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

03/24/2020

~ Spanish-Style Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat ~

IMG_0281

Back in the 1960's my mom was the queen of Rice-a-Roni recipes.  I was the princess who loved them.  If I was feeling under the weather, she knew I'd rather have a bowl of chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni than a bowl of Campbell's chicken-noodle soup.  She served the prince (my brother0 and I pan-seared hamburgers and gravy atop a bed of beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni, to prevent us from bugging her to buy overpriced Salisbury-steak TV dinners.  To two boxes of Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni she added two pounds of peeled, raw shrimp.  In our kingdom, our family of four we ate it as a sort-of jambalaya dinner.  Fond memories of kinder, gently times indeed. 

Rice-a-Roni -- The San Francisco Treat.

IMG_0230Italian born immigrant Domenico (Charlie) DeDomenico moved to California in 1895 to open a fresh produce store.  After becoming a successful businessman, he married Maria Ferrigno, an immigrant from Salerno, Italy, where her family owned a pasta factory.  In 1912, Maria persuaded Charlie to set up a similar business in the Mission District of San Francisco.  Gragnano Products, Inc., was born and began delivering pasta to Italian restaurants and stores throughout the area.

IMG_0280Maria and Charlie's sons, Paskey, Vince, Tom and Anthony worked in the family business, and, in 1934, Paskey changed the name to the Golden Grain Macaroni Company. Tom's wife Lois fell in love with a pilaf recipe she received from an Armenian immigrant, Mrs. Pailadzo Captanian, which she served at a family gathering.  After tasting the unique pilaf, which was made by sautéing a combination rice and pasta in butter before adding broth and seasonings, Vince went to work developing a new product.  In 1958, his creation, named Rice-a-Roni, was introduced to the Northwestern United States as "The San Francisco Treat".  Four years later, in 1962, it went nationwide.

Copycat Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni is super-easy to make, tastes the same or better, &, saves money at the checkout:

IMG_0221For the 6 1/2 total ounces (1 cup) of rice & pasta:

3 3/4 ounces long grain white rice (about 1/2 cup)*

2 3/4 ounces fideo, cut spaghetti  (about 1/2 cup)*

*Note:  Yes.  I really did sit around for two hours one afternoon separating the rice grains from the vermicelli pasta, from one box of Rice-a-Roni, to make sure the measurements are correct.

For the 1/2 total ounces (2 tablespoons) seasoning blend packet:

2  tablespoons Knorr granulated tomato bouillon w/chicken flavoring (Note:  Contains salt, sugar, cornstarch, dehydrated tomato powder, chicken flavoring, turmeric (for color) and annatto (for color).)

1 teaspoons onion powder

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

For the sauté and simmer:

2-3  tablespoons salted butter, for sautéing the pasta and rice mixture (Note:  I use three. The box calls for two.  I never thought two was enough.  It isn't.)

2  cups water, for simmering the Copycat Rice-a-Roni

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

2  tablespoons dehydrated green & red bell peppers (Note:  1/4  cup each, small diced green and red bell pepper may be substituted.)

IMG_0233 IMG_0233 IMG_0233 IMG_0233 IMG_0233~Step 1. In a wide-bottomed 3 1/2-quart chef's pan with straight, deep sides (or a 10" skillet with a tight-fitting lid), melt 3 tablespoons butter over low heat.  Add and stir in the 1/2 cup rice and 1/2 cup fideo.  Increase heat to medium- medium-high.  Using a large slotted spoon, stir constantly and sauté until rice and pasta are light golden, about 3-4 minutes.

IMG_0248 IMG_0248 IMG_0248 IMG_0248 IMG_0248~Step 2.  Slowly add the water to the pan -- lots of steam will billow up, so, be careful.  Add the diced tomatoes followed by the seasonings: the chicken-tomato bouillon, onion powder, garlic powder and dehydrated bell peppers.  Give the mixture a thorough stir and wait for it to return to a simmer, about 1 minute.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer.

IMG_0260 IMG_0260 IMG_0260 IMG_0260 IMG_0260~Step 3. Cover the pan and adjust heat to simmer gently until rice and pasta are cooked through and have absorbed almost all liquid, 14-16 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside 5 minutes.  Remove lid and rake through the mixture with a fork to fluff and separate the rice grains and pasta pieces.  Transfer to a bowl or plate and serve immediately.

Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni -- "The San Francisco Treat!":

IMG_0284Spanish-Style Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat:  Recipe yields 4 cups/4-6 servings.

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

IMG_9248Cook's Note: In New England, baked cod with crunchy Ritz-cracker topping is everywhere.  The first time I tasted this delightful dish was in the restaurant of the Killington Resort's, VT ski slope.  Most eateries, from big city restaurants to small town diners, have it on their menu.  Recipes for this cracker-topped fish-dish don't vary much.  ~ Baked Lemon-Pepper Cod w/Ritz Cracker Topping ~  served with a side of buttery green beans atop a bed of Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni is a delightfully easy weeknight dinner.

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

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

03/22/2020

~Steakhouse Steak Salad w/Onion-Laced Steak Fries~

IMG_0403Grocery shopping has become a sport and pantry cooking has become an art form.  Three out of seven ingredients I wanted were gone from the shelves yesterday, and, along with every protein, the price of steak has gone through the roof.  For those who have a family to feed, these costs are cause to take many things off the table.  It's disheartening.  That said, by purchasing steak and serving it portioned and sliced atop a simple, uncomplicated, well-dressed salad (alongside a side of simple, uncomplicated, well-seasoned steak fries), it turns out to be kinda economical.

IMG_0310 2Joe bought a two-pack of 1" thick steaks (one is a T-bone and one is a Porterhouse) at Sam's club.  At $12.59 a pound these two steaks weighed in at 2 1/2 pounds and cost him $31.48.  That said, when sliced and served atop my tossed salad and fries they'd easily feed six people, which comes to roughly $5.25 per person, which isn't a bad deal.  It's twice as much as we two need, but, as two card-carrying carnivores, we'll be happy to eat steak salad two nights in a row.

Note:  T-Bone, Porterhouse, Delmonico, Ribeye and NY strip steaks, as long as they are 1" thick all work nicely without compromise, so, choose your favorite, or, what's available to you.

IMG_0315 IMG_0315 IMG_0315 IMG_0315 IMG_0315 IMG_0315~Step 1.  Place the steaks on an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan (the type that has a corrugated bottom).  Season the tops of steaks with freshly-round sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Place the pan of steaks 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler to cook 8-9 minutes per side, turning only once for a total of 16-18 minutes.  Time the steaks carefully: 16 total minutes = medium-rare, 18 total minutes = medium. Remove steaks from oven, loosely tent the pan with aluminum foil and set aside.

Would you like steak fries with your steak salad?

IMG_0371Of course, and these couldn't be easier.  All you need:  two pounds of your favorite potatoes (gold, red or Russet, your choice), some olive oil and one packet of the onion soup mix you forgot you had in your pantry.  Yes my friends, a packet of onion soup mix is a souper seasoning for oven-roasted steak fries.  Because steak fries are best served hot out of the oven, if you only have one oven, you do want to broil the steaks first, to give the steaks ample time to rest prior to slicing them slightly-warm or at room temperature.  When the steaks come out, reset the oven to bake at 350°.  While the fries are roasting, prepare your tossed salad and slice the steaks.

IMG_0329 22  pounds potatoes, gold, red or russet, your choice

1/4  cup olive oil

1 packet from one box of onion soup mix, your favorite brand

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole 

all steak (from above recipe), and your favorite tossed salad and salad dressing

IMG_0334 IMG_0334 IMG_0334 IMG_0334 IMG_0334~Step 1.  Spray a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole with no-stick.  Slice the potatoes into large, "meaty" wedges, 6-8 per potato depending on the type and size of potato, placing the potatoes in a 1-gallon food storage bag as you work. Add the olive oil and the onion soup mix to the bag.  Seal bag and toss until the potatoes are evenly coated in the oil and onion seasoning.

IMG_0351 IMG_0351 IMG_0351~ Step 2.  Transfer potatoes to prepared casserole.  Oven-roast the potatoes on center rack of preheated 350º oven for 1 hour, 15 minutes, stopping to toss the potatoes with a large spoon or spatula every 15 minutes throughout the process.  Remove the golden steak fries from oven and serve immediately.  

IMG_0438 IMG_0438 IMG_0438~ Step 3.  While fries are roasting, prepare the salad, then slice the steak, by removing the meat from the bones and slicing it into 1/4"-thick strips.  The salad in the photo: torn iceberg lettuce, diced sweet onion, sliced cucumber and Campari tomato wedges tossed with store-bought Wishbone Lite Italian dressing.

Assemble the salads & serve -- Presentation is everything! 

IMG_0409Steakhouse Steak Salad w/Onion-Laced Steak Fries:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List: 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; aluminum foil; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; large spoon or spatula

6a0120a8551282970b022ad35987d7200c 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95f458a970bCook's Note: Perhaps you'd like your steak salad with a fillet of beef. If that's the case, I do not recommend the dry heat of the broiler.  ~ The Perfect 12-13-Minute 2"-Thick, Grill-Pan Fillet ~ is made on the stovetop.  Perhaps it's a flank steak you've got on hand. My ~ Perfectly-Cooked 18-Minute Flank Steak ~ is made in the broiler the same way as the bone-in steaks.

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

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

03/19/2020

~ Buttery Curried Pita Chips & Curried Chicken Salad ~

IMG_0191I'm an eater of snacks -- a slice or two of cheddar and a few apple slices, a piece or three of deli-meat rolled up with a slather of whole-grain mustard inside, a tablespoon or two of tuna or egg salad dolloped on a couple of buttery crackers.  Just a few examples of the way I like to eat.  Yes, when left to my own devices, I'm happy to skip three squares and snack my way through the day.

Pita bread is always on-hand in my kitchen.  I purchase a package almost every week, because, everything tastes great stuffed inside a pita pocket -- even a judiciously dressed tossed green salad.  Try it.  You'll be surprised -- if you like eating salad with a fork, try it in a pita pocket.  Back to topic.  Occasionally I have a few pocket breads that, while not stale, are past prime.  It only takes a few minutes to turn them into pita chips.  By adding a flavor-appropriate dried herb or spice to the butter and honey mixture, I can customize them to go with whatever I'm serving.

IMG_0179For my sweet-&-savory butter-&-honey curried pita chips:

IMG_01462  6" round pita pockets, white or whole wheat

4  ounces salted butter, at room temperature (1 stick)

2  tablespoons honey

1  teaspoon curry powder

1  teaspoon onion powder

IMG_0156 IMG_0156 IMG_0156~ Step 1.  Using kitchen shears, cut each pita bread around its circumference, to form 2 discs.  You will have 4  total discs.

IMG_0149 IMG_0149~ Step 2.  In a small bowl, use a spoon to thoroughly stir together the softened butter, honey, curry powder and onion powder -- "thoroughly" is a key word here.  The mixture should be uniform in color (no streaks), very soft, and spreadable.

IMG_0163 IMG_0163 IMG_0163 IMG_0163~Step 3.  Using a thin spatula or an ordinary butter knife, spread a thin but even coating of the butter mixture evenly over the "inside" (the rough side that was originally the inside of each pocket bread)) surface of each disc.  Using a chef's knife, cut each pita disc into six wedges.

IMG_0170 IMG_0170 IMG_0170~ Step 4.  Arrange the pita wedges, side-by-side and not overlapping on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven for 13-15 minutes, or until brown and bubbly.  Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, about 45-60 minutes.  Pita chips will continue to crisp up as they cool and will become very crunchy.

When it comes to chicken salad, it's all about the chicken.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c92e1f14970bJulia Child said, "you can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by their roast chicken." I concur. If chicken is dry, I won't touch it.  It's gotta be moist, fork tender, nicely-seasoned, and, for chicken salad, snowy white. Poaching breasts or tenders in a mild court bouillon accomplishes that (and feel free to do it), but, there is nothing tastier than the juicy white meat pulled away from the breast bone of a perfectly-roasted whole chicken:  ~ This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken ~.

The following recipe is written to make two servings.

Because I prefer to eat chicken salad after being chilled 2-4 hours or the same day it's prepared, although the next day is ok too, I don't much enjoy it past that point, so I only make as much as I need, which is enough for 2 days.  As written, my recipe makes two very generous servings -- three smaller servings.  Want to make more?  Do the math with the help of this:

1/2 of a whole chicken breast split in half = about 8-9 ounces

8-9 ounces chicken breast = about 2 cups pulled chicken

2  cups pulled chicken breast = about 2 servings

2  servings my curried chicken salad = about 2 3/4-3 cups

2 servings = enough to top 2 dozen curried pita chips

6a0120a8551282970b022ad36f67e4200c-800wi1/2 of a whole roasted chicken breast, pulled into bite-sized pieces, about 2 cups

1/2  cup medium-diced celery

6  tablespoons raisins, golden or dark raisins, your choice

3  tablespoons small-diced roasted & salted cashews

1/2  cup high-quality mayonnaise

2  tablespoons Patak's sweet mango chutney

2  teaspoons Madras curry powder

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated onion flakes

2-4  soft bibb lettuce leaves per salad or sandwich, depending on size of lettuce leaves

IMG_3441 IMG_3441 IMG_3441 IMG_3441 IMG_3441~Step 1.  Place chicken, celery, raisins and cashews in a medium bowl. Set aside.  In a small-capacity 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 chicken mixture and gently fold all the ingredients together.  Cover and place in the refrigerator until well-chilled, 2-4 hours or overnight.

All-white chicken, sweet raisins, salty cashews, crunchy celery + some mango chutney, mayo & a bit of curry heat:

IMG_0183One of many reasons to snack your way through the day:

IMG_0204 2Buttery Curried Pita Chips & Curried Chicken Salad:  Recipe yields 2 3/4-3 cups curried chicken salad/2 dozen pita chips.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; small capacity food processor; rubber spatula; 3-4-cup size food storage container w/tight-fitting lid; kitchen shears; spoon; thin spatula or butter knife; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2 baking pan; parchment paper; wire cooling rack

IMG_3483Cook's Note: It's no secret I'm a movie buff.  I've been watching movies since I was ten-ish. My favorites are based on true-stories, history or books.  My least favorites are star-warrian and science-fictionous, and, I have no interest in fantasy or animation.  I enjoy a good whodunnit crime drama or an occasional action-packed adventure but won't watch horror-infused slashing-for-shock-value movies. Comedies and satires are great, but, romantic, tear-jerking or feel-good chick flicks are better --the ones you can't pay the guy in your life to sit and watch with you (but it would be worth the price of admission just to watch him watch). I love ~ Chick Flicks and Curried Chicken Salad Croissants ~ too.

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

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

03/17/2020

~ Pantastic Sizzling One-Sheet-Pan Chicken Fajitas ~

IMG_0133Sheet pan meals have become remarkably popular over the past two-three years.  The concept of tossing an array of ingredients together, scattering them around in a single layer on one pan, then roasting them in a hot oven, appeals to both novice and experienced cooks.  The prep time is reasonably short, and, once the food's in the oven, the hands are free to tend to other things.  If the sheet pan has been lined with aluminum foil first, clean up -- uh, there is almost no cleanup.

I was late to the sheet pan dinner party, meaning, sheet-pan meals were not something I made for our family of five.  That said, I'm a savvy cook, and after recently trying my hand at a few of these meals, I learned I get better results using one pan in two steps, meaning:  cook the protein first, cook the vegetables second.  Why?  Proteins require a rest time in order to remain juicy -- they rest while the veggies roast.  Why not use two pans in the same oven to save time?  The surface area of two pans creates too much moisture in the air, causing food to steam instead of brown.  

Tip: If you own a pizza stone, now is a great time to use it.  Preheating the oven with the stone in it and placing the sheet pan of food on the hot stone promotes extra browning and carmelization.

The large surface area of one sheet pan makes quick work of feeding a family one of their favorite restaurant meals -- fajitas.  

6a0120a8551282970b0223c846f14d200cFor the chicken and the marinade:

3  pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs*

12  tablespoons achiote vegetable oil, or vegetable oil (3/4 cup)**

6  tablespoons white vinegar

6  tablespoons lime juice, fresh or lime juice not from concentrate

1  tablespoon ground cumin

1  tablespoon dried Mexican oregano and Mexican-style chili powder

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

1/2  cup minced cilantro leaves

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

6a0120a8551282970b0224df2eb2e0200b-120wi 6a0120a8551282970b0224df2eb2e4200b-120wi 6a0120a8551282970b0224e035b27e200d-120wi 6a0120a8551282970b0224e035b285200d-120wi~Step 1.  In a small capacity food processor or blender, measure and place all ingredients as listed:  vegetable oil, vinegar, lime juice and all of the dry spices.  Mince and add the cilantro. Process or blend, until smooth and emulsified, about 15-20 seconds.  Yield:  1 1/4 cups marinade.

IMG_0065 IMG_0065 IMG_0065 IMG_0065~Step 2.  Unpackage the chicken thighs and open each thigh up so it sits flat on the work surface. Using a chef's knife, slice into 1/4"-to-slightly-less-than 1/2" strips.  Transfer to a 1-gallon food storage bag and add all marinade.  Seal bag.  Use your fingertips to massage the chicken until it is evenly coated in the marinade.  Marinate for 1/2-1-3 hours or overnight.  The longer, the better.

*Note:  While boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be substituted for thighs, when it comes to making sheet-pan fajitas, experience has taught me that the bit of extra fat on dark-meat chicken thighs helps them to caramelize and keeps them from drying out in the dry high heat of the oven.

IMG_0083For the vegetables & the fajitas:

all of the marinated chicken strips, from above recipe

1-1 1/4  pounds 1/4"-1/2" thick sliced sweet onion, cut into half-moon shapes

5-6  ounces each:  1/4"-1/2" julienne green, red and yellow bell pepper (1-1 1/4 pounds total)

12-16 flour tortillas

Optional accompaniments and garnishes:  refried bean or refried bean dip, Mexican rice, fresh salsa or pico de gallo, avocado slices or guacamole, Mexican crema or sour cream, cilantro sprigs, lime wedges

Pantastic sizzling sheet-pan fajitas in two easy steps:

IMG_0092 IMG_0092 IMG_0092 IMG_0092 IMG_0092~Step 1.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil.  Position oven rack in the center.  Place pizza stone on oven rack and preheat oven to 500°.  While oven is heating, use a pair of tongs to remove chicken from marinade, placing it on a paper-towel-lined plate as you work (to absorb moisture), allowing all excess marinade to drain back into and remain in the bag.  Place/scatter the chicken, in a single layer (slightly overlapping is ok), on the prepared pan.  Transfer the onion and bell peppers to the ziplock bag with the remaining marinade.  Seal the bag and toss the vegetables to lightly-coat and lightly-season them.

IMG_0111 IMG_0111 IMG_0111 IMG_0111 IMG_0111 IMG_0143 IMG_0131~Step 2.  Place pan of chicken (on the optional pizza stone) in the hot oven to roast, until just cooked through, about 15-18 minutes*.  Remove chicken from oven and use a large slotted spoon transfer to a large plate and loosely tent with aluminum foil.  Dump (I hate that word, but it works) the vegetables onto the still-hot sheet pan, scatter them around, and place the pan of vegetable (on the optional pizza stone) in the hot oven to roast until crunch-tender, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Add the chicken to the pan and toss to combine.  Tightly wrap the flour tortilla in aluminum foil and place them on the top of the pan.  Return the pan to the oven to heat through, about 4-5 minutes.

*Troubleshooting for you:  Know your oven and its limitations -- all ovens are different and is this no joke.  Mine gets really hot, which makes short work of evaporating the excess chicken juices. Check in on the chicken strips after 10-12 minutes.  If for any reason it looks like the chicken seems to be simmering in too many juices, remove it from the oven and use a few paper towels to blot/remove some of the excess liquid, then return the pan to the oven and continue with recipe.

Remove from oven, unwrap tortillas & serve ASAP:

IMG_0136Pantastic Sizzling One-Sheet-Pan Chicken Fajitas:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  small-capacity food processor or blenders; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; tongs; 17 1/2 x 12 1/2" half-sheet pan; heavy-duty aluminum foil; paper towels; pizza stone (optional); large slotted spoon

6a0120a8551282970b0240a442e6e9200cCook's Note: Undercover nacho tester.  I suppose it could get boring, but, because every eatery makes this Tex-Mex pub-grub staple a bit different, I'd be willing to risk running into some repetition and heartburn. From nibbling on basic nachos consisting of deep-fried corn tortillas topped with melty cheese sauce, to digging-into nachos-grande, nachos-supreme, fully-loaded nachos or ultimate-nachos piled high with a plethora of enough savory stuff to qualify for full-meal status, yes, I think undercover nacho tester would be my dream job.  Try my ~ 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 2020)

03/14/2020

~Pork Chop & Baked Bean Casserole - Pork & Beans~

IMG_9993When my mom announced she was making pork and beans for dinner, she didn't mean she was opening a can of pork and beans -- in a way, kinda sorta she was, but, there was a bit more to it. It meant she had asked Vince, the butcher at The Valley Meat Market, to slice 8, 1/2"-3/4"-thick bone-in pork loin chops, plus a pound of bacon, so she could make her recipe for pork chop and homemade baked bean casserole.  She started by seasoning and browning the chops in a skillet -- that took about 15 minutes.  Next, she'd mix the ingredients for the beans together (all pantry staples) in a bowl -- that took about 15 minutes.  Last, she'd sandwich the chops between two layers of the bean mixture, cover the casserole with foil, then, she baked it for 1 1/2 hours.  

The house smelled wonderful & dinner was marvelous.

IMG_9912For the pork chops:

8  1/2"-3/4"-thick bone-in pork loin chops

garlic powder

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend or black pepper

IMG_9915~ Step 1. Place the pork chops on a flat surface and season their tops with a generous sprinkling of garlic powder, sea salt and peppercorn blend.

IMG_9920 IMG_9920 IMG_9920 IMG_9920 IMG_9920~Step 2.  In a large 12"-14" skillet heat 3-4 tablespoons corn or vegetable oil over medium- medium-high heat.  Working in two batches, place 4-5 pork chops, seasoned sides down, in the oil.  Season the unseasoned tops of the chops with garlic powder, sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Sauté/fry chops until light golden on both sides, turning only once, about 5-6 minutes per side.  Transfer to and stack chops on a large plate and set aside.  

IMG_9939For mom's bacon-lovers bacon-y baked beans:

1  40-ounce can butter beans (limas), well-drained

2  16-ounce cans pork & beans, your favorite brand, undrained

1  pound, thick-sliced bacon

1  cup diced yellow or sweet onion

1  cup ketchup

4  tablespoons pure maple syrup

6  tablespoons yellow mustard

3/4-1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_9702 IMG_9702~ Step 1. Place bacon, slightly overlapping is fine, in an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom).  Roast on center rack of 375º oven, 20-25 minutes, or until bacon is golden, crispy and desired degree of doneness is reached, stopping to flip the slices over, with a long-handled bacon fork, half-way through process.  Transfer bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and cool, about 15 minutes.  When cool enough to handle with hands, chop into bite-sized pieces.

IMG_9944 IMG_9944 IMG_9944 IMG_9944~Step 2. In a large bowl, place the butter beans, baked beans, chopped bacon and diced onions. Using a large rubber spatula, toss ingredients together.  Add the ketchup, maple syrup, mustard and black pepper.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine all of the ingredients.  

IMG_9958 IMG_9958 IMG_9958 IMG_9958 IMG_9970 IMG_9970~Step 3.  Transfer about 2/3 of the bean mixture to casserole, loosely spreading it evenly in the bottom -- precise measurements are important. Arrange pork chops atop the bean layer, overlapping them slightly.  Spoon remaining bean mixture on and around chops, allowing the "bone-in" parts of the chops to remain exposed. Cover with foil.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven, 1 hour.  Beans will be bubbling.  Uncover and continue to bake at 325º, 20-30 additional minutes, until golden and caramelized.  Remove from oven and allow to rest, about 10 minutes, prior to serving hot with sweet corn in some form.

Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall, mom always served this dish w/or atop some form of sweet corn:

IMG_9982Fork-tender pork chops sandwiched between two layers of tangy, saucy baked beans.  Eat & enjoy:

IMG_9996Pork Chops & Baked Bean Casserole -- Pork & Beans:  Recipe yields 8 hearty main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: 12"-14" skillet; 14" x 9" x 2"/4.8-quart casserole; 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom (or skillet) for preparing bacon; cutting board; chef's knife; very large mixing bowl; rubber spatula;

6a0120a8551282970b01a73e0c7a6f970dCook's Note: Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter, in season, out of season, fresh, frozen, on the cob, off the cob, steamed, simmered, baked, roasted, grilled or microwaved, sweet corn in any form is the perfect side-dish to baked beans.  Like peanut butter and jelly, these two just go hand-in-hand together. My Midwestern-style ~ Rich & Creamy Baked Sweet Corn Casserole ~ is one of many recipes for sweet corn you'll find here on my Kitchen Encounters blog.  Give it a try!

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

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

03/11/2020

~ Copycat Beef Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat ~

IMG_0054Amongst Rice-a-Roni aficionados, chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni is the undisputed favorite. That said, I have a soft spot in my heart for beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni too, which is why it has a spot on my pantry shelves at all times.  When I was a kid, my mom invented a beefy Rice-a-Roni dinner that kept my brother and I from bugging her to buy us an occasional "over-priced, over-rated TV dinner" -- which, to us kids, was nothing more than a novelty.  As they say on the Rice-a-Roni website: Prepare for a stampede to the dinner table when you serve our delicious rice and vermicelli blended with the savory flavors of onions, carrots, beef broth and garlic.  It's true.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08c2da5c970dMom would shape two hamburger patties to look like oval salisbury steaks then brown them on both sides in a skillet,  Next, she'd pour about half a jar of beef gravy over the top, cover the skillet and let the patties simmer gently for a few moments.  Mom would serve us her burgers and gravy with a side of beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni and peas. It was simple semi-homemade comfort food -- and we adored it.

Rice-a-Roni -- The San Francisco Treat.

IMG_0016

Italian born immigrant Domenico (Charlie) DeDomenico moved to California in 1895 to open a fresh produce store.  After becoming a successful businessman, he married Maria Ferrigno, an immigrant from Salerno, Italy, where her family owned a pasta factory.  In 1912, Maria persuaded Charlie to set up a similar business in the Mission District of San Francisco.  Gragnano Products, Inc., was born and began delivering pasta to Italian restaurants and stores throughout the area.

IMG_0057Maria and Charlie's sons, Paskey, Vince, Tom and Anthony worked in the family business, and, in 1934, Paskey changed the name to the Golden Grain Macaroni Company. Tom's wife Lois fell in love with a pilaf recipe she received from an Armenian immigrant, Mrs. Pailadzo Captanian, which she served at a family gathering.  After tasting the unique pilaf, which was made by sautéing a combination rice and pasta in butter before adding broth and seasonings, Vince went to work developing a new product.  In 1958, his creation, named Rice-a-Roni, was introduced to the Northwestern United States as "The San Francisco Treat".  Four years later, in 1962, it went nationwide.

Copycat beef-flavored Rice-a-Roni is super-easy to make, tastes the same or better, &, saves money at the checkout:

IMG_0028For the 6 1/2 total ounces (1 cup) of rice & pasta:

3 3/4 ounces long grain white rice (about 1/2 cup)*

2 3/4 ounces fideo, cut spaghetti  (about 1/2 cup)*

*Note:  Yes.  I really did sit around for two hours one afternoon separating the rice grains from the vermicelli pasta, from one box of Rice-a-Roni, to make sure the measurements are correct.

For the 1/2 total ounces (2 tablespoons) seasoning blend packet:

2  tablespoons Herb Ox granulated beef bouillon (Note:  Contains salt, spices, dehydrated cooked beef and onion powder.)

1 1/2  teaspoons onion powder

For the sauté and simmer:

2-3  tablespoons salted butter, for sautéing the pasta and rice mixture (Note:  I use three. The box calls for two.  I never thought two was enough.  It isn't.)

2 1/2 cups water, for simmering the Copycat Rice-a-Roni

1/2  cup peeled and very small-diced carrots (Note:  The spice packet in the boxed mix contains small bits of dehydrated carrots.)

IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826~Step 1. In a wide-bottomed 3 1/2-quart chef's pan with straight, deep sides (or a 10" skillet with a tight-fitting lid), melt 3 tablespoons butter over low heat.  Add and stir in the 1/2 cup rice and 1/2 cup fideo.  Increase heat to medium- medium-high.  Using a large slotted spoon, stir constantly and sauté until rice and pasta are light golden, about 3-4 minutes.

IMG_9842 IMG_9842 IMG_0032 IMG_0032 IMG_0032 IMG_0032~Step 2.  Slowly add the water to the pan  -- lots of steam will billow up, so, be careful.  Add the seasonings: 2 tablespoons beef bouillon, 1 1/2 teaspoons onion powder, and, 1/2 cup diced carrot.  Give the mixture a thorough stir and wait for it to return to a simmer, about 1 minute.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer.

IMG_0041 IMG_0044 IMG_0044 IMG_0044~Step 3. Cover the pan and simmer until rice and pasta are cooked through and have absorbed almost all liquid, 14-16 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside 5 minutes.  Remove lid and rake through the mixture with a fork to fluff and separate the rice grains and pasta pieces.

Copycat beef Rice-a-Roni -- "The San Francisco Treat!":

IMG_0051Copycat Beef Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat:  Recipe yields 4 cups/4-6 servings.

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

IMG_9083Cook's Note: Pilaf is an ancient dish dating back to the 5th Century BCE (before common era), likely in the Middle East, although some credit the Persian Empire with its creation. Due to extensive trading with the Persians, the dish was popularized in the Mediterranean and parts of Eastern Europe.  Pilaf is recognized as a method of cooking, and, while mostly associated with rice, it's worth mention that it can be prepared as a side-dish using almost any grain -- as long as the rice or grain is simmered in stock instead of water.  Try my ~ Nice & Easy Basic All-Purpose 30-Minute Rice Pilaf ~.

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

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

03/09/2020

~Mel's Copycat Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco Treat~

IMG_9879I believe I could live on Rice-a-Roni.  I suppose I'd get tired of it eventually, but, it could be worth the experiment simply to see how long it would take.  I love the stuff, and, it's one of the few convenience foods I indulge in.  As a kid, if I was feeling under the weather, I always preferred a dish of chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni over a bowl of Campbell's chicken noodle soup.  If that sounds odd, it's not, as the seasoning packet contains nothing more than dry chicken soup mix. As an adult, beef-favored and Spanish-style Rice-a-Roni have earned spots in my pantry too.

IMG_9814Rice-a-Roni -- "The San Francisco Treat!"

Italian born immigrant Domenico (Charlie) DeDomenico moved to California in 1895 to open a fresh produce store.  After becoming a successful businessman, he married Maria Ferrigno, an immigrant from Salerno, Italy, where her family owned a pasta factory.  In 1912, Maria persuaded Charlie to set up a similar business in the Mission District of San Francisco.  Gragnano Products, Inc., was born and began delivering pasta to Italian restaurants and stores throughout the area.

IMG_9880Maria and Charlie's sons, Paskey, Vince, Tom and Anthony worked in the family business, and, in 1934, Paskey changed the name to the Golden Grain Macaroni Company. Tom's wife Lois fell in love with a pilaf recipe she received from an Armenian immigrant, Mrs. Pailadzo Captanian, which she served at a family gathering.  After tasting the unique pilaf, which was made by sautéing a combination rice and pasta in butter before adding broth and seasonings, Vince went to work developing a new product.  In 1958, his creation, named Rice-a-Roni, was introduced to the Northwestern United States as "The San Francisco Treat".  Four years later, in 1962, it went nationwide.

Copycat chicken-flavored Rice-a-Roni is super-easy to make, tastes the same or better, &, saves money at the checkout:

IMG_9816For the 6 1/2 total ounces (1 cup) of rice & pasta:

3 3/4 ounces long grain white rice (about 1/2 cup)*

2 3/4 ounces fideo, cut spaghetti  (about 1/2 cup)*

*Note:  Yes.  I really did sit around for two hours one afternoon separating the rice grains from the vermicelli pasta, from one box of Rice-a-Roni, to make sure the measurements are correct.

For the 1/2 total ounces (2 tablespoons) seasoning blend packet:

2  tablespoons Herb Ox granulated chicken bouillon (Note:  Contains salt, dehydrated parsley, dehydrated cooked chicken, onion powder, garlic powder, turmeric for color.)

1  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

For the sauté and simmer:

2-3  tablespoons salted butter, for sautéing the pasta and rice mixture (Note:  I use three. The box calls for two.  I never thought two was enough.  It isn't.)

2 1/2 cups water, for simmering the Copycat Rice-a-Roni

IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826~Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 3 1/2-quart chef's pan with straight, deep sides (or a 10" skillet with a tight-fitting lid), melt 3 tablespoons butter over low heat.  Add and stir in the 1/2 cup rice and 1/2 cup fideo.  Increase heat to medium- medium-high.  Using a large slotted spoon, stir constantly and sauté until rice and pasta are light golden, about 3-4 minutes.

IMG_9842 IMG_9842 IMG_9842 IMG_9842 IMG_9842~Step 2.  Slowly add the 2 1/2 cups water to the pan of sautéing rice and pasta -- lots of steam will billow up, so, be careful.  Add the seasonings: 2 tablespoons chicken bouillon, 1 teaspoon onion powder and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder.  Give the mixture a thorough stir and wait for it to return to a simmer, 1-2 minutes.  Adjust heat to a gentle but steady simmer.

IMG_9858 IMG_9858 IMG_9858~ Step 3.  Cover the pan and simmer until rice and pasta are cooked through and have absorbed almost all of the liquid, about 14-16 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside 5 minutes.  Remove the lid and rake through the mixture with a fork to fluff and separate the rice grains and pasta pieces.  Serve immediately.

Copycat chicken Rice-a-Roni -- "The San Francisco Treat!":

IMG_9875Mel's Copycat Rice-a-Roni, The San Francisco Treat:  Recipe yields 4 cups/4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List: 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides and lid; large slotted spoon or spatula; 2-cup measuring container; fork

IMG_9005Cook's Note: In my food world, three meals require a side of orange-and-cheddary creamy-dreamy macaroni-and-cheese:  meatloaf, fish sticks, and, chili dogs.  There's more.  If you're looking for the perfect side-dish to turn Buffalo chicken wings into dinner, set your sights on mac and cheese. When I was growing up, when we sat down to eat meatloaf, fish sticks or chili dogs, my mom indulged my brother and I in a side-serving of mac and cheese. Interestingly, she didn't buy the stuff in the blue box.  She refused.  She made her own copycat version of it on the stovetop.  It was fabulous -- it's also the same recipe I used to indulge my kids.  Try my ~ Better than Store-Bought Stovetop Mac & Cheese ~.

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

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

03/07/2020

~Five Fun Family-Friendly Weeknight Quiche Dinners~

IMG_9746When I lived alone in my apartment back in 1978, I made a quiche every Sunday.  I ate one slice, then took one slice to work with me every day for lunch. After a few weeks, my new boss and other co-workers started hinting, then expecting me to bring them quiche too.  For a period of time, I took an entire quiche to work with me almost every Monday.  Fun times, great memories.  I suppose, at the time, I could have referred to myself as the Happy Valley Quiche Queen!

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 this time period, as serving quiche spawned spirited conversation each and every time.

Quiche originated in northeastern France, in the region of Alsace-Lorraine.  It consists of a pastry shell filled with a savory custard made of eggs, cream, seasonings and various other ingredients such as onions, mushrooms, porcine (ham, bacon or sausage), shellfish (lobster, shrimp or crabmeat) or herbs.  The most notable of these savory pies is the famous Quiche-Lorraine, which has crisp bacon bits and Gruyère cheese added to the custard filling.  Quiches can be served as a lunch, brunch or dinner entree, as well as a first course or an hors d'oeuvre.

~ Broccoli, Cauliflower & Cheddar Main-Dish Quiche ~

IMG_9524~ Creamy Chicken & Whole-Grain Mustard Quiche ~

IMG_9607~ Breakfast for Dinner Basic Bacon & Eggs Quiche ~

IMG_9768~ Mel's Cheeseburger Quiche w/Special Sauce Salad ~

IMG_9681~ An End of Winter Ricotta & Spinach Pizza Quiche ~

IMG_7837"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

03/05/2020

~Simple and Basic Bacon and Eggs Breakfast Quiche~

IMG_9756Bacon and eggs.  It's so simple even a caveman can do it.  It's rustic man food -- put the two in a skillet and fry 'em up.  Men love to fry food -- I think it's the sizzle that attracts them.  Bacon and eggs plus cheese and cream whisked together and gently baked in a flaky pie pastry -- it could be described as refined woman food.  Generally speaking, women enjoy fussing with food and fussy foods.  While I'm uncertain as to the percentage of men who would make a quiche for themselves, I can attest to the fact that rustic real men are indeed happy to eat a bacon and egg quiche.  

This is, perhaps, the only quiche recipe you'll ever need:

IMG_9730Quiche reheats perfectly, which makes it great lunchbox fare:

IMG_97061  7 1/2-ounce boxed, refrigerated pie pastry, at room temperature, fitted into a 9" quiche dish and decoratively edged

1  pound thick-sliced bacon, crisply-fried and chopped into small bits and pieces

8  ounces finely-shredded white sharp cheddar cheese

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

1 1/2  cups heavy or whipping cream

4  jumbo eggs

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

IMG_9702 IMG_9702~ Step 1.  Place bacon, slightly overlapping is fine, in an 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom).  Roast on center rack of 375º oven, 20-25 minutes, or until bacon is golden, crispy and desired degree of doneness is reached, stopping to flip the slices over, with a long-handled bacon fork, half-way through process.  Transfer bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and cool, about 15 minutes.  When cool enough to handle with hands, chop into small bits and pieces.

IMG_9711 IMG_9711 IMG_9711~ Step 2. In a large bowl place the chopped bacon, shredded white cheddar cheese and Wondra flour.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss, as you would a salad, until all ingredients are evenly coated in the flour. Spoon meat-and-cheese mixture into pie pastry. Distribute it evenly throughout, and, mound it towards the center, but, do not compress or press down on it.  You want it to remain light and airy.

IMG_9722 IMG_9722 IMG_9722~ Step 3. In a 4-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk together the cream, eggs, nutmeg, salt and cayenne pepper.  Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle the cream-and-egg mixture over and around the surface of the quiche.  Go very slowly, so as to give the liquid all the time it needs to slowly drizzle down into the cracks and crevasses of the bacon and cheese mixture.

IMG_9733~ Step 4. Bake on center rack of 325º oven for 50-55 minutes, stopping to give the quiche a quarter-turn every 15 minutes so it browns evenly. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack 30-60 minutes prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.  Leftovers reheat great in the microwave (which makes lunch 45-seconds away), but, do not freeze well.

Cool at least 15 minutes, & up to 30-45-60 minutes:

IMG_9768Slice & serve hot, warm or at room temperature:

IMG_9777For breakfast, brunch, lunch or breakfast for dinner:

IMG_9797Simple and Basic Bacon and Eggs Breakfast Quiche: Recipe yields 8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom; long-handled bacon fork; paper towels; 9" quiche dish; cutting board; chef's knife; 2 forks or 2 spoons; 4-cup measuring container; whisk; wire cooling rack 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb081f7977970dCook's Note: In our house, Sunday mornings are very laid back and relaxed.  No alarm clocks, lots of coffee and tea drinking, newspaper and magazine reading, TV watching, and, always a cooked breakfast.  In the Winter we watch the skiers come down Tussey Mountain through our kitchen windows.  In the Summer, we often cook and eat outside while watching the joggers and bikers on Bear Meadows Road. Sundays are perfect for ~ Fluffy Scrambled Eggs and Bacon ~.

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

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

03/03/2020

~ Mel's Cheeseburger Quiche w/Special Sauce Salad ~

IMG_9677Cheeseburger pie was not something my mom ever made -- it existed back in the 1950's and 60's, she just never made it.  As I recall, the recipe moms across America were using then was made popular by Bisquick.  Mom probably didn't make it because dad wouldn't eat anything "casserole-ish".  A cheeseburger pie or quiche was not something I thought I would ever make -- it existed in the 1970's and 80's, I just never felt like making it.  That said, when you're a mom of three boys in the 1970's and 1980's and one of them comes home after a sleepover bragging about the great cheeseburger pie his best friend's mom made, you rethink things.  I, of course, went straight to the source.  I called up the kids mom and asked her for her recipe.  While, admittedly, it was indeed tasty, it did require a few changes (on my part).  Read on: 

Wouldn't put it in or on a cheeseburger?  Don't add it to this recipe.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39e2eff200dThis isn't a taco pie, nor, for that matter, a pizza pie.  It is a cheeseburger quiche (formerly known as a cheeseburger pie).  If you wouldn't put an ingredient in or on your your cheeseburger, it has no place in this recipe.  Zero.  I have seen recipes that add chopped bell peppers to the mix and season it with hot pepper sauce.  Really?  I have seen recipes that season the ground beef mixture with oregano and top the pie with Parmesan cheese.  Seriously?  And, as for garlic?  When was the last time you added garlic to a cheeseburger. Sigh, oh my.  That said, if you adore bacon on your cheeseburger, feel free to add 1/2 cup crisply-fried, finely-chopped bacon bits.

Mel's version of the cheeseburger quiche (cheeseburger pie):

IMG_9621For my version of the cheeseburger quiche:

1  7 1/2-ounce boxed, refrigerated pie pastry, at room temperature, fitted into a 9" quiche dish and decoratively edged

1  pound lean ground beef (90/10)

1  cup diced onion

1  packet granulated beef bouillon (about 1 teaspoon)

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

4  tablespoons dill or sweet pickle relish, your choice (Note:  I use sweet relish.)

8  ounces shredded yellow sharp cheddar cheese

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

1  cup heavy or whipping cream

1/2  cup mayonnaise

3  jumbo eggs

3  tablespoons ketchup

1  tablespoon yellow mustard

1  teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

For the lettuce-tomato garnish:

1-1 1/2  cups lettuce chiffonade

1/2-3/4  cup diced tomatoes

For my secret-sauce drizzle:

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e448b8970c1  cup mayonnaise

1/4  cup each: ketchup, and, dill or sweet pickle relish

1  tablespoon yellow mustard

1  teaspoon white vinegar

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2e4490f970cWhisk all ingredients together, cover and refrigerate 1 hour.  Makes 1 1/2 cups.

IMG_9626 IMG_9626 IMG_9626 IMG_9626 IMG_9626 IMG_9626~Step 1.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, place the ground beef, diced onion, granulated beef bouillon, salt and pepper.  Over medium-, medium-high heat, sauté for 9-11 minutes, using a spatula to break up and stir the meat, until meat is cooked through, onions are soft, and, almost no liquid remains in the bottom of skillet.  Turn the heat off and stir in the pickle relish.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool to the touch, 20-30 minutes.

IMG_9641 IMG_9641 IMG_9641~ Step 2. In a large bowl place the cooled beef mixture, shredded yellow cheddar cheese and Wondra flour.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss, as you would a salad, until all ingredients are evenly coated in the flour. Spoon meat-and-cheese mixture into pie pastry. Distribute it evenly throughout, and, mound it towards the center, but, do not compress or press down on it.  You want it to remain light and airy.

IMG_9654 IMG_9654 IMG_9654~ Step 3. In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk together the cream, mayonnaise, eggs, ketchup, mustard and Worcestershire sauce.  Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle the cream-and-egg mixture over and around the surface of the quiche.  Go very slowly, so as to give the liquid all the time it needs to slowly drizzle down into the cracks and crevasses of the ground beef mixture.

IMG_9674~ Step 4. Bake on center rack of 325º oven for 50-55 minutes, stopping to give the quiche a quarter-turn every 15 minutes so it browns evenly. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack 30-60 minutes prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.  Leftovers reheat great in the microwave (which makes lunch 45-seconds away), but, do not freeze well.

Cool at least 15 minutes, & up to 30-45-60 minutes before serving hot, warm or at room temperature:

IMG_9671Slice & serve each wedge of quiche garnished w/shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes & a drizzle of special sauce:

IMG_9681Yes.  It does taste just like a well-appointed cheeseburger:

IMG_9688Mel's Cheeseburger Quiche w/Special Sauce Salad:  Recipe yields 8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  9" quiche dish; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" skillet, preferably nonstick; spatula; 2 forks or 2 spoons; 2-cup measuring container; wire cooling rack 

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. I listen because these are friends I listen to, and, because I've 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 in the takeout-lane. Try my ~ 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 2020)

02/29/2020

~ Creamy Chicken and Whole-Grain Mustard Quiche ~

IMG_9582Tender, juicy roast chicken served with a drizzle of mustard-laced cream sauce is one of my favorite dinners.  Transitioning those mouth-watering textures and flavors into a quiche was one of the best ideas I ever had.  It is exquisite, understated, elegance.  I typically serve this for brunch or lunch with a side of buttery green beans almandine, a glass of white wine or champagne and "something chocolate" for dessert.  Trust me, this is a restaurant-quality meal.  That said, I'm a bit of a snob about this quiche.  Only all-white breast meat please, meaning:  roasted breasts or poached tenderloins.  Don't go breakin' my heart by using a store-bought rotisserie chicken.

IMG_95421  7 1/2-ounce boxed, refrigerated pie pastry, at room temperature, fitted into a 9" quiche dish and decoratively edged

1  pound roasted or poached chicken breast or chicken tenderloins, pulled or chopped into bite-sized pieces

4  ounces diced shallots or sweet onion (about 1 cup)

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

3  tablespoons whole-grain mustard

1/2  teaspoon nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

IMG_9544 IMG_9544 IMG_9544~ Step 1. In a large bowl place the chicken, shallots or onion, Gruyére, and flour.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss, as you would a salad, until ingredients are thoroughly mixed together and lightly coated in flour.

IMG_9439 IMG_9439Step 2. Spoon chicken-and-cheese mixture into prepared pie pastry. Distribute mixture evenly throughout, and mound it towards the center, but, do not compress or press down on it.  It is important the mixture remain light and airy.

IMG_9556 IMG_9556 IMG_9556~ Step 3. In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk together the cream, mayonnaise, eggs, whole-grain mustard, nutmeg and white pepper.  Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle the cream-and-egg mixture over and around the surface of the quiche.  Go very slowly, so as to give the liquid all the time it needs to slowly drizzle down into the cracks and crevasses of the chicken mixture.

IMG_9576~ Step 4. Bake on center rack of 325º oven for 60 minutes, stopping to give the quiche a quarter-turn every 15 minutes so it browns evenly. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack 30-60 minutes prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.  Leftovers reheat great in the microwave (which makes lunch 45-seconds away), but, do not freeze well.

Cool on wire rack 30-60 minutes prior to slicing.

IMG_9574Served hot, warm or at room temperature...

IMG_9607... every luscious, tangy bite is full of tender all-white meat chicken & perfectly-seasoned creamy cheese.

IMG_9609Creamy Chicken and Whole-Grain Mustard Quiche: Recipe yields 8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: 9" quiche dish; cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; 2 forks or 2 spoons; 2-cup measuring container; wire cooling rack

IMG_9510Cook's Note: I love broccoli and cauliflower.  When my mom would put a drizzle of cheddar cheese sauce on either, the rest of my dinner became irrelevant.  Every now and then I fall prey to a craving for broccoli and/or cauliflower drizzled with cheddar cheese sauce, and, because once it's on the table dinner is still irrelevant, for that reason, I long ago decided to team them up together in a quiche and serve it as a main dish.  Try my decadent ~ Broccoli, Cauliflower & Cheddar Main-Dish Quiche ~.

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

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

02/27/2020

~ Broccoli, Cauliflower & Cheddar Main-Dish Quiche ~

IMG_9510Eat your broccoli.  I love broccoli.  Eat your cauliflower.  I love cauliflower.  I always have.  When my mom would put a drizzle of cheddar cheese sauce on either, the rest of my dinner became irrelevant.  All I wanted was the side-dish.  Every now and then I fall prey to a craving for broccoli and/or cauliflower drizzled with cheddar cheese sauce, and, because once it's on the table dinner is still irrelevant, for that reason, I long ago decided to team them up together in a quiche and serve it as a main dish.  Back in the 1970's, when I lived alone in an apartment, I'd make one on a Sunday morning and take a piece to work for lunch every day.  After I got married, I'd make it on evenings when my husband was traveling or the kids weren't coming home for dinner.  

As it turned out, the husband & kids loved it too.

IMG_9489Saying more is wasting words, so, here's the recipe:

IMG_9452

1  7 1/2-ounce boxed, refrigerated pie pastry, at room temperature, fitted into a 9" quiche dish and decoratively edged

8  ounces finely-shredded Colby-Jack cheese blend

4  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (about 1 cup)

2  tablespoons Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

8-10  ounces each, lightly-steamed or blanched, fresh or frozen broccoli and cauliflower florets (about 2 generous cups each)

1 1/4 cups heavy or whipping cream

3 jumbo eggs

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_9454 IMG_9454 IMG_9454 IMG_9454~Step 1.  In a large bowl place the finely-shredded Colby-Jack cheese, diced onion and Wondra flour.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss, as you would a salad, until onions and cheese are evenly coated in the flour.  Add the cooked broccoli and cauliflower florets and toss again.

IMG_9439 IMG_9439 IMG_9439~ Step 2.  Spoon veggie-and-cheese mixture into prepared pie pastry. Distribute mixture evenly throughout, and, mound it towards the center, but, do not compress or press down on it.  You want it to remain light and airy.

IMG_9476 IMG_9476 IMG_9476 IMG_9476~Step 3.  In a 2-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk together the cream, eggs, cayenne pepper and black pepper.  Using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle the cream-and-egg mixture over and around the surface of the quiche.  Go very slowly, so as to give the liquid all the time it needs to slowly drizzle down into the cracks and crevasses of the veggie mixture.

IMG_9486~ Step 4.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven for 60 minutes, stopping to give the quiche a quarter-turn every 15 minutes so it browns evenly. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack 30-60 minutes prior to slicing and serving warm or at room temperature.  Leftovers reheat great in the microwave (which makes lunch 45-seconds away), but, do not freeze well.

Served hot, warm or at room temperature...

IMG_9524... every bite is full of veggies & loaded w/cheese.

IMG_9533Perhaps the best worst fabulous quiche photo ever: 

IMG_9537Broccoli, Cauliflower & Cheddar Main-Dish Quiche:  Recipe yields 8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: 9" quiche dish; cutting board; chef's knife; 2 forks or 2 spoons; 2-cup measuring container; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b019aff73c661970bCook's Note:   If it's straight-up full-throttle cheddar cheese sauce you want for your steamed broccoli or cauliflower, trust me, ~ My Basic Cheddar Cheese Sauce for Vegetables ~ is not going to let you down.  As a mom, it got our three boys to eat their vegetables!

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

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

02/24/2020

~All-Purpose Dry Seasoning Dredge for Fried Chicken~

IMG_9429Fried chicken is one of Americas favorite foods.  Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall,  in my food world, if I say "fried chicken", I don't have to call anyone to the dinner table twice.  And, whether it's skillet-or deep-fryed in the traditional way, oven-fried, or, just a big ole bucket of KFC, we cooks can all agree on one thing: it's all about the herbs and spices in the dry-flour dredge baby. Recipes for it are everywhere, and every one is a bit different.  Why?  Because it's personal.

IMG_93271  cup all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon cornstarch

1 1/2  teaspoons garlic powder

1 1/2  teaspoons onion powder

1 1/2  teaspoons poultry seasoning

1  tablespoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

IMG_9326 IMG_9326 IMG_9326~ Step 1.  To make the dry-spice blend, in a 2-cup bowl, stir together the flour, cornstarch and spices: garlic powder, onion powder, poultry seasoning, sea salt, black pepper, white pepper and cayenne pepper.  Stir in an airtight container in the pantry for 2-3 months and use as directed in specific recipe.

Try my Crispy Outside, Tender Inside Oven-Fried Chicken:

IMG_9395All-Purpose Dry Seasoning Dredge for Fried Chicken:  Recipe yields 1 1/4 cups/ enough to coat 6 bone-in leg-thigh quarters, or, 12 legs or 12 thighs, or, 6 breasts. 

Special Equipment List:  1 1/2-2 cup food-storage container w/tight-fitting lid; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4eb4fdd200dCook's Note:  I refer to my recipe for Southern fried chicken and waffles as "Yankee-style" because I've never eaten chicken and waffles on the same plate below the Mason-Dixon line. I've traveled through many Southern states, and eaten a few meals in Tennesee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana. I have eaten some fine fried chicken, but, I do not recall the option of a waffle with it or underneath it.  My great Aunt (a South Carolina gal) repeatedly drawled "there is no such thing as this dish in the South" every time she served it to us Yankees here in PA.  Try my  ~ Yankee-Style Souther-Fried Chicken & Waffles ~.

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

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

02/22/2020

~ Crispy Outside, Tender Inside, Oven-Fried Chicken ~

IMG_9389The best oven-fried chicken has a crispy-crunchy outer coating encasing the juicy-tender meat. It's succulent.  That said, to proclaim oven-fried chicken is as good as, rivals, or is better than traditional skillet- or deep-fried chicken is not something I'm willing to do.  Truth told, it's neither better nor worse.  It's different.  Two different cooking methods produce two different results.  Both qualify for fried-chicken status and both are marvelous, but, they're two different birds.

Skillet- or deep-fried chicken vs. oven-fried chicken:

IMG_9395Two different birds indeed.  Immersing traditional fried chicken in hot-oil (or shortening or lard) in a skillet or in a deep-fryer crisps the outer skin while cooking the inner meat, in a relatively short period of time.  That said, the dry, high, oven heat fries chicken by cooking the inner meat while the outer skin gently crisps, in a relatively long period of time.  The coating ingredients for traditional fried chicken are mostly limited to a dry dredge in seasoned flour, sometimes followed by a wet dip in a flour-based batter and a second dry dredge.  There are a variety of coating ingredients for oven-fried chicken, ranging from crushed cornflakes and crackers to toasted breadcrumbs.  Lastly, traditional fried chicken is limited to corn, peanut or vegetable oil (or shortening or lard), and requires a lot of it.  Butter and flavored olive oils, which are not suitable for preparing traditional fried chicken, can be used to add additional flavor to oven-fried chicken.

Oven-fried requires less oil.  Traditional fried requires more oil. 

IMG_9398The method for oven-frying chicken is always the same.  Dip the chicken pieces in a liquid prior to dredging it in a seasoned flour or the desired crunchy coating -- the wet coat helps the dry coat adhere to the chicken.  The liquid can be or contain beaten eggs, melted butter, or a drizzly milk-and-flour based batter.  As for seasonings, most recipes incorporate garlic and onion powder, an herb or combination of herbs, salt, and some form of pepper.  As each chicken piece receives its dry coat, it is placed a rack in a pan to allow the hot oven air to circulate around it on all sides -- as a group, for the same reason, the chicken pieces should be placed slightly-to-well-apart.

Oil = Crispy.  Oven-fried is crispy.  Traditional-fried is crispier.  

IMG_9403My mother-in-law Phyllis made great oven-fried chicken.  She kept it simple too.  As little mess as possible.  She painted the chicken with some melted butter, sprinkled the chicken pieces with a super-flavorful flour and dry spice blend and popped it in a hot oven for 70-75 minutes.  While the chicken was in the oven, her hands were free to make a salad or a couple of hot side dishes. Was it as crispy as traditional fried chicken?  No it was not, nor was anyone expecting it to be. Was it crispy?  Yes it was, plus, it had a lot more flavor than traditional Southern fried chicken.  

IMG_93364  bone-in chicken leg-thigh quarters, or, 4 legs and 4 thighs, or, 6 chicken breasts

1  cup all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon cornstarch

1 1/2  teaspoons garlic powder

1 1/2  teaspoons onion powder

1 1/2  teaspoons poultry seasoning

1  tablespoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1  stick salted butter

1  large egg

IMG_9326 IMG_9326 IMG_9326~ Step 1.  To make the dry-spice blend, in a 2-cup bowl, stir together the flour, cornstarch and spices: garlic powder, onion powder, poultry seasoning, sea salt, black pepper, white pepper and cayenne pepper.  Set aside.

IMG_9340 IMG_9340 IMG_9416 IMG_9416 IMG_9416 IMG_9416 IMG_9416~Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, melt butter in microwave and set aside to cool for 5-10 minutes.  In a small bowl, use a fork to which the egg, then whisk the beaten egg into the butter mixture.  If you have a container with wide holes on the top (the type used to shake cheese onto a pizza), transfer flour mixture to it, as it makes coating the chicken a breeze.  Ready a pastry brush.  Insert a wire rack into bottom of a large, disposable aluminum roasting pan or 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan.

IMG_9351 IMG_9351 IMG_9351~ Step 4.  Working one piece of chicken at a time, use the pastry brush to paint surface on all sides with butter-egg mixture, then, sprinkle all sides with a light coating of the flour mix (chicken should not be packed with coating) -- I like to pick each piece up in my fingertips and shake the excess off.

IMG_9359 IMG_9359~ Step 5.  As you work, arrange the chicken pieces well-apart on the rack in the pan.  When all chicken pieces have been placed on the rack, allow to rest about 30 minutes, to allow the flour to absorb excess moisture.  Do not skip this rest.

IMG_9368 IMG_9368~ Step 6.  Oven-fry chicken pieces on center rack of preheated 375º oven for 70-75 minutes.  Avoid opening the oven door.  Chicken will be deep golden, and skin will feel crisped when touched. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Tender & juicy w/a thin & crispy edible skin:

IMG_9413Crispy Outside, Tender Inside, Oven-Fried Chicken:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List: 2-cup bowl; spoon; 1-cup measuring container; pastry brush; wire cooling rack; large disposable aluminum roasting pan or 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcb142e9970bCook's Note: I refer to my recipe for Southern fried chicken and waffles as "Yankee-style" because I've never eaten chicken and waffles on the same plate below the Mason-Dixon line. I've traveled through many Southern states, and eaten a few meals in Tennesee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana.  I have eaten some fine fried chicken, but, I do not recall the option of a waffle with it or underneath it.  My great Aunt (a South Carolina gal) repeatedly drawled "there is no such thing as this dish in the South" every time she served it to us Yankees here in PA.  Try my  ~ Yankee-Style Souther-Fried Chicken & Waffles ~.

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

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

02/20/2020

~ Buttery-Rich Crispy Ritz Cracker Casserole Topping ~

IMG_9296Many casseroles and almost any dish that gets baked in a casserole can benefit from a buttery-rich crispy topping.  It enhances both the flavor and texture, especially if the dish is creamy or cheesy-creamy. Kids adore it.  Adults love it.  I describe my all-purpose Ritz-cracker topping as the grand finale that transforms an ordinary casserole into an extraordinary one.  It takes just a few moments to prepare, and, it can be made hours ahead of time too.  Just sprinkle it on any casserole during the last 15 minutes of the baking process.  Voila:  accolades and applause.

Sprinkle on any casserole during the last 15 minutes of baking process.

IMG_9292My 2:1 ratio is: 2 tablespoons butter to 1 dozen Ritz crackers.

IMG_92824  dozen Ritz crackers, no substitutions

8  tablespoons salted butter, 1 stick

IMG_9208 IMG_9208 IMG_9208 IMG_9208 IMG_9208 IMG_9208 IMG_9288~Step 1. Place crackers in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Using a small rolling pin, crush them to the size of coarse breadcrumbs.  In a 1-cup measuring container, melt the butter in the microwave.  Pour the butter into the bag of cracker crumbs.  Using your fingertips, massage the bag until butter is evenly incorporated into the still-loose cracker crumbs.  Can be made 6-8 hours in advance, but, do not refrigerate.

Try it on my Better-than-Store-Bought Macaroni & Cheese:

IMG_9321Got fish?  Baked Lemon-Pepper Cod w/Ritz Cracker Topping:

IMG_9248Buttery-Rich Crispy Ritz Cracker Casserole Topping:  Recipe yields 4 cups topping mixture/enough to top 1, 13" x 9" x 2" 3-quart casserole.

Special Equipment List: 1-gallon food storage bag; small rolling pin; 1-cup measuring container

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08958dc1970dCook's Note: The classic green bean casserole recipe consisted of five pantry-staple ingredients + "a dash of pepper": canned green beans, canned cream of mushroom soup, canned fried onions, milk and soy sauce (I would have guessed Worcestershire sauce).  It is a true representation of 1950's style American 'cooking from cans and boxes' -- open the cans and/or boxes, mix everything together in one casserole and bake it.  In my recipe for,  ~ It's Not Easy Being 60:  The Green Bean Casserole ~, I've moved on.  Ritz cracker topping is great on this one too!

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

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

02/18/2020

~ Baked Lemon-Pepper Cod w/Ritz Cracker Topping ~

IMG_9248In New England, baked cod with crunchy Ritz-cracker topping is everywhere.  The first time I tasted this delightful dish was in the restaurant of the Killington Resort's, VT ski slope.  Most eateries, from big city restaurants to small town diners, have it on their menu.  Recipes for this cracker-topped fish-dish don't vary much.  Butter-soaked coarse-crushed Ritz crackers get patted atop fresh cod fillets (or other white fish).  Into the oven they go for 15-20 short minutes.  The dish is so popularly commonplace, many fish markets sell plastic containers of preprepared butter-and-crumb mixture.  The end result gets garnished with some minced parsley and a squirt of fresh lemon juice.  It's super-easy to make and is often described as soul-satisfying comfort-food.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d14796ef970cBecause the fish portions are topped with a healthy-dose of rich, crunchy-buttery cracker crumbs, it doesn't require much in the way of a starchy side-dish. That said, should you want one, my recipe for ~ Fluffy Lemon & Pepper Rice for Fish &/or Seafood ~ does complement it nicely.  I, however, prefer to serve my version of the dish with a side or atop some steam-in-bag green beans along with a dollop of spicy stewed-tomato sauce and a lemon wedge.  Despite the decadent topping, it's flaky, flavorful and refreshingly light.

IMG_9188This main-dish fish-dinner couldn't be easier to prepare.  That said, every cod fillet varies in thickness -- one end is thicker than the other. Once portioned, the thick sections take 1-2 minutes longer to bake than the thin sections.  For this reason, I prepare this dish in individual au gratins rather than in a casserole. This allows me to remove the thinner portions from the oven 1-2 minutes prior to the thicker portions.

Four ingredients & an awesome fish dinner 30-minutes later:

IMG_91896-8  4"-5" cod fillet portions (2, 1-pound cod fillets)

3  dozen Ritz crackers, no substitutions that I'm aware of

6  tablespoons salted butter (Note:  The common ratio is 2 tablespoons melted butter to every 1 dozen crackers.)

lemon-pepper seasoning

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole or au gratin dishes

lemon wedges and parsley sprigs, for garnishes

steamed green beans and stewed tomato sauce, for accompaniments

IMG_9197 IMG_9197 IMG_9197 IMG_9199~Step 1.  Using a few paper towels, pat the fish fillets dry.  Check the fillets for pin bones by running your fingertips along the mid-to-edge of the top surface.  To remove any pin bones, give each one a gentle tug with a pair of needle nose pliers -- they are easy to remove.  Using a large chef's knife, slice each cod fillet into 3-4, 4"-5" portions, for a total of 6-8 servings.

IMG_9203 IMG_9203 IMG_9203~ Step 2.  Arrange fillets in casserole or au gratin dishes that have been sprayed with no-stick. Sprinkle with seasoning.

IMG_9227Tip from Mel:  This works really well.  When you get to the thin portions of the fillet, if you trim and stack them (two thin pieces of fish, one on top of each other) instead of one thin one all by itself) you can achieve the volume of one thick portion and all the fillets will cook at the same time. The presentation will be pretty and the end result won't be compromised.

IMG_9208 IMG_9208 IMG_9208 IMG_9208 IMG_9208~Step 3.  Place the crackers in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Using a small rolling pin, crush them to the size of coarse breadcrumbs.  In a 1-cup measuring container, melt the butter in the microwave.  Pour the butter into the bag of cracker crumbs.  Using your fingertips, massage the bag until butter is evenly incorporated into the still-loose cracker crumbs.

IMG_9225 IMG_9230 IMG_9230 IMG_9230 IMG_9230~Step 4.  Using a 2-tablespoon measure, evenly distribute and pack 3-4 tablespoons crumb mixture atop the fillets.  Bake fillets, uncovered, in preheated 350º oven until just cooked through, 15-17 minutes, keeping in mind that thinner fillets will cook faster than thicker fillets.  Fish will be opaque throughout and will flake easily with a fork.  Serve immediately.

Baked cod fillets will be opaque & flake easily w/a fork:

IMG_9268

Savor this quintessential fish-dish of New England:

IMG_9277Baked Lemon-Pepper Cod w/Ritz Cracker Topping:  Recipe yields 6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  paper towels; needle nose pliers or tweezers; cutting board; chef's knife; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole or 6-8 individual sized au gratin dishes; 1-gallon food storage bag; small rolling pin; 1-cup measuring container; 2-tablespoon measure

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d28064ff970cCook's Note: As a kid, I adored frozen fish sticks and canned stewed tomatoes -- I still do.  That said, as a grownup, I much prefer the taste of a sweet, fresh, white fish fillet paired with a few acidic, fresh tomatoes.  Sometimes I bake them in parchment with thyme and white wine, and sometimes I broil them drizzled with melted butter and a bit of lemon and pepper. Tonight I'm using a method similar to shallow poaching, except:  extra-virgin olive oil is used in place of the traditional liquid.  This recipe is simple enough to serve for a weeknight meal at the kitchen island, and, elegant enough to serve for a fancy-schmancy dinner in the dining room:  ~ Luxurious Cod Bathed in EVOO w/Fresh Tomatoes ~.

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

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

02/15/2020

~Five EZ All-Purpose Starchy Weeknight Side-Dishes~

IMG_9182Choose from any number of proteins we American cooks make for dinner via various methods on a busy weeknight.  Examples:  roasted chickengrill-panned steaks or pork chops, slow-cooker spareribs, pan-seared ham slices, broiled fish fillets, steamed or poached shellfish, etc.  I refer to these as flash-in-the pan meals because they go from oven or cooktop in relatively short order.  All you need is a side-dish -- a seriously scrumptious all-purpose side-dish.

Rice is nice & potatoes are great.

Rice is nice and potatoes are great.  Rice is nice.  That said, looking at the above example-list of proteins we American cooks make for dinner via various methods on a busy weeknight, for me, there's one or two items that, meh, rice doesn't do it for me.  Potatoes are great.  When it comes to potatoes, I adore them, but, unless it's a microwave-baked potato, potato dishes in general require more machinations than the average person has patience for at the end of a workday. Me?  Lazy?  No, I'm not, but, after a full day of work and housework, peeling potatoes?  Nah.  

Pasta is fine, noodles are perfect & couscous is awesome. 

Pasta is finenoodles are perfect, and couscous is awesome.  Pasta is fine.  That said, once again, looking at the above example-list of proteins we American cooks make for dinner via various methods on a busy weeknight, for me, there's one or two that, meh, pasta doesn't do it for me.  Noodles are perfect.  They cook and drain in short order, and, a few pats of butter plus a spice or three turns them into a side of go-with-almost-anything comfort food at it's best. Couscous is all-to-often overlooked, but, these tiny little grains of semolina pasta literally go from stovetop to table in five short minutes and are the easiest option for all occasions.

Nice & Easy Basic All-Purpose 30-Minute Rice Pilaf:

IMG_9083EZ Small-Batch Quick-Chill Sheet-Pan Potato Salad:

IMG_8878Better than Store-Bought Stovetop Mac & Cheese:

IMG_8987Egg Noodles & Broccoli in Spicy Garlic-Butter Sauce:

IMG_8809Sweet & Savory Spiced Couscous & Golden Raisins

IMG_9156"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

02/12/2020

~Sweet & Savory Spiced Couscous & Golden Raisins~

IMG_9157My pantry always has a container of couscous in it.  Funny thing is, I went from not knowing what the heck it was, to serving it a lot, in a very short period of time.  Living in a large college town is a wonderful thing -- all the specialized markets and eateries reflect its diversity.  Back in the 1980's I walked into a newly-opened Middle Eastern market and walked out with a couscousiere and two boxes of couscous.  That same day, I fell in love with couscous literally, "instantly".

6a0120a8551282970b014e891c5978970dCouscous is often referred to as Moroccan, but this is incorrect.  It is equally a dish of Algeria, Turkey, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, which all claim to be the home of couscous. Couscous, resemblant of and often confused with grain, is actually tiny coarsely-ground semolina pasta. Making and cooking couscous in the traditional manner is a time consuming process. It requires time and patience, 2-3 rounds (2-3 hours) in a special steamer to achieve this. The steamer, called a couscousiere, is similar to a colander placed over a large pot. Simply put, while a thick, hearty stew slow simmers in the large lower pot, the couscous steams on the top.  Perfectly-cooked to-the-tooth (al dente) couscous is light, fluffy and loose-grained, not sticky, gummy or gritty.    

Unless couscous is being served with warm milk as a porridge for breakfast, cold in a salad, or, incorporated into a dessert, it is served underneath the above mentioned stew which contains a meat or poultry, plenty of vegetables, toasted almonds, dates, currants and/or raisins, along with an array of fragrant spices.  Moroccans often add saffron, Algerians like to add tomatoes, and Tunisians spice theirs up with the fiery hot-pepper-based harissa sauc", which is sold in in Middle Eastern markets.  The steamed couscous is heaped onto a common platter with the stew ladled on top of it.  Diners typically use pieces of flatbread to scoop it from the common platter.

IMG_9128Cooking traditional couscous is NOT what I am focusing on here today. For the most part, the couscous sold in our Western supermarkets has been pre-steamed, then dried, and is referred to as instant couscous, and there is no shame in this kind of easy -- especially when it is so versatile and down right delicious.  Unlike its counterpart, it cooks very quickly, in about five short minutes, so be certain to check to make sure this is the product you are purchasing. Just like its counterpart, when properly-cooked instant couscous is very light, fluffy and loose-grained.  

Meet my basic, five-minute recipe for instant couscous: 

IMG_912110  ounces instant couscous (about 2 3/4 cups)

2  cups water

4  tablespoons salted butter

1  tablespoon honey

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1  cup golden raisins

IMG_9122 IMG_9122 IMG_9122~ Step 1.  In a 1 1/2-2-quart saucepan bring the water, butter, honey, cinnamon, salt and  raisins to a full boil over high heat.

IMG_9140 IMG_9140 IMG_9140 IMG_9140 IMG_9140 IMG_9151~Step 2.  Gradually add the couscous to the boiling mixture.  Using a large spoon, give the couscous a brief, thorough stir.  Turn heat off. Cover saucepan and allow to sit 5-6 minutes. Uncover.  Using a fork, gently "fluff"  couscous -- gently rake through it to separate the "grains" and incorporate air, which imparts volume.

Try it served w/fried or roasted chicken drizzled w/honey:  

IMG_9164Sweet & Savory Spiced Couscous & Golden Raisins:  Recipe yields 6 cups.

Special Equipment List:  1 1/2-2-quart saucepan w/lid; large spoon; fork

6a0120a8551282970b01538f29344b970bCook's Note: Instant couscous is the cousin to the larger-sized Israeli couscous (pictured here), which is sometimes referred to as pasta pearls.  It is often toasted in a skillet with a bit of EVOO and/or butter to bring up a lovely nutty flavor when cooked.  Israeli couscous is similar in size to the pasta shape called acini di pepe.  While cooked couscous and acini di pepe can be used interchangeably in a lot of applications, do not confuse the two when it comes time to cook them.

Here's why:  While couscous is considered a pasta, pasta is not considered couscous and cannot be cooked like couscous.  Unlike how pasta is prepared (a mixture of semolina and water), couscous is not kneaded, which means the gluten is not released.  So, while pasta requires a lot of boiling water for it to tumble in while cooking and absorbing moisture, couscous does not. Cooking acini de pepe in the same manner as couscous would result in a starchy, sticky product.

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

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

02/09/2020

~ Nice & Easy Basic All-Purpose 30-Minute Rice Pilaf ~

IMG_9083In my Eastern European family, the entire lot of us, I have no recollection of anyone placing a bowl of plain white rice on the dinner table.  That said, we ate rice quite often.  I never heard it referred to as a pilaf (I would learn that term years later), but it was.  In a saucepan, my mom, who learned it from her mom, would lightly-toast a cup or two of white rice in a few pats of melted butter.  In went some diced onion, carrot. celery, salt and pepper.  When the veggies began to soften, steaming hot chicken or vegetable stock went in, the lid went on the pot, then, the mixture gently simmered until the rice was cooked.  After 20-25 minutes, and a quick "fluff" plus a parsley garnish, voila:  our rice dish was served.  Technically, our rice pilaf was served.

Dad's pork chops & mom's pilaf was a favorite of mine. 

IMG_9101That's my experience with pilaf, also referred to as pilau in many culinary circles.  Pilaf is an ancient dish dating back to the 5th Century BCE (before common era), likely in the Middle East, although some credit the Persian Empire with its creation.  Due to extensive trading with the Persians, the dish was popularized in the Mediterranean and parts of Eastern Europe.  Pilaf is recognized as a method of cooking, and, while mostly associated with rice, it's worth mention that it can be prepared as a side-dish using almost any grain -- as long as the rice or grain is simmered in seasoned stock instead of plain water.  If additional ingredients are stirred into it (beef, poultry or pork), pilaf can be served as a hearty one-plate or bowl main-dish too.

My Eastern European-style recipe for this classic side-dish:

IMG_90322  cups extra-long-grain white rice (14 ounces), long-grain white rice may be substituted

4  tablespoons salted butter or vegetable oil, or a combination of both

1/2  cup each: diced yellow or sweet onion, carrot and celery

4  cups unsalted beef, chicken, seafood or vegetable stock, selected to complement the main-dish being served, heated to steaming (on the stovetop or in the microwave)

2  whole bay leaves

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

fresh parsley sprigs, for garnish

IMG_9037 IMG_9037 IMG_9037 IMG_9037 IMG_9037 IMG_9037 IMG_9037~Step 1.  Over low heat, melt butter in a 3-quart saucepan, preferably a saucepan with a glass (see-through) lid. Add the rice and increase heat to medium- medium-high.  Stirring constantly, very-lightly-toast the rice, about 3-4 minutes.  Add the diced onion, celery and carrot.  Stirring constantly, cook until vegetables begin to soften (and rice toasts a bit more), about 2-3 additional minutes.

IMG_9033 IMG_9033 IMG_9033 IMG_9033 IMG_9033 IMG_9033 IMG_9033~Step 2.  While the rice is toasting and vegetables are softening, heat stock, bay leaves, sea salt and black pepper to steaming -- I do this in the microwave, in about 2 minutes.  Add the seasoned stock to the saucepan.  Give the mixture a thorough stir and bring to a simmer.  Once simmering, cover the saucepan and lower the heat to a gentle, steady simmer.  Continue to cook, covered and without opening the lid, until rice has absorbed the liquid, is cooked al dente, and, small holes appear across the surface of the pilaf, about 15 minutes.  Turn the heat off and allow to rest, covered, 10 additional minutes. Open (remove) the lid and use a fork to rake through the rice to fluff and separate the grains.

Rethink plain rice.  Consider a flavorful pilaf instead:

IMG_9104Nice & Easy Basic All-Purpose 30-Minute Rice Pilaf:  Recipe yields 8 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3-quart saucepan w/lid (preferably a glass lid), large spoon; fork

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d14796ef970cCook's Note: A carefully-chosen side-dish really can turn an ordinary meal into an extraordinary one. Recipes for side-dishes aren't the most exciting thing to write home about, but, I can say with certainty that home cooks routinely conduct searches that clearly inquire: "What to serve with (meat, poultry, fish, seafood, etc.)?"  That said, it's not uncommon to have narrower searches include the word(s) "vegetable" or "starch", and/or, "quick" or "easy" -- it seems that people don't like to spend a lot of time hovering over recipes for complicated side-dishes.  In my opinion, while pilaf is great as a side to beef, poultry or pork, when it comes to seafood, I like lighter fare.  Example:  my recipe for ~ Fluffy Lemon & Pepper Rice for Fish &/or Seafood ~

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

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

02/06/2020

~ Better than Store-Bought Stovetop Mac & Cheese ~

IMG_8993In my food world, three meals require a side of orange-and-cheddary creamy-dreamy macaroni-and-cheese:  meatloaf, fish sticks, and, chili dogs.  There's more.  If you're looking for the perfect side-dish to turn Buffalo chicken wings into dinner, set your sights on mac and cheese. When I was growing up, when we sat down to eat meatloaf, fish sticks or chili dogs, my mom indulged my brother and I in a side-serving of mac and cheese.  Interestingly, she didn't buy the stuff in the blue box.  She refused.  She made her own copycat version of it on the stovetop.  It was quick-to-make and fabulous -- it's also the same retro recipe I used to indulge my kids.     

IMG_8998Do I add any secret ingredients to my stovetop mac & cheese?

IMG_8938If you consider cheddar cheese powder a secret ingredient, then, yes, I suppose I do.  I discovered it while meandering around a downtown street fair.  I stopped at a vendor selling popcorn.  An employee happened to be stirring a powdery orange substance into some melted butter. The container read:  dried yellow cheddar cheese powder.  Minus the spices, it is the main ingredient in the foil envelope contained in boxed macaroni and cheese mixes. Shortly afterward, I ordered some via a catalog source.  Nowadays I purchase it on Amazon.com.  If you don't have it or don't want to use it, worry not.  Mom didn't and her mac and cheese was wonderful.

IMG_8915For the macaroni:

16 ounces elbow macaroni or medium shells pasta

8  tablespoons salted butter

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

IMG_8918~Step 1. Thin-slice or cube the butter and set aside.

IMG_8912 IMG_8912 IMG_8912 IMG_8912 IMG_8929 IMG_8929 IMG_8929 IMG_8929~Step 2.  In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot bring 3 quarts of water to a boil over high heat and add 1 tablespoon sea salt.  Add macaroni, give water a stir, and cook until al dente, 7-8 minutes. Drain macaroni into a colander and immediately return them to the hot stockpot on the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter, garlic powder, salt and red pepper flakes.  Stir until the butter melts and spices are incorporated throughout the macaroni.  Cover the pot and briefly set aside.

IMG_8941For the cheddar cheese sauce:

4  tablespoons each: salted butter and all-purpose flour

2  tablespoons cheddar cheese powder (optional)

2  teaspoons dry mustard

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 1/4  cups milk (plus 1/4-1/2 cup, if necessary)

8  ounces shredded sharp yellow cheddar cheese (about 2 cups)

IMG_8945IMG_8945IMG_8945IMG_8945IMG_8945IMG_8945IMG_8945IMG_8945IMG_8945~Step 1:  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt butter over low heat.  Add the flour, cheddar cheese powder, dry mustard, salt and cayenne pepper. Whisk until flour mix has been incorporated into the butter and a thick, pasty mixture has formed.  When mixture begins to foam, slowly, in a thin stream, add the milk, whisking the entire time to work out any lumps. Increase heat to medium and bring to a gentle simmer, whisking constantly, then continue to simmer for 1-1 1/2 minutes, or until nicely-thickened and silky smooth.  If at any time the mixture seems thicker than you'd like, whisk in some additional milk until desired consistency is reached.

IMG_8972 IMG_8972 IMG_8972~ Step 3.  Turn the heat off.  Add the grated cheddar.  Using a large spoon, stir until the cheese has melted and a glorious cheese sauce has formed, about 1 minute.  Fold the cheese sauce into the still warm macaroni.

Serve ASAP, &, reheat leftovers gently in the microwave:

IMG_9005Would you like Crispy Ritz-Cracker Topping on that?

(Transfer mac & cheese to a 1 1/2-quart casserole, top & bake 15 minutes.)

IMG_9321Better than Store-Bought Stovetop Mac & Cheese:  Recipe yields 3 cups cheese /12 cups macaroni and cheese./8-12 servings.

Special Equipment List: 4-quart stockpot w/lid; colander; cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater (optional); 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides (a deep, wide-bottomed skillet); whisk; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3c70171200bCook's Note: Macaroni and cheese is near the top of the American favorite food list.  This ooey-gooey irresistable mix of unpretentious pasta and cheese has earned a beloved place on tables ranging from grandmothers kitchens to college dorms to gourmet restaurants.  We serve this baked version year round, indoors or out, at all sorts of gatherings, holidays and celebrations:  ~ Creamy Baked Five-Cheese Baked Macaroni and Cheese ~

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

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

02/04/2020

~EZ Small-Batch Quick-Chill Sheet-Pan Potato Salad~

IMG_8878About once a week, we eat deli-style sandwiches* or cheeseburgers for dinner.  We love 'em both and I don't feel a scintilla of guilt for taking an easy or cheesy night off from cooking a full-blown meal.  That said, I do feel guilty when the side-dish is a bag of potato chips -- that may be ok for a brown-bag lunch, but, for dinner?  Nah.  More often than not, I put a small batch of quick-to-assemble potato salad on a sheet pan in the refrigerator to chill -- it really can be done in the span of twenty short minutes.  During the time I assemble the sandwiches or cook the hamburgers, the potato salad chills and is ready to go on the table.  A short-and-sweet six easy-to-make cups is just enough for us to share one or two more times throughout the course of the week too.

*Note:  I make homemade bread every Sunday.  I make it in my bread machine, just for the purposes of toast for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch or dinner.  The deli-sandwich in this picture is served on my recipe for ~ A Basic Italian Semolina Bread in the Bread Machine ~.

I'm a member of the "I love eggs in my potato salad” club.

IMG_8890If you choose to omit them, substitute two more potatoes. 

IMG_88206  5-6-ounce gold potatoes, unpeeled and scrubbed (about 2-pounds gold potatoes)

4  extra-large eggs

1  cup diced onion

1  cup diced celery

1/2  cup mayonnaise

2  tablespoons Dijon mustard

2  tablespoons sweet pickle relish

1/2  teaspoon celery seed

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_8826 IMG_8826 IMG_8826 IMG_8819~Step 1.  Scrub the potatoes free of any residue, then, using the tines of a fork, prick their tops in two or three spots.  Place on a plate and microwave until just short of being cooked through, about 12 minutes.  Remove from microwave and set aside to cool about 10-12 minutes.  While potatoes are in the microwave, in a 2-quart saucepan, hard-cook the eggs.  Rinse under cold water until cool enough to handle with hands.  While eggs are cooking, dice the onion and celery.

IMG_8846 IMG_8846 IMG_8846 IMG_8846~Step 2.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with parchment.  Cube the warm potatoes into 3/4" pieces.  Place potatoes, in a single layer, on prepared pan.  Peel and slice eggs into 3/4" pieces and place over surface of potatoes.  Scatter the onions, followed by the celery even over all.

IMG_8859 IMG_8859 IMG_8859 IMG_8859~Step 3.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the wet ingredients and seasonings: mayo, mustard, relish, celery seed, pepper and salt.  Drizzle dressing evenly over the layered ingredients in baking pan.  Place pan, uncovered, in refrigerator, 30-45 minutes to chill.  Just prior to serving, remove from refrigerator.  Use a rubber spatula to fold dressing into vegetables.

Make a Small-Batch of Quick-Chill Sheet-Pan Potato Salad: 

IMG_8908EZ Small-Batch Quick-Chill Sheet-Pan Potato Salad:  Recipe yields approximately 3 pounds potato salad/6 cups.

Special Equipment List: microwave oven; 2-quart saucepan; cutting board; chef's knife; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; 1-cup measuring container; spoon; large rubber spatula

IMG_8810Cook's Note: Choose from any number of proteins we cooks make for dinner via on a busy weeknight.  Examples:  roasted chickengrill-panned steaks or pork chops, slow-cooker spareribs, pan-seared ham slices, broiled fish fillets, steamed or poached shellfish, etc.  I refer to these as flash-in-the pan meals because they go from oven or cooktop in relatively short order.  All you need is a scrumptious all-purpose side-dish. Try my ~ Egg Noodles & Broccoli in Spicy Garlic-Butter Sauce ~. 

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

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

02/02/2020

~Egg Noodles & Broccoli in Spicy Garlic-Butter Sauce~

IMG_8810Choose from any number of proteins we American cooks make for dinner via various methods on a busy weeknight.  Examples:  roasted chickengrill-panned steaks or pork chops, slow-cooker spareribs, pan-seared ham slices, broiled fish fillets, steamed or poached shellfish, etc.  I refer to these as flash-in-the pan meals because they go from oven or cooktop in relatively short order.  All you need is a side-dish -- a seriously scrumptious all-purpose side-dish.

Rice is nice and potatoes are great...

Rice is nice and potatoes are great.  Rice is nice.  That said, looking at the above example-list of proteins we American cooks make for dinner via various methods on a busy weeknight, for me, there's one or two items that, meh, rice doesn't do it for me.  Potatoes are great.  When it comes to potatoes, I adore them, but, unless it's a microwave-baked potato, potato dishes in general require more machinations than the average person has patience for at the end of a workday. Me?  Lazy?  No, I'm not, but, after a full day of work and housework, peeling potatoes?  Nah.  

... and pasta is fine, but noodles are perfect. 

Pasta is fine but noodles are perfect.  Pasta is fine.  That said, once again, looking at the above example-list of proteins we American cooks make for dinner via various methods on a busy weeknight, for me, there's one or two that, meh, pasta doesn't do it for me.  Noodles are perfect. They can be cooked and drained in short order, and, a few pats of butter plus a spice or three turns them into a side of scrumptious comfort food.  Add a steam-in-bag vegetable and in the same amount of time, the two team up to make one seriously scrumptious all-purpose side-dish.

IMG_8804To make this two-in-one perfect side-dish.

IMG_87671  12-ounce bag, wide, Pennsylvania-Dutch-style egg noodles

8  tablespoons salted butter (1 stick)

1  teaspoon garlic powder

3/4  teaspoon salt

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

2  10.8-ounce bags steam-in-bag broccoli florets, steamed or,

16  ounces 3-minute blanched and drained fresh broccoli florets

IMG_8775 IMG_8775 IMG_8775 IMG_8775 IMG_8786 IMG_8786 IMG_8786 IMG_8786~Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot bring 3 quarts of water to a boil over high heat and add 1 tablespoon sea salt.  Add the noodles, give the water a stir, and cook, as package directs, until al dente, 8-9 minutes. Drain noodles into a colander and immediately return them to the hot stockpot on the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter, garlic powder, salt and red pepper flakes.  Stir until butter melts and spices are incorporated throughout the noodles to make a scrumptious, make-shift, spicy, garlic-butter-sauce.  Briefly cover stockpot while steaming broccoli florets.

IMG_8795 IMG_8795~ Step 2.  Steam broccoli according to package directions, drain into colander, and add the steamed florets to noodle mixture.  Serve this two-for one all-purpose side-dish immediately, in place of any other starch and any other vegetable.

Indeed, a seriously scrumptious all-purpose side-dish:

IMG_8813Egg Noodles and Broccoli in Garlic Butter Sauce:  Recipe yields 8 cups/8, 1-cup servings.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0224df353f41200bCook's Note: This winner of a weeknight chicken dinner is taken straight from pages of my working parents' playbook.  Before heading out the door in the morning, my mom would put four chicken breasts, doused with store-bought Italian dressing, in a bowl, and, at the end of the work day, dad would dredge the breasts in bread crumbs and sauté them in a skillet, while mom cooked a box of kid-friendly pasta and readied some fresh green beans.  It was simple and straightforward, nothing fancy, but, it was a dinner we all liked, right down to the vegetable.  If we four could look back and critique our dinner menus, all of us would agree:  we were not an easy family to feed.  At the time, no one in our family liked asparagus.  Times change, people change. Try my all-grown-up recipe for: ~ Spring Chicken w/Garlic-Butter Pasta and Asparagus ~.

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

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

01/31/2020

~ Frank's RedHot Buffalo-Style Chicken Chili Burritos ~

IMG_8730The day my Buffalo-style chicken chili met Texican-style burritos was a memorable one.  It wasn't my idea, but, it sure was a tasty one.  As the story goes, my pot of almost-effortless Buffalo-style chicken chili was steeping on the stovetop -- having made it a few hours earlier, I was allowing the flavors time to marry and would be reheating it for dinner.  Our three boys trickled in after school, Joe got home after work, I ladled the chili into bowls, put a basket of tortilla chips on the table and we sat down.  A few minutes into our meal, our middle son said, "I think this chili would be great inside a burrito."  Chicken chili burritos were on the menu the next night.

"I think this chili would be great inside a burrito."

IMG_8592Indeed it is, and, here are my top five ways of explaining why:  #1.  A flour tortilla is a perfect foil for any type of chili*.  #2.  When assembling the burritos, the first layer, refried beans, complements any type of chili or chili con carne.  #3.  The second layer, shredded cheese or combination of cheeses can be chosen to complement any type of chili.  #4. The earthy and slightly-spicy Spanish-style rice, soaks up the excess juice in any type of chili and melts right into the flavor profile. #5. Served with flavor-appropriate sauces or garnishes (in the case of Buffalo-chicken chili, I go with creamy Ranch dressing and Frank's RedHot wing sauce), chili-burritos are a neat way to turn flavor-packed bowls of hearty chili into a heartier, kid-friendly, family-style, knife-and-fork meal.

*Try my steak-my-day Texas-Style Bowl-of-Red Steak ChiliWendy's copycat ground beef chili con carne, hatch green chile chili with pork and white beans, white-out white chicken 'n corn chili, slow-cooker sweet potato and ground beef chili, and, Cincinnati-style chili.

IMG_8759Chili-burritos are a neat way to turn flavor-packed bowls of hearty chili into a heartier, family-style, knife-and-fork meal.  

IMG_8694For each Buffalo-style chicken chili burrito (listed in order of assembly):

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

1/4  cup creamy-style refried beans

1/2  cup shredded Monterey-Jack cheese

1/4  cup blue cheese crumbles

1/2 cup Goya Spanish rice (Note:  Prepare one rice and seasoning packet as package directs adding 2 tablespoons salted butter, 1 tablespoon ground cumin and 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes to 2 1/2 cups water.)

1/2  cup Buffalo-style chicken chili, drained of excess liquid

Frank's RedHot Buffalo wing sauce, for garnish

Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, for garnish

IMG_8697 IMG_8697 IMG_8697 IMG_8697 IMG_8697 IMG_8697~Step 1.  To assemble each burrito, place one tortilla on a plate or flat work surface.  Using a butter knife, distribute the refried beans evenly over surface  Sprinkle the shredded Montery-Jack cheese evenly over the refried beans, followed by a sprinkling of blue cheese crumbles.  Scatter the rice over the surface.  Using a slotted spoon, thoroughly drain, then place the chili, in a tubular-shaped mound, in the center of the tortilla.

IMG_8715 IMG_8715 IMG_8715~Step 2.  To wrap each burrito, lift side closest to you up and over top enough to tuck the end under the chili on the opposite side.  Next, fold left and right sides of tortilla up and towards the center, to seal the burrito at either end.  Last, roll the tortilla over, so that it sits, fully-encased, seam side down.  

IMG_8724~Step 3.  To finish-cook burritos, wrap individually in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, then heat, one-at-a-time or all together, in the microwave for 1-1 1/2 minutes, or, in 350º oven 6-8 minutes, just long enough to warm through and melt the cheeses.  Plate and serve hot, drizzled with Frank's RedHot wing sauce and Hidden Valley Ranch dressing.

Serve hot drizzled with RedHot wing sauce & Ranch dressing:  

IMG_8747Frank's RedHot Buffalo-Style Chicken Chili Burritos: Recipe yields instructions to make 2 large burritos/2 large servings or 4 smaller servings.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held box grater; 2-quart saucepan w/lid (for cooking rice); butter knife; slotted spoon; plastic wrap or aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4b6e83e200cCook's Note: What started in 1964 as late-night pub grub at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY,  Deep-Fried Chicken Wings, is now found in many forms.  In my family alone, Nacho Mama's Buffalo Chicken Sheet-Pan Nanchos, Buffalo-Style Shredded Chicken 'n Slaw Sliders, Spicy Blue-Cheesy Buffalo-Style Chicken Dip, Spicy Blue-Cheesy Buffalo-Chicken Quesadillas, Batter-Dipped Buffalo Chicken & Blue Cheese Subs, and, Sweet-and-Savory-Glazed Buffalo-Chicken Meatballs are favorite wing-night options.

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

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

01/28/2020

~A Basic Italian Semolina Bread in the Bread Machine~

IMG_8640The option to get my sandwich served to me on semolina bread. I wish it would happen oftener. Because it happens so rarely, when it does happen, it's cause for rejoicing. When I happen to come across an entire loaf in a bakery, it's cause for much rejoicing.  Soft and chewy with an open crumb, same-day-made golden-yellow semolina bread is great dipped in olive oil or marinara sauce, or, used as a foil for a soft, buttery cheese.  The next day, it's great lightly-toasted and slathered with a copious amount of sweet cream butter, or, used as a base for various crostini.

IMG_8671Golden semolina bread = soft & chewy w/an open crumb. 

IMG_8616Semolina bread is bread made entirely or partially from semolina flour -- the more semolina flour used, the more golden the color. Semolina flour is most famously used to make pasta.  Semolina itself is derived from durum wheat, which is the hardest wheat available, and, whether used to make pasta or bread, it lends a rich flavor and a distinctively chewy texture.  In Italy, semolina bread (known as pane di semola) is, like many traditional Italian breads, often made with a starter known as a biga, which many bakers believe is worth the extra effort.  I won't argue that point.  I've tasted semolina bread made both ways, and using the biga does result in a more complex flavor. That said, sans a starter, a high-quality semolina loaf can be achieved in the home kitchen, and, in my kitchen, I decided to transition my recipe to the bread machine so we could enjoy the luxury of this bread regularly. 

6a0120a8551282970b0133f466ce08970bA bit about bread-machine bread in general.  Bread baked in a bread machine is rectangular in shape.  No matter what size loaf you elect to bake (most machines give you 3 options: 1-pound loaf; 1 1/2-pound loaf; 2- pound loaf), they will all get baked in the shape of the standard-size pan that comes with that machine.  What is wrong with that?  Nothing.  Even though bread machine bread rises nicely and browns beautifully (all thanks to the many options the bread machine makes available to you), it "plainly" is not going to win any "bread beauty contests".  This is a give-and-take you will realize is well worth the sacrifice the moment you slice and taste the bread.  This is the rectangular-shaped bread pan that came with my machine.  The paddle (which will do the machine-kneading) has been inserted into it. When making bread in a bread machine, the protocol for adding ingredients to the bread pan is: wet ingredients first, dry ingredients second (on top of wet ingredients), granulated yeast last.

IMG_8665Put all ingredients in pan & let the machine do the work.

IMG_8612For a 1-pound loaf:

3/4  cup warm water

3  tablespoons olive oil

2  tablespoons barley malt syrup

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  cup

1  cup + 2 tablespoons semolina flour

1  teaspoon granulated dry yeast, NOT rapid-rise (1/2 packet)

For a 2-pound loaf:

1 1/2  cups warm water

6  tablespoons olive oil

4  tablespoons barley malt syrup

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  cups bread flour

2 1/4  cups semolina flour

2  teaspoons granulated dry yeast, NOT rapid-rise (1 packet)

IMG_8621~ Step 1.  To prepare the dough, place all ingredients in pan of bread machine in the order listed, except for the yeast.  Using your index finger, make a small indentation ("a well") on top of the dry ingredients, but not so deep that it reaches the wet layer.  Place the yeast into the indentation.  It is important to keep the dry yeast away from the wet ingredients until it is time for the machine to knead them together, because the liquid ingredients will prematurely activate the yeast.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95310e2970b~ Step 2. Insert bread pan into bread machine and press down until it is "clicked" securely into place.  Close the lid and plug the machine in.  Press "select" choose "white bread".  Press the "loaf size" button to select "2-pound loaf".  Press the "crust control" button and select "light crust".  Press "start".  Depending on the make and model of your bread machine, you will have a 2-pound, fully-baked loaf of herbed-pizza-dough bread ready and waiting for you in 3 hours.

IMG_8627~ Step 3.  Walk away.  Do not lift the lid to check in on the kneading, rising or baking process.  Don't do it. When  machine signals bread is done, carefully open the lid.  Using a pot holder, remove the bread pan from machine by using the handle to lift it up and out.  Turn bread pan at a 30-45º angle and gently shake/slide the loaf out onto its side.  Turn loaf upright and place on a wire rack to cool completely.

IMG_8636Note:  If the kneading paddle (which is steaming hot) happens to remain in the loaf after you've removed the loaf from the pan, unless you have a pair of culinary tweezers, completely cool the loaf before removing it.

~ Step 4.  This is a photo of a 2-pound loaf taken the moment it has been removed from the bread machine.  At first glimpse it's a bit overwhelming, but I assure you, you're going to fall in love with this bread.  Once cooled, which takes about 3 hours:  Starting at the top, slice the loaf in half, to form 2 smaller, 1-pound loaves.  Two for one:  eat one, freeze one for later.

Breakfast lunch or dinner, bread's better slathered w/butter: 

IMG_8677A Basic Italian Semolina Bread in the Bread Machine:  Recipe yields 1, 2-pound loaf.

Special Equipment List:  2-cup measuring container; bread machine; wire cooling rack; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39d9649200bCook's Note:  The #1 reason many folks stop using their bread machine is the recipes that come with machine are: not very good. Not so with my bread machine specialties: ~ Bread Machine Basics & Melanie's Brioche Recipe ~, ~ Try My Rye:  It Homemade in the Bread Machine ~, ~ Bread Machine Herbed-Pizza-Dough Sandwich Loaf ~, Bread Machine Basics and Cinnamon-Raisin Bread ~, ~ Eggnog Breakfast Brioche in the Bread Machine ~.

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

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

01/25/2020

~Almost-Effortless Chunky Buffalo-Style Chicken Chili~

IMG_8591Culinarily, the power of these two words, Buffalo-style, are not to be underestimated.  What's for dinner? In my family, all I have to do is preface my answer with "Buffalo-style", and, everything and everyone is simpatico.  Buffalo-style.  These two words imply that, in some form, chicken and wing sauce will served.   We eat in-the-style of Buffalo once or twice a month, and, past saying "Buffalo-style", I can't be certain they really care what specific Buffalo-Style dish I'll be serving.  

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49ba23f200dWhat started in 1964 as late-night pub grub at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY,  Deep-Fried Chicken Wings, is now found in many forms.  In my family alone, Nacho Mama's Buffalo Chicken Sheet-Pan Nanchos, Buffalo-Style Shredded Chicken 'n Slaw Sliders, Spicy Blue-Cheesy Buffalo-Style Chicken Dip, Spicy Blue-Cheesy Buffalo-Chicken Quesadillas, Batter-Dipped Buffalo Chicken & Blue Cheese Subs, and, Sweet-and-Savory-Glazed Buffalo-Chicken Meatballs are favorite wing-night or game-day options.

Tonight it's my Buffalo-Style chicken chili I'm making:

IMG_85512  pounds boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins, sliced into bite-sized pieces

3-4  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  tablespoons Frank's RedHot Buffalo-Ranch seasoning blend

1  tablespoon chili powder

1  tablespoon ground cumin

2  teaspoons sea salt

1 1/4  cups peeled and 1/4'-sliced carrots

1 1/4  cups peeled and 1/4"-sliced celery

3/4  cup 1/4"-sliced green onions, white and light green parts only

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

2  4-ounce jars fire-roasted diced green chilis

1  cup chicken stock

1/2-3/4-1  cup Frank's RedHot Buffalo wing sauce

2  15 1/2-ounce cans cannellini beans (white kidney beans), drained and rinsed

1  cup blue cheese crumbles, for garnish

tortilla chips for accompaniment

IMG_8553 IMG_8553 IMG_8553 IMG_8553 IMG_8553 IMG_8553~Step 1.  Heat the vegetable oil in the bottom of a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot placed over medium- medium-high heat.  Add the chicken, carrots, celery, green onion, Buffalo-Ranch seasoning, chili powder, cumin and salt.  Sauté, using a large spoon to stir almost constantly, until chicken is just cooked through, 6-8 minutes.

IMG_8567 IMG_8567 IMG_8567 IMG_8567~Step 2.  Add and stir in the fire-roasted diced tomatoes and fire-roasted green chilis, followed by the chicken stock and 1/2  cup of the Buffalo wing sauce.  Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer and cook about 6-8 minutes.  Take a taste of the broth.  Add additional wing sauce, in small increments, at your discretion, 1/4-1/2 cup.  For my taste, 1/2 cup is enough, so, I add none.

IMG_8576 IMG_8581 IMG_8581 IMG_8581 IMG_8581~Step 3.  Stir in the cannellini beans and continue to simmer 6-8 minutes. Turn heat off and cover pot.  Allow chili to steep for 30-60 minutes, to allow flavors time to marry.  Ready the garnishes during this time.  Gently reheat the chili, portion into bowls and serve garnished with blue cheese crumbles and a dollop of blue cheese or Ranch dressing or sour cream.

Serve each portion garnished w/a scattering of blue cheese crumbles accompanied by tortilla chips.  Game on:

IMG_8592Got leftovers?  Try my Buffalo-style chicken chili burritios:

IMG_8730Almost-Effortless Chunky Buffalo-Style Chicken Chili:  Recipe yields 3 1/2 quarts/14 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; small colander; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c94a4a0b970bCook's Note:  During the Winter months I make chili several ways. My Tex-Mex-style January White-Out Chicken 'n Corn Chili is my "other" chicken chili recipe, which is decidedly different from my Wendy's Copycat Ground-Beef Chili Con Carne, Hatch Green Chile Chili with Pork and White Beans, Steak-My-Day Texas-Style Bowl-of-Red Steak ChiliSlow-Cooker Sweet Potato and Ground-Beef Chili, and, Cincinnati-Style Chili.   

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

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

01/22/2020

~Pretty-in-Pink Tiny-Shrimp Dip, Salad & Sandwiches~

IMG_8508Americans love shrimp.  Shrimp, the fruit of the sea, is America's favorite seafood.  When it comes to shrimp, while big is always better served in a shrimp cocktail, when making deep-fried shrimp, and, in specialty dishes like firecracker shrimp, that's just not so when it comes to making many appetizers and hors d'oeuvres (shrimp dip,  shrimp salad, tea sandwiches, various canapés, etc.).  Extra-small shrimp, also known as "salad shrimp", are sweet, tender and adorable, so, when serving fingerfood, think small, because the extra flavor is important.

IMG_8252Once upon a time, people bought salad shrimp packed in cans (similar to tuna).  That's ok.  That's how things were done before flash freezing came along, and freezer- trucks and train-cars criss-crossed our country.  It was also before in-home refrigerators had an ample freezer section and households invested in chest- or stand-type freezers.  When my mom got a freezer IT was a big deal. When frozen salad shrimp became available to her, she never bought the canned again.  Why?  Next to fresh, flash-frozen is superior.

If given the choice between between flash-frozen or canned shrimp, always choose flash frozen. Flash-frozen shrimp have better texture than canned shrimp (which are soft from immersion in water).  Flash-frozen shrimp taste better than canned shrimp (which are salty, even after rinsing).

IMG_8260Flash-frozen extra-small shrimp (a 90/200 count), are fully-cooked and ready to use upon thawing, which is a relatively quick and easy process. According to all package directions, there are two options for thawing:

#1)  Place frozen shrimp in a bowl of room temperature water for 10 minutes.  #2)  Place frozen shrimp in a colander under cold running water until thawed, about 15 minutes.

The first option renders cold-to-room temperature shrimp, which is great for making a shrimp dip or a spread. The second option renders ice-cold shrimp, which is great when tossing shrimp directly into a salad.  

Thawed and thoroughly-drained salad shrimp store nicely in the refrigerator for up to three days.

Puttin' on the Ritz, Retro Salad-Shrimp Dip Revisited:

IMG_8315Time out for Tiny Salad-Shrimp-Salad Sandwiches:

IMG_8404Time out for Tiny Shrimp & Tiny Shells Pasta Salad:

IMG_8451Spicy Tiny Salad-Shrimp Mini Shrimp-Cocktail Cups:

IMG_8542"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

01/20/2020

~ Spicy Tiny Salad-Shrimp Mini Shrimp-Cocktail Cups ~

IMG_8542Shrimp cocktail.  Two ingredients.  Shrimp and cocktail sauce.  To be more specific, succulent, perfectly-cooked and chilled tails-on shrimp served with a spicy ketchup and horseradish concoction for dipping.  When it comes to shrimp for classically prepared shrimp cocktail, big is always better. That said, if you're looking for an impressive addition to your next appetizer buffet, put out a tray of mini shrimp-cocktail cups.  Count the seconds until they disappear. 

IMG_8252Extra-small shrimp, also known as "salad shrimp", are sweet, tender and adorable, so, when serving fingerfood, think small, because the extra flavor is important. Flash-frozen extra-small shrimp (a 90/200 count), are fully-cooked and ready to eat or use in recipes upon thawing, which is a relatively quick and easy ten-minute process.  

One ounce of thawed salad shrimp contains approximately 8-10 salad shrimp, so, one 12-ounce bag is enough to make and serve one dozen two-three bite appetizers. 

IMG_852312  ounces salad shrimp, thawed as directed below

1/2  cup Heinz chili sauce 

1/4  cup Heinz ketchup

2  tablespoons horseradish

1  teaspoon fresh lemon juice, or high-quality bottled lemon juice not from concentrate

1  teaspoon Worcestershire 

1/4  teaspoon Tabasco sauce, more or less, to taste

mini-flatbread or crackers, for accompaniment & garnish

IMG_8260 IMG_8260~ Step 1. To thaw the shrimp, place the frozen shrimp in a colander in the sink.  Run cold water through them for 3-5 minutes.  Set aside for 3-5 minutes, or, a minute or two longer if necessary. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate and pat dry.

IMG_8526 IMG_8526 IMG_8526 IMG_8526 IMG_8526~Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the ingredients for the cocktail sauce: the chili sauce, ketchup, horseradish, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce and tobasco.  Transfer the shrimp to a medium bowl.  Using a rubber spatula, add and fold the cocktail sauce into the shrimp.  Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.

Serve chilled garnished w/mini-flatbread or crackers:

IMG_8546Spicy Tiny Salad-Shrimp Mini Shrimp-Cocktail Cups:  Recipe yields 1 dozen mini shrimp cocktails.

Special Equipment List:  colander; 1-cup measuring container; spoon; rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a5027bfb200bCook's Note: How does shrimp sizing work?  In a shrimp shell -- it doesn't.  There is no industry standard for it. One vendor's medium, may be another vendor's extra-large and vice versa.  This explains why many new-to-shrimp buying cooks are confused by these seven words:  extra-small, small, medium, large, extra-large, jumbo, colossal.  When purchasing shrimp, the most important words to know aren't words at all, they are numbers: ~ Purchase Shrimp by their Count, not by their Size ~.

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

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

01/18/2020

~ Time out for Tiny Shrimp & Tiny Shells Pasta Salad ~

IMG_8451Got a mid-day snack attack?  Think small. Pretty in pink, tiny salad shrimp are sweet, tender and adorable.  I only use them occasionally in very specific recipes, like shrimp dip to serve as an appetizer, and shrimp salad for making sandwiches, but, sometimes I like to turn my shrimp salad into a pasta salad, and tiny shell-shaped pasta are the perfect foil to make it happen. Served in a small bowl, this little nosh staves off hunger pangs without almost any guilt. 

Once upon a time, people bought salad shrimp packed in cans (similar to tuna).  That's ok.  That's how things were done before flash freezing came along, and freezer- trucks and train-cars criss-crossed our country.  It was also before in-home refrigerators had an ample freezer section and households invested in chest- or stand-type freezers.  When my mom got a freezer IT was a big deal. When frozen salad shrimp became available to her, she never bought the canned again.

Americans love shrimp.

IMG_8446Shrimp, "the fruit of the sea", is America's favorite seafood.

IMG_8252When it comes to shrimp, while big is always better served in a shrimp cocktail, when making deep-fried shrimp, and, in specialty dishes like firecracker shrimp, that's just not so when it comes to making shrimp dip or shrimp salad.  Interestingly, small shrimp are sweeter, and, when mixed into a shrimp dip or a salad, the extra flavor is important. There's more.  Extra-small shrimp, also known as "salad shrimp", are seriously easy to work with. They're fully-cooked and flash-frozen, and, they thaw under cold running water (in a colander) in 8-10 minutes.

To make my tiny shrimp & tiny shells pasta salad:

IMG_835012  ounces salad shrimp, thawed as directed below

8  ounces small-shell pasta, cooked, drained, rinsed and "dried" as directed below (2 cups)

3/4  cup small-diced celery (12 tablespoons)

1/3  cup small-diced onion (about 6 tablespoons)

1/3  cup red bell pepper (about 6 tablespoons)

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup Heinz chili sauce

1  teaspoon Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire sauce

1/2  teaspoon high-quality, not from concentrate, lemon juice

1/4  teaspoon each:  celery seed, sea salt and ground cayenne pepper

IMG_8260 IMG_8260~ Step 1. To thaw the shrimp, place the frozen shrimp in a colander in the sink.  Run cold water through them for 3-5 minutes.  Set aside for 3-5 minutes, or, a minute or two longer if necessary. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate and pat dry.

IMG_8384 IMG_8384 IMG_8384 IMG_8384~Step 2.  To cook, drain and dry the pasta, in a 4-quart saucepan, bring 2 1/2-3 quarts of water to a boil.  Add 1 tablespoon sea salt.  Add pasta shells.  Adjust heat to simmer until shells are al dente, 8-9 minutes.  Do not overcook pasta.  Drain into a colander and immediately rinse pasta under cold water, combing through it with your fingers to be sure all the starch rinsed out of it. Place the colander over a plate and set aside to drain and "dry" the pasta of all moisture, about 10-15 minutes, giving the colander a thorough shake every 2-3 minutes throughout the process.

IMG_8357 IMG_8357 IMG_8357 IMG_8357 IMG_8357 IMG_8357 IMG_8423 IMG_8423~Step 3. Place shrimp in a medium-large bowl. Small dice the celery, onion and bell pepper as directed, adding them to the bowl as you work.  To make the dressing, in a small bowl, place and stir together the mayo, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and seasonings.  Add dressing to bowl of shrimp and veggies.  Using a rubber spatula, thoroughly fold the dressing into the shrimp while tossing the vegetables throughout the salad.  Add and fold the pasta shells into the mixture.  Cover and refrigerate two hours or overnight, to allow flavors time to marry.

Store in the refrigerator for 4-5 days...

IMG_8433... & stave off snack attacks in small portions for 4-5 days.

IMG_8499Time out for Tiny Shrimp & Tiny Shells Pasta Salad:  Recipe yields 5-5 1/2 cups pasta salad.

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

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4ddaa51200dCook's Note: How does shrimp sizing work?  In a shrimp shell -- it doesn't.  There is no industry standard for it. One vendor's medium, may be another vendor's extra-large and vice versa.  This explains why many new-to-shrimp buying cooks are confused by these seven words:  extra-small, small, medium, large, extra-large, jumbo, colossal.  When purchasing shrimp, the most important words to know aren't words at all, they are numbers: ~ Purchase Shrimp by their Count, not by their Size ~.

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

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

01/15/2020

~ Time out for Tiny Salad-Shrimp-Salad Sandwiches ~

IMG_8404I grew up in an era when tea sandwiches were in vogue.  At every festive gathering, one could count on at least one three-tier tray of tea sandwiches.  Some might argue they're still in vogue, but, I can't remember the last time I was offered a tea sandwich.  These tiny shrimp salad sandwiches aren't exactly tea sandwiches (which are made using crustless white bread), but, I'm willing to classify them as such, as, they're too classy to classify in the slider-sandwich category.

Once upon a time, people bought salad shrimp packed in cans (similar to tuna).  That's ok.  That's how things were done before flash freezing came along, and freezer- trucks and train-cars criss-crossed our country.  It was also before in-home refrigerators had an ample freezer section and households invested in chest- or stand-type freezers.  When my mom got a freezer IT was a big deal. When frozen salad shrimp became available to her, she never bought the canned again.

America loves shrimp.

IMG_8397Shrimp, "the fruit of the sea", is America's favorite seafood.

IMG_8252When it comes to shrimp, while big is always better served in a shrimp cocktail, when making deep-fried shrimp, and, in specialty dishes like firecracker shrimp, that's just not so when it comes to making shrimp dip or shrimp salad.  Interestingly, small shrimp are sweeter, and, when mixed into a shrimp dip or shrimp salad, that extra flavor is important. There's more.  Extra-small shrimp, also known as "salad shrimp", are seriously easy to work with. They're fully-cooked and flash-frozen, and, they thaw under cold running water (in a colander) in 8-10 minutes.

To make my tiny, dainty, salad-shrimp tea sandwiches:

IMG_835512  ounces salad shrimp, thawed as directed below

3/4  cup small-diced celery

1/3  cup small-diced onion (about 6 tablespoons)

1/3  cup red bell pepper (about 6  tablespoons each)

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup Heinz chili sauce

1  teaspoon Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire sauce

1/2  teaspoon high-quality, not from concentrate, lemon juice

1/4  teaspoon each:  celery seed, sea salt and ground cayenne pepper

2  16-ounce containers Pillsbury Grand's Southern-homestyle biscuits, baked as directed below (Note:  Biscuits are best served within a few hours or the same day they are baked, meaning, if refrigerating the salad overnight, do not bake the biscuits a day ahead too.)

IMG_8325 IMG_8325 IMG_8325 IMG_8325 IMG_8325 IMG_8325 IMG_8325 IMG_8325~Step 1.  To bake the biscuits, line 2 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper.  Open one packages of the biscuits.  Working one a time, place each biscuit on a cutting board.  Using a small rolling pin and and a VERY light touch, flatten the top "just a bit".  Using a 1 1/2" biscuit cutter, cut each biscuit into three discs, placing the discs on the prepared pan (I place 2 dozen on each pan).  Bake on center rack of preheated 360º oven 11-12 minutes.  Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.  Repeat process with second package of biscuits.

IMG_8260 IMG_8260~ Step 2. To thaw the shrimp, place the frozen shrimp in a colander in the sink.  Run cold water through them for 3-5 minutes.  Set aside for 3-5 minutes, or, a minute or two longer if necessary. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate and pat dry.

IMG_8357 IMG_8362 IMG_8362 IMG_8362 IMG_8362 IMG_8362~Step 3.  Place shrimp in a medium-large bowl. Small dice the celery, onion and bell pepper as directed, adding them to the bowl as you work.  To make the dressing, in a small bowl, place and stir together the mayo, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice and seasonings.  Add dressing to bowl of shrimp and veggies.  Using a rubber spatula, thoroughly fold the dressing into the shrimp while tossing the vegetables throughout the salad.  Cover and refrigerate two hours or overnight, to allow flavors time to marry.  

Place a 3-4 shrimp-sized dollop onto each biscuit sandwich. 

IMG_8411Time out for Tiny Salad-Shrimp-Salad Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 2 1/2-3 cups shrimp salad/4 dozen appetizer-sized sandwiches; toothpicks

Special Equipment List:  2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment; small rolling pin; 1 1/2" biscuit cutter; wire cooling rack; colander; paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4ddaa51200dCook's Note: How does shrimp sizing work?  In a shrimp shell -- it doesn't.  There is no industry standard for it. One vendor's medium, may be another vendor's extra-large and vice versa.  This explains why many new-to-shrimp buying cooks are confused by these seven words:  extra-small, small, medium, large, extra-large, jumbo, colossal.  When purchasing shrimp, the most important words to know aren't words at all, they are numbers: ~ Purchase Shrimp by their Count, not by their Size ~.

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

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

01/13/2020

~Puttin' on the Ritz, Retro Salad-Shrimp Dip Revisited~

IMG_8315Pretty in pink, tiny salad shrimp are sweet, tender and adorable.  Once upon a time, people bought them packed in cans (similar to tuna).  That's ok.  That's how things were done before flash freezing came along, followed by freezer- trucks and train-cars criss-crossing our country.  It was also before in-home refrigerators had an ample freezer section and households started investing in chest- or stand-type freezers.  When my mom got her freezer IT was a very big deal. When frozen salad shrimp became available to her, she never bought the canned shrimp again.

Americans love shrimp.

IMG_8288Shrimp, "the fruit of the sea", is America's favorite seafood.

IMG_8252When it comes to shrimp, while big is always better served in a shrimp cocktail, when making deep-fried shrimp, and, in specialty dishes like firecracker shrimp, that's just not so when it comes to making shrimp dip or shrimp salad.  Interestingly, small shrimp are sweeter, and, when mixed into a shrimp dip or shrimp salad, the extra flavor is important. There's more.  Extra-small shrimp, also known as "salad shrimp", are seriously easy to work with. They're fully-cooked and flash-frozen, and, they thaw under cold running water (in a colander) in 8-10 minutes.

My Mom's circa 1960's-style Salad-Shrimp Dip: 

IMG_82598-ounces Philadelphia cream cheese, at room temp, very soft

1/2  cup Hellman's mayonnaise

1/4 cup Heinz chili sauce

1  teaspoon Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire sauce

1/2  teaspoon high-quality, not from concentrate, lemon juice

1  teaspoon dehydrated  minced onion

1/4  teaspoon each:  celery seed and ground cayenne pepper

12  ounces salad shrimp

IMG_8260 IMG_8260~ Step 1.  To thaw the shrimp, place the frozen shrimp in a colander in the sink.  Run cold water through them for 3-5 minutes.  Set aside for 3-5 minutes, or, a minute or two longer if necessary. Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate and pat dry.

IMG_8266 IMG_8266 IMG_8266 IMG_8266~Step 2.  Place the thawed shrimp in the work bowl of a medium-size food processor fitted with the steel blade.  Using a series of 10-12 rapid on-off pulses, mince the shrimp.  Do not over process.  Using a large rubber spatula, scrape down the sides of the processor work bowl.

IMG_8277 IMG_8277 IMG_8277~ Step 3.  Add all remaining ingredients: cream cheese, mayo, chili sauce, lemon  juice, dehydrated onion, celery seed and cayenne pepper.  With motor running, process until smooth, 20-30 seconds.  Transfer to a food storage container and refrigerate, 1 hour or overnight*, to allow the flavors time to marry.

*Note:  Dip that has been refrigerated for several hours or overnight will thicken slightly.  That said, worry not.  The mayonnaise and chili sauce keep it luxuriously smooth and spreadable.

Pretty in pink, sweet & tender & luxuriously wonderful:

IMG_8318Puttin' on the Ritz, Retro Salad-Shrimp Dip Revisited: Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups.

Special Equipment List:  colander; paper towels; medium-size food processor; rubber spatula; food storage container w/tight fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7f32485970bCook's Note: How does shrimp sizing work?  In a shrimp shell -- it doesn't.  There is no industry standard for it. One vendor's medium, may be another vendor's extra-large and vice versa.  This explains why many new-to-shrimp buying cooks are confused by these seven words:  extra-small, small, medium, large, extra-large, jumbo, colossal.  When purchasing shrimp, the most important words to know aren't words at all, they are numbers: ~ Purchase Shrimp by their Count, not by their Size ~.

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

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

01/10/2020

~ Smokie Cocktail Wieners in a Bourbon BBQ Sauce ~

IMG_8237Aside from an occasional glass of Austi Spumante, mom didn't drink a drop, but, as a cook she wasn't opposed to adding boozy flavor to certain dishes.  If a recipe required a splash of sherry or wine, she didn't scurry around looking for substitutions -- she added it.  In the case of bourbon, which is a common addition to recipes containing sweet and savory tomato-based barbecue sauces, she put the bourbon in.  As parents, mom and dad (who did enjoy a beer or two and an occasional cocktail), a little bourbon in the cocktail wieners didn't mean we kids had to miss out. No harm, no foul, game on, gobble 'em up, go to bed.  Gotta love those kinder, gentler times.

No harm, no foul, game on, gobble 'em up, go to bed.

IMG_8228Made in a small batch, or made in a large batch...

IMG_8249Most times mom made half a batch (1-2 packages) in a saucepan on the stovetop.  For the four of us, it was a hearty snack/dinner for a family-time evening in-front-of the TV or Parcheesi board. She'd slice or cube some colby-Jack cheese (which is a great accompaniment as it is fantastic dipped into the sweet and savory barbecue sauce), grab some Ritz crackers and got the box of toothpicks out of the kitchen drawer and put them in the everyday toothpick holder.  

Whenever she was entertaining, she made the full batch (3-4 packages) in her electric skillet (which would keep them warm during the course of the evening). She'd get the box of FRILLY toothpicks out of the kitchen drawer, put them in the fancy toothpick-holder, and everyone would help themselves.

... get out the toothpicks & enjoy some retro food fun.

IMG_81953-4  14-ounce packages LIT'L Smokies or All-Beef LIT'L Smokies (about 3 dozen cocktail wieners per package), your choice

1  20-ounce bottle Heinz sweet-honey barbecue sauce (Note:  Mom's recipe calls for Heinz original barbecue sauce + 2 tablespoons honey.  Feel free to make that substitution.)

1/4  cup water

1/2  cup Heinz chili sauce or ketchup, your choice

1/2  cup firmly-packed dark or light brown sugar

1/4  cup Kentucky bourbon whiskey, your favorite brand

2  tablespoons A-1 steak sauce or L&P steak sauce, your choice 

2  tablespoons Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire sauce

IMG_8198IMG_8198IMG_8198Step 1.  Place the barbecue sauce in a 4-quart saucepan on the stovetop.  Add 1/4 cup of water to the empty barbecue-sauce bottle and give it a shake, so as not to waste the remaining goodness and add it to the saucepan.  Add all remaining ingredients except for the Lit'L smokies.  Bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat.  Simmer slowly, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

IMG_8212 IMG_8212 IMG_8212 IMG_8212 IMG_8212~Step 2.  Add 2-3 packages of Lit'L smokies and continue to simmer gently and slowly, uncovered, stirring occasionally, another 10 minutes. Regulate heat carefully as these will boil over if the heat is too high.  Turn off the heat, cover the saucepan, and allow to steep, another 20-30 minutes, or up to 2-3-4 hours.  Gently reheat and serve immediately.

Get out the frilly toothpicks & everyone help yourself:

IMG_8242Smokie Cocktail Weiners in a Bourbon BBQ Sauce:  Recipe yields 9 dozen (3 packages)/12-18 servings, or, 12 dozen (4 packages)/18-24 servings @ 6-8 pieces per person.

Special Equipment List:  4-quart saucepan w/lid; toothpicks or frilly toothpicks

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c89bef75970bCook's Note:  Cocktail wieners are enjoyed by everyone and addicting too.  My brother and I loved when my mom entertained and made her "little hot dogs wrapped in pastry dough" too.  She'd let me help to roll them up, and, she'd make lots of them too, usually around 100, because she knew they would be the first thing devoured. People would grab them so fast you'd think she had money rolled up in them.  ~ Cocktail Pigs in a Blanket: Pillsbury Crescent Dogs ~.

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

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

01/07/2020

~No Soup for You Home-Style Chicken-Noodle Bowls~

IMG_8171It gets made in a pot of stock but it's not a soup.  It's not a stew either.  This heartwarming, down-home comfort-food dish is the great-grandmother of all noodle bowls.  Some refer to it as Southern, my experience with it is as an Eastern European, and, I know from first-hand experience the Pennsylvania Deutsch make it too.  I suspect they make it in Midwest as well.  It's bite-sized pieces of tender chicken cooked in well-seasoned chicken stock with aromatic carrots, celery, onion and potatoes.  Egg noodles go directly into the pot to cook and absorb almost all the flavorful broth.  When executed properly, there's no need for a slurry (a bland-tasting thickener) -- the starch in the noodles does the work.  The end result is rich, thick and hearty goodness.

It's the great-grandmother of all noodle bowls:

IMG_8178Unlike my great-grandmother and grandmother (who turned out scratch-made egg noodles like a piece of fine-tuned machinery), my mom never made this dish with her homemade chicken stock and from-scratch egg noodles -- she reserved her liquid gold and oodles-of-noodles for Sunday's heavenly chicken soup or special-occasion chicken pot-pie.  Mom worked (as in had a nine-to-five job), so, understandably, she took a few short-cuts in order to transition this (and other meals) into a relatively quick-to-make kid-friendly simply-scrumptious weeknight dinner. Allow me to suggest this meal originated as a way fill-up a hungry family for pennies.

IMG_81212  pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, chopped into small, bite-sized pieces (Note:  I like to use thighs because they have a richer flavor than tenderloins or breasts, and, they have just enough fat on them to enhance the flavor of the dish.)

2  tablespoons salted butter

1  generous cup and up to 1 1/2 cups each: small diced sweet onion, carrot and celery (4-6 ounces each)

2 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade (8 cups) (Note:  Click on this link to get my recipe for ~ It's National Chicken Stock Day in Melanie's Kitchen ~.)

Note:  When using my homemade stock, I don't need to season it.  When using your own homemade chicken stock, you may or may not need to season it.  When using store-bought chicken stock, season it with:  1 teaspoon dried rosemary leaves, 1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper, 1 teaspoon garlic powder and 1-2 teaspoons sea salt

1 1/2-2  cups peeled and small-diced gold potatoes  (8-12 ounces)

16  ounces Mrs. Weiss kluski (rustic-style enriched egg noodles), to be cooked in the stock

IMG_8124 IMG_8124 IMG_8124 IMG_8124~Step 1.  In a wide-bottomed 6-quart stockpot, melt the butter over low heat.  Add the the chicken, onion, carrot and celery.  Lightly season it with a sprinkle of salt and pepper (I use 20-25 grinds each of sea salt and black pepper). Cook over medium heat, stirring almost constantly until the chicken is turning opaque and just short of being cooked through, about 8-9 minutes.

IMG_8135IMG_8135IMG_8135IMG_8135~Step 2.  Add the chicken stock (plus additional seasonings if applicable) and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.  While mixture is coming to a simmer, peel and dice the potatoes, then, add them too.  When the stock returns to a simmer, continue to simmer 2 1/2-3 more minutes.

IMG_8151 IMG_8151 IMG_8151 IMG_8151 IMG_8151 IMG_8167~Step 3.  Add and stir in the egg noodles. Continue to cook, uncovered, until noodles are tender, 15-16 minutes.  Turn heat off, cover pot and allow to steep, about 15-16 minutes, so noodles can absorb the well-seasoned broth.  

Serve steaming hot & stick your fork in chicken-noodle heaven: 

IMG_8187No Soup for You Home-Style Chicken-Noodle Bowls:  Recipe yields 4 quarts/8-12 servings, and, leftovers reheat nicely in the microwave.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09265b77970dCook's Note: Rethink your position if you think frugal fare isn't delicious. In my recipe for ~ My Mother-in-Law's Philly Hamburger Pepper Pot ~, which is a soupy version of today's recipe, hamburger takes center stage.  Some folks call it hamburger soup, I call it delicious.

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

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

01/05/2020

~ Stir-Fry 101. Chinese-American Chicken & Broccoli ~

IMG_8075Want to learn how to stir-fry or teach someone how to stir-fry?  Start with Chinese-American chicken and broccoli.  It is the quintessential basic stir-fry.  One protein (chicken).  One vegetable (broccoli).  One sauce (brown).  Steamed rice (white).  Nine out of ten times, there will be some garlic, ginger and green onions in the mix too.  Chicken and Broccoli is on every Chinese take-out menu, it's one of the most popular Chinese chicken dishes, and, it is almost always the first stir-fry home cooks try to duplicate.  There's more.  No special hardware is required.  While stir-frying is typically done in a traditional wok or stir-fry pan, a skillet or an electric skillet work equally fine too.

Make the "Chinese mother sauce" (1 1/4 cups brown sauce).

IMG_7877Have you ever noticed how many of your favorite dishes at your favorite Chinese restaurant seem to be enrobed in a semi-viscous, glossy, dark-brown sauce? Examples: Beef or chicken with broccoli, chow mien or lo mein, kung pao or General Tso, etc.  It's one of every Chinese restaurant's best kept secrets: Brown sauce.  I've heard it referred to as "the Chinese mother sauce", but, even in China, recipes for it vary from region to region.  I make no claim to my concoction being authentic Chinese brown sauce -- it is not.  What it is, is:  Easy to make, full of Chinese flavors, the perfect consistency, and, unbelievably scrumptious: ~ All-purpose Chinese-American Brown Stir-Fry Sauce ~.

IMG_7873For the marinade/sauce (1 1/4 cup): ~ Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together: 

6  tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

3  tablespoons hoisin sauce

3  tablespoons oyster-flavored sauce

3  tablespoons Sriracha sauce

3  tablespoons sesame oil

1  tablespoon garlic paste

1  tablespoon ginger paste

1  tablespoon coarse-grind black pepper, more or less, to taste

Slice & marinate the protein (1 1/2-2 pounds chicken tenders).  

IMG_7904Many may be surprised to learn this: in the case of marinades, they act primarily as a flavorizer, not as a tenderizer.  Keeping that in mind, marinating the chicken in 6-8 tablespoons of the brown sauce, even if only for 20-30 minutes, will add flavor.  An hour on the countertop is better, and, up to 6-8 hours or overnight in the refrigerator is even better yet (return to room temperature, about 1 hour, prior to stir-frying).  My number one stir-fry choice is the chicken tenderloin -- it is the tenderest part of the chicken. Feel free to substitute breasts.

IMG_7906 IMG_7906 IMG_7906~ Step 1.  To prep the chicken, holding your knife at a 30º angle, slice the tenders into slightly-less than 1/2"-thick pieces. 

IMG_7914 IMG_7914 IMG_7914~ Step 2.  To marinate the chicken, place the sliced chicken in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Add 6-8 tablespoons of the marinade/sauce mixture to the meat and seal the bag.  Using your fingertips, thoroughly "massage" the bag of chicken until slices are evenly coated in marinade.  Set aside.

Blanch the vegetable (3/4-1 pound broccoli).  Steam the rice.

IMG_7926When it comes to a tough, firm vegetable like broccoli, for best results is needs to be steamed or blanched to crunch tender prior to tossing it into any stir-fry.  As for prepping the broccoli, feel free to take the time to make florets out of a very large head.  That said, because I love broccoli and serve it weekly, I prefer the convenience of buying a family-sized bag that has been cut into florets for me.  That said, when really pressed for time, I've used steam-in-bag broccoli florets, and slightly under-steamed it in the microwave -- it worked just fine.

IMG_7931 IMG_7931 IMG_7931 IMG_7931 IMG_7931 IMG_7931 IMG_7931~Step 1.  To blanch and shock the broccoli,  in 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides, place 1 1/2 inches of water.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Add 3/4-1-pound broccoli florets, adjust heat to simmer, and continue to cook for 1 1/2-2 minutes, or, until broccoli is bright-green and crunch-tender.  Remove from stovetop, drain into a colander and thoroughly rinse under cold running water to "shock" it, which will halt residual heat from cooking it further.  Set aside to drain thoroughly.

IMG_7381 2 IMG_7381 2 IMG_7381 2~ Step 2.  To steam the rice, using the cup/measure from the rice steamer, place 4  cups basmati rice in steamer. Again, using the same cup/measure, add 4 1/2 cups of water to the steamer.  Turn on, to steam.  When the steamer shuts off, the rice should be firm and just slightly undercooked. Open the steamer's lid rake through rice with a fork to separate the grains. "Raking rice" is term used to describe the last step of cooking rice on the stovetop.  You will have 8 cups of steamed rice. 

Stir-frying the chicken, the broccoli, &, serving the dinner.

IMG_7953When I'm making a stir-fry to feed more than two people (4-6 people), I use either my 12" skillet, or, my 16" electric skillet if I'm tossing cooked lo-mein noodles in at the end (instead of serving my dish over steamed rice). Why? Because they have the surface area to sear a larger quantity of food than the average stovetop wok or stir-fry pan does, meaning:  I do not have to work in batches, and, that's a time saver.  Chicken and broccoli is traditionally served over steamed rice, so I'm using my 12" skillet .

IMG_7956 IMG_7956 IMG_7956 IMG_7956 IMG_7956 IMG_7956 IMG_7971~Step 1.  Place   chicken and its marinade in skillet -- the marinade contains sesame oil, so there's no need  to add oil.  Over high heat, stir-fry the chicken, using two spoons to stir constantly, until just cooked through, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Add 1/2 cup of the stir-fry sauce and cook, stirring constantly, 20-30 seconds.  

IMG_7973 IMG_7973 IMG_7973 IMG_7973~Step 2.  Add all the blanched broccoli and toss.  Add all the remaining sauce (4-6 tablespoons) and toss again.  When  mixture is steaming, 30-45 seconds, serve over steamed basmati rice.

Serve Chinese-American chicken & broccoli atop rice...

IMG_8106... serve & savor your stir-fry ASAP:

IMG_8113Stir-Fry 101.  Chinese-American Chicken & Broccoli:  Recipe yields 6 servings.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; colander; electric rice steamer; 12" skillet, preferably nonstick; two large slotted spoons or spatulas

IMG_7857Cook's Note: Same brown sauce, different Chinese dish:  ~ My Chinese-American Lo Mein-Style Pepper steak ~ is a dish that features thin strips of soy- ginger- and garlic-marinated flank-, sirloin- or round-steak, seasoned with a copious amount of pepper, stir-fried with crunchy water chestnuts and julienne strips of colorful bell peppers and onion. It was popularized in Chinese-American restaurants in the '40's and '50's, and home cooks have been making regional versions ever since.

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

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

01/03/2020

~All-Purpose Chinese-American Brown Stir-Fry Sauce~

IMG_7877Stir-frying is an ancient cooking technique.  Credited to Asian cuisine, the concept of the stir-fry is easy to grasp.  It's all about fresh flavors and textures, so, pick a protein and choose a few vegetables.  Think small.  Slice 'em thin or dice 'em into small bites, throw 'em all in wee-bit of oil in a hot wok or a skillet.  Stir and fry for a few short minutes.  It's so easy, a novice cook can master it.  That said, the secret to a great stir-fry does lie in the stir-fry sauce, and, this is where a perfectly executed stir-fry can go from excellent to atrocious.  Not too thick and not too thin, my all-purpose, slightly-spicy full-flavored soy-, garlic & ginger sauce removes all the guesswork.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2dc3428970cThere are a two solid reasons why it's hard to duplicate restaurant-quality Chinese food at home:  Their seething-hot gas-fired woks and flat-top grills, and, their knowledge of ancient techniques like velveting (tenderizing) the protein prior to cooking it.  That said, have you ever noticed or questioned how many of your favorite dishes at your favorite Chinese-American restaurant seem to be enrobed in a semi-viscous, glossy, dark-brown sauce? Examples: Beef or chicken with broccoli, chow mien or lo mein, kung pao or General Tso, etc.  It's one of every Chinese restaurant's best kept secrets.  The recipe for their brown sauce.  I have heard it referred to as "the Chinese mother sauce", but, even in China, recipes for it vary from region to region.  I make no claim to my concoction being authentic Chinese brown sauce -- it is not.  What it is, is:  Easy to make, full of Chinese flavors, the perfect consistency, and, unbelievably scrumptious.

The recipe, the ratio, the specifics & how to make adjustments:

My easy recipe makes 1 1/4 cups.  Four to six tablespoons is enough to marinate 1 1/2-2  pounds thin-sliced or diced protein (beef, chicken, pork or shrimp), and, depending upon the recipe, the rest gets added to the stir-fry during the last few seconds.  My 2:1 ratio of soy sauce to equal parts hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, Sriracha sauce and sesame oil is a sumptuous mixture.  The addition of garlic- and ginger-paste (which have a long shelf life in the refrigerator) means it's not necessary to press or mince fresh garlic or ginger to the stir-fry because there's plenty in the sauce.  That said, if you're making a recipe that does not call for or is not compatible with garlic and/or ginger (it's rare in a stir-fry, but it does happen), omit one or both of them.  As for the black pepper, which lends a bold, spicy edge, it too can be adjusted or omitted to suit your palate.  To make the sauce thinner and drizzly, add up to 3 tablespoons additional soy sauce, to make it thicker and paintable (to use as a glaze), reduce the amount by up to 3 tablespoons.   

This marinade/stir-fry sauce takes a back seat to none.

IMG_7873For the marinade/sauce (1 1/4 cup -- 4-6 tablespoons for marinade/up to 1 cup to sauce stir-fry): 

6  tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

3  tablespoons hoisin sauce

3  tablespoons oyster-flavored sauce

3  tablespoons Sriracha sauce

3  tablespoons sesame oil

1  tablespoon garlic paste

1  tablespoon ginger paste

1  tablespoon coarse-grind black pepper, more or less, to taste

IMG_7775 IMG_7775~ Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir all ingredients together. Use as directed in specific recipe or add to any stir-fry during the last few seconds of cooking process.  May be prepared days or weeks in advance, transferred to a food-storage container with a tight-fitting lid and stored in the refrigerator almost indefinitely.

Try it in my Chinese-American Lo Mein-Style Pepper Steak:

IMG_7857Or in my Chinese-American Chicken & Broccoli Stir-Fry:

IMG_8075My All-Purpose Chinese-American Brown Stir-Fry Sauce:  Recipe yields a generous 1 1/4 cups.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b022ad397c1b6200bCook's Note:  While brown sauce is the most popular stir-fry sauce here in America, some Chinese-American specialty dishes require a specific marinade/sauce.  My recipes for  ~ Two Basic Marinades/Sauces for Chinese Stir-Fry ~ represent two. 

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

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

12/31/2019

~ My Chinese-American Lo Mein-Style Pepper Steak ~

IMG_7857Pepper steak is a Chinese-American dish that, as per its name, features thin strips of soy- ginger- and garlic-marinated flank-, sirloin- or round-steak, boldly-seasoned with a copious amount of pepper, stir-fried with crunchy water chestnuts and julienne strips of colorful bell peppers and onion.  The dark brown stir-fry sauce ranges from thick-to-thin depending on whether the dish is to be served to the side of or atop some steamed rice (thick), or, to be tossed with and absorbed into some cooked noodles (thin). Pepper steak was popularized in Chinese-American restaurants in the late '40's and early '50's, and home cooks have been making regional versions ever since.

6a0120a8551282970b0224df37e1e9200bPepper steak.  The dish originated in the Fujian Province in China where it was made with lightly-seasoned, inexpensive pork -- in China, quality beef is a luxury for the working class. Americans began making the dish when soldiers began returning home from World War II (research reveals as early as 1948).  Due to the public's overwhelming dissatisfaction with the wartime rationing of red meat, the transition from pork to beef was immediate -- red meat in the USA was considered the prime source of energy for the working man, and, its mere presence on a dinner plate with a starch and a vegetable, the definition of a proper meal.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb095ed5e3970dLo mein. In Chinese it literally means "tossed noodles", and, it implies a method in which cooked wheat noodles get tossed into almost any type of stir-fry at the end of the cooking process.  As a result, the noodles absorb some sauce and stay soft while the other previously-cooked ingredients (meat, poultry, seafood and/or vegetables) get distributed evenly throughout. An example of the opposite would be chow mein, which means "fried noodles", and implies a method in which the noodles are stir-fried or deep-fried to a crispy state at the beginning of the cooking process.

IMG_7774For the marinade/sauce (1 cup -- 1/4 cup for marinade/3/4 cup to sauce stir-fry) & noodles: 

6  tablespoons tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

3  tablespoons each:  hoisin sauce, oyster-flavored sauce, Sriracha sauce and sesame oil

1  tablespoon each:  garlic paste and ginger paste

1  tablespoon coarse-grind black pepper

12  ounces lo-mein noodles or spaghetti

IMG_7809For the stir-fry:

1 1/2-2  pounds flank steak, sliced and marinated as directed below

2  tablespoons sesame oil 

3/4  cup marinade/sauce, from above recipe 

1 1/2  cups 1/4"-sliced half-moon-shaped sweet onion (6-7 ounces)

1 1/2  cups each: julienne strips green and red bell peppers (6-7 ounces)

1  cup peeled and diced water chestnuts, well-drained (1, 5-ounce can)

12-ounces cooked lo-mein noodles or spaghetti

IMG_7775 IMG_7775 IMG_7783 IMG_7783 IMG_7783 IMG_7783 IMG_7783 IMG_7783 IMG_7783~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the ingredients for the marinade/sauce. Set aside.  Slice the flank steak in half lengthwise, to form two halves.  Holding your knife at a 30º angle, slice each half of the flank steak into thin, 1/4"-thick strips.  Transfer the steak to a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Add 6 tablespoons of the marinade/sauce mixture to the meat and seal the bag.  Using your fingertips, "massage" bag of steak until slices are evenly coated in marinade.  Set aside to marinate a minimum of 1 hour on the countertop, or up to 6-8 hours in the refrigerator.  Return to room temperature, about 1 hour, prior to stir-frying.  Slice the onion, julienne the bell peppers, drain the water chestnuts (as pictured above) and set aside.  

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbd680970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbd680970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbd680970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8bbd680970b~Step 2.  While steak is marinating, cook lo-mein noodles as directed, drain into a colander and rinse under cold running water.  For a moment or two, give the colander several vigorous shakes to insure excess water is removed.  Set aside to thoroughly drain while preparing the stir-fry.

Note:  While spaghetti may be substituted for lo-mein noodles without any compromise in taste or texture, be aware that lo-mein noodles cook to al dente in a short 3-4 minutes  and  spaghetti will take a bit longer, 10-11 minutes.  Be vigilant:  Be sure not to overcook either one.

IMG_7811 IMG_7811 IMG_7817 IMG_7817 IMG_7817 IMG_7817 IMG_7817 IMG_7817 IMG_7817 IMG_7817~Step 3.  In a 16" electric skillet, heat the sesame oil to 325º (medium-high on the stovetop.  Add the steak and all of its marinade and stir-fry, stirring constantly, until steak is just short of being cooked through, 2-2 1/2 minutes.  Add the onion, bell peppers and water chestnuts. Continue to stir-fry, stirring constantly, until veggies are crunch-tender, 2-2 1/2 minutes.  Drizzle in 1/2 cup of the sauce and stir until all ingredients are completely and evenly coated.  Note:  There will be 1/4 cup sauce left for the next step.

IMG_7839 IMG_7839~ Step 4.  Add the cooked lo mein noodles to the skillet.  Using two forks or two spoons, toss, like you would a salad, until noodles are coated in sauce, adding (all of the) additional sauce, in small amounts, until the mixture suits your taste.

Remove from heat, portion into bowls & serve ASAP:

IMG_7862My Chinese-American Lo Mein-Style Pepper Steak:  Recipe yields 6 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; 4-quart wide-bottomed stockpot; colander; 16" electric skillet or 12" stir-fry pan or skillet, preferably nonstick; two large slotted spoons or spatulas

IMG_7877Cook's Note: Have you ever noticed how many of your favorite dishes at your favorite Chinese restaurant seem to be enrobed in a semi-viscous, glossy, dark-brown sauce? Examples: Beef or chicken with broccoli, chow mien or lo mein, kung poa or General Tso, etc.  It's one of every Chinese restaurant's best kept secrets:  Brown sauce.  I've heard it referred to as "the Chinese mother sauce", but, even in China, recipes for it vary from region to region.  I make no claim to my concoction being authentic Chinese brown sauce -- it is not.  What it is, is:  Easy to make, full of Chinese flavors, the perfect consistency, and, unbelievably scrumptious: ~ All-purpose Chinese-American Brown Stir-Fry Sauce ~.

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

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

12/29/2019

~Meatless & Marvelous Creamy Pasta & Mushrooms~

IMG_7743A bowl of exquisite creamy-dreamy pasta.  When the craving for it hits, it's one that can't be staved off.  In terms of work, while I consider this a rather uncomplicated dish to make, requiring just two or three relatively-easy steps, I relax and take my time to make it right.  As a mushroom lover, they're on-hand in my refrigerator 90%-95% of the time (which is why this is one of my favorite go-to pasta dishes) and they get seasoned and sautéed in a skillet first.  Next I take five-ten minutes to make a Parmesan-cream sauce using always-on-hand ingredients.  I cook my pasta last, and, give or take, in 35-45 minutes my restaurant-quality pasta dish is done.

This humble pasta dish is family-style comfort food:

IMG_7732This humble pasta dish is quintessential family-style comfort food, but it's also elegant, extraordinary and exquisite, so, do not hesitate to plate it on some fine china and serve it as a starter course with a champagne toast at your next fancy-schmancy dinner party.  It goes without saying, it's a perfect main-dish to serve to your vegetarian friends, but, when served as a side-dish to a perfectly pan-seared filet mignon, your carnivorous friends will thank-you too.  

Step One:  Seasoning & Sautéing the Mushrooms

IMG_764812  ounces 1/4"-sliced mushroom caps of choice, use your favorite (Note:  These are baby bellas and are my favorite.)

4  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons olive oil

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder 

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg 

1  teaspoon sea salt 

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_7647 IMG_7647 IMG_7647 IMG_7647 IMG_7647 IMG_7660 IMG_7660 IMG_7660 IMG_7660 IMG_7660~Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan over low heat, melt butter into olive oil.  Add and stir in the spices (garlic powder, onion powder, nutmeg, salt and pepper).  Increase  heat to medium- medium-high. When butter becomes foamy and begins to bubble, add the sliced mushrooms.  Stirring frequently with a spatula, cook until mushrooms have lost almost all of their moisture, about 4 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer mushrooms to a plate and set aside, leaving all of the wonderfully-flavored juices in the bottom of the skillet.

Step Two:  Making the Parmesan-Cream Sauce

IMG_7672buttery-drippings from sautéing mushrooms, about 2 tablespoons

2  tablespoons flour

1/4  teaspoon each:  garlic and onion powder, sea salt and coarse-grind black pepper

1/16 teaspoon nutmeg

2  cups heavy cream, plus, up to 1/2 cup additional cream, to control consistency

1 1/2  cups finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1-2  tablespoons dry sherry, to taste

IMG_7673 IMG_7673 IMG_7673 IMG_7673 IMG_7673 IMG_7673 IMG_7673 IMG_7673 IMG_7691 IMG_7691 IMG_7691 IMG_7691~Step 2.  Over low heat, stir all of the spices into the buttery-mushroom drippings, followed by the flour.  When the mixture becomes pasty and begins to get foamy, which takes less than a minute, add the 2 cups of cream.  Increase heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring constantly until cream sauce is steaming, but not simmering, and nicely thickened, about 3-4 minutes.  Lower the heat and add the grated Pamigiano-Reggiano.  Add sherry to taste.  Cover and set aside while cooking the pasta.  This sauce thickens slightly as it begins to cool, so, check it just prior to adding the cooked pasta and add additional cream, at your discretion, if you feel it necessary.

Step Three:  Cooking the pasta & tossing dinner together:

IMG_7710all the prepared sauce, still warm in the still-warm skillet

all the sautéed mushrooms

12-ounces pasta of choice, cooked and drained as package directs (Note:  Thick spaghetti is my favorite.)

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning pasta water

additional Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for garnish

IMG_7713 IMG_7713 IMG_7713 IMG_7722 IMG_7722 IMG_7722~Step 3.  In a 4-quart stockpot, cook and drain 12-ounces of pasta in boiling salted water, to al dente, according to package directions.  Add the steaming hot pasta to the still warm Parmesan cream sauce, followed by the sautéed mushrooms.  Toss, portion and serve ASAP, garnished with additional Parm-Regg cheese. 

Perfect for a cold, rainy night in front of a movie on the TV:

IMG_7758Meatless & Marvelous Creamy Pasta & Mushrooms:  Recipe yields 4 main-dish servings and 6-8 starter- or side-dish sized servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight-deep sides & lid; spatula; microplane grater; 4-quart stockpot; colander

6a0120a8551282970b022ad39da7f0200cCook's Note: Risotto is traditional Italian cooking at its best.  Risotto is more of a method than a recipe, and it requires respect.  There are no two ways to make risotto.  Make it right or it's not risotto.  Don't deviate from the method, don't take shortcuts and don't make substitutions.  Risotto cannot be rushed -- it requires patience.  It cannot be made in advance, it needs to be carefully watched, methodically stirred, and served immediately.  Risotto is done when it is done, and only the cook knows when it is done, but, when it is done right, it's a meal fit for a kind or a queen.  Try my recipe for ~ Perfectly-Prepared Chicken and Mushroom Risotto ~.

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

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

12/26/2019

~ Parm, Pepper and Herb Puff-Pastry Cheese Twists ~

IMG_7631Along with the charcuterie, cheese twists are always something I've included on my snack table during the holidays.  Light and airy, crispy-crunchy, buttery rich and full of flavor, they're the quintessential nosh with whatever cocktail one happens to be sipping.  Interestingly, store-bought cheese twists are not only harder to find (it was three strikes we're out -- as in they do not carry them -- at our local stores this year), the quality (as in the three packages I purchased on-line) has gone decidedly downhill too.  Years ago our local downtown Cheese Shoppe sold them, and, they were so damned delicious there was no reason to consider making them at home.

Cheese twists, sometimes called cheese sticks or cheese straws: Light and airy, crispy-crunchy, buttery rich and full of flavor. 

IMG_7638Making cheese twists, using store-bought puff pastry is easy, plus, one gets to customize the flavor profile a bit to suit the menu.

IMG_75611  17.3-ounce box, all-butter puff pastry sheets, thawed overnight in the freezer if previously frozen

2  tablespoons bench flour

1  large egg

1  tablespoon water

1 1/2  cups shredded Gruyére cheese (4 ounces)

3/4  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon dried herbes de Provence, or dried herbs or herb blend of choice (Example: oregano leaves, rosemary leaves, thyme leaves, herbs de Provence, Greek or Italian seasoning blend, etc.)

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_7564 IMG_7564 IMG_7564 IMG_7564 IMG_7564~Step 1.  Grate and shred the cheeses as directed.  Set aside.  In a small bowl or ramekin, beat the egg and water together with a fork.  Set aside. In a second small bowl or ramekin, combine the garlic powder, onion powder, herb of choice, salt and pepper.  Set aside.  Line 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper and set aside.  

IMG_7573 IMG_7573 IMG_7573 IMG_7573~Step 2.  Dust a  pastry board with the bench flour. Remove pastry sheets from packaging and place, the squares on prepared board.  Using fingertips, carefully open the tri-folded sheets. Using a rolling pin, roll the pastry just enough to seal the folds where pastry got unfolded.  

IMG_7583 IMG_7583 IMG_7583 IMG_7583 IMG_7583~Step 3.  Using a pastry brush, paint the surface of both pastries with the egg/water mixture.  Sprinkle the surface of each pastry sheet with 1/2 cup grated Parm-Regg cheese, followed by 1/2 cup shredded Gruyére.  Using your fingertips, sprinkle the seasoning mixture evenly over all.  Using the rolling pin, gently press the cheeses and seasonings into the sheets.

IMG_7598 IMG_7598 IMG_7598 IMG_7598 IMG_7598 IMG_7598~Step 4.  With the aid of a ruler and a chef's knife or a pizza wheel cutter, horizontally cut each pastry sheet into 8, strips.  Transfer 8 strips to both prepared baking pans.   Once on pans, use pizza wheel cutter to slice the strips in half horizontally. Twist each strip, in opposite directions (top to the right, bottom to the left), at both ends.

IMG_7616 IMG_7616 IMG_7616 IMG_7616~Step 5.  Bake, one pan at a time, on center rack of preheated 350º oven, 12-15 minutes, until lightly-browned and puffed.  Remove from oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Plate and store cheese twists, uncovered, for 1-2 days, prior to serving at room temperature.  This is not a typo. Cheese twists, stored uncovered, are better served 12-24 hours after baking them. 

The more cheese twists at any party, the merrier:

IMG_7628Parm, Pepper and Herb Puff-Pastry Cheese Twists:  Recipe yields 32, 4" cheese twists.

Special Equipment List: hand-held box grater; microplane grater; 2 ramekins; fork;  pastry board; rolling pin; pastry brush; pizza wheel cutter; ruler; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4d3596d200dCook's Note:   We all have our favorite uses for store-bought all-butter puff pastry -- it's such a time saver, and, in the right culinary application, it always tastes great, it makes almost all recipes easier to prepare, and, some recipes using puff pastry can even be made ahead.  Puff pastry makes every gathering a bit more elegant.  In the event you've got a holiday breakfast or brunch on the horizon to plan for, try my pretty-as-a-picture recipe for ~ Sweet Sausage, Apple & Cheddar Puff Pastry Braid ~.

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

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

12/23/2019

~Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Cauliflower Rice Casserole~

IMG_7441'Twas the day after Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring not even a mouse.  After all the holiday cooking and cleanup, mom was so exhausted she declared it HER holiday.  She took a casserole out of the freezer and let it thaw on the counter for the afternoon. She popped it in the oven at 4:00PM, everyone enjoyed a wonderful meal around 5:00PM, and, by 6:00PM mom was lounging in her favorite chair, sipping a G&T, watching a movie.

Every cook, every where, needs, at the very least, one, hearty, relatively easy-to-make, go-to casserole recipe that can be counted on to please and feed a crowd.  This is mine.  There are as many versions of the 1980's era Chicken, Broccoli and Rice Casserole recipe "out there" as there are Cub Scout den mothers, which is how I came to start making it for my family thirty-plus years ago.  That said, all versions arrive at a point where they head in one of two directions: the cream of chicken soup version (which was introduced by the Campbell's Soup Company in the 1940's), and, the Cheez-Whiz version (which was introduced by Kraft Foods in the 1950's).

IMG_7468The many reasons (I have) to love this casserole:

This is a super-yummy, creamy-cheesy wonderful family-style dinner.  It pairs great with tomato soup and/or a Caesar salad. It's perfect to serve at a ladies lunch or a festive brunch and it holds up really well on a buffet table (it even tastes great at room temperature).  It travels well too.  Men, women and kids love it, which makes it a great meal to take to tailgate or a pot luck school event or church-supper.  It gets everyone to eat vegetables.  Leftovers?  If you have a microwave at your place of work and this casserole leftover in the refrigerator, you'll be looking forward to brown bagging lunch.  All you need is one stockpot to prepare it, and, as an added bonus, if you double the recipe, it takes no extra time to make two: bake one and freeze one for a later date.

6a0120a8551282970b019aff73c661970bDon't be quick to judge my use of Cheez-Whiz, instead of making My Basic Cheddar Cheese Sauce for Vegetables, until you've tasted this dish.  Trust me when I tell you, Cheez-Whiz used in this recipe is not only not a compromise, it's a fantastic time-saver (which is kind of the point when making a week-night casserole).  If it's all scratch-made you desire, feel free to make my sauce -- it's delightful.  That said, I've never served this casserole anywhere that everyone wasn't thrilled with it -- just as it is.

Super-yummy & relatively-easy is what makes a great casserole.

IMG_73792 1/2-3  pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast tenders (5-6 cups cooked, diced chicken)

32-ounces chicken broth

2  10.8-ounce steam-in-bag frozen broccoli florets, cooked according to package directions (4 cups steamed broccoli florets)

2  10.8-ounce steam-in-bag cauliflower florets, cooked according to package directions (4 cups steamed cauliflower florets)

12-ounces diced yellow or sweet onion

6-ounces salted butter, total throughout recipe (1 1/2 sticks/12 tablespoons)

1 1/2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

2  cups uncooked basmati rice, steamed in a rice cooker (Note:  The nutty flavor of basmati rice is far and above better than the usual extra-long-grained rice typically used to make this casserole.  Trust me on this point.)

2  15-ounce jars Cheeze Whiz Cheese Dip

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dishes

IMG_7325 IMG_7325 IMG_7325 IMG_7325 IMG_7325 IMG_7325 IMG_7325 IMG_7325~Step 1.  Place the chicken tenderloins in a wide bottomed 4-quart stockpot with enough chicken broth to cover (32 ounces).  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Partially cover, reduce heat and simmer, until the chicken is just cooked through, 6-7 minutes. Drain and transfer chicken to a cutting board.  Slice chicken into bite-sized pieces, transfer to a medium-large bowl and set aside.

IMG_7368 IMG_7368 IMG_7368 IMG_7368~Step 2.  Working one-bag-at-a-time steam broccoli florets in microwave according to package directions. Remove from microwave and carefully open the bag.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer florets to a plate that has been lined with several layers of paper-towels.  Allow broccoli to drain thoroughly.  When cool enough to handle with hands, transfer broccoli to a cutting board and rough-chop into large bite-sized pieces.  Set aside.  Repeat process with the cauliflower florets.

IMG_7349 2 IMG_7349 2 IMG_7349 2 IMG_7349 2 IMG_7349 2 IMG_7349 2~Step 3.  Return stockpot to stovetop.  Over low heat, melt 6 tablespoons butter and stir in the black pepper.  Add the onion and increase heat to sauté, until onion softens, 5-6 minutes.  Turn heat off (temporarily) and leave stockpot on stovetop.  

IMG_7381 2 IMG_7381 2 IMG_7381 2 IMG_7381 2 IMG_7381 2~Step 4.  Using a standard 1-cup measure, (not the cup/measure from the rice steamer), place rice in steamer.  Again, using a standard measure, add 2 cups of water to the steamer.  Turn on, to steam.  When the steamer shuts off, the rice should be firm and just slightly undercooked. Open the steamer's lid and add the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter. Rake through rice with a fork until the butter is melted and the grains are evenly coated in butter. "Raking rice" is term used to describe the last step of cooking rice on the stovetop.

IMG_7386 IMG_7386 IMG_7386 IMG_7386 IMG_7386 IMG_7386 IMG_7386 IMG_7386~Step 5. After the rice is done steaming, add the Cheez-Whiz to the onion mixture.  Over low heat, stirring constantly, mix until the mixture is thick and smooth.  Turn the heat off.   Add and stir in the diced chicken, followed by all of the steamed rice.  Add and very gently fold in the steamed and chopped broccoli and cauliflower florets.  Remove stockpot from the stovetop.

IMG_7419 IMG_7419Step 6.  Transfer mixture into a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick.  At this point, casserole can be covered with plastic and refrigerated up to three days prior to baking or frozen for a later date.    When ready to bake:

IMG_7426 IMG_7426~ Step 7.  Cover casserole with foil.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven 20-25 minutes.  Uncover and bake an additional 20-25 minutes, or, until lightly browned on top, bottom and around edges. Cool 5-10 minutes prior to serving hot.

Casserole beauty is in the eye of the beholder of the casserole:

IMG_7434Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Cauliflower Rice Casserole:  Recipe yields 1, 13" x 9" x 2" casserole, 12-16 servings , 12 total cups and/or 3 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot w/lid; large spoon; large slotted spoon; plastic wrap (optional); electric rice steamer; 13" x 9" x 2" (preferably glass) baking dish or 3-quart casserole; aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b0168e8d40b78970cCook's Note: Prior to baking, the casseroles can be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated, up to 3 days prior to baking and serving, or, frozen for up to 6 months.  In either case, remove casseroles from refrigerator or freezer and return to room temperature prior to baking according to above directions.

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

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

12/20/2019

~ Tart Cherry & Toasted-Pistachio Snowball Cookies ~

IMG_7218These sweet and savory shortbread-esque two-bite cookies called snowballs, or, depending on where you're from, also referred to as Mexican wedding cookies or Russian tea cakes, are the darlings of holiday cookie trays all across America.  The base recipe varies very little from baker-to-baker, because the ratio of flour to butter and sugar is important to prevent them from flattening out, meaning: loosing their ball shape.  Flavored with vanilla, lightly-toasted chopped pecans or walnuts get added to the mixture for additional flavor and texture.  Nobody can eat just one.

A recipe for cherry-pistachio snowballs came across my Facebook newsfeed about a week ago.  I thought the flavor profile to be a nice new twist on this old favorite, so, I decided to "take it from there".  I used my mom's base recipe for Russian teacakes (which is specific to salted butter plus salt), and, I substituted dehydrated tart cherries for maraschino cherries.  I also added pure cherry and pistachio extract to the vanilla extract, to intensify the flavors even more.  I'm delighted with the end result, and thanks go to lemonsforlulu for the inspiration for these delightful cookies.

Snowballs atop my mom's vintage Christmas tree plates:

IMG_7236The darlings of holiday cookie trays all across America:

IMG_71582  cups + 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  cup salted butter, softened

1/4  cup granulated sugar

1  teaspoon each:  pure cherry, pistachio and vanilla extract, or, 1 tablespoon of vanilla-extract

6  ounces chopped toasted, salted pistachios (1 cup)

4  ounces dehydrated tart cherries, snipped into halves and w/kitchen shears (1 cup)

1/2  cup Confectioners' sugar, for dusting baked cookies

IMG_7162 IMG_7162 IMG_7162 IMG_7162 IMG_7162~Step 1.  In a large bowl, cream together combine the butter, granulated sugar and three extracts.  Lower mixer speed and incorporate the flour and salt.  The mixture should resemble pea-sized crumbs.   Remove the mixer.  Using a large rubber spatula, fold in the pistachios and cherries. Using your hand, knead and compress the mixture into a large ball.

IMG_7178 IMG_7178 IMG_7178 IMG_7178~Step 2.  Using a 1 1/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, in conjunction with your hands, shape dough into 1" balls, placing them on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment as you work.  Place pan of unbaked cookies in the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.

IMG_7193 IMG_7193 IMG_7193 IMG_7193 IMG_7193 IMG_7193 IMG_7193~Step 3.  Bake cookies on center rack of preheated 325º oven until just starting to barely brown, 15-18 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer cookies to a wire rack for 5-6 minutes, until cool enough to handle with hands. Roll cookies in Confectioners' sugar while they're still warm.  Return to rack to cool completely, 45-60 minutes, then roll them in or dust them with Confectioners' sugar a second time.

Nobody can eat just one snowball cookie.  Nobody. 

IMG_7242Tart Cherry & Toasted-Pistachio Snowball Cookies:  Recipe yields 38-40, 1"-round cookies.

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

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3c84ed2200bCook's Note: The combination of tart cherries and pistachios is not something I haven't tried before.  It's one of my favorites flavor profiles for ~ The Holly & the Ivy:  Tart-Cherry & Pistachio Biscotti ~.  Bold and beautiful, bright-red holly berries, clustered amongst shiny, deep-green, pointy-edged ivy leaves, are colors and symbols we associate with Christmas.  Right from the first, meaning the first time my tart-cherry and toasted-pistachio biscotti revealed their sliced selves, I began calling them "holly and ivy biscotti".

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

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

12/18/2019

~ Mel's Herbaceous All-Purpose Breakfast Sausage ~

IMG_7292Home for the holidays.  There's something wonderful about waking up to the ethereal smell of coffee brewing, then taking an extra few seconds to lie your childhood bed listening to the sizzling sounds of breakfast being cooked.  Eggs with bacon, ham or sausage, there's always sizzling involved.  There's more.  Breakfast always tastes better back home sipping a cup of Folgers, eating mom's sausage, dad's eggs and a bagel served on now-vintage plates.  It's therapy.  

Sausage and eggs. It might sound kind-of run-of-the-mill, but, when the sausage is homemade, and the eggs are fried in the luscious sausage drippings, it's quite remarkable.  And newsflash: While making breakfast sausage is not quite as easy as picking up a package of loose or link sausage at the grocery store, it's pretty darn close to being that easy, AND, trust me, after one taste of this homemade sausage, you'll never look at store-bought the same way again.  Period.  

IMG_7312This is my (mom's) all-purpose breakfast herb-sausage mixture.  For sweet sausage, add 2-3 tablespoons brown sugar to the mix.  For hot sausage, incorporate 1/2-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes.

IMG_72652  pounds ground pork

2  teaspoons fennel seeds

1  teaspoon each:  garlic and onion powder

1  teaspoon dried sage

1  teaspoon herbes de Provence (a blend of rosemary, marjoram, thyme and savory)

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg 

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

IMG_7254 IMG_7254~ Step 1.  Place the sausage in a medium-large bowl.  Add the herbs and spices as listed.  Using your hands, thoroughly incorporate (like you were mixing a meatloaf) the herbs and spices into the sausage mixture.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate one hour or overnight, to allow the flavors time to marry.  Overnight is best.

IMG_7269 IMG_7269 IMG_7274 IMG_7274 IMG_7274~Step 2.  Use sausage as directed in any recipe calling for loose sausage (sausage out of the casing).  More often than not, I make sausage patties for breakfast or breakfast sandwiches by using a kitchen a scale to divide the mixture into 8, 4-ounce portions. I form each portion into a 4 1/2"-round disc or patty, arranging them in a 14" skillet as I work.  After frying them over medium-heat until light-golden on both sides, turning only once with a spatula, about 9 minutes per side, I fry the eggs, (sunny-side-up is my favorite) in the sausage drippings.

Sausage & Everything Bagel Breakfast Casserole:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad37edab3200cSausage & Egg w/Cheddar, Apple & Apple Butter:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4ba3d21200dLight & Flaky Pastry-Wrapped British-Sausage Rolls:

IMG_6990Mel's Herbaceous All-Purpose Breakfast Sausage:  Recipe yields 2 pounds loose sausage/8, 4-ounce breakfast sausage patties.

Special Equipment List: kitchen scale; 14" nonstick skillet; spatula

IMG_7218Cook's Note: These not-too-sweet and slightly-savory shortbread-esque two-bite cookies called snowballs, or, depending on where you're from, also referred to as Mexican wedding cookies or Russian tea cakes, are the darlings of holiday cookie trays all across America. They are also the perfect sweet ending to any holiday breakfast.  Served on my mom's now vintage Christmas tree plates, try my new twist on an old favorite recipe: ~ Tart Cherry & Toasted-Pistachio Snowball Cookies ~.

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

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

12/15/2019

~Light & Flaky Pastry-Wrapped British-Sausage Rolls~

IMG_6990Once upon a time in 1996, while sitting in a British pub in proximity to the British National Museum, while pondering what to order with our pints, a nice guy sitting next to us recommended the sausage rolls.  As Americans, Joe and I consider sausage mostly a breakfast food, but, we didn't hesitate to place the order based on the recommendation (traveling teaches that locals will never steer you wrong).  I hoisted my brew in a manner to toast the nice guy and waited, patiently, for the pub grub to be delivered, which in terms of time, was about three slurps of suds.

IMG_7055"Let's stop & take a break for a sausage roll."

IMG_7035America eats pigs-in-a-blanket.  The U.K eats sausage rolls.  

IMG_6982British sausage rolls are the most popular grab-and-go snack food in the United Kingdom.  It doesn't matter where you are, they are there. Resemblant of the American hotdog, they're sometimes served in small pieces as an appetizer, sometimes in one larger hotdog-sized roll as a main course.  They're sold in almost every pastry shop and pub on almost every street in almost every neighborhood.  When served with sides, mushy peas and chips (fries) are standard fare.  For condiments, for dipping, drizzling or dolloping, tangy-brown British HP sauce, Coleman's English mustard and piccallili (a chunky, vibrant-turmeric-yellow semi-sweet Branston pickle condiment) are the most common and popular.

Light & flaky puff pastry wrapped around a savory pork filling.

IMG_7037Puff pastry is the standard for sausage rolls because the buttery layers bake up light and flaky -- shortcrust pastry can't and won't yield the same result, so, don't be inclined to make that substitution.  Luckily, high-quality, store-bought puff pastry sheets are available everywhere, which makes making sausage rolls in the home kitchen a breeze without any compromise in end result.

IMG_7043British sausage, depending on where you are, varies in taste and texture throughout the U.K. Example: Cumberland sausage, Gloucester sausage, Lincolnshire sausage, Manchester sausage, Marylebone sausage, Oxford sausage, Suffolk sausage, Yorkshire sausage, etc.  This allows any cook creative license in terms of add-ins: aromatics (garlic, onion, celery, carrots, bell pepper, apple etc.) and fresh or dried herbs and spices (black pepper, fennel, mace, marjoram, sage, thyme, clove, ginger, nutmeg, etc.).  I like to start with ground pork (not pork sausage) to make sausage rolls.  Adding my own blend of spices renders these:  amazing.

Once assembled, sausage rolls can be baked as a single piece, and then sliced into smaller portions after baking.  It can also formed into single, appropriate-sized portions for a single serving.  Another alternative is to slice a single log prior to baking to serve as an hors d'oeuvre. They definitely taste best served the same day they are baked, but, they can be assembled a day or two ahead and kept in the refrigerator until you're ready to bake and serve them.  To answer your question:  No, I do not like sausage rolls that have been frozen days or weeks prior to baking, because they taste like any other random frozen fast-food:  compromised.  Freezing any longer than the requisite 45-60 minutes to firm them up to a sliceable state is a mistake.

IMG_7024For my British-style fennel & herbaceous sausage rolls: 

IMG_69242  pounds ground pork

2  teaspoons fennel seeds

1  teaspoon each:  garlic and onion powder

1  teaspoon dried sage

1  teaspoon herbes de Provence (a blend of rosemary, marjoram, thyme and savory) 

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

1  17.3-ounce box puff pastry

1  extra-large egg

IMG_6929 IMG_6929 IMG_6929~ Step 1.  In a medium- medium-large bowl, place the ground pork and all the spices as listed.  Using your hands, thoroughly (I cannot stress thoroughly enough here) blend the spices into the pork.  Set the mixture aside about 30 minutes, to give the flavors time to marry, then, using your hands, give it one more thorough mix.  Divide the mixture in half.  If you have a kitchen scale, now is the time to use it.

IMG_6938 IMG_6938 IMG_6938~ Step 2.  Ready two large pieces of plastic wrap.  Using your hands, rough-shape/form each half of the sausage into a 10"-10 1/2" log shape.  Roll and wrap the sausage logs up tightly and secure them at both ends.  Refrigerate until chilled through, for 4-6 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best.

IMG_6947 IMG_6947 IMG_6947 IMG_6947~Step 3.  Lightly dust a  pastry board with a bit of flour. Remove one pastry from packaging and place, lengthwise, on prepared board.  Using fingertips, carefully open the tri-folded sheet.  Using a small rolling pin, roll the pastry into a rectangle that is slightly longer than the sausage logs, approximately 11" x 18".  Slice the pastry in half, to form two long 5 1/2" x 18" pieces.  

IMG_6959 IMG_6959 IMG_6959 IMG_6959 IMG_6959~Step 4.  In a small bowl, crack and vigorously beat the egg with a fork.  Unwrap the sausage logs and position one log on each of the two pastry halves, about 1" from the edge of the pastry.  Using a pastry brush, paint a 1" strip along the opposite edge.  Lift the edge of the pastry closest to the sausage up and over the sausage and continue to tightly roll the log up in the pastry, ending with the log on the edge that has been painted with the egg.  Lift the painted edge up over the log and pinch the seam and the left-and-right end flaps closed.

IMG_6974~ Step 5.  Place the pastry-wrapped logs side-by-side, seams-side-down on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan that has been lined with parchment paper.  Using the pastry brush, paint the entire surface of each log with beaten egg.  Place the pan in the freezer for 45-60 minutes, to harden the pastry and firm up the meat a bit. Do not be inclined to skip this step, as this step is what makes the logs easy to slice into appetizers.

IMG_6977 IMG_6977~ Step 6.  Line a second 17 1/2" x 12 3/4" baking pan or two smaller 12 1/2" x  8 3/4" pans with fresh parchment.  Slice each log into 12 pieces and place pieces, 1"-1 1/2" apart on prepared baking pan(s).  Bake in 375º oven, until pastry is puffed and golden and sausage is cooked through (160º on an instant-read meat thermometer), 30-35 minutes.  Remove from oven and transfer to wire rack to cool-slightly or completely.

Serve warm or at room temp the same day they're baked: 

IMG_7046Light & Flaky Pastry-Wrapped British-Sausage Rolls:  Recipe yields 2 dozen appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen scale; plastic wrap; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; large pastry board; rolling pin; fork; pastry brush; instant-read meat thermometer; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09e52a61970dCook's Note: We all have our favorite breakfast and brunch casserole recipes -- I'd be lost without mine. They taste great, they're easy to prepare, and, some can even be made ahead, but, let's face it: casseroles aren't elegant. They are: low-key, family-style, comfort food -- the blue jeans of the food world, so to speak.  Newsflash: Occasionally, it's necessary to dress up -- and that extends to the food. Try my pretty-as-a-picture recipe for ~ Sweet Sausage, Apple & Cheddar Puff Pastry Braid ~.

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

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

12/12/2019

~ Baked Three-Cheesy Hot Broccoli & Pimiento Dip ~

IMG_7119Eat your broccoli.  That was never something my mom had to say to me.  As a kid I loved raw or cooked broccoli (cauliflower too).  Mom did too.  My dad and my brother, not so much on either count, but, they didn't 100% hate it either -- they put up with it on an occasional basis.  When broccoli was served for dinner, I knew there was going to a bonus snack later in the evening, made from preplanned-on leftovers:  A little crock of bubbling hot, creamy broccoli-cheese dip.

It wasn't fancy and only took a few minutes to mix together, but, when it came out of the oven, the Ritz crackers came out of the cabinet, and, we two sat at the kitchen counter and polished it off in about as much time as it took dad and Dave to watch three minutes of a football or basketball game: 10-15 minutes in real time.  Time marches on.  With the advent of microwave steam-and-eat broccoli and pre-shredded cheeses, mom's broccoli-cheese dip makes its way onto our snack or cocktail table a few times a year, as well as any time I'm simply in the mood for it.

It wasn't fancy & only took a few minutes to mix together:

IMG_7133Mom's three-cheesy hot broccoli & pimiento dip:

IMG_70812  cups steamed, cooled, well-drained and rough-chopped broccoli florets (1, 10.8-ounce bag frozen steam-in-bag broccoli florets)

1  5-ounce jar Kraft Pimento Cheese Spread, at room temperature

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1/4  cup mayonnaise

8  ounces finely-shredded colby-Jack cheese

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

3/4  teaspoon onion powder

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4  cup well-drained pimientos

4  ounces finely-shredded colby-Jack cheese

buttery crackers, for accompaniment

IMG_7060 IMG_7060 IMG_7060 IMG_7060~Step 1.  Steam the broccoli florets in the microwave according to package directions. Remove from microwave and carefully open the bag.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the broccoli florets to a plate that has been lined with several layers of paper-towels.  Allow broccoli to drain thoroughly. When cool enough to handle with hands, transfer broccoli to a cutting board and rough-chop it.

IMG_7083 IMG_7083 IMG_7083 IMG_7083 IMG_7094 IMG_7094 IMG_7094 IMG_7094~Step 2.  In a medium bowl, using a rubber spatula, place and stir together the softened pimiento cheese spread, softened cream cheese and mayonnaise.  Add and stir in the garlic powder, onion powder and cayenne pepper.  Fold in the pimientos, followed by the colby-Jack cheese and the chopped broccoli florets.  There will be about four cups of very tasty (edible) cheese dip.

IMG_7102 IMG_7102 IMG_7108~ Step 3.  Transfer cheese dip to a 1-quart crock or casserole.  Placing the crock (or casserole) on a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan that has been line with parchment paper, will catch any cheesy drips that might occur in the oven. Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven, 25-30 minutes until puffy and lightly-browned.

Pairs great w/a pitcher of bloody's for a holiday brunch:

IMG_7142Quick & Easy Three-Cheesy Baked Hot Broccoli Dip:  Recipe yields 4 cups.

Special Equipment List:  microwave oven; slotted spoon; paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; large spoon; 1-quart crock or casserole; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09bebca1970dCook's Note: Crab bites, crab melts, crab toasties, crab melt-a-ways and crabbys (or krabbys when made with imitation krab meat).  These are just a few of the names you'll find associated with this vintage recipe.  Check out my recipe for  ~ Old English Cheese Spread & Crabmeat Canapés ~.  I often make them with the same pimento cheese spread, and, in my kitchen, they've been a staple at tailgate and holiday parties ever since.

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

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

12/09/2019

~Gruyère & Olive-Tapenade French-Bread Appetizers~

IMG_6883 2Olive cheese bread was a trendy hot appetizer served with drinks at laid-back TGIF and fancy-schmancy holiday cocktail parties throughout the 1980's.  For the obvious reason, the olives, they were particularly popular with martini drinkers.  That said, olive cheese bread was just one of many spin-off recipes created by home cooks who were inspired by the introduction of the remarkably-tasty, frozen, store-bought, Stouffer's* French bread pizza into their lives.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a0fcc4200d*Note:  Making pizza on French bread was made famous in the 1960's by Bob Petrillose, the founder of the legendary Hot Truck on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. His experiment not only spread like wildfire, it was eventually licensed to Stouffer's in the 1970's. Shortly after that, it was marketed in grocery stores nationwide and quickly made its way into home kitchens like mine, where it remained as a go-to after-school or late-night snack for my family until Dominos started delivering.

The basic 1980's recipe for olive-cheese bread appetizers:

Recipes for olive-cheese bread appetizers were/are all about the same.  Simply split a 12-ounce French baguette in two, coarse-chop or slice 25-30 well-drained black olives and 25-30 pimiento-stuffed green olives, then stir them into a mixture of softened salted butter (1 stick), mayonnaise (1/2 cup), garlic and onion powder (1 teaspoon each), and, shredded cheddar-Jack cheese (3 cups).  Spread the mixture atop the bread and bake at 325º until bread is crisp and cheese is melted.  Slice each half-loaf into 12-16 appetizer-size pieces and serve hot.  

6a0120a8551282970b022ad398c2fd200dA tip from Mel about the bread:  My favorite bread to use for pizza-bread and pizza-bread-type snacks (crostini too), is the French batard. The batard, first kin to the baguette, weighs about 8-ounces, is shorter, plumper, and, slightly denser than Italian loaves (like ciabatta), so, it's the best foil for all sorts of toppings. It's slight lack of airiness means the end result slices up nicer, which makes for a pretty presentation too. Use whatever shape you like, as long as it is rustic and firm textured.

My updated recipe for Olive-Cheese Bread Appetizers:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4abcb76200bWhen I'm making olive cheese bread nowadays, I raise the bar and make tapenade with a combination of two Greek-style olives:  briny black kalamata and garlic-stuffed green.  When it comes to tapenade, higher-quality fruit makes a difference, and, while tapenade is traditionally only made from black olives (kalamata or niçoise), I like the astringency that garlic-stuffed green olives bring to this nosh. Mine's nicely-seasoned with dried herbs de Provence and fresh thyme too, which amps-up the flavor even more.  It only takes 5-10 minutes to make tapenade, but, I make it in the AM, to give the flavors time to marry until it's time to make the appetizers for cocktail hour.  As for the cheese, nothing but shredded Gruyère goes into my upscale appetizers.

To make my upscale version of this retro appetizer:

IMG_68442, 8-9-ounce, 12" long French batards, sliced in half lengthwise.  (Note:  When baked and sliced, each half-loaf will yield 8, 3-4 bite snacks, for a total of 32-appetizers.)

6  ounces olive tapenade, preferable homemade, or high-quality store-bought (about 1 cup)

8  ounces grated Gruyère cheese (about 3 cups)

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

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1/2 teaspoon each garlic and onion powder (Note:  I do not use nor do I recommend using fresh garlic or onion in recipes such as this because once put in the oven, these snack breads do not bake at a high enough temperature for a long enough time to cook either product to a softened, mellow-tasting state, rendering it raw-ish and harsh-tasting in the finished product.)

1/4  cup thin-sliced scallion or scallion tops, for garnish

IMG_6846 IMG_6846 IMG_6846 IMG_6846 IMG_6846~Step 1.  In a medium-large bowl, using a large spoon, place and thoroughly stir together the softened butter, mayonnaise, garlic and onion powder.  Stir in the tapenade, followed by the shredded cheese.  Using the spoon, roughly divide the mixture into four equal parts -- this does not have to be an exact measurement, just a relatively close call.

IMG_6866 IMG_6866~ Step 2.  Using a serrated bread knife, split each batard horizontally, into two halves, placing the half-loaves onto one large 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" pan, or two smaller 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans (I prefer the smaller pans, so I can slice and serve the appetizers piping hot right out of the oven).  Using the spoon, dollop and spread one-quarter of the tapenade/cheese mixture atop each half-loaf, mounding it slightly towards the center.

IMG_6876 IMG_6876~ Step 3.  Bake all at once (on one pan) or one-at-a time (one two separate pans) on center rack of preheated 325º oven 20-25 minutes until cheese is melted and bread is golden around the edges and on the bottom.  Remove from oven.  

Slice & serve immediately garnished w/scallion tops:

IMG_6887 2Cheesy, nicely seasoned & not too salty, bring on the cocktails: 

IMG_6919Cheese & Olive-Tapenade Snack-Bread Appetizers:  Recipe yields 4 French batard half-loaves/8 appetizers each half-loaf/32 total appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; large spoon; serrated bread knife;  1, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan or 2, 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pans; parchment paper

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4d1d7bb200dCook's Note:  For a variation on the the same French bread pizza theme, keeping a Tex-Mex cocktail party menu in mind this time, try my recipe for ~ Bacon & Jalapeno-Cheddar French Bread Snacks ~. Eat, drink and be please be merry!

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

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

12/07/2019

~ Sweet-&-Savory-Glazed Buffalo-Chicken Meatballs ~

IMG_6821Everybody loves meatballs, and, rule of thumb:  one can never make too many meatballs.  When looking for a hot appetizer that is kid- and adult-friendly, relatively easy-to-make, can be made in advance, and, is perfect for a holiday party, a tailgate party, or any party any time of year, meatballs meet all the criteria.  Sweet, savory and slightly-spicy, buffalo chicken meatballs, glazed in wing sauce, are a fun way to enjoy the flavor of chicken wings with more decorum and dignity than licking ones fingertips in public and disposing of a plate full of unsightly wing bones.

Cocktail-size meatballs are perfect to serve for the holidays.

What we all know started out as late-night pub grub at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, NY,  Deep-Fried Chicken Wings, can now be found in many forms.  In my family alone, Nacho Mama's Buffalo Chicken Sheet-Pan Nanchos, Buffalo-Style Shredded Chicken 'n Slaw Sliders, Spicy Blue-Cheesy Buffalo-Style Chicken Dip, Spicy Blue-Cheesy Buffalo-Chicken Quesadillas, Batter-Dipped Buffalo Chicken & Blue Cheese Subs, are, a few of our favorite creative wing-night options.  Today I've decided to add Buffalo-Chicken cocktail meatballs to my repertoire.

Cocktail-size Buffalo-chicken meatballs are festive to look at...

IMG_6826... loved by everyone, &, perfect for any celebration!   

IMG_67432  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  ounces 1/4" diced carrot (about 6 tablespoons)

2  ounces 1/4" diced celery (about 6 tablespoons)

2  ounces 1/4"-thick sliced green onion, white and light-green part only (about 6 tablespoons), reserve green tops for garnish

1  extra-large egg, lightly beaten

1/3  cup panko breadcrumbs

2  teaspoons each:  Frank's buffalo chicken seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder & sea salt

1/4-1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional, for additional heat)

1 1/2  pounds chicken tenderloins, sliced into 1/2" pieces (14-15 tenderloins)

IMG_6736IMG_67361  cup Frank's Buffalo Wing Sauce heated and whisked together in a small saucepan over medium heat on the stovetop with 4 tablespoons salted butter and 6 tablespoons honey, for the sweet and savory meatball glaze/dip 

1/4-1/2  cup minced scallion tops, for garnishing glazed meatballs

1  cup blue cheese or Ranch dressing, homemade or store-bought, for dipping or drizzling

carrot and celery sticks, for accopaniment

IMG_6750 IMG_6750 IMG_6750Step 1.  Dice carrot, celery and green onion as directed, placing them in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Using a series of 18-20 rapid on-off pulses, process until minced.  Do not over-process.  

IMG_6746 IMG_6759 IMG_6759 IMG_6759~Step 2.  Transfer veggies to an 8" nonstick skillet containing 2 tablespoons vegetable oil that has been placed over medium- medium-high heat.  Sauté, stirring constantly with a large spoon, until veggies are softened, 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool, 5-10 minutes.

IMG_6772 IMG_6772 IMG_6772 IMG_6772~Step 3.  In a small bowl or ramekin, break and beat the egg with a fork.  Stir in the breadcrumbs and set aside about 5-10 minutes, to soften these remarkably crunchy breadcrumbs a bit.  

IMG_6747 IMG_6747 IMG_6781 IMG_6781 IMG_6781 IMG_6781 IMG_6781 IMG_6781~Step 4.  While breadcrumbs are softening, slice the chicken tenders as directed, adding them to the food processor as you work.  Toss in the dry spices:  the Frank's buffalo chicken seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and optional cayenne pepper.  Using a series of 20-22 rapid on-off-pulses, coarsely-grind the chicken.  Add the vegetable sauté and pulse, 10-12 times, to combine.  Add the softened panko and pulse again, 10-12 more times, to combine.

IMG_6797 IMG_6797Step 5.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper.  Using a 1" ice-cream scoop as a measure in connection with the palms of your hands, form and drop rounded balls of chicken mixture onto prepared pan.  You will have approximately 6 dozen meatballs.  Bake meatballs on center rack of preheated 360º-375º oven until light golden and just cooked through, about 8-9 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Skewer two meatballs on each of 3 dozen toothpicks and dip meatballs in a small bowl containing Franks buffalo wing sauce, placing meatballs on a serving platter or individual plates as you work.

Serve w/blue cheese or Ranch dip + celery & carrot sticks:  

IMG_6807Sweet-&-Savory-Glazed Buffalo-Chicken Meatballs:  Recipe yields 6 dozen meatballs and 3 dozen appetizers.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale (optional but recommended); food processor; 8" nonstick skillet; large spoon or spatula; fork;  17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; 1" ice-cream scoop; 3 dozen toothpicks (2 meatballs per toothpick)

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09482ff0970dCook's Note: Wander into a bar -- any bar, anywhere in America. Buffalo wings are on the pub grub menu. No description is necessary. You know you're getting unbreaded, deep-fried wingettes and drumettes coated in a vivid-red vinegar-based cayenne pepper and melted butter sauce.  They'll most likely arrive with celery and carrot sticks, and either blue cheese or Ranch dressing for dipping or drizzling.  When you order your wings, you will typically be asked to specify if you want your wings coated in a mild, medium or hot version of the sauce.  Buffalo wing sauce is a classic concoction.  Click on this link to get my copycat recipe for ~ Frank's-Style Buffalo-Style Chicken Wing Sauce ~.

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

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

12/05/2019

~ Six Recipes for Fabulously-Flavored Holiday Fudge ~

IMG_6733Fudge is especially popular on the the boardwalks of the East coast in the Summertime.  That said, it is also perfect for gift-giving during the holidays.  Because it can be made several weeks in advance and stored (covered) in the the refrigerator, I like to make several flavors, then, assemble gift-boxes containing assorted flavors to share with family and friends.  It's a fun, relaxing way to ease into the holiday spirit, and it's a great addition to a tray of assorted cookies too.

This all-American confection dates back to the late 1880s.

IMG_6722Fudge originated in America in the latter 19th Century.  Recipes began appearing in periodicals and advertisements in the late 1880's, and, it gained in popularity because it could be made at home on the stovetop with a few ingredients and without the need for special equipment.  Sugar, butter and milk got heated to the soft-ball stage (240ºF), then, it got beaten while it cooled so that it acquired a smooth, creamy consistency.  It appealed to people who were looking for an alternative to candy that fell in between expensive, fancy candies and the cheapest of sweets.

Like many good things, fudge was created by accident.

IMG_6722Like many things, it happened by accident. Fudge was first documented in 1886 by students who were making and selling it at the Malmesbury School in Baltimore, Maryland.  As the story goes, they were trying to make caramels and "fudged" the recipe. This probably explains why fudge, along with another historical accident, salt water taffy, are sold as staples on the boardwalks of the Eastern Shore.  True American-style fudge is very smooth and creamy, not grainy, crumbly or cloyingly, tooth-achingly sweet.  When served at room temperature, it is almost spreadable, and, on the boardwalks they traditionally serve it accompanied by a little plastic "tasting" knife. Fudge is often gussied up with additions of nuts and/or dried fruit, or, by swirling two flavors together.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4cb2f81200dI've tasted a lot of fudge in my lifetime (mostly while walking the boardwalks of the NJ and Maryland shores), but quite honestly, a recipe I was given by my mom's neighbor Agnes is so delicious, user-friendly and foolproof, I've never been inclined to experiment with other versions (which all to often complicate the process to the the point of "why bother").  I am here to tell you:  you don't need a degree in food science, a marble slab, or even a candy thermometer to make great fudge.  I am a purist about a lot of things, but let's get real:  fudge was born out of error -- how complicated do we need to make it?  BTW:  Fralinger's in Ocean City, NJ, is one of my all-time favorite "haunts" for purchasing all flavors of salt water taffy and fabulous fudge.  I adore the Jersey shore.

The ideal pan & the ideal way to prepare a pan for fudge:

IMG_5996A bit about the ideal "fudge pan": After fudge is cooked (on the stovetop), it gets transferred to a baking pan to cool.  Most recipes require an 8" x 8" x 2" or 13" x 9" x 2" pan, and most folks have one or both.  That said, for a perfect presentation, professional baking pans with square-edged corners (instead of rounded ones) are ideal. Better than that, are square pans with square-corners and removable bottoms, which make removing the fudge remarkably easy.  A few years ago, I made a small investment of about $20.00 per pan in several sizes (4" x 4", 6" x 6", 8" x 8", 9" x 9", 10" x 10" and 12" x 12").  I love them.

IMG_5994 IMG_5994Having a pan like this is not a requirement for any fudge recipe, but it does make for fudge with pretty, uniform corners when cut.  Prior to preparing fudge, line an 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan with plastic wrap that drapes over the sides by 2"-3". Cut an 8" x 8" square of parchment and place it in the bottom atop the plastic wrap.

My basic (foolproof) "Killer Fudge" recipe:

When I was growing up, our neighbor loved to bake and her sweet treats made their way to our table often.  Every year, on Christmas Eve, Agnes joined our family for dinner and graced our dessert table with a plate of fudge -- we came to expect it.  No matter what the flavor, with or without lightly-toasted nuts and/or coconut added to it, it was always a hit.  When my now forty-something son was about three, he was allowed to take his first taste of her dark chocolate fudge. "That's a killer."  Mom's and dad's guests roared with laughter and "Killer Fudge" got its name.

14  ounces sweetened condensed milk (1 can), NOT evaporated milk

2  teaspoons vanilla extract + up to 2 additional teaspoons each of 2 additional extracts or flavorings (up to 6 teaspoons total extract)

4  ounces mini-marshmallows

4  ounces salted butter

16  ounces "chocolate-product-morsels" such as:  dark chocolate, milk chocolate, white chocolate, butterscotch, cinnamon, peanut butter, etc.

6-8 ounces optional add-ins such as: lightly-toasted chopped nuts and/or sweetened flaked coconut, peppermint bits, toffee bits, chopped dried fruits, etc.

Dark Chocolate Lover's Killer Dark-Chocolate Fudge:

IMG_6104Milk-Chocolate & Toasted-Coconut Lover's Fudge:

IMG_6359Butterscotch & Bits-O-Toffee Brickle Lover's Fudge:

IMG_6509Cinnamon-Apple Maple-Walnut Lover's Killer Fudge:

IMG_6613Double-Cherry & Double-Vanilla Lover's Killer Fudge:

IMG_6278Ultimate-Best Peanut-Butter Lover's Killer Fudge:

IMG_6666

"We are all in this fabulously-flavored fudgy food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

12/03/2019

~The Ultimate-Best Peanut-Butter Killer Fudge Recipe~

IMG_6666If it's full-throttle roasted-peanut flavor and crunch you crave, there's no need to look elsewhere for a peanut butter fudge recipe. Lightly-roasted peanuts, crunchy peanut butter, peanut-butter morsels, and, peanut butter flavoring team up in my version, and, trust me, nobody can eat just one piece of this peanutty fudge.  There's more.  This recipe (which has been tested, tasted and approved by many experienced cooking friends) is super-easy to make, not to mention foolproof, so, for those who've never tried making fudge before, or novice cooks, this recipe is ideal.

IMG_6626Everyone remembers their first bite of fudge -- that creamy, semi-soft confection made with corn syrup and/or sugar, butter, cream and flavoring.  Hands-down, the most popular flavor is dark chocolate, with milk chocolate in second.  Peanut butter, butterscotch, maple and vanilla are all contenders for the third spot.  When I was growing up, Agnes was our next-door neighbor. She loved to bake, and throughout the years her sweet treats made their way to our table often.  

Every year, on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve, Agnes joined our family for dinner and graced our dessert table with a plate of fudge -- we came to expect it.  No matter what the flavor, with or without lightly-toasted nuts and/or coconut added to it, it was always a hit.  When my now forty-something son was about three, he was allowed his first taste of Agnes's dark chocolate fudge. "That's a killer."  Mom's guests roared with laughter and "Killer Fudge" got its name.

My Killer Peanut Butter Fudge is a spin-off of Agnes's base recipe.

IMG_6645Fudge is an America institution that originated in America.  Like many things, it happened by accident. Fudge was first documented in 1886 by students who were making and selling it at the Malmesbury School in Baltimore, Maryland.  As the story goes, they were trying to make caramels and "fudged" the recipe. This probably explains why fudge, along with another historical accident, salt water taffy, are sold as staples on the boardwalks of the Eastern Shore.  True American-style fudge is very smooth and creamy, not grainy, crumbly or cloyingly, tooth-achingly sweet.  When served at room temperature, it is almost spreadable, and, on the boardwalks they traditionally serve it accompanied by a little plastic "tasting" knife. Fudge is often gussied up with additions of nuts and/or dried fruit, or, by swirling two flavors together.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4cb2f81200dI've tasted a lot of fudge in my lifetime (mostly while walking the boardwalks of the NJ and Maryland shores), but quite honestly, Agnes's delicious, user-friendly recipe is so wonderful, I've never been inclined to experiment with other versions (which all to often complicate the process to the the point of "why bother").  I am here to tell you:  you don't need a degree in food science, a marble slab, or even a candy thermometer to make great fudge.  I am a purist about a lot of things, but let's get real:  fudge was born out of error -- how complicated do we need to make it?  BTW:  Fralinger's in Ocean City, NJ, is one of my all-time favorite "haunts" for purchasing all flavors of salt water taffy and fudge.

The ideal pan & the ideal way to prepare a pan for fudge:

IMG_5996A bit about the ideal "fudge pan": After fudge is cooked (on the stovetop), it gets transferred to a baking pan to cool.  Most recipes require an 8" x 8" x 2" or 13" x 9" x 2" pan, and most folks have one or both.  That said, for a perfect presentation, professional baking pans with square-edged corners (instead of rounded ones) are ideal. Better than that, are square pans with square-corners and removable bottoms, which make removing the fudge remarkably easy.  A few years ago, I made a small investment of about $20.00 per pan in several sizes (4" x 4", 6" x 6", 8" x 8", 9" x 9", 10" x 10" and 12" x 12").  I love them.

IMG_5994 IMG_5994Having a pan like this is not a requirement for any fudge recipe, but it does make for fudge with pretty, uniform corners when cut.  Prior to preparing fudge, line an 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan with plastic wrap that drapes over the sides by 2"-3". Cut an 8" x 8" square of parchment and place it in the bottom atop the plastic wrap.

Making, cooling & slicing Killer Peanut-Butter Fudge:

IMG_6522To make killer peanut-butter fudge:

4  ounces miniature-sized marshmallows

1  14-ounce can condensed milk

2  teaspoons each:  peanut butter flavoring and pure vanilla extract

4  ounces cubed salted butter

16 ounces peanut butter morsels

6-8  ounces coarsely-chopped and lightly-toasted peanuts 

1/2  cup chunky peanut butter

IMG_6530~ Step 1.  Be sure to choose raw, unsalted, peanuts -- not the roasted, salted peanuts that come in a can. While they're great to eat out-of-hand, they are too salty to use in this recipe. Place peanuts in a shallow baking pan. Toast on center rack of preheated 350º oven, 6-8 minutes, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 2 minutes during the process.  Remove from oven and cool about 15-20 minutes.

IMG_6004 IMG_6524 IMG_6524 IMG_6531 IMG_6531 IMG_6531 IMG_6531 IMG_6531~Step 2. In a 4-quart saucepan, stir together the condensed milk, peanut butter flavoring, vanilla extract and marshmallows.  Over low heat, melt  marshmallows into the condensed milk, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth, uniform in color and foamy, 5-6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_6013 IMG_6548 IMG_6548 IMG_6548~Step 3.  With saucepan on the still warm stovetop, add and stir in the butter pieces, peanut butter morsels, peanuts and peanut butter.  Stir constantly and somewhat vigorously, until the butter and chocolate morsels have melted into the marshmallow mixture and the mixture is smooth (except for the brickle bits) and uniform in color, approximately 1-2 more minutes.

IMG_6553 IMG_6553 IMG_6567 IMG_6567~Step 4.  Transfer fudge to prepared pan.  Using a rubber spatula, distribute fudge into sides and corners of pan.  Give the pan several vigorous back and forth shakes to evenly distribute the fudge.  Set aside, uncovered, for 1 hour -- the surface of the fudge will appear matt and dry (no longer glossy or wet).  Cover with the plastic wrap that is draping over the sides of the pan and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best as the fudge is very firm and easier to cut.

IMG_6621 IMG_6621 IMG_6628~ Step 5.  Transfer fudge from pan to cutting board by pushing up on the removable pan bottom, by  pulling up on the plastic wrap, or, by inverting pan and pushing down on pan bottom. Remove plastic wrap and peel back parchment. Using a ruler and a knife, measure and score top.  Cut into 32 logs or 64 squares.

Arrange fudge on a plate, cover w/plastic wrap & keep refrigerated until 10-15-20 minutes prior to serving slightly-softened.

IMG_6640The Ultimate-Best Peanut-Butter Killer Fudge Recipe: Recipe yields 32, 1" x 2" logs, or, 64, 1" squares.

Special Equipment List: shallow baking pan; spoon; 1, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, preferably w/straight-edged corners and removable bottom; plastic wrap; parchment paper; kitchen scale; kitchen shears; 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; cutting board; ruler; large chef's knife

IMG_6657 2Cook's Note: Once cut into desired-sized pieces, store fudge in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment or wax paper, in a cool, dry, place, or in the refrigerator, for up to a month.  To make a large, triple batch of fudge (all at once) for the holidays, cook it on the stovetop in an 8-quart stockpot and pour it into a 16" x 12" x 2"  professional-type rectangular-shaped cake pan.

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

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

11/30/2019

~Double-Cherry & Double-Vanilla Lover's Killer Fudge~

IMG_6278Cherry-vanilla is one of my favorite flavor combinations.  Cherry-vanilla or black-cherry-vanilla cream soda, cherry-vanilla ice-cream, cherry-vanilla milkshakes, cherry-vanilla yogurt and cherry-vanilla biscotti are amongst my favorite things.  While I didn't invent the idea for cherry-vanilla fudge, once I got my hands on a great base recipe for making fudge, cherry-vanilla was the first spin-off I made (for myself), and, after tasting it, I think you'll agree it's perhaps the best rendition in print or on internet, as, it uses a combination of dehydrated tart "sour" pie cherries and pure cherry extract, instead of neon-colored candied maraschinos (which taste nothing like cherries).

IMG_6248Everyone remembers their first bite of fudge -- that creamy, semi-soft confection made with corn syrup and/or sugar, butter, cream and flavoring.  Hands-down, the most popular flavor is dark chocolate, with milk chocolate in second.  Peanut butter, butterscotch, maple and vanilla are all contenders for the third spot.  When I was growing up, Agnes was our next-door neighbor. She loved to bake, and throughout the years her sweet treats made their way to our table often.  

Every year, on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve, Agnes joined our family for dinner and graced our dessert table with a plate of fudge -- we came to expect it.  No matter what the flavor, with or without lightly-toasted nuts and/or coconut added to it, it was always a hit.  When my now forty-something son was about three, he was allowed his first taste of Agnes's dark chocolate fudge. "That's a killer."  Mom's guests roared with laughter and "Killer Fudge" got its name.

My Cherry-Vanilla Fudge is a spin-off of Agnes's base recipe.

IMG_6253Fudge is an America institution that originated in America.  Like many things, it happened by accident. Fudge was first documented in 1886 by students who were making and selling it at the Malmesbury School in Baltimore, Maryland.  As the story goes, they were trying to make caramels and "fudged" the recipe. This probably explains why fudge, along with another historical accident, salt water taffy, are sold as staples on the boardwalks of the Eastern Shore.  True American-style fudge is very smooth and creamy, not grainy, crumbly or cloyingly, tooth-achingly sweet.  When served at room temperature, it is almost spreadable, and, on the boardwalks they traditionally serve it accompanied by a little plastic "tasting" knife. Fudge is often gussied up with additions of nuts and/or dried fruit, or, by swirling two flavors together.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c9fab3200dI've tasted a lot of fudge in my lifetime (mostly while walking the boardwalks of the NJ and Maryland shores), but quite honestly, Agnes's delicious, user-friendly recipe is so wonderful, I've never been inclined to experiment with other versions (which all to often complicate the process to the the point of "why bother").  I am here to tell you:  you don't need a degree in food science, a marble slab, or even a candy thermometer to make great fudge.  I am a purist about a lot of things, but let's get real:  fudge was born out of error -- how complicated do we need to make it?  BTW:  Fralinger's in Ocean City, NJ, is one of my all-time favorite "haunts" for purchasing all flavors of salt water taffy and fudge.

The ideal pan & the ideal way to prepare a pan for fudge:

IMG_5996A bit about the ideal "fudge pan": After fudge is cooked (on the stovetop), it gets transferred to a baking pan to cool.  Most recipes require an 8" x 8" x 2" or 13" x 9" x 2" pan, and most folks have one or both.  That said, for a perfect presentation, professional baking pans with square-edged corners (instead of rounded ones) are ideal. Better than that, are square pans with square-corners and removable bottoms, which make removing the fudge remarkably easy.  A few years ago, I made a small investment of about $20.00 per pan in several sizes (4" x 4", 6" x 6", 8" x 8", 9" x 9", 10" x 10" and 12" x 12").  I love them.

IMG_5994 IMG_5994Having a pan like this is not a requirement for any fudge recipe, but it does make for fudge with pretty, uniform corners when cut.  Prior to preparing fudge, line an 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan with plastic wrap that drapes over the sides by 2"-3". Cut an 8" x 8" square of parchment and place it in the bottom atop the plastic wrap.

Making, cooling & slicing Killer Cherry-Vanilla Fudge:

IMG_6198To make killer cherry-vanilla fudge:

4  ounces mini-marshmallows

1  14-ounce can condensed milk

2  teaspoons each: pure cherry extract, pure vanilla extract and, vanilla bean paste

4  ounces cubed salted butter

16 ounces white chocolate morsels

6-8  ounces coarse-chopped, dehydrated sour cherries, snipped in half

IMG_6004 IMG_6199 IMG_6199 IMG_6199 IMG_6199 IMG_6199 IMG_6199~Step 1. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the condensed milk, cherry and vanilla extracts, vanilla bean paste and marshmallows.  Over low heat, melt the marshmallows into the mixture, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth, uniform in color and foamy, 5-6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_6013 IMG_6013 IMG_6218 IMG_6218 IMG_6218~Step 2.  With saucepan on the still warm stovetop, add and stir in the butter pieces, white chocolate morsels and dehydrated cherries.  Stir constantly and somewhat vigorously, until the butter and chocolate morsels have melted into the marshmallow mixture and the mixture is smooth and uniform in color, approximately 2 minutes.

IMG_6224 IMG_6229 IMG_6230 IMG_6230~Step 3.  Transfer fudge to prepared pan.  Using a rubber spatula, distribute fudge into sides and corners of pan.  Give the pan several vigorous back and forth shakes to evenly distribute the fudge.  Set aside, uncovered, for 1 hour -- the surface of the fudge will appear matt and dry (no longer glossy or wet).  Cover with the plastic wrap that is draping over the sides of the pan and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best as the fudge is very firm and easier to cut.

IMG_6242 IMG_6242 IMG_6245~ Step 4.  Transfer fudge from pan to cutting board by pushing up on removable pan bottom, or by  pulling up on the plastic wrap, or by inverting pan and pushing down. Remove plastic wrap and peel back  parchment. Using a ruler and a large knife, measure and score top of fudge.  Cut into 32 logs or 64 squares.

Arrange fudge on a plate, cover w/plastic wrap & keep refrigerated until 10-15-20 minutes prior to serving slightly-softened.

IMG_6260Double-Cherry & Double-Vanilla Lover's Killer Fudge:  Recipe yields Recipe yields 32, 1" x 2" logs, or, 64, 1" squares.

Special Equipment List: 1, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, preferably w/straight-edged corners and removable bottom; plastic wrap; parchment paper; kitchen scale; kitchen shears; 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; cutting board; ruler; large chef's knife

IMG_6270Cook's Note: Once cut into desired-sized pieces, store fudge in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment or wax paper, in a cool, dry, place, or in the refrigerator, for up to a month.  To make a large, triple batch of fudge (all at once) for the holidays, cook it on the stovetop in an 8-quart stockpot and pour it into a 16" x 12" x 2"  professional-type rectangular-shaped cake pan.

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

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

11/28/2019

~Cinnamon-Apple Maple-Walnut Lover's Killer Fudge~

IMG_6613Maple-walnut ice cream and maple-walnut fudge.  While they're my only two encounters with this sublime combination, meaning I've not tasted a maple-walnut pie or a maple-walnut cake, I was driven to re-create both of them in my home kitchen.  My experience with the first was in Vermont, and it was a slow-churned unforgettable experience.  My experience with the second was on the boardwalks of New Jersey, and, it was a creamy-dreamy unforgettable experience.  

IMG_6584Everyone remembers their first bite of fudge -- that creamy, semi-soft confection made with corn syrup and/or sugar, butter, cream and flavoring.  Hands-down, the most popular flavor is dark chocolate, with milk chocolate in second.  Peanut butter, butterscotch, maple and vanilla are all contenders for the third spot.  When I was growing up, Agnes was our next-door neighbor. She loved to bake, and throughout the years her sweet treats made their way to our table often.  

Every year, on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve, Agnes joined our family for dinner and graced our dessert table with a plate of fudge -- we came to expect it.  No matter what the flavor, with or without lightly-toasted nuts and/or coconut added to it, it was always a hit.  When my now forty-something son was about three, he was allowed his first taste of Agnes's dark chocolate fudge. "That's a killer."  Mom's guests roared with laughter and "Killer Fudge" got its name.

My Cinnamon-Apple Maple-Walnut Fudge is a spin-off of Agnes's base recipe.

IMG_6598Fudge is an America institution that originated in America.  Like many things, it happened by accident. Fudge was first documented in 1886 by students who were making and selling it at the Malmesbury School in Baltimore, Maryland.  As the story goes, they were trying to make caramels and "fudged" the recipe. This probably explains why fudge, along with another historical accident, salt water taffy, are sold as staples on the boardwalks of the Eastern Shore.  True American-style fudge is very smooth and creamy, not grainy, crumbly or cloyingly, tooth-achingly sweet.  When served at room temperature, it is almost spreadable, and, on the boardwalks they traditionally serve it accompanied by a little plastic "tasting" knife. Fudge is often gussied up with additions of nuts and/or dried fruit, or, by swirling two flavors together.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4cb2f81200dI've tasted a lot of fudge in my lifetime (mostly while walking the boardwalks of the NJ and Maryland shores), but quite honestly, Agnes's delicious, user-friendly recipe is so wonderful, I've never been inclined to experiment with other versions (which all to often complicate the process to the the point of "why bother").  I am here to tell you:  you don't need a degree in food science, a marble slab, or even a candy thermometer to make great fudge.  I am a purist about a lot of things, but let's get real:  fudge was born out of error -- how complicated do we need to make it?  BTW:  Fralinger's in Ocean City, NJ, is one of my all-time favorite "haunts" for purchasing all flavors of salt water taffy and fudge.

The ideal pan & the ideal way to prepare a pan for fudge:

IMG_5996A bit about the ideal "fudge pan": After fudge is cooked (on the stovetop), it gets transferred to a baking pan to cool.  Most recipes require an 8" x 8" x 2" or 13" x 9" x 2" pan, and most folks have one or both.  That said, for a perfect presentation, professional baking pans with square-edged corners (instead of rounded ones) are ideal. Better than that, are square pans with square-corners and removable bottoms, which make removing the fudge remarkably easy.  A few years ago, I made a small investment of about $20.00 per pan in several sizes (4" x 4", 6" x 6", 8" x 8", 9" x 9", 10" x 10" and 12" x 12").  I love them.

IMG_5994 IMG_5994Having a pan like this is not a requirement for any fudge recipe, but it does make for fudge with pretty, uniform corners when cut.  Prior to preparing fudge, line an 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan with plastic wrap that drapes over the sides by 2"-3". Cut an 8" x 8" square of parchment and place it in the bottom atop the plastic wrap.

Making, cooling & slicing Cinnamon-Apple Maple-Walnut Fudge:

IMG_6429To make killer cinnamon-apple maple-walnut fudge:

4  ounces mini-marshmallows

1  14-ounce can condensed milk

2  teaspoons each: pure apple extract, pure maple extract, pure vanilla extract, and pure walnut extract

4  ounces cubed salted butter

16 ounces cinnamon morsels

6-8  ounces coarse-chopped and lightly-toasted walnuts

IMG_6416 IMG_6416~ Step 1.  Place chopped walnuts in a shallow baking pan. Toast on center rack of preheated 350º oven, 6-8 minutes, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 2 minutes during the process. Set aside to cool about 15-20 minutes.

IMG_6004 IMG_6433 IMG_6433 IMG_6433 IMG_6433 IMG_6433 IMG_6433~Step 2. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the condensed milk, all four of the extracts (apple, maple, vanilla and walnut) and marshmallows.  Over low heat, melt the marshmallows into the mixture, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth, uniform in color and foamy, 5-6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_6013 IMG_6449 IMG_6449 IMG_6449 IMG_6449~Step 3.  With the saucepan on the still warm stovetop, stir in the butter pieces, cinnamon morsels and lightly-toasted walnuts.  Stir constantly and vigorously, until butter and cinnamon morsels have melted into the marshmallow mixture and the mixture is smooth, creamy and uniform in color (except for the walnuts pieces), about 1 1/2-2 minutes.

IMG_6461 IMG_6461 IMG_6468 IMG_6468~Step 4.  Transfer fudge to prepared pan.  Using a rubber spatula, distribute fudge into sides and corners of pan.  Give the pan several vigorous back and forth shakes to evenly distribute the fudge.  Set aside, uncovered, for 1 hour -- the surface of the fudge will appear matt and dry (no longer glossy or wet).  Cover with the plastic wrap that is draping over the sides of the pan and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best as the fudge is very firm and easier to cut.

IMG_6571 IMG_6575 IMG_6584 2~ Step 5.  Transfer fudge from pan to cutting board by pushing up on removable pan bottom, or by  pulling up on the plastic wrap, or by inverting pan and pushing down. Remove plastic wrap and peel back  parchment. Using a ruler and a large knife, measure and score top of fudge.  Cut into 32 logs or 64 squares.

Arrange fudge on a plate, cover w/plastic wrap & keep refrigerated until 10-15-20 minutes prior to serving slightly-softened. 

IMG_6588Cinnamon-Apple Maple-Walnut Lover's Killer Fudge: Recipe yields 32, 1" x 2" logs, or, 64, 1" squares.

Special Equipment List: small shallow baking pan; spoon; 1, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, preferably w/straight-edged corners and removable bottom; plastic wrap; parchment paper; kitchen scale; kitchen shears; 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; cutting board; ruler; large chef's knife

IMG_6606Cook's Note: Once cut into desired-sized pieces, store fudge in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment or wax paper, in a cool, dry, place, or in the refrigerator, for up to a month.  To make a large, triple batch of fudge (all at once) for the holidays, cook it on the stovetop in an 8-quart stockpot and pour it into a 16" x 12" x 2"  professional-type rectangular-shaped cake pan.

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

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

11/25/2019

~ Butterscotch & Bits-O-Toffee Brickle Lover's Fudge ~

IMG_6509Butterscotch, caramel, English toffee and American buttercrunch.  These rich butter-and-sugar-based candies are all related, and, I have an affinity for them all.  As a little kid, my hand gravitated to the bag of those little chewy squares of Kraft Caramels, and, when I got a little older, I always kept a few cellophane-wrapped Brach's Butterscotch hard-candies in my purse -- they were a way to enjoy an otherwise long and boring class at school or sermon at church.

IMG_6473Everyone remembers their first bite of fudge -- that creamy, semi-soft confection made with corn syrup and/or sugar, butter, cream and flavoring.  Hands-down, the most popular flavor is dark chocolate, with milk chocolate in second.  Peanut butter, butterscotch, maple and vanilla are all contenders for the third spot.  When I was growing up, Agnes was our next-door neighbor. She loved to bake, and throughout the years her sweet treats made their way to our table often.  

Every year, on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve, Agnes joined our family for dinner and graced our dessert table with a plate of fudge -- we came to expect it.  No matter what the flavor, with or without lightly-toasted nuts and/or coconut added to it, it was always a hit.  When my now forty-something son was about three, he was allowed his first taste of Agnes's dark chocolate fudge. "That's a killer."  Mom's guests roared with laughter and "Killer Fudge" got its name.

My Butterscotch & Brickle Fudge is a spin-off of Agnes's base recipe.

IMG_6505Fudge is an America institution that originated in America.  Like many things, it happened by accident. Fudge was first documented in 1886 by students who were making and selling it at the Malmesbury School in Baltimore, Maryland.  As the story goes, they were trying to make caramels and "fudged" the recipe. This probably explains why fudge, along with another historical accident, salt water taffy, are sold as staples on the boardwalks of the Eastern Shore.  True American-style fudge is very smooth and creamy, not grainy, crumbly or cloyingly, tooth-achingly sweet.  When served at room temperature, it is almost spreadable, and, on the boardwalks they traditionally serve it accompanied by a little plastic "tasting" knife. Fudge is often gussied up with additions of nuts and/or dried fruit, or, by swirling two flavors together.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4cb2f81200dI've tasted a lot of fudge in my lifetime (mostly while walking the boardwalks of the NJ and Maryland shores), but quite honestly, Agnes's delicious, user-friendly recipe is so wonderful, I've never been inclined to experiment with other versions (which all to often complicate the process to the the point of "why bother").  I am here to tell you:  you don't need a degree in food science, a marble slab, or even a candy thermometer to make great fudge.  I am a purist about a lot of things, but let's get real:  fudge was born out of error -- how complicated do we need to make it?  BTW:  Fralinger's in Ocean City, NJ, is one of my all-time favorite "haunts" for purchasing all flavors of salt water taffy and fudge.

The ideal pan & the ideal way to prepare a pan for fudge:

IMG_5996A bit about the ideal "fudge pan": After fudge is cooked (on the stovetop), it gets transferred to a baking pan to cool.  Most recipes require an 8" x 8" x 2" or 13" x 9" x 2" pan, and most folks have one or both.  That said, for a perfect presentation, professional baking pans with square-edged corners (instead of rounded ones) are ideal. Better than that, are square pans with square-corners and removable bottoms, which make removing the fudge remarkably easy.  A few years ago, I made a small investment of about $20.00 per pan in several sizes (4" x 4", 6" x 6", 8" x 8", 9" x 9", 10" x 10" and 12" x 12").  I love them.

IMG_5994 IMG_5994Having a pan like this is not a requirement for any fudge recipe, but it does make for fudge with pretty, uniform corners when cut.  Prior to preparing fudge, line an 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan with plastic wrap that drapes over the sides by 2"-3". Cut an 8" x 8" square of parchment and place it in the bottom atop the plastic wrap.

Making, cooling & slicing Butterscotch & Brickle fudge:

IMG_6377To make butterscotch & bits-o-toffee brickle fudge:

4  ounces mini-marshmallows

1  14-ounce can condensed milk

2  teaspoons each: butterscotch flavoring (all natural and organic preferred) and pure vanilla extract

4  ounces cubed salted butter

16 ounces butterscotch morsels

4  ounces Heath Bits O' Brickle English toffee bits

IMG_6004 IMG_6379 IMG_6379 IMG_6379 IMG_6379 IMG_6379 IMG_6379~Step 1. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the condensed milk, butterscotch flavoring, vanilla extract and marshmallows.  Over low heat, melt the marshmallows into the mixture, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth, uniform in color and foamy, 5-6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_6013 IMG_6393 IMG_6393 IMG_6393 IMG_6393~Step 2.  With saucepan on the still warm stovetop, add and stir in the butter pieces, butterscotch morsels and brickle bits.  Stir constantly and somewhat vigorously, until the butter and chocolate morsels have melted into the marshmallow mixture and the mixture is smooth (except for the brickle bits) and uniform in color, approximately 1-2 more minutes.

IMG_6405 IMG_6405 IMG_6411 IMG_6411~Step 3.  Transfer fudge to prepared pan.  Using a rubber spatula, distribute fudge into sides and corners of pan.  Give the pan several vigorous back and forth shakes to evenly distribute the fudge.  Set aside, uncovered, for 1 hour -- the surface of the fudge will appear matt and dry (no longer glossy or wet).  Cover with the plastic wrap that is draping over the sides of the pan and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best as the fudge is very firm and easier to cut.

IMG_6424 IMG_6424 IMG_6475~ Step 4.  Transfer fudge from pan to cutting board by pushing up on the removable pan bottom, by  pulling up on the plastic wrap, or, by inverting pan and pushing down on pan bottom. Remove plastic wrap and peel back parchment. Using a ruler and a knife, measure and score top.  Cut into 32 logs or 64 squares.

Arrange fudge on a plate, cover w/plastic wrap & keep refrigerated until 10-15-20 minutes prior to serving slightly-softened.

IMG_6478Butterscotch & Bits-O-Toffee Brickle Lover's Fudge:  Recipe yields 32, 1" x 2" logs, or, 64, 1" squares.

Special Equipment List: 1, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, preferably w/straight-edged corners and removable bottom; plastic wrap; parchment paper; kitchen scale; 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; cutting board; ruler; large chef's knife

6a0120a8551282970b0224df34a06e200bCook's Note: I developed a crush for English toffee in London the 1990's.  There was a Confectioner across the street from our hotel and it was the first place I wandered into on my way to take a bus tour of the city.  While the sweet treat in this photo is something that typically gets made around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, if you'd like to learn a bit more about English toffee, read my post ~ Old-Fashioned Chocolate & Almond Buttercrunch ~.  My freezer is rarely without a bag of English toffee bits in it.

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

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

11/22/2019

~Milk-Chocolate and Toasted-Coconut Lover's Fudge~

IMG_6359As one who in all seriousness does not crave chocolate, when I do eat it it, my taste leans toward milk chocolate, with Swiss Lindt being my chocolate of choice.  Even as a kid, I pretty much turned my prissy little nose up at chocolate, with one exception.  Every year for Christmas, mom would put a few Russel Stover milk-chocolate toasted-coconut wreaths in my stocking.  For Easter, milk-chocolate toasted-coconut bird's nests went in my basket.  I love them to this day.  

While I didn't invent the idea for milk-chocolate toasted-coconut fudge, once I had a great base recipe for fudge, I was quick to make a milk-chocolate toasted-coconut version.

IMG_6337Everyone remembers their first bite of fudge -- that creamy, semi-soft confection made with corn syrup and/or sugar, butter, cream and flavoring.  Hands-down, the most popular flavor is dark chocolate, with milk chocolate coming in second.  Peanut butter, butterscotch, maple and vanilla are all contenders for the third spot.  When I was growing up, Agnes was our neighbor. She loved to bake, and throughout the years her sweet treats made their way to our table often.  

IMG_6559Every year, on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve, Agnes joined our family for dinner and graced our dessert table with a plate of fudge -- we came to expect it.  No matter what the flavor, with or without lightly-toasted nuts and/or coconut added to it, it was always a hit. When my now forty-something son was about three, he was allowed his first taste of Agnes's dark chocolate fudge. "That's a killer."  Mom's guests roared with laughter and "Killer Fudge" got its name.

My Milk-Chocolate Toasted-Coconut Fudge recipe is a spin-off of Agnes's base recipe for making all sorts of fudge flavors.

IMG_6352Fudge is an America institution that originated in America.  Like many things, it happened by accident. Fudge was first documented in 1886 by students who were making and selling it at the Malmesbury School in Baltimore, Maryland.  As the story goes, they were trying to make caramels and "fudged" the recipe. This probably explains why fudge, along with another historical accident, salt water taffy, are sold as staples on the boardwalks of the Eastern Shore.  True American-style fudge is very smooth and creamy, not grainy, crumbly or cloyingly, tooth-achingly sweet.  When served at room temperature, it is almost spreadable, and, on the boardwalks they traditionally serve it accompanied by a little plastic "tasting" knife. Fudge is often gussied up with additions of nuts and/or dried fruit, or, by swirling two flavors together.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4cb2f81200dI've tasted a lot of fudge in my lifetime (mostly while walking the boardwalks of the NJ and Maryland shores), but quite honestly, Agnes's delicious, user-friendly recipe is so wonderful, I've never been inclined to experiment with other versions (which all to often complicate the process to the the point of "why bother").  I am here to tell you:  you don't need a degree in food science, a marble slab, or even a candy thermometer to make great fudge.  I am a purist about a lot of things, but let's get real:  fudge was born out of error -- how complicated do we need to make it?  BTW:  Fralinger's in Ocean City, NJ, is one of my all-time favorite "haunts" for purchasing all flavors of salt water taffy and fudge.

The ideal pan & the ideal way to prepare a pan for fudge:

IMG_5996A bit about the ideal "fudge pan": After fudge is cooked (on the stovetop), it gets transferred to a baking pan to cool.  Most recipes require an 8" x 8" x 2" or 13" x 9" x 2" pan, and most folks have one or both.  That said, for a perfect presentation, professional baking pans with square-edged corners (instead of rounded ones) are ideal. Better than that, are square pans with square-corners and removable bottoms, which make removing the fudge remarkably easy.  A few years ago, I made a small investment of about $20.00 per pan in several sizes (4" x 4", 6" x 6", 8" x 8", 9" x 9", 10" x 10" and 12" x 12").  I love them.

IMG_5994 IMG_5994Having a pan like this is not a requirement for any fudge recipe, but it does make for fudge with pretty, uniform corners when cut.  Prior to preparing fudge, line an 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan with plastic wrap that drapes over the sides by 2"-3". Cut an 8" x 8" square of parchment and place it in the bottom atop the plastic wrap.

Making, cooling & slicing Milk-Chocolate Toasted-Coconut Fudge:

IMG_6285To make killer milk-chocolate toasted-coconut fudge:

4  ounces mini-marshmallows

1  14-ounce can condensed milk

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

4  ounces cubed salted butter

16 ounces milk chocolate morsels

4-6  ounces lightly-toasted and cooled coconut

IMG_6291 IMG_6291~ Step 1.  Place coconut in a shallow baking pan. Toast on center rack of preheated 350º oven, 6-8 minutes, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 2 minutes during the process.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool about 15-20 minutes.

IMG_6287 IMG_6287 IMG_6287 IMG_6287 IMG_6287 IMG_6287~Step 2. In a 4-quart saucepan, stir condensed milk, extracts, and marshmallows.  Over low heat, melt  the marshmallows into the milk, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth, uniform in color and foamy, 5-6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_6306 IMG_6306 IMG_6306 IMG_6306~Step 3.  With saucepan on still warm stovetop, stir in the butter pieces, chocolate morsels and toasted coconut.  Stir constantly and vigorously, until butter and chocolate morsels have melted into the marshmallow mixture and the mixture is smooth and uniform in color, about 2 minutes.

IMG_6317 IMG_6317 IMG_6317 IMG_6317~Step 4.  Transfer fudge to prepared pan.  Using a rubber spatula, distribute fudge into sides and corners of pan.  Give the pan several vigorous back and forth shakes to evenly distribute the fudge.  Set aside, uncovered, for 1 hour -- the surface of the fudge will appear matt and dry (no longer glossy or wet).  Cover with the plastic wrap that is draping over the sides of the pan and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best as the fudge is very firm and easier to cut.

IMG_6332 IMG_6332 IMG_6338~ Step 5.  Transfer fudge from pan to cutting board by pushing up on removable pan bottom, or by  pulling up on the plastic wrap, or by inverting pan and pushing down. Remove plastic wrap and peel back  parchment. Using a ruler and a large knife, measure and score top of fudge.  Cut into 32 logs or 64 squares.

Arrange fudge on a plate, cover w/plastic wrap & keep refrigerated until 10-15-20 minutes prior to serving slightly-softened.

IMG_6344Milk-Chocolate and Toasted-Coconut Lover's Fudge:  Recipe yields 32, 1" x 2" logs, or, 64, 1" squares.

Special Equipment List: small shallow baking pan; spoon; 1, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, preferably w/straight-edged corners and removable bottom; plastic wrap; parchment paper; kitchen scale; kitchen shears; 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; cutting board; ruler; large chef's knife

IMG_6369Cook's Note:  Once cut into desired-sized pieces, store fudge in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment or wax paper, in a cool, dry, place, or in the refrigerator, for up to a month.  To make a large, triple batch of fudge (all at once) for the holidays, cook it on the stovetop in an 8-quart stockpot and pour it into a 16" x 12" x 2"  professional-type rectangular-shaped cake pan.

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

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