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

09/09/2019

~My Copycat Primanti Brothers Pitts-burger Sandwich~

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4268For my easy copycat Primanti's coleslaw:

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

3  tablespoons each:  granulated sugar and white vinegar

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

1/4  teaspoon celery seed

1  tablespoon whole-grain mustard

2  tablespoons vegetable oil

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4197For my Pitts-burger burgers:

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

my all-purpose 'burger seasoning (recipe below)

12  slices provolone cheese

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39dd665200dFor my  'burger seasoning:

2  teaspoons fine sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon beef bouillion

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39dd66f200dStir spices together. Makes a scant 2 Tbsp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

09/07/2019

~Humble & Homemade Oaty Hobnob Biscuit Cookies~

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

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

IMG_4193Hobnobs are definitively not your grandmother's oatmeal cookies.

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

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

IMG_41401  cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2  cup white whole-wheat flour

1 1/2  cups old-fashioned oats

1 1/2  teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

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

1  cup sugar

2  tablespoons whole milk

1  tablespoon Golden syrup

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4182Hobnobs are how the biscuit-cookie crumbles:

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

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

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

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

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

09/04/2019

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

IMG_4111Research has revealed that nachos made their debut in Northern Mexico in the 1940's when a large group of hungry servicemen wandered into a restaurant where Ignacio Anaya was cooking. The savvy chef quickly threw some cheese over a big pan of leftover tortillas.  When it emerged from the broiler, he scattered his creation with jalapeño peppers.  When he presented the soldiers with his group-sized appetizer, after devouring it, they took it upon themselves to spread the word. Popularity came fast, and, along the way, nachos acquired an assortment of toppings.

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

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

While nachos can be as homemade or semi-homemade as you want, we can all agree, you only get out of something what you put into it, but, when the hankering for nachos hits, no one wants to wait longer than the time it takes to preheat the oven, visit the pantry and open a beer. That said, if one it willing to take the time to deep-fry fresh corn tortillas, instead of opening a bag of tortilla chips, nachos become a great deal better.  There's more.  If you're willing to season, grill and shred the chicken, instead of using leftover chicken or a store-bought rotisserie chicken, you've just kicked them up another notch.  Finish them off with a drizzle of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing and Frank's RedHot Wing Sauce, and you'll feel like you scored the game-winning touchdown.

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

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

Building better nachos, one tortilla chip at a time.

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

Nacho Mama's Buffalo Chicken Sheet-Pan Nachos.

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

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

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

8  ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 3 cups)

3/4-1  cup chopped matchstick carrots

3/4-1  cup small-diced celery

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

3/4  cup Hidden-Valley Ranch Dressing

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

IMG_9304 IMG_9307 IMG_9314 IMG_9314~Step 1.  To deep-fry fresh tortillas, divide tortillas into two stacks and cut each stack into six wedges.  Heat corn or peanut oil in deep-fryer, according to the manufacturer's specifications, to 375º.  When the deep fryer is ready:  Fry 2 stacks (two sixths) of the tortilla triangles for 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Chips will be lightly-browned and puffed in spots. Transfer to a large baking pan that's been lined with 3-4 layers of paper towels. Using a spatula, quickly and randomly separate the chips into a single layer and lightly salt their tops ASAP.  Repeat process 5 more times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

09/02/2019

~ Old-Fashioned Applesauce and Spice Bundt Cake ~

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3957For the cake:

2 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon salt

2  teaspoons baking soda

1  teaspoon baking powder

2  teaspoons ground cinnamon

1  teaspoon ground ginger

1/2  teaspoons ground cloves

3/4  cup sugar

3/4  cup dark brown sugar

2  cups applesauce, preferably homemade

6  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  teaspoons pure apple extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2  large eggs

no-stick spray, for preparing bundt pan

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

1 1/2  cups Confectioners' sugar

1  tablespoon caramel flavoring

1  teaspoon pure apple extract

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_4022Slice, serve & savor the first taste of Fall:

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

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

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

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

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

08/31/2019

~Hoagies, Heros, Grinders & Submarine Sandwiches~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Incredible Edible Caprese Chicken Meatball Subs:

IMG_3840South African Steak, Stilton & Peppadew Mayo Subs:

IMG_3815Sweet, Succulent & Snowy-White King Crab Subs:

IMG_3749Batter-Dipped Buffalo Chicken & Blue Cheese Subs:

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

IMG_3466Tex-Mex Chipotle Beef and Chorizo Meatball Subs:

IMG_3522Brownbag it with Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Subs:

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

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

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

08/29/2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because overcooking renders them dry and tough, this quick-cooking cut is perfect for the grill, sauté pan or broiler.  Choose pinkish-gray steaks that are generally the same size and thickness (3/4"-1" thick is ideal), and, have been trimmed of excessive fat from the fat-cap-side.

The four steaks pictured above, weighing a total of 6.48 pounds, cost $10.87.  That's a whole lot of economical porcine wonderfulness -- especially if you've got a big family with big appetites. Depending on the recipe du jour, sometimes I marinate these steaks, sometimes I don't.  When it comes to pork blade steaks, absorb this: marination (which does not affect the cooking time), is a flavorizer not a tenderizer.  Please know: these steaks are super-tender with zero marination.

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

IMG_3901For each copycat McRib sub sandwich

1  1"-thick pork blade steak

Bone Suckin' Sauce Seasoning & Rub

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

1/4 cup Bone Suckin' Barbecue Sauce

1  high-quality 8" sub-type roll

additional Bone Suckin' Barbecue sauce , for drizzly topping

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

6a0120a8551282970b0224df30e995200b 6a0120a8551282970b0224df30e995200b

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08/26/2019

~South African Steak, Stilton & Peppadew Mayo Subs~

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

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

IMG_3770For the steak sandwiches:

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

4  6"-6 1/2" submarine/hoagie rolls

2  cups baby arugula leaves

For the blue cheese sandwich-spread:

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

1/4 cup blue cheese dressing

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

For the Peppadew mayonnaise-topper:

1  cup Peppadew peppers, well-drained

1/4  cup mayonnaise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08/23/2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

King-Crab-Legs-Comparison-Chart_LRG

 

King-crab-leg-comparison

 

For my divinely-decadent king crab submarine sandwiches:

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

IMG_3684For the creamy king crab salad:

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

1-1 1/2  cups diced celery

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

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

1/2  teaspoon celery seed

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

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

IMG_3712For the submarine sandwiches:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08/21/2019

~ The Difference Between Imitation Krab & King Crab ~

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

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

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

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

King-Crab-Legs-Comparison-Chart_LRG

 

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

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

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

08/18/2019

~ Batter-Dipped Buffalo Chicken & Blue Cheese Subs ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assembling the buffalo chicken & blue cheese subs.

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

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

12-16  soft Boston or bibb lettuce leaves

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

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

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

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

Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, for drizzling on sandwiches

Frank's RedHot Wing Sauce, for drizzling on sandwiches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08/15/2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09f488af970dChicken tenderloins, prepped as directed above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8  slices deli-style, sliced provolone cheese

a sprinkling of Italian seasoning blend

a sprinkling of red pepper flakes

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

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

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

2  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08/12/2019

~ Tex-Mex Chipotle Beef and Chorizo Meatball Subs ~

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

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

Ground beef + chorizo = Mexican-Style meatball perfection.

IMG_2628For 6-61/2 dozen meatballs*:

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

1  pound ground Mexican chorizo sausage

2  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

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

1  cup milk

3  tablespoons salted butter

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

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

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

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

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

1  tablespoon chili powder

1  tablespoon ground cumin

2  teaspoons sea salt

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

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1452For the sauce:

2  tablespoons corn oil

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

4  large garlic cloves, run through a press

1/2  teaspoon ancho chile pepper

3/4  teaspoon Mexican-style oregano

1  teaspoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

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

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

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

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

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

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

To assemble & bake the Mexican-style meatball sandwiches:

IMG_3359For the sandwiches:

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

18-24  slices jalapeño pepper-Jack cheese

2 1/2  dozen meatballs, from above recipe

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

minced cilantro leaves, for garnish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08/09/2019

~Brownbag it with Grilled Chicken Caesar Salad Subs~

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

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

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

IMG_3294For two sandwiches:

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

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

1  diced hard-cooked egg

1/2  cup small-diced tomato

1/4  cup small-diced red onion

2  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08/07/2019

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3184For the tuna salad:

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

6  tablespoons cottage cheese

2  tablespoons mayonnaise

1  tblsp. whole-grain mustard

1/2  cup  small-diced celery

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

1/4  cup seeded & small-diced tomato

1  teaspoon dried onion flakes

IMG_3225For the macaroni and (optional) shredded lettuce:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08/05/2019

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

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

IMG_3221A charming story about an easy Summertime recipe: 

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

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

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

6  tablespoons cottage cheese

2  tablespoons mayonnaise

2  teaspoons whole-grain mustard

1/2  cup  small-diced celery

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

1/4  cup seeded and small-diced tomato

1  teaspoon dried onion flakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

08/03/2019

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

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

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

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

IMG_31183  pounds unpeeled and 3/4" chunked gold potatoes

2  teaspoons sea salt

1 1/2  cup medium-diced celery

1  cup golden raisins

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

1  cup high-quality mayonnaise

1/2  cup Major Grey's sweet mango chutney

2  tablespoons curry powder

1  tablespoon dehydrated onion flakes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

07/31/2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1  generous cup very-thin sliced celery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

07/28/2019

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

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

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

I adore those crunchy, buttery, streusel crumbles:

IMG_2957Pennsylvania-Dutch-Style Streusel Topping:

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

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

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

IMG_2906For my all-purpose PA-Deutsch streusel topping:

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

1/2  cup sugar

1/2  cup all-purpose flour

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

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

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

To make the blueberry & lemon-custard streusel pie:

IMG_2936For the blueberry and lemon-custard pie:

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

3  cups blueberries

2  large eggs, lightly beaten

1  cup sour cream

2  teaspoons unbleached, all purpose flour

3/4  cup sugar

2  teaspoons pure blueberry extract

1  teaspoon pure lemon extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

streusel topping, from above recipe

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

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

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

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

IMG_2958Slice & serve at room temperature or slightly-chilled:

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

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

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

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

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

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

07/25/2019

~ My Glazed Blueberry, Lemon & Ricotta Bundt Cake ~

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb097d3e86970dA bit about pound cake ("quatre-quarts" in French, meaning "four fourths":  Originally, this fine-textured loaf-shaped cake was made with 1-pound each of flour, sugar, butter and eggs, plus a flavoring, most commonly vanilla. Nothing more, nothing less.  Over the years, variations evolved, mostly adding leaveners like baking powder and baking soda to encourage rising, resulting in a less dense cake.  Vegetable oil is sometimes substituted in place of some of the butter, to produce a moister cake.  "Sour cream pound cake" and "buttermilk pound cake" recipes substitute sour cream or buttermilk in place of some of the butter to produce a moister cake with a pleasant tang too.  My grandmother's pound cake recipe uses a bit of both.

IMG_2785The inspiration for today's pound-cake bundt-cake appeared in an issue of Eating Well magazine back in 2015.  What caught my eye about it was the use of low-fat ricotta cheese in place of low fat- buttermilk, sour cream or yogurt, which appealed to me (a lot).  I tried it and couldn't have been more pleased with the results.  After that, the recipe became pretty much my own, full-fat ingredients and all, which is resemblant of any random recipe for the common combination of blueberry and lemon flavored pound cake.  Yes, of course you can make this pound cake in a loaf pan, just cut the recipe in half and bake it for about 60-75 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean.  No matter how you decide to make it, this is indeed the last blueberry and lemon cake recipe you'll ever want.

The last blueberry & lemon bundt cake recipe you'll ever want: 

IMG_2826For the dry ingredients:

3 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

4  teaspoons baking powder

2  teaspoon sea salt

4  cups ripe-but-not-overripe blueberries (20 ounces)

For the wet ingredients:

1 1/2  cups salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (6  ounces/1 1/2 sticks)

6  large eggs, at room temperature

3  cups sugar

4  teaspoons pure blueberry extract

2  teaspoon pure lemon extract

2  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2  cups whole-milk ricotta cheese

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pan

IMG_2876For the (optional but highly recommended) drizzly lemon-blueberry glaze:

1 1/2  cups Confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons pure blueberry extract

1  teaspoon pure lemon extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

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

IMG_2838 IMG_2838 IMG_2838 IMG_2838 IMG_2844~Step 1. Prior to mixing the batter in step 2 (no longer beforehand), in a medium bowl, use a fork to stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add two cups blueberries.  Using a rubber spatula, gently fold blueberries into the flour mixture.  Repeat with second two cups of blueberries -- this helps prevent berries from settling to bottom of cake when baking.

IMG_2829 IMG_2829 IMG_2829 IMG_2829~Step 2.  In a large bowl, place the butter, sugar, eggs and extracts.  On high speed of hand-held electric mixture cream these ingredients together, until fluffy and light colored, scraping down the bowl on all sides with the rubber spatula during the mixing process, about 1 minute.  Lower the mixer speed, add the ricotta cheese and thoroughly incorporate it.  Remove the mixer.

IMG_2847 IMG_2847 IMG_2847 IMG_2847~Step 3.  To incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, use a large rubber spatula to add and gently fold the flour/blueberry mixture into the butter/ricotta mixture in 2-3 increments. Transfer the cake batter to a 12-cup bundt pan that has been sprayed with no-stick spray.  Use the spatula to level the batter.  Place the pan on a baking pan that has been lined with a sheet of parchment -- this will keep the bottom of the cake from browning faster than the top.

IMG_2866 IMG_2866~ Step 4.  Bake cake on center rack of moderate 325º oven, 1 1/2 hours, or until a cake tester inserted into the center in several spots comes out clean. If, anytime after the first hour of baking, top appears to be over-browning, place an aluminum foil sheet loosely atop cake.  Remove from oven, place on a wire rack and cool cake, in pan, 60-75 minutes.  Use a paring knife to loosen cake around outside and inside perimeters.  Invert onto wire rack to cool completely, 3-4 additional hours -- this dense cake needs time to cool.

IMG_2881 IMG_2881 IMG_2881 IMG_2881 IMG_2881~Step 5.  To prepare the glaze, in a small bowl, stir the sugar, extracts and 3 tablespoons of milk.  Add additional milk, if and as necessary, by teaspoonfuls until a smooth, drizzly consistency is reached.  Cover with plastic wrap and set glaze aside for about 15 minutes -- this will ensure an extremely smooth glaze.  To glaze the cake, transfer the glaze to a measuring container with pourer spout, a pastry bag, or, a plastic squeeze bottle (my favorite). Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle the glaze over the surface of the cake.

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

IMG_2889Slice, serve & savor the love only a bundt cake can give:

IMG_2898My Glazed Blueberry, Lemon & Ricotta Bundt Cake: Recipe yields 1, 10" bundt cake, and, depending on how thick or thin you slice it, 16-20 servings.

Special Equipment List: fork; large rubber spatula; hand-held electric mixer; 1, standard-size 12-cup bundt pan; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; aluminum foil; cake tester; wire cooling rack; sharp paring knife

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4be9486200bCook's Note:  Blueberries are a fruit best served cooked.  Simmer down and read on.  When it comes to eating fresh, perfectly-ripe, high-quality, locally-grown berries hand-to-mouth, there are three seedier-types I enjoy more -- blackberries, strawberries and raspberries (in that order).  I love blueberries, but, it's my opinion that the blueberry is enhanced by cooking. ~ Love is Blueberry Oatmeal-Crumble Cookie Squares ~, and, this recipe, which contains two full pints, is loaded with blueberry flavor.

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

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

07/22/2019

~ Love is a Blueberry, Lemon & Ricotta Pound Cake ~

IMG_2801Blueberries are one of seven native North American food plants grown on a large scale and cultivated commercially. Before I go any further, I should mention the other six:  concord grapes, cranberries, strawberries, corn, beans and squash.  This means these plants were in existence before any of our immigrant ancestors arrived in this new world and the Native Americans were eating them and creating their own uses for them long before they introduced them to the original Colonists.  That said, blueberries were domesticated entirely in the 20th century and it did not take long for this "very American berry" to gain the unconditional love of the entire world.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3782a21200dThree types of blueberries supply over 90% of the market:  lowbush, highbush and rabbiteye.

Lowbush varieties (marketed as "wild blueberries" or "huckleberries") are very small, are harvested by machine and are sold almost exclusively to processing plants who make and sell blueberry products like "wild blueberry pie filling" or "wild blueberry preserves". While this sounds like they'd be at the top of the blueberry class, their flavor is actually disappointingly bland.

Highbush blueberries are the result of the hybridization of wild native plants. They are picked by hand and are sold fresh, representing over two-thirds of the total blueberries sold in our markets everywhere.

Rabbiteyes, which are native to the Southeastern United States were/are called rabbiteyes because the berries turn pink before they turn blue -- the eye color of a white rabbit. They are very similar to highbush blueberries, which are native to northeastern North America. Rabbiteye bushes get quite high, up to 20 feet, and, they bloom earlier in the year than the highbush, which sadly, makes them susceptible to Spring frosts.  Highbush are smaller than rabbiteyes and were called highbush simply because they were/are taller than low bush varieties.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3980d7d200bHighbush blueberries are what my husband Joe grows in our Central PA backyard.  The berries are larger and plumper than rabbiteyes and the fruit is juicier with a thinner skin. Their quality is compromised very little by freezing them (which is great for me because, every year, I have a lot to freeze), while the rabbiteye berry skin tends to get tough when frozen.  Rabbiteyes, eaten out-of-hand are a bit sweeter, but in my opinion: highbush berries are truly the best variety for the best price.

When selecting blueberries, it is noteworthy that size is not an indication of flavor, shrinkage is. Always choose blueberries that are plump and look like they are ready to burst. Berries that have begun to shrink and wrinkle, while usable, will be less flavorful.  AND, no matter what variety you choose to use, be generous -- cooked blueberry anything should be bursting with berries.

IMG_2784Yes, of course you can make this pound cake in a bundt pan, just double the recipe & bake it for about 1 1/2 hours: 

IMG_2875The inspiration for this blueberry pound cake appeared in an issue of Eating Well magazine. What caught my eye about the recipe was the use of low-fat ricotta cheese in place of low fat- sour cream or yogurt, which appealed to me.  Past that, the recipe is pretty much my own, full-fat ingredients and all, which is resemblant of any random recipe for blueberry-lemon pound cake -- the combination is common.  Yes, of course you can make this pound cake in a bundt pan, just double the recipe and bake it for about 1 1/2 hours, or until a cake tester comes out clean. 

IMG_2730

For the dry ingredients:

1 3/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons baking powder

1  teaspoon sea salt

2  cups ripe-but-not-overripe blueberries (10 ounces)

For the wet ingredients:

3/4  cup salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (6  ounces/1 1/2 sticks)

3  large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2  cups sugar

2  teaspoons pure blueberry extract

1  teaspoon pure lemon extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1  cup whole-milk ricotta cheese

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pan

IMG_2732 IMG_2732~ Step 1.  Just prior to mixing the cake batter in step 2 (no longer beforehand), in a medium bowl, use a fork to stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add the blueberries.  Using a rubber spatula, gently stir the blueberries into the flour mixture -- this will help to prevent the berries from settling to bottom of the cake when baking.

IMG_2737 IMG_2737 IMG_2737 IMG_2737~Step 2.  In a large bowl, place the butter, sugar, eggs and extracts.  On high speed of hand-held electric mixture cream these ingredients together, until fluffy and light colored, scraping down the bowl on all sides with the rubber spatula during the mixing process, about 1 minute.  Lower the mixer speed, add the ricotta cheese and thoroughly incorporate it.  Remove the mixer.

IMG_2748 IMG_2748 IMG_2748 IMG_2748~Step 3.  To incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, use a large rubber spatula to add and gently fold the flour/blueberry mixture into the butter/ricotta mixture in 2-3 increments. Transfer the cake batter to an 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2" loaf pan that has been sprayed with no-stick spray.  Use the spatula to level the batter.  Place the pan on a baking pan that has been lined with a sheet of parchment -- this will keep the bottom of the cake from browning faster than the top.

IMG_2758 IMG_2758~ Step 4.  Bake cake on center rack of moderate 325º oven, 60-75 minutes (1 hour - 1 hour, 15 minutes), or, until a cake tester inserted into the center in several spots comes out clean. If, during the last 15 minutes of baking, the top appears to be browning to quickly, loosely cover with an aluminum foil sheet.  Remove from oven and cool, in pan, 25-30 minutes prior to inverting onto a wire rack cool completely, about 2-3 hours.

From first slice to last slice, this is indeed...

IMG_2823... the last blueberry & lemon pound cake recipe you'll ever want: 

IMG_2811Love is a Blueberry, Lemon & Ricotta Pound Cake:  Recipe yields 1, 2-pound, 12-ounce pound cake/10-12 slices. 

Special Equipment List:  fork; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 1, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2", 1 1/2-quart loaf pan, preferably glass; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; aluminum foil; wire cooling rack; cake tester

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3786da7200dCook's Note: Blueberries are a fruit best served cooked.  Simmer down and read on.  When it comes to eating fresh, perfectly-ripe, high-quality, locally-grown berries hand-to-mouth, there are three seedier-types I enjoy more -- blackberries, strawberries and raspberries (in that order).  I love blueberries, but, it's my opinion that the blueberry is enhanced by cooking. ~ Love is Blueberry Oatmeal-Crumble Cookie Squares ~, and, this recipe, which contains two full pints, is loaded with blueberry flavor.

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

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

07/20/2019

~ Pucker Up for a Very Blueberry and Lemon Cobbler ~

IMG_3052Blueberry cobbler is simply the easiest fruit cobbler to make.  As fruits and berries go, blueberries are not only a super food, they are super user friendly -- they don't have to be peeled, pitted, sliced or diced prior to using them.  They come ready to go -- they are one quick measure or weigh away from being ready to add to whatever you're making or baking.  That said, the combination of blueberries and lemon together is delightful -- the two go hand-in-hand together.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4be94cf200bBlueberries are one of seven native North American food plants grown on a large scale and cultivated commercially (with three types of blueberries suppling over 90% of the market:  lowbush, highbush and rabbiteye).  The other six:  concord grapes, cranberries, strawberries, corn, beans and squash.  This means these seven plants were in existence before any of our immigrant ancestors arrived in this new world and the Native Americans were eating them and creating their own uses for them long before they introduced them to the original Colonists.  That said, blueberries were domesticated entirely in the 20th century and it did not take long for this "very American berry" to gain the love of the entire world.

Blueberry cobbler -- a very berry American cobbler.

IMG_3032A bit about cobbler:  Cobbler is almost always associated with a baked, deep-dish fruit or berry dessert that emerges from the oven with a semi-crispy top that has been made with a batter, a biscuit dough or a pastry.  There is no right or wrong topping for a cobbler -- it depends on your preference, where you live, and/or who taught you how to make cobbler.  Cobbler recipes have been printed in European cookbooks since the 19th century and were originally main-dish, protein-based meals. Cobblers in the US originated in the Colonies because the English settlers were unable to make their traditional suet puddings for lack of ingredients and proper equipment. The name is said to derive from the finished product looking like a rough cobblestone street.

And this goes together faster than I can eat the blueberries!

IMG_30041 1/2 pounds blueberries (24-ounces)

4  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

1  cup pancake mix

1  cup sugar 

1/2-3/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1  cup milk

2  teaspoons pure blueberry extract

1  teaspoon pure lemon extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Sugar 'n Cinnamon

6a0120a8551282970b0240a495efb1200d 6a0120a8551282970b0240a495efb1200d~ Step 1. Place the butter in an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish/2-quart casserole -- I like clear glass because I can keep an eye on the baking process.  Melt the butter in the microwave. Tilt the dish to evenly coat the entire bottom with the melted butter.

IMG_3011 IMG_3011 IMG_3011 IMG_3011 IMG_3011~Step 2.  To make the batter, in a large bowl, stir together the pancake mix, sugar and cinnamon.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the milk, blueberry extract, lemon extract and vanilla extract.  Add the milk mixture to the pancake mix mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula, stir until a thin, semi-lumpy batter forms -- trust me, lumpy is a good thing.

IMG_3021 IMG_3021 IMG_3021~Step 3.  Pour all of the batter into the baking dish right on top of the butter. Do not be inclined to stir the batter into the butter. Spoon/distribute the blueberries evenly over the batter. Generously sprinkle the top of the berries with Sugar 'n Cinnamon.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool to desired temperature, 2-4 hours.

IMG_3031Note:  While the cobbler is baking, the blueberries (or any fruit) are going to sink to the bottom of the baking dish.  At the same time, the batter is going to bubble and bake up to the surface in random spots across the surface.  The cobbler will be golden and will spring back slightly when touched in center.  Walk away.  Cool at least 20-30 minutes.

Serve steamy-hot, slightly-warm or at room temperature:

IMG_3038Pucker Up for a Very Blueberry and Lemon Cobbler:  Recipe yields 8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; large rubber spatula; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish/2-quart casserole, preferably clear glass

IMG_2978Cook's Note: I grew in the Lehigh Valley region of Pennsylvania, known as Pennsylvania-Dutch Country.  In that area, the majority of bakers used various streusel recipes to top their fruit pies, coffeecakes and muffins.  On another note, the Pennsylvania-Dutch are well-known for their easy-to-make sour-cream-custard pies, meaning: they substitute sour cream for the classic cream or milk when making their custard pies.  Try my version of ~ PA-Dutch Blueberry & Lemon-Custard Streusel Pie ~.

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

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

07/18/2019

~ My Mexican-Style Ground Beef & Chorizo Meatloaf ~

IMG_2713Meatloaf.  Say the word aloud in the company of family or friends, or even culinary professionals -- you'll find that almost everyone wants to share a fond memory, tell an interesting story, or, recite a favorite recipe or three.  Beware of the soul who has no affection or appreciation for meatloaf. Once a Depression-era meal born out of pure necessity, it enabled savvy home cooks to stretch precious protein in order to feed more people.  That said, everyone will nod in agreement that, nowadays, meatloaf can be whatever you want it to be: an economical family-style comfort meal or a gourmet culinary masterpiece, in the style of almost any culture, and, fit for any king.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8ebc36f970bA bit about meatloaf in America: American meatloaf originated in the form of scrapple, a grainy-textured mash of ground pork scraps and trimmings mixed with moistened cornmeal prior to baking in a loaf shape.  Scrapple has been served by German-speaking Americans in Pennsylvania (the PA Deutsch) since Colonial times. From this somewhat unappetizing, born-out-of-necessity beginning, savvy home cooks adopted the concept of combining ground meat(s) with milk-moistened bread, egg, onion, salt and pepper, thus, evolving, great-tasting, old-fashioned comfort food. Because cows were butchered before Winter, bacuse feeding them over the cold months was both difficult and expensive, the first modern recipes for meatloaf contained just ground beef.

As is the case with traditional American meatloaf recipes, a quick search for Mexican-style-, Texican-Style-, Tex-Mex- or Southwestern-meatloaf recipes will yield more recipes than ever imagined.  Let's be clear though, meatloaf is an all-American invention, and, the same is true for all Mexican-style recipes for meatloaf -- none of them are authentic, meaning, meatloaf is unheard of in Mexico. There are no authentic or classic recipes for meatloaf in the Mexican food world.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4746b1b200dIt's worth mention that aside from the bright-to-tawny red color, Mexican chorizo and Spanish chorizo are not the same, so, purchase with precision.  Mexican chorizo is a fresh, ground-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold loose or in a casing, it is raw and must be cooked before eating it. Spanish chorizo is a dried and fully-cured or semi-cured chopped-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold in a casing, fully-cured is fully-cooked and can be eaten as is, while semi-cured requires cooking prior to eating.

Ground beef & chorizo together = Mexican-Style perfection. 

IMG_2628For 2, 2-2 1/2 pound meat loaves:

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

1  pound ground Mexican chorizo sausage

2  extra-large eggs, lightly beaten

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

1  cup milk

3  tablespoons salted butter

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

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

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

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

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

1  tablespoon chili powder

1  tablespoon ground cumin

2  teaspoons sea salt

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

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans

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

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

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

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

IMG_2686~Step 5.  Spray 2, 1 1/2-quart loaf pans* with no-stick spray. Divide meat mixture in half, form each half into a loaf shape and place one in each pan.  If you have a kitchen scale, now is the time to use it. There will be 4-5 pounds meatloaf mixture.  Using your fingertips, pat and press mixture flat into the pans. *Note:  My mom always baked meatloaf in glass pans.  The advantage is being able to see how fast the loaves are browning.

IMG_2687 IMG_2687~ Step 6.  Bake meatloaves on center rack of 350° oven for 1 hour, 15 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer placed in the the thickest part of the center reaches 168°-170º.  Loaves will be bubbling and juices will be running clear.  Remove from oven and place, in pans, on a wire rack to cool about 15 minutes.  Use a spatula to remove loaves from pans.  Slice and serve hot or warm, or, cool to room temperature and refrigerate.

Without a doubt, as delicious as it looks:

IMG_3349Served w/Mexican-style adobo rice & pico de gallo: 

IMG_2703My Mexican-Style Ground Beef & Chorizo Meatloaf:  Recipe yields 2, 2-2 1/2 pound meatloaves.

Special Equipment List:  fork; 1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; nonstick spoon or spatula; 2, 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" x 2 1/2", 1 1/2-quart loaf pans, preferably glass; kitchen scale; instant-read meat thermometer; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27640d2970cCook's Note: The fabulous '50's may be gone forever, but they are certainly not forgotten.  Remember the stainless steel diner in your hometown that served up a thick slice of mouthwatering meatloaf smothered in a smooth, rich pan gravy alongside a big scoop of fluffy mashed potatoes? Remember meatloaf day in your school cafeteria with stewed tomatoes and macaroni and cheese?  Remember the Swanson frozen meatloaf dinner slathered with a thick brown gravy and French fries?  I fondly remember each and every one, but, mostly, I remember my mom's "special" meatloaf, and:  ~ I Love My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf ~.

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

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

07/15/2019

~A Bit About Mexican Cotija & Queso Fresco Cheese~

IMG_2616Americans love Mexican food.  Americans love it so much, we'd all vote for a taco truck on every street corner.  That said, when it comes to Mexican food, we Americans have quizzically wed ourselves to using cheddar or Jack cheddar cheese as toppings in or on nachos, quesadillas, refried bean dip, tacosburritos, enchiladas, chili con carne, etc. Most of us are guilty as charged and I am no exception.  Shredded cheddar is in my refrigerator at all times, and nine out of ten times, it's going on something Tex-Mex.  American kids and adults alike love cheddar, every grocery store in even the remotest regions sells it, and I'm not here to change your mind about it.

Choosing between two items that look identical is tricky. 

Setting our cheddar aside, in recent years, thanks to Mexican food being featured on many TV food shows, high-quality non-chain Mexican restaurants serving authentic Mexican-style dishes have begun popping up in communities, or within reasonable driving distance of communities, who've never tasted anything but Taco Bell before.  Happily, the American palate has become quite sophisticated about Mexican food.  Because of and in conjunction with all of the above, two beloved, real-deal Mexican cheeses have become readily available in American markets (and I couldn't be happier to have them at my fingertips): cotija cheese and queso fresco cheese.

Cheese 101.  Because of aging, no type of cheese is the same across the board -- that applies to cotija and queso fresco too.

Blessed are the cheesemakers.  They make hard, dry, grating cheeses; firm, moist, sliceable cheeses, and; soft, gooey, spreadable cheeses.  They make blue, white and yellow cheeses. Some cheeses are aged for years, others for a few months, and, some aren't aged at all.   They make herby, spicy, fruity and/or nutty cheeses.  They make mild, aromatic and strong, stinky cheeses.  They make cheese from the milk of cows, goats and sheep -- sometimes it's pasteurized and sometimes it's not.  There are a thousand+ varieties of cheese in this food world -- some are mass produced, some are specialty, some are artisan and some are farmstead. There are cheese societies that come up with cheese standards and government organizations that enforce cheese laws.  Yes, thanks to the cheesemakers, we live in a very cheeesy world.

Mexican cheese producers are no different from any other cheese makers, but, today I am limiting my Mexican cheese topic to two of their most popular, new-to-us-Americans, varieties, cotija and queso fresco, and, both of these rising stars fall into the category of "crumbly cow's milk cheese".

A bit about cotija (coh-CHEE-tah) cheese:

IMG_2622Cotija is a Hispanic/Latin American-style full-fat cow's milk cheese, named after the town of Cotija in the Mexican state of Michoacán, and used mostly in Latin American-style dishes.  When the cheese is young and fresh, it is very white, moist and salty, bearing an immense resemblance to feta cheese -- this is the type of cojita found in American markets.  That said, with aging, which causes the moisture to evaporate, it becomes hard and much tangier, like Parmigiano-Reggiano, which has earned it the nickname, the "Parmesan of Mexico". Originally aged for 3-12 months, nowadays commercial producers add an enzyme to speed up the process.  Cotija cheese, like feta, when exposed to the heat of an oven, softens, but doesn't have the properties to melt to an ooey-gooey state.

A bit about queso fresco (kay-soh fres-koh) cheese:

IMG_2607Queso fresco, which means fresh cheese in Spanish, is a mild-flavored all-Mexican-style cheese, and, is the traditional, most-used cheese throughout Mexico. Resemblant in appearance to cotija, it too is made from cow's milk -- raw milk for use in Mexico and pasteurized milk for distribution in the USA, which behave differently when exposed to the heat of the oven, with the American version melting to a creamier state.  That said, because queso fresco is a fresh cheese with an aging process of just a few days, its shelf life is short and should be used within 5 days. When queso freso is tossed with a a bit of Parmesan, it's a great substitution for the somewhat harder-to-find cotija.  That said, in a pinch, feta cheese can be substituted in most recipes with little-to-no compromise.

Try them on my Grilled Mexican Sweet Street Corn (Elotes)...

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8874bf0970b... or my Warm Mexican Sweet Street Corn Cups (Equites):

6a0120a8551282970b01bb092a9963970d"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

07/13/2019

~ Adding Olives to Mexican or Mexican-Style Dishes ~

IMG_2554Olives in Mexican food?  It's controversial.  So-called experts will flatly state that olives in Mexican food make the dish Spanish, not Mexican, meaning "don't".  That said, with some of the largest concentrations of green olive trees in the world being located in regions throughout Mexico, areas bordering Texas, and, the Guadalupe Valley in Northern Baja California, common sense would and should lead one (it did me) to a different conclusion, meaning, if you are an olive lover, "go for it".  Just know, a Mexican dish you added olives to can't be peddled as "authentic" or "classic" Mexican" -- olives render the dish "Mexican-style", or, "Mexican-American fusion food".  

A good deal of research on this subject revealed to me:

IMG_2583 2It's not that Mexicans don't eat olives, they just don't put them on tacos, or use them in dishes accompanied by, or wrapped in, tortillas.  Mostly, they eat olives as snacks, add them to salads or drop them into alcoholic beverages -- who doesn't love a jalapeño- or cotija cheese-stuffed olive eaten out of hand, added to a salad or in their martini.  It's also worth noting that, for a time, during the colonial period, 1521-1821, the Spanish government forbade the planting of olive trees and/or groves in New Spain (as Mexico was named during this period), which, quite possibly, is the sole reason why olives aren't present in vintage family recipes and classic Mexican dishes that have been handed down from generation to generation -- olives were forbidden fruit.  It's also (understandably so) very plausible that Mexican resentment toward the Spanish government in general caused many Mexican cooks to refused to cook with and serve-to-them, their beloved fruit. That said, olive trees did make their way into Mexico (read below), they exist in Mexico today, and, nowadays, Mexicans do, on occasion, just like the rest of us, eat and enjoy olives.

Green olives are not indigenous to Mexico, but they are no stranger to Mexico or the Mexican people or Mexican cuisine.

5b46bd3b30abb.imageWild olives (oleaster) once grew all over the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia, but bore little resemblance to the modern olive tree until about 5,000 years ago when it was cultivated in Crete and Syria into what we are familiar with today.  Once established, olive trees flourished in Spain, Tunisia, Morocco, and other Mediterranean countries for thousands of years, and, were featured in many culinary specialties. The Spaniards were the first to realize this fruit could have international appeal and took the first cuttings to Peru in the early-to-mid 16th century.  From there, Franciscan Monks introduced olives to Central America, then smuggled them North, where olive trees thrived within the walls of their missions of Mexico.  In 1769, olive cuttings were planted at the San Diego Mission where they found yet another happy home in California.

Americans might love black olives, but, they're not even a part of the small part olives play in a Mexican kitchen.  Black olives are an all-American addition, catering solely to the American palate.

IMG_2603"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

07/10/2019

~ Texican Tomato, Cucumber and Green Olive Salad ~

IMG_2583Olives in Mexican food?  It's controversial.  So-called experts will flatly state that olives in Mexican food make the dish Spanish, not Mexican, meaning "don't".  That said, with some of the largest concentrations of green olive trees in the world being located in regions throughout Mexico, areas bordering Texas, and, the Guadalupe Valley in Northern Baja California, common sense would and should lead one (it did me) to a different conclusion, meaning "go for it".  While a Mexican dish with olives in or on it can't be labeled "authentic", the addition of olives is fine.  

A good deal of research on this subject revealed to me:

IMG_2552It's not that Mexicans don't eat olives, they just don't put them on tacos, or use them in dishes accompanied by, or wrapped in, tortillas.  Mostly, they eat olives as snacks, add them to salads or drop them into alcoholic beverages -- who doesn't love a jalapeño stuffed olive eaten out of hand, on their salad or in their martini.  It's also worth noting that, for a time,  during the colonial period, 1521-1821, the Spanish government forbade the planting of olive trees and/or groves in New Spain (as Mexico was named during this period), which, quite possibly, is the sole reason why olives weren't used in vintage family recipes and classic Mexican dishes that have been handed down from generation to generation -- olives were forbidden fruit.  It's also (understandably so) plausible that Mexican resentment toward the Spanish in general caused many to flatly refuse to cook with and serve them their beloved fruit. That said, olive trees did make their way into Mexico anyway (read below), they exist in Mexico today, and, nowadays, Mexicans do, on occasion, just like the rest of us, eat and enjoy olives.

Green olives are not indigenous to Mexico, but they are no stranger to Mexico or the Mexican people or Mexican cuisine.

Wild olives (oleaster) once grew all over the Mediterranean and Southeast Asia, but bore little resemblance to the modern olive tree until about 5,000 years ago when it was cultivated in Crete and Syria into what we are familiar with today.  Once established, olive trees flourished in Spain, Tunisia, Morocco, and other Mediterranean countries for thousands of years, and, were featured in many culinary specialties. The Spaniards were the first to realize this fruit could have international appeal and took the first cuttings to Peru in the early-to-mid 16th century.  From there, Franciscan Monks introduced olives to Central America, then smuggled them North, where olive trees thrived within the walls of their missions of Mexico.  In 1769, olive cuttings were planted at the San Diego Mission where they found yet another happy home in California.

Americans might love black olives, but, they're not even a part of the small part olives play in a Mexican kitchen.  Black olives are an all-American addition, catering solely to the American palate.

IMG_2550For the Texican-style chopped salad:

1-1 1/2 cups quartered and sliced cucumber, peeled or unpeeled, your choice

1-1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half

3/4-1  cup coarsely-chopped deli-salad-bar-style green olive mix, preferably one containing garlic and sun-dried tomatoes

1/2 thinly-sliced scallions

1/4-1/2  cup queso fresco cheese crumbles + 1/4-1/2 cup additional crumbles for garnish

For the red wine vinaigrette:

1/2  cup vegetable oil 

1/4  cup red wine vinegar

1-2  tablespoons sugar, to taste

1  teaspoon dried Mexican oregano

The difference between cotija and queso fresco cheese.

IMG_2394 IMG_2394 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2558 IMG_2568~Step 1. To prep salad, slice, dice or chop ingredients as directed, placing all in a medium bowl as you work.  To this point, salad ingredients can be prepped, covered and refrigerated 2-4 hours prior to dressing and tossing.

IMG_2545 IMG_2545 IMG_2562 IMG_2572~Step 2.  To prepare the vinaigrette and dress the salad, in a 1-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid and a pourer top, place the oil, vinegar, sugar and oregano.  Place the lid on the container and vigorously shake it until ingredients are combined.  Add 4-6 tablespoons of the vinaigrette to the salad.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the dressing into the salad.

Note:  This refreshing relish-esque salad, goes great with grilled chicken, steak, ribs, and fish or seafood too.  Got leftovers?  Pull or slice the the protein into bite-sized pieces, toss it into the salad and stuff it into pita pockets for lunch the next day.  There's more.  If you want to serve it as a starter course to a sit-down meal, spoon it atop a bed of crispy lettuce chiffonade -- it's dressed to pucker-up, briny perfection.  That said, because it's marinated, it's best served within 12-24 hours, so, don't make more than you and yours can eat in within that time frame.

This refreshing chopped relish-esque, condiment-type salad...

IMG_2580... pairs great w/chicken, ribs, steak, fish or seafood (pictured here w/Southwestern Cheese-Topped Corn & Bean Pudding):

IMG_2589Texican Tomato, Cucumber and Green Olive Salad: Recipe yields 4-6 cups side-dish salad.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; large rubber spatula

IMG_2426Cook's Note:  With a few cuisine-appropriate substitutions, this salad can be transitioned to pair with food from any number of cultures.  For example:  To prepare ~ Greek-Style Chopped-Salad w/Red Wine Vinaigrette ~, use a kalamata black and green olive blend, red onion, feta cheese and Mediterranean oregano (in place of  green olive and sun-dried tomato blend, scallions, queso fresco and Mexican oregano. Or, to make it Italian, go with basil and small, fresh mozzarella balls.

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

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

07/07/2019

~Southwestern Cheese-Topped Corn & Bean Pudding~

IMG_2511From chicken and ribs to rib-eye, flank and skirt steaks, during the months of July and August and into the Fall, the food that comes off our grill is frequently alla the American Southwest.  My family craves those bold flavors, and, my Southwestern-style corn and bean pudding, a spin-off of my Midwestern-style baked corn casserole is my go-to side-dish.  Placed on the table next to a crispy garden salad full of just-picked tomatoes and cucumbers: there's no need to call my family to the table twice.  Serve an in-season fruit cobbler for dessert?  They'll follow me anywhere.

IMG_2503Fresh vs. canned corn.  Without compromise, either is great.

You do not need fresh sweet corn to prepare this.  Without compromise, canned corn actually works really well.  In fact, it works so well, I don't hesitate in the least to use it so I can make this casserole any time of the year, and, I'm using canned corn today, so you can see just how easy it is to prepare it that way.  That said, if your are so inclined to make it using fresh corn, substitute:

4 cups whole corn kernels (shaved from 3-4 ears of freshly-picked & blanched corn)

2  cups of my recipe for ~ Country-Style Downhome-Delicious Creamed Corn ~

IMG_2455

2  15 1/4-ounce cans whole-kernel corn, well-drained

1  14 3/4-ounce can cream-style corn

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

1/2  cup thinly-sliced green onions, white and light green parts only

1  4 1/2-ounce can green chiles, drained of excess liquid

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

2  jumbo eggs, beaten

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

1  tablespoon sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon black pepper

3-4  ounces finely-shredded Colby & cheddar cheese blend , for topping casserole

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dish

IMG_2460 IMG_2460 IMG_2460 IMG_2460~Step 1.  In a large bowl, place creamed corn.  In a small colander, drain the whole corn kernels, then rinse and drain the black beans, followed by freeing the green chiles of excess liquid.  Place each in the bowl with the creamed corn as you work, followed by the green onions. 

IMG_2469 IMG_2469 IMG_2469 IMG_2469 IMG_2469~Step 2.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk together the cream, eggs, flour, sugar, salt and pepper.  Add the cream mixture to the bowl of vegetables.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold the vegetables to evenly distribute them amongst each other.  Add and thoroughly fold the whisked cream mixture into the mixed vegetable mixture.

IMG_2480 IMG_2480~Step 3.  Spray a 2-quart, 8" x 8" x 2" casserole with no-stick cooking spray.  Transfer the mixture to the prepared casserole dish.  To this point, casserole can be placed, covered with plastic wrap, in refrigerator several hours in advance of baking.  Return to room temp about 1 hour prior to baking according to the following directions:

IMG_2486 IMG_2486 IMG_2486~Step 4.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven, about 1 hour.  Casserole will be golden brown and puffed up throughout.  Remove from oven and allow to rest about 2-3 minutes prior to serving, just long enough for it to stop bubbling and settle a bit.  Top with a layer of cheese.  Return to oven and bake 1-2 additional minutes, just until cheese melts without browning.

Patience -- allow to cool 4-5 minutes -- tick, tock...

IMG_2531... prior to slicing, scooping & serving.

IMG_2520Stick a fork in it & enjoy a very Southwestern kinda day:

IMG_2530Southwestern Cheese-Topped Corn & Bean Pudding:  Recipe yields 8-12 side-dish servings.

Special Equipment List:  small colander; large rubber spatula; 2-cup measuring container; fork; 2-quart, 8" x 8" x 2" casserole; plastic wrap (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c6d67804970bCook's Note:  When I'm cooking sweet corn on the stovetop or on the grill, I always make more than I need.  Why?  Once I remove the kernels from the cobs, I use them in several recipes in place of canned corn.  To learn ~ How to: Shave Corn Kernels Off the Cob with No Mess ~, just read my post!

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

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

07/04/2019

~ A Simply-Scrumptious Summer Strawberry Cobbler ~

IMG_2378 2Fresh strawberry cobbler with home-churned strawberry ice cream, made the old-fashioned way, is going on our picnic table tonight.  A few years ago that I realized strawberries make superb cobbler.  I experimented on a whim and it turned out great.  It was so successful, I tried this same recipe, substituting pineapple for strawberries that same Summer, meaning:  I gained cobbler confidence.   I don't know why it surprised me, strawberries contain a lot of citric acid, so, their own natural flavor makes them perfect for the relatively-fast turn-around in the oven required for a traditional cobbler.  The moral of the story is: pretty much any juicy fruit or berry will work fantastic in this recipe, so, use what you've got and don't look back.  Be like me -- cobbler confident.

Be like me -- cobbler confident.

IMG_2369A bit about cobbler:  Cobbler is almost always associated with a baked, deep-dish fruit or berry dessert that emerges from the oven with a semi-crispy top that has been made with a batter, a biscuit dough or a pastry.  There is no right or wrong topping for a cobbler -- it depends on your preference, where you live, and/or who taught you how to make cobbler.  Cobbler recipes have been printed in European cookbooks since the 19th century and were originally main-dish, protein-based meals. Cobblers in the US originated in the Colonies because the English settlers were unable to make their traditional suet puddings for lack of ingredients and proper equipment. The name is said to derive from the finished product looking like a rough cobblestone street.

And this goes together faster than I can eat strawberries!

IMG_23424  cups hulled and 1/4"-thick sliced strawberries (24-ounces sliced strawberries)

4  ounces salted butter (1 stick)

1  cup pancake mix

1  cup sugar + 3 additional tablespoons sugar to macerate strawberries

1/2-3/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1  cup milk

2  teaspoons pure strawberry extract

Sugar 'n Cinnamon

IMG_2346 IMG_2346 IMG_2346 IMG_2346~Step 1.  Hull and 1/4"-thick slice the strawberries as directed, placing them in a medium bowl as you work.  Add the 3 tablespoons additional sugar.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold the sugar into the sliced strawberries and set aside, to macerate, about 5-10 minutes (no longer than that).

IMG_4768 IMG_4768~ Step 2. Place the butter in an 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish/2-quart casserole -- I like clear glass because I can keep an eye on the baking process.  Melt the butter in the microwave. Tilt the dish to evenly coat the entire bottom with the melted butter.

IMG_4772 IMG_4772 IMG_4772 IMG_2354~Step 3.  In a large bowl, stir together the pancake mix, sugar and cinnamon.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the milk and strawberry extract.  Add the milk mixture to the pancake mix mixture.  Using a large rubber spatula, stir until a thin, semi-lumpy batter forms.

IMG_2358 IMG_2358 IMG_2358~Step 4.  Pour all of the batter into the baking dish right on top of the butter. Do not stir the batter into the butter.  Using a slotted spoon, spoon/distribute the strawberries evenly over the batter. Generously sprinkle the top of the berries with Sugar 'n Cinnamon.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool to desired temperature, 2-4 hours.

IMG_2366Note:  While the cobbler is baking, the strawberries (or any fruit) are going to sink to the bottom of the baking dish.  At the same time, the batter is going to bubble and bake up to the surface in random spots across the surface.  The cobbler will be golden and will spring back slightly when touched in center.  Walk away.  Cool at least 20-30 minutes.

Serve steamy-hot, slightly-warm or at room temperature...

IMG_2384w/old-fashioned strawberry-custard ice cream:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad37bb114200dA Simply-Scrumptious Summer Strawberry Cobbler:  Recipe yields 8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 4-cup measuring container; 1-cup measuring container; large rubber spatula; 8" x 8" x 2" baking dish/2-quart casserole, preferably clear glass

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09adfbfd970dCook's Note: Here's a pie I seldom get the chance to make because, after making strawberry shortcakes, a batch of   strawberry preserves and  strawberry dessert topping, I rarely have strawberries left.  That said, I keep this super-simple go-to recipe in my repertoire for times when I do have a few cups of seriously-ripe strawberries at that "use 'em or lose 'em" stage.

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

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

07/02/2019

~Greek-Style Chopped-Salad w/Red Wine Vinaigrette~

IMG_2426When tomatoes and cucumbers are ripe for the picking, small side-salads accompany our dinner almost every evening.  Our seasonal herbs du jour always determine what cuisine-style I'll lean toward -- dill for Eastern European, basil for Italian, thyme for French, cilantro for Tex-Mex, and, oregano for Greek.  Once that's decided, the cuisine-appropriate embellishments easily fall into place.  It's a pretty straightforward process, but, no matter what I decide, my all-purpose super-easy-to-make red wine vinaigrette pulls it all together -- you'll rarely find my refrigerator without it.

This refreshing relish-esque salad, goes great with grilled chicken, any type of steak, pork chops, and fish or seafood too.  Got leftovers?  Pull or slice the the protein into bite-sized pieces, toss it into the salad and stuff it into pita pockets for lunch the next day.  There's more.  If you want to serve it as a starter course to a sit-down meal, spoon it atop a bed of crispy lettuce chiffonade -- it's dressed to pucker-up, briny perfection.  That said, because it's marinated, it's best served within 12-24 hours, so, don't make more than you and yours can eat in within that time frame.

This refreshing chopped relish-esque, condiment-type salad... IMG_2422... pairs great w/chicken, steak, chops, &, fish or seafood.

IMG_2392For the Greek-style chopped salad:

1-1 1/2 cups quartered and sliced cucumber, peeled or unpeeled, your choice

1-1 1/2 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half

1/2-3/4  cup coarsely-chopped Greek deli-salad-bar-style pitted-olive mix, preferably one containing garlic

1/4  cup thinly-slices red onion, slices cut into 1" lengths

1/4  cup feta cheese crumbles + 1/4 cup additional crumbles for garnish

For the red wine vinaigrette:

1/2  cup vegetable oil 

1/4  cup red wine vinegar

1-2  tablespoons sugar, to taste

1  teaspoon dried Mediterranean oregano

IMG_2394 IMG_2394 IMG_2394 IMG_2394 IMG_2404 IMG_2404~Step 1.  To prep salad, slice, dice or chop ingredients as directed, placing all in a medium bowl as you work.  To this point, salad ingredients can be prepped, covered and refrigerated 2-4 hours prior to dressing and tossing.

IMG_2410 IMG_2412 IMG_2412 IMG_2420~Step 2.  To prepare the vinaigrette and dress the salad, in a 1-cup measuring container with a tight-fitting lid and a pourer top, place the oil, vinegar, sugar and oregano.  Place the lid on the container and vigorously shake it until ingredients are combined.  Add 4 tablespoons of the vinaigrette to the salad.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold the dressing into the salad.

Toss w/chicken, steak or shrimp -- chopped salad sammies: 

IMG_2437Greek-Style Chopped-Salad w/Red Wine Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 3-4 cups chopped salad and 3/4 cup dressing.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c877664f970bCook's Note:  Chopped salad, also referred to as chop-chop salad, comes to us Americans in many forms. ~ Jumbo Shells Stuffed w/ Shrimp Chop-Chop Salad ~ is one of my personal ways to turn this salad into finger food.  These yummy little appetizer-snacks, like my deviled egg creations, go to a lot of Summer picnics and a few early Fall tailgates too.  The best way to describe them is individual and portable portions of chop-chop salad, and, most people can't keep their hands off them.  They can contain anything your heart desires, as long as the ingredients play well together and are chopped into small morsels prior to judiciously drizzling (not drenching), with a cuisine-appropriate dressing or vinaigrette just prior to spooning the salad into the cooked and well-drained pasta shells and serving chilled.  

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

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

06/30/2019

~Lovely Lemon-Infused EVOO & Asparagus Recipes~

IMG_1878 2In this part of the Northeast, Asparagus season starts around the beginning of May and lasts approximately to the end of June.  This has been a banner year for it, which is why I could not resist dedicating the past two weeks to sharing a few asparagus recipes prepared my favorite way:  enhanced by the flavor of lemon -- more specifically lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil.  For those of you that don't know, asparagus adores the flavor of lemon, and so will you. 

Choosing, Prepping & Storing Amazing Asparagus

Asparagus begins losing its flavor the moment it's picked, so buy the freshest bunch possible. Prepping asparagus correctly gives it a shelf life of 3-5 days.  Start by removing the woody stalk ends.  Every spear has a woody end too fibrous to eat.  When gently bent, each stalk will snap at a point a few inches from the base, where the spear goes from tough to tender. Once trimmed, gather it up and stand it in a glass containing 1/2" water and store, uncovered, in the refrigerator.

IMG_1895Making Lemon-Infused EVOO in the Home Kitchen

Let me start by saying, I purchase my lemon-infused olive oil.  It's a small investment for a product that, in honesty, because of the process involved, can't be 100% duplicated in the home kitchen. Manufacturers of high-quality lemon-infused olive oil include lemon in with the olives when the oil gets cold pressed.  Home cooks simply do not have that option, so, if you are one of those who is inclined to make it at home, the only alternative is what's known as the "heat-and-soak" process.

IMG_2176Breakfast:  Asparagus & Eggs Fried in Lemon-Infused EVOO

The only thing better than a pair of buttery-rich crispy-edged runny-centered sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast, is a pair of lemon-luscious, crispy-edged runny-centered sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast.  Lightly-seasoned to perfection with a few grinds of sea salt and a nice peppercorn blend, once on my plate, I'm ready to catch my toast the instant it pops up, sit down, and luxuriate in the dipping process until every drop of liquid gold and tender bite of white is gone.  All gone.

IMG_2326Lunch:  Asparagus Salad w/Lemon-Infused White-Balsamic Vinaigrette

A salad without lettuce?  There's no law against it, and, in the case of this salad, lettuce is just in the way.  The combination of tender blanched asparagus, a few halved cherry or grape tomatoes, and, small, creamy, fresh mozzarella balls drizzled with a lemon-balsamic vinaigrette is to-die-for. The only item I do add to it on occasion is: a handful of crunchy croutons.  Nothing more, nothing less.  The dressing, loaded with lemon flavor and herbes de Provence, is the star of this show.

IMG_2107Dinner:  Spaghetti w/Crab, Asparagus, Tomato & Prosciutto

Light, bright and amazingly lemony, this lusciously-decadent, not to mention rich, restaurant-quality pasta dish is easy to prepare -- and it's pitch-perfect Summer fare.  While the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and grape tomatoes roast for ten minutes and cool for five, the pasta gets cooked and seasoned.  Toss the two together with high-quality crab claw meat, and lunch or dinner is served.  No cheese please -- cheese, in any form, in this delicate dish, is all wrong.

IMG_2021Hors D'oeuvre:  Amazingly-Lemony Roasted Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus

When I was growing up, fresh asparagus was a delicacy.  We ate it steamed, in the Spring, for holidays and special occasions, and, when we reserved a table at a restaurant -- restaurants had more access to it than the average American family during that era. Over the years it became readily available to home cooks who came to realize that roasting elevated the flavor and texture. The addition of prosciutto puts it in the pick-it-up-with-your-fingers-to-eat finger-food category.

IMG_1940Appetizer:  Grilled Shrimp & Asparagus Cocktail w/Creamy Lemon Dip

How much would you pay for this in an upscale restaurant?  About $8.00 as an appetizer? Perhaps $12.00 as a lunch entrée?  Both sound fare to me, but, truth told, this small plate of happiness is so good I'd happily pay more.  'Tis true, rake my shrimp cocktail over some hot coals and I'll follow you anywhere -- and pay a tidy sum for it too.  Add a few slices of grilled bread, uncork a bottle of white wine, and invite a few guests to join you too -- it's that impressive.

IMG_2260Side-Dish: Amazingly-Lemony & Perfectly Shallow-Poached Asparagus

Technically known as shallow poaching and sometimes referred to as skillet poaching, this is the easiest way to cook fresh asparagus spears.  As it turns out, a small amount of gently or barely simmering salted water in a wide-bottomed skillet is a great way to quickly control the heat of the water, which, in turn, makes it very easy to efficiently yield vibrant green asparagus spears of any thickness that are cooked to your liking:  crunch-tender blanched to fully-cooked fork-tender.

IMG_2061"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

06/28/2019

~Asparagus and Eggs Fried in Lemon-Infused EVOO~

IMG_2326The only thing better than a pair of buttery-rich crispy-edged runny-centered sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast, is a pair of lemon-luscious, crispy-edged runny-centered sunny-side-up eggs for breakfast.  Lightly-seasoned to perfection with a few grinds of sea salt and a nice peppercorn blend, once on my plate, I'm ready to catch my toast the instant it pops up, sit down, and luxuriate in the dipping process until every drop of liquid gold and tender bite of white is gone.  All gone.

Oil-frying eggs is more common than one might think.

IMG_2335I didn't invent oil-fried eggs, and, culturally, it's more common that one might think.  Cooks have been frying eggs in animal fat, oil, margarine and butter for as long as people have been eating fried eggs.  I can, however, say that when I do oil-fry eggs, I use either chili- garlic or lemon-infused oil.  It just makes sense.  Generic olive oil, unless it is flavor-infused, pales in comparison to the taste of butter, so, why bother.  That said, I truly can't remember the first time I decided to throw a few asparagus spears into the skillet with my lemon-infused olive-oil fried eggs, and, it hardly matters.  What does matter is that one morning, when I opened my refrigerator to get my eggs, a glass containing some freshly-picked asparagus spears just happened to be right there.

IMG_2340Infused-oil fried eggs are tastier than one can imagine.

IMG_23041-1 1/2  tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil

2  extra-large or jumbo eggs

3-6  thin-to-medium thickness fresh asparagus spears

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

~ Step 1.  Tap, crack and break the eggs into a ramekin -- I do this to make certain the yolks don't break when they drop into the pan.  If time permits, allow eggs to come to room temperature, about 15 minutes.

IMG_2307 IMG_2307 IMG_2307 IMG_2307 IMG_2307 IMG_2307~Step 2.  Heat oil in a 8" skillet over medium-high heat.  Swirl skillet around to make sure oil coats entire bottom.  Carefully slide the eggs from the ramekin into the skillet.  Cook until the whites turn a bit opaque, add the asparagus spears wherever there is room, then, season everything with salt and pepper.  Cook for 3-4 minutes or until eggs are done to your liking.  Slide eggs and asparagus from skillet to plate and serve immediately.

To change it up, try them with garlic- or chili-infused EVOO too:

IMG_2333Asparagus and Eggs Fried in Lemon-Infused EVOO:  Recipe yields 1 serving.

Special Equipment List:  ramekin; 8" nonstick skillet

IMG_1895Cook's Note: When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

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

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

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

06/26/2019

~Grilled Shrimp and Asparagus Cocktail w/Lemon Dip~

IMG_2266How much would you pay for this in an upscale restaurant?  About $8.00 as an appetizer? Perhaps $12.00 as a lunch entrée?  Both sound fare to me, but, truth told, this small plate of happiness is so good I'd happily pay more.  'Tis true, rake my shrimp cocktail over some hot coals and I'll follow you anywhere -- and pay a tidy sum for it too.  Add a few slices of grilled bread, uncork a bottle of white wine, and invite a few guests to join you too -- it's that impressive.

IMG_2280For the pucker-up lemon sauce for seafood or vegetables:

Oh yes, BIG yes, this concoction is great with many things, but, if you're looking for a pucker-up creamy lemon dip to serve with grilled seafood or vegetables, stop reading, grab a few pantry staples and mix this one together.  It'll only take five minutes, and oh yes, you can thank me later. On our patio, we love to dip grilled shrimp and/or grilled asparagus in it as an hors d'oeuvre, but, I won't lie, it's just as good slathered on a Maryland-style crab cake sandwich (or a grilled or roasted chicken sandwich) too.  There's more.  To give it a drizzly consistency (to use as a creamy-dreamy lemon salad dressing), simply stir more of the vinaigrette into the mayonnaise.

IMG_2081For the lemon-infused, white balsamic vinaigrette:

1/2  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup lemon-infused olive oil

2  tablespoons sugar

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

1  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence

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

IMG_2207 IMG_2207~ Step 2.  To make 1/2 cup of this creamy condiment, mix together 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons lemon-infused EVOO & white-balsamic vinaigrette.  Use ASAP and/or store in the refrigerator almost indefinitely

For the grilled shrimp, asparagus & cherry tomatoes:

Be aware, while simple and straightforward, this recipe is very specific to the size of the shrimp (16/20 count), the thickness of the asparagus (medium), and, the type of tomatoes (whole grape). Why? Because everything cooks at the same time, in the same amount of time, in the same grill pan. Even the olive oil, which is extra-virgin and lemon-infused, makes a difference -- fresh lemon juice won't produce the same result.  This means: do not make substitutions then complain to me if the end result isn't cooked to perfection -- mess with the recipe, mess with perfection.

IMG_2296For each appetizer-size portion:

6  extra-jumbo shrimp (16-20 count), peeled and deveined with the pretty tails left on

6  medium-thickness asparagus spears, properly trimmed of stalk ends

6 whole grape tomatoes

1-2  tablespoons lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

IMG_2302~ Step 1.  Place the shrimp, asparagus and tomatoes on a shallow plate and drizzle the lemon oil over all. Using a pastry brush, paint the surface of each piece to thinly-coat it with oil.  Season the top surface of all with a few grinds of sea salt and peppercorn blend.

Note:  If you're making multiple servings, it goes without saying, to place all of the ingredients on a larger platter to coat and season them all at the same time.

IMG_2244 IMG_2244~ Step 2.  Spray grill pan with no-stick cooking spray and heat over medium-high on stovetop. When hot, arrange shrimp, slightly-apart, in hot center, then, around the perimeter of pan, arrange the asparagus and tomatoes.  Cook for 5-6 minutes, using a pair of tongs to turn each ingredient over only once, about 2 1/2-3 minutes per side. Shrimp will be light golden, asparagus will have a slight char and tomatoes will be blistered.

Golden shrimp, charred asparagus & blistered tomato perfection:

IMG_2255Grilled Shrimp and Asparagus Cocktail w/Lemon Dip:  Recipe yields 1 appetizer-sized serving.

Special Equipment List: pastry brush; nonstick grill pan; tongs

IMG_2021 IMG_2107Cook's Note: For a variation on the theme of seafood with asparagus and cherry tomatoes, try my yummy and easy recipes for ~ Spaghetti w/Crab, Asparagus, Tomato & Prosciutto ~ and ~ Asparagus Salad w/Tomatoes, Mozzarella & Lemon-Balsamic Vinaigrette ~.

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

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

06/23/2019

~ Pucker Up for Lemon Dip w/Seafood or Vegetables ~

IMG_2255Oh yes, BIG yes, this concoction is great with many things, but, if you're looking for a pucker-up creamy lemon dip to serve with grilled seafood or vegetables, stop reading, grab a few pantry staples and mix this one together.  It'll only take five minutes, and oh yes, you can thank me later. On our patio, we love to dip grilled shrimp and/or grilled asparagus in it as an hors d'oeuvre, but, I won't lie, it's just as good slathered on a Maryland-style crab cake sandwich (or a grilled or roasted chicken sandwich) too.  There's more.  To give it a drizzly consistency (to use as a creamy-dreamy lemon salad dressing), simply stir more of the vinaigrette into the mayonnaise.  

IMG_2081For the lemon-infused, white balsamic vinaigrette:

1/2  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup lemon-infused olive oil

2  tablespoons sugar

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

1  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence

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

IMG_2207 IMG_2207~ Step 2.  To make 1/2 cup of this creamy condiment, mix together 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 2 tablespoons lemon-infused EVOO & white-balsamic vinaigrette.  Use ASAP and/or store in the refrigerator almost indefinitely

Pucker up because a little bit of this dip goes a long way!

IMG_2266Pucker Up for Lemon Dip w/Seafood or Vegetables:  Recipe yields 1/2 cup creamy lemon dip/2, 1/4 cup servings.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d297c03f970cCook's Note: Mayonnaise.  As a gal who loves deli-, tuna- and egg-salad sandwiches, I am never too far from my mayo.  During the picnic and tailgate season, when side-dishes like macaroni salad, potato salad, cole slaw and deviled eggs reign supreme, I purchase bigger jars, in two-packs.  When our garden tomatoes are ripe, I could (and will) eat a freshly-picked sliced-tomato sandwich, on white bread, with a big slather of mayonnaise, every day.  There's more.  I can't imagine my life without mayonnaise-based tartar and remoulade sauces in it, or, oh my Thousand Islands salad dressing, and, I'm very proficient at making homemade mayonnaise ("mayo") from scratch too.  Speaking of creamy mayonnaise-based condiments, ~ Spreads go Bread to Bread:  Hellmann's vs Duke's ~ is a post of mine that always gets folks talking.  Everyone has their favorite brand, and, I am no exception. 

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

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

06/20/2019

~ Amazingly-Lemony and Perfectly-Grilled Asparagus ~

IMG_2221Asparagus, served hot off the grill grids, drizzled with a bit of lemon-infused EVOO and white balsamic vinaigrette, is one of my favorite Summer side-dishes.  Name it -- grilled steak, chicken or seafood, it plays well with them all.  Interestingly, I sometimes serve it as an hors d'oeuvre too -- it pairs perfectly with melon wrapped in prosciutto.  There's just something downright delightful about picking up a medium-to-fat, crunch-tender asparagus spear in my fingertips, politely swishing it a pucker-up, creamy, lemon sauce and savoring the lightly-charred flavor. 

Just eat.  It's too simple for words, hence this short post.

IMG_2243Grilling asparagus is so simple, it barely requires writing a recipe.  Just toss the trimmed stalks in some lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil (just enough to lightly-coat), season the spears with some freshly-ground sea salt and a nice peppercorn blend, then, place them directly on the hottest part of the grill grids for a couple very short minutes -- about 3-4 minutes for medium-thick asparagus, 5-6 minutes for thicker ones.  No fuss, no muss, no prep.  Just grill and eat.

IMG_2196For two appetizer servings:

4  ounces, trimmed, medium-thick asparagus spears (12 spears)

1  tablespoon lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil, high-quality store-bought or made from scratch in the home kitchen

15 grinds sea salt

15 grinds peppercorn blend

IMG_2207 IMG_2207~ Step 1 (optional but highly recommended by me).  To make 1/4 cup of my favorite creamy, lemon sauce, mix together 4 tablespoons mayonnaise and 1 tablespoon lemon-infused EVOO & white-balsamic vinaigrette.  Set aside.

IMG_2185 IMG_2185 IMG_2185 IMG_2185 IMG_2185~Step 2.  After trimming the asparagus (see Cook's Note below), line them up, side-by-side, in a single layer on a plate.  Slowly drizzle the lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil over the surface.  Using a pastry brush, paint the asparagus with the EVOO to coat.  Sprinkle a generous grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend over the surface.  Set aside.

IMG_2184 IMG_2184 IMG_2184 IMG_2184~Step 3.  Heat an outdoor gas grill over high setting, or, place a grill pan that's been sprayed with no-stick cooking spray over high heat on stovetop.  Place asparagus, side-by-side, slightly apart, in a single layer across the hot grill grids.  Grill, using tongs to turn only once, until asparagus is lightly charred and cooked to desired degree of doneness, about 1 1/2-2 minutes per side (or until desired degree of doneness is reached).  Remove from heat and serve ASAP.

Remove from grill or grill pan & serve ASAP:

IMG_2230Amazingly-Lemony and Perfectly-Grilled Asparagus:  Recipe yields instructions to grill medium-thick fresh asparagus spears.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; pastry brush; outdoor gas grill or indoor stovetop grill pan; tongs

IMG_1895Cook's Note: When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

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

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

06/18/2019

~ Making Lemon-Infused EVOO in the Home Kitchen ~

IMG_2176Let me start by saying, I purchase my lemon-infused olive oil.  It's a small investment for a product that, in honesty, because of the process involved, can't be 100% duplicated in the home kitchen. Manufacturers of high-quality lemon-infused olive oil include lemon in with the olives when the oil gets cold pressed.  Home cooks simply do not have that option, so, if you are one of those who is inclined to make it at home, the only alternative is what's known as the "heat-and-soak" process.

IMG_2098Lemon-infused olive oil is one of my favorite pantry staples -- a bit of it in a skillet adds marvelous flavor to a sautéing chicken paillard or delicate fillet of white fish.  When mixed with some tangy white-balsamic vinegar, a pinch of sugar, a few herbes de Provence, plus, a tad of Dijon mustard, lemon-infused EVOO & white balsamic vinaigrette is born. It's hard to name a salad that doesn't benefit from a lemony vinaigrette, and because the lemon flavor is infused right in the oil, as opposed to just a fresh squirt of lemon juice, every bite gets enrobed in the lemon-luscious flavor.

Two ingredients plus a bit of patience is all it takes.

IMG_21501  cup high-quality extra-virgin olive oil, the best available and/or your favorite brand

2  large, ripe lemons, preferably organic

Scrub & dry the lemons.

IMG_2142~ Step 1.  Scrub the lemons clean.  Do not skip this step.  Use a stiff vegetable brush, some mild dish detergent and warm tap water.  When finished, pat the lemons dry in some paper towels.

Shave the lemon zest off in long strips.

IMG_2153~ Step 2.  Use a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife to carefully shave the yellow zest from the lemons in long, thin strips, avoiding the bitter white pith layer that lies beneath yellow zest.

Place the EVOO & zest in a shallow, 8" skillet.

IMG_2159~ Step 3.  Place the olive oil and lemon zest strips in an 8" skillet over medium heat.  Do not allow to simmer, and that includes little bubbles that form around the sides of the saucepan.

Heat to warm & carefully regulate temp for 15 minutes. 

IMG_2164 2~ Step 4.  Keep the oil on the stovetop at this warm temperature, regulating the heat up and down as necessary, for 15 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool, uncovered, to room temperature.

Cool to room temperature, strain & store.

IMG_2170~ Step 5.  Using a fine mesh strainer, strain the oil into a clean bottle, jar or other type of food storage container.  Discard the lemon zest.  Store in a cool, dark place or in the refrigerator.

Don't be inclined to store the oil w/the zest in it.

IMG_2180Note:  While it's inviting to look at a piece or two of zest floating around in a bottle or jar of oil, (and it is common practice for some manufacturers of cold-pressed infused oil to allow a strand or two to remain), in the home kitchen, the oil has a longer shelf life if it is removed.  Also, once the oil has been cooled to room temperature, it is not going to take on any more flavor from the zest.

Lemon-infused EVOO -- a light, bright versatile pantry staple:

IMG_2173Making Lemon-Infused EVOO in the Home Kitchen:  Recipe yields 1 cup.

Special Equipment List: vegetable brush; paper towels; vegetable peeler or sharp paring knife; 8" skillet; fine mesh strainer

IMG_2061 2Cook's Note:  During asparagus season, May through the end of June here in the Northeast, I am never without a bottle of lemon-infused olive oil.  Asparagus is the perfect foil for lemon, salt and pepper, and, ~ Perfectly Shallow-Poached Fresh Asparagus Spears ~ is one of favorite ways to serve this delectable vegetable.

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

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

06/15/2019

~Lemon-Infused EVOO & White Balsamic Vinaigrette~

IMG_2098Lemon-infused olive oil is one of my favorite pantry staples -- a bit of it in a skillet adds marvelous flavor to a sautéing chicken paillard or delicate fillet of white fish.  When mixed with some tangy white-balsamic vinegar, a pinch of sugar, a few herbes de Provence, and, a tad of Dijon mustard, an amazing vinaigrette is born.  It's hard to name a salad that doesn't benefit from a lemony vinaigrette, and, in the case of this one, because the lemon flavor is infused in the oil, as opposed to a fresh squirt of lemon juice, every bite gets enrobed in its light, bright flavor.  There's more:  It is indisputably the best marinade for vegetables, poultry, fish or seafood I have ever encountered. Yes indeed, the investment in a bottle of lemon-infused EVOO is a small but mighty-wise one.

IMG_2081For the lemon-infused, white balsamic vinaigrette:

1/2  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup lemon-infused olive oil

2  tablespoons sugar

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

1  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence

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

Try it on my poached asparagus, grape tomato & mozzarella salad

IMG_2107Lemon-Infused EVOO & White Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup vinaigrette.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid and pourer top.

IMG_2061Cook's Note: Technically known as shallow poaching and sometimes referred to as skillet poaching, this is the easiest way to cook fresh asparagus spears.  As it turns out, a small amount of gently or barely simmering salted water in a wide-bottomed skillet is a great way to quickly control the heat of the water, which, in turn, makes it very easy to efficiently yield vibrant green asparagus spears of any thickness that are cooked to your liking: crunch-tender blanched to fully-cooked fork-tender.

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

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

06/13/2019

~ Asparagus Salad with Lemon-Balsamic Vinaigrette ~

IMG_2107A salad without lettuce?  There's no law against it, and, in the case of this salad, lettuce is just in the way.  The combination of tender blanched asparagus, a few halved cherry or grape tomatoes, and, small, creamy, fresh mozzarella balls drizzled with a lemon-balsamic vinaigrette is to-die-for. The only item I do add to it on occasion is: a handful of crunchy croutons.  Nothing more, nothing less.  No other embellishments need apply.  The dressing, loaded with lemon flavor and laced with subtle herbs de Provence, is the star of this salad show, so, don't stray from this flavor profile.

Nothing more, nothing less.  No other embellishments need apply.

IMG_2081For the lemon-infused, white balsamic vinaigrette:

1/2  cup white balsamic vinegar

1/4  cup lemon-infused olive oil

2  tablespoons sugar

1  tablespoon Dijon mustard

1  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence

Step 1.  In a 1-cup food storage container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top, place all ingredients. Vigorously shake until thoroughly combined.  Set aside and prepare salad as directed below:

IMG_2085For the asparagus salad:

12 ounces medium-thick asparagus, trimmed of woody stalk ends, about 24 spears after trimming, shallow-poached until crunch tender, about 3 minutes & shocked in cold water to halt the cooking process

6  ounces grape or cherry tomatoes, sliced in half*

6  ounces small, fresh mozzarella balls, sliced in half ("ciligegine" = "cherry-sized")

* Note:  In season strawberries are a fine substitution for grape or cherry tomatoes in this recipe.

IMG_2039 IMG_2039 IMG_2039 IMG_2039 IMG_2039~Step 1.  In  3 1/2-quart chef's pan or deep skillet place 3/4"-1" of water. Add 2 teaspoons sea salt and bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to the gentlest simmer you can.  Add the asparagus to the pan and cover. Cook asparagus to crunch tender, about 2 minutes.  Drain into a colander and immediately rinse with cold water to halt the cooking process.

IMG_2090 2 IMG_2090 2 IMG_2103~ Step 2.  Lay asparagus flat on a few paper towels to absorb all excess moisture, then, slice  into 1 1/2"-2" lengths.  Transfer to a medium bowl.  Slice and add the grape or cherry tomatoes and mozzarella balls.  Add about half the vinaigrette.  Using a rubber spatula, gently toss until ingredients are evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate about 30-60 minutes, to allow flavors time to marry, prior to serving.

This is one lemony & luscious lettuce-less side-dish salad.

IMG_2124Every succulent bite is a reason to celebrate Summer:

IMG_2129Asparagus Salad with Lemon-Balsamic Vinaigrette:  Recipe yields 4, marinated starter-course salads or side-salads.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup food storage container with a tight-fitting lid and pourer top; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & (glass) lid; colander; paper towels; rubber spatula

IMG_1895Cook's Note:  When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

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

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

06/10/2019

~ Perfect Shallow-Poached Fresh Asparagus Spears ~

IMG_2061Technically known as shallow poaching and sometimes referred to as skillet poaching, this is the easiest way to cook fresh asparagus spears.  As it turns out, a small amount of gently or barely simmering salted water in a wide-bottomed skillet is a great way to quickly control the heat of the water, which, in turn, makes it very easy to efficiently yield vibrant green asparagus spears of any thickness that are cooked to your liking:  crunch-tender blanched to fully-cooked fork-tender.

IMG_1940I won't lie, my recipe for ~ Amazingly-Lemony & Perfectly-Roasted Asparagus ~ is, generally speaking, my favorite way to serve asparagus.  There's just something about the high, dry heat of the oven that elevates its flavor and texture. That said, when gently poached on the stovetop, crunch-tender or fully-cooked asparagus has its place in my food world too.   When it's blanched then shocked in cold water, crunch tender asparagus is perfect to add to salad and dressed with a lemony vinaigrette.  When it's fully-cooked and fork-tender, it's marvelous drizzled with an easy-to-make blender hollandaise or blender béarnaise sauce.  Whether you choose to oven-roast or stovetop poach this versatile veggie, it is always ready to eat in ten or less minutes.

1 skillet w/a (glass) lid + 3/4"-1" water + 2 teaspoons salt. 

IMG_2037The most important thing to know about this process is:  do not overcrowd the skillet with asparagus and do your best to add spears of realtively-even thickness to the simmering water -- common sense says that skinny spears cook faster than fat spears.  Typically, depending on the desired degree of doneness, thin asparagus bathe in the water for 1-2 minutes, average asparagus take 3-4 minutes, and the fatsos take 5-6 minutes.  Past 3, 4, or 6 minutes respectively, be forewarned that asparagus will go IMG_2073from fully-cooked and vibrant green to overcooked and dull green very quickly.   Covering the skillet with a lid during the poaching process is highly recommended, as it bathes the stalks in steam as well as water, and, you have a glass lid that fits your skillet, use it, as it allows you to keep an eye on the entire process. Prior to cooking medium or thick asparagus, for a prettier presentation, use a vegetable peeler to quickly peel the skin from the lower 2"-3" of each spear.

Skinny = 1-2 minutes.  Average = 3-4 minutes.  Fat = 5-6 minutes.

IMG_203612-16 ounces asparagus, trimmed of woody stalk ends, about 24-32 spears after trimming trimmed of woody stalk ends, peeled or unpeeled

4-6  cups water

2  teaspoons sea salt

4  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

blender hollandaise or blender béarnaise sauce (optional)

~ IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034 IMG_2034Step 1.  In  3 1/2-quart chef's pan or deep skillet place 3/4"-1" of water.  Add 2 teaspoons sea salt and bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to the gentlest simmer you can.  Add the asparagus to the pan and cover.  Cook the asparagus to desired degree of doneness:  1-2 minutes for skinny asparagus, 3-4 minutes for average asparagus, or 5-6 minutes for fat asparagus.  Remove from heat and drain water from pan and return pan of asparagus to still hot stovetop.  Add the salted butter, lemon-infused olive oil, and, a generous grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend (about 10-15 grinds each).  Serve immediately.

Serve ASAP drizzled w/optional hollandaise or béarnaise sauce:

IMG_2064How to Shallow-Poach Asparagus Spears Perfectly:  Recipe yields instructions to perfectly poach fresh asparagus spears of any thickness to the desired degree of doneness. 

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler (0ptional); 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides & (glass) lid or deep skillet w/(glass) lid

IMG_1895Cook's Note:  When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

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

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

06/07/2019

~ Spaghetti w/Crab, Asparagus, Tomato & Prosciutto ~

IMG_2021Light, bright and amazingly lemony, this lusciously-decadent, not to mention rich, restaurant-quality pasta dish is easy to prepare -- and it's pitch-perfect Summer fare.  While the prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and grape tomatoes roast for ten minutes and cool for five, the pasta gets cooked and seasoned.  Toss the two together with high-quality crab claw meat, and lunch or dinner is served.  No, just say NO, walk away from hard, grated or shaved, Italian cheese, soft fresh mozzarella or creamy ricotta, and please, don't roll your eyes.  Once you savor the delicate flavors in the first forkful of crab and asparagus intermingled amongst strands of lemony pasta and shreds of salty prosciutto, you will agree -- cheese, any cheese, would be is all wrong.

From 2 to 4 servings or more, prepare no more than you plan to eat.

IMG_2015The bad news.  This is not a dish that can be made in advance, and, leftovers are definitely a compromise.  The good news.  It's so easy to make so there's no reason to care about advance preparation or leftovers.  This is a restaurant dish that I have adapted for the home kitchen.  In the restaurant kitchen, a line cook quickly sautés chards of prosciutto with sliced asparagus and whole grape tomatoes in seasoned olive oil until the prosciutto is crisping and the tomatoes are blistering.  Cooked pasta gets tossed in along with a handful of crabmeat and voila:  dinner. 

IMG_2028For 2 or 4 servings roasted prosciutto-wrapped asparagus and tomatoes:

1/2 or 1  pound thick asparagus, trimmed of woody stalk ends, about 12-24 spears after trimming

3 or 6  thin slices prosciutto, each sliced into 4 long strips 

12-16 or 24-32 grape tomatoes 

3 or 6  tablespoons high-quality lemon-infused olive oil

fresh-ground sea salt, 20-25 or 40-50 grinds

fresh-ground black or peppercorn blend, 20-25 or 40-50 grinds 

IMG_1978For 2 or 4 servings thick spaghetti and crabmeat:

8 or 16  ounces thick spaghetti

3 or 6  tablespoons salted butter

2 or 4  tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil

1/2-1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/4-1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

8-12 or 16-24  ounces high-quality pasteurized crab claw meat, the best available

IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913~Step 1. Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with aluminum foil.  Arrange asparagus, side by side, slightly apart and in a single layer on pan.  Wind half or all spears with one long thin strip of prosciutto each -- I do half because prosciutto is salty and too much can be overwhelming, but it's your choice.  Add the grape tomatoes to the sides of pan (separate from the asparagus).  Drizzle 3-4 tablespoons lemon-infused olive oil over all.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint and dab the olive oil between and across the surface of the spears, and the tomatoes.  Season generously with freshly ground sea salt and pepper.

IMG_1934 IMG_1934~ Step 2.  Roast on center rack of preheated 425º oven or toaster oven for 9-10 minutes.  Asparagus will be fork tender and tomatoes will be soft and blistered. Remove from oven and set baking pan aside to cool to the touch, about 5 minutes.

IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 IMG_1982 ~Step 3.  To cook the pasta, in a 4- or 8-quart stockpot bring 3 or 5 quarts of water to a boil over high heat, then add 1 or 2 tablespoons sea salt to the boiling water.  Add the thick spaghetti and cook until al dente, 11-13 minutes.  Drain spaghetti into a colander.  Do not rinse.  Return steaming-hot pasta to still warm stovetop.  Add the salted butter, lemon-infused olive oil, garlic powder and red pepper flakes. Using two spoons or two forks, toss as you would a salad until pasta is evenly coated in melted butter.  Add the crab claw meat to the top and cover the pot -- do not toss at this time.

IMG_1960 IMG_1960 IMG_1960 IMG_1960 IMG_1960~Step 4.  Transfer the warm-to-the-touch asparagus to a cutting board. Using a serrated knife, remove the tender asparagus tips and set aside to use as garnish.  Holding the knife at an angle and using a light touch, gently slice, to produce very-thin pieces of asparagus and chards of prosciutto.  Transfer tomatoes to board and slice into halves or quarters.

IMG_2001~Step 5.  Add the thinly-sliced asparagus spears, chards of roasted prosciutto and grape tomato pieces to the crab and spaghetti.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss like you would a salad, until just combined. Portion into warm serving bowls and serve topped with a sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt and garnished with a few tender asparagus tips.

Gently toss, portion into bowls, garnish, serve & eat: 

IMG_2016Spaghetti w/Crab, Asparagus, Tomato & Prosciutto:  Recipe yields 2-4 rich and hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" or 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; pastry brush; cutting board; serrated bread knife; wide-bottomed 4- or 8-quart stockpot w/lid; colander

IMG_1895Cook's Note:  When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

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

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

06/05/2019

~ Amazingly-Lemony & Perfectly-Roasted Asparagus ~

IMG_1940When I was growing up, fresh asparagus was a delicacy, meaning, my family only ate it in the Spring, mostly for holidays and special occasions, or, when we reserved a table at a fancy restaurant --  restaurants had more access to it than the average American family during that era. That said, even in the restaurants back in the 1960's and '70's, it was always of the pencil-thin type, and, it was served either lightly steamed or briefly blanched.  Thinking back, I suppose it was because these methods enhanced its color, which made for a prettier presentation.  Indeed it tasted wonderful, but, years later, circa the 1980's, when roasting vegetables and vegetable medleys became trendy, I came to realize how roasting it elevated its flavor and texture.

For even roasting choose asparagus of even thickness.

Before preparing this super-simple side-dish, please note that when it comes to roasting asparagus, thick spears work the best (thin ones, not so much).  Why?  Read on.  Thin spears can and will dry out too quickly in the required high, 425º oven heat, which can and will render them tough and stringy.  It matters not how many asparagus spears you roast, as long as they're even-sized and lined up, side-by side, in a single layer on a baking pan.  All they require is a light coating of lemon-infused olive oil (the flavor explosion from it is delightful), some freshly-ground sea salt and black pepper or a peppercorn blend, and, 9-10 minutes of time to roast.  Tick, tock.

IMG_19121/2  pound thick asparagus, trimmed of woody stalk ends, about 12 spears after trimming

3  thin slices prosciutto, each sliced into 4 long strips (optional)

12-24 grape tomatoes (optional)

3-4  tablespoons high-quality lemon-infused olive oil

freshly-ground sea salt, 20-25 grinds

freshly-ground black pepper or peppercorn blend, 20-25 grinds 

IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913 IMG_1913~Step 1.  Line an appropriately-sized baking pan with aluminum foil.  Arrange asparagus, side by side, slightly apart and in a single layer on pan.  If inclined, wind half or all spears with one long thin strip of prosciutto each.  If you like grape tomatoes add them to the sides of pan too.  Neither prosciutto or tomatoes affect the recipe or roasting time -- use them or don't, your choice.  Drizzle 3-4 tablespoons lemon infused olive oil over all.  Using a pastry brush, lightly paint and dab the olive oil between and across the surface of the spears, and the optional tomatoes.  Season generously with freshly ground sea salt and pepper.

IMG_1934 IMG_1934~ Step 2.  Roast on center rack of preheated 425º oven (or toaster oven for a small batch like I am making today) for 9-10 minutes.  Asparagus will be fork tender and tomatoes will be blistered. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Gently plate & serve immediately...

IMG_1938... w/roasted or grilled poultry, fish, seafood &/or pasta. 

IMG_1953Amazingly-Simple & Perfectly-Roasted Asparagus:  Recipe yields 2-4 servings.

Special Equipment List:  appropriately-sized baking pan; aluminum foil, pastry brush

IMG_1895Cook's Note:  When it comes to cooking asparagus via any method, freshness always matters more than thickness, and, even the best asparagus recipes are subject to failure if this delicate vegetable isn't treated with care. ~ Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus ~ is a must read for anyone who's looking to get acquainted with this seasonal but very versatile vegetable.

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

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

06/03/2019

~Choosing, Prepping and Storing Amazing Asparagus~

IMG_1895In this part of the Northeast, Asparagus season starts around the beginning of May and lasts approximately to the end of June.  It's one of my favorite green vegetables, but, interestingly, I prefer to purchase it rather than grow it.  Why?  Frankly, when we did grow our own, on days when I needed it, I couldn't rely on enough being ready for harvest and vice versa.  Asparagus spears, which pup up out of the ground like little soldiers, grow on their own time, not mine.  Early in the season, it can take a spear up to three days to mature.  Toward the end of the season, it can mature in one day.  Asparagus farmers must maintain every row of asparagus every day.

#1)  Choose:  Fresh always matters more than thickness.

IMG_1879Asparagus begins losing its naturally sweet flavor the moment it's picked, so buy the freshest bunch possible. Look for straight, firm stalks that are bright green in color and unblemished.  Don't buy asparagus that appears dry, wrinkled or limp. The tender tips should be compact and deep-green and slightly purple-ish and not ruffled, frayed or flowery looking.  To ensure even cooking, choose asparagus of even thickness.  Thin asparagus is the most tender and only needs to be quickly blanched.  Medium-thickness is perfect for a brief simmer or sauté, and, thick asparagus is great roasted or grilled.

#2)  Prep: Rinse & drain, &, snap or trim. 

IMG_4343Prepping asparagus correctly gives it a shelf life of 3-5 days.  Since it's grown in sandy soil, give the spears a swish in a bowl of cold tap water to release any debris, then, lay them, in a single layer, on a few layers of paper towels to drain thoroughly, 5-10 minutes.  Because every spear has a woody end too fibrous to eat, trimming comes next. When gently bent, the stalk will snap at a point a few inches from the base, where the spear goes from tough to tender.  Once you get a feel for where the stalks du jour are snapping, time can be saved by trimming several at a time with a chef's knife.

#3)  Store:  In a glass of water in the refrigerator.  

IMG_4372Once trimmed, don't put asparagus in the vegetable bin with the riffraff. Gather it up in a bunch, stand it upright in a glass containing half an inch of cold water and store it, uncovered, on a shelf in the refrigerator.  As for those woody ends, they can be stored in a food storage bag in the vegetable bin or frozen and used to make stock or soup.  Remove asparagus from refrigerator just prior to cooking. While many restaurant chefs insist upon using a vegetable peeler to shave two-three inches of skin from the bottom of each stock prior to cooking (for a prettier presentation), most home cooks do not bother -- me included. 

IMG_1878"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

05/31/2019

~ An Old-Fashioned Diner-Style Baked Rice Pudding ~

IMG_1868Rice pudding is to us Northerners what banana pudding is to the Southerners -- a staple in every diner.  Speaking from lots of experience on behalf of parts of the Northeast (New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to be specific), I'm here to tell you our diner-style rice pudding is:  to die for.  Sit me in any diner and I can assure two things you can always count on:  the fork-tender meatloaf (served up with fluffy mashed potatoes and gravy), and, the rice pudding (garnished with a generous squirt of Redi-whipped cream and a maraschino cherry -- banana pudding gets meringue).  In the language of inner-circle diner eaters, we refer to this dessert as "rice cream".

Understandably, most diners have a limited dessert menu.

IMG_1822Understandably, most diners have a limited dessert menu, and, while a slice of pie is a common menu item, the pie, unless you're in a diner that is renowned for its pie, is seldom made in-house -- time and space constraints, along with cost-per-serving issues, combined with the many-times limited skills of the average diner cook, more-often-than-not prohibits a genuinely pie-perfect experience -- sometimes it's so awful not even a complimentary scoop of ice cream can come to its rescue.  'Tis sad but undeniably true -- ordering pie in a diner is a roll of the proverbial dice.

Rice pudding began showing up on diner menus in the 1920's. 

IMG_1835Enter rice pudding*.  For no apparent documented reasons, it started showing up on diner menus in the 1920's.  My best guess is this:  Besides playing well in any typical laid-back hometown-diner atmosphere, making this popular and inexpensive dessert in a big batch, in-house, was a cinch for almost anyone on the kitchen staff who could accurately measure a few ingredients. Also, a generous scoop of creamy rice pudding tasted great served warm or cold with any meal any time of the day, and, if kept stored in the refrigerator, had a several day shelf life -- it was ideally suited to the grueling early-morning-to-late-night to many times 24/7 hours most diners operate.  There's more.  Because many diner kitchens of the era consisted of a flat top griddle, rather than a stovetop, like another popular diner menu staple, macaroni and cheese, this creamy-dreamy concoction could conveniently, and without compromise, be baked in the oven.

*Note:  Rice pudding is a complicated topic and one would be hard-pressed to find a culture that does not have its own version.  To make short sense of it all, rice pudding is an ancient dish that traces its roots to China (the land of rice) and the Middle East, more specifically, a Persian dish called rice milk.  That said, it was the Romans who recognized the binding properties of eggs which added the rich thickness to the dish, meaning: turned it into a custard.  When it reached India, sugar was added which transformed it from a savory to a sweet, and, the pudding-esque version Americans enjoy today dates to the Middle Ages, with the distinction between European and American puddings and custards becoming muddled sometime in the latter 1850's.

Diner rice pudding recipes from the 1940's, 50's & 60's rock on:

IMG_18584  ounces arborio rice (about 1/2 cup)

4  ounces dark or golden raisins, your choice (about 3/4 cup)

2  12-ounce cans evaporated milk, plus enough whole milk to total 4 cups liquid (Note: Whole milk can be substituted for evaporated milk.  That said, if you've ever wondered why diner-style rice pudding has an ultra-smooth consistency, it is the result of evaporated milk.  During the World War II war years, when dairy was rationed, evaporated milk was almost always substituted for whole milk, and, after the war, many diners had no reason to switch back to milk.)

2  tablespoons vanilla extract

2  extra-large eggs

10  tablespoons granulated sugar (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons)

2  ounces salted butter (4 tablespoons)

Cinnamon-Sugar, for topping rice pudding

Redi-Whipped Cream, for garnish

maraschino cherries, for garnish

IMG_1762 IMG_1762 IMG_1762 IMG_1762 IMG_1762~Step 1.  In a 1-quart measuring container, place the evaporated milk, then add enough whole milk to total 4 cups.  In a 3-quart saucier or a 4-quart saucepan, stir together the evaporated milk, arborio rice, dark or golden raisins and vanilla extract.  Set aside for 15-20 minutes, to allow rice time to soften a bit and raisins time to plump a bit.  During this time:

IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777~Step 2.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to vigorously whisk eggs.  Add and vigorously whisk in the sugar.  Set aside about 5 minutes, then whisk again, to ensure sugar has dissolved.  In a small ramekin or bowl, melt butter in microwave, then set set aside to cool about 5 minutes. Using the fork, whisk the melted butter into the egg/sugar mixture.

IMG_1794 IMG_1794 IMG_1794~Step 3.  Place evaporated milk mixture over low heat. Stirring frequently throughout process, heat until mixture is steaming and showing signs of simmering around the perimeter of the pan.  Remove from heat.

IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803~Step 4.  Two tablespoons at a time, drizzle and whisk some of the hot evaporated milk into the egg mixture, to temper the eggs -- this will prevent them from scrambling when whisked into the hot evaporated milk mixture.  In a slow steady stream, while stirring constantly, drizzle the egg mixture into the evaporated milk mixture.  There will be a generous 6 cups of pudding mixture.

IMG_1804 IMG_1804 IMG_1804 IMG_1804~Step 5.  Transfer pudding mixture to a 2-quart casserole.  Bake on center rack of 300° oven (no higher) for 1 hour.  Almost all liquid will have been absorbed by the rice and pudding will be lightly browned in spots on top, and sort of "jiggly" too.  Remove from oven, sprinkle with Cinnamon-Sugar, and set aside about 1 1/2 hours (or longer) prior to serving warm or at room temperature.

Diner-style rice pudding gets whipped cream & a cherry:

IMG_1867Rich & creamy-dreamy, rice cream & a cherry too.  Woo-hoo! 

IMG_1873An Old-Fashioned Diner-Style Baked Rice Pudding: Recipe yields 6 cups baked rice pudding/6-12 servings.

Special Equipment List: 1-quart measuring container; 3-4-quart saucier or 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; 2-cup measuring container; fork; ramekin or small bowl; 2-quart au gratin-type casserole or any shallow 2-quart casserole

6a0120a8551282970b0240a48b239a200dCook's Note: ~ My Creamy, Orange-Kissed Arborio Rice Pudding ~.  Technically, while rice pudding is not a custard per se, this type of rice pudding is prepared in the manner of custard, which is:  a sweetened egg/milk mixture that has been cooked gently on the stovetop or baked in a low oven. Stirred custards are usually made in a double boiler, while baked custards get cooked in a warm water bath, which is not the case in most rice pudding recipes. That said, "custard" was the best term I could think of to describe its preparation.

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

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

05/28/2019

~ Put the Rum and the Coconut in the Rice Pudding ~

IMG_1835If, like me, you're a rice pudding lover, you'll eat it whenever offered.  That said, as a rice pudding lover, until now, I never thought of it as a Summer dessert.  This time of year, my mindset naturally turns to fruit or berry pie, shortcake, sorbet and ice cream as a perfect ending to a meal. Then, last night on a whim, I put the rum and the coconut in the rice pudding.  Served warm on a starry night, or cold on a sun-drenched afternoon, this Island-style version of rice pudding is a fine finale to any Caribbean-themed feast, or, more specifically, Jamaican jerk-style chicken, ribs, or wings.  There's more, it's baked in a low oven, not slow simmered on the stovetop (which frees up your hands to work on dinner prep), and, it turns out as creamy as any stovetop version.  

IMG_17594  ounces arborio rice (about 1/2 cup)

4  ounces golden raisins (about 3/4 cup)

2  13 1/2 ounce cans coconut milk, plus enough whole milk to total 4 cups liquid

2  tablespoons butter-rum flavoring

2  extra-large eggs

10  tablespoons granulated sugar (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons)

2  ounces salted butter (4 tablespoons)

Cinnamon-Sugar, for topping and garnish

IMG_1762 IMG_1762 IMG_1762 IMG_1762 IMG_1762~Step 1.  In a 1-quart measuring container, place the coconut milk, then add enough whole milk to total 4 cups.  In a 3-quart saucier or a 4-quart saucepan, stir together the coconut milk, arborio rice, golden raisins and butter rum flavoring.  Set aside for 15-20 minutes, to allow rice time to soften a bit and raisins time to plump a bit.  During this wait time:

IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777 IMG_1777~Step 2.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to vigorously whisk eggs.  Add and vigorously whisk in the sugar.  Set aside about 5 minutes, then whisk again, to ensure sugar has dissolved.  In a small ramekin or bowl, melt butter in microwave, then set set aside to cool about 5 minutes. Using the fork, whisk the melted butter into the egg/sugar mixture.

IMG_1794 IMG_1794 IMG_1794~Step 3.  Place  coconut milk mixture over low heat. Stirring frequently throughout process, heat until mixture is steaming and showing signs of simmering around the perimeter of the pan.  Remove from heat.

IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803 IMG_1803~Step 4.  Two tablespoons at a time, drizzle and whisk some of the hot coconut milk into the egg mixture, to temper the eggs -- this will prevent them from scrambling when whisked into the hot coconut milk mixture.  In a slow steady stream, while stirring constantly with the spoon, drizzle the egg mixture into the coconut milk mixture.  There will be a generous 6 cups of pudding mixture.

IMG_1814 IMG_1817 IMG_1817 IMG_1817~Step 5.  Transfer pudding mixture to a 2-quart casserole.  Bake on center rack of 300° oven (no higher) for 1 hour.  Almost all liquid will have been absorbed by the rice and pudding will be lightly browned in spots on top, and sort of "jiggly" too.  Remove from oven, sprinkle with Cinnamon-Sugar, and set aside about 1 1/2 hours (or longer) prior to serving warm or at room temperature.

Served warm on a starry Summer night, it's divine:

IMG_1834Served cold on a sun-drenched Summer afternoon, it's sublime:

IMG_1852Put the Rum and the Coconut in the Rice Pudding:  Recipe yields 6 cups baked rice pudding/6-12 servings.

Special Equipment List: 1-quart measuring container; 3-4-quart saucier or 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; 2-cup measuring container; fork; ramekin or small bowl; 2-quart au gratin-type casserole or any shallow 2-quart casserole

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c950509c970bCook's Note: ~ My Creamy, Orange-Kissed Arborio Rice Pudding ~.  Technically, while rice pudding is not a custard per se, this type of rice pudding is prepared in the manner of custard, which is:  a sweetened egg/milk mixture that has been cooked gently on the stovetop or baked in a low oven. Stirred custards are usually made in a double boiler, while baked custards get cooked in a warm water bath, which is not the case in most rice pudding recipes. That said, "custard" was the best term I could think of to describe its preparation.

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

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

05/25/2019

~ The Retro & Original Wish-Bone Italian Pasta Salad ~

IMG_1685Wish-Bone Italian dressing.  How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.  To name a few: drizzled on my garden salad or slathered on my turkey sandwich, as a dip for my vegetables, as a marinade for my chicken, and, as the dressing for the original Wish-Bone Italian pasta salad recipe.  Growing up, right next to the bright- red Kraft Catalina Dressing  and the creamy-white Hellmann's mayonnaise stood the Wish-Bone.  All were condiment staples in my mom's 1960's and 70's refrigerator, and today, all remain staples in my own refrigerator -- although I now prefer Wish-Bone's Light-Italian version.  Want a creamy version of Wish-Bone Italian or want to tone down the tomatoey Catalina a bit?  Do what mom did -- stir a bit of Hellmann's into either.   

Wish-Bone dressing got its start in Kansas City at the Wish-Bone restaurant.

IMG_1755In 1945, returning World War II veteran, Phillip Sollomi opened a family-style chicken restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, naming it: The Wish-Bone.  His restaurant was an immediate success, and, in 1945, Phillip and The Wish-Bone found their true calling.  Phil debuted his mother's salad dressing, a recipe she brought from her native Sicily. The clientele loved it it, and, before long, Phil was mixing the dressing in a 50-gallon drum and pouring it into bottles as fast as his mother could slap on the iconic label:  "The Kansas City Wish-Bone Famous Italian-Style Dressing."  It became so popular throughout the heartland that, in 1957, Phillip sold the business to Lipton, where his family's tradition of authentic ingredients and exceptional flavor remains in the bottle today.

My mom always made pasta salad for Memorial Day.  It was classic 1960's-style -- rotini pasta with some cubed salami, pepperoni and American cheese, sliced black olives, diced onion and tomato dressed with store-bought Wish-Bone Italian dressing.  It wasn't gourmet, it wasn't even particularly exciting to look at, but, because it was prepared correctly, it was remarkably delicious, and, I am 99.99% sure she followed the recipe that was printed on the back of the box of San Georgio rotini (spiral) pasta which was:  The Original Wish-Bone Italian Pasta Salad recipe. 

A bit about pasta salad:  It's a dish prepared with one or more types of al dente cooked pasta tossed in a highly-flavored vinegar-, oil-, or mayonnaise-based dressing.  Besides the pasta, almost anything (raw, marinated or cooked via any manner) can be added to pasta salad:  fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, cheese, nuts, seeds, and/or herbs (to name a few).  Pasta salad is served chilled as an appetizer, a side-dish or a main course for brunch, lunch or dinner. While it can be served any time of the year, it's particularly popular in the Spring and Summer.

When properly prepared, pasta salad is awesome.

Il_570xN.1025944851_ns1tIt's the perfect ratio of pasta to add-ins to dressing.

IMG_16701  pound fork-friendly rotini-shaped pasta (spiral)

~ Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5-quarts water to a boil and cook pasta al dente (according to package directions) for 9-11 minutes.  Transfer pasta to a colander and rinse under cold water to remove starch and halt the cooking process, then, allowed to remain in colander and drain thoroughly  (to a moisture free state), about 15-30 minutes.  

IMG_16661 1/2-2 pounds (3-4 total cups) assorted bite-sized, fork-friendly slices or cubes of cut-up Italian-cured meats, cheese and veggies (recommended are pepperoni, hard salami, American or mozzarella cheese, sliced black olives, diced tomato, red onion; additional options or substitutions include  green and/or red bell peppers or small, blanched broccoli and/or cauliflower florets)

IMG_16721-1 1/2  cups Wish-Bone Italian 

~ Step 2.  Place pasta and add-in ingredients in a large bowl.  Add the dressing, a little at a time, while using a large rubber spatula to toss, until ingredients are coated and no dressing is puddling in the bottom of bowl.  If preparing a day ahead, refrigerate, then stir in 1/4-1/2 cup additional dressing at serving time. Note:  For a creamy pasta salad, substitute 1/2-3/4 cup mayonnaise for 1/2 cup-3/4 cup Italian Dressing.

Chilled or at room-temperature, enjoy the pasta salad season:

IMG_1685The Retro & Original Wish-Bone Italian Pasta Salad: Recipe yields approximately 16 cups of pasta salad/12, 1 1/2 cup servings. 

Special Equipment List: 8-quart stockpot; colander; cutting board; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b019104f398f4970cCook's Note:  The definition for French dressing/salad dressing:  1) an oil-and-vinegar combination, seasoned with salt, pepper and herbs, or, 2) a commercial American dressing that is creamy, tartly sweet and red-orange in color.  The latter is the dressing that captivated my younger brother David during his teen years.  It was manufactured by Kraft Foods and named Catalina.  He would drench large chunks of iceberg lettuce with it.  As an adult, I too found myself using copious amounts of it to dress a spinach salad.  ~ Try My Homemade All-American Catalina Dressing ~.

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

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

05/22/2019

~Three Great Tips for Making the Perfect Pasta Salad~

IMG_1685My mom always made pasta salad for Memorial Day.  It was classic 1960's, Wish-Bone-Style -- rotini pasta with some cubed salami, pepperoni and American cheese, sliced black olives, diced onion and tomato dressed with store-bought Italian dressing.  It wasn't gourmet, it wasn't even particularly exciting to look at, but, because it was prepared correctly, it was remarkably delicious. Our Memorial Day picnic, at our reserved picnic table, at Lakewood Park in Barnesville, PA, would have been incomplete without the pasta salad.  Mom's Spring green Tupperware container went in and came out of the cooler several times throughout the day while us kids ran back and forth between the amusement park with its rides and our grassy spot across the lane by the pool.

6a0120a8551282970b014e88e6661e970dLakewood Park was an amusement park established in 1916 and was known as a nature retreat.  In its heyday, it boasted a very large wooden coaster and kiddie coaster in addition to the Wild Mouse ride. In fact, the park was broken into two sections with adult rides on one side and children's rides on the other.  It had a long miniature train ride that circled the park, a hand-carved Miller & Baker designed carousel, that was removed, preserved and still operates today in the Grand Rapids, MI public museum, and, a 150-yard in-ground cement pool.  Its Grand Ballroom was the host of big bands which included The Dorsey Brothers, Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller, as well as celebrity performers like Dick Clark and Doris Day.  The Theater hosted countless theater companies.  It was a mecca for 68 years and was well-known for its annual Bavarian Beer Festival.  Sadly, it closed during the '80's, but that was well after I had moved to Happy Valley, so my remembrances of it as a bustling, busy, noisy, hot, sticky amusement park are crystal clear and that's how I want them to stay.  Thanks to the Joel Styer collection for this nostalgic postcard peek back in time.

When properly prepared, pasta salad is awesome.

Il_570xN.1025944851_ns1tWhen properly prepared, pasta salad is awesome.  When not properly prepared, pasta salad is awful.  Because an awesome pasta salad is a crowd-pleasing staple during the Spring and Summer, and, because I've tasted my share of awful pasta salad at picnics and potlucks over the years, when I teach a class about outdoor entertaining or tailgating, I try to include a pasta salad recipe in order to share my tips for a fork-friendly, properly dressed, full-flavored, pasta salad with:

A perfect ratio of pasta to add-ins to dressing = perfect pasta salad.

A bit about pasta salad:  It's a dish prepared with one or more types of al dente cooked pasta tossed in a highly-flavored vinegar-, oil-, or mayonnaise-based dressing.  Besides the pasta, almost anything (raw, marinated or cooked via any manner) can be added to pasta salad:  fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, cheese, nuts, seeds, and/or herbs (to name a few).  Pasta salad is served chilled as an appetizer, a side-dish or a main course for brunch, lunch or dinner. While it can be served any time of the year, it's particularly popular in the Spring and Summer.

#1)  One pound al dente cooked, drained, rinsed, water-free pasta.

IMG_1670Use fork-friendly, bite-sized pasta shapes that hold dressing.  

One pound fork-friendly, bite-sized pasta.  My favorite is called "Trio Italiano" and is a combination of tubes, spirals and medium shells.  Any one on its own holds the dressing and collects small bits of add-in ingredients exceptionally well, so the choice is yours.  Colorful green and red pasta (in addition to white, which together = the colors of the Italian flag), which were not available to my mother in the 1960's, are great for adding color, but be aware, they add no detectable flavor. Cook the pasta to al dente, as directed, in salted water, about 9-11 minutes -- do not overcook the pasta, meaning: error on the side of ever-so-slightly undercooked.  Drain it into a colander, and, unless the recipe specifically directs to do otherwise, immediately rinse it under cold water.  Pasta that is not rinsed of its starch gets sticky and gummy.  Transfer pasta to a parchment-lined baking pan to cool completely and "dry", meaning, free from water, not dried out, about 30 minutes.

#2)  1 1/2-2 pounds tasty "add-ins" that complement each other.

IMG_1666Even-sized & bite-sized fork-friendly slices or cubes work best.

1 1/2-2 pounds additional "add-in" ingredients + fresh or dried herbs.  Use what you like or have on hand and by all means be creative, but make sure the ingredients go well together. Make one "add-in" ingredient the star of the show, meaning:  Add twice as much of it than other add-ins -- like most folks, I typically choose to do this with a protein (shrimp, tuna, chicken, turkey or salami being my favorites), but, if it's a vegetarian pasta salad, choose one vegetable and allow it take center stage.  That said, when adding vegetables like asparagus or carrots and cauliflower and/or broccoli florets, be sure to blanche them in boiling water for 1-3 minutes, then shock them in cold water (to halt the cooking process, so they are crunch tender and flavor-enhanced (rather than raw-tasting and rock hard).  As for cherry or grape tomatoes, please do not add them whole -- cut them in half or dice them so their acidity can be released to enhance the flavor of the dressing. 

#3)  1 1/2-2 cups very-very-flavorful dressing.

IMG_1672Add more flavor to the dressing, not more dressing for flavor.

1 1/2-2  cups of very, very flavorful dressing.  There is nothing worse than an under-dressed, almost dry, bland, boring-tasting pasta salad, except for  bland-tasting, over-dressed dripping wet one.  When it comes to dressing for pasta salad, taste it prior to adding it.  If it doesn't pack-a-bunch of flavor, it needs more seasoning -- a bit more seasoning than you think you need.  For perfect pasta salad, for flavor: always add more flavor to the dressing, not more dressing to the salad -- that's how over-dressed pasta salad wrecks occur.  Toss the dressing in, a little at a time, until the ingredients are well-coated and no dressing is puddling in the bottom of the bowl.  Set the dressed salad aside for 15-20 minutes and give it stir.  If it needs more, add it.  Rule of thumb: Right up until serving time, you can't always add more -- you can never remove too much.

Shrimp & Pasta Salad w/Lemon-Garlic Dressing:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a45f0f9d200cGreek Pasta Salad w/Tapenade, Tuna & Tomato:

IMG_1653Amish Honey-Mustard & Pickle-Relish Pasta Salad:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09d0f92c970dThree Great Tips for Making the Perfect Pasta Salad:  Recipe yields approximately 16 cups of pasta salad/ 1 1/2 cups dressing/12, 1 1/2 cup servings. 

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid; cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot; colander; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; large rubber spatula; plastic wrap; misc. other items depending on the recipe

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c877664f970bCook's Note: Did you know that pasta salad could be served as an hors d'oeuvre?  These yummy little appetizer-snacks go to a lot of Summer picnics and a few early Fall tailgates too.  The best way to describe them is individual and portable portions of chop-chop pasta salad, and, most people can't keep their hands off them.  They can contain anything, as long as the ingredients play well together and are chopped into small morsels prior to judiciously drizzling (not drenching), with a cuisine-appropriate dressing just prior to spooning the salad into the shells and serving.  ~ Jumbo Shells Stuffed w/Shrimp Chop-Chop Salad ~.

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

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

05/19/2019

~Mediterranean-Style Olive Tapenade & Feta Omelet~

IMG_1728I declare:  I love briny tapenade in an omelete.  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 -- what's not to love.  I could eat this savory, meatless delight for breakfast, lunch and dinner -- there's seriously no need for bacon or or sausage with this breakfast.  Toast points go nicely, but, please skip the orange or grapefruit juice -- they're just wrong.  This omelet pairs perfectly with a bloody Mary for breakfast, a glass of white wine for lunch, and, a pilsner of beer for dinner.  Life in this food world with this flavor-packed omelet in it is very, very good.

Meet my favorite big fat Greek-style omelet:

IMG_1735As 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 little number is one of my ideal ways to break the fast -- and, trust me, it tastes every bit as good as it looks.  

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

IMG_1688For the savory Greek-style omelette:

3  extra-large eggs, preferably at room temperature

1/4  cup half and half

15 grinds each: freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

4-6 tablespoons finely-diced red onion 

4-6  tablespoons my recipe for Briny, Garlic & Herbaceous Greek-Olive Tapenade

4-6 tablespoons feta cheese crumbles

1-2  teaspoons salted butter

For the optional accompaniment and garnish:

1  medium handful baby arugula leaves, baby spinach leaves may be substituted

6-8  cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters, quarters cut in half

IMG_1690 IMG_1690 IMG_1690 IMG_1690~Step 1. Crack the extra-large eggs into a 1-cup measuring container and add enough half and half to total 3/4 cups total liquid (about 4 tablespoons).  Add the sea salt, peppercorn blend and diced red onion.  Use a fork to whisk vigorously, until thoroughly combined.

IMG_1699 2 IMG_1699 2 IMG_1699 2 IMG_1699 2 IMG_1706~Step 2. In an 8" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Use the fork to briefly rewhisk the egg mixture, then pour it into the warmed skillet. By patiently manually lifting, lowering, and tilting the pan on and off the heat, allow the eggs to set a bit up and around the sloping sides of the skillet -- about 45 seconds over low heat w/no pressure to rush.

IMG_1709 IMG_1709 IMG_1709~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_1714 IMG_1714 IMG_1714 IMG_1714~Step 4.  Decrease the heat to low.  Scatter the tapenade, in a half-moon shape, over half of the omelette, then, scatter the feta on top of the tapenade.  Give cheese about 45 seconds to soften over low heat with no pressure to rush -- feta cheese does not melt like other cheeses. Using a large spatula, lift the empty side of the omelette up and over the cheesy side of the omelette.  

Transfer from skillet to plate & serve w/arugula & diced tomato:

IMG_1724Feel free to cut it in half & share the love (or not):

IMG_1750Meditterranean-Style Olive Tapenade & Feta Omelet:  Recipe yields instruction to make one hearty, Greek-style omelette/1-2 servings.

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

IMG_1277Cook's Note: For those who don't know, mustard is more than just a condiment that goes on your hot dogs.  Mustard is to an omelette, what mustard is to macaroni and cheese, potato salad and/or almost any creamy salad dressing one can mention:  A secret ingredient that provides a subtle but uplifting zing to the flavor of the end result. ~ Tangy Mustard- and Chive-Laced Cheese Omelette ~.

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

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

05/17/2019

~ Greek Pasta Salad w/Tapenade, Tuna and Tomato ~

IMG_1653Americans cherish the Summer.  The deck chairs come out, the cooler fills with ice, the shorts go on, everyone slides into their flip-flops, and then, spends as much time in the fresh air and sunshine as possible.  Some play sports while others garden, some like to swim while others prefer to sun bathe, but, each and every one loves to eat -- and a forkful of food simply tastes better in the great outdoors.  Here in the Northeast, the land of four seasons, Summer has finally arrived and I'm kicking it off with a refreshing, main-dish pasta salad that is dressed with tapenade.  Relatively speaking, its easy to make, mixes together quickly, and, travels well too.

Perfect for your next All-American Summer holiday or get-together.

IMG_1658A bit about pasta salad:  It's a dish prepared with one or more types of pasta and most often tossed in a vinegar, oil, or mayonnaise based dressing.  Besides pasta, almost anything can be added to pasta salad (raw, marinated or cooked in any manner):  fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, cheese, nuts, seeds, and/or herbs (to name a few).  It is usually served chilled as an appetizer or a main course in the Spring or Summertime, but can be enjoyed year-round too.  

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

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

IMG_161412  ounces bite-sized, fork-friendly pasta, cooked al dente as package directs (Note:  Large shells are perfect because they trap and hold all of the ingredients exceptionally well.)

1  cup my recipe for Briny, Garlicy & Herbaceous Greek-Olive Tapenade

1  12-ounce can solid white tuna packed in water, well-drained and broken into fork-friendly bits and pieces (Note:  Because the tapenade contains olive oil, this is a circumstance when tuna packed in water, which I prefer anyway, is preferable.)

3/4-1  cup diced red onion, 3-4 ounces 

3/4-1  ounces feta cheese crumbles, 4-6 ounces

1-1 1/2  cups cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters, 10-12 ounces

IMG_1601 IMG_1601 IMG_1601 IMG_1601~Step 1.  In a 4-quart stockpot bring 3 quarts of water to a boil over high heat.  Add 1 teaspoon sea salt.  Sprinkle in the pasta, adjust heat to a steady simmer and continue to cook until pasta is al dente, about 9-11 minutes.  Immediately drain pasta into a colander and run cold water through it until it is cooled to the touch. Transfer pasta to a baking pan lined with parchment paper.  Set aside to "dry", about 30-45 minutes, meaning: free from almost all of the water, not dried out.

IMG_1618 IMG_1618 IMG_1618 IMG_1627 IMG_1627 IMG_1627 IMG_1627 IMG_1627~Step 2.  Transfer cooked, drained, cold and dry pasta to a large bowl.  Add, and using a large rubber spatula, fold in the tapenade.  Allow to rest about 5-10 minutes to let the pasta soak in some of the briny olive flavor.  Fold in the tuna and onions, followed by the feta cheese.  If serving immediately, stir in the tomatoes too, but, if serving later, stir them in just prior to serving.

Note:  This pasta salad is full-flavored and perfectly-dressed (because my tapenade is homemade, I know it contains a nice amount of olive oil).  That said, in the event you are substituting store-bought tapenade, it may need a bit more dressing -- simply toss in 2-4 tablespoons olive oil, or 2-4 tablespoons store-bought Greek-style salad dressing.

Serve chilled w/beer or white wine for brunch, lunch or dinner: 

IMG_1644Greek Pasta Salad w/Tapenade, Tuna and Tomato:  Recipe yields 3 pounds deli-style pasta salad/2 quarts/8 cups/6-8 servings.

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

IMG_1588Cook's Note:  When I make tapenade, I make enough to last because I use it in several ways.  It's fantastic is place of tomatoes on a ~ Bacon, Lettuce, Tapenade & Chicken Club Sandwich ~ for lunch, and, in or on a French-style cheese omelette for breakfast too.

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

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

05/15/2019

~Bacon, Lettuce,Tapenade & Chicken Club Sandwich~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2  tablespoons drained capers

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

1  teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2  tablespoons fruity olive oil

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

05/12/2019

~ Briny, Garlicy & Herbaceous Greek-Olive Tapenade ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2  tablespoons drained capers

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

1  teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2-4  tablespoons fruity olive oil

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

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

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

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

Roasted garlic bread & gruyère crostini w/olive tapenade:

IMG_1557Bacon, Lettuce, Tapenade & Chicken Club Sandwich:

IMG_1588Greek Pasta Salad w/Tapenade, Tuna & Tomato:

IMG_1644Mediterranean-style Olive Tapenade & Feta Omelette:

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

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

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

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

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

05/09/2019

~Smoked Ham and Asparagus in a Béarnaise Quiche~

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_1436Hollandaise Sauce + Shallots + Tarragon = Béarnaise Sauce.  

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

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

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

4  ounces finely-diced shallots or sweet onion

8  ounces shredded Gruyère cheese

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

3  jumbo eggs

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/2  cup mayonnaise

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serve quiche hot, warm or at room temperature:

IMG_1438Leftovers reheat perfectly in the microwave the next day:

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

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

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

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

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

05/07/2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1/2  cup milk

1  tablespoon Lee & Perrin's worcestershire sauce

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

1  envelope Lipton Recipe Secrets Onion Soup Mix

2  large eggs

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing loaf pans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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