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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

10/06/2021

~ The History of Salad Olivier: Russian Potato Salad ~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09883658970dTraditionally, this salat, the Russian word for salad, was reserved for large gatherings: religious or national holidays, special community events and/or family celebrations, and, it was served all year long.  With or without meat or poultry added to it, it was served as an hors d'oeuvre atop toast points, by itself as a light lunch or snack, or, as a starter-course or side-dish to a hearty meal.  For the most part, I associate it with Spring (because my grandmother always made it for or after the Easter holiday), so, I like to serve this pretty-to-look-at salad as a side-dish on my Easter buffet table, then, as a main-dish the next day -- by adding cubes of  leftover holiday ham to it.  It's equally delicious served after the Thanksgiving holiday with cubed turkey added to it.  All that said, this salad is best prepared a day or two ahead, to give time for the potatoes to soak up the flavor of the dressing and time for all the other flavors to marry too -- time well spent.

Known in Eastern European circles as "Salad Olivier" or "Salad Olivye", and, "Russian Salad", there are as many variations of this refreshing side-dish or main-dish salad as there are cooks who are willing to take the time to do a precise job of uniformly cubing, dicing and properly cooking the components.  What this salad looks like is as important as how it tastes.  For young Eastern European girls, who were almost always required to assist their mother and grandmother in the family kitchen, it was how they honed their knife skills for later in life in their own kitchens (while the menfolk were out and about teaching their boys how to fish, hunt, gather and farm).

A melange of perfectly-cooked, precisely chopped ingredients:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8e52364970b 2

In its basic form, this salad consists of a fork-friendly melange of cubed and cooked potatoes, carrots, peas and eggs -- all of the ingredients are previously cooked.  The creamy dressing, which is mayonnaise-based, contains finely-diced sweet or dill pickles or capers -- previously-cooked ingredients.  Occasionally an herb common to the Eastern European climate is added to it too (dill, chives, parsley).  All the ingredients were and still are inexpensive items found in Eastern Europe's rural farm communities. Because meat was and still is expensive, it is common for vintage recipes for this salad that contain protein to include wild game or game birds -- which they hunted in the countryside.  There's more.  For those lucky enough to raise cows, sheep or pigs, farm-raised meat or cured meats and sausages were and are commonly added as well.

A look back in this famous potato salad's history:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8e4f1d9970bThe original salad was invented in the 1860s by Lucien Olivier, the chef of the Hermitage, one of Moscow's most prestigious restaurants.  The regular clientele's love for his salad caused it to become the Heritage's signature dish, and, before long, renditions were being prepared in kitchens all across Russia.  The recipe for his "Provençal dressing" (the mayo concoction), a  well guarded secret, has never been revealed, although it is believed to have been made with French wine vinegar and Dijon mustard, as cooking in the style of France was trendy during that period.

At the turn of the 20th century, one of Olivier's sous-chefs, Ivan Ivanov, attempted to steal the recipe.  Olivier was suddenly called away from the kitchen, which gave Ivanov the opportunity to take a look at the prepped ingredients (mise en place) and deduce with reasonable certainty, what to put in the famous dressing.  Shortly thereafter, Ivanov went to work as the chef at Moskva -- a restaurant of somewhat lesser prestige.  There, Ivanov started selling his version, "Russian Salad", then, sold his recipe for publication, which made "Russian Salad" a household term.   

The Hermitage restaurant closed in 1905, and the Olivier family left Russia, returning to Lucien's homeland of Belgium.  One of the first printed recipes for Olivier salad, appearing in 1894, called for half a poached grouse, two potatoes, one large cornichon, 1 teaspoon capers, 3-4 olives, 1/4 cup cubed aspic, and, 1 1/2 tablespoon Provençal dressing (the mayonnaise concoction), and, 3-4 lettuce leaves.  Because these ingredients were hard-to-come-by, expensive and seasonal, ordinary home cooks gradually replaced them with cheaper and more readily available ones.

My Eastern European family's recipe for Russian Potato Salad:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8e4ec5c970b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

10/03/2021

~ Gluten-Free Butter-Rum Tropical Trail Mix Cookies ~

IMG_3099Trail mix, the kind chocked full of tropical dried fruits like raisins and bananas, candied fruits like ginger, papaya, pineapple and mango, along with brazil nuts, cashews and peanuts, plus, big shavings of tender coconut, is, simply stated, one of my favorite snacks.  It's not diet food, but, it sure delivers tons of flavor and crunchy texture, and, it's undeniably a healthier snack than pretzels or potato chips.  I enjoy trail mix so much, a few times a year I toss it in a bowl with some white chocolate chips and add it to cookies.  Tropical trail mix cookies -- we're talking decadent.

For the record, I do not eat a gluten-free diet, nor do I recommend that anyone for any other reason than being a bona fide celiac adopt a gluten-free diet.  Simple stated, depriving the body of gluten, meaning wheat or by-products of wheat, for any long-term length of time, causes. not cures. health problems -- Google it you idiot.  That said, I do know two bona fide celiacs, and, when either pay a visit to my kitchen, I accommodate -- which isn't remarkably hard because lots of foods (meat, poultry, fish, seafood and vegetables), pantry ingredients and meals are gluten-free, and, for the record, there are some very good gluten-free pastas available, so know, a gluten-free pasta dish or three are helpful to keep in your back pocket.  I can count the number of gluten-free recipes in my repertoire on one hand, and, for my needs that's just fine.

My criteria:  GF cookies that taste as good as they look using readily-available ingredients, &, in the case of GF, cleanliness is next to godliness -- let's talk about cross-contamination:

While baking gluten-free cookies requires no special equipment, it is important the equipment you do use be spotless -- literally.  Why?  The answer is cross-contamination -- and it is very, very dangerous.  Celiac disease can be triggered by even the smallest spec of gluten. This means if you recently prepared foods using wheat flour, the first step (and it's a must) is to fully wipe down all baking surfaces, wash all hardware (mixing bowls, beater blades, baking pans, wire cooling racks, miscellaneous utensils, etc.), and, remove any products or gluten-containing ingredients that are nearby.  For an added layer of protection, I recommend placing a sheet of parchment on each baking pan that has been used previously to bake cookies/anything containing gluten.

My result:  A Gluten-Free cookie no one will guess is GF.

IMG_30531  cup + 2 tablespoons gluten-free all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon xanthan gum

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

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

1  large egg

1  tablespoon butter rum flavoring

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2  cup very-lightly-packed dark brown sugar

1/4  cup granulated sugar

6  ounces gluten-free tropical trail mix

6  ounces white chocolate morsels

IMG_3056 IMG_3056 IMG_3056 IMG_3056~Step 1.  In a small mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum and salt.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, place the butter, eggs, both extracts, brown sugar and granulated sugar.  On high-speed of hand-held mixer, beat until creamy, about 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Lower mixer speed and gradually beat in the flour mixture until a smooth, sticky dough forms.

IMG_3068 IMG_3068 IMG_3068 IMG_3068 IMG_3068 IMG_3068~Step 2.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the trim mix and white chocolate chips.  SET THE BOWL ASIDE AND ALLOW COOKIE DOUGH TO REST 45-60 MINUTES -- do not skip this step.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, drop cookies, slightly apart, by rounded tablespoonfuls onto each of 2, parchment-lined, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans.  Twenty-four balls of dough will fit nicely on each pan.  Using the flat side of small glass or your fingertips (whatever works best), flatten the cookies to about half their height.

IMG_3090 IMG_3090~Step 3.  Bake cookies, one-pan-at-a-time, on center rack of 325º oven (not a typo), 13-15 minutes, until very light-golden.  My cookies baked for exactly 14 minutes per pan today.  Remove from oven and use a small spatula to transfer to wire cooling rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container for one-two weeks.

No time like to present to try one -- or four!

IMG_3107Gluten-Free Butter-Rum Tropical Trail Mix Cookies:  Recipe yields 3 dozen, 2 1/2"-round cookies.

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

6a0120a8551282970b026bdef3d0b2200cCook's Note: While everyone has a favorite cookie, more often than not, folks declare the chocolate chip to be their favorite or a close second, and, everyone who bakes cookies has a favorite chocolate-chip cookie recipe (or three).  That said, if you're baking cookies for a celiac, you need a recipe you can rely on and mine is the one.  It's spot-on -- taste and texturally, there's no need to announce it's GF.  Try my recipe for ~ Keep-it-Simple Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies ~.

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

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

09/30/2021

~ The Difference between Pickling and Quick Pickling ~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c92908e9970bIt's that time of year.  The late-Summer early-Fall harvest.  It can be daunting.  Downright overwhelming.  While I do can a few fruits and vegetables in the traditional manner (peaches and red beets to name two), I honestly do not love the exhausting, time-consuming process -- I also do not have anyone to stand by my side and help.  Armed with only two hands, I much prefer quick-pickling in small batches or freezing in large quantities, but, only if or when either process can be applied without compromise -- for example, peaches are compromised by freezing, beets are best pickled and canned in the traditional manner, and, cucumbers are ideal for quick pickling.

Pickle comes from the Dutch=Deutsch=German word "pekel", which means "brine" (not "cucumber" as is easy enough to assume).  A brine is nothing more than a mixture of vinegar, water, salt, sugar, and usually, some dry spices or fresh herbs. Depending upon the solution, pickled foods can take on all sorts of colors and flavors.  Pickled foods can be sweet, sour, sweet and sour, or spicy.  At the the whim of the cook, any of them can be piquant or pedestrian.

Pickling per se is canning.  It's easy but time consuming.  Get out the big canning pot and special utensils, boil the mason jars to sterilize them, add the appropriately-prepped fruit, vegetables or food to the jars, add the brine, immerse jars in boiling water for a designated amount of time, then, remove from the water bath and let cool until the lids "pop", which means they are properly sealed.  In the case of water-bath-canned anything, if stored in a cool, dry place, the food can last for a year or two. Pickling/canning dates back to medieval times and is how our ancestors preserved all types of food prior to refrigeration. Without refrigeration, food spoiled quickly and pickling was a means of preserving it for out-of-season use or transporting it for a long journey.

Quick-Pickling is considerably easier than traditional pickling and almost any raw or blanched vegetable can be quick-pickled.  All that's needed is a saucepan, any type of clean jars, vinegar, sugar and a few herbs and/or dry spices.  The prepped vegetables get placed in the jars, the seasoned vinegar-sugar mixture gets simmered in the saucepan for a few short minutes, then the solution (sometimes boiling hot, sometimes completely cooled, so follow the recipe on this point) gets ladled over the veggies in the jars.  The lids get placed on the jars and the quick-pickled food gets stored in the refrigerator until they get eaten or up to two weeks.  Because the shelf-life is short and the jars take up refrigerator space, quick-pickles are usually made in small batches.

Try my quick & easy bread & butter refrigerator pickles:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2b3cf45970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

09/27/2021

~Eat Some, Freeze Some, Make a Big Batch of Chili~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09844c05970dThick, hearty, spot-on-spiced, stick-to-your-ribs, kid-and-crowd-friendly, ground-beef chili.  That's a mouthful, and, also how I best describe this chili recipe.  Of the many, some more authentic, chili recipes in my repertoire (my Texas-style steak chili is one example and my Buffalo-style chicken chili is another), this is the one that gets taken to and served at Summer picnics, Fall tailgates, and, in the Winter, I make a big batch and freeze it in one-quart containers for cozy, warm snowstorm dinners.  There's more.  It's easy to make.  What's not to love about this:

IMG_3043 2Thick, hearty, perfectly-seasoned, ground-beef chili:

IMG_3000

6  pounds lean ground beef (90/10)

1 1/4  pounds peeled and medium-diced yellow or sweet onion (about 4 cups)

8-10  ounces medium-diced green bell pepper (about 2 cups)

8-10  ounces medium-diced red bell pepper or a medley of red, orange & yellow bell pepper (about 2 cups)

2  tablespoons garlic powder

2  teaspoon each:  sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

2  40-ounce cans red kidney beans, well-drained

1  16-ounce can red kidney beans, well-drained 

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

2  15-ounce cans tomato sauce

1  24-ounce jar medium-heat Tostitos salsa

2  tablespoons chili powder

2  tablespoons ground cumin

2  tablespoons dried Mexican oregano, NOT Mediterranean oregano

1  additional teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper 

IMG_3008 IMG_3008 IMG_3008 IMG_3008 IMG_3023 IMG_3023~Step 1.  In a 8-quart wide-bottomed chef's pan (or a stockpot), place  ground beef, diced onion diced bell peppers, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Adjust heat to medium- medium-high and sauté, using a spatula to break the meat up into bits and pieces, until meat is cooked through and almost no liquid remains in bottom of pot, 40-45 minutes.

IMG_3030 IMG_3030 IMG_3030 IMG_3030 IMG_3030 IMG_3030~Step 2.  Add and fold in the well-drained kidney beans.  Add the tomato products:  the undrained fire-roasted diced tomatoes,  tomato sauce and salsa.  Add the spices:  the chili powder, ground cumin, Mexican oregano, salsa and additional black pepper.  Adjust heat to a steady, gentle simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, 40-45 more minutes.  Remove from heat, cover the pot and set aside, to steep, another 40-45 minutes.

Where's the beef?  It's in this chili "con carne".  Chili "w/meat":

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8e16b1a970bEat Some, Freeze Some, Make a Big Batch of Chili:  Recipe yields 7 1/2-8 quarts/28-32 thick-and-hearty 1-cup servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart wide-bottomed chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; spatula; ladle; 8, 1-quart freezer-safe containers w/tight-fitting lids

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d26bbfbb970cCook's Note:  Whether your a fan of the show or not, everyone is a fan of chili mac.  My recipe for ~ Walking Dead:  It's Chili & Mac 'n Cheese. Together ~, always gets made made with today's chili recipe, which, of course, makes it, as per my family, the best chili mac ever.  

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

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

09/24/2021

~ The History Behind the Very Famous Caesar Salad ~

6a0120a8551282970b01a511b10aec970cOver the past four decades, the classic Caesar salad has:  #1)  Become America's most popular main-dish salad; #2) Altered the lettuce industry, as the demand for romaine has skyrocketed, and: #3) Turned the chicken-topped Caesar salad into the chicken item most frequently found on restaurant menus -- even more than wings and chicken fingers.  Now considered the all-American salad, it was in fact invented in Mexico in 1924 by an Italian-born immigrant to Mexico.

Now considered the all-American salad, the Caesar was invented on July 4th, 1924, by an Italian-Mexican chef & co-owner of a restaurant in Tijuana, who emigrated to & resided in America.

Caesar Cardini lived in San Diego, but worked as a co-owner in a Tijuana restaurant in order to avoid the restrictions of Prohibition. He concocted his now iconic salad late in the day on the Fourth of July, for some Hollywood celebrities, after the holiday crowd had depleted his kitchen of many ingredients.  He used romaine lettuce (which doesn't impress us today, but back then it was an uncommon ingredient) and tossed it with a dressing made from just six ingredients:  garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and Parmesan cheese.  In the original salad, he used whole lettuce leaves, which were meant to be picked up and eaten with the fingers.  The original salad dressing contained no anchovies, but got its slight anchovy flavor from the Worcestershire sauce (which contains anchovies).  Later, the salad was tossed and served at tableside, and posh restaurants in Hollywood and LA, who catered to the upper class, soon began offering it.

Cardini served his original salad arranged atop leaves of long, slender hearts-of-romaine.  One-at-a-time, each leaf was intended too be picked up & eaten out-of-hand.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39dfd58200bI've heard it said that a restaurant is only as good as its Caesar salad and a Caesar salad is only as good as its dressing.  A few decades ago, back in the 1970's, '80's and '90's, when people still had an appreciation for the snobbery of an elegant restaurant, that was true, and no one enjoyed the fanfare of watching a black-tied waiter prepare my Caesar salad, to my liking, at tableside, more than me.  If a Caesar salad was on a restaurant menu, I ordered it.  Nowadays -- not so much.  Fast forward.  In our present-day Olive Garden-, Carrabba's-type atmosphere, I'm betting most folks wouldn't know a good Caesar salad, or a good Caesar dressing from a bad one, even if they got hit on the head with an olive wood bowl.  I find this disheartening because the simple elegance of a well-prepared Caesar salad is indeed an extraordinary dining experience.

Try my Creamy, Garlic & Peppery Caesar-Style Dressing:

IMG_9765Try my Italian-Seasoned Caesar-Style Salad/Soup Croutons too:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39d62b4200bThen make a Little Gems Roasted-Chicken Caesar-Style Salad:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad357dde3200c-800wiOr maybe a Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Sub perhaps?

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c333c2200b

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

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

09/21/2021

~Keep-it-Simple Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies~

IMG_2990Home-baked cookies.  They're one of life's simple pleasures, and perhaps, the quintessential sweet treat -- not to big, not to small, portable feel-good satisfaction.  While everyone has a favorite cookie, more often than not, folks will declare the chocolate chip to be their number-one favorite or a close second, and, everyone who bakes cookies has a favorite chocolate-chip cookie recipe (or three).  That said, if you're baking cookies for a celiac, you need a recipe you can rely on and mine is the one.  It's spot-on -- taste and texturally, there's no need to announce it's GF. 

For the record, I do not eat a gluten-free diet, nor do I recommend that anyone for any other reason than being a bona fide celiac adopt a gluten-free diet.  Simple stated, depriving the body of gluten, meaning wheat or by-products of wheat, for any long-term length of time, causes. not cures. health problems -- Google it you idiot.  That said, I do know two bona fide celiacs, and, when either pay a visit to my kitchen, I accommodate -- which isn't remarkably hard because lots of foods (meat, poultry, fish, seafood and vegetables), pantry ingredients and meals are gluten-free, and, for the record, there are some very good gluten-free pastas available, so know, a gluten-free pasta dish or three are helpful to keep in your back pocket.  I can count the number of gluten-free recipes in my repertoire on one hand, and, for my needs that's just fine.

My criteria:  GF cookies that taste as good as they look using readily-available ingredients, &, in the case of GF, cleanliness is next to godliness -- let's talk about cross-contamination:

While baking gluten-free cookies requires no special equipment, it is important the equipment you do use be spotless -- literally.  Why?  The answer is cross-contamination -- and it is very, very dangerous.  Celiac disease can be triggered by even the smallest spec of gluten. This means if you recently prepared foods using wheat flour, the first step (and it's a must) is to fully wipe down all baking surfaces, wash all hardware (mixing bowls, beater blades, baking pans, wire cooling racks, miscellaneous utensils, etc.), and, remove any products or gluten-containing ingredients that are nearby.  For an added layer of protection, I recommend placing a sheet of parchment on each baking pan that has been used previously to bake cookies/anything containing gluten.

My result:  A GF chocolate chip cookie no one will guess is GF:

IMG_29282 1/4  cups gluten-free all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon baking soda

2  teaspoons xanthan gum

1 1/4  teaspoons sea salt

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

2  large eggs

2  teaspoons pure chocolate extract

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1  cup very-lightly-packed dark brown sugar

1/2  cup granulated sugar

18  ounces semi-sweet chocolate morsels

IMG_2931 IMG_2931 IMG_2931 IMG_2931~Step 1.  In a small mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum and salt.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, place the butter, eggs, both extracts, brown sugar and granulated sugar.  On high-speed of hand-held mixer, beat until creamy, about 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Lower mixer speed and gradually beat in the flour mixture until a smooth, sticky dough forms.

IMG_2942 IMG_2942 IMG_2942 IMG_2942 IMG_2972 IMG_2972 IMG_2972~Step 2.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the chocolate chips.  SET THE BOWL ASIDE AND ALLOW COOKIE DOUGH TO REST 45-60 MINUTES -- do not skip this step.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, drop cookies, slightly apart, by rounded tablespoonfuls onto each of 3, parchment-lined, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans.  Twenty-four balls of dough will fit nicely on each pan.  Using the flat side of small glass or your fingertips (whatever works best), flatten the cookies to about half their height.

IMG_2975 IMG_2975 IMG_2975 IMG_2975~Step 3.  Bake cookies, one-pan-at-a-time, on center rack of 325º oven (not a typo), 13-15 minutes, until very light-golden.  My cookies baked for exactly 14 minutes per pan today.  Remove from oven and use a small spatula to transfer to wire cooling rack to cool completely.

No time like to present to try one -- or three!

IMG_2983Keep-it-Simple Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies:  Recipe yields 5 dozen, 2 1/2"-round cookies.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0278804a0765200dCook's Note: Bread.  It's said to be the staff of life.  A basic staple. Want proof?  Go to any grocery store in any time of community angst or crisis.  It is the first item to disappear.  From one end of our food world to the other, every country and culture, rich or poor, eats bread in some form.  Here in America, bread, homemade or store-bought, can be found on our tables for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Most of us take this slice of life for granted.  That said, this is not the case for those living their lives with Celiac's disease. Try ~ My Gluten-Free Brioche Made in the Bread Machine ~ too!

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

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

09/18/2021

~My Gluten-Free Brioche Made in the Bread Machine~

IMG_2910Bread.  It's said to be the staff of life.  A basic staple.  Want proof of that?  Just go to the grocery store in any time of  community angst or crisis.  It is the first item to disappear from the shelves. From one end of our food world to the other, every country and culture, rich or poor, eats bread in some form.  Here in America, bread, homemade or store-bought, in households like mine and yours, can be found on our tables for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Most of us take this slice of life for granted.  That said, this is not the case for those living their lives with Celiac's disease.

For the record, I do not eat a gluten-free diet, nor do I recommend that anyone for any other reason than being a bona fide celiac adopt a gluten-free diet.  Bread is the staff of life, and, depriving the body of gluten, meaning wheat or by-products of wheat, for any long-term length of time, causes. not cures. health problems -- Google it you idiot.  That said, I do know two bona fide celiacs, and, when either pay a visit to my kitchen, I accommodate -- which isn't remarkably hard because lots of foods (meat, poultry, fish, seafood and vegetables), pantry ingredients and meals are gluten-free, and, for the record, there are some very good gluten-free pastas available, so know, a gluten-free pasta dish or three are helpful to keep in your back pocket.  I can count the number of gluten-free recipes in my repertoire on one hand, and, for my needs that's just fine.

My criteria:  Easy-peasy recipe using readily-available ingredients, &, let my dedicated GF bread machine mix the dough, &, in the case of GF, cleanliness is next to godliness.  Let's chat about cross-contamination:

I can let my bread-machine do all the work, but, if you do not keep a bread machine dedicated for the sole purpose of gluten-free baking, you can not.  Why?  Cross-contamination -- and it is very, very dangerous.  Celiac disease can be triggered by even the smallest spec of gluten. This means if you recently prepared foods using wheat flour, the first step (and it's a must) is to fully wipe down all baking surfaces, wash all hardware and utensils, and, remove any products or gluten-containing ingredients that are nearby.  So, in the event you don't maintain a gluten-free bread-machine, simply mix your bread dough by hand in the traditional manner and proceed.

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.

Put all ingredients in pan & let the machine do the work:

IMG_2915

1  cup whole milk

4  tablespoons salted butter

1/4  cups sugar

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  extra-large eggs

2 1/2  cups + 2 tablespoons gluten-free all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons xanthan gum

1  packet granulated yeast

IMG_2919 IMG_2919 IMG_2919 IMG_2919 IMG_2919 IMG_2872 IMG_2872 IMG_2872~Step 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container, place the milk, butter, sugar and salt.  Heat in the microwave until milk is steaming and butter is melted, about 1 1/2 minutes.  Add the mixture to the bread pan of the bread machine.  In the same two cup measure, using a fork, vigorously whisk the eggs and add them to the bread pan too.  Scoop the flour into the pan atop the wet ingredients and sprinkle the xanthan gum atop the flour -- do not stir. Using your index finger, make a shallow well in the center of the flour and add the granulated yeast to the well.

IMG_2877 IMG_2877 IMG_2877~Step 2.  Insert the bread pan into the bread machine and make sure it is secured according to manufacturer's directions. Close the lid and push the "menu/select" button.  Choose the "basic/white bread" cycle.  Press the "loaf size" button to select "1 1/2-pound loaf".  Press the "crust control" button and select "light crust".  Press "start".  Depending on the make and model of your bread machine, and the size of loaf you are making, the entire baking process will take about 2 1/2-3 hours.  Walk away.  Do not lift the lid for to check in on the process.  The moment the machine signals it is done, carefully open the lid of the bread machine.  Using pot holders or oven mitts, remove the bread pan from the machine, using its handle to lift it from the machine.  Turn the bread pan at about a 30-45 degree angle and gently shake/slide the loaf out onto its side.  Turn the loaf upright and place it on a cooling rack to cool completely.  If the kneading paddle remains in the loaf after it is removed from the pan, I find it best to cool the loaf about 5-10 minutes before removing it.

Cool bread completely prior to slicing & serving: 

IMG_2897My Gluten-Free Brioche Made in the Bread Machine:  Recipe yields 1, 1-pound load of gluten-free brioche/8, 3/4"-thick slices.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; fork; bread machine; pot holders or oven mitts; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0278803bd62e200dCook's Note: Let me start by saying that a great pizza crust is puffy, chewy and crispy with a bit of yeasty flavor. Let me end by saying, a gluten-free pizza crust is none of those things.  In fact, the only two things a traditional yeast-risen pizza crust and a yeast-risen gluten-free pizza crust have in common are shape and function.  Once I got past that and stopped trying to turn "water into wine", it was easier for me to move-on and come up with a perfectly-palatable very-tasty GF crust to please those in my circle who require one. Try my recipe for ~ Put the Gluten-Free Beer in Gluten-Free Pizza Dough ~.

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

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

09/15/2021

~ Jamaican Jerk Style -- A Unique Method of Cooking ~

6a0120a8551282970b022ad38d1183200dIn a (coco)nutshell, jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica.  It was developed by African slaves who escaped into the mountains of Jamaica after the British captured this island paradise from Spain in 1655.  Forced to adapt to their new surroundings, the Maroons (the name given to the escaped slaves) made use of the foods nature provided, by pulverizing the edibles they gathered into a fiery pasty rub.  By adding fruit and/or citrus juice, the fiery pasty rub became a spicy basting and dipping sauce.  When thinned down with a bit of drinking water or the milk from a coconut, the spicy sauce became a highly-flavored wet marinade -- over time, items from trades, like vinegar and/or rum were transitioned into the mixture.  Once rubbed and/or marinated, the meat or game they hunted was then slowly cooked over a smoking pimento-wood fire.

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

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

Try my Spice-is-Nice Oven-Roasted Jamaican-Jerk Chicken:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad366f570200cServe it w/my Island-Style Bejeweled Coconut Rice:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ad3630200bOr, how about a Jerk Chicken & Slaw on Coco Bread Sandwich:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad38f2224200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

09/12/2021

~What is Quick Bread and What Defines Quick Bread~

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a5d6e5200bQuick bread is an American term that refers to bread that is quick to make because it doesn't require kneading or rising time.  It originated during the American civil war, when the demand for food and bread was high.  Innovative cooks began rapidly producing bread and baked goods that were leavened with baking soda rather than yeast.  Nowadays, the leavening agent is predominately double-acting baking powder, or, a combination of baking powder and baking soda.

In the case of baking powder, it is called "double acting" because the rising process starts the moment it makes contact with the liquids, and, gives a second burst of rising power when the bread enters the hot oven.  Typically, quick breads contain eggs, flour, salt and fat (butter, margarine, shortening or oil) and leavening.  That said, they can be sweet or savory and contain sugar, fruits, fruit purée, vegetables, vegetable purée and various liquids (milk, buttermilk, fruit juice or stock).  The wet and dry ingredients are mixed separately, in two different bowls, then briefly stirred together just prior to baking.  FYI:  Biscuits, cornbread, muffins, pancakes, scones, soda bread and waffles (yummy, yum, yum) -- they all fall into the quick-bread category too.

Peanut Butter-Banana-Oat & Trail Mix Quick Bread:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a5d518200bEggnog & Butter-Rum, Cinnamon-Apple Quick Fritter Bread:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09e74d9e970dBack to Basics, Plain & Simple Date & Nut Quick Bread:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c814e488970bDehydrated Pie Cherry & Pistachio Zucchini Quick Bread:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0856b10f970dMacadamia-Mango, Coconut-Rum Banana Quick Bread:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0f9e94e970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

09/09/2021

~Crisp, Crunch, Betty, Cobbler, Grunt, Slump & Buckle~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08befa39970d-1Our forefathers' wives. the true mothers-of-invention, invented several amusing words to define our now vintage American-heritaged fruit desserts -- none of which, uniquely, fall under the category of pie.  It's a short list.  Seven words that can confound even the savviest of bakers.

Seven words that can confound even the savviest of bakers:

crisp is a fruit mixture topped with a crispy crumb or streusel (a streusel contains oats, a crumb does not, which makes it crumbly).  If a crisp has a bottom crust, it's called a crunch.  To turn a crisp or a crunch into a betty, the fruit gets layered between slices of buttered bread or bread crumbs and aromatic spices.  To turn a crisp into a cobbler, mix up a rough, "cobbled up" biscuit-like topping and plop/drop it on top of the fruit.  For a grunt or a slump (very similar to a cobbler), cook berries on the stovetop and listen to them make a grunting sound while they cook, then watch them slump under the weight of the topping.  To bake a buckle, you need to stir fruit into a buttery-rich, coffeecake-type batter and top it with streusel, then, bake it and watch it buckle (sink down) in the center as it cools due to the liquid in the fruit -- now that's got to be a sinking feeling.

As they say, "it really is all in the name!"

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08befa39970d-1"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

09/06/2021

~Coffeecake: Traditional Fare for Breakfast or Brunch~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08f58571970dThanks to post WWII advertising campaigns by the American Coffee Bureau, by 1950, America was a country of coffee drinkers.  In the workplace, the 15-minute coffee break was born, and, if you were a housewife, once you got your husband off to work and the kids off to school, you likely participated in a daily, weekly or occasional mid-morning "coffee klatch" with neighborhood friends.  The term "coffee klatch" comes from the German word "kaffeeklatsch", meaning "coffee chat" -- a casual gathering for sharing coffee and conversation with close confidants.  Literally translated: kaffee = coffee, and, klatsch = gossip.  I like to think of this social activity as kitchen therapy, and, in today's super-busy world, almost nothing sounds more relaxing than a neighborly invitation for coffee and cake:  I can't speak for you, but I'm sure feelin' the love.

Classic Coffeecake:  Simple, Straightforward & Not-Too-Sweet

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1da2b9c970cI grew up in the Lehigh Valley region of Eastern Pennsylvania.  Because of the large Pennsylvania Dutch influence in this area, I am no stranger to coffeecake.  Everybody bakes them, eats them and loves them.  There are many versions, but in this locale, almost all coffeecakes are rich buttercakes topped with a streusel of some sort.  The term "Dutch" is slang for the German word "Deutsch", so, when we say Pennsylvania Dutch, we mean Deutsch and are crediting the German people for their delicious recipes.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08f3fe32970dBesides eating a lot of homemade coffeecakes, I also grew up during the heyday of the Drake's empire. Drake's (now owned by Hostess Brands) has been providing the Northeastern United States with snack-sized coffeecakes for over a century.  In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, they compete head-to-head with Tastykake.  Back in my elementary school days, my lunch box usually contained one of my two favorite desserts:  a small, round Drake's coffeecake, or, a rectangular, snack-sized, lemon pudding-filled Tastykake pie.

A bit about coffeecake: Coffeecakes are rich, sweet, cake-like breads which are usually eaten for breakfast or brunch.  While they are rich with butter and eggs, they are considerably less sweet than a standard cake, which is why they are perfect fare for breakfast or brunch.  Some are made with yeast, but those made with baking soda and/or baking powder, which take less time to prepare and fall into the category of "quick" coffeecakes, are just as delicious.  The batter is often made with with buttermilk, cream cheese, sour cream or yogurt, which adds a lovely tang. They often contain fresh or dried fruit or berries, jam, preserves, and, sometimes nuts, which adds even more delicious taste and texture.  They can be served unembellished or with a dusting of confectioners' sugar, a glaze, a frosting, or a crumb or streusel topping.  They can be round, square or rectangular, thick or thin, and, eaten at room temperature or slightly warm.

Come on Over for Coffee & a Classic Coffeecake:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08f5874b970d"We are all in this food world together."  ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

09/03/2021

~ What to Consider Before Cooking in Big Batches ~

6a0120a8551282970b026be41e7700200dIf 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.

6a0120a8551282970b026be41e770f200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2o21

08/31/2021

~ What is the Difference Between a Soup and a Stew ~

6a0120a8551282970b026be41e770f200dWhen 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.

Try A Big Batch of Bean Soup -- Eat Some, Freeze Some:

6a0120a8551282970b026bdea283e1200cOr, make A Big Batch of Beef Stew -- Eat Some, Freeze Some:

6a0120a8551282970b026be41e2d47200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

08/28/2021

~ Don't Confuse the Tomatillo with the Green Tomato ~

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c915eb80970bTomatillo, also called tomato verde, means husk tomato, with verde meaning green in Spanish. The tomatillo is a member of the nightshade family, which, while related to the red tomato family, and remarkably similar in appearance to the green tomato, cannot be used interchangeably with green tomatoes.  Tomatillos are a staple in every Tex-Mex gardener's garden.  The fruit of the tomatillo is firm, green and relatively small compared to red tomatoes (only about the size of a large, cherry tomato).  They grow to maturity inside of an inedible husk (which gets disgarded), and, range in color from pale green to light brown.  The tomatillo is a staple in Mexican cuisine.  It is used to as an ingredient, cooked and uncooked in a wide range of dishes such as salsas, soups, stews, chili , casseroles, and sauces.  Just peel back the paper husk and use as directed.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c915eb80970bThat said, here in Happy Valley, fresh tomatillos are sometimes hard to find, and, even when I find them, it's always a bit of a hassle to ask the produce manager if I can peel back the husks to insure the fruit is firm (not squishy) and ripe (green).  

In case you don't know, always look for tomatillos that have filled their husks or broken through their husks (photo to right) -- no matter their size, this means they're fully mature. Avoid tomatillos that look withered or dried out (see photo below).

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a0412d970cOnce you get them home, remove the husks and rinse the tomatillos off (because they will be sticky), then use them as directed (which typically requires simmering or broiling as the first step) and/or store in the refrigerator for a longer shelf life.  That said, high quality canned tomatillos are a staple in my pantry. They've already been simmered until soft -- all I have to do is thoroughly drain them. Speaking in approximations, I've deduced:

one 28-ounce can tomatillos = two pounds fresh tomatillos

Try my Green Chile & Tomatillo Chili w/White Beans & Pork:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d3698c970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

08/24/2021

~Let's Talk Plantains -- The Next of Kin to the Banana~

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3655cc8200cBananas and plantains -- they resemble each other, and they're related too.   I eat a banana almost every morning, but, I can't say the same for the plantain.  By accident or out of curiosity, if you've ever peeled a plantain and taken a taste, you knew you weren't eating a banana. That said, when sautéed, the taste and texture of the yellow plantain is remarkable.  As a lover of sautéed bananas, a la bananas foster for dessert, or atop eggnog pancakes w/sautéed butter-rum 'n nog bananas. The best way for me to culinarily describe the difference between the two is, if bananas are the sweet dessert course, plantains are the savory potato side-dish.  In fact, throughout Africa, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia and South America, plantains are generically referred to as "cooking bananas", and bananas are referred to as "dessert bananas".

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

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

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

IMG_1314 IMG_1314 IMG_1314 6a0120a8551282970b022ad38bed01200d 6a0120a8551282970b022ad38bed01200d 6a0120a8551282970b022ad38bed01200dThe riper a plantain, the easier to peel and slice or dice.  Photos 1, 2 & 3:  Yellow plantains are the easiest to peel -- use a paring knife to trim the ends, score the length of skin in one spot, remove the skin with your fingertips, then slice with the knife.  Photos 4 & 5:  Green plantains range from difficult to pain-in-the-a**-difficult to peel -- use a paring knife to trim the ends, score the length of the skin in several spots, remove the skin in strips with your fingertips, then slice with a mandolin.  Photo 6:  In the event the green skin is too tough to remove in strips with fingertips, slice/section the unpeeled plantain into three-four smaller lengths, stand them up on their flat sides, and use the knife to strip the skin away from the fruit.

Try my Deep-Fried Green Plantain Chips) & dip: 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ab9ee5200bOr my Sweet & Caramelized Island-Spiced Yellow Plantains too:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3abdcba200b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

08/21/2021

~My All-Purpose Beer Batter for Deep-Frying Anything~

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c7c38b200bMeat, poultry, fish, shellfish or vegetables.  Heck, even cheese and macaroni and cheese can be beer-batter-dipped and deep-fried.  Slices, strips, chunks, fillets or paillards.  Appetizer, snack, small meal, main-dish or pub grub.  It doesn't matter.  This beer batter will coat it evenly and fry up light as air.  There's more.  Be not afraid.  Batter-dipping and deep-frying, while somewhat repetitive and time-consuming, it is super-easy.  While you don't need an electric deep-fryer to deep fry, a small investment of $50-$75 dollars will get you a light-weight, countertop, cool-touch fryer with a lid, precise temperature control and an air filter which will eliminate the spatter, any deep-fry smell, and, it will make cleanup a breeze.  I highly recommend one. 

Everything in its place.  Start by setting up a deep-fry station.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a258cb200dMeat, poultry, fish, shellfish or vegetables, prepped as directed in recipe.

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

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

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

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

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a25910200d~ Step 1.  When everything is measured and in place, whisk together the pancake mix and beer (or club soda). Set aside for about 5 minutes before starting the frying process. This will give the batter time to thicken a bit, to a drizzly consistency.  If at any point during the frying process (even at the outset) if the batter seems or gets too thick, whisk in a little more beer (or club soda) to maintain a VERY drizzly consistency.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a2592a200d~ Step 2.  This step is actually optional, so skip it if you like.  When it comes to beer batter,  many times I want or need a light-coating of panko breadcrumbs as an outer coating.  To make that happen:

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

I've prepped chicken breast strips to use as an example today.

IMG_3404 IMG_3404 IMG_3404 IMG_3404 IMG_3404 IMG_3404 IMG_3404~Step 1.  ALWAYS work in batches of what will comfortably fit in the deep fryer without overcrowding it.  Dredge the pieces in the dry pancake mix to lightly-coat on all sides -- dredge, coat and fry 2-4-6 at a time, aka, just what fits comfortably in the fryer basket without overcrowding it.  Gather up the dredged pieces (placing them on a slotted spoon or spatula if they are small), then, move up the assembly line lower them into the batter and swish them around a bit, until coated.  Lift pieces out of the batter and hold them over the bowl for a second or two, to allow the batter to drizzle back into the bowl. If using panko, move up the assembly line again and use your fingertips to drop the pieces into the panko.  Using a fork, toss/dredge all pieces in the panko to coat them one last time.

IMG_3420 IMG_3420 IMG_3420 IMG_3420~Step 2.  Two-four-six at a time, using your fingertips, carefully drop the pieces down into the 375° oil and into the fryer basket.  Close the lid and allow deep-fry for about 3-3 1/2 minutes.  Adjust this timing depending upon the size and thickness of the pieces*.  The pieces will be a beautiful golden brown and just cooked through.  Do not undercook and do not overcook.  

*Note:  Unless you've batter-dipped and deep-fried an item in the past and have made a note of the timing, it is always wise to deep-fry a test piece (not an entire batch) to time it precisely.

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

Be like me.  Be a fearless fryer -- or become one! 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a16a8b200dMy All-Purpose Beer Batter for Deep-Frying Anything:  Makes 4-4 1/2 cups beer batter.

Special Equipment List: whisk; loaf pan; 2, 8" x 8" x 2" baking dishes; food processor (optional); large slotted spatula; fork; deep-fryer; 3-minute timer; wire cooling rack; large baking pan; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08918e97970dCook's Note: Circa 1960's and 1970's Anchor Deep Seafood was the name of a take-out seafood joint in my town, Tamaqua, PA.  It was a block from my Great Aunt Mary's house, which was three-four blocks from the high school, where I had band or majorette practice after school three-four days a week, and, way back then, there was no "activities or sports bus" to shuttle us kids who lived in the burbs home -- our parents had to "deal with it".  For years, I walked to Aunt Mary's after practice, then, around 5:15PM, my mom would pick me up after she left work.  Mom and I both loved "The Deep's" deep-fried shrimp, and, I won't lie, a couple of times a week we'd pick up 'a basket' and snack on them during the 10-minute car ride home, to our home, in Hometown.  For my all-time favorite deep-fried treat, try my recipe for ~ Anchor-Deep Deep-Fried Shrimp w/Tartar Sauce ~.

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

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

08/18/2021

~ Slightly-Spicy Creamy Cajun-Creole Hot Crab Dip ~

IMG_2840I grew up eating hot crab dip in the Chesapeake Bay area where it is made with Old Bay Seasoning, Frank's Red Hot Sauce, dry English mustard and white cheddar.  I thought it was the ultimate crab dip until I tasted hot crab dip made in New Orleans, where it is made with Cajun seasoning, Louisiana Gold Hot Sauce, Creole mustard and cream cheese.  Both versions also contain Parmesan, mayonnaise, onion, and garlic, plus, in NOLA during Mardi Gras, for festive color, they throw in some green and red bell pepper too.  When eaten in close proximity to either place, it's made with freshly picked, jumbo lump crabmeat.  Both are baked in the oven until puffy and golden and eaten hot with crackers or French bread: in the bay area, it is usually served with thin crackers called "water biscuits", and, in Louisiana they head for the airy, French baguette.

Chesapeake = Old Bay Seasoning, Frank's Red Hot Sauce, dry English mustard & cheddar.

Louisiana = Cajun Seasoning, Louisiana Gold Hot Sauce, Creole mustard & cream cheese.

IMG_28071  pound jumbo lump crabmeat, the best available

12 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

3/4  cup mayonnaise

1/4  cup finely-grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 cup each:  finely-diced green bell pepper, red bell pepper and sweet onion

1  teaspoon Cajun seasoning

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

2  teaspoons lemon juice, preferably fresh or high-quality, Organic not-from-concentrate

2  teaspoons Louisiana Gold hot sauce

1  teaspoon Creole mustard

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing au gratin dish

2  10-12-ounce French baguettes, torn or sliced, for serving (tearing, topping & eating is lots of fun) or crackers

additional Louisiana Gold hot sauce, for drizzling on top at tableside

IMG_2808 IMG_2808 IMG_2808 IMG_2808~Step 1.  Place all of the ingredients, except for the crabmeat (don't add crabmeat at this time), in a large bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine. Gently fold in the crabmeat, so as not to break or mash it into little bits and pieces, meaning: so it remain in large lumps.

IMG_2824 IMG_2824~ Step 2.  Transfer to a 9" round au gratin dish (a 9" glass pie plate will work fine too), mounding the mixture slightly towards the center.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 325° oven, 30-35 minutes.  Crab dip will be puffed up in the center, lightly golden on the top and slightly bubbly around the edges.  Remove from oven and cool about 10-15 minutes prior to serving with French bread and additional hot sauce at tableside.

Remove from oven & cool 10-15 minutes prior to serving...

IMG_2834... warm w/Bloody Mary's, cocktails, white wine or champagne

IMG_2843 2Slightly-Spice Creamy Cajun-Creole Hot Crab Dip:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings as an appetizer.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; 9" round au gratin dish or glass pie plate

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3aab9b0200bCook's Note:  My ~ Crunchy Crabmeat Crostini ~ recipe, along with its drizzly secret sauce, is a spin-off of my Maryland crab cake sandwich recipe (pictured here).  As we cooks all know, it's not uncommon to turn one dish into two or three slightly different ones.  That said, if your looking for a crab cake sandwich, made the Maryland way, I suggest you try my recipe for ~ My Maryland Crabcake, Tomato & Mayo Sandwich ~.  By all means, use this recipe to make my crostini.

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

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

08/15/2021

~ Demystifying the Differences Between Four Flours ~

6a0120a8551282970b019b00e7c7e4970bAll-purpose flour, bread flour, cake flour and pastry flour.  It really is all in the name, and, a well-written recipe will specify the type of flour required to produce the best results.  I for one would rather not bake something than substitute a different flour.  Why?  Unlike cooking, baking is a precise science.  It is a series of chemical reactions that occur based upon a list of weighed and/or measured ingredients.  The words "smidgen", "pinch" and "dash" have no place in the baking world.  The moment you grasp this, you can embrace baking.  And, please don't let the words "precise science" scare you.  If you've got a precisely-written recipe and follow it, you'll find baking almost anything is easy.  That said, a wise baker never underestimates the power of flour.

When baking never underestimate the power in flour:  gluten.

6a0120a8551282970b019b00e76f5e970bBuddhist monks discovered gluten in the 7th century.  The monks, who were vegetarian, were trying to find a substitute for meat.  They discovered that when they submerged dough in water, the starch washed off and what was left was a meat-like, textured, gummy mass containing protein.  Every flour in the marketplace has a different gluten content.  Gluten is the Latin word for "glue".  By itself, gluten is a tough, elastic, chewing-gum-like protein found in foods processed from wheat, barley and rye.  It gives elasticity to dough, helps it to rise, keep its shape, and, gives the end product its signature texture.  When a dough is kneaded, it is the gluten in the flour that holds the gas bubbles inside, which, in turn makes it rise and create a light, airy structure.

Gluten is the natural protein that remains when all the starch is removed from wheat grains.  Gluten is the Latin word for glue.

6a0120a8551282970b019b00e740b4970dDepending upon whether the flour is milled from hard wheat, soft wheat or a combination, what time of year the wheat is harvested, and how long it is aged, the protein content can vary slightly:

All-purpose flour has a protein/gluten content of 10-12%

Bread flour has a protein/gluten content of 14-16%

Cake flour has a protein/gluten content of 7-8%

Pastry flour has a protein/gluten content of 9%

Flours with low protein generate less gluten.  Flours with more protein generate more gluten.  If you want a light and airy cake, choose flour with the least protein. If you want a flaky pie crust, choose flour with slightly more protein.  If you want dense, chewy bread, choose flour with the most protein content.  Always trust the name on the label of the bag or the box of flour:  

All-purpose, bread, cake or pastry -- it's all in the name.

6a0120a8551282970b019b00e860a3970bAll-purpose flour:  Is designed for a multitude of uses (cookies, quick breads, biscuits and cakes, as well as a thickening agent in many culinary applications).  It is a mixture of high-gluten hard wheat and low-gluten soft wheat.  It comes bleached and unbleached, which can be used interchangeably, but, unbleached flour contains more natural taste.  Millers bleach their flour for more than cosmetic reasons.  Flour must be aged to to strengthen its gluten content, keeping unbleached flour in the warehouse for several months.  Flour processors discovered they could cut the storage expense by artificially aging it by bleaching it with chemicals.  It is worth mentioniong that King Arthur all-purpose flour has a higher protein level than other brands, so, it is no surprise that many bakers, like myself, prefer it to other brands.

Bread flour:  Is designed mostly for yeast breads and some pastries.  It is an unbleached, high-gluten blend (99.8%) of hard wheat, a small amount of malted barley flour (to improve yeast activity) and vitamin C (to increase the gluten's elasticity and the dough's gas retention).  The high gluten content causes the bread to rise high and gives it its signature shape and texture.

Cake Flour: Is designed for making tender cakes, cookies, biscuits and pastries that do not need to stretch and rise too much.  It is made from soft wheat, which gives it its fine texture.

Pastry Flour:  Is designed for making particularly tender cakes and pastries, and, holding together the buttery layers of flaky doughs like croissants, puff pastry and pie crusts.  It is very similar to cake flour, but its slightly higher gluten content adds additional elasticity to dough.

************ 

Self-Rising Flour:  This is all-purpose flour that has baking powder and salt added to it.  Use it in yeast bread recipes in place of all-purpose flour by omitting salt, and, in quick bread recipes by omitting salt and baking powder.  Because it contains baking powder, it has a shortened shelf life (expiration date), so, if you don't use a lot of it, it's best to purchase it as-needed.

Granulated Flour:  This is all-purpose flour formulated to dissolve quickly, without clumping, in hot or cold liquids.  It is used mainly as a thickener in sauces, gravies and other cooked mixtures, but, in a pinch, it can be substituted for regular all-purpose flour when baking.

High-Gluten/Vital Wheat Gluten Flour:  Made from a protein found in the wheat berry, this is an additive/gluten-booster for all-purpose and weaker flours.  Boosting the gluten content is important when baking certain types of bread: rustic loaves, like French baguettes and Italian ciabatta, which require a long rising time to achieve the desired airy holes in their crumb and a chewy texture; breads made with coarse, whole grain flours and/or cereals, which contain little gluten on their own, and; flatbreads like focaccia and some pizza doughs.

"00" Flour:  This is an Italian flour designed for pasta and pizza.  The "double zero" does not refer to the protein content, it refers to its powdery-fine texture, which in Europe is how they categorize flours (with "2" at one end of the spectrum and "00" at the other).  Its protein content is 11-12%, similar to all-purpose flour, which gives doughs just enough, but not too much, stretch.   With only a slight difference in texture, all-purpose flour is a perfectly acceptable substitute for it.

6a0120a8551282970b019b00f0abaa970b

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

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

08/12/2021

~The Best Way to Make Slow-Cooker Babyback Ribs~

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ea3f60970dWhen it comes to slow cookers and crockpots, most folks either love them or they hate them, period, or, they neither love nor hate them, they use them due to circumstances beyond their control.  I've heard all the reasons in favor, against and in between.  Trust me when I tell you, I understand.  I neither love nor hate mine.  I simply recognize it for what it can do and do not try to make it do the things it cannot. The machinations of making ribs in a slow cooker never seemed right to me -- kind of like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.  I've seen people bend entire racks, slice and stack sections, even cut them into individual riblets   That type of rib abuse is why I never attempted it, but, as a person who likes my ribs fall-of-the-bone tender, there was never a doubt the slow cooker could achieve that.  That's why I bought a Crockpot casserole. 

IMG_3106Meet Crockpot's $50 Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vehicle for baby-back ribs (trimmed to fit into it's bottom), to cook evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

To prepare two full racks of babyback pork spareribs:

IMG_2748 IMG_2748 IMG_2748 IMG_2748 IMG_2748 IMG_2748 IMG_2748 IMG_2748~Step 1.  To prep the ribs, pat them dry in some paper towels and remove the silverskin from the underside of each rack.  If you don't know how to do this, read my post ~ How to: Remove the Silverskin from Spareribs ~.  Using a large chef's knife, slice each rack into thirds.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d104da970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d104da970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d104da970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d104da970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d104da970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d104da970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d104da970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d104da970c~Step 2. Spray the inside of the crock casserole with no-stick cooking spray. Arrange the ribs to fit, in two rows and overlapping.  Lightly or generously sprinkle the tops of the sections with your favorite seasoning blend or rub. Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle 3/4 cup your favorite barbecue sauceover the tops of the ribs.  Using the back of a tablespoon, "smoosh" the sauce around over the tops a bit.  Cover the crockpot.  Cook on high for 2 hours, then, low for 2 hours.  The tip of a knife or the tines of a fork, when pierced between any two ribs will easily glide through and come out on the other side.  Important:  If desired, for convenience. the spareribs can be be cooked on low for 7-8 hours in order to leave the crockpot unattended all day.

IMG_2797 IMG_2797 IMG_2797 IMG_2797~Step 3.  Preheat broiler with oven rack positioned about 5" under the heat.  Line a large baking pan with aluminum foil, then place a sheet of parchment in the bottom of pan.  Open crockpot and remove the ribs, arranging them slightly apart on the baking pan.  Using a large pastry brush generously slather the the tops with additional barbecue sauce.  Finish ribs off under the broiler for 3-4 minutes, until sauce is bubbly and just starting to to show signs of light browning.  Watch carefully.  All barbecue sauces contain some form of sugar, which can and will go from lightly-browned to burned quickly.  Don't take your eyes off them after the 3 minute mark.

Plate 'em, slice 'em & serve 'em (w/plenty of napkins):

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d144b4970cThe Best Way to Make Slow-Cooker Babyback Ribs: Recipe yields 6 servings allowing 1/3 rack per person.

Special Equipment List: paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; crockpot casserole; 1-cup measuring container; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d147c0970cCook's Note:  Bone Suckin' Sauce and Bone Suckin' Seasoning and Rub -- together.  Oh.  My.  Sigh.

My pantry nor I would never be caught without this dynamic duo in it -- I buy the sauce by the case.  My family would simply disown me. Created to go together, they're an addictive, well-balanced blend of sweet-savory BBQ perfection -- both are bright, fresh and crisp with a hint of smokey flavor.  For sprinkling and rubbing to dipping, drizzling, slathering, or basting, there isn't anything, from A-Z in the world of barbecue, they're not fantastic on.

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

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

08/09/2021

~An Inconvenient Truth - A Sweet Potato is Not a Yam~

IMG_8026Sweet potatoes were first introduced to North America when Columbus brought them over from the island of St. Thomas, where this large edible root, which belongs to the morning-glory family, is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.  There are many varieties of sweet potato, but the two most widely grown commercially are a pale sweet potato and a dark-skinned variety Americans erroneously call "yam" -- the true yam is not even related to the sweet potato.  The pale potato has a thin, light yellow skin and pale yellow flesh.  Its flavor is not sweet, and, after being cooked, the pale sweet potato is dry and crumbly, similar to that of a Russet potato. The darker variety (pictured above) has a thicker, dark-orange skin and vivid-orange, sweet flesh. When cooked on the stovetop or baked in the oven, or via any other method for that matter, the dark-skinned, orange-colored sweet potato has a very sweet flavor and a creamy texture.

The dark-skinned, orange-colored variety is the only kind I use.

IMG_5635When buying sweet potatoes, choose plump, firm even-sized ones with no cracks. Like regular potatoes they should never be stored in the refrigerator, but do need to be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place. If the temperature is above 60 degrees, they'll begin to sprout, get woody and/or shriveled.  Cooked sweet potatoes, if stored in the refrigerator, last about a week.  Like regular potatoes, sweet potates are always eaten cooked, never raw.  I keep sweet potatoes on-hand all year.  I could, and occasionally do, make a meal just for me out of a pillowy-soft steaming-hot baked sweet potato (dripping with a few pats of melting butter and seasoned with a generous grinding of sea salt and a flavorful peppercorn blend).  It's simple, straightforward, scrumptious, and, oh-so-satisfying.  Even if it weren't nutritious, I'd simply slide the sweet potato off my "favorites list" and onto to my "guilty-pleasures list", and go right on eating them anyway.

Try my Slightly-Spicy and Creamy Rich Sweet Potato Soup:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3c11477200bOr, try my Savory Crispy-Topped Sweet Potato Casserole too:

6a0120a8551282970b026bde8cbc19200c

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

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

08/06/2021

~ The Bell Pepper Season & Why We All Love Them ~

PICT1997 2Ok, maybe we ALL don't love the bell pepper but the majority of us do, including me.  Served raw or cooked, they impart both flavor and color in all sorts of dishes from cuisines all around the world.  At first sight, it's hard not to be attracted to their bold green, red, orange or yellow color, and, even if a recipe calls for a specific color, it's nice to know they can be used interchangeably -- although the green bell pepper is not quite as sweet as the others.  Store-bought or home-grown, kept stored in the refrigerator, they have a reasonably long shelf life, about 10 days, which is why I almost always have a few of these beauties on-hand in my refrigerator's vegetable bin.

It's hard not to be attracted to their four bold & attractive colors, which can all be used interchangeably in any recipe.

IMG_3745Raw bell peppers are great sliced into strips and eaten with a salad dressing or dip for a snack. Diced raw bell peppers are a tasty addition to egg, chicken or tuna salad too.  Native to Mexico and Central America, they are found in Mexican, Southwestern and Spanish fare that gets served for breakfast, lunch and/or dinner.  Italian cuisine is known for grilling the peppers, and adding them as a topper to sandwich creations, stirring them into grilled meat, poultry or fish dishes, or, serving them cold in antipasto.  The Italian rice dish risotto occasionally contains bell peppers, and, peppers stuffed with prosciutto and provolone cheese is a treat everyone loves.  American stuffed bell pepper dishes often include ground beef and rice mixtures.  Vegetarian versions may include rice or tofu. Some stuffed pepper recipes call for sausage meat and chopped vegetables such as tomato.  In the Asian community, bell peppers are used in all sorts of beef, chicken, pork and seafood dishes, as well asstir-fries.   Saying bell peppers are versatile is an understatement.

Try them in my One-Skillet Tex-Mex-Style Chicken Fajitas:

6a0120a8551282970b027880310abc200dOr in my Italian-Style Sausage & Bell Pepper Sandwiches:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3e5441f200bAnd how about Joy's All-American-Style Stuffed Bell Peppers:

6a0120a8551282970b019b02d7a0bd970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

08/03/2021

~The History Behind the Beloved Hass Avocado Fruit~

PICT4940The most popular avocado in the United States is California Hass -- HASS, which rhymes with PASS is frequently mispronounced and mispelled Haas.  This pear-shaped fruit weighs in at about half a pound and has bumpy, rough, dark greenish-black skin -- interestingly, it was originally known as the alligator pear, which, when you think about it for a moment, is an accurate description.  It is known for its silky, rich, buttery texture and mild, nutlike flavor.  It is the only avocado variety to be grown year-round, representing about 80% of all avocados sold in the world and generates more than $1 billion in revenues in the US each year.  Trust me when I tell you, after a taste test between the Hass and any other smooth-skinned variety (like Florida's leafy-green Fuerte, pictured above), you will agree there is no comparison in flavor or texture.

Hands down, Hass wins -- & the tree, has a bitter-sweet history:

6a0120a8551282970b01901c765f69970bAll Hass avocado trees descended from one single mother tree that was raised by a mail carrier named Rudolf Hass, of LaHabra Heights, CA.  Hass purchased the seedling tree from a grower named A.R. Rideout, who grew and experimented growing and developing several varieties of avocados.  Hass tried unsuccessfully to graft another variety onto it and planned on cutting the tree down, until his children talked him out of it.  Since his kids loved the tree's fruit, and the tree gave a good yield, he named it after himself and, thankfully, made the decision to patent it in 1935.  That same year, Hass entered into a business with a Whittier, CA, nurseryman to grow and promote his avocados. Rudolf Hass died in 1952.

Sadly, he never realizing the global impact his avocados would have on all of us. Sadder yet, Hass's original tree died after a long struggle with root fungus and was cut down in 2002.

Hass avocados ripen best after picking.  A perfectly-ripe Hass avocado will be darkish green.  It will have lost its bright green color and be firm to the touch with an ever-so-slight give when gentle pressure is applied.  If an avocado seems even the slightest bit soft, it is over-ripe. When a knife is run through and around the perimeter of a perfectly ripe avocado, it will literally cut like butter and the two halves will separate cleanly with a gentle twist. If you have no alternative but to purchase under-ripe (hard) avocados:  to speed up the ripening process, place them in a paper bag and set aside, at room temperature, for 1-2 days. Most times, overnight on the countertop will do just fine. To increase the shelf life of ripe avocados, store in the refrigerator for 1-2 days.  

PICT4946"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

07/31/2021

~ On the Light Side of a Turkey & Pastrami Sandwich ~

IMG_2741Smoked turkey and pastrami.  This duo is one of my favorite sandwich combinations.  That said, I don't typically want to eat mine grilled with ooey-gooey melted cheese and piled high and sloppy with crunchy 'slaw or 'kraut and/or Russian dressing.  More-often-than-not I just want to enjoy this sandwich "light-and-easy-like", made simply and served cold with shredded lettuce, shaved onion and the oh-so-wonderful addition of a thin-sliced Summer-ripened tomato.  When all is said and done, I can taste the flavor of every ingredient, especially the smoked turkey and pastrami.

Hearty enough to feed two, w/the light feeling of Summer:

IMG_2703For each sandwich:

2  slices soft-rye bread, seeded or unseeded and untoasted

2-3  tablespoons mayonnaise

1/2-3/4  cup chiffonade of iceberg lettuce

1/4  cup very-thin-sliced red onion

3-4  thin slices lacey-Swiss cheese

4-5  ounces very-thin-sliced pastrami

4-5  ounces very-thin-sliced smoked turkey breast

4-5-6  thin slices tomato, depending on the size of the tomato (Note:  These are Campari tomatoes., which are my favorite tomatoes to use in place of home-grown local tomatoes.)

potato chips  and/or dill pickles, for accompaniment (optional)

IMG_2710 IMG_2710 IMG_2710 IMG_2710~Step 1.  Place one slice of the rye bread on a plate or a small sandwich board and slather the top of it with the mayonnaise.  Scatter the chiffonade of lettuce over the the mayo, followed by a scattering of the red onion atop the lettuce.  Error on the side of being generous with everything.

IMG_2720 IMG_2720 IMG_2720 IMG_2720 IMG_2720~Step 2.  Place cheese slices atop the onions -- I do this by using ribbon folds to keep the cheese light and airy.  Using the same ribbon folds, place the pastrami atop cheese and turkey atop the pastrami.  Place a layer of tomato slices atop the turkey.  Top with the second slice of rye bread and be sure to secure everything in place with 2-4 sandwich picks.

Slice & serve ASAP -- it tastes as good as it looks.  

IMG_2741On the Light Side of a Turkey & Pastrami Sandwich:  Instructions to make 1 very large sandwich/1-2 servings.  

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; sandwich picks

6a0120a8551282970b0240a45e8ab8200cCook's Note: There is nothing quite as satisfying as a BLT or a club sandwich, made with a just-picked perfectly-ripe tomato.  Tick, tock.  It is going be an impatient two-week wait for my own or any locally-grown tomatoes to be at my fingertips, so, hold-that-beautiful-thought, give pause to the beloved tomato for a moment, and allow me to change the conversation:  there is another tart fruit to consider.  It's the brine-cured olive, and, in the form of tapenade, there is no reason to compromise your BLT with a not-so-great tomato.  Try my ~ Bacon, Lettuce, Tapenade & Chicken Club Sandwich ~ too!

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

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

07/28/2021

~Tomato Season & Why I Adore the Compari Tomato~

6a0120a8551282970b01a511c4835a970cThe Campari tomato claimed its fame in 2002 when a brief reference was made to it in the TV series, "The Sopranos."  One mention -- it boosted both its relevancy in the tomato-loving world and its level of respect within the all-important Italian-American community.  In 2003, Campari was rewarded with a 50% uptick in sales.  To this day, it is my year-round store-bought tomato of choice. In my opinion, the Campari tomato is the most perfect tomato ever produced -- it's so damned flavorful, having the ideal balance of acid to sugar, and a texture that endears each one to me as my ideal slicing tomato.  Classified as a "cocktail tomato" (whatever that means), they're much larger than cherry or grape tomatoes, but, a lot smaller than your typical "big boy".

The surprising thing is, Campari tomatoes are grown hydroponically (which renders most tomatoes tasteless), and are ripened to their super-red color on the vine.  Because they're ripened on the vine, the need for pesticides is eliminated, and, it's also the reason they are shipped with the vine attached  -- it enables them to continue to ripen naturally without the need for ethylene gas.  This makes them available year-round with little-to-no compromise in flavor or texture.  For all these reasons, when Campari tomatoes hit the marketplace, they were wisely branded as "the tomato-lovers tomato".  While a bit pricey, as a card-carrying tomato lover, along with many others, the Campari tomato is the heartthrob of those of us that do not grow our own.  

The Campari tomato IS the "tomato-lovers tomato"!

IMG_2674"We are all in this food world together."  ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

07/25/2021

~ Put Gluten-Free Beer in Gluten-Free Pizza-Dough ~

IMG_2684Let me start by saying that a great pizza crust is puffy, chewy and crispy with a bit of yeasty flavor. Let me end by saying, a gluten-free pizza crust is none of those things.  In fact, the only two things a traditional yeast-risen pizza crust and a yeast-risen gluten-free pizza crust have in common are shape and function.  Once I got past that and stopped trying to turn "water into wine", it was easier (I didn't say easy, 'cause it took several tries) for me to move-on and come up with a perfectly-palatable very-tasty gluten-free crust to please those in my circle who require one. I'm not gonna lie, the idea to put GF beer in GF pizza dough came to me via a late-night rerun episode of Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives hosted by Guy Fieri -- just paying credit where credit is due.

For the record, I do not eat a gluten-free diet, nor do I recommend that anyone for any other reason than being a bona fide celiac adopt a gluten-free diet.  Bread is the staff of life, and, depriving the body of gluten, meaning wheat or by-products of wheat, for any long-term length of time, causes. not cures. health problems -- Google it you idiot.  That said, I do know two bona fide celiacs, and, when either pay a visit to my kitchen, I accommodate -- which isn't remarkably hard because lots of foods (meat, poultry, fish, seafood and vegetables), pantry ingredients and meals are gluten-free, and, for the record, there are some very good gluten-free pastas available, so know, a gluten-free pasta dish or three are helpful to keep in your back pocket.  I can count the number of gluten-free recipes in my repertoire on one hand, and, for my needs that's just fine.

My criteria:  Easy-peasy recipe using readily-available ingredients, &, let my dedicated GF bread machine mix the dough, &, in the case of GF, cleanliness is next to godliness.  Let's chat about cross-contamination:

I can let my bread-machine do all the work, but, if you do not keep a bread machine dedicated for the sole purpose of gluten-free baking, you can not.  Why?  Cross-contamination -- and it is very, very dangerous.  Celiac disease can be triggered by even the smallest spec of gluten. This means if you recently prepared foods using wheat flour, the first step (and it's a must) is to fully wipe down all baking surfaces, wash all hardware and utensils, and, remove any products or gluten-containing ingredients that are nearby.  So, in the event you don't maintain a gluten-free bread-machine, simply mix your pizza dough by hand in the traditional manner and proceed.

Practice makes perfect?  For GF:  Practice makes palatable:

IMG_25803/4  cup + 2 tablespoons gluten-free beer

2  tablespoons olive oil, plus 2 additional tablespoons oil for preparing pan and fingertips

2 cups + 2 tablespoons gluten-free all-purpose flour 

2  teaspoons baking powder 

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt 

1 1/2  teaspoons teaspoon sugar

1  packet granulated yeast

IMG_2582 IMG_2582 IMG_2589 IMG_2593 IMG_2593 IMG_2593 IMG_2593~Step 1.    Secure the bread pan in the bread machine.  Place the beer and olive oil in the the bread pan of the bread machine.  Add the all-purpose GF flour, then, sprinkle the sugar, salt and baking powder around the perimeter of the pan, meaning, not over the top center of the GF flour.  Using your index finger, make a shallow well in the center of the flour and add the granulated yeast to the well. Close the lid and push the "menu/select" button.  Choose the "pizza dough" cycle. Push "start". When the machine signals the dough is done (it will have risen once too), remove pan of dough from the machine.  In my machine this takes 1 hour and 30 minutes.  When dough is done, there is 1-pound 4-ounces total dough, or, enough for one 13" x 9"-rectangular or 12"-round pizza.

IMG_2610 IMG_2610 IMG_2610 IMG_2610 IMG_2656 IMG_2661~Step 2. Place 2 tablespoons olive oil on 1, 13" x 9"-rectangular or 12"-round pizza pan, and, using a paper towel, spread the oil evenly over the surface.  Place the ball of pizza dough on the oiled pan.  Using your fingertips, a "tapping mode" and a light touch, spread the dough evenly across the surface and slightly up the sides of the pan -- this will be remarkably easy to do and the surface of the dough should be dimply looking from your fingertips -- do not roll the dough or try to flatten it in any way, as it will compact it.  Allow dough to rest, 1 hour to 1 hour-15 minutes, to allow starches in flour to hydrate, and, to allow  baking powder and yeast to work a bit of magic -- do not be inclined to skip the rest period.

IMG_2663 IMG_2669 IMG_2669 IMG_2669~Step 3.  Heat oven to 360°.  Place untopped pizza crust on center rack of oven for about 8 minutes, to prebake it -- it's time to remove it when it appears dry and small cracks are appearing across the surface.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool about 15 minutes.  Top with your favorite toppings, BUT, placing a layer of very-thinly sliced cheese down first, to serve as a moisture barrier between a thin-layer of sauce and the crust, is something I highly recommend.  After the layer of sliced cheese, followed by a thin coating of sauce, proceed with grated cheeses and toppings of choice -- less is more with all choices, this is a thin crust pizza.

IMG_2677 IMG_2677~ Step 4.  Bake topped pizza on center rack of preheated oven for about 14-15 minutes,  until cheese is melted and bubbling. Using a long, thin spatula, slde pizza from pan to oven rack to crisp the bottom for about 1-2 minutes.  Using a pizza peel, transfer pizza from oven rack to wire rack to cool about 5 minutes prior to slicing. 

Transfer from oven rack to wire rack & cool for 5 minutes...

IMG_2643Prior to slicing & serving very-good, easy-peasy GF pizza: 

IMG_2696Put Gluten-Free Beer in Gluten-Free Pizza Dough:  Recipe yields 1, thin-crust 13" x 9" rectangular pizza, or, 1, thin-crust 12"-round pizza/8 slices/servings each.

Special Equipment List:  bread machine; 1, 13" x 9"-rectangular pizza pan or 12"-round pizza pan; paper towel; long, thin spatula, pizza peel

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3bea499200dCook's Note: In crust I trust, but, in the case of the bloatedly-overpriced-at-almost-$9.00 cauliflower pizza crusts I purchased (on a whim just to get a taste-in-my-mouth for what all the buzz is about), I'd rather eat cardboard.  In order to avoid eating compromising crap, I eat less of the things I love before cutting-back on carbs, or worse, cutting-out gluten completely.  "Once you get used to them, they're pretty good", is not a retort, so stuff it.  The only way to justify this type of ingredient-specific-deprivation requires a doctor's diagnosis.  ~ The Great Cauliflower Crust Experiment ~.

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

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

07/21/2021

~ My Fajita Rice for Chicken or Steak Fajita-Burritos ~

IMG_2559I love fajitas and I adore fajita-burritos.  Sometimes I make chicken or steak fajitas for the sole purpose of taking the well-seasoned, sautéed bell pepper, onion and chicken or steak mixture, and wrapping it up burrito-style in a large flour tortilla that's been slathered with refried beans topped with a scattering of spiced rice and shredded cheddar.  Interestingly, because fajitas are seasoned with a specific scratch-made or store-bought spice blend, and Mexican-rice recipes or Mexican-style rice mixes are not seasoned with the same seasoning, many times, the flavor of the seasoned rice can compete or clash with the fajita seasoning.  Call me finicky, picky or whatever, but that bothered me enough to come with my own fajita-seasoned rice to put in fajita burritos.

Whenever I'm making fajita-burritos, my rule of thumb is:

IMG_2563Put fajita-seasoned rice into fajita-seasoned fajita-burritos.

IMG_25351/2  cup basmati rice or extra-long grain white rice  (Note:  I choose to use basmati rice for it's earthy, slightly nutty flavor.)

1 1/2  cups water

1  teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1  teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

2  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or a favorite store-bought seasoning mix

a light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper

1/4  teaspoon salt

2  tablespoons salted butter

IMG_2542 IMG_2542 IMG_2542 IMG_2542~Step 1.  In a 1 1/2-quart saucepan, using a rice-cup measure, place 1 1/2 cus water, along with the dehydrated garlic and onion, fajita seasoning, jalapeño pepper, salt and butter.  Bring water to a boil over high heat.  When butter has melted, sprinkle in the rice (do not dump it all at once) and give the mixture a quick stir.  Place the lid on the saucepan and adjust heat to a very gentle but ready simmer.  Continue to cook, without opening lid or stirring the rice, for 18 minutes. 

IMG_2552 IMG_2552 IMG_2552~ Step 2.  After 18 minutes, lift the lid and take a peek.  Small holes (caused by evaporation as the rice simmered) should be present across the surface of the rice and no or almost no water should remain in the bottom of the pan.  Now, taste a few grains, the rice should be cooked to-the-tooth, meaning, not hard in the center nor mushy.  If either of these scenarios has not happened, cover saucepan and cook for 1-2 more minutes.  Turn the heat off and rake through the rice with a fork to separate the grains. Put the lid back on the saucepan and allow to rest for 2-3 minutes prior to serving.

Authentic?  No.  Untraditional?  Yes, & absolutely appropriate. 

IMG_2576My Fajita Rice for Chicken or Steak Fajita-Burritos:  Recipe yields 1 1/2-2 cups of fajita rice.

Special Equipment List:  rice cup measure; 1 1/2-quart saucepan w/tight-fitting (preferably glass) lid; spoon; fork

6a0120a8551282970b0223c849deb2200cCook's Note: Mexican 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.   Try my more traditional ~ 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)

07/18/2021

~ That's a Wrap Cheesy Flank-Steak-Fajita Burritos ~

IMG_2509A fajita-burrito has its origins in Mexico and features the best of two South-of-the border worlds -- all those luscious strips of well-seasoned grilled or sautéd chicken or steak, bell peppers and onions that go into fajitas, wrapped-and-rolled, burrito-style, in a large, warm flour tortilla that's been slathered with refried beans and scattered with a layer of Spanish-style rice and shredded cheese.  The outcome is indeed the best of two worlds and, there's no need for embellishments either.  Hold the guacamole, sour cream and/or salsa.  Pick 'em up 'cause they're ready-to-eat.

No need for embellishments.  Pick 'em up -- they're ready to eat:

IMG_2528The "burrito", or: "the food from the little donkey"!

6a0120a8551282970b026bdedce277200cA bit about burritos:  A burrito is a portable sandwich found in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.  It consists of a large flour tortilla that has been wrapped or folded to fully encase a filling. Before serving, it gets lightly-grilled or steamed, to soften the tortilla.  Refried beans, Mexican rice and meat (or a meat mixture) are typically the only fillings used, and, burritos are served unembellished, in order for them to be eaten with the hands.   In Spanish, "burrito" means "little donkey", coming from the word "burro", which means "donkey".  

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

6a0120a8551282970b026bdedce2c5200cA bit about fajitas:  Originally named tacos-al-carbon, fajitas were served as portable food, ready-to-eat-with-the-hands, by wrapping strips of unpretentious skirt steak that had been cooked over a campfire or on a grill, in a warm corn or flour tortilla, meaning they were served taco-style.  "Faja" is the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", and, with "ita" added to the end, it means "a little strip, band, sash or belt", meaning the ingredients for fajitas are always cut into strips.

The dish dates back to cattle ranching life along the Rio Grande Valley regions of the Texas-Mexico border in the 1930's.  Throwaway items (heads, entrails and meat trimmings) were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay, resulting in some of the first Tex-Mex border dishes: barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak).  Because of the limited number of skirts per animal, the meat wasn't available for sale, so, for years it remained obsure to all except the vaqueros, butchers and their families.

The "fajita", or: "faja" & "ita", meaning "little strips"!

IMG_2472For each burrito:

1, 9 1/2" round burrito-size flour tortilla

1/2  cup refried beans or refried bean dip

3/4  cup prepared, fajita-seasoned Mexican rice, or, Mexican-style adobo rice, my recipe or your favorite boxed Spanish-style rice mix

1/2-3/4 cup prepared flank steak fajita filling, my recipe or your favorite recipe

1/4  cup shredded yellow cheddar cheese

IMG_2473 IMG_2473 IMG_2473 IMG_2482 IMG_2482 IMG_2482 IMG_2482~Step 1. To assemble each fajita burrito, place one tortilla on a flat work surface.  Using a butter knife, spread the beans or bean dip to within 1/2" of the perimeter of the tortilla.  Scatter the Mexican rice atop the beans, and, using fingertips, gently pat rice into beans (this will keep the rice in place when wrapping and rolling the burritos).  Carefully spoon and mound the chicken-fajita filling (atop the rice) in a long strip across the center.  Place the cheese atop and along the strip of steak-fajita filling.

IMG_2493 IMG_2493 IMG_2493Step 2.  To wrap, and heat burritos, lift the side of tortilla closest to you up and over the filling -- far enough so it wraps all the way around the filling.  Pick up left and right sides of tortilla and fold them atop filling.  Roll tortilla over, seam side down, to fully encase and secure filling in a tight roll.   Transfer each burrito to a plate, or, place all burritos on a platter.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Microwave 1-1 1/2 minutes.

When ready to eat, heat one or all of them.  Serve for lunch, dinner or a very special late night snack attack:

IMG_2503That's a Wrap Cheesy Flank-Steak-Fajita Burritos:  Recipe yields enough ingredients to make 12 large burritos.

Special Equipment List:  butter knife, hand-held box grater, slotted spoon, plastic wrap 

6a0120a8551282970b0278803122fe200dCook's Note: Tacos and fajitas.  Akin to Cheeseburgers and pizza, I can't much conjure up more kid-friendly meals.  That said, if you're a mom or dad attempting to get your kids to eat more vegetables, fajitas are an argument-free way way to get the job done.  If you're a mom or dad trying to cut some fat out of your life, chicken fajitas will accomplish that too. There's more.  Got a big family to feed? dNeed to feed a crowd? Double the recipe quantities -- in about the same amount of time, voila: the hungry mob is fed.  In the event you prefer chicken to steak, try making burritos using my ~ Kids-Stuff One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken Fajita Filling ~ in place of my steak filling.

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

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

07/15/2021

~ Kids-Stuff Tex-Mex Broiled-Flank-Steak Fajita Filling ~

IMG_2444 2Newsflash.  A flank steak does not have to be grilled outdoors to be a great flank steak.  While grilled is very, very good, truth told, my oven broiler method does a marvelous job with no stress, guess nor mess.  The end result is wonderfully seasoned, perfectly-cooked medium-rare steak.   The process is so foolproof, I prefer it.  There's more.  Once sliced, a flank steak feeds an entire family.  When the flank steak gets added to an easy-to-make sautéed vegetable medley, this meal feeds a crowd.  It's perfect for any indoor or outdoor gathering any time of year.

When the steak is seasoned fajita-style, magic happens:

IMG_2419A bit about this flat, oval, 1"-1 1/2"-thick, stringy-grained steak:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e96596970cA well done flank steak is not well done at all.  Flank steak, while it lends its succulent flavorful self to indoor cooking beautifully, if the lean and sexy flank steak is not quickly-cooked and served rare- medium-rare it is not worth eating. While I occasionally pan-sear it, my favorite method is to cook it under the broiler*.  My foolproof method takes all the guesswork out of it too.  Read on:

My rule of thumb is to purchase the biggest flank steak I can find -- two pounds is perfect, but, if I come across one that's larger, into my cart it goes.  I'd be crazy not to spend the extra pennies, and, it's not because bigger is better.  It's because leftovers go into sandwiches and onto salads -- zero waste.  Depending on the recipe du jour, sometimes I marinate flank steak, sometimes I don't.  When it comes to flank steak, absorb this: marination (which does not affect the cooking time), is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.  Perfectly-cooked flank steak is super-tender with zero marination.  Example:  my marinated Greek-Style Flank Steak Salad or Pocket Sammies.

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

Savory, succulent & ready to eat in about 45 minutes:

IMG_2371For the flank steak & seasonings:

1  large flank steak (about 2-2 1/2) 

3  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or, a favorite store-bought seasoning mix, about 3 tablespoons (1, 1-ounce envelope store-bought)

a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt 

For the vegetables & seasonings:

2-3  tablespoons vegetable oil

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

1  1/2  cups each, julienne of:  green, red, orange and yellow bell pepper

3  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or a favorite store-bought seasoning mix (1, 1-ounce envelope store-bought)

a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin 

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt

IMG_2373 IMG_2373 IMG_2373 IMG_2373 IMG_2388 IMG_2388 IMG_2388 IMG_2388~Step 1.  To season and broil the flank steak, place it on a a corrugated, disposable aluminum broiler pan and allow it to come to room temperature for 20-30 minutes -- just do it.  Season the top liberally with fajita seasoning, moderately with cumin, followed by a light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt.  Place pan 5 1.2"-6" under preheated broiler for exactly 9 minutes -- nine minutes is a key measurement when broiling a flank steak.  Remove flank steak from oven and flip it over.  Season the second side exactly like the first side was seasoned.  Return the steak to the broiler for exactly 9 more minutes.  Remove flank steak from oven and set aside to rest, about 15 minutes, then, prepare the vegetable medley as directed in the next step.

IMG_2400 IMG_2400 IMG_2400 IMG_2400 IMG_2400 IMG_2400 IMG_2400~Step 2.  In a 12" nonstick skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium- medium high heat.  Add all of the onions and bell peppers to the skillet, spreading them out across the surface of the bottom of pan.  Season the vegetables by sprinkling with all of the fajita seasoning, a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin, and, a very-light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt. Using two large slotted spoons, give the mixture a thorough stir.  Sauté the vegetables until crunch-tender, about 3-4 minutes.  Turn heat off.  Do not cover skillet or the vegetables will steam and vegetables need to remain crunch tender.  

IMG_2419 IMG_2419 IMG_2419 IMG_2419~Step 3.  Place the well-rested but still warm flank steak on a large cutting board.  Holding a chef's knife at a 30° angle, slice the steak into strips, THIN strips, as thin as you can.  Add all of the steak to the skillet and give the mixture a thorough stir,  Transfer to a large bowl.  Serve.

Serve immediately, piled high into warm, fresh corn tortillas:

IMG_2437Kid-friendly, adult-friendly, crowd-friendly goodness:

IMG_2449Kids-Stuff Tex-Mex Broiled-Flank-Steak Fajita Filling:  Recipe yields 7-8 cups fajita filling/enough to fill 24, 5 1/2"-round flour tortillas.

Special Equipment List: 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; two large slotted spoons

IMG_1864Cook's Note:  Tacos and fajitas.  Akin to Cheeseburgers and pizza, I can't much conjure up four more kid-friendly meals.  That said, if you're a mom or dad attempting to get your kids to eat more vegetables, it goes without saying, fajitas are an argument-free way way to get the job done. If you're a mom or dad trying to cut some fat out of your life, chicken fajitas will accomplish that too.   If you prefer chicken to steak, try my  ~ Kids-Stuff One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken-Fajita Filling ~.

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

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

07/12/2021

~ Making the Most of the Short & Sweet Corn Season ~

IMG_9991What a wonderful gift the Native Americans gave to the world.  Everything on the corn plant can be used:  the husks for tamales, the silks for tea, the kernels for food and the stalks for fodder.  Modern day horticulturists developed our two most popular varieties: white (Country Gentleman) and yellow (Golden Bantam).  White corn kernels are smaller and sweeter.  Yellow corn kernels are larger and fuller-flavored.  The more recently developed hybrid (Butter & Sugar Corn) produces ears speckled with both yellow and white kernels -- my personal favorite.  

Almost nothing beats a serving of fresh, steaming corn on the cob lacquered with sweet cream butter and sprinkled with salt.  Here in our beautiful and scenic "rolling hills of Pennsylvania", cornfields, miles of them, are a very common sight.  Sweet corn, hands down, is my family's favorite choice as a Summer vegetable.  Unfortunately, corn has a relatively short season, not being at its peak until late July or August and past its prime by Labor Day.  As soon as it's picked, the corn's sugar immediately begins to convert to starch, which lessens its natural sweetness.  Therefore, it is important to buy corn as soon after it is picked as possible.  Corn connoisseurs claim to be able to tell immediately when corn hasn't been cooked the same day it's been picked.

6a0120a8551282970b013486f877cc970cHow to choose & how to cook great sweet corn every time:

Choose ears that are bright green with snugly fitting husks and golden brown silk.  Gently strip/peel back a small portion of the outer husk.  The kernels should be plump and the rows should be tightly spaced.  Pierce down into a kernel with your thumbnail.  If the kernal squirts a wet, milky juice, the corn is young, tender and ready to cook and eat.

6a0120a8551282970b014e5ffe0d91970cTo cook sweet corn you will need:

6-8  freshly, same-day picked, carefully selected, cobs of corn, husks stripped away and silk carefully removed (discard or compost both)

2-4  tablespoons sugar (optional but highly recommended)

8  tablespoons salted butter 

freshly ground sea salt, to taste  

In an 8-quart stockpot, bring 5 quarts of water to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add the sugar.  Ease the corn cobs, one at a time, into the pot of boiling water.  After the last cob has been added and the water has returned to a rolling boil, cover and cook for 5 minutes -- not longer, not shorter, exactly 5 minutes. Remove from heat and drain thoroughly.  Return corn to still warm stockpot and add the butter.  Cover and allow the butter to melt, about 2-3 minutes.  Give the pot a few gentle tosses to coat the corn in the butter.  Serve ASAP with s sprinkling of sea salt to taste.

Easy peasy, perfectly-cooked sweet corn each & every time:

IMG_9998To learn ~ How to: Shave Corn off the Cob with Zero Mess ~:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4bbb3a4200b"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

07/09/2021

~Make Tortillas de Maize from Scratch - Corn Tortillas~

IMG_2361Tortillas de Maize, meaning corn tortillas, originated in Mexico during pre-Columbian times -- the cultures that evolved in parts of Mexico, Central America and Western South America prior to the Spanish conquest during the 16th Century.  This means the corn tortilla predates the wheat-flour tortilla, as wheat was not not grown in the the Americas prior to European colonization in the mid-1500s.  In Aztec times, two or three corn tortillas would have been eaten with each meal.    Maize itself has been a Mexican staple food for centuries and remains the most planted crop in the regions of Mexico, and, you guessed it, gently-cooked soft corn tortillas are consumed daily.

IMG_8374Traditionally, corn tortillas were made by hand by Aztec women by flattening the balls of fresh dough between the palms of their hands and slapping them back and forth between their hands until they created a round, thin flat disc.  Corn tortillas are remarkably easy to make, especially if you own an inexpensive tortilladora, known to most of us as a tortilla press.  Usually made of cast aluminum or cast iron, this mechanical contraption consists of a pair of flat approximately 8"-round surfaces and a handle that presses 1" balls of smooth, soft corn tortilla dough (between two layers of deli paper or wax paper), into thin, flat corn tortillas*.

Once the tortillas are flattened into thin, less than 1/8"-thick discs, each one is placed on a cast iron comal or in a cast iron or nonstick skillet for a brief time, until firm-yet pliable and very lightly-flecked with brown on both sides, about 2 minutes on the first side and 1 minute on the second.

* Unlike the corn tortilla, the flour tortilla is typically rolled thin (interleaved between two pieces of wax paper or plastic wrap) using a small wooden rolling pin.  In the event you don't have a tortilla press, or, don't want to make the modest $15.00 - $20.00 investment in a tortilla press (which I highly recommend you do), the rolling-pin method can be used to make corn tortillas too,

IMG_2355Just three ingredients, & two of them are water & salt! 

To make corn tortillas, you will need to pick up a bag of easy-to-find masa harina.  Period.  No substitutions.   This ingredient might look a lot like finely-ground cornmeal, but it's an entirely different product altogether.  Masa is a stable in Latin American cuisine.  When masa is made the tough outer husks of field-corn kernels are removed to make them easier to digest. Next, the kernels are boiled in a lime solution for about 15 minutes then left to soak in it for about 24 hours. After a thorough rinsing, the mixture gets ground into a very fine paste, dried, then ground again.

IMG_22741 1/2  cups masa harina, no substitutuions

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

1 cup + 2 tablespoons warm water, plus, additional warm water, added one tablespoon at a time, if necessary as directed below 

IMG_2279 IMG_2279 IMG_2279 IMG_2279 IMG_2290 IMG_2295 IMG_2295~Step 1.  In a medium bowl, combine the masa and salt, then make a well in the center (similar to making pasta).  Add the water to the well.  Using a tablespoon, and towards the end your hands, incorporate the water into the masa.  The dough should be stiff enough to hold together and should be very smooth in appearance, meaning: not raggedy or crumbly.  If it is not, add water by tablespoonfuls, kneading after each addition until dough is a large, smooth, moist-but-not-sticky, pliable ball.

IMG_2301 IMG_2301 IMG_2301~ Step 2.  To make 4"-round street-size tortillas, using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, portion the dough into 20-22 pieces, then, roll each piece between the palms of hands to form a round ball.  When finished, place the balls back in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow them to rest about 15 minutes.  

Note:  To make larger tortillas, use a larger ice-cream scoop to make larger (and fewer) balls. 

IMG_2313 IMG_2313 IMG_2313 IMG_2313 IMG_2313 IMG_2313~Step 3.  To flatten each tortilla, place one ball of dough on the bottom center of the tortilla press that has been lined with an inexpensive sheet of deli-paper or wax-paper.  Place a second sheet of deli paper or wax paper atop the ball of dough. Lower the top of the tortilla press down over the dough, then, judiciously press the handle down to flatten the dough ball to a scant 1/8" thick.  Do not be zealous when pressing the handle down -- if the tortilla becomes to be too thin around the edges, it will rip or tear when trying to release it from between the paper sheets.  Test one to check -- if the paper peels off easily off, repeat process until all tortillas are flattened.  Do not remove any of the papers until finished with all tortillas.

IMG_2342 IMG_2342 IMG_2342~ Step 4.  To cook the tortillas, heat a 10" comal or nonstick skillet over medium- medium-high heat.  Remove the paper from and place three street-sized corn tortillas on the heated surface*.  Cook until top surface appears dry and feels firm, yet very pliable, about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Using a spatula flip the tortillas over onto the second side.  Continue to cook until top, once again, appears dry and feels firm, yet very pliable, about 45-seconds to 1 minute.  Transfer tortillas from comal (or skillet) to a plate.  Repeat this process until all the tortillas are cooked.  Once all tortillas are cooked, wrap the plate in a large flour-sack-type towel to steam for a few moments prior to serving warm.

* Note:  If larger corn tortillas have been prepared, cook the tortillas just one or two at a time.

One tortilla, two tortillas, 20-22 warm, soft & fresh corn tortillas:

IMG_2369Make Tortillas de Maize from Scratch - Corn Tortillas:  Recipe yields instructions to makes 20-22 small, 4" round street-size corn tortillas.

Special Equipment List: ordinary tablespoon; tortilla press; plastic wrap; 40-44 (inexpensive) deli-paper or wax paper sheets; 10" comal or nonstick skillet; spatula; flour-sack-type kitchen towel

6a0120a8551282970b0263e9570fe0200b-800wiCook's Note:  Nothing is as good as made-from-scratch tortillas.  That said, store-bought fresh corn tortillas are, in fact, a high-quality convenience product. On the other hand, nothing is quite as bad as a taco shell that comes out of a box -- just don't do it. While making tortillas from scratch is not hard, the fresh corn tortillas found in grocery stores nowadays are quite good, and, they fry up exactly like scratch-made.  To learn how to do it, read my post:  ~ Store-Bought Corn Tortillas & the Perfect Taco Shell ~.

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

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

07/06/2021

~Herb-Sour-Cream Cucumber or Tomato Salad Cups~

IMG_2263Summer is prime time for big main-dish salads and small side-dish salads.  In the case of the latter, in my kitchen, one quick-to-fix creamy sour-cream-based dressing has me eating a side of crunchy cucumber or tangy tomato salad in the time it takes the average steak to grill.  Yes, of course, go ahead, do the math and double, triple or quadruple this recipe to make a bigger batch, but, in my kitchen, I don't make more than me or my family is going to eat in one sitting.  Why?  I don't like leftover cucumber or tomato salad -- simply stated: neither is better the next day.

Make one of each & enjoy a side-dish-salad feast: 

IMG_2234For the dressing for each salad:

2  tablespoons sour cream

1/2  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence (Note:  Herbes de Provence is an all-purpose mixture of rosemary, marjoram, thyme and savory, which I like to use because it lends itself to the flavor profile of almost anything I decide to serve as a main-course.)

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

1/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

For the cucumbers or tomatoes & onions:

1 generous 1/2 cup of peeled and thinly-sliced, seedless cucumber

1  generous 1/2 cup of small Campari tomatoes wedges

1/4  cup thinly-sliced red onion, cut into half-moon shapes, half-moon shapes cut in half

IMG_2240 IMG_2240 IMG_2240 IMG_2240 IMG_2240~Step 1.  To make the dressing for each salad, in each of two small bowls, place and thoroughly stir together the sour cream, herbes de Provence, dehydrated garlic, dehydrated onion, pepper and salt.  Using a small rubber spatula, add and fold the onions into each bowl.  Allow this mixture to sit about 5 minutes for the  dehydrated onion and garlic to soften and the flavors to marry.  Add the sliced cucumbers to one bowl and the tomato wedges to the other bowl.  Very gently, fold the cucumbers and tomatoes into the dressing in each bowl.

Serve immediately or refrigerate 1-2 hours until serving time:

IMG_2257Herb-Sour-Cream Cucumber or Tomato Salad Cups:  Recipe yields 3/4-1 cup cucumber or tomato salad/1 serving each.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable peeler; cutting board; chef's knife; serrated tomato knife; spoon, small rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b026bded704b0200cCook's Note: I'm a lover of potato salad, but, when a hankering for it hits, I don't want to waste a lot of time getting from point A to point B. I want potato salad ASAP. For that reason, this is my "go to" recipe -- it's nothing fancy, but, it's done within the hour (and in potato salad time, that's quick).  There's more. While the potatoes are in the microwave, I often chop some additions (celery, onion and/or hard-cooked egg), and mix them in, but, I'm here to tell you, this quick-fix potato salad, pure and simple, tastes great just as it is. Try my ~ My Dijonnaisse-Dressed Baked Russet Potato Salad ~.

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

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

07/03/2021

~The Cool History behind the Composed Cobb Salad~

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28e7ab9970cThe Cobb salad, affectionately called the California Cobb, was invented in 1937 at Hollywood's Brown Derby Restaurant by the owner, Robert Cobb.  As the story goes, it's said to have been composed for some hungry late night diners.  Mr. Cobb carefully chose from a variety of uniformly sliced and diced ingredients from the day's fare, arranging them in unusually neat lines atop a bed of lettuce as he plated.  Another tale (of woe) says that Mr. Cobb threw the salad together to satisfy the appetite of a loyal customer to came into the restaurant complaining of a toothache, so, Cobb kindly sliced the ingredients finely, so they wouldn't need to be chewed.  Shortly thereafter, his work-of-art salad became a famous menu item, remaining very much the same to this day.

The ingredients for a classic Cobb salad are very specific.  

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28e2953970cSaid to have been inspired by the chef's salad, a Cobb salad is a "composed salad", meaning, they're pretty-to-look-at, arranged-on-a-plate, high-quality, meals unto themselves -- a perfectly-balanced mixture of color, flavor and texture. That said, while the Cobb and chef salad are both composed, they are distinctly different  In the case of the chef's salad, at the discretion of the chef, a combination of impeccably-fresh vegetables and perfectly-cooked protein(s) get carefully-selected and meticulously sliced, diced, minced, julienned or chiffonade -- it's a cooking lesson.  

In the case of the Cobb salad, the ingredients are quite specific.  It starts with a lettuce mixture, typically, iceberg, romaine and a few bitter greens too, which dramatically afters the flavor profile of the salad, making it much more interesting.  While poached or roasted chicken breast is classic, ham is sometimes substituted, and crisply-fried bacon always makes an appearance. Other must-haves are: hard-cooked egg, avocado, tomato, and, blue or roquefort cheese.  Buttery croutons add the crunch and a red-wine vinaigrette (no creamy dressing) pulls it all together.

For a fun twist, try my Open-Faced Sandwich-Style Cobb salad:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28e3f4b970cCheck out The Cool History behind the Composed Chef Salad:

IMG_2218"We are all in the food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyrigh 20201)

06/30/2021

~ The Cool History behind the Composed Chef Salad ~

IMG_2221A restaurant that serves a great chef's salad for lunch is a restaurant I will frequent.  Like Seinfeld's Elaine, I like a big salad, and I don't mean a big bowl of lettuce.  I mean a lot of perfectly-cooked good stuff in it, right down to more-than-a-few crunchy, buttery-rich croutons on top.  The chef's salad is exactly that salad -- it's not served before the meal or after the meal, it is the meal.  The chef salad is a "composed salad", meaning, it is a pretty-to-look-at, arranged-on-a-plate, high-quality, salad -- a perfectly-balanced mixture of color, flavor and texture.  At the discretion of the chef, one or a combination of impeccably-fresh and perfectly-cooked proteinss (via poaching, simmering, boiling, marinating, roasting, broiling, baking, grilling, etc.) get carefully-selected and meticulously sliced, diced or minced, pulled, julienned or chiffonade.

The chef salad = an artfully composed salad full of carefully-selected, impeccably-fresh, high-quality ingredients.  

IMG_2218Historically, the chef salad was the precursor to a 17th Century protein-packed meal called salmagundi.  It consisted of cooked meat, poultry or fish, various cheeses, fresh, blanched or marinated vegetables, cooked eggs and/or toasted nuts or seeds, served on a bed of greens with a vinaigrette.  Although historians are unclear as to the recipe origin of the salad, they generally agree that is was popularized when Chef Louis Diat of The Ritz-Carlton hotel in New York City put his protein-packed version of it on the menu in the 1940's, which included julienne strips of turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, wedges of hard-cooked egg and a creamy salad dressing.

Try my version of my favorite smoked-turkey chef's salad:

IMG_2220Or, try my Buffalo-chicken chef w/RedHot Ranch & Croutons:

6a0120a8551282970b02788035b72e200dAnd it's always the right time to enjoy a classic hoagie chef:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09dd9d66970d-800wiCheck out The Cool History behind the Composed Cobb Salad:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28e7ab9970c"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

06/27/2021

~ Pack a Picnic-Basket w/Boxed Turkey Chef Salads ~

IMG_2070I might not be an outdoor kinda gal, but, I do enjoy an occasional picnic, if it's a Hallmark Card kinda day.  That said, if I'm the one in charge of the food, I'm not one to traipse around the great outdoors carrying a basket full of food containers that are gonna cause me a whole lot of cleanup when I get back home.  When I pack a picnic, boxed lunches are my way of enjoying the day and the return trip.  There's more.  It's doesn't matter what I'm making and taking, everyone gets a bit of everything portioned into one container just for them -- boxed up, beautiful, and ready-to-eat.

I 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.

The chef salad = an artfully composed salad full of carefully-selected, impeccably-fresh, high-quality ingredients.

IMG_2073A restaurant that serves a great chef's salad for lunch is a restaurant I will frequent.  Like Seinfeld's Elaine, I like a big salad, light on the lettuce with a lot of perfectly-cooked good stuff in it, right down to more-than-a-few crunchy, buttery-rich croutons on top.  The chef's salad is a "composed salad", meaning, it is a pretty-to-look-at, arranged-on-a-plate, high-quality, meal unto itself -- a perfectly-balanced mixture of color, flavor and texture.  At the discretion of the chef, a combination of impeccably-fresh and perfectly-cooked ingredients (via poaching, simmering, boiling, marinating, roasting, broiling, baking, grilling, etc.) get carefully-selected and meticulously sliced, diced or minced, pulled, julienned or chiffonade.  Historically, the chef salad was the precursor to a 17th Century protein-packed meal called salmagundi.  It consisted of cooked meat, poultry or fish, various cheeses, fresh, blanched or marinated vegetables, cooked eggs and/or toasted nuts or seeds, served on a bed of greens with a vinaigrette.  Chef Louis Diat of The Ritz is credited for popularizing it in the 1940's.

The chef salad = a cold, refreshing meal unto itself.  Chef salads are perfect for boxing up to serve out of a picnic basket!

IMG_2184For each salad

2-3  ounces your favorite creamy salad dressing (Note:  I like to use Chick-Fil-A sauce, as it has a smoky flavor which pairs well with smoked turkey breast.

5  ounces torn iceberg lettuce leaves

1  ounce Spring mix greens

3  ounces peeled and thin-sliced  seedless cucumber, (about 16 slices)

2  small Campari tomatoes, each cut into 4 wedges (a total of 8 wedges)

1  extra-large egg, hard-cooked, peeled and sliced into 6 wedges

1 1/2-2   ounces very-thin-sliced red onion

4-5  ounces julienne of smoked turkey breast per salad -- scattered atop the red onion (Note:  I use Boar's Head PitCraft Slow-Smoked Turkey Breast.  It's smoked with real mesquite wood chips to give it a real pit-smoked flavor and seasoned with an authentic dry rub that consists of paprika, brown sugar and Mexican chilies, including Guajillo Peppers.)

2-3  ounces julienne of American cheese

12-16   croutons, store-bought or homemade (Note:  I like to use butter-and-garlic flavored croutons.)

IMG_2190 IMG_2190 IMG_2190~Step 1.  To assemble each chef's salad, in a main-dish sized food storage container (with a tight-fitting lid), in the following order, place a sealed condiment-cup containing 2 1/2-3 ounces creamy salad dressing. Place the torn iceberg lettuce and Spring mix in the container and briefly toss the two together. Arrange the cucumber slices around the entire perimeter of the container.  Slice the tomatoes into 4 wedges each and arrange them, spacing them, around the perimeter, then, slice the hard-cooked egg into 6 wedges and arrange the egg wedges in between the tomatoes. 

IMG_2204 IMG_2204 IMG_2204 IMG_2204~Step 2.  Slice the red onion as directed and scatter it atop the lettuce mixture.  Julienne the smoked turkey breast, scattering it atop the onion, then, julienne the American cheese and scatter it atop the smoked turkey.  Close the box and refrigerate for 2-4-6-8 hours.  Open the container and scatter  the croutons evenly over all.  Serve immediately.

Crispy, crunchy, cold & creamy main-dish salad perfection:

IMG_2086Pack a Picnic-Basket w/Boxed Turkey Chef Salads:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many hearty, boxed lunch, main-dish salads as you want to.

Special Equipment List: main-dish size food storage containers w/tight-fitting lids, 3-ounce size condiment cups w/tight-fitting lids; cutting board; chef's knife, vegetable peeler; serrated tomato knife;

6a0120a8551282970b026bde9d871b200cCook's Note: In 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.  Try my "girly pub grub" version of ~ Buffalo-Chicken Chef w/RedHot Ranch & Croutons ~.

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

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

06/24/2021

~The Sizzling History behind Fajitas (Tacos al Carbon)~

IMG_2053Fajitas were originally named tacos-al-carbon and were served as portable food, ready-to-eat-with-the-hands, by wrapping strips of unpretentious skirt steak that had been cooked over a campfire or on a grill, in a warm corn or flour tortilla, meaning they were served taco-style.  "Faja" is the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", and, with "ita" added to the end, it means "a little strip, band, sash or belt", meaning the ingredients for fajitas are always cut into strips.

The dish dates back to cattle ranching life along the Rio Grande Valley regions of the Texas-Mexico border in the 1930's.  Throwaway items (heads, entrails and meat trimmings) were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay, resulting in some of the first Tex-Mex border dishes: barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak).  Because of the limited number of skirts per animal, the meat wasn't available for sale, so, for years it remained obsure to all except the vaqueros, butchers and their families.

Fahitas transition from tortillas to sizzling plates in 1969: 

6a0120a8551282970b02788030868b200dFajitas made their first commercial debut in September 1969 when Sonny Falcon, an Austin meat market manager opened a taco concession in rural Kyle.  The same year, Otilia Garza began selling them in her Round-Up Restaurant in Pharr, only she presented hers on a sizzling platter with warm flour tortillas, condiments and cheese to the side -- so everyone could make their own.  In 1973, Nifa Rodrigues Laurenzo opened Nifa's in Houston and sold his prewrapped "tacos al carbon" called "tacos al la Nifa". 

Thanks to folks like Sonny, Otilia and Nifa, fajitas did gain in popularity, slowly spreading via rodeos, fairs and festivals into the surrounding Southwestern states of Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, but, national attention didn't come to the fajita until 1982.  George Weidmann, a very creative chef at the fancy-schmancy Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin, recognized the potential for putting a home-grown Tex-Mex dish on his menu.  He, like Otilia, put panache into his presentation, by serving them on sizzling, attention-grabbing cast-iron skillets.  Thanks to George, this now trendy dish was put on Hyatt Regency menus almost everywhere, and, that is when and how I caught fajita-fever (in their Century Plaza restaurant in Los Angeles).  Before long, to please the palates of the clientele, thin strips of boneless chicken were offered as an option to beef.

Try my recipe for One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken Fajita Filling:

IMG_1936Try my Wrapped and Rolled Cheesy Chicken-Fajita Burritos:

IMG_2148Try my Nacho Mama's Sheet-Pan Chicken-Fajitas Nachos too:

IMG_2020 2Or, my Cheesy Chicken-Fajitas Quesadillas:

IMG_3150Or, perhaps, my Skinny Chicken-Fajita Corn-Tortilla Tacos:

6a0120a8551282970b026bded89db9200cAll that said, try all of the above substituting my Broiled-Flank-Steak Fajita Filling for my One-Skillet Chicken-Fajita filling:

6a0120a8551282970b027880393a15200d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

06/20/2021

~Wrapped and Rolled Cheesy Chicken-Fajita Burritos~

IMG_2148A fajita-burrito has its origins in Mexico and features the best of two South-of-the border worlds -- all those luscious strips of well-seasoned grilled or sautéd chicken or steak, bell peppers and onions that go into fajitas, wrapped-and-rolled, burrito-style, in a large, warm flour tortilla that's been slathered with refried beans and scattered with a layer of Spanish-style rice and shredded cheese.  The outcome is indeed the best of two worlds and, there's no need for embellishments either.  Hold the guacamole, sour cream and/or salsa.  Pick 'em up 'cause they're ready-to-eat.

No need for embellishments.  Pick 'em up -- they're ready to eat:

IMG_2161The "burrito", or: "the food from the little donkey"!

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4463726200cA bit about burritos:  A burrito is a portable sandwich found in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.  It consists of a large flour tortilla that has been wrapped or folded to fully encase a filling. Before serving, it gets lightly-grilled or steamed, to soften the tortilla.  Refried beans, Mexican rice and meat (or a meat mixture) are typically the only fillings used, and, burritos are served unembellished, in order for them to be eaten with the hands.   In Spanish, "burrito" means "little donkey", coming from the word "burro", which means "donkey".  

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

The "fajita", or: "faja" & "ita", meaning "little strips"!

6a0120a8551282970b026bdedb2eca200cA bit about fajitas:  Originally named tacos-al-carbon, fajitas were served as portable food, ready-to-eat-with-the-hands, by wrapping strips of unpretentious skirt steak that had been cooked over a campfire or on a grill, in a warm corn or flour tortilla, meaning they were served taco-style.  "Faja" is the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", and, with "ita" added to the end, it means "a little strip, band, sash or belt", meaning the ingredients for fajitas are always cut into strips.

The dish dates back to cattle ranching life along the Rio Grande Valley regions of the Texas-Mexico border in the 1930's.  Throwaway items (heads, entrails and meat trimmings) were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay, resulting in some of the first Tex-Mex border dishes: barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak).  Because of the limited number of skirts per animal, the meat wasn't available for sale, so, for years it remained obsure to all except the vaqueros, butchers and their families.

Burritos + fajitas = a crowd-pleasing Tex-Mex family-favorte!

IMG_2087For each burrito:

1, 9 1/2" round burrito-size flour tortilla

1/2  cup refried beans or refried bean dip

3/4  cup prepared fajita-seasoned rice, or, Mexican-style adobo rice, my recipe or your favorite boxed Spanish-style rice mix

1/2-3/4 cup prepared chicken fajita filling, my recipe or your favorite recipe

1/4  cup shredded white cheddar cheese

IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2103 IMG_2115 2 IMG_2115 2 IMG_2115 2~Step 1.  To assemble each fajita burrito, place one tortilla on a flat work surface.  Using a butter knife, spread the beans or bean dip to within 1/2" of the perimeter of the tortilla.  Scatter the Mexican rice atop the beans, and, using fingertips, gently pat rice into beans (this will keep the rice in place when wrapping and rolling the burritos).  Carefully spoon and mound the chicken-fajita filling (atop the rice) in a long strip across the center.  Place the cheese atop and along the strip of chicken-fajita filling.

IMG_2122 2 IMG_2122 2 IMG_2122 2 IMG_2122 2 IMG_2135 2~Step 2.  To wrap, roll and heat burritos, lift the side of the tortilla closest to you up and over the fajita filling -- far enough so it wraps all the way around the filling.  Pick up left and right sides of tortilla and fold them atop the filling.  Roll the tortilla over, seam side down, to fully encase and secure the filling in a tight roll.   Transfer each burrito to a plate, or, place all of the burritos on a platter.  Cover with plastic wrap.  Reheat in microwave 1-1 1/2 minutes.

When ready to eat, heat one or all of them.  Serve for lunch, dinner or a very special late night snack attack:

IMG_2156That's a Wrap, try my ~Cheesy Flank-Steak Fajita Burritos ~ too:

IMG_2503Wrapped & Rolled Cheesy Chicken-Fajita Burritos:  Recipe yields enough ingredients to make 12 large burritos

Special Equipment List:  butter knife, hand-held box grater, slotted spoon, plastic wrap 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a46f8c09200dCook's Note: Inform the family chili is simmering on the stovetop -- you won't have to call them twice to dinner.  Tell the family you're making chili-cheese burritos for dinner -- you won't have to call them at all.  They'll be sitting around the table waiting. Once assembled, if individually wrapped in plastic or foil, they're great to take to school or the office. They reheat perfectly in the microwave or in the oven, and for tailgate, I reheat the foil-wrapped packets on hot grill grids.  The chili-cheese burrito is how one gets to eat chili in a sandwich.  Try my recipe ~ That's a Wrap:  Big Beautiful Chili Cheese Burritos ~.

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

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

06/16/2021

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

IMG_2025Spicy fajitas and cheesy nachos.  Together.  Carefully layered on top of each other on a sheet pan.  Yes, a sheet pan.  Why?  Because nachos require a perfect ratio of cheese-to-toppings on each chip and the sheet pan provides the surface area needed to accomplish that.  Nothing is sadder than picking up a cheesy nacho to find no goodies on top of it, or worse, picking up a nacho chip overloaded with goodies to the point they all slide off onto the plate or your lap. 

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

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4907b77200bThat's easy.  That's what I said, until I watched Alton Brown (on The Food Network) make nachos, and, from him I learned how to build better nachos. First, he used a sheet pan to increase the surface area so the tortilla chips can sprawl out (no more crowding them in a 13" x 9" casserole for me).  Second, he took ample time to top them, almost one chip at a time, to make sure that every chip had the perfect ratio of cheese to toppings.  Once you do it his way once, there's no going back.

Building better nachos, one tortilla chip at a time.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a46bde46200dIn my kitchen, nachos aren't always a snack.  Sometimes they're a meal. When I serve 'em as a snack, I make them on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheet pan that's been covered with foil and a sheet of parchment -- so cleanup is a snap.  When I serve 'em as a meal, I make 'em the same way, but, layer them in my oven-safe ceramic skillets -- a bit of cleanup, but a great presentation. One sheet pan feeds 6-8 people snacks. The same ingredients feed four as a main-dish in four 6 1/2"-7" skillets.

Make your dinner & a movie night special w/fajitas nachos:

IMG_195430  5"-round fresh corn tortillas (about 1 pound, 4 ounces), deep-fried as directed below, or, 1, 16-ounce bag store-bought restaurant-style corn tortilla chips

1  pound (16  ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 6 cups)

2  9-ounce cans refried bean dip

3-3 1/2  cups my recipe for One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken Fajita Filling, warmed slightly in the microwave (Note:  All fajita filling is not created equal. My recipe is full of lightly-pounded chicken paillards, bell peppers,  onion, and, seasoned with my own fajita seasoning blend.)

1  cup spicy avocado crema, a 2-3 minute task to process mixture of 1 cup mashed, ripe Hass avocado (store-bought Wholly Guacamole may be substituted) with 6 tablespoons Mexican crema or sour cream, and, 1-2 tablespoons Sriracha sauce

1  cup Mexican crema or sour cream

6a0120a8551282970b0240a442d4f2200c 6a0120a8551282970b0240a4909106200b 6a0120a8551282970b0240a46bf15a200d 6a0120a8551282970b0240a46bf160200d~Step 1. To deep-fry fresh tortillas, divide tortillas into two stacks and cut each stack into six wedges.  Heat corn or peanut oil in deep-fryer, according to the manufacturer's specifications, to 375º.  When the deep fryer is ready:  Fry 2 stacks (two sixths) of the tortilla triangles for 40-45 seconds.  Chips will be lightly-browned and puffed in spots. Transfer to a large baking pan that's been lined with 3-4 layers of paper towels. Using a spatula, quickly and randomly separate the chips into a single layer and lightly salt their tops ASAP.  Repeat process 5 more times.

IMG_1958 IMG_1958 IMG_1958 IMG_1958 IMG_1972~Step 2.  To assemble the nachos, line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with aluminum foil, then, place a piece of parchment paper in the bottom. Arrange chips across the bottom of pan, in a semi-single layer, allowing them to overlap and double-up occasionally.  Scatter about two-thirds (4 cups) of the shredded Monterey Jack cheese over the surface of the tortilla chips.  By teaspoonfuls, drop blotches of refried bean dip over the Jack cheese.  Scatter the chicken fajita mixture over the entire surface, followed by the remaining shredded cheese.

IMG_1978 IMG_1978 IMG_1978~Step 3.  To bake and garnish the nachos, place on center rack of 350º oven and bake until Jack cheese is melted and shows bubbly signs of light-browning, 6-7 minutes. Remove from oven.  Without hesitation decoratively drizzle with the avocado crema and Mexican crema or sour cream.  Serve ASAP.

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

IMG_2020

A perfect ratio of chips & cheese-to-toppings?  You judge!

IMG_2026Nacho Mama's Sheet-Pan Chicken-Fajitas Nachos:  Recipe yields 6-8 snack-size servings/4 main-dish servings.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a47f922d200cCook's Note: Nowadays, the tortilla chip, just like the pizza crust, can be used as a foil for all sorts of creative takes on traditional Tex-Mex-style nachos. Anything that can be adapted to make a pizza can be transitioned to nachos: Philly cheesesteak nachos, Cincinnati chili nachos, Carolina pulled-pork nachos, Jamaican jerk nachos, etc. Simply pick one innocuous cheese with great melting qualities (Monterey Jack is my choice), then, season the protein accordingly and pick the toppings, meaning, stick to the flavor profile.  No one is surprised by fusion-food nachos -- they just can't wait to try 'em: ~ Nacho Mama's Buffalo Chicken Sheet-Pan Nachos ~

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

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

06/13/2021

~Kids-Stuff One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken-Fajita Filling~

IMG_1936Tacos and fajitas.  Akin to Cheeseburgers and pizza, I can't much conjure up four more kid-friendly meals.  That said, if you're a mom or dad attempting to get your kids to eat more vegetables, it goes without saying, fajitas are an argument-free way way to get the job done. If you're a mom or dad trying to cut some fat out of your life, chicken fajitas will accomplish that too. There's more.  If you've got a big family to feed or the need to feed a crowd, simply do the math and double the quantities.  In about the same amount of time, voila: the hungry mob is fed.  

Savory, succulent, in one skillet & ready to eat in 30-40 minutes:

IMG_1797For the chicken & seasonings:

6  large (about 2 1/2-3 pounds) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, lightly-pounded into paillards

2-3  tablespoons vegetable oil

3  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or, a favorite store-bought seasoning mix, about 3 tablespoons (1, 1-ounce envelope store-bought)

a sprinkling of ground cumin

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt 

For the vegetables & seasonings:

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

1  1/2  cups each, julienne of:  green, red, orange and yellow bell pepper

3  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or a favorite store-bought seasoning mix (1, 1-ounce envelope store-bought)

a sprinkling of ground cumin 

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt

IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1822~Step 1.  To season and cook chicken on first side, heat the oil in a 16" electric skillet over low heat.  Add the chicken paillards to the skillet. Liberally season the top side with half of the fajita seasoning (1 1/2 tablespoons), followed by a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin, followed by a very-light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt.  Increase skillet temperature to 225°.  Sauté the chicken until nicely-golden on the bottom, about 6-7 minutes.

IMG_1824 IMG_1824 IMG_1824 IMG_1824 IMG_1842~Step 2.  Using a fork or a spatula, flip the chicken over.  To season and cook the chicken on the second side, repeat the seasoning process on the second side, and, sauté until golden on the bottom, another 6-7 minutes. Flip the chicken over one more time and cook for 1 additional minute. Turn the heat off.  Remove the chicken from the skillet (leaving all of the flavorful pan drippings in the bottom.  Slice the chicken into very thin strips and set aside.

IMG_1844 IMG_1844 IMG_1844 IMG_1844 IMG_1857 IMG_1857 IMG_1857~Step 3.  Add all of the onions and bell peppers to the chicken drippings in the skillet, spreading them out across the surface of the bottom of pan.  Season the vegetables by sprinkling them with all of the fajita seasoning, a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin, and, a very-light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt. Using two large slotted spoons, give the mixture a thorough stir. Adjust the heat to 225° and sauté the vegetables until crunch-tender, about 3-4 minutes.  Add all of the chicken strips, give the mixture a thorough stir and continue to cook until chicken is just heated through, about 1 minute. Turn the heat off.  Transfer chicken/veggie mixture to a large bowl.  Serve immediately.

Serve immediately w/warm flour tortillas & lime wedges:

IMG_1864Kid-friendly, adult-friendly, crowd-friendly goodness:

IMG_1940Kids-Stuff One-Skillet Tex-Mex Chicken-Fajita Filling:  Recipe yields 6 cups fajita filling/enough to fill 24, 5 1/2"-round flour tortillas.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; flat-sided meat mallet; 16" electric skillet w/lid; fork; large spatula; 2 large slotted spoons

IMG_1913Cook's Note: Fajitas were originally named tacos-al-carbon and were served ready-to-eat-with-the-hands, by wrapping strips of unpretentious skirt steak that had been cooked over a campfire or on a grill, in a warm corn tortilla, meaning they were served taco-style.  "Faja" is the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", and, with "ita" added to the end, it means "a little strip, band, sash or belt", meaning the ingredients for fajitas are always cut into strips.  Try some of my ~ Tex-Mex Skinny Chicken-Fajita Corn-Tortilla Tacos ~ too.

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

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

06/10/2021

~ Tex-Mex Skinny Chicken-Fajita Corn-Tortilla Tacos ~

IMG_1879 2Fajitas were originally named tacos-al-carbon and were served as portable food, ready-to-eat-with-the-hands, by wrapping strips of unpretentious skirt steak that had been cooked over a campfire or on a grill, in a warm corn or flour tortilla, meaning they were served taco-style.  "Faja" is the Spanish word for "strip, band, sash or belt", and, with "ita" added to the end, it means "a little strip, band, sash or belt", meaning the ingredients for fajitas are always cut into strips.

The dish dates back to cattle ranching life along the Rio Grande Valley regions of the Texas-Mexico border in the 1930's.  Throwaway items (heads, entrails and meat trimmings) were given to the Mexican vaqueros (cowboys) as part of their pay, resulting in some of the first Tex-Mex border dishes: barbacoa de cabeza (head barbecue), menudo (tripe stew), and fajitas/arracheras (grilled skirt steak).  Because of the limited number of skirts per animal, the meat wasn't available for sale, so, for years it remained obsure to all except the vaqueros, butchers and their families.

IMG_1873Fahitas transition from taco shells to sizzling plates in 1969: 

6a0120a8551282970b01a73defa9f9970dFajitas made their first commercial debut in September 1969 when Sonny Falcon, an Austin meat market manager opened a taco concession in rural Kyle.  The same year, Otilia Garza began selling them in her Round-Up Restaurant in Pharr, only she presented hers on a sizzling platter with warm flour tortillas, condiments and cheese to the side -- so everyone could make their own.  In 1973, Nifa Rodrigues Laurenzo opened Nifa's in Houston and sold his prewrapped "tacos al carbon" called "tacos al la Nifa". 

Thanks to folks like Sonny, Otilia and Nifa,  fajitas did gain in popularity, slowly spreading via rodeos, fairs and festivals into the surrounding Southwestern states of Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona, but, national attention didn't come to the fajita until 1982.  George Weidmann, a very creative chef at the fancy-schmancy Hyatt Regency Hotel in Austin, recognized the potential for putting a home-grown Tex-Mex dish on his menu.  He, like Otilia, put panache into his presentation, by serving them on sizzling, attention-grabbing cast-iron skillets.  Thanks to George, this now trendy dish was put on Hyatt Regency menus almost everywhere, and, that is when and how I caught fajita-fever (in their Century Plaza restaurant in Los Angeles).  Before long, to please the palates of the clientele, thin strips of boneless chicken were offered as an option to beef.    

IMG_1895 2Fajitas -- easy-to-make Tex-Mex fare that any home cook can make better than any drive-thru or restaurant, anywhere, anytime.

IMG_1797For the chicken & seasonings:

6  large (about 2 1/2-3 pounds) boneless, skinless chicken thighs, lightly-pounded into paillards

2-3  tablespoons vegetable oil

3  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or, a favorite store-bought seasoning mix, about 3 tablespoons (1, 1-ounce envelope store-bought)

a sprinkling of ground cumin

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt 

For the vegetable medley & seasonings:

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

1  1/2  cups each, julienne of:  green, red, orange and yellow bell pepper

3  tablespoons fajita seasoning, my blend, your blend, or a favorite store-bought seasoning mix (1, 1-ounce envelope store-bought)

a sprinkling of ground cumin 

a very-light sprinkling of ground jalapeño pepper

a very-light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt

IMG_1867For the assembly:

24  5 1/2"-round fresh corn tortillas, formed into taco shells & lightly deep-fried in corn or peanut oil for 28 seconds each

all of the cooked & seasoned meat/vegetable mixture, prepared as directed below

avocado crema (a mixture of puréed avocado, Mexican crema & Sriracha sauce), for garnish

IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1815 IMG_1815~Step 1.  To season and cook chicken on first side, heat the oil in a 16" electric skillet over low heat.  Add the chicken paillards to the skillet. Liberally season the top side with half of the fajita seasoning (1 1/2 tablespoons), followed by a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin, followed by a very-light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt.  Increase skillet temperature to 225°.  Sauté the chicken until nicely-golden on the bottom, about 6-7 minutes.  

IMG_1824 IMG_1824 IMG_1824 IMG_1842 IMG_1842~Step 2.  Using a fork or a spatula, flip the chicken over.  To season and cook the chicken on the second side, repeat the seasoning process on the second side, and, sauté until golden on the bottom, another 6-7 minutes. Flip the chicken over one more time and cook for 1 additional minute. Turn the heat off.  Remove the chicken from the skillet (leaving all of the flavorful pan drippings in the bottom.  Slice the chicken into very thin strips and set aside.

IMG_1842 IMG_1844 IMG_1845 IMG_1845 IMG_1845 IMG_1857 IMG_1857 IMG_1857~Step 3.  Add all of the onions and bell peppers to the chicken drippings in the skillet, spreading them out across the surface of the bottom of pan.  Season the vegetables by sprinkling them with all of the fajita seasoning, a moderate sprinkling of ground cumin, and, a very-light sprinkling of jalapeño pepper and sea salt.  Using two large slotted spoons, give the mixture a thorough stir. Adjust the heat to 225° and sauté the vegetables until crunch-tender, about 3-4 minutes.  Add all of the chicken strips, give the mixture a thorough stir and continue to cook until chicken is just heated through, about 1 minute.  Turn heat off.  Transfer chicken/veggie mixture to a large bowl.

IMG_1913~ Step 4.  Using a large slotted spoon, portion the hot chicken-vegetable mixture into up to 24, 6" taco shells.  That said, do not fill any more taco shells than your expecting your family or friends to eat at one sitting.  Drizzle some avocado crema atop each filled taco and serve immediately.  Store leftover chicken-vegetable filling in the refrigerator (I do not recommend freezing) for up to 2-3 days and reheat gently in the microwave.

Of course you want a drizzle of avocado crema on these fajitas:

IMG_1896Tex-Mex Skinny Chicken-Fajita Corn-Tortilla Tacos:  Recipe yields 24 5 1/2"-round chicken-fajita tacos.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; flat-sided meat mallet; 16" electric skillet w/lid; fork; large spatula; 2 large slotted spoons

6a0120a8551282970b01bb092a1480970dCook's Note: Elote (ay-loht) is the Spanish word for "corn", and in Mexico, it typically references a very special street-snack food:  grilled corn-on-the cob slathered in a crema and chili-powder and lime-laced sauce, then sprinkled with crumbled cotija cheese.  Street vendors typically pull back the husk but leave it attached, remove all of the silk, return the husk to its original position, secure it at the open end with twine and place it over hot coals. In home kitchens, it's common to remove the husks and simply place the cobs on a the grill to char.  For the perfect side to your fajitas, try my recipe for ~ Classic Grilled Mexican Sweet Street Corn (Elotes) ~.

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

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

06/07/2021

~Caramelized Onion, Gruyère & Dijonnaise Omelette~

IMG_1787As a bigger fan of fluffy American-style omelettes vs skinny French omelettes, and, as an advocate for savory breakfasts over cloyingly-sweet breakfasts, this egg-cellent caramelized onion-stuffed cheese omelette is one of my favorite ways to break the fast -- it tastes every bit as good as it looks  There's more.  It pairs perfectly with a bloody Mary for breakfast (no orange or grapefruit juice with this omelette please), a glass of wine for lunch, or, a pilsner of beer for dinner.

IMG_1630 2Caramelized onions seem to slip through the cracks when many of us are pondering breakfast. Trust me when I tell you, eggs love caramelized onions.  While I adore them in an omelette, they're excellent mixed into a frittata, layered into a quiche, or, folded into scrambled eggs too. it does take a bit of time and patience (not energy) to properly caramelize  onions, about 40 minutes, but, on average, that's how long it takes onions to properly caramelize on the stovetop.

Put the coffee on, roll up your sleeves & break an egg.

IMG_1724For each omelette:

3  large eggs, preferably at room temperature

1/4  cup cream or half-and-half

2  tablespoons Dijonaisse, (Note: My recipe for Dijonaisse is a mixture of mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, dehydrated minced garlic, dehydrated minced onion, and, coarse-grind black pepper.

1/2  cup shredded gruyère cheese

1/2  cup caramelized onions

2  teaspoons salted butter

For the optional accompaniment:

1  medium handful mixed Spring greens

6-8  cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters or sliced into coins

IMG_1731 IMG_1731~Step 1. Crack the large eggs into a 1-cup measuring container and add enough cream or half-and-half to total 3/4 cups total liquid (about 4 tablespoons).  Add the Dijonnaise.  Use a fork to whisk vigorously, until thoroughly combined.

IMG_1735 IMG_1735 IMG_1735 IMG_1743 IMG_1743~Step 2.  In an 8" nonstick skillet, melt butter over low heat.  When butter has melted, use the fork to briefly rewhisk egg mixture, then pour it into the warmed skillet. By patiently manually lifting, lowering, and tilting the pan on and off the heat, allow eggs to set up a bit around the sides of the skillet -- about 45 seconds over low heat w/no pressure to rush.

IMG_1751 IMG_1751 IMG_1751~Step 3.  Increase heat to medium.  In various spots around the entire perimeter of the skillet, slip a thin spatula under the setting eggs.  In each of those spots use the spatula to lift the eggs up, while, at the same time, tilting the pan in the direction of the spatula to allow the remaining liquid to flow down and into the setting eggs -- about 45 seconds over medium heat w/no pressure to rush.  The surface of the omelette should be semi-moist and glistening with no liquid or little liquid puddling on the top

IMG_1760 IMG_1760 IMG_1760 IMG_1760 IMG_1786~Step 4.  Decrease the heat to low.  Scatter the Gruyère cheese, in a half-moon shape, over half of the omelette, then, scatter the caramelized onions atop the cheese.  Give cheese about 45 seconds to soften over low heat with no pressure to rush.  Using a large spatula, lift the empty side of the omelette up and over the cheesy side of the omelette.  Allow the omelette to rest in the pan about 45 seconds.  With the aid of a wide spatula, gently slide omelette from skillet to plate and serve immediately with the Spring mix and tomatoes.  

Transfer to plate & serve w/Spring mix & tomatoes:

IMG_1774Caramelized Onion, Gruyère & Dijonnaise Omelette:  Recipe yields instructions to make one hearty omelette/1-2 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; fork; hand-held box grater; 8" nonstick skillet; large thin spatula; large wide spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a48937be200dCook's Note: I declare:  I love briny tapenade in an omelete as much as I like caramelized onions in an omelette.  Throw in a few salty crumbles of feta cheese, place it on a bed of bright green baby arugula or baby spinach leaves and garnish with a few diced tomatoes.  Toast goes nicely, but there's no need for bacon or sausage with this any-time-of-the-day meal.  Life in the 'burbs with this omelet in it is very, very good.  ~ Mediterranean-Style Olive Tapenade & Feta Omelette ~.

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

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

06/04/2021

~ My Dijonaisse-Dressed Baked Russet Potato Salad ~

IMG_1689I'm a lover of potato salad, and, when a hankering for it hits, I don't want to waste a lot of time getting from point A to point B, meaning, I want potato salad, aka as quickly as possible. For that reason, this is my "go to" recipe --  it's nothing fancy, but, it's done within the hour (and in potato salad time, that's quick).  There's more.  While the potatoes are in the microwave oven baking, I often chop some optional additions (celery, onion and/or hard-cooked egg), and mix them in too, but, I'm here to tell you, this quick-fix potato salad, pure and simple, tastes great just as it is.

Do we need another potato salad recipe in a long line of potato salad recipes?  You betcha.  This one is one more to love:

6a0120a8551282970b0264e2e2ff8f200dThe cook in every family has a favorite potato salad recipe. From my Eastern European heritage family, in my repertoire, Classic Creamy Potato and Egg SaladBaked Russet-Potato Salad, Red Potato Salad w/Horseradish-Mayonnaise, and, Vintage Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier, are amongst my family's favorites. That said, unlike almost all of our grandmothers and grandfathers, we of subsequent generations began moving or traveling to different areas of the US and/or started traveling around the world -- we eat globally and regionally, as well as locally. Our pantries contain spices and ingredients from many cultures, and, because potatoes are a great foil for foodie creativity, it should come as no shock to anyone that potato salad has been fused with flavors from other cuisines.  Example:  My Russet & Sweet Potato Salad w/Chile-Lime Mayo, pairs great with almost any Tex-Mex-style grilled chicken, steak or spareribs.

Got a hankering for potato salad?  Ready, set, go:

IMG_1494For my French-style Dijonnaise:

3/4  cup high-quality mayonnaise, Hellmann's or Duke's

6  tablespoons Grey Poupon Dijon mustard

2  generous teaspoons dehydrated minced garlic

2  generous teaspoons dehydrated minced onion

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_1713For the potatoes & optional add-ins:

4  large or 5 medium Russet potatoes, baked in the microwave and chopped as directed below

4-6 large hard-cooked and chopped eggs (optional)

3/4-1  cup diced celery (optional)

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

IMG_1501 IMG_1501 IMG_1501~ Step 1.  Measure and place all ingredients in a 2-cup-size food-storage container.  Stir to combine. While the potatoes are baking in the microwave (about 15 minutes), refrigerate the Dijonnaise --  just to chill it down a bit.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad384d13e200c 6a0120a8551282970b022ad384d147200c 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ca8044200b~ Step 2.  Rinse the Russet potatoes, and, using the sharp tip of a paring knife, pierce their skin in 4-5 spots. Microwave until potatoes are fork-tender, yet still-firm and slightly undercooked.  In my microwave this takes about 18 minutes.  Remove from microwave.  Slice the Russet into 1/2" - 3/4" discs, then, peel back the skins from the discs.  Slice the discs into 1/2"-3/4 chunks, placing them on a baking pan as you work.  Place the potatoes in the refrigerator for 8-10 minutes to quickly cool the potatoes to below room temperature.  If you want to add any of the optional add-ins, read Step 3.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ca80aa200b 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3aad67c200d 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ca80b1200b 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ca80b6200b 6a0120a8551282970b022ad3aad689200d~Step 3.  The moment the potatoes go into the microwave, now's the time to prep any or all of the optional add-ins. Hard-cook the eggs (either via the blue link to my method or your favorite method) as directed.  Do not overcook the eggs -- everyone detests those greenish-gray halos around overcooked yolks. Peel and dice the eggs into 3/4" bite-sized pieces and set aside.  Dice the celery and onions -- small or medium dice, your choice.  Set aside.

IMG_1716 IMG_1716 IMG_1716~ Step 4.  Place potatoes in a large bowl.  Add the Dijonaisse.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold Dijonaisse into potatoes. Add and fold in any of the optional additions too.  Cover and refrigerate 30-60 minutes.

It's a great cool-down side-dish to Buffalo chicken wings:

IMG_1670And perfect alongside a cheeseburger craving too:

IMG_1647My Dijonaisse-Dressed Baked Russet Potato Salad:  Recipe yields 6-8 cups/6 cups without additions/8 cups with additions/8-10 servings.

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

6a0120a8551282970b02788019d282200dCook's Note: Mom's macaroni salad. This, now retro, 1950's era recipe is nothing fancy, nothing special, and, definitely not gourmet.  It's simply old-fashioned, pull-a-chair-up-to-the-table lip-smacking goodness. There's more, if one keeps this easy--to-make, creamy-crunchy picnic-and-potluck side-dish staple on-hand in their refrigerator, it only takes one scoop from the bowl to a plate to turn anything, from a lunchtime sandwich to a dinnertime pork chop, into a delightful meal. Try ~ Mom's No-Nonsense Elbow Macaroni & Egg Salad ~.

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

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

06/01/2021

~So You'd Like Perfectly Caramelized Onions on That~

IMG_1641Caramelized onions are a marvelous condiment to have on-hand.  They're an awesome topper for a hamburger, steak or cheesesteak, they're wonderful on pizza, and, oh-my-sigh, I love them in a cheese omelette for breakfast. That said, it does take a bit of time and patience (not energy) to properly caramelize  onions, about 40 minutes, but, on average, that's how long it takes onions to properly caramelize on the stovetop, and, after all, one can't serve French onion anything without properly caramelized onions -- quite frankly, they're the star of any French onion show. The words I use to describe the task of caramelizing onions on the stovetop:  a super-easy babysitting job.

6a0120a8551282970b017d3bf9e9ba970c 2Caramelizing onions = a super-easy babysitting job.

6a0120a8551282970b026bded58163200cFor the caramelized onions:

1 pound (after peeling) 1/8"-1/4"-thick-sliced half-moon-shaped sweet onion  

2  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons olive oil

1  teaspoon granulated sugar 

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2-4  tablespoons sweet white wine or sherry, for deglazing pan (water may be substituted)

6a0120a8551282970b0278802d7740200d 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d7740200d 6a0120a8551282970b026bded5823a200c 6a0120a8551282970b026bded5823a200c 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d7772200d 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d7772200d 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d7772200d~Step 1. Peel and slice onions.  Over low heat, in a 12" skillet, melt butter into olive oil.  Add onions to skillet.  Season with sugar and salt.  Using a slotted spoon or spatula, stir until the onions are coated in oil/butter.

6a0120a8551282970b0282e105d4bc200b 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d77b8200d 6a0120a8551282970b026bded58278200c 6a0120a8551282970b0282e105d4c1200b 6a0120a8551282970b0278802d77d2200d 6a0120a8551282970b026bded58289200c 6a0120a8551282970b026bded582a3200c~Step 2.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Continue to slowly cook, stirring occasionally.  After 10 minutes, onions will have lost a lot of volume and will be limp and steamed through.  There won't be any browning just yet. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, another 10 minutes. It's now that you are going to start to see what I refer to as light browning.  Continue to cook, stirring more frequently, another 10 minutes. Now the onions are nicely-browned and truly beginning to caramelize.  Keep going.

6a0120a8551282970b026bded582be200cNote:  From this point on, do not leave the stove.  The onions will require almost constant stirring, and, they can and will go from browned to burned quickly.  My onions cooked for another 5 minutes today, with me stirring constantly, before I added the wine and quickly (30-45 seconds) deglazed the pan, or, for a total of 35 minutes.  Deglazing the pan is an important step that takes caramelized onions from ordinary to extraordinary, so, don't skip it.  Transfer  the caramelized onions to a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.

You'll love 'em on my Pan-Seared French-Onion Burgers

IMG_1594You'll love 'em in my breakfast, lunch or dinner Caramelized Onion, Gruyère & Dijonaisse Omelette too:

IMG_1787Would You Like Caramelized Onions on the Burger?:  Recipe yields 1 cup caramelized onions.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet; large slotted spoon or spatula; paper towels

IMG_1628Cook's Note: As far as mayonnaise-based condiments go, this is the condiment that makes everything taste fancy schmancy in a French kinda way, and, it complements caramelized onions perfectly.  It is sooooo good on sooooo many things.  To name a few: French fries, steamed or grilled vegetables, an ordinary ham or turkey sandwich, and, of course, a mouth-watering cheeseburger.  There's more.  It's great used as a dressing for potato salad.  Make a big batch or a small batch, whatever you need, it's only going to take five minutes.  Try my  ~ Dijonnaise -- Mayonnaise, Dijon Mustard and Spices ~.

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

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

05/29/2021

~Dijonnaise -- Mayonnaise, Dijon Mustard and Spices~

IMG_1628As far as mayonnaise-based condiments go, this is the condiment that makes everything taste fancy schmancy in a French kinda way.  It is sooooo good on sooooo many things.  To name a few: French fries, steamed or grilled vegetables, an ordinary ham or turkey sandwich, and, of course, a mouth-watering cheeseburger.  There's more.  It's great used as a dressing for potato salad.  Make a big batch or a small batch, whatever you need, it's only going to take five minutes.

Make a big batch or a small batch -- whatever you need:

IMG_1494For my French-style Dijonnaise:

6  tablespoons high-quality mayonnaise

3  tablespoons Grey Poupon Dijon mustard

1  generous teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1  generous teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_1501 IMG_1501 IMG_1501~ Step 1.  Measure and place all ingredients in a 1-cup-size food-storage container.  Stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours prior to serving time to allow flavors to marry.  Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Try it on my French Onion Burgers w/Caramelized Onions:

IMG_1594Dijonnaise -- Mayonaise, Dijon Mustard and Spices:  Recipe yields about 3/4 cup.

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

IMG_1239Cook's Note: For me, it's salad season the entire year, however, now that the warm weather has finally arrived, it's real-deal salad season.  I'm talking Summer salads made with a wider variety of higher-quality vegetables from local farmers' markets, and, in the upcoming weeks and months, veggies picked from my own garden.  These are salads I love to serve next to my favorite grilled meats, poultry, and, yes, even seafood...For that reason, I find myself taking the time to scratch-make dressings and vinaigrettes on a regular basis.  For another Dijon-based dressing, try my ~ Sweet & Tangy Honey-Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette ~.

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

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

05/26/2021

~ Pan-Seared French-Onion Burgers with Dijonnaise ~

IMG_1594Easy and decadent?  Yes, decadent.  That's how I describe these cheeseburgers.  Trust me.  All the steps are truly easy -- very, very easy.  That said, it will take a bit of time, not energy, to properly caramelize the onions, about 40 minutes, but, on average, that's how long it takes onions to properly caramelize on the stovetop, and, after all, one can't serve French onion anything without properly caramelized onions -- quite frankly, they're the star of the French onion show. The words I use to describe caramelizing onions on the stovetop:  a super-easy babysitting job.  

IMG_1628As for the contents of envelope of the store-bought French onion soup mix that I (along with many others) fold into the meat mixture, don't leap into the food-snob mindset over the addition this ingredient because, this dry mix really takes the flavor of the burger meat over-the-top, and, the small packet of granulated beef bouillon that I throw in too beefs up the flavor even more.  As for the Gruyère (groo-YAIR) cheese, it's a bit of a splurge price wise, but, as far as cow's milk Swiss cheeses go, this one, with its slightly-nutty flavor, is their premiere melting cheese.  In the case of French onion burgers, I've determined that bigger is better, so, it's 6-ouncers that I make, and, my roll of choice is made of enriched Brioche -- although an onion roll works nicely too.  As for the Dijonnaise, a combination of Dijon mustard, mayonnaise and spices:  it completes this burger-eating experience in true French style.

French onion burgers -- perfect for any Summer get-together:

IMG_1512For the French onion burgers:

1 1/2  pounds 90/10 ground beef

1  envelope French onion soup

1  packet granulated beef bouillon

2  cups shredded Gruyère cheese

3/4  cup Dijonnaise dressing*

1 very large sweet onion*

1 1/2-2  cups baby arugula leaves

4  brioche hamburger buns, toasted or untoasted, your choice

2  tablespoons salted butter + 2  tablespoons olive oil, for pan-searing 'burgers

* Prepare the Dijonnaise, and, slice and caramelize the onion as directed in the recipe below.

IMG_1514 IMG_1514 IMG_1514~ Step 1. In a medium bowl, place the ground beef, along with the contents from the envelope of onion soup mix and the contents from the packet of granulated beef bouillon.  Using your hands, thoroughly incorporate the dry soup mix and the bouillon into the meat.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside for about 1 hour or refrigerate for several hours (or overnight), to give the flavors time to marry.  Using a hand-held box grater, shred the cheese.  Cover and refrigerate cheese until assembly time.

IMG_1494For the Dijonnaise:

6  tablespoons high-quality mayonnaise

3  tablespoons Grey Poupon Dijon mustard

1  generous teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1  generous teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_1501 IMG_1501 IMG_1501~ Step 1.  Measure and place all ingredients in a 1-cup-size food-storage container.  Stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate 1-2 hours prior to serving time to allow flavors to marry.  Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3cf4c1e200bFor the caramelized onions:

1 pound (after peeling) 1/8"-1/4"-thick-sliced half-moon-shaped sweet onion  

2  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons olive oil

1  teaspoon granulated sugar 

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

2-4  tablespoons sweet white wine or sherry, for deglazing pan (water may be substituted)

IMG_7374 IMG_7374 IMG_7374 IMG_7388 IMG_7388 IMG_7388 IMG_7388~Step 1.  Peel and slice onions.  Over low heat, in a 12" skillet, melt butter into olive oil.  Add onions to skillet.  Season with sugar and salt.  Using a slotted spoon or spatula, stir until the onions are coated in oil/butter.  

IMG_7394 2 IMG_7394 2 IMG_7394 2 IMG_7394 2 IMG_7401 IMG_7401 IMG_7401 ~Step 2.  Increase heat to medium-high.  Continue to slowly cook, stirring occasionally.  After 10 minutes, onions will have lost a lot of volume and will be limp and steamed through.  There won't be any browning just yet. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, another 10 minutes. It's now that you are going to start to see what I refer to as light browning.  Continue to cook, stirring more frequently, another 10 minutes. Now the onions are nicely-browned and truly beginning to caramelize.  Keep going.

IMG_7417Note:  From this point on, do not leave the stove.  The onions will require almost constant stirring, and, they can and will go from browned to burned quickly.  My onions cooked for another 5 minutes today, with me stirring constantly, before I added the wine and quickly (30-45 seconds) deglazed the pan, or, for a total of 35 minutes.  Deglazing the pan is an important step that takes caramelized onions from ordinary to extraordinary, so, don't skip it.  Transfer  the caramelized onions to a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.

Ready, set, go -- it's time to make French onion cheeseburgers:

IMG_1528 IMG_1528 IMG_1528~ Step 1.  Divide the meat mixture into four equal parts (6 ounces each). Using your hands and fingertips, form, pat and press each part into a 4 1/2"-round disc about 3/4"-thick.  I use a kitchen scale to be sure all four weigh the same.  Common sense says:  Equal weight + even size and thickness = even cooking.

IMG_1540 IMG_1540 IMG_1540 IMG_1548 IMG_1548 IMG_1548 IMG_1548~Step 2.  In the same 12" skillet used to caramelize the onions, melt the 2 tablespoons salted butter into the olive oil over low heat.  Place the burger patties in the skillet.  Increase heat to medium- medium-high and sauté until lightly-golden brown on both sides, about 5 minutes per side, turning only once.

IMG_1572 IMG_1572~ Step 2.  Turn heat under burgers to low. Heap 1/2 cup shredded Gruyère atop each patty and place a lid on the skillet.  Wait a few seconds, 30-45-60, until cheese melts.  Remove burgers from skillet and assemble as directed in next step.

IMG_1562 IMG_1562 IMG_1562 IMG_1578 IMG_1578~Step 3.  Slather a toasted or untoasted Brioche roll (I highly recommend lightly-toasting the roll) on bottom half with some of the Dijonnaise.  Place a handful of baby arugula leaves atop the tangy dressing.  Place a cheeseburger atop the arugula, followed by a generous mound of caramelized onions.  Put the top on and serve immediately.

Take a bite, a big bite -- you won't stop 'till it's gone.  You won't.

IMG_1609Pan-Seared French-Onion Burgers with Dijonnaise:  Recipe yields 4 large cheeseburgers.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup food-storage container w/tight-fitting lid; spoon; plastic wrap; hand-held box grater; plastic wrap; cutting board; chef's knife; 12" nonstick skillet w/lid; large slotted spoon or spatula; paper towels; kitchen scale (optional)

IMG_1490Cook's Note: Rain or shine, Winter or Summer -- I make these potato nuggets often (although, sometimes, I cut them into French fries instead of bite-sized nuggets), and, experience has taught two things:  I can never make enough, and, no one cares that an envelope of store-bought onion soup mix is used. You gotta try these ~ Oven-Roasted French-Onion Gold-Potato Nuggets ~.  Amongst other things, they're the perfect side-dish to today's French onion burgers.

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

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

05/23/2021

~ Oven-Roasted French-Onion Gold Potato Nuggets ~

IMG_1477When raindrops require moving your outdoor-cooked get-together into the dry, warm comfort of the great indoors, a toaster oven or two, in addition to your full-size oven or two, can be your best friend.  When this scenario played out for me this weekend, in a properly-timed manner, I simply put four ribeye steaks under the broiler in one of my two ovens, put my marinated chicken quarters in the other one to roast, and, transitioned my baked potatoes into something fanciful: French-onion toaster-oven-roasted gold potato nuggets (affectionately named such by my kids back in the 80's).  Rain or shine, Winter or Summer -- I make these often (sometimes I cut them into French fries instead of bite-sized nuggets), and, experience has taught two things:  I can never make enough, and, no one cares that an envelope of store-bought onion soup mix is used. 

IMG_1490Gold potatoes + onion soup mix + olive oil = gold nuggets: 

IMG_14511 1/4-1 1/2  pounds peeled and 3/4" bite-size diced gold potatoes

3  ounces yellow or sweet onion, very-thinly-sliced into half-moon shapes (about 3/4 cup)

1  1-ounce envelope from 1, 2-ounce box dry onion soup mix

2  tablespoons olive oil

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_1454 IMG_1454 IMG_1454 IMG_1454~Step 1.  Peel the potatoes, slice each into 4 wedges and cut the wedges into 3-5 bite-sized pieces, placing them in a 1-gallon food storage bag as you work.  Slice the onions as directed and place them in the bag with the potatoes along with the contents from the envelope of onion soup mix.  Seal bag and toss to thoroughly incorporate the dry mix with the vegetables.  Open the bag, add the olive oil, seal the bag and toss again, until everything is lightly-coated in olive oil.

IMG_1463 IMG_1463 IMG_1463 IMG_1463~Step 2.  Line a toaster-oven-sized baking pan with aluminum foil and place a piece of parchment paper atop the foil.  Empty the potato-onion mixture onto the prepared pan and spread it out in an even layer.  Lightly-season the top of potatoes with freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend. Bake, without tossing or stirring, on rack of preheated 425° toaster oven for 30 minutes, or until a nice golden brown.  Remove from oven, transfer to individual plates or a bowl and serve ASAP.

As easy as 1-2-3 basic ingredients & 30-minutes: 

IMG_1476Oven-Roasted French-Onion Gold Potatoes Nuggets:  Recipe yields 2 large or 4 smaller side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food-storage bag; toaster-oven-size baking pan; aluminum foil; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b0240a51bba18200bCook's Note: ~ Would You Like Onion-Laced Steak Fries with That? ~.  Of course you would, and these couldn't be easier.  All you need is two pounds of your favorite gold, red or Russet potatoes, some olive oil and one packet of the onion soup mix you forgot you had in your pantry.  It's a souper seasoning for oven-roasted steak fries, and, after five minutes of prep time, they'll need 1 hour, 15 minutes to roast in a 350° oven, which frees of your hands for other tasks.  Because steak fries are best served hot out of the oven, plan for them to be the last item to go on the table.

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

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

05/20/2021

~ Esther's Buttery Sugar-Topped Pecan Shortbread ~

IMG_1447Esther's been a friend of ours for over 40 years.  Last Tuesday morning she stopped over for coffee -- after a year of quarantine, it was not only great to see her again, it felt great to invite a friend into the kitchen for a person-to-person visit.  I made some of my super-easy Grand's cinnamon-rolls cups, which got the two of us chit-chatting about quick-and-easy sweet treats that go great with the first cup of AM caffeine.  Esther mentioned a shortbread recipe she makes a lot, as in: for all occasions.  I asked her for the recipe and I wrote it down as she dictated it.

A bit about shortbread & shortbread cookies in general: 

Throughout the United Kingdom, shortbread has been a tradition at tea time since medieval days. As the name implies, shortbread contains shortening in the the form of butter, plus sugar and flour -- more specifically, one part sugar, two parts butter, and, three parts white flour.  After this super-easy to make dough is mixed together, it can be be baked in several forms.  Many home cooks pat the dough into one or two flat, round discs that get cut into wedges as soon as they emerge from the oven.  Most manufacturers bake it in rectangular molds then cut it into fingers.  Because the dough holds shapes very well, it's ideal for either cut- or drop- cookies that can be patterned/decorated with the simple tines of a fork or an elaborate stamp.  It's common for various extracts, citrus oils and/or aromatic spices to be used as subtle flavorings.  In all cases, shortbread is baked in a moderate oven to render its signature pale ever-so-slightly brown color.

Ready, set, mix & in the oven to bake in less than 15 minutes.

IMG_13812  cups all-purpose, unbleached flour

1/2  cup sugar

6  tablespoons cornstarch, do not pack it, just measure it

2  sticks salted butter

2  teaspoons pecan flavoring

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  cup small-chopped lightly-toasted pecans, or, honey-glazed candied pecans, your choice (4 ounces)

IMG_1370 IMG_1370 IMG_1370~ Step 1.  In a 2-cup measuring container, melt butter in microwave.  Stir in the pecan flavoring, vanilla extract and salt.  Set aside.

IMG_1385 IMG_1385 IMG_1385 IMG_1393 IMG_1393 IMG_1393 IMG_1403 IMG_1403~Step 2.  Place the flour, sugar and cornstarch in a large bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, stir the dry ingredients together.  Add the melted, flavored butter to the dry ingredients.  Esther said to use a hand-held electric mixer to incorporate the butter into the flour mixture, but, I didn't find it necessary -- I used the rubber spatula to incorporate the butter and it alone worked just fine.  You will have a ball of somewhat-sticky dough.  Add and fold in the toasted or candied pecans. 

IMG_1411 IMG_1411 IMG_1419~Step 3.  Transfer dough to an 11" x 7 1/2" x 2" 2-quart casserole.  Using the back of rubber spatula, press  dough evenly into bottom of dish.  Bake on center rack of 325° oven until just set and barely brown, 25-30 minutes.

IMG_1419 IMG_1419 IMG_1419 IMG_1427 IMG_1427~Step 4.  Remove from oven and place casserole on a wire cooling rack. Using a large chef's knife, slice the shortbread, while it is hot, into 24 squared, then, while it is hot, sprinkle with a light coating of granulated sugar.  Allow shortbread to cool to room temperature about 1-2 hours prior to slicing through it a second time and removing from casserole.

Slightly-salty & slightly-sweet -- shortbread squares go great w/coffee, tea, hot chocolate, milk &/or ice-cream:

IMG_1444Esther's Buttery Sugar-Topped Pecan Shortbread:  Recipe yields 24, 1 1/2"-1 3/4" squares.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 2-cup measuring container; hand-held electric mixer (optional); large rubber spatula; 11" x 7 1/2" x 2", 2-quart casserole; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0263e9818d18200bCook's Note:  Shortbread is one of my top three cookies, and, for that reason a box of Lorna Doone's is always in my pantry.   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 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:  ~ Cheesecake Pie w/Lorna Doone Shortbread Crust ~.

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

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

05/17/2021

~ Sweet Potato Salad w/Apples and Candied Pecans ~

IMG_1365If you'd like to try, or are in search of, a uniquely-different delightfully-delicious starchy side-dish to serve with those barbecued spareribs, smoked pork chops or perfectly-grilled chicken at your upcoming outdoor get-together, this vinegar-based sweet potato salad, in place of traditional mayonnaise-based potato salad, is the ticket.  Porcine or poultry, sweet potatoes, and apples, are a common, not to mention very popular, trio.  The pickiest of eaters mostly agree they all taste great on the same plate because the flavors and textures simply put: all complement each other.  

The vinaigrette for this salad remarkably easy to make, as well as remarkably popular -- after all, almost everyone likes the sweet-and-savory combination of honey-and-mustard.  It requires few ingredients and takes just a few minutes.  In true vinaigrette style, it's thin and drizzly, but, it contains just enough Dijon mustard to keep it emulsified for a longer time, meaning, it doesn't separate like typical oil-and-vinegar mixtures.  It's fantastic on any cold vegetable salad or any hot roasted or grilled vegetable medley, and, it goes particularly well with grilled pork or poultry. There's more.  Because it's mayonnaise free, it's simply perfect for outdoor entertaining.

Because it's mayo free, it's perfect for outdoor entertaining:

IMG_12705-6 cups peeled and 1/2"-cubed sweet potatoes, cooked as directed below (1 1/2-1 3/4 pounds after peeling)

1  cup small-diced celery

1/2  cup fine-diced yellow or sweet onioin

1 generous cup skin-on thin-sliced honey-crisp apples, slices cut in half  (1 large apple)

1/2  cup small-chopped honey-glazed pecans, with 6-8 whole candied pecans reserved for garnishing each portion (1, 4-ounce bag honey-glazed pecans total)

3/4  cup my recipe for Sweet and Tangy Honey-Dijon White Balsamic Vinaigrette, total throughout recipe (1/2 cup for tossing into the initial sweet potato mixture, 1/4 cup for tossing in with apples and pecans just prior to serving.)

baby arugula leaves, one big handful

IMG_1266 IMG_1266 IMG_1266 IMG_1284 2 IMG_1284 2 IMG_1284 2~Step 1.  Peel, slice and cube the sweet potatoes as directed.  In a 4-quart saucepan, bring 3-quarts lightly-salted water (1 teaspoon sea salt) to a rolling boil over high heat.  Add the cubed sweet potatoes and adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer.  Continue to cook until just fork tender, 4-5 minutes, checking often after 3 1/2 minutes.

IMG_1290 IMG_1290 IMG_1290 IMG_1301 IMG_1301~Step 2.  Drain the potatoes into a colander and run cold tap water through them to halt the cooking process and cool them to below room temperature.  Place a few layers in the bottom of a large bowl and add the potatoes to the bowl.  Let potatoes rest, about 15 minutes, to drain of all excess moisture and cool a bit more.  Remove the paper towels.

IMG_1309 IMG_1309 IMG_1309 IMG_1318 IMG_1318~Step 3.  Add the diced celery and onion to the bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold them into the sweet potatoes.  When the vegetables are thoroughly combined, drizzle in 1/2 cup of the honey-mustard white-balsamic vinaigrette and fold again.  When all of the veggies are enrobed in the flavorful dressing, cover the bowl and refrigerate about 1 hour prior to serving time (or overnight if not serving salad until the next day).

IMG_1324 IMG_1324 IMG_1324 IMG_1330 IMG_1330 IMG_1330 IMG_1330~Step 4.  Remove the sweet potato, celery and onion mixture from the refrigerator.  Prep the onions and pecans as directed.  Using the large rubber spatula, gently fold in the apples, followed by the pecans.

IMG_1345 IMG_1345 IMG_1345 IMG_1345~Step 5.  Add the remainder of the vinaigrette to the salad and fold again, until all the ingredients are coated in even more of the flavorful dressing.  Add a heaping handful of baby arugula to the bowl -- no measurement here, just grab a big handful and throw it in.  Using a pair of salad servers, toss until the arugula is coated in dressing too.  The salad is ready to serve, and, leftovers, with very little compromise, will store, tightly covered, nicely in the refrigerator overnight.

Serve it rain or shine, w/your favorite poultry or porcine:

IMG_1364Sweet Potato Salad w/Apples and Candied Pecans:  Recipe yields 6-8 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; colander; paper towels; large rubber spatula; salad servers

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a8531d200dCook's Note: Horseradish.  It's powerful stuff and most folks aren't on the fence about it.  They either love it or hate it.  If you are a lover of the stuff, you know you've got to carefully pick and choose what you pair it with and how you do it too. For my taste, freshly-grated horseradish, prepared horseradish and horseradish- cream, mustard or mayo go best with beef and ham. Some folks like it with lamb, not me, but it's an option.  If it's beef or lamb your planning on cooking for your upcoming outdoor gathering, consider serving my  ~ Beef Eatin' Horseradish-Mayo Red-Skinned Potato Salad ~.  Fire up the grill! 

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

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

05/14/2021

~ Sweet and Tangy Honey-Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette ~

IMG_1239For me, it's salad season the entire year, however, now that the warm weather has finally arrived, it's real-deal salad season.  I'm talking Summer salads made with a wider variety of higher-quality vegetables from local farmers' markets, and, in the upcoming weeks and months, veggies picked from my own garden.  These are salads I love to serve next to my favorite grilled meats, poultry, and, yes, even seafood -- no other side dishes need apply.  For that reason, I find myself taking the time to scratch-make dressings and vinaigrettes oftener, meaning, on a regular basis.

This vinaigrette is remarkably easy to make, as well as remarkably popular -- after all, almost everyone likes the sweet-and-savory combination of honey-and-mustard.  It requires just a few ingredients and takes just a few minutes.  In true vinaigrette style, it's thin and drizzly, but, it contains just enough Dijon mustard to keep it emulsified for a longer time, meaning, it doesn't separate like typical oil-and-vinegar mixtures.  It's fantastic on any cold vegetable salad or any hot roasted or grilled vegetable medley, and, it goes particularly well with grilled pork or poultry. There's more.  Because it's mayonnaise free, it's simply perfect for outdoor entertaining.

After all, who doesn't like combination of honey & mustard.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09c2342e970dA bit about honey:  The earliest written reference to honey dates back to the Egyptians in 5500 B.C., but, honeybees were making honey long before historical records were written.  Only relatively recently, mid 19th Century, did sugar become available and affordable to the average Westerner.  Prior to that, it was a very expensive luxury for the wealthy, because it had to be imported over long distances. Honeybees native to Asia, were brought to the New World by the Colonists in 1622, and honey was their primary sweetening agent for tea, cakes, cookies and candies. Once it got introduced to the Native Americans, honey became a popular item to trade too.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a9567d970cA bit about mustard:  Mustard is the world's oldest manmade condiment. There are recipes for mustard that date back to 42 A.D. in Roman writings, but, it wasn't popularized until their seeds were exported to Gaul (France).  By the 13th Century, food peddlers were selling their homemade mustard concoctions all over France, and, in the 16th Century, legal protection was given to the mustard makers and their secret recipes (which varied greatly from maker to maker).  In time, a few mustard makers began experimenting with substituting green grape juice ("verjus" -- "green juice") for vinegar, which produced a milder taste we now associate with their white-wine-made Dijon.

A bit about honey-mustard:  It was only a matter of time before the mustard makers added a bit of honey to sweeten their Dijon a tad, to gentle it down even further.  Next, French chef's began adding honey-and-mustard to their mayonnaise-based dressings and oil-and-vinegar-based vinaigrettes, along with other ingredients: various herbs (basil, dill, rosemary, thyme), garlic and onion.  I'd say that was the beginning of the honey-mustard dressing/vinaigrette/sauce industry.

White balsamic vinegar -- it's the key ingredient in my very special sweet-&-savory honey-mustard vinaigrette:

IMG_12156  tablespoons white balsamic vinegar

6  tablespoons olive oil

6  tablespoons honey

3  tablespoons Dijon mustard

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind pepper

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_1218 IMG_1218 IMG_1236~ Step 1.  Measure and place all ingredients, as listed, into a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Secure the lid and shake vigorously until the vinaigrette is smooth and emulsified, about 30 seconds.  Store, covered and at room temperature, until serving time.  Shake the dressing again briefly just prior to serving.  For long-term storage, place in the refrigerator.  Return to room temperature prior to shaking and serving.

Drizzle over your favorite salad -- a little goes a long way:

IMG_1264Try it on my Sweet Potato Salad w/Apples & Candied Pecans:

IMG_1364Sweet and Tangy Honey-Dijon Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields a generous 3/4 cup. 

Special Equipment List:  small jar w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2a96508970cCook's Note:  Honey mustard.  It's one of the simplest condiments in the food world to make.  In my kitchen, I use it as a salad dressing, a sandwich spread, a dip for vegetables, and occasionally, a glaze for baked ham.  In the '80's, when my kids were in elementary school, there was always a jar on my refrigerator door.  When we were traveling, if an eatery had chicken tenders and honey-mustard sauce on their list of menu options, our boys were happy -- given a choice, all three preferred it to ranch dressing, so, that's quite an endorsement.  As for me, I love it on onion rings and Philly-style soft pretzels.  ~ Hey Honey -- Pass the Honey-Mustard Dressing ~.

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

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

05/11/2021

~ Three Ways to Cook Smoked Bone-In Pork Chops ~

IMG_1178Smoked porcine (bacon, ham, sausage pork chops, etc.), when properly smoked, is enhanced with a sublime slightly-smoky flavor and an enticing pinkish color, meaning the aroma is pleasant (not at all overpowering), and the visual is pretty. There's more.  The smoking process renders the meat cooked, meaning, it only needs to be heated to a safe internal temperature prior to eating and the information is indicated on the label:  125° if fully-cooked, and, 145° if not fully-cooked.  

In the case of smoked pork chops, in my kitchen there are three quick-and-easy options for cooking:  a broiler pan in the oven (for dry-heat broiling), a skillet on the stovetop (for sauté frying), or, the grill-grids of an outdoor grill or grill pan (for searing).  Whatever one chooses, the trick is not to overthink or overcook them -- which will just dry them out.  They require only a relatively short period of time to reheat, approximately fifteen minutes from start-to-finish.

Paint 1 1/4"-thick chops, both sides, w/olive oil, &, season w/S & P:

IMG_1185Broil, 5 1/2"-6" under 350° broiler, 6-8 minutes per side:

IMG_1194In a skillet, sauté over medium-high heat, 6-8 minutes per side:

IMG_1206Grill or grillpan over medium-high heat, 6-8 minutes per side:

IMG_1203"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

05/08/2021

~Making Great Cheese Quesadillas with Corn Tortillas~

IMG_1164We all have a few favorite food combinations, meaning, two foods that go hand-in-hand together. A duo you can't emotionally separate because you can't enjoy one without the other.  A few of my cheesy favorites:  a cup of tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich, my mom's meatloaf with some macaroni and cheese, my favorite cheeseburger with a side of fries.  Another personal favorite:  a bowl of Wendy's-style chili with a few quick-to-make cheesy quesadilla wedges.

IMG_1160"Queso (KAY-soh)" is the Spanish word meaning "cheese", and, a quesadilla is a tortilla containing ooey-gooey melted cheese.

Quesadilla (keh-sah-DEE-yah):  A round, flat, cooked-until-soft corn or flour tortilla (even though most folks associate them with flour tortillas exclusively), folded in half to form a half-moon with a savory filling sandwiched in the center.  It is fried on a well-seasoned cast-iron comal (a flat, round griddle), using no or very little oil (although in American kitchens, mine included, a nonstick skillet or a grill pan commonly substituted.  FYI:  "Queso (KAY-soh)" is the Spanish word for "cheese", which, in turn, makes a quesadilla a container for ooey, gooey melted cheese.    

Start-to-finish:  Five minutes from stovetop-to-table:

IMG_1136For each corn-tortilla cheese quesadilla:

2  6"-round soft, fresh corn tortillas

6  generous tablespoons shredded yellow cheddar cheese

1-2  teaspoons vegetable oil, for preparing skillet

IMG_1044 IMG_1044 IMG_1051 IMG_1051 IMG_1139 IMG_1139~Step 1. Place 1-2 teaspoons vegetable oil in an 8" nonstick skillet.  Use a paper towel to distribute it evenly in bottom of the skillet and absorb excess.  Do not turn the stove on.  Place one tortilla in skillet and scatter the cheese across its surface, mounding it slightly towards the center. Place second corn tortilla on top of cheese.

IMG_1148 IMG_1148 IMG_1155 IMG_1155~Step 2.  Turn heat on to medium- medium-high.  Once skillet heats up, 30-45 seconds, sauté quesadilla until sizzling and light golden on bottom, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Using a wide spatula, carefully flip quesadilla over and continue to sauté until the second side is light golden, 2-2 1/2 minutes.  Turn heat off.  The moment the taco-quesadilla is cooked, slide it from the skillet onto a cutting board.  Exercise some patience and let the cheese "set up" for about a minute -- this will prevent it from oozing out when you slice into it.  Using a large chef's knife, cut into four wedges.

After slicing into ooey gooey quarters, serve immediately:

IMG_1176Try my Cheesy Ground-Beef Corn-Tortilla Taco-Quesadillas too:

IMG_1108Making Great Cheese Quesadillas with Corn Tortillas:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many corn-tortilla cheese quesadillas as you want to.

Special Equipment List:  8" nonstick skillet; paper towels spatula; cutting board; chef's knife

6a0120a8551282970b0282e101a064200bCook's Note: Undercover nacho tester.  I suppose it could get boring, but, because every eatery I've ever been to makes this Tex-Mex pub-grub staple a bit different, I'd be willing to risk running into some occasional repetition and hard-earned heartburn.  From nibbling on basic nachos consisting of deep-fried corn tortillas topped with melty cheese sauce, to digging-into nachos-grande, nachos-supreme, fully-loaded nachos or ultimate-nachos piled high with a plethora of enough savory stuff to qualify for full-meal status, yes, I think undercover nacho tester is a job for me.  Try my ~ Na-Cho Mama's Fully-Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos ~.  A perfect ratio of cheese to toppings on every chip.

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

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