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

04/05/2019

~Easy Sweet & Spicy Tex-Mex-Style Barbecue Sauce~

IMG_0526Simmer down.  I am well aware that authentic Texas-style barbecue requires no sauce, and, its purist fans proclaim perfectly-smoked beef, poultry or pork is so lip-smacking fantastic sauce ruins it. I'm neither here to disagree nor apologize -- I'm just a Yankee gal that likes a special or secret sauce with, or on, almost everything that comes off a grill or out of a smoker.  There's more. I have absolutely no idea what might constitute the perfect Tex-Mex-style barbecue sauce, I'm simply here to share my culinary concoction of sweet and savory pleasing-to-me perfection.

Specific to no one dish, but loyal to the cuisine du jour.

My kitchen is no different than anyone elses.  The cuisine we're in the mood changes from day to day.  Be it Asian, Greek, Italian, Jamaican or Texican (to name a few of our favorites), having an all-purpose marinade or dry rub, along with a sauce for dipping or drizzling, suited specifically to the flavor profile for any cuisine, makes meal preparation for any family easy, not to mention creative and fun.  Trust me when I tell you, any way you cook it, every dish prepared in the home kitchen doesn't have to be authentic, classic, or traditional.  It just has to look and taste great.

IMG_04222  8-ounce cans tomato sauce

1/4  cup light-flavored molasses

6  tablespoons Worcestershire

1  tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1  teaspoon dry English mustard

1  teaspoon Mexican oregano

1/2  teaspoon each:  ground cinnamon and cumin

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon each: garlic and onion powder

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

IMG_0426 IMG_0426 IMG_0426 IMG_0426 IMG_0426~Step 1.  Place all ingredients as listed in a 1-quart saucepan.  Bring to a steady simmer over medium heat and continue to cook, stirring constantly, 5-6 minutes.  Sauce will be thick, but not too thick -- perfect for dipping or drizzling on almost any Tex-Mex-style grilled meat, poultry or pork.  Place in a food storage container and store in refrigerator up to 3-4 weeks.

Try my Texican-style Pork Steak & Bell Pepper Spiedies

IMG_0519Easy Sweet & Spicy Tex-Mex-Style Barbecue Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups barbecue sauce.

Special Equipment List:  1-quart saucepan; spoon; appropriate-sized food storage container w/tight-fitting lid

6a0120a8551282970b019102de4b79970cCook's Note: I'm a sauce-a-holic.  I think almost everything tastes better with a perfectly executed sauce on top of it, underneath it or to the side of it.  I think a saucier (a person who devotes oneself to the art of saucemaking) is the most valuable person in the kitchen. From appetizers to desserts, a simple or sophisticated sauce not only enhances food, it can mask a minor mishap or mistake.  ~ Kansas City BBQ Sauce:  Sweet, Spicy & Smokey ~, is one of my favorites.

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

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

04/03/2019

~Spicy Southwestern-Style Candied Sweet Potatoes~

IMG_0389April showers bring May flowers, tick-tock, and so starts the prime-time grilling season.  Across the country, home cooks and grill-masters are already concocting their secret recipes for sweet and savory wet sauces and spice-is-nice dry rubs.  Once the chicken and ribs start hitting the grill grids, neighborhoods everywhere will be filled with the ethereal smell of barbecue.  Get out the paper plates and napkins, place the side-dishes on the table, pop a beer and pull up a chair.

Speaking of side-dishes (notice how I snuck that in), while Northeastern Deutsch-Amish potato-salads, macaroni-salads and coleslaws reign undeniably supreme (as far as cold, starchy side-dishes to eat during the Summer season), if you're looking for a hot option, in place of the ever-popular Midwestern baked bean- and/or baked-corn- casserole, allow me to suggest some spicy-and-syrupy Southwestern-style candied sweet potatoes to go with your poultry or porcine.

Times change, people change, &, candied sweet potatoes aren't just for Easter ham & Thanksgiving turkey anymore.

As a kid, I never understood why our family didn't eat sweet potatoes more often.  Mom served them twice a year.  Once in the Spring, with our Easter ham, and, once in the Fall, with our Thanksgiving turkey -- at both holidays, a table full of family and friends ate them enthusiastically. Even though I didn't waste a lot of time pondering this situation as a child, when I got older, I asked my mom.  She served them twice a year because her mother served them twice a year.

0-Yucatan-peninsula-on-the-map'Tis true.  Most of us don't start thinking about sweet potatoes until the leaves turn color in the Fall, and, I was in that rut too, until I attended an outdoor wedding with a pig-roast reception several years ago. While I don't remember if the wedding was in July or August, I can't forget the big platters, heaped with chunks of perfectly-cooked porcine surrounded by creamy sweet-potatoes enrobed in a brown-sugar-, cinnamon-, clove-, cumin- and cayenne-laced sauce.  What's not to love.

The main difference between Mexican-style candied sweet potatoes & all other American-regional candied sweet potatoes is...

The catering team was a Texican-American man and a woman who hailed from the Yucatan Peninsula. The camotes enmielados, or Mexican-style candied sweet potatoes, were remarkable.  My friend and mother-of-the-bride was kind enough request the recipe details on my behalf. Interestingly, the method is not that different from making Southern-style or any type of candied sweet potatoes -- even the spices (sans the earthy cumin and spicy cayenne) are similar.

... Piloncillo (or Panela) -- Mexican brown cane-sugar cones.

IMG_0331I was pleasantly surprised to find them on the shelves of my grocery store. As it turns out, piloncillo is a brown form of Mexican sugar known for its strong molasses flavor (which comes from the sugar being left unrefined, not from adding molasses).  In Mexican cuisine, it's used in recipes that are enhanced by a strong molasses flavor (beverages, gingerbread, flan, etc.). Sometimes sold in bricks, it's mostly packed in 2-, 4- or 8-ounce cones, but, if you can't find piloncillo, dark brown sugar may be substituted. That said, recipes using piloncello are always weight specific, so substitute brown sugar accordingly.

For this Southwestern version of Mexican candied sweet potatoes:

IMG_03422 1/2-3  pounds orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, ends trimmed, cut into 1 1/2"-thick discs

1  8-ounce piloncillo cone

1  cup water

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon ground cayenne pepper, more or less, for heat, to taste

IMG_0349 IMG_0349 IMG_0349 IMG_0349 IMG_0349~Step 1.  Rinse the potatoes under cold water to remove any grit.  Trim off the woody ends, then, slice the potatoes into 1 1/2"-thick discs.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, place the water and all spices.  Add the sweet potato discs (it is ok to stack them in two layers) and the whole piloncillo cone, making certain the piloncillo cone makes contact with the water.  

IMG_0363 IMG_0363 IMG_0363 IMG_0363~Step 2.  Cover pan.  Bring water to a rapid simmer over medium- medium-high heat. Adjust (lower) heat to a gentle but steady simmer and continue to cook for 30 minutes. Remove lid. Insert the tines of a fork into the tops of one or two of the potatoes.  If the lid has remained on the pan throughout the entire cooking process, the potatoes will be be steamed-through and tender to their centers, and, the piloncillo cone will be completely dissolved.  Turn the heat off.  Using a slotted spatula, transfer the potatoes from the sugary-liquid to a shallow serving bowl.

IMG_0377 IMG_0377 IMG_0377~Step 3.  Return the sugary-liquid, which is still quite thin, to a steady simmer and cook, uncovered, 5-6 minutes, to thicken to the consistency of maple syrup.  Remove from heat and drizzle the syrup over the sweet potatoes.  Serve ASAP with grilled chicken, pork chops or blade steaks, or, pulled pork.

Serve w/grilled poultry or porcine & watch the crowd to go wild:

IMG_0395Spicy Southwestern-Style Candied Sweet Potatoes:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

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

IMG_0277Cook's Note:  Anything a Russet potato can do, a sweet potato can do better.  Put a baked sweet potato on a plate and I require little else. On occasion, I microwave-bake one for me, to eat in place of dinner -- a pat or three of butter, a grind or two of sea salt and peppercorn blend, tick-tock, I'm fed.  This applies to twice-baked potatoes too, and, for another year-round sweet potato treat, you should try my recipe for ~ Twice-Baked Fully-Loaded Texican Sweet Potatoes ~.

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

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

03/31/2019

~ Twice-Baked Fully-Loaded Texican Sweet Potatoes ~

IMG_0277In my food world, as far as I'm concerned, anything a Russet potato can do, a sweet potato can do better. Put a baked sweet potato on my plate and I require little else.  Truth told, on occasion, I microwave-bake one just for me, to eat in place of dinner -- a pat or three of butter, a grind or two of sea salt and peppercorn blend, tick-tock, I'm fed.  I love sweet potatoes, and, when it comes to baked potatoes, I will always choose a creamy sweet potato over a fluffy Russet potato.

For me, as recent as three decades ago, sweet potatoes were reserved for Thanksgiving dinner. We had three boys and during the '80's and into the '90's, the Russet ruled the roost.  If Joe was grilling steaks for dinner, my twice-fried French-fries or twice-baked potatoes, loaded with bacon, cheddar and broccoli, were our family's favorite side dishes.  That said, when Joe was traveling, every now and then I'd make the kids twice-baked taco taters, loaded with cheddar, American-style ground-beef taco meat topped with sour cream and salsa, for dinner. 

Making twice-baked potatoes is a method, not an exact recipe.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08596ffe970dA twice baked potato is exactly what the name implies:  It's a potato that gets baked in the oven twice.  After the first bake, the potato is sliced in half and the light, fluffy soft-center is carefully scooped out, leaving the shell/the potato skin undamaged. The cooked center is then mashed, mashed-potato-style, with butter, salt, pepper and/or various seasonings and creamy options like sour cream, yogurt and/or cream cheese.  Then the fun begins:

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a014be200dAdd-ins, absolutely anything you want, usually family-friendly favorites (like the combination of bits of crispy chopped bacon and blanched chopped broccoli topped with shredded cheddar cheese in photo above), get folded in.  The flavor-packed potato mixture is scooped back into the the potato skins and baked a second time, which makes the skin crispy and melts the cheese on top -- they're the Rolls Royce of the baked-potato world.  For me, anything a Russet potato can do, a sweet potato can do better, except for one thing:

When baking or twice-baking sweet potatoes, because the tough sweet potato skin is a less than desirable eating experience, there is no reason to take the time to roast them in the oven -- the microwave does it in half the time.  That said, the reverse is true for Russets -- when oven-roasted correctly, they emerge with a crispy, edible skin, which the microwave cannot achieve.

An inconvenient truth:  A sweet potato is not a yam.

IMG_8026A bit about sweet potatoes:  Sweet potatoes were first introduced to North America when Columbus brought them over from the island of St. Thomas, where this large edible root (which belongs to the morning-glory family) is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.  There are many varieties of sweet potato, but the two most widely grown commercially are a pale sweet potato and a dark-skinned variety Americans erroneously call "yam" (the true yam is not even related to the sweet potato).  The pale potato has a thin, light yellow skin and pale yellow flesh. Its flavor is not sweet, and, after being cooked, the pale sweet potato is dry and crumbly, similar to that of a Russet potato. The darker variety (pictured above) has a thicker, dark-orange skin and vivid-orange, sweet flesh.  When cooked it has a very sweet flavor and a creamy texture. The dark-skinned, orange-colored variety is the only kind I use in my recipes.

IMG_5635When buying sweet potatoes, choose plump, firm even-sized ones with no cracks. Like regular potatoes they should never be stored in the refrigerator, but do need to be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place. If the temperature is above 60 degrees, they'll begin to sprout, get woody and/or shriveled.  Cooked sweet potatoes, if stored in the refrigerator, last about a week.  Like regular potatoes, sweet potates are always eaten cooked, never raw.

My recipe = cheese on the bottom & top of the filling.

Great twice-baked potatoes or twice-baked sweet potatoes are not pot-luck or a place to throw your leftovers -- they are usually very-well conceived.  I've tasted a lot of creative versions and the best combinations always contain some type of cooked meat, poultry or porcine, a vegetable or two, and, grated cheese.  That said, I've never tasted a low-calorie or low-fat version of a twice-baked potato that had a purpose.  Who in the world counts calories when eating these?

IMG_0224For 6-8 twice-baked fully-loaded sweet potatoes:

6-8  large 15-16-ounce sweet potatoes

6-8  ounces finely-shredded Mexican cheese blend

6-8  ounces queso blanco or queso fresco cheese, minced or crumbled

4  cups chorizo sausage filling, prepared as directed below:

IMG_0191For 4 cups chorizo sausage filling:

3/4-1  pound Mexican-chorizo sausage

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

1/2-3/4  cup minced, fresh cilantro

3/4-1  cup rinsed and well-drained black beans (half a 15-ounce can)

3/4-1  cup well-drained sweet corn kernels (half a 15-ounce can)

IMG_0270For the accompaniments (about 1 tablespoon each per potato) and final garnish:

1/2  cup Mexican crema or sour cream

1/2  cup avocado crema or guacamole

1/2  cup pico de gallo or salsa fresca

minced cilantro leaves or thinly-sliced scallion tops, for garnish

IMG_0226 IMG_0226 IMG_0226~Step 1.  To microwave-bake sweet potatoes, use the tines of a fork to prick the skin of their tops in several (5-6) spots.  Arrange potatoes, side-by-side on a microwave-safe plate and cook, as per the instruction booklet of your microwave.  My GE Advantium oven bakes four potatoes at a time, according to size and weight (small, medium or large).  Today's potatoes should be done in 18 1/2 minutes.  If they are not, I will finish cook them on express (high) in 1 1/2-2 minute increments until they are.  

IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194 IMG_0194~Step 2.  To make the chorizo sausage filling, place sausage in a 10" nonstick skillet and use a nonstick spatula to break it up into rough pieces.  Add the scallions and cilantro.  Adjust heat under skillet to medium- medium-high and gently sauté until sausage is just cooked through, 5-6 minutes, continuing to use the spatula to break sausage up into small bits and pieces as it cooks. Add and stir in the black beans and corn, and continue to cook, 1 more minute.  Remove from heat and transfer chorizo sausage filling to a paper-towel-lined plate to thoroughly drain.

IMG_0234 IMG_0234 IMG_0234 IMG_0234 IMG_0234 IMG_0234~Step 3.  Remove potatoes from microwave and set aside 5-10 minutes to cool slightly.  At a slight angle, vertical-slice the left and right ends down to within 1/4" of bottom of potato.  Horizontal-slice through the middle of the potato down to within 1/4" of bottom.  Use a fork to loosen and fluff the tender interior.  Using your fingertips, sprinkle 3-4 tablespoons of Mexican cheese blend into the cavity, followed by a generous 1/2 cup of the sausage filling, followed by about 2 tablespoons of the queso fresco cheese.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and return to microwave to express cook 30-60 seconds.  Serve immediately.

Serve ASAP (w/guacamole, crema & salsa fresca): 

IMG_0304Don't wait or hesitate -- Stick a fork in it & dig in:

IMG_0322Twice-Baked Fully-Loaded Texican Sweet Potatoes:  Recipe yields 6-8 large, hearty, main-course, what's-for-dinner servings.

Special Equipment List:  fork; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula; paper towels; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3c11477200bCook's Note:  Sweet potatoes are a fantastic substitution for Russets in potato- or baked-potato- soup too. That said, when it comes to sweet potato soup, think "savory soup" not "sweet dessert" and season accordingly. Sweet potato soup needs no sugar, brown sugar or honey -- sweet potatoes are full of flavor, texture and are naturally sweet. When served as a savory starter to a meal -- no cinnamon or nutmeg please.  Herbes de Provence, cracked black pepper and a kiss of fresh rosemary does it all.

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

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

03/28/2019

~Mexican Chorizo Sausage & Scrambled Egg Burrito~

IMG_0110If hearty, protein-packed eating is the perfect start to the day, Texicans make the best breakfasts. While I occasionally enjoy a steak-and-egg omelette, serve me a Ham-Packed Denver Omelette instead and I'm doin' a happy dance.  Porcine (bacon, sausage and ham) have always been at the top of my what-meat-to-eat-with-my-AM-eggs list, and, I'm here to tell you, Mexican-chorizo is quickly becoming my new muse.  If like me, you enjoy a bit of huevos rancheros or chorizo con huevos kinda heat to start your day, this type of chorizo has cha-cha-cha.

IMG_0031It's worth mention that aside from the bright-to-tawny red color, Mexican chorizo and Spanish chorizo are not the same, so, purchase with precision.  Mexican chorizo is a fresh, ground-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold loose or in a casing, it is raw and must be cooked before eating it. Spanish chorizo is a dried and fully-cured or semi-cured chopped-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold in a casing, fully-cured is fully-cooked and can be eaten as is, while semi-cured requires cooking prior to eating.

The chorizo con huevos "hearty hangover breakfast burrito"...

IMG_0109I'm not touting this one as traditional, I'm touting it as fantastic. Traditionally, fried chorizo sausage crumbles get doused with a scrambled egg mixture and the two are served as one, as a scrambled egg breakfast -- Chorizo con Huevos (Mexican Sausage Scrambled Eggs) is a traditional Mexican breakfast.  It's commonly served with some refried beans and/or rice along with a soft-flour- or pliable-corn- tortilla, but, that's the extent of the fanfare.  I won't lie, it wasn't my eggstraordinary idea to roll these scrambled eggs up in a refried-bean-and-cheese-lined flour tortilla to serve burrito-style with a drizzle of warm queso and cool salsa.  My pub-owning friend Toni (Antoinette), a Mexican-American gal from San Antonio, TX, created it as her signature "hearty-hangover breakfast-burrito" which, once on her menu, was soon available all day long.

... is not traditional, but it's fantastic, &, it's how I serve it.

IMG_0034For 2 servings Mexican sausage and scrambled eggs:

1/3  pound ground Mexican chorizo sausage (roughly 5-5 1/2 ounces)

6  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions

3  tablespoons minced cilantro

3  jumbo eggs 

3  tablespoons milk

1/8  teaspoon salt

IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 ~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk together eggs, milk and salt.  Set aside.  Place the sausage in an 8" nonstick skillet along with scallions and cilantro.  Cook over medium- medium-high heat until sausage is cooked through, about 5-6 minutes, using a nonstick spatula to break sausage up into small bits and pieces as it cooks.  

IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052 IMG_0052~Step 2.  When the sausage is cooked through pour egg mixture over sausage mixture, then use the spatula to scramble the eggs into the sausage. Remove from heat, cover skillet and set aside while prepping the burrito as directed.  These scrambled eggs, on their own without the beans, cheese and flour tortilla are eggstraordinary.

IMG_0071For two chorizo con huevos breakfast burritos:

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

1  cup creamy-style refried beans

1 1/2  cups finely-shredded Mexican-style cheddar-Jack cheese blend

all of the chorizo con huevos (scrambled eggs), divided into two portions, from above recipe

For the recommended accompaniments and/or garnish options:

warm chile con queso (or store-bought salsa con queso) and cold pico de gallo (or store-bought salsa fresca), Mexican crema (or sour cream) and/or avocado crema (or guacamole), and, thinly-sliced scallion tops and/or cilantro leaves 

IMG_0073 IMG_0073 IMG_0073 IMG_0073~Step 1.  To assemble first burrito, place one tortilla on a plate or flat work surface.  Using a butter knife, distribute half the refried beans evenly over surface  Sprinkle half the shredded cheese evenly over surface.  Spoon and mound half the still-warm but not steaming-hot scrambled eggs, in a tubular shape, in the center of the tortilla.  Repeat this process with the second burrito.

IMG_0093 IMG_0093 IMG_0093~Step 2.  To wrap each burrito, lift side closest to you up and over top enough to tuck the end under the eggs 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.  To finish-cook burritos, wrap in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and heat 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 cheese.

I'm not here to compete (w/other recipes), I'm just here to eat:

IMG_0129Try Chorizo con Huevos (Mexican Sausage & Scrambled Eggs):

IMG_0157Mexican Chorizo Sausage & Scrambled Egg Burrito:  Recipe yields instructions to make 2 large burritos/2 large servings or 4 smaller servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 8" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula; butter-type knife; plastic wrap; serrated bread knife

IMG_9652Cook's Note: ~ Spicy and Cheesy Breakfast-for-Dinner Scrambled-Egg Quesadillas ~.  Put a plate of these on the table any time of day and you'll have 'em eating out of your hand. They've got everything anyone could want in terms of Tex-Mex flavor and texture. Creamy refried beans, gooey cheddar-Jack cheese, and, Sriracha- cilantro- and scallion-laced scrambled eggs between crisp-tender flour tortillas. Top with pico de gallo, Mexican crema and/or guacamole -- who could possible ask for more? 

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

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

03/25/2019

~ Chorizo con Huevos -- Mexican Sausage and Eggs ~

IMG_0144Porcine (bacon, sausage and ham) have always been at the top of my what-meat-to-eat-with-my-AM-eggs list, and, I'm here say, Mexican-chorizo is quickly becoming my new muse.  Chorizo con huevos, a Mexican sausage and scramble egg breakfast staple, is as delightful to eat as it is easy-to-prepare. Traditionally, fried chorizo crumbles get doused with a scrambled egg mixture and the two are served as one, as a protein-packed scrambled egg breakfast.  It's commonly served with some Mexican adobo rice, refried beans, and, soft flour or pliable corn tortillas. That's the extent of the fanfare.  It's simple, straightforward, slightly spicy, and, seriously filling.

IMG_0031It's worth mention that aside from the bright-to-tawny red color, Mexican chorizo and Spanish chorizo are not the same, so purchase with precision.  Mexican chorizo is a fresh, ground-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold loose or in a casing, it is raw and must be cooked before eating it. Spanish chorizo is a dried and fully-cured or semi-cured chopped-pork sausage with spices added, ranging from mild to spicy -- sold in a casing, fully-cured is fully-cooked and can be eaten as is, while semi-cured requires cooking prior to eating.

Chorizo con Huevos (Mexican sausage & eggs) for two:

6a0120a8551282970b01bb086c5071970dI'm preparing two servings today, but, by simply doubling or tripling, etc. the recipe, and increasing the size of the skillet accordingly, it serves a crowd as quickly as it feeds two. Having made it for my tailgate group, when served with rice, beans and tortillas, I can tell you with certainty that six times the recipe (do the math), if prepared in a 16" electric skillet will easily feed twelve.

IMG_0034For 2 servings Mexican sausage and scrambled eggs:

1/3  pound ground Mexican chorizo sausage (roughly 5-5 1/2 ounces)

6  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions

3  tablespoons minced cilantro

3  jumbo eggs 

3  tablespoons milk

1/8  teaspoon salt

IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039 IMG_0039~Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to whisk eggs, milk and salt.  Set aside.  Place sausage in an 8" nonstick skillet along with scallions and cilantro.  Cook over medium- medium-high heat until sausage is cooked, 5-6 minutes, using a nonstick spatula to break sausage up into small bits and pieces as it cooks.

IMG_0050 IMG_0050 IMG_0050 IMG_0050 IMG_0050 IMG_0050

~Step 2.  When the sausage is cooked through pour egg mixture over sausage mixture, then use the spatula to scramble the eggs into the sausage. Remove from heat and serve with Mexican-style rice, refried beans and soft flour or corn tortillas.

If hearty, protein-packed eating is the perfect start to the day...

IMG_0157... Mexicans & Texicans make the best breakfasts.

IMG_0172Try my Mexican Chorizo Sausage & Scrambled Egg Burrito too:

IMG_0110Chorizo con Huevos -- Mexican Sausage and Eggs:  Recipe yields 1 large or 2 small servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 8" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0240a44b3164200cCook's Note: ~ Spicy and Cheesy Breakfast-for-Dinner Scrambled-Egg Quesadillas ~.  Put a plate of these on the table any time of day and you'll have 'em eating out of your hand. They've got everything anyone could want in terms of Tex-Mex flavor and texture. Creamy refried beans, gooey cheddar-Jack cheese, and, Sriracha- cilantro- and scallion-laced scrambled eggs between crisp-tender flour tortillas. Top with pico de gallo, Mexican crema and/or guacamole -- who could possible ask for more?

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

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

03/22/2019

~ My Brown-Sugar-Crusted Corned Beef Sandwiches ~

IMG_0013Everyone I know associates corned beef and cabbage with St. Patrick's Day, but, tick-tock, I'd rather show up a day or two later for a corned beef sandwich.  Truth told, Joe and I like corned beef sandwiches enough for me to buy corned beef a few times a year.   That said, I typically don't serve them Rueben-style (with the 'kraut).  We two prefer to eat ours made grilled-cheese-style with a big scoop of Russian- or Thousand Islands-dressed potato salad or cole slaw to the side.  Having made Rachel sandwiches for our green-for-a-day holiday, I was thrilled to find corned beef BOGO'd yesterday because I knew what dinner and this blog post was going to be.

Meet my amazing sugar-crusted corned beef brisket:

IMG_9995What does "corned" mean & what is a corned beef brisket?

6a0120a8551282970b0147e2f8418d970bA bit about corned beef:  Corned beef is beef brisket that has been brine-cured in a solution of salt and water typically used for pickling or preserving food.  Brisket is the cut of beef taken from the breast section under the first five ribs.  It is sold without the bone and divided into two sections.  The flat-cut has minimal fat and is more expensive than the more flavorful point-cut. 

Brisket requires long, slow cooking and is best when braised.  The term "corned" comes from the English use of the verb "corn", meaning: a process in which small particles, such as grains of salt have been added to liquid.  Two types of corned beef are available and depend upon the butcher and/or the region.  Old-fashioned corned beef is grayish-pink in color and very salty.  New-style, the kind that is vacuum-sealed that most of us purchase, has less salt and is a bright rosy red.

Cooking corned beef in any slow cooker works great, but: 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3b31910200bMeet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 6a0120a8551282970b022ad393e564200d 22" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vessel for cooking two corned beef briskets, side-by-side and in a single layer, to cook evenly, in comfort -- spa-style -- I love it when I trust my gut, as it worked beautifully.  There's more:

At about $45.00, it wasn't that big of an investment.  The crock is the shape of a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole, with the inside bottom dimensions of the crock being approximately 11" x 7" x 3".

Making Corned Beef in Crockpot's Casserole Crock:

IMG_99491  cup water

2  3 1/2-4-pound flat- or point-cut corned beef

1 1/2  cups diced yellow or sweet onion

3/4  teaspoon ground allspice

2  whole bay leaves

1/2  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4  cup dark brown sugar

1  28-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 1/2-3  cups additional dark brown sugar, for finishing under broiler

IMG_9954 IMG_9954 IMG_9954 IMG_9954 IMG_9954 IMG_9954~Step 1.  Remove brisket from package (discard seasoning packet) and rinse meat under cold water.  Spray inside of Crockpot casserole with no-stick cooking spray, add 1 cup water to the crock, then, place the corned beef, side-by-side without overlapping, in bottom.  Distribute and scatter the onions, all of the spices, the brown sugar and the crushed tomatoes on top of the two roasts.  Cover and cook on high for four hours.

IMG_9973 IMG_9973 IMG_9973 IMG_9973 IMG_9986 IMG_9991 2~Step 2.  Uncover the crock.  Using a fork and the aid of a spatula, carefully flip the meat over.  Put the lid back on and continue to cook on high for two more hours.  Turn the crockpot off.  Using the fork and spatula, carefully transfer each brisket to a plate to cool slightly, about 10 minutes. Spoon 3/4-1 cup brown sugar over the surface of each brisket*, then, use your fingertips to pat and press it down to form a thin coating over the surface. 

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c771f1cd970b~ Step 3.  Place each sugar-crusted brisket on a rack in a 13" x 9" x 2" casserole containing about 1/4" tepid tap water in its bottom.  

Note:  Adding the water to the bottom of the casserole will prevent any melting sugar that drips to the bottom of the dish from smoking or burning on contact, which in turn makes cleanup a lot easier.  

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c771f220970b~ Step 4.  Place one or both casseroles* on center rack of 350º oven until sugar is bubbling and golden, 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and rest, uncovered, about 15 minutes, to allow the sugar to harden and form a crunchy crust.

*Note:  I sugar-crust and bake one, storing the uncrusted one in the refrigerator to use later or freeze.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0fbf417970c~Step 5.  After the meat has rested, carve the corned beef by first slicing it in half, with the grain (which keeps it from falling apart), to form two easier-to-manage pieces.  Next slice each half, as thick or thin as you like it, cutting it against the grain (which gives it a shred-y kind-of falling-apart texture). Serve it warm, at room temperature or even cold:  It's fantastic.  To make the sandwiches:

IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_0003 IMG_0003 IMG_0003~Step 6. For each sandwich, cut 2 slices of rye, pumpernickel or swirl bread in half to form 4 pieces.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over low heat.  Add bread to skillet and immediately top each half-slice with 2-3 very-thin slices Lacey Swiss cheese per half-slice.  Increase heat to medium-low, to slowly grill the bread on the bottom and melt the cheese on the top, about 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Remove skillet from heat or turn the heat off.  Heap thinly-sliced sugar-crusted corned beef atop two halves, top with the remaining two half-slices of cheese-topped bread and serve.

Serve ASAP w/Russian-dressed potato salad & pickles:

IMG_0020My Brown-Sugar-Crusted Corned Beef Sandwiches:  Recipe yields 2 corned beef briskets, and, enough meat to make 4-6 thick, hearty sandwiches per brisket.

Special Equipment List:  fork; spatula; Crockpot casserole; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1be3dad970cCook's Note: I never make just one corned beef brisket.  Simply stated: It is 100% counter-productive. While I can make two in my crockpot casserole, in one big pot, in three hours, I can make three:  one to eat that day, one for sandwiches during the week, and, one to cube and freeze in 3, 1-pound packages, which, is enough to make 3 hearty corned beef hash breakfasts. Check out my recipe for ~ The Lazy Lady's Corned Beef Hash ~.

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

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

03/20/2019

~ Russian or Thousand Islands Potato Salad or Slaw ~

IMG_9940Tick, tock.  The Summer season is fast approaching and once we Americans fire up our outdoor grills, we'll be faced with more reasons than we can count to whip up a big bowl of the family's favorite tried-and-true mayonnaise-based potato and egg salad or creamy-crunchy coleslaw. That said, because one can never have too many variations on potato salad or coleslaw, consider dressing either of them with spicy Russian- or sweet Thousand Islands- dressing.

Your preference is your choice -- swap 'em out as you please:

IMG_9934For 5 cups Russian or Thousand-Islands-dressed potato salad or coleslaw:

5-6 medium-large Russet potatoes, baked in the microwave until fork-tender, cooled, peeled and 1/2"-3/4" diced, or, 1 16-ounce bag store-bought coleslaw mix

4  ounces diced celery or matchstick carrots (celery for potato salad/carrots for coleslaw)

3/4-1  cup diced red onion, for either potato salad or coleslaw, add to both

1-1 1/2  cups Russian or Thousand Islands salad dressing, preferably homemade as per either of my recipes (Note:  Be wary of substituting even high-quality store-bought dressings as they vary greatly in taste and consistency.  Ken's SteakHouse is the brand I recommend.)

IMG_9944~Step 1.  Place the diced potatoes (or slaw mix), and, celery (or carrots), along with 1 cup onion and 1 cup dressing-of-choice in a large bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine. Add additional dressing in small increments until desired consistency is reached. Transfer to a 2-quart size food-storage container, cover and refrigerate 4-6 hours or overnight (overnight it best). This simple formula makes 5-6 cups of potato salad or coleslaw relatively quickly.

Note:  Use this dressing-to-ingredients ratio as a guideline.  Do you like diced bell peppers in your coleslaw?  How about chopped hard-cooked egg in your potato salad?  If so, add whatever you like, just know you'll need a bit of extra dressing in order to coat any extra add-in ingredients.

Whether it's Russian or Thousand Islands, either makes... 

IMG_9913... a great side-dish to my Rueben or a classic Rueben...

IMG_0030... & a fantastic topper for a Rachel-My-Way sandwich.

IMG_9857Russian or Thousand Islands Potato Salad or Slaw:  Recipe yields 5-6 cups potato salad or coleslaw.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d495a2970cCook's Note: In the Greater New York area, a sloppy Joe is a different sandwich than what the rest of us have stereotyped in our minds.  It is a very large, layered sandwich, containing three slices of bread (usually rye and/or pumpernickel), two or three varieties of paper-thin sliced deli-meat, cheese and Russian or Thousand Island dressing.  ~ Another Sloppy Joe? There is one?  You Betcha! ~.  It always comes with a side-serving of potato salad or coleslaw too.

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

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

03/17/2019

~ Green-for-the-Day Pistachio Pudding Bundt Cake ~

IMG_9541A green cake is not something one sees everyday, but, a green cake would obviously be an ideal dessert to serve for your St. Patrick's Day celebration.  That said, this recipe came into my life for a very different celebration -- my bridal shower.  My (now retro) signature color was a pale shade of prissy avocado green.  A close friend of my mother offered to bake the cakes -- three, three-layer cakes decoratively slathered with a lovely shade of pastel-green frosting presented on three graduated-height cake pedestals.  Agnes loved to bake and was a wonderful baker.

Use a boxed cake mix?  In the case of this cake -- you betcha.

IMG_9549The cakes tasted as good as they looked, and, a few weeks later, in August, for my 21st birthday, my mom to asked Agnes to bake the same cake, as, the peridot, my birthstone, is also a similar green color.  As it turns out, Agnes was headed to Florida to visit her sister (meaning she couldn't bake the cake), so, she gave my mom the recipe, which, surprisingly used a boxed cake mix. Agnes explained, "You can't make this cake from scratch, it just doesn't come out the same."

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d11b9142970c 6a0120a8551282970b01bb07e5756c970dAgnes was correct.  I tried transitioning this recipe into my recipes for double-vanilla cake or cupcakes, and, sweet cream sheet cake, and, it doesn't come out the same.  As for the flavorings, both cakes tasted great, but, the pudding alters their density, which is why baking is considered a science, and, why you are getting a recipe using a boxed cake mix from me.  As my grandmother said often, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  Simply enjoy this easy cake recipe just as it is.

It can't be made from scratch -- it won't come out the same.

IMG_9444For the cake

1  15.25-ounce Duncan-Hines classic yellow boxed cake mix

1  3.4-ounce package Jell-O instant pistachio pudding

4  large eggs

1/4  cup vegetable oil

2  teaspoons pure pistachio extract

1  teaspoon pure almond extract

1 1/4  cups water

2  drops green food coloring (optional)

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing bundt pan

IMG_9446 IMG_9446 IMG_9446 IMG_9446 IMG_9446~Step 1.  In a large bowl, place the dry cake mix and instant pudding. Add the eggs, oil and extracts.  Add the water followed by the optional food coloring (because of the pudding, the cake will still be a pale green without the food coloring).  Over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, beat the mixture until thick and smooth, about 2 minutes.

IMG_9460 IMG_9460 IMG_9460~Step 2.  Transfer batter to a bundt pan prepared with no-stick cooking spray. Bake on center rack of 325º oven 50-55 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in several spots comes out clean.  Remove cake from oven and cool, in pan, 15-20 minutes, prior to inverting onto rack to cool completely, about 2 hours.

IMG_9484For the cream-cheese drizzle:

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

2  cups Confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons pure pistachio extract

1  teaspoon pure almond extract

1  drop green food coloring

2  tablespoons milk, plus 1-2 teaspoons more, if necessary

1/4  cup lightly-toasted and finely-ground pistachios

IMG_9487 IMG_9487 IMG_9492 IMG_9492~Step 1.  In work bowl of mini-food processor, grind the pistachios and set aside.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, place all the remaining ingredients:  the cream cheese, Confectioners' sugar, extracts, food coloring and 2 tablespoons milk.  With motor running, process until smooth, scraping down the sides of the work bowl with a rubber spatula once or twice during the process.  Process in additional milk, by teaspoonfuls, to reach desired drizzly consistency.

IMG_9496 IMG_9496~ Step 2.  Transfer the drizzly glaze to a 1-cup measuring container with a pourer spout or into a plastic squeeze bottle/condiment dispenser.  Using a slow back and forth motion, drizzle all of the glaze evenly over the top of the cake.  While the glaze is still shiny and wet, sprinkle the nuts evenly over the top.

Slice & serve for any occasion requiring a green dessert:

IMG_9508St. Patricks's Day, a bridal or baby shower, or, an August birthday:

IMG_9536Green-for-the-Day Pistachio Pudding Bundt Cake:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; rubber spatula; 12-cup bundt pan; cake tester; wire cooling rack; mini-food processor; food processor

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8dffe67970bCook's Note: For a few of my St. Patrick's Day celebratory main-dish meals, allow me to suggest you try my: ~ Easy Cottage Pie (Beef) & Shepherd's Pie (Lamb) ~, ~ Brown Sugar Crusted Corned Beef Sandwiches ~, or, ~ Another Crockpot Corned Beef & Cabbage Recipe ~.  That said, whatever you choose to serve, be sure to serve it with ~ Irish Eyes are Smilin' on Mary's Irish Soda Bread ~ slathered with  Irish butter.

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

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

03/15/2019

~ The Secret's in the Slaw Rachel-on-Rye Sandwich ~

IMG_9857I crave a Reuben sandwich once or twice a year.  The Rachel sandwich, on the other hand, is: standard operating procedure in my kitchen.  My refrigerator is rarely without some super-thin sliced deli turkey breast and/or pastrami, and, my favorite Lacey Swiss cheese -- it often has a container of semi-homemade or deli-style coleslaw in it too.  That means, with a slice or two of lightly-toasted Jewish-style rye bread, a Racheal sandwich is only a few short minutes away.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed603d970dWhen I crave a Reuben sandwich, I'm more inclined to make one or all of the components from scratch: bake a loaf of homemade bread-machine rye bread, slow-cook a crockpot corned beef, stovetop-simmer sauerkraut, and, stir together some Russian or Thousand Islands salad dressing. It's a production, but, because I don't live anywhere close to a NY-style deli that can begin to make this sandwich the way I like it, a girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do.

The Lovely Rachel-on-Rye made-my-way to make-my-day... 

IMG_9865 2When I crave a Rachel Sandwich, on the occasions when I have some leftover perfectly-roasted turkey breast, I use it.  That said, high-quality deli-style turkey breast and/or pastrami is no compromise. And, after shopping the deli-counter, I reach for a bag of slaw mix instead of a container of prepared coleslaw. Why?  When I'm planning on lunching on Rachels for the week, instead of using my five-minutes-to-make Russian or Thousand Islands dressing as a spread for the bread, I use it to dress the slaw instead -- and it is amazing.

... the secret's in the slaw & it's amazing.

IMG_9805For each Rachel-my-way sandwich:

2  slices Jewish-rye bread, deli-swirl bread may be substituted

2  tablespoons salted butter

4  thin slices Lacey Swiss cheese

8 thin-slices pastrami

8 thin-slices turkey breast

2/3  cup creamy Russian- or Thousand Islands-dressed coleslaw, from recipe below, or your favorite deli-style slaw

IMG_9787For a weeks worth of coleslaw (Note:  I'm using Russing dressing today, but use Thousand Islands all the time too.  Both are great.):

1  16-ounce bag coleslaw mix

4  ounces matchstick carrots

1-1 1/2  cups Russian or Thousand Islands salad dressing, preferably homemade as per either of my recipes (Note:  Be wary of substituting even high-quality store-bought dressings as they vary greatly in taste and consistency.  Ken's SteakHouse is a good one, but it pales in comparison to my own Russian dressing.)

IMG_9788 IMG_9788 IMG_9788 IMG_9788 IMG_9788~Step 1.  Place slaw mix, carrots and 1 cup of the dressing in a large bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, thoroughly combine.  Add additional dressing in small increments until desired consistency is reached. Transfer to a 2-quart size food-storage container, cover and refrigerate 4-6 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best. Recipe yields 5 cups.

IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811 IMG_9811~Step 2.  Cut the 2 slices of bread in half to form 4 pieces.  In a 10" nonstick skillet, melt the butter over low heat.  Add bread to skillet and increase heat to medium-high, to gently grill, until slices are light golden on both sides, 45-60 seconds per side.  Transfer the lightly-toasted bread to a toaster-oven sized disposable aluminum broiler pan.

IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9826 IMG_9841~Step 3.  Top each of two halves with one large slice of Swiss cheese (folded in half to fit the bread).  Place two folded slices pastrami atop the cheese.  Place four folded slices turkey breast atop the pastrami, followed by one more large folded-in-half slice of Swiss atop the pastrami. Top with the remaining two half slices of lightly-grilled rye bread, to form two half sandwiches.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven or toaster oven, until cheese is melted and bubbly, about 6 minutes.  Remove from oven, lift the top slice of bread from each half sandwich and top each half with about 1/3 cup of coleslaw.  Serve immediately accompanied by potato chips and or pickles.

Top with slaw & eat as soon as you can wrap a hand around it:

IMG_9883The Secret's in the Slaw Rachel-on-Rye Sandwich:  Recipe yields instructions to build 1 deli-style sandwich/1-2 servings.

Special Equipment List:  large rubber spatula; 1-cup measuring container; large rubber spatula; 2-quart size food storage container w/lid; cutting board; chef's knife; 10" nonstick skillet; nonstick spatula; toaster-oven-sized disposable aluminum broiler pan (the kind with the corrugated bottom)

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d495a2970cCook's Note: In the Greater New York area, also know as the Tri-State Area a sloppy Joe is a completely different sandwich than what the rest of us have stereotyped in our minds.  It is a very large, layered sandwich, containing three slices of bread (usually rye and/or pumpernickel), two or three varieties of paper-thin sliced deli-meat, cheese and a dressing such as Russian or Thousand Island.  ~ Another Sloppy Joe?  There is one?  You Betcha! ~.

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

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

03/12/2019

~Russian Dressing & How it Differs from 1000 Islands~

IMG_9913It's almost understandable why most home cooks don't know what the difference between Russian and Thousand Islands dressing is, but, it's head-scratchingly odd that many restaurant chefs don't.  Truth told, when I order a Rueben or a Rachel sandwich, one dressing or the other, whichever is offered, will do nicely -- they're both favorites of mine.  That said, when a menu states Russian dressing, I expect Russian dressing and vice versa.  These two condiments, while they can be used interchangeably as a matter of preference, are not interchangeable.

While Russian dressing is not Russian, it is a compilation of ingredients very common to the cuisine of Russia.

In my food world, the most pronounced difference between the two is huge: Russian dressing contains horseradish (no surprise if you're familiar with Russian cuisine). When was the last time your Thousand Islands dressing tasted of horseradish?  Never, and if it did, it was Russian dressing.  Next, Russian dressing contains paprika (again, no surprise) . When was the last time your lemony-sweet Thousand Islands dressing had a spicy-earthy edge to it?  Never, and if it did, it was Russian dressing.  Past those two differences, the two are quite similar, right down to their mayo-base, the use of a tomato product, pickles or pickle relish, and, some optional hard-cooked egg (every single ingredient on this list is common to everyday, run-of-the-mill Russian cooking).

Russian dressing requires horseradish & paprika.

IMG_9768Both dressings are all-American early-1900's condiments with Russian dressing coming along prior to Thousand Islands (and being sold commercially since 1910).  There's no doubt in my mind the creator of Thousand Island dressing knew he or she was concocting a spin-off of Russian dressing.  That said, Russian dressing has been seemingly tossed aside in favor of its sweeter counterpart.  It's literally disappearing from menus and supermarkets, while Thousand Islands takes over -- even McDonald's "secret sauce" is undisputedly a variation on the recipe.  The one pictured here in the photo is the best of the few I can find in my supermarket, but, even though it has a spicy edge to it, it doesn't have the requisite horseradish on the ingredients list.

IMG_9889Nowadays, both dressings are used primarily as a sandwich spread, but, I'm here to say either is fantastic in place of the blue cheese dressing on a classic wedge salad.  There's more. Whenever I'm making a Rachel sandwich, which requires cole slaw, instead of using the dressing as a spread for the bread, I use it to dress the slaw instead -- and it is amazing.  That said, a Russian dressing recipe documented in a 1910 catering book recommends it as an alternative to vinaigrette to dress tomatoes, asparagus and other blanched vegetables, and hard-cooked eggs.

The earliest Russian dressing was created by James Colburn, a wholesale grocer of Nashua, NH, in early 1910, and, it's said by some to have originally contained caviar, which was later replaced by pickles to dress a version of the classic Russian Salad Olivier.  That said, by 1914, Colburn was manufacturing and distributing it to retailers and hotels.  Thousand Islands Dressing traces its roots to, and is named for, the upper St. Lawrence River region between the Unites States and Canada.  A few claims to its invention exist, but it's believed to be the creation of a fishing guide's wife, Sophia LaLonde.  It has a romantic history that includes a castle and a heart-shaped island, and, was made famous by Chef Oscar Tschirky of the Waldorf Astoria. The earliest print references to it appear in 1912.

Full-throttle Russian dressing is not for the faint-of-heart.

IMG_97611/2  cup horseradish mayonnaise, the best available, preferably Russian Zakuson brand

2  tablespoons chili sauce, or a bit more, to taste

2  tablespoons sweet pickle relish, or a bit more, to taste

1  teaspoon dehydrated minced onion

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated minced garlic

1/2  teaspoon paprika

1/4  teaspoon turmeric

IMG_9770 IMG_9782~Step 1. Place all of the ingredients in a 2-cup food storage container.  Stir to thoroughly combine the dressing.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, 2-4 hours or overnight.  Overnight is great because it gives the flavors time to marry.

Thousand Islands Dressing is dainty & pretty in pink.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb097cd673970d1  cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup chili sauce, or a bit more, to taste, ketchup may be substituted

1/4 cup sweet pickle relish, or a bit more, to taste

1  hard-cooked egg, white and yolk separated and minced separately (optional)

2  teaspoons Worcestershire sauce, or a bit more, to taste, lemon juice may be substituted

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8d9b4d3970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8d9b4d3970b~Step 1.  Place all of the ingredients in a 2-cup food storage container.  Stir to thoroughly combine the dressing.  Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled, 2-4 hours or overnight.  Overnight is great because it gives the flavors time to marry.

Enjoy Russian- or Thousand Islands- spread on any sandwich...

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed603d970d... most notably, the Rueben (above) or the Rachel (below):

IMG_9865Russian Dressing & How it Differs from 1000 Islands:  Recipe yields 3/4 cup salad dressing/sandwich spread

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2d495a2970cCook's Note:  In the Greater New York area, also know as the Tri-State Area a sloppy Joe is a completely different sandwich than what the rest of us have stereotyped in our minds.  It is a very large, layered sandwich, containing three slices of bread (usually rye and/or pumpernickel), two or three varieties of paper-thin sliced deli-meat, cheese and a dressing such as Russian or Thousand Island.  ~ Another Sloppy Joe?  There is one?  You Betcha! ~

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

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

03/09/2019

~ That's a Wrap: Big Beautiful Chili-Cheese Burritos ~

IMG_9721Inform the family you've got chili simmering on the stovetop -- you won't have to call them twice to the dinner table.  Tell the family you're making chili-cheese burritos for dinner -- you won't have to call them at all.  They'll all be sitting around the table waiting to eat.  Tick, tock.  Once assembled, if individually wrapped in plastic or in aluminum foil, they're great to take to school or the office. They reheat perfectly in the microwave or in the oven, and for tailgate, I reheat the foil-wrapped packets on hot grill grids.  The chili-cheese burrito is how one gets to eat chili in a sandwich.

6a0120a8551282970b0177446bc1ca970dA bit about burritos:  A burrito is a portable sandwich found in Mexican and Tex-Mex cuisine.  It consists of a large flour tortilla that has been wrapped or folded to fully encase a filling. Before serving, it gets lightly-grilled or steamed, to soften the tortilla.  Refried beans, Mexican rice and meat (or a meat mixture) are typically the only fillings used, and, burritos are served unembellished, in order for them to be eaten with the hands.   In Spanish, "burrito" means "little donkey", coming from the word "burro", which means "donkey".  

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

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

Taco-bell-chili-cheese-burritoChili-cheese burrito, it's all in the name:  chili or chili con carne and shredded cheddar cheese encased in a large flour tortilla -- absolutely nothing more, nothing less.  

Back in the 1980's, my kids loved Taco Bell's Chilito (the name was later changed to the Chili-Cheese Burrito when the company became enlightened to the derogatory Spanish definition of the word "chilito" -- an embarrassing marketing blunder to say the least). I found it to be barely palatable.

The chilito and the chili-cheese burrito contained a homogenous mixture of mystery-ground-beef seemingly pressure-cooked in some sort of dry-seasoning-blend mixed with water and hot sauce -- it had the consistency of something one would expect to come out of a can.  Enough said.  If you're one of the many in search of a copycat of their "secret-menu" recipe (even though discontinued, it's said Taco Bell still makes these upon request), you're in the wrong place.

IMG_9756For each chili-cheese burrito:

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

3/4  cup finely-shredded Mexican-style cheddar-Jack cheese blend

2  tablespoons minced, fresh cilantro leaves

2  tablespoons very-thinly sliced scallions

1/2  cup thick* Texas-steak chili or chili con carne

1  tablespoon corn, peanut or vegetable oil

pico de gallo (or salsa fresca), Mexican crema (or sour cream) and/or avocado crema (or guacamole), for accompaniment and/or garnish

* Note:  In order to pick chile-cheese burritos up in your hands to eat them sandwich-style, the chili needs to be thick (not overly juicy or soupy).  If that is the case, stir 1 tablespoon ground restaurant-style corn tortilla chips into every 1 cup warm chili. After a few minutes, the chips will absorb the excess moisture and thicken the chili.  Still soupy?  Add more ground tortilla chips.

IMG_9682 IMG_9682 IMG_9682 IMG_9682 IMG_9682~Step 1.  To assemble each burrito, place one tortilla on a plate or flat work surface.  Sprinkle the shredded cheese evenly over the surface, followed by the cilantro and scallions.  Spoon and mound the chili, cold or slightly-warm but not steaming-hot, in a tubular shape, in the center of the tortilla.  Repeat this process until all burritos are assembled.

IMG_9675 IMG_9675 IMG_9675 IMG_9696 IMG_9696~Step 2.  Place oil in a 10"-12" nonstick skillet and use a paper towel to spread a thin-coating of oil across the bottom and slightly up the sides. Lift and place one assembled tortilla into skillet.  Over low heat, cook until cheese has melted enough to adhere to the surface, less than 1 minute. Remove from heat and return tortilla to plate or flat work surface.

IMG_9700 IMG_9700 IMG_9700 IMG_9700~Step 3.  To wrap the burrito, fold the left and right sides of the tortilla up and over the chili.  Next, fold the side of the tortilla closest to you up and over the top.  Turn the plate around (so the open side is facing you), then lift the last flap up and over the top. Roll the tortilla over, so that it sits seam side down.  To finish cook the burritos, tightly-wrap each burrito in plastic wrap or aluminum foil, and heat in the microwave for 45-60 seconds, or, in a 350º oven for 6-8 minutes.

Remove from microwave or oven & slice into three ASAP...

IMG_9711... & gobble 'em up garnished w/your favorite toppings:

IMG_9753That's a Wrap:  Big Beautiful Chili-Cheese Burritos:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1 large burrito/3 pieces/1 serving.

Special Equipment List:  10"-12" nonstick skillet; paper towels; 1-cup measure; plastic wrap or aluminum foil

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d26b186e970cCook's Note: Hamburger Helper entered the marketplace in 1970, and Chili-Mac Hamburger Helper entered in 1971.  Packaged by General Mills and sold as  part of the Betty Crocker line of products, the mascot is a "helping hand" named "Lefty" -- a four-fingered, left-handed, white glove with a face. Each box contains dried pasta and packets of powdered sauce and seasonings.  For my scratch-made recipe:  ~ Walking Dead:  It's Chili & Mac and Cheese Together ~.

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

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

03/07/2019

~ Spicy and Cheesy Breakfast-for-Dinner Quesadillas ~

IMG_9657Dinner-for-breakfast or breakfast-for-dinner, put a platter of these portable five-bite snacks on the table at any time of day and you'll have everyone eating out of your hand.  They've got it all -- everything anyone could want in terms of Tex-Mex start-to or end-of the day flavor and texture. Creamy refried beans, gooey cheddar-Jack cheese, and, Sriracha- cilantro- and scallion-laced scrambled eggs sandwiched between crisp-tender flour tortillas.  Topped with a bit of pico de gallo, a drizzle of Mexican crema and a dollop of guacamole, who could ask for anything more?

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d15ed99a970cQuesadilla (keh-sah-DEE-yah):  A round, flat, cooked-until-soft corn or flour tortilla, folded in half to form a half-moon with a savory filling sandwiched in the center.  It is fried on a well-seasoned cast-iron comal (a flat, round griddle), using no or very little oil, although in many modern kitchens, mine included, a grill pan is a common substitution.

IMG_9556Almost any cooked and chopped or shredded meats and/or vegetables can be used as a filling for a quesadilla (fish and seafood are not typically used) -- the meats and vegetables must always be cooked first because a quesadilla cooks in a few short minutes.  That said, since "queso (KAY-soh)" is the Spanish word for "cheese":  a quesadilla is a container for ooey, gooey melted cheese.  Be sure to purchase:

your favorite brand of 8" round taco-size soft flour tortillas

IMG_9571For the scrambled eggs* for each quesadilla:

1  teaspoon salted butter

2  jumbo eggs + a pinch of salt

2  tablespoons milk

2  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions

1  tablespoon minced, fresh cilantro leaves

2-3  teaspoons Sriracha sauce

*These herbaceous scrambled eggs, on their own without a flour tortilla:  are eggstraordinary. 

IMG_9572 IMG_9572 IMG_9572 IMG_9572 IMG_9572~Step 1.  Slice the scallions and mince the cilantro.  In a 1-cup measuring container, whisk together the eggs, pinch of salt and milk.  Add the scallions and cilantro and whisk again.  Add the Sriracha and whisk one last time.   I add 2 teaspoons Sriracha for myself.  I add 3 teaspoons when making these quesadillas for my heat-seeking husband Joe. 

IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580 IMG_9580~Step 2.  Melt butter in an 8" nonstick skillet over low heat.  When butter is foamy, pour in the egg mixture, and, scramble away for about 1 minute.  Remove eggs from heat, cover and set aside.

IMG_9594To assemble/cook each quesadilla:

1  tablespoon corn or canola or vegetable oil

1  taco-size soft flour tortilla

6  tablespoons creamy refried beans

8  tablespoons finely-shredded Mexican cheddar-Jack cheese blend

all the scrambled eggs, from above recipe

IMG_9602 IMG_9602 IMG_9602 IMG_9602~Step 1.  Slather the tortilla with refried beans, then scatter shredded cheese evenly over the top. 

IMG_9597 IMG_9597 IMG_9597 IMG_9597 IMG_9597 IMG_9597~Step 2. Place oil in a 10" nonstick skillet.  Use a paper towel to coat the bottom and sides of pan with the oil.  Adjust heat on stovetop to medium- medium-low.  Lift and carefully place the tortilla in the skillet.  Using a spoon, place the scrambled eggs over half of the surface (think half-moon of scrambled eggs).  Cook until cheese is melted and bottom of tortilla is golden brown, but not brittle, about 1 minute.  Lift the "empty" side of the tortilla up and over the side with the eggs.  Slide quesadilla from skillet to plate or cutting board.

IMG_9672For my favorite accompaniments and garnishes:

pico de gallo or store-bought salsa fresca

Mexican crema or sour cream

spicy avocado crema or store-bought guacamole

thin-sliced scallion tops and/or minced, fresh cilantro leaves

~Step 1.  Use all of them, none of them or some of them.  Your choice.

Have a moment of mouthwatering patience (tick, tock)...

IMG_9623... you gotta wait 1 minute before slicing it into three wedges.

IMG_9625Salsa fresco, Mexican crema & Wholly guacamole!  Let's eat:

IMG_9660Spicy and Cheesy Breakfast-for-Dinner Quesadillas:  Recipe yields instructions to make 1 breakfast quesadilla/3 hearty pieces/1 serving.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1 cup measuring container; fork; 8" nonstick skillet w/lid; nonstick spatula; 10" nonstick skillet; paper towels; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0945149d970dCook's Note:  At risk of sounding sexist:  Buffalo wings are man food. To state it another way, if I'm inviting a group of women to my home for lunch, serving chicken wings is "off the table".  If I'm inviting men, chicken wings are "on the table". That said, for a casual gathering for men and women, there are ways we can all work together to include user-friendly buffalo-style snacks and appetizers for all to enjoy: ~ Spicy Blue-Cheesy & Buffalo-Chicken Quesadillas ~  

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

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

03/05/2019

~ Na-Cho Mama's Fully-Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos ~

IMG_9362Undercover nacho tester.  I suppose it could get boring, but, because every eatery I've ever been to makes this Tex-Mex pub-grub staple a bit different, I'd be willing to risk running into some occasional repetition and hard-earned heartburn.  From nibbling on basic nachos consisting of deep-fried corn tortillas topped with melty cheese sauce, to digging-into nachos-grande, nachos-supreme, fully-loaded nachos or ultimate-nachos piled high with a plethora of enough savory stuff to qualify for full-meal status, yes, I think undercover nacho tester could be my dream job.

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

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

6a0120a8551282970b01a73df7e18c970dWe can all agree, you only get out of something what you put into it, but, when the hankering for nachos hits, no one wants to wait longer than the time it takes to preheat the oven, visit the pantry and open a beer. That said, if one it willing to take the time to deep-fry fresh corn tortillas, instead of opening a bag of tortilla chips, nachos become a great deal better.  There's more.  If you're like me, fully-loaded nachos require (must have) meat or protein, and here are a few options:  

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0984a3a7970dMy family's favorites (and the two most common additions) are American-style kid-friendly ground-meat taco filling or chili con carne -- and both are always on hand in my freezer.  That said, white chicken chili or Texas-style steak chili (as long as they are thick and chunky not stringy and soupy), and, the filling for classic pork carnitas are all excellent alternatives.  In fact, any protein concoction that works when served in a crispy taco shell will work. 

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

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d10e0e73970cThat's easy.  That's what I said, until I watched Alton Brown (on The Food Network) make nachos, and, from him I learned how to build better nachos. First, he used a sheet pan to increase the surface area so the tortilla chips can sprawl out (no more crowding them in a 13" x 9" casserole for me).  Second, he took ample time to top them, almost one chip at a time, to make sure that every chip had the perfect ratio of cheese to toppings.  Once you do it his way once, there's no going back.

Building better nachos, one tortilla chip at a time.

IMG_9298In my kitchen, nachos aren't always a snack.  Sometimes they're a meal. When I serve 'em as a snack, I make them on a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" sheet pan that's been covered with foil and a sheet of parchment -- so cleanup is a snap.  When I serve 'em as a meal, I make 'em the same way, but, layer them in my oven-safe ceramic skillets -- a bit of cleanup, but a great presentation. One sheet pan feeds 6-8 people snacks. The same ingredients feed four as a main-dish in four 6 1/2"-7" skillets.  

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

Make these nachos as homemade or semi-homemade as you want.  For example:  I rarely make them without deep-frying the tortillas -- it's a simple task that makes a huge difference.   In the Summer, when my vegetable garden is at its peak and local sweet corn is in season, my pico de gallo is homemade and my corn kernels are shaved straight from the cobs of leftover cooked corn.  If I don't have the time or inclination, I use store-bought salsa con queso without hesitation. Don't like black beans?  Don't complain to me.  Use kidney or pinto beans or skip the beans.

IMG_9322  

26  5"-round fresh corn tortillas (about 1 pound, 4 ounces), or 1, 16-ounce bag store-bought restaurant-style tortilla chips

1 1/2  cups chile con queso or 1, 15-ounce jar store-bought salsa con queso, warmed slightly in the microwave (Note:  The cheese options for nachos vary.  Ultimately, that decision lies with the cook.  While shredded cheddar is the most common, I'm not a fan of it on it's own, as, cheddar, while tasty, is not a great ooey-gooey melting cheese unless it is mixed with a great melting cheese like Monterey Jack or jalapeño Jack.)

3-3 1/2  cups American-style ground-beef taco filling, warmed slightly in the microwave (Note:  All taco filling is not created equal. My chunky beef recipe is full of onion, garlic, bell pepper and tomatoes, and, seasoned with my homemade Tex-Mex taco seasoning blend.  If you decide to use chile con carne instead, omit the can of black beans below.)

1  8-12-ounce jar pickled, sliced jalapeño wheels, well-drained, liquid reserved (3/4-1 cup)

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

1  15-ounce can whole corn kernels, well-drained (1 1/2-2 cups)

8  ounces shredded jalapeño Jack cheese (about 3 cups)

1  cup pico de gallo or store-bought salsa fresca, well-drained

1  cup spicy avocado crema, a 10-second task to process mixture of 1 cup mashed, ripe Hass avocado (store-bought Wholly Guacamole may be substituted) with 6  tablespoons Mexican crema and 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce

1  cup Mexican crema or sour cream, thinned to a drizzly consistency by stirring in 4-6 tablespoons liquid reserved from pickled jalapeños

1  cup thin-sliced scallions, white and light green parts, for final garnish

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

IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325 IMG_9325~Step 2.  To assemble the nachos, arrange chips across the bottom of the pan, in a semi-single layer, allowing them to overlap and double-up occasionally.  Drizzle and plop blotches of warm queso over the surface of the tortilla chips.  By generous teaspoonfuls, plop blotches of the warm taco-filling over the cheese. Arrange the jalapeño slices over the taco-filling.  Scatter the black beans, followed by the corn kernels over the jalapeño slices and taco-filling.  Sprinkle the shredded jalapeño Jack over all.

IMG_9348 IMG_9348 IMG_9348 IMG_9348 IMG_9348~Step 3.  To bake and properly garnish the nachos, place on center rack of 350º oven and bake until jalapeño Jack cheese is melted and bubbly, and, sweet corn is showing signs of light-browning, about 6 minutes. Remove from oven.  Without any hesitation, plop blotches of the well-drained pico de gallo over the top, followed by a drizzle of my avocado crema and Mexican crema.  Sprinkle the sliced green onion over all and serve immediately.

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

IMG_9360Snack your way from the outside of pan to center of pan:

IMG_9398Perfect ratio of chips & cheese to toppings?  You be the judge!

IMG_9415Na-Cho Mama's Fully-Loaded Sheet-Pan Nachos:  6-8 snack-size servings/4 main-dish servings.

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

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3904a89200dCook's Note: Mango salsa, full of sweet heat, is a favorite of mine served with nachos that are made with jalapeño Jack cheese. Prepared as an alternative to pico de gallo, in the event you are a sweet-heat-seeking-missile like me, try my ~ Sweet Heat:  Island-Style Mango or Pineapple Salsa ~. When mangos are in season and inexpensive, it's a wonderful alternative to what we associate with traditional Summertime salsa.

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

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

03/03/2019

~ Using Natural and Dutch-Process Cocoa Powders ~

IMG_9274It's not a matter of what's on-hand in the pantry, what mom or grandma used, brand recognition or cost.  There is a difference between natural and Dutch-process cocoa powder, and, it is rocket science.  The word is "acidity".  Those of the mindset the two can be used interchangeably, babbling on about it being mostly a matter of preference (I have witnessed it said many times), are contributing to recipe failure -- which is the number one reason why some folks hate to bake.

Embedded_raw_cocoa_beans_toxicThe cocoa bean is a dried, fatty seed found inside a 10"-12" cocoa pod, and, each pod is home to 30-50 beans. Once the beans are roasted and shelled, a product called cocoa nibs remain. The nibs get milled to produce cocoa liquor, which gets pressed to extract the cocoa butter, which leaves a solid called a cocoa press cake. Cocoa powder is the powder created from pulverizing the press cake.  

All chocolate is naturally acidic.  Until the mid-1800's there was only one type of cocoa powder: Natural cocoa powder.  It has a pH (acidity level) between 5 and 6, which gives it its sharp, slightly-bitter edge (and light brown color).  Then, along came Coenraad Johannes van Houten, a Dutch chocolate-maker, who discovered a way to process the cocoa nibs to neutralize the acid. Dutch-process cocoa powder is washed with a potassium carbonate solution, which neutralizes the pH (the acid) to 7, which gives it a smooth, mellow taste (and dark brown color).

Natural = predominantly baking powder.  Dutched = predominantly baking soda. 

IMG_9277Because natural cocoa powder (like Hershey's) is acidic and Dutch-process (or "Dutched") cocoa had its acid removed, it's seriously important to follow the recipe. Typically, recipes calling for natural cocoa powder are leavened predominantly by baking soda, while recipes calling for Dutch process, which doesn't react well with an alkaline leavener like baking soda, rely heavily on baking powder.  

When a recipe specifies both baking powder and baking soda, know it has been written in a manner that the cocoa's acidity and the natural acids in the ingredients list strike a balance.

Go natural --  Must Have Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a48f48c9200bGo Dutched -- Chocolate, Buttermilk & Sour Cream Pound Cake:

IMG_9251"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

02/28/2019

~ Chocolate, Sour Cream and Buttermilk Pound Cake ~

IMG_9251I'd never proclaim to have the best recipe for pound cake (unless I did and I do) because almost everyone claims their mother or grandmother made the best pound cake.  Truth told, in many cases, these are false claims.  I know, because I've had to test and taste a few recipes that left a lot to be desired in the (lack of) flavor and (dried out) texture departments.   That said:  My grandmother made the best buttery vanilla pound cake I ever tasted -- her recipe is so spot on perfect, no one I know who has tried hers has ever reported looking elsewhere for one.  Like all pound-cake-baking grandmas, she used the same basic ingredients as everyone (flour, sugar, butter and eggs plus vanilla extract), but then, she incorporated two tangy ingredients common to her heritage and always on-hand in any Eastern European kitchen:  sour cream and buttermilk.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb097d3e86970dA bit about pound cake ("quatre-quarts" in French, meaning "four fourths":  Originally, this fine-textured cake was baked exclusively in a loaf pan. It was made with 1-pound each of flour, sugar, butter and eggs, plus a flavoring, most commonly vanilla. That is the recipe, nothing more, nothing less -- one pound of everything.  Out of curiosity, I did try it once -- it didn't happen twice.  Let's just say, we bakers have come a long way baby!

Over the years, variations evolved, mostly adding leaveners like baking powder and baking soda to encourage rising, resulting in a less dense cake.  Vegetable oil is sometimes substituted in place of some of the butter, to produce a moister cake.  "Sour cream pound cake" and "buttermilk pound cake" recipes substitute sour cream or buttermilk in place of some of the butter to produce a moister cake with a pleasant tang too.  My savvy grandmother used a bit of both.

Now it's time to bake an old-school chocolate pound cake...

IMG_9265Beginning with my grandmothers basic pound cake recipe, it didn't take me long to come up with a chocolate version.  While it's an easy cake to bake, please use Dutch process cocoa powder -- it does matter (see not below)*.  Also, it's important to make sure that the butter is very soft and the eggs are at room temperature.  I remove the butter 2 1/2-3 hours prior to baking the cake and my eggs about an hour in advance.  The extra step of separating the eggs and whipping the whites before folding them in the batter is well worth the extra few moments it takes.  That said, before whipping those whites, be sure to wash and dry the beaters or the whites won't whip.

... w/an optional but decadent peanut-butter glaze!

IMG_9121

6 large eggs, at room temperature, separated

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

3  cups sugar 

2 1/2  cups, unbleached, all-purpose flour

3/4  cup Dutch-process cocoa powder*

1  tablespoon baking powder

1/2  teaspoon baking soda

1  teaspoon sea salt (not a typo, 1 teaspoon)

1/2  cup sour cream

3/4  cup buttermilk

1  tablespoon chocolate extract

1  tablespoon vanilla extract

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

* Note:  There is a difference between natural (think Hershey's) and Dutch process (or "Dutched") cocoa powder.  All chocolate is naturally acidic.  Natural cocoa powder has a pH between 5 and 6, which gives it its sharp, slightly-bitter edge.  Dutch process cocoa powder is washed with a potassium carbonate solution, which neutralizes the pH to 7, which gives it a smoother, more-mellow taste.  Recipes calling for natural cocoa powder are typically leavened predominantly by baking soda, while recipes calling for Dutch process rely heavily on baking powder.

IMG_9137 IMG_9131 IMG_9131 IMG_9125 IMG_9125 IMG_9125~Step 1.  Separate the eggs, placing the egg whites in a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.  In a second medium bowl, rough-stir the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt together.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the sour cream, buttermilk and both extracts, until smooth.  Set aside. Spray a 15-cup bundt pan with no-stick cooking spray and preheat oven to a moderate 325°-330°.

IMG_9142 IMG_9142 IMG_9142 IMG_9142 IMG_9142 IMG_9142 IMG_9142~Step 2.  In a large bowl, place butter, sugar and egg yolks.  Beat on medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer for three full minutes. Reduce mixer speed to medium and in a thin stream add and thoroughly incorporate the sour cream/buttermilk/extract mixture, increase speed to medium-high and beat for about another minute.  Lower mixer speed.  In 3 increments, incorporate the flour mixture, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula constantly.  Increase mixer speed to medium-high again and beat about two more minutes.  Set batter batter aside for a moment, while:

IMG_9155 IMG_9155 IMG_9155 IMG_9155 IMG_9171 IMG_9171 IMG_9171~Step 3.  Without delay, wash and thoroughly dry beaters.  On  high speed, whip the egg whites until stiff curly peaks form, about 3 minutes.  Using the spatula, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

IMG_9180 IMG_9187 IMG_9205~Step 5.  Transfer batter by large scoopfuls to prepared pan.  Bake on center rack of preheated 325° oven 50-55 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool, in pan, 15-20 minutes.  Invert cake onto rack to cool completely, 2-3 hours.

IMG_9224For the optional peanut butter glaze:

1/2  cup creamy peanut butter 

2  cups confectioners' sugar

1  tablespoon peanut butter flavoring

1  teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup milk, + up to 2 more tablespoons 

1/2  cup toasted, ground peanuts

IMG_9227 IMG_9227~Step 1.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, place the peanut butter, confectioners' sugar, peanut butter flavoring, vanilla extract and 1/2 cup milk.  With motor running, process until smooth, about 30 seconds.  Check consistency and process in up to 2 more tablespoons milk, in small increments, if necessary.  Drizzle over cooled cake and immediately sprinkle with lightly-toasted and finely-ground peanuts. 

Pound cake going into 325° oven to bake for 50-55 minutes:

IMG_9177Pound cake out of oven, cooling in pan for 15-20 minutes:

IMG_9194Poundcake inverted on rack to cool completely, 2-3 hours:

IMG_9209Drizzled w/peanut butter glaze & sprinkled w/toasted peanuts:

IMG_9234Time to dig in to the very first irresistible slice:

IMG_9242Chocolate, Sour Cream and Buttermilk Pound Cake:  Recipe yields 12-16-20 servings, depending on how thick or thin you slice it.

Special Equipment List:  plastic wrap; 1-cup measuring container; spoon; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 12-cup bundt pan; wire cooling rack; cake tester

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0992d5b9970dCook's Note:  Mayonnaise is a concoction of oil (which makes cakes tender), eggs and a bit of flavor-boosting acid (like vinegar or lemon juice) -- all common-to-cake ingredients.  Most folks think this cake was invented by Hellmann's and that's a natural assumption. It was not.  The earliest recipe in print titled "Mayonnaise Cake" was published in 1927.  The Hellmann's brand didn't come along until 1937. That said, their aggressive ad campaign for "Mayonnaise Cake", sure did popularize it with World War II/depression era housewives, who were in the market for inexpensive substitutions for butter and milk. When you get right down to the common sense of it, a cake recipe containing mayonnaise is not much different than a cake recipe containing sour cream or buttermilk.  ~ A Must Have Recipe:  Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake ~.

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

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

02/25/2019

~ Secrets to the Italian-American Sausage Sandwich ~

IMG_9063Whether one is at the ballpark, a carnival, or entering a shopping mall, one can't help but notice the line in front of the vendor selling Italian sausage sandwiches. Hot-off-the-griddle, a succulent link of sweet or hot sausage on a medium-textured Italian roll, heaped with a savory mélange of griddle-sautéed peppers and onions: it's next to impossible to resist.  If you've ever eaten one, you've also noticed they taste immensely better than the majority of home-grilled versions. Why is this?  Read on, and "don't knock it until you've tried it", so, criticize this post with caution.

The best technique for charcoal- or gas- grilling "Italian sausage" -- The moist-heat-first, dry-heat-second technique.

IMG_9086I've never been a fan of charcoal- or gas-grilled sausage (links or coils), because most people don't know how not to dry it out, starting with: don't poke holes in the casing.  Folks don't realize, and mostly refuse to be enlightened, that the key to perfectly-grilled sausage is to start it in a moist mélange of sautéing vegetables to slow-cook it, to marry the flavors of the sausage with the veggies and vice versa, then, finish-off the gently-cooked, juicy-on-the-inside sausage on the grill grids, just enough to crisp it up -- over medium- (not high) heat, so the casing doesn't split. This kinder, gentler moist-heat-first, dry-heat-second technique produces perfectly-grilled sausage links or coils.  Learning it rocked my sausage-grilling world, and enabled me to come up with my indoor method for perfectly-cooked, succulent Italian-American sausage sandwiches.

"You want a sassidge sangwitch? I'll give you a sassidge sangwitch." ~ Tony Soprano

"Backyard grilling was uncommon until the 1950's American middle-class began to boom and move to the grass-lawned suburbs.  Long before that, sausage sandwiches had become a popular street food sold in the cities by vendors with steam-heated pushcarts, while apartment dwellers living high above the busy streets cooked almost everything in a skillet, including their sausage sandwiches.  I blame 1950's America for the ill-conceived sausage sandwich." ~ Melanie

In Italy, "sausage" does not refer to "Italian Sausage".

IMG_8961"Italian sausage" is a term Americans coined.  In Italy, there is no product resembling the USA's product referred to as "Italian sausage".  In Italy, there are many salsiccia and salame (each region has its specialties), but the word implies cured meats like cotechino, soppressata, Genoa salami and mortadella.  FYI:  What we Americans call bologna is not found in Bologna -- the local sausage in the town of Bologna is mortadella.

"Italian Sausage" is a term coined in America. 

IMG_8967Called "sosizza" on the streets, in restaurants, and in Italian-American kitchens, in the USA, it refers to ground pork sausage in natural casings, containing about 20%-25% fat with a fennel and garlic flavor. It's mainly sold raw (but can be found cured or smoked) in 5"-6" links, coiled ropes or in loose burger-meat-type form.  It comes in three flavors (sweet, mild and hot) with seasonings varying-slightly from butcher shop to butcher shop.

WARNING:  Sausage in this recipe refers exclusively to:  pork sausage.  Sausage containing chicken, turkey, vegetarian soy or byproducts therein are not considered or acknowledged to be "real" sausage in Melanie's Kitchen. Comments or questions regarding the substitution of these (or any other) sausage impostors will not be replied to.

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IMG_9077Fantastic "Italian sausage" can also be, & is, cooked indoors.

IMG_9018We can all agree a sausage link or coil needs ample time to cook through, 25-30 minutes.  Many will disagree, but, the dry heat of a barbecue grill over 25-30 minutes, is NEVER going to produce a succulent sausage with a golden-brown casing and the "snap and squirt" of the first bite.  It'll be good, just not great -- unless that's the only way you've ever experienced it. The best sausage is cooked indoors, and an electric skillet is an excellent substitution for the moister heat of the flat-topped griddle.

The following method for gently steaming the sausage through, then crisping the casing produces moist, juicy sausage, plus provides a pan of flavorful drippings for the vegetable sauté too.  

IMG_8971For the sausages:

10-12  5"-6" high-quality sausage-sandwich-sized links (sweet-, mild, or hot-, or a combination), about 2 total pounds sausage (a 2 pound coil of sausage may be substituted  without compromise)

about 1 1/4 cups water, enough to fill the skillet with 1/4" water

6  tablespoons olive oil

4  tablespoons salted butter

IMG_8974 IMG_8974 IMG_8974 IMG_8974~Step 1.  Place a little over 1/4" of water in a 16" electric skillet -- do not be inclined to substitute wine, beer or stock as they will muddle-up the flavorful drippings.  Add the sausage, sweet or hot (links or an entire coil).  Bring to a boil over high heat (400º).  Adjust heat to a steady but gentle simmer (325º) and continue to cook for about 15-20 minutes, or until almost all of the liquid has evaporated from pan.  Using a pair of tongs, NOT a fork (do NOT poke holes in the casings), turn the sausage over onto second side about halfway through the simmering process.

IMG_8995 IMG_8995 IMG_8995 IMG_8995 IMG_8995 IMG_8995~Step 2.  Turn the heat off.  Add the olive oil and butter to the skillet.  Adjust heat to medium (300º). Gently sauté the sausage, regulating the heat carefully (up or down), so as to brown not burn, until the sausage is golden brown on both sides, turning only once, 4-6 minutes per side.  Turn the heat off.  Once again, using tongs, NOT a fork, transfer the sausage to a plate or a platter.  Cover sausage with aluminum foil and set aside.

IMG_9021For the spices and vegetable sauté:

1  tablespoon fennel seed

1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano

1  teaspoon red pepper flakes 

2-3  teaspoons sea salt, to taste

2  pounds thinly-sliced onion

1  pound each: thinly-sliced green and red bell pepper strips

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

IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027 IMG_9027~Step 1. Measure spices and prep vegetables, adding them to the flavorful drippings in the skillet as you work.  Adjust heat to gently sauté (250º).  Using a large slotted spoon or a spatula, keep the vegetables moving in the skillet, until vegetables are softened and just cooked through, yet still colorful and crunch tender, 6-8 minutes.  Do not overcook the vegetables.  Taste for salt and add 1 teaspoon if desired.  Stir in the well-drained diced tomatoes and cook until steaming, about 1 minute.   Adjust heat to "warm" setting.

IMG_9051 IMG_9051 IMG_9051~Step 2.  Return the still-warm sausage to skillet, cover the skillet and set aside 5-10 minutes -- just enough to reheat sausages.  To serve, slice your favorite steak-type rolls. Generously spoon some warm vegetable mixture into bottom of each roll.  Add a sausage and top with another scoop of vegetables.

Try it or don't, but, kindly don't knock it, unless you do:

IMG_9098Secrets to the Italian-American Sausage Sandwich:  Recipe as written above yields 10-12 Italian sausage, pepper & onion sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  16" electric skillet; tongs; aluminum foil; cutting board; chef's knife; large slotted spoon or spatula; serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b014e8c358dbd970dCook's Note:  Sausage making is one of the oldest forms of prepared food and was the product of efficient butchery -- tissues, organs, various meat scraps and fat were salted and stuffed into cleaned animal intestines, then preserved by cooking, curing or drying.  No one is, or can be, directly credited for inventing the process, but, it is known to have existed thousands of years before the Romans.  The word "sausage" was first used in English in the mid-15th century and spelled "sawsyge".  This word came from the Old North French word "saussiche", which came from the Latin "salsicus", meaning "seasoned with salt", with "salsus" meaning "salted".  The most popular sausage in the U.S. is:  the hot dog.

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

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

02/22/2019

~ Just Say Yes to Canned Peaches to Make Clafoutis ~

IMG_8938What a wonderful way to make a Summer fruit dessert in the middle of Winter.  It's no secret that, without exception, I'll always choose to make a fruit dessert over any dessert -- and that causes me problems when lot of my favorite stone fruits and berries are out of season.  I'm always hesitant to substitute canned fruit in a recipe that calls for fresh (everyone should be), but, yesterday, on a whim, I decided to give the two 29-ounce cans of sliced peaches in my pantry a try in my clafoutis recipe.  Nothing ventured, nothing gained and I gained big time.  It is wonderful.

Home- or store-bought- canned peaches make great clafoutis.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09671996970dA bit about clafoutis (kla-foo-tee): Hailing from the Limousin region in Central Southern France, this country-style dessert is made with unpitted black cherries -- which lend a slight almond flavor to the dessert. The name is derived from the verb "clafir", which means "to fill" (the thick, flan-like batter with cherries). Purists will tell you that if made with anything other than black cherries, the name of the dessert changes to "flaugnarde" (which, to me, sounds like a derogatory term for a clafoutis that got thrown under the bus).

After baking, clafoutis is usually served warm with a dusting of Confectioners' sugar or a dollop of freshly-whipped cream. Depending who's making it, where and what recipe, a clafoutis can have a cake-like texture, but French farm-kitchen versions, which are the most luxurious, are typically pudding-like.  In either case, it's an impressive dessert that can be successfully made by novice cooks.  Once you make one once, you'll make it again and again.

Clafoutis:  It's smooth & creamy & not-too-sweet...

IMG_8944... & it's even easier to make than a cobbler, crisp or crumble.

IMG_88791 1/2-1 3/4  pounds well-drained, canned peaches (from 2, 29-ounce cans store-bought peaches) 

3  large eggs, at room temperature

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

1/2  cup sugar

1  tablespoon pure peach extract (Note:  I purchase peach extract on-line from www.OliveNation.com.  If you are not inclined to do that, substitute an equal amount of peach brandy.)

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2  teaspoon pure almond extract (almond extract is common to all clafoutis recipes)

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour (10 tablespoons)

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

2  tablespoons salted butter, melted and cooled

Confectioners' sugar and/or freshly whipped cream, for garnish and topping

IMG_8885 IMG_8885 IMG_8885~ Step 1.  Drain peaches as thoroughly as possible. My way is:  after removing the bulk of liquid, place them on a plate that has been lined with paper towels.  If using peach halves, cut them into chunks, if using peach slices, slice the slices in half (I cut the slices with a pair of kitchen shears).  Place the peaches in the bottom of an 11" x 7", 1 1/2-quart casserole, NOT a 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole.  Set aside.

IMG_8330 IMG_8330 IMG_8330 IMG_8330~Step 2.  Melt butter and set aside to cool slightly.  In a 1-quart measuring container, place eggs, cream, sugar, extracts, flour and salt.  Using a hand-held rotary mixer, whisk the mixture until smooth, about 1 minute.  Drizzle in the butter and whisk again, until butter is incorporated.

IMG_8893 IMG_8893 IMG_8893~ Step 3.  Slowly drizzle the batter over the peaches, allowing the batter time to seep down through all the cracks and crevices.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven 40-45 minutes, or until puffed up to center, lightly-browned and set.  Remove from oven and place on wire rack to cool, 45-60 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temp with a dusting of Confectioners' sugar or a dollop of whipped cream.

Read the recipe, place peaches in an 11" x 7", 1 1/2-quart casserole, NOT a 13" x 9", 3-quart casserole:

IMG_8892Slowly drizzle the batter methodically over the peaches:

IMG_8902Bake in 325º oven 40-45 minutes & cool on wire rack 40-45 minutes:

IMG_8911Slice & serve warm or at room temperature: 

IMG_8953Just Say Yes to Canned Peaches to Make Clafoutis:  Recipe yields 12-14-16 servings.

Special Equipment List: paper towels; kitchen scale; kitchen sheers; 1-cup measuring container; 1-quart measuring container; hand-held rotary mixer, or, hand-held electric mixer; 1 1/2-quart casserole, NOT, a 3-quart casserole, preferably ceramic; wire cooling rack

IMG_8373Cook's Note: I'm continually astonished by how many cooks have no idea what clafoutis is, or, assume from its name that it's hard to make.  If I were to write The Big Book of No-Brainer Desserts, clafoutis would be on the cover.  For another luscious clafoutis recipe, try my~ Effortlessly-Regal No-Brainer Blackberry Clafoutis ~.

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

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

02/19/2019

~ Creamy & Chunky Chicken & Mushroom Chowder ~

IMG_8848Whether it be a quick-to-make brothy soup or a long-simmered thick stew, a steamy-hot cup or a whole damned bowl of either is my idea of the ideal take-a-break and sit-down-to-eat meal. Add a handful of cooked noodles or rice and I'm as happy as a clam.  Speaking of clams brings chunky chowder to mind, and, every time I make chowder, I ask the same question, "why don't I make this more often?"  I love everything about it, right down to the little crackers that get crumbled in.

6a0120a8551282970b019aff34d937970cChowder is a rich soup chocked full of chunky-chopped protein and vegetables. It's mostly associated with fish or seafood because it gets its name from the French word "chaudiere", which refers to the cauldron fishermen made their fresh stews in over open fires on the boat docks (with clam chowder being the most popular and most famous).  That said, chowder can be made with any meat or poultry too. Here in America, chowders are made two ways: New England-style, with cream and/or milk in the broth, and, Manhattan-style, with tomatoes added to the broth.  In the case of a well-made New England-style chowder, the broth should be rich, silky and slurpy -- not overly-thickened glop tasting of bland flour.

Once you drive South of New England, through the metropolitan areas of Boston or New York and Manhattan proper, and arrive here in the rural Northeast, you're more likely to find corn or chicken chowders on the menus of our eateries.  It's only natural.  The farther inland you go, access to fresh fish or seafood dwindles as the price skyrockets.  That said, our farms consist of vast fields of sweet corn, and, if they don't raise dairy cows, they own a poultry farm.  It's farm country.

IMG_87626  tablespoons olive oil (Note:  Chowder is traditionally started by frying bacon in the bottom of the pot.  The crisp bacon is removed, chopped, and returned to the soup near the end of the process and/or used as garnish.  The bacon drippings that remain are used to sauté the protein and/or vegetables.  Feel free to skip the olive oil and use bacon drippings.  That said, in this particular recipe, I do not.  For my taste, bacon overpowers its luscious flavor.)

2 pounds uncooked, trimmed of any fat, 1/2" diced boneless, skinless chicken thighs (chicken tenderloins may be substituted)

16-18  ounces medium-diced yellow or sweet onion (about 3 cups)

12-14  ounce peeled and 1/4"-thick sliced carrots (about 3 cups)

8-10  ounces diced celery (about 2 cups)

1 1/2  pounds thinly-sliced crimini or white button mushroom caps, no stems, or a combination of both

4-8  large garlic cloves, run through a press, about 3-4 tablespoons pressed garlic

6  tablespoons salted butter

6  tablespoons Wondra quick-mixing flour for sauce and gravy

4  cups chicken stock

2  cups cream + up to 1 cup whole milk (to achieve desired consistency)

2  tablespoons dried herbes de Provence (a mixture of rosemary, marjoram, thyme and savory)

2 1/2-3  pounds gold potatoes, peeled and 3/4" diced (about 5-6 cups)

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend, added as directed throughout recipe

minced, fresh parsley, for garnish

mini-saltine crackers, for accompaniment

IMG_8765 IMG_8765 IMG_8765 IMG_8765~Step 1.  In a 14", 8-quart chef's pan (or an 8-quart Dutch oven), place the olive oil. Add the diced chicken, onion, carrots and celery.  Season with sea salt and peppercorn blend (about 40 grinds salt and 50 grinds pepper). Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté, stirring almost constantly, until the chicken is just short of being cooked and the vegetables are softening, 8-10 minutes.

IMG_8776 IMG_8776 IMG_8776 IMG_8776 IMG_8776 IMG_8776 IMG_8776 IMG_8776~Step 2.  Sprinkle the garlic over the chicken and add the mushrooms to the pan.  Briefly stir to combine.  Season again with sea salt and peppercorn blend (about 40 grinds salt and 50 grinds pepper).  Continue to sauté over medium-high heat until the mushrooms have lost their volume and moisture and almost no liquid remains in bottom of pan, 25-30 additional minutes.

IMG_8795 IMG_8795 IMG_8795 IMG_8795~Step 3.  Adjust heat to medium-low.  Add butter to pan, followed by the flour and herbes de Provence.  Stir constantly until ingredients are thoroughly combined and mixture is thickened and steaming, about 1 minute.  Turn heat off just long enough to peel and dice potatoes as directed.

IMG_8804 IMG_8804 IMG_8804 IMG_8804 IMG_8804 IMG_8804 IMG_8804 IMG_8840~Step 4.  Add the chicken stock to pan, followed by the cream.  Thoroughly stir.  Add potatoes and adjust heat to medium- medium-high.  Bring to a gentle, steady simmer.  Continue to simmer, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer, stirring frequently, until potatoes are cooked through to their centers, 25-30 minutes.  After potatoes are cooked, if desired, stir in some additional milk, to adjust consistency and simmer 1-2 more minutes.  Cover pan and allow the mixture to steep, on the still warm stovetop, for 30-60 minutes, to give flavors time to marry.

Note:  Leftover chowder will thicken in the refrigerator.  Reheat gently in the microwave or on the stovetop, and, plan on needing to add additional milk to adjust consistency.

Five Quarts Creamy & Chunky Chicken & Mushroom Chowder:

IMG_8847Serve steaming hot garnished w/parsley & mini-saltines:

IMG_8874Creamy & Chunky Chicken & Mushroom Chowder:  Recipe yields 5 quarts.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; garlic press; kitchen scale (optional but recommended) 14", 8-quart chef's pan w/straight-deep sides & lid, or, 8-quart Dutch oven w/lid; large slotted spoon and/or spatula; soup ladle

IMG_8714Cook's Note:  I'm not gonna lie, I came up with this chowder recipe (today), because I had a package of boneless chicken thighs and a goodly amount of mushrooms leftover from my ~ Perfectly-Prepared Chicken and Mushroom Risotto ~ (which I made and posted over the Valentine's Day weekend). With a snowstorm happening in Happy Valley today, this chowder is going to be a warm and hearty, "winner, winner Wintertime dinner!"

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

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

02/17/2019

~ Perfectly-Prepared Chicken and Mushroom Risotto ~

IMG_8708Risotto 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.

The word "risotto" is related to the Italian word "riso", or "rice".  Rice came to Northern Italy first, via Middle Easterners, and risotto, said to be the oldest and most common way of preparing rice, is Italy's contribution to rice cookery.  Typically served as a first- or appetizer-course, and primarily prepared in Northern Italy, Central and Southern Italy have claim to their own traditional recipes, using ingredients readily-available to their climate and landscape as well.  Without creating more controversy than is already "out there", it is this cook's opinion that it is not possible to cut a few corners and still come up with anything more than a presentable dish -- cheating breaks the spell.

IMG_8714There are no two ways to make risotto.  Make it right or it's not risotto.

IMG_8491Risotto is typically made in a heavy pot with round, sloping sides, which promote evaporation -- similar in shape to a saucier, the one in the photo is enameled cast-iron with a four-quart capacity. Risotto is traditionally stirred with a wooden spoon with a hole in the center, which allows the rice grains to flow freely during the constant stirring process.  Risotto requires a special, Italian-grown short-medium-grained, plump and polished rice with a high-starch content.  Arborio (are-bore-ee-oh) is the most readily available, with other choices being carnaroli (car-no-row-lee) and vialone nano (vee-a-low-na-no).  Because starch is the key, never rinse the rice before cooking.

IMG_8494While risotto can technically be made with rice and water, the dish will be tasteless, so, before making risotto, one must decide what kind to make (meat-, seafood-, poultry- or vegetable-based), and that requires a corresponding fully-seasoned and preferably homemade stock (meat, seafood, poultry or vegetable).  The general rule is: six cups stock to one pound risotto rice and the stock must be kept steaming hot (not simmering or boiling) throughout the cooking process to enable the rice to release its starch, which is what makes risotto creamy.  If the stock is boiling (too hot), the rice can be mushy.  If the stock it not steaming (too cold), the rice can seize and be gummy.

IMG_8535Once the stock has been prepared, what I refer to as "the add-ins", the smaller-than-bite-sized bits and morsels of food that typically get stirred into risotto at the end of the cooking process, must be cooked in some manner.  The add-ins, the meat, seafood, poultry or vegetables, while it's acceptable if they consist of small pieces or chards of proteins or vegetable from the stock, I much prefer to start with a raw protein and usually one fresh vegetable too.  I lightly-season them, then sauté them with a few fresh-pressed garlic cloves in a bit of olive oil.  A moist, succulent, nicely-seasoned protein in conjunction with a seasonal vegetable is add-in perfection.

IMG_8627When properly prepared, risotto has a rich, creamy texture, with every grain of rice being plain to see and having a hint of a bite -- rather than soft through to the center or mushy. Risotto begins by sautéing finely-diced onions in some olive oil in the bottom of the risotto pot (sometimes garlic is added too, although I prefer to add the garlic to my add-ins), until the onions are translucent and very, very, soft -- so the onions disappear into the finished dish. Next, the rice gets stirred in and cooked until every grain is coated in oil and ever-so-slightly toasted.  At that instant, a splash of white wine  goes in and the mixture is stirred until it has evaporated.

IMG_8689 2Next, the broth is added, in small increments, in a well-orchestrated manner, while the cook constantly and methodically stirs -- the rice is kept moving at all times.  As the rice absorbs  broth, more broth is added, and so on, until rice is cooked to the perfectly, slightly-chewy "to the tooth" texture (or, to slightly less than "to the tooth", at which time the add-ins get stirred in, which creates a heartier dish -- after that, more broth is added, until the rice reaches perfection).  During the last seconds, the dish is finished by stirring in pieces of cold butter and finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (which adds to the luxurious consistency and provides glistening eye appeal).

Click here to watch my KE on WHVL-TV video:  Perfectly-Cooked Risotto.

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General rules of thumb for 12 cups risotto/12-16 starter-, or 6-8 main-dish servings:

Heat 6 cups stock to steaming for every 1-pound risotto rice being cooked.

Be sure to finely-dice the 1 1/2 cups onion & use 1/4 cup wine to deglaze pot. 

Plan on adding a minimum of 5 cups stock & needing up to 6 cups.

Approximately 3-3 1/2 cups of sautéed add-ins is ideal.

Finish w/4 tablespoons cubed butter & 6-8 tablespoons finely-grated Parmesan.

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IMG_8726For the stock:

6 cups fully-seasoned steaming-hot chicken stock, your favorite recipe or mine

Note:  Be sure to taste and season whatever chicken stock or chicken stock recipe you are using prior to adding it to the rice.  Stock is "liquid gold" (the primary flavoring) to risotto:  the finished dish is only going to taste as good as the stock that got added to it tastes.  Risotto cannot be seasoned after-the-fact -- that's a fact.  If the stock is lacking salt or any other seasoning, the risotto will taste like any unseasoned rice would taste -- bland and boring.

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IMG_8498For the chicken and mushroom add-ins to the risotto:

1-1 1/4 pound uncooked, trimmed of any fat, 1/2" diced boneless, skinless chicken thighs (chicken tenderloins may be substituted)

8  ounces thinly-sliced crimini or white button mushroom caps, no stems, or a combination of both

4-6  large garlic cloves, run through a press, about 2 tablespoons pressed garlic

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

4  tablespoons olive oil

IMG_8499 IMG_8499 IMG_8499 IMG_8499~Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, place the olive oil. Add the diced chicken and lightly-season with sea salt and peppercorn blend (about 15 grinds salt and 25 grinds pepper). Adjust heat to medium-high and sauté until the chicken is just short of being cooked, through, 3-4 minutes.

IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510 IMG_8510~Step 2.  Sprinkle the garlic over the chicken and add the mushrooms to the pan.  Briefly stir to combine.  Lightly season with sea salt and peppercorn blend (about 10 grinds salt and 15 grinds pepper). Continue to sauté over medium-high heat until the mushrooms have lost all of their moisture and almost no liquid remains in bottom of pan, 4-6 minutes. Consistency is more important than the time it takes.  Remove from heat, cover and set aside.

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IMG_8538For the risotto:

4  tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2  cups finely-diced onion

1  pound arborio, carnaroli, or, vialone nano rice

1/4  cup sweet white wine

4  tablespoons salted butter

6-8  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

6  cups chicken stock

3-3 1/2 cups chicken and mushroom "add-in" mixture (from above recipe)

IMG_8541 IMG_8546 IMG_8546 IMG_8546 IMG_8546 IMG_8546~Step 1.  Heat the olive oil in the risotto pot over medium heat.  Stir in the onion.  Cook, over medium- medium-high, stirring almost constantly with a large wooden spoon (Italians insist it be wooden), until onion is soft, tender, translucent and just beginning to brown, 8-10 minutes.  During this process, regulate the heat carefully, up or down, in order to keep the onions sautéing gently.  Stir constantly and do not try to rush it.

IMG_8564 IMG_8564 IMG_8564 IMG_8564 IMG_8564~Step 2.  Stir in the Arborio rice and continue to cook, stirring constantly, until the grains are coated with oil and the edges are ever-so-slightly toasted, about 2-3 minutes.  Add and stir in the wine and cook until the liquid has all evaporated, 20-30 seconds, stirring constantly.  This step goes very quickly.  Be prepared to start adding stock almost immediately.

IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580 IMG_8580~Step 3.  Ladle enough hot stock into pot to cover  rice, about 1 1/2 cups. On this first addition of stock, make certain the rice is fully covered. Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until all of the stock gets absorbed and you can see the bottom of the pot, about 3-4 minutes.  Once again, time is not as important as the end result.

IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8608 IMG_8620 IMG_8620 IMG_8620 IMG_8620 IMG_8628 IMG_8628 IMG_8628 IMG_8628 IMG_8628 IMG_8628 IMG_8642 IMG_8642 IMG_8642 IMG_8642 IMG_8642~Step 4.  Continue the process of adding stock, about 1 cup at a time, stirring constantly after each addition, until the rice has absorbed all of the liquid, about 3-4 minutes, three more times, for a total of 9-12 total minutes.  To this point in the risotto making process, a total of 4 1/2-5 cups of stock will have been added to the rice.

IMG_8654 IMG_8654 IMG_8654 IMG_8654 IMG_8654 IMG_8662 IMG_8662 IMG_8662 IMG_8662~Step 5.  Stir in the chicken mixture and get out a tasting spoon.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and add additional stock in 1/4 cup increments, stirring 1-2 minutes after each addition, until rice is al dente or "to the tooth" and cooked to your liking.  I added, 3/4 cup of stock, in three 1/4 cup additions, tasting after each one, to get to desired doneness.

Note:  Experts all explain that risotto will not cook the same, or in the same amount of time every time, which is why risotto is more about understanding the method than having a recipe.  At the very end, the rice should be to your liking -- some like it crunch tender, others prefer it very soft.

IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675 IMG_8675~Step 6.  Stir in the butter and grated cheese.  When the butter is melted and thoroughly incorporated, remove the pan from the heat, cover it, then, let it sit for 2-3 minutes.

Ladle into shallow bowls & garnish with freshly-ground sea salt, peppercorn blend & Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

IMG_8724Perfectly-Prepared Chicken and Mushroom Risotto:  Recipe yields 12 cups/12-16 starter- or 6-8 main-dish servings. 

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucepan; cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides & lid; spatula; kitchen scale; 4-quart risotto pot/saucier w/lid; wooden risotto spoon or wooden spoon; 1 cup-sized ladle; 1/4 cup-sized ladle; tasting spoon 

IMG_8699Cook's Note:  I'm pretty sure I covered all the pertinent facts is this particular risotto post.  That said, should you be inclined, for an expanded, even more verbose explanation, I share everything I know about risotto, including my KE/WHVL-TV episode in my post ~ No two ways about it: Make it right or it's not Risotto ~.

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

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

02/15/2019

~ No two ways about it: Make it right or it's not Risotto ~

IMG_8705Risotto 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.

Risotto is Italy's contribution to rice cookery.

IMG_8699The word "risotto" is related to the Italian word "riso", or "rice".  Rice came to Northern Italy first, via Middle Easterners, and risotto, said to be the oldest and most common way of preparing rice, is Italy's contribution to rice cookery.  Typically served as a first- or appetizer-course, and primarily prepared in Northern Italy, Central and Southern Italy have claim to their own traditional recipes, using ingredients readily-available to their climate and landscape as well.  Without creating more controversy than is already "out there", it is this cook's opinion that it is not possible to cut a few corners and still come up with anything more than a presentable dish -- cheating breaks the spell.

The pot, the spoon & the rice.

IMG_8491Risotto is typically made in a heavy pot with round, sloping sides, which promote evaporation -- similar in shape to a saucier, the one in the photo is enameled cast-iron with a four-quart capacity. Risotto is traditionally stirred with a wooden spoon with a hole in the center, which allows the rice grains to flow freely during the constant stirring process.  Risotto requires a special, Italian-grown short-medium- grained, plump and polished rice with a high-starch content.  Arborio (are-bore-ee-oh) is the most readily available, with other choices being carnaroli (car-no-row-lee) and vialone nano (vee-a-low-na-no).  Because starch is the key to risotto, never rinse the rice before cooking.

The stock -- meat, seafood, poultry or vegetable.

IMG_8494While risotto can technically be made with rice and water, the dish will be tasteless, so, before making risotto, one must decide what kind to make (meat-, seafood-, poultry- or vegetable-based), and that requires a corresponding fully-seasoned and preferably homemade stock (meat, seafood, poultry or vegetable).  The general rule is: six cups stock to one pound risotto rice and the stock must be kept steaming hot (not simmering or boiling) throughout the cooking process to enable the rice to release its starch, which is what makes risotto creamy.  If the stock is boiling (too hot), the rice will be mushy.  If the stock it not steaming (too cold), the rice will be gummy.

(Here are my recipes for:  beef, veal, shrimp, chicken and vegetable stock.  Once or twice a year, I make a big pot of each one, portion it into 2-quart sized, glass containers and freeze it. Having stock on-hand at all times makes homemade soup or risotto fast-food in my kitchen.)

The add-ins -- cooked morsels of food that go in at the end.

IMG_8535Once the stock has been prepared, what I refer to as "the add-ins", the smaller-than-bite-sized bits and morsels of food that typically get stirred into risotto at the end of the cooking process, must be cooked in some manner.  The add-ins, the meat, seafood, poultry or vegetables, while it's acceptable if they consist of small pieces or chards of proteins or vegetable from the stock, I much prefer to start with a raw protein and usually one fresh vegetable too.  I lightly-season them, then sauté them with a few fresh-pressed garlic cloves in a bit of olive oil.  A moist, succulent, nicely-seasoned protein in conjunction with a seasonal vegetable of choice is add-in perfection.

(Seasonally, I have a favorite combo of add-ins to risotto, and, I prepare them all via the same method.  Spring:  veal with asparagus tips.  Summer:  shrimp or lobster with sweet corn kernels. Fall:  chicken with mushrooms and/or peas.  Winter:  beef with mushrooms and/or carrots.)

The process -- risotto is time-consuming & complicated.

IMG_8627Yes and no.  Yes, risotto is time-consuming -- and you can't leave the stovetop, so, have your mise-en-place and pour a glass of wine or mix a cocktail before you start.  No, it is not complicated -- after you've made it a time or two and get "a feel" for it, you'll see and you'll agree.

When properly prepared, risotto has a rich, creamy texture, with every grain of rice being plain to see and having a hint of a bite -- rather than soft through to the center or mushy.  Risotto begins by sautéing finely-diced onions in some olive oil in the bottom of the risotto pot (sometimes garlic is added too, although I prefer to add the garlic to my add-ins), until the onions a translucent and very, very, soft -- so the onions disappear into the finished dish.  Once the onions are sautéed, the rice gets stirred in and cooked until every grain is coated in oil and ever-so-slightly toasted.  At that instant, a splash of white wine goes in and the mixture is stirred until it has evaporated.

Next, the broth is added, in small increments, in a well-orchestrated manner, while the cook constantly and methodically stirs the mixture -- the rice is kept moving at all times.  As the rice absorbs the broth in concert with some of the broth evaporating, more broth is added, and so on, until the rice is cooked to the perfectly, slightly-chewy "to the tooth" texture, or, to slightly less than the perfectly, slightly-chewy "to the tooth" texture, at which time the add-ins get stirred in, which creates a heartier dish -- after that, more broth is added, in smaller increments, until the rice reaches ideal doneness.  During the last seconds, the dish is finished off by stirring in a few pieces of cold butter some finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (which adds to the luxurious, creamy consistency and also provides glistening eye appeal).     

Throughout the process the heat is carefully regulated, up or down, in a saucepan to keep the stock steaming, and, in the risotto pot, to initially keep the pot hot enough to sauté the onions, then to keep the rice mixture hot enough to bubble and simmer, but not so hot as to scorch.

Click here to watch my KE on WHVL-TV:  Perfectly-Cooked Risotto.

IMG_8689For the risotto & the finishing touches:

IMG_8538General rules of thumb for preparing 12 cups risotto:

Heat 6 cups stock to steaming for every 1-pound risotto rice being cooked.

Be sure to finely-dice the 1 1/2 cups onion & use 1/4 cup white wine to deglaze pot. 

Plan on adding a minimum of 5 cups stock & needing up to 6 cups.

Approximately 3-3 1/2 cups of sautéed add-ins is ideal.

Finish w/4 tablespoons cubed butter & 6-8 tablespoons finely-grated Parmesan.

My Perfectly-Prepared Chicken & Mushroom Risotto recipe:

IMG_8697"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

02/13/2019

~ Milk-Chocolate-Lovers Nestlé-Crunch-Bar Cookies ~

IMG_8730The Nestlé Crunch Bar -- creamy milk chocolate chocked full of crunchy-crisped rice.  As one who has always preferred milk to dark chocolate, it, along with the Reese's peanut butter cup (milk chocolate and peanut butter) is at the top of my "favorite candy bars of my youth list".  As with several other favorites, for an adult activity, I prefer to chop up said candy bars and bake cookies with their bits and pieces -- I prefer a cookie to a candy bar and I adore a candy bar in a cookie.    

IMG_8417"Candy-bar cookies" and sweet treats made with my favorite candy bars are some of my favorite cookies to bake -- and what's not to love about a cookie that evokes childhood memories. Amongst all my other cookie recipes, it seems it's the candy-bar cookie recipes that get made the most often, and, get eaten almost as fast as I can fill the cookie jar -- a couple here, a couple there, and in a day or two, poof, they've disappeared.  Try my: Whoppers Milk-Chocolate Malted-Milk-Ball Cookies, Chewy Coconut & Crispy White-Kit-Kat Cookies, Over-the-Top Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Cookies, and, Chocolate & Peanut-Butter-Snickers Cookie Squares.  Today I'm adding my Nestlé Crunch Bar Cookies to KE. Long story short, it is an amped-up spin-off of  The Original Nestlé's Toll House Cookie recipe.

IMG_8456Milk chocolate + crisped rice = simply irresistible cookies: 

IMG_84292 1/4 + 2 tablespoons  cups all-purpose flour

1  teaspoon each:  baking powder and baking soda

1  teaspoon salt

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

3/4  cup granulated sugar

3/4  cup firmly-packed dark brown sugar

2  teaspoons pure chocolate extract

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2  large eggs

18  ounces Nestlé Crunch Bars, chopped into morsel-sized 1/4" pieces

IMG_9622 IMG_9622 IMG_9622 IMG_9622 IMG_9622~Step 1.  In a small mixing bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.  In a large bowl, place butter, sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract.  On high-speed of hand-held mixer, beat until creamy, about 3 minutes.  Beat in eggs, about 1 minute.  Lower mixer speed and gradually beat in the flour until a smooth, sticky dough forms.

IMG_8432 IMG_8432 IMG_8432 IMG_8432 IMG_8432 IMG_8432~Step 2.  Using a large rubber spatula, add and fold in the chocolate pieces.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, drop cookies, well apart, by rounded tablespoonfuls onto each of 4, parchment-lined, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans.

IMG_8454 IMG_8457~Step 3.  Bake, one-pan-at-a-time on center rack of 325º oven 13-15 minutes, until light-golden.  If you like cookies a bit chewy, do not bake until golden.  Remove from oven and use a small spatula to transfer to wire cooling rack to cool.

What could be better than eating your favorite candy bar?  

IMG_8463Eating a cookie made from a favorite candy bar.

IMG_8475Milk-Chocolate-Lovers Nestlé-Crunch-Bar Cookies:  Recipe yields 5-5 1/2 dozen cookies.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb092fba3d970dCook's Note: Hold the chocolate candy and  everything you can put in a chocolate cookie to impress me. Don't sprinkle them with sea salt, slather them with caramel frosting or sandwich them together with buttercream.  It won't work.  As a foodie who lives in the blog world where everyone strives to make every recipe unique, in my kitchen, every once in a while, plain is the best flavor of all -- especially when ~ I'm in the Mood for:  Plain-Jane Chocolate Cookies ~. 

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

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

02/11/2019

~ Effortlessly-Regal No-Brainer Blackberry Clafoutis ~

IMG_8378I'm continually astonished by how many cooks have no idea what clafoutis is, or, assume from its name that it's hard to make.  If I were to write The Big Book of No-Brainer Desserts, clafoutis would be on the cover.  Whisk up a simple batter (eggs, cream or milk, sugar, salt, flour, melted butter and brandy or extract), pour it over some fresh fruit and bake. Cherries are the classic addition, with any type of berries, combination of berries, or tender stone fruit like apricots, plums and peaches being common substitutions.  Currently, I'm secretly addicted to the one-pound boxes of giant-sized Driscoll's blackberries we've been purchasing at our local Sam's Club.  I eat a box every week -- every time I open the refrigerator, five or six of come out with me.

Perfect for Valentine's Day, or any occasion you can name... 

IMG_8393... and even easier to make than a cobbler, crisp or crumble...

IMG_8321A bit about clafoutis (kla-foo-tee): Hailing from the Limousin region in Central Southern France, this country-style dessert is made with unpitted black cherries -- which lend a slight almond flavor to the dessert. The name is derived from the verb "clafir", which means "to fill" (the thick, flan-like batter with cherries). Purists will tell you that if made with anything other than black cherries, the name of the dessert changes to "flaugnarde" (which, to me, sounds like a derogatory term for a clafoutis that got thrown under the bus).

After baking, clafoutis is usually served warm with a dusting of Confectioners' sugar or a dollop of freshly-whipped cream. Depending who's making it, where and what recipe, a clafoutis can have a cake-like texture, but French farm-kitchen versions, which are the most luxurious, are typically pudding-like.  In either case, it's an impressive dessert that can be successfully made by novice cooks.

IMG_8398... clafoutis is my secret-weapon year-round fruit dessert.

IMG_83241 1/2-2  pounds fresh (not frozen), ripe (not over-ripe) whole blackberries

3  large eggs, at room temperature

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

1/2  cup sugar

1  tablespoon pure blackberry extract (Note:  I purchase blackberry extract on-line from www.OliveNation.com.  If you are not inclined to do that, substitute an equal amount of blackberry brandy.)

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/2  teaspoon oure almond extract (almond extract is common to all clafoutis recipes)

1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour (10 tablespoons)

1/8  teaspoon sea salt

2  tablespoons salted butter, melted and cooled

Confectioners' sugar and/or freshly whipped cream, for garnish and topping

IMG_8330 IMG_8330 IMG_8330 IMG_8330~Step 1. Melt butter and set aside to cool slightly.  In a 1-quart measuring container, place eggs, cream, sugar, extracts, flour and salt.  Using a hand-held rotary mixer, whisk the mixture until smooth, about 1 minute.  Drizzle in the butter and whisk again, until butter is incorporated.

IMG_8327 IMG_8327 IMG_8327 IMG_8355~Step 2. Gently place the delicate blackberries in an 11" x 7", 1 1/2-quart casserole, NOT a 13" x 9" x 2", 3-quart casserole, then drizzle the batter slowly and evenly over the blackberries, allowing it plenty of time to seep down through all the cracks and crevices.  Bake on center rack of 325º oven 40-45 minutes, or until puffed up to center, lightly-browned and just set.  Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool, 45-60 minutes.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Read the recipe, don't be fooled by a photo:  this is an 11" x 7", 1 1/2-quart casserole, NOT, a 13" x 9", 3-quart casserole!

IMG_8350Bake in a 325º oven, 40-45 minutes or until just set.

IMG_8357Cool 45-60 minutes, slice & serve warm (or at room temp)...

IMG_8364... dusted w/Confectioners' sugar or whipped cream: 

IMG_8375Effortlessly-Regal No-Brainer Blackberry Clafoutis:  Recipe yields 12-14-16 servings.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; 1-quart measuring container; hand-held rotary mixer, or, hand-held electric mixer; 1 1/2-quart casserole, NOT, a 3-quart casserole, preferably ceramic; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0224e03f9a04200dCook's Note: Here today, gone today.  That's the lifespan of blackberries entering my kitchen. I've been told their dark color makes them really good for me -- even more antioxidants than blueberries.  Rah-rah-sis-boom-bah, I'd eat them even if they were on on the not-so-good-for-me foods short list.   When I buy a box of blackberries, I eat a box of blackberries. When I pick blackberries, they disappear on the walk to my door.  I do not share blackberries -- perhaps I would, but, I've yet to be tested on this point. ~ Have a Very-Berry Blackberry-Cobbler Kind of Day ~!

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

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

02/09/2019

~ A Great Garlic Bread Spread for Great Garlic Bread ~

IMG_8282Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead.  A double-whammy of calories and carbohydrates are going on our dinner table tonight.  Why?  Because eating spaghetti and meatballs without a great big basket of garlic bread on the table is, gulp, culinarily criminal.  We'll have a salad too, because it too goes great with this meal (not because it's healthy or to make me feel less guilty). Everybody knows spaghetti and meatballs require garlic bread, a salad and a bottle of red wine.

Garlic bread isn't Italian.  Neither is spaghetti & meatballs.

IMG_8309While many regard spaghetti & meatballs as quintessential Italian, the dish was created in the U.S. in the early 1900's.  Italian meatballs were not initially served with pasta.  They were served alone, as a course at a meal, as was the pasta.  The two got teamed together in Italian restaurants to appease Americans who wanted meat served on the same plate with with their pasta.  The type of garlic bread we have all come to love is believed to have originated in the U.S. in the 1950's, when Italian-American home cooks created a spin-off of Italian bruschetta/garlic toast (a slice of bread brushed with olive oil, grilled, then rubbed with garlic) using on-hand pantry ingredients of the time period.  The end result was a buttery loaf of highly-flavored slightly-crunchy bready snacks to accompany their favorite Italian-American red-sauce-restaurant dishes.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad398c2fd200dA great garlic bread starts with a high-quality loaf of bread.  A firm dense-textured loaf textured bread is the place to start -- a loaf of roasted-garlic bread (meaning roasted garlic has been baked into the bread) is a better place to start, as it lends an extra-layer of garlic flavor.  For ease of service and a prettier presentation, in my kitchen, I believe the French batard (a squatter, plumper, denser version of a baguette) to be the ideal foil for making garlic bread.

1  12-ounce roasted-garlic or plain batard, preferably the bake-at-home kind

IMG_8229For the garlic bread spread:

3  half-sticks salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (6 ounces) (Note:  I'm pointing out half-sticks of butter to make the ratio I use more apparent to you when reading the ingredients list.  This will make it easy to adjust (calculate) the recipe for different-sized loaves of different shapes.  To every half-stick of butter, add 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1 clove garlic, 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese and 1/4 teaspoon each of designated herbs and spices.)

1  tablespoon olive oil (3 teaspoons)

3  large garlic cloves, run through a press (about 1 1/2 teaspoons pressed garlic), or, 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic paste may be substituted

3/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning blend

3/4  teaspoon dehydrated, minced garlic

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon white pepper

3  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

IMG_8231 IMG_8231 IMG_8231 IMG_8231 IMG_8231~Step 1.  In a 2-cup food storage container, place all ingredients except cheese.  Stir until thoroughly combined.  Add and stir in the cheese. Cover and set aside, at room temperature, 30-45 minutes, to give flavors time to marry.  During this time, preheat oven to 375º with oven rack positioned in the upper third.  Uncover and give the mixture one last thorough stir.

IMG_8251 IMG_8251 IMG_8251 IMG_8251 IMG_8251~Step 2.  Line a 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan with parchment paper.  Using a serrated bread knife, slice the batard in half lengthwise horizontally, then slice each half into four even-sized pieces.  Using a butter knife, generously slather each piece of bread with the garlic spread.  Keep slathering until all of the spread is used up and atop the bread pieces.

IMG_8266~Step 3.  Place pan of bread in oven preheated as directed above.  Bake for 14-16 minutes, or until the garlic spread has had time to slowly melt down into the bread and the bread has had time to crisp in the buttery meltdown, and, essentially oven-fry.  Remove from oven and cool slightly, in pan, 2-3 minutes prior to transferring to a plate or a basket to serve.

Great garlic bread -- the snack Italian-Americans made...

IMG_8279... crispy outside, chewy inside, lots of butter & garlic flavor:

IMG_8285A Great Garlic Bread Spread for Great Garlic Bread:  Recipe yields 1, 12-ounce loaf garlic bread/8 pieces/8 side-servings or snacks.

Special Equipment List:  garlic press; microplane grater, spoon; cutting board; serrated bread knife; 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" baking pan; parchment paper; butter knife

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d16e3272970cCook's Note: Garlic knots are a form of garlic bread -- they're typically made using the same butter-garlic mixture the eatery uses to make garlic bread.  In the beginning, they were found primarily in pizzarias in and around New York City and they were a way of making use of scraps of pizza dough.  As an appetizer, they come to you with a side of marinara sauce for dipping, and, because they are made from scraps, a basket of them often comes complimentary with more expensive menu items.  ~ For Times When You Gotta Have Garlic Knots ~.

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

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

02/06/2019

~Slow-Cooker Italian-Style Sunday Gravy & Meatballs~

IMG_8183Sunday gravy.  Tomato sauce, simmering low and slow in a pot brimming with meatballs bobbing around -- what's not to love.  It's a tradition in the Italian-American kitchen and a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon -- stirring a pot of bubbling sauce and sipping wine with the family and some friends milling around.  That said, I grew up in an Eastern European household -- we ate spaghetti and meatballs on Tuesdays, as Sundays were for roast chicken or pot roast and "the other gravy".  Mom and dad designated Tuesdays as our day to have spaghetti and meatballs.

While many regard spaghetti & meatballs as quintessential Italian, the dish was created in the U.S. in the early 1900's.  Meatballs were not initially served with pasta.  They were served alone, as was the pasta.  The two teamed together in Italian restaurants to appease Americans who wanted meat served with pasta.

IMG_3124 2Fast forward to 1980.  I married Joe and into his Italian-heritaged family, and fast-tracked all I could  -- Sunday sugo and a head-spinning array of other family-favorite main-dishes and desserts.  That said, Joe traveled a lot, so, many a weeknight, it just was me, three boys and their after-school activities.  I too designated Tuesday nights for spaghetti and meatballs, but, a simplified version.  The meatballs and sauce cooked in the slow cooker, which conveniently could be scheduled to be ready at a time I knew we'd all be home to eat dinner and do homework.  

My kid-friendly version is quick to put together and requires no slicing, dicing or frying --  both the sauce and the meat mixture can be prepped in about fifteen minutes.  There's more.  Past the ground beef and some ground pork if you want to add it, all of the ingredients come out of the pantry and off the spice rack.  Unless you have have a really big family or teenage boys, there's easily enough for two meals, which in our house means meatball sandwiches the next day.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c95967d7970bMeet Crockpot's Casserole Crock. For me, it's my latest acquisition in a long line of slow cookers.  I now currently own ten different brands, models and sizes -- which is odd because, me, not-the-queen-of-crockpot-cooking, uses a slow cooker, maybe, five-six times a year. While Crockpot rightfully peddles this one as a casserole crock (because it is essentially a 13" x 9" x 3" casserole), and, it's intended to make-and-take slow-cooked casseroles (it's got lock-in-place handles and a stay-cool handle for carrying the entire contraption), I saw it as a vessel for a big batch of meatballs  (28 to be precise) to cook evenly, in comfort -- single-layer spa-style.

Moist, fork-tender meatballs in a thick, rich tomato sauce...

IMG_8214... an uncompromisingly-delicious time-saving recipe: 

IMG_8121For the Gravy (Tomato Sauce):

2  28-ounce cans high-quality Italian-style crushed tomatoes

2  8-ounce cans tomato sauce

1  teaspoon dried basil or Italian seasoning blend

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1  teaspoon onion powder

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper 

IMG_8131For the meatballs:

2  pounds ground beef (85/15), or, 1 pound each: beef & pork

2/3  cup each:  plain dry breadcrumbs and finely-grated Parmesan cheese

1 1/2  teaspoons dried basil or Italian seasoning blend

1 1/2 teaspoons each: dehydrated minced garlic and onion, cracked black pepper and sea salt

2  large eggs

IMG_8122 IMG_8122~ Step 1.  To mix the sauce, place and stir all ingredients (crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, dried basil, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper) together in a Crockpot casserole cooker. Set aside and mix meat as directed:

IMG_8133 IMG_8133~ Step 2.  To mix the meat, in a large bowl, place all ingredients (ground beef, bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese, dried basil, dehydrated minced garlic and onion, salt, pepper and eggs).  Using your hands, thoroughly combine.

IMG_8137 IMG_8137 IMG_8137 IMG_8137~Step 3.  Using a 2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, divide meat mixture into 28 portions, about 1 1/2-ounces each.  Using your hands, form into round balls, placing them, side-by-side in sauce -- do not push down on meatballs.  Cover crockpot and cook on high for 2-2 1/2 hours.

IMG_8151 IMG_8151 IMG_8156 IMG_8156 IMG_8156~Step 4.  After 2-2 1/2 hours, using a pair of tongs, remove meatballs to a platter, a bowl, or a casserole.  Cover and set aside.  Ladle the sauce into two 1-quart food storage bowls and set aside.  To this point, meatballs and sauce can be prepared several hours and up to two days in advance. Reheat and serve with cooked and drained steaming-hot pasta.

A thick rich full-flavored sauce w/tender, juicy meatballs.  

IMG_8177Can I interest you in a side-serving of garlic bread?

IMG_8282Slow-Cooker Italian-Style Gravy & Meatballs:  Recipe yields 28 meatballs and 2 quarts sauce.

Special Equipment List:  Crockpot casserole; large spoon; 2" ice-cream scoop; tongs; soup ladle

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c94beaae970bCook's Note: There's no discernible difference between a crockpot-cooked meatloaf vs. an oven-baked meatloaf.  Meatloaf in the crockpot is not crock-our-world crocket science.  Home cooks have been using Betty Crocker's method for slow-cooking meatloaf for decades. That said, after purchasing my new Crockpot casserole, I decided to "think inside the box and dare to be square", and, my ~ Low & Slow-Cooked Crockpot-Casserole Meatloaf ~, which yields a generous 16-20 servings came out great!

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

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

02/04/2019

~Onion & Garlic Cauliflower & Gold Mashed Potatoes~

IMG_8091Smashed, mashed or whipped potatoes -- you love them, I know you do, everyone does. Cauliflower -- maybe you love it, maybe you don't, but if you do, you'll love the combination of buttery-rich mashed cauliflower and potatoes laced with bits of onion and garlic. It's the divine intervention of the creamy-comforting side-dish food world -- it happens when the mild- and slightly-nutty flavored sun-soaked "cabbage flower" meets the sun-starved, earthy and starchy potato.  Make no mistake, when boiled and mashed, cauliflower is great, but it's: mashed cauliflower -- just because it's the same color, doesn't make it "just like" mashed potatoes and it's silly to say so.  That said, add an equal amount of potatoes to the same pot -- game on.

Cauliflower mashed w/o potatoes is mashed cauliflower -- good but not mashed potatoes.  Add potatoes to the same pot -- game on!

IMG_804712  ounces whole cauliflower florets, removed from 1 medium-sized 2-pound head cauliflower as directed here, weighed, not measured

12  ounces peeled and 3/4-1" cubed Yukon gold potatoes (12 ounces after peeling)

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning the water

6  tablespoons salted butter, preferably at room temperature

3/4  cup cream, preferably at room temperature

1  teaspoon dehydrated, minced onion

1  teaspoon dehydrated, minced garlic

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

snipped chives, for garnish (optional)

IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8062 IMG_8062 IMG_8062~Step 1.  Remove florets from the head of cauliflower, placing them on a kitchen scale as you work.  Place 12-ounces of whole florets in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot.  Peel and dice potatoes as directed, placing them in the stockpot with the cauliflower as you work.  Cover with 2-quarts cold water and add 1 tablespoon sea salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook until potatoes are fork tender through to their centers, 10-12 minutes -- when potatoes are done, cauliflower is done.  Remove from heat and transfer to a colander to thoroughly drain. Return steaming-hot vegetables to still-hot stockpot and place pot on a heat-safe surface. 

IMG_8057IMG_8057Step 2.  While the potatoes are simmering, place cream, butter, minced garlic, minced onion, salt and pepper in a 2-cup measuring container.  Place in microwave to warm up gently, until butter has melted.  Remove from microwave and set aside.

IMG_8071 IMG_8071 IMG_8071 IMG_8071~Step 3.  Add half of the warm butter/cream mixture to the stockpot.  Using a hand-held vegetable masher (for smashed or mashed potatoes) or on medium speed of hand-held electric mixer, whip the potatoes.  Add the second half of the butter/cream mixture and gradually increase mixer speed to high, whipping the mixture while scraping down the sides of the pot with a large rubber spatula until smooth and creamy, about 2 full minutes.  There will be four generous cups.

Buttery rich & full of onion & garlic flavor...

IMG_8106... cauliflower & gold mashed potatoes --  the gold standard.

IMG_8112Onion & Garlic Cauliflower & Gold Mashed Potatoes:  Recipe yields a generous 4 cups cauliflower and mashed potatoes/approximately 6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen scale; cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot w/lid; 2-cup measuring container; colander; hand-held vegetable masher or hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07d02735970dCook's Note:  It's right up there with pizza, cheeseburgers and hot dogs.  ~ The Machinations of Mashed Potatoes ~ is one of my favorite topics to discuss.  One can never have too many recipes for any of them.  It's hard to imagine my food world without mashed potatoes. They are an institution -- a way of life. They're the quintessential side-dish served year-round at elegant celebrations, casual get-togethers and weekday meals.  They're revered by young and old alike -- they make everyone happy.  

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

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

02/02/2019

~ Mel's Great-Big Cauliflower Pizza Crust Experiment ~

IMG_8009In crust I trust, but, in the case of the two bloatedly-overpriced-at-almost-$9.00 cauliflower pizza crusts I purchased (on a whim just to get a taste-in-my-mouth for what all the buzz is about), I'd rather eat cardboard.  In my food world, in order to avoid eating compromising crap, I eat less of the things I love before cutting-back on carbs, or worse, cutting-out gluten completely.  "Once you get used to them, they're pretty good", is not a retort to my comments, so stuff it.  The only way to justify this type of ingredient-specific-deprivation requires a diagnosis from a doctor.

My great disappointment by the store-bought cauliflower pizza crusts should not be confused with a dislike for cauliflower.

I love cauliflower, I love it raw, steamed, mashed, broiled and braised.  I love its chameleon-like ability to adapt to almost any culinary application -- even roasting.  I make a sumptuous cream-of-cauliflower soup too.  I won't lie, when I started hearing about the growing popularity of cauliflower pizza crusts, I was (with good reason) skeptical -- as a very good and knowledgeable home cook, the concept of making a traditional pizza crust without flour and the requisite yeast, conjured up problems.  As one who makes plenty of pizza from store-bought flatbreads too (using bobboli, naan, pita, tortillas and English muffins), the "no wheat flour rule" is disturbing.  Why? With flour and yeast, cauliflower could be incorporated to make a remarkably good crust.    

Will it taste remarkably better if I make one from scratch?

IMG_8036It should, and I truly hope it will, but know I wasn't going to waste a lot of time and energy coming up with my own before doing some proper research, which revealed:  There are lot of recipes "out there", with the majority being gluten-free and no carb-too, which is indeed what all the buzz is about.  That said, comments on said recipes were riddled with complaints about recipes that were soggy or sticky, and, the all-important chew-factor results reported crusts that fell apart so badly they required eating with knife-and-fork, to, crusts that were overly-chewy and rubberlike.     

Then I came across one on www.simplyrecipes.com -- a site I consider very reputable with well-written, kitchen-tested recipes.  I'm putting theirs to my test today.  Why?  Because it's not peddling a special-diet recipe, it's touting a great-tasting, easy-to-make cauliflower pizza crust with a texture resemblant of a traditional, yeast-based wheat crust.  It's a middle-of-the-road approach that, while gluten-free, adds just enough carbohydrates, in the form of corn flour, to produce a desirable texture.  It promised: a chewy, tender, breadlike-textured thin-crust pizza (meaning not light, airy) with a predominately dried corn-kernel tortilla-like taste.

Let's bake one & see (mostly their recipe w/a touch of a la Melanie):

IMG_79217  ounces cauliflower florets, weighed (about 2 cups), rough-chopped into 1/2" pieces

1/2  cup corn flour (masa harina)

1  large egg

2  tablespoons olive oil

1/2  teaspoon each: Italian seasoning blend, garlic powder, coarse-grind black pepper and sea salt

2  tablespoons cornstarch

4  ounces finely-grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 generous cup)

IMG_7927 IMG_7927~ Step 1.  Preheat oven to 450º with the oven rack positioned in the upper third.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment and coat the parchment with a layer of no-stick cooking spray.  Set aside. Using a microplane grater, grate a 4-ounce piece of Parmesan cheese, or, cut it into cubes and process it in the work bowl of food processor fitted with a steel blade, using a series of 45-60 rapid on-off pulses.  Set aside.

IMG_7923 IMG_7923 IMG_7932 IMG_7932 IMG_7932 IMG_7932 IMG_7932 IMG_7932~Step 2.  To prepare the dough, weigh cauliflower florets and rough chop as directed, placing in the work-bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  Add the corn flour, egg, olive oil and dry spices.  With motor running, process until a smooth, sticky purée forms, about 2 1/2-3 minutes, stopping to scrape down the inside of the work bowl with a large rubber spatula every 30-45 seconds.  Add the corstarch and process again for 30 more seconds.  Add the Parmesan. Using a series of rapid on-of pulses, process until incorporated into the mixture, about 8-10 pulses.

IMG_7950 IMG_7950 IMG_7950 IMG_7950 IMG_7950 IMG_7950 IMG_7950 IMG_7950~Step 3.  To form the crust, transfer  pizza dough to prepared baking pan and lightly-sprinkle top with some additional corn flour.  Using your hands and fingertips, gather dough together, then shape, pat and press into a 10" circle.  Using a small hand-held rolling pin, working from the center out to the perimeter, roll the dough into an 11" circle.  Using your fingertips, clean up any rough or ragged edges around the perimeter (and form a bit of a crust shape too if you like).  

IMG_7974 IMG_7974 IMG_7974 IMG_7974 IMG_7986 IMG_7986 IMG_7986~Step 4.  To pre-bake, top and finish-bake crust, bake the crust in preheated oven for 12-14 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool, in pan, 3-4 minutes.  Using a large pizza spatula,  transfer the crust to a large wire rack.  Discard the parchment paper from the baking pan, then place the pizza crust (on the rack) in the pan.  Top with your favorite sauce and cheese -- not too much, as this thin-crust pizza is best lightly-topped, not piled-high.  Reposition the oven rack from the upper third to the center. Place topped pizza, on rack in pan, in 450º oven and allow pizza to bake until cheese is melted and crust is crisped on bottom, 6-8 minutes.  Remove from oven, slice, and serve ASAP.

While it bakes up perfectly, it's not my cup-of-tea...

IMG_7999 2... but it is indeed exactly as promised & trendily yummy...

IMG_8020... so if you're so inclined, yes, give this recipe a try.

Mel's Great-Big Cauliflower Pizza Crust Experiment:  Recipe yields 1, 11" cauliflower pizza crust along with topping and baking instructions/6-8 servings.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale; food processor; large rubber spatula; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; small-hand-held rolling pin; large pizza spatula; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d25ed9bc970cCook's Note: Americans eat over three billion pizzas a year and that doesn't include store-bought frozen pies or those made at home.  That is quite a statistic, and, a testament to the love affair we have with pizza. From sea-to-shining-sea, every region of our country has developed their own "style of pie", and, pizza shops and home cooks all proudly prepare their own version of it. Try ~ My Guys Italian-American Sicilian-Style Pizza Pie ~.

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

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

01/31/2019

~ Quick as the Craving for Cream of Cauliflower Soup ~

IMG_7914January is National Soup Month, and, the cauliflower in my grocery stores is gorgeous right now. Do the math:  soup + cauliflower = cauliflower soup -- more specifically, a savory, smooth, satisfying soup that can be made in about thirty minutes.  I simply stop there, and so should you because it's full-of-flavor and fantastic as is, with a humble parsley garnish floating on top, so, oh-my-sigh, no cheese please, and, believe it or not, not everything tastes better with bits of bacon.  

How much is in a head of cauliflower?  How much should I buy?

IMG_7818 2Mother Nature did not have OCD.  If she did, there would be more symmetry in the world.  It would be a pretty boring place, but, at least all our vegetables would be the same size, which brings me to this point: How much is in a head of cauliflower?  The most frustrating thing about most cauliflower recipes is their lack of specificity regarding precisely how much cauliflower to buy to get the necessary yield.

IMG_7826Generic measurements for volume (2 cups-, 4 cups-florets) or a vague product description (1 large head, 2 medium heads), are meaningless to the average cooker-of-cauliflower, and, are the biggest causes of recipe failure -- stop recipe failure, use a scale.  Authors and bloggers: write your recipes accordingly.  

Weight (1, 2-pound head, 1 pound florets) is the first and only measurement worth a damn.

IMG_7830Measuring cauliflower requires a scale, both in the grocery store when purchasing this vegetable, and, in the kitchen when cooking it. For my demonstration, I bought two medium heads of cauliflower. Untrimmed, the one on the left weighed 2 pounds, 15 ounces, and,  the right one weighed 2 pounds, 2 ounces.  After trimming, here is how it all weighed out:

The typical, medium-sized head weighs about 2 pounds.

IMG_7835 2After trimming and removing florets where each meets the core -- a 1-quart measure full-to-the top (6 cups) of florets.

Roughly speaking, a medium-sized head will yield 1-1 1/4 total pounds florets.

If florets are to be chopped or diced, depending on the size required, this will affect volume measurement (number of cups).  Don't play, weigh it first!

When you're craving a steamy-creamy bowl of soup...

IMG_7911... six cups cream-of-cauliflower soup coming right up:  

IMG_78641, 2-pound head cauliflower, trimmed, florets removed, 1-1 1/4 pounds florets, florets rough-chopped (about 4 cups)

1 1/2  cups medium-diced yellow or sweet onion

3/4  cup small-diced celery

2  teaspoons herbes de Provence 

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon ground nutmeg

2  teaspoons  sea salt

1  teaspoon white pepper

3  cups Kitchen Basics unsalted vegetable stock

1  cups heavy or whipping cream

freshly-ground black pepper, for garnish

minced, fresh parsley, for garnish

IMG_7849 IMG_7849 IMG_7867~ Step 1.  Using a large chef's knife, rough chop 1 pound of florets from 1, medium-sized, 2-pound head of cauliflower.  Set aside.  There will be a generous 4 cups.  Dice the onion and celery as directed and set aside.

IMG_7868 IMG_7868 IMG_7868 IMG_7868~Step 2.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt butter over low heat.  Add the onion, celery, herbes de Provence, garlic powder, sea salt and white pepper.  Adjust heat to gently sauté over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onion is tender and celery is softened, 4-5 minutes.

IMG_7878 IMG_7878 IMG_7878 IMG_7878 IMG_7878 IMG_7878~Step 3.  Add the vegetable stock and the chopped cauliflower.  Adjust heat to a steady simmer until the cauliflower is very tender, overcooked actually, stirring frequently, about 15-20 minutes.  Turn the heat off and add the cream.

IMG_7889 IMG_7889 IMG_7889 IMG_7889~Step 4.  The cream will have lowered the temperature of the soup, making it safe to blend immediately.  Give the mixture a thorough stir, then get out the immersion blender.  Blend until smooth, about 2-3 minutes -- less if you want more texture, longer if you want a smoother texture. Adjust heat to medium- medium-low.  Stirring constantly, heat the soup to steaming, not simmering or boiling, about 3-4 minutes.  Garnish and serve immediately with bread or crackers.

Savory, smooth and satisfying cream-of-cauliflower soup:

IMG_7917Quick as the Craving for Cream of Cauliflower Soup:  Recipe yields 6 cups soup/6 servings.  Reheat leftovers gently on the stovetop or in microwave.  Does not freeze well.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; large spoon or spatula; immersion blender; 2-quart stockpot; colander

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d1e35f01970cCook's Note:  Celery.  It's the swizzle stick in my Bloody Mary, a must in my egg, tuna and potato salad, and, send back those Buffalo wings if they don't come with a crudité of celery and blue cheese dip.  That said, in the food world, celery isn't considered an exciting vegetable. No one ever remarks, "my Bloody Mary had the best stalk of celery in it", "the celery in her tuna salad was divine", or, "the celery that came with his chicken wings was outstanding". Try my ~ Rich & Cream Celery Soup (It isn't Ho-Hum at All) ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

01/28/2019

~How Much is & How Many Florets in One Cauliflower~

IMG_7818Mother Nature did not have OCD.  If she did, there would be more symmetry in the world.  It would be a pretty boring place, but, at least all our vegetables would be the same size, which brings me to this point:  How much is in a head of cauliflower?  The most frustrating thing about most cauliflower recipes is their lack of specificity regarding precisely how much cauliflower to purchase.  Generic measurements for volume (2 cups-, 4 cups-florets) or a vague product description (1 large head, 2 medium heads), are meaningless to the average cooker-of-cauliflower, and, are the biggest causes of recipe failure -- stop recipe failure, use a scale.  

Weight (1, 2-pound head, 1 pound florets) is the only measurement worth a damn.

Measuring cauliflower requires a scale, both in the grocery store when purchasing this vegetable, and, in the kitchen when cooking it.  For my demonstration, I bought two medium heads of cauliflower.  Untrimmed, the one on the left weighed 2 pounds, 15 ounces, and, the one on the right weighed 2 pounds, 2 ounces.  After trimming, here is how it all weighed out:

A typical untrimmed, medium head weighs about 2 pounds.

IMG_7838After trimming & removing florets where each meets the core...

IMG_7826... a 1-quart measure full-to-the-top (6 cups) florets...

IMG_7830... or, roughly speaking, between 1-1 1/4 pounds florets. 

IMG_7835Chopped florets from 1, 2-pound head = 4 generous cups.

IMG_7853Don't play, weigh the cauliflower first -- at the store! 

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

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

01/25/2019

~Jamaican-Style Butter-Poached Lobsta Rasta Pasta~

IMG_7805Generally speaking, I am not a big fan of serving cheese or cheese sauces with fish or seafood, but, there are exceptions to every rule, so, for those who, like myself, do appreciate the divine goodness of dishes like lobster macaroni and cheese, you've gotta try my creamy-dreamy Island-Style Jamaican-Italian-American Rasta Pasta with succulent, butter-poached lobster meat added to it.  In the event you've never heard of rasta pasta, take a moment and read on:     

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3a53cc4200dRasta Pasta is a restaurant located in Colorado Springs, CO.  The owners, the Taraborelli family, specialize in fusing two of the unlikeliest of culinary bedfellows:  the island flavors of Jamaica with their Italian-American background.  It's easy to assume the title "rasta" is associated with Rastafarianism, which would require the fare to be vegetarian -- no meat or shellfish.  No mon.  It implies the colors of the veggies:  red, yellow and green.

Research revealed a full range of opinions regarding the origin of this dish (which has developed a cult following), as Caribbean restaurants across the USA, many them in New York City (which has a large Jamaican population), have a version of rasta pasta on their menu.  All left me completely up-in-the-air on the subject and unwilling to pass any along.  My best guess:  It is a savvy Jamaican-American cook's creation that got popularized in America, then made its way back to Jamaica, where it quickly became as popular as it is here.  All I can say with certainty:  It's a delicious twist on your typical creamy pasta dish, and, it appealed to me from the start.

Island-Style Jamaican-Italian-American Rasta Pasta...

IMG_6201Jamaican Rasta Pasta, which is almost always made using penne, is very resemblant of one of my favorite entrées in an Italian-American restaurant, Fettucchini Alfredo, which I always order primavera-style, meaning:  some vegetables get tossed into it, hence the name of my own recipe, Fabulous Fettuccine Alfredo a la Primavera-Style -- and,  it's always an option to have chicken or shrimp tossed in too.  The  Rasta Pasta Sauce itself, is also resemblant of the rich, creamy, parmesan-laced sauce that enrobes the tender strands of al dente egg-pasta and colorful crunch-tender blanched veggies, and, when ordering rasta pasta anywhere, it's Jamaican-jerk chicken or jerk shrimp options you'll find.

... plus elegant & exquisite butter-poached lobster tail meat... 

6a0120a8551282970b017d3f5c9cff970cBoiling or steaming lobster might be the traditional methods for cooking lobster, but, a third method, my preferred method for tails, is butter poaching.  It's decadent, divine and sublime.  Butter poaching is done by removing the meat from lobster tails and ever-so-gently cooking them in seasoned or unseasoned melted butter without allowing the meat to simmer or boil (which toughens the meat).  There's more, it's easy to do and it only takes a few minutes.

... is a decadent, divine & sublime, relatively-easy entrée:

Butter-poaching lobster tails for rasta pasta is no different than butter-poaching tails in my above-mentioned French-style version, except, instead of using traditional French seasonings (lemon juice, tarragon, onion and red pepper flakes), I use classic Jamaican flavorings (jerk seasoning, thyme, Scotch bonnet pepper powder and lime juice).  As for the rasta pasta sauce and vegetable sauté, the recipes are both quick to make, but, note they each yield 6 cups -- twice as much as needed for 1 pound of any type pasta, so, do the math and kindly cut the recipes in half.

IMG_77403  cups rasta pasta sauce, prepared according to my recipe, but do the math, cut the recipe in half

3  cups rasta pasta vegetable sauté, prepared according to my recipe, but do the math, cut the recipe in half

2  1 1/4-1 1/2-pound lobster tails, 3 1/2-4 1/2 generous cups chopped lobster meat

1  pound medium pasta shells, cooked al denté, according to package directions

1  teaspoon sea salt, for adding to water for pasta

1  cup salted butter (2 sticks)

1/4  cup white wine

1  teaspoon lime juice

1  teaspoon jerk seasoning blend, your favorite brand

1/2  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/16  teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper powder

IMG_7759 IMG_7759 IMG_7759 IMG_7759~Step 1.  To prep  lobster meat, use a pair of kitchen shears to clip both sides of the underbelly of both tails and remove the thin shells.  Using your fingertips, gently remove the tails from the outer shells.  Chop tails into bite-sized pieces, about 1/2"-3/4" (3 1/2-4 1/2 cups lobster meat).

IMG_7742 IMG_7742 IMG_7742 IMG_7785 IMG_7785~Step 2.  In a 4-quart stockpot or saucepan bring 3 quarts water to a rolling boil and add 1 teaspoon sea salt.  Add the pasta shells, adjust heat to simmer steadily and continue to cook, until al dente, about 8-9 minutes. Do not overcook the pasta.  Transfer pasta to a colander to drain thoroughly, then, toss it into the skillet containing the vegetable sauté.

IMG_7747 IMG_7747 IMG_7747 IMG_7747 IMG_7770 IMG_7770 IMG_7770 IMG_7770 IMG_7770~Step 3.  To prepare the butter sauce and poach the lobster, in a 1-cup measuring container, stir the lime juice, jerk seasoning, dried thyme, garlic powder and Scotch bonnet pepper powder into the wine.  Place the butter in a 2-quart saucier.  Add the wine mixture.  Over extra-low heat, melt butter into wine, stirring frequently, until steaming.  Add the lobster pieces and stir constantly, adjusting the heat, lowering if necessary, until lobster is opaque and just cooked through, about 3-4 minutes.  Do not simmer or boil.  Do not over-poach lobster tails.  

IMG_7789 IMG_7789~ Step 4.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the lobster pieces to the pasta/vegetable mixture in skillet.  Add rasta pasta sauce, in 2-3 increments, tossing after each addition, until all ingredients are nicely-coated (not drenched) in the cream sauce.  

Note:  There will be almost a cup of flavorful butter sauce left in the saucier.  I like to serve the remaining butter sauce to the side with toasted rustic bread slices or garlic bread for dipping.

Stressed?  Don't worry, be happy.  Eat lobsta rasta pasta:

IMG_7797 2It's fantastic made w/lobster or seafood ravioli too:

IMG_7622Jamaican Rasta Pasta w/Butter-Poached Lobster:  Recipe yields 4-6 rich, hearty main-dish servings.

Special Equipment List: kitchen shears; cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart saucepan; colander; 1-cup measuring container; 2-quart saucier; large slotted spoon; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides (for preparing rasta pasta sauce); 12" nonstick skillet (for preparing vegetable sauté)

IMG_7778Cook's Note: Store-bought seafood stock is readily available, but I can tell you this:  it is a compromise and I never feel my end result is quite as good as it could have been if I'd used my real-deal stock.  Besides, one of the fundamentals of good cooking is to waste nothing, or as little as possible, so this gives me an opportunity to feel good about myself.  All my shrimp and lobster shells go in a freezer bag.  'Nuff said.  ~ Save Those Lobster Shells!!!  Because I Said So!!! ~

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

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

01/22/2019

~ Twelve-in-an-Hour Chicken-Vegetable Soup Bowls ~

IMG_7714Fifteen minutes of prep time and forty-five minutes of stovetop simmering later (slightly longer for you slow-handed choppers), we sat down in front of these steaming bowls of chicken-vegetable soup, ate, and got back to business as usual, which included freezing ten soup bowls for future consumption. Had you arrived in time for lunch, I'd have offered you a bowl, and, you'd never guess it didn't simmer, and I didn't slave over it, all day.  It's simply THAT good, as long as the recipe is followed as written, and, it yields the same amount, twelve two-cup bowls, every time.  

This is one of the make-in-advance meals I cook just for me, as, a small cup of soup, some chicken- or tuna- salad, or a microwave reheat of something-anything leftover, is my typical weekday take-a-break-to-have-a-bite-to-eat lunch.  While this recipe, once-upon-a-time a few decades ago, would have been referred to as semi-homemade time-saving pantry cooking, truth told, for the busy current-day hard-working one- or two-working parent household, it is as close as it gets to feeding a family a homemade dinner, plus leftovers, in a reasonable time frame.

Six quarts of clear-brothed, bold-flavored, rich, hearty soup:

IMG_767815 minutes prep + 45 minutes simmering = 12 luscious servings

IMG_76466  cups water

1  32-ounce box Kitchen Basics, unsalted vegetable stock

1  14 1/2-ounce can Del Monte "original-style", not "Italian-style", stewed tomatoes

1  8-ounce can sliced mushrooms, undrained

2  tablespoons sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

1  packet Herb-Ox granulated beef bouillon

2  generous cups diced yellow or sweet onion, 12 ounces onion

2  generous cups diced celery, 12 ounces celery

3  generous cups peeled and diced carrots, 16 ounces carrot

4  generous cups diced boneless, skinless chicken thighs or tenders, 2 pounds

5  generous cups peeled and diced gold potatoes, 2 1/2 pounds potatoes

cooked and drained egg noodles (optional)

IMG_7648 IMG_7648~ Step 1.  Into an 8-quart stockpot:  water, stock, tomatoes and mushrooms, sea salt, black pepper, garlic powder, red pepper flacks and granulated beef bouillon -- no eye rolling, beef bouillon in chicken soup is a secret seasoning weapon.

IMG_7654 IMG_7654 IMG_7654 IMG_7654~Step 2.  Dice the onion, celery, carrots and chicken as directed, placing them in the stockpot as you work -- this takes me about 15 minutes.  A noteworthy time-saving tip:  A 16-ounce bag of frozen, sliced, carrots (throw them in frozen) can be substituted without compromise.

IMG_7662 IMG_7662 IMG_7662Step 3.  Place the stockpot on the stove and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Once boiling adjust heat to simmer gently but steadily for 15 minutes.  Use this time to peel and dice the potatoes.

IMG_7672 IMG_7672 IMG_7672 IMG_7672~Step 4.  Add the diced potatoes to the simmer soup, give it a stir, return to a gently but steady simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, 35-45 more minutes.  Using a soup ladle, portion one cup broth into each of twelve, 2-cup-sized freezer-safe food-storage containers (with tight-fitting lids).  Using a large slotted spoon, portion one cup vegetables into each container.

Eat one, with or without some cooked egg noodles added...

IMG_7686... or freeze twelve delicious 1-hour investments in the future:

IMG_7689Twelve-in-an-Hour Chicken-Vegetable-Soup Bowls:  Recipe yields 12, 2-cup servings of chicken-vegetable soup/6 total quarts soup.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 8-quart stock pot; large-spoon; soup ladle; large slotted spoon; 12, 2-cup size food-storage containers w/tight-fitting lids

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09ed9264970dCook's Note: I would never recommend you bypass making a big batch of homemade chicken stock, or your grandmother's heirloom  ~ Coaldale Baba's Heavenly Chicken Noodle Soup ~, complete with ~ Eastern European-Style Homemade Egg Noodles ~. Never.  Period.  I am merely saying that in today's busy world, having a time-saving, uncompromising, semi-pantry-made alternative makes it a kinder, gentler, relaxed-paced place.

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

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

01/20/2019

~ Florentine-Style Ricotta Cheese & Spinach Sauce ~

IMG_7613Creamy cheese sauces have a place in my food world -- not a big place, but a place.  My attitude toward them is to use them judiciously, in a manner that does not overpower the dish being served, and, in moderation, so as not to tip the scale.  To my credit, I have developed my own versions of more than a few:  Easy Boursin, Trendy Rasta PastaClassic Mornay, Silky Parmesan-Sherry, Dreamy Gorgonzola, Basic Asiago, and a Kid-Friendly Cheddar.  It is my opinion that, for the most part, all store-bought cheese sauces are a compromise, so, don't debate it, just grate it -- take the few minutes required to make your cheese sauce from scratch.

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

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

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

IMG_7572As a spinach lover, I'm grateful to whomever developed the process for industrially cleaning and packaging it washed, dried and in bags. Why? Handling spinach "au natural" is labor intensive from the standpoint it must be meticulously cleaned of sandy grit, and, it can't get overly-wet while doing that because it loses its integrity quickly. Then, the tough stems need to be snipped.  While I recommend using fresh spinach for most Florentine recipes, if all you have is frozen spinach, worry not, all sorts of Florentine-style dishes turn out uncompromisingly fine using frozen, and, it's perfect for this creamy, full-flavored, cheese sauce.

1 lb. fresh spinach, cook & drained = 1 1/2 cups = 1, 10-ounce box frozen

6a0120a8551282970b0223c84e9c88200c 6a0120a8551282970b0224df3654e5200b~ Step 1.  I can think of many instances to use fresh spinach, but this quick-and-easy weeknight-meal sauce is not one of them -- frozen chopped spinach yields the right amount every time with no need to cook it.  Thaw the spinach overnight in the refrigerator or in a colander placed in the sink with cold water dribbling over it.  Once thawed, wad the spinach up in several layers of paper towels and squeeze as hard as possible to remove as much liquid as possible.  Kept covered in the refrigerator, this task can be done a day ahead. 

Looking for a cheese sauce for pasta, veggies, chicken, fish or seafood?  If so, try mine.  It's great w/cheese, lobster or mushroom ravioli too.

IMG_75764  tablespoons olive oil

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

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

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

1  cup whole milk ricotta cheese

4  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

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

fresh pasta or ravioli, your choice

a garnish of red pepper flakes

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

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

IMG_7610Florentine-Style Ricotta Cheese & Spinach Sauce:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups sauce, enough to coat 1 1/2-2 pounds pasta or ravioli.

Special Equipment List:  small colander; paper towels; microplane grater; 12" nonstick skillet; large spoon

IMG_7567Cook's Note: Knowing how to make a super-quick cheese sauce is indispensable for any number of reasons. Friends can drop by without notice, a snowstorm requires some pantry cooking, or, the craving for something rich, creamy, cheesy and comforting must be quelled. For another cheese sauce that takes about the same time to make and is appropriate for pasta, vegetables, chicken, fish or seafood, try my recipe of ~ Easy Boursin Sauce for Pasta, Seafood & Veggies ~.  My refrigerator is never without Boursin.

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

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

01/17/2019

~ Du Pain, du Vin, du Cinq Boursin Cheese Recipes ~

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3d2399a200bBoursin cheese has been the star of KE the past ten days, and, it has enjoyed a delicious run. While some might question, or find themselves bored with, my little foray into Boursin (a most delicious form of French cheesefeed), there is always a reason behind one of my obsessions.  In the case of the plethora of Boursin recipes, there are three reasons.  #1.  When someone asks, I always answer, and, I did --  with my recipe for Boursin mashed potatoes.  #2.  In our food world, food is expensive -- if I'm going to recommend purchasing a special or pricey ingredient, I'm going to provide a variety of ways to use it.  #3. In my food world, every recipe has a story, and every ingredient does too, and, the history of Boursin cheese is quite interesting.  Read on:

Boursin is classified as a French "specialty" cheese.  This soft, spreadable cow's milk cheese has a creamy, buttery texture and a full flavor, similar to cream cheese.  Boursin was the creation of François Boursin in 1957, in Normandy.  It was "his take" on the French tradition of serving cheese with an assortment of minced, fresh herbs, which guests sprinkled atop the cheese to suit their own palate. When purchasing Boursin, if the package does not say "all natural Gournay cheese", it is not authentic Boursin.  "Gournay" is the word François Boursin picked (naming it after the town he grew up in) when he was required to declare its origin to customs officials.  

The Boursin brand was first advertised on television in France using the slogan, "Du pain, du vin, du Boursin", meaning, "some bread, some wine, some Boursin".

~ Buttery-Rich and Cream-Cheesy Copycat Boursin ~

IMG_7362~ Mushrooms Stuffed w/Garlic & Fine Herbs Boursin ~

IMG_9836~ Herbaceous Caramelized-Onion & Boursin Burgers ~

IMG_7487~ Easy Boursin Sauce for Pasta, Seafood & Veggies ~

IMG_7567~ Buttery-Rich & Boursin-Cheesy Whipped Potatoes ~

IMG_7290"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

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

01/15/2019

~ Easy Boursin Sauce for Pasta, Seafood & Veggies ~

IMG_7567Knowing how to make a super-quick cheese sauce is indispensable for any number of reasons. Friends can drop by without notice, a snowstorm requires some pantry cooking, or, the craving for something rich, creamy, cheesy and comforting must be quelled.  This five-minutes to make sauce is as delicious as it is easy, which is what makes it more than worthy of a blog post.  Both Joe and I love it tossed into pasta (sometimes with some chards of roasted chicken thrown in too), it's a fantastic sauce for seafood (if you're not a purist about cheese and seafood together), and, kids (or at two out of my three) eat steamed vegetables drizzled with it.  I rest my case.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ad8985200dBoursin is classified as a "specialty" cheese, but, I classify it as "party cheese" -- serve it at a party with crackers or toasts and people flock to it.  This cow's milk cheese has a creamy, buttery texture and a full flavor, similar to cream cheese, which makes it perfect to serve with wine or cocktails.  The Boursin brand is available in five flavors, (Garlic & Fine Herbs is my favorite). Whichever one you choose, there are two constants in each variety of Boursin:  garlic and peppercorns.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ce3d7c200bBoursin was the creation of François Boursin in 1957, in Normandy.  It was "his take" on the French tradition of serving cheese with an assortment of minced, fresh herbs, which guests sprinkled atop the cheese to suit their own palate. Here's one last bit of trivia: When you are purchasing Boursin, if the package does not say "all natural Gournay cheese on it", it is not authentic Boursin.  "Gournay" is the word François Boursin picked (naming it after the town he grew up in) when he was required to declare its origin to customs officials.  The Boursin brand was first advertised on television in France using the slogan, "Du pain, du vin, du Boursin", meaning, "some bread, some wine, some Boursin".

IMG_7519For my, Boursin cheese sauce:

2  tablespoons salted butter

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

1  cup whole milk

2  5.2-ounce wheels Boursin cheese

IMG_7521 IMG_7521 IMG_7521 IMG_7521 IMG_7521 IMG_7521 IMG_7521 IMG_7521~Step 1.  In a 1 1/2-quart saucepan, melt the butter over low heat.  Stir in the spices.  Add the milk and adjust heat to steaming -- do not simmer or boil.  Add one wheel of Boursin to the milk mixture, break it up into pieces with the side of a large spoon and stir until Boursin has melted into the mixture.  Add the second wheel of Boursin and repeat the process.  Remove from heat.

Toss 3/4-1 cup sauce into 12-16 ounces cooked pasta:

IMG_7554Easy Boursin Sauce for Pasta, Seafood & Veggies:  Recipe yields 2 cups/16 ounces cheese sauce, which is enough to sauce 1 1/2 -2 pounds pasta.  Reheat sauce gently on the stovetop or microwave.  Does not freeze well.

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

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ad8985200dCook's Note: While I am almost never without Boursin in my refrigerator, my ~ Buttery-Rich and Cream Cheesy Copycat Boursin ~, is almost as quick to make as Boursin sauce. Making a case for making Boursin is easy:  Sans the spices (which I have on hand all the time), you can make twice as much for half the price.  Example:  One wheel of store-bought Boursin costs almost $8.00.  I can make two wheels for slightly less than $4.00. Suffice it to say, "it makes cents".

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

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

01/12/2019

~ Herbaceous Caramelized-Onion & Boursin Burgers ~

IMG_7487Eating à la Française, in the the style of the French people, is a remarkable experience.  As a person who is 100% willing to throw calories under the bus for outstanding fare, dining in France is literally at the top of my food chain.  Speaking of chains, over the past few decades, "le fast food chaînes" have indeed invaded France, but, only to the point of being easier to find without replacing "haute cuisine" (fine dining) or interrupting eating "en famille" (family-style meals).  

That said, for a culture that loves "pissaladière" (the French answer to pizza) and has long-established ties to "pommes frites" (French fries), a "hambourgeous-fromage" (a hamburger with cheese), unless it is purchased at a "Quick" (a fast-food chain), is different from the American-style hamburger or cheeseburger in that it is made with "biftek haché" (chopped beefsteak), which gives it a coarser, slightly dryer, not to be confused with dried-out texture -- it's wonderful.  One more bit of trivia: It's not a "Royale with cheese", juste "le Royale cheese".  C'est la vie!

As the French say:  "Du pain, du vin, du Boursin."

Translates to:  "Some bread, some wine, some Boursin."

6a0120a8551282970b022ad386a1bc200cBoursin is classified as a "specialty" cheese, but, I classify it as "party cheese" -- serve it at a party with crackers or toasts and people flock to it.  This cow's milk cheese has a creamy, buttery texture and a full flavor, similar to cream cheese, which makes it perfect to serve with wine or cocktails.  The Boursin brand is available in five flavors, (Garlic & Fine Herbs is my favorite). Whichever one you choose, there are two constants in each variety of Boursin:  garlic and peppercorns.  

IMG_7362Boursin was the creation of François Boursin in 1957, in Normandy.  It was "his take" on the French tradition of serving cheese with an assortment of minced, fresh herbs, which guests sprinkled atop the cheese to suit their own palate. Here's one last bit of trivia: When you are purchasing Boursin, if the package does not say "all natural Gournay cheese on it", it is not authentic Boursin.  "Gournay" is the word François Boursin picked (naming it after the town he grew up in) when he was required to declare its origin to customs officials.  The Boursin brand was first advertised on television in France using the slogan, "Du pain, du vin, du Boursin", meaning, "some bread, some wine, some Boursin".

Want caramelized onions on your 'burger?  Make 'em first:

6a0120a8551282970b017d3bf9e9ba970cOnions contain a lot of sugar and slowly cooking them on the stovetop draws out their natural sweetness. The longer and slower they cook, the sweeter they get.  When lightly-browned or browned, they take on a pleasant, nutty taste.  When caramelized to a deep amber color, they get sweet.  Caramelizing onions is easy, but, if it's a deep caramel color you want, you'll need to allow a good 35-45 minutes.  

IMG_7417Technically, any onion can be caramelized, but I think sweet onions work best, with yellow onions being my second choice -- I don't recommend caramelizing red onions.  My favorites are: Vidalia, Walla Walla, Maui, Texas Sweet and NuMex.  Here are two tips:

1)  To insure even cooking, slice to a consistent thickness.

2)  Onions will loose about 2/3 of their volume, so start with a lot more than you think you need.

IMG_73801 1/2 pounds (after peeling) 1/8"-1/4"-thick-sliced half-moon-shaped sweet onion (6 cups) 

3  tablespoons olive oil

3  tablespoons salted butter

1  teaspoon granulated sugar 

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

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

6a0120a8551282970b017d3bf9e9ba970c IMG_7370 IMG_7370 IMG_7374 IMG_7386 IMG_7386 IMG_7386 IMG_7386~Step 1.  Peel and slice the onions as directed.  Over low heat, in a 12" skillet, melt the butter into the olive oil.  Add the onions to the skillet.  Season with the sugar and salt.  Using a large slotted spoon or spatula, toss until the onions are evenly coated in the oil/butter mixture.  

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

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

Parameters for my American-French cheeseburger:

IMG_7512Every once in a while I like to pretend I'm from France.  Today, my inner-French-self decided to come up with a to-die-for American-French-style cheeseburger that would make any Frenchican or American proud to eat.  My parameters were quickly established.  Start with a 2:1 ratio of American, store-bought ground beef to French-style processor-minced steak (flank steak). Liberally season the meat mix plenty of dried/dehydrated garlic, onion, salt, pepper, French herbes de Provence + a boost of granulated beef bouillon.  The steaky-textured 'burgers get pan-seared, relatively-quickly in a bit of melted butter, then topped with a creamy, flavor-packed French cheese, Boursin, and, caramelized onions.  Served on a French roll (there is no substitute for brioche) with green-leaf-lettuce, these moist, juicy burgers need no special sauce.

IMG_7421For the beef and seasoning mixture:

2  pounds 85/15 (85% lean/15% fat) ground beef

1  pound flank steak

2  teaspoons herbes de Provence

2  teaspoons fine sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1  teaspoon dehydrated, minced garlic

1  teaspoon dehydrated, minced onion

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1  generous teaspoon granulated beef bouillion (1 packet)

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

IMG_7425 IMG_7425 IMG_7425 IMG_7425 IMG_7425~Step 2.  In a small bowl, thoroughly stir the herbs and seasonings together.  Sprinkle the seasoning blend over the top of the meat mixture. Using your hands, thoroughly combine the two.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator 1-2 hours, or overnight, to allow the flavors time to marry -- if you have the time, overnight is terrific.

My American-French cheeseburger -- the Boursin burger:

IMG_7452For the 'burgers, the toppings & the buns:

3  pounds Mel's-meat mixture, divided into 8, 6-ounce portions, each portion (initially) formed into, 4"-round 'burgers

1 5-ounce wheel garlic-and-fine-herb-flavored Boursin cheese, cut into 8 wedges, at room temperature, very soft

1-1 1/2 cups caramelized onions, from above recipe

8  4"-round brioche hamburger rolls, sliced in half horizontally, toasted or untoasted, your choice

1  head, soft Bibb lettuce, 2-4 leaves per sandwich

3 tablespoons salted butter, divided in half, for preparing electric skillet

IMG_7446 IMG_7446 IMG_7256 IMG_7256~Step 1.  Divide the meat mixture into 8 portions, then using your hands and the aid of a 4"-round food-ring, pat and press them into thick discs, about 4"-round (they will get flattened more during cooking process).  Set aside, to come to room temp, about 30 minutes.  Cut Boursin into wedges and set aside, covered with plastic wrap, to come to room temperature, about 30 minutes.

IMG_7458 IMG_7458 IMG_7458 IMG_7458~Step 2.  In electric skillet, melt 1 1/2 tablespoons butter over low heat.  When melted, using a pastry brush, paint bottom of skillet. Increase the heat to 385° and wait 30 seconds.  

IMG_7469 IMG_7469 IMG_7474 IMG_7474 IMG_7474~Step 3.  Place four 'burgers in the skillet and using a grill press or a spatula, firmly press each 'burger down, lifting and lowering the press 2-3 times to make sure the surface has been evenly pressed (into a free-form, craggy-edged 4 1/2"-5"-sized patty).  Sauté for 2 minutes.  Flip the 'burgers over and cook for another 2 minutes (1 1/2 minutes for rare-ish, 2 minutes for medium-rare-ish).  Turn heat off.  When the butter-sputtering stops, use a spatula to transfer to rolls topped as directed below.  Repeat process with remaining four 'burgers.

Brioche bun, lettuce, 'burger, Boursin, onions, eat:

IMG_7498Herbaceous Caramelized-Onion & Boursin Burgers:  Recipe yields 1-1 1/2 cups caramelized onions/8 Boursin burgers.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; kitchen scale; 12" nonstick skillet; large spoon; paper towels; plastic wrap; 4"-round food ring (optional); 16" electric skillet; pastry brush; 'burger press or spatula; wide spatula;  serrated bread knife

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3ce3e35200bCook's Note: Mashed, smashed or whipped potatoes, made from Russets, reds or golds, skins on or skins off, baked in the oven, boiled on the stovetop or cooked in the microwave -- a case can be made, and a recipe developed, for each and every scenario, and, as long as the end justifies the means, the basic machinations for potato perfection is, for the most part, personal. ~ Buttery-Rich & Boursin-Cheesy Whipped Potatoes ~ are a personal favorite.

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

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

01/09/2019

~ Buttery-Rich and Cream-Cheesy Copycat Boursin ~

IMG_7362Hospitality at-the-drop-of-a-hat -- it's the name-of-the-game friends, and no self-respecting cook gets caught without a block of semi-soft-, wedge of soft-, or a spreadable-cheese on-hand. Get out the cheese board, the corkscrew, and voila, instant hospitality.  A little effort and as little as thirty short minutes of spirited conversation (tick, tock) can build friendships that last a lifetime. Next to the port wine cheese, you'll find Boursin in my refrigerator -- both have relatively long shelf lives.  That said, given enough time and/or notice I make my own copycat versions*.

*Note:  Making a case for making your own port wine cheese and Boursin is easy:  In the case of both, sans the spices for the Boursin (which I have on hand all the time), you can make twice as much for half the price.  Example:  One wheel of store-bought Boursin costs almost $8.00.  I can make two wheels for slightly less than $4.00.  Suffice it to say, "it makes cents".

IMG_7355As the French say:  "Du pain, du vin, du Boursin."

6a0120a8551282970b022ad386a1bc200cBoursin is classified as a "specialty" cheese, but, I classify it as "party cheese" -- serve it at a party with crackers or toasts and people flock to it.  This cow's milk cheese has a creamy, buttery texture and a full flavor, similar to cream cheese, which makes it perfect to serve with wine or cocktails.  The Boursin brand is available in five flavors, (Garlic & Fine Herbs is my favorite). Whichever one you choose, there are two constants in each variety of Boursin:  garlic and peppercorns.  

Boursin was the creation of François Boursin in 1957, in Normandy.  It was "his take" on the French tradition of serving cheese with an assortment of minced, fresh herbs, which guests sprinkled atop the cheese to suit their own personal palate.  Here's one last bit of trivia about Boursin: When you are purchasing Boursin, if the package does not say "all natural Gournay cheese on it", it is not authentic Boursin.  It seems that "Gournay" is the word François Boursin picked (naming it after the town he grew up in) when he was required to declare its origin to customs officials.  The Boursin brand was first advertised on television in France and Britain using the slogan, "Du pain, du vin, du Boursin", meaning, "some bread, some wine, some Boursin".

Translates to:  "Some bread, some wine, some Boursin."

IMG_72968  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft (1 large package)

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

1  tablespoon dried herbs de Provence

1  teaspoon dehydrated, minced garlic

1  teaspoon dehydrated, minced onion

1/2  teaspoon granulated garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon granulated onion powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon white pepper

IMG_7299 IMG_7299 IMG_7307 IMG_7307~Step 1.  Place all ingredients in a medium bowl and thoroughly stir them together -- there will be 1 1/2 total cups.  Cut and line two 3/4-cup ramekins with enough aluminum foil to overhang the sides by 1 1/2".  Fill both containers (full and level with the tippy top) with the Boursin.  Cover the ramekins with the overhanging foil and refrigerate 1-2 hours or overnight.

Note:  Boursin can be made 3-5 days in advance of serving and keeps nicely in the refrigerator for at least a week.  Remove from refrigerator about 1 hour prior to serving -- homemade Boursin softens, time wise and texturally, like butter softens (slightly-, semi-, very-soft and spreadable).

IMG_7315 IMG_7315 IMG_7315 IMG_7315 IMG_7315~Step 2.  Once Boursin has been removed from the refrigerator, loosen the foil from the top, then, use the foil as a handle to lift cheese from ramekin.  Peel back the foil.  Invert a small plate over the top, then invert the plate and Boursin to the upright position and remove the foil.  Continue to let cheese sit at room temperature until desired consistency is reached.

Cream cheese & butter + herbs & seasonings + 5 minutes:

IMG_7342Buttery-Rich and Cream-Cheesy Copycat Boursin:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups copycat Boursin cheese and two small wheels (similar in size to the store-bought wheels).

Special Equipment List:  spoon; 2, 3/4-cup-size ramekins; aluminum foil

IMG_7290Cook's Note: Mashed, smashed or whipped potatoes, made from Russets, reds or golds, skins on or skins off, baked in the oven, boiled on the stovetop or cooked in the microwave -- a case can be made, and a recipe developed, for each and every scenario, and, as long as the end justifies the means, the basic machinations for potato perfection is, for the most part, personal. ~ Buttery-Rich & Boursin-Cheesy Whipped Potatoes ~ are a personal favorite.

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

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

01/07/2019

~ Buttery-Rich & Boursin-Cheesy Whipped Potatoes ~

IMG_7291Mashed, smashed or whipped potatoes, made from Russets, reds or golds, skins on or skins off, baked in the oven, boiled on the stovetop or cooked in the microwave -- a case can be made, and a recipe developed, for each and every scenario, and, as long as the end justifies the means, the basic machinations for potato perfection is, for the most part, personal.  Truth told, while I like some versions better than others, and, with the exception of one experience (where the gal unforgivably served unpalatably "soupy potatoes" made with chicken stock in place of cream, to cut back on fat, with a consistency that bastardized the word purée), I've never eaten mashed potatoes I didn't like -- in the end, salt, pepper, a pat of butter or some gravy can fix anything.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27640d2970c~ I Love My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf ~, and, as we all know, like 'burgers-and-fries and steak-and-baked, meatloaf-and-mashed go hand-in-hand.  When mashing, smashing or whipping potatoes, everyone knows a goodly amount of soft or melted butter is a must.  For creaminess, some add warm cream or milk, others add buttermilk or sour cream.  Past that, common additions include:  bits of onion or garlic, bacon, and/or shredded cheddar or cream cheese.

Like cream cheese in your mashed potatoes?  

6a0120a8551282970b014e6067cfa0970cBoursin is classified as a "specialty" cheese, but, I classify it as "party cheese" -- serve it at a party with crackers or toasts and people flock to it.  This cow's milk cheese has a creamy, buttery texture and a full flavor, similar to cream cheese, which makes it perfect to serve with wine or cocktails.  The Boursin brand is available in five flavors, (Garlic & Fine Herbs is my favorite). Whichever one you choose, there are two constants in each variety of Boursin:  garlic and peppercorns.  

Boursin was the creation of François Boursin in 1957, in Normandy.  It was "his take" on the French tradition of serving cheese with an assortment of minced, fresh herbs, which guests sprinkled atop the cheese to suit their own personal palate.  Here's one last bit of trivia about Boursin: When you are purchasing Boursin, if the package does not say "all natural Gournay cheese on it", it is not authentic Boursin.  It seems that "Gournay" is the word François Boursin picked (naming it after the town he grew up in) when he was required to declare its origin to customs officials.  The Boursin brand was first advertised on television in France and Britain using the slogan, "Du pain, du vin, du Boursin", meaning, "some bread, some wine, some Boursin".

You're gonna love Boursin in your mashed potatoes.

IMG_72372  pounds small, "baby" red potatoes, as evenly-sized as possible, cut in half

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning the water

1  stick salted butter, at room temperature

3/4  cup cream

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated, minced onion

1/2  teaspoon dehydrated, minced garlic

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  5-ounce wheel garlic-and-fine-herb-flavored Boursin cheese, cut into pieces, at room temperature, softened (Note:  Homemade Boursin is super-easy to make -- check out my copycat recipe -- softened butter & cream cheese, herbs & seasonings + 5 minutes.)

IMG_7236 IMG_7236 IMG_7236 IMG_7236~Step 1.  Remove the Boursin from the refrigerator.  Open the package and cut it into wedges.  Set it aside to soften, while proceeding with recipe as directed below:

IMG_7242 IMG_7242 IMG_7242 IMG_7242 IMG_7242 IMG_7242 IMG_7242~Step 2.  Slice potatoes in half and place in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot as you work.  Cover with 2-quarts cold water and add 1 tablespoon sea salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook until potatoes are fork tender through to their centers, 16-18 minutes.  Remove from heat and transfer to a colander to thoroughly drain.  Return steaming hot potatoes to still hot stockpot and return to still warm stovetop.  Add the Boursin, cover the pot and wait about 5 minutes.

IMG_7247 IMG_7247Step 3.  While the potatoes are simmering, place cream, butter, minced garlic, minced onion, salt and pepper in a 1-cup measuring container.  Place in microwave to warm up gently, until butter has melted.  Remove from microwave and set aside.

IMG_7270 IMG_7270 IMG_7270 IMG_7270 IMG_7270~Step 4.  Remove potatoes from stovetop and uncover pot.  On medium speed of hand-held electric mixer, incorporate the Boursin and half the butter/cream mixture.  Add the second half of the butter/cream mixture and gradually increase mixer speed to high, whipping the potatoes while scraping down the sides of the pot with a large rubber spatula until smooth and creamy (except for the pretty chards of red potato skins), about 1-2 minutes.

Smashed, mashed or whipped, try a bit of Boursin next-time:

IMG_7290Buttery-Rich & Boursin-Cheesy Whipped Potatoes:  Recipe yields about 6 cups whipped potatoes.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 4-quart wide-bottom stockpot w/lid; colander; 1-cup measuring container; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0dfb3b0970cCook's Note:  Lots of folks add cheddar cheese to mashed or smashed potatoes.  It's a well-documented fact that "everthing tastes betta with chedda".  That said, if you've never tasted cheddar potatoes with dried mint flakes added to them, I implore to take a page out of my playbook.  Don't roll your eyes.  I've served these potatoes to a couple of schooled restaurant chefs who have changed their menus to serve "Mel's potatoes" with lamb or lamb chops. You gotta trust me on this one. I didn't invent the pairing of potatoes, cheese and mint.  My Eastern European ancestors did that for me. Where my people came from, parts of Russia and the now surrounding countries, the climate was cold and the growing season was short.  Along with chives, dill and parsley, mint was a hearty herb that grew like a weed.  It was the first to come to life in the Spring, but, it was the last to die in the Winter.  Click here to check out my recipe for ~ Creamy Smashed Cheddar 'n Mint Gold Potatoes ~.

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

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

01/04/2019

~ Slovak-Style Butter-Bean & Mushroom Sauerkraut ~

IMG_7226This is my father's family's recipe for sauerkraut, and as Eastern Europeans, sauerkraut wasn't reserved for ringing in the New Year -- we ate it all year long.  The only thing that could improve upon the recipe would be my grandfather's home-fermented 'kraut -- which, as a young child, I remember being kept in a large, wooden, lidded barrel sitting in the corner of his dark, cool, earthen-floored basement, which I also remember being a somewhat scary place.  In the family's vegetable garden, they grew their cabbage.  In a small barn, next to the vegetable garden and also a scary place, were three or four large slaw cutters, which, once the cabbage got harvested, were used by members of the family-of-seven to make short work of the shredding process.

Butter beans & mushrooms in sauerkraut?  You betcha! 

In my family, my father picked mushrooms in the Spring, then my mother cleaned, blanched and froze them in small packages.  Amongst other things (like scrambled eggs and mushrooms for breakfast), she always added mushrooms to sauerkraut along with a can of butter beans, which neutralized some of the sauer in the 'kraut.  It is a very filling, stick-to-the-ribs combination, and it might even sound a bit odd a first too, but, it is sigh-oh-my, truly delicious.  Served with some PA Deutsch-style buttered noodles and some form of porcine (ham, sausage, roast, chops, steaks), the complete meal is fit for a king.  While this side-dish is quick to make (5-10 minutes of prep and 45-50 minutes of simmer time), it is almost better to prepare it the day before you plan to serve it, to allow the flavors to marry -- simply reheat it gently on stovetop or in microwave.  

IMG_70942  pounds fresh sauerkraut, thoroughly drained for about 10 minutes

2  15-ounce cans butter beans, well-drained, liquid reserved (about 2 generous cups)

8  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (about 2 cups)

3  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, well-drained (about 2 cups)

6  ounces salted butter (1 1/2 sticks)

1 1/2  teaspoons Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Salt

1 1/2  teaspoons Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Pepper

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097~Step 1. Drain the sauerkraut, beans and mushrooms as directed, then dice the onion.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, melt butter over low heat.  Stir in Jane's seasonings and the black pepper.  Add the onion and increase heat to medium-, medium-high, and sauté/simmer until softened, about 5-6 minutes.

IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114~Step 2.  Add sauerkraut, beans and mushrooms.  Stir.  Add about half the reserved sauce/liquid from the beans and stir again.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook, stirring regularly, 20-25 minutes.  Add and stir in the remainder of the sauce/liquid from the beans, stir, and continue to simmer, stirring frequently, 20-25 more minutes -- the point of adding the liquid in two increments is to sauté the mixture in a scant amount sauce, not boil it in a lot of liquid, which gives the beans the time they need to absorb the excess moisture.  Remove pan from heat, cover and allow to sauerkraut time to steep, so flavors can marry, about 30-60+ minutes.

Serve in bowls or a large bowl as a side-serving...

IMG_7228... or layer it between pork blade steak & buttered noodles:

IMG_7214Slovak-Style Butter-Bean & Mushroom Sauerkraut:  Recipe yields  2 quarts/8 cups sauerkraut.

Special Equipment List:  colander; cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8e4ec5c970bCook's Note:  Another side-dish that often made it's way onto our family's table was ~ Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier ~.  It too was made with ingredients grown in the garden. Also known as "Salad Olivier" or "Salad Olivye", and, "Russian Salad", there are as many variations of it as there are cooks willing to take the time to do a precise job of uniformly cubing and dicing the components. For young girls, who were required to assist their mother in the kitchen, it was how they honed their knife skills for life in their own kitchens (while the father was teaching the boys to fish, hunt, gather and/or farm).

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

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

01/02/2019

~ Happy New Year Pork Blade Steak and Sauerkraut ~

IMG_7214Throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and into the Midwest, some form of porcine and sauerkraut is the traditional meal to properly ring in the New Year in order to receive a years worth of good luck, health and prosperity.  In my grandmothers' and mother's kitchens, they roasted a pork loin or braised a pork butt to serve with the briny sauerkraut my grandfathers' or father fermented in their 'kraut crocks for 6-8 weeks.  I never questioned why we ate this meal.  I simply assumed that Santa  dropped by everyones home with presents on Christmas Eve, and, everyone ate pork and sauerkraut (plus  leftover Christmas cookies) on New Year's Day -- both rituals were fine by me.

Why do we ring in the New Year eating pork & sauerkraut?

Anywhere you find a gathering of Pennsylvania Dutch (Dutch=Deutsch=German) or Eastern Europeans, you'll find them eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day -- it's a combination of tradition steeped in superstition backed up by practical purpose.  Where I grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania, we had a large population of both.  My family was Eastern European, we knew many PA Deutsch folks, and, both cuisines intersected in numerous ways, starting with:  both are porcine-raising cabbage-growing cultures who wrote the book on pork and cabbage recipes.

It's a combination of PA Dutch & Eastern European tradition...

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0b81e8f970cPractical purpose turned into tradition.  Pork and sauerkraut didn't start out as a dish associated with New Year's Day -- it evolved into one.  It was common for individuals in farming communities to raise a backyard pig or three, or raise pigs for a living.  Those who raised pigs slaughtered them in the Fall, because the time-consuming task of butchering a large animal is considerably more food-safe during cold weather months.  In turn, this meant that cuts of pork (hams, sausages, roasts, etc.) were more plentiful in the weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year (so, if one didn't raise a pig, one could purchase or barter for a choice cut).  As for sauerkraut, the cool weather months are prime cabbage-harvesting time, which resulted in pickling vats of it in order to preserve it -- timing is everything, and, after fermenting, the 'kraut was done just in the nick of time for the holidays.

... steeped in superstition & backed by a dose of practical purpose.

IMG_0840Tradition steeped in superstition.  As any PA Deutsch person will be quick to tell you, "the pig roots forward as it eats", which is a symbol of forward progress (the direction people hope to go in the new year), and, raising a big, fat pig, fed a family for a long time, a symbol of prosperity (which people hope to achieve in the new year) -- this is opposed to "the chicken and turkey scratches backward as it eats", which is a symbol of a year no better, or worse than, the previous one (undesirable to say the least).  As any Eastern European person will tell you, "the long shredded-strands of sauerkraut  symbolize a long, healthy life", and, "freshly-picked cabbage is green, which is the color of cash money, which symbolizes prosperity".  The moral of the story: Place a beautiful, well-seasoned pork roast surrounded by mounds of briny sauerkraut or cooked cabbage on your New Year Day table and you're walking on sunshine until next year.

My family's Slovak-style butter bean & mushroom sauerkraut:

IMG_7226While this is quick to make (5-10 minutes of prep and 45-50 minutes of stovetop time), it can be simmering while the pork blade steaks are broiling for 22-minutes, so, prepare it first or a day ahead.  In my family, my father picked mushrooms in the Spring, then my mother blanched and froze them. Amongst other things, she always added mushrooms to the sauerkraut along with a can of butter beans, which cut the acid from sauerkraut.  It is a very filling and stick-to-the-ribs combination, and it might even sound a bit odd a first too, but, it is sigh-oh-my delicious.  Served with some PA Deutsch-style buttered noodles and some pork, the complete meal is fit for a king.

IMG_70942  pounds fresh sauerkraut, thoroughly drained for about 10 minutes

2  15-ounce cans butter beans, well-drained, liquid reserved (about 2 generous cups)

8  ounces diced yellow or sweet onion (about 2 cups)

3  4-ounce cans sliced mushrooms, well-drained (about 2 cups)

6  ounces salted butter (1 1/2 sticks)

1 1/2  teaspoons Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Salt

1 1/2  teaspoons Jane's Krazy Mixed-Up Pepper

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097 IMG_7097~Step 1.  Drain the sauerkraut, beans and mushrooms as directed, then dice the onion.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides, melt butter over low heat.  Stir in Jane's seasonings and the black pepper.  Add the onion and increase heat to medium-, medium-high, and sauté/simmer until softened, about 5-6 minutes.

IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114 IMG_7114~Step 2.  Add sauerkraut, beans and mushrooms.  Stir.  Add about half the reserved sauce/liquid from the beans and stir again.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and cook, stirring regularly, 20-25 minutes.  Add and stir in the remainder of the sauce/liquid from the beans, stir, and continue to simmer, stirring frequently, 20-25 more minutes -- the point of adding the liquid in two increments is to sauté the mixture in a scant amount sauce, not boil it in a lot of liquid, which gives the beans the time they need to absorb the excess moisture.  Remove pan from heat, cover and allow to sauerkraut time to steep, so flavors can marry, about 30-60+ minutes, while broiling the blade steaks as directed below and preparing (optional, but recommended) the buttered noodles.

The pork blade steak -- a German-Midwest invention & staple.    

IMG_7201A few things did rock my food world in 2018, and, the pork blade steak was one of them. It quickly became my new-to-me muse -- in my own words, it's a bone-fide kick-butt man-sized pork chop.  Known as pork steak, pork butt steak or pork blade steak, these bone-in steaks are cut from the shoulder of the pig -- the same part of the porcine used to make pulled pork.  Similar in taste and texture to close-kin country-style spareribs, they were invented in St. Louis, MO, and are a Midwest staple.  As a country-style spare-rib lover living in central Pennsylvania, I ask the Sam's Club butcher to custom-cut these inexpensive, lesser-to-unknown-to-our-locale steaks for me.  Perhaps this post will help them to catch on "out here in the counties".  Trust me when I tell you, this cut of porcine makes short work out of serving pork and sauerkraut for New Year's Day, especially if you are short on time and/or neither want or need a lot of leftovers.

6a0120a8551282970b0224df30e276200b"Pork butt" or "Boston butt", is a bone-in cut of pork that comes from the upper part of the "pork shoulder" from the front leg of the hog. Smoked or barbecued, Boston butt is a southern tradition.  This cut of meat got its name in pre-Revolutionary War New England:

Butchers in Boston left the blade bone in this inexpensive cut of pork 6a0120a8551282970b0223c84936d8200cshoulder then packed and stored the meat in casks called "butts". They sold the pork shoulders individually to their customers, and, when they got popular, they began shipping "the butts" Southward and throughout the Colonies.  Simply stated:  the way the hog shoulder was butchered, combined with "the butt" they arrived in, evolved into the name "Boston butt".

6a0120a8551282970b0223c8493631200cSteaks cut from the pork shoulder are marbled with lots of fat and rich with collagen, which, like the roast, makes them extremely flavorful.  

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

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

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

IMG_7401 IMG_7401~ Step 1.  Place 2, 3/4"-1"-thick, bone-in pork butt blade steaks, about 1 1/2-1 3/4-pounds each on a corrugated broiler pan -- allow to come to room temperature, 20-30 minutes.  Season tops with freshly-ground sea salt & peppercorn blend.

IMG_7430 IMG_7430 IMG_7430 IMG_7430 IMG_7430 IMG_7430~Step 2.  Place steaks 5 1/2"-6" underneath preheated broiler for exactly 11 minutes -- 5 1/2"-6" is a key measurement when broiling pork blade steaks.  Remove steaks from oven, flip steaks over, season the second sides with a bit (not too much) more sea salt and peppercorn blend.  Return to oven and broil for exactly 11 more minutes.  Remove from oven, set aside, and allow steaks to rest, in pan, for 10-12 minutes.

IMG_7454 IMG_7456 IMG_7456Step 3.  To slice steaks, slice each rested-but-warm blade steak, on a diagonal, in half lengthwise -- half bone-in, the other boneless.  If desired, thinly-slice the boneless half across the grain while holding the knife at a 30° angle, into (1/8"-1/4"-thick) strips.  If desired, strips can be diced and tossed into the sauerkraut. Carve meat away from bone on the second half, then slice and/or dice that meat too.

Serve pork steak atop a bed of sauerkraut & buttered noodles:

IMG_7211Happy New Year Pork Blake Steak and Sauerkraut:  Recipe yields 8 generous servings.

Special Equipment List:  colander; cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2"-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon; 2, 11 3/4" x 8 1/2" x 1 1/4" disposable aluminum broiler pan w/corrugated bottom

6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcafef88970bCook's Note: I am here to make it clear that Pennsylvania Dutch cookery does not belong solely to PA and it is not Dutch either.  The term "Dutch" was the early English settlers slang for the German word "Deutsch".  So:  When most people incorrectly say "Pennsylvania Dutch", they should be saying "Pennsylvania Deutsch", crediting the Germanic or German-speaking immigrants from Germany and Switzerland for this cuisine.  The majority of these people were either Amish, Mennonite or Brethren, all of which were considered "Anabaptist", and, oh boy, they knew how to cook!

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

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

12/31/2018

~ Ringing in the New Year Eating Pork & Sauerkraut ~

IMG_7201Anywhere you find a gathering of Pennsylvania Dutch (Dutch=Deutsch=German) or Eastern Europeans (primarily throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and into the Midwest), you'll find them ringing in the New Year by eating pork and sauerkraut on New Year's Day, in order to receive a years worth of good luck, health and prosperity.  It's a combination of tradition steeped in superstition backed up with a dose of practical purpose.  Where I grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania, we had a large population of both.  My family was Eastern European, we knew many PA Deutsch folks, and, both cuisines intersected in numerous ways, starting with:  both are porcine-raising cabbage-growing cultures who wrote the book on pork and cabbage recipes.

It's a combination of PA Dutch & Eastern European tradition...

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3caf5dc200bPractical purpose turned into tradition.  Pork and sauerkraut didn't start out as a dish associated with New Year's Day -- it evolved into one.  It was common for individuals in farming communities to raise a backyard pig or three, or raise pigs for a living.  Those who raised pigs slaughtered them in the Fall, because the time-consuming task of butchering a large animal is considerably more food-safe during cold weather months.  In turn, this meant that cuts of pork (hams, sausages, roasts, etc.) were more plentiful in the weeks leading up to Christmas and the New Year (so, if one didn't raise a pig, one could purchase or barter for a choice cut).  As for sauerkraut, the cool weather months are prime cabbage-harvesting time, which resulted in pickling vats of it in order to preserve it -- timing is everything, and, after fermenting, the 'kraut was done just in the nick of time for the holidays.

... steeped in superstition & backed by a dose of practical purpose.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3caf5a7200bTradition steeped in superstition.  As any PA Deutsch person will be quick to tell you, "the pig roots forward as it eats", which is a symbol of forward progress (the direction people hope to go in the new year), and, raising a big, fat pig, fed a family for a long time, a symbol of prosperity (which people hope to achieve in the new year) -- this is opposed to "the chicken and turkey scratches backward as it eats", which is a symbol of a year no better, or worse than, the previous one (undesirable to say the least).  As any Eastern European person will tell you, "the long shredded-strands of sauerkraut  symbolize a long, healthy life", and, "freshly-picked cabbage is green, which is the color of cash money, which symbolizes prosperity".  The moral of the story: Place a beautiful, well-seasoned pork roast surrounded by mounds of briny sauerkraut or cooked cabbage on your New Year Day table and you're walking on sunshine until next year.

And it couldn't be a tastier way to embrace a new beginning:

IMG_7211"We are all in the food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

12/28/2018

~ This Spud's for You: Game-On Baked-Potato Salad ~

IMG_6974When one lives in a college town associated with a big-time football program, one has honed the skills necessary to transition from the traditional Christmas Eve and Christmas Day festivities to ringing in the New Year with a bowl-game tailgate.  It's a tough job but somebody's got to do it, and, here in Happy Valley, PA, the home of Penn State's Nittany Lions, an entire community of fellow blue-and-white-clad cooks are capable of changing lanes with ease.  This year, it's gonna be deli-sandwiches and potato salad on our cocktail table in front of our lunch-timed game-day TV.  We'll serve our good-luck pork-and-sauerkraut for another school's dinner-timed game.

IMG_7017Pieracini's deli-sandwiches & my baked-potato salad.

IMG_6949I've got a favorite Italian, mom-pop-and-family-operated (since 1919) market in my hometown that makes game-winningly delicious hoagie sandwiches, right down to the home-baked Italian rolls they serve them on:  Pieracini's.  With a choice of traditional hoagie, beef, turkey (or an assortment of all three), there are 15-, 30- or 45-piece trays, but, if it's wrap- or pretzel-bread sandwiches you prefer, they too are options -- and reasonably priced.  For a small establishment their menu is big, with a selection of all-homemade hot meals, soups, salads and baked goods too long to mention.       

IMG_7034I won't lie, I am a potato salad snob -- most folks who like potato salad are.  That said, when it comes to potato salad recipes, I have several, using different varieties of potatoes and employing different cooking methods.  When it comes to making potato salad, the best tip I can give anyone is:  follow the recipe, as different potatoes usually require different cooking methods.  In this recipe, I save time by not peeling Russet potatoes, and, while they're "baking" in the microwave for 16-18 minutes, I hard-cook the eggs, chop the onion and celery and collect my spices and refrigerated ingredients.

Clock ticking down to kick off?  Game on with this game plan:

IMG_70705  13-14-ounce Russet potatoes

5-6  extra-large eggs

1  generous cup diced celery

1  generous cup diced yellow or sweet onion

8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) mayonnaise, + 1-2 tablespoons additional mayo, if desired, chilled

2  tablespoons Dijon mustard, chilled

2  tablespoons sweet pickle relish, chilled

1  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1/2  teaspoon celery seed

IMG_7055 IMG_7055 IMG_7055~ Step 1.  Rinse the Russet potatoes, and, using the sharp tip of a paring knife, pierce their skin in 4-5 spots. Microwave until potatoes are fork-tender, yet still-firm and slightly undercooked.  In my microwave this takes about 18 minutes.  Remove from microwave.  Slice the Russet into 1/2" - 3/4" discs, then, peel back the skins from the discs.  Slice the discs into 1/2"-3/4 chunks, placing them on a baking pan as you work.  Place the potatoes in the refrigerator for 8-10 minutes (or 30-60 minutes if you have the extra time) to quickly cool the potatoes to below room temperature.

IMG_7041 IMG_7041 IMG_7041 IMG_7041 IMG_7041~Step 2.  When potatoes go into the microwave, hard-cook the eggs (either via the link to my method or yours) as directed.  Do not overcook the eggs -- everyone detests those greenish-gray halos around the yolks. Peel and dice the eggs into 3/4" pieces and set aside.  Dice the celery and onions -- small or medium dice, your choice.  Set aside.

IMG_7073 IMG_7073 IMG_7073 IMG_7073 IMG_7081 IMG_7081 IMG_7081 IMG_7081~Step 3.  In a large bowl, using a large rubber spatula, stir together the mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, sweet pickle relish, salt, pepper and celery seed.  Add and fold in the celery and onions, followed by the cooled potatoes, and, last but not least, the delicate eggs.  Add 1-2 more tablespoons mayonnaise to adjust creaminess, if desired -- I added none today.

Get the sandwiches & potato salad out, then turn on the TV:

IMG_6952The game's coming on so I gotta run & stick a fork in it:

IMG_7022This Spud's for You: Game-On Baked-Potato Salad:  Recipe yields 12 cups/3 quarts potato salad.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01bb07cebeb8970dCook's Note: For potato salad recipes that suit several occasions, many cuisines and all seasons, check out my repertoire: ~ Spring-Forward Pea, Carrot & Potato Salad Olivier ~, ~ Lemony English Pea, Mint and Gold Potato Salad ~, ~  Baked Russet & Sweet Potato Salad w/Chile-Lime Mayo ~, ~ Roast Beef Eatin' Horseradish-Mayo Potato Salad ~, ~ Russian Red-Potato, Beet, Onion & Radish Salad ~, and, ~ The Gold Standard:  Creamy Gold Potato and Egg Salad ~.  

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

12/25/2018

~Christmas Cookies 2018 with a Winter White Theme~

IMG_6924Because there are not enough days in the week preceding Christmas for me to bake as many varieties of cookies as I would like, every year my Christmas cookie trays are different.  Each year I pick a theme and bake four kinds.  For example:  Last year I baked Four Kid-Friendly Candy-Bar Cookies of My Youth.  Each cookie contained a different candy bar:  Reeses's Cups, Snickers, Kit-Kat's and Whoppers.  This year, for a small gathering of adults, I chose Winter White -- cookies that pair well with creamy rum-laced eggnog and cream-in-your-coffee or tea.

Home for the Holiday Eggnog-Laced Snickerdoodles:

IMG_6592Let it Snow-Capped Ricotta & Coconut Cookies:

IMG_6707The Holly & the Ivy Tart-Cherry & Pistachio Biscotti:

IMG_6819Over-the-Moon Candied-Pecan & Toffee Crescents:

IMG_6915Merry Christmas to All & to All a Goodnight!

IMG_6928"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018) 

12/23/2018

~ Over-the-Moon Candied-Pecan & Toffee Crescents ~

IMG_6915This version of these buttery rich, melt-in-your-mouth, sweet and salty, crunchy-crumbly-munchie confections, which are loaded with honey-glazed candied pecans and English-style toffee bits, will, if you're not forewarned, glue you to the holiday dessert table.  I call them confections because, while they are classified as a cookie, they have all the panache of a candy.  During the holiday season, these cookies show up in the crescent shape, but, other times of the year, they're typically shaped into rounds and referred to as "tea cakes" or "English tea cakes".

There are as many variations on this English recipe which dates back to the middle ages -- all contain nuts, with walnuts or pecans being the most common, and, authentic recipes never contain baking powder, baking soda, eggs or milk (keep in mind the ingredients available in that time period of history -- baking powder and baking soda did not exist back then).  They are made from the typical middle-ages-type pastry mixture of flour, sugar, ground nuts, butter and water.

Tea cakes, English tea cakes or holiday crescent cookies:

IMG_6823

 

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

1  cup confectioners' sugar

2  teaspoons pecan flavoring

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

8  ounces honey-glazed candied pecans

1/2  cup English toffee bits

2 1/4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

4-6  tablespoons cold water

additional confectioners' sugar, for dusting cookies

IMG_6830 IMG_6830 IMG_6830 IMG_6830 IMG_6830 IMG_6846 IMG_6846~Step 1.  In work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, using a series of 45-50 rapid on-off pulses, pulverize pecans to small bits and pieces.  Transfer to a medium bowl (there will be 1 1/2 cups), then, stir in the toffee bits (to total 2 cups).  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour and salt.  Set aside. Line 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper.  Set aside.  Preheat oven to 350º.

IMG_6852 IMG_6852 IMG_6852 IMG_6852~Step 2.  In a large bowl, on medium-high mixer speed, cream together the butter, sugar and extracts, 1 minute.  Lower mixer speed, add pecan mixture and fold it into butter mixture, scraping down sides of bowl with a spatula until ingredients are thoroughly incorporated, 1 minute.

IMG_6861 IMG_6861 IMG_6861 IMG_6861~Step 3.  Add the flour and salt.  Continue mixing on low speed and scraping down sides of bowl with the spatula, until flour is thoroughly incorporated.  Mixture will resemble coarse crumbs. Remove mixer.  Add 4 tablespoons water and use the spatula to blend it in.  If mixture doesn't come together to form a ball, add 2 more tablespoons water.  Mixture will have formed a ball.

IMG_6870 IMG_6870 IMG_6870 IMG_6870~Step 4.  Using a 1 1/2" ice-cream scoop as a measure, roll balls of dough between your fingertips to form 3"-3 1/2" logs.  Shape logs into crescents and place, 1 1/2"-2" apart on prepared pans, 20 on each pan.  Use your index fingertip and thumb to taper either end of each crescent.

IMG_6873Tip from Mel:  For evenly-shaped and sized crescents, which makes for a prettier presentation, place each log into a 2 1/2" round jar lid, use the lid to form the crescent shape, then invert the lid onto the baking pan -- the crescent will drop right out.  The "lid" in this photo is actually the bottom of a red Solo cup which I cut with a pair of kitchen shears. 

IMG_6884 IMG_6884 IMG_6884 IMG_6901 IMG_6901~Step 5.  One-pan-at-a-time, bake cookies on center rack of preheated 350º oven, until puffed and lightly-browned, 12-14 minutes.  Do not over-bake/over-brown.  Remove from oven and cool on pan about 1 minute prior to using a thin spatula to transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely, 1-2 hours, prior to lightly-dusting with confectioners' sugar.

Lightly-dust cooled crescents w/confectioners' sugar & serve:

IMG_6905Over-the-Moon Candied-Pecan & Toffee Crescents: Recipe yields 40-44, 3 1/2" cookies.

Special Equipment List:  food processor; spoon; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 2, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 1/2" ice-cream/cookie scoop; thin spatula

6a0120a8551282970b0224df349c26200bCook's Note:  For a different-type cookie with the same theme, my ~ Buttery Candied-Pecan and Toffee Bit Shortbread ~ cookies will disappear almost as fast as you can bake them. Throughout the United Kingdom, shortbread has been a tradition at tea time since medieval days.  As the name implies, shortbread contains shortening in the the form of butter, plus sugar and flour.  After this super-easy to make dough is mixed, it can be be baked in several forms.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

12/20/2018

~ The Holly & the Ivy: Tart-Cherry & Pistachio Biscotti ~

IMG_6819Bold 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", and, they're a great way to get into the spirit of holiday baking.

One biscotto, three biscotti & my version pales to none:

IMG_6803The word biscotti (three biscotti, one biscotto) originates form the Latin word "biscoctus", which means "twice cooked".  Biscotti, as we know them, are oblong shaped, dry, crunchy biscuit-esque cookies that get baked twice -- once in loaf form and a second time after the loaf is sliced.  That said, the word also references any oven-baked goods that get baked twice, until very dry, so they can be stored for a long time.  In ancient times, this type of non-perishable was useful on long-journeys -- they were a wartime staple of the Roman legions.  Traditionally almond flavored, modern versions have come a long way baby, and my version, which beside the tart cherries and salty pistachios contains pure, organic cherry and pistachio extracts, pales to none. 

IMG_67256 1/2  ounces salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (1 2/3 sticks)

1  cup sugar

3  extra-large eggs

2  teaspoons pure pistachio extract

1  teaspoon pure cherry extract

1/2  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6  ounces chopped dehydrated tart cherries (about 1 1/2 cups)

6  ounces chopped roasted and salted shelled pistachios (about 1 1/2 cups)

3  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour + 1/2  cup additional bench flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

IMG_6735 IMG_6735 IMG_6735 IMG_6735~Step 1.  Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with parchment paper and ready a wire rack that will fit in the pan, a kitchen scale, a 12" ruler and a serrated bread knife.  Preheat oven to 350º.  Chop cherries and pistachios and set aside.  Stir together the flour and baking powder.  Set aside.

IMG_6736 IMG_6736 IMG_6736 IMG_6736 IMG_6736 IMG_6736~Step 2.  In a large mixing bowl, on medium- medium-high speed of electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, eggs and extracts, about 1 minute.  Add and beat in the cherries and pistachios, about 1 minute.  Lower the mixer speed.  In two or three increments, fold in the flour mixture.  Continue to mix until ingredients are thoroughly combined and a sticky, yet manageable dough has formed, about 1 minute.

IMG_6754 IMG_6754 IMG_6754 IMG_6761 IMG_6761 IMG_6761 IMG_6761 IMG_6761~Step 3.  Dust a wooden pastry board with 1-2 tablespoons bench flour.  Turn the dough out onto the floured surface and knead, adding bits of flour, in increments, as necessary, until dough is smooth and no longer sticks to hands.  Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide the dough into 4 equal parts, about 11-ounces each.  On the same lightly-floured surface, use your hands to roll and from each segment into a 10"-long cylindrical log -- this is super-quick and easy to do.  

IMG_6779 IMG_6779Step 4. Transfer logs to prepared baking pan, placing them well apart and super-straight.  Bake logs on center rack of preheated 350º oven 16-18 minutes.  Logs will have doubled in size, will be soft to the touch and lightly-browned, yet, have a hollow sound when gently tapped with the knuckle of index finger -- they will not and should not have a crusty or crisp exterior.  Remove pan from oven and set aside until loaves have cooled enough to handle with your hands,  about 30 minutes.  Do not turn the oven off.

IMG_6786 IMG_6786 IMG_6786 IMG_6786 IMG_6786~Step 5.  Remove logs from pan.  Fit a cooling rack into the baking pan. Using a serrated bread knife, gently but firmly cut the logs into slightly-less than 3/4"-thick slices, 15-16 per log.  Arrange the slices, side-by-side on rack in pan.  Return to oven and bake on center rack of 350º oven, 8-10 minutes, until edges of biscotti are beginning to turn light brown.  Remove from oven and set pan of biscotti aside to cool completely, 1-2 hours or overnight (overnight is best because it gives biscotti a chance to air-dry a crisp up through to their centers).

Note:  Store in an airtight container, separating layers with wax paper, for as long as they last.

Serve 'em w/coffee, cappuccino & espresso, or, dunk 'em in your favorite sweet, red Italian dessert wine: 

IMG_6820The Holly & the Ivy:  Tart-Cherry and Pistachio Biscotti:  Recipe yields 4 1/2 dozen, 3"-long cookies.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; wooden pastry board; kitchen scale; 12" ruler; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; parchment paper; serrated bread knife; wire cooling rack

IMG_6708Cook's Note: Attend an Italian birthday or graduation party, bridal or baby shower, wedding or christening, etc. Name an occasion -- next to the biscotti, ricotta cookies will be on the table, especially during the holidays.  If they aren't served, you showed up at the wrong address.  Every family has a favorite recipe, but, aside from the flavoring, color of the glaze and sugar crystals or jimmies that get sprinkled on top, all recipes are remarkably similar. For another classic Italian Christmas cookie (which is super-easy and served year-round), check out my twist on ~ Let it Snow-Capped Ricotta and Coconut Cookies ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

12/17/2018

~ Let it Snow-Capped Ricotta and Coconut Cookies ~

IMG_6708Attend an Italian birthday or graduation party, bridal or baby shower, wedding or christening, etc. Name an occasion -- if it is being hosted in or by an Italian-American family, ricotta cookies will be on the dessert table, especially during the holidays.  If ricotta cookies aren't served, you showed up at the wrong address.  Every family has a favorite recipe, and, while no two recipes are exactly alike, aside from the choice of flavoring, color of the glaze and the decorative sugar crystals or jimmies that get sprinkled on top, all recipes for these beloved cookies are remarkably similar.

6a0120a8551282970b0154383f535b970cI am a big fan of this type of soft cakey-textured and glazed cookie. My recipes for banana-walnut-, pumpkin-spice-, eggnog-, and, all-purpose celebration- cookies, are prime examples.  In the case of the ricotta cookie, there are no rules regarding the flavoring or flavoring combination used.  Lemon or orange in conjunction with a splash of vanilla are the most common followed by almond or anise, but use whatever puts a smile on your face.

Every recipe for ricotta cookies is an easy one.  It is worth noting, however, that no matter what kind of cookie pans/sheets you use, I recommend lining them with parchment paper, to keep the bottoms of the cookies from over-browning, as these are pale, barely-browned cookies.  Also, if you're using dark colored sheets/pans, be sure to lower the oven temperature from 350º to 325º, because dark sheets/pans conduct heat differently than light-colored pans.  Carry on. 

When ya gotta ricotta -- make ricotta cookies!

IMG_6617For the wet ingredients:

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

2  large eggs

2  teaspoons pure coconut extract

2  teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2  cups sugar

16  ounces whole milk ricotta cheese (2  cups)

1  generous cup sweetened, flaked coconut  

For the dry ingredients:

4  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  tablespoon baking powder

1  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_6665For the glaze and sprinkles:

2  cups confectioners' sugar

3-4  tablespoons milk

2  teaspoons coconut extract

2  teaspoons vanilla extract

4-6  tablespoons coarsely-ground sparkling white sugar crystals,

and/or:

4-6  tablespoons white jimmies, one, the other, or both 

IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622 IMG_6622~Step 1.  To mix wet ingredients, in a large  bowl, over medium- medium-high speed of hand-held mixer, cream the butter, eggs and extracts for one full minute, then, add the sugar and mix for another full minute.  Lower mixer speed and fold in the ricotta, followed by the coconut, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula during this entire process.

IMG_6620 IMG_6620 IMG_6620~Step 2.  To mix in the dry ingredients, in a medium bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. On medium-low mixer speed, working your way up to medium, incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients by adding the flour mixture to the ricotta mixture in two-three increments.  When all the dry ingredients are incorporated, a thick, manageable cookie dough will have formed.

IMG_6644 IMG_6644 IMG_6644 IMG_6644 IMG_6644 IMG_6644~Step 3.  Line 4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment and ready a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop.  Using the scoop as a measure, gently drop level balls of dough, well-apart, onto each prepared pan, 15 per pan.  Bake cookies, one-pan-at-a-time, on center rack of 350º oven, 9-10 minutes.  Cookies should be puffed through to their centers, pale-colored and just showing signs of starting to brown.  Remove from oven and cool in pan about 1 minute prior to transferring to a wire rack to cool completely, about 1 hour.

IMG_6667 IMG_6667 IMG_6667 IMG_6667 IMG_6667 IMG_6667~Step 4.  To prepare the glaze, place the powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Add and stir in the coconut and vanilla extracts.  One tablespoon at a time, add and stir in the milk, until a smooth drizzly consistency is reached.

IMG_6679 IMG_6679 IMG_6679~Step 5.  To glaze and top the cookies, one-at-a-time dip the top (just the top not the sides) in the glaze, lift it out and allow all excess glaze to drizzle back into bowl.  After glazing a dozen cookies, sprinkle the glazed tops with sugar and/or jimmies -- it's important to sprinkle while the glaze is still wet.  Allow cookies to sit on countertop, uncovered, until glaze has hardened, several hours (4-6 hours) or overnight.

Allow glaze to harden several hours or overnight:

IMG_6699Note:  Store cookies in an airtight container, separating the layers with wax paper for up to two weeks.  Once glaze hardens, the tops will stay firm and pretty as long as they are stored.

It really is the most wonderful time of the year: 

IMG_6717Let it Snow-Capped Ricotta and Coconut Cookies:  Recipe yields 4 1/2 dozen 2 1/2"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 4, 17 1/2 x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 3/4" ice-cream/cookie scoop; thin spatula; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08a30027970dCook's Note: There are two kinds of people.  Those who finished their holiday and those who haven't started.  If your holiday is under control, the force is with you and you need no help from me.  If, however, you fall into the category of "just got home from doing gift and grocery shopping" and find yourself in the kitchen in need of a last-minute cookie recipe, preheat your oven to 325º now, take a deep breath and relax.  ~ My Six-Ingredient Last-Minute Shortbread ~ is for you.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

12/15/2018

~Home for the Holiday Eggnog-Laced Snickerdoodles~

IMG_6594The humble snickerdoodle is my all-time favorite sugar cookie.  I've been told it was the first cookie I was ever allowed to taste, so, if my mind hasn't changed by now, it is not likely to happen. A traditional snickerdoodle is a flat, pale-to-golden, crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside cookie made with butter and/or shortening, and, cinnamon and/or nutmeg .  It never (don't go there with this cookie) contains additions like chocolate chips, dried fruit or nuts.  If flavoring is added, it is always a simple and subtle splash of vanilla.  That said, snickerdoodles are the perfect foil for eggnog or eggnog flavoring, and, a splash of rum or butter-rum is delightful too.

IMG_6597Snickerdoodles are German and evolved from "Schnickennudeln", a cinnamon-dusted sweet roll.  I grew up in the Lehigh Valley region of PA, known as "Pennsylvania Dutch Country".  I'm here to say: Pennsylvania Dutch cookery does not belong to PA and it isn't Dutch either.  "Dutch" was the slang word for "Deutsch", so, when people say PA Dutch, they mean PA Deutsch, crediting the many German-speaking peoples for this cuisine.

Eggnog means "eggs in a small cup" & used on both sides of the Atlantic to toast to health.  "Nog" is an English term for a wooden cup.

IMG_6600References to eggnog date back to the 1800's, when, even back then it was served during the Winter holiday season. Known as "egg milk punch", it was and still is a sweetened dairy-based beverage made with milk, sugar, raw egg yolks, whipped egg whites and a splash of rum and/or vanilla extract. Nowadays cream is always included in place of some or all of the milk, because today's milk has a much lower fat content than milk in the 1800's, which had cream on top. Brandy, rum and/or bourbon are almost always added.  The plain truth:  Eggnog tastes better with alcohol in it.  Each finished serving is poured into a punch cup, then it's topped off with a dollop of whipped cream and a sprinkling of nutmeg.

IMG_6603Eggnog means "eggs in a small cup", and it is used on both sides of the Atlantic to toast to health.  "Nog" is an old English term for a small wooden cup.  As an English creation, it descended from the hot British drink, posset, made from eggs beaten with milk, sugar and some type of spirit. During that period, alcoholic drinks were served at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Because it was cooked, posset traveled and adapted well to local tastes wherever it landed.  One such place:  our American colonies -- full of farms, chickens, cows and cheap rum (our signature ingredient). 

Where I grew up, snickerdoodles were served year-round, including the holidays, almost everywhere we went:

IMG_6518For the dry ingredients:

4 1/2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons cream of tartar

1 1/2  teaspoons baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

For the wet ingredients:

2  large eggs

3/4  cup high-quality, store-bought, pasteurized eggnog

1  teaspoon eggnog flavoring

1  teaspoon butter-rum flavoring

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

2 1/4  cups sugar

For sprinkling on the batter-balls:

1-2  tablespoons store-bought cinnamon-sugar

IMG_6522 IMG_6522 IMG_6522 IMG_6522 IMG_6522 IMG_6522 IMG_6539~Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  the flour, cream of tartar, baking soda and sea salt.  Set aside.  In a 1-cup measuring container, use a fork to lightly-whisk the eggs, add enough eggnog to total 1 cup, then stir in the eggnog- and butter-rum flavorings.  Set aside.  In a large bowl, place the butter and sugar.  Set aside.  Line 4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment and ready a hand-held electric mixer, large rubber spatula, 1 1/2" cookie scoop and a thin spatula.

IMG_6542 IMG_6542 IMG_6542 IMG_6542 IMG_6542~Step 2.  On medium- medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a large rubber spatula, about 1-1 1/2 minutes.  Lower the mixer speed, and, in a thin stream, incorporate the egg/eggnog mixture. Continuing at low speed, in two or three increments, incorporate the flour mixture until a sticky but manageable cookie batter forms, about 1-1 1/2 minutes.

IMG_6559 IMG_6559 IMG_6559 IMG_6559 IMG_6559~Step 3.  Using a 1 1/2" cookie scoop, gently drop balls of dough, well-apart, 15 on the first prepared pan.  Lightly sprinkle tops with cinnamon-sugar. Bake on center rack of preheated 350º oven 8-10 minutes, or until cookies have puffed through to their centers, look "crackly", and, have just started to deflate a bit.  Watch very carefully after 7 minutes of baking time.  Eight minutes will render a pale chewier cookie, 10 minutes a golden, crunchier cookie -- bake to suit yourself.  Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool, in pan for 1 minute.  Use a thin spatula to transfer cookies to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.  Repeat process, using the remaining three pans and working assembly-line-style, until all cookies are baked and cooled.

Note:  Dont have 4 baking pans?  Reuse the pans you've got and bake as directed, but pans must be completely cool and lined with fresh parchment before placing unbaked balls of cookie dough on them.  Warm pans and/or reused parchment will compromise the end result. 

8 minutes = pale & chewier.  10 minutes = golden & crunchier.

IMG_6570Place a plate of eggnog snickerdoodles & some eggnog next to the tree on Christmas Eve before you go to bed:  

IMG_6592Word on the street is:  Santa loves snickerdoodles & eggnog!

IMG_6611Home for the Holiday Eggnog-Laced Snickerdoodles:  Recipe yields 5-5 1/2 dozen, 2 1/2"-round cookies.

Special Equipment List:  spoon; 1-cup measuring container; fork; 4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; hand-held electric mixer, large rubber spatula, 1 1/2" ice-cream/cookie scoop; thin spatula; large wire cooling rack

IMG_9233Cook's Note:  The best place to buy the best pasteurized eggnog is at your local dairy, and, I'm thrilled that our community's Meyer Dairy makes creamy-dreamy eggnog that is full of flavor and not cloyingly sweet -- they make eggnog ice cream that's just as good too.  For one of my more recent cookie creations, an eggnog-laced cake-like cookie glazed with eggnog frosting, try my recipe for ~ Mel's Happy-Valley Meyer-Dairy Eggnog Cookies ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

12/12/2018

~ Wing-Night with Oven-Baked Jamaican-Jerk Wings ~

IMG_6508In our house, chicken wings appear on our table or cocktail table on a regular basis -- like pizza, my kids crave them often, Joe and I do our best to eat them in moderation, and, while each one of us has his or her personal favorite, there is unanimous agreement that once I've agreed to make pizza or wings for supper or snacks, compromise on the type can quickly be achieved -- and many times, the decision simply comes down to how much time I've got to quell their cravings.

IMG_6454How we cook 'em & country of origin is always up for debate: 

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09436912970dJoe's Deep-Fried to Perfection Wings or Summertime Grilled Chicken Wings w/Peachy Keen Barbecue Sauce and my Seriously E-Z Oven-Fried Chicken Wings are examples of how we cook 'em. Classic Buffalo-Style Wing Sauce is the overwhelming favorite, but, in terms of culinary trips around the world, favorites include winging it with my Chinese Open-Sesame Ginger & Garlic Sauced Chicken WingsJapanese Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings, Thai-Inspired Hot & Sticky Honey Wings, or, today's Island-Style Jamaican-Jerk Wings.

IMG_6446My Jamaican-style wings are modeled after my recipe for jerk-style chicken.  They get marinated, then, like many marinated wing recipes, they get baked/roasted in a hot 425º oven.  At the end of the process, which can be done several hours in advance of serving, under the broiler they go, for 1-1 1/2 minutes per side, to crisp the skin.  I serve 'em up with a cool and creamy dip that's flavored with store-bought Jamaican-jerk barbecue-sauce.

Jamaican-Jerk 101:  Jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3669ed9200cIn a (coco)nutshell, jerk is a style of cooking native to Jamaica.  It was developed by African slaves who escaped into the mountains of Jamaica after the British captured this island paradise from Spain in 1655.  Forced to adapt to their new surroundings, the Maroons (the name given to the escaped slaves) made use of the foods nature provided, by pulverizing the edibles they gathered into a fiery pasty rub. By adding fruit and/or citrus juice, the fiery pasty rub became a spicy basting and dipping sauce.  When thinned down with a bit of drinking water or the milk from a coconut, the spicy sauce became a highly-flavored wet marinade -- over time, items from trades, like vinegar and/or rum were transitioned into the mixture.  Once rubbed and/or marinated, the meat or game they hunted was then slowly cooked over a smoking pimento-wood fire.

6a0120a8551282970b022ad38d1183200dThe "jerk" in jerk comes from the Spanish word via the Peruvian word "charqui", the noun for dried strips of meat now called "jerky".  Jerk seasoning was/is the dry spice blend used to season jerky, and Jamaican jerk seasoning, known for the flavors of allspice, thyme and pepper, is perhaps the most famous. Throughout the Caribbean, islanders preserved/cured their spice-rubbed meats by drying them in the intense sun or over a slow fire -- this allowed the meat to be taken on long journeys and eaten as is or reconstituted in boiling water.  The word most likely transitioned to the verb, "jerking", in reference to the way the meat gets "jerked" around over the hot coals as it cooks. Originally used for pork, it's now common to "jerk" chicken, beef, fish and seafood too.  Jerk chicken is obviously the inspiration for my wings.

Wings 101:  Sectioning 5 1/2-6 pounds fresh chicken wings. 

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3c63c30200b~ Step 1.  Using a pair of poultry shears, cut 5 1/2-6 pounds of wings, at their two joints, into 3 sections:  the drumette, the wing, and the "skinny" wing tip.

Some folks like to fry and eat the wing tips, I do not, but that is your choice.  Without frying the wing tips, this recipe will yield about 4 dozen chicken wings.

The wing tips can be frozen and used to make stock, as while they are "skinny", they are flavorful.

Jamaican-Jerk Chicken meets American Chicken Wings

IMG_6317 IMG_6317 IMG_6317~ Step 2.  Place the sectioned chicken wings in each of two 1-gallon food storage bags, the drumettes in one bag, the wings in the other -- I do this separately because they each have slightly-different cooking times. Add 1 cup Homemade Jamaican-Style Jerk Marinade (or your favorite high-quality store-bought brand) to each bag.  Seal the bags and refrigerate for 4-6 hours or overnight (over night is best).  Remove from refrigerator 1-2 hours prior to roasting and grilling as follows:

IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6350 IMG_6350 IMG_6350 IMG_6350 IMG_6350 IMG_6350~Step 3.  Insert a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" rack in a large, 20" x 12" x 6" disposable aluminum roasting pan, then place a piece of parchment paper on the rack.  Open the bag of the marinated chicken wing sections.  Remove the wings from the bag and arrange them, side-by-side on the parchment.  Bake on center rack of preheated 425º oven 20 minutes.  Remove from oven. With the aid of a fork, flip wings over and return to oven to continue to bake 20 more minutes.  Transfer wings to a paper towel lined plate to drain and set aside.  

IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6338 IMG_6392 IMG_6392~Step 4.  Replace the parchment paper and repeat the above process with the drumettes, baking the drumettes for 23 minutes per side (2 minutes longer per side than the wing sections). To this point, all of the wings can be baked and set aside, uncovered for a few hours (2-4) ahead of broiling (as directed below) and serving hot.  

IMG_6399 IMG_6399 IMG_6399~Step 5.  Reset the oven to broil, allowing the oven rack to remain in the center.  Remove the parchment paper from the roasting pan, exposing the wire rack.  Arrange all of the wing sections and drumettes atop the rack.  Return to preheated broiler to crisp the skin, about 1-1 1/2 per side, turning only once.

Four-Ingredient Cool & Creamy Jamaican-Jerk Chicken Wing Dip:

IMG_6328 IMG_6328 IMG_6328~ Step 4.  In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup each: mayonnaise, sour cream, Jamaican-jerk barbecue sauce (your favorite high-quality store-bought brand) and thinly-sliced scallions (white and light green parts only, reserving scallion tops for garnish).  Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Don't worry, be happy -- it's wing night -- Jamaican-style...

IMG_6461... w/crispy-spicy skin, tender-pink meat & cool-creamy dip.

IMG_6500 2Wing-Night with Oven-Baked Jamaican-Jerk Wings:  Recipe yields about 3 1/2-4 dozen chicken wings or 4 dozen appetizers/snacks. 

Special Equipment List:  poultry shears; 2, 1-gallon food storage bags; 20" x 12" x 6" disposable aluminum roasting pan; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" wire cooling rack; parchment paper; fork; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3c03904200bCook's Note:  As an accomplished cook, I've posted all sorts of scratch-made 'za: Thin-crust St. Louis-style, Deep-Dish Chicago-style, Detroit-Style Brick Cheese & Pepperoni Pizza, Philly-Style Cheesesteak PizzaPizza alla Puttanesca, French Caramelized-Onion & Gruyère Cheese PizzaThai-Style Grilled Chicken Pizza, a Blast from My Husband's Past Pioneer-Club Pizza, a Nobody's Pizza for the Somebody in All of Us, a holiday Pizza Wreath, plus, the family recipes for Preschutti Pizza Crust, My Guy's Italian-American Sicilian-Style Pie, and, My All-Purpose Time-Saving Bread Machine Pizza Dough, a host of recipes for making snack pizza using flatbreads (pita, naan, tortillas and boboli) as foils, as well as my Stranger Things: 1980's-Style Retro French Bread Pizza, which is a late-night favorite.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

12/09/2018

~Cool & Creamy Island-Style Jamaican-Jerk Wing Dip~

IMG_6439Wander into a bar anywhere in America.  Buffalo wings are on the pub grub menu.  No description is necessary.  You know you're getting deep-fried wingettes and drumettes coated in a vivid-red vinegar-based cayenne pepper and melted butter sauce.  They'll arrive with celery and carrot sticks, and blue cheese or ranch dressing.  You'll likely be asked to specify if you want your wings tossed in a mild, medium or hot version of the sauce.  Buffalo wing sauce is a classic.

Chicken wings have come a long way baby.  What started as a late-night snack served by Frank and Teresa Bellisimo in a little place called the Anchor Bar and Grill in Buffalo, NY in 1964, has gone global.  Name a cuisine and you're sure to find a chicken wing recipe to go with it.  Why? Americans love chicken wings.  I've got almost more wing recipes than I can count, each one with a unique flavor profile and a special concoction for dipping or drizzling to serve with them.

IMG_6461My Jamaican-style wings are modeled after my recipe for jerk-style chicken.  They get marinated, then, like many marinated wing recipes, they get baked/roasted in a hot 425º oven.  At the end of the process, which can be done several hours in advance of serving, under the broiler they go, for 1-1 1/2 minutes per side, to crisp the skin.  I serve 'em up with a cool and creamy dip that's flavored with store-bought Jamaican-jerk barbecue-sauce.

Four-Ingredient Cool & Creamy Jamaican-Style Chicken Wing Dip:

IMG_6328 IMG_6328 IMG_6328~ Step 1.  In a small bowl, combine 1/2 cup each: mayonnaise, sour cream, Jamaican-jerk barbecue sauce (your favorite high-quality store-bought brand) and thinly-sliced scallions (white and light green parts only, reserving scallion tops for garnish).  Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Try Wing Night with Oven-Baked Jamaican-Jerk Wings:

IMG_6508Dipped in Cool & Creamy Island-Style Jamaican-Jerk Wing Dip: 

IMG_6490Cool & Creamy Island-Style Jamaican-Jerk Wing Dip:  Recipe makes 2 cups dip/enough for 3 1/2-4 dozen chicken wings..

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

6a0120a8551282970b022ad3809027200cCook's Note:  My repertoire is full of wing recipes. Joe's Deep-Fried to Perfection Wings and Grilled Chicken Wings w/Peachy Keen Barbecue Sauce and my Seriously E-Z Oven-Fried Chicken Wings are examples of how we cook 'em. Classic Buffalo-Style Wing Sauce is the overwhelming favorite, but, globally, other favorites include my Chinese Open-Sesame Ginger & Garlic Sauced Chicken WingsJapanese Teriyaki-Style Chicken Wings, Thai-Inspired Hot & Sticky Honey Wings, or, Island-Style Jamaican-Jerk Wings.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

12/07/2018

~Island-Style Jamaican-Italian-American Rasta Pasta~

IMG_6201My only experience with Rasta Pasta, references the original Colorado Springs restaurant. Guy Fieri, host of the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, paid them a visit, and, if you watch enough episodes of this show, you know when Guy is super-jazzed about an eatery.  This was one such episode.  On camera he tried their signature and namesake dish, the Rasta Pasta, a creamy, Jamaican-spiced penne pasta, studded with colorful vegetables topped with jerk chicken.  It was, in fact, the Jamaican take on the Italian-American alfredo primavera topped with grilled chicken, which Guy declared to be "funky" in a winner-winner chicken-dinner way.

4The owners of Rasta Pasta, the Taraborelli family, specialize in fusing two of the unlikeliest of culinary bedfellows:  the island flavors of Jamaica with their Italian-American background.  Yes, you read that correctly.  It's easy to assume the title "Rasta" is associated with Rastafarianism, which would require the fare to be vegetarian -- no meat or shellfish.  No Mon.  It implies the colors of the veggies:  red, yellow and green.

Research revealed a full range of opinions regarding the origin of this dish (which has developed a cult following), as Caribbean restaurants across the USA, many them in New York City which has a large Jamaican population, have a version of rasta pasta on their menu.  They all left me completely up-in-the-air on the subject and unwilling to pass any along.  My best guess:  It is a savvy Jamaican-American cook's creation that got popularized in America, then made its way back to Jamaica, where it quickly became as popular as it is here.  All I can say with certainty:  It's a delicious twist on your typical creamy pasta dish, and, it appealed to me from the start. 

My Coconut-Creamy Island-Style Vegetarian Rasta Pasta.

IMG_6193One of my favorite entrées in an Italian-American restaurant is Fettucchini Alfredo and I always order it a la primavera-style, meaning I'm asking for vegetables to be tossed into it, hence the name of my own recipe, Fabulous Fettuccine Alfredo a la Primavera-Style.  I could easily choose to order the Alfredo with the very popular chicken or shrimp options, but, neither appeals to me.  The rich, creamy, parmesan-laced sauce that enrobes the tender strands of al dente egg-pasta and colorful crunch-tender blanched veggies needs no meat or seafood to entice me. That said, carry on mon, feel free to add some Jamaican-jerk chicken or shrimp to this dish.

Making my easy, coconut-creamy, Rasta Pasta Sauce:

IMG_60734  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons, unbleached all-purpose flour

2  tablespoons jerk seasoning

1  teaspoon dried thyme leaves

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

1/8  teaspoon Scotch bonnet pepper powder

2  13 1/2-ounce cans coconut milk

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

1  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081 IMG_6081~Step 1.  In a small ramekin, stir together the flour and dry spices: the jerk seasoning, thyme leaves, garlic powder and Scotch bonnet pepper powder. In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt butter over low heat.  Increase heat to medium and stir in the flour, jerk seasoning, thyme leaves, Scotch bonnet pepper powder and garlic powder.  Using a large spoon, stirring constantly, cook until mixture (roux) is thick and bubbly, 30-45 seconds.

IMG_6103 IMG_6103 IMG_6103 IMG_6103~Step 2.  Add the coconut milk, in a slow steady stream, stirring constantly and vigorously.  Stir in the diced tomatoes.  Carefully adjust heat to a gentle simmer (not too high or it will scorch) and continue to cook until smooth, thickened and drizzly, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  Turn the heat to low.

IMG_6116 IMG_6116 IMG_6116~ Step 3.  Sprinkle in the Parm-Regg.  The finely-grated cheese will melt evenly, quickly and almost instantly.  Stir until the mixture is smooth and ribbon like.  You will have 6 cups of coconut-creamy, rasta pasta sauce, better than any store-bought sauce packet can deliver.  Cover and remove from heat.

Note:  This sauce can be made 1-3 days in advance, stored in the refrigerator and gently reheated on the stovetop or in the microwave when ready to proceed with recipe.  

Making the penne pasta & sautéing the vegetables:

IMG_612916  ounces penne pasta

4  tablespoons salted butter

3 1/2-4 cups sweet onion, sliced into half-moons then into thirds

1 1/2-2 cups each:  red, orange and green bell pepper strips strips cut in half

1/2  teaspoon each:  garlic powder and dried thyme leaves

3  cups rasta pasta sauce, from above recipe 

IMG_6143 IMG_6143 IMG_6143