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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

02/23/2021

~ Homestyle Beef Tips, Gravy & Amish Egg Noodles ~

IMG_9493Beef tips and gravy.  It's one of those humble-yet-hearty, frugally-inexpensive, weeknight meals our moms and grandmoms served to a hungry family after purchasing a pound or three of cheap-at-twice-the-price odds-and-end chunks of beef cubes (aka "stew beef") at the butcher shop.  No one had to be called to the table twice when this dinner was goin' on the table.  Some families preferred their meal ladled atop white rice, others liked it ladled atop mashed potatoes, and, still others served it ladled atop buttered egg noodles.  My family fell into the egg noodle category.

My recipe came via my mother and her recipe came from her mother, which means this recipe has been kitchen-tested and mother-approved through three generations.  I doubt it differs much from most family recipes for beef tips and gravy.  That said, it's worth mention that neither my mom or my grandmother used the type of prepackaged "stew beef" we find in our grocery stores today.  Why?  What we buy today is a random sampling of various beef cuts.  Some are marbled with fat and others are not, and, that can only mean one thing, some of the cubes will end up tender and others will end up shoe leather.  It's frustrating, so, for that reason, I recommend using inexpensive chuck steak exclusively.  Of course it is your choice, but, you've been warned.    


IMG_9406For prepping, seasoned-flour dredging & lightly-browning the beef
:

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

1/2  cup Wondra quick-mixing flour for sauces and gravy

1  packet granulated beef bouillon

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon onion powder

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons coarse-grind pepper

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  tablespoons salted butter

IMG_9482For the vegetable add-ins:

1  cup medium-diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup peeled and thinly-sliced carrot

1  cup thinly-sliced celery

1  4-ounce can sliced mushrooms, well-drained, liquid reserved to be added to beef stock mixture below

IMG_9459For the liquids to make the gravy:

3  cups beef stock

1/4  cup reserved liquid from the can of mushrooms

1/4  cup port wine

1  tablespoon Worcestershire sauce

~ Step 1.  Add the beef stock, reserved liquid from the can of mushrooms, port wine and Worcestershire sauce to a 1-quart measuring container.  Set aside.

IMG_9360 IMG_9364 IMG_9364 IMG_9414 IMG_9417~Step 2.  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 flour, granulated bouillon, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Toss to incorporate the spices throughout the flour.  In three batches, add the beef cubes to the seasoned flour, thoroughly tossing to coat the beef cubes in flour on all sides after each addition.

IMG_9400 IMG_9407 IMG_9421 IMG_9424~Step 3.  Place oil and butter n a 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven.  Over low heat, melt butter into the oil.

IMG_9426 IMG_9426 IMG_9434 IMG_9437 IMG_9442~Step 4.  Increase the heat under the Dutch to medium-high and wait a moment for butter and oil to get hot.  Add all the flour-dredged beef cubes. Using a large slotted spoon or spatula to keep the meat moving around almost constantly, sauté until beef is ever-so-slightly browned and swimming in a flavorful gravy, about 10-12 minutes.

IMG_9448 IMG_9450 IMG_9454~ Step 5.  Add all of the vegetables to the beef in the Dutch oven (the diced onion, sliced carrot, sliced celery and drained mushrooms).  Continue to cook, stirring frequently with the slotted spoon or spatula, until onions are tender and all vegetable are steaming and cooked through, about 10-12 more minutes.

IMG_9460 IMG_9460 IMG_9468 IMG_9473 IMG_9475 IMG_9478 IMG_9400~Step 6.  Add the 3 1/2 cups of liquid (the beef stock, liquid from the mushrooms, wine and Worcestershire sauce) to the Dutch oven.  Give the mixture thorough stir.  When the mixture returns to a boil, adjust (lower) the heat to a gentle simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, stirring frequently, for 45-60 minutes.  The gravy will be nicely thickened and the beef tips will be tender.  Partially cover the Dutch oven and allow the mixture to steep, about 30 minutes, to allow all the flavors time to marry.

While beef is steeping, prepare noodles (or potatoes or rice): 

IMG_9499Homestyle Beef Tips, Gravy & Amish Egg Noodles:  Recipe yields 6-8 hearty main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-quart measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon ziplock bag; 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven or 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot w/lid; large slotted spoon or spatula; soup ladle  

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4d83358200bCook's Note: Soups 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.  ~ My Pennsylvania Deutsch-Style Beef Noodle Soup ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021) 

02/20/2021

~ Fry the Entire Danged Thing -- Unsectioned Wings ~

IMG_9376Chicken wings.  While not even close to the top of my list of healthy-eating snacks or meals, they are at the top of my list of favorite snacks or meals, and, much like the greater percentage of the rest of the population of the United States, from time-to-time I get a craving for them.  Also, much like the greater percentage of the rest of the population of the United States, I am in agreement, deep-fried wings, as opposed to air-fried oven-roasted or barbecue-grilled, are the best wings.

What started in 1964 as late-night pub grub at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, deep-fried chicken wings, is now found in many forms.  Truth told, there's not much that Buffalo-style chicken can't do, and applying Buffalo wing sauce as a glaze to oven-roasted chicken leg-thigh quarters, or, stirring it into some previously roasted or poached chicken is the perfect way to transition this iconic game day snack into all sorts of other appetizers, sandwiches, main or side-dish salads, or, main-dish meals.  Trust me, as a lady who loves her deep-fried wings, but, only in the privacy of her own home (where she's free to lick fingers, smack lips, pick teeth, and, drip sauce), while different, many of my Buffalo-Style delicacies are every bit as enjoyable as classic wings.

Fresh chicken wings 101 -- each wing has three parts:

Screen Shot 2021-02-20 at 6.24.57 AMThe drummette, the flat wingette, &, the wing tip.

Wings_tray_packaged-image-2019-1024x673As you shoppers all know, there are two ways to purchase fresh wings: sectioned (sold as wingettes or party wings, which contain only the drumettes and the flats, not the wing tips) and unsectioned (sold as chicken wings). Sectioned wings are more expensive for a reason.  One doesn't have to get out the poultry shears to cut them apart at their two joints, or, get out the cleaver to hack them apart at their two joints.  In my girly-girl food world, both quality as disagreeable tasks that I prefer to deligate to family menfolk.

Perhaps it was the last two months of intolerable weather (many snow storms mixed with a few shots of freezing rain for good measure), or, perhaps it's after a year of isolation against Covid-19. Perhaps it was the TGIF gin-and-tonic that was talking to me, but, yesterday, standing in my kitchen all by myself and faced head-on with the task of sectioning a four-pound package of chicken wings with my own two hands, I resisted.  "Screw this", said I.  "Damned the torpedoes, full steam ahead."  "Throw these suckers into the hot oil of the deep-fryer just as they are." Seventeen minutes later, the first batch of three emerged, and, sigh-oh-my.  I will NEVER, EVER, section wings again.  Some days are better than others, and, this old dog just learned a new trick.

Fried & salted -- each one pulls-apart perfectly & easily:

IMG_9384Try it my way.  Life's too short to section chicken wings:

IMG_9395"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary & Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

02/17/2021

~Jiffy Mix Cornbread, Corn Casserole & Corn Pudding~

IMG_9352Three distinctly-different recipes with three decidedly-different results, all using one, inexpensive common-to-us-all, ingredient:  Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix.  At 59 cents for each eye-catching blue-and-yellow box, it's been a time-saving staple in my pantry for over four decades.  I am not alone.  A week ago, there was discussion, on one of my Facebook friend's pages, about store-bought cornbread mixes.  We discussed the rising cost of them, and, which one us "cheaters" consider the best.  As it turned out, almost unanimously (Martha White gets honorable mention), it was the Jiffy brand.  We went on to share our favorite ways to "doctor it" up.  Fun, yum and don't tell anyone it's a mix.  It's the hands-down preferred brand amongst all of us card-carrying cheaters.

~ In a Jiffy-Cornbread-Mix Double-Delicious Cornbread ~:

IMG_9121~ In a Jiffy-Cornbread-Mix Triple-Corn Corn Casserole ~:

IMG_9208~ In a Jiffy-Cornbread-Mix Creamed-Corn Pudding ~:

IMG_9320"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

02/14/2021

~ In a Jiffy-Cornbread-Mix Creamed-Corn Pudding ~

IMG_9320 2A few snow storms ago, more than three storms and within 7-10 days, but, truth told, there've been so many snow events, I've lost track, there was discussion, on one of my Facebook friend's pages, about store-bought cornbread mixes.  We discussed the rising cost of them, and, which one us "cheaters" consider the best.  As it turned out, almost unanimously, it was the 59-cent-a-box Jiffy brand. We went on to share our favorite ways to "doctor it" up.  Fun, yum and don't tell anyone it's a mix.  Jiffy corn muffin mix, has been a staple in my pantry for over four decades, and, it's the hands-down preferred brand amongst all of us card-carrying cheaters.

When the end justifies the means, I'm all for shortcuts.

IMG_9264Jiffy corn muffin mix-- a staple in my pantry for over 40 years:

IMG_92134  tablespoons salted butter

1 1/2  cups buttermilk

2  tablespoons sugar

3/4  teaspoon  sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse black pepper

2  large eggs

2  14 1/3-ounce cans cream-style corn

1  8 1/2-ounce box Jiffy corn muffin mix

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole

IMG_9216 IMG_9216 IMG_9220 IMG_9220 IMG_9230 IMG_9232 IMG_9234~Step 1.  Spray a 2-quart casserole with no-stick spray and set aside. Preheat oven to 350º with oven rack in center.  Place butter in a 2-cup measuring container and melt in microwave. After shaking the container of buttermilk (to make sure it's an even consistency throughout), stir 1 1/4 cups buttermilk into butter, followed by the sugar, salt and pepper.  Lastly, crack in the eggs and whisk them in too.

IMG_9239 IMG_9239 IMG_9245 IMG_9250 IMG_9251~Step 2. IMG_9257Transfer the butter-buttermilk mixture large bowl.  Add and fold in the contents of both cans of cream-style corn.  Add the contents of the box of Jiffy corn muffin mix and fold until ingredients are moistened -- having a few lumps in this mixure is just fine.  Transfer mixture to prepared casserole -- casserole will be very full.

IMG_9257 IMG_9257~ Step 3.  Bake casserole on center rack of preheated 350° oven 45-50 minutes, until puffed through to center and just set.  Casserole will still be slightly "jiggly" in the center, so, do not over bake.  Remove from oven, place on a wire rack and allow to cool about 15 additional minutes prior to scooping onto plates or into bowls and serving -- casserole will firm up a bit during the 15 minute rest time, so, do not skip this step.

Go ahead, get a scoop, take a taste.  It's amazing all by itself, or:

IMG_9301Try corn pudding served w/a side of nachos topped w/chili:

IMG_9333A cross between corn bread & corn pudding = corn casserole:

IMG_9200And, don't forget the recipe for double-delicious cornbread:

IMG_9118In a Jiffy-Cornbread-Mix Creamed-Corn Pudding:  Recipe yields 8-10 servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart casserole; 2-cup measuring container; fork; large rubber spatula; wire cooling rack
 
6a0120a8551282970b01bb0984a3a7970dCook's Note:  Cornbread, corn casserole, or, corn pudding. Whatever Jiffy recipe you choose, besides fried chicken or barbecued spareribs, my favorite thing to serve any one of them with is chili.  In the latter 1980's, my mom came across a copycat recipe for Wendy's chili in Women's Day magazine.  Except for the addition of the Tostitos salsa, which I added at the behest of our middle son, the recipe is unchanged.  I won't lie.  I have several recipes for chili in my repertoire, but, this one, kid-tested and mother approved, like Dave Thomas, is a success story.  It pleases everyone.   Try my ~ Kids' Stuff:  Mel's Copycat Wendy's Chili Con Carne ~.
 
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
 
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

02/11/2021

~In a Jiffy-Cornbread-Mix Triple-Corn Corn Casserole~

IMG_9208Baked corn casserole is a side-dish staple throughout the Midwest.  Baked corn casserole with some self-rising cornmeal (or cornmeal plus baking soda and/or baking powder) whisked into it is a Southern side-dish staple.  If you can imagine a loaded-with-corn casserole with the flavor and some of the texture of a corn muffin or wedge of cornbread added to it, you're no doubt salivating right now -- it's a "crossing of the streams" so to speak, the best of both, baked into one delicious side-dish.  Jiffy corn muffin mix, has been a staple in my pantry for over four decades, and, at 59-ish cents a box, it's the hands down preferred brand amongst us card-carrying cheaters.

When the end justifies the means, I'm all for shortcuts.

IMG_9187Jiffy corn muffin mix-- a staple in my pantry for over 40 years:

IMG_91493  large eggs, lightly beaten

1  cup buttermilk

2  tablespoons sugar

3/4  teaspoon  sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse black pepper

1  14 1/2-ounce can corn kernels, well-drained

1  14 1/3-ounce can cream-style corn

1  8 1/2-ounce box Jiffy corn muffin mix

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole

IMG_9154 IMG_9154Step 1.  Spray a 2-quart casserole dish with no-stick cooking spray and set aside.  Preheat oven to 350º with oven rack in center.  Open the corn kernels, drain off the excess water, then, empty the contents onto a plate that has been lined with two-three layers of paper towels.  Set aside so corn kernels can drain thoroughly.  

IMG_9156 IMG_9156 IMG_9163 IMG_9163 IMG_9167 IMG_9167 IMG_9174 IMG_9174 IMG_9179~Step 2.  In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, then whisk in the buttermilk, sugar, salt and pepper. Using a large spatula, fold in the corn kernels followed by the the creamed corn.  Lastly, add and fold in the contents of the box of corn muffin mix.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole -- it will be quite full, but this won't bake up over the top..

IMG_9182 IMG_9190~ Step 3.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350° oven, about 45 minutes.  Casserole will be golden brown and puffed up through to center.  Remove from oven and allow to rest about 10-15 minutes prior to serving.  This casserole with firm up slightly as it cools, so, take advantage of this time.  Tick, tock. 

A perfect side to chili w/cheese on a chilly day:

IMG_9200Try In a Jiffy-Cornbread-Mix Double-Delicious Cornbread too:

IMG_9121In a Jiffy-Cornbread-Mix Triple-Corn Corn Casserole:  Recipe yields 8-10 servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart casserole; paper towels; whisk or fork; large rubber spatula; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01a73e0c7a6f970dCook's Note: Corn casserole.  It's a midwest staple.  If there was ever a side-dish recipe you need to have, this is it.  To quote my son, "this casserole will change your life".  If you have never tasted a traditional corn casserole, there is nothing ordinary about it.  It's a scoop of steamy, creamy, crunchy, sweet, peppery, corn kernel goodness.  It's one of the best comfort foods known to sweet corn lovers.  Be sure to try my ~ My Rich & Creamy Baked Sweet Corn Pudding ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

02/08/2021

~In a Jiffy-Cornbread-Mix Double-Delicious Cornbread~

IMG_9121Breakfast, lunch or dinner, more-often-than-not, a corn muffin or wedge of cornbread is a welcome addition to the table.  Served hot or warm slathered with butter and/or a drizzle of honey, puts it over-the-top.  That said, while corn muffins and cornbread are easy enough to make from scratch (if you use enough yellow cornmeal on a regular basis to justify keeping a bag in your pantry), there is a popular and inexpensive way to speed the process up and still produce a seriously-delightful loaf of this beloved Southern staple.  It's called Jiffy corn muffin mix, and, at 59-ish cents a box, it's the hands down preferred brand amongst us card-carrying cheaters.

When the end justifies the means, I'm all for shortcuts.

IMG_9112Jiffy corn muffin mix-- a staple in my pantry for over 40 years:

IMG_90401  8 1/2-ounce box Jiffy corn muffin mix

4  tablespoon salted butter, melted (1/2 stick)

1/2  cup buttermilk, shaken prior to measuring for proper consistency

2  large eggs, lightly beaten

1  14 1/2-ounce can fire-roasted corn kernels, well-drained

1  4-ounce can fire-roasted green chiles, well-drained (optional but highly-recommended)

2  tablespoons sugar

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole

IMG_9044~ Step 1.  Spray a 2-quart casserole with no-stick cooking spray and set aside.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Open the fire-roasted corn kernels and optional fire-roasted chiles, drain the excess water from both, then, empty the contents of both onto a plate that has been lined with two-three layers of paper towels.  Set aside so veggies can drain thoroughly.

IMG_9046 IMG_9049 IMG_9052 IMG_9057 IMG_9061 IMG_9061 IMG_9071~Step 2.  Place butter in a 1-cup measuring container and melt in microwave. Stir the sugar into the butter, then, after gently-shaking the container of buttermilk (to make sure the buttermilk is an even consistency throughout), stir 1/2 cup buttermilk into the melted butter-sugar mixture.  Transfer to a large bowl.

IMG_9075 IMG_9077 IMG_9081 IMG_9081~Step 3.  Crack the eggs into the same 1-cup measuring container and use a fork to lightly-beat them.  Add to the buttermilk mixture and use a rubber spatula to thoroughly incorporate the eggs.

IMG_9087 IMG_9087 IMG_9098 IMG_9098~Step 4.  Add, fold, and thoroughly incorporate well-drained corn and chiles into the buttermilk-egg mixture.  Add the box of corn muffin mix and fold again, until thoroughly incorporated.

IMG_9105 IMG_9105 IMG_9105Step 5.  Transfer the mixture to prepared casserole dish.  Bake on centre rack of preheated 350° oven about 30 minutes, or, until puffed through to the center and a cake tester inserted into two-three spots in the centre comes out clean.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool about 15 minutes prior to serving warm, or, cool completely, about 1 hour, to serve at room temperature.

Slice while warm or at room temperature:

IMG_9118Go ahead, take that first taste.  You'll be wowed:

IMG_9131It's full of flavor, cornbread crumbly, &, delightfully moist:

IMG_9145In a Jiffy-Cornbread-Mix Double-Delicious Cornbread:  Recipe yields 8-10 servings.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; 1-cup measuring container; fork; large rubber spatula; 2-quart casserole; wire cooling rack; cake tester or toothpick

6a0120a8551282970b017c372c8a5b970bCook's Note: How seriously does one take their cornbread recipe?  I take mine very seriously, but, I'm not proclaiming it the best recipe.  Why? If I walked into a room full of people right now and struck up a conversation about cornbread, the cornbread lovers would all chime in unision, "I have the absolute best recipe and I'd be happy to share it with you."  If there were a Southerner or two in the room with us Yankees, there'd be a lecture about Southern cornbread being the only "real" cornbread.  The  discussion would revolve around the rights and wrongs of cornbread baking, and, Northern- vs. Southern-style cornbread. With one or two minor deviations, I classify my ~ Triple-Corn Jalapeño Corn-Muffins ~ as Southern.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos Courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

02/05/2021

~ Easiest Skillet-Fried Barbecue-Sauced Pork Chops ~

IMG_9029When my kids were kids, barbecue-sauced pork chops, served up atop a bed of my easy-to-make recipe for better than store-bought stovetop macaroni and cheese was one of their favorite weeknight meals.  No one needed to be called to the table twice on barbecued pork chop night, and, I didn't have to spend all afternoon cooking in order to reap the reward of their accolades.  All I had to do was brown the chops on both sides and then let them slow simmer in a mixture of barbecue sauce and water for about 30 minutes until fork tender.  One-skillet perfection.

Pork chops, barbecue sauce & mac & cheese = happy kids.

IMG_89894  3/4"-1" thick, bone-in pork loin chops

3-4  tablespoons corn or peanut oil, for sautéing chops

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, for seasoning chops

1 1/4  cups K.C. Masterpiece original barbecue sauce, plus, additional barbecue sauce for dipping or drizzling at tableside

1/4  cup water

IMG_8991 IMG_8991 IMG_8996 IMG_9002~Step 1. In a 12" nonstick skillet, heat the corn or peanut oil over low heat. Increase heat medium-high, add the chops, then, season their tops with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Sauté the chops until they're browning nicely on the bottom, about 10-12 minutes.  Using a spatula, flip the chops over and season the second side with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Lower the heat slightly, to medium, and continue to sauté the chops on their second sides until nicely golden on the bottom too, about 10-12 more minutes.

IMG_9006 IMG_9011 IMG_9013 IMG_9017 IMG_9023~Step 2.  Add the barbecue sauce to the chops in the skillet, followed by the water.  Quickly heat the barbecue sauce to bubbling, stirring in and around and under the chops constantly for a moment or two to incorporate the sauce into the flavorful pan drippings.  Adjust the heat to a gentle simmer.  Cover skillet and simmer until chops tender, 20-30 minutes.

Serve alongside or atop a generous helping of mac & cheese w/additional barbecue sauce for dipping or drizzling:

IMG_9033Easiest Skillet-Fried Barbecue-Sauced Pork Chops:  Recipe yields 4 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: 12" skillet, preferably nonstick w/lid; 1-cup measuring container; fork and/or spatula; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b0263e960981a200bCook's Note: Unless I'm staring-at a 1 1/2"-2" double-cut pork chop, complete with a pocket full of stuffing inside, that's been painstakingly stovetop- or oven-braised, I believe all pork chops taste better slathered with barbecue sauce.  So, for the purpose of this post, my reference to barbecued pork chops refers to pork chops slathered in barbecue sauce, not pork chops prepared in traditional barbecue-style (low and slow over smoldering coals or embers).  As long as the end justifies the means, I'm easy to get along with.  For another way to make ~ Easy K.C.-Style Oven-Baked Barbecued Pork Chops ~, try this recipe.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

02/02/2021

~ Jamaican-Style Shrimp and Scallop Coconut Curry ~

IMG_8966I'm no expert, but, I do know just enough about Jamaican cooking to NOT be dangerous.  I know that a dish consisting of ackee fruit and salt cod is their National Dish.  Alas, even if I could get my hands on an ackee here in the states, I wouldn't touch it. Parts of the ackee are toxic, so, my better judgement tells me to leave that recipe to the experts.  And, while I love salt cod and fresh cod too, I like seafood (like crab, shrimp, scallops and lobster) better, so, I'm confidant I can create a luscious Jamaican-style dinner tonight that's well within my culinary wheelhouse.     

6a0120a8551282970b01a73dae3659970dIn case you've never had the opportunity to try Jamaican fare, from barbecue to jerk, the Jamaicans make some of the best fish, chicken, pork, beef and lamb dishes in the world. They make some magnificent curries too, so, tonight, for our N'or Easter snowstorm dinner, I decided to make a Jamaican seafood curry -- shrimp and scallops are always in my freezer.  It's easy to prepare, full of great Caribbean flavor, and, the only "special ingredient" you'll need:

Jamaican-Style Curry Powder!

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

"Curry" is a catch-all English (British) term used in Western cultures to denote stewike dishes from Southern and Southeast Asia, as well as, Africa and the Caribbean.  Curry powder (the commercially marketed blend of spices we buy in our American markets) doesn't really exist in any of these places.  Hand-made pulverized blends of dried spices, the amounts of which vary to suit the palate of each family or cook are prepared in a mortar and pestle.  Dishes called curry are relatively easy to prepare and can contain meat, poultry, fish or shellfish.  Seasonal vegetables can be included, or, the dish can be made of vegetables (vegetarian).

This spicy, delightful, snowstorm meal is just perfect:

IMG_89071 1/2  pounds peeled and deveined extra-large shrimp (26/30 count), tails off (about 2 pounds unpeeled shrimp to start)

1 1/2 pounds large sea scallops

1 1/2-2  cups each: green bell pepper, red bell pepper and sweet onion, cut into 1/4" strips, strips cut into halves

1  cup chopped cilantro leaves + additional leaves for garnish

6  tablespoons hot or mild Jamaican-style curry powder

1  tablespoon garlic paste

2  tablespoons ginger paste

1  teaspoon sea salt

1/4-1/2  teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper powder (optional) (Note:  Jamaicans typically use fresh, Scotch Bonnet chilies for extra heat.  I don't often have them on hand, but, the slightly citrusy flavor of the incendiary powder, which I keep in my pantry, is a marvelous substitute.)

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

2  14-ounce cans coconut milk that has been well-shaken prior to opening

3-4  tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil, for preparing skillet

5  cups uncooked basmati rice, or, 10 cups steamed basmati rice, cooked via your favorite method (Note:  I use an electric rice cooker, and, I steam the rice before I start prepping.)

IMG_8936 IMG_8936 IMG_8944 IMG_8944~Step 1. Using the measuring cup that came with the rice cooker, measure and place 5 cups uncooked basmati rice, followed by 5 cups cold water, into the steamer container.  Stir.  Close the lid and turn the steamer on to steam the rice -- this will take 18-20 minutes.  When machine signals the rice is done, open the lid and rake through it to separate the grains -- I use my vintage pasta fork to rake.  Close the lid and set aside to keep warm while preparing the curry.

IMG_8910 IMG_8910 IMG_8910~ Step 2.  Prep the green and red bell peppers, onion, and cilantro, placing them in a large bowl as you work.  Add the spices: the curry powder, garlic paste, ginger paste, salt and Scotch bonnet pepper powder.  Using a large spoon, give the mixture a thorough stir, to coat all the vegetables in all the spices. 

IMG_8922 IMG_8922 IMG_8922 IMG_8930 IMG_8930 IMG_8930~Step 3. Add the well-drained diced tomatoes and stir again.  Add the coconut milk and stir again. Add the shrimp and scallops and stir again to thoroughly combine.  Set aside, 10-15 minutes (30 maximum), to give flavors time to marry.

IMG_8934 IMG_8956 IMG_8956~Step 4. Heat the vegetable oil in an 8-quart chef's pan with straight, deep sides over medium-high.  Add the seafood mixture to skillet, increase heat to high, and continue to cook, stirring constantly for 5-6 full minutes. Turn heat off and allow mixture to rest on the stovetop 3-5 minutes, to finish cook the seafood -- sauce will be nicely thickened, the seafood will be perfectly cooked.  Portion steamed rice into 6-8 soup- or pasta-type bowls and ladle steaming-hot curry over rice.  Serve immediately.

Serve steaming-hot seafood curry ladled over rice.  

IMG_8974Jamaican-Style Shrimp and Scallop Coconut Curry:  Recipe yields 6-8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: electric rice steamer; cutting board; chef's knife; colander or strainer; large bowl; large spoon; 8-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3b9e210200dCook's Note: Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of serving cheese or cheese sauces with fish or seafood, but, there are exceptions to every rule, so, for those who, like myself, do appreciate the divine goodness of dishes like lobster macaroni and cheese, you've gotta try my creamy-dreamy Island-Style Jamaican-Italian-American Rasta Pasta with succulent, butter-poached lobster meat added to it.  In the event you've never heard of rasta pasta, you might want to try my ~ Jamaican-Style Butter-Poached Lobsta Pasta Pasta ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

01/30/2021

~ Broiled & Baked St. Louis-Style Sparerib Sandwich ~

IMG_8895An episode of Diners Drive-Ins and Dives left me salivating in the middle of the night last night. Guy Fieri's Triple D visited a place in Southern California that featured a barbecued sparerib sandwich.  The eatery, of course, smoked their signature-cut of St. Louis-Style ribs, removed the meat from the bones, fried it up on a flat-top (kinda like burnt ends) then piled it high on a nice soft bun with slices of sweet onion and bread-and-butter pickles -- my kinda sandwich.  As luck would have it, I had a package of St. Louis-Style ribs in my freezer, which have thawed on my counter most of the morning, and, I'm making these sandwiches for dinner tonight (sans the smoker).

When it comes to purchasing pork spareribs, we cooks almost always have a choice to make: babyback (sometimes labeled "pork back ribs"), or, St. Louis-style (sometimes labeled "breastbone-off, pork ribs").  To the eye, babybacks are smaller (which appeals to many home cooks because they're more manageable), but, please know, this has nothing to do with the size of the pig (meaning, for those spreading false information: they're not taken from baby pigs).  

6a0120a8551282970b0263e9553c34200bBabybacks are cut from where the rib meets the spine after the loin is removed.  Each rack weighs about 1 1/2-2 pounds and averages 10-13 curved, 4"-5"-long ribs.  In our house, one rack will feed 2 people. St. Lewis- Style refers to the way the ribs are cut, not a style of barbecue.  They are larger, meatier, and cut from the belly after the belly is removed.  They get trimmed in the style of St. Lewis butchers, by cutting away the breastbone and cartilage to form a rectangular shape.  Each rack weighs about 2 1/2-3 pounds and averages 12-14 flatfish, 6"-7"-long ribs.  When serving these, I plan on one rack feeding 3-4 people.  If you're so inclined to make a rack for the sole purpose of making these sandwiches, plan on feeding 6-8.

My broiled & baked method for cooking St. Lewis-Style ribs:

6a0120a8551282970b0263e9553fff200b1  rack St. Lewis-style spareribs

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

2  cups water

1 1/4-1 1/2 cups barbecue sauce of choice, used in 3 increments (6-8 tablespoons, 6-8 tablespoons and 6-8 tablespoons) throughout recipe

IMG_3430 IMG_3430Step 1. Remove ribs from packaging and pat dry in paper towels.  Flip the rack, bottom side up and place it on a large work surface.   Using a chef's knife or a pair of kitchen shears either remove the flap of meat that's up against the bone or trim it of excess fat.  This choice is yours -- I trim off the excess fat and leave it on.  Using a sharp-tipped paring knife, gently raise and loosen the membrane (called the silver skin) from the first rib, then, using a paper towel or two to get a grip on the membrane, slowly, but firmly, tear it off.

IMG_3427 IMG_3427 IMG_3445 IMG_3445 IMG_3450 IMG_3450~Step 2.  Insert a wire rack into a 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum broiler pan and place a piece of parchment atop the rack.  Transfer the ribs to the parchment, placing them bottom side up.  Generously season with freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Place the pan on an oven rack that has be positioned 8" underneath preheated broiler.  Broil ribs until golden, 18-20 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Flip ribs over, season top side with sea salt and peppercorn blend and return to broiler 18-20 more minutes.

IMG_3459 IMG_3459 6a0120a8551282970b0263e9554671200bStep 3.  Remove from oven and reset the oven to 350°.  Without moistening the ribs, add 2 cups of water to bottom of pan. Using a pastry brush, generously paint the rack of ribs, on both sides with the barbecue sauce, using about 6-8 tablespoons per side.  Cover and tightly seal the pan with aluminum foil -- if the foil rips or tears, start over with a new piece of foil.  Return ribs to the oven and bake 1 hour.

IMG_3468 IMG_3468 IMG_3468Step 4.  Remove pan from oven, reset the oven to broil, and position the oven rack to 6" underneath the heat source.  Paint top of ribs with the last 6-8 tablespoons of the barbecue sauce.  Place the pan under preheated broiler and broil the ribs again, until sauce is bubbling, turning golden brown (caramelizing) and, showing slight signs of charring across the surface, about 5-6 minutes.  Watch carefully. The sugar in any type of barbecue sauce can and will go from brown to burned very quickly.

Remove from oven & transfer to a large board:

IMG_3479Slice ribs while hot, warm or at room temperature:

IMG_3485Remove meat from rib bones & chop into bite-sized pieces:

IMG_8879Place 3/4-1 cup rib meat, tossed w/2 tablespoons barbecue sauce (per sandwich), in a nonstick skillet, on the stovetop.   

IMG_8884Sauté over medium-high heat for 1-1 1/2 minute:

IMG_8886Assembly = roll + onion slices + meat + bread & butter pickles: 

IMG_8901Broiled & Baked St. Louis-Style Sparerib Sandwich:  Recipe yields Recipe yields 1 rack of perfectly-cooked, large, meaty St.-Lewis-style spareribs/enough meat for 6-8 sandwiches.

Special Equipment List: paper towels; chef's knife or kitchen shears; paring knife; 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan; wire cooling rack; parchment paper; 2-cup measuring container; pastry brush; aluminum boil

6a0120a8551282970b01a511797d9b970cCook's Note: Country-style spareribs are taken from the rib end of the pork loin, and, like baby backs and St. Lewis ribs they are fatty, flavorful, and, very meaty.  While all three are suited perfectly for the dry, high heat of the grill, country-style ribs take to the oven like ducks to water.  I love them, but, more importantly, so does my entire family. ~ Broiled & Baked:  K.C. BBQ'D Country-Style Ribs ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

01/27/2021

~ Paring 3 Store-Bought Ravioli w/3 Perfect Sauces ~

IMG_8867Let's be honest, even those of us who can and do make ravioli from scratch, don't typically serve them for a family-friendly weeknight meal.  Why?  Making ravioli from scratch is a lot of work. That's why these one-to-two-bite labors-of-love are usually reserved for holidays and celebrations. That said, high-quality store-bought ravioli can be found in the average grocery store.  Rana is my go-to brand, and, you won't find them in the frozen food aisle -- they're found in the refrigerated section where fresh pasta is sold.  When paired with an easy-to-make-from-scratch sauce, ravioli can and should be added to every pasta-loving family's weeknight meal rotation:  It's ravioli night!

Nice & Easy Mushroom Ravioli Alfredo alla Primavera:

IMG_8725Shrimp & Lobster Ravioli w/Tomato-Cream Sauce:

IMG_8803Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli w/Florentine Sauce:

IMG_8845"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

01/24/2021

~ Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Florentine Sauce ~

IMG_8845Creamy cheese sauces have a place in my food world -- not a big place, but a place.  My attitude toward them is to use them judiciously, in a manner that does not overpower the dish being served, and, in moderation, so as not to tip the scale.  To my credit, I have developed my own versions of more than a few:  Easy Boursin, Trendy Rasta PastaClassic Mornay, Silky Parmesan-Sherry, Dreamy Gorgonzola, Basic Asiago, and a Kid-Friendly Cheddar.  It is my opinion that, for the most part, all store-bought cheese sauces are a compromise, so, don't debate it, just grate it -- take the few minutes required to make your cheese sauce from scratch.

"A la Florentine" = in the style of Florence, Italy.

"A la Florentine" is an Italian term which refers to egg, fish or seafood dishes prepared "in the style of Florence, Italy", meaning:  they are presented on a bed of spinach and topped with a creamy sauce, usually Mornay sauce, which contains Parmesan cheese.  What about the chicken Florentine we all love?  Well, it originated here in America and was made famous by upscale French restaurants back in the 1960's, where it remains ensconced today.  I for one am a spinach lover, and I am here to tell you:  eating spinach in this context is a downright decadent, indulgent, somewhat noble experience.  If you are convinced you don't like spinach -- get over it.

The green thing called Florentine = spinach (fresh vs. frozen):

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3b43db8200dAs a spinach lover, I'm grateful to whomever developed the process for industrially cleaning and packaging it washed, dried and in bags. Why? Handling spinach "au natural" is labor intensive from the standpoint it must be meticulously cleaned of sandy grit, and, it can't get overly-wet while doing that because it loses its integrity quickly. Then, the tough stems need to be snipped.  While I recommend using fresh spinach for most Florentine recipes, if all you have is frozen spinach, worry not, all sorts of Florentine-style dishes turn out uncompromisingly fine using frozen, and, it's perfect for this creamy, full-flavored, cheese sauce.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3d305c5200b 6a0120a8551282970b022ad38d50c8200c~ Step 1.  I can think of many instances to use fresh spinach, but this quick-and-easy weeknight-meal sauce is not one of them -- frozen chopped spinach yields the right amount every time with no need to cook it.  Thaw the spinach overnight in the refrigerator or in a colander placed in the sink with cold water dribbling over it.  Once thawed, wad the spinach up in several layers of paper towels and squeeze as hard as possible to remove as much liquid as possible.  Kept covered in the refrigerator, this task can be done a day ahead. 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3d3e7c4200bFor the Florentine Sauce:

4  tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon each:  dehydrated minced onion and garlic, and, garlic and onion powder

1/2-3/4  teaspoon each:  sea salt and red pepper flakes, to taste

1-1 1/2  cups heavy or whipping cream cream, to control consistency

1  cup whole milk ricotta cheese

4  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1, 10-ounce box frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and drained

IMG_7578 IMG_7580 IMG_7583 IMG_7588 IMG_7589 IMG_7594 IMG_7595 IMG_7599~Step 2.  In a 12" nonstick skillet over low, heat the olive oil.  Add and stir in the dry seasonings. Add cream to skillet and increase heat to bring it to the point of steaming or barely simmering. Stir in the ricotta and the Parm-Regg.  Simmer very gently for 1-2 minutes.  Stir in the spinach and continue stirring until spinach is heated through.  Remove from heat, cover, and set aside.

IMG_8817For the ravioli:

2  10-ounce bags high-quality spinach & ricotta ravioli, preferably at room temperature

4-6  tablespoons salted butter, cut into bite-sized pieces (cubed or sliced), at room temperature, the softer the better

1 1/2-2 cups Florentine sauce, from above recipe, + any leftover sauce for serving at table side 

IMG_8757 IMG_8822 IMG_8830~Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot bring 3 quarts of water to a boil.  Add the sea salt. Add ravioli and cook until al dente, 3-4 minutes.  Turn heat off.  Thoroughly, drain the ravioli into a colander, then immediately return the hot pasta to the still hot stockpot and place the stockpot back on the still hot stovetop.

IMG_8832 IMG_8837 IMG_8840 IMG_8843~Step 2.  Add the butter pieces.  Using one or two spoons, ever-so-gently gently toss, like you would a salad, until butter is completely melted and ravioli are evenly coated in the slightly-salty butter.  Add 1 1 1/2 cups of the sauce and toss again until the ravioli are evenly enrobed in the buttery-rich Spinach-laced sauce. Cover and set aside about 4-5 minutes, to allow the ravioli to absorb the excess sauce.  Uncover, gently stir, then, add more sauce, if and as necessary, in small increments, until desired consistency is reached.  Serve leftover sauce at table side.

In a world full of so much wrong, one thing is very right: 

IMG_8852Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli with Florentine Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups sauce, enough to coat 1-1 1/4 pounds ravioli/6-8 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  small colander; paper towels; microplane grater; 12" nonstick skillet; large spoon; 2-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; two spoons

6a0120a8551282970b0278800f7e74200dCook's Note: Cook's Note: Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.  When serving any sort of Italian-American fare, a double-whammy of calories and carbohydrates, in the form of garlic bread, is huge hit.  Why?  Because eating Italian-American fare without a great big basket of garlic bread on the table is, gulp, culinarily criminal. Make a salad too, because it too goes great with it too (and makes one feel a bit less guilty). Try my recipe for ~ A Great Garlic Bread Spread for Great Garlic Bread ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

01/21/2021

~Shrimp & Lobster Ravioli with Tomato-Cream Sauce~

IMG_8803Every once in a while, my ability to cook is overshadowed by my desire to cook something remarkably easy, yet good enough to serve to guests -- no special skills, tools or knowledge required.  Today is such a day.  This simple, straightforward and scrumptious recipe, taken from the pages of absolutely nowhere, goes from stovetop to table in less time than it takes to cook spaghetti, and, when beautifully plated, will bamboozle everyone into thinking I cooked all day.

"I dream of stirring cream into marinara sauce." ~ Melanie

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c818686a970bThe only thing more rewarding than having a freezer shelf full of my perfectly-seasoned ~  Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~ (made from our own garden's tomatoes, onions, garlic and basil), is being able to use it as a base for this decadent tomato-cream sauce.  My recipe is remarkably similar to most recipes, so, feel free to use your own homemade marinara  if you've got it.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08bd3352970dStore bought?  I think not, but, nonetheless, that choice is yours to make.  My ratio is 2:1, or:

2  cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

This can be changed to suit your taste, but, do not substitute half and half or milk.  Just don't do that.

IMG_8740 IMG_8744 IMG_8746 IMG_8750~Step 1. Place the marinara in a 2-quart saucepan.  Add and stir in the cream. Over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, heat until sauce is steaming.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

Pretty, pink & perfectly-seasoned sauce.  Easy enough so far?

IMG_8754For the shrimp & lobster ravioli:

2  10-ounce bags high-quality shrimp and lobster ravioli 

1  tablespoon  sea salt, for seasoning pasta water

4-6  tablespoons salted butter, cut into bite-sized pieces, at room temperature, the softer the better

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

the tomato-cream sauce

IMG_8757 IMG_8759 IMG_8763 IMG_8766~Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot bring 3 quarts of water to a rolling boil.  Add the 1 tablespoon sea salt.  Add the ravioli and cook until al dente, about 3-4 minutes.  Turn heat off. Thoroughly, drain the ravioli into a colander, then immediately return the steaming-hot ravioli to the still hot stockpot and place the stockpot back on the still hot stovetop.

IMG_8768 IMG_8771 IMG_8772 IMG_8774 IMG_8779 IMG_8782~Step 2.  Add the butter pieces and the diced tomatoes.  Using one or two spoons, ever-so-gently gently toss, like you would a salad, until butter is completely melted and ravioli are evenly coated in the slightly-salty butter.  Add 1 1 1/2 cups of the sauce and toss again until the ravioli are evenly enrobed in the buttery-rich sauce. Cover and set aside about 4-5 minutes, to allow the ravioli to absorb the excess sauce.  Uncover, gently stir, then, add more sauce, in small increments, until desired consistency is reached.  

Portion & serve immediately.  No cheese please:

IMG_8811Shrimp & Lobster Ravioli with Tomato-Cream Sauce:  Recipe yields 6-8 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: 2-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; two spoons

6a0120a8551282970b0278800f7e74200dCook's Note: Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.  When serving any sort of Italian-American fare, a double-whammy of calories and carbohydrates, in the form of garlic bread, is huge hit.  Why?  Because eating Italian-American fare without a great big basket of garlic bread on the table is, gulp, culinarily criminal. Make a salad too, because it too goes great with it too (and makes one feel a bit less guilty). Try my recipe for ~ A Great Garlic Bread Spread for Great Garlic Bread ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

01/18/2021

~So Easy -- Mushroom Ravioli Alfredo alla Primavera~

IMG_8725I'm not a vegetarian, but, as a card-carrying carnivore, I can tell you, if I were, this easy-to-make creamy-dreamy pasta dish would be at the top of my weeknight menu rotation.  Why?  Because when I indulge in this decadent dish, I don't miss the meat for a second.  In Italian, fettuccine means "little ribbons", which is why stranded pasta is always used.  In Italian, primavera means "Spring" and culinarily, primavera just means that fresh vegetables (raw or blanched) are added to the dish during or at the end of its preparation.  Long story short, fettuccini Alfredo that has vegetables added to it is simply referred to as Alfredo alla primavera -- and it is awesome.

A bit of history about the iconic fettuccine Alfredo:  

6a0120a8551282970b026bde8a8b22200cAlfredo is an Italian pasta dish in which any type of stranded pasta, most famously "fettuccine" (which means "little ribbons" in Italian), is enrobed in a rich sauce usually made from butter, cream, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and black pepper.  A Roman restauranteur, Alfredo di Lelio first created this dish for his pregnant wife in 1914.  As the story goes, she had lost her appetite or was having trouble keeping food down, either while she was pregnant or after the birth of their son.  Alfredo, set out to create a dish that would not only appeal to his wife, but would be nutritious (calorie and carbohydrate packed) as well.  He developed his dish based on the traditional pasta al burro, which was simply paper-thin ribbons of hand-made pasta with butter.  Alfredo made egg fettuccine, tripled the amount of butter and laced it with copious amounts of Parmigianno-Reggiano cheese.  His wife loved it, so, he added it to his restaurant menu.

As the story goes, as fate would have it, in 1927, the American silent film stars Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks, while honeymooning in Italy, stopped into di Lelio's Alfredo alla Scrofa restaurant, ate the dish and the two lovebirds adored it.  They loved it so much, before they departed, they presented him with a golden fork and spoon along with a picture of them eating in his restaurant.  When the famous newlyweds returned to Hollywood, they began serving fettuccine Alfredo at their dinner parties.  It didn't take long for the news to spread throughout Hollywood, making di Lelio's restaurant and his pasta dish world famous.

High-quality store-bought mushroom ravioli makes this a super-easy-to-make, decadent, weeknight, family-friendly meal:

IMG_86872  10-ounce bags high-quality mushroom ravioli

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning water for pasta

8  tablespoons salted butter, cut into bite-sized pieces, at room temperature, the softer the better

1 1/2  teaspoons garlic powder

1  teaspoon Italian seasoning blend

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes, more or less, to taste (optional)

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

1  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1-1 1/4-1 1/2 cups heavy or whipping cream, at room temperature

2  16-ounce bags frozen vegetables, your favorite combo, freshly-prepared (simmered, steamed or microwaved), well-drained, and, ideally, still slightly warm

IMG_8685 IMG_8694 IMG_8695 IMG_8699 IMG_8701~Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot bring 3 quarts of water to a rolling boil.  Add the 1 tablespoon sea salt.  Add the ravioli and cook until al dente, about 3-4 minutes.  Turn heat off.  Thoroughly, drain the ravioli into a colander, then immediately return the hot pasta to the still hot stockpot and place the stockpot back on the still hot stovetop.

IMG_8704 IMG_8705 ~Step 2.  Add the butter pieces, along with the spices:  garlic powder, Italian seasoning, nutmeg, black pepper, red pepper flakes and sea salt.  Using one or two spoons, ever-so-gently gently toss, like you would a salad, until butter is completely melted and ravioli are evenly coated in a flavorful butter and spice mixture.

IMG_8709 IMG_8711 IMG_8714 IMG_8717 IMG_8720 IMG_8722~Step 3.  Toss in the cheese followed by one cup of the cream.  Again, using oe or two spoons, gently toss like you would a salad, until the mixture is thoroughly combined.  Gently toss the cooked and drained vegetables into the mixture.  Cover and let rest, 5-6 minutes, tossing occasionally, to allow pasta and veggies time to absorb all of the cream mixture.  Continue adding additional cream, in small 1/4 cup increments, until desired consistency is reached -- the longer the ravioli sit prior to serving, the more cream will be needed.

Portion into desired-sized serving bowls & serve immediately.  

IMG_8738So Easy -- Mushroom Ravioli Alfredo alla Primavera:  Recipe yields 6-8 main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; two two spoons

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3e1d465200bCook's Note: Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.  When serving any sort of Italian-American fare, a double-whammy of calories and carbohydrates, in the form of garlic bread, is huge hit.  Why?  Because eating Italian-American fare without a great big basket of garlic bread on the table is, gulp, culinarily criminal. Make a salad too, because it too goes great with it too (and makes one feel a bit less guilty). Try my recipe for ~ A Great Garlic Bread Spread for Great Garlic Bread ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

01/15/2021

~ Doctoring Up a Box of Stovetop-Type Stuffing Mix ~

IMG_8669I'm no different that a lot of you when it comes to weeknight dinners.  Sometimes I put a small chicken in the oven to roast, other times I fry a few pork chops, sometimes I roast or poach a turkey tenderloin -- easy to make, minimum-fuss fare.  Stuffing goes great with all of them.  That said, on a busy week day, many times, all I  have the time or inclination to make are two easy-peasy satellite side-dishes -- a bag of our favorite steam-in-bag vegetables, and, a box of "doctored up" Stovetop-type stuffing -- and there's no shame in either one.  That's why I keep Stovetop brand stuffing in my pantry at all times -- there are other brands, I like Stovetop.

IMG_8658Great stovetop stuffing from a box -- what the doctor ordered:

IMG_86321  6-ounce box Stovetop brand stuffing mix, or your favorite brand of stovetop-type stuffing

4  tablespoons salted butter

1/4  teaspoon poultry seasoning

3/4  cup diced celery

3/4  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

1/4  teaspoon poultry seasoning

1 3/4  cups chicken stock, microwaved until steaming

IMG_8636 IMG_8637IMG_8640 IMG_8642~Step 1.  Place a 2-quart saucepan over low heat.  Add the butter and poultry seasoning.  When the butter has melted, add the diced celery and onion.  Adjust heat to medium-high, and, stirring frequently, lightly-sauté the vegetables until crunch tender, about 2 1/2-3 minutes -- not overcook.  

IMG_8643 IMG_8646 IMG_8648 IMG_8650 IMG_8652~Step 2. Add and thoroughly stir in the the dry stuffing mix, being sure to stir until the sautéed vegetables are throughly incorporated throughout.  Add the steaming hot chicken stock.  Do not stir.  Cover the saucepan and allow to rest 3-5 minutes.  Uncover the saucepan and rake through the stuffing with a fork, to "fluff" it up.  Serve immediately.

Every now & then, it's OK to enjoy thinking inside the box:

IMG_8654Doctoring Up a Box of Stovetop-Type Stuffing Mix:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 2-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; fork

6a0120a8551282970b0263ec2929ef200cCook's Note: The sweet and savory act of combining porcine and apples is classic.  Every whole roasted pig that I've ever seen had an apple in its mouth.  I honestly can't remember where I read it or heard this, but, my recollection is: this centuries old custom had to do with pigs being fattened by feeding them apples, so, this was considered a show of respect for the animal, representing it eating apples in life and into eternity (hogs were typically slaughtered in the Fall and apples were in season).  All I know is pork and apples go hand-in-hand, and, this easy, family-friendly casserole is a recipe everyone should try: ~ My Aunt's Apple-Pie Pork-Chop & Stuffing Casserole ~.  Trust me, it's wonderful.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

01/12/2021

~ Doctoring Up a Box of Spanish-Style Yellow Rice ~

IMG_8623Mexican rice became a staple on our family's table back in the 1980's.  Whenever we ate in a Mexican restaurant, remarkably, our three kids would eat the side-dishes:  the muli-colored veggie-bejeweled rice, the murky-earthy slightly-soupy refried beans, and, the bright-green garlic-laced guacamole.  Without complaint or prodding, they'd slather and scoop 'em onto and into tacos, fajitas, carnitas (or whatever else they were eating), along with red or green salsa and the bottled hot-sauce du jour.  Go figure, and, "shut my mouth wide open."  I started stocking my pantry with whatever Texican-type ingredients I could find in our Central, PA grocery stores. 

I know I'm not alone on this point,  C-19 has changed what I store in my pantry -- it's not bad, just different.  In preparation for the lock down a few months ago, I stocked several boxes of Rice-a-Roni, four boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese, a big box of Hungry Jack instant mashed potatoes, a few boxes of Stovetop stuffing mix, Betty Crocker cheesy scalloped potatoes, and, because my family loves to eat Mexican-style food often, lots of Goya Spanish-style yellow rice mix.  Why?  I knew these easy-to-make convenience-food side-dishes not only have a long shelf life, they're tasty, and, with little effort I can make any of them taste really good.

Great Spanish-style rice from a box -- what the doctor ordered:

IMG_85721  7-ounce box Goya Spanish-style yellow rice

1  14 1/2-ounce can fire-roasted corn kernels

1  14 1.2-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes

3  tablespoons salted butter

1/2  teaspoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

IMG_8573 IMG_8575 IMG_8581 IMG_8585 IMG_8587~Step 1.  Into a 2-cup measuring container, drain as much liquid as possible from the corn and the tomatoes -- be sure to get as much liquid out of the cans as is possible.  Add enough water to total 2 1/2 cups.  Pour the liquid into a 2-quart saucepan.  Add the butter, ground cumin and red pepper flakes.  Bring to a simmer over medium- medium-high heat.

IMG_8588 IMG_8593 IMG_8596Step 2.  Add the rice-and-seasoning packet to the simmering liquids. Cover the saucepan and lower the heat to a steady, very gentle simmer.  Cook, covered, until rice has absorbed the liquid and small holes appear across the surface -- 20-22 minutes.  Do not uncover the saucepan during the cooking process.

IMG_8599 IMG_8603 IMG_8605 IMG_8608~Step 3.  Using a fork, rake through the steaming hot rice to separate the grains.  Add and rake in the corn, followed by the diced tomatoes.  Serve immediately with your favorite Mexican food.

Every now & then, it's OK to enjoy thinking inside the box:

IMG_8626Doctoring Up a Box of Spanish-Style Yellow Rice:  Recipe yields, 4 generous cups/4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; 1-quart saucepan w/lid; fork

6a0120a8551282970b0223c849deb2200c-800wiCook's Note: The biggest difference between Mexican rice and Spanish rice (as per me) is akin to the difference between a side-salad and a chef's salad.  Both contain similar ingredients, but, the first gets eaten alongside the main course, while the latter is the main course. If anyone has a better description, I'm all ears, but, the bottom line:  both are Spanish.  When I think "Mexican rice", I think "tawny-red-tinged, onion-and-garlic laced, side-dish riddled with bits of vegetables (beans, corn and/or tomatoes, or peas and carrots)".  When I think "Spanish rice", I think "protein-packed Mexican rice full of chards or chunks of meat, poultry or shellfish as a main-dish".  Try my ~ Mexican-Style Adobo Rice (Meatless Spanish Rice) ~.    

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

01/09/2021

~ Doctoring Up a Box of Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes ~

IMG_8546I know I'm not alone on this point,  C-19 has changed what I store in my pantry -- truth told, it's not bad, just different.  In preparation for the lock down that occurred a few months ago, I stocked several boxes of Rice-a-Roni, four boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese, a big box of Hungry Jack instant mashed potatoes, and, a few boxes of Stovetop stuffing mix and Betty Crocker cheesy scalloped potatoes.  Thanks to them being staples in my mom's pantry, I knew these easy-to-make convenience-food side-dishes not only have a long shelf life, they're tasty.

Steamy & creamy on the inside w/a crispy top: 

IMG_8549In the case of the scalloped potatoes, my mom always, always, always made them, even for company and holidays.  She had her method for "doctoring up" (her words) these boxes of dehydrated potatoes.  There were never any complaints and never any leftovers -- everyone gobbled them up.  I so forgot how much like them, I've taken to making them occasionally.  In my kitchen, they're no longer "just in case" food.  They're scrape-the-casserole-clean comfort food.

Prepare two boxes in a 1 1/1-quart casserole.

Skip the water, use whole milk (4 1/2 cups).

Give the potatoes ample time to soften prior to baking.

Rest the casserole about 15 minutes prior to serving.

Better boxed scalloped potatoes -- what the doctor ordered:

IMG_85092  5-ounce boxes Betty Crocker's cheesy scalloped potates

4 1/2  cups whole milk, heated on the stovetop or in the microwave until steaming

4  tablespoons salted butter, sliced or cubed

Place dehydrated potatoes in bottom of 1 1/2-quart casserole:

IMG_8510Slowly add the steaming hot milk:

IMG_8517Add the sliced or cubed butter:

IMG_8518Wait for the butter to melt, 1-2 minutes:

IMG_8524Sprinkle in dry cheese sauce mixture from the packets:

IMG_8527Using a spoon, slowly stir dry cheese sauce into all:

IMG_8528Set aside for 60 minutes, then bake @ 350°, 30-40 minutes:

IMG_8532Every now & then, it's OK to enjoy thinking inside the box:

IMG_8542Doctoring Up a Box of Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes:  Recipe yields 6-12 side-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  4-cup measuring container; 1 1/2 quart casserole

Cook's Note:

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021) 

01/06/2021

~ The Difference Between Pancake and Waffle Batter ~

IMG_8504Pancakes or waffles, waffles or pancakes.  Everyone loves them, and, once you make the decision to make one of these two common breakfast foods, in the culinary scheme of things, no two dishes that start out fundamentally same (with a flour, milk and egg batter), could possible emerge so different.  When it comes to pancakes and waffles, the number one mistake folks make it assuming they can use the same batter for both -- perfectly underderstandable, but wrong. Waffle batter is thicker than pancake batter and requires more eggs, fat and sugar in order to render the unique, signature texture.  It's not rocket science, but, it is important to know.

Pancakes are thin, tender, fork-friendly discs.  They're cooked in some fat (melted butter or oil), in a skillet or on a flat griddle.  Waffles are quite different.  Waffles, which are, well, waffled, are cooked on a special-gridded two-sided device that allows them to emerge crispy on the outside, yet, soft and steamy on the inside.  Waffles are usually served side-by-side, on a plate with a knife-and-fork.  Both taste great with traditional maple syrup and butter, but, both go great with fresh fruits, jam, or, ice-cream too.  Once you have a foolproof recipe for both, and try it once or twice, to grasp the technique, you'll be making both like a pro.  Don't stress -- read on to learn:

How to make the best, basic, classic, pancake batter:

IMG_8492How to make the best, basic, classic waffle batter:

IMG_8433"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary & Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

01/03/2021

~ How to Make the Best, Basic, Classic, Pancake Mix ~

IMG_8492We all do it.  Why not.  Wake up in the morning, go into the pantry, and pull out a time-saving box of Bisquick or Aunt Jemima pancake mix.  Whether it gets mixed with milk or buttermilk, the pancakes are quick to make, they taste great, and, in this busy world, there's no shame in it.  My attitude is "morning food should be easy food".  That said, dry pancake mix can be made in minutes at home and stored in a tightly-sealed jar or ziplock bag, in the pantry, for up to six months.  Just add some milk or buttermilk, an egg, and, a touch of vanilla extract.

IMG_8449For the dry pancake mix:

6  cups unbleached all-purpose flour

6  tablespoons sugar

3  tablespoons baking powder

1  tablespoon baking soda

2  teaspoons sea salt

~ Step 1. in a large bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.  Transfer to an airtight container.  Store in the pantry for up to six months.

IMG_8451For the pancakes:

1  cup pancake mix

1  cup whole milk or 1 1/4 cups buttermilk (Note:  Buttermilk is quite a bit thicker in consistency than whole milk, so a bit more is required.)

1  large egg

2  teaspoons vanilla extract

corn or vegetable oil, for frying the pancakes

IMG_8460 IMG_8461 IMG_8464 IMG_8466 IMG_8469~Step 2.  To make the pancake batter, in a medium bowl, place and whisk together the milk (or buttermilk) egg and extract -- I like to use a hand-held rotary egg beater to do this.  Add the dry mixture to the wet mixture. Beat the ingredients together, and, there is no need to worry about getting out all of the lumps.  Cover and set aside for about 5-10 minutes. Check the consistency, and, if the mix seems too thick, whisk in a splash of milk or buttermilk.

IMG_8470 IMG_8473 IMG_8479 IMG_8483~Step 3.  To cook/fry the pancakes, in any size nonstick skillet, place a thin coating of corn or vegetable oil.  Place skillet over medium- medium-high heat.  For each pancake, pour about 6 tablespoons into the hot the oil.  The pancake will form itself.  Once bubbles form across the surface, and the perimeter of the pancake looks slightly-dryer than the middle, use a spatula to flip the pancake over -- this will take about 2 1/2-3 minutes. After flipping, cook pancake on the second side, for about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Pancakes will be lightly golden with slightly-crispy edges.

Note:  For evenly-shaped, evenly-cooked pancakes, I like to fry them individually, in 1-2, 8" skillets -- two skillets on the stovetop at once.  After each 1-2 cook, I add a splash of additional oil to each pan, and, continue to cook until all of the batter has been used.  Try it my way -- each pancake comes out perfect every time.  Trust me -- one pancake per skillet is the ticket to perfection.

Serve w/butter & maple syrup, or, your favorite toppings:  

IMG_8495 2How to Make the Best Basic Classic Pancake Batter:  Recipe yields 7 cups pancake mix/each cup yields 8 pancakes.

Special Equipment List:  whisk; air-tight food storage container or ziplock bag; hand-held rotary egg beater; any size nonstick skillet; spatula

IMG_8433Cook's Note: In my kitchen, a snowy morning with buttermilk in the fridge adds up to one of two things: pancakes or waffles.  I'm not sure if there is a better way to fritter away some time on a cold morning.  This morning we decided to go the waffle route.  They're a little more involved than pancakes, mostly because a waffle iron is involved, but, what the heck, my foolproof buttermilk waffle recipe only takes a few minutes to whisk together, and, they emerge from the waffle iron light-and-fluffy with crispy edges -- exactly how a waffle should be.  Learn ~ How to Make the Best, Basic, Classic Waffle Batter ~. Oh yum.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2021)

12/31/2020

~ How to Make the Best, Basic, Classic Waffle Batter ~

IMG_8433In my kitchen, a snowy morning with buttermilk in the fridge adds up to one of two things: a big plate of pancakes or a big plate of waffles.  I'm not sure if there is a better way to fritter away some time on a cold Thursday morning.  This morning we decided to go the waffle route.  They're a little more involved than pancakes, mostly because a waffle iron is involved, but, what the heck, my foolproof buttermilk waffle recipe only takes a few minutes to whisk together, and, they emerge from the waffle iron light-and-fluffy with crispy edges -- exactly how a waffle should be.

IMG_8272Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.  It's a waffle morning: 

IMG_8341For the dry ingredients:

2  cups all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

2  tablespoons sugar

1/2  teaspoon salt

For the wet ingredients:

2 1/2  cups buttermilk

1/4  cup vegetable oil

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

4  large eggs, separated

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing waffle grids

IMG_8347 IMG_8347 IMG_8347 IMG_8356 IMG_8362 IMG_8362 IMG_8362 IMG_8362~Step 1.  Ready the ingredients:  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, sugar and salt.  In a 2-cup measuring container, stir together the buttermilk and vanilla.  In a small ramekin, use a fork to thoroughly whisk the egg yolks.  In a medium bowl, using a hand-held rotary egg beater, whisk the egg whites until frothy and white.

IMG_8380 IMG_8384 IMG_8386 IMG_8388 IMG_8392 IMG_8399 2 IMG_8404~Step 2.  In a large bowl (I use an 8-cup measuring container), using a hand-held rotary beater, place and thoroughly combine the dry ingredients with the buttermilk mixture.  Add the egg yolks and beat again.  Add the frothed egg whites and beat again.  Set aside for about 10-15 minutes -- do not skip this step.

IMG_8411 IMG_8415 IMG_8417 IMG_8425 IMG_8430~Step 3.  Preheat the waffle iron, according to manufacturer's directions -- I preheat my CuchinaPro waffle iron at setting #4, which is a medium heat. I also like to place my waffle iron atop a few layers of paper towels, so the towels can catch the inevitable drips of batter that occur as each batch of waffles cook.  When the waffle iron signals that it is ready, open the iron and spray a light coating of no-stick over the grids, then, place a scant 1/3 cup of batter into each of the grids.  Close the iron and cook the waffles until they are golden, about 3 1/2-4 minutes (the cook time will vary from waffle iron to waffle iron).  Use a large spatula to transfer and serve the waffles immediately, or, place them, in a single layer, on a wire cooling rack, to cool completely.  

To reheat, pop one or two in the toaster to crisp them up.

IMG_8443How to Make the Best, Basic, Classic Waffle Batter:  Recipe yields 16 waffles.

Special Equipment List:  spoon; 2-cup measuring container; fork; 8-cup measuring container; hand-held rotary beater; 3-ounce ladle; electric classic-waffle iron (not an iron for making yeast-risen Belgian waffles); paper towels; large spatula; large wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0263e97a2c39200b-800wiCook's Note:  I accidentally put a bag of shredded hash brown potatoes in the refrigerator instead of the freezer.  I was in a hurry. Mistakes happen.  I am so glad I decided to open the bag before discarding the to-the-touch soggy mess this morning, because there was a nice surprise inside: glistening-white, ready-to-use, slightly-wet, shredded potatoes -- without all the time-consuming mess of doing it from scratch.  I may never shred fresh potatoes again. My breakfast menu changed ASAP. Joe's sunny side up eggs with two sausage patties, stayed the same, but, his toasted English muffin turned into a side of ~ My Shredded Hash-Brown Potato-Pancake Waffles ~.

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

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

12/29/2020

~Home for the Holidays Eggnog Brioche French Toast~

IMG_8329When the Christmas and New Year holidays roll around, depending on who's coming to breakfast, lunch or dinner, my menus vary from year-to-year.  That said, eggnog is a constant, a staple in my refrigerator, and it's offered to guests at any time of day.  Interestingly, since I moved to Happy Valley (State College), Central Pennsylvania, in 1974, I've neither needed to make eggnog from scratch, nor, buy the all-too-many-times cloyingly sweet stuff sold in the grocery stores.  We have a local dairy that sells their own special blend of pasteurized eggnog and eggnog ice cream -- both are marvelous.  Meyer's Dairy eggnog and eggnog ice cream part of my tradition.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a7a3c6200dMeet Meyer Dairy.  Founded in 1970 by two  brothers and located just four short miles from my kitchen door, I have been buying milk and ice cream from these folks since the day I moved to Happy Valley in 1974.  Joseph Meyer, the owner explains, "We're farmers, so we produce our own milk.  We put in a drop tank to bring it up from the farm to process and bottle it in our shop."  Over the years they added many varieties of ice-cream, and the flavors change daily. Besides one of their generous cones of the creamy-dreamy stuff, there's plenty of room to sit down and enjoy a hot dog or a hamburger too.  They sell lots of other local and PA based products too:  grilled stickies from The College Diner, apple butter from the Lions Club and Middleswarth potato chips -- everyone loves Meyer Dairy!

Making French toast using eggnog in place of cream (or half-and-half or milk) is by no means rocket science.  There are only two things you need to know.  The first:  Classic French toast recipes typically add sugar to the egg-and-cream vanilla-flavored custard. Because eggnog contains sugar, there's no need to add more -- simply omit the requisite sugar from the original recipe.  The second:  Classic French toast recipes always add vanilla extract to the custard, and, most add cinnamon.  In order to make the custard mixture "noggy", in addition to the vanilla and cinnamon,  I like to add some butter-rum flavoring and a touch of nutmeg.

Eggnog French toast in four steps:  whisk, dip, soak, cook:

IMG_82796,  3/4"-thick slices, 2-3 day old, my recipe for bread machine eggnog brioche, or, bread machine brioche

4  large eggs

1 1/2  cups pasteurized eggnog

2  teaspoons butter-rum flavoring

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

4-5  tablespoons corn-, peanut- or vegetable-oil (not olive oil), for frying the French toast

6a0120a8551282970b026be431629b200d~ Step 1.  Using a serrated bread knife, slice the bread.  This is a picture of my bread-machine brioche.  If you have a bread machine, I obviously encourage you give this recipe a try.  If you are not using my brioche, I recommend that whatever bread you are using be sliced to the thickness of 3/4".  If it is thinner or thicker, it will affect the frying time and texture.  In my opinion:  All French toast starts with properly, 3/4"-thick sliced bread.

IMG_8282 IMG_8287 IMG_8290 IMG_8292~Step 2.  To prepare the egg custard mixture, in a small bowl, crack and place the eggs, the cream, sugar, butter-rum flavoring, vanilla extract, ground cinnamon, ground nutmeg and sea salt.  Using a hand-held rotary egg beater, thoroughly whisk the eggs, cream and seasonings together until uniform in color.  Transfer the custard mixture to the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole.

IMG_8295 IMG_8296 IMG_8300 IMG_8302~Step 3. Arrange the bread slices in the 13" x 9" x 2" casserole containing the egg custard -- overlapping is ok.  Patiently wait 2-3 minutes.  Flip bread slices over on their second sides and wait another 2-3 minutes.  Flip the bread over again, then, maybe once more, to make sure each slice is thoroughly coated and almost all liquid has been absorbed.  Briefly set aside.

IMG_8305 IMG_8309 IMG_8313 IMG_8318 IMG_8322~Step 4. Preheat just enough oil, 4-5 tablespoons, to thinly-coat the bottom (about 1/16") of a 12" nonstick skillet over medium heat on the stovetop.  Add 3 slices of the egg-custard-soaked bread and gently sauté, about 3-4 minutes per side, using a spatula to flip it over only once, until golden on both sides.  Transfer the French toast to a paper-towel-lined plate.  Repeat the process with the remaining 3 slices of egg-custard-soaked bread.

Out w/the old, in w/the new -- ring in the New Year in style:

IMG_8338Home for the Holidays Eggnog Brioche French Toast:  Recipe yields 6 slices French toast/2-3 servings. 

Special Equipment List: cutting board; serrated bread knife; hand-held rotary egg beater; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; 12" nonstick skillet; spatula; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09626d7c970dCook's Note:  Besides sipping on eggnog throughout the days leading up to the holidays, I bake and cook with it too.  To name a few, I make great eggnog cookies, eggnog pound cake and eggnog shortbread, and, when it comes to breakfast or brunch on Christmas or New Years Day, either eggnog pancakes, French toast or waffles always make an appearance.  There's more. I love bananas, and, caramelized bananas, the kind used to make Bananas Foster, are my favorite topping for this festive, eggnoggy start-to-the-holiday: ~ Eggnog Pancakes w/Butter-Rum 'n Nog Bananas ~.

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

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

12/27/2020

~ How to Make the Best, Basic, Classic French Toast ~

IMG_8247The French words for French toast are pain perdu, meaning lost bread, because it is a way of reviving bread which becomes dry after a day or two.  The basics of any French toast recipe are pretty simple:  Thickly-sliced, two-three-day-old bread is dipped into a vanilla-flavored egg-and-cream custard mixture.  The bread is allowed to soak up the custard for a few moments, then it gets fried in a skillet containing a coating of oil.  When executed correctly, it emerges from the skillet crisp and golden brown on both sides with a creamy, almost pudding-like, center.

Use any semi-firm textured bread, but, make sure it's stale.

IMG_8249The origins of French toast were likely born out of the necessity to use up stale bread, and, sopping stale bread in milk is a tradition that dates back to the Middle ages.  The dish itself, French toast, is thought to be referred to as "French" because French breads like baguettes, sourdoughs and brioche, which are meant to be eaten on the same day they are baked, go stale quickly.  No one knows who's idea it was to whisk an egg or two into the milk and fry the bread in some fat, but, whoever it was, was onto one of our worlds most loved comfort food breakfasts -- French toast.  All that said, almost any type of semi-firm bread or quick-bread (challah, pannetone, banana bread, etc.) can and will turn an ordinary breakfast into a celebration.

French toast in four easy steps:  whisk, dip, soak, cook:

IMG_81836,  3/4"-thick slices, 2-3 day old bread machine brioche

4  large eggs

1 1/2  cups cream

1/4  cup sugar

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

4-5  tablespoons corn, peanut or vegetable oil, for frying French toast

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

IMG_8185 IMG_8194 IMG_8196 IMG_8202 IMG_8205~Step 2.  To prepare the egg custard mixture, in a small bowl, crack and place the eggs, the cream, sugar, vanilla extract, ground cinnamon and sea salt.  Using a hand-held rotary egg beater, thoroughly whisk the eggs, cream and seasonings together until uniform in color.  Transfer the custard mixture to the bottom of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole.

IMG_8207 IMG_8208 IMG_8218~ Step 3. Arrange bread slices in the casserole atop the custard -- overlapping is ok. Wait 2-3 minutes. Flip bread slices over and wait another 2-3 minutes.  Flip the bread over again, then, maybe once more, to make sure each slice is thoroughly coated and almost all liquid has been absorbed.  Briefly set aside.

IMG_8222 IMG_8223 IMG_8226 IMG_8229 IMG_8233~Step 4. Preheat just enough oil, 4-5 tablespoons, to thinly-coat the bottom (about 1/16") of a 12" nonstick skillet over medium heat on the stovetop.  Add 3 slices of the egg-custard-soaked bread and gently sauté, about 3-4 minutes per side, using a spatula to flip it over only once, until golden on both sides.  Transfer the French toast to a paper-towel-lined plate.  Repeat the process with the remaining 3 slices of egg-custard-soaked bread.

Serve ASAP & don't forget the butter & maple syrup:

IMG_8243How to Make the Best, Basic, Classic French Toast:  Recipe yields 6 slices French toast/2-3 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; hand-held rotary egg beater; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; 12" nonstick skillet; spatula; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4829507200dCook's Note: Once a year, the day after Eastern European Orthodox Easter to be specific, my mother made one of my favorite breakfasts: savory French toast.  She soaked thick slices of the round loaf of leftover paska (a brioche-type bread enriched with milk, eggs, butter, sugar and salt) in a whole-grain mustard-laced milk-and-egg mixture. She served it with sliced and fried baked ham (also leftover from Easter), soft-yolked, sunny-side-up eggs, and a fresh chive garnish (which grew in dad's garden).  Mom made this but once a year because that was when she had the very-specific ingredients.  Try my ~ Savory Brioche French Toast w/Fried Ham & Eggs ~.

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

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

12/24/2020

~ Creamy-Dreamy Old-Bay Shrimp Shell-Pasta Salad ~

IMG_8161This main-dish pasta salad is made by adding cooked and well-drained shell-shaped pasta to my mother's shrimp salad recipe.  It makes the perfect quick lunch or light supper.  Simply portion it into a shallow bowl atop a bed of crispy-crunchy lettuce leaves accompanied by a few tomato wedges and pour a glass of your favorite wine.  Add a slice of crusty rustic bread, a fancy-schmancy flakey croissant or a brioche roll slathered with butter and lunch or dinner is served.

Shrimp cocktail has been a traditional appetizer at my family's holiday gatherings and celebrations for as long as I can remember.  Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, bridal showers, baby showers, christenings, anniversary parties, etc. -- when my family celebrates, a big bowl or platter of perfectly-cooked jumbo shrimp with two-types of cocktail sauce (classic and creamy) are on the table when we start the festivities.  On occasion, we'd have some leftover.  Under the supervision of my mom, back into the refrigerator they went, so our family of four could all enjoy a shrimp salad sandwiches the next day.  Truth told, I'm convinced mom planned on the leftovers.

IMG_8118To many folks, Old Bay Seasoning represents the quintessential Summer seafood seasoning -- it really kicks the flavor up a few notches.  It’s the seasoning-of-choice on blue crabs, tossed into a bowl of peel n' eat shrimp, and in Maryland, they shake it on everything from fried chicken to sweet corn and some add it to their crab cakes and potato salad too. That said, whatever the season or the occasion, like mom, I can't resist adding it to her shrimp salad recipe.

Make & chill the spicy shrimp salad as directed.  Then add:

IMG_80416 cups my recipe for Spicy Old-Bay-Seasoned Shrimp Salad, well-chilled

6  ounces uncooked medium-sized shell pasta (about 2 cups)

2  teaspoons sea salt, for seasoning water for pasta

6  tablespoons high-quality mayonnaise, I use either Hellmann's or Duke's 

2  teaspoons Old Bay seasoning

2  teaspoon lemon juice, fresh or high-quality organic juice not-from-concentrate

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

1-1 1/2 cups torn iceberg or romaine lettuce leaves, for serving each portion

4-5  small Campari tomato wedges, for serving each portion 

IMG_8046 IMG_8051 IMG_8051 IMG_8056 IMG_8056 IMG_8064~Step 1.  In a 3-4-quart saucepan, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil.  Add the salt.  Add the pasta and cook, according to package directions, until al dente, 9-11 minutes.  Do not over cook the pasta. Drain pasta into a colander, rinse it thoroughly under cold running water (to remove excess starch and halt cooking process), then, spread it out onto a baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Set aside for 10-15 minutes, to dry and cool, meaning:  dry free of excess moisture (not dry out), and, cool to room temperature.

IMG_8048 IMG_8048 IMG_8074 IMG_8076~Step 2.  While the pasta in draining and drying, in a small bowl, place and stir together the mayonnaise, Old Bay Seasoning, lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce.  Transfer pasta to a medium bowl.  Add the mayonnaise mixture to the pasta.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the mayonnaise mixture into the pasta, continuing to fold until the pasta is evenly coated. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for 45-60 minutes.  

IMG_8082 IMG_8144 IMG_8144~ Step 3.  Remove the shrimp salad and the pasta mixture from the refrigerator. Transfer both mixtures to a large bowl. Using the rubber spatula, gently fold the two mixtures together.    Portion and serve on luncheon-sized plates or shallow bowls atop a bed of torn lettuce leaves accompanied by tomato wedges.

Serve atop lettuce leaves accompanied by tomato wedges:

IMG_8150Try my Spicy Old-Bay-Seasoned Shrimp Salad Sandwiches too:

IMG_8133Creamy-Dreamy Old-Bay Shrimp Shell-Pasta Salad:  Recipe yields 10 cups pasta salad.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen scale; 3-4-quart saucepan; colander; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4"; parchment paper; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a502fd82200bCook's Note: Americans love shrimp.  Shrimp, the fruit of the sea, is America's favorite seafood.  When it comes to shrimp, while big is always better served in a shrimp cocktail, when making deep-fried shrimp, and, in specialty dishes like firecracker shrimp, that's just not so when it comes to making many appetizers and hors d'oeuvres (shrimp dip,  shrimp salad, tea sandwiches, various canapés, etc.). Extra-small shrimp, also known as "salad shrimp", are sweet, tender and adorable, so, when serving fingerfood, think small, because the extra flavor is important.  Try my ~ Pretty-in-Pink Tiny-Shrimp Dip, Salad or Sandwiches ~.

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

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

12/21/2020

~Spicy Old-Bay-Seasoned Shrimp Salad Sandwiches~

IMG_8128Shrimp cocktail has been a traditional appetizer at my family's holiday gatherings and celebrations for as long as I can remember.  Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, bridal showers, baby showers, christenings, anniversary parties, etc. -- when my family celebrates, a big bowl or platter of perfectly-cooked jumbo shrimp with two-types of cocktail sauce (classic and creamy) are on the table when we start the festivities.  On occasion, we'd have some left over.  Under the supervision of my mom, back into the refrigerator they went, so our family of four could all enjoy shrimp salad sandwiches the next day.  Truth told, I'm convinced mom planned on the leftovers.

IMG_8118To many folks, Old Bay Seasoning represents the quintessential Summer seafood seasoning -- it really kicks the flavor up a few notches.  It’s the seasoning-of-choice on blue crabs, tossed into a bowl of peel n' eat shrimp, and in Maryland, they shake it on everything from fried chicken to hot dogs and popcorn, and, they add it to everything from Bloody Mary's to deviled eggs and potato salad -- there are few foods that Marylanders don't add Old Bay seasoning to.  You can find it on the tables of eateries everywhere, right next to the salt and pepper shakers.  That said, whatever the season or the occasion, like mom, I can't resist adding it to her shrimp salad recipe.  It rocks.  

This salad makes the perfect quick lunch or light supper.  Pile it into a sliced croissant, on a lightly-toasted brioche hamburger-type roll, wrap it in a flour tortilla, or, simply scoop it over into a bowl atop a bed of crispy-crunchy lettuce leaves.  There's more.  You can stir cooked shell-shaped pasta into it for a spice-is-nice shrimp pasta salad too.  Mince the shrimp:  shrimp dip.

One last thing, make plenty.  No on can resist it:

IMG_80011  pound jumbo shrimp, peeled, deveined, cooked, chilled, tails taken off, and, cut in half horizontally

1/2  cup high-quality mayonnaise, I use either Hellmann's or Duke's

2  teaspoons Old Bay seasoning, divided (1 teaspoon for seasoning the shrimp and 1 teaspoon for seasoning the mayonnaise)

2  teaspoon lemon juice, fresh or high-quality organic juice not-from-concentrate, divided (1  teaspoon for seasoning the shrimp and 1 teaspoon for flavoring the mayonnaise)

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, divided (1 teaspoon for seasoning the shrimp and one teaspoon for flavoring the mayonnaise)

3/4  cup small-diced celery

3/4  cup small-diced yellow or sweet onion

6  brioche hamburger-type rolls

1 1/2  cups chiffonade of iceberg or romaine lettuce, divided 4 ways, to use as a bed for the shrimp salad on each of 4 sandwiches

6  Campari tomatoes, each tomato sliced into 3-4 thin slices, to use as a topper for the shrimp salad on each of 4 sandwich

IMG_7992 IMG_7992 IMG_8006 IMG_8006 IMG_8006 IMG_8006~Step 1.  Slice the shrimp as directed, placing them in a medium bowl as you work.  Toss with 1 teaspoon of the Old Bay seasoning, followed by 1 teaspoon of the lemon juice and 1 teaspoon of the Worcestershire sauce.  Set the shrimp aside.

IMG_8019 IMG_8022 IMG_8022~ Step 2.  In a small bowl, place and thoroughly stir together the remaining 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning, followed by the remaining 1 teaspoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, and, the mayonnaise.

IMG_8028 IMG_8028 IMG_8028 IMG_8028~Step 3.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold the mayonnaise mixture into the shrimp, followed by the diced celery and onions.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled 1-2 hours or overnight.

Portion onto brioche rolls atop a bed of lettuce & tomatoes: 

IMG_8133Try my Creamy-Dreamy Old-Bay Shrimp & Shell-Pasta Salad:

IMG_8161Spicy Old-Bay-Seasoned Shrimp Salad Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 6 cups shrimp salad and 6 large sandwiches.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a502fd82200bCook's Note: Americans love shrimp.  Shrimp, the fruit of the sea, is America's favorite seafood.  When it comes to shrimp, while big is always better served in a shrimp cocktail, when making deep-fried shrimp, and, in specialty dishes like firecracker shrimp, that's just not so when it comes to making many appetizers and hors d'oeuvres (shrimp dip,  shrimp salad, tea sandwiches, various canapés, etc.). Extra-small shrimp, also known as "salad shrimp", are sweet, tender and adorable, so, when serving fingerfood, think small, because the extra flavor is important.  Try my ~ Pretty-in-Pink Tiny-Shrimp Dip, Salad or Sandwiches ~.

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

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

12/18/2020

~Old Bay -- Maryland's Staple in a Classic Yellow Can~

IMG_8102 2Newsflash -- There are two reasons to never consider trying to make Old Bay Seasoning at home.  The first:  You can't do it, you'll never get the proportions right, and, those of us who recognize the signature taste -- we'll hate you for yours.  The second: Old Bay Seasoning is a source of Marylander pride.  It's a staple -- it's found, right next to the salt and pepper shakers, on the tables in eateries everywhere.  If you wouldn't try pawning some off-the-rails homemade salt or pepper off on your guests (or customers), don't try it with Old Bay seasoning either.  Don't do it.

Old Bay -- Named after The Old Bay Line of passenger ships:

Card00578_frOld Bay Seasoning was named after the Old Bay Line, a passenger-ship line that steamed the waters of the Chesapeake Bay from Baltimore, Maryland, to Norfolk, Virginia in the early 1900's. Old Bay Seasoning, which is marketed in the United States by McCormick & Company, was created in Baltimore, Maryland.  It's a sophisticated blend of herbs and spices that include (as per the can): celery salt (a blend of salt and pulverized celery seed), dry mustard, red pepper, black pepper, Laurel bay leaves, allspice, ginger, mace, cardamom, cinnamon and paprika.

Old Bay -- Created in 1939 by a spice & seasoning wholesaler, Gustav Brunn, a Jewish-German immigrant to the USA:

Old Bay Seasoning is the creation of Gustav Brunn, a Jewish-German immigrant to the United States who started The Baltimore Spice Company in 1939.  The origins of his company began in Wertheim, Germany, where he started a wholesale spice and seasoning business, selling to the food industry during a time when spices were in short supply due to the hyperinflation in the aftermath of World War I. Due to rising antisemitism as the Nazi's rose to power, he moved his family, and his company to Frankfurt, Germany, where, on the night of November 10, 1938 (Kristalnacht), Brunn, was arrested and sent to the Buchenwald concentration camp.

Gustav's wife paid a large sum of money to a lawyer to get her husband released, and, because they had previously applied for and received American visas, they and their two children were able to escape to New York City, and later to Baltimore, Maryland, where Brunn had living relatives.  Having brought with him a small spice grinder, it was in Baltimore, in 1939 (just two days after being fired from his job at McCormick because his boss found out he was Jewish), where he began selling the "Delicious Brand Shrimp and Crab Seasoning", which was later renamed Old Bay Seasoning.  McCormick purchased the rights from the family in 1990.

Old Bay -- How do we love thee?  Let's count the many ways:

IMG_8118Marylanders have proudly taught us in the Mid-Atlantic States, Southern States, New England States and the Gulf Coast to use Old Bay Seasoning in or on almost anything we can think of.  To name many:  Blue Crabs.  Crab cakes.  Crab dip.  Crab salad.  Cream of crab soup.  Clam chowder.  Oyster stew.  Tomato soup.  Scallops.  Shrimp.  Shrimp salad.  Crawfish boil.  Seafood Batter mixes.  Tartar sauce.  Salad dressing.  Deviled eggs.  Chicken wings.  Fried Chicken. Maryland-style hot dogs.  Baked potatoes.  French fries.  Tater tots.  Potato salad.  Macaroni Salad.  Corn on the cob.  Steamed vegetables.  Popcorn.  Potato Chips.  Chex mix.  Bloody Mary's.  Essentially, there few foods Marylanders haven't put Old Bay Seasoning in or on.

Most recently, in 2020, McCormick created Old Bay Hot Sauce in advance of the Super Bowl.  It sold out within 30 minutes of its launch, causing the website to temporarily crash.  Some customers resold the 10-ounce bottles, which retailed for $3.49 for between $50 and $200.

Old Bay -- Don't try to fake it by making it 'cause you can't:

IMG_8108"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

12/15/2020

~ Cheesecake Pie w/Lorna Doone Shortbread Crust ~

IMG_7986Making a cheesecake pie is a quick way to quell a craving for classic cheesecake.  Sometimes known as poor man's cheesecake, this particular easy-to-make, lightly-baked cheesecake pie is remarkably resemblant of a New York-style cheesecake, complete with a two-ingredient, Lindy's-type short-pastry cookie-type crust -- meaning, not a run-of-the-mill graham cracker crust.    

New York-style cheesecake is always a cream-cheese based cheesecake that incorporates cream or sour cream along with eggs, vanilla and/or lemon.  It's gently baked in a deep springform pan that has been placed in a baine marie (a water bath) to prevent it from browning. The typical New York-style cheesecake is thick and very rich with a dense, smooth, and creamy consistency -- a small wedge goes a long way to filling one up.  A popular addition is a lavish layer of sour cream topping, applied after the cheesecake is baked.  It gets mixed with vanilla and sugar and returned to the oven, making this cheesecake twice-baked.  Served with or without a fruit topping (cherry or blueberry is common), it is, hands down, my favorite type of cheesecake.

Three cheers for this easy New York-Style cheesecake pie:

IMG_7898For the crust:

1  10-ounce box Lorna Doone shortbread cookies, processed to crumbs

6  tablespoons salted butter, melted (3/4 stick)

For the cream cheese layer:

1  8-ounce block cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1  large egg, at room temperature

1/4  cup sugar

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the sour cream layer:

1  16-ounce container sour cream

1/4  cup sugar

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

IMG_7851 IMG_7851 IMG_7851 IMG_7851~Step 1.  To prepare the shortbread cookie crust, break the cookies into small pieces and place them in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses process them to crumbs, then, with the motor running, process them to fine crumbs, about 10 more seconds. Transfer the shortbread cookie crumbs to a medium bowl.  

IMG_7863 IMG_7863 IMG_7863 IMG_7863~Step 2.  Melt the butter in the microwave then add it to the cookie crumbs.  Using a spoon, thoroughly incorporate the butter until a moist, grainy, semi-cohesive, crumb mixture forms.

IMG_7875 IMG_7875 IMG_7875 IMG_7875~Step 3.  Transfer crumbs to a 9" pie dish. Using a tablespoon, spread mixture evenly across bottom and partially up sides of dish.  Using a wooden tart tamper, flatten/compress crumbs to form a crust across the bottom.  When the bottom is firmly in place, use the tamper (in conjunction with fingertips) to press crumbs against, and to the top of, sides of the dish.  Bake on center rack of 325° oven for 8 minutes.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool 45-60 minutes.

IMG_7958 IMG_7958 IMG_7958 IMG_7958 IMG_7924 IMG_7924 IMG_7924~Step 4.  To prepare the cream cheese layer, place the cream cheese, egg, 1/4 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract in a medium bowl.  On medium speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat until all ingredients are smooth and thoroughly combined, about 1 minute.  Transfer to cookie crust and gently spread to form an even layer.  Bake on center rack of 325° oven, 15 minutes.  Do not overbake.-- the cream cheese layer should show no signs of browning and be barely set.  Remove from oven.

IMG_7903 IMG_7903 IMG_7903 IMG_7933 IMG_7933~Step 5.  To prepare the sour cream layer (while the cream cheese layer is baking), in a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla extract, until smooth and uniform in color.  Using a large spoon, dollop the mixture in the center of the cream cheese layer, then, gently spread it to within 1/2" of the perimeter of the cream cheese layer.  Return to oven to bake on center rack of 325° oven for 15 more minutes.  Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool to room temp, about 2 hours, then refrigerate, uncovered, 6-12 hours.

Slice & serve chilled w/-or-w/o fruit topping:  

IMG_7966Cheesecake Pie w/Lorna Doone Shortbread Crust:  Recipe yields 1, 9" pie/8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List: food processor; 9" pie dish or tin; tablespoon; tart tamper; wire cooling rack; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 2-cup measuring container

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1a60fe9970cCook's Note: Cheesecakes, cream pies, many layered bar-type cookies, and, some refrigerated pudding and frozen ice-cream desserts call for using a graham cracker or cookie crumb crust as a buttery, crunchy base.  While homemade graham crackers, sugar cookies, gingersnaps and chocolate wafers make exceptional crumb crusts, I won't lie, it would have to be one heck of an insanely over-the-top dessert for me to bake any of them for the sole purpose of starting with a real-deal scratch-made base.  That said, I don't at all care for the quality of ready-made store-bought crumb crusts. Learn why by reading all about ~ Making Graham Cracker & Cookie Crumb Crusts ~.

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

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

12/13/2020

~An E-Z Two-Ingredient Shortbread-Cookie Pie Crust~

IMG_7888 2Cheesecakes, cream pies, many layered bar-type cookies, and, some refrigerated pudding and frozen ice-cream desserts call for using a graham cracker crumb crust or cookie crumb crust as a buttery, crunchy base.  While homemade graham crackers, sugar cookies, shortbread cookies, gingersnaps and chocolate wafers make exceptional crumb crusts, I won't lie, it would have to be one heck of an insanely over-the-top dessert for me to bake any of them for the sole purpose of starting with a real-deal scratch-made base.  That said, I learned early in my baking life that I don't at all care for the quality of any ready-made crumb crusts. They taste bland to me, and that's primarily due to the fact that they're made with vegetable shortening instead of butter.  The good news is, all crumb crusts are super-quick and easy to make -- and full of buttery-rich flavor.

Crushed shortbread cookies + melted butter = a cookie crust.

IMG_7851 21  10-ounce box Lorna Doone shortbread cookies, processed to crumbs (Note:  The texture of shortbread cookies vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.  I find the delicate texture of Lorna Drooe cookies perfect for making cookie crusts.

6  tablespoons salted butter, melted (3/4 stick)

IMG_7851 IMG_7851 IMG_7851 IMG_7851~Step 1.  To prepare the shortbread cookie crust, break the cookies into small pieces and place them in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Using a series of 25-30 rapid on-off pulses process them to crumbs, then, with the motor running, process them to fine crumbs, about 10 more seconds. Transfer the shortbread cookie crumbs to a medium bowl.

IMG_7863 IMG_7863 IMG_7863 IMG_7863~Step 2.  Melt the butter in the microwave then add it to the cookie crumbs.  Using a spoon, thoroughly incorporate the butter until a moist, grainy, semi-cohesive, crumb mixture forms.

IMG_7875 IMG_7875 IMG_7875 IMG_7875~Step 3.  Transfer crumbs to a 9" pie dish. Using a tablespoon, spread mixture evenly across bottom and partially up sides of dish.  Using a wooden tart tamper, flatten/compress crumbs to form a crust across the bottom.  When the bottom is firmly in place, use the tamper (in conjunction with fingertips) to press crumbs against, and to the top of, sides of the dish.  Bake on center rack of 325° oven for 8 minutes.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool 45-60 minutes.

A buttery rich shortbread cookie crust -- ready for pie filling: 

IMG_7893 2An E-Z Two-Ingredient Shortbread-Cookie Pie Crust:  Recipe yields 1, 9"-round crumb crust.

Special Equipment List: food processor; tablespoon; 9" pie dish or tin; tart tamper; wire cooling rack

IMG_7966Cook's Note: Making a cheesecake pie is a quick way to quell a craving for classic cheesecake.  Sometimes known as poor man's cheesecake, this particular easy-to-make, lightly-baked cheesecake pie is remarkably resemblant of a dense, smooth, cream-cheese- and sour-cream-based New York-style cheesecake, complete with a two-ingredient, short-pastry cookie-type crust -- made with shortbread cookies.  Try my ~ Cheesecake Pie w/Lorna Done Shortbread Crust ~. 

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

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

12/10/2020

~ Dark Chocolate Chip & Coconut Mounds Cookies ~

IMG_7829When it comes to Toll House cookies, aka, chocolate-chip cookies in general, there are two kinds of people:  those who add nuts and, those who do not.  I'm a nutty kinda gal.  My husband is not a nutty kinda guy.  There's more.  When it comes to Toll House cookies, aka, chocolate chip cookies in general, there are two kinds of people:  those who prefer milk chocolate, and those who prefer dark chocolate.  I'm more of a milk chocolate kinda gal.  My husband is a more of a dark chocolate kinda guy -- neither of us will turn either down though.  That said, we are both lovers of coconut, so, with or without nuts, we both go crazy for my Almond Joy and Mounds cookies.    

Who doesn't remember the Peter Paul Candy Company's 1970's TV jingle:  Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't, Almond Joy's got nuts, Mounds don't.  Ok, if you weren't of the era, you don't remember it, but the rest of us do.  Besides the packaging (blue for Almond Joy bars and red for Mounds bars), there's another, and very important, difference between these two candy bars too:  Almond Joys bars are coated in milk chocolate, Mounds bars are coated in dark chocolate.  I mention this because all the Almond Joy Cookie recipes I've seen recently call for semi-sweet chocolate morsels -- this is just plain wrong.  A wrong I am here to right -- today.

IMG_7727Almond Joys = milk chocolate.  Mounds = dark chocolate.

IMG_7734Almond Joy cookie recipes contain milk chocolate chips.  Mounds cookie recipes contain dark chocolate chips.  Got it?

IMG_77732 1/4  cups + 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon each:  baking powder, baking soda and salt

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

3/4  cup granulated sugar

3/4  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

2  teaspoons each: pure coconut extract, chocolate extract and vanilla extract

2  large eggs, preferably at room temperature

20  ounces Nestlē dark chocolate chips

5  ounces sweetened, flaked coconut

IMG_7782 IMG_7782 IMG_7782 IMG_7782 IMG_7795 IMG_7798 IMG_7803~Step 1.  In a small bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and, salt.  In a large bowl place the butter, both sugars, and both extracts.  On high-speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat until creamy, about 3 minutes.  Beat in the two eggs, about 1 minute.  Lower mixer speed, add the flour and gradually incorporate it into the mixture, until a smooth, sticky dough forms.

IMG_7780 IMG_7805 IMG_7810 IMG_7814 IMG_7816 IMG_7818 2 IMG_7824~Step 2.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the dark chocolate chips, followed by the coconut.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, drop cookies, well-apart, onto each of 5, parchment-lined baking pans (15 per pan).

IMG_7826 IMG_7826~ Step 3.  Bake, one-pan-at-a-time on center rack of 325° oven, 11-12 minutes, until light-golden. Remove from oven and cool cookies on pan, about 2-3 minutes prior to using a small spatula to transfer to a wire cooling rack, to cool completely.

For those times when you don't feel like a nut -- go Mounds:

IMG_7842For those times when you feel like at nut -- be Joyful:

IMG_7742Dark Chocolate Chip & Coconut Mounds Cookies:  Recipe yields 6 dozen 2 1/2"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List: hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 5, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop; wire cooling rack; small spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0263e96d7872200bCook's Note:  For lovers of dark chocolate, ~ My Nestle Toll House Sea Salt & Caramel Cookies ~, and, ~ My Nestle Toll House Sea, Salt, Carmel, Pecan Cookies ~, are examples of one cookie made two ways: with and without nuts. When it comes to Toll House cookies, aka, chocolate chip cookies in general, there are two kinds of people:  those who add nuts (usually pecans or walnuts), and, those who do not.  I'm a nutty kinda gal.  My husband is not a nutty kinda guy.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie Preschutti/Copyright 2020)

12/07/2020

~Milk Chocolate Chip & Coconut Almond Joy Cookies~

IMG_7742Who doesn't remember the Peter Paul Candy Company's 1970's TV jingle:  Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don't, Almond Joy's got nuts, Mounds don't.  Ok, if you weren't of the era, you don't remember it, but the rest of us do.  Besides the packaging (blue for Almond Joy bars and red for Mounds bars), there's another, and very important, difference between these two candy bars too:  Almond Joys bars are coated in milk chocolate, Mounds bars are coated in dark chocolate.  I mention this because all the Almond Joy Cookie recipes I've seen recently call for semi-sweet chocolate morsels -- this is just plain wrong.  A wrong I am here to right -- today.

IMG_7727Almond Joys = milk chocolate.  Mounds = dark chocolate.

IMG_7734Almond Joy cookie recipes contain milk chocolate chips.  Mounds cookie recipes contain dark chocolate chips.  Got it?

IMG_76642 1/4  cups + 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon each:  baking powder, baking soda and salt

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

3/4  cup granulated sugar

3/4  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

2  teaspoons each: pure almond extract, chocolate extract and vanilla extract

2  large eggs, preferably at room temperature

18  ounces Nestlē milk chocolate chips

4  ounces sliced almonds

3  ounces sweetened, flaked coconut

IMG_7667 IMG_7673 IMG_7673 IMG_7673 IMG_7673 IMG_7685 IMG_7685~Step 1.  In a small bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and, salt.  In a large bowl place the butter, both sugars, and both extracts.  On high-speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat until creamy, about 3 minutes.  Beat in the two eggs, about 1 minute.  Lower mixer speed, add the flour and gradually incorporate it into the mixture, until a smooth, sticky dough forms.

IMG_7689 IMG_7689 IMG_7689 IMG_7689 IMG_7701 IMG_7701 IMG_7701 IMG_7701~Step 2.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly fold in the milk chocolate chips, followed by the coconut, followed by the sliced almonds.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, drop cookies, well-apart, onto each of 5, parchment-lined, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans (15 per pan).

IMG_7718 IMG_7718~ Step 3.  Bake, one-pan-at-a-time on center rack of 325° oven, 11-12 minutes, until light-golden. Remove from oven and cool cookies on pan, about 2-3 minutes prior to using a small spatula to transfer to a wire cooling rack, to cool completely.

For those times when you feel like at nut -- be Joyful:

IMG_7758

For those times when you don't feel like a nut -- go Mounds:

IMG_7829Milk Chocolate Chip & Coconut Almond Joy Cookies:  Recipe yields 6 dozen 2 1/2"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List: hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 5, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop; wire cooling rack; small spatula

6a0120a8551282970b026bde9a8ba7200cCook's Note: The Nestlē Crunch Bar -- creamy milk chocolate chocked full of crunchy-crisped rice.  It, along with the Reese's peanut butter cup (milk chocolate and peanut butter) is at the top of my "favorite candy bars list".  As with several other favorites, for an adult activity, I prefer to chop up said candy bars and bake cookies with their bits and pieces -- I prefer a cookie to a candy bar and I adore a candy bar in a cookie. Try my ~ Milk-Chocolate-Lovers Nestlē-Crunch-Bar Cookies ~.

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

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

12/05/2020

~ Turkey Breast Rachel on Shredded Potato Pancake ~

IMG_7639Perhaps it's a girl thing, but, when I'm lunching in a deli, I'm more inclined to order a Rachel sandwich, made with turkey breast, than I am a Reuben, made with corned beef.  There's more. While I usually order potato salad with my sandwich, if potato pancakes are on the menu, they're on my plate.  If you're a fan of a classic Rachel sandwich, and, if you love potato pancakes as much as I do, you're gonna go wild over this open-faced sandwich served on one of my pan-fried shredded hash-brown potato pan-cakes, instead of between to slices of rye bread. 

My hash brown potato pan-cakes were a happy accident:

IMG_7456I accidentally put a bag of shredded hash brown potatoes in the refrigerator instead of the freezer. What can I say, I was in a hurry that day.  Mistakes happen.  I am so glad I decided to open the bag before discarding the to-the-touch soggy mess this morning, because there was a nice surprise inside for me: glistening-white, ready-to-use, slightly-wet, shredded potatoes -- without all the time-consuming mess of doing it from scratch.  I may will never shred fresh potatoes again. It didn't take but a few minutes to deduce that my supposed shredded hash brown potato tragedy, could easily, in reality, be a triumph, which played out at the dinner table that evening.  My family gobbled them up.

They're the perfect foil for this incredible open-faced sandwich:

IMG_7611For each open-faced sandwich:

1  shredded hash brown potato pan-cake

2  ounces thin-sliced mild Swiss cheese, cut into thin julienne strips

3-4  ounces very thin-sliced deli-style turkey breast, close to room temperature (Note:  If the turkey breast is cold, it will not heat properly when the sandwich goes under the broiler.)

1-2  tablespoons Russian dressing

3-4  tablespoons creamy Russian- or Thousand Islands-dressed coleslaw, or your favorite creamy deli-style slaw

IMG_7612 IMG_7612 IMG_7612 IMG_7612~Step 1. To make each sandwich, on a broiler-safe plate (or on a baking pan lined with parchment if making multiple sandwiches), place 1-ounce of Swiss cheese julienne atop one crispy potato pan-cake.  Top with 3-4 ounces thin-sliced turkey breast, followed by another 1-ounce of Swiss.

IMG_7624 IMG_7624 IMG_7624Step 2.  Place the sandwich(es) 8"-9" underneath preheated broiler (too close and the cheese will burn) for 3-5 minutes, or until the top and bottom layer of cheese is melted.  Remove from oven.  Drizzle with some Russian dressing and top with a generous scoop of creamy coleslaw.  Serve immediately.

Grab your knife, pick up your fork, &, dig in:

IMG_7632 2Try my Corned Beef Reuben on Potato Pancake Waffle too:

IMG_7586Turkey Breast Rachel on Shredded Potato Pan-Cake: Recipe yields instructions to make as many open-faced turkey breast Rachel sandwiches as you want to.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; broiler-safe plate(s); baking pan (optional); parchment paper (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b0240a47161a8200dCook's Note: I crave a Reuben sandwich once or twice a year.  The Rachel sandwich, on the other hand, is: standard operating procedure in my kitchen.  My refrigerator is rarely without some thin sliced deli-turkey and/or pastrami, and, my favorite Lacey Swiss cheese -- it often has a container of semi-homemade or deli-style coleslaw in it too.  That means, with a slice or two of toasted Jewish-style rye bread, a Racheal sandwich is only a few short minutes away. ~ The Secret's in the Slaw Rachel-on-Rye Sandwich ~.

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

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

12/02/2020

~Corned Beef Reuben on My Potato Pancake Waffles~

IMG_7586If you're a fan of a classic Rueben sandwich, served atop a few of potato pancakes instead of between some rye bread, you're gonna go wild over this open-faced sandwich served on my shredded hash-brown potato-pancake waffles.  Not since lunch at a deli located somewhere in Long-Island back in the early 1970's have I enjoyed a Reuben more.  I was fifteen or sixteen, so the specifics escape me.  Our family took a Summer road trip to visit friends of my mom and dad, and, before we left town the next day, we all went to lunch at "the place with the best potato pancakes in town."  My parent's friends knew mom and dad loved potato pancakes.  It was my very first Reuben and I too ordered it made "the potato pancake way" -- I ate the entire thing.  

My potato pancake waffles were a happy accident:

IMG_7304I accidentally put a bag of shredded hash brown potatoes in the refrigerator instead of the freezer. What can I say, I was in a hurry that day.  Mistakes happen.  I am so glad I decided to open the bag before discarding the to-the-touch soggy mess this morning, because there was a nice surprise inside for me: glistening-white, ready-to-use, slightly-wet, shredded potatoes -- without all the time-consuming mess of doing it from scratch.  I may will never shred fresh potatoes again. My breakfast menu changed immediately.  Joe's sunny side up eggs with two sausage patties, stayed the same, but, his toasted English muffin turned into a side of my hash-brown waffles, and, all I had to do was drain the potatoes on a paper-towel-lined plate, dice a cup of onions, and get out my waffle maker.

They're the perfect foil for an incredible open-faced sandwich:

IMG_7541For each open-faced sandwich:

1  shredded hash brown potato pancake waffle

2 ounces thin-sliced mild Swiss cheese, cut into thin julienne strips

3-4  ounces very-thin-sliced corned beef, close to room temperature (Note:  If the corned beef is cold, it will not heat properly when the sandwich goes under the broiler.)

1-2  tablespoons Russian dressing

3-4  tablespoons warm sauerkraut 

IMG_7546 IMG_7546 IMG_7546 IMG_7546 ~Step 1.  To make each open-faced sandwich, on a broiler-safe plate (or on a baking pan lined with parchment if making multiple sandwiches), place 1-ounce of Swiss cheese julienne atop one crispy waffle.  Top with 3-4 ounces thin-sliced corned beef, followed by another 1-ounce of Swiss.

IMG_7556 IMG_7556 IMG_7556Step 2.  Place the sandwich(es) 8"-9" underneath preheated broiler (too close and the cheese will burn) for 3-5 minutes, or until the top and bottom layer of cheese is melted.  Remove from oven.  Drizzle with some Russian dressing and top with a generous scoop of warm sauerkraut.  Serve immediately.

Grab your knife, pick up your fork, &, dig in:

IMG_7605Try my Turkey Breast Rachel on Potato Pan-Cake too:

IMG_7639Corned Beef Reuben on My Potato Pancake Waffles:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many open-faced corned beef Reuben sandwiches as you want to.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; broiler-safe plate(s); baking pan (optional); parchment paper (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed6d31970dCook's Note: The Reuben sandwich. I crave one once or twice a year. And when I do, I don't waste time baking homemade rye bread, slow-cooking corned beef, long-simmering sauerkraut, or, whisking salad dressing.  I don't try to save time by ordering delivery or take out either -- I don't live anywhere close to a NY-style deli that can begin to make this sandwich the way I like it. I take the 10-minute drive to the store, pick up the ingredients and pass through express checkout. Store-bought everything is fine.  In about 45-minutes, I am eating my sandwich -- heaped with thin folds of meat and sloppy with sauerkraut, gooey cheese and creamy dressing on butter-crisped bread -- and I don't end up with a lot of leftover anything.  Perfect: ~ Deli Corned Beef on Swirl with Sauerkraut & Swiss ~. 

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

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

11/29/2020

~Broiled KC-Style Sticky Barbecued Chicken Quarters~

IMG_7008Smack my drippy lips and lick my sticky fingers.  Skin-on barbecued chicken is one of my favorite things -- the stickier the end result, the better.  Oh-my-sigh.  There is just something about what happens when crispy chicken skin meets a few slathers of barbecue sauce at the end of the cooking process.  When executed correctly, three-four bastes with a copious amount of sauce, each given a few moments to caramelize in between each application, the two become one sticky casing for the tender, juicy meat below.  It sends my soul to the moon and back to earth.

Three on-hand ingredients + 50 minutes = dinner:

6a0120a8551282970b026be40718f6200dFor the Barbecued-style chicken leg-thigh quarters:

4  chicken leg-thigh quarters, about 4-4 1/2 pounds

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, or, your favorite barbecue seasoning blend

2  cups K.C.-style barbecue sauce, your favorite brand or favorite homemade K.C.-style recipe, about 1 cup for basting chicken quarters 3 times while it's under the broiler, plus enough to be served for dipping or drizzling at the table

IMG_6940IMG_6940IMG_6940~ Step 1.  Place a scant 1/4" water in the bottom of a large 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan.  The water in the bottom of the pan will prevent the dripping fat from the broiling chicken quarters from spattering and burning.  Insert a rack in the pan, and place a piece of parchment atop the rack.

IMG_6948 IMG_6948 IMG_6948 IMG_6948~Step 2.  Arrange chicken quarters atop the parchment.  Season generously with a grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Place pan on an oven rack that has been positioned 8 1/2"-9" underneath the preheated broiler (lower third of the oven).  Broil chicken quarters for 45 minutes.

6a0120a8551282970b026bde885bc9200c6a0120a8551282970b026bde885bc9200c IMG_6962 IMG_6966 IMG_6972 IMG_6975 IMG_6980 IMG_6986 2 IMG_6982 IMG_6992~Step 3.  Remove the chicken from the oven -- do not turn the broiler off or reposition the oven rack.  Using a pastry brush, generously slather each chicken quarter with barbecue sauce.  Return the pan to the oven for 2-2 1/2 minutes.  Watch carefully as the sugar in the barbecue sauce can and will go from golden brown to burned quickly.  Remove chicken from oven.  Slather with sauce a second time.  Return to oven for another 2-2 1/2 minutes.  Remove chicken from oven.  Slather with sauce a third, and last, time.  Return pan of chicken to the oven for the last time for another 2-2 1/2 minutes.  Watch carefully.

Platter 'em up nice 'n purty & call the family to the table:

IMG_7033I serve 'em w/my better than store-bought mac & cheese:

6a0120a8551282970b026bde88638f200cBroiled KC-Style Sticky Barbecued Chicken Quarters:  Recipe yields 4 servings.

Special Equipment List: 2-cup measuring container; wire cooling rack; 20" x 12" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan disposable aluminum roasting pan, or, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; wire rack; parchment paper; pastry brush 

IMG_4669Cook's Note:  Chicken quarters can be roasted too.  It's a different process (roasting and broiling are very different from each other), and, it takes almost twice as long, but, the results are just as delicious.  Try my ~ Easy Oven-Roasted Barbecued Chicken Quarters ~.

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

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

11/26/2020

~ Be Safe, Think Small, Turkey Day Charcuterie Tray ~

IMG_7355"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

11/24/2020

~ Simple Tips for Entertaining for Breakfast or Brunch ~

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d692750970d-800wi-1Entertaining guests for breakfast or brunch is decidedly different than entertaining guests for cocktails and/or dinner.  For starters, we breakfast chefs don't have the luxury of several hours prep time leading up to the get-together, which means, all of the shopping and as much of the fare (as is humanly possible) needs to be prepped or semi-prepared the night before.  An early call to the kitchen means "all the boxes" need to be checked, and double-checked, prior to showtime.

Do NOT bite-off more than you can chew.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c76dd85e970bDon't break your budget (just don't do it), resist the urge to be over-the-top fancy-schmancy (just don't do it), and, don't invite any more guests than you have ample space for, and you can cook for, with complete ease (just don't do it).  Better advice I cannot give, and, underestimating the value of it, can, and will be, the difference between success and failure.  Trust me on this point.

Do NOT be afraid to mix store-bought with homemade.

6a0120a8551282970b026bdea4c46d200cDon't learn your AM-entertaining lessons the hard way.  Things like store-bought biscuits and crescent dough are great bases for an hors d'oeuvres or two.  Focus on the one or two or things you’d like to fuss over, and buy or outsource the rest.  Just do it.  If quiche is your specialty, make two or three.  If you've got two or three killer breakfast casseroles in your repertoire, make 'em. Rely on your local bakeries and/or donut shops for the rest -- and never look back.  Relax.

DO set up a breakfast or brunch buffet.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1870f13970cWhen it comes to cock-a-doodle-do entertaining, buffet-style, is, in my opinion, every home cooks best friend.  Start by choosing three or four designated spaces (aka "stations") -- on a kitchen countertop, a center island, a kitchen table and/or a dining room table, or, even three-four folding tables.  Designate each "station" with a vase of seasonal flowers, and, assign each a purpose.

A breakfast buffet in my kitchen always includes at least three stations: a station with a few pitchers of pour-your-own fruit-juice and fruit-juice cocktails, plus, coffee or tea; a station with baskets brimming with choose-your-own (store-bought) pastries, bagels and muffins (along with store-bought whipped butter, jams and cream-cheese spreads), and; a station with enough (matched, mismated or high-quality disposable) luncheon-sized plates, napkins and flatware to outlast the entire length of the get-together.  My fourth station, my main-course station, goes in one of two directions, as follows.  For smaller groups, it's at my stovetop where I cook for each person -- either a made-to-order omelette, a stack of pancakes, or a couple of waffles.  For larger groups, it's two-three, made-ahead, hot-out-of-the-oven, breakfast or brunch casseroles.

Cock-a-doodle do NOT stress over AM entertaining:  

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09626d7c970d-800wi"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipes, commentary and photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020)

11/22/2020

~Buttery Sauerkraut as a Side-Dish & for Sandwiches~

IMG_7533I wish I had the time and the inclination to make sauerkraut the old-fashioned way, by fermenting some shredded cabbage in a crock.  I don't.  Perhaps if we ate sauerkraut more than a two-three times a year, I would be inclined to make the time -- it is indeed wonderful.  That said, for those times I want a cup or two of kraut to serve as a side dish or top a sandwich, a bag of store-bought is just fine. FYI:  Technically, once it's out of the package, drained, and rinsed, sauerkraut is ready to eat.  That said, it's awesome when briefly sautéed with some butter, onion and seasonings.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d3bbcf970cA bit about sauerkraut:  Although sauerkraut (German for "sour cabbage") is thought of as a German invention, Chinese laborers building The Great Wall of China over 2,000 years ago ate it as standard fare.  Chinese sauerkraut, made from shredded cabbage fermented in rice wine, eventually found its way to Europe, where the Germans and Alsatians adopted it as a favorite staple. Today's sauerkraut is made in the same manner: by combining shredded cabbage, salt and some spices, then allowing the mixture to ferment.  It is packaged in jars and cans and is found in almost every supermarket.  The best sauerkraut is sold by the pound in delicatessens, as well as in the refrigerated section of grocery stores, where it is packaged in plastic bags.  All sauerkraut should be rinsed in cold water before being served as a side-dish, being cooked in casseroles, or, used as a topping for sandwiches.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d45009970cFor 2 pounds (4 cups) sauerkraut:

2  pounds deli-style sauerkraut, from a bag, not a can

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

8 tablespoons salted butter (1 stick butter)

1  teaspoon caraway seeds

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper

IMG_7492 IMG_7492 IMG_7492 IMG_7500 IMG_7503 IMG_7503 IMG_7503 IMG_7503~Step 1.  Place the sauerkraut in a colander. Thoroughly rinse it under cold water.  Allow it to drain for about 5 minutes.  In a 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven or 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot, melt butter over low heat.  Stir in the caraway seeds, sea salt and black pepper pepper.  Add the diced onion.  Adjust heat to sauté, until onion is soft and translucent, about 3 minutes.  

IMG_7511 IMG_7511 IMG_7511 IMG_7511~Step 2.  Add the drained and rinsed sauerkraut, give the mixture a thorough stir, and continue to sauté, stirring frequently, to keep the sauerkraut from browning, for 8-9 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot and set aside for 15-30 minutes, to allow the flavors time to marry.

Try my Deli Corned Beef on Swirl w/Sauerkraut & Swiss:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed6d31970dLeftovers?  Sauerkraut Yesterday -- Sauerkraut Cakes Today:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c80e8f38970bButtery Sauerkraut as a Side-Dish & for Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 1 quart/4 cups/8 servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; colander; 3 1/2-quart Dutch oven or 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot w/lid 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3abaaba200dCook's Note: This is my father's family's recipe for sauerkraut, and as Eastern Europeans, sauerkraut wasn't reserved for ringing in the New Year -- we ate it all year long.  The only thing that could improve upon the recipe would be my grandfather's home-fermented 'kraut -- which, as a child, I remember being kept in a large, wooden barrel sitting in the corner of his cold, earthen-floored basement, which I remember being a somewhat scary place. ~ Slovak-Style Butter-Bean & Mushroom Sauerkraut ~.

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

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

11/20/2020

~Pan-Fried Shredded Hash-Brown Potato Pan-Cakes~

IMG_7456I accidentally put a bag of shredded hash brown potatoes in the refrigerator instead of the freezer yesterday.  What can I say, I was in a hurry.  Mistakes happen.  I am so glad I decided to open the bag before discarding the to-the-touch soggy mess this morning, because there was a nice surprise inside for me: glistening-white, ready-to-use, slightly-wet, shredded potatoes -- without all the time-consuming mess of doing it from scratch.  I may will never shred fresh potatoes again.

It didn't take but a few minutes to deduce that my supposed shredded hash brown potato tragedy, could easily, in reality, be a triumph, which played out at the dinner table that evening.  My potato-pancake-loving-family gobbled them up.  I served them with applesauce as a side-dish to my six-minute ham slices.  That said, by making them smaller (half-cup instead of one-cup size), appetizer-size, they are a perfect savory nosh at any cocktail party or festive gathering.

A cross between a thin potato pancake & a thick potato cake:

IMG_72531  30-ounce bag frozen, shredded hash-brown potatoes, thawed several hours on the countertop or overnight in the refrigerator (8 cups shredded potatoes), then, spread out and well-drained on a paper-towel lined baking sheet for about an hour 

1 1/2  cups small-diced onion

6  tablespoons pancake and waffle mix

2 1/2 teaspoons-1 tablespoon sea salt

1  tablespoon coarse-grind black pepper

3  large eggs, lightly beaten

4  tablespoon corn or peanut oil, for preparing skillet

IMG_7255 IMG_7255 IMG_7255 IMG_7255

IMG_7265 IMG_7265~Step 1.  Place the well-drained potatoes in a large bowl.  Add the diced onions.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly toss the two together. In a small ramekin, stir together the pancake mix sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper.  Add the dry pancake mixture to the potato mixture, and, use the spatula to thoroughly toss again.  Using a fork, lightly beat the eggs, then add it to the bowl and use the spatula to throughly incorporate them too.  The mixture will be thick, and, will have reduced in size by about half.  Set aside.

IMG_7420 IMG_7420 IMG_7420 IMG_7420~Step 2.  When it comes to these potato pan-cakes, I start with a cold skillet.  Swirl the oil around to coat the bottom of a 14" nonstick skillet.  Place the cold skillet on the stovetop.  Measure and place 7, firmly-packed, 3/4-cup-size cups of the potato mixture in the bottom of the cold skillet.

IMG_7434 IMG_7434 IMG_7434 IMG_7434 IMG_7446~Step 3.  Adjust the heat to medium-high and allow the pan-cakes to start to lightly-brown on their bottoms for about 3-4 minutes.  When the bottoms have started to form a light-golden crust, use a spatula to smash them into 3/4"-thick discs.  Continue to cook, until nicely golden, on the first side, about 6 minutes.  Gently flip the pan-cakes over, and cook, until nicely golden, on the second side, about 6 more minutes.  Remove from heat and serve immediately.

Sour cream & chives?  Applesauce?  Your choice:

IMG_7480Pan-Fried Shredded Hash Brown Potato Pan-Cakes:  Recipe yields 7 large potatoes pancakes, or, 14 smaller, appetizer-sized potato pancakes.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; fork; 1-cup measure; spoon; 14" skillet, preferably nonstick; nonstick spatula; paper towels

IMG_7304Cook's Note: The day of my happy accident, my breakfast menu changed immediately.  Joe's sunny side up eggs with two sausage patties, stayed the same, but, his toasted English muffin turned into a side of my hash-brown waffles (which I typically only serve for special occasion breakfasts), and, all I had to do was drain the potatoes on a paper-towel-lined plate, dice a cup of onions, and get out my waffle maker.  ~ My Shredded Hash-Brown Potato-Pancake Waffles ~.

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

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

11/18/2020

~ My Shredded Hash-Brown Potato-Pancake Waffles ~

IMG_7304I accidentally put a bag of shredded hash brown potatoes in the refrigerator instead of the freezer yesterday.  What can I say, I was in a hurry.  Mistakes happen.  I am so glad I decided to open the bag before discarding the to-the-touch soggy mess this morning, because there was a nice surprise inside for me: glistening-white, ready-to-use, slightly-wet, shredded potatoes -- without all the time-consuming mess of doing it from scratch.  I may will never shred fresh potatoes again.

My breakfast menu changed immediately.  Joe's sunny side up eggs with two sausage patties, stayed the same, but, his toasted English muffin turned into a side of my hash-brown waffles (which I typically only serve for special occasion breakfasts), and, all I had to do was drain the potatoes on a paper-towel-lined plate, dice a cup of onions, and get out my waffle maker.

This semi-old dog just learned a new trick:

IMG_72531  30-ounce bag frozen, shredded hash-brown potatoes, thawed several hours on the countertop or overnight in the refrigerator (8 cups shredded potatoes), then, spread out and well-drained on a paper-towel lined baking sheet for about an hour 

1 1/2  cups small-diced onion

6  tablespoons pancake and waffle mix

2 1/2 teaspoons-1 tablespoon sea salt

1  tablespoon coarse-grind black pepper

3  large eggs, lightly beaten

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing waffle iron

IMG_7255 IMG_7255 IMG_7260 IMG_7260 IMG_7260 IMG_7260~Step 1.  Place the well-drained potatoes in a large bowl.  Add the diced onions.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly toss the two together. In a small ramekin, stir together the pancake mix sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper.  Add the dry pancake mixture to the potato mixture, and, use the spatula to thoroughly toss again.  Using a fork, lightly beat the eggs, then add it to the bowl and use the spatula to throughly incorporate them too.  The mixture will be thick, and, will have reduced in size by about half.  Set aside.

IMG_7280 IMG_7280 IMG_7285 IMG_7285 IMG_7285~Step 2.  Lightly-spray the grill grids of a two-slice Belgian-style waffle iron, top and bottom, with no-stick cooking spray.  Close the lid and preheat the waffle iron -- my iron has variable thrermostatic heat control, so I preheat it to medium-high.  It takes my iron 8-10 minutes to preheat. Open the lid and place 1 cup of the potato-pancake mixture in the center of each of the two grill grids.  Close the lid briefly, to partially smash the potato mixture down, about 5 seconds.  Lift the lid, then use a fork to distribute the potato mixture into the open corners.

IMG_7292 IMG_7295 IMG_7295~Step 3.  Close the lid tightly, and continue to cook the waffles until a nice golden brown, about 6 minutes.  In my waffle iron, it's 6 minutes exactly, but, I can't guarantee that in yours, so adjust the time accordingly.  Lift the lid and allow waffles to sit, with the lid open, about 1 minute, to allow the steam to escape.  Using a thin spatula and/or a fork, gently lift and transfer the waffles from the iron to a wire rack.  Repeat this process (no need to respray the grill-grids with no stick spray) with the remaining 3 waffles. If you're a perfectionist, use a pair of kitchen shears to clip the craggy edges around each waffle.  

Don't have a Belgian-style waffle iron?  No time like the present to make a small investment in potato-pancake waffle perfection.

IMG_7304My Shredded Hash Brown Potato-Pancake Waffles:  Recipe yields 5 large Belgian-style waffles.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; fork; 1-cup measure; spoon; Belgian-style waffle iron; thin spatula; wire cooling rack; kitchen sherrs (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d692750970d-800wiCook's Note: Let me be honest, if you are the family cook, making real-deal waffles in the midst of getting everyone in your household out the door for school and/or work on time, to say the least, requires a degree in time-management.  Toasting some bread, scrambling or frying some eggs, and, even whisking up a few pancakes is child's play compared to making any type of waffles. For years, I saved waffle making for very special occasion breakfasts.  Try my recipe for ~ Teresa's Easy-to-Make Overnight Belgian Waffles ~.

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

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

11/15/2020

~ Crock of Baked Applesauce, Walnut & Herbed Brie ~

IMG_7405Small but mighty, and, falling into the category of somewhere-in-between-a-dip-and-a-spread, this easy-to-make appetizer is appropriate to serve at, or make-and-take to, any holiday gathering -- it's sublime.  It's also a great recipe to keep in your back pocket in case you find yourself in need of a last-minute appetizer.  There's more.  If you're not a fan of cranberry sauce, it's great made with whole-berry cranberry sauce instead.  While it can be prepared in a small shallow bowl, it's particularly pretty baked and served in a small crock -- presentation is, after all, everything. There's even more.  It can be assembled, refrigerated overnight, and baked the next day.

Three ingredients + twenty minutes = one sublime appetizer.

IMG_73571  8-ounce wheel herbed-triple creme brie

1  cup chunky-style applesauce

1/2  cup coarse-chopped walnuts

IMG_7363 IMG_7363 IMG_7364 IMG_7368~Step 1.  Place 6 tablespoons applesauce in bottom of a 3-4 cup crock.  While the Brie is cold, slice it in half horizontally, to form two discs.  Place bottom disc in crock atop the sauce.

IMG_7371 IMG_7371 IMG_7371 IMG_7371 IMG_7371~Step 2. Spoon and spread 6 more tablespoons applesauce atop the disc of brie in the crock, then scatter 6 tablespoons walnuts evenly over all.  Place the second disc (the top of the Brie) on top.  Don't press down. Spoon 6 more tablespoons of applesauce on top, leaving a nice edge around the perimeter of the cheese, followed by a scattering of 1-2 tablespoons walnuts atop the sauce, again, leaving a nice edge around the perimeter of cheese.

IMG_7382Step 3.  Once assembled, Brie can be covered and refrigerated several hours to overnight.  In either case, when the Brie has been out of the refrigerator for a total of about 30 minutes, bake, uncovered on center rack of preheated 350° oven until cheese is softened, 8-10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to rest 8-10 minutes prior to serving somewhat hot, warm or at room temperature with your favorite (Club or Ritz) crackers.

Going into the oven to bake for 8-10 minutes:

IMG_7393Coming out of the oven to cool for 8-10 minutes:

IMG_7396Crock of Baked Applesauce, Walnut & Herbed Brie:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  3-4 cup-sized oven-safe crock; chef's knife; cutting board

6a0120a8551282970b026bdea6d319200cCook's Note: While these are perfect for any Turkey-Day feast, when made with applesauce instead of cranberry sauce, they're great any time of the year.  I've been know to serve them on occasion as a warm-up to one of my winner-winner roasted chicken Sunday dinners.  As for the recipe, there really isn't one -- I came home with it "in my head" after enjoying a few at a Christmas cookie-exchange brunch-party a few year ago.  Try my ~ Gobble Gobble -- Turkey-Day Cranberry & Brie Bites ~.

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

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

11/13/2020

~ Crock of Baked Cranberry, Walnut and Herbed Brie ~

IMG_7250Small but mighty, and, falling into the category of somewhere-in-between-a-dip-and-a-spread, this easy-to-make appetizer is appropriate to serve at, or make-and-take to, any holiday gathering -- it's sublime.  It's also a great recipe to keep in your back pocket in case you find yourself in need of a last-minute appetizer.  There's more.  If you're not a fan of cranberry sauce, it's great made with chunky-style applesauce instead.  While it can be prepared in a small shallow bowl, it's particularly pretty baked and served in a small crock -- presentation is, after all, everything. There's even more.  It can be assembled, refrigerated overnight, and baked the next day.

Three ingredients + twenty minutes = One sublime appetizer:

IMG_71531  8-ounce wheel herbed-triple creme brie

1  cup whole berry cranberry sauce

1/2  cup coarse-chopped walnuts

IMG_7154 IMG_7154 IMG_7154 IMG_7166~Step 1.  Place 6 tablespoons cranberry sauce in bottom of a 3-4 cup crock.  While the Brie is cold, slice it in half horizontally, to form two discs.  Place bottom disc in crock atop the sauce.  

IMG_7168 IMG_7168 IMG_7168 IMG_7186 IMG_7186~Step 2. Spoon and spread 6 more tablespoons cranberry sauce atop the disc of brie in the crock, then scatter 6 tablespoons walnuts evenly over all.  Place the second disc (the top of the Brie) on top.  Don't press down. Spoon 6 more tablespoons of cranberry sauce on top, leaving a nice edge around the perimeter of the cheese, followed by a scattering of 1-2 tablespoons walnuts atop the sauce, again, leaving a nice edge around the perimeter of cheese.

IMG_7187 IMG_7215Step 3.  Once assembled, Brie can be covered and refrigerated several hours to overnight.  In either case, when the Brie has been out of the refrigerator for a total of about 30 minutes, bake, uncovered on center rack of preheated 350° oven until cheese is softened, 8-10 minutes.  Remove from oven and allow to rest 8-10 minutes prior to serving somewhat hot, warm or at room temperature with your favorite (Club or Ritz) crackers. 

Going into the oven to bake for 8-10 minutes:

IMG_7192Coming out of the oven to cool for 8-10 minutes:

IMG_7221Crock of Baked Cranberry, Walnut and Herbed Brie:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  3-4 cup-sized oven-safe crock; chef's knife; cutting board

IMG_7117Cook's Note: While these are perfect for any Turkey-Day feast, they're great almost any time of the year.  I've been know to serve them on occasion as a warm-up to one of my winner-winner roasted chicken Sunday dinners.  As for the recipe, there really isn't one so-to-speak -- I came home with it "in my head" (as it was told to me) after enjoying a few at a mid-morning Christmas cookie-exchange brunch-party a few year ago.  Try my ~ Gobble Gobble -- Turkey-Day Cranberry & Brie Bites ~.

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

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

11/10/2020

~Gobble Gobble -- Turkey-Day Cranberry & Brie Bites~

IMG_7128 2While these easy-to-make appetizers are perfect for any large-or-small fancy-or-relaxed Turkey-Day feast, they're great almost any time of the year.  I've been know to serve them on occasion as a warm-up to one of my winner-winner roasted chicken Sunday dinners.  As for the recipe, there really isn't one so-to-speak -- I came home with it "in my head" (as it was told to me) after enjoying a few at a mid-morning Christmas cookie-exchange brunch-party a few year ago.

Perfect for our just-the-two-of-us Turkey Day feast this year:

IMG_7117And, just four easy-to-gather-together ingredients too: 

IMG_70412  tablespoons all-purpose bench flour, for dusting pastry board

1  8-ounce canister Pillsbury crescent rolls

8  ounces triple-creme Brie

1  cup whole-berry cranberry sauce

24 tiny, fresh rosemary sprigs, for garnish

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing mini-muffin pans 

IMG_7048 IMG_7048 IMG_7048~ Step 1.  Spray the inside cups of a mini-muffin pan or two pans (enough for 24 appetizers) with no-stick cooking spray.  Ready a pastry board, a small rolling pin, spatula and tart tamper (if you have one).  Spread a bit (1 1/2-2 tablespoons) bench flour on a pastry board, just enough to give the board a thin dusting.

IMG_7054 IMG_7054 IMG_7054 IMG_7054 IMG_7054 IMG_7054~Step 2.  Open the canister of rolls.  Carefully roll dough out on the prepared board to form a rectangle.  Using your fingertips, pinch the seams together, then, using a light touch, use a mini-rolling pin to even out the surface.  Slice dough into 24 even-sized squares, about 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" each.  Gently lift each dough square up and tuck it into a muffin cup.  Using a small tart tamper, push the dough down to form a flat bottom.

IMG_7072 IMG_7072 IMG_7080 IMG_7080 IMG_7080~Step 3.  While the Brie is very cold, slice the brie, as evenly as you can, into 48 small 1/2"-sized cubes.  Place two cubes of cheese in each crescent-dough-lined muffin cup.  Top each appetizer with 1 generous teaspoon cranberry sauce, doing your best to make sure to get 1-2-3 whole berries incorporated into each cup.  Just do your best.  

IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7107~Step 4.  Bake on center rack uf preheated 355° oven until crescent dough is light-golden and cheese is melted, about 12-14 minutes.  Remove from oven and place pans on a wire rack to cool 6-8 minutes.  With the aid of a sharp-tipped paring knife, gently lift each appetizer up and out of the muffing tin. Garnish each appetizer with a tiny sprig of fresh rosemary.  Serve warm or at room temperature (they hold up well for 4-6 hours).

Simple, straightforward, &, most importantly, super-special.

IMG_7133Absolutely easy, yet elegant & extraordinary too:

IMG_7142Gobble Gobble -- Turkey-Day Cranberry & Brie Bites:  Recipe yields 2 dozen appetizers/8 servings @ 3 per person/12 servings @ 2 per person.

Special Equipment List:  pastry board; mini-rolling pin; chef's knife; small spatula; 1-2 mini-muffing pans, enough for 24 appetizers; tart tamper; wire cooling rack; sharp-tipped paring knife

IMG_6937Cook's Note: Is there anyone who doesn't love to be invited to someone's home for breakfast or brunch? There's just something light-hearted, laid-back and downright bushy-tailed about sharing the first meal and few hours of the day in the company of family and friends.  The best way I can describe the experience is:  it's like waking up in the morning to find out it snowed and they cancelled school.  Everyone "gets into the spirit of it" -- and, it doesn't have to be fancy-schmancy either.  Try my ~ Fresh Strawberry, Brie & Biscuit Breakfast Crostini ~.

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

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

11/08/2020

~ Fresh Strawberry, Brie & Biscuit Breakfast Crostini ~

IMG_6937Is there anyone who doesn't love to be invited to someone's home for breakfast or brunch? There's just something light-hearted, laid-back and downright bushy-tailed about sharing the first meal and few hours of the day in the company of family and friends.  The best way I can describe the experience is:  it's like waking up in the morning to find out it snowed and they cancelled school.  Everyone "gets into the spirit of it" -- and, it doesn't have to be fancy-schmancy either.

That said, if you've ever invited people to your home for breakfast or brunch, you know that when your guests walk through the front door, having some fruit juice and/or fruit-juice-based cocktails, along with a nosh or two, ready and waiting to greet them, is: hospitably essential -- something they can immediately sip on and nibble upon to break the fast.  My quick-to-make biscuit crostini, made with canisters of store-bought biscuits topped with triple-creme brie, fresh strawberries and a drizzle of fruity balsamic vinegar glaze are easy, elegant and appreciated by all concerned.

Absolutely easy, yet elegant & extraordinary too:

IMG_6904Simple, straightforward, &, most importantly, super-special.

IMG_68451  7 1/2-ounce canister regular-sized refrigerated buttermilk biscuits, 10 biscuits

8  ounces triple-creme Brie

10  perfectly-ripe and juicy, medium-sized strawberries

about 2 total tablespoons Blaze fruity strawberry- or fig-infused balsamic vinegar glaze

IMG_6867 IMG_6852 IMG_6849~ Step 1.  While the Brie is very cold, slice it into long 1/4"-thick strips, then, cut the strips into 20, 1 1/2" x 1 1/2" squares -- two squares per crostini.  Set aside.  Cut the tops off the strawberries and cut each berry into 5 even-sized slices.  Set aside.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with parchment paper.  Set aside.

IMG_6854 IMG_6854 IMG_6870 IMG_6870~Step 2.  Open the canister of biscuits and arrange them on the prepared pan.  Bake on center rack of preheated 375° oven, 9-10 minutes, until lightly browned.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool-slightly, 4-5 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 275°.  Using a serrated knife, slice/shave a scant portion of the top off each biscuit, leaving a substantial base for each crostini.

IMG_6874 IMG_6874 IMG_6874~ Step 3.  Top each biscuit with two pieces of cheese stacked atop each other. Return biscuits to center rack of 275º oven just long enough for the Brie to begin to melt, about 2 minutes (more or less).  Remove from oven.  While the cheese is still warm, soft and melty, arrange one sliced strawberry atop each crostini.

Arrange crostini on a serving board or platter:

IMG_6894Drizzle w/glaze & serve warm or at room temperature:

IMG_6898Piled-high w/hearty ooey-gooey fruity wonderfulness:

IMG_6926Fresh Strawberry, Brie & Biscuit Breakfast Crostini:  Recipe yields ten superb appetizers/4-6 servings @ 2-3 per person.

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

6a0120a8551282970b017d412926ec970c-800wiCook's Note: The family cook realizes the time, energy and organization required to produce even a simple family meal.  On those special occasions or holidays, when the fare must be increased to include a dozen or more added guests, one can only wonder how a professional chef or a restaurant manages to produce quality meals many, and more than once a day. ~ Culinary Rule #1:  Mice-en-place --  Put Everything in its Place ~.

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

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

11/06/2020

~Quicker than Typical Triple-Lemon Lemon Loaf Cake~

IMG_6836Ina Garten, host of The Food Network show Barefoot Contessa, has long been one of my favorite TV cooks and cookbook authors.  Her low-key, soft-spoken on-camera persona makes her easy to listen to.  In keeping with that, her published recipes are, in turn, well-written, easy-to-follow, and, approachable, meaning:  for the most part, there's no need to scurry to the store or conduct any on-line searches for hard-to-find ingredients.  Shortly after watching her make lemon loaf cakes on a picnic-themed episode, I decided to make her cakes, and, I served them for dessert at my own outdoor get-together -- as the base cake for our homegrown-strawberry shortcakes.

Ina's delightful cakes transitioned into my delightful cakes.

IMG_6805Ina's lemon cakes were delightful -- the perfect compliment to our just-picked strawberries.  Later that same Summer, Joe came home from running errands with a big box of beautiful California strawberries -- they were plump, juicy, full-of-flavor and perfectly ripe.  Had he called me from the store, I'd have told him to pick up eight lemons (that's how many lemons you need to make the cakes), but, twenty years ago, our cell phones had not been surgically attached to our bodies yet.

I decided to risk baking the cakes using a few lemony substitutions I had on hand:  Organic not-from-concentrate lemon juice (in place of fresh-squeezed juice), McCormick dehydrated lemon peel (in place of the fresh zest), and, for good measure, a teaspoon of organic lemon extract. Long story short:  My substitutions saved me a bunch of time (no juicing or zesting), and, my lemon cakes were delightful -- the perfect compliment to our store-bought strawberries.    

My quicker-than-using-fresh-lemons lemon cake:

IMG_6702For the wet ingredients:

8  ounces salted butter, at room temperature, very soft, + 1 additional tablespoon soft salted butter for greasing loaf pans

4  extra-large eggs, at room temperature

3  tablespoons dehydrated lemon peel

2 1/2  cups granulated sugar, divided (2 cups for the cake batter, 1/2 cup for the syrup)

3/4  cup high-quality not-from-concentrate, organic lemon juice, divided (1/4 cup for stirring into the buttermilk, 1/2 cup for preparing the syrup)

3/4  buttermilk, at room temperature

1  teaspoon pure lemon extract

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For the dry ingredients:

3  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour, + 3-4 additional tablespoons for flouring loaf pans

3/4  teaspoon baking powder

3/4  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_6788For the drizzly lemon glaze:

1 1/2  cups Confectioners' sugar

1  teaspoon each: pure lemon and pure vanilla extract

2  tablespoons high-quality not-from-concentrate, lemon juice

IMG_6796~ Step 1. Stir all ingredients together in a 2-cup bowl, then transfer to a plastic condiment-type squeeze bottle.  Set aside.

IMG_6689 IMG_6689 IMG_6689~ Step 2.  Butter 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/4" x 2 1/2" glass loaf pans.  Dust the inside of each loaf pan with flour and shake it clear of any excess.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 325°.  Note:  If using metal loaf pans, preheat oven to 350°.  

IMG_6696 IMG_6696 IMG_6696 IMG_6696 IMG_6696~Step 3.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  Place 3/4 cup buttermilk in a 1-cup measuring container.  Stir 1/4 cup of the lemon juice, plus the lemon and vanilla extracts, into the buttermilk.  Set aside.  The remaining 1/2 cup lemon juice will be used to make a syrupy drizzle for the tops of finished cakes.  

IMG_6714 IMG_6714 IMG_6714 IMG_6714 IMG_6714 IMG_6714~Step 4.  Place the very soft butter, four eggs, lemon peel and 2-cups of the sugar in a large bowl.  On high-speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream the three together until light and fluffy, about 3 full minutes.  Lower mixer speed and gradually (in 2-3 increments) beat in the dry ingredients alternately with the 1-cup of buttermilk/lemon juice mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula the entire time.

IMG_6738 IMG_6738 IMG_6738 IMG_6738 IMG_6738~Step 5.  Divide the cake batter evenly between the two prepared loaf pans -- a kitchen scale is the best tool to make sure this division is precise.  Give each loaf pan a few vigorous back-and-forth shakes across the work surface (the countertop), to flatten-out the tops.  Bake both cakes on center rack of preheated 325º oven, 50-55 minutes, or until a cake tested inserted in several spots comes out clean.  Remove cakes from oven and place on a wire rack to cool, in the loaf pans, for 10-12 minutes.  Invert cakes from pans onto a wire rack that has been placed in a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan that has been lined with parchment.  Cool the cakes, on the wire rack for 10-12 additional minutes, but, NOT to room temperature just yet.  Read on:

IMG_6747 IMG_6747 IMG_6747 IMG_6747~Step 6.  When the cakes go into oven to bake,  prepare the syrup.  In a 1-quart saucepan, stir together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup lemon juice.  Bring to a simmer over low heat, stirring constantly.  Simmer every-so-gently for about 1 minute, to dissolve the sugar.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool until the cakes emerge from the oven.  Once the cakes are out of the oven, if you have a squeeze-type condiment-container, transfer the still-warm syrup to it.

IMG_6775 IMG_6775 IMG_6775~ Step 7.  Using a toothpick, poke about 40, 1/2"-deep holes in the top surface of each still-warm cake.  Slowly, in four-five increments, waiting about five minutes in between every addition, drizzle the sill-warm sugary lemon-syrup evenly over the surface of both cakes, to allow time for the syrup to soak into the cake after each addition.  Allow cakes to cool completely, 1-2 hours.  Drizzle with glaze.

Completely cooled cakes placed on a rack on a pan...

IMG_6799... drizzled w/a very lemony glaze.  Pucker up:

IMG_6801Quicker than Typical Triple-Lemon Lemon Loaf Cake:  Recipe yields, 2, 8" x 4" x 3" loaf shaped cakes/8-10 slices each.

Special Equipment List: 8 1/2" x 4 1/4" x 2 1/2" loaf pans, preferably glass; 2, 1-cup measuring containers; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; kitchen scale; cake tester or a toothpick; 1-quart saucepan; wire cooling rack; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; condiment-type squeeze bottle; toothpick; 2-cup measuring container; spoon; plastic wrap; plastic squeeze bottle (optional); serrated bread knife  

6a0120a8551282970b019aff2020b1970cCook's Note: Nothing is quite as ethereal as a freshly-baked loaf of bread, quick bread or pound cake. The recipe says to bake it in a loaf pan and you don't have one.  You drive to the nearest cooking store to find out you must choose between several manufacturers and price ranges, different materials ranging from clear glass and ceramic to shiny, gray or black metal -- each kind in a variety of sizes too. Decisions like this cause people to lose sleep. Today, I'm going to attempt to take the angst out of purchasing a loaf pan for you. ~ The Low-Down on Loaf Pans: What Size and Kind? ~.

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

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

11/03/2020

~A Big Batch of Bean Soup -- Eat Some Freeze Some~

IMG_8591In my kitchen, cold weather is soup and stew weather, and, once the frost is on the pumpkin I like to make my soups and stews in slow-simmered big batches.  After we've enjoyed one hearty warm-us-up meal, I freeze the rest in two-quart containers, so we can slurp soups and stews several more times until Spring comes.  Chicken vegetable soup, beef stew, and, ham and bean soup are my on my family's short-list of big-batch favorites. For the most part, when making soup or stew, "chicken is chicken" and "beef is beef", meaning:  they're almost self-explanatory. That said, when making a soup or stew that requires ham, I always choose to use the boney, more-flavorful smoked shanks or hocks over a meatier chunk or a few slices of smoked ham.

IMG_6608Time to define & discuss smoked ham shanks & ham hocks.

6a0120a8551282970b0263e973fbeb200bA bit about ham shanks and ham hocks:  Bony cuts of fatty meat taken from the legs and near the feet of the pig, with the shanks being the meatier of the two.

- Ham Shank

- Ham Hock

The shank refers to a fairly meaty part just below the pork shoulder (if it is the front of the hog) or the hip (if it's from the back of the hog).  The hock refers to a much bonier cut taken from just above the feet.  Both have a thick, tough skin (which is left on) and contain a lot of tendons, ligaments and fat.  They contain a lot of collagen too, which adds silkiness to whatever they are cooked in.  All of this means they require a long, slow, moist-heat method of cooking, like stewing or braising, to make them edible.  Unlike ham, neither contain enough meat to be the focal point of dinner. Instead, after cooking, the skin is discarded, the meat is removed from the bone, chopped or shredded, then added to dishes like hearty soups and thick stews.

To make a big batch of old-fashioned bean soup:

IMG_66156  quarts cold water

3  40-ounce cans great northern beans, undrained

3  15 1/2-ounce cans cannelloni beans, undrained

4  smoked ham shanks (about 1-1 1/4 pounds each)

6  cups peeled and diced carrots

5  cups diced celery 

5  cups diced onion 

8  cups peeled and diced gold potatoes

3  tablespoons dried parsley flakes

6  whole bay leaves

1  tablespoon garlic powder

5  tablespoons sea salt

1  tablespoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_6619 IMG_6619 IMG_6619 IMG_6619 IMG_6619 IMG_6619 IMG_6619 IMG_6619 IMG_6619~Step 1.  Place 6 quarts cold water in a very large, 20-24-quart, stockpot. Add the undrained beans and ham shanks.  Prep and add the carrots, celery, onions and potatoes to the pot as you work.  Add all of the seasonings:  parsley flakes, bay leaves, garlic powder, sea salt and pepper.  Bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer, and continue to cook, uncovered, for 2-2 1/2 hours, stopping to give the soup a stir about every 15 minutes. Turn the heat off, cover the pot, and allow soup to steep for 2-2 1/2 hours.

IMG_6654 IMG_6654 IMG_6654 IMG_6654 IMG_6654 IMG_6654 IMG_6678 IMG_6678~Step 2.  Using a large slotted spoon, remove the shanks from the pot and place them in a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole.  Remove and discard the skin from the shanks, then, remove meat from the bone -- both are easy to do.  Using two forks, shred the meat into small pieces.  Return the meat to the stockpot.  Over medium heat, return the bean soup to a simmer and reheat.  Remove from heat and serve some immediately, and/or portion into freezer-safe food storage containers.

Simple, Straightforward & Scrumptious Bean Soup:

IMG_8596A Big Batch of Bean Soup -- Eat Some, Freeze Some:  Recipe yields 18 quarts.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 20-24 quart stockpot, preferably stainless steel; 1-quart measuring container; long-handled slotted spatula; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; two forks vegetable peeler; long-handled slotted spoon; soup ladle 

IMG_8585Cook's Note: My Big Batch Bean Soup recipe in a spin-off of American's most famous bean soup recipe.  Bean soup is on the menu in all of the Senate's restaurant dining rooms every day and has been for over a hundred years, possibly longer -- it's an official mandate.  To learn more about the history, read my post: ~ State of the Union: Famous US Senate Bean Soup ~.

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

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

10/31/2020

~Stirring the Pot: Smoked Ham Shanks & Ham Hocks~

IMG_6608In my kitchen, cold weather is soup and stew weather, and, once the frost is on the pumpkin I like to make my soups and stews in slow-simmered big batches.  After we've enjoyed one hearty warm-us-up meal, I freeze the rest in two-quart containers, so we can slurp soups and stews several more times until Spring comes.  Chicken vegetable soup, beef stew, and, ham and bean soup are my on my family's short-list of favorites.  For the most part, when making soup or stew, "chicken is chicken" and "beef is beef", meaning:  they're almost self-explanatory.  That said, when making soups or stews that requires ham, I'll choose to use the boney, more-flavorful smoked shanks or hocks over a meatier chunk or a few slices of smoked ham every time.   

Time to define & discuss smoked ham shanks & ham hocks.

6a0120a8551282970b01a5117ecf09970cA bit about ham shanks and ham hocks:  Bony cuts of fatty meat taken from the legs and near the feet of the pig, with the shanks being the meatier of the two.

- Ham Shank

- Ham Hock

Smoked ham shanks & ham hocks can be used interchangeably.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c873a443970bThe shank refers to a fairly meaty part just below the pork shoulder (if it is the front of the hog) or the hip (if it's from the back of the hog).  The hock refers to a much bonier cut taken from just above the feet.  Both have a thick, tough skin (which is left on) and contain a lot of tendons, ligaments and fat.  They contain a lot of collagen too, which adds silkiness to whatever they are cooked in.  All of this means they require a long, slow, moist-heat 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1fd6cd2970cmethod of cooking, like stewing or braising, to make them edible.  They are primarily added to dishes to impart smoky flavor, not substance.

Unlike ham, neither contain enough meat to be the focal point of dinner. Instead, after cooking, the skin is discarded, the meat is removed from the bone and is added to hearty dishes like soups and stews containing beans or peas, greens, 6a0120a8551282970b01bb091713b3970dand/or potatoes or rice.  

Hocks and shanks sold in American markets are almost always cured and smoked in the same manner as ham, but, the degree to which they are smoked does vary.  I've never encountered any that have been over-smoked, but, if you do, soak them in cold water for an hour or two to leach out some of the overly-smokey intensity. They're both relatively cheap, but, I prefer the slightly more expensive, meatier ham shank to the bonier ham hock.  When I find them on sale, I always buy several because:  they freeze great.

While this post is about smoked ham shanks and hocks, if you do come across unsmoked ones, pick up a few of those too.  While smoked ham shanks and hocks are preferred when preparing soups and stews, unsmoked ham shanks and hocks are perfect for stovetop, or stovetop/oven braising.  Cook the unsmoked ones in the same manner you'd cook beef, lamb or veal shanks. Served atop a bed of creamy, roasted-garlic mashed potatoes alongside a scoop of buttery green beans, fork-tender unsmoked shanks or hocks make for a luscious Wintertime dinner.

IMG_6525"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

10/28/2020

~ Defining the Differences between Soups and Stews ~

IMG_6458When I pull out my big, 20-24-quart stockpots, it's officially Fall.  Why?  When it's chilly outside, it's time to cook up a storm inside.  Why?  When one lives in the Northeast, it's a wise cook who has a freezer containing some thaw-heat-and-eat meals for those snowy days when a quick trip to the grocery store is not in the forecast.  Yes indeed, when the frost is on the pumpkin, I don't mind spending an afternoon at the stovetop preparing one of the two favorite things I cook in big batches (for "freezer meals"): a stockpot full of luscious, heartwarming, soup or stew.

What exactly is the difference between a soup or a 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_6525"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

10/25/2020

~ Tips for Big Batch Eat-Some Freeze-Some Cooking ~

IMG_6458If you've ever envisioned yourself being a restaurant chef, be careful what you wish for:  the pots are big, the load is heavy.  There's more.  As a home cook, in terms of slicing, dicing, chopping and mincing, you won't have any line cooks to perform those menial tasks for you.  Don't get me wrong (I'm not trying to talk you out of this), big batch cooking isn't necessarily hard, but, more-often than not, it is time consuming -- in many instances, it's prudent to do the majority of the prep work on one day and the actual cooking the next, so, be sure to schedule enough time.  Past that, it's also necessary to invest in some big-batch restaurant-sized equipment.  When armed with the right recipe, the right mindset, and the right equipment, the big batch reward is great.  That said, preparing a big batch of almost anything is different from regular cooking.  Read on:  

Doubling or tripling solid or liquid ingredients measured in weight or volume is the easy part -- simply get out your calculator and "do the math".  Fats used to coat the bottom of a pot or pan will increase just enough to coat the bottom of a bigger pot or pan.  Wine or alcohol used to deglaze a pot or a pan, will increase slightly, by about one-quarter, meaning:  1 cup wine is now 1 1/4 cups wine.  All that said, more-often-than-not, when converting a regular recipe to a big batch, adjustments to the seasonings need to be made, meaning: unless you are following a recipe that is specifically written for a big batch (like my recipes are), start by adding slightly less than the math calculations suggest (example: if doubling a recipe, instead of jumping from the called for 1 teaspoon salt directly to 2 teaspoons salt, start by adding 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and, if tripling a recipe, instead of jumping from the called for 1 teaspoon salt to 3 teaspoons salt, add 2 teaspoons -- it's a not-overly-seasoned, but, adequately-seasoned starting point).  After that, taste, as soon as you can and as often as you can along the way.  You can always add more spices, you can't remove them.  In terms of time and temperature when doubling or tripling a recipe, while the temperature will remain the same, the timing will not -- more food will take slightly longer to cook (up to one-third longer, meaning: expect 3-6 minutes to turn into 4-8 minutes, etc.).  Record ALL of your results and you'll never have to do it again.

To cut down on mishaps that can cause a voluminous, sometimes expensive, list of ingredients from going to waste, as mentioned above, it's super-important to invest in the proper large-capacity equipment.  Why?  A pot or pan that is even slightly too small will cause a boil over, a spoon or spatula without a long enough handle can cause a serious burn to the skin, and, while your trying to clean up the hot mess or dress the wound, the food can overcook, scorch or burn. In all seriousness, if you don't have access to the equipment, don't undertake the task.  

IMG_6525"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

10/23/2020

~A Big Batch of Beef Stew -- Eat Some, Freeze Some~

IMG_4541When I pull out my big, 20-24-quart stockpots, it's officially Fall.  Why?  When it's chilly outside, it's time to cook up a storm inside.  Why?  When one lives in the Northeast, it's a wise cook who has a freezer containing some thaw-heat-and-eat meals for those snowy days when a quick trip to the grocery store is not in the forecast.  Yes indeed, when the frost is on the pumpkin, I don't mind spending an afternoon at the stovetop preparing one of the three carnivorous things I cook in big batches (for "freezer meals"): red-meat-based red pasta sauce, chili con carne, and, beef stew.

To sorta quote Mark Bittman (author of How to Cook Everything) "the appliance that can best save money, reduce food waste, and, get home-cooked meals on the table faster, is the freezer". 

IMG_6458Let'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_6525What to consider before beginning to cook in big batches:

If you've ever envisioned yourself being a restaurant chef, be careful what you wish for:  the pots are big, the load is heavy.  There's more.  As a home cook, in terms of slicing, dicing, chopping and mincing, you won't have any line cooks to perform those menial tasks for you.  Don't get me wrong (I'm not trying to talk you out of this), big batch cooking isn't necessarily hard, but, more-often than not, it is time consuming -- in many instances, it's prudent to do the majority of the prep work on one day and the actual cooking the next, so, be sure to schedule enough time.  Past that, it's also necessary to invest in some big-batch restaurant-sized equipment.  When armed with the right recipe, the right mindset, and the right equipment, the big batch reward is great. That said, preparing a big batch of almost anything is different from regular cooking.  Read on:  

Doubling or tripling solid or liquid ingredients measured in weight or volume is the easy part -- simply get out your calculator and "do the math".  Fats used to coat the bottom of a pot or pan will increase just enough to coat the bottom of a bigger pot or pan.  Wine or alcohol used to deglaze a pot or a pan, will increase slightly, by about one-quarter, meaning:  1 cup wine is now 1 1/4 cups wine.  All that said, more-often-than-not, when converting a regular recipe to a big batch, adjustments to the seasonings need to be made, meaning: unless you are following a recipe that is specifically written for a big batch (like my recipes are), start by adding slightly less than the math calculations suggest (example: if doubling a recipe, instead of jumping from the called for 1 teaspoon salt directly to 2 teaspoons salt, start by adding 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and, if tripling a recipe, instead of jumping from the called for 1 teaspoon salt to 3 teaspoons salt, add 2 teaspoons -- it's a not-overly-seasoned, but, adequately-seasoned starting point).  After that, taste, as soon as you can and as often as you can along the way.  You can always add more spices, you can't remove them.  In terms of time and temperature when doubling or tripling a recipe, while the temperature will remain the same, the timing will not -- more food will take slightly longer to cook (up to one-third longer, meaning: expect 3-6 minutes to

To cut down on mishaps that can cause a voluminous, sometimes expensive, list of ingredients from going to waste, as mentioned above, it's super-important to invest in the proper large-capacity equipment.  Why?  A pot or pan that is even slightly too small will cause a boil over, a spoon or spatula without a long enough handle can cause a serious burn to the skin, and, while your trying to clean up the hot mess or dress the wound, the food can overcook, scorch or burn. In all seriousness, if you don't have access to the equipment, don't undertake the task.

To make a big batch of my old-fashioned beef stew:

IMG_6462For prepping, dredging & lightly-browning the beef:

7 1/2-8  pounds 3/4"-1"-cubed beef chuck roast or chuck steak, from 1, 9-10 pound chuck roast or 3-4 large chuck steaks

1  tablespoon sea salt

1  tablespoon coarse-grind black pepper

1  cup Wondra quick-mixing flour for sauces and gravy

8  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons vegetable oil

IMG_6492For preparing the stew base:

2-2 1/2  pounds 3/4"-1" chopped yellow or sweet onion

2-2 1/2 pounds 3/4"-1" chopped white button mushroom caps

1  cup port wine

5  quarts beef stock, homemade or unsalted store-bought stock

2  12-ounce cans tomato paste

6  packets Herb-Ox granulated beef bouillon

"the seasonings", aka, 1 tablespoon each:  garlic powder, dried parsley flakes, rosemary leaves and thyme leaves, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper, and, 6 whole bay leaves

IMG_6540For the add-in vegetables:

3-3 1/2  pounds peeled and 3/4"-1" coined carrots

1 1/2-2  pounds 1/2" sliced celery 

2  10-ounce bags finely-shredded green cabbage

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

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a487968f200c 6a0120a8551282970b0240a487968f200c 6a0120a8551282970b0240a487968f200c~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 flour, salt and coarse-grind black pepper in a 2-gallon food storage bag.  Toss to incorporate the salt and pepper throughout the flour.  In three batches, add the beef cubes to the seasoned flour, tossing to coat the beef cubes on all sides after each addition.

IMG_6475 IMG_6475 IMG_6475 IMG_6475 IMG_6475~Step 2.  In a 20-24-quart stockpot, over low heat, melt the butter into the oil.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Add all the dredged beef cubes. Using a long-handled slotted spatula, to keep the meat moving around, sauté until ever-so-slightly-browned and swimming in a flavorful gravy, about 12-15 minutes.  Use the slotted spatula to transfer the beef to a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole, leaving most of the flavorful brown fond in the bottom of pot.  Set beef aside.

IMG_6487 IMG_6487 IMG_6487 IMG_6487~Step 3.  Add the chopped onions and chopped mushroom caps to the stockpot.   Give them a thorough stir and continue to sauté, over medium- medium-high until onion is soft and translucent but not browned or browning, and mushrooms have lost about three-quarters of their volume and exuded almost all of their earthy flavor into the mixture, 12-15 minutes -- oh yum.

IMG_6508 IMG_6508 IMG_6508 IMG_6515 IMG_6515 IMG_6515 IMG_6515 IMG_6535~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, tomato paste, granulated bouillon and seasonings. Reduce heat to a gentle, steady simmer, and continue to simmer, uncovered, 1 hour.

IMG_6543 IMG_6543 IMG_6543 IMG_6543 IMG_6543 IMG_6543 IMG_6543~Step 5.  Increase the heat to medium-high.  Add and stir in the coined carrots, sliced celery and shredded cabbage.  When the mixture returns to a simmer, reduce heat to a gentle steady simmer and continue to simmer, uncovered, 12-15 minutes.  Use this time to peel and chop the potatoes.  Add and stir in the potatoes.  Return to a gentle-steady simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, an additional for 45-60 minutes, until carrots, celery and potatoes are all perfectly-cooked through.  Remove from heat, cover pot and allow to steep for 1-2 hours prior to serving, or, portioning into freezer-and-microwave-safe food storage containers.  Refrigerate containers of soup prior to freezing.

A perfect stew in every way -- 18 quarts of future meal goodness: 

IMG_4560A Big Batch of Beef Stew -- Eat Some, Freeze Some:  Recipe yields 18 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2-gallon food storage bag; 20-24 quart stockpot, preferably stainless steel; long-handled slotted spatula; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; 1-cup measuring container; vegetable peeler; long-handled slotted spoon; soup ladle 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4b106d2200d-800wiCook's Note:  If you take the time to compare today's recipe for big batch beef stew with my regular recipe for ~ Old-Fashioned Beef Stew with Carrots & Potatoes ~, you will notice the adjustments I made to volumes, seasonings, and, cooking times.  Experts will tell you baking is a science and cooking is not.  While true for weeknight cooking -- not true for big batches.

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

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

10/20/2020

~ RedHot Buffalo-Style Bread-Machine Pizza Dough ~

IMG_6581Seriously?  Yes, seriously.  Thanks to two great store-bought dry seasoning blends, Frank's RedHot Original Seasoning and Frank's RedHot Ranch Seasoning, you really can season your pizza dough in true Buffalo wing style, AND, trust me when I tell you, it makes one (actually two) awesome crusts for any Buffalo-style chicken pizza, or my recipe for Buffalo-Style chicken pizza.  Who wouldn't want to add authentic, full-throttle Buffalo-flavor to the pizza dough too!

IMG_63261 1/2  cups warm water

2  tablespoons olive oil

4 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons sugar

2  tablespoons Frank's RedHotRanch seasoning blend

2  tablespoons Franks's RedHot original seasoning blend

1  packet granulated dry yeast

IMG_6329 IMG_6329 IMG_6329 IMG_6329 IMG_6329~Step 1.  To make the Buffalo-seasoned bread-machine bread loaf, in the following order, in the pan of the breach machine, place the warm water and olive oil.  Add the flour, salt and sugar, followed by the RedHot Ranch seasoning and RedHot original seasoning.  Do not stir.  Using your index finger, make a small, semi-shallow indentation on top of the dry ingredients, but not so deep as to reach the liquid below.  Add the yeast to the indentation.

IMG_6341 IMG_6341 IMG_6341 IMG_6341~Step 2.  Insert the bread pan into the bread machine.  Plug the machine in, select the "pizza dough" cycle.  Push start.  Walk away.  Do not lift the lid to check in on the kneading, rising or baking process.  Don't do it.  Fifty-five minutes later, hen machine signals it's done, open the lid.  You will have 2 pounds, 4-ounces of ready-to-use Buffalo-seasoned pizza dough.

IMG_6593 IMG_6593~ Step 3. To form the pizza dough into pizza crusts, using a paper towel, oil 2, 12" round pizza pans or 2, 12" x 9" rectangular pans with about 2 tablespoons olive oil on each pan. Place one ball of dough (1 pound each) on each pan and allow to rest, about 10-15 minutes -- to give the gluten time to relax.  Thirty minutes is ok too. Pat and press dough evenly across bottoms and evenly up sides of pans. I do this in 3 parts taking 15-20 minutes, allowing dough to rest 5 minutes each time before patting and pressing.

Proceed w/any recipe for Buffalo-Style Chicken Pizza

IMG_5966RedHot Buffalo-Style Bread-Machine Pizza Dough:  Recipe yields 2 1/4 pounds pizza dough/enough for 2, 12" round pizzas/6-8 slices each pizza.

Special Equipment List: 2-cup measuring container; bread machine; 2, 12"-round pizza pans.

IMG_6454Cook's Note:  To take this bread-machine pizza dough recipe one step further, and bake it into a loaf, choose the "white bread" (instead of "pizza dough") and let the machine bake it.  It makes great RedHot-Ranch Croutons for my RedHot Buffalo Chicken Chef Salad.

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

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

10/18/2020

~Buffalo-Chicken Chef w/RedHot-Ranch & Croutons~

IMG_6447I fell in love with the chef salad in September of 1974.  I had just moved to Happy Valley in August, and, my first friend, a gal I worked with, invited me to lunch, at the now defunct Autoport on South Atherton Street.  "Try their turkey chef salad", Sally said.  A short few minutes later, two big rimmed-bowls arrived, and, atop the requisite lettuce, they were full of goodies: strips of turkey breast and Swiss cheese, hard-cooked egg wedges, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, and, diced onions.  There's more.  Every salad came with a warm, mini-loaf of house-baked bread and a crock of honey butter.  For decades, every time I invited a friend to lunch, I took him or her there.

Girly pub grub?  You bet.  Meet my Buffalo-chicken chef salad:

IMG_6454In my food world, if I could conjure up the ideal, somewhat-healthy, girly pub-grub menu item, it would be a chef's-type Buffalo-style-chicken salad.  It would be served to me while sitting in my favorite sportsbar, in front of a straight-out-of-the-tap frosty brew with a college football game on the flatscreen.  Nothing fancy, just a bowl full of crisp lettuce, diced carrots and sliced celery tossed with salty blue cheese crumbles and topped with strips of thin-sliced Boar's Head, Blazing Buffalo-style chicken, plus, crunchy, Buffalo-spiced croutons.  There's more.  When it comes to dressing my salad, it's got to be full of RedHot Buffalo wing-sauce flavor blended with the creamy-dreamy coolness that only Hidden Valley Ranch dressing can offer -- the best of both worlds.

If you're willing to go the extra mile to make the croutons:

6a0120a8551282970b026be41c06e9200dOne could call me obsessed for baking a loaf of bread for the sole purpose of making Buffalo-seasoned bread or Buffalo-seasoned croutons for a deli-sandwich or a chef's-type Buffalo-style chicken salad.  In my defense, when the bread machine does all the work for me, why wouldn't?  Trust me, "my cheese has not slid of my cracker".  There's just something so very special about appropriately-seasoned croutons scattered atop an ingredient-specific salad or soup that speaks volumes about the cook, and, Buffalo-style is a prime example.

... don't drop the ball when it comes to the dressing:

IMG_6405My RedHot-Ranch dressing, perfect for this ingredient-specific salad, takes less than five minutes mix together.  It's a simple concoction of 3/4 cup Hidden Valley ranch dressing, 1/4 cup Frank's RedHot wing sauce, 2 tablespoons honey, 1 teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic, and, 1 1/2 teaspoons dehydrated minced onion.  I like the ratio of 3/4 cup Hidden Valley ranch dressing to 1/4 cup Frank's RedHot wing sauce. That said, if you want the dressing spicier, feel free to adjust it to suit your palate.  Example: 1/2 cup dressing to 1/2 cup wing sauce.

It's time to make my Blazing-Buffalo chef-style salad!

IMG_6418For each main-dish Buffalo-chicken chef's-style salad:

3  cups torn iceberg lettuce leaves, tossed with (see next line item):

1/4  cup each:  thin-sliced carrots, thin-sliced celery, thin-sliced red onion

4  ounces thin-sliced Boar's Head blazing-Buffalo chicken breast

4  tablespoons Boar's Head blue cheese crumbles

a generous drizzle RedHot-Ranch dressing

a generous scattering Buffalo-Ranch-seasoned croutons

IMG_6423 IMG_6423 IMG_6423 IMG_6423 IMG_6423~Step 1.  To assemble each salad, toss together the lettuce, carrots, celery and onion and place in a large, shallow salad bowl.  Scatter the blue cheese crumbles atop the lettuce mix.  Arrange the Buffalo-chicken breast over the surface of the salad.  Drizzle generously with the RedHot-Ranch dressing, then garnish with a scattering of croutons.  Serve ASAP. 

Stick a fork in the girly chef salad that her guy loves her for:

IMG_6446Buffalo-Chicken Chef w/RedHot-Ranch & Croutons:  Recipe yields 1 cup dressing/6 cups croutons/4 main-dish salad servings.

Special Equipment List: 2-cup measuring container, bread machine, serrated bread knife, 12" nonstick skille and 2 large nonstick spoons (for making croutons); 1-cup measuring container and spoon (for making dressing); cutting board and chef's knife (for making salad) 

6a0120a8551282970b0263e96fd01a200bCook's Note: What started in 1964 as late-night pub grub at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, deep-fried chicken wings, is now found in many forms.  Truth told, there's not much that Buffalo-style chicken can't do, and applying Buffalo wing sauce to oven-roasted chicken leg-thigh quarters, or, stirring it into previously roasted or poached chicken is the perfect way to transition this iconic game day snack into all sorts of other appetizers, sandwiches, main or side-dish salads, or, main-dish meals.  Trust me, as a lady who loves her deep-fried wings, but, only in the privacy of her own home (where she's free to lick fingers, smack lips, pick teeth, and, drip sauce), my Buffalo-Style delicacies are every bit as enjoyable as wings. ~ How Many Ways Can One Say Buffalo Wing Style ~?

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

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

10/15/2020

~Creamy RedHot-Ranch Buffalo-Style Salad Dressing~

IMG_6410In my food world, if I could conjure up the ideal, somewhat-healthy pub-grub menu item, it would be a chef's-type Buffalo-style-chicken salad.  It would be served to me while I was sitting in my favorite sportsbar, in front of a straight-out-of-the-tap frosty brew with a college football game on the flatscreen.  Nothing fancy, just a bowl full of crisp lettuce, diced carrots and sliced celery tossed with salty blue cheese crumbles and topped with strips of thin-sliced Boar's Head, Blazing Buffalo-style chicken, plus, crunchy,  Buffalo-spiced croutons.  There's more.  When it comes to dressing my salad, it's got to be full of RedHot Buffalo wing-sauce flavor blended with the creamy-dreamy coolness that only Hidden Valley Ranch dressing can offer -- the best of both worlds.

If you're willing to go the extra mile to make croutons...

IMG_6394One could call me obsessed for baking a loaf of bread for the sole purpose of making Buffalo-seasoned bread or Buffalo-seasoned croutons for a deli-sandwich or a chef's-type Buffalo-style chicken salad.  In my defense, when the bread machine does all the work for me, why wouldn't?  Trust me, "my cheese has not slid of my cracker".  There's just something so very special about appropriately-seasoned croutons scattered atop an ingredient-specific salad or soup that speaks volumes about the cook, and, Buffalo-style is a prime example.

... don't drop the ball when it comes to the dressing!

IMG_5692For my RedHot Ranch salad dressing (yield: 1 generous cup):

*3/4  cup Hidden Valley ranch dressing

*1/4  cup Frank's RedHot wing sauce

2  tablespoons honey

1  teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1 1/2  teaspoons dehydrated minced onion

* Note:  When preparing the 1 cup of dressing, I like the ratio of 3/4 cup Hidden Valley ranch dressing to 1/4 cup Frank's RedHot wing sauce.  That said, if you want your dressing hotter (as in spicier), feel free to adjust it to suit your palate.  Example: 1/2 cup dressing to 1/2 cup wing sauce.

IMG_5693 IMG_5693 IMG_5693~ Step 1. To prepare the dressing, in a 1-cup measuring container, thoroughly stir all ingredients together.  Set aside, at room temperature, while prepping all ingredients for the croutons and the salad.

RedHot-Ranch Salad Dressing -- The best of both worlds: 

IMG_6417Creamy RedHot-Ranch Bufalo-Style Salad Dressing:  Recipe yields 1 generous cup dressing.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b026bde967366200cCook's Note: What started in 1964 as late-night pub grub at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, deep-fried chicken wings, is now found in many forms.  Truth told, there's not much that Buffalo-style chicken can't do, and applying Buffalo wing sauce to oven-roasted chicken leg-thigh quarters, or, stirring it into previously roasted or poached chicken is the perfect way to transition this iconic game day snack into all sorts of other appetizers, sandwiches, main or side-dish salads, or, main-dish meals.  Trust me, as a lady who loves her deep-fried wings, but, only in the privacy of her own home (where she's free to lick fingers, smack lips, pick teeth, and, drip sauce), my Buffalo-Style delicacies are every bit as enjoyable as wings. ~ How Many Ways Can One Say Buffalo Wing Style ~?

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

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

10/13/2020

~ RedHot-Ranch Croutons for Buffalo Chicken Salad ~

IMG_6403One could call me obsessed, or perhaps off-my-rocker, for baking a loaf of bread for the sole purpose of making Buffalo-seasoned bread or Buffalo-seasoned croutons for a deli-sandwich or a chef's-type Buffalo-style chicken salad.  That said, in my own defense, when the bread machine does all the work for me, why wouldn't I go the extra mile to make a great sandwich or salad even greater.  Trust me, "my cheese has not slid of my cracker".  There's just something so very special about appropriately-seasoned homemade bread or croutons used in an ingredient-specific sandwich or on an ingredient-specific salad that speaks volumes about the cook.

IMG_6390A bit about croutons in general: "Crouton" is our English word for any small piece of plain or seasoned, sliced or cubed, toasted or fried bread used to accompany or garnish soups, salads and other dishes.  It is derived from the French word "crouton" (kroo-tawn) which the French define as a small piece of bread or snack bread that is usually served with drinks.  "Croute" (kroot) is the French word for crust and "en croute" refers to food wrapped in or topped with a pastry crust then baked. Croutons are super-easy to make, plus they are the perfect use for almost any leftover bread (the exception being soft, cottony, white, sandwich-type bread).  My quick skillet method for preparing them produces a crispy, butter-flavored crouton on the outside with a slightly softer "chewy/al dente" center.  This differs from the lengthier oven method for preparing croutons (a low temperature for a longer period of time), which produces a crispy crouton throughout. 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4e0e80e200dA bit about bread-machine bread in general.  Bread baked in a bread machine is rectangular in shape.  No matter what size loaf you elect to bake (most machines give you 3 options: 1-pound loaf; 1 1/2-pound loaf; 2- pound loaf), they will all get baked in the shape of the standard-size pan that comes with that machine.  What is wrong with that?  Nothing.  Even though bread machine bread rises nicely and browns beautifully (all thanks to the many options the bread machine makes available to you), it "plainly" is not going to win any "bread beauty contests".  This is a give-and-take you will realize is well worth the sacrifice the moment you slice and taste the bread.  This is the rectangular-shaped bread pan that came with my machine.  The paddle (which will do the machine-kneading) has been inserted into it. When making bread in a bread machine, the protocol for adding ingredients to the bread pan is: wet ingredients first, dry ingredients second (on top of wet ingredients), granulated yeast last.

IMG_63261 1/2  cups warm water

2  tablespoons olive oil

4 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  teaspoons sugar

2  tablespoons Frank's RedHot Ranch seasoning blend

2  tablespoons Franks's RedHot original seasoning blend

1  packet granulated dry yeast

IMG_6329 IMG_6329 IMG_6329 IMG_6329 IMG_6329~Step 1.  To make the Buffalo-seasoned bread-machine bread loaf, in the following order, in the pan of the breach machine, place the warm water and olive oil.  Add the flour, salt and sugar, followed by the RedHot Ranch seasoning and RedHot original seasoning.  Do not stir.  Using your index finger, make a small, semi-shallow indentation on top of the dry ingredients, but not so deep as to reach the liquid below.  Add the yeast to the indentation.

IMG_6341 IMG_6341 IMG_6351 IMG_6351~Step 2.  Insert the bread pan into the bread machine.  Plug the machine in, select the "white bread" cycle, followed by se the "light crust" option.  Push start.  Walk away.  Do not lift the lid to check in on the kneading, rising or baking process.  Don't do it.  When  machine signals bread is done, carefully open the lid.  Using a pot holder, remove the bread pan from machine by using the handle to lift it up and out.  Turn bread pan at a 30-45º angle and gently shake/slide the loaf out onto its side.  Turn loaf upright and place on a wire rack to cool completely.  In approximately three hours, you will have a two-pound loaf of somewhat spicy Buffalo-seasoned bread.

IMG_6359 IMG_6359 IMG_6359 IMG_6370 IMG_6370~Step 3.  To prepare the croutons, using a serrated bread knife, cut 1-pound of the bread (half of the bread loaf) into 3/4"-1" cubes. In a 12" skillet (preferably nonstick), melt 2 sticks salted butter over low heat. Stir 2 teaspoons each of Frank's RedHot Ranch seasoning blend and Franks's RedHot original seasoning blend into the melted butter.

IMG_6376 IMG_6376 IMG_6376 IMG_6376 IMG_6376~Step 4.  Add all of the bread cubes to the pan.  Increase heat to medium.  Using two large nonstick spoons, gently stir and toss the bread cubes constantly, until golden brown, about 10 minutes.  No melted butter will remain in the bottom of the pan, just a golden brown residue. Remove from heat and allow croutons to cool slightly in the pan, 10-15 minutes, to allow carryover heat to continue to crisp them.  Line a baking pan with 3-4 layers of paper towels, transfer croutons to pan and spread them in a single layer.  Set aside to cool completely. 

Store, uncovered, 1-2 days, while using in salads or soups:  

IMG_6394RedHot-Ranch Croutons for Buffalo Chicken Salad: Recipe yields 6 cups of cubed croutons.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; bread machine; serrated bread knife; 12" nonstick skillet; 2 large nonstick spoons

6a0120a8551282970b026bde967366200cCook's Note: What started in 1964 as late-night pub grub at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY, deep-fried chicken wings, is now found in many forms.  Truth told, there's not much that Buffalo-style chicken can't do, and applying Buffalo wing sauce to oven-roasted chicken leg-thigh quarters, or, stirring it into previously roasted or poached chicken is the perfect way to transition this iconic game day snack into all sorts of other appetizers, sandwiches, main or side-dish salads, or, main-dish meals.  Trust me, as a lady who loves her deep-fried wings, but, only in the privacy of her own home (where she's free to lick fingers, smack lips, pick teeth, and, drip sauce), my Buffalo-Style delicacies are every bit as enjoyable as wings. ~ How Many Ways Can One Say Buffalo Wing Style ~?

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

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