the dish will be tasteless, so, before making risotto, one must decide what kind to make (meat-, seafood-, poultry- or vegetable-based), and that requires a corresponding fully-seasoned and preferably homemade stock (meat, seafood, poultry or vegetable).  The general rule is: six cups stock to one pound risotto rice and the stock must be kept steaming hot (not simmering or boiling) throughout the cooking process to enable the rice to release its starch, which is what makes risotto creamy.  If the stock is boiling (too hot), the rice will be mushy.  If the stock it not steaming (too cold), the rice will be gummy.

(Here are my recipes for:  beef, veal, shrimp, chicken and vegetable stock.  Once or twice a year, I make a big pot of each one, portion it into 2-quart sized, glass containers and freeze it. Having stock on-hand at all times makes homemade soup or risotto fast-food in my kitchen.)

The add-ins -- cooked morsels of food that go in at the end.

IMG_8535Once the stock has been prepared, what I refer to as "the add-ins", the smaller-than-bite-sized bits and morsels of food that typically get stirred into risotto at the end of the cooking process, must be cooked in some manner.  The add-ins, the meat, seafood, poultry or vegetables, while it's acceptable if they consist of small pieces or chards of proteins or vegetable from the stock, I much prefer to start with a raw protein and usually one fresh vegetable too.  I lightly-season them, then sauté them with a few fresh-pressed garlic cloves in a bit of olive oil.  A moist, succulent, nicely-seasoned protein in conjunction with a seasonal vegetable of choice is add-in perfection.

(Seasonally, I have a favorite combo of add-ins to risotto, and, I prepare them all via the same method.  Spring:  veal with asparagus tips.  Summer:  shrimp or lobster with sweet corn kernels. Fall:  chicken with mushrooms and/or peas.  Winter:  beef with mushrooms and/or carrots.)

The process -- risotto is time-consuming & complicated.

IMG_8627Yes and no.  Yes, risotto is time-consuming -- and you can't leave the stovetop, so, have your mise-en-place and pour a glass of wine or mix a cocktail before you start.  No, it is not complicated -- after you've made it a time or two and get "a feel" for it, you'll see and you'll agree.

When properly prepared, risotto has a rich, creamy texture, with every grain of rice being plain to see and having a hint of a bite -- rather than soft through to the center or mushy.  Risotto begins by sautéing finely-diced onions in some olive oil in the bottom of the risotto pot (sometimes garlic is added too, although I prefer to add the garlic to my add-ins), until the onions a translucent and very, very, soft -- so the onions disappear into the finished dish.  Once the onions are sautéed, the rice gets stirred in and cooked until every grain is coated in oil and ever-so-slightly toasted.  At that instant, a splash of white wine goes in and the mixture is stirred until it has evaporated.

Next, the broth is added, in small increments, in a well-orchestrated manner, while the cook constantly and methodically stirs the mixture -- the rice is kept moving at all times.  As the rice absorbs the broth in concert with some of the broth evaporating, more broth is added, and so on, until the rice is cooked to the perfectly, slightly-chewy "to the tooth" texture, or, to slightly less than the perfectly, slightly-chewy "to the tooth" texture, at which time the add-ins get stirred in, which creates a heartier dish -- after that, more broth is added, in smaller increments, until the rice reaches ideal doneness.  During the last seconds, the dish is finished off by stirring in a few pieces of cold butter some finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (which adds to the luxurious, creamy consistency and also provides glistening eye appeal).     

Throughout the process the heat is carefully regulated, up or down, in a saucepan to keep the stock steaming, and, in the risotto pot, to initially keep the pot hot enough to sauté the onions, then to keep the rice mixture hot enough to bubble and simmer, but not so hot as to scorch.

Click here to watch my KE on WHVL-TV:  Perfectly-Cooked Risotto.

IMG_8689For the risotto & the finishing touches:

IMG_8538General rules of thumb for preparing 12 cups risotto:

Heat 6 cups stock to steaming for every 1-pound risotto rice being cooked.

Be sure to finely-dice the 1 1/2 cups onion & use 1/4 cup white wine to deglaze pot. 

Plan on adding a minimum of 5 cups stock & needing up to 6 cups.

Approximately 3-3 1/2 cups of sautéed add-ins is ideal.

Finish w/4 tablespoons cubed butter & 6-8 tablespoons finely-grated Parmesan.

My Perfectly-Prepared Chicken & Mushroom Risotto recipe:

IMG_8697"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

02/13/2019

~ Milk-Chocolate-Lovers Nestlé-Crunch-Bar Cookies ~

IMG_8730The Nestlé Crunch Bar -- creamy milk chocolate chocked full of crunchy-crisped rice.  As one who has always preferred milk to dark chocolate, it, along with the Reese's peanut butter cup (milk chocolate and peanut butter) is at the top of my "favorite candy bars of my youth list".  As with several other favorites, for an adult activity, I prefer to chop up said candy bars and bake cookies with their bits and pieces -- I prefer a cookie to a candy bar and I adore a candy bar in a cookie.    

IMG_8417"Candy-bar cookies" and sweet treats made with my favorite candy bars are some of my favorite cookies to bake -- and what's not to love about a cookie that evokes childhood memories. Amongst all my other cookie recipes, it seems it's the candy-bar cookie recipes that get made the most often, and, get eaten almost as fast as I can fill the cookie jar -- a couple here, a couple there, and in a day or two, poof, they've disappeared.  Try my: Whoppers Milk-Chocolate Malted-Milk-Ball Cookies, Chewy Coconut & Crispy White-Kit-Kat Cookies, Over-the-Top Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies, and, Chocolate & Peanut-Butter-Snickers Cookie Squares.  Today I'm adding my Nestlé Crunch Bar Cookies to KE. Long story short, it is an amped-up spin-off of  The Original Nestlé's Toll House Cookie recipe.

IMG_8456Milk chocolate + crisped rice = simply irresistible cookies: 

IMG_84292 1/4 + 2 tablespoons  cups all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon each:  baking powder and baking soda

1  teaspoon salt

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

3/4  cup granulated sugar

3/4  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

2  teaspoons pure chocolate extract

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2  large eggs

18  ounces Nestlé Crunch Bars, chopped into morsel-sized 1/4" pieces

IMG_9622 IMG_9622 IMG_9622 IMG_9622 IMG_9622~Step 1.  In a small mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.  In a large bowl, place butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract.  On high-speed of hand-held mixer, beat until creamy, about 3 minutes.  Beat in eggs, about 1 minute.  Lower mixer speed and gradually beat in the flour until a smooth, sticky dough forms.

IMG_8432 IMG_8432 IMG_8432 IMG_8432 IMG_8432 IMG_8432~Step 2.  Using a large rubber spatula, add and fold in the chocolate pieces.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, drop cookies, well apart, by rounded tablespoonfuls onto each of 4, parchment-lined, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans.

IMG_8454 IMG_8457~Step 3.  Bake, one-pan-at-a-time on center rack of 325º oven 13-15 minutes, until light-golden.  If you like cookies a bit chewy, do not bake until golden.  Remove from oven and use a small spatula to transfer to wire cooling rack to cool.

What could be better than eating your favorite candy bar?  

IMG_8463Eating a cookie made from a favorite candy bar.

IMG_8475Milk-Chocolate-Lovers Nestlé-Crunch-Bar Cookies:  Recipe yields 5-5 1/2 dozen cookies.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb092fba3d970dCook's Note: Hold the chocolate candy and  everything you can put in a chocolate cookie to impress me. Don't sprinkle them with sea salt, slather them with caramel frosting or sandwich them together with buttercream.  It won't work.  As a foodie who lives in the blog world where everyone strives to make every recipe unique, in my kitchen, every once in a while, plain is the best flavor of all -- especially when ~ I'm in the Mood for:  Plain-Jane Chocolate Cookies ~. 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

02/11/2019

~ Effortlessly-Regal No-Brainer Blackberry Clafoutis ~

IMG_8378I'm continually astonished by how many cooks have no idea what clafoutis is, or, assume from its name that it's hard to make.  If I were to write The Big Book of No-Brainer Desserts, clafoutis would be on the cover.  Whisk up a simple batter (eggs, cream or milk, sugar, salt, flour, melted butter and brandy or extract), pour it over some fresh fruit and bake. Cherries are the classic addition, with any type of berries, combination of berries, or tender stone fruit like apricots, plums and peaches being common substitutions.  Currently, I'm secretly addicted to the one-pound boxes of giant-sized Driscoll's blackberries we've been purchasing at our local Sam's Club.  I eat a box every week -- every time I open the refrigerator, five or six of come out with me.

Perfect for Valentine's Day, or any occasion you can name... 

IMG_8393... and even easier to make than a cobbler, crisp or crumble...

IMG_8321A bit about clafoutis (kla-foo-tee): Hailing from the Limousin region in Central Southern France, this country-style dessert is made with unpitted black cherries -- which lend a slight almond flavor to the dessert. The name is derived from the verb "clafir", which means "to fill" (the thick, flan-like batter with cherries). Purists will tell you that if made with anything other than black cherries, the name of the dessert changes to "flaugnarde" (which, to me, sounds like a derogatory term for a clafoutis that got thrown under the bus).

After baking, clafoutis is usually served warm with a dusting of Confectioners' sugar or a dollop of freshly-whipped cream. Depending who's making it, where and what recipe, a clafoutis can have a cake-like texture, but French farm-kitchen versions, which are the most luxurious, are typically pudding-like.  In either case, it's an impressive dessert that can be successfully made by novice cooks.

IMG_8398... clafoutis is my secret-weapon year-round fruit dessert.

IMG_83241 1/2-2  pounds fresh (not frozen), ripe (not over-ripe) whole blackberries

3  large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/4  cups heavy or whipping cream, at room temperature

1/2  cup sugar

1  tablespoon pure blackberry extract (Note:  I purchase blackberry extract on-line from www.OliveNation.com.  If you are not inclined to do that, substitute an equal amount of blackberry brandy.)

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2  teaspoon oure almond extract (almond extract is common to all clafoutis recipes)

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour (10 tablespoons)

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

2  tablespoons salted butter, melted and cooled

Confectioners' sugar and/or freshly whipped cream, for garnish and topping

IMG_8330 IMG_8330 IMG_8330 IMG_8330~Step 1. Melt butter and set aside to cool slightly.  In a 1-quart measuring container, place eggs, cream, sugar, extracts, flour and salt.  Using a hand-held rotary mixer, whisk the mixture until smooth, about 1 minute.  Drizzle in the butter and whisk again, until butter is incorporated.

IMG_8327 IMG_8327 IMG_8327 IMG_8355~Step 2. Gently place the delicate blackberries in an 11" x 7", 1 1/2-quart casserole, NOT a 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole, then drizzle the batter slowly and evenly over the blackberries, allowing it plenty of time to seep down through all the cracks and crevices.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven 40-45 minutes, or until puffed up to center, lightly-browned and just set.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool, 45-60 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Read the recipe, don't be fooled by a photo:  this is an 11" x 7", 1 1/2-quart casserole, NOT, a 13" x 9", 3-quart casserole!

IMG_8350Bake in a 325º oven, 40-45 minutes or until just set.

IMG_8357Cool 45-60 minutes, slice & serve warm (or at room temp)...

IMG_8364... dusted w/Confectioners' sugar or whipped cream: 

IMG_8375Effortlessly-Regal No-Brainer Blackberry Clafoutis:  Recipe yields 12-14-16 servings.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; 1-quart measuring container; hand-held rotary mixer, or, hand-held electric mixer; 1 1/2-quart casserole, NOT, a 3-quart casserole, preferably ceramic; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0224e03f9a04200dCook's Note: Here today, gone today.  That's the lifespan of blackberries entering my kitchen. I've been told their dark color makes them really good for me -- even more antioxidants than blueberries.  Rah-rah-sis-boom-bah, I'd eat them even if they were on on the not-so-good-for-me foods short list.   When I buy a box of blackberries, I eat a box of blackberries. When I pick blackberries, they disappear on the walk to my door.  I do not share blackberries -- perhaps I would, but, I've yet to be tested on this point. ~ Have a Very-Berry Blackberry-Cobbler Kind of Day ~!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

02/09/2019

~ A Great Garlic Bread Spread for Great Garlic Bread ~

IMG_8282Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.  A double-whammy of calories and carbohydrates are going on our dinner table tonight.  Why?  Because eating spaghetti and meatballs without a great big basket of garlic bread on the table is, gulp, culinarily criminal.  We'll have a salad too, because it too goes great with this meal (not because it's healthy or to make me feel less guilty). Everybody knows spaghetti and meatballs require garlic bread, a salad and a bottle of red wine.

Garlic bread isn't Italian.  Neither is spaghetti & meatballs.

IMG_8309While many regard spaghetti & meatballs as quintessential Italian, the dish was created in the U.S. in the early 1900's.  Italian meatballs were not initially served with pasta.  They were served alone, as a course at a meal, as was the pasta.  The two got teamed together in Italian restaurants to appease Americans who wanted meat served on the same plate with with their pasta.  The type of garlic bread we have all come to love is believed to have originated in the U.S. in the 1950's, when Italian-American home cooks created a spin-off of Italian bruschetta/garlic toast (a slice of bread brushed with olive oil, grilled, then rubbed with garlic) using on-hand pantry ingredients of the time period.  The end result was a buttery loaf of highly-flavored slightly-crunchy bready snacks to accompany their favorite Italian-American red-sauce-restaurant dishes.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad398c2fd200dA great garlic bread starts with a high-quality loaf of bread.  A firm dense-textured loaf textured bread is the place to start -- a loaf of roasted-garlic bread (meaning roasted garlic has been baked into the bread) is a better place to start, as it lends an extra-layer of garlic flavor.  For ease of service and a prettier presentation, in my kitchen, I believe the French batard (a squatter, plumper, denser version of a baguette) to be the ideal foil for making garlic bread.

1  12-ounce roasted-garlic or plain batard, preferably the bake-at-home kind

IMG_8229For the garlic bread spread:

3  half-sticks salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (6 ounces) (Note:  I'm pointing out half-sticks of butter to make the ratio I use more apparent to you when reading the ingredients list.  This will make it easy to adjust (calculate) the recipe for different-sized loaves of different shapes.  To every half-stick of butter, add 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1 clove garlic, 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese and 1/4 teaspoon each of designated herbs and spices.)

1  tablespoon olive oil (3 teaspoons)

3  large garlic cloves, run through a press (about 1 1/2 teaspoons pressed garlic), or, 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic paste may be substituted

3/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend

3/4  teaspoon dehydrated, minced garlic

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon white pepper

3  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

IMG_8231 IMG_8231 IMG_8231 IMG_8231 IMG_8231~Step 1.  In a 2-cup food storage container, place all ingredients except cheese.  Stir until thoroughly combined.  Add and stir in the cheese. Cover and set aside, at room temperature, 30-45 minutes, to give flavors time to marry.  During this time, preheat oven to 375º with oven rack positioned in the upper third.  Uncover and give the mixture one last thorough stir.

IMG_8251 IMG_8251 IMG_8251 IMG_8251 IMG_8251~Step 2.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with parchment paper.  Using a serrated bread knife, slice the batard in half lengthwise horizontally, then slice each half into four even-sized pieces.  Using a butter knife, generously slather each piece of bread with the garlic spread.  Keep slathering until all of the spread is used up and atop the bread pieces.

IMG_8266~Step 3.  Place pan of bread in oven preheated as directed above.  Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until the garlic spread has had time to slowly melt down into the bread and the bread has had time to crisp in the buttery meltdown, and, essentially oven-fry.  Remove from oven and cool slightly, in pan, 2-3 minutes prior to transferring to a plate or a basket to serve.

Great garlic bread -- the snack Italian-Americans made...

IMG_8279... crispy outside, chewy inside, lots of butter & garlic flavor:

IMG_8285A Great Garlic Bread Spread for Great Garlic Bread:  Recipe yields 1, 12-ounce loaf garlic bread/8 pieces/8 side-servings or snacks.

Special Equipment List:  garlic press; microplane grater, spoon; cutting board; serrated bread knife; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; butter knife

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d16e3272970cCook's Note: Garlic knots are a form of garlic bread -- they're typically made using the same butter-garlic mixture the eatery uses to make garlic bread.  In the beginning, they were found primarily in pizzarias in and around New York City and they were a way of making use of scraps of pizza dough.  As an appetizer, they come to you with a side of marinara sauce for dipping, and, because they are made from scraps, a basket of them often comes complimentary with more expensive menu items.  ~ For Times When You Gotta Have Garlic Knots ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

02/06/2019

~Slow-Cooker Italian-Style Sunday Gravy & Meatballs~

IMG_8183Sunday gravy.  Tomato sauce, simmering low and slow in a pot brimming with meatballs bobbing around -- what's not to love.  It's a tradition in the Italian-American kitchen and a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon -- stirring a pot of bubbling sauce and sipping wine with the family and some friends milling around.  That said, I grew up in an Eastern European household -- we ate spaghetti and meatballs on Tuesdays, as Sundays were for roast chicken or pot roast and "the other gravy".  Mom and dad designated Tuesdays as our day to have spaghetti and meatballs.

While many regard spaghetti & meatballs as quintessential Italian, the dish was created in the U.S. in the early 1900's.  Meatballs were not initially served with pasta.  They were served alone, as was the pasta.  The two teamed together in Italian restaurants to appease Americans who wanted meat served with pasta.

IMG_3124 2Fast forward to 1980.  I married Joe and into his Italian-heritaged family, and fast-tracked all I could  -- Sunday sugo and a head-spinning array of other family-favorite main-dishes and desserts.  That said, Joe traveled a lot, so, many a weeknight, it just was me, three boys and their after-school activities.  I too designated Tuesday nights for spaghetti and meatballs, but, a simplified version.  The meatballs and sauce cooked in the slow cooker, which conveniently could be scheduled to be ready at a time I knew we'd all be home to eat dinner and do homework.  

My kid-friendly version is quick to put together and requires no slicing, dicing or frying --  both the sauce and the meat mixture can be prepped in about fifteen minutes.  There's more.  Past the ground beef and some ground pork if you want to add it, all of the ingredients come out of the pantry and off the spice rack.  Unless you have have a really big family or teenage boys, there's easily enough for two meals, which in our house means meatball sandwiches the next day.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95967d7970bMeet 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 vessel for a big batch of meatballs  (28 to be precise) to cook evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

Moist, fork-tender meatballs in a thick, rich tomato sauce...

IMG_8214... an uncompromisingly-delicious time-saving recipe: 

IMG_8121For the Gravy (Tomato Sauce):

2  28-ounce cans high-quality Italian-style crushed tomatoes

2  8-ounce cans tomato sauce

1  teaspoon dried basil or Italian seasoning blend

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper 

IMG_8131For the meatballs:

2  pounds ground beef (85/15), or, 1 pound each: beef & pork

2/3  cup each:  plain dry breadcrumbs and finely-grated Parmesan cheese

1 1/2  teaspoons dried basil or Italian seasoning blend

1 1/2 teaspoons each: dehydrated minced garlic and onion, cracked black pepper and sea salt

2  large eggs

IMG_8122 IMG_8122~ Step 1.  To mix the sauce, place and stir all ingredients (crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, dried basil, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper) together in a Crockpot casserole cooker. Set aside and mix meat as directed:

IMG_8133 IMG_8133~ Step 2.  To mix the meat, in a large bowl, place all ingredients (ground beef, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, dried basil, dehydrated minced garlic and onion, salt, pepper and eggs).  Using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_8137 IMG_8137 IMG_8137 IMG_8137~Step 3.  Using a 2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, divide meat mixture into 28 portions, about 1 1/2-ounces each.  Using your hands, form into round balls, placing them, side-by-side in sauce -- do not push down on meatballs.  Cover crockpot and cook on high for 2-2 1/2 hours.

IMG_8151 IMG_8151 IMG_8156 IMG_8156 IMG_8156~Step 4.  After 2-2 1/2 hours, using a pair of tongs, remove meatballs to a platter, a bowl, or a casserole.  Cover and set aside.  Ladle the sauce into two 1-quart food storage bowls and set aside.  To this point, meatballs and sauce can be prepared several hours and up to two days in advance. Reheat and serve with cooked and drained steaming-hot pasta.

A thick rich full-flavored sauce w/tender, juicy meatballs.  

IMG_8177Can I interest you in a side-serving of garlic bread?

IMG_8282Slow-Cooker Italian-Style Gravy & Meatballs:  Recipe yields 28 meatballs and 2 quarts sauce.

Special Equipment List:  Crockpot casserole; large spoon; 2" ice-cream scoop; tongs; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c94beaae970bCook's Note: There's no discernible difference between a crockpot-cooked meatloaf vs. an oven-baked meatloaf.  Meatloaf in the crockpot is not crock-our-world crocket science.  Home cooks have been using Betty Crocker's method for slow-cooking meatloaf for decades. That said, after purchasing my new Crockpot casserole, I decided to "think inside the box and dare to be square", and, my ~ Low & Slow-Cooked Crockpot-Casserole Meatloaf ~, which yields a generous 16-20 servings came out great!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

02/04/2019

~Onion & Garlic Cauliflower & Gold Mashed Potatoes~

IMG_8091Smashed, mashed or whipped potatoes -- you love them, I know you do, everyone does. Cauliflower -- maybe you love it, maybe you don't, but if you do, you'll love the combination of buttery-rich mashed cauliflower and potatoes laced with bits of onion and garlic. It's the divine intervention of the creamy-comforting side-dish food world -- it happens when the mild- and slightly-nutty flavored sun-soaked "cabbage flower" meets the sun-starved, earthy and starchy potato.  Make no mistake, when boiled and mashed, cauliflower is great, but it's: mashed cauliflower -- just because it's the same color, doesn't make it "just like" mashed potatoes and it's silly to say so.  That said, add an equal amount of potatoes to the same pot -- game on.

Cauliflower mashed w/o potatoes is mashed cauliflower -- good but not mashed potatoes.  Add potatoes to the same pot -- game on!

IMG_804712  ounces whole cauliflower florets, removed from 1 medium-sized 2-pound head cauliflower as directed here, weighed, not measured

12  ounces peeled and 3/4-1" cubed Yukon gold potatoes (12 ounces after peeling)

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning the water

6  tablespoons salted butter, preferably at room temperature

3/4  cup cream, preferably at room temperature

1  teaspoon dehydrated, minced onion

1  teaspoon dehydrated, minced garlic

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

snipped chives, for garnish (optional)

IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8062 IMG_8062 IMG_8062~Step 1.  Remove florets from the head of cauliflower, placing them on a kitchen scale as you work.  Place 12-ounces of whole florets in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot.  Peel and dice potatoes as directed, placing them in the stockpot with the cauliflower as you work.  Cover with 2-quarts cold water and add 1 tablespoon sea salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook until potatoes are fork tender through to their centers, 10-12 minutes -- when potatoes are done, cauliflower is done.  Remove from heat and transfer to a colander to thoroughly drain. Return steaming-hot vegetables to still-hot stockpot and place pot on a heat-safe surface. 

IMG_8057IMG_8057Step 2.  While the potatoes are simmering, place cream, butter, minced garlic, minced onion, salt and pepper in a 2-cup measuring container.  Place in microwave to warm up gently, until butter has melted.  Remove from microwave and set aside.

IMG_8071 IMG_8071 IMG_8071 IMG_8071~Step 3.  Add half of the warm butter/cream mixture to the stockpot.  Using a hand-held vegetable masher (for smashed or mashed potatoes) or on medium speed of hand-held electric mixer, whip the potatoes.  Add the second half of the butter/cream mixture and gradually increase mixer speed to high, whipping the mixture while scraping down the sides of the pot with a large rubber spatula until smooth and creamy, about 2 full minutes.  There will be four generous cups.

Buttery rich & full of onion & garlic flavor...

IMG_8106... cauliflower & gold mashed potatoes --  the gold standard.

IMG_8112Onion & Garlic Cauliflower & Gold Mashed Potatoes:  Recipe yields a generous 4 cups cauliflower and mashed potatoes/approximately 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen scale; cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot w/lid; 2-cup measuring container; colander; hand-held vegetable masher or hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07d02735970dCook's Note:  It's right up there with pizza, cheeseburgers and hot dogs.  ~ The Machinations of Mashed Potatoes ~ is one of my favorite topics to discuss.  One can never have too many recipes for any of them.  It's hard to imagine my food world without mashed potatoes. They are an institution -- a way of life. They're the quintessential side-dish served year-round at elegant celebrations, casual get-togethers and weekday meals.  They're revered by young and old alike -- they make everyone happy.  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

02/02/2019

~ Mel's Great-Big Cauliflower Pizza Crust Experiment ~

IMG_8009In crust I trust, but, in the case of the two bloatedly-overpriced-at-almost-$9.00 cauliflower pizza crusts I purchased (on a whim just to get a taste-in-my-mouth for what all the buzz is about), I'd rather eat cardboard.  In my food world, in order to avoid eating compromising crap, I eat less of the things I love before cutting-back on carbs, or worse, cutting-out gluten completely.  "Once you get used to them, they're pretty good", is not a retort to my comments, so stuff it.  The only way to justify this type of ingredient-specific-deprivation requires a diagnosis from a doctor.

My great disappointment by the store-bought cauliflower pizza crusts should not be confused with a dislike for cauliflower.

I love cauliflower, I love it raw, steamed, mashed, broiled and braised.  I love its chameleon-like ability to adapt to almost any culinary application -- even roasting.  I make a sumptuous cream-of-cauliflower soup too.  I won't lie, when I started hearing about the growing popularity of cauliflower pizza crusts, I was (with good reason) skeptical -- as a very good and knowledgeable home cook, the concept of making a traditional pizza crust without flour and the requisite yeast, conjured up problems.  As one who makes plenty of pizza from store-bought flatbreads too (using bobboli, naan, pita, tortillas and English muffins), the "no wheat flour rule" is disturbing.  Why? With flour and yeast, cauliflower could be incorporated to make a remarkably good crust.    

Will it taste remarkably better if I make one from scratch?

IMG_8036It should, and I truly hope it will, but know I wasn't going to waste a lot of time and energy coming up with my own before doing some proper research, which revealed:  There are lot of recipes "out there", with the majority being gluten-free and no carb-too, which is indeed what all the buzz is about.  That said, comments on said recipes were riddled with complaints about recipes that were soggy or sticky, and, the all-important chew-factor results reported crusts that fell apart so badly they required eating with knife-and-fork, to, crusts that were overly-chewy and rubberlike.     

Then I came across one on www.simplyrecipes.com -- a site I consider very reputable with well-written, kitchen-tested recipes.  I'm putting theirs to my test today.  Why?  Because it's not peddling a special-diet recipe, it's touting a great-tasting, easy-to-make cauliflower pizza crust with a texture resemblant of a traditional, yeast-based wheat crust.  It's a middle-of-the-road approach that, while gluten-free, adds just enough carbohydrates, in the form of corn flour, to produce a desirable texture.  It promised: a chewy, tender, breadlike-textured thin-crust pizza (meaning not light, airy) with a predominately dried corn-kernel tortilla-like taste.

Let's bake one & see (mostly their recipe w/a touch of a la Melanie):

IMG_79217  ounces cauliflower florets, weighed (about 2 cups), rough-chopped into 1/2" pieces

1/2  cup corn flour (masa harina)

1  large egg

2  tablespoons olive oil

1/2  teaspoon each: Italian seasoning blend, garlic powder, coarse-grind black pepper and sea salt

2  tablespoons cornstarch

4  ounces finely-grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 generous cup)

IMG_7927 IMG_7927~ Step 1.  Preheat oven to 450º with the oven rack positioned in the upper third.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment and coat the parchment with a layer of no-stick cooking spray.  Set aside. Using a microplane grater, grate a 4-ounce piece of Parmesan cheese, or, cut it into cubes and process it in the work bowl of food processor fitted with a steel blade, using a series of 45-60 rapid on-off pulses.  Set aside.

IMG_7923 IMG_7923 IMG_7932 IMG_7932 IMG_7932 IMG_7932 IMG_7932 IMG_7932~Step 2.  To prepare the dough, weigh cauliflower florets and rough chop as directed, placing in the work-bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Add the corn flour, egg, olive oil and dry spices.  With motor running, process until a smooth, sticky purée forms, about 2 1/2-3 minutes, stopping to scrape down the inside of the work bowl with a large rubber spatula every 30-45 seconds.  Add the corstarch and process again for 30 more seconds.  Add the Parmesan. Using a series of rapid on-of pulses, process until incorporated into the mixture, about 8-10 pulses.

IMG_7950 IMG_7950 IMG_7950 IMG_7950 IMG_7950 IMG_7950 IMG_7950 IMG_7950~Step 3.  To form the crust, transfer  pizza dough to prepared baking pan and lightly-sprinkle top with some additional corn flour.  Using your hands and fingertips, gather dough together, then shape, pat and press into a 10" circle.  Using a small hand-held rolling pin, working from the center out to the perimeter, roll the dough into an 11" circle.  Using your fingertips, clean up any rough or ragged edges around the perimeter (and form a bit of a crust shape too if you like).  

IMG_7974 IMG_7974 IMG_7974 IMG_7974 IMG_7986 IMG_7986 IMG_7986~Step 4.  To pre-bake, top and finish-bake crust, bake the crust in preheated oven for 12-14 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool, in pan, 3-4 minutes.  Using a large pizza spatula,  transfer the crust to a large wire rack.  Discard the parchment paper from the baking pan, then place the pizza crust (on the rack) in the pan.  Top with your favorite sauce and cheese -- not too much, as this thin-crust pizza is best lightly-topped, not piled-high.  Reposition the oven rack from the upper third to the center. Place topped pizza, on rack in pan, in 450º oven and allow pizza to bake until cheese is melted and crust is crisped on bottom, 6-8 minutes.  Remove from oven, slice, and serve ASAP.

While it bakes up perfectly, it's not my cup-of-tea...

IMG_7999 2... but it is indeed exactly as promised & trendily yummy...

IMG_8020... so if you're so inclined, yes, give this recipe a try.

Mel's Great-Big Cauliflower Pizza Crust Experiment:  Recipe yields 1, 11" cauliflower pizza crust along with topping and baking instructions/6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale; food processor; large rubber spatula; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; small-hand-held rolling pin; large pizza spatula; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d25ed9bc970cCook's Note: Americans eat over three billion pizzas a year and that doesn't include store-bought frozen pies or those made at home.  That is quite a statistic, and, a testament to the love affair we have with pizza. From sea-to-shining-sea, every region of our country has developed their own "style of pie", and, pizza shops and home cooks all proudly prepare their own version of it. Try ~ My Guys Italian-American Sicilian-Style Pizza Pie ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

01/31/2019

~ Quick as the Craving for Cream of Cauliflower Soup ~

IMG_7914January is National Soup Month, and, the cauliflower in my grocery stores is gorgeous right now. Do the math:  soup + cauliflower = cauliflower soup -- more specifically, a savory, smooth, satisfying soup that can be made in about thirty minutes.  I simply stop there, and so should you because it's full-of-flavor and fantastic as is, with a humble parsley garnish floating on top, so, oh-my-sigh, no cheese please, and, believe it or not, not everything tastes better with bits of bacon.  

How much is in a head of cauliflower?  How much should I buy?

IMG_7818 2Mother Nature did not have OCD.  If she did, there would be more symmetry in the world.  It would be a pretty boring place, but, at least all our vegetables would be the same size, which brings me to this point: How much is in a head of cauliflower?  The most frustrating thing about most cauliflower recipes is their lack of specificity regarding precisely how much cauliflower to buy to get the necessary yield.

IMG_7826Generic measurements for volume (2 cups-, 4 cups-florets) or a vague product description (1 large head, 2 medium heads), are meaningless to the average cooker-of-cauliflower, and, are the biggest causes of recipe failure -- stop recipe failure, use a scale.  Authors and bloggers: write your recipes accordingly.  

Weight (1, 2-pound head, 1 pound florets) is the first and only measurement worth a damn.

IMG_7830Measuring cauliflower requires a scale, both in the grocery store when purchasing this vegetable, and, in the kitchen when cooking it. For my demonstration, I bought two medium heads of cauliflower. Untrimmed, the one on the left weighed 2 pounds, 15 ounces, and,  the right one weighed 2 pounds, 2 ounces.  After trimming, here is how it all weighed out:

The typical, medium-sized head weighs about 2 pounds.

IMG_7835 2After trimming and removing florets where each meets the core -- a 1-quart measure full-to-the top (6 cups) of florets.

Roughly speaking, a medium-sized head will yield 1-1 1/4 total pounds florets.

If florets are to be chopped or diced, depending on the size required, this will affect volume measurement (number of cups).  Don't play, weigh it first!

When you're craving a steamy-creamy bowl of soup...

IMG_7911... six cups cream-of-cauliflower soup coming right up:  

IMG_78641, 2-pound head cauliflower, trimmed, florets removed, 1-1 1/4 pounds florets, florets rough-chopped (about 4 cups)

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

3/4  cup small-diced celery

2  teaspoons herbes de Provence 

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

2  teaspoons  sea salt

1  teaspoon white pepper

3  cups Kitchen Basics unsalted vegetable stock

1  cups heavy or whipping cream

freshly-ground black pepper, for garnish

minced, fresh parsley, for garnish

IMG_7849 IMG_7849 IMG_7867~ Step 1.  Using a large chef's knife, rough chop 1 pound of florets from 1, medium-sized, 2-pound head of cauliflower.  Set aside.  There will be a generous 4 cups.  Dice the onion and celery as directed and set aside.

IMG_7868 IMG_7868 IMG_7868 IMG_7868~Step 2.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt butter over low heat.  Add the onion, celery, herbes de Provence, garlic powder, sea salt and white pepper.  Adjust heat to gently sauté over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onion is tender and celery is softened, 4-5 minutes.

IMG_7878 IMG_7878 IMG_7878 IMG_7878 IMG_7878 IMG_7878~Step 3.  Add the vegetable stock and the chopped cauliflower.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer until the cauliflower is very tender, overcooked actually, stirring frequently, about 15-20 minutes.  Turn the heat off and add the cream.

IMG_7889 IMG_7889 IMG_7889 IMG_7889~Step 4.  The cream will have lowered the temperature of the soup, making it safe to blend immediately.  Give the mixture a thorough stir, then get out the immersion blender.  Blend until smooth, about 2-3 minutes -- less if you want more texture, longer if you want a smoother texture. Adjust heat to medium- medium-low.  Stirring constantly, heat the soup to steaming, not simmering or boiling, about 3-4 minutes.  Garnish and serve immediately with bread or crackers.

Savory, smooth and satisfying cream-of-cauliflower soup:

IMG_7917Quick as the Craving for Cream of Cauliflower Soup:  Recipe yields 6 cups soup/6 servings.  Reheat leftovers gently on the stovetop or in microwave.  Does not freeze well.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon or spatula; immersion blender; 2-quart stockpot; colander

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1e35f01970cCook's Note:  Celery.  It's the swizzle stick in my Bloody Mary, a must in my egg, tuna and potato salad, and, send back those Buffalo wings if they don't come with a crudité of celery and blue cheese dip.  That said, in the food world, celery isn't considered an exciting vegetable. No one ever remarks, "my Bloody Mary had the best stalk of celery in it", "the celery in her tuna salad was divine", or, "the celery that came with his chicken wings was outstanding". Try my ~ Rich & Cream Celery Soup (It isn't Ho-Hum at All) ~.

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

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

01/28/2019

~How Much is & How Many Florets in One Cauliflower~

IMG_7818Mother Nature did not have OCD.  If she did, there would be more symmetry in the world.  It would be a pretty boring place, but, at least all our vegetables would be the same size, which brings me to this point:  How much is in a head of cauliflower?  The most frustrating thing about most cauliflower recipes is their lack of specificity regarding precisely how much cauliflower to purchase.  Generic measurements for volume (2 cups-, 4 cups-florets) or a vague product description (1 large head, 2 medium heads), are meaningless to the average cooker-of-cauliflower, and, are the biggest causes of recipe failure -- stop recipe failure, use a scale.  

Weight (1, 2-pound head, 1 pound florets) is the only measurement worth a damn.

Measuring cauliflower requires a scale, both in the grocery store when purchasing this vegetable, and, in the kitchen when cooking it.  For my demonstration, I bought two medium heads of cauliflower.  Untrimmed, the one on the left weighed 2 pounds, 15 ounces, and, the one on the right weighed 2 pounds, 2 ounces.  After trimming, here is how it all weighed out:

A typical untrimmed, medium head weighs about 2 pounds.

IMG_7838After trimming & removing florets where each meets the core...

IMG_7826... a 1-quart measure full-to-the-top (6 cups) florets...

IMG_7830... or, roughly speaking, between 1-1 1/4 pounds florets. 

IMG_7835Chopped florets from 1, 2-pound head = 4 generous cups.

IMG_7853Don't play, weigh the cauliflower first -- at the store! 

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

01/25/2019

~Jamaican-Style Butter-Poached Lobsta Rasta Pasta~

IMG_7805Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of serving cheese or cheese sauces with fish or seafood, but, there are exceptions to every rule, so, for those who, like myself, do appreciate the divine goodness of dishes like lobster macaroni and cheese, you've gotta try my creamy-dreamy Island-Style Jamaican-Italian-American Rasta Pasta with succulent, butter-poached lobster meat added to it.  In the event you've never heard of rasta pasta, take a moment and read on:     

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a53cc4200dRasta Pasta is a restaurant located in Colorado Springs, CO.  The owners, the Taraborelli family, specialize in fusing two of the unlikeliest of culinary bedfellows:  the island flavors of Jamaica with their Italian-American background.  It's easy to assume the title "rasta" is associated with Rastafarianism, which would require the fare to be vegetarian -- no meat or shellfish.  No mon.  It implies the colors of the veggies:  red, yellow and green.

Research revealed a full range of opinions regarding the origin of this dish (which has developed a cult following), as Caribbean restaurants across the USA, many them in New York City (which has a large Jamaican population), have a version of rasta pasta on their menu.  All left me completely up-in-the-air on the subject and unwilling to pass any along.  My best guess:  It is a savvy Jamaican-American cook's creation that got popularized in America, then made its way back to Jamaica, where it quickly became as popular as it is here.  All I can say with certainty:  It's a delicious twist on your typical creamy pasta dish, and, it appealed to me from the start.

Island-Style Jamaican-Italian-American Rasta Pasta...

IMG_6201Jamaican Rasta Pasta, which is almost always made using penne, is very resemblant of one of my favorite entrées in an Italian-American restaurant, Fettucchini Alfredo, which I always order primavera-style, meaning:  some vegetables get tossed into it, hence the name of my own recipe, Fabulous Fettuccine Alfredo a la Primavera-Style -- and,  it's always an option to have chicken or shrimp tossed in too.  The  Rasta Pasta Sauce itself, is also resemblant of the rich, creamy, parmesan-laced sauce that enrobes the tender strands of al dente egg-pasta and colorful crunch-tender blanched veggies, and, when ordering rasta pasta anywhere, it's Jamaican-jerk chicken or jerk shrimp options you'll find.

... plus elegant & exquisite butter-poached lobster tail meat... 

6a0120a8551282970b017d3f5c9cff970cBoiling or steaming lobster might be the traditional methods for cooking lobster, but, a third method, my preferred method for tails, is butter poaching.  It's decadent, divine and sublime.  Butter poaching is done by removing the meat from lobster tails and ever-so-gently cooking them in seasoned or unseasoned melted butter without allowing the meat to simmer or boil (which toughens the meat).  There's more, it's easy to do and it only takes a few minutes.

... is a decadent, divine & sublime, relatively-easy entrée:

Butter-poaching lobster tails for rasta pasta is no different than butter-poaching tails in my above-mentioned French-style version, except, instead of using traditional French seasonings (lemon juice, tarragon, onion and red pepper flakes), I use classic Jamaican flavorings (jerk seasoning, thyme, Scotch bonnet pepper powder and lime juice).  As for the rasta pasta sauce and vegetable sauté, the recipes are both quick to make, but, note they each yield 6 cups -- twice as much as needed for 1 pound of any type pasta, so, do the math and kindly cut the recipes in half.

IMG_77403  cups rasta pasta sauce, prepared according to my recipe, but do the math, cut the recipe in half

3  cups rasta pasta vegetable sauté, prepared according to my recipe, but do the math, cut the recipe in half

2  1 1/4-1 1/2-pound lobster tails, 3 1/2-4 1/2 generous cups chopped lobster meat

1  pound medium pasta shells, cooked al denté, according to package directions

1  teaspoon sea salt, for adding to water for pasta

1  cup salted butter (2 sticks)

1/4  cup white wine

1  teaspoon lime juice

1  teaspoon jerk seasoning blend, your favorite brand

1/2  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/16  teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper powder

IMG_7759 IMG_7759 IMG_7759 IMG_7759~Step 1.  To prep  lobster meat, use a pair of kitchen shears to clip both sides of the underbelly of both tails and remove the thin shells.  Using your fingertips, gently remove the tails from the outer shells.  Chop tails into bite-sized pieces, about 1/2"-3/4" (3 1/2-4 1/2 cups lobster meat).

IMG_7742 IMG_7742 IMG_7742 IMG_7785 IMG_7785~Step 2.  In a 4-quart stockpot or saucepan bring 3 quarts water to a rolling boil and add 1 teaspoon sea salt.  Add the pasta shells, adjust heat to simmer steadily and continue to cook, until al dente, about 8-9 minutes. Do not overcook the pasta.  Transfer pasta to a colander to drain thoroughly, then, toss it into the skillet containing the vegetable sauté.

IMG_7747 IMG_7747 IMG_7747 IMG_7747 IMG_7770 IMG_7770 IMG_7770 IMG_7770 IMG_7770~Step 3.  To prepare the butter sauce and poach the lobster, in a 1-cup measuring container, stir the lime juice, jerk seasoning, dried thyme, garlic powder and Scotch bonnet pepper powder into the wine.  Place the butter in a 2-quart saucier.  Add the wine mixture.  Over extra-low heat, melt butter into wine, stirring frequently, until steaming.  Add the lobster pieces and stir constantly, adjusting the heat, lowering if necessary, until lobster is opaque and just cooked through, about 3-4 minutes.  Do not simmer or boil.  Do not over-poach lobster tails.  

IMG_7789 IMG_7789~ Step 4.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the lobster pieces to the pasta/vegetable mixture in skillet.  Add rasta pasta sauce, in 2-3 increments, tossing after each addition, until all ingredients are nicely-coated (not drenched) in the cream sauce.  

Note:  There will be almost a cup of flavorful butter sauce left in the saucier.  I like to serve the remaining butter sauce to the side with toasted rustic bread slices or garlic bread for dipping.

Stressed?  Don't worry, be happy.  Eat lobsta rasta pasta:

IMG_7797 2It's fantastic made w/lobster or seafood ravioli too:

IMG_7622Jamaican Rasta Pasta w/Butter-Poached Lobster:  Recipe yields 4-6 rich, hearty main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: kitchen shears; cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; colander; 1-cup measuring container; 2-quart saucier; large slotted spoon; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides (for preparing rasta pasta sauce); 12" nonstick skillet (for preparing vegetable sauté)

IMG_7778Cook's Note: Store-bought seafood stock is readily available, but I can tell you this:  it is a compromise and I never feel my end result is quite as good as it could have been if I'd used my real-deal stock.  Besides, one of the fundamentals of good cooking is to waste nothing, or as little as possible, so this gives me an opportunity to feel good about myself.  All my shrimp and lobster shells go in a freezer bag.  'Nuff said.  ~ Save Those Lobster Shells!!!  Because I Said So!!! ~

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

01/22/2019

~ Twelve-in-an-Hour Chicken-Vegetable Soup Bowls ~

IMG_7714Fifteen minutes of prep time and forty-five minutes of stovetop simmering later (slightly longer for you slow-handed choppers), we sat down in front of these steaming bowls of chicken-vegetable soup, ate, and got back to business as usual, which included freezing ten soup bowls for future consumption. Had you arrived in time for lunch, I'd have offered you a bowl, and, you'd never guess it didn't simmer, and I didn't slave over it, all day.  It's simply THAT good, as long as the recipe is followed as written, and, it yields the same amount, twelve two-cup bowls, every time.  

This is one of the make-in-advance meals I cook just for me, as, a small cup of soup, some chicken- or tuna- salad, or a microwave reheat of something-anything leftover, is my typical weekday take-a-break-to-have-a-bite-to-eat lunch.  While this recipe, once-upon-a-time a few decades ago, would have been referred to as semi-homemade time-saving pantry cooking, truth told, for the busy current-day hard-working one- or two-working parent household, it is as close as it gets to feeding a family a homemade dinner, plus leftovers, in a reasonable time frame.

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

IMG_767815 minutes prep + 45 minutes simmering = 12 luscious servings

IMG_76466  cups water

1  32-ounce box Kitchen Basics, unsalted vegetable stock

1  14 1/2-ounce can Del Monte "original-style", not "Italian-style", stewed tomatoes

1  8-ounce can sliced mushrooms, undrained

2  tablespoons sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1  packet Herb-Ox granulated beef bouillon

2  generous cups diced yellow or sweet onion, 12 ounces onion

2  generous cups diced celery, 12 ounces celery

3  generous cups peeled and diced carrots, 16 ounces carrot

4  generous cups diced boneless, skinless chicken thighs or tenders, 2 pounds

5  generous cups peeled and diced gold potatoes, 2 1/2 pounds potatoes

cooked and drained egg noodles (optional)

IMG_7648 IMG_7648~ Step 1.  Into an 8-quart stockpot:  water, stock, tomatoes and mushrooms, sea salt, black pepper, garlic powder, red pepper flacks and granulated beef bouillon -- no eye rolling, beef bouillon in chicken soup is a secret seasoning weapon.

IMG_7654 IMG_7654 IMG_7654 IMG_7654~Step 2.  Dice the onion, celery, carrots and chicken as directed, placing them in the stockpot as you work -- this takes me about 15 minutes.  A noteworthy time-saving tip:  A 16-ounce bag of frozen, sliced, carrots (throw them in frozen) can be substituted without compromise.

IMG_7662 IMG_7662 IMG_7662Step 3.  Place the stockpot on the stove and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Once boiling adjust heat to simmer gently but steadily for 15 minutes.  Use this time to peel and dice the potatoes.

IMG_7672 IMG_7672 IMG_7672 IMG_7672~Step 4.  Add the diced potatoes to the simmer soup, give it a stir, return to a gently but steady simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, 35-45 more minutes.  Using a soup ladle, portion one cup broth into each of twelve, 2-cup-sized freezer-safe food-storage containers (with tight-fitting lids).  Using a large slotted spoon, portion one cup vegetables into each container.

Eat one, with or without some cooked egg noodles added...

IMG_7686... or freeze twelve delicious 1-hour investments in the future:

IMG_7689Twelve-in-an-Hour Chicken-Vegetable-Soup Bowls:  Recipe yields 12, 2-cup servings of chicken-vegetable soup/6 total quarts soup.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 8-quart stock pot; large-spoon; soup ladle; large slotted spoon; 12, 2-cup size food-storage containers w/tight-fitting lids

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed9264970dCook's Note: I would never recommend you bypass making a big batch of homemade chicken stock, or your grandmother's heirloom  ~ Coaldale Baba's Heavenly Chicken Noodle Soup ~, complete with ~ Eastern European-Style Homemade Egg Noodles ~. Never.  Period.  I am merely saying that in today's busy world, having a time-saving, uncompromising, semi-pantry-made alternative makes it a kinder, gentler, relaxed-paced place.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

01/20/2019

~ Florentine-Style Ricotta Cheese & Spinach Sauce ~

IMG_7613Creamy cheese sauces have a place in my food world -- not a big place, but a place.  My attitude toward them is to use them judiciously, in a manner that does not overpower the dish being served, and, in moderation, so as not to tip the scale.  To my credit, I have developed my own versions of more than a few:  Easy Boursin, Trendy Rasta PastaClassic Mornay, Silky Parmesan-Sherry, Dreamy Gorgonzola, Basic Asiago, and a Kid-Friendly Cheddar.  It is my opinion that, for the most part, all store-bought cheese sauces are a compromise, so, don't debate it, just grate it -- take the few minutes required to make your cheese sauce from scratch.

"A la Florentine" = in the style of Florence, Italy.

"A la Florentine" is an Italian term which refers to egg, fish or seafood dishes prepared "in the style of Florence, Italy", meaning:  they are presented on a bed of spinach and topped with a creamy sauce, usually Mornay sauce, which contains Parmesan cheese.  What about the chicken Florentine we all love?  Well, it originated here in America and was made famous by upscale French restaurants back in the 1960's, where it remains ensconced today.  I for one am a spinach lover, and I am here to tell you:  eating spinach in this context is a downright decadent, indulgent, somewhat noble experience.  If you are convinced you don't like spinach -- get over it.

The green thing called Florentine = spinach (fresh vs. frozen):

IMG_7572As a spinach lover, I'm grateful to whomever developed the process for industrially cleaning and packaging it washed, dried and in bags. Why? Handling spinach "au natural" is labor intensive from the standpoint it must be meticulously cleaned of sandy grit, and, it can't get overly-wet while doing that because it loses its integrity quickly. Then, the tough stems need to be snipped.  While I recommend using fresh spinach for most Florentine recipes, if all you have is frozen spinach, worry not, all sorts of Florentine-style dishes turn out uncompromisingly fine using frozen, and, it's perfect for this creamy, full-flavored, cheese sauce.

1 lb. fresh spinach, cook & drained = 1 1/2 cups = 1, 10-ounce box frozen

6a0120a8551282970b0223c84e9c88200c 6a0120a8551282970b0224df3654e5200b~ Step 1.  I can think of many instances to use fresh spinach, but this quick-and-easy weeknight-meal sauce is not one of them -- frozen chopped spinach yields the right amount every time with no need to cook it.  Thaw the spinach overnight in the refrigerator or in a colander placed in the sink with cold water dribbling over it.  Once thawed, wad the spinach up in several layers of paper towels and squeeze as hard as possible to remove as much liquid as possible.  Kept covered in the refrigerator, this task can be done a day ahead. 

Looking for a cheese sauce for pasta, veggies, chicken, fish or seafood?  If so, try mine.  It's great w/cheese, lobster or mushroom ravioli too.

IMG_75764  tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon each:  dehydrated minced onion and garlic, and, garlic and onion powder

1/2-3/4  teaspoon each:  sea salt and red pepper flakes, to taste

1-1 1/2  cups heavy or whipping cream, to control consistency

1  cup whole milk ricotta cheese

4  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1, 10-ounce box frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and drained

fresh pasta or ravioli, your choice

a garnish of red pepper flakes

IMG_7578 IMG_7578 IMG_7578 IMG_7578 IMG_7589 IMG_7589 IMG_7589 IMG_7589~Step 2.  In a 12" nonstick skillet over low, heat the olive oil.  Add and stir in the dry seasonings. Add cream to skillet and increase heat to bring it to the point of steaming or barely simmering. Stir in the ricotta and the Parm-Regg.  Simmer very gently for 1-2 minutes.  Stir in the spinach and continue stirring until spinach is heated through.  Remove from heat and serve immediately.

In a world full of so much wrong, one thing is very right: 

IMG_7610Florentine-Style Ricotta Cheese & Spinach Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups sauce, enough to coat 1 1/2-2 pounds pasta or ravioli.

Special Equipment List:  small colander; paper towels; microplane grater; 12" nonstick skillet; large spoon

IMG_7567Cook's Note: Knowing how to make a super-quick cheese sauce is indispensable for any number of reasons. Friends can drop by without notice, a snowstorm requires some pantry cooking, or, the craving for something rich, creamy, cheesy and comforting must be quelled. For another cheese sauce that takes about the same time to make and is appropriate for pasta, vegetables, chicken, fish or seafood, try my recipe of ~ Easy Boursin Sauce for Pasta, Seafood & Veggies ~.  My refrigerator is never without Boursin.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)

01/17/2019

~ Du Pain, du Vin, du Cinq Boursin Cheese Recipes ~

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3d2399a200bBoursin cheese has been the star of KE the past ten days, and, it has enjoyed a delicious run. While some might question, or find themselves bored with, my little foray into Boursin (a most delicious form of French cheesefeed), there is always a reason behind one of my obsessions.  In the case of the plethora of Boursin recipes, there are three reasons.  #1.  When someone asks, I always answer, and, I did --  with my recipe for Boursin mashed potatoes.  #2.  In our food world, food is expensive -- if I'm going to recommend purchasing a special or pricey ingredient, I'm going to provide a variety of ways to use it.  #3. In my food world, every recipe has a story, and every ingredient does too, and, the history of Boursin cheese is quite interesting.  Read on:

Boursin is classified as a French "specialty" cheese.  This soft, spreadable cow's milk cheese has a creamy, buttery texture and a full flavor, similar to cream cheese.  Boursin was the creation of François Boursin in 1957, in Normandy.  It was "his take" on the French tradition of serving cheese with an assortment of minced, fresh herbs, which guests sprinkled atop the cheese to suit their own palate. When purchasing Boursin, if the package does not say "all natural Gournay cheese", it is not authentic Boursin.  "Gournay" is the word François Boursin picked (naming it after the town he grew up in) when he was required to declare its origin to customs officials.  

The Boursin brand was first advertised on television in France using the slogan, "Du pain, du vin, du Boursin", meaning, "some bread, some wine, some Boursin".

~ Buttery-Rich and Cream-Cheesy Copycat Boursin ~

IMG_7362~ Mushrooms Stuffed w/Garlic & Fine Herbs Boursin ~

IMG_9836~ Herbaceous Caramelized-Onion & Boursin Burgers ~

IMG_7487~ Easy Boursin Sauce for Pasta, Seafood & Veggies ~

IMG_7567~ Buttery-Rich & Boursin-Cheesy Whipped Potatoes ~

IMG_7290"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos Courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2019)