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

11/07/2019

~Let's Talk about Poached Turkey Breast Tenderloins~

IMG_5828We're all familiar with chicken breast tenderloins.  Weighing in at about 2-3 ounces each, these 4 1/2"-5" long, thin strips of chicken are the tenderest part of the chicken.  I love them, and use them often, because, quite frankly, they are superior to the last-luster, "rubber chicken" boneless, skinless breast.  Whole, chopped, sliced or lightly-pounded, they cook quickly.  They can be poached or simmered, pan-fried, deep-fried, stir-fried, or grilled-panned to use in any recipe that requires cooked chicken -- soups, salads, sandwiches, or casseroles, and, dishes like chicken curry, Parmesan, Milanese, Oscar, Piccata, etc.  You get my point -- they're versatile.

IMG_5784While we're all familiar with whole, bone-in turkey and whole bone-in turkey breast or breast halves, we're not all as familiar with turkey breast tenderloins.  Weighing anywhere from 8-ounces to 1-pound each, these 7 1/2"-8" long, plump pieces of turkey are the tenderest part of the turkey. I love them, and use them occasionally, because, quite frankly, an entire turkey or a turkey breast all-to-often yields more turkey than needed, or takes more time to cook than I've got.  There's more. Trust me when I tell you, a poached turkey tenderloin sliced and served with mashed potatoes, gravy, a green vegetable and cranberry sauce is as wonderful as any oven-roasted turkey dinner.

That said, unlike its cute cousin the chicken tender, turkey tenderloin, because of its larger size, is not quite as versatile.  When it comes to cooking turkey tenderloins, any method that works for a bone-in or boneless chicken breast half can be adapted to work for a turkey tenderloin. My two favorite methods of preparing it are oven-roasting or stovetop poaching, but, it's worth mention I've had excellent results marinating it or applying a dry rub to it to grill it outdoors too.

Poaching vs. Roasting = Low Moist Heat vs. High Dry Heat.

Poaching = 30-40 minutes.  Roasting = 1-1 1/4 hours.

The term "poach" is from the French verb "pocher" meaning to cook gently in water or seasoned liquid.  The liquid, called "court bouillon" or "short broth", is classically a mixture of water, an acid (such as lemon juice, wine, and/or vinegar or wine vinegar), aromatics (such as onion, celery and/or carrot), an herb or two (such as parsley, thyme and/or bay leaf), salt and peppercorns. That said, poaching chicken is a worldwide sport and the liquid should be seasoned accordingly. For example: When I'm poaching chicken for Asian fare, I use ginger, lemongrass and/or lime leaves, cilantro, soy sauce and/or fish sauce (in place of salt) and a cayenne chile pepper.

Shallow poaching involves placing the food to be poached, presentation side up, atop or in the center of the aromatics, herbs and spices in a shallow cooking vessel.  Cold or room temperature court bouillon is added until the food is partially-submerged in liquid.  The pan gets covered and the food gets cooked gently at a low temperature (barely simmering/shivering), which preserves both the flavor and the structural integrity of the food.  Deep poaching is almost identical, except the food is placed in a deep vessel and fully-submerged in liquid.  In both cases, depending upon the recipe, the liquid might require skimming at the start of or throughout the cooking process.

Place two large 3/4-1 pound, bone-in, skin-on turkey tenderloins, in a wide-bottomed 3 1/2 quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides (or a deep skillet):

IMG_5786Around perimeter, arrange 6-ounces onion chunks (half a medium onion), 4-ounces carrot cut into 2" lengths (one large carrot), 2-ounces celery cut into 2" lengths (one large celery stalk), 2 bay leaves (or 2 rosemary or thyme sprigs depending on what you're making/serving with tenderloins), and, 2 teaspoons each coarse sea salt and peppercorns:

IMG_5790Add 1 quart water, or, 3 1/2 cups water + 1/2 cup white wine:

IMG_5792Cover and place on stovetop over high heat.  When liquid comes to a rapid simmer, adjust heat to a very gentle simmer/shiver and continue to cook until turkey reaches an internal temperature of 170º, 30-40 minutes (smaller or larger tenders cook quicker or longer.):

IMG_5801^^^ Tip from Mel.  If you have a chef's pan with a glass lid, it's ideal, as it allows you to watch the poaching process and regulate the heat as necessary.  Remove from heat:

IMG_5803Using a large slotted spoon, transfer turkey from liquid to plate.  There's no need to discard the liquid, it's well-seasoned and tasty.  Simmer some egg noodles or rice in it:

IMG_5809Cover plate of turkey with plastic wrap and wait until it has cooled until you can comfortably handle it with your hands, prior to proceeding with specific recipe.

IMG_5813Poached perfection, fork-tender, moist and juicy too.  Each tenderloin yeilds 3-4 servings sliced and about 3-4 generous cups of chopped or pulled turkey tenderloin:

IMG_5818Let's Talk about Poaching Turkey Breast Tenderloins:  Recipe yields instruction to shallow-poach 2, 3/4-1 pound turkey tenderloins/6 servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides and lid (preferably glass); instant-read meat thermometer; large slotted spoon; plastic wrap

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0a00852d970dCook's Note: Looking for an all-purpose gravy that goes well on almost anything?  I've got one.  One basic recipe, made with a few pantry staples, and, in a few minutes:  a great gravy that carnivores and vegetarians can sit down to enjoy, together. Got pan drippings?  Just add them to my ~ Vegetarian Herb Gravy for Whatever Floats the Boat ~ along with the stock. Like a chameleon adjusts its color to blend in, this gravy graciously accepts any carnivorous flavor you've got to add.

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

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

11/04/2019

~ Doritos Taco Salad w/Catalina &/or Ranch Dressing ~

IMG_5672If you were a mother in the 80's, or if you were a kid in the 80's, you likely know all about this salad.  It showed up everywhere:  birthday party buffets, weekend sleepovers, support-the-team sports benefits, potluck school functions, Summer pool parties, neighborhood block parties,  etc. There was never a doubt it would be served.  Anyone organizing a get-together assigned someone in the neighborhood or group to make the Doritos salad -- everyone had a recipe.

From a small tacup to a large taco salad to the Doritos taco salad:

IMG_5431The history of the taco-bowl salad, as per this book, Taco USA, How Mexican Food Conquered America:

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

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

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

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

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a496b5ea200cA bit about Doritos.  The original product was made at the Casa de Fritos at Disneyland, in Anaheim, CA, in the early 1960's.  Using surplus tortillas  and taking the original idea from the Mexican snack known as totopos (deep-fried triangular-shaped taco chips), the company-owned Morales family cut them, fried them and added dry seasonings. The Vice-President of Marketing for Frito-Lay noticed their popularity, and, in 1964 made a deal with Alex Foods (a provider of many food items for Casa de Fritos restaurant) to produce the chips regionally.  Doritos were released nationwide in 1966, and, were the first chip to ever be launched nationally in the USA.

Doritos Taco-Salad is mealtime fun w/family & friends.

There is no right or wrong way to make Doritos taco salad, as long as it contains Doritos. That said, my fully-loaded version is different than most in that I don't toss the salad in its entirety in one bowl prior to serving -- the presentation is too messy looking for my taste.  I start by tossing the lettuce with the fragrant cilantro and mildly-pungent scallions.  Next, I lightly-dress/toss the lettuce mixture with either the Catalina or Ranch dressing, then add either the nacho cheese Doritos or cool ranch Doritos and toss again.  After that's done, I portion the salad into individual serving bowls or salad plates and layer the rest of the ingredients on top of each individual salad. 

IMG_5614For four large, main-dish servings of salad (listed in order of additions):

10-12  cups iceberg lettuce torn into bite-sized pieces and chunks (about 1 large head)

1/2-3/4 cup minced, fresh cilantro

1-1 1/2 cups thinly-sliced scallions, white and light-green parts only

3/4-1  cup Catalina salad dressing or Hidden-Valley Ranch salad dressing

6-8  ounces nacho cheese or cool ranch Doritos, broken into smaller bite-sized pieces

1  cup well-drained and rinsed black beans or red kidney beans

1/2  cup well-drained whole corn kernels

1  cup quartered cherry or grape tomatoes

1  cup  shredded jalapeño Jack, Monterey Jack, or colby Jack cheese

4-6  tablespoons sliced black olives

2-3 dozen small thin slices pickled jalapeño peppers

1 1/2-2  cups slightly-warm or room temperature ground beef taco filling 

Optional garnishes for each portion of salad:

2  tablespoons warm refried bean dip

6a0120a8551282970b0240a497229e200c1  tablespoon avocado crema (a spicy food processor processed mixture of 1 cup Hass avocado, 6 tablespoons Mexican crema or sour cream, 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce and 1/4 teaspoon salt), or, 1 tablespoon guacamole or high-quality store-bought guacamole such as Wholly Guacamole, or, 3-4 fresh avocado slices

1  tablespoon Mexican crema

1  tablespoon pico de gallo (salsa fresca/fresh salsa) 

IMG_5617 IMG_5617 IMG_5617 IMG_5617 IMG_5626 IMG_5626 IMG_5626~Step 1.  Using your hands, break, tear and place the bite-sized lettuce pieces in a large bowl as you work.  Add the cilantro and scallions, and, using two forks or two spoons, give the mixture a toss to distribute the cilantro and onions throughout lettuce.  Lightly dress the lettuce mixture with either the Catalina or Ranch dressing -- just enough to lightly-coat and flavor the lettuce mixture, not enough to puddle in bottom of bowl.  Crumble, add and toss in either the nacho cheese or cool ranch Doritos. 

IMG_5637 IMG_5637 IMG_5637 IMG_5637 IMG_5637 IMG_5637 IMG_5637~Step 2. Portion the lettuce/Dorito mixture into individual serving bowls, about 3 cups per bowl.  To assemble each salad, scatter 1/4 cup black or kidney beans, 2 tablespoons corn kernels and 1/4 cup quartered tomatoes over the top of the dressed lettuce/Doritos mixture, followed by 1/4 cup shredded cheese, 1-1 1/2 tablespoons sliced black olives and 8-10 thin strips pickled jalapeño peppers.

IMG_5658 IMG_5658~ Step 3.  Place a measured 1/3-1/2 cup of the warmed beef mixture in the center of the top of each salad. Decoratively dollop all or some of the optional garnishes on top of the beef filling:  the refried bean dip, avocado crema (or guacamole or sliced avocado), Mexican crema (or sour cream) and pico de gallo (salsa fresca/fresh salsa).  

Serve w/additional Catalina or Ranch dressing at tableside:

IMG_5712Doritos Taco Salad w/Catalina &/or Ranch Dressing:  Recipe yields 4 large and hearty main-dish Doritos taco salads.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; small colander; hand-held box grater; kitchen scale; salad servers or two forks or two spoons 

IMG_5541Cook's Note: Unlike the classic taco salad, where the ingredients get layered into a deep-fried flour tortilla bowl (to be eaten as you work your way through the goodies in the bowl), the ingredients for a Doritos salad get tossed in large bowl. Crumbled nacho cheese- or cool ranch-flavored Doritos are tossed in for crunch, just before the salad is dressed with Catalina (French) or Ranch dressing and served.  Like the taco salad, pick and choose from your favorite store-bought or scratch-made ingredients.

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

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

11/02/2019

~Scratch-Made All-American Catalina Salad Dressing~

IMG_5712As a lover of sweet and tanilizingly savory combinations, Catalina dressing was always on the door of my mom's refrigerator.  While she and dad didn't, for the most part, ever stray past the bottle of Wish-Bone Italian dressing, for some reason my brother and I gravitated to this red-orange concoction.  While I enjoyed it on chef-type salads that contained "the works" (lots of cheeses and meats), my brother would drench large chunks or wedges of iceberg lettuce with it.

Please don't confuse Catalina dressing w/French dressing. 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49661b5200b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8d729c1970bCatalina dressing is an American creation defined as: A commercially-emulsified, tomato-based dressing that is creamy, tartly-sweet and red-orange in color. Catalina is often confused with French dressing.  I find that odd because basic French dressing is an oil-and-vinegar combination seasoned with salt, pepper, and herbs or herbes de Provence -- creamier versions of French dressing (see small photo) contain mustard (to stabilize it and give it its yellow color) and sometimes mayonnaise for a creamy version.  There are no tomato products in French dressing. I could more understand Catalina being confused with Russian and/or Thousand Islands Dressings (see larger photo), as both of these contain a tomato product.  That said, both are considerably lighter in color because because they contain mayonnaise, which Catalina does not.

There are no tomato products in classic French dressing.

IMG_5573It's no surprise there came a time when I wanted to create my own version of this beloved bottled dressing.  After several attempts and experiments (using "tomato-y" ingredients such as ketchup, chili sauce, tomato paste and even one try with tomato puree -- all ok but not great), this simple version using canned, condensed tomato soup produced what I consider to be perfection.

IMG_55821  10 3/4-ounce can condensed tomato soup

1/2  cup white vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon Worcestershire

1/2  teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt, white pepper

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

IMG_5586 IMG_5586 IMG_5599~ Step 1.  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the tomato soup, white vinegar, granulated sugar, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire, garlic powder, onion powder sea salt and white pepper.   Gradually, and in a thin steady stream, vigorously whisk in the oil.  Continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth, thickened, satiny and emulsified.  The whisking process will only take about 1-2 minutes.

IMG_5608~ Step 3.  Use immediately or transfer to a 2-cup food storage container with a tight-fitting lid and a pourer top.  Use or refrigerate.

Return to room temperature and gently shake or stir briefly, just prior to using.  You will have 2 cups/16 ounces dressing. This is conveniently, the same amount as is contained in one bottle of store-bought Catalina dressing.  

Note: This dressing keeps very nicely in the refrigerator for several weeks.  Once it is whisked together, it really never separates, which makes it great to serve on a buffet table or at a gathering where repeatedly shaking or stirring a salad dressing can be a messy nuisance.  Because it contains no mayonnaise, it's also great for taking to any outdoor picnic and tailgate.

Because scratch-made is way better than store-bought Catalina:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4af24c0200bScratch-Made All-American Catalina Salad Dressing:  Recipe yields 2 cups/16 ounces salad dressing (the equivalent off 1, bottle store-bought).

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

IMG_5672Cook's Note: If you were a mother in the 80's, or if you were a kid in the 80's, you likely know all about this salad.  It showed up everywhere: birthday party buffets, weekend sleepovers, support-the-team sports benefits, potluck school functions, Summer pool parties, neighborhood block parties,  etc. There was never a doubt it would be served, and, everyone had a recipe.  Try my version of the now retro ~ Doritos Taco Salad w/Catalina &/or Ranch Dressing ~. It's taco salad fun.

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

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

10/31/2019

~Instead of Taco Tuesday, Taco-Bowl Salad Thursday~

IMG_5535Taco Tuesday.  I'm clueless as to who started it, but, I thank them profoundly.  Like pizza and cheeseburgers, it's downright difficult to find a man, woman or child who is disappointed at the sight of tacos on their lunch or dinner menu.  Other than needing a fork, taco salad is not much different than eating tacos. Served in a large, deep-fried, edible flour-tortilla shell, anything and everything one would expect to find in a pick-it-up-to-eat taco can be served in a taco salad.

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

A taco salad is a divinely delicious & decadent meal.

IMG_5417Served in a large, edible, deep-fried, flour-tortilla shell.

The most common ingredients in any taco salad (also called a taco bowl) are: Tex-Mex-spiced ground beef, shredded steak or chicken (small shrimp are good too). The list goes on:  crumbled Mexican cotija- or queso fresco- or shredded queso blanco- cheese (jalapeño Jack, Monterey Jack, Colby Jack or cheddar are often used in their place), crispy iceberg or romaine lettuce, sliced green or black olives, corn kernels or Mexican rice, black beans or refried beans, pico de gallo (salsa fresca or fresh salsa), Mexican crema or sour cream, and, sliced avocado or guacamole -- and let's not forget those cilantro or scallion garnishes too.  With all or even some of that going on, make no mistake, while every forkful of a taco salad is divinely delicious, it is decadent -- "healthy" or "light" are hardly the words I would use to describe this meal.

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

IMG_5431The history of the taco-bowl salad, as per this book, Taco USA, How Mexican Food Conquered America:

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

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

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

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

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

No pressure.  Go as scratch-made or homemade as you want.

IMG_5515Taco-Salad Tuesday is all about having fun w/family.

For each salad (listed in order of addition):

1  deep-fried tortilla bowl

1 1/2-2  cups chiffonade of iceberg or romaine lettuce

1-1 1/2  tablespoons minced, fresh cilantro

1 1/2-2  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions, white and light-green parts only

1/4  cup well-drained and rinsed black beans or red kidney beans

2  tablespoons well-drained whole corn kernels

1/4  cup quartered cherry or grape tomatoes

1/4  cup  shredded jalapeño Jack, Monterey Jack, or colby Jack cheese

1- 1/2  tablespoons sliced black olives

6-8 small thin slices pickled jalapeño peppers

1/3-1/2  cup (6-8 tablespoons) warm ground beef taco filling 

2  tablespoons warm refried bean dip

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9136615970b1  tablespoon avocado crema (a spicy food processor processed mixture of 1 cup Hass avocado, 6 tablespoons Mexican crema or sour cream, 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce and 1/4 teaspoon salt), or, 1 tablespoon guacamole or high-quality store-bought guacamole such as Wholly Guacamole, or, 3-4 fresh avocado slices

1  tablespoon Mexican crema

1  tablespoon pico de gallo (salsa fresca/fresh salsa)

1/4  cup flour tortilla wisps, for garnish 

IMG_5519 IMG_5519 IMG_5519 IMG_5519~Step 1.  In bottom taco bowl, place the lettuce chiffonade, minced cilantro and sliced scallions. Scatter the black or kidney beans, corn kernels and quartered tomatoes over the top of the lettuce mixture, followed by the shredded cheese, sliced black olives and pickled jalapeño peppers.

IMG_5531 IMG_5531~ Step 2.  Place a measured scoop of the warmed beef mixture in the center of the top of salad. Decoratively dollop the determined condiments on top of the beef filling:  the refried bean dip, avocado crema (or guacamole or sliced avocado), Mexican crema (or sour cream) and pico de gallo.  Garnish with deep-fried flour tortilla wisps.

Serve immediately.  Stick a fork in it &, have at it: 

IMG_5541Instead of Taco Tuesday, Taco-Bowl Salad Thursday:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many taco salads, served in edible bowls, as you want to.

Special Equipment List:  deep-fryer; paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; small colander; hand-held box grater 

IMG_5512Cook's Note:  Not a fearless fryer? That's ok.  Lot's of folks fear frying. The good news, there's another way to go about making your own edible bowls using inexpensive bowl molds in the oven.  Learn ~ How to Make Baked Restaurant-Style Taco Salad Bowls ~.  Your family and friends will thank you. 

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

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

10/28/2019

~How to Make My Crispy Crunchy Flour Tortilla Wisps~

IMG_5702Like corn tortillas, flour tortillas do great in the deep-fryer.  They fry up really fast, in less than three minutes, and, come out super-crispy and light and airy too, meaning:  they're not nearly as dense as corn tortillas.  They almost melt in your mouth.  Because flour tortillas are a bit too fragile to make traditionally shaped taco shells, they're traditionally deep-fried whole, in a molded fryer-basket, to make large-edible bowls for serving taco salad.  That said, in my kitchen I like to make these fun little wisps, to use to garnish Tex-Mex-style soups, salads and 'burgers.

Fry these fun little wisps to garnish soups, salads & 'burgers.

IMG_543210  6"-round "fajita size" flour tortillas (Note:  Any size flour tortillas may be used, I just find the small ones the easiest to work with.)

freshly ground sea salt

corn or peanut oil, heated to 375º in deep-fryer (or in a 4-quart saucepan on the stovetop) according to manufacturer's instructions

IMG_5439 IMG_5439 IMG_5439~Step 1. Stack and thinly slice five flour tortillas in half. Stack and thinly slice the second five tortillas in half. Each of the four stacks of halves will be one batch.  Slice each stack of halves into thin strips, as thin as you can.

IMG_5471 IMG_5471 IMG_5471 IMG_5471~Step 2.  Preheat oil in deep fryer to 375º.  Ready a large pan or baking sheet by lining it with 2-3 layers of paper towels.  Working in a series of four batches, drop the first batch (one handful) into hot oil of in deep fryer, close the lid and fry for 2 1/2 minutes.  Lift the fryer basket up and out of the deep-fryer and transfer the crispy wisps (invert the basket) to the paper-towel-lined pan. Season wisps with a generous grinding of sea salt.  Repeat with remaining three batches. 

Cool & store in an airtight container for up to one week:

IMG_5483How to Make My Crispy Crunchy Flour Tortilla Wisps:  Recipe yields about 6 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; deep-fryer or 4-quart saucepan and candy-type or digital thermometer; disposable aluminum pan or baking sheet; paper towels

IMG_5417Cook's Note: If you prepare taco salad often enough to merit wanting to serve it restaurant-style, in the traditional deep-fried, flour tortilla bowl, I highly suggest making a small investment, $15.00-ish, in a metal, one- or two-piece fryer-basket that will not only make this task easy, it will keep you from getting burned by jury-rigged crack-pot methods -- puns intended.  Read ~ How to Deep-Fry Restaurant-Style Taco Salad Bowls ~, then, have some safety-first taco-Tuesday fun with your family and friends.

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

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

10/25/2019

~ Making Baked Restaurant-Style Taco Salad Bowls ~

IMG_5512When you're in a Mexican restaurant, if a taco salad, the kind served in an edible deep-fried flour tortilla bowl, is one of your favorite menu items, or, if you prepare taco salad at home often enough to merit wanting to serve it restaurant-style, in an edible bowl, you should know there is an alternative to deep-frying them.   A small investment of about $15.00 will get you four fluted bowl molds that will enable you to bake professional looking tortilla bowls in the oven.

Not a fearless fryer?  Baked is the way to go.

IMG_5493Serving taco salad in edible bowls is mealtime fun.  While they lend a festive, impressive "you cared enough to make the bowls" touch to the meal, they allow family and friends to add crunch to their salad as they work their way down, through and around all the goodies in the bowl.  By using a set or two of tortilla bowl molds, the bowls all bake at the same, at the same rate of speed, and emerge uniform in color and shape -- they can even be stacked like plates for a party.

Fold & place 1, 8" flour tortilla in bottom of each mold:

IMG_5497Open tortillas & gently press into the fluted perimeters:

IMG_5499Place molds directly on center rack of preheated 350º oven:

IMG_5503Bake until lightly & nicely browned, about 10 minutes:

IMG_5506Cool in pans 5-6 minutes, remove from pans & use:

IMG_5509Have some mealtime fun.  Serve fully-loaded taco salads:

IMG_5563Making Baked Restaurant-Style Taco Salad Bowls:  Recipe yields instructions to bake as many taco salad bowls as you want to. 

Special Equipment List:  4-8 fluted bowl molds

IMG_5417Cook's Note:  I am a fearless fryer, and, while deep-frying tortilla bowls is admittedly a little harder than baking them, nothing compares to a tortilla bowl fresh out of the fryer. That said, once again, a small investment, $15.00-ish, in a metal, one- or two-piece fryer-basket will make this task easy-as-pie.  Learn ~ How to Deep-Fry Restaurant-Style Taco Salad Bowls ~.  Your family and friends will thank you.  Each bowl, from start to finish, only takes 2 1/2 minutes, and, they can be made 1-2 days ahead of serving too.

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

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

10/23/2019

~How to Deep-Fry Restaurant-Style Taco Salad Bowls~

IMG_5421If you prepare taco salad often enough to merit wanting to serve it restaurant-style, in the traditional deep-fried, flour tortilla bowl, I highly suggest making a small investment, $15.00-ish, in a metal, one- or two-piece fryer-basket that will not only make this task easy-as-pie, it will keep you or yours from getting burned by jury-rigged crack-pot methods -- puns intended.  All kidding aside, regulating the heat on an open pot of hot oil on the stovetop, while maneuvering a tin can placed inside a larger can to form the taco bowl, is an accident waiting to happen.

Serving taco salad in edible, fried or baked bowls is mealtime fun.  While they lend a festive, impressive "you cared enough to make the bowls" touch to the meal, they allow family and friends to add crunch to their salad as they work their way down, through and around all the goodies in the bowl.  By choosing and using the tool best suited to you, the bowls deep-fry, one-at-a-time, in a very short time (2 1/2 minutes) and emerge uniform in color, even-sized and similar in shape.

Three similarly-priced taco-bowl fryer-basket gadgets...

IMG_5358... three similarly-sized, great-to-eat taco bowls:

IMG_5416One, two, three (in order of my favorite gadgets):

IMG_5361 IMG_5361~ Step 1.  Remove fryer-basket from deep fryer. Preheat corn or peanut oil in deep-fryer, according to manufacturer's instructions, to 375º. Place two-three layers of paper towels in bottom of a large pan or baking pan.  Ready a 3-minute "egg" timer, and, depending on the gadget you're using, a metal spoon and a pair of tongs too.

IMG_5370 IMG_5370 IMG_5370~ Step 2.  In gadget of choice (#1, #2, or #3), position 1, 8"-round flour tortilla in the bottom to form a bowl. In the case of gadget #1, a two-piece fryer basket (and my favorite), this means placing the flour tortilla in between the two pieces, which will hold the tortilla securely in place during the frying process.

IMG_5380 IMG_5380 IMG_5380~ Step 3A.  To deep fry in gadget #1, lower the fryer-basket into the preheated deep-fryer.  With fryer-lid open, fry the taco bowl until lightly-browned and firm, about 2 1/2 minutes.  Lift basket from hot oil.  Remove the top from the fryer-basket and the invert taco bowl onto paper-towels to drain and cool.  Sprinkle inside of bowl with salt or sea salt the moment it comes out of the fryer basket.  Easy peasy perfection.

IMG_5389 IMG_5389 IMG_5389 IMG_5389~Step 3B. To deep fry in gadget #2, lower the fryer-basket into the preheated deep-fryer.  Place the back side of a large metal spoon into the bottom of the tortilla, to keep the bowl from prematurely floating to the top.  With fryer-lid open, fry the taco bowl, with spoon in place, until lightly-browned and firm, about 2 1/2 minutes.  Lift basket from hot oil.  Invert the taco bowl onto paper-towels to drain and cool. Sprinkle inside of bowl with salt or sea salt the moment it comes out of the fryer basket.  This basket works fine, but, it requires being hands-on the entire time.

IMG_5403 IMG_5403 IMG_5403Step 3C. To deep fry in gadget #3, with a spoon placed in the bottom of the fryer-basket, lower the fryer-basket into the preheated deep-fryer.  With the spoon in the bottom of the tortilla, to keep the bowl from prematurely floating to the top, with fryer-lid open, fry the taco bowl, repositioning the spoon as necessary (several times) in the the bottom of the taco bowl, until lightly-browned and firm, about 2 1/2 minutes.  Lift basket from hot oil.  Invert the taco bowl onto paper-towels to drain and cool. Sprinkle inside of bowl with salt or sea salt the moment it comes out of the fryer basket.  This fryer basket works just fine too, but it requires being hands-on and "on your game" the entire time.

Be smart.  Be safe.  Use a fryer-basket to fry taco bowls:     

IMG_5417Have some mealtime fun.  Serve fully-loaded taco salads:

IMG_5541How to Deep-Fry Restaurant-style Taco Salad Bowls:  Recipe yields instructions for deep-frying as many taco salad bowls as you want to, plus recommendations for purchasing fryer-baskets.

Special Equipment List:  deep-fryer; taco-bowl-shaped fryer-basket insert to use in a pot or a deep-fryer; 3-minute "egg" timer; large disposable pan or baking sheet; paper towels; large spoon (optional); tongs (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d10e0e73970cCook's Note: For those of you who love to eat and cook your own Tex-Mex food, I'm going to suggest this:  next time you make your favorite chili, bean dip or a bowl of chile con queso, take 20 extra minutes and deep-fry some tortilla chips (in corn oil). Tortilla chips deep-fried at home are head-over-heels better than any that come out of any $4-$6 bag of any generic-to-gourmet brand.  Take 3 minutes for ~ Deep-Fried & Crispy Corn Tortilla Chips (Totopos) ~.

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

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

10/20/2019

~ Pucker Up for Buttery Lemon & Yogurt Pound Cake ~

IMG_5487Pucker up.  I am an eternal sourpuss.  Lemonade, lemon sorbet, lemon meringue pie, lemon tart, lemon cheesecake, lemon shortbread, etc.  Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter, these are a few of my lemony favorites.  As a lover of all things tart and citrusy, I consider the lemon the diva of all citrus.  I'm never without lemons in my refrigerator and lemon oil in my pantry, because, like salt, fresh lemon zest and juice, and, textureless bold-flavored oil just makes everything taste better. I'm not a lemon snob though.  I prefer the ordinary, tart, supermarket lemon to the "sweet" Meyer lemon -- Gourmets will say they are "sweet", while in reality, they're just less acidic.    

That said, when it comes to how I achieve lemon flavor in my sweet treats and savory things, I do have my preferences.  I like fresh zest and fresh juice used in "wet" concoctions -- like sweet puddings and pies, or savory salad dressings and sauces.  When it comes to "dry" baked goods, like sweet cakes and cookies, or savory breads and quick breads, I prefer the textureless, full-throttle lemon oil -- a little goes a long way, and, that pesty zest isn't muddling around amongst the crumb(s).  What about lemon extract?  Hey, I'm not going to call the food police if that's all you can find, but, if it is pure lemon flavor you're after, extracted from the zest, oil is the ticket.   

Pucker up for my buttery lemon & yogurt pound cake:

IMG_5287For the cake:

8  ounces salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (2 sticks)

8  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1/2  cup Greek yogurt, at room temperature

2  teaspoons pure lemon oil, not extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 1/2  cups sugar

1  3.4-ounce package instant lemon pudding

1  teaspoon salt

6  large eggs, at room temperature

10  ounces cake flour (about 2 1/2 cups)

1 1/2  teaspoons baking powder

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing bundt pan

IMG_5339For the glaze:

1 1/2  cups Confectioners' sugar

1  teaspoon pure lemon oil

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3-4  tablespoons milk

1-2  drops egg-shade (yellow) food coloring (optional) 

4  tablespoons finely-ground walnuts, for topping cake

IMG_5294 IMG_5294~Step 1.  In a large mixing bowl, place the very soft butter, cream cheese, room temperature yogurt, lemon oil and extract.  Starting on low speed of hand-held electric mixer and working your way up to high speed, cream until smooth, about 1 1/2-2 full minutes, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula the entire time.

IMG_5299 IMG_5299~Step 2.  Turn mixer off.  Add sugar,  pudding and salt.  Over low speed,  incorporate sugar mixture, then, increase mixer speed to high and continue to beat for 1 full minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl with the rubber spatula the entire time.

IMG_5303 IMG_5303~Step 3.  Reduce mixer speed to low again and add the eggs.  Thoroughly incorporate the eggs, then, increase speed to high and continue to beat for another full minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl with the rubber spatula the entire time.

IMG_5307 IMG_5307~Step 4.  Turn mixer off.  Add flour and baking powder.  On low mixer speed, fold the flour into the wet mixture.  Work up to high speed and continue to beat, about 1 1/2-2 full minutes, scraping down sides of bowl the entire time. 

IMG_5313 IMG_5313 IMG_5313~Step 5.  Lightly-spray a 12-cup bundt pan with no-stick cooking spray.  Using a large spoon and working your way around the pan in a circle, dollop spoonfuls of batter into the prepared pan.  Give the pan a few vigorous back-and-forth shakes on the counter to even the batter out.  Bake cake on center rack of preheated 325º oven for 1 hour, 15-20 minutes, or until a cake tester placed deep into the center in several spots comes out clean.  Remove from oven and place cake on a wire rack.  All cake to cool, in pan on rack, for 30-40 minutes.  Loosen external and internal sides of cake with a sharp knife. Invert cake onto wire rack to cool completely, about 2 hours, before glazing as directed below.

IMG_5321 IMG_5321~Step 6.  To glaze cake, in a 2-cup measuring container, place Confectioners' sugar and extracts. Add 3 tablespoons of the milk and stir. Add the 1-2 drops optional food coloring and stir again. Continue adding additional milk, if necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time until a drizzly consistency is reached. Cover measuring container with plastic wrap and set glaze aside for about 15 minutes -- this will ensure an extremely smooth glaze.  If you have a plastic squeeze bottle, transfer the glaze to it.  To glaze the cake, using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle the glaze over the surface of the cake.  Sprinkle the walnuts over top.

Allow the glaze to "dry" (harden up a bit -- about 2 hours):.

IMG_5328Slice, serve & pucker up for every luscious lemon bite:

IMG_5340Pucker Up for Buttery Lemon & Yogurt Pound Cake:  Recipe yields 1, 10" bundt cake, and, depending on how thick or thin you slice it, 16-20 servings.

Special Equipment List: large rubber spatula; 1, standard-size 12-cup bundt pan; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack; sharp paring knife; 2-cup measuring container; spoon; plastic wrap; plastic squeeze bottle (optional); serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d731445970d 6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcb810db970bCook's Note: Looking for a lemon pie that will hold its own against all other lemon pie recipes? Bursting with lemon flavor and piled high with light, airy meringue, this recipe is all about:  ~ My Love Affair w/Lemon & Lemon Meringue Pie ~.

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

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

10/18/2019

~ Stewed-Tomato Gravy for Mom's All-Beef Meatloaf ~

IMG_5272Meatloaf is personal.  We all have a favorite recipe.  That said, there's no other way to say this:  I Love My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf.  I know many of you do too, because you've made it and you've told me so. Both my mother and grandmother used beef exclusively to make meatloaf -- never a combination of beef, pork and veal.  My grandmother, who owned a mom and pop grocery store during the Depression era, simply did not like the gelatinous texture that comes from adding mild-flavored veal and did not approve of mixing pork and beef together -- no bacon strips were ever draped over a meatloaf (to muddle up the flavor) in any of my family's kitchens.

Stewed tomatoes w/onions, celery & green peppers, makes for an amazing accompaniment to mom's meatloaf. 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27640d2970cMom never glazed her meatloaf with anything.  On nights when mom was serving meatloaf with mashed potatoes, mom would mix the precious-few beefy meat drippings with some seasoned flour and a can of beef broth to whip up some brown gravy to drizzle over the top.  On nights when mom was serving meatloaf with macaroni and cheese, she would mix the precious-few beefy meat drippings with some seasoned flour and a can of stewed tomatoes to drizzle over the top.  

We affectionately referred to it as:  stewed tomato gravy.  

IMG_52521/4  cup beef drippings from mom's meatloaf

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon celery salt

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

2  tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  14 1/2-ounce can "original-style" stewed tomatoes w/onions, celery and green peppers, NOT, Italian-style stewed tomatoes with my mom's all-beef meatloaf 

IMG_5256 IMG_5259 IMG_5260 IMG_5261~Step 1.  In a 1 1/2-quart saucepan, place meatloaf drippings.  Stir in seasonings (onion powder, celery salt and black pepper).  Heat over medium until drippings are bubbling.  Add the flour.

IMG_5263 IMG_5263 IMG_5268 IMG_5269~Step 2.  Increase heat to medium-high and stir constantly until a thick, pasty roux forms, about 30 seconds.  Add stewed tomatoes.  Reduce heat to simmer gently and cook, breaking tomatoes into smaller pieces with side of spoon, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and serve.

Serve gravy w/meatloaf & mac-'n-cheese please:

IMG_5278Stewed-Tomato Gravy for Mom's All-Beef Meatloaf:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups tomato gravy.

Special Equipment List:  1 1/2-quart saucepan; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a9986d200bCook's Note:  For another meatloaf my mom would occasionally make, just for us kids, check out my ~ Kid's Stuff:  Souper Fix-Quick Bowling-Night Meatloaf ~.  This quick-to-throw-together-recipe uses a package of store-bought meatloaf mix, and, it gets its tomato-y flavor from Campbell's condensed tomato soup.  My brother and I adored it. And yes, you guessed it, this recipe goes great with stewed-tomato gravy drizzled on top too.

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

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

10/15/2019

~ About Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix & My Copycat Recipe ~

IMG_5100This blast-from-my-past box of versatile, dependable baking goodness allowed me, as a young girl, to hone my skills with yeast dough and bread.  While I have many refined recipes for specialty breads and rolls in my repertoire (which, as a young adult I learned hands-on from my grandmother and mother), that was not always the case.  There was a time in my life, as a young pre-teen, ages 9-12 give-or-take, when I expressed a serious interest in experimenting, on my own, with my own creations, to imitate the recipes of my grandmother and mother.

IMG_5111I was a remarkably meticulous child, meaning:  If left alone in my mom's kitchen, I maintained a clean kitchen -- downright spotless.  Yes, even at that young age, I wasn't playing games in the kitchen.  For those reasons, my mom (encouragingly) kept a box or two of hot roll mix in our pantry -- for me and my yeast-bread-baking experiments.  It allowed me, unsupervised, to practice the techniques required for making and baking bread loaves and dinner rolls, and filled sweet rolls like honey buns, frosted cinnamon-raisin rolls, and, "her" poppyseed- and nut-rolls.  

At some point, mom sent away for a copy of the Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix Baking Book too, which, I still have. Besides containing over 100 recipes, it contained a lot of added information, which "upped by game" substantially.  I was on my way. 

IMG_5112Sure, I had failures.  First I put too much filling in a nut roll, the next time not enough, but, because of the easy-to-follow instructions on the box and the tips in their book, the bready end result was always edible. I learned how dry yeast works, and, got to practice the techniques necessary for working with yeast dough after it rises.  I also learned the importance of having a versatile, dependable, basic bread dough recipe. After a while, mom's investment had paid off.  

For novice bakers, this mix is "a catalyst for success".

IMG_5104The box mix = 15 1/2 oz. flour mixture + 1/2 oz. granulated yeast. After adding 1 cup water, 2 tablespoons butter & 1 egg, it yields 28 oz. dough.

IMG_5115For my copycat boxed mix, to be used in place of, and, as per instructions on boxed mix:

15 1/2-16  ounces unbleached, all purpose flour (about 3 cups)

2  ounces granulated sugar (about 1/4 cup)

1  teaspoon sea salt

2  ounces instant nonfat powdered/dry milk (about 1/2 cup)

2  1/4-ounce packets dry yeast granules (do not mix with dry ingredients until ready to bake)

1  cup warm water (to be stirred in when ready to bake)

IMG_5123Note:  When it's time to bake, you'll need to add 1 cup hot water2 tablespoons salted butter and 1 large egg to the dry mix and yeast (as per box's directions/see Cook's Note below). When kneading and/or rolling dough, you'll need about 1/2-3/4 cup additional bench flour too. To make their glazed cinnamon rolls as per the box, you'll need a few other additions as well.  As always, always follow the directions of the recipe you're making. 

In a 1-gallon ziplock bag mix all ingredients, except the yeast.  Seal.  Store in pantry for 3-4 months or in freezer for 6-8 months.

IMG_5129 IMG_5129 IMG_5129 IMG_5129~Step 1.  Place all of the dry  mix in a large bowl.  Add the yeast.  Using a spoon, stir the yeast into the flour mixture and fashion a well in the center of the bowl.  In a 1-cup measuring container, heat 1 cup of water in the microwave.  Add butter to hot water and stir until butter melts.

IMG_5140 IMG_5140 IMG_5140 IMG_5140~Step 2.  Pour water mixture into well of flour.  Using a fork, beat the egg in the measuring container, then add the egg to the well too.  Using the spoon, stir until a soft dough forms.

IMG_5149 IMG_5149 IMG_5149 IMG_5149~Step 3.  Spread some bench flour on a large wooden pastry board.  Turn dough out onto board and knead until a smooth-surfaced ball of dough forms, adding a bit of extra flour, if necessary to reduce stickiness, about 5-6 minutes.  Cover the ball of dough with the bowl and rest, 5-6 minutes.  You will have 28 ounces of really-easy-to-work-with dough.  Amongst other things, this is enough to make 12 dinner rolls, or 12 cinnamon rolls, or 2 nut or poppyseed-type rolls.

Use a kitchen scale to divide dough into 2-12 portions:

IMG_5242Use as directed in the recipes from on boxed mix:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a492da54200cOr, use as directed in your own family recipes:

IMG_5224Nut & poppyseed rolls are two of my favorites:

IMG_5355About Pillsbury Hot Roll Mix & My Copycat Recipe:  Recipe yields 20 ounces dry, hot roll mix/28 ounces dough (after the addition of the wet ingredients).

Special Equipment List:  kitchen scale or measuring cups and spoons; ziplock bag; tablespoon; fork; large wooden pastry board

IMG_5120Cook's Note:  Here is a photo of the instructions, from the back of the box, for their dinner rolls.  Their cinnamon roll and pizza crust recipes are on the box too. Because of that, I recommend purchasing and using a box of the hot roll mix, at least once.  First, you will get "a feel" for how this mix works. Second, after clipping the box apart, you get a copy of all of the instructions that appear on the box for future reference.  Have fun! 

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

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

10/13/2019

~Cinnamon-Swirl Turkey, Apple & Apple Butter Panini~

IMG_5050Do you need a fancy-schmancy panini press to make a panini sandwich?  No, you don't.  Simply place your sandwich in a grill pan and place a heavy (cast-iron works great) skillet on top and you'll get the similar results, except, unlike cooking on a panini press, you will have to stop to flip the sandwich over half way through the process.  Don't have a grill pan either?  Worry not.  Use a nonstick skillet with a cast iron skillet on top.  As long as the sandwich is pressed, you can still call it a panini -- even without the grill marks.  Without the pressing, it's an ordinary grilled sandwich.

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

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

One panino, two panini, go preheat your panini press:

IMG_5017For two panini sandwiches/4 half sandwiches:

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing panini press

4  slices cinnamon-raisin swirl bread

6  slices cheddar or cheddar-Jack cheese

2-3  tablespoons apple butter

1/2 of 1  thin-sliced unpeeled apple, your favorite type

6  strips crisply-fried bacon

1/2 pound super-thinly-sliced deli-turkey breast, your favorite type and brand

20-30  baby arugula leaves

IMG_5018 IMG_5018~Step 1.  To assemble sandwiches, place two slices of cheese on two slices of bread (the bottom half, where remaining ingredients will be layered), and, one slice on the other two slices.  Set the two slices of bread with two slices of cheese aside.

IMG_5024 IMG_5024 IMG_5024 IMG_5024~Step 2.  On the two bottom halves, slather the cheese with 1-1 1/2 tablespoons apple butter. It's tempting, but, don't be inclined to slather the bread slices with the apple butter first or bread will become soggy before you can finish assembling the sandwiches -- this is the right order of things. Place a layer of apple slices atop the apple butter on two slices of bread, 4-5 slices on each.

IMG_5034 IMG_5034 IMG_5034 IMG_5034~Step 3.  Place three bacon strips atop apples on each sandwich, followed by an even distribution of 1/4 pound of turkey breast.  Lastly, place a few baby arugula leaves atop turkey, 15-20 leaves on each sandwich.  Invert and place the remaining two cheese-topped slices of bread on top of the arugula and gently press down on the tops of sandwiches with palms of hands.

IMG_5044~Step 4.  Wrap sandwiches tightly in plastic wrap and allow to sit on the counter for 15-20 minutes, so all ingredients are at the same temperature when grilled -- this will also keep them fresh if you are grilling and serving several at a time.  Just prior to grilling as directed below, vertically slice the sandwich into two halves.  Remove the plastic wrap after slicing.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad397bca8200d 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3b7535b200b 6a0120a8551282970b022ad397bcb4200d 6a0120a8551282970b022ad397bcb4200d IMG_5047~Step 5.  Spray grill grids of panini press, top and bottom with no-stick cooking spray.  Close grill and preheat, according to manufacturer's specifications, to medium-high on grill-panini setting.  When green light turns on, place 2-4 half-sandwiches on hot grill grids.  I'm demonstrating two halves, because it is easier to photograph than four.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3b753da200b~Step 6.  Place top of press on sandwich halves. Firmly, but gently, using the press's handle, press down for 30-45 seconds.  You're NOT trying to squish the sandwich, but, you are trying to put just enough pressure on it to steam and crisp bread a bit.  Let go.  Grill 3-4 minutes, until cheese is oozing and bread is crispy.  If they don't look perfect, they're perfect.

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

IMG_5057... & serve, as is & unembellished, as the star of any party:

IMG_5083Cinnamon-Raisin Turkey, Apple & Apple Butter Swirl:  Recipe yields 2-4 servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; plastic wrap; serrated bread knife; panini contact-grill; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3717f8b200cCook's Note: Panini-croissant-crostini.  That's a lot to digest, and if you're of Italian-heritage, simmer down, lighten up, and read my post before criticizing my fun-loving play on these three mouth-watering words. Sandwich-press-grilled panini, full of cured Italian meats and cheese, substituting mini-croissants for the traditional rustic Italian bread (I've affectionately added the word crostini to describe them, because I serve them, crostini-style, as 3-4 bite appetizers), are crowd-pleasing snacks that get gobbled up at a tailgate party faster than beer flows at a fraternity house. ~ Grillmarked:  Italian-Style Panini-Croissant-Crostini ~.

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

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

10/10/2019

~ Sausage & Egg w/Cheddar, Apple & Apple Butter ~

IMG_4983Can one ever have too many breakfast sandwich recipes?  The answer is an unequivocal, hell no. A sweet sausage patty with a fried, poached or scrambled egg and a slice of yellow American cheese served on thick-sliced Texas-type toast, a gnarly bagel, a craggy-edged nook-and-crannied English muffin, or a flaky buttery biscuit is one of my year-round favorite ways to start the day.  It's safe to assume it's a favorite with most of America too, as all breakfast-all-day drive-through fast-food joints and all-night sit-down-at-the-counter diners serve some version of a sausage, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich.  It's hard to compete with its completeness.

That said, as a big fan of sweet and savory combinations, when Fall arrives, I like to change mine up a bit by placing my sausage, egg and cheese on a cinnamon-raisin bagel (sometimes a cinnamon-raisin English muffin) with a slice of cheddar-Jack, sautéed apple slices and a slather of apple butter.  Topped with a few baby arugula leaves, it's downright impressive, gourmet fare. Yes, it does take a little extra-time to "do this sandwich up right".  Tick-tock, yawn and wake up 10-15 minutes earlier on days when you're making them, but, if it's breakfast for dinner you wish to celebrate, this'll take less time than a full-blown meal.  Either way, this is worth the effort.

IMG_4939For 4 sandwiches:

4  high-quality New York-style same-day-baked cinnamon-raisin bagels, or English muffins

1 pound sweet sausage, divided into 4, 4-ounce portions

1  apple, cored and thinly-sliced horizontally

4  jumbo eggs

8 slices yellow cheddar or cheddar-Jack cheese 

4  tablespoons apple butter

40-48  baby arugula leaves

IMG_4940 IMG_4940 IMG_4940 IMG_4940 IMG_4940~Step 1.  Divide the pound of sausage into four equal parts, 4 ounces each.  Pat and press each portion into a 4 1/2" round disc, placing the sausage patties, slightly-overlapping in a 10" nonstick skillet as you form them.  Over medium- medium-high heat, fry the patties until cooked through and golden brown on both sides, turning only once, 5-6 minutes per side.  Using a spatula transfer patties to a paper towel lined plate.  Turn heat off.

IMG_4950 IMG_4950 IMG_4950 IMG_4950 IMG_4950~Step 2.  Using an apple corer, remove core from apple.  Slice a small portion of the top and bottom of the apple off.  Cut the rest into 8 discs, about 1/4" thick.  Over medium- medium-high heat, sauté the apple slices in the sausage drippings, 45-60 seconds per side.  Remove apples from pan drippings and place on a paper-towel lined plate.  Set aside.

IMG_4932 IMG_4932 IMG_4932~Step 3.  Crack eggs into hot skillet of remaining drippings.  Over medium- medium-high heat, fry eggs to desired doneness -- soft and runny centers, or semi-firm centers, your choice.  Cover skillet and remove from heat.

IMG_4962 IMG_4962 IMG_4962 IMG_4962 IMG_4962 IMG_4962 IMG_4962~Step 4.  Lightly-toast the cinnamon-raisin bagels. To assemble the sandwiches, on each of four plates, place two slices of cheese on the bottom half of each bagel.  Slather 1 tablespoon apple butter atop the cheese slices. Place two apple slices atop the apple butter, followed by a sausage patty and an egg.  Loosely cover with plastic wrap and place in microwave to melt the cheese, about 30 seconds.  Remove plastic wrap and garnish each with 10-12 arugula leaves.  Place top on sandwich and serve ASAP.

Place the top on each sandwich & slice it in half:

IMG_4980 2Enjoy each & every apple-buttery applicious bite of Fall: 

 

IMG_4996Got room for the other half?  You can bet I do:

IMG_5001Sausage & Egg w/Cheddar, Apple & Apple Butter:  Recipe yields 4 hearty breakfast sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen scale; 10" nonstick skillet w/lid; spatula; paper towels; apple corer; cutting board; chef's knife; toaster or toaster oven; plastic wrap   

IMG_4915Cook's Note: Can one ever have too many grilled cheese-type sandwich recipes?  The answer is an unequivocal no.  High-quality, super-thin-sliced deli-ham on caraway-seeded rye is one of my favorite sandwiches.  Crispy, thin-sliced apples with a chunk of white or yellow cheddar cheese is one of my favorite snacks.  For another one of my perfect-for-Fall sandwiches, try my ~ Grilled Ham-on-Rye w/Cheddar, Apple and Arugula ~.

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

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

10/07/2019

~ Grilled Ham-on-Rye w/Cheddar, Apple and Arugula ~

IMG_4908Can one ever have too many grilled cheese-type sandwich recipes?  The answer is an unequivocal no.  High-quality, super-thin-sliced deli-ham on caraway-seeded rye is one of my favorite sandwiches.  Crispy, thin-sliced apples with a chunk of white or yellow cheddar cheese is one of my favorite snacks.  As a fan of sweet and savory combinations, when I combine the two with a slather of apple butter and some delicate, slightly-peppery greens in between, magic happens.  It's perfect for Fall.  It's simple, straightforward and uncomplicated 'wichcraft.

It's simple, straightforward & uncomplicated 'witchcraft.

IMG_4844For two sandwiches:

4  tablespoons salted butter

4  slices caraway-seeded rye bread

10  slices cheddar or cheddar-Jack cheese

4-6  tablespoons apple butter

1  thin-sliced unpeeled apple, your favorite type

1/2  pound super-thinly-sliced deli-ham, your favorite type and brand

30-40  baby arugula leaves

sliced, dehydrated apple chips, or regular potato chips, for accompaniment

IMG_4846 IMG_4846 IMG_4846 IMG_4846~Step 1.  To assemble the sandwiches, place three slices of cheese on two slices of the bread (the bottom half, where the remaining ingredients will be layered), and, two slices on the other two (the top half) slices of bread.  Set the two slices of bread with two slices of cheese aside.

IMG_4856 IMG_4856 IMG_4856 IMG_4856~Step 2.  On the two bottom halves, slather the cheese with 1-1 1/2 tablespoons apple butter. It's tempting, but, don't be inclined to slather the bread slices with the apple butter first or bread will become soggy before you can finish assembling the sandwiches -- this is the right order of things. Place a layer of apple slices atop the apple butter on two slices of bread, 8-10 slices on each.

IMG_4867 IMG_4867 IMG_4867 IMG_4867 IMG_4876 IMG_4876~Step 3.  Layer 1/4 pound of ham atop apple slices, followed by baby arugula leaves,15-20 leaves on each.  Invert and place the remaining two cheese-topped slices of bread on top of the arugula and gently press with the palms of hands.

IMG_4879 IMG_4879 IMG_4879 IMG_4879~Step 4.  Wrap sandwiches tightly in plastic wrap and allow to sit on the counter for 15-20 minutes, so all ingredients are at the same temperature when grilled.  Just prior to grilling as directed below, vertically slice the two sandwiches into four halves and secure each half with a toothpick.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, clip each toothpick so it is level with the top of the bread -- this will make the sandwiches super-easy to flip over while cooking in the hot skillet.

IMG_4891 IMG_4891 IMG_4891 IMG_4891 IMG_4891~Step 5.  To grill the sandwiches, melt the butter in a 10" nonstick skillet over low heat.  Remove the plastic wrap from the sandwich halves and place them in the warm skillet.  Increase heat to medium and grill until golden brown on the bottoms and bottom layer of cheese is melted, about 3-4 minutes.  Using a spatula, flip the sandwiches over and grill on the second sides until they too are golden and the cheese is melted, 3-4 minutes.  Serve immediately.

Wait not a moment, serve these sandwiches ASAP...

IMG_4915... & enjoy a taste of Fall in every sweet & savory bite: 

IMG_4926Grilled Ham-on-Rye w/Cheddar, Apple and Arugula:  Recipe yields 2 hearty sandwiches/2-4 servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; plastic wrap; 4 toothpicks; kitchen shears; 10" nonstick skillet; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2b2d8b1970cCook's Note: The best apple pie recipes aren't fancy -- they're special.  Just put one in the oven and see what happens.  Word travels fast.  Everyone wants a slice of old-fashioned appleiscious goodness.  ~ Nothing Fancy:  Old-Fashioned Autumn Apple Pie ~

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

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

10/05/2019

~ Hungarian Gulyás: Beef, Vegetable & Paprika Soup ~

IMG_4837American-style goulash is made with ground beef and macaroni.  It's tasty, it's filling, it's easy to prepare, and, has the added bonus of being kid-friendly.  It's a stewy take on Hungarian goulash, but, aside from containing meat (originally ground beef, but nowadays chicken or turkey are sometimes substituted), a few vegetables (typically green bell pepper, onion and tomato sauce) and pasta (usually elbow-type macaroni or corkscrews), it all-too-often tastes resemblant of Italian-American spaghetti with meat sauce -- the flavor profile is hardly Hungarian.

A not-so-short but informative bit about Hungarian Gulyás: 

Hungarian gulyás (pronounced goulēus and meaning herdsmen) is the national dish of Hungary, and, the most famous Hungarian dish cooked outside of Hungary.  That said, even in Hungary, recipes vary from cook to cook and chef to chef, and, every one will claim theirs authentic. Gulyás dates back to the 9th Century cattle herders and stockmen and began as a basic well-seasoned, sun-dried meat and onion stew prepared in iron cauldrons -- all they needed to do was add water and cook it.  Over time, gulyás evolved, as cooks began adding additional vegetables (cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, parsnips, potatoes etc.).  That said, many Hungarian cooks and experts argue that true gulyás uses no thickening agents and contains no grains (rice, barley, etc.) or starch (potatoes, noodles, dumplings, etc.)   In the 16th Century, the invading Ottoman Turks introduced paprika to Hungary.  The rest of Europe remained indifferent to the spice, but Hungary embraced it, and it eventually became a defining element of their cuisine and their gulyás.

Gulyás contains no starchy thickeners to achieve consistency -- which is why it's considered a soup rather than a stew.

IMG_4836Hungarian gulyás, while usually prepared with beef, can be prepared with veal, pork or lamb, or a combination of meats.  Typical cuts include inexpensive shank, shin or shoulder.  As a result, goulash derives its thickness from tough, well-exercised muscles rich in collagen (which convert to gelatin during the cooking process), instead of a thickening agent like flour or cornstarch. Vegetables (usually red bell pepper, carrot, potato, tomato and onion) are commonly added to the meat and the mixture is cooked in a paprika-laced slightly-thickened "in between" broth that is neither too thin nor too thick -- I describe it as a rich sauce. Some versions of gulyás are very rustic, containing large chunks of meat and vegetables, resemblant of a classic beef stew. Other versions are quite sophisticated, containing small-diced pieces of meat and vegetables.  All versions contain a healthy dose of sweet Hungarian paprika (a copious amount, more than you'd think), and, genuine imported sweet Hungarian paprika paprika is essential.

A bit about gulyás recipes in general & my recipe:

Authentically prepared Hungarian gulyés is like a brilliant star in the sky of soups and stews, meaning: take a taste and allow your taste buds to see the light.  Some versions are thicker, some versions are thinner, all are silky-smooth and sauce-like, but, none contain starchy thickening agents (just stop with the flour and cornstarch concoctions, they just muddy up the flavor).  The consistency control factor is the length of time the mixture simmers on the stovetop -- this is why, in Hungary, this dish is looked upon and referenced as a soup, rather than a stew.  I do add potatoes to my version (which is not uncommon is any modern day version), because my mother added them and I adored it -- that choice is yours.  When properly prepared, this rustic, easier-to-make-than-a-stew is perhaps one of the most refined soups you will ever experience.

IMG_47883  tablespoons salted butter

3  tablespoons vegetable oil

2 1/2-3  pounds 3/4"-1"-cubed beef chuck roast or chuck steak, from 1, 3-3 1/2 pound chuck roast or chuck steak

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1 1/2  pounds peeled and 1/2"-diced yellow or sweet onions

8  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1/2  cup sweet Hungarian paprika, not smoked or hot paprika

1  6-ounce can tomato paste

6  cups beef stock, preferably homemade

2  packets Herb-Ox granulated beef bouillon

2  whole bay leaves

"the seasonings", aka, 1 teaspoon each:  garlic powder, dried parsley flakes, dried rosemary leaves, dried thyme leaves, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

6  ounces 1/4"-1/2" diced celery stalks

8  ounces 1/4"-1/2" peeled and diced carrots

12-ounces  1/2"-diced red bell peppers

1 1/2 pounds peeled and 1/2"-3/4" diced gold potatoes (optional)

1/2-3/4  cup minced fresh parsley, for garnishing soup

IMG_4604 IMG_4604Important note before starting:  Achieving the signature saucelike consistency gulyás is famous for, without relying on a thickening agent or adding a starch isn't as tricky as one might think.  Great gulyás starts with homemade beef stock, one that is rich in collagen, one that becomes gelatinous when refrigerated, is important.

IMG_4769 IMG_4769 IMG_4769~ Step 1.  To prep the roast, start by slicing it in half vertically -- this will make it more manageable. Place the flat side of each half down, and slice each half into 6-7 3/4"-1" pieces.  Cut each piece into 3/4"-1" cubes, removing and discarding the large pockets of fat as you continue to work.  

IMG_4465 IMG_4465 IMG_4792 IMG_4792 IMG_4792~Step 2. In a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot, over low heat, melt butter into oil.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Add beef cubes, then season with 1 teaspoon each sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper.  Using a large spatula to keep the meat moving, sauté until it has lost its pink color and is swimming around in quite a bit of flavorful beef juices, 6-8 minutes.

IMG_4799 IMG_4799 IMG_4799 IMG_4799~Step 3.  Add the onion and garlic.  Continue to sauté, stirring constantly, until onion is tender, 6-8 minutes.  Stir in the paprika and tomato paste.  Stirring constantly, cook 3 more minutes.

IMG_4808 IMG_4808 IMG_4808Step 4.  Add the beef stock, bay leaves and seasonings.  Stir thoroughly.  Adjust heat to the gentlest of steady simmers and continue to cook, uncovered, for 1 full hour.  If you plan to add potatoes to your gulyás, peel and cube them as directed during the last 30 minutes of simmering time.

IMG_4817 IMG_4817~ Step 5.  Add the celery, carrots, red bell pepper and optional potatoes to the simmering soup. Continue to cook until potatoes and carrots are just cooked through, 15-20 additional minutes.  If you have the time, turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow soup to steep for 30-60 minutes, to allow the flavors time to marry prior to serving.  

Ladle into bowls & garnish w/minced, fresh parsley:

IMG_4825Hungarian Gulyás:  Beef, Vegetable & Paprika Soup:  Recipe yields 5 quarts hearty soup.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; vegetable peeler; wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot; large slotted spoon or spatula; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01bb088aee56970dCook's Note: My encounters with Hungarian cuisine have all been good, and authentic too.  While my family is not Hungarian, we are Eastern European (Slovak), meaning the food of other Eastern European countries is often similar, appealing to our appetites.  Thanks to a recipe mom got from a Hungarian co-worker, she made great gulyás.  As for paprikas, that recipe I got from my neighbor's mom who immigrated here from Hungary in the 1950's.  Try: ~ Mrs. Varga's Hungarian Paprikas Recipe ~.

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

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

10/03/2019

~ Lemon-Dressed Arugula, Watermelon & Feta Salad ~

IMG_4747Watermelon salad in October?  You betcha.  It's been unseasonably warm here in the Northeast, with unusually mild-to-hot Summer temperatures lasting into our four-seasoned Fall.  While most (but not all) of our garden has indeed met its end-for-this-year (Summer basil, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, etc.), the extra growing time has rendered it a stellar year for watermelon, which, in honesty, doesn't do well when the the days grow short and the temperatures go low.

Twenty-plus years ago, watermelon salad was trendy everywhere.  One of my favorite versions was served in a now defunct high-end French restaurant right here in Happy Valley:  The Victorian Manor.  It appeared on their menu every Summer for several years.  That said, watermelon salad was/is pretty much the same everywhere, meaning, there are no surprises:  A well-balanced, sweet, savory and salty mixture of baby arugula leaves, chunks of watermelon, thin-shaved red onion, crumbled feta cheese and torn mint leaves, tossed in a refreshingly-light citrusy vinaigrette.

I believe my version is better, uh, way-better than "the typical ones".  I know, that's bragging, but, hear me out, as I believe my reasoning to be sound.  Instead of using a combination of orange and lemon juice to make the vinaigrette, mine is full-throttle lemon-flavored.  Orange juice is ok, but lemon-infused olive oil is the bomb, and, when mixed with white balsamic vinegar, it takes my salad over-the-top.  When it comes to this salad, it is all about the dressing, and, this one is spectacular.  On a personal note, I added dried mint flakes to the dressing, instead of minced, fresh mint to the salad, because, while I'm a fan of subtle mint flavor, I am not a fan of fresh mint.

IMG_4756We're celebrating our harvest w/watermelon salad tonight.

IMG_4720 2Watermelon salad -- just in time for Oktoberfest!

6a0120a8551282970b0240a490dbbc200dFor the lemon-infused, white balsamic vinaigrette:

1/2  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup lemon-infused olive oil

2  tablespoons sugar

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

1  teaspoon each: dried herbes de Provence & mint flakes

Step 1.  In a 1-cup container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top, place all ingredients. Vigorously shake until well-combined.  Use as a marinade and/or dress salad and store leftovers in refrigerator.

IMG_4727For two salads:

1  6-ounce bag baby arugula leaves  

1  cup shaved red onion cut into half-moon shapes

1  cup feta cheese crumbles

8-10 tablespoons vinaigrette

4  cups 1" watermelon balls or cubes

freshly-ground peppercorn blend, for garnish

IMG_4731 IMG_4731 IMG_4731 IMG_4731 IMG_4731~Step 1.  Place the arugula, red onion and feta in a large bowl.  Add 6 tablespoons of the lemon vinaigrette.  Toss to coat these ingredients in the dressing.  Add the watermelon and the remaining 2-4 tablespoons vinaigrette.  Toss again and serve immediately*.  I mean ASAP.  Why? Arugula, like spinach, is a tender green, and will begin to wilt quickly.

IMG_4759*Note:  When I'm cutting into one of these big, long watermelons, I like to make and use "rind rings" as natural vessels to hold each portion of salad.  Simply slice the watermelon into 3" lengths, to form 3" tall discs. Cut around the inside perimeter of each disk, and gently remove the fruit from the rind.  Slice the fruit into cubes or use a melon baller to fashion round balls.  Place each "rind ring" on a flat salad-sized plate. Portion the salad into the open-bottomed salad bowls and serve.

Serve the moment this succulent salad gets tossed:

IMG_4761Lemon-Dressed Arugula, Watermelon & Feta Salad:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup vinaigrette and 2 salads.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container w/tight fitting lid and pourer top; cutting board; chef's knife; melon baller (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49029ab200dCook's Note:  My lemon-infused white-balsamic vinaigrette is great with vegetables too.  For example: lemon and asparagus go hand-in-hand.  It's a classic combination. My ~ Asparagus Salad with Lemon-Balsamic Vinaigrette ~ is another quick-to-make salad too. A salad without lettuce?  There's no law against it, and, in the case of this salad, lettuce is just in the way.

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

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

09/30/2019

~ Making PA Deutsch-Style Square Pot-Pie Noodles ~

IMG_1097In PA Deutsch country, their pot pie starts as a thin, brothy beef, chicken, ham or turkey soup stock containing simply celery, onion, parsley and seasoning. Large, thickish square-cut shortening-based noodles get rolled, cut and added, or, soft doughy balls of a similar mixture get dropped, into the pot to cook in the simmering soup (the latter is often referred to as chicken and dumplings).  As the noodles or dumplings cook in the soup, they thicken the broth to a sauce-like consistency.  While a bit prosaic looking, this soup is indeed luscious and luxurious.

When I was eighteen, Nana was my fiance's grandmother, and, she was as PA Deutsch.  She was a marvelous cook, baker and cross-stitcher. On nights when she was making ~ Pennsylvania Dutch-Country Chicken and Waffles ~ or her "bot-boi" ~ Nana's Bare Bones PA Deutsch Chicken Pot Pie ~, she invited the entire family because: she roasted two chickens to make the stew for the waffles, or, put a huge pot of two-chicken stock on the stovetop to make the pot pie -- these meals are an event.  Pot pie is bare bones good eating -- it's a celebration of tender noodles swimming in a pool of flavorful thickened stock with fall-off-the-bone tender meat.

Making real-deal PA Deutsch-style pot-pie noodles:

IMG_1044For every 2-quarts (8 cups) pot-pie stock-of-choice and 4 servings of chicken pot pie you will need:

1 1/2  cups cake flour

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2  tablespoons shortening

1/2  cup milk

1/4  cup additional bench flour IMG_1048

Having the right equipment on-hand and ready to go makes these noodles super-easy to make:

large wooden pastry board; pastry blender; paring knife; small rolling pin; 12" ruler; pizza cutter; baking pan; parchment

IMG_1050 IMG_1050 IMG_1050 IMG_1050 IMG_1065~Step 1.  In a large bowl, place and stir together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Using a pastry blender and a paring knife, cut the shortening into the flour mixture until small grains form.

~ Step 2.  Add half of the milk. Using a spoon, stir until  crumbs begin to form.  Add the rest of the milk and stir until a rough dough comes together.  Do not overmix.

IMG_1074 IMG_1069~ Step 3. Spread 2-3 tablespoons of flour over the surface of pastry board.

IMG_1070Gather up the dough in your hands, shape it into disc and place it on the board.  Pat and press it into a rectangular shape.

IMG_1082 IMG_1077~ Step 4. Using a small roller, gently roll dough into a 12" x 8" rectangle.  This size insures proper thickness. I use a ruler to measure and by bumping it up against the sides  every now and then, to shape the rectangle.

IMG_1087 IMG_1090~ Step 5. Using the ruler as a guide, cut the rectangle into 24, 2" squares.

IMG_1102Transfer the noodles to a baking pan lined with parchment and sprinkled with flour.  Cover with a towel and set aside 1-6 hours.

IMG_1126 IMG_1118~ Step 6. With the pot-pie stock of choice simmering gently but steadily, begin dropping the noodles into the liquid, 1-2 at a time.  When all noodles have been added, lower heat and continue to simmer for about 15-16 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot and allow to steep and thicken a bit more, about 15-16 minutes.

Ladle pot-pie & pot-pie noodles into bowls & serve...

IMG_1135... garnished w/salt, pepper &, of course, parsley:

IMG_1166Making PA Deutsch-Style Square Pot-Pie Noodles:  Recipe yields instructions to make 24 pot-pie noodles, enough for 8 cups pot-pie stock-of-choice, and 4 servings pot-pie.

Special Equipment List: large wooden pastry board; pastry blender; paring knife; small rolling pin; 12" ruler; pizza cutter; baking pan; parchment paper; soup ladle

Illo-06Cook's Note: I am here to make it clear that Pennsylvania Dutch cookery does not belong solely to PA and it is not Dutch either.  The term "Dutch" was the early English settlers slang for the German word "Deutsch".  So:  When most people incorrectly say "Pennsylvania Dutch", they should be saying "Pennsylvania Deutsch", crediting the Germanic or German-speaking immigrants from Germany and Switzerland for this cuisine.  The majority of these people were either Amish, Mennonite or Brethren, all of which were considered "Anabaptist". They were fleeing the mountains of Switzerland and southern Germany to avoid religious persecution and established several communites in the Lehigh Valley.  Why?  Thank William Penn for his free-thinking, open-door, equal-opportunity-for-all of any religion or race politics.  Pennsylvania set an example for the other colonies, who all had established an official "State" religion. Pennsylvania welcomed everyone.  Proud to say we were the first to welcome people of all beliefs and walks of life.

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

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

09/28/2019

~The Easiest Way to Oven-Roast a Tied Chuck Roast~

IMG_4640The chuck roast is an inexpensive cut of beef that comes from the chuck -- the shoulder part of the steer.  It's a heavily exercised muscle, which gives it lots of beefy flavor, but, it also makes it tough.  Because beef chuck roasts are irregular in size and shape, which leads to uneven cooking, it's common practice to find them rolled into a uniform roundish shape and tied.  Chuck roasts are indeed best prepared via braising the whole roast or stewing small uniform pieces of chuck roast on the stovetop and/or in the oven in a well-seasoned liquid for a long period of time, which breaks down the tough connective tissue, rendering the roast, literally, fork-tender.

Anatomical_diagram_of_american_primal_beef_cuts_poster-r4d519012737d4504a2dfd293062c6566_azxzp_8byvr_512A pot roast is not a chuck roast, meaning it is not a specific cut of beef, it's a method of preparing beef, but, in the home kitchen, mine included, making pot roast is the number one reason to purchase a chuck roast.  The next best reason to buy a chuck roast in the home kitchen, mine included, is to make beef stew.  Because of its high meat to fat ratio, 80% meat to 20% fat (considered ideal for making hamburgers), chuck is typically the cut that gets ground for ground beef.  While only a few home cooks purchase a chuck roast for grinding 'burger beef at home, it can indeed be done with a large-capacity food processor, and yields excellent results.  

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2c20c43970cYes, a chuck roast can be oven-roasted and it's easy to do.  It will emerge brown and beautiful, and tasty and tender, and, there will be enough drippings in the bottom of the roasting pan to make some great gravy, which brings me to my next point.  That said, I roast a tied chuck roast for two reasons:  1) Making some of the best open-faced sandwiches, served up on my homemade bread machine brioche, you'll ever eat, or;

IMG_47052) When I want/need some "leftover" shredded or diced beef to add to a brothy beef soup.  Allow me to continue.  While an oven-roasted chuck roast can indeed be sliced and eaten as a meal with mashed potatoes, gravy and a vegetable (it tastes wonderful), it has some untoward pockets of fat running through it, which, while easy to avoid when slicing for sandwiches or dicing for soup, means I wouldn't slice it to serve "as is" to guests.

The Easiest Way to Oven-Roast a Tied Chuck Roast: 

IMG_4624 IMG_4624 IMG_4624 IMG_4624Place a 5 1/2-6 pound tied chuck roast on a rack in a roasting pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Use a pastry brush to paint the entire surface of the roast with a bit of vegetable oil, then season the roast liberally with a grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend. Set aside to come to room temperature, for about 1 hour.  Roast, uncovered, on center rack of 350º for 2 1/2 hours.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 45-60 minutes prior to slicing.

Slice & serve or use as directed in specific recipe: 

IMG_4656The Easiest Way to Oven-Roast a Tied Chuck Roast:  Recipe yields instructions to oven-roast a tied chuck roast.

Special Equipment List:  13" x 9" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan; wire rack; parchment paper; pastry brush; chef's knife; fat/lean separator (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7ca358f970bCook's Note: Every cut of beef has an ideal purpose.  An ~ Oven-Roasted Eye-of-Round Roast ~ makes fabulous cold deli-style meat sandwiches.  Too many people waste too much time trying to coax this lean, tough, economically-priced-for-good-reason cut of beef into doing something that it is not cut out to do:  Be fall-apart, pot-roast-tender.  Be aware, marinating is not tenderizing it (it is flavorizing it) and braising or slow cooking it to "pot roast kind of tender" will NOT improve its flavor, it will render it flavorless.  Roasting it past rare- or medium-rare will produce a product suitable for boot-making.   People who claim to making a great pot roast out of this cut of beef have never tasted it side-by-side a pot roast made with a fat-marbled tied chuck roast.

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

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

09/25/2019

~ My Pennsylvania Deutsch-Style Beef Noodle Soup ~

IMG_4705Soups and stews.  We can't seem to get enough of them this time of year -- I know I can't.  The difference between the two is easy to describe.  If you started by simmering meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables in a pot of seasoned water-, wine-, juice- or milk- based liquid, you've made soup.  If it is thickened at the end of the process, a soup can be stew-like.  If you started by cooking/sautéing meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables in a small amount of seasoned oil, butter or fat, then added just enough of flour and liquid or thickened liquid to it to bring it to an almost gravy-like consistency, you've made a stew.  If only a small amount of flour is used, a stew can be quite soupy.  Soup or stew?  Thick or thin, it's all about how you began the process.   

Every culture, and, I mean every culture, makes wonderful soups and stews using ingredients and seasonings familiar to them and local to their climate.  Everywhere you go, soups and stews are served in a cup or a bowl, and, depending on the culture, it's not unusual for them to be ladled over a starch (bread, couscous, rice, potatoes, egg-noodles or other types of noodles, etc.), to turn a light meal into a hearty meal, or, under certain circumstances, a knife-and-fork meal.    

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1955322970cThe PA Deutsch are known for their egg noodles and noodle dishes.  In their farming communities, noodle soups and stews and noodle dishes aren't just a meal -- they're a relaxing, comforting, pull-up-a-chair-after-a-hard-days-work way of life. Today's recipe is not to be confused with Pennsylvania Deutsch Pot Pie, which is a thickened soup, contains their signature pot-pie noodles.

If you don't have time for making homemade stock, worry not.  I've written this w/a store-bought stock option too. 

Today's recipe is my somewhat-simplified version of their beef noodle soup, which is a clear, nicely-seasoned soup, containing chards of beef and chunky vegetables leftover from the making of the stock, plus, their signature square egg noodles in store-bought form -- which cook right in the soup.  There's more. Don't shy away from making this soup with high-quality store-bought stock -- I know you're busy, so I won't criticize.  I've written the instructions to include that option.

IMG_46612  quarts beef stock, preferably homemade (8 cups), or high-quality store-bought stock (Note:  When using my homemade stock, I don't need to season it.  When using your own homemade beef stock, you may or may not need to season it.  When using unsalted store-bought beef stock, season it with:  2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves1 tablespoon sea salt and 1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper)  

1-1 1/2 pounds cooked beef, preferably from the making of the stock, pulled into bits and pieces, or, leftover oven-roasted beef chuck roast if using store-bought stock

12-16 ounces peeled and 3/4" chunked gold potatoes

6-8  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion

12-16  ounces peeled and 3/4" sliced cooked carrots, from the making of the stock, or, fresh if using store-bought stock  

6-8  ounces 3/4" sliced cooked celery, from the making of the stock, or fresh if using store-bought stock

6-8  ounces uncooked square or extra-wide Pennsylvania Dutch egg noodles

minced fresh parsley leaves, for garnish 

~Step 1.  To make the soup using homemade stock and previously cooked vegetables:  In a wide-bottomed 6-quart stockpot, bring the homemade stock to a gentle simmer.  Add the potatoes and onions and simmer gently until potatoes are just cooked through, 12-15 minutes.  Add the cooked carrots and celery.  Return to a gentle simmer. Stir in the beef.  To this point, the soup can be prepared several hours in advance -- simply turn off the heat, cover the pot and allow it to steep on the stovetop, then, return it to a simmer and proceed when ready.  Stir in the uncooked noodles and simmer until tender, about 8-9 minutes.  Ladle into bowls and serve immediately.

IMG_4664 IMG_4664 IMG_4664 IMG_4664 IMG_4664 IMG_4664 IMG_4664 IMG_4664 IMG_4690 IMG_4690 IMG_4690 IMG_4690~Step 2.  To make the soup using store-bought stock and fresh vegetables:  In a wide-bottomed 6-quart stockpot, bring the store-bought stock and additional seasonings to a gentle simmer.  Add the potatoes, onions, carrots and celery.  Return to a gentle simmer and cook until carrots and potatoes are both tender 12-15 minutes.  Stir in the beef.  To this point, the soup can be prepared several hours in advance -- simply turn off the heat, cover the pot and allow it to steep on the stovetop, then, return it to a simmer and proceed when ready.  Stir in the uncooked noodles and simmer until tender, about 8-9 minutes.  Ladle into soup bowls and serve immediately.

Serve & savor each & every scrumptious soupy slurp!

IMG_4707If it's an Old Fashioned Beef Stew you prefer:

IMG_4541My Pennsylvania Deutsch-Style Beef Noodle Soup:  Recipe yields 5 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 6-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; soup ladle 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1956dbd970cCook's Note: I was born and raised in Eastern, PA, the Lehigh Valley region, which has a large Pennsylvania Dutch community.  For the past forty years, I've lived here in Central PA, which has a large Amish population, both known for their pot pie.  Lucky am I to have learned how to make both styles. Recipes do vary from cook to cook, and, yes there are cross-over versions because people and their recipes migrated throughout our state and USA, but, if you're interested in a tale of two pot-pies:  ~ Nana's Bare Bones PA Deutsch-Style Pot Pie ~.

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

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

09/23/2019

~ A Simpler Straightforward No-Nonsense Beef Stock ~

IMG_4612The case for making homemade beef stock is easy to make.  Store-bought beef stock, with the exception of one or two brands, all too often has a medicinal smell and taste.  That said, store-bought stock does have a place in my pantry and plays a part in recipes that don't rely on it as one of the main components.  For those "special" recipes, homemade beef stock is always on-hand in my freezer to insure I'm never in danger of compromising my end result.  This time-saving recipe is my all-purpose recipe.  In 5 minutes it's simmering on the stovetop and results in a full-bodied moderately-seasoned clear stock with a lot less muss and fuss than other recipes.      

A bit about stock:  By definition, a stock is a moderately seasoned, strained, clear liquid resulting from the simmering of water, bones and/or vegetables.  Stock is the basis for almost all soups and stews, and, when reduced, is the basis for many sauces and gravies. In order of versatility, beef, chicken and veal are the classic stocks, with seafood and vegetable coming in a close second and third, and, in my kitchen Thai-Asian chicken stock comes in very hand too.  The same basic guidelines apply to the preparation of all stocks: minimal boiling, maximum simmering and moderate seasoning.  The single goal of each and every stock is the same:  clarity.

The single goal of each & every stock is the same:  clarity.

IMG_4604Historically, the first recorded stocks were exclusively by-products of poached meat, poultry, fish and/or vegetables, and, a stock made with a large proportion of meat in it will have magnificent flavor.  Debate over the inclusion of meat (on bones) instead of just raw bones or roasted bones (in the case of brown stocks) exists.  The challenge for the restaurant chef, who requires large quantities of stock, is to get maximum flavor with minimum expense, so, their stocks are made using primarliy bones, which is quite practical because they have a lot of bones at their disposal. The challenge for the home cook, who uses lesser quantities of stock, is also to achieve maximum flavor with minimum expense, BUT, is problematic because we don't always have large quantities of bones at our disposal or available to us when we want or have a need to make stock (and, it can take months for them to accumulate in the freezer).  I justify the expense of using bone-in cuts of meat to make some of my stocks, because I put the meat to good use.

IMG_45635-6  pounds beef shanks, preferably large, meaty ones

6  quarts water

3/4-1  pound peeled yellow or sweet onion

12-16  ounces peeled carrots, whole or thick-coined

6-8  ounces celery stalks, whole or thick sliced

1  ounce fresh parsley (Note:  I like to take one bunch of parsley and cut it in half, using the lower leafy stems, which contain loads of flavor, to make the stock, and reserve the delicate leafy tops for garnishing other recipes.)

4-5  large bay leaves

1  tablespoon garlic powder

2  tablespoons sea salt

1 tablespoons coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_4566 IMG_4566 IMG_4566 IMG_4566 IMG_4566 IMG_4586~Step 1.  Place all ingredients in a 12-quart stockpot.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to a simmer, and, using a skimmer, remove all of the white and brown foam as it collects on top.  This process will take about 10 minutes. After removing the foam, remove the parsley.  It will be limp and losing its bright green color.  This herb has done its job*.  The result will be a stock that is lightly and pleasantly flavored with it.

*Note:  Fresh herbs all loose their "flavoring power" after about 10-12 minutes of simmering.

IMG_4588 IMG_4588 IMG_4588 IMG_4588~Step 2.  Reduce heat to simmer gently, uncovered, for 3 hours. Stock will be reduced by about one-quarter and meat will be falling off the shank bones. Remove from heat, cover and allow to steep for 3 hours.  Steeping is important to stock making.  It allows all of the flavors to develop.  

IMG_4602 IMG_4604 IMG_4604 IMG_4604~Step 4. Ladle stock through a mesh strainer, into desired-sized food storage containers, leaving about 1/2" of headspace at the top of each (to allow for expansion if you're freezing the stock). Repeat this process until all stock has been strained.  Using a slotted spoon, remove meat from pot, using your fingertips to pull and discard the fat and bones, placing the meat on a plate as you work.  Remove the carrots and celery, placing them on a plate as well.  Refrigerate stock overnight and/or freeze.  Use stock, beef and vegetables as directed in specific recipes.

Old-Fashioned Beef Stew with Carrots & Potatoes:

IMG_4543My Mother-in-Law's Philly Hamburger Pepper Pot:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09265b77970dDecadent & Divine Silky Shiitake Mushroom Soup

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07ebb4be970d

French Onion Soup (Soup a l'mignon) a la Mel:

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fb36aa03970bA Simpler Straightforward No-Nonsense Beef Stock:  Recipe yields 4 quarts stock.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 12-quart stockpot; mesh strainer; soup ladle; fat/lean separator; slotted spoon; desired-sized food storage containers, preferably glass

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c91bccc0970bCook's Note: As unappetizing as the two words chicken carcass sound, culinarily, those are the words that describe what's left of a boned chicken (what's left after the meat has been removed from the bones), and, truth told, whether the carcass is raw or has been roasted, there is a ton of flavor in those bones. There's more. Discarding a chicken carcass without extracting the flavor is such a waste it makes me sad. Here's ~ How to Make Roasted Chicken Carcass Soup Stock ~.

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

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

09/20/2019

~ Old-Fashioned Beef Stew with Carrots & Potatoes ~

IMG_4543My mom, like all cold-climated Eastern Europeans, made great beef barley- and beef noodle-  and beef vegetable- soup. Mom made great beef stew and Euro-style Hungarian goulash too (not to be confused with the American-style ground beef and macaroni type goulash).  As a card-carrying carnivore, I enjoy these hearty beefy concoctions as much, if not more than, any kind of chicken soup.  That said, when it comes to beef vs. chicken soups and stews in general, one must start by recognizing that a strong-flavored meat like beef requires bold-flavored herbs and seasonings, as opposed to soups or stews made with mild-flavored poultry which do not.  Past that, while the best soups and stews are indeed made with homemade beef stock or chicken stock, I'm not going to call the food police on anyone who chooses to use the store-bought alternative -- I understand you're busy (who isn't) and I refuse to criticize on this point.  

IMG_4560Let's begin by discussing the difference between soup & stew:

Soup:  If you've simmered meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables in a pot of seasoned water-, wine-, juice- or milk- based liquid, you've made soup.  Soups can be thin, chunky, smooth, or, if you've thickened it in some manner after the fact (by adding potatoes, rice, beans, vegetables, or, used a mixture of cream or water mixed with cornstarch, flour or eggs), thick, meaning: having a stew-like consistency.  Soups in general (there are exceptions) tend to be refined and light tasting, using shreds of meat and/or small diced ingredients, or, pureed to a thin or thick, smooth consistency.  In many cases they can be prepared in less than 1-1 1/2 hours, and sometimes, as little as 15-30 minutes.  Soups can be served as an appetizer, side-dish, main course or dessert, but, are always, without exception, served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon.  

Stew:  If you've cooked/sautéed your meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables in a small amount of seasoned oil, butter or fat, then added just enough of flour and liquid or thickened liquid to it to bring it to an almost gravy-like consistency, you've made a stew.  Stews tend to be full of chunky ingredients and full of bold herb and/or spice flavors.  Stews are hearty and filling and are almost always served as the main course.  Stews, because they require a longer, slower cooking time than a soup, sometimes 3-4 hours or longer, often in a tightly-covered vessel, are great for tenderizing tough cuts of meat.  Stews, while usually served in a bowl, can be spooned over a starch (couscous, rice, potatoes, egg noodles, etc.) and turned into a knife and fork meal.

IMG_4561Old-Fashioned Eastern-European-Style Beef Stew:

IMG_4457For prepping/dredging the beef:

2 1/2-3  pounds 3/4"-1"-cubed beef chuck roast or chuck steak, not stewing beef, from 1, 3-3 1/2 pound chuck roast or chuck steak

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

6  tablespoons Wondra quick-mixing all-purpose flour for sauces and gravy

For browning the dredged beef:

3  tablespoons salted butter

3  tablespoons vegetable oil

all of the dredged-in-seasoned-flour beef

For preparing the stew, listed in order of when they get added:

2  tablespoons salted butter

8-10  ounces 3/4"-1" diced yellow or sweet onion

8-10  ounces 3/4"-1" diced white button mushroom caps

3/4  cup port wine, for deglazing pan

all of the browned beef cubes

6  cups beef stock, preferably homemade or high-quality unsalted store-bought stock

4  tablespoons tomato paste, about 1/2 of a 6-ounce can

2  packets Herb-Ox granulated beef bouillon

2  whole bay leaves

"the seasonings", aka, 1 teaspoon each:  garlic powder, dried parsley flakes, dried rosemary leaves, dried thyme leaves, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

1  pound peeled and 3/4"-1" coined carrots

8  ounces 1/2" sliced celery stalks

1  10-ounce bag finely-shredded green cabbage

1 1/2-2  pounds peeled and 3/4"-1" cubed gold potatoes

1/2-3/4  cup minced fresh parsley, for garnishing soup

IMG_4444 IMG_4444 IMG_4444 IMG_4468 IMG_4468~Step 1.  Using a large chef's knife, cube the beef as directed, discarding any large fat pockets you will find along the way.  To dredge the beef, place the 6 tablespoons flour, 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Add the beef and toss to coat the beef cubes in the seasoned flour on all sides.

IMG_4465 IMG_4471 IMG_4471 IMG_4471 IMG_4471 IMG_4486~Step 2.  In a wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot, over low heat, melt the butter into the oil.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Add the dredged beef cubes.  Using a large slotted spatula to keep the meat moving around, sauté until ever-so-slightly-browned on all side and swimming in a flavorful gravy, about 6-8 minutes.  Use the slotted spatula to transfer the beef to a plate, leaving all of the flavorful brown fond in the pot.  Set beef aside.

IMG_4487 IMG_4487 IMG_4487 IMG_4487 IMG_4487~Step 3.  Add the diced onion and mushroom caps to the pot.  Give them a thorough stir and continue to sauté, over medium- medium-high heat until onion is soft and translucent but not browned or browning, and mushrooms have exuded about three-quarters of their moisture and earthy flavor into the mixture, 6-8 minutes -- oh yum.

IMG_4501 IMG_4501 IMG_4501 IMG_4501 IMG_4501 IMG_4501 IMG_4501~Step 4.  Add the port wine.  Using the spatula, continue to sauté, stirring and scraping the bottom and sides of the pot with spatula until all of the luscious brown fond has released itself into the mixture, 1-2 minutes. Continue to simmer another 1-2 minutes, perhaps 3.  Don't rush it.  Return the beef to the pot. Add and stir in the beef stock, granulated beef bouillon, bay leaves and seasonings.  Reduce heat to a gentle, steady simmer, partially cover pot, and continue to simmer for 1 hour.

IMG_4517 IMG_4517 IMG_4517 IMG_4524~Step 5.  During the last 15-20 minutes of the simmering process, peel and dice the potatoes as directed.  Increase the heat to medium-high.  Add and stir in the coined carrots, sliced celery, shredded cabbage and diced potatoes.  When the mixture returns to a simmer, reduce heat to a gentle steady simmer and continue to simmer, uncovered for 45-60 minutes, until carrots, celery and potatoes are all perfectly cooked through.  Remove from heat, cover pot and allow to steep for 1 hour prior to serving, or, overnight in the refrigerator -- which renders it ridiculously good.  

Garnish w/minced parsley & serve immediately:

IMG_4541No need to call me to the dinner table twice:

IMG_4553Old-Fashioned Beef Stew with Potatoes & Carrots:  Recipe yields 5 quarts beef stew.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 1-gallon food storage bag; wide-bottomed 8-quart stockpot; large slotted spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcd8fbfd970bCook's Note: Every time my mother had a meaty ham bone in her hand, she'd make "ham and cabbage".  It is a brothy concoction of ham, carrots, celery, onions and potatoes seasoned with nothing but salt and pepper.  I grew up loving cabbage and I adore this "boiled dinner".  ~ My Mom's Traditional Ham, Cabbage & Potato Soup ~ is yet another example of Eastern European comfort food.

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

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

09/18/2019

~ Mrs. T's Pierogy, Kielbasa & Sauerkraut Casserole ~

IMG_4413One doesn't need Eastern European roots to enjoy pierogi, but, if you are of Eastern European heritage, you grew up knowing they're much more than a potato-and-cheese stuffed, half-moon shaped dumpling.  Pierogi can be stuffed with all sorts of savory or sweet fillings to serve as a snack, side-dish, main-dish or dessert.  They can be boiled, baked, sautéed, deep-fried or grilled -- some recipes can be transitioned to the microwave or slow-cooker.  They can be made ahead and frozen too.  About the only thing you can't do with pierogi is put them in a sandwich.  

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4d35df2200bPierogi (singular and plural, meaning:  one pierogi, three pierogi, a dozen pierogi), along with the holubki (stuffed cabbage rolls) are a staple in my life   Between my maternal great-grandmother, both grandmothers, two great-aunts, four aunts, my mother, the ladies at our church and the ladies at all the other churches, my family was never at a loss for homemade pierogi.

AboutustruckMrs. T's Pierogy (intentionally spelled by them with a "y" instead of an "i"), was founded in 1952 by Ted Twardzik in the town of Shenandoah, PA -- which interestingly, is a short "stones throw" from my Hometown of Hometown, PA.  Ted's mom, Mary Twardzik, aka Mrs. T., loved to cook for her family and everyone loved her handmade pierogi.  After graduating from college with a IMG_4357degree in business and working at a New York accounting firm, Ted, who fondly remembered the ladies sitting around his mother's kitchen table making pierogi, and the lines of people wrapped around the local churches to buy their pierogi*, decided it was the perfect food to mass-market in grocery stores.  He moved back to Shenandoah and named his company after his mother.  A true success story.

*Ted's fond memories of pierogi making were no different than mine or pretty much anyone else of Eastern European heritage.  My grandmother used to take orders and sell hers by the dozens from the mom and pop grocery store she owned and operated.  Everyone does loves pierogi.  

As my family called it, "Mrs. T's One-Skillet Casserole":

IMG_4421By the 1960's Mrs. T's Pierogy would, on occasion, make their way onto my family's dinner table, but, only in the form of a popular and easy-to-throw-together one-skillet casserole.  I don't know if it was a recipe that appeared on the Mrs. T's box, but, I do know that lots of local-to-our-area cooks were serving it during that era.  A crockpot version eventually came along, which, my dad's sister tried.  It tasted good, but, due to the addition of chicken stock (which I find oddly out of place), it turned out a bit "soupy" -- my Aunt and my mom agreed that wasn't an ideal result. 

IMG_43622  ounces/1/4 cup/1/2 stick salted butter

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

3/4-1  cup small-diced yellow or sweet onion

1  12 1/2-ounce box frozen (do not thaw) Mrs T's classic-cheddar mini-sized pierogi (28 to a box), or, 1 16-ounce box Mrs. T's full-size pierogi (12 to a box)

1  12-ounce ring Polish kielbasa, cut into 28-30, 1/2"-thick slices

1  pound high-quality sauerkraut, undrained

1-1 1/2 cups Colby-Jack cheese blend (4-6 ounces)

1/2  cup sour cream, stirred together with 2 tablespoons water to a drizzly consistency, for topping casserole

1/4  cup minced, fresh parsley leaves, for garnishing casserole

IMG_4368 IMG_4368 IMG_4368 IMG_4368 IMG_4368~Step 1.  Dice the onion and mince the parsley as pictured.  In a small bowl or ramekin, thoroughly stir together the sour cream and water until its a smooth, drizzly consistency.  If you have a small plastic squirt/condiment bottle, transfer the sour creamy mixture to it -- it makes for a prettier presentation.  Slice the kielbasa as directed and set aside. 

IMG_4359 IMG_4359 IMG_4384 IMG_4384 IMG_4384 IMG_4384 IMG_4392 IMG_4392 ~Step 2.  In the bottom of a large, deep, 12" skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Stir in the onion powder, salt and pepper, to season the butter. Add the frozen pierogi, kielbasa and onion. Increase heat to medium- medium-high and sauté, stirring constantly with a slotted spoon or spatula until onion is soft, translucent and just short of browning, about 4-5 minutes.  

IMG_4397 IMG_4397~ Step 3.  Add the sauerkraut.  Adjust heat to a gentle simmer and cook until pierogi are fully-cooked, another 4-5 minutes. Sprinkle cheese over top, adjust heat to low, cover skillet and allow the cheese to melt, about 1 minute.

IMG_4412~ Step 4.  Remove skillet-casserole from stovetop.  Place on the table, drizzle with sour cream and garnish with minced parsley.  Use a large slotted spatula to scoop onto plates and serve immediately.  My mom always served it accompanied by a loaf of high-quality seeded or unseeded rye bread and butter.  Leftovers reheat nicely in the microwave.

Scoop onto plates & taste some coal-cracker comfort food:

IMG_4422Mrs. T's Pierogy Kielbasa & Sauerkraut Casserole:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; ramekin; spoon; small squirt/condiment bottle (optional); large, deep 12" skillet w/lid; large slotted spoon or spatula

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

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

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

09/15/2019

~ The Perfectly-Seasoned 16-Minute Broiled Burger ~

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4ad5929200dOn busy weeknights, or when I'm just plain pressed for time, popping a flank steak, a couple of pork blade steaks, or a few burgers under the broiler frees up my hands and some time to set the table, toss a salad or fix a side-dish and collect a couple of condiments.  In exactly 18-, 22- or 16-minutes respectively (17 minutes if we want  cheeseburgers), dinner is on its way to the table. To those who contend that broiling is not the ideal method for cooking any of the above, I say "poppycock".  Position the oven rack 5 1/2"-6" underneath the heat source, purchase steaks or make burgers within my pounds/ounces recommendations, then, time them as directed.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0998dfa6970dAfter the first moist, juicy perfectly-cooked bite, you'll convert.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a481e824200cFor my all-purpose  'burger seasoning:

2  teaspoons fine sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon beef bouillion

6a0120a8551282970b0240a481e9a8200c-120wiStir spices together. Makes a scant 2 Tbsp.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95a3ee5970bFor the burger patties:

3  pounds lean, fresh-never-frozen, ground beef (85/15)*

*Note:  The best 'burgers are made with freshly-ground meat meaning: not out of the freezer and thawed.  I am not here to tell you not to freeze ground meat.  While it works great for things like sloppy Joe's, tacos and chili, freezing does compromise the taste and texture of 'burgers.

IMG_4201 2 IMG_4201 2 IMG_4201 2 IMG_4201 2 IMG_4201 2~Step 1. Using a kitchen scale, divide the meat into 6, 8-ounce portions. Form each portion into a 5"-5 1/2"- round disc, approximately 1/2" thick. Place three patties on each of two 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pans (the kind with corrugated bottoms).  Using your fingertips, lightly season tops of patties with the seasoning blend.

IMG_4211 IMG_4211 IMG_4211 IMG_4211 IMG_4211~Step 2.  To broil the 'burgers to nice, moist and juicy medium- medium-rare, place the pans of seasoned patties, side-by-side, 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler for exactly 8 minutes.  Remove from oven, use a small spatula to flip patties over, lightly-season second sides and return to broiler for 8 more minutes.  Do not overcook.  

IMG_4340 IMG_4340~Step 3.  To make cheeseburgers, remove from oven, place one or two slices of cheese-of-choice (this is yellow American) atop each burger and return to broiler, just until cheese melts, less than 1 minute, watching carefully during this time.

Serve ASAP w/favorite 'burger condiments, &, chips or fries:

IMG_4761The Perfectly-Seasoned 16-Minute Broiled Burger:  Recipe yields instructions to perfectly-broil 6, 8-ounce hamburgers or cheeseburgers/6 servings.

Special Equipment List: kitchen scale; 2, 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e448b8970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e4490f970cCook's Note: To make 1 1/2 cups of My Copycat McDonald's Special Sauce:

1  cup mayonnaise

1/4  cup each: ketchup and sweet pickle relish

1  tablespoon yellow mustard

1  teaspoon white vinegar

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

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

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

09/12/2019

~ My Copycat Primanti Brothers Secret Slaw Recipe ~

IMG_4281On occasion I go to Pittsburgh.  Just like every city there's plenty of sights to see, entertainment to be had, and, of course, lots of food.  While Pittsburgh offers its share of show-offy fine-dining experiences, The Steel City, in my opinion, is known more for its blue collar, working man's fare. One of the most well-known, and most popular examples is Primanti Brothers -- trendsetters in sandwich making since 1933.  When in Pittsburgh, you'll also notice that eating "alla Primanti's", "in-the-style Primanti's" (huge, overstuffed sandwiches topped with slaw and fries) surrounds you.

IMG_4298Primani's 'slaw is vinegar-based and basic.  Seriously folks.  Think basic. This slaw is an unembellished monochromatic mixture of shredded green cabbage (no carrots, bell peppers or onions) -- 100% resemblant of the many variations of Pennsylvania Deutsch (the German speaking people of Pennsylvania) coleslaw recipes.  The dressing needs no special or fancy ingredients -- as far as I can tell, just green cabbage and a well-balanced dressing containing vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, a touch of celery seed, and some generic vegetable oil.  I add a tad of whole grain German-style mustard to my recipe, to stabilize it -- I can't be certain, but they might too.  

Try my copycat -- it's damned close, & only takes 5 minutes.

IMG_4268For my easy copycat Primanti's coleslaw:

6  cups store-bought shredded green cabbage (10 ounces)

3  tablespoons each:  granulated sugar and white vinegar

1/2  teaspoon each: sea salt & coarse-grind black pepper

1/4  teaspoon celery seed

1  tablespoon whole-grain mustard

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

IMG_4269 IMG_4269 IMG_4269 IMG_4269~Step 1.  Place the shredded cabbage in a medium bowl.  In a 1-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top, add the rest of the ingredients, as listed.  Put the lid on tight and vigorously shake the container, to thoroughly combine and emulsify the dressing.  Add all of the dressing to the cabbage.  Using a large slotted spoon, stir to thoroughly combine.  Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.

Try it on My Copycat Primanti Brothers Pitts-burger Sandwich

IMG_4313My Copycat Primanti Brothers Secret Slaw Recipe:  Recipe yields 3 cups coleslaw.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; large slotted spoon

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4d060ef200bCook's Note:  Looking for some pub grub to snack on while sipping your suds and waiting for your Pitts-burger?  Well, the 'Burgh made ~ Beer-Batter-Dipped Deep-Fried Zucchini Sticks ~ famous too. Heck, Pittsburgh is the land of deep-fried almost anything, and, I for one could make a meal of these things.

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

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

09/09/2019

~My Copycat Primanti Brothers Pitts-burger Sandwich~

IMG_4297On occasion I go to Pittsburgh.  Just like every city there's plenty of sights to see, entertainment to be had, and, of course, lots of food.  While Pittsburgh offers its share of show-offy fine-dining experiences, The Steel City, in my opinion, is known more for its blue collar, working man's fare. One of the most well-known, and most popular examples is Primanti Brothers -- trendsetters in sandwich making since 1933.  When in Pittsburgh, you'll also notice that eating "alla Primanti's", "in-the-style Primanti's" (huge, overstuffed sandwiches topped with slaw and fries) surrounds you.

Pittsburgh_Strip_District_Primanti_BrosNow a chain, the original shop is located at 46 18th Street, know as Pittsburgh's Strip District -- a stretch along the Allegheny River once filled with factories, warehouses and produce yards.  Brothers Joe, Dick and Stanley opened their diner to serve the late-night and early morning workers loading and unloading fish, fruit and vegetables, as well a the long lines of incoming and outgoing truckers carrying the products to outlying destinations. 

IMG_4235The idea behind their signature sandwiches (which were ordered out-loud by the customer from a list on a chalkboard, by number not name to save time), was to combine the sandwich with the side-dish, overstuffing both into hoagie rolls, then tightly wrapping them in newspaper, so they could be handed off to each customer as they came off the line.  This was devised to accommodate the truckers, so they could drive with one hand, while eating with the other.

IMG_4247 IMG_4264Primanti Brothers puts fries and coleslaw on all of their sandwiches. On our first visit to their local Happy Valley restaurant, Joe and I ordered and split the "The Pitts-burger Big Bro". It consisted of (double the meat of The Pitts-burger Classic) two nicely-and-noticeably seasoned, provolone-topped, ample-sized all-beef patties, tomato slices, plus, skin-on real-not-frozen French fries and their signature vinegar-based cole slaw, served on thick-sliced Italian bread (not a hoagie roll). It was nicely presented, manageable without being overly messy, and we both enjoyed it a lot (I want to try their pizza next), but, I won't lie, the 'burger patties were a bit dry, and truth told: I'd much rather my fries skin-off and served to the side.  But, it's all about the experience, right?

Part One:  Make the coleslaw first -- if possible, the day before.

IMG_4281Primani's 'slaw is vinegar-based and basic.  Seriously folks.  Think basic. This slaw is an unembellished monochromatic mixture of shredded green cabbage (no carrots, bell peppers or onions) -- 100% resemblant of the many variations of Pennsylvania Deutsch (the German speaking people of Pennsylvania) coleslaw recipes.  The dressing needs no special or fancy ingredients -- as far as I can tell, just green cabbage and a well-balanced dressing containing vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, a touch of celery seed, and some generic vegetable oil.  I add a tad of whole grain German-style mustard to my recipe, to stabilize it -- they might too.  Give this recipe a try -- it's damned close, and only takes 5 minutes.

IMG_4268For my easy copycat Primanti's coleslaw:

6  cups store-bought shredded green cabbage (10 ounces)

3  tablespoons each:  granulated sugar and white vinegar

1/2  teaspoon each: sea salt & coarse-grind black pepper

1/4  teaspoon celery seed

1  tablespoon whole-grain mustard

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

IMG_4269 IMG_4269 IMG_4269 IMG_4269~Step 1.  Place the shredded cabbage in a medium bowl.  In a 1-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top, add the rest of the ingredients, as listed.  Put the lid on tight and vigorously shake the container, to thoroughly combine and emulsify the dressing.  Add all of the dressing to the cabbage.  Using a large slotted spoon, stir to thoroughly combine.  Cover the bowl and place in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.  Yields 3 cups.

Part Two:  Make the seasoning & cook the 'burgers:

IMG_4264Primanti's 'burgers are indeed nicely-seasoned -- it's part of the whole taste-bud experience.  And, once again, the seasoning, like the slaw, is a basic mixture.  Seriously basic.  I chose to use my own all-purpose 'burger seasoning, which, contains inexpensive ingredients that everyone has on hand in their pantry.  Even though I can, I'm not going to do any 'burger bashing here.  I'm just going with my own 'burgers, made my own way, with fresh, not frozen beef patties.

Primanit's refers to their all-beef patties as hamburger steak.  On that theme, I like to use a 2:1 ratio of 85/15 (85% lean/15% fat) ground beef and food processor ground flank steak. Feel free to use all 85/15 ground beef -- they'll taste great, but the texture will be slightly different.

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

IMG_4197For my Pitts-burger burgers:

3 pounds beef and steak mixture from above, or, 3 pounds lean ground ground beef (85/15), your choice, either tastes great

my all-purpose 'burger seasoning (recipe below)

12  slices provolone cheese

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39dd665200dFor my  'burger seasoning:

2  teaspoons fine sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon beef bouillion

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39dd66f200dStir spices together. Makes a scant 2 Tbsp.

IMG_4201 2 IMG_4201 2 IMG_4201 2 IMG_4201 2 IMG_4201 2~Step 1. Using a kitchen scale, divide the meat into 6, 8-ounce portions. Form each portion into a 5"-5 1/2"- round disc, approximately 1/2" thick. Place three patties on each of two 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pans (the kind with corrugated bottoms).  Using your fingertips, lightly season tops of patties with the seasoning blend.  

IMG_4211 IMG_4211 IMG_4211 IMG_4211 IMG_4211 IMG_4211 IMG_4211~Step 2.  To broil the 'burgers to nice medium- medium-rare, place pans 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler for exactly 8 minutes.  Remove from oven, use a small spatula to flip patties over, lightly-season second sides and return to broiler for 8 more minutes.  Remove from oven, place two slices of provolone atop each patty and return to broiler just until cheese melts, less than 1 minute.

Note: Feel free to grill your burgers outdoors, or cook your burgers to your liking via your favorite method.  My instructions for cooking burgers in an electric skillet to imitate a flat-top griddle, or cooking burgers in a skillet on the stovetop are two other options.  That said, if you want to get these six, or even more burgers cooked at once without compromise, the broiler works great.

Bread + 'Burger + Fries + 'Slaw + Tomato = Pitts-burger.

IMG_4313Primanny's, as it is pronounced w/a fluent 'Burgh accent...

IMG_4336... is as influential to Pittsburgh's culinary history as Heinz ketchup & Klondike bars.  The entire shebang goes together.

IMG_4319My Copycat Primanti Brothers Pitts-burger Sandwich:  Recipe yields instructions to make 3 cups slaw and 6, large hearty sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  small bowl or ramekin; spoon; kitchen scale; 2, 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pans w/corrugated bottoms; small spatula; 1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; large slotted spoon

6a0120a8551282970b0192ac404b1a970dCook's Note:  Looking for some pub grub to snack on while sipping your suds and waiting for your Pitts-burger?  Well, the 'Burgh made ~ Beer-Batter-Dipped Deep-Fried Zucchini Sticks ~ famous too. Heck, Pittsburgh is the land of deep-fried almost anything, and, I for one could make a meal of these things.

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

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

09/07/2019

~Humble & Homemade Oaty Hobnob Biscuit Cookies~

IMG_4185One thing I know about the Brits, they love their biscuits.  Go into any shop that sells groceries and/or baked goods -- the one item you know with certainty you can find is a package of biscuits. Hobnobs is the brand name of one of the most popular British biscuits.  Essentially a crunchy-crumbly oatmeal-shortbread cookie (as opposed to a fluffy, buttery American biscuit), McVitie's launched Hobnobs in 1985 and a chocolate coated version in 1987, which is not too long ago in terms of British biscuit history.  While it's customary to enjoy 'em with tea, I love 'em with milk.

Long story short, my experience with hobnobs is limited.  Back in the latter 1990's, I ate the better part of a package on the train ride from London to Wales.  I recall buying them from a vendor-stall selling magazines.  Cued up in front of me was a woman who added a package to her reading material.  When I reached the cashier, I did the same.  "When in Rome."  They were delightful.

IMG_4193Hobnobs are definitively not your grandmother's oatmeal cookies.

IMG_4136Hobnobs get their texture from oats and their flavor from golden syrup, which is a British baking staple. Amber-colored Golden syrup, like corn syrup, prevents sugar crystals from forming, which is why either is great to use for making caramel and some candy.  Unlike corn syrup, Golden syrup, isn't blatently in-your-face sugar.  It has a rich, caramel-y buttery flavor, which makes it a great substitution for corn syrup when baking. Unlike corn syrup, Golden syrup can be hard to find outside of high-end specialty shops here in the States.  I buy it on-line, and yes, honey can be substituted, but know it won't yield the same flavor.

Hobnobs are buttery-rich, salty-sweet oatmeal-shortbread cookies.

IMG_41401  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2  cup white whole-wheat flour

1 1/2  cups old-fashioned oats

1 1/2  teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

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

1  cup sugar

2  tablespoons whole milk

1  tablespoon Golden syrup

IMG_4142 IMG_4142 IMG_4142 IMG_4142~Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the all-purpose flour, white wheat flour, old-fashioned oats, baking soda and salt.  In a large mixing bowl, on medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, scraping down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula throughout the 2-3 minute process.  Lower mixer speed and beat in the milk and Golden syrup.  Remove the mixer -- you won't need it any more.

IMG_4150 IMG_4150 IMG_4150~ Step 2.  Using the rubber spatula, in 2-3 increments fold the dry ingredients into the creamed mixture, making sure to thoroughly combine after each addition.  A thick, somewhat crumbly cookie dough will have formed.

IMG_4159 IMG_4159 IMG_4159 IMG_4159~Step 3.  Using a 1 1/2" cookie scoop as a measure, place firmly-packed flat-bottomed balls of dough, well apart, onto each of  3, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans that have been lined with parchment (place 12 dough balls on each pan of this size).  Using the bottom of a glass, a ramekin, or, your fingertips, lightly press down to flatten the tops of each ball of dough.

IMG_4172 IMG_4172 IMG_4172~ Step 4.  One-pan-at-a-time, bake cookies on center rack of 300º (not a typo) oven for 24-26 minutes.  Cookies will be lightly-golden in color on their bottoms, around the edges and on their tops -- well-made hobnobs are a uniform golden color throughout.  Remove from oven and cool on pan 1-2 minutes prior to using a spatula to transfer to a wire rack to cool completely -- cookies crisp up while they cool.

Buttery rich, salty & sweet, crunchy-crumbly perfection: 

IMG_4182Hobnobs are how the biscuit-cookie crumbles:

IMG_4188Humble and Homemade Hobnob Biscuit Cookies:  Recipe yields 3 dozen, 2 1/2"-3" round biscuit cookies.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0224df349c26200bCook's Note: Another cookie that falls into the "tea and biscuit" catagory is shortbread.  Melt-in-your-mouth, buttery-rich, slightly-salty and not-too-sweet, every bite of one of these humbly-crumbly understated cookies is akin to an extravagant indulgence -- the amuse bouche of the sweet treat kind.  ~ Buttery Candied-Pecan and Toffee Bit Shortbread ~

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

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

09/04/2019

~ Nacho Mama's Buffalo Chicken Sheet-Pan Nachos ~

IMG_4111Research 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.

IMG_4092Nowadays, the tortilla chip, just like the pizza crust, can be used as a foil for all sorts of creative takes on traditional Tex-Mex-style nachos. Anything that can be adapted to make a pizza can be transitioned to nachos: Philly cheesesteak nachos, Cincinnati chili nachos, Carolina pulled-pork nachos, Jamaican jerk nachos, Buffalo chicken nachos, etc. There's no trick to it.  Pick one innocuous cheese with great melting qualities, Monterey Jack is my all-purpose choice, then, season the protein accordingly and pick the toppings, meaning, stick to the flavor profile. Interestingly, no one is surprised by  fusion-food nachos -- they just can't wait to try 'em.

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

While nachos can be as homemade or semi-homemade as you want, we 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 willing to season, grill and shred the chicken, instead of using leftover chicken or a store-bought rotisserie chicken, you've just kicked them up another notch.  Finish them off with a drizzle of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing and Frank's RedHot Wing Sauce, and you'll feel like you scored the game-winning touchdown.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4907b77200bThat'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.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a46bde46200dIn 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.

Nacho Mama's Buffalo Chicken Sheet-Pan Nachos.

IMG_407430  5"-round fresh corn tortillas (about 1 pound, 4 ounces), or 1, 16-ounce bag store-bought restaurant-style tortilla chips

2-2 1/2  pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, 6-7 large thighs

Frank's RedHot Buffalo-Ranch Seasoning Blend, for seasoning chicken thighs

8  ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 3 cups)

3/4-1  cup chopped matchstick carrots

3/4-1  cup small-diced celery

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

3/4  cup Hidden-Valley Ranch Dressing

3/4  cup prepared Frank's RedHot Wing Sauce, not Franks RedHot, or your favorite brand of wing sauce

IMG_9304 IMG_9307 IMG_9314 IMG_9314~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_4044 IMG_4044 IMG_4044 IMG_4062 IMG_4062 IMG_4067 IMG_4067~Step 2.  On a flat surface, open the chicken thighs up so they lay flat and lightly-season them on both sides with the seasoning blend. Grill thighs over medium indirect heat of outdoor gas grill (or over medium- medium-high heat in grill pan on stovetop), flipping them over every 3 minutes, until just cooked through, about 25-30 minutes.  Remove from grill and dice the thighs into smallish bits and pieces -- not big chunks.

IMG_4076 IMG_4076 IMG_4076 IMG_4076 IMG_4076~Step 3.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with aluminum foil and a sheet of parchment.  To assemble the nachos, arrange chips across bottom of pan, in a semi-single layer, allowing them to overlap and double-up occasionally.  Scatter the shredded Jack cheese evenly over the chips, followed by the chicken, sliced green onion and blue cheese crumbles.

IMG_4096 IMG_4096 IMG_4096 IMG_4096~Step 4.  To bake and properly garnish the nachos, place on center rack of 350º oven and bake until Jack and blue cheeses are melted and bubbly, about 9-10 minutes. Remove from oven. Without any hesitation, scatter the diced carrots and celery over the top, followed by a drizzle of Ranch dressing and a drizzle of RedHot wing sauce.  Serve immediately.  Go eat!

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

IMG_4107Place pan on table or cocktail table & get out the napkins:

IMG_4115Snack your way from the outside of pan to center of pan:

IMG_4131Perfect ratio of chips & cheese to toppings?  You be the judge!

IMG_4129Nacho Mama's Buffalo Chicken Sheet-Pan Nachos:  Recipe yields 6-8 snack-size servings/4 main-dish servings.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a442e6e9200cCook's Note: Undercover nacho tester.  I suppose it could get boring, but every eatery I've ever been to makes this Tex-Mex pub-grub staple a bit different  From nibbling on basic nachos topped with melty cheese sauce, to digging-into nachos-grande, nachos-supreme or ultimate-nachos piled high with a plethora of enough stuff to qualify for full-meal status, yes, I think undercover nacho tester could be my dream job.~ Na-Cho Mama's Fully-Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos ~

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

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

09/02/2019

~ Old-Fashioned Applesauce and Spice Bundt Cake ~

IMG_4035There's nothing like the aroma of a spice cake baking on the eve of the Fall season.  We can all agree that an applesauce and spice cake is even better.  A one-bowl cake that can be mixed in minutes with just the aid of a whisk and a rubber spatula is better yet.  This recipe appeared in our local newspaper 20+ years ago (it was that long ago because we lived in another house).  It was our local Grange Fair's baking contest winner.  It touted a gingerbread-like texture containing all the flavors of Fall (cinnamon, ginger and cloves), and, it was so spot-on, I made no changes to it, except for one substitution:  Please Pass My Homemade Crockpot Applesauce.  As for the addition of a drizzly caramel-apple flavored glaze, 'twas my idea* and it came later, but is not a requisite to enjoying this delightful cake with your AM coffee, in your lunchbox, or after dinner.

* The original recipe called for a dusting of Confectioners' sugar, and, that is all the cake needs. 

This cake is simple, straightforward, no nonsense & on point.

IMG_4016Bundt cakes are perhaps my favorite cakes to bake.  Even the words "bundt cake" sound warm and inviting.  Simply saying "bundt cake" evokes happy, fond memories from kinder, gentler times. I'm not saying that humble sheet cakes and grandiose layer cakes don't have a place in this food world -- they do and they're delicious.  I'm merely suggesting that bundt cakes have more gravitational pull (haha) than other cakes -- even an unembellished bundt cake will pull more people to the dessert buffet than the other cakes.  That said, a 13" x 9" x 2" pan will work fine.  

Don't' have a bundt pan?  A 13" x 9" x 2" pan will work just fine.

IMG_3957For the cake:

2 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon salt

2  teaspoons baking soda

1  teaspoon baking powder

2  teaspoons ground cinnamon

1  teaspoon ground ginger

1/2  teaspoons ground cloves

3/4  cup sugar

3/4  cup dark brown sugar

2  cups applesauce, preferably homemade

6  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  teaspoons pure apple extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2  large eggs

no-stick spray, for preparing bundt pan

IMG_3997For the (optional but highly recommended) drizzly caramel-apple drizzle:

1 1/2  cups Confectioners' sugar

1  tablespoon caramel flavoring

1  teaspoon pure apple extract

3-4  tablespoons whole milk, 3 tablespoons will be needed, add the rest, in small increments, if necessary, to control consistency

IMG_3959 IMG_3959 IMG_3959 IMG_3959 IMG_3959 IMG_3959~Step 1.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the unbleached flour, baking soda and baking powder.  Add and whisk in the ground spices (cinnamon, ginger and cloves), followed by both the granulated and brown sugars.  Using the whisk, push the dry ingredients to the sides of the bowl to form a large empty well in the center.

IMG_3972 IMG_3972 IMG_3972 IMG_3972 IMG_3972 IMG_3972~Step 2.  Into the well, place the applesauce, oil, both extracts and eggs.  Starting in the center of the well, whisk so as to beat the eggs and blend the wet ingredients.  Using wider strokes, gradually whisk in all of the flour and spice mixture.  Whisk until a thick smooth batter forms, 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Using a large rubber spatula transfer/dollop the batter into the bottom of a 10" bund pan that has been sprayed with no-stick.

IMG_3988 IMG_3988~ Step 3.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325º oven for 40-45 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in several spots throughout the deepest part of the center comes out clean,  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool, in pan, 20-30 minutes, prior to inverting cake out onto rack to cool completely, about 1 1/2-2 hours.

IMG_4000 2 IMG_4000 2 IMG_4000 2 IMG_4000 2 IMG_4000 2 IMG_4000 2~Step 4.  To prepare the glaze, in a 2-cup measuring container, stir together the Confectioners' sugar, extracts and 3 tablespoons of milk.  Add additional milk, if and as necessary, by teaspoonfuls until a smooth, drizzly consistency is reached.  Cover with plastic wrap and set glaze aside for about 15 minutes -- this will ensure an extremely smooth glaze.  If you have a plastic squeeze bottle, transfer the glaze to it.  To glaze the cake, using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle the glaze over the surface of the cake.

Allow the glaze to "dry" (harden up a bit -- about 2 hours):

IMG_4022Slice, serve & savor the first taste of Fall:

IMG_4042Old-Fashioned Applesauce and Spice Bundt Cake: Recipe yields 1, 10" bundt cake, and, depending on how thick or thin you slice it, 16-20 servings.

Special Equipment List: whisk; large rubber spatula; 1, standard-size 12-cup bundt pan; cake tester or toothpick; wire cooling rack; 2-cup measuring container; spoon; plastic wrap; plastic squeeze bottle (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b022ad373eeb6200cCook's Note: Spice is always nice, but, let's all admit, when the cool weather hits, the aroma of spices baking in the oven or braising on the stovetop simply smell better -- they go from smelling mouth-wateringly good to ethereal.  As for my ~ Apple Candied Pecan & Cheesecake Bundt Cake ~, tender, calories-be-damned.  In this cake you'll find a batter loaded with diced tart apples and candied pecans sandwiched between two slightly-sweet cream cheese, cheesecake-esque layers.

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

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

08/31/2019

~Hoagies, Heros, Grinders & Submarine Sandwiches~

IMG_3878 2Me on any given day.  Grab two slices of super-fresh bread.  Layer of some thin-sliced meat and cheese on top of one of them.  Add, almost always, a slice of onion and tomato along with a leafy green, plop the top on it, and, I'm in sandwich heaven.  When asked what food I couldn't live without, the sandwich is always my answer.  'Tis true, I can slap almost anything between two slices of bread, slather it with some sort of a spread, sauce or dressing and make it taste really, really good.  On days when I swap out the bread for a round or elongated roll, in my book, that's a great big day -- it's still a sandwich (don't roll your eyes, it is), only way, way better. 

IMG_3869Hoagies, Grinders & Subs.  Whatever you choose to call them, on-line research will reveal that each has a distinct origin.

Depending on where you're from, these long, over-stuffed sandwiches, each with its own nuances and origin, are known by other names too:  blimp, zeppelin, torpedo, spuckie, bomber -- and there's likely a few more that I missed too.  What they all have in common is a high-quality, not-too-firm, not-too-soft roll, stuffed with lots of meat, cheese, veggie fixings and dressing.  Some are a long 12"-16", some are a short 6"-10", some are served cold and others are served hot, but, "sub" is probably the most widely used name that everyone is familiar with -- and so named for its resemblance to a submarine.  That said, growing up in Eastern PA, they were hoagies.  When I moved to Central PA, I learned quickly to order a sub from our local sandwich shops.

IMG_3895Hoagie:  These "sub" sandwiches are associated with the Italian-American culture, and, in hoagie land, they typically refer to sandwiches containing cold deli-meats and cheeses.  It's said they were named by the Italian immigrants who worked at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, once known as Hog Island.  The workers were know as "hoggies" which naturally transitioned to "hoagies".

Hero:  This is the word you'll hear throughout the New York area.  In my experience, these "sub" sandwiches, which contain a wide range and long list of ingredients, can be served hot or cold, are the quintessential definition of oversized and overstuffed -- they're huge.  It said the name implies the heroic effort it takes to eat one, and the hero is the person who can actually finish one.

Grinder:  This is the word you will hear a lot if you travel into or thru New England.  These "sub" sandwiches, which can be served hot or cold, while they can be filled with cold cuts and cheeses, tend to be filled with items like grilled and thinly-sliced meats, poultry or meatballs, then baked to melt the cheese.  It's said the name refers to the fact that they require a lot of grinding or chewing.

Sub:  It is this writer's opinion that the word "sub" is pretty much ubiquitous nationwide.  It's the all-purpose word that everyone understands and no one is confused by.  As stated above, there are long subs, short subs, hot subs and cold subs, but, when one orders sub, there are no misconceptions about what you are about to partake in -- a fantastic sandwich.

Incredible Edible Caprese Chicken Meatball Subs:

IMG_3840South African Steak, Stilton & Peppadew Mayo Subs:

IMG_3815Sweet, Succulent & Snowy-White King Crab Subs:

IMG_3749Batter-Dipped Buffalo Chicken & Blue Cheese Subs:

IMG_3589Not Your Mama's Chicken-Parm Garlic-Bread Subs:

IMG_3466Tex-Mex Chipotle Beef and Chorizo Meatball Subs:

IMG_3522Brownbag it with Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Subs:

IMG_3316Mel's Bone-Suckin' Copycat-McRib & Onion Subs:

IMG_3943"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

08/29/2019

~ Mel's Bone-Suckin' Copycat-McRib & Onion Subs ~

IMG_3943On those rare occasions when McDonald's returns the McRib to its menu for a limited time, I'm not ashamed, well maybe a little ashamed, to admit to making the pilgrimage to the golden arches drive thru.  For the ten or twelve minutes it takes to sit in the parking lot and eat it with a side of fries and a diet Coke, I lock my nutritional conscience in the glove compartment and indulge in what I believe to be their greatest achievement.  Perhaps the "blush would come off the rose" if it were available whenever I wanted one, and, "if wishing made it so", I'd be willing to find out.

The McRib was introduced in the USA in 1981 and developed by McDonald's first Executive Chef René Arend, who invented Chicken McNuggets in 1979.  His McNuggets were so successful that every franchise immediately wanted them, but there wasn't a system in place to supply enough chicken.  Arend had to come up with something to give the franchises as an alternative to chicken -- a new product.  The McRib came about because of a chicken shortage.  It was Arend's idea to shape the McRib like a slab of ribs, even though a round patty served on a standard hamburger bun would have been cheaper.  The process of restructuring meat was first developed by the US Army as a means to deliver large volume of low cost meat products to troops serving in the field. The McRib was born, and despite its name, it is composed of pork shoulder (Boston butt),   

Hold the pickles hold the lettuce special orders don't upset us.

T-mcdonalds-McRibYes, there is a way to copycat the McRib at home, but, the machinations of stripping the meat from uncooked pork ribs, grinding it in a food processor, then forming and freezing the elongated patties prior to grilling them, while worthy of mention:  is freekin' tedious.  Just reading it made me tired -- tired enough to come up with my own pickle-free way of doing it.  Armed with a sub roll, my recipe for the perfectly-broiled 22-minute pork blade steak (a 1"-thick pork steak cut from the Boston butt, which mimics rib meat with 100% accuracy), my favorite Bone Suckin' Seasoning and Bone Sucking' Sauce, plus a diced sweet onion, from start to finish, in 30 minutes, my user-friendly version of the McRib is done, and I'm no longer longing for one.

6a0120a8551282970b0223c8493631200c-1Steaks 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 above, 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 with big appetites. Depending on the recipe du jour, sometimes I marinate these steaks, sometimes I don't.  When it comes to pork blade steaks, absorb this: marination (which does not affect the cooking time), is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.  Please know: these steaks are super-tender with zero marination.

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

IMG_3901For each copycat McRib sub sandwich

1  1"-thick pork blade steak

Bone Suckin' Sauce Seasoning & Rub

1/2-3/4  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

1/4 cup Bone Suckin' Barbecue Sauce

1  high-quality 8" sub-type roll

additional Bone Suckin' Barbecue sauce , for drizzly topping

IMG_3902 IMG_3902 IMG_3902 IMG_3902 IMG_3902 IMG_3902 IMG_3902~Step 1. Place the steak, about 1 1/2-1 3/4-pounds, on a corrugated broiler pan -- allow to come to room temperature, 20-30 minutes.  Lightly season top with Bone Suckin' Seasoning & Rub.  Place steak 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler for exactly 11 minutes -- 5 1/2"-6" is a key measurement when broiling pork blade steaks.  Remove steaks from oven, flip steak over, season second side with a bit more (not too much) Bone Suckin' Seasoning and Rub.  Return to oven and broil for 11 more minutes.  Remove from oven, set aside, and allow steaks to rest, in pan, for 5-6 minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b0224df30e995200b 6a0120a8551282970b0224df30e995200b

IMG_3917 IMG_3917 IMG_3917 IMG_3917 IMG_3917 IMG_3917~Step 2. Slice steak on a diagonal, in half lengthwise -- half bone-in, the other boneless.  Thinly-slice the boneless half across the grain while holding the knife at a 30° angle, into (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips.  Carve meat away from bone on the second half, then slice that meat in the same manner. Place the still-warm meat strips in a medium sized bowl as you work.  Add the Bone Suckin' Sauce.  Using a spoon toss the meat to coat.  Add the diced onions and toss again.  If you have the time (make the time), set aside for about 10-15 minutes to allow all the flavors time to marry.

Stuff the roll w/crispy-edged perfect-fat-to-pork-ratio meat:

IMG_3933Drizzle w/additional sauce & eat, eat, eat:

IMG_3943Mel's Bone-Suckin' Copycat-McRib & Onion Subs:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1, very hearty 8" copycat McRib sandwich.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95a5bf5970bCook's Note: When my foodie friends start talking about a yummy salad made in the style of McDonald's iconic Big Mac, I listen -- because these are friends I listen to, and, because I have been known to indulge in an occasional Big Mac. Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun is, perhaps, the yummiest cheeseburger creation in the fast-food circuit.  ~ The McDonald's-Style Big Mac Cheeseburger Salad ~.

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

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

08/26/2019

~South African Steak, Stilton & Peppadew Mayo Subs~

IMG_3815The addictive Peppadew pepper is one of my favorite things.  I first encountered them at a cocktail party at a friend and neighbor's home a few years ago.  Everyone was asked to bring an appetizer.  A couple who hailed from South Africa brought a plate of antipasto.  I asked if the peppers were hot.  The answer, which came to me complete with a lovely South African-British accent, was "it'twill be a pleasant, sweet-heat".  That, is how I fell in love with the Peppadew.

IMG_3767Peppadew is a brand name for a small, pickled red pepper, resemblant of a grape-tomato, known as Juanita.  The Juanita plant was discovered in 1993 by Johannes Steenkamp, who found it growing in the garden of his vacation home in the Eastern Cape of South Africa.  A taste of the pepper revealed a spicy, sweet-heat flavor profile.  Johan wasted no time.  In order to protect the species, plant breeder's rights were applied for and granted by the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and, in 1995, he founded Peppadew International and the Peppadew Brand.  Johan cultivated and processed the peppers (pickling them in a simple sugar and vinegar mixture to enhance their spicy flavor) in the Tzaneen region (where the factory is still headquartered today). He was the first to market this type of pepper to the world -- which resulted in the Peppadew brand being the foremost singularly-associated with this piquanté pepper.  Steenkamp sold his interest in the company in 2004, and they now market a wide variety of other food products too.

IMG_3770For the steak sandwiches:

1  2-2 1/2-pound flank steak, seasoned, broiled, rested and sliced as per the instructions for Melanie's Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak recipe

4  6"-6 1/2" submarine/hoagie rolls

2  cups baby arugula leaves

For the blue cheese sandwich-spread:

1  cup blue Stilton cheese crumbles, or your favorite blue cheese crumbles

1/4 cup blue cheese dressing

1/4-1/2 cup additional blue Stilton cheese crumbles, for topping sandwiches

For the Peppadew mayonnaise-topper:

1  cup Peppadew peppers, well-drained

1/4  cup mayonnaise

IMG_3774 IMG_3774 IMG_3839~ Step 1.  Season, broil, rest and thin-slice the flank steak according to my instructions, or, if you prefer, grill a flank steak to rare- medium-rare.  These sandwiches are best served with same-day broiled (or grilled), slightly-warm or room temperature steak, meaning:  steak that has not been refrigerated (aka leftovers).

IMG_3797 IMG_3797 IMG_3797~ Step 2. In a small-capacity food processor, place the blue cheese crumbles and blue cheese dressing. Starting with a series of 30-45 on-off pulses, then with motor running on high speed, process until a thick, semi-chunky consistency is reached*, about 25-30 more seconds. Transfer to a 1-cup food storage container and set aside. Wash the processor work bowl and prepare the Peppadew mayo.

* Note:  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I see this spread as a lovely blue-green color.  You many not, BUT, be aware, there is no other way to achieve an amped-up, flavor-packed blue-cheesy spread (which this indeed is) without using lots of blue-veined cheese -- hence the color.

IMG_3779 IMG_3779 IMG_3779 IMG_3779 IMG_3779 IMG_3779 IMG_3779~Step 3.  Measure and drain 1 cup of Peppadews on a paper-towel-lined plate.  In a small-capacity food processor, place the Peppadew peppers.  Using a series of 30-45 rapid on-off-pulses, mince the peppers.  Add the mayonnaise.  With motor running on high, process until smooth and drizzly, 25-30 seconds.

IMG_3805 IMG_3805 IMG_3805 IMG_3825~Step 4.  To assemble sandwiches, use a serrated knife to slice each roll in half.  Using a spoon, slather a generous coating of the blue cheese spread over the inside of the roll on both sides. Add a goodly amount of arugula leaves, then stuff in as much steak as it will take.  Sprinkle blue cheese crumbles over the top, followed by a drizzle of the Peppadew mayo and serve ASAP.

Blue cheese spread, rare steak & the sweet-heat of Peppadew:

IMG_3823It just might be the best steak-combo sub ever.  Open wide:

IMG_3836South African Steak, Stilton and Peppadew Subs:  Recipe yields 4, 6"-6 1/2" sub sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; paper towels; small capacity food processor; rubber spatula; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8981422970bCook's Note: Chef Paul Prudhomme is credited for helping to put New Orleans cuisine on the map.  ~ Chef Paul's Blackened Flank Steak Sandwiches ~ are another example of a scrumptious steak sandwich. Seasoned with Chef Paul Prudhomme's store-bought blackened steak magic, and paired with blue cheese and bacon, take it from me, the Peppadew pepper is a great topper to these family-favorite, crowd-pleasing sandwiches too.

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

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

08/23/2019

~ Sweet, Succulent & Snowy-White King Crab Subs ~

IMG_3749When I was growing up, in addition to the deli-meat and cheese, on any given trip to the grocery store, my mom would purchase a container of creamy krab (not a typo) salad.  At home, she'd scoop it onto cottony-soft 'burger rolls, open a bag of Wise potato chips, and lunch was served.

WISE-POTATO-CHIP-OWLAs far as childhood memories for preprepared at the deli-counter salads or side-dishes go*, this store-bought mixture of imitation krab meat, mayo, lemon and paprika, was the singular mayo-based item that ever made it into our grocery cart.  Why?  Neither my mother or father cared one bit for mayonnaise, which then and to this day I find unusual.  In our house, the egg-, tuna-, potato-, macaroni- and slaw-type salads made by my mom all got dressed with either PA Deutsch Sweet and Sour- or Wish-Bone Italian- dressing (and I loved them).  All kidding aside and no joking, when I wanted mayonnaise, I went to my grandmother's house.

*  I loved grocery shopping with mom or dad, but, I humorously question how many kids harbor memories of grocery shopping and/or deli- salads.  

Imitation krab meat or king crab meat.  It is your choice...

IMG_3673... &, as a matter of preference, it's absolutely no indication of your bank balance.  The two can be used interchangeably.

IMG_3665When I was growing up back in the '50's and '60's, king crab legs were not available in any grocery store -- and no one was looking for them either.  Inexpensive imitation crab (krab as it is spelled for differentiation purposes), also known as poor man's crab, was very trendy, and housewives, whether they were on a budget or not, used it in all sorts of recipes for appetizers, salads and main dishes -- everyone from the ditch digger's wife to the doctor's wife.  Culinarily, it was a one of the staples of mid-century entertaining -- up there with fondue, Spam and molded Jell-O -- and life was good.  While imitation crab is indeed a seafood product made from surimi (an Asian fish paste made mostly from pollock), there is no shellfish in it (which is a plus for those who are allergic).  Once processed, surimi is pressed into blocks, coated with a reddish food coloring, then cut to be sold in the form of flakes, chunks or sticks.  In Japanese, "surimi" means "ground meat" and, FYI, imitation crab is used exclusively to make California Roll sushi (krab stick, avocado and rice wrapped in seaweed).  Imitation krab is sometimes described as the ocean's version of a hot dog (both are ground, processed food products), and, there's no denying both are tasty -- there's nothing wrong with enjoying either, but, if it's nutritional value you want, choose something straight out of the sea or from the pasture.    

IMG_3614 IMG_3614 IMG_3614 IMG_3614 IMG_3614 IMG_3630Fast forward.  High-quality fully-cooked flash-frozen king crab legs are available everywhere -- it's not for special occasions anymore.  No matter what brand or size you choose, it's all cooked on the fishing boats (or immediately upon landfall) and blast-frozen to preserve the sweet, slightly-salty taste and firm, succulent texture.  Unless you live in or close to a crabbing community, you will never get fresh, raw crab legs.  Once thawed according to the directions, this means it is ready to be cracked-open using a pair of kitchen shears and served, or steamed for a few short minutes to heat it through.  King crab is measured by how many legs it takes to equal ten pounds.  The flavor doesn't vary between sizes, but larger legs yield better textured meat.  Comparison charts courtesy of alaskankingcrabonline

King-Crab-Legs-Comparison-Chart_LRG

 

King-crab-leg-comparison

 

For my divinely-decadent king crab submarine sandwiches:

IMG_3630The following crab salad submarine sandwich is my divinely-decadent king crab version of the celebrated, traditional New England lobster salad/world-famous lobster roll sandwich.  It is an unembellished mixture of nothing more than king crab meat and diced celery.  I flavor my mayonnaise mixture with nothing more than lemon juice, celery seed, sugar and black pepper. That said, while the New England lobster roll is best served just-that-minute-mixed and slightly-warm, using freshly-steamed lobster meat, the crab salad sub is best served chilled, because of the aforementioned nature of the blast-frozen, fully-cooked ahead-of-time king crab leg. 

IMG_3684For the creamy king crab salad:

1 1/2  pounds coarse-chopped or chunked king crabmeat, removed from 3 1/2-4 pounds king crab legs

1-1 1/2  cups diced celery

2  teaspoons lemon juice, fresh or high-quality store-bought not from concentrate 

3/4  cup high-quality store-bought mayonnaise, your favorite brand

1/2  teaspoon celery seed

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1 lemon, cut into 6-8 wedges, for a squirt-of-fresh-lemon garnish

IMG_3712For the submarine sandwiches:

4  6"-6 1/2" submarine/hoagie rolls, your favorite brand (Note:  I like medium-textured rolls, and, I do not recommend toasting them for these serve-cold subs.

2  cups baby arugula leaves, about 1/2 cup per sandwich

6  cups creamy king crab salad, from above recipe, a generous 1-1 1/2 cups per sandwich

IMG_3639 IMG_3639 IMG_3639 IMG_3639 IMG_3639 IMG_3639~Step 1.  Thaw the king crab legs according to manufacturer's directions.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, clip your way through the shell of each leg on two sides.  Using your fingers, pull the shells from the meat, then, using your fingertips, remove the meat remaining in the shells.  Using a chef's knife, chop meat into large bite-sized chunks. 

IMG_3677 IMG_3677 IMG_3677~Step 2.  In a small bowl, stir together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, celery seed, sugar and black pepper.  Set aside.

IMG_3688 IMG_3688 IMG_3688 IMG_3688~Step 3.  In a large bowl, place the crab meat and celery.  Add the seasoned mayonaise.   Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the three ingredients together until all the crab meat is mixed with the celery and both are enrobed in the flavored mayonnaise.  Transfer to a 2-quart food storage container, cover, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours (or overnight) to allow flavors time to marry.

IMG_3714 IMG_3714 IMG_3714Step 4.  To assemble the sandwiches, use a serrated bread knife to slice each roll in half. Place a layer of baby arugula leaves in the bottom and up the sides of each roll, to protect the soft bread in the center from the creamy crab salad.  Spoon a generous amount of crab salad (1-1 1/2 cups) into each, squeeze a lemon wedge, to squirt some fresh lemon juice over over the top, and serve immediately.

A semi-soft roll, baby arugula & creamy king crab salad:

IMG_3735Eat first, we can talk about it later, "E'YEAH baby"!

IMG_3753Sweet, Succulent & Snowy-White King Crab Subs:  Recipe yields 6 cups king crab salad/enough for 4, 6"-6 1/2" sub sandwiches.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d206b238970c 2 6a0120a8551282970b01bb091f5dc5970d 2Cook's Note: If you have ever traveled along the New England coast in the Summertime, you are surely familiar with and have most likely eaten a lobster roll sandwich at one of the many roadside stands or clam shacks. Decadent, delicious and simple to prepare, slightly-warm, creamy-crunchy lobster salad is generously heaped inside of a soft, rather ordinary, top-split hot dog roll that's been buttered and grilled.  Aside from an occasional pickle and/or potato chips, it is served pretty much "as is".  ~ Lobster Rolls:  The Official Summertime Sandwich ~ served up on ~ My New England Top-Split Brioche Hot Dog Rolls ~.

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

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

08/21/2019

~ The Difference Between Imitation Krab & King Crab ~

IMG_3673If you grew up eating imitation krab (as it is often spelled for differentiation purposes, you never felt you were consuming a compromising product.  Culinarily, it was a one of the staples of mid-century entertaining -- right up there with fondue, Spam and molded Jell-O -- and life was good. Krab Salad and Krabby's (crab on cheesy toast) were two of my favorites.  Imitation crab revealed nothing about ones standing in life either -- from the ditch digger's wife to the doctor's wife, everyone used it.  Truth told, unless you grew up in or within driving distance of a crabbing community, it would be decades before the words "king crab" would enter your vocabulary.

Imitation krab or king crab meat.  It's your choice, &, as a matter of preference, it's absolutely no indication of your bank balance.  The two can be used interchangeably in any recipe. 

IMG_3665When I was growing up back in the '50's and '60's, king crab legs were not available in any grocery store -- and no one was looking for them either.  Inexpensive imitation crab (krab as it is spelled for differentiation purposes), also known as poor man's crab, was very trendy, and housewives, whether they were on a budget or not, used it in all sorts of recipes.  While imitation crab is indeed a seafood product made from surimi (an Asian fish paste made mostly from pollock), there is no shellfish in it (which is a plus for those who are allergic).  Once processed, the surimi is pressed into blocks, coated with a reddish food coloring, and then cut to be sold in the form of flakes, chunks or sticks.  In Japanese, "surimi" means "ground meat" and, FYI, imitation crab is used exclusively to make California Roll sushi (krab stick, avocado and rice wrapped in seaweed). Imitation krab is sometimes described as the ocean's version of a hot dog (both are ground, processed food products), and, there's no denying both are tasty -- there's nothing wrong with eating or enjoying it, but, if it's nutritional value you're looking for, choose something straight from the sea or pasture.

IMG_3614 IMG_3614 IMG_3614 IMG_3614 IMG_3614 IMG_3630Fast forward.  High-quality fully-cooked flash-frozen king crab legs are available everywhere -- it's not for special occasions anymore.  No matter what brand or size you choose, it's all cooked on the fishing boats (or immediately upon landfall) and blast-frozen to preserve the sweet, slightly-salty taste and firm, succulent texture.  Unless you live in or close to a crabbing community, you will never get fresh, raw crab legs.  Once thawed according to the directions, this means it is ready to be cracked-open using a pair of kitchen shears and served, or steamed for a few short minutes to heat it through. King crab is measured by how many legs it takes to equal 10 pounds.  The flavor doesn't vary between sizes, but larger legs yield better textured meat.  Comparison charts courtesy of alaskankingcrabonline

King-Crab-Legs-Comparison-Chart_LRG

 

King-crab-leg-comparisonCan I interest you in a creamy-crunchy king crab salad sub?

IMG_3735"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

08/18/2019

~ Batter-Dipped Buffalo Chicken & Blue Cheese Subs ~

IMG_3589In case you haven't noticed, I have my own way of going about all things culinary.  I'm not apprehensive about experimenting within reason, am not afraid of failure, although I hate it when it happens, and, I'm more than willing to play around with a recipe until I get it exactly where I want it to be.  Yes, I'm picky like that.  I'm not big into dieting, never have been and never needed to, but, I refuse to swallow one calorie unless it represents scrumptious taste and pleasurable texture.  In the case of my version of the all-too-often greasy-soggy-mess of an ill-conceived buffalo chicken sub, the end definitely justifies the means, and everything in between.

Batter-dipped & deep-dried vs. grilled chicken strips.

IMG_3110While classic chicken wings get deep-fried, they don't get batter dipped because they've got skin on them, and, it's when that crispy, deep-fried skin gets enrobed in the spicy sauce that the magic happens. Unfortunately, the only way the magic can be enjoyed is to strip it from the flavorful bones using ones teeth, making it remarkably impolite and totally in bad taste (the horror) to transition the actual chicken wing meat to any version of a buffalo-wing-meat sandwich.  Sigh.

IMG_3429Batter-dipping and deep-frying boneless, skinless strips of chicken breast (thigh meat is too greasy), to give them a crispy crust, is a great way to mimic the the crispy skin. Time consuming? Start to finish, batter-dipping and deep-frying a batch of chicken strips (enough for one sandwich) takes about 9-10 total minutes, and, deep-frying a batch of chicken wings (enough for one serving) takes 13-14, so, aside from a little extra mess (three dishes to wash), it's a wash.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2853276970cYes, grilling a boneless, skinless piece of chicken breast or thigh (thighs work fine on the grill), cutting the grillmarked chicken into thin strips and tossing it with some wing sauce is an option -- plenty of restaurants and home cooks do it all the time.  It is indeed tasty (not ideal, but tasty), so, feel free to substitute grilled in place of the batter-dipped, deep-fried chicken used in my recipe.  Texturally, you know your palate will obviously be missing the crunch, and if your ok with that, you have my blessing.

Decided to fry?  Set up an assembly line (left to right): 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a16a94200dNine chicken tenders, 1 1/2 per sandwich, sliced into short 1/2"-wide strips .

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

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

One 8" x 8" x 2" dish containing 1, 8-ounces box panko breadcrumbs.

Deep-fryer w/corn or peanut oil heated to 375° according to manufacturer's specifications.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c615ae200b~ Step 1.  When everything is measured and in place, whisk together the pancake mix and beer (or club soda). Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken a bit, to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset) if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer (or club soda) to maintain a VERY drizzly consistency.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c615fd200b~ Step 2.  This step is actually optional, so skip it if you like.  When it comes to chicken cutlets, I prefer the texture of my panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs) to be less coarse.  To make that happen:

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

IMG_3404 IMG_3404 IMG_3404 IMG_3404 IMG_3412 IMG_3412~Step 1.  Working in batches of 2 tenders at a time, slice and dredge the strips in the dry pancake mix to lightly-coat the pieces on all sides. Note:  I fry 2 at a time because that is what fits comfortably in the basket of my fryer without overcrowding it.  Gather up the dredged strips and pile them on a large slotted spatula.  Move up the assembly line, and, lower the spatula of tenders into the batter and swish them around a bit. Lift the spatula full of the strips out of the batter and hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the batter to drizzle back into the bowl.  Move up the assembly line and use your fingertip to drop the chicken strips into the panko.  Return to the bowl of batter with the spatula to retrieve any strips you might have missed.  Using a fork, toss/dredge all of the strips in the panko.

IMG_3420 IMG_3420 IMG_3420 IMG_3420~Step 2.  Two-four at a time, using your fingertips, carefully drop the breaded strips down into the 375° oil and into the fryer basket.  Close the lid and allow tenders to deep-fry for 3-3 1/2 minutes. Tenders will be a beautiful golden brown and just cooked through.  Do not overcook.

IMG_3439Step 3.  Open fryer lid and slowly lift basket up and out of deep-fryer. Transfer tender strips to a wire rack in a baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.  Tip:  To transfer the strips, simply tilt the basket onto its side directly over the rack.  Using tongs is a mistake -- it's an easy way to damage their crust.  Once out of the fryer, immediately sprinkle strips with freshly ground sea salt and repeat process until all tenders are dipped and deep-fried.

Assembling the buffalo chicken & blue cheese subs.

IMG_3564For 4, 6"-6 1/2" Buffalo chicken sub sandwiches (listed in order of assembly):

4, 6"-6 1/2" high-quality submarine/hoagie-type rolls, your favorite brand

12-16  soft Boston or bibb lettuce leaves

IMG_30952-2 1/2 cups my recipe for My RedHot-Ranch Slaw, prepared several hours or a day before deep-frying the chicken (Stir together: 8 cups/16-ounces store-bought coleslaw mix, 1 cup peeled and very thin-sliced carrots, 1 cup very-thin sliced celery, 3/4 cup Hidden Valley ranch dressing*, 1/4 cup Frank's RedHot wing sauce.  Refrigerate overnight.)

* Note:  Any high-quality creamy blue cheese dressing may be substituted in place of the Ranch.

1-1 1/2 cups blue cheese crumbles, 1-1 1/4 cups for topping sandwiches and 1/4 cup for garnishing sandwiches 

all the batter-dipped and deep-fried chicken strips, from above recipe (hot out the deep fryer, warm, or, at room temperature, your choice

Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, for drizzling on sandwiches

Frank's RedHot Wing Sauce, for drizzling on sandwiches

IMG_3569 IMG_3569 IMG_3569 IMG_3569 IMG_3569~Step 1.  To assemble the sandwiches, use a serrated bread knife to slice the rolls, placing each one on a plate as you work.  Arrange 3-4 soft Bibb lettuce leaves on each sandwich, to generously cover and protect the soft bread on the inside of each sandwich from the creamy coleslaw that will come next.  Place a generous but judicious layer of the slaw along the bottom of the sandwich -- being aware that this slaw is quite spicy.  Sprinkle a few blue cheese crumbles atop the slaw.  Stuff the sandwich with as many tender strips as it can handle, and, don't be shy about gently pressing them down into the bottom as you work -- the more the merrier. Garnish the top with a few more of the salty blue cheese crumbles.  Drizzle with a bit of the Ranch dressing followed by a drizzle of the RedHot wing sauce.  Serve immediately.

A few tender lettuce leaves, creamy-crunchy-spicy 'slaw, super-crispy chicken, blue cheese crumbles + a drizzle of sauce: 

IMG_3595Batter-Dipped Buffalo Chicken & Blue Cheese Subs:  Recipe yields 4 hearty and hot, warm or room temperature Buffalo chicken sub sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes; medium mixing bowl; large slotted spatula; tongs; deep-fryer; wire cooling rack; paper towels; cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0945149d970d 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d22e5f8e970cCook's Note: Buffalo-style chicken recipes, served in any number of ways are 100% always a crowd pleaser -- they're kid-friendly too.  If it's Buffalo-style pub grub your looking for, I recommend you try ~ My Spicy Baked Blue-Cheese Buffalo-Style Chicken Dip ~, or, ~ My 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)

08/15/2019

~ Not Your Mama's Chicken-Parm Garlic-Bread Subs ~

IMG_3466Interestingly, I am not one who believes chicken parmesan, or "chicken parm" as it is affectionately referred to, should be slapped between two slices of bread and eaten like a sandwich.  I simply prefer it on a plate with pasta and a side of garlic bread -- I feel the same way about meatballs.  AND, along the same lines and in the same manner that meatballs got taken away from spaghetti and transitioned to the incredible, edible Italian-American meatball sub, many folks, a few of them in my own family, do not subscribe to my opinion on this point.  

Pollo alla parmigiana:  Chicken- parmigiana, parmesan or parm.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f48aec970dLike its predecessor eggplant parmesan, and its cousin veal parmesan, chicken parmesan is an Italian meal familiar to many living outside of Italy.  For example: Italian-Australians are as fond of it as Italian-Americans, where home cooks, fine-dining restaurant chefs and fast-food eateries take some creative license with it to offer their own variations of the dish (a thinly-sliced or lightly-pounded chicken breast that gets coated in breadcrumbs then baked,  pan-fried or sometimes deep-fried until crispy. A combination of mozzarella and parmesan cheeses get melted over the top followed by a drizzle of tomato sauce and a basil-leaf garnish.  Interestingly, the dish typically doesn't contain as much parmesan cheese as the name would lead one to believe -- it gets its name from the the Italian region of Parma, where it's said the dish hails from.

In the United States, the dish originated in the Northeast.  Recipes were created by Italian-Americans and Italian immigrants looking to take advantage of America's affordable meat market by incorporating chicken into parmigiana.  By the early 1950's, it, was a popular menu item in almost all Italian-American restaurants.  A recipe, using frozen fried chicken patties or cutlets and other processed foods, was published in the 1953 issue of The New York Herald Tribune, which became trendy with the average home cooks of the era.  A decade later, in 1962, a recipe for real-deal chicken parmigiana was featured in The New York Times, and, the rest is history. 

"When ya can't beat 'em, join 'em", so, here I am, making my own kick-ass version of this popular submarine sandwich.  There's more, I'm taking my own creative license (as I should).  I'm batter-dipping and deep-frying my chicken, and, assembling my sandwiches on garlic bread.

My choice of bread crumbs, & why I batter-dip & deep-fry.

6a0120a8551282970b0154383e5645970cWhy in the name of crunchiness would anyone want to continue to use old-fashioned breadcrumbs to make parmigiana if they knew about panko?  They wouldn't.

Meet the first change I made to this classic recipe.  "Panko" is the Japanese word for "bread crumbs", and theirs are considerably crispier and crunchier than our Western ones.  Whats more, they absorb less grease, more flavor and stay crispy a lot longer.  This simple substitution is a game changer.

6a0120a8551282970b01675eb49e90970bThe ties that bind.  After a showdown between the traditional watery egg-milk mixture vs. a trendy beer batter, the beer batter won hands-down.  In fact, it wasn't even a competition.  Who wouldn't want a super-crunchy coating that doesn't fall off or separate from the parmigiana afterwards?  No one.  

My beer batter doesn't use ordinary all-purpose flour either.  I added pancake mix to the new playbook too. Having fun so far?

6a0120a8551282970b01675eb51084970bIn my humble opinion, God put deep-fryers on this earth for a good reason and I now believe that parmigiana might have been at the top of his list -- 'tis true.

Put away that skillet and enjoy the mess-free ease of how this relatively inexpensive (about $60.00) countertop appliance regulates temperature and perfectly cooks each piece of parmigiana. Who wants a crunchy, crispy, stay-put coating on a succulent, moist and juicy piece of chicken or veal parmigiana?  Of course, we all do.

Who wants a stovetop full of grease spatters and a ton of cleanup?  Not me, but this choice remains yours.

Use breast tenderloins & tenderize the tenderist part of the chicken.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2db98c5970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2db98c5970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2db98c5970cFor about $14-$15 at any of my local markets, I can purchase a "value pack" of 6-pounds chicken breast tenderloins, It contains approximately 30 tenderloins, which when breaded and deep-fried, are good-sized cutlets -- one or per two person.  Once I get them home, I arrange them side-by-side, on a large cutting board, between two sheets of plastic wrap.  Using the flat-side of a meat mallet, I lightly-pound them, with "lightly" being the key word here -- do not smash them to smithereens.   Start-to-finish, this process takes less than five minutes and renders them fork tender.  

Tip from Mel:  No matter how many I need for the recipe, sometimes just ten or twelve, I always pound them prior to freezing for future use -- they thaw quickly and are ready in use in minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f49323970dSet up a deep-frying assembly line (left to right):

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f488af970dChicken tenderloins, prepped as directed above.

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

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

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

Deep-fryer w/corn or peanut oil heated to 375° according to manufacturer's specifications.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f488ea970d~ Step 1.  When everything is measured and in place, whisk together the pancake mix and beer (or club soda). Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken a bit, to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset) if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer (or club soda) to maintain a very drizzly consistency.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512dc9970b~ Step 2.  This step is actually optional, so skip it if you like.  When it comes to chicken cutlets, I prefer the texture of my panko (Japanese-style breadcrumbs) to be less coarse.  To make that happen:

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

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512def970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512def970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512def970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512def970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512def970b~Step 1.  Working in batches of 2 tenders at a time, dredge each pair in the dry pancake mix to coat it on all sides.  Note:  I fry 2 at a time because that is what fits comfortably in the basket of my fryer without overcrowding it.  Next, move up the assembly line, and, one-at-a-time dip each tender into the batter.  As you lift each one out of the batter, hold it over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the batter to drizzle back into the bowl.  As you batter dip each tender, place it into the dish of panko. Dredge both of the cutlets in the panko ASAP.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512e04970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512e04970bStep 2.  One-at-a-time, and with the aid of a fork, carefully lower the pair of breaded tenders down into the 375° oil and into the fryer basket.  Close the lid and allow tenders to deep-fry for 3-3 1/2 minutes.  Tenders will be a beautiful golden brown and just cooked through.  Do not overcook -- residual heat will continue to cook them.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9512e1f970bStep 3.  Open fryer lid and slowly lift basket up and out of deep-fryer. Transfer tenders to a wire rack in a baking pan that has been lined with paper towels.  Tip:  To transfer the tenders, simply tilt the basket onto its side directly over the rack.  Using tongs is a mistake -- it's an easy way to damage their crust.  Once out of the fryer, immediately sprinkle tenders with freshly ground sea salt and repeat this process until all tenders are breaded and fried.

Assembling & baking the chicken-parm garlic-bread subs.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c618fa200bFor 4, 6"-6 1/2" chicken parmigiana sub sandwiches (listed in order of assembly):

4, 6"-6 1/2" high-quality submarine/hoagie-type rolls, your favorite brand

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39c00ac200ca great garlic bread spread for great garlic bread, preferably homemade, prepared in advance of baking the chicken parmesan (Stir together: 1 1/2 sticks room temp salted butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, 1/4 teaspoon white pepper, 4 tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

8  slices deli-style, sliced provolone cheese

a sprinkling of Italian seasoning blend

a sprinkling of red pepper flakes

6  batter-dipped, panko-crusted, deep-fried chicken tenders, warm or at room temperature, cut in half lengthwise to form 12 chicken fingers (3 per sandwich)

1/3-1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, or, 2 slices deli-style mozzarella cheese 

1-1 1/2  cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade, or your favorite store-bought brand

2  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

chiffonade (a French word meaning "thin-strips" or "little ribbons") of fresh basil leaves, for garnish

IMG_3441 IMG_3441 IMG_3441 IMG_3441~Step 1. To assemble the sandwiches, use a serrated bread knife to slice the rolls, placing each one on an aluminum foil sheet as you work.  Slather both sides of the open-faced roll with a generous coating of the garlic bread spread.  Gather the foil up to form a loose, wide-open-at-the-top packet and place packets 5 1/2" under preheated broiler for 1 1/2-2 minutes, until bubbly and golden.  Remove from oven.  Arrange 2 slices of provolone over each roll and lightly season with a sprinkling of Italian seasoning blend and red pepper flakes.  Reset oven to bake at 350º.    

IMG_3454 IMG_3454 IMG_3454 IMG_3454~Step 2.  Slice chicken tenders in half lengthwise, to form thin strips (chicken fingers).  Arrange 3 strips/fingers in the center of each roll.  Top tender strips with either 2 slices sliced mozzarella or 1/3-1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, your choice.  Gather the foil up and around each sandwich and form a tight seal.  Bake on center rack of 350º degree oven for 8-9 minutes. Remove from oven, unwrap and top each sandwich with 4-6 tablespoons marinara sauce, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and a light chiffonade of fresh basil leaf garnish.  Serve ASAP.

Crispy garlic-bread, gooey cheese, tender parm, sauce & basil:

IMG_3479There's no right or wrong way to eat a chicken parmigiana sub:

IMG_3489Not Your Mama's Chicken-Parm Garlic-Bread Subs:  Recipe yields 4 hearty and hot chicken parmigiana sub sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: plastic wrap; cutting board; flat-sided meat mallet; 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes; 9" x 4" loaf-type dish; tongs; deep-fryer; wire cooling rack; paper towels; aluminum foil sheets; serrated bread knife

IMG_3840Cook's Note: In my food world, there is  no right or wrong way to make or eat any Italian-style sub -- they're pretty straightforward.  In my recipe for  ~ The Incredible Edible Caprese Chicken Meatball Sub ~ my ground chicken meatballs are infused with lots of onion, garlic, basil, egg and fresh Italian-bread crumbs.  What do they do?  They add the requisite moisture and flavor to an otherwise dry, rather tasteless, lackluster protein. These will make you rethink ground chicken.

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

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

08/12/2019

~ Tex-Mex Chipotle Beef and Chorizo Meatball Subs ~

IMG_3522 2Who doesn't love a meatball sandwich -- I know I do.  Besides a high-quality roll, a well-constructed meatball sub only requires three components:  tender meatballs, a great melting cheese and a savory sauce.  Culinarily, the meatball sandwich is, understandably and correctly, associated with Italian-American fare, with meatballs being a spinoff of meatloaf, which is an all-American invention.  In turn, my Southwestern-Style meatballs, are a spinoff of my Mexican-style beef and chorizo meatloaf (but should not be confused with Mexican albóndigas (albóndiga is the word for meatball in Spanish), which contain rice, not a bread product, as a binder.          

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

Ground beef + chorizo = Mexican-Style meatball perfection.

IMG_2628For 6-61/2 dozen meatballs*:

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

1  pound ground Mexican chorizo sausage

2  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

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

1  cup milk

3  tablespoons salted butter

3/4-1 cup whole corn kernels, shaved from cooked or grilled corn on the cob, or, well-drained canned corn kernels

3/4-1  cup thin-sliced green onion, white and light green parts only

3/4-1 cup small-diced green bell pepper

3/4-1  cup small-diced red bell pepper

1/2-3/4  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves and some tender stems

1  tablespoon chili powder

1  tablespoon ground cumin

2  teaspoons sea salt

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

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans

IMG_2637 IMG_2637 IMG_2637 IMG_2637~Step 1.  Place ground beef in a large bowl.  If the sausage is in casings, remove the casings then place the sausage in the bowl with the ground beef.  Using a fork, lightly beat the eggs and add them to the meat.  Using your hands (it's the most efficient), thoroughly combine the two.

IMG_2648 IMG_2648 IMG_2648 IMG_2648 IMG_2648 IMG_2648~Step 2.  Using your fingertips, crush the crackers into small bits and pieces, letting them fall into a medium mixing bowl as you work. Add the milk and stir to combine. Set aside about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the crackers to absorb all of the milk.  The mixture will be thick, chunky and pasty -- just perfect.  Add the cracker mixture to the meat/egg mixture, and once again, using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_2631 IMG_2631 IMG_2631 IMG_2631 IMG_2631 IMG_2631~Step 3.  In a 10" skillet melt butter over low heat. Add the corn kernels along with the bell peppers and green onion.  Season with the chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium- medium-high and sauté until peppers are softened but still crunch-tender, 3-4 minutes.  Stir in the cilantro, remove from heat and cool 30 minutes.

IMG_2672 IMG_2672 IMG_2672~Step 4.  Add the cool but still-warm vegetable mix to the meat mixture.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine -- thoroughly!

IMG_3331 2 IMG_3331 2 IMG_3331 2~Step 5.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment, then place a wire rack atop the parchment.  Using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure to portion the meat mixture, roll each portion between the palms of your hands, placing the meatballs atop the wire rack as you work.  Bake meatballs on center rack of 350° oven 25-28 minutes.  Remove from oven, and assemble sandwiches as directed below.

*Note:  This recipe is written to make a lot of meatballs (6-6 1/2 dozen).  Feel free to cut the recipe in half, but, know they freeze great.  At this point, I always use what I need (1/3-1/2) and freeze the rest to have on-hand for one or two additional weeknight meatball-sandwich meals. 

For my easy spicy-tomato & chipotle-chile chili sauce:

IMG_1452For the sauce:

2  tablespoons corn oil

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

4  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1/2  teaspoon ancho chile pepper

3/4  teaspoon Mexican-style oregano

1  teaspoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

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

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

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

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

IMG_1465 IMG_1465 IMG_1465 IMG_1465~Step 2.  Add the fire-roasted tomatoes, two whole chipotle chiles and 1 tablespoon sauce from can of peppers.  Stir to combine and adjust heat to simmer gently and steadily, 5-6 minutes. Reduce heat to low, then taste.  For more heat, add another tablespoon sauce from chipotles.

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

To assemble & bake the Mexican-style meatball sandwiches:

IMG_3359For the sandwiches:

6  6"-6 1/2" submarine/hoagie rolls, the best available, your favorite brand

18-24  slices jalapeño pepper-Jack cheese

2 1/2  dozen meatballs, from above recipe

1 1/2  cups chipotle-chile chili sauce, from above recipe

minced cilantro leaves, for garnish

IMG_3360 IMG_3360 IMG_3515 IMG_3515 IMG_3515~Step 1.  To assemble the sandwiches, use a serrated bread knife to slice the rolls, placing each one on an aluminum foil sheet as you work  Place 3-4 slices of cheese in each roll, to generously cover and protect the soft bread on both sides -- from the sauce that will come later.  Slice 2 meatballs into thirds and place them flat in the bottom of each roll.  Place 4 meatballs atop the meatball slices on each sandwich.  Gather the foil up and around each sandwich and form a tight seal.

IMG_3375 IMG_3375~ Step 2. To bake and serve the sandwiches, place sandwiches, side-by-side on center rack 350º oven for 12-15 minutes. Remove from oven. Remove the foil and drizzle chipotle-chile chili sauce over the meatballs, to taste, without drenching the sandwich in sauce -- be aware, this sauce is quite spicy.  Garnish each sandwich with minced cilantro leaves and serve immediately (with additional sauce to the side if desired).

A crispy roll, gooey cheese, tender meatballs & spicy sauce: 

IMG_3525There's no right or wrong way to eat a meatball sandwich:

IMG_3537Tex-Mex Chipotle Beef and Chorizo Meatball Subs:  Recipe yields approximately 6-6 1/2 dozen meatballs/3 cups sauce/enough for 18 sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: fork; 1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; nonstick spoon or spatula; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; wire cooling rack; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; serrated bread knife; aluminum foil sheets

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c926d116970bCook's Note:  In my food world, there is  no right or wrong way to make a meatball sandwich -- they are pretty straightforward.  In my recipe for  ~ The Incredible Edible Caprese Chicken Meatball Sub ~ my ground chicken meatballs are infused with lots of onion, garlic, basil, egg and fresh Italian-bread crumbs.  What do they do?  They add the requisite moisture and full-throttle flavor to an otherwise dry, rather tasteless, lackluster protein.  

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

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

08/09/2019

~Brownbag it with Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Subs~

IMG_3316Whether you're sending kids back to school in a few days, looking for something different to lunch on at your office computer, or yeah baby, a sandwich that will be the hit of your next tailgate party -- this sub has got your back.  It's on my short-list of most-popular in-my-house-made deli-style hoagie- submarine-type sandwiches.  It's extremely easy-to-make and user-friendly too.  Chop and toss the ingredients together in a bowl, stuff 'em into a sub roll just before eating, then go to town. It's akin to feasting on a tuna sub, only full of classic Caesar salad flavors and textures.

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fd0c433e970bThe concept of a Caesar salad sub is hardly a new one, but, I'm here to tell you, if you've been wasting time layering lettuce leaves, shaving parmesan and placing thin slices of chicken on a roll with a drizzle of dressing (all are musts when making a chicken Caesar salad panini), it's time to rethink it. Chopped ingredients are easier to eat, and, because each and every bite-sized piece is enrobed in a light coating of creamy Caesar dressing, the end result tastes amazingly better.  The (obvious) key, however, is to load the salad concoction with chicken (lots and lots of chopped chicken) -- because, after all, this is a sandwich, not a salad.  That said, if you're not planning on eating these sandwiches within a few hours of making them, don't add the lettuce until the last moment, because it will get a bit wilty (but it'll still be delicious though).

The key is to load the salad w/lots & lots of chopped chicken -- because, after all, this is a sandwich, not a salad.

IMG_3294For two sandwiches:

1 3/4-2  cups, chopped or pulled into bite-sized pieces, grilled, chicken tenderloins or thighs

1-1 1/2  cups "chiffonade" ("thin strips"/"little ribbons") of romaine lettuce leaves

1  diced hard-cooked egg

1/2  cup small-diced tomato

1/4  cup small-diced red onion

2  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

6-8  tablespoons creamy Caesar dressing, preferably homemade or high-quality store-bought

2  6-6 1/2" high-quality submarine- hoagie- type rolls, the best available

IMG_3297 IMG_3299 IMG_3299 IMG_3299 IMG_3305 IMG_3305~Step 1.  Prep and place the chicken, lettuce, egg, tomato and red onion in a medium bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, toss to combine.  Add the cheese and toss again, to incorporate cheese throughout the mixture.  Gently fold in the dressing, 4 tablespoons at first, 2 more after that, and, the last two if you think you need it. Using your fingertips, pull/remove a bit of the soft bread from the center of each half of the sliced roll, to create a cavity for stuffing as much Caesar filling into the sub sandwich as it can handle.

Stuff a roll w/as much chicken Caesar as it can handle & eat: 

IMG_3320Brownbag it with Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Subs:  Recipe yields 2 light but filling sandwiches.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01a511b10aec970cCook's Note:  Over the past three decades, the Caesar salad, #1) became America's most popular main-dish salad, #2) altered the lettuce industry as demand for romaine has skyrocketed, and, #3) turned the chicken-topped Caesar into the chicken item most frequently found on restaurant menus -- more than wings and chicken fingers. Now considered the All-American salad, it was invented in Mexico in 1924 by an Italian-born Mexican immigrant, Caesar Cardini (a co-owner in a Tijuana restaurant).  Making a classic Caesar salad requires a some technique.  I learned from some experts, then, took what they taught me to create my own  ~ Hail Caesar:  Roasted Chicken Salad a la Melanie ~.

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

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

08/07/2019

~Lighten Up w/a Refreshing Tuna-Mac Garden Salad~

IMG_3277Occasionally, on a day off or a Saturday, my dad would fix his version of tuna salad for us.  On mom's medium-sized meat platter, he'd make a bed of soft garden lettuce leaves, then add a layer of tomato slices followed by a sliced cucumber.  He'd scatter a lightly-drained can of chilled tuna-packed-in-oil over the veggies, followed by a few dollops of cottage cheese.  His creation ended with a sprinkling of salt and black pepper.  Mom would make some rye toast, put a pitcher of iced tea on the table and lunch was served.  It wasn't fancy, but our family of four loved it.

It's a charming story about an easy Summertime recipe. 

We'd each put a slice of toast on our plate, then, with a large scooper-type spatula, top it with a generous portion of dad's salad.  Considering it didn't contain any fresh or dried herbs, special seasonings or flavor-enhancing ingredients, it was amazingly tasty and refreshing.  Nowadays, a proper term for it might be "deconstructed tuna salad".  That said, over the years, I added some onion (dad refused to eat raw onion), sneak in a bit of lemony mayonnaise (dad detested mayonnaise), and, a tad of tangy whole-grain mustard (dad only ate ballpark mustard, and, in all seriousness, only on a fried bologna sandwich or a hot dog).  There's more.  Instead of the unruly layering, I now dice and stir my ingredients together and add some cooked elbow macaroni too -- it's so light and refreshing I don't feel the least bit guilty about taking a second helping.

IMG_3254My mixed-up version of dad's deconstructed tuna salad:

IMG_3184For the tuna salad:

1  5-ounce can high-quality tuna-packed-in-oil, drained

6  tablespoons cottage cheese

2  tablespoons mayonnaise

1  tblsp. whole-grain mustard

1/2  cup  small-diced celery

1/2  cup peeled, seeded & small-diced cucumber

1/4  cup seeded & small-diced tomato

1  teaspoon dried onion flakes

IMG_3225For the macaroni and (optional) shredded lettuce:

1  cup medium shell pasta or elbow macaroni, cooked al dente and drained as directed below

6  cups water + 1  teaspoon sea salt, for cooking macaroni

1  cup shredded crunchy lettuce, iceberg or romaine lettuce work best (optional)

IMG_3187 IMG_3187~ Step 1.  Prep the tuna, celery, cucumber and tomato as directed, placing them in a medium bowl as you work.  Using a large rubber spatula, toss the tuna and vegetables together.  Set to the side while preparing the dressing as follows:

IMG_3190 IMG_3190 IMG_3190 IMG_3190~Step 2.  In a small bowl, place and stir together the cottage cheese, mayonnaise, mustard and dehydrated onion.  Add the dressing to the vegetables.  Using the spatula, fold the two mixtures together until vegetables are evenly enrobed in dressing.  Cover and refrigerate while cooking, thoroughly draining and cooling the macaroni, and, shredding the lettuce as directed below.

IMG_3228 IMG_3228 IMG_3228 IMG_3228 IMG_3228 IMG_3228 IMG_3228~Step 3.  In a 2-quart saucepan, bring 6 cups water to a boil.  Add the salt.  Add the pasta shells and cook until al dente, about 6-7 minutes.  Do not overcook.  Drain into colander and rinse under cold tap water to halt the cooking process. Transfer to and spread pasta shells out on a baking pan that's been lined with parchment.  Drain and "dry" (meaning free from moisture, not dried out), 20-30 minutes.

IMG_3238 IMG_3238 IMG_3238 IMG_3245 IMG_3245 IMG_3245 IMG_3245~Step 4.  Place the cooled pasta shells in a large bowl.  Add the tuna salad to the macaroni.  Use the rubber spatula to fold the tuna salad into the shells.  Shred the lettuce into thin short strips, as thin as you can -- the technical term for this is chiffonade, which means "little ribbons" in French.    Fold the lettuce into the tuna-macaroni salad, followed by the lettuce, cover, and refrigerate until well chilled, 1-2 hours.  It's worth mention that after 24 hours the lettuce will become a bit wilty (still delicious though), so, if preparing salad a day ahead, shred and add the lettuce just prior to serving.

Prefer to skip the pasta shells or macaroni?  No problem:

IMG_3210Lighten Up w/a Refreshing Tuna-Mac Garden Salad:  Recipe yields about 5 cups tuna-macaroni salad.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; rubber spatula; spoon; 4-cup food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; 2-quart saucepan; colander; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c161c2200bCook's Note:  My dad's mac & (cottage) cheese is a comforting, flavor-packed dish that will provide almost instant gratification because it goes from stovetop to table in the time it takes to cook the macaroni. His unusual combination of hot, spicy, buttered elbow macaroni, tossed with cold cottage cheese (he liked farmers' cheese more but began substituting cottage cheese as farmers' cheese started to get harder find)  literally bursts with flavor.  ~ Dad's Mac and Cheese, or:  What I Cook just for Me ~.

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

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

08/05/2019

~Tuna Salad w/Cottage Cheese, Tomato & Cucumber~

IMG_3207I picked a cucumber this morning.  I walked to the the other side of the vegetable garden and picked a couple of tomatoes too.  Checking out the vegetable garden in the early hours of the day, as soon as it's light enough to see, is part of my routine.  My dad used to do the same thing.  He'd come in the house, rinse off whatever he'd picked, put all the "stuff" in the dish drainer, then go out to mow the grass.  Dad thrived on his routines, and, sans the lawn mower, so do I.  While carrying my cucumber and two tomatoes into my kitchen, a childhood memory hit me head on.

IMG_3221A charming story about an easy Summertime recipe: 

Occasionally, on a day off or a Saturday, dad would fix his version of tuna salad for us.  On mom's medium-sized meat platter, he'd make a bed of soft garden lettuce leaves, then add a layer of tomato slices followed by a sliced cucumber.  He'd scatter a lightly-drained can of chilled tuna-packed-in-oil over the veggies, followed by a few dollops of cottage cheese.  His creation ended with a sprinkling of salt and black pepper.  Mom would make some rye toast, put a pitcher of iced tea on the table and lunch was served.  It wasn't fancy, but it sure was healthy, and we loved it.

We'd each put a slice of toast on our plate, then, with a large scooper-type spatula, top it with a generous portion of dad's salad.  Considering it didn't contain any fresh or dried herbs, special seasonings or flavor-enhancing ingredients, it was amazingly tasty and refreshing.  Nowadays, a proper term for it might be "deconstructed tuna salad".  That said, over the years, I added some onion (dad refused to eat raw onion), sneak in a bit of lemony mayonnaise (dad detested mayonnaise), and, a tad of tangy whole-grain mustard (dad only ate ballpark mustard, and, in all seriousness, only on a fried bologna sandwich or a hot dog).  There's more.  Instead of the unruly layering, I now dice and stir my ingredients together, to serve on toast points or crackers.  

IMG_31841  5-ounce can high-quality tuna-packed-in-oil, drained

6  tablespoons cottage cheese

2  tablespoons mayonnaise

2  teaspoons whole-grain mustard

1/2  cup  small-diced celery

1/2  cup peeled, seeded & small-diced cucumber

1/4  cup seeded and small-diced tomato

1  teaspoon dried onion flakes

IMG_3187 IMG_3187~ Step 1.  Prep the tuna, celery, cucumber and tomato as directed, placing them in a medium bowl as you work.  Using a large rubber spatula, toss the tuna and vegetables together.  Set to the side while preparing the dressing.

IMG_3190 IMG_3190 IMG_3190 IMG_3190~Step 2.  In a small bowl, place and stir together the cottage cheese, mayonnaise, mustard and dehydrated onion.  Add the dressing to the vegetables.  Using the spatula, fold the two mixtures together until vegetables are evenly enrobed in dressing.  Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours.

Serve on crackers, with toast points, or, in a sandwich.

IMG_3210Tuna Salad w/Cottage Cheese, Tomato & Cucumber:  Recipe yields 3 cups tuna salad.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7f6a67a970bCook's Note: My dad's mac & (cottage) cheese is a comforting, flavor-packed dish that will provide almost instant gratification because it goes from stovetop to table in the time it takes to cook the macaroni. His unusual combination of hot, spicy, buttered elbow macaroni, tossed with cold cottage cheese (he liked farmers' cheese more but began substituting cottage cheese as farmers' cheese started to get harder find)  literally bursts with flavor.  ~ Dad's Mac and Cheese, or:  What I Cook just for Me ~.

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

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

08/03/2019

~Sweet, Savory & Slightly-Spicy Curried Potato Salad~

IMG_3154For most of us, potato salad conjures up memories of exactly what our grandmothers made.  And, for the most part, in terms of ingredients, the recipes for our grandmothers potato salad do not vary much.  Various quantities of the usual suspects:  potatoes, eggs, celery and/or onion, with a dressing made of mayonnaise, vinegar, salt, pepper, sometimes pickles or pickle relish, and, an occasional fresh herb.  Voila:  potato salad.  While we all have our favorite recipe or recipes, when offered potato salad at a gathering, this is the kind we Americans expect to be served.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ca5152200bFrom my Eastern European heritage, in my repertoire, Classic Creamy Potato and Egg SaladBaked Russet-Potato Salad, Red Potato Salad w/Horseradish-Mayonnaise, and, Vintage Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier, are amongst my family's favorites. That said, unlike almost all of our grandmothers, we of subsequent generations began moving or visiting different areas of the US and/or started traveling around the world -- we eat globally and regionally, as well as locally. Our pantries contain spices and ingredients from many cultures, and, because potatoes are a great foil for foodie creativity, it should come as no shock to anyone that potato salad has been fused with flavors from other cuisines.  Example:  My Russet & Sweet Potato Salad w/Chile-Lime Mayo, pairs great with almost any Tex-Mex-style grilled chicken, steak or ribs.

Indian-style potato salad w/chutney, cashews & raisins.

IMG_31183  pounds unpeeled and 3/4" chunked gold potatoes

2  teaspoons sea salt

1 1/2  cup medium-diced celery

1  cup golden raisins

1/2-3/4  cup  small-diced roasted & salted cashews

1  cup high-quality mayonnaise

1/2  cup Major Grey's sweet mango chutney

2  tablespoons curry powder

1  tablespoon dehydrated onion flakes

IMG_3120 IMG_3120 IMG_3120~Step 1.  Slice potatoes into fork-friendly bite-sized 3/4" cubes.  Place in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot with enough water to cover by 1".  Add the salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook until potatoes are fork tender, but still firm and slightly undercooked in their centers, 5-6 minutes.  Remove from heat and drain into a colander.  Do not overcook potatoes.

IMG_3125 IMG_3125~ Step 2.  Drain potatoes into a colander and rinse under cold running water, until cool to the touch. Take enough time to thoroughly rinse the potatoes, as you really want to lower their temperature to halt residual heat from overcooking them. Transfer to and spread potatoes on a baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper and allow potatoes to drain and "dry" (meaning free from moisture, not dried out), 30-40 minutes. 

IMG_3132 2 IMG_3132 2 IMG_3132 2 IMG_3132 2 IMG_3132 2 IMG_3147~Step 3.  Place cooked and cooled potatoes, celery, raisins and cashews in a large bowl. Set aside.  In a food processor fitted with steel blade, place mayonnaise, chutney, curry powder and onion flakes.  With motor running, process until thoroughly combined, 45-60 seconds.  Using a rubber spatula, transfer mayo mixture to potato mixture and gently fold all ingredients together, stopping when everything is enrobed in the creamy dressing.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, 6-8 hours or overnight (is best).

Serve w/my Super-Easy Tikka Masala Roasted Chicken:

IMG_3157Sweet, Savory & Slightly-Spicy Curried Potato Salad:  Recipe yields about 9-10 cups potato salad.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot; colander; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; food processor; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3961e07200dCook's Note: Just like I have preferences in movies, I have preferences in chicken salads. I prefer white-breast- over dark-thigh- meat, roasted chicken over poached, greasy rotisserie chicken makes me cringe, and, I want my chicken hand-pulled instead of diced or cubed, because the latter looks plasticy and fake.  Error on the side of under-dressing mine, as I want to taste the chicken, but yes, by all means, please add some lightly-toasted seeds or nuts for crunch.  I enjoy it served as a forkable salad or as a sandwich, but, if served as a salad I want it on tender soft bibb lettuce, and if served as a sandwich, I want it on a croissant: ~ Chick Flicks and Curried Chicken Salad Croissants ~.

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

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

07/31/2019

~ Deep-Fried Chicken Wings w/RedHot-Ranch Slaw ~

IMG_3110There's nothing earth-shatteringly new about deep-frying chicken wings in a vat of oil for 14 minutes a batch.  In fact, this post doesn't even include a pictorial recipe for deep-frying chicken wings -- or oven-roasted wings if that floats your boat.  If you and yours love wings, you already have your favorite method for preparing them.  This post is about transitioning your wing-fest from a pub grub bar nosh to a kid-friendly family-style sit-in-front-of-the-TV movie-night meal.

IMG_3059Back in the 1980's and '90's, our three sons frequently wanted chicken wings for dinner, which, in my mind, didn't constitute a proper dinner.  Conjuring up a somewhat-healthy, preferably-vegetable kid-friendly side-dish, to serve with wings wasn't easy -- if they had their way, I'd serve wings with mac and cheese and call it a day.  Coleslaw popped into my head quite by accident, and, it happened at one of our Penn State tailgates at some point back in the 1990's.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d22a0d8d970cI remember setting the alarm to wake up at 4:00AM on that Saturday to deep-fry and sauce sixteen dozen chicken wings.  Later, while standing in the stadium parking lot watching the guys chow down on my wings, I noticed that instead of eating the carrot and celery sticks I'd packed, they were pairing the wings with a creamy, deli-style coleslaw -- a side-dish someone else had brought to our game-day potluck. My mind started to ponder a kid-friendly 'slaw I could sell to my kids.

IMG_3095Long story short:  I simply started by dicing the traditional celery and carrot sticks, tossing them into a bag of store-bought shredded coleslaw mix, then dressing the veggies with a concoction of store-bought Hidden-Valley Ranch Dressing spiced with Frank's RedHot Buffalo-Style Chicken Wing Sauce.  It's probably worth mention that, while my boys were ranch dressing fans (most kids are), blue cheese dressing may be substituted without compromise.  

Once I told my kids there was ranch dressing and hot sauce in their new-to-them side-dish, they didn't care what vegetables they were eating.  Wings had finally turned into an occasional dinner.

An easy-to-make kid-friendly coleslaw side-dish for wings, made from store-bought ingredients -- that adults will adore too.

IMG_30678  cups store-bought old-fashioned coleslaw mix (16-ounces)

1  generous cup peeled, quartered and very thin-sliced carrots

1  generous cup very-thin sliced celery

3/4  cup Hidden Valley ranch dressing, or your favorite brand of ranch dressing

1/4  cup Frank's RedHot wing sauce, or your favorite brand of wing sauce

IMG_3070 IMG_3070 IMG_3070 IMG_3070 IMG_3070 IMG_3070 IMG_3070~Step 1.  In a large bowl, place the coleslaw mix. Add the carrots and celery. Using a large rubber spatula, toss to combine. In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the ranch dressing and wing sauce.  Add the dressing to the bowl.  Using the rubber spatula, thoroughly fold the dressing into the vegetable mixture, taking the time to make sure that all of the ingredients are enrobed in the dressing.  

Cover & refrigerate 'slaw for 2-4 hours or overnight:

IMG_3090Make a bed of slaw on each dinner plate & top w/sauced wings: 

IMG_3101Deep-Fried Chicken Wings w/RedHot-Ranch Slaw:  Recipe yields 6 cups cole slaw.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 1-cup measuring container; spoon; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0990b2ab970dCook's Note: One of my favorite all-weather meals is a piece or two of crispy and nicely-seasoned roasted, grilled or fried chicken.  Pair it up with a well-appointed salad drizzled with creamy Ranch dressing and I can't resist it.  It doesn't require a culinary degree to figure out the same ingredients slapped between to pieces of bread is even better.  ~ Happy-Valley-Ranch Deep-Fried Chicken Sandwich ~

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

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

07/28/2019

~ PA-Dutch Blueberry & Lemon-Custard Streusel Pie ~

IMG_2978A buttery-rich, crispy-topped streusel fruit pie is one of my favorite things, and, that, quite naturally, makes me one of those people who prefers a streusel-topped pie to a two-crust pie.  It's often said there are two types of pie eaters: those who prefer crust, and those who prefer filling.  I can honestly say I am neither.  I simply prefer streusel over a top crust because of the sweet-and-savory textural edge it lends to a fruit pie -- I can't resist those crunchy, buttery, crumbles.  

That said, how lucky was I to grow up in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania, known affectionately as Pennsylvania-Dutch Country.  In that area, the vast majority of bakers used various streusel recipes to top their fruit pies, coffeecakes and muffins.  For those who baked several times a week, it was common practice to mix up a big bowl of streusel topping, to have on hand in the refrigerator for use all week -- how convenient is that.  On another note, the Pennsylvania-Dutch are well-known for their easy-to-make sour-cream-custard pies, meaning: they substitute sour cream for the classic cream or milk when making their custard pies.

I adore those crunchy, buttery, streusel crumbles:

IMG_2957Pennsylvania-Dutch-Style Streusel Topping:

IMG_2924Streusel (STROO-zuhl) is the German word for "something scattered, strewn or sprinkled".  In baking, it is a crumbly topping for pies, coffeecakes and muffins.  It is basically a mixture of four ingredients (flour, sugar, butter and salt), but, it is not uncommon to find aromatic spices (cinnamon, cloves and/or nutmeg) and/or uncooked oats or chopped nuts added to it. Streusel is especially good on fruit pies (apple, blueberry, cherry, peach, rhubarb, etc.) where sweet and savory, rather than a mundane top crust, is a welcome, flavor-enhancing addition.  Streusel is also one of a baker's best kept secrets.  On a day where you don't have a lot of time for pie pastry making, or, you find yourself with an overabundance of fruitful ingredients, in less than five minutes, two pie pastries for one pie transition into two entire pies and no one is disappointed by it.  Happiest of endings.

You say "Pennsylvania Dutch", we say "Pennsylvania Deutsch:

Illo-06I am here to make it clear that Pennsylvania Dutch-style cookery does not belong solely to PA and it is not Dutch either.  The term "Dutch" was the early English settlers slang for the German word "Deutsch".  So:  When most people incorrectly say "Pennsylvania Dutch", they should be saying "Pennsylvania Deutsch", crediting the Germanic or German speaking immigrants from Germany and Switzerland for this cuisine.  The majority of these people were either Amish, Mennonite or Brethren, all of which were considered "Anabaptist". They were fleeing the mountains of Switzerland and southern German to avoid religious persecution and established several communities in the Lehigh Valley.  Why?  Thank William Penn for his free-thinking, open-door, equal-opportunity-for-all of any religion or race politics.  Pennsylvania set an example for the other colonies, who all had established an offical "state" religion. Pennsylvania.  The first to welcome people of all beliefs and walks of life?  You betcha, and amazingly admirable too.

IMG_2906For my all-purpose PA-Deutsch streusel topping:

6  tablespoons cold, salted butter, cut into cubes or slices

1/2  cup sugar

1/2  cup all-purpose flour

1/2  cup old-fashioned oats, not quick-cooking or instant

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

IMG_2908 IMG_2908 IMG_2908 IMG_2908 IMG_2908~Step 1.  In a medium bowl, using a spoon, stir together the sugar, flour, oats and cinnamon.  Using a pastry blender and a sharp knife, "cut" the butter into the sugar, flour and cinnamon.  Stop "cutting" when it resembles coarse, pea-sized crumbs.  Set aside while preparing the pie as directed below.  Can be prepared and refrigerated 2-3 days in advance.

To make the blueberry & lemon-custard streusel pie:

IMG_2936For the blueberry and lemon-custard pie:

1, 9", unbaked, pie pastry, my recipe for ~ Making Pâte Brisée:  Basic Pie or Quiche Pastry ~, your favorite recipe, or high-quality store bought

3  cups blueberries

2  large eggs, lightly beaten

1  cup sour cream

2  teaspoons unbleached, all purpose flour

3/4  cup sugar

2  teaspoons pure blueberry extract

1  teaspoon pure lemon extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

streusel topping, from above recipe

IMG_2927 IMG_2927 IMG_2927~ Step 1. Roll and fit one 9" pie pastry in the bottom of a (preferably glass) 9" pie dish.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim the pastry to hang slightly over the perimeter (about 1/8").  Using your fingertips, form a decorative edge around the perimeter.  Add the 3 cups of blueberries to the pie shell.  Set aside.

IMG_2938 IMG_2938 IMG_2938 IMG_2938 IMG_2938 IMG_2946 IMG_2946~Step 2.  In a 1-quart measuring container, whisk the eggs.  Add the sour cream, flour, sugar and all three extracts. Vigorously whisk again until thoroughly combined.  A smooth, drizzly, pourable custard mixture will have formed.  Slowly, and in a thin stream, drizzle the custard over the blueberries in the pie pastry.

IMG_2953 IMG_2953 IMG_2953~ Step 3.  Bake pie on center rack of 340º-350º oven (a scant 350º oven) 20 minutes.  Surface of pie will be starting to puff up around the perimeter and starting to dry out towards the center.  Remove pie from oven.  Using a large spoon, scatter the streusel evenly over top.  Return to oven and continue to bake 35-40 minutes, for a total of 55-60 minutes baking time.  Pie will be nicely browned and puffed up through to the center.  Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool completely, 2-3 hours.

Finished pie, puffed up & beautiful, hot out of the oven:

IMG_2958Slice & serve at room temperature or slightly-chilled:

IMG_2998Can't wait to take a bite out of my slice: 

IMG_2989Streusel-Topped Blueberry and Lemon-Custard Pie:  1, 9" pie/8-10 servings.

Special Equipment List:  pastry blender; paring knife; pastry board; rolling pin; 9" pie dish, preferably glass; kitchen shears; 4-cup measuring container w/pourer spout; whisk; large spoon; wire cooling rack 

IMG_2898Cook's Note:  When it comes to blueberry desserts in general, the pairing of blueberries and lemon is a common -- the two just go hand-in-hand together -- it's irresistible. Bundt cakes are perhaps my favorite cakes to bake.  Even the words "bundt cake" sound warm and inviting.  Simply saying "bundt cake" evokes happy, fond memories from kinder, gentler times.  My ~ Glazed Blueberry, Lemon & Ricotta Bundt Cake ~ is, hands down their favorite bundt cake.

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

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

07/25/2019

~ My Glazed Blueberry, Lemon & Ricotta Bundt Cake ~

IMG_2894Bundt cakes are perhaps my favorite cakes to bake.  Even the words "bundt cake" sound warm and inviting.  Simply saying "bundt cake" evokes happy, fond memories from kinder, gentler times. I'm not saying that humble sheet cakes and grandiose layer cakes don't have a place in this food world -- they do and they're delicious too.  I'm merely suggesting that bundt cakes have more gravitational pull (haha) than other cakes -- even an unembellished bundt cake will pull more people to the dessert buffet than the other cakes.  That said, more often than not, the base recipe for a bundt cake is a recipe for a tried and true, reliable and crowd-pleasing pound cake.  

6a0120a8551282970b01bb097d3e86970dA bit about pound cake ("quatre-quarts" in French, meaning "four fourths":  Originally, this fine-textured loaf-shaped cake was made with 1-pound each of flour, sugar, butter and eggs, plus a flavoring, most commonly vanilla. Nothing more, nothing less.  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 grandmother's pound cake recipe uses a bit of both.

IMG_2785The inspiration for today's pound-cake bundt-cake appeared in an issue of Eating Well magazine back in 2015.  What caught my eye about it was the use of low-fat ricotta cheese in place of low fat- buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt, which appealed to me (a lot).  I tried it and couldn't have been more pleased with the results.  After that, the recipe became pretty much my own, full-fat ingredients and all, which is resemblant of any random recipe for the common combination of blueberry and lemon flavored pound cake.  Yes, of course you can make this pound cake in a loaf pan, just cut the recipe in half and bake it for about 60-75 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.  No matter how you decide to make it, this is indeed the last blueberry and lemon cake recipe you'll ever want.

The last blueberry & lemon bundt cake recipe you'll ever want: 

IMG_2826For the dry ingredients:

3 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

4  teaspoons baking powder

2  teaspoon sea salt

4  cups ripe-but-not-overripe blueberries (20 ounces)

For the wet ingredients:

1 1/2  cups salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (6  ounces/1 1/2 sticks)

6  large eggs, at room temperature

3  cups sugar

4  teaspoons pure blueberry extract

2  teaspoon pure lemon extract

2  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2  cups whole-milk ricotta cheese

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pan

IMG_2876For the (optional but highly recommended) drizzly lemon-blueberry glaze:

1 1/2  cups Confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons pure blueberry extract

1  teaspoon pure lemon extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3-4  tablespoons whole milk, 3 tablespoons will be needed, add the rest, in small increments, if necessary, to control consistency

IMG_2838 IMG_2838 IMG_2838 IMG_2838 IMG_2844~Step 1. Prior to mixing the batter in step 2 (no longer beforehand), in a medium bowl, use a fork to stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add two cups blueberries.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold blueberries into the flour mixture.  Repeat with second two cups of blueberries -- this helps prevent berries from settling to bottom of cake when baking.

IMG_2829 IMG_2829 IMG_2829 IMG_2829~Step 2.  In a large bowl, place the butter, sugar, eggs and extracts.  On high speed of hand-held electric mixture cream these ingredients together, until fluffy and light colored, scraping down the bowl on all sides with the rubber spatula during the mixing process, about 1 minute.  Lower the mixer speed, add the ricotta cheese and thoroughly incorporate it.  Remove the mixer.

IMG_2847 IMG_2847 IMG_2847 IMG_2847~Step 3.  To incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, use a large rubber spatula to add and gently fold the flour/blueberry mixture into the butter/ricotta mixture in 2-3 increments. Transfer the cake batter to a 12-cup bundt pan that has been sprayed with no-stick spray.  Use the spatula to level the batter.  Place the pan on a baking pan that has been lined with a sheet of parchment -- this will keep the bottom of the cake from browning faster than the top.

IMG_2866 IMG_2866~ Step 4.  Bake cake on center rack of moderate 325º oven, 1 1/2 hours, or until a cake tester inserted into the center in several spots comes out clean. If, anytime after the first hour of baking, top appears to be over-browning, place an aluminum foil sheet loosely atop cake.  Remove from oven, place on a wire rack and cool cake, in pan, 60-75 minutes.  Use a paring knife to loosen cake around outside and inside perimeters.  Invert onto wire rack to cool completely, 3-4 additional hours -- this dense cake needs time to cool.

IMG_2881 IMG_2881 IMG_2881 IMG_2881 IMG_2881~Step 5.  To prepare the glaze, in a small bowl, stir the sugar, extracts and 3 tablespoons of milk.  Add additional milk, if and as necessary, by teaspoonfuls until a smooth, drizzly consistency is reached.  Cover with plastic wrap and set glaze aside for about 15 minutes -- this will ensure an extremely smooth glaze.  To glaze the cake, transfer the glaze to a measuring container with pourer spout, a pastry bag, or, a plastic squeeze bottle (my favorite). Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle the glaze over the surface of the cake.

Allow the glaze to "dry" (harden up a bit -- about 2 hours):

IMG_2889Slice, serve & savor the love only a bundt cake can give:

IMG_2898My Glazed Blueberry, Lemon & Ricotta Bundt Cake: Recipe yields 1, 10" bundt cake, and, depending on how thick or thin you slice it, 16-20 servings.

Special Equipment List: fork; large rubber spatula; hand-held electric mixer; 1, standard-size 12-cup bundt pan; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; aluminum foil; cake tester; wire cooling rack; sharp paring knife

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4be9486200bCook's Note:  Blueberries are a fruit best served cooked.  Simmer down and read on.  When it comes to eating fresh, perfectly-ripe, high-quality, locally-grown berries hand-to-mouth, there are three seedier-types I enjoy more -- blackberries, strawberries and raspberries (in that order).  I love blueberries, but, it's my opinion that the blueberry is enhanced by cooking. ~ Love is Blueberry Oatmeal-Crumble Cookie Squares ~, and, this recipe, which contains two full pints, is loaded with blueberry flavor.

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

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

07/22/2019

~ Love is a Blueberry, Lemon & Ricotta Pound Cake ~

IMG_2801Blueberries are one of seven native North American food plants grown on a large scale and cultivated commercially. Before I go any further, I should mention the other six:  concord grapes, cranberries, strawberries, corn, beans and squash.  This means these plants were in existence before any of our immigrant ancestors arrived in this new world and the Native Americans were eating them and creating their own uses for them long before they introduced them to the original Colonists.  That said, blueberries were domesticated entirely in the 20th century and it did not take long for this "very American berry" to gain the unconditional love of the entire world.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3782a21200dThree types of blueberries supply over 90% of the market:  lowbush, highbush and rabbiteye.

Lowbush varieties (marketed as "wild blueberries" or "huckleberries") are very small, are harvested by machine and are sold almost exclusively to processing plants who make and sell blueberry products like "wild blueberry pie filling" or "wild blueberry preserves". While this sounds like they'd be at the top of the blueberry class, their flavor is actually disappointingly bland.

Highbush blueberries are the result of the hybridization of wild native plants. They are picked by hand and are sold fresh, representing over two-thirds of the total blueberries sold in our markets everywhere.

Rabbiteyes, which are native to the Southeastern United States were/are called rabbiteyes because the berries turn pink before they turn blue -- the eye color of a white rabbit. They are very similar to highbush blueberries, which are native to northeastern North America. Rabbiteye bushes get quite high, up to 20 feet, and, they bloom earlier in the year than the highbush, which sadly, makes them susceptible to Spring frosts.  Highbush are smaller than rabbiteyes and were called highbush simply because they were/are taller than low bush varieties.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3980d7d200bHighbush blueberries are what my husband Joe grows in our Central PA backyard.  The berries are larger and plumper than rabbiteyes and the fruit is juicier with a thinner skin. Their quality is compromised very little by freezing them (which is great for me because, every year, I have a lot to freeze), while the rabbiteye berry skin tends to get tough when frozen.  Rabbiteyes, eaten out-of-hand are a bit sweeter, but in my opinion: highbush berries are truly the best variety for the best price.

When selecting blueberries, it is noteworthy that size is not an indication of flavor, shrinkage is. Always choose blueberries that are plump and look like they are ready to burst. Berries that have begun to shrink and wrinkle, while usable, will be less flavorful.  AND, no matter what variety you choose to use, be generous -- cooked blueberry anything should be bursting with berries.

IMG_2784Yes, of course you can make this pound cake in a bundt pan, just double the recipe & bake it for about 1 1/2 hours: 

IMG_2875The inspiration for this blueberry pound cake appeared in an issue of Eating Well magazine. What caught my eye about the recipe was the use of low-fat ricotta cheese in place of low fat- sour cream or yogurt, which appealed to me.  Past that, the recipe is pretty much my own, full-fat ingredients and all, which is resemblant of any random recipe for blueberry-lemon pound cake -- the combination is common.  Yes, of course you can make this pound cake in a bundt pan, just double the recipe and bake it for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a cake tester comes out clean. 

IMG_2730

For the dry ingredients:

1 3/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon sea salt

2  cups ripe-but-not-overripe blueberries (10 ounces)

For the wet ingredients:

3/4  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (6  ounces/1 1/2 sticks)

3  large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2  cups sugar

2  teaspoons pure blueberry extract

1  teaspoon pure lemon extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1  cup whole-milk ricotta cheese

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pan

IMG_2732 IMG_2732~ Step 1.  Just prior to mixing the cake batter in step 2 (no longer beforehand), in a medium bowl, use a fork to stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add the blueberries.  Using a rubber spatula, gently stir the blueberries into the flour mixture -- this will help to prevent the berries from settling to bottom of the cake when baking.

IMG_2737 IMG_2737 IMG_2737 IMG_2737~Step 2.  In a large bowl, place the butter, sugar, eggs and extracts.  On high speed of hand-held electric mixture cream these ingredients together, until fluffy and light colored, scraping down the bowl on all sides with the rubber spatula during the mixing process, about 1 minute.  Lower the mixer speed, add the ricotta cheese and thoroughly incorporate it.  Remove the mixer.

IMG_2748 IMG_2748 IMG_2748 IMG_2748~Step 3.  To incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, use a large rubber spatula to add and gently fold the flour/blueberry mixture into the butter/ricotta mixture in 2-3 increments. Transfer the cake batter to an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2" loaf pan that has been sprayed with no-stick spray.  Use the spatula to level the batter.  Place the pan on a baking pan that has been lined with a sheet of parchment -- this will keep the bottom of the cake from browning faster than the top.

IMG_2758 IMG_2758~ Step 4.  Bake cake on center rack of moderate 325º oven, 60-75 minutes (1 hour - 1 hour, 15 minutes), or, until a cake tester inserted into the center in several spots comes out clean. If, during the last 15 minutes of baking, the top appears to be browning to quickly, loosely cover with an aluminum foil sheet.  Remove from oven and cool, in pan, 25-30 minutes prior to inverting onto a wire rack cool completely, about 2-3 hours.

From first slice to last slice, this is indeed...

IMG_2823... the last blueberry & lemon pound cake recipe you'll ever want: 

IMG_2811Love is a Blueberry, Lemon & Ricotta Pound Cake:  Recipe yields 1, 2-pound, 12-ounce pound cake/10-12 slices. 

Special Equipment List:  fork; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 1, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2", 1 1/2-quart loaf pan, preferably glass; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; aluminum foil; wire cooling rack; cake tester

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3786da7200dCook's Note: Blueberries are a fruit best served cooked.  Simmer down and read on.  When it comes to eating fresh, perfectly-ripe, high-quality, locally-grown berries hand-to-mouth, there are three seedier-types I enjoy more -- blackberries, strawberries and raspberries (in that order).  I love blueberries, but, it's my opinion that the blueberry is enhanced by cooking. ~ Love is Blueberry Oatmeal-Crumble Cookie Squares ~, and, this recipe, which contains two full pints, is loaded with blueberry flavor.

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

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

07/20/2019

~ Pucker Up for a Very Blueberry and Lemon Cobbler ~

IMG_3052Blueberry cobbler is simply the easiest fruit cobbler to make.  As fruits and berries go, blueberries are not only a super food, they are super user friendly -- they don't have to be peeled, pitted, sliced or diced prior to using them.  They come ready to go -- they are one quick measure or weigh away from being ready to add to whatever you're making or baking.  That said, the combination of blueberries and lemon together is delightful -- the two go hand-in-hand together.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4be94cf200bBlueberries are one of seven native North American food plants grown on a large scale and cultivated commercially (with three types of blueberries suppling over 90% of the market:  lowbush, highbush and rabbiteye).  The other six:  concord grapes, cranberries, strawberries, corn, beans and squash.  This means these seven plants were in existence before any of our immigrant ancestors arrived in this new world and the Native Americans were eating them and creating their own uses for them long before they introduced them to the original Colonists.  That said, blueberries were domesticated entirely in the 20th century and it did not take long for this "very American berry" to gain the love of the entire world.

Blueberry cobbler -- a very berry American cobbler.

IMG_3032A bit about cobbler:  Cobbler is almost always associated with a baked, deep-dish fruit or berry dessert that emerges from the oven with a semi-crispy top that has been made with a batter, a biscuit dough or a pastry.  There is no right or wrong topping for a cobbler -- it depends on your preference, where you live, and/or who taught you how to make cobbler.  Cobbler recipes have been printed in European cookbooks since the 19th century and were originally main-dish, protein-based meals. Cobblers in the US originated in the Colonies because the English settlers were unable to make their traditional suet puddings for lack of ingredients and proper equipment. The name is said to derive from the finished product looking like a rough cobblestone street.

And this goes together faster than I can eat the blueberries!

IMG_30041 1/2 pounds blueberries (24-ounces)

4  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

1  cup pancake mix

1  cup sugar 

1/2-3/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1  cup milk

2  teaspoons pure blueberry extract

1  teaspoon pure lemon extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sugar 'n Cinnamon

6a0120a8551282970b0240a495efb1200d 6a0120a8551282970b0240a495efb1200d~ Step 1. Place the butter in an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish/2-quart casserole -- I like clear glass because I can keep an eye on the baking process.  Melt the butter in the microwave. Tilt the dish to evenly coat the entire bottom with the melted butter.

IMG_3011 IMG_3011 IMG_3011 IMG_3011 IMG_3011~Step 2.  To make the batter, in a large bowl, stir together the pancake mix, sugar and cinnamon.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the milk, blueberry extract, lemon extract and vanilla extract.  Add the milk mixture to the pancake mix mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula, stir until a thin, semi-lumpy batter forms -- trust me, lumpy is a good thing.

IMG_3021 IMG_3021 IMG_3021~Step 3.  Pour all of the batter into the baking dish right on top of the butter. Do not be inclined to stir the batter into the butter. Spoon/distribute the blueberries evenly over the batter. Generously sprinkle the top of the berries with Sugar 'n Cinnamon.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool to desired temperature, 2-4 hours.

IMG_3031Note:  While the cobbler is baking, the blueberries (or any fruit) are going to sink to the bottom of the baking dish.  At the same time, the batter is going to bubble and bake up to the surface in random spots across the surface.  The cobbler will be golden and will spring back slightly when touched in center.  Walk away.  Cool at least 20-30 minutes.

Serve steamy-hot, slightly-warm or at room temperature:

IMG_3038Pucker Up for a Very Blueberry and Lemon Cobbler:  Recipe yields 8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; large rubber spatula; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish/2-quart casserole, preferably clear glass

IMG_2978Cook's Note: I grew in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania, known as Pennsylvania-Dutch Country.  In that area, the majority of bakers used various streusel recipes to top their fruit pies, coffeecakes and muffins.  On another note, the Pennsylvania-Dutch are well-known for their easy-to-make sour-cream-custard pies, meaning: they substitute sour cream for the classic cream or milk when making their custard pies.  Try my version of ~ PA-Dutch Blueberry & Lemon-Custard Streusel Pie ~.

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

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

07/18/2019

~ My Mexican-Style Ground Beef & Chorizo Meatloaf ~

IMG_2713Meatloaf.  Say the word aloud in the company of family or friends, or even culinary professionals -- you'll find that almost everyone wants to share a fond memory, tell an interesting story, or, recite a favorite recipe or three.  Beware of the soul who has no affection or appreciation for meatloaf. Once a Depression-era meal born out of pure necessity, it enabled savvy home cooks to stretch precious protein in order to feed more people.  That said, everyone will nod in agreement that, nowadays, meatloaf can be whatever you want it to be: an economical family-style comfort meal or a gourmet culinary masterpiece, in the style of almost any culture, and, fit for any king.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8ebc36f970bA bit about meatloaf in America: American meatloaf originated in the form of scrapple, a grainy-textured mash of ground pork scraps and trimmings mixed with moistened cornmeal prior to baking in a loaf shape.  Scrapple has been served by German-speaking Americans in Pennsylvania (the PA Deutsch) since Colonial times. From this somewhat unappetizing, born-out-of-necessity beginning, savvy home cooks adopted the concept of combining ground meat(s) with milk-moistened bread, egg, onion, salt and pepper, thus, evolving, great-tasting, old-fashioned comfort food. Because cows were butchered before Winter, bacuse feeding them over the cold months was both difficult and expensive, the first modern recipes for meatloaf contained just ground beef.

As is the case with traditional American meatloaf recipes, a quick search for Mexican-style-, Texican-Style-, Tex-Mex- or Southwestern-meatloaf recipes will yield more recipes than ever imagined.  Let's be clear though, meatloaf is an all-American invention, and, the same is true for all Mexican-style recipes for meatloaf -- none of them are authentic, meaning, meatloaf is unheard of in Mexico. There are no authentic or classic recipes for meatloaf in the Mexican food world.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4746b1b200dIt'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.

Ground beef & chorizo together = Mexican-Style perfection. 

IMG_2628For 2, 2-2 1/2 pound meat loaves:

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

1  pound ground Mexican chorizo sausage

2  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

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

1  cup milk

3  tablespoons salted butter

3/4-1 cup whole corn kernels, shaved from cooked or grilled corn on the cob, or, well-drained canned corn kernels

3/4-1  cup thin-sliced green onion, white and light green parts only

3/4-1 cup small-diced green bell pepper

3/4-1  cup small-diced red bell pepper

1/2-3/4  cup minced, fresh cilantro leaves and some tender stems

1  tablespoon chili powder

1  tablespoon ground cumin

2  teaspoons sea salt

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

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans

IMG_2637 IMG_2637 IMG_2637 IMG_2637~Step 1.  Place ground beef in a large bowl.  If the sausage is in casings, remove the casings then place the sausage in the bowl with the ground beef.  Using a fork, lightly beat the eggs and add them to the meat.  Using your hands (it's the most efficient), thoroughly combine the two.

IMG_2648 IMG_2648 IMG_2648 IMG_2648 IMG_2648 IMG_2648~Step 2.  Using your fingertips, crush the crackers into small bits and pieces, letting them fall into a medium mixing bowl as you work. Add the milk and stir to combine. Set aside about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the crackers to absorb all of the milk.  The mixture will be thick, chunky and pasty -- just perfect.  Add the cracker mixture to the meat/egg mixture, and once again, using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_2631 IMG_2631 IMG_2631 IMG_2631 IMG_2631 IMG_2631~Step 3.  In a 10" skillet melt butter over low heat. Add the corn kernels along with the bell peppers and green onion.  Season with the chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium- medium-high and sauté until peppers are softened but still crunch-tender, 3-4 minutes.  Stir in the cilantro, remove from heat and cool 30 minutes.  

IMG_2672 IMG_2672 IMG_2672~Step 4.  Add the cool but still-warm vegetable mix to the meat mixture.  Using your hands, thoroughly combine -- thoroughly!

IMG_2686~Step 5.  Spray 2, 1 1/2-quart loaf pans* with no-stick spray. Divide meat mixture in half, form each half into a loaf shape and place one in each pan.  If you have a kitchen scale, now is the time to use it. There will be 4-5 pounds meatloaf mixture.  Using your fingertips, pat and press mixture flat into the pans. *Note:  My mom always baked meatloaf in glass pans.  The advantage is being able to see how fast the loaves are browning.

IMG_2687 IMG_2687~ Step 6.  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.

Without a doubt, as delicious as it looks:

IMG_3349Served w/Mexican-style adobo rice & pico de gallo: 

IMG_2703My Mexican-Style Ground Beef & Chorizo Meatloaf:  Recipe yields 2, 2-2 1/2 pound meatloaves.

Special Equipment List:  fork; 1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; nonstick spoon or spatula; 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2", 1 1/2-quart loaf pans, preferably glass; kitchen scale; instant-read meat thermometer; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27640d2970cCook's Note: The fabulous '50's may be gone forever, but they are certainly not forgotten.  Remember the stainless steel diner in your hometown that served up a thick slice of mouthwatering meatloaf smothered in a smooth, rich pan gravy alongside a big scoop of fluffy mashed potatoes? Remember meatloaf day in your school cafeteria with stewed tomatoes and macaroni and cheese?  Remember the Swanson frozen meatloaf dinner slathered with a thick brown gravy and French fries?  I fondly remember each and every one, but, mostly, I remember my mom's "special" meatloaf, and:  ~ I Love My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf ~.

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

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

07/15/2019

~A Bit About Mexican Cotija & Queso Fresco Cheese~

IMG_2616Americans love Mexican food.  Americans love it so much, we'd all vote for a taco truck on every street corner.  That said, when it comes to Mexican food, we Americans have quizzically wed ourselves to using cheddar or Jack cheddar cheese as toppings in or on nachos, quesadillas, refried bean dip, tacosburritos, enchiladas, chili con carne, etc. Most of us are guilty as charged and I am no exception.  Shredded cheddar is in my refrigerator at all times, and nine out of ten times, it's going on something Tex-Mex.  American kids and adults alike love cheddar, every grocery store in even the remotest regions sells it, and I'm not here to change your mind about it.

Choosing between two items that look identical is tricky. 

Setting our cheddar aside, in recent years, thanks to Mexican food being featured on many TV food shows, high-quality non-chain Mexican restaurants serving authentic Mexican-style dishes have begun popping up in communities, or within reasonable driving distance of communities, who've never tasted anything but Taco Bell before.  Happily, the American palate has become quite sophisticated about Mexican food.  Because of and in conjunction with all of the above, two beloved, real-deal Mexican cheeses have become readily available in American markets (and I couldn't be happier to have them at my fingertips): cotija cheese and queso fresco cheese.

Cheese 101.  Because of aging, no type of cheese is the same across the board -- that applies to cotija and queso fresco too.

Blessed are the cheesemakers.  They make hard, dry, grating cheeses; firm, moist, sliceable cheeses, and; soft, gooey, spreadable cheeses.  They make blue, white and yellow cheeses. Some cheeses are aged for years, others for a few months, and, some aren't aged at all.   They make herby, spicy, fruity and/or nutty cheeses.  They make mild, aromatic and strong, stinky cheeses.  They make cheese from the milk of cows, goats and sheep -- sometimes it's pasteurized and sometimes it's not.  There are a thousand+ varieties of cheese in this food world -- some are mass produced, some are specialty, some are artisan and some are farmstead. There are cheese societies that come up with cheese standards and government organizations that enforce cheese laws.  Yes, thanks to the cheesemakers, we live in a very cheeesy world.

Mexican cheese producers are no different from any other cheese makers, but, today I am limiting my Mexican cheese topic to two of their most popular, new-to-us-Americans, varieties, cotija and queso fresco, and, both of these rising stars fall into the category of "crumbly cow's milk cheese".

A bit about cotija (coh-tee-ha) cheese:

IMG_2622Cotija is a Hispanic/Latin American-style full-fat cow's milk cheese, named after the town of Cotija in the Mexican state of Michoacán, and used mostly in Latin American-style dishes.  When the cheese is young and fresh, it is very white, moist and salty, bearing an immense resemblance to feta cheese -- this is the type of cojita found in American markets.  That said, with aging, which causes the moisture to evaporate, it becomes hard and much tangier, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, which has earned it the nickname, the "Parmesan of Mexico". Originally aged for 3-12 months, nowadays commercial producers add an enzyme to speed up the process.  Cotija cheese, like feta, when exposed to the heat of an oven, softens, but doesn't have the properties to melt to an ooey-gooey state.

A bit about queso fresco (kay-soh fres-koh) cheese:

IMG_2607Queso fresco, which means fresh cheese in Spanish, is a mild-flavored all-Mexican-style cheese, and, is the traditional, most-used cheese throughout Mexico. Resemblant in appearance to cotija, it too is made from cow's milk -- raw milk for use in Mexico and pasteurized milk for distribution in the USA, which behave differently when exposed to the heat of the oven, with the American version melting to a creamier state.  That said, because queso fresco is a fresh cheese with an aging process of just a few days, its shelf life is short and should be used within 5 days. When queso freso is tossed with a a bit of Parmesan, it's a great substitution for the somewhat harder-to-find cotija.  That said, in a pinch, feta cheese can be substituted in most recipes with little-to-no compromise.

Try them on my Grilled Mexican Sweet Street Corn (Elotes)...

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8874bf0970b... or my Warm Mexican Sweet Street Corn Cups (Equites):

6a0120a8551282970b01bb092a9963970d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

07/13/2019

~ Adding Olives to Mexican or Mexican-Style Dishes ~

IMG_2554Olives in Mexican food?  It's controversial.  So-called experts will flatly state that olives in Mexican food make the dish Spanish, not Mexican, meaning "don't".  That said, with some of the largest concentrations of green olive trees in the world being located in regions throughout Mexico, areas bordering Texas, and, the Guadalupe Valley in Northern Baja California, common sense would and should lead one (it did me) to a different conclusion, meaning, if you are an olive lover, "go for it".  Just know, a Mexican dish you added olives to can't be peddled as "authentic" or "classic" Mexican" -- olives render the dish "Mexican-style", or, "Mexican-American fusion food".  

A good deal of research on this subject revealed to me:

IMG_2583 2It's not that Mexicans don't eat olives, they just don't put them on tacos, or use them in dishes accompanied by, or wrapped in, tortillas.  Mostly, they eat olives as snacks, add them to salads or drop them into alcoholic beverages -- who doesn't love a jalapeño- or cotija cheese-stuffed olive eaten out of hand, added to a salad or in their martini.  It's also worth noting that, for a time, during the colonial period, 1521-1821, the Spanish government forbade the planting of olive trees and/or groves in New Spain (as Mexico was named during this period), which, quite possibly, is the sole reason why olives aren't present in vintage family recipes and classic Mexican dishes that have been handed down from generation to generation -- olives were forbidden fruit.  It's also (understandably so) very plausible that Mexican resentment toward the Spanish government in general caused many Mexican cooks to refused to cook with and serve-to-them, their beloved fruit. That said, olive trees did make their way into Mexico (read below), they exist in Mexico today, and, nowadays, Mexicans do, on occasion, just like the rest of us, eat and enjoy olives.

Green olives are not indigenous to Mexico, but they are no stranger to Mexico or the Mexican people or Mexican cuisine.

5b46bd3b30abb.imageWild olives (oleaster) once grew all over the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia, but bore little resemblance to the modern olive tree until about 5,000 years ago when it was cultivated in Crete and Syria into what we are familiar with today.  Once established, olive trees flourished in Spain, Tunisia, Morocco, and other Mediterranean countries for thousands of years, and, were featured in many culinary specialties. The Spaniards were the first to realize this fruit could have international appeal and took the first cuttings to Peru in the early-to-mid 16th century.  From there, Franciscan Monks introduced olives to Central America, then smuggled them North, where olive trees thrived within the walls of their missions of Mexico.  In 1769, olive cuttings were planted at the San Diego Mission where they found yet another happy home in California.

Americans might love black olives, but, they're not even a part of the small part olives play in a Mexican kitchen.  Black olives are an all-American addition, catering solely to the American palate.

IMG_2603"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

07/10/2019

~ Texican Tomato, Cucumber and Green Olive Salad ~

IMG_2583Olives in Mexican food?  It's controversial.  So-called experts will flatly state that olives in Mexican food make the dish Spanish, not Mexican, meaning "don't".  That said, with some of the largest concentrations of green olive trees in the world being located in regions throughout Mexico, areas bordering Texas, and, the Guadalupe Valley in Northern Baja California, common sense would and should lead one (it did me) to a different conclusion, meaning "go for it".  While a Mexican dish with olives in or on it can't be labeled "authentic", the addition of olives is fine.  

A good deal of research on this subject revealed to me:

IMG_2552It's not that Mexicans don't eat olives, they just don't put them on tacos, or use them in dishes accompanied by, or wrapped in, tortillas.  Mostly, they eat olives as snacks, add them to salads or drop them into alcoholic beverages -- who doesn't love a jalapeño stuffed olive eaten out of hand, on their salad or in their martini.  It's also worth noting that, for a time,  during the colonial period, 1521-1821, the Spanish government forbade the planting of olive trees and/or groves in New Spain (as Mexico was named during this period), which, quite possibly, is the sole reason why olives weren't used in vintage family recipes and classic Mexican dishes that have been handed down from generation to generation -- olives were forbidden fruit.  It's also (understandably so) plausible that Mexican resentment toward the Spanish in general caused many to flatly refuse to cook with and serve them their beloved fruit. That said, olive trees did make their way into Mexico anyway (read below), they exist in Mexico today, and, nowadays, Mexicans do, on occasion, just like the rest of us, eat and enjoy olives.

Green olives are not indigenous to Mexico, but they are no stranger to Mexico or the Mexican people or Mexican cuisine.

Wild olives (oleaster) once grew all over the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia, but bore little resemblance to the modern olive tree until about 5,000 years ago when it was cultivated in Crete and Syria into what we are familiar with today.  Once established, olive trees flourished in Spain, Tunisia, Morocco, and other Mediterranean countries for thousands of years, and, were featured in many culinary specialties. The Spaniards were the first to realize this fruit could have international appeal and took the first cuttings to Peru in the early-to-mid 16th century.  From there, Franciscan Monks introduced olives to Central America, then smuggled them North, where olive trees thrived within the walls of their missions of Mexico.  In 1769, olive cuttings were planted at the San Diego Mission where they found yet another happy home in California.

Americans might love black olives, but, they're not even a part of the small part olives play in a Mexican kitchen.  Black olives are an all-American addition, catering solely to the American palate.

IMG_2550For the Texican-style chopped salad:

1-1 1/2 cups quartered and sliced cucumber, peeled or unpeeled, your choice

1-1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half

3/4-1  cup coarsely-chopped deli-salad-bar-style green olive mix, preferably one containing garlic and sun-dried tomatoes

1/2 thinly-sliced scallions

1/4-1/2  cup queso fresco cheese crumbles + 1/4-1/2 cup additional crumbles for garnish

For the red wine vinaigrette:

1/2  cup vegetable oil 

1/4  cup red wine vinegar

1-2  tablespoons sugar, to taste

1  teaspoon dried Mexican oregano

The difference between cotija and queso fresco cheese.

IMG_2394 IMG_2394 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2568~Step 1. To prep salad, slice, dice or chop ingredients as directed, placing all in a medium bowl as you work.  To this point, salad ingredients can be prepped, covered and refrigerated 2-4 hours prior to dressing and tossing.

IMG_2545 IMG_2545 IMG_2562 IMG_2572~Step 2.  To prepare the vinaigrette and dress the salad, in a 1-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid and a pourer top, place the oil, vinegar, sugar and oregano.  Place the lid on the container and vigorously shake it until ingredients are combined.  Add 4-6 tablespoons of the vinaigrette to the salad.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the dressing into the salad.

Note:  This refreshing relish-esque salad, goes great with grilled chicken, steak, ribs, and fish or seafood too.  Got leftovers?  Pull or slice the the protein into bite-sized pieces, toss it into the salad and stuff it into pita pockets for lunch the next day.  There's more.  If you want to serve it as a starter course to a sit-down meal, spoon it atop a bed of crispy lettuce chiffonade -- it's dressed to pucker-up, briny perfection.  That said, because it's marinated, it's best served within 12-24 hours, so, don't make more than you and yours can eat in within that time frame.

This refreshing chopped relish-esque, condiment-type salad...

IMG_2580... pairs great w/chicken, ribs, steak, fish or seafood (pictured here w/Southwestern Cheese-Topped Corn & Bean Pudding):

IMG_2589Texican Tomato, Cucumber and Green Olive Salad: Recipe yields 4-6 cups side-dish salad.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; large rubber spatula

IMG_2426Cook's Note:  With a few cuisine-appropriate substitutions, this salad can be transitioned to pair with food from any number of cultures.  For example:  To prepare ~ Greek-Style Chopped-Salad w/Red Wine Vinaigrette ~, use a kalamata black and green olive blend, red onion, feta cheese and Mediterranean oregano (in place of  green olive and sun-dried tomato blend, scallions, queso fresco and Mexican oregano. Or, to make it Italian, go with basil and small, fresh mozzarella balls.

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

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

07/07/2019

~Southwestern Cheese-Topped Corn & Bean Pudding~

IMG_2511From chicken and ribs to rib-eye, flank and skirt steaks, during the months of July and August and into the Fall, the food that comes off our grill is frequently alla the American Southwest.  My family craves those bold flavors, and, my Southwestern-style corn and bean pudding, a spin-off of my Midwestern-style baked corn casserole is my go-to side-dish.  Placed on the table next to a crispy garden salad full of just-picked tomatoes and cucumbers: there's no need to call my family to the table twice.  Serve an in-season fruit cobbler for dessert?  They'll follow me anywhere.

IMG_2503Fresh vs. canned corn.  Without compromise, either is great.

You do not need fresh sweet corn to prepare this.  Without compromise, canned corn actually works really well.  In fact, it works so well, I don't hesitate in the least to use it so I can make this casserole any time of the year, and, I'm using canned corn today, so you can see just how easy it is to prepare it that way.  That said, if your are so inclined to make it using fresh corn, substitute:

4 cups whole corn kernels (shaved from 3-4 ears of freshly-picked & blanched corn)

2  cups of my recipe for ~ Country-Style Downhome-Delicious Creamed Corn ~

IMG_2455

2  15 1/4-ounce cans whole-kernel corn, well-drained

1  14 3/4-ounce can cream-style corn

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

1/2  cup thinly-sliced green onions, white and light green parts only

1  4 1/2-ounce can green chiles, drained of excess liquid

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

2  jumbo eggs, beaten

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

1  tablespoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon black pepper

3-4  ounces finely-shredded Colby & cheddar cheese blend , for topping casserole

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dish

IMG_2460 IMG_2460 IMG_2460 IMG_2460~Step 1.  In a large bowl, place creamed corn.  In a small colander, drain the whole corn kernels, then rinse and drain the black beans, followed by freeing the green chiles of excess liquid.  Place each in the bowl with the creamed corn as you work, followed by the green onions. 

IMG_2469 IMG_2469 IMG_2469 IMG_2469 IMG_2469~Step 2.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk together the cream, eggs, flour, sugar, salt and pepper.  Add the cream mixture to the bowl of vegetables.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold the vegetables to evenly distribute them amongst each other.  Add and thoroughly fold the whisked cream mixture into the mixed vegetable mixture.

IMG_2480 IMG_2480~Step 3.  Spray a 2-quart, 8" x 8" x 2" casserole with no-stick cooking spray.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish.  To this point, casserole can be placed, covered with plastic wrap, in refrigerator several hours in advance of baking.  Return to room temp about 1 hour prior to baking according to the following directions:

IMG_2486 IMG_2486 IMG_2486~Step 4.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, about 1 hour.  Casserole will be golden brown and puffed up throughout.  Remove from oven and allow to rest about 2-3 minutes prior to serving, just long enough for it to stop bubbling and settle a bit.  Top with a layer of cheese.  Return to oven and bake 1-2 additional minutes, just until cheese melts without browning.

Patience -- allow to cool 4-5 minutes -- tick, tock...

IMG_2531... prior to slicing, scooping & serving.

IMG_2520Stick a fork in it & enjoy a very Southwestern kinda day:

IMG_2530Southwestern Cheese-Topped Corn & Bean Pudding:  Recipe yields 8-12 side-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  small colander; large rubber spatula; 2-cup measuring container; fork; 2-quart, 8" x 8" x 2" casserole; plastic wrap (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c6d67804970bCook's Note:  When I'm cooking sweet corn on the stovetop or on the grill, I always make more than I need.  Why?  Once I remove the kernels from the cobs, I use them in several recipes in place of canned corn.  To learn ~ How to: Shave Corn Kernels Off the Cob with No Mess ~, just read my post!

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

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

07/04/2019

~ A Simply-Scrumptious Summer Strawberry Cobbler ~

IMG_2378 2Fresh strawberry cobbler with home-churned strawberry ice cream, made the old-fashioned way, is going on our picnic table tonight.  A few years ago that I realized strawberries make superb cobbler.  I experimented on a whim and it turned out great.  It was so successful, I tried this same recipe, substituting pineapple for strawberries that same Summer, meaning:  I gained cobbler confidence.   I don't know why it surprised me, strawberries contain a lot of citric acid, so, their own natural flavor makes them perfect for the relatively-fast turn-around in the oven required for a traditional cobbler.  The moral of the story is: pretty much any juicy fruit or berry will work fantastic in this recipe, so, use what you've got and don't look back.  Be like me -- cobbler confident.

Be like me -- cobbler confident.

IMG_2369A bit about cobbler:  Cobbler is almost always associated with a baked, deep-dish fruit or berry dessert that emerges from the oven with a semi-crispy top that has been made with a batter, a biscuit dough or a pastry.  There is no right or wrong topping for a cobbler -- it depends on your preference, where you live, and/or who taught you how to make cobbler.  Cobbler recipes have been printed in European cookbooks since the 19th century and were originally main-dish, protein-based meals. Cobblers in the US originated in the Colonies because the English settlers were unable to make their traditional suet puddings for lack of ingredients and proper equipment. The name is said to derive from the finished product looking like a rough cobblestone street.

And this goes together faster than I can eat strawberries!

IMG_23424  cups hulled and 1/4"-thick sliced strawberries (24-ounces sliced strawberries)

4  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

1  cup pancake mix

1  cup sugar + 3 additional tablespoons sugar to macerate strawberries

1/2-3/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1  cup milk

2  teaspoons pure strawberry extract

Sugar 'n Cinnamon

IMG_2346 IMG_2346 IMG_2346 IMG_2346~Step 1.  Hull and 1/4"-thick slice the strawberries as directed, placing them in a medium bowl as you work.  Add the 3 tablespoons additional sugar.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold the sugar into the sliced strawberries and set aside, to macerate, about 5-10 minutes (no longer than that).

IMG_4768 IMG_4768~ Step 2. Place the butter in an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish/2-quart casserole -- I like clear glass because I can keep an eye on the baking process.  Melt the butter in the microwave. Tilt the dish to evenly coat the entire bottom with the melted butter.

IMG_4772 IMG_4772 IMG_4772 IMG_2354~Step 3.  In a large bowl, stir together the pancake mix, sugar and cinnamon.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the milk and strawberry extract.  Add the milk mixture to the pancake mix mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula, stir until a thin, semi-lumpy batter forms.

IMG_2358 IMG_2358 IMG_2358~Step 4.  Pour all of the batter into the baking dish right on top of the butter. Do not stir the batter into the butter.  Using a slotted spoon, spoon/distribute the strawberries evenly over the batter. Generously sprinkle the top of the berries with Sugar 'n Cinnamon.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool to desired temperature, 2-4 hours.

IMG_2366Note:  While the cobbler is baking, the strawberries (or any fruit) are going to sink to the bottom of the baking dish.  At the same time, the batter is going to bubble and bake up to the surface in random spots across the surface.  The cobbler will be golden and will spring back slightly when touched in center.  Walk away.  Cool at least 20-30 minutes.

Serve steamy-hot, slightly-warm or at room temperature...

IMG_2384w/old-fashioned strawberry-custard ice cream:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad37bb114200dA Simply-Scrumptious Summer Strawberry Cobbler:  Recipe yields 8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 4-cup measuring container; 1-cup measuring container; large rubber spatula; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish/2-quart casserole, preferably clear glass

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09adfbfd970dCook's Note: Here's a pie I seldom get the chance to make because, after making strawberry shortcakes, a batch of   strawberry preserves and  strawberry dessert topping, I rarely have strawberries left.  That said, I keep this super-simple go-to recipe in my repertoire for times when I do have a few cups of seriously-ripe strawberries at that "use 'em or lose 'em" stage.

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

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