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

02/20/2020

~ Buttery-Rich Crispy Ritz Cracker Casserole Topping ~

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

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

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

IMG_92824  dozen Ritz crackers, no substitutions

8  tablespoons salted butter, 1 stick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

02/18/2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

lemon-pepper seasoning

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

lemon wedges and parsley sprigs, for garnishes

steamed green beans and stewed tomato sauce, for accompaniments

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_9268

Savor this quintessential fish-dish of New England:

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

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

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

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

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

02/15/2020

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

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

Rice is nice & potatoes are great.

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_8878Better than Store-Bought Stovetop Mac & Cheese:

IMG_8987Egg Noodles & Broccoli in Spicy Garlic-Butter Sauce:

IMG_8809Sweet & Savory Spiced Couscous & Golden Raisins

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

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

02/12/2020

~Sweet & Savory Spiced Couscous & Golden Raisins~

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

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

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

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

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

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

2  cups water

4  tablespoons salted butter

1  tablespoon honey

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1  cup golden raisins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

02/09/2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2  whole bay leaves

2  teaspoons sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

fresh parsley sprigs, for garnish

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

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

Rethink plain rice.  Consider a flavorful pilaf instead:

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

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

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

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

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

02/06/2020

~ Better than Store-Bought Stovetop Mac & Cheese ~

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

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

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

IMG_8915For the macaroni:

16 ounces elbow macaroni or medium shells pasta

8  tablespoons salted butter

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

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

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

IMG_8941For the cheddar cheese sauce:

4  tablespoons each: salted butter and all-purpose flour

2  tablespoons cheddar cheese powder (optional)

2  teaspoons dry mustard

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_9005Would you like Crispy Ritz-Cracker Topping on that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

02/04/2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

4  extra-large eggs

1  cup diced onion

1  cup diced celery

1/2  cup mayonnaise

2  tablespoons Dijon mustard

2  tablespoons sweet pickle relish

1/2  teaspoon celery seed

3/4  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

1  teaspoon sea salt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

02/02/2020

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

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

Rice is nice and potatoes are great...

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

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

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

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

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

8  tablespoons salted butter (1 stick)

1  teaspoon garlic powder

3/4  teaspoon salt

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

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

16  ounces 3-minute blanched and drained fresh broccoli florets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01/31/2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1/4  cup creamy-style refried beans

1/2  cup shredded Monterey-Jack cheese

1/4  cup blue cheese crumbles

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

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

Frank's RedHot Buffalo wing sauce, for garnish

Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, for garnish

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

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

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

Serve hot drizzled with RedHot wing sauce & Ranch dressing:  

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

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

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

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

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

01/28/2020

~A Basic Italian Semolina Bread in the Bread Machine~

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_8612For a 1-pound loaf:

3/4  cup warm water

3  tablespoons olive oil

2  tablespoons barley malt syrup

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  cup

1  cup + 2 tablespoons semolina flour

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

For a 2-pound loaf:

1 1/2  cups warm water

6  tablespoons olive oil

4  tablespoons barley malt syrup

2  teaspoons sea salt

2  cups bread flour

2 1/4  cups semolina flour

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01/25/2020

~Almost-Effortless Chunky Buffalo-Style Chicken Chili~

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

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

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

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

3-4  tablespoons vegetable oil

2  tablespoons Frank's RedHot Buffalo-Ranch seasoning blend

1  tablespoon chili powder

1  tablespoon ground cumin

2  teaspoons sea salt

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

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

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

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

2  4-ounce jars fire-roasted diced green chilis

1  cup chicken stock

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

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

1  cup blue cheese crumbles, for garnish

tortilla chips for accompaniment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01/22/2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_8315Time out for Tiny Salad-Shrimp-Salad Sandwiches:

IMG_8404Time out for Tiny Shrimp & Tiny Shells Pasta Salad:

IMG_8451Spicy Tiny Salad-Shrimp Mini Shrimp-Cocktail Cups:

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

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

01/20/2020

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

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

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

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

IMG_852312  ounces salad shrimp, thawed as directed below

1/2  cup Heinz chili sauce 

1/4  cup Heinz ketchup

2  tablespoons horseradish

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

1  teaspoon Worcestershire 

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

mini-flatbread or crackers, for accompaniment & garnish

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

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

Serve chilled garnished w/mini-flatbread or crackers:

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

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

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

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

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

01/18/2020

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

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

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

Americans love shrimp.

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

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

To make my tiny shrimp & tiny shells pasta salad:

IMG_835012  ounces salad shrimp, thawed as directed below

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

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

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

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

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup Heinz chili sauce

1  teaspoon Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire sauce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01/15/2020

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

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

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

America loves shrimp.

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

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

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

IMG_835512  ounces salad shrimp, thawed as directed below

3/4  cup small-diced celery

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

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

1/2  cup mayonnaise

1/4 cup Heinz chili sauce

1  teaspoon Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire sauce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01/13/2020

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

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

Americans love shrimp.

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

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

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

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

1/2  cup Hellman's mayonnaise

1/4 cup Heinz chili sauce

1  teaspoon Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire sauce

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

1  teaspoon dehydrated  minced onion

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

12  ounces salad shrimp

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

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

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

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

Pretty in pink, sweet & tender & luxuriously wonderful:

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

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

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

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

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

01/10/2020

~ Smokie Cocktail Wieners in a Bourbon BBQ Sauce ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1/4  cup water

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

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

1/4  cup Kentucky bourbon whiskey, your favorite brand

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

2  tablespoons Lea & Perrin's Worcestershire sauce

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

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

Get out the frilly toothpicks & everyone help yourself:

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

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

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

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

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

01/07/2020

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

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

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

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

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

2  tablespoons salted butter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01/05/2020

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

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

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

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

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

6  tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

3  tablespoons hoisin sauce

3  tablespoons oyster-flavored sauce

3  tablespoons Sriracha sauce

3  tablespoons sesame oil

1  tablespoon garlic paste

1  tablespoon ginger paste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

01/03/2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6  tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

3  tablespoons hoisin sauce

3  tablespoons oyster-flavored sauce

3  tablespoons Sriracha sauce

3  tablespoons sesame oil

1  tablespoon garlic paste

1  tablespoon ginger paste

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

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

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

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

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

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; spoon

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

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

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

12/31/2019

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

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

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

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

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

6  tablespoons tablespoons Chinese soy sauce

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

1  tablespoon each:  garlic paste and ginger paste

1  tablespoon coarse-grind black pepper

12  ounces lo-mein noodles or spaghetti

IMG_7809For the stir-fry:

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

2  tablespoons sesame oil 

3/4  cup marinade/sauce, from above recipe 

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

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

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

12-ounces cooked lo-mein noodles or spaghetti

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

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

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

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

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

Remove from heat, portion into bowls & serve ASAP:

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

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

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

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

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

12/29/2019

~Meatless & Marvelous Creamy Pasta & Mushrooms~

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

This humble pasta dish is family-style comfort food:

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

Step One:  Seasoning & Sautéing the Mushrooms

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

4  tablespoons salted butter

2  tablespoons olive oil

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder 

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg 

1  teaspoon sea salt 

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

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

Step Two:  Making the Parmesan-Cream Sauce

IMG_7672buttery-drippings from sautéing mushrooms, about 2 tablespoons

2  tablespoons flour

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

1/16 teaspoon nutmeg

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

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

1-2  tablespoons dry sherry, to taste

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

Step Three:  Cooking the pasta & tossing dinner together:

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

all the sautéed mushrooms

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

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning pasta water

additional Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for garnish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/26/2019

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

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

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

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

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

2  tablespoons bench flour

1  large egg

1  tablespoon water

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

3/4  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

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

1  teaspoon sea salt

1  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

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

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

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

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

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

The more cheese twists at any party, the merrier:

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

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

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

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

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

12/23/2019

~Cheesy Chicken Broccoli Cauliflower Rice Casserole~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

32-ounces chicken broth

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

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

12-ounces diced yellow or sweet onion

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

1 1/2  teaspoons coarse-grind black pepper

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

2  15-ounce jars Cheeze Whiz Cheese Dip

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dishes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/20/2019

~ Tart Cherry & Toasted-Pistachio Snowball Cookies ~

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

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

Snowballs atop my mom's vintage Christmas tree plates:

IMG_7236The darlings of holiday cookie trays all across America:

IMG_71582  cups + 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  cup salted butter, softened

1/4  cup granulated sugar

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

6  ounces chopped toasted, salted pistachios (1 cup)

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

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

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

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

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

Nobody can eat just one snowball cookie.  Nobody. 

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

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

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

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

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

12/18/2019

~ Mel's Herbaceous All-Purpose Breakfast Sausage ~

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

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

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

IMG_72652  pounds ground pork

2  teaspoons fennel seeds

1  teaspoon each:  garlic and onion powder

1  teaspoon dried sage

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

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg 

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

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

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

Sausage & Everything Bagel Breakfast Casserole:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/15/2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_7024For my British-style fennel & herbaceous sausage rolls: 

IMG_69242  pounds ground pork

2  teaspoons fennel seeds

1  teaspoon each:  garlic and onion powder

1  teaspoon dried sage

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

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

1  17.3-ounce box puff pastry

1  extra-large egg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/12/2019

~ Baked Three-Cheesy Hot Broccoli & Pimiento Dip ~

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

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

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

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

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

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

4  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1/4  cup mayonnaise

8  ounces finely-shredded colby-Jack cheese

3/4  teaspoon garlic powder

3/4  teaspoon onion powder

1/4  teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4  cup well-drained pimientos

4  ounces finely-shredded colby-Jack cheese

buttery crackers, for accompaniment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/09/2019

~Gruyère & Olive-Tapenade French-Bread Appetizers~

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

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

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

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

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

My updated recipe for Olive-Cheese Bread Appetizers:

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

To make my upscale version of this retro appetizer:

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

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

8  ounces grated Gruyère cheese (about 3 cups)

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

1/2  cup mayonnaise

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

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

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

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

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

Slice & serve immediately garnished w/scallion tops:

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/07/2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_67432  tablespoons vegetable oil

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

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

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

1  extra-large egg, lightly beaten

1/3  cup panko breadcrumbs

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

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

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

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

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

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

carrot and celery sticks, for accopaniment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12/05/2019

~ Six Recipes for Fabulously-Flavored Holiday Fudge ~

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

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

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

Like many good things, fudge was created by accident.

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

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

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

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

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

My basic (foolproof) "Killer Fudge" recipe:

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

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

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

4  ounces mini-marshmallows

4  ounces salted butter

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

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

Dark Chocolate Lover's Killer Dark-Chocolate Fudge:

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_6666

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

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

12/03/2019

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_6645Fudge is an America institution that originated in America.  Like many things, it happened by accident. Fudge was first documented in 1886 by students who were making and selling it at the Malmesbury School in Baltimore, Maryland.  As the story goes, they were trying to make caramels and "fudged" the recipe. This probably explains why fudge, along with another historical accident, salt water taffy, are sold as staples on the boardwalks of the Eastern Shore.  True American-style fudge is very smooth and creamy, not grainy, crumbly or cloyingly, tooth-achingly sweet.  When served at room temperature, it is almost spreadable, and, on the boardwalks they traditionally serve it accompanied by a little plastic "tasting" knife. Fudge is often gussied up with additions of nuts and/or dried fruit, or, by swirling two flavors together.

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

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

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

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

Making, cooling & slicing Killer Peanut-Butter Fudge:

IMG_6522To make killer peanut-butter fudge:

4  ounces miniature-sized marshmallows

1  14-ounce can condensed milk

2  teaspoons each:  peanut butter flavoring and pure vanilla extract

4  ounces cubed salted butter

16 ounces peanut butter morsels

6-8  ounces coarsely-chopped and lightly-toasted peanuts 

1/2  cup chunky peanut butter

IMG_6530~ Step 1.  Be sure to choose raw, unsalted, peanuts -- not the roasted, salted peanuts that come in a can. While they're great to eat out-of-hand, they are too salty to use in this recipe. Place peanuts in a shallow baking pan. Toast on center rack of preheated 350º oven, 6-8 minutes, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 2 minutes during the process.  Remove from oven and cool about 15-20 minutes.

IMG_6004 IMG_6524 IMG_6524 IMG_6531 IMG_6531 IMG_6531 IMG_6531 IMG_6531~Step 2. In a 4-quart saucepan, stir together the condensed milk, peanut butter flavoring, vanilla extract and marshmallows.  Over low heat, melt  marshmallows into the condensed milk, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth, uniform in color and foamy, 5-6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_6013 IMG_6548 IMG_6548 IMG_6548~Step 3.  With saucepan on the still warm stovetop, add and stir in the butter pieces, peanut butter morsels, peanuts and peanut butter.  Stir constantly and somewhat vigorously, until the butter and chocolate morsels have melted into the marshmallow mixture and the mixture is smooth (except for the brickle bits) and uniform in color, approximately 1-2 more minutes.

IMG_6553 IMG_6553 IMG_6567 IMG_6567~Step 4.  Transfer fudge to prepared pan.  Using a rubber spatula, distribute fudge into sides and corners of pan.  Give the pan several vigorous back and forth shakes to evenly distribute the fudge.  Set aside, uncovered, for 1 hour -- the surface of the fudge will appear matt and dry (no longer glossy or wet).  Cover with the plastic wrap that is draping over the sides of the pan and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best as the fudge is very firm and easier to cut.

IMG_6621 IMG_6621 IMG_6628~ Step 5.  Transfer fudge from pan to cutting board by pushing up on the removable pan bottom, by  pulling up on the plastic wrap, or, by inverting pan and pushing down on pan bottom. Remove plastic wrap and peel back parchment. Using a ruler and a knife, measure and score top.  Cut into 32 logs or 64 squares.

Arrange fudge on a plate, cover w/plastic wrap & keep refrigerated until 10-15-20 minutes prior to serving slightly-softened.

IMG_6640The Ultimate-Best Peanut-Butter Killer Fudge Recipe: Recipe yields 32, 1" x 2" logs, or, 64, 1" squares.

Special Equipment List: shallow baking pan; spoon; 1, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, preferably w/straight-edged corners and removable bottom; plastic wrap; parchment paper; kitchen scale; kitchen shears; 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; cutting board; ruler; large chef's knife

IMG_6657 2Cook's Note: Once cut into desired-sized pieces, store fudge in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment or wax paper, in a cool, dry, place, or in the refrigerator, for up to a month.  To make a large, triple batch of fudge (all at once) for the holidays, cook it on the stovetop in an 8-quart stockpot and pour it into a 16" x 12" x 2"  professional-type rectangular-shaped cake pan.

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

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

11/30/2019

~Double-Cherry & Double-Vanilla Lover's Killer Fudge~

IMG_6278Cherry-vanilla is one of my favorite flavor combinations.  Cherry-vanilla or black-cherry-vanilla cream soda, cherry-vanilla ice-cream, cherry-vanilla milkshakes, cherry-vanilla yogurt and cherry-vanilla biscotti are amongst my favorite things.  While I didn't invent the idea for cherry-vanilla fudge, once I got my hands on a great base recipe for making fudge, cherry-vanilla was the first spin-off I made (for myself), and, after tasting it, I think you'll agree it's perhaps the best rendition in print or on internet, as, it uses a combination of dehydrated tart "sour" pie cherries and pure cherry extract, instead of neon-colored candied maraschinos (which taste nothing like cherries).

IMG_6248Everyone remembers their first bite of fudge -- that creamy, semi-soft confection made with corn syrup and/or sugar, butter, cream and flavoring.  Hands-down, the most popular flavor is dark chocolate, with milk chocolate in second.  Peanut butter, butterscotch, maple and vanilla are all contenders for the third spot.  When I was growing up, Agnes was our next-door neighbor. She loved to bake, and throughout the years her sweet treats made their way to our table often.  

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

My Cherry-Vanilla Fudge is a spin-off of Agnes's base recipe.

IMG_6253Fudge is an America institution that originated in America.  Like many things, it happened by accident. Fudge was first documented in 1886 by students who were making and selling it at the Malmesbury School in Baltimore, Maryland.  As the story goes, they were trying to make caramels and "fudged" the recipe. This probably explains why fudge, along with another historical accident, salt water taffy, are sold as staples on the boardwalks of the Eastern Shore.  True American-style fudge is very smooth and creamy, not grainy, crumbly or cloyingly, tooth-achingly sweet.  When served at room temperature, it is almost spreadable, and, on the boardwalks they traditionally serve it accompanied by a little plastic "tasting" knife. Fudge is often gussied up with additions of nuts and/or dried fruit, or, by swirling two flavors together.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c9fab3200dI've tasted a lot of fudge in my lifetime (mostly while walking the boardwalks of the NJ and Maryland shores), but quite honestly, Agnes's delicious, user-friendly recipe is so wonderful, I've never been inclined to experiment with other versions (which all to often complicate the process to the the point of "why bother").  I am here to tell you:  you don't need a degree in food science, a marble slab, or even a candy thermometer to make great fudge.  I am a purist about a lot of things, but let's get real:  fudge was born out of error -- how complicated do we need to make it?  BTW:  Fralinger's in Ocean City, NJ, is one of my all-time favorite "haunts" for purchasing all flavors of salt water taffy and fudge.

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

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

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

Making, cooling & slicing Killer Cherry-Vanilla Fudge:

IMG_6198To make killer cherry-vanilla fudge:

4  ounces mini-marshmallows

1  14-ounce can condensed milk

2  teaspoons each: pure cherry extract, pure vanilla extract and, vanilla bean paste

4  ounces cubed salted butter

16 ounces white chocolate morsels

6-8  ounces coarse-chopped, dehydrated sour cherries, snipped in half

IMG_6004 IMG_6199 IMG_6199 IMG_6199 IMG_6199 IMG_6199 IMG_6199~Step 1. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the condensed milk, cherry and vanilla extracts, vanilla bean paste and marshmallows.  Over low heat, melt the marshmallows into the mixture, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth, uniform in color and foamy, 5-6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_6013 IMG_6013 IMG_6218 IMG_6218 IMG_6218~Step 2.  With saucepan on the still warm stovetop, add and stir in the butter pieces, white chocolate morsels and dehydrated cherries.  Stir constantly and somewhat vigorously, until the butter and chocolate morsels have melted into the marshmallow mixture and the mixture is smooth and uniform in color, approximately 2 minutes.

IMG_6224 IMG_6229 IMG_6230 IMG_6230~Step 3.  Transfer fudge to prepared pan.  Using a rubber spatula, distribute fudge into sides and corners of pan.  Give the pan several vigorous back and forth shakes to evenly distribute the fudge.  Set aside, uncovered, for 1 hour -- the surface of the fudge will appear matt and dry (no longer glossy or wet).  Cover with the plastic wrap that is draping over the sides of the pan and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best as the fudge is very firm and easier to cut.

IMG_6242 IMG_6242 IMG_6245~ Step 4.  Transfer fudge from pan to cutting board by pushing up on removable pan bottom, or by  pulling up on the plastic wrap, or by inverting pan and pushing down. Remove plastic wrap and peel back  parchment. Using a ruler and a large knife, measure and score top of fudge.  Cut into 32 logs or 64 squares.

Arrange fudge on a plate, cover w/plastic wrap & keep refrigerated until 10-15-20 minutes prior to serving slightly-softened.

IMG_6260Double-Cherry & Double-Vanilla Lover's Killer Fudge:  Recipe yields Recipe yields 32, 1" x 2" logs, or, 64, 1" squares.

Special Equipment List: 1, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, preferably w/straight-edged corners and removable bottom; plastic wrap; parchment paper; kitchen scale; kitchen shears; 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; cutting board; ruler; large chef's knife

IMG_6270Cook's Note: Once cut into desired-sized pieces, store fudge in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment or wax paper, in a cool, dry, place, or in the refrigerator, for up to a month.  To make a large, triple batch of fudge (all at once) for the holidays, cook it on the stovetop in an 8-quart stockpot and pour it into a 16" x 12" x 2"  professional-type rectangular-shaped cake pan.

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

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

11/28/2019

~Cinnamon-Apple Maple-Walnut Lover's Killer Fudge~

IMG_6613Maple-walnut ice cream and maple-walnut fudge.  While they're my only two encounters with this sublime combination, meaning I've not tasted a maple-walnut pie or a maple-walnut cake, I was driven to re-create both of them in my home kitchen.  My experience with the first was in Vermont, and it was a slow-churned unforgettable experience.  My experience with the second was on the boardwalks of New Jersey, and, it was a creamy-dreamy unforgettable experience.  

IMG_6584Everyone remembers their first bite of fudge -- that creamy, semi-soft confection made with corn syrup and/or sugar, butter, cream and flavoring.  Hands-down, the most popular flavor is dark chocolate, with milk chocolate in second.  Peanut butter, butterscotch, maple and vanilla are all contenders for the third spot.  When I was growing up, Agnes was our next-door neighbor. She loved to bake, and throughout the years her sweet treats made their way to our table often.  

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

My Cinnamon-Apple Maple-Walnut Fudge is a spin-off of Agnes's base recipe.

IMG_6598Fudge is an America institution that originated in America.  Like many things, it happened by accident. Fudge was first documented in 1886 by students who were making and selling it at the Malmesbury School in Baltimore, Maryland.  As the story goes, they were trying to make caramels and "fudged" the recipe. This probably explains why fudge, along with another historical accident, salt water taffy, are sold as staples on the boardwalks of the Eastern Shore.  True American-style fudge is very smooth and creamy, not grainy, crumbly or cloyingly, tooth-achingly sweet.  When served at room temperature, it is almost spreadable, and, on the boardwalks they traditionally serve it accompanied by a little plastic "tasting" knife. Fudge is often gussied up with additions of nuts and/or dried fruit, or, by swirling two flavors together.

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

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

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

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

Making, cooling & slicing Cinnamon-Apple Maple-Walnut Fudge:

IMG_6429To make killer cinnamon-apple maple-walnut fudge:

4  ounces mini-marshmallows

1  14-ounce can condensed milk

2  teaspoons each: pure apple extract, pure maple extract, pure vanilla extract, and pure walnut extract

4  ounces cubed salted butter

16 ounces cinnamon morsels

6-8  ounces coarse-chopped and lightly-toasted walnuts

IMG_6416 IMG_6416~ Step 1.  Place chopped walnuts in a shallow baking pan. Toast on center rack of preheated 350º oven, 6-8 minutes, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 2 minutes during the process. Set aside to cool about 15-20 minutes.

IMG_6004 IMG_6433 IMG_6433 IMG_6433 IMG_6433 IMG_6433 IMG_6433~Step 2. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the condensed milk, all four of the extracts (apple, maple, vanilla and walnut) and marshmallows.  Over low heat, melt the marshmallows into the mixture, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth, uniform in color and foamy, 5-6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_6013 IMG_6449 IMG_6449 IMG_6449 IMG_6449~Step 3.  With the saucepan on the still warm stovetop, stir in the butter pieces, cinnamon morsels and lightly-toasted walnuts.  Stir constantly and vigorously, until butter and cinnamon morsels have melted into the marshmallow mixture and the mixture is smooth, creamy and uniform in color (except for the walnuts pieces), about 1 1/2-2 minutes.

IMG_6461 IMG_6461 IMG_6468 IMG_6468~Step 4.  Transfer fudge to prepared pan.  Using a rubber spatula, distribute fudge into sides and corners of pan.  Give the pan several vigorous back and forth shakes to evenly distribute the fudge.  Set aside, uncovered, for 1 hour -- the surface of the fudge will appear matt and dry (no longer glossy or wet).  Cover with the plastic wrap that is draping over the sides of the pan and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best as the fudge is very firm and easier to cut.

IMG_6571 IMG_6575 IMG_6584 2~ Step 5.  Transfer fudge from pan to cutting board by pushing up on removable pan bottom, or by  pulling up on the plastic wrap, or by inverting pan and pushing down. Remove plastic wrap and peel back  parchment. Using a ruler and a large knife, measure and score top of fudge.  Cut into 32 logs or 64 squares.

Arrange fudge on a plate, cover w/plastic wrap & keep refrigerated until 10-15-20 minutes prior to serving slightly-softened. 

IMG_6588Cinnamon-Apple Maple-Walnut Lover's Killer Fudge: Recipe yields 32, 1" x 2" logs, or, 64, 1" squares.

Special Equipment List: small shallow baking pan; spoon; 1, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, preferably w/straight-edged corners and removable bottom; plastic wrap; parchment paper; kitchen scale; kitchen shears; 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; cutting board; ruler; large chef's knife

IMG_6606Cook's Note: Once cut into desired-sized pieces, store fudge in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment or wax paper, in a cool, dry, place, or in the refrigerator, for up to a month.  To make a large, triple batch of fudge (all at once) for the holidays, cook it on the stovetop in an 8-quart stockpot and pour it into a 16" x 12" x 2"  professional-type rectangular-shaped cake pan.

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

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

11/25/2019

~ Butterscotch & Bits-O-Toffee Brickle Lover's Fudge ~

IMG_6509Butterscotch, caramel, English toffee and American buttercrunch.  These rich butter-and-sugar-based candies are all related, and, I have an affinity for them all.  As a little kid, my hand gravitated to the bag of those little chewy squares of Kraft Caramels, and, when I got a little older, I always kept a few cellophane-wrapped Brach's Butterscotch hard-candies in my purse -- they were a way to enjoy an otherwise long and boring class at school or sermon at church.

IMG_6473Everyone remembers their first bite of fudge -- that creamy, semi-soft confection made with corn syrup and/or sugar, butter, cream and flavoring.  Hands-down, the most popular flavor is dark chocolate, with milk chocolate in second.  Peanut butter, butterscotch, maple and vanilla are all contenders for the third spot.  When I was growing up, Agnes was our next-door neighbor. She loved to bake, and throughout the years her sweet treats made their way to our table often.  

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

My Butterscotch & Brickle Fudge is a spin-off of Agnes's base recipe.

IMG_6505Fudge is an America institution that originated in America.  Like many things, it happened by accident. Fudge was first documented in 1886 by students who were making and selling it at the Malmesbury School in Baltimore, Maryland.  As the story goes, they were trying to make caramels and "fudged" the recipe. This probably explains why fudge, along with another historical accident, salt water taffy, are sold as staples on the boardwalks of the Eastern Shore.  True American-style fudge is very smooth and creamy, not grainy, crumbly or cloyingly, tooth-achingly sweet.  When served at room temperature, it is almost spreadable, and, on the boardwalks they traditionally serve it accompanied by a little plastic "tasting" knife. Fudge is often gussied up with additions of nuts and/or dried fruit, or, by swirling two flavors together.

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

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

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

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

Making, cooling & slicing Butterscotch & Brickle fudge:

IMG_6377To make butterscotch & bits-o-toffee brickle fudge:

4  ounces mini-marshmallows

1  14-ounce can condensed milk

2  teaspoons each: butterscotch flavoring (all natural and organic preferred) and pure vanilla extract

4  ounces cubed salted butter

16 ounces butterscotch morsels

4  ounces Heath Bits O' Brickle English toffee bits

IMG_6004 IMG_6379 IMG_6379 IMG_6379 IMG_6379 IMG_6379 IMG_6379~Step 1. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine the condensed milk, butterscotch flavoring, vanilla extract and marshmallows.  Over low heat, melt the marshmallows into the mixture, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth, uniform in color and foamy, 5-6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_6013 IMG_6393 IMG_6393 IMG_6393 IMG_6393~Step 2.  With saucepan on the still warm stovetop, add and stir in the butter pieces, butterscotch morsels and brickle bits.  Stir constantly and somewhat vigorously, until the butter and chocolate morsels have melted into the marshmallow mixture and the mixture is smooth (except for the brickle bits) and uniform in color, approximately 1-2 more minutes.

IMG_6405 IMG_6405 IMG_6411 IMG_6411~Step 3.  Transfer fudge to prepared pan.  Using a rubber spatula, distribute fudge into sides and corners of pan.  Give the pan several vigorous back and forth shakes to evenly distribute the fudge.  Set aside, uncovered, for 1 hour -- the surface of the fudge will appear matt and dry (no longer glossy or wet).  Cover with the plastic wrap that is draping over the sides of the pan and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best as the fudge is very firm and easier to cut.

IMG_6424 IMG_6424 IMG_6475~ Step 4.  Transfer fudge from pan to cutting board by pushing up on the removable pan bottom, by  pulling up on the plastic wrap, or, by inverting pan and pushing down on pan bottom. Remove plastic wrap and peel back parchment. Using a ruler and a knife, measure and score top.  Cut into 32 logs or 64 squares.

Arrange fudge on a plate, cover w/plastic wrap & keep refrigerated until 10-15-20 minutes prior to serving slightly-softened.

IMG_6478Butterscotch & Bits-O-Toffee Brickle Lover's Fudge:  Recipe yields 32, 1" x 2" logs, or, 64, 1" squares.

Special Equipment List: 1, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, preferably w/straight-edged corners and removable bottom; plastic wrap; parchment paper; kitchen scale; 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; cutting board; ruler; large chef's knife

6a0120a8551282970b0224df34a06e200bCook's Note: I developed a crush for English toffee in London the 1990's.  There was a Confectioner across the street from our hotel and it was the first place I wandered into on my way to take a bus tour of the city.  While the sweet treat in this photo is something that typically gets made around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, if you'd like to learn a bit more about English toffee, read my post ~ Old-Fashioned Chocolate & Almond Buttercrunch ~.  My freezer is rarely without a bag of English toffee bits in it.

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

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

11/22/2019

~Milk-Chocolate and Toasted-Coconut Lover's Fudge~

IMG_6359As one who in all seriousness does not crave chocolate, when I do eat it it, my taste leans toward milk chocolate, with Swiss Lindt being my chocolate of choice.  Even as a kid, I pretty much turned my prissy little nose up at chocolate, with one exception.  Every year for Christmas, mom would put a few Russel Stover milk-chocolate toasted-coconut wreaths in my stocking.  For Easter, milk-chocolate toasted-coconut bird's nests went in my basket.  I love them to this day.  

While I didn't invent the idea for milk-chocolate toasted-coconut fudge, once I had a great base recipe for fudge, I was quick to make a milk-chocolate toasted-coconut version.

IMG_6337Everyone remembers their first bite of fudge -- that creamy, semi-soft confection made with corn syrup and/or sugar, butter, cream and flavoring.  Hands-down, the most popular flavor is dark chocolate, with milk chocolate coming in second.  Peanut butter, butterscotch, maple and vanilla are all contenders for the third spot.  When I was growing up, Agnes was our neighbor. She loved to bake, and throughout the years her sweet treats made their way to our table often.  

IMG_6559Every year, on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve, Agnes joined our family for dinner and graced our dessert table with a plate of fudge -- we came to expect it.  No matter what the flavor, with or without lightly-toasted nuts and/or coconut added to it, it was always a hit. When my now forty-something son was about three, he was allowed his first taste of Agnes's dark chocolate fudge. "That's a killer."  Mom's guests roared with laughter and "Killer Fudge" got its name.

My Milk-Chocolate Toasted-Coconut Fudge recipe is a spin-off of Agnes's base recipe for making all sorts of fudge flavors.

IMG_6352Fudge is an America institution that originated in America.  Like many things, it happened by accident. Fudge was first documented in 1886 by students who were making and selling it at the Malmesbury School in Baltimore, Maryland.  As the story goes, they were trying to make caramels and "fudged" the recipe. This probably explains why fudge, along with another historical accident, salt water taffy, are sold as staples on the boardwalks of the Eastern Shore.  True American-style fudge is very smooth and creamy, not grainy, crumbly or cloyingly, tooth-achingly sweet.  When served at room temperature, it is almost spreadable, and, on the boardwalks they traditionally serve it accompanied by a little plastic "tasting" knife. Fudge is often gussied up with additions of nuts and/or dried fruit, or, by swirling two flavors together.

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

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

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

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

Making, cooling & slicing Milk-Chocolate Toasted-Coconut Fudge:

IMG_6285To make killer milk-chocolate toasted-coconut fudge:

4  ounces mini-marshmallows

1  14-ounce can condensed milk

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

4  ounces cubed salted butter

16 ounces milk chocolate morsels

4-6  ounces lightly-toasted and cooled coconut

IMG_6291 IMG_6291~ Step 1.  Place coconut in a shallow baking pan. Toast on center rack of preheated 350º oven, 6-8 minutes, stopping to toss with a spoon about every 2 minutes during the process.  Remove from oven and set aside to cool about 15-20 minutes.

IMG_6287 IMG_6287 IMG_6287 IMG_6287 IMG_6287 IMG_6287~Step 2. In a 4-quart saucepan, stir condensed milk, extracts, and marshmallows.  Over low heat, melt  the marshmallows into the milk, stirring constantly until the mixture is smooth, uniform in color and foamy, 5-6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_6306 IMG_6306 IMG_6306 IMG_6306~Step 3.  With saucepan on still warm stovetop, stir in the butter pieces, chocolate morsels and toasted coconut.  Stir constantly and vigorously, until butter and chocolate morsels have melted into the marshmallow mixture and the mixture is smooth and uniform in color, about 2 minutes.

IMG_6317 IMG_6317 IMG_6317 IMG_6317~Step 4.  Transfer fudge to prepared pan.  Using a rubber spatula, distribute fudge into sides and corners of pan.  Give the pan several vigorous back and forth shakes to evenly distribute the fudge.  Set aside, uncovered, for 1 hour -- the surface of the fudge will appear matt and dry (no longer glossy or wet).  Cover with the plastic wrap that is draping over the sides of the pan and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best as the fudge is very firm and easier to cut.

IMG_6332 IMG_6332 IMG_6338~ Step 5.  Transfer fudge from pan to cutting board by pushing up on removable pan bottom, or by  pulling up on the plastic wrap, or by inverting pan and pushing down. Remove plastic wrap and peel back  parchment. Using a ruler and a large knife, measure and score top of fudge.  Cut into 32 logs or 64 squares.

Arrange fudge on a plate, cover w/plastic wrap & keep refrigerated until 10-15-20 minutes prior to serving slightly-softened.

IMG_6344Milk-Chocolate and Toasted-Coconut Lover's Fudge:  Recipe yields 32, 1" x 2" logs, or, 64, 1" squares.

Special Equipment List: small shallow baking pan; spoon; 1, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, preferably w/straight-edged corners and removable bottom; plastic wrap; parchment paper; kitchen scale; kitchen shears; 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; cutting board; ruler; large chef's knife

IMG_6369Cook's Note:  Once cut into desired-sized pieces, store fudge in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment or wax paper, in a cool, dry, place, or in the refrigerator, for up to a month.  To make a large, triple batch of fudge (all at once) for the holidays, cook it on the stovetop in an 8-quart stockpot and pour it into a 16" x 12" x 2"  professional-type rectangular-shaped cake pan.

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

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

11/20/2019

~Dark Chocolate Lover's Killer Dark-Chocolate Fudge~

IMG_6104Everyone remembers their first bite of fudge -- that creamy, semi-soft confection made with corn syrup and/or sugar, butter, cream and flavoring.  Hands-down, the most popular flavor is dark chocolate, with milk chocolate in second.  Peanut butter, butterscotch, maple and vanilla are all contenders for the third spot.  When I was growing up, Agnes was our next-door neighbor. She loved to bake, and throughout the years her sweet treats made their way to our table often.  

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

IMG_6075This is Agnes's recipe for Killer Dark-Chocolate Fudge.

IMG_6095Fudge is an America institution that originated in America.  Like many things, it happened by accident. Fudge was first documented in 1886 by students who were making and selling it at the Malmesbury School in Baltimore, Maryland.  As the story goes, they were trying to make caramels and "fudged" the recipe. This probably explains why fudge, along with another historical accident, salt water taffy, are sold as staples on the boardwalks of the Eastern Shore.  True American-style fudge is very smooth and creamy, not grainy, crumbly or cloyingly, tooth-achingly sweet.  When served at room temperature, it is almost spreadable, and, on the boardwalks they traditionally serve it accompanied by a little plastic "tasting" knife. Fudge is often gussied up with additions of nuts and/or dried fruit, or, by swirling two flavors together.

6a0120a8551282970b01675ea2f9f3970bI've tasted a lot of fudge in my lifetime (mostly while walking the boardwalks of the NJ and Maryland shores), but quite honestly, Agnes's delicious, user-friendly recipe is so wonderful, I've never been inclined to experiment with other versions (which all to often complicate the process to the the point of "why bother").  I am here to tell you:  you don't need a degree in food science, a marble slab, or even a candy thermometer to make great fudge.  I am a purist about a lot of things, but let's get real:  fudge was born out of error -- how complicated do we need to make it?  BTW:  Fralinger's in Ocean City, NJ, is one of my all-time favorite  "haunts" for purchasing all flavors of salt water taffy and fudge.

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

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

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

Making, cooling & slicing Killer Dark-Chocolate fudge:

IMG_6010To make killer dark-chocolate fudge:

4  ounces mini-marshmallows

1  14-ounce can condensed milk

2  teaspoons each: pure chocolate extract and pure vanilla extract

4  ounces salted butter (1 stick), cut into pieces

16 ounces semi-sweet chocolate morsels

6-8  ounces coarse-chopped, lightly-toasted walnuts (optional)

IMG_6004 IMG_6004 IMG_6004 IMG_6004 IMG_6004 IMG_6004~Step 1. In a 4-quart saucepan, combine condensed milk, both extracts and marshmallows. Over low heat, melt the marshmallows into the mixture, stirring until mixture is completely smooth and foamy, 5-6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.  

IMG_6013 IMG_6013 IMG_6013~ Step 2.  Add and stir in the butter pieces and chocolate morsels.  If you are adding walnuts, add them at this time too.  Stir constantly and somewhat vigorously, until mixture is smooth and uniform in color, 2-3 minutes.

IMG_6032 IMG_6032 IMG_6032 IMG_6032~Step 3.  Transfer fudge to prepared pan.  Using a rubber spatula, distribute fudge into sides and corners of pan.  Give the pan several vigorous back and forth shakes to evenly distribute the fudge.  Set aside, uncovered, for 1 hour -- the surface of the fudge will appear matt and dry (no longer glossy or wet).  Cover with the plastic wrap that is draping over the sides of the pan and refrigerate 6-8 hours or overnight.  Overnight is best as the fudge is very firm and easier to cut.

IMG_6075~ Step 4.  Transfer fudge from pan to cutting board by pushing up on removable pan bottom, or by  pulling up on the plastic wrap, or by inverting pan and shaking loose. Remove the plastic wrap and peel back the parchment.  Using a ruler and a large, very sharp knife, measure and score the top of the fudge.  Proceed to cut the cold fudge into 32 logs or 64 squares.

Arrange fudge on a plate, cover w/plastic wrap & keep refrigerated until 10-15-20 minutes prior to serving slightly-softened.

IMG_6078Dark Chocolate Lover's Killer Dark-Chocolate Fudge:  Recipe yields 32, 1" x 2" logs, or, 64, 1" squares.

Special Equipment List: 1, 8" x 8" x 2" baking pan, preferably w/straight-edged corners and removable bottom; plastic wrap; parchment paper; kitchen scale; 4-quart saucepan; large spoon; cutting board; ruler; large chef's knife

IMG_6100Cook's Note: Once cut into desired-sized pieces, store fudge in an airtight container, separating layers with parchment or wax paper, in a cool, dry, place, or in the refrigerator, for up to a month.  To make a large, triple batch of fudge (all at once) for the holidays, cook it on the stovetop in an 8-quart stockpot and pour it into a 16" x 12" x 2"  professional-type rectangular-shaped cake pan.

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

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

11/18/2019

~ Gobble Gobble: Rich and Creamy Turkey à la King ~

IMG_6149Talk about a tasty use for turkey leftovers. Turkey à la king is a spin-off of chicken à la king -- an all-American comfort-food creation. At this time of year, with Turkey Day just around the corner, it is, obviously, a very tasty use for leftover turkey. That said, by using quick-to-cook stovetop-poached or oven-roasted turkey tenderloins, it is a wonderful alternative if you want to serve turkey in a non-traditional way for a more laid-back or take-to-a-potluck feast.  Make no mistake, we're not talking "cream of canned any kind of soup" thrown into a skillet or a casserole.

À la king vs. pot pie -- À la king is not pot pie & vice versa.

IMG_6160You'd be surprised (perhaps not) how many folks think the same mixture that goes into pot pie, is the same mixture that gets used to make à la king.  It is not.  If the mixture it is similar to anything, it would be that contained in other all-American creations like chicken or turkey Divan, chicken or turkey Tetrazzini, and even tuna noodle casserole.  Read on to find out the difference:  

In its purest form, à la king is a refined, American restaurant dish consisting of perfectly-poached white-meat chicken or turkey stirred into a silky sherry-cream béchamel-type sauce containing mushrooms, and, green peppers (peas are commonly substituted by people who don't care for peppers).  Classically, it's served served over toast points, puff pastry or rice (with noodles or pasta being acceptable substitutions).  Pot pie is a very thick, gravy-like stock-based chicken stew that contains noodles or is topped with a pastry crust.  Worst case pot pie recipes are made using cream of chicken soup.  For those of you who are inclined to disagree with my assessment:

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c78bca7c970bIn 1980, in a New York Times article, Craig Claiborne shared the original recipe for chicken à la king (reprinted from a brochure given to him by a reader).  Here is the original ingredients list:

butter, chopped green pepper, sliced mushrooms, flour, salt, cream,  poached chicken, egg yolks, onion juice, lemon juice, sherry, pimiento (for garnish), toast points (for serving)

Notice:  The original recipe contains no chicken stock, it is made with a cream-based béchamel-type sauce, and, pimientos are used as garnish, not a stirred-in ingredient (all of which are common misconceptions in modern day à la king recipes.

At the beginning of the 20th century, chicken à la king was the pinnacle of upscale comfort food in New York City.  In that era, almost anything with a vaguely-sounding French name was adopted by appetites of the rich and powerful.  That said, it's not French, and, there are several NYC restaurant chefs claiming the origin of the dish, most notably:  Delmonico's, the Brighton Beach Hotel, and, the Plaza.  The most credible account, however, is that it was created in the 1890's by a hotel cook, William "Bill" King, of the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia, as it appeared in his obituary in 1915, as well as a New York Tribune editorial written shortly thereafter.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d115740c970cIn the 1950's, chicken à la king was a staple on the menus of elegant wedding receptions, expensive banquets, and, fancy sit-down in-home dinner parties all across America.  Sadly, as James Beard lamented in his 1972 book, James Beard's American Cookery, "chicken à la king, now usually prepared in a mediocre fashion, can be quite good if prepared with care, using fine ingredients."  This can be said of too many things we Americans eat, but, since I'm in the business of writing and publishing really-good, high-quality recipes, you'll find no mediocre  shortcuts or ingredients in my version.

Part One:  Oven-Roasting or Poaching Turkey Tenderloins

IMG_5784While we're all familiar with whole, bone-in turkey and whole bone-in turkey breast or breast halves, we're not all as familiar with turkey breast tenderloins.  Weighing anywhere from 8-ounces to 1-pound each, these 7 1/2"-8" long, plump pieces of turkey are the tenderest part of the turkey. I love them, and use them occasionally, because, quite frankly, an entire turkey or a turkey breast all-to-often yields more turkey than needed, or takes more time to cook than I've got.  There's more. Trust me when I tell you, a poached or roasted turkey tenderloin served with mashed potatoes, gravy, a green vegetable and cranberry sauce is as wonderful as any oven-roasted turkey dinner.

IMG_5803 IMG_5858 IMG_5858Step 1.  Poach (photo #1) or roast (photo #2) 1 1/2-2 pounds turkey tenderloins according to my directions provided in the links, cool until meat can be handled comfortably with the hands, then pull it into bite-sized pieces.  The alternative is to use turkey breast leftover from your Thanksgiving feast.

Part Two:  Sautéing the Vegetables

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4eb2443200bFor the vegetables:

4  tablespoons salted butter

1  pound white mushroom caps, sliced

3/5  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoons sea salt

2  cups frozen peas and diced carrots combo, unthawed

~ Step 1.  Slice the mushrooms as directed.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the sliced mushroom caps.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c7163e200d 6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c71647200d~ Step 2. Add garlic powder & salt, increase heat to medium-high & cook until 'shrooms are losing moisture & mixture is juicy, about 6 minutes.  Add frozen vegetetables.  Cook until almost no moisture remains, 5-6 minutes. Toss into the pasta mixture and set aside.

Part Three:  Making the Sherry-Cream Parmesan-Cheese Sauce

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4eb24aa200b4  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/8  teaspoon nutmeg

1/2  teaspoon:  garlic powder, cayenne pepper & sea salt

3  cups heavy cream + up to 1/2 cup milk, to control consistency

2  cups finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2-4  tablespoons dry sherry

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4eb24f7200b 6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c670f3200d~ Step 1.  In the same chef's pan, melt butter over low heat. Increase heat to medium and add the flour, salt and cayenne pepper. Using a large spoon or a small whisk, stirring constantly, cook until mixture is thick, smooth and bubbly, about 30 seconds.  It happens fast.

Add the cream, in a slow stream, stirring constantly the entire time.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c67124200d 6a0120a8551282970b0240a49d38ae200c~ Step 2. Continue to cook until sauce is smooth, thickened and drizzly, about 2 minutes.  Turn off the heat.

Sprinkle in the Parmesan. Stir until mixture is smooth and ribbonlike, adding milk if necessary.  Add the sherry, 2-3-4 tablespoons, to taste. You will have 3-3 1/2 cups sauce. Add and toss into pasta mix.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c78bd822970b~ Step 3.  Turn heat off and fold in the turkey and vegetable mixture. Cover and allow to rest, on the warm stovetop, for 10-15 minutes, to allow the flavors time to marry. Serve scooped atop toast points, in puff pastry shells, or over steamed rice, cooked noodles or pasta. Garnish each portion with a a few pimientos, a sprinkling of cayenne pepper and/or a parsley sprig. Reheat leftover a la king mixture over low heat on the stovetop, adding a bit of milk, as necessary to control (thin) the consistency.

Taste & admit:  real-deal à la king exceeds all expectations:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49f2c1e200cToday's classic choice:  over rice with brioche toast points:

IMG_6158Gobble Gobble: Rich and Creamy Turkey à la King:  Recipe yields 2 generous quarts, 8+ cups of à la king mixture, or, 6-8 hearty main-course servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; 8-quart stockpot; colander; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides & lid; large spoon or small whisk 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d23924fb970cCook's Note: Melted butter, flour and hot milk.  Whisk it all together with some salt and pepper to taste, simmer it for a few short minutes and you've got ~ Plain, Simple & Unpretentious Basic White Sauce ~, also known as béchamel sauce. It's one of the things I learned to make in Home Economics, and, the recipe the teacher used was out of a 1960's or '70's edition of the The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, which was kept on a shelf along with a few of her other favorites.

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

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

11/15/2019

~Gobble Gobble: Get Tangled Up in Turkey Tetrazzini~

IMG_5965When one writes a cooking blog long enough, one learns that sharing vintage recipes is as important as sharing trending, innovative new ones.  Experience has taught, "what's old is always new to someone", and cooks of all experience levels appreciate learning about it.  Experience has also taught: "what's old has often been lost to someone", as many times, these retro classics, which evoke fond memories, have sadly, been lost (grandma never taught it, shared it, or worse, never wrote it down), or tossed (instead of being handed down from generation to generation).

 About vintage recipes:  What's old is always new to someone,  and sadly,  what's old has often been lost to many. 

I know this to be true because by the time I was in my thirties, Tetrazzini had been around for a long time but I had never had the opportunity to taste it made the right way.  Mom didn't make it because dad wouldn't eat anything in a cream sauce.  Yea, I don't get it either, but that's that, "you're father won't eat that".  By the time I was in my thirties, the mid-1980's, the manufacturers of canned soup, cream cheese and mayonnaise had had a couple of decades to bastardize Tetrazzini recipes to the point of detestable, inedible glop.  The concept was so bad, I never had any desire to waste one moment trying to untangle the mess they made of this classic recipe.  

Then we went to a small wedding at The Toftrees Resort here in Happy Valley, PA.  Back in their day (the '80's and '90's), this was a swanky, upscale place with a highly-paid creative chef, a well-trained tuxedo-wearing waitstaff, and, an incredibly talented handsome guy who played the grand-piano.  After the champagne toast, the first course, pasta, arrived in small, classic-white, shell-shaped plates.  As the plates were placed in front of us, the waiter announced: "Seafood Tetrazzini".  Just wow, and I was inspired to embrace and make this dish in my own kitchen.

IMG_5973Tetrazzini is named after Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini.

A bit about Tetrazzini (teh-trah-ZEE-nee):  Tetrazzini is a rich dish combining cooked, stranded pasta (usually angel hair or thin spaghetti) tossed with chards of tender, cooked poultry (usually all-white chicken or turkey breast) or pieces of succulent seafood (never red meat) enrobed in a sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce.  Lightly sautéed mushrooms (a requirement for the dish) get tossed in, along with some optional steamed peas and carrots too.  Each individual-sized dish, or the entire casserole, gets sprinkled with sliced almonds and additional grated Parmesan, then broiled (individual dishes) or baked (a casserole) until a crunchy, bubbly and golden top forms. The airy combination of almonds and Parmesan (not heavy breadcrumbs) causes strands of exposed pasta to crisp up too, which makes this super-rich dish all the more charming.

IMG_5989All food historians agree that even though the dish contains pasta it is not Italian.  It is an all-American concoction.

All food historians agree on one thing: this dish is not Italian, it is an American concoction named after the Italian opera star Luisa Tetrazzini.  It is said to have been invented for her in 1908-1910 by chef Ernest Arbogast at The Palace Hotel in San Francisco, CA, where it is said she was either a regular guest or a long-time resident of the hotel.  I can find no specific documentation to say the dish prepared for her was made with poultry, as seafood, which is common to San Francisco, would make more sense.  A follow-up to this story is:  Luisa then gave the recipe for Spaghetti Tetrazzini to Louis Paquet, chef de cuisine at The McAlpin Hotel on Harold Square in NYC (the largest hotel in the world when it opened in 1912), who made famous a chicken-based version. To muddle the dish's history up a bit, in October of 1908, Good Housekeeping magazine made references to Tetrazzini being served "in a restaurant on 42nd street" -- The Knickerbocker Hotel in NYC, located on the corner of Broadway and 42nd Street claims the rights to the recipe as well.

Tetrazzini = Stranded Pasta (Spaghetti) NOT Egg Noodles.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7081bb6970bUnfortunately, Tetrazzini took a slow downhill slide after that.  Spin-offs started turning it into a casserole made of of leftover poultry or canned tuna, which is totally, completely understandable, as we Americans love our casseroles.  I have no ax to grind with that, it's tasty and family-friendly, but it was not what the elegant Ms. Tetrazzini had in mind.   Read on, because the worst was yet to come.  The cream of mushroom soup, cream cheese and mayonnaise versions that replaced the silky sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce:  they were the death of the iconic dish.  

One last item:  Tetrazzini is made with stranded pasta/macaroni (any width will do but angel hair or spaghetti is most common), not egg noodles.  Egg noodles (a different product) = a noodle dish or a noodle casserole (example:  tuna noodle casserole) -- it's not Tetrazzini.  Got it? Good.

Tetrazzini is prepared in separate stages on the stovetop.

All white-meat turkey Tetrazzini is, perhaps my favorite version, with chicken or shrimp Tetrazzini coming in at a close, creamy second and third.  I don't make my Tetrazzini using leftovers of any kind, but,  if it's turkey Tetrazzini you grew up eating and are craving after Thanksgiving, by all means, use your leftover turkey (I won't call the food police), but try to stick to the tender, white breast meat.  That said, I really hope you'll give my method for making this dish a try.  It gets made in five very easy parts:  boiling pasta; oven-roasting or poaching turkey tenderloins; sautéeing vegetables; making sherry-cream Parmesan-cheese sauce, and; topping and baking.

Part One:  Boiling the Spaghetti

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7082826970bFor the pasta:

1  pound spaghetti, broken in half

1 tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning pasta water

6  tablespoons salted butter

6  tablespoons finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

3/4  teaspoon coarsely-grind or cracked black pepper (not fine "table" ground)

~ Step 1.  In an 8-quart stockpot bring 5 quarts of water to a boil and add the 1 tablespoon of salt to the water.  Break the pasta in half and add it it to the boiling water.  Give pasta a quick stir.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7082916970b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c708296f970b 2~ Step 2. Cook spaghetti until slightly less than al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain well and return to stockpot.

~ Step 3.  Add the butter, Parmesan and pepper.  Toss until butter is melted and pasta is evenly coated. Transfer to a large bowl & set aside.

Transfer pasta mixture to a large bowl & set aside:

IMG_5919Part Two:  Oven-Roasting or Poaching Turkey Tenderloins

IMG_5784While we're all familiar with whole, bone-in turkey and whole bone-in turkey breast or breast halves, we're not all as familiar with turkey breast tenderloins.  Weighing anywhere from 8-ounces to 1-pound each, these 7 1/2"-8" long, plump pieces of turkey are the tenderest part of the turkey. I love them, and use them occasionally, because, quite frankly, an entire turkey or a turkey breast all-to-often yields more turkey than needed, or takes more time to cook than I've got.  There's more. Trust me when I tell you, a poached or roasted turkey tenderloin served with mashed potatoes, gravy, a green vegetable and cranberry sauce is as wonderful as any oven-roasted turkey dinner.

IMG_5803 IMG_5803 IMG_5803Step 1.  Poach (photo #1) or roast (photo #2) 1 1/2-2 pounds turkey tenderloins according to my directions provided in the links, cool until meat can be handled comfortably with the hands, then pull it into bite-sized pieces.  The alternative is to use turkey breast leftover from your Thanksgiving feast.

Add the pulled turkey to the pasta mixture & set aside:

IMG_5923Part Three:  Sautéing the Vegetables

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7083aa2970bFor the vegetables:

4  tablespoons salted butter

1  pound white mushroom caps, sliced

3/5  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoons sea salt

2  cups frozen peas and diced carrots combo, unthawed

~ Step 1.  Slice the mushrooms as directed.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the sliced mushroom caps.

IMG_5925 6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c670ad200d~ Step 2. Add garlic powder & salt, increase heat to medium-high & cook until 'shrooms are losing moisture & mixture is juicy, about 6 minutes.  Add frozen vegetetables.  Cook until almost no moisture remains, 5-6 minutes. Toss into the pasta mixture and set aside.

Add the sautéed veggies to the pasta mixture, toss, &, set aside:

IMG_5931Part Four:  Making the Sherry-Cream Parmesan-Cheese Sauce

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c708b7d7970b4  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1/2  teaspoon cayenne pepper

3  cups heavy cream + up to 1/2 cup whole milk, to control consistency

2  cups finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2-4  tablespoons dry sherry

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0926750970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7085833970b~ Step 1.  In the same chef's pan, melt butter over low heat. Increase heat to medium and add the flour, salt and cayenne pepper. Using a large spoon or a small whisk, stirring constantly, cook until mixture is thick, smooth and bubbly, about 30 seconds.  It happens fast.

Add the cream, in a slow stream, stirring constantly the entire time.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0927021970c 6a0120a8551282970b01b8d0927055970c~ Step 2. Continue to cook until sauce is smooth, thickened and drizzly, about 2 minutes.  Turn off the heat.

Sprinkle in the Parmesan. Stir until mixture is smooth and ribbonlike, adding milk if necessary.  Add the sherry, 2-3-4 tablespoons, to taste. You will have 3-3 1/2 cups sauce. Add and toss into pasta mix.

Add Parmesan-cheese sauce to pasta mixture & toss thoroughly:

IMG_5939Part Five:  Topping and Baking the Tetrazzini

IMG_59493/4-1  cup sliced almonds

3/4-1  cup finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

IMG_5946~ Step 1. Transfer mixture to 13" x 9" x 2" casserole that's been sprayed with no-stick. Without pressing down on top, use a fork to evenly distribute mixture.  Sprinkle  sliced almonds evenly over top, followed by the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

IMG_5951~ Step 2.  Bake, uncovered, on center rack of preheated 350º oven 25-30 minutes.  Top will be a nice golden brown and casserole will be slightly-bubbling around the sides. Do not overbake or casserole will dry out, meaning:  all ingredients have been fully-cooked, all it needs is a reheat. Remove from oven and allow to rest 5-10 minutes prior to serving.

Portion into individual bowls or au gratins & serve ASAP: 

IMG_5969Gobble Gobble:  Get Tangled Up in Turkey Tetrazzini:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List: 8-quart stockpot; colander; microplane grater; cutting board; chef's knife; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides, preferably nonstick; nonstick spatula; salad servers, or two large spoons, for tossing pasta throughout recipe; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49be360200cCook's Note: Turkey divan is a spin-off of chicken divan -- an all-American casserole invention. At this time of year, with Turkey Day just around the corner, it is, obviously, a very tasty use for leftover turkey. That said, by using quick-to-cook stovetop-poached or oven-roasted turkey tenderloins, it is a truly wonderful alternative if you want to serve turkey in a non-traditional way for a more laid-back or take-to-a-potluck feast.  Make no mistake, we're not talking "cream of canned any kind of soup" thrown into a casserole dish.  This dish is indeed creamy, comforting and divine.  Try my recipe for  ~ Gobble Gobble: Divine Parisian-Style Turkey Divan ~.

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

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

11/12/2019

~ Gobble Gobble: Divine Parisien-Style Turkey Divan ~

IMG_3838Turkey divan is a spin-off of chicken divan -- an all-American casserole invention. At this time of year, with Turkey Day just around the corner, it is, obviously, a very tasty use for leftover turkey. That said, by using quick-to-cook stovetop-poached or oven-roasted turkey tenderloins, it is a truly wonderful alternative if you want to serve turkey in a non-traditional way for a more laid-back or take-to-a-potluck feast.  Make no mistake, we're not talking "cream of canned any kind of soup" thrown into a casserole dish.  This dish is indeed real-deal creamy, comforting and divine.

IMG_5784While we're all familiar with whole, bone-in turkey and whole bone-in turkey breast or breast halves, we're not all as familiar with turkey breast tenderloins.  Weighing anywhere from 8-ounces to 1-pound each, these 7 1/2"-8" long, plump pieces of turkey are the tenderest part of the turkey. I love them, and use them occasionally, because, quite frankly, an entire turkey or a turkey breast all-to-often yields more turkey than needed, or takes more time to cook than I've got.  There's more. Trust me when I tell you, a poached or roasted turkey tenderloin served with mashed potatoes, gravy, a green vegetable and cranberry sauce is as wonderful as any oven-roasted turkey dinner.   

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4c5194e200dDivan refers to a baked casserole containing poached all-white-meat chicken (or turkey) and blanched broccoli florets enrobed in béchamel sauce (it's called Morney sauce if cheese is added). It was invented in the 1940's and was a popular, medium-budget entrée on the menus of fine-dining restaurants and country club catering menus during the 1960's and 70's, which is where I encountered it.  When I got married in 1974, it was one of the first meals I cooked out of Betty Crocker's Cookbook (p. 306), which was my first cookbook and a bridal shower gift, then afterward, from the 1975 edition of The Joy of Cooking (p. 264), which I purchased myself.

Divan-ParisienDivan is classic American. It was created in the 1940's in the Divan Parisiene Restaurant of New York City's Chatham Hotel by a chef named Lagasi.  He had entered his dish in a contest, and, after winning money for it, it became the hotel's signature dish.  In French the word "divan" means an elegant meeting place or great hall, and it was this meaning that caught the attention of the owners as they searched for a name implying continental elegance.  In America, the word "divan" had come to mean "sofa", and, in the 1940's and 50's, in the Divan Parisien restaurant, diners ate at tables that were drawn up to small sofas (divans).  (Photos of Chatham and Parisien courtesy of Card Cow.)

6a0120a8551282970b017c321a8a6d970b-320wiWhen I was a young bride and just starting to entertain, chicken divan (dī-van) was one of my favorite go-to all-occasion casseroles.  It is great served for brunch, lunch or dinner.  It can be baked in one large casserole and served family style, or, it can be baked in individual-sized casseroles and served at a fancier gatherings too.  There's more.  It can be served with or atop toast points,  buttered noodles or steamed rice -- buttered noodles are my favorite.

Note:  The following recipe fills a 2-quart casserole (11" x 7" x 2"), and, when served with toast points, buttered noodles or rice, will easily feed a family of six people. In the event you've got hungrier mouths to feed (teenagers), a bigger crowd, or want leftovers (they reheat great in the microwave), do the math, double the recipe, and, bake it in a much larger 4-quart casserole

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8baafe2970bFor the casserole:

1 1/2-2 pounds boneless, skinless turkey tenderloins  

1  pound frozen broccoli florets, preferably medium-large, not chopped broccoli

3  14 1/2-ounce cans chicken broth, or 5 1/2-6 cups homemade stock, for poaching chicken and broccoli  (Note:  Plain, nicely salted water can be substituted, but I like the added flavor that stock or broth lends to the chicken and the broccoli.  There's more.  I don't waste a bit of it, meaning:  I don't pour it down the drain.  I add some water to it, to get the necessary amount needed, and, I boil my egg noodles in it too.)

4  tablespoons salted butter (1/2 stick)

a scant 1/8  teaspoon ground cloves

a scant 1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoons white pepper

1 cup small-diced yellow or sweet onion

1/4  cup Wondra Quick-Mixing Flour for Sauce and Gravy

2  tablespoons dry sherry  

2  cups heavy cream, half & half or whole milk, your choice

1 1/2 cups (6 ounces) grated Gruyère cheese

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing casserole dish

For the topping:

2 tablespoons salted butter, melted

1/2 cup French-style breadcrumbs or panko

For serving:

toast points, buttered egg noodles or steamed white rice, your choice

IMG_5803 IMG_5803 IMG_5803Step 1.  Poach (photo #1) or roast (photo #2) 1 1/2-2 pounds turkey tenderloins according to my directions provided in the links, cool until meat can be handled comfortably with the hands, then pull it into bite-sized pieces.  The alternative is to use turkey breast leftover from your Thanksgiving feast.

IMG_3738 IMG_3738 IMG_3738 IMG_3738~Step 2.  Return the saucepan of remaining stock to a simmer and add the frozen broccoli florets. Adjust heat to a steady simmer and partially cook it, until it is just thawed, 1 1/2-2 minutes.  Using the same Asian spider or large slotted spoon, transfer it to a colander and rinse it under cold running water, to halt the cooking process.  Allow to drain thoroughly, giving the colander an occasional shake every five minutes or so for about 15 minutes.  Set aside.

IMG_3754 IMG_3754 IMG_3754 IMG_3754~Step 3.  In the same saucepan, melt the butter over low heat, then, using a large spoon, stir in the spices (ground cloves, ground nutmeg sea salt and white pepper).  Add the onion and increase heat to medium and cook until onion is tender, about 1 minute.  

IMG_3766 IMG_3766 IMG_3766 IMG_3766 IMG_3766 IMG_3780 IMG_3780~Step 4.  Stir in the flour. Stirring constantly, cook for 1 full minute.  The roux will be very pasty.  Add the sherry then the cream (milk or half & half) and adjust heat to simmer.  Continue to simmer, stirring constantly until nicely-thickened but drizzly, about 2 minutes.  Lower heat to low and stir in the Gruyère.  Stir constantly until a thick Mornay sauce has formed, about 1 more minute.  Remove from heat.

IMG_3755 IMG_3755 IMG_3755 IMG_3755~Step 5.  Place the pulled turkey pieces and blanched broccoli florets in a large bowl.  Add all of the hot Mornay sauce to the bowl.  Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the sauce, until everything is evenly enrobed in sauce.  Do not over mix.  Do not risk breaking the turkey or broccoli into smaller pieces.  Using the spatula, transfer all of the mixture to an 11" x 7" x 2" casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick spray.  Set aside while preparing topping.

IMG_3798 IMG_3798~ Step 6.  In a 1-cup measuring container, melt 2 tablespoons of butter in microwave.  Stir the 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs into the melted butter.  Using your fingertips, sprinkle the topping mixture evenly over the entire top of the casserole.

IMG_3814 IMG_3814~ Step 7.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven, until golden brown on top and bubbling around edges, 25-30 minutes.  Remove from oven and rest 15-20 minutes prior to serving.  Use rest time to make toast points, cook egg noodles or steam rice.

Turkey, broccoli & Mornay mixture in 11" x 7" x 2" casserole:

IMG_3804Casserole w/breadcrumb topping & ready to go into oven:

IMG_3809Golden & glorious after baking in 350° oven 25-30 minutes:

IMG_3822Place toast points, buttered egg noodles or steamed rice into the bottom of six 8"-9" round or oval au gratin dishes.  Portion & place turkey divan atop each portion & serve immediately:

IMG_3848Gobble Gobble:  Divine Parisien-Style Turkey Divan: Recipe yields 6-8 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List: 4-quart saucepan, preferably nonstick; Asian spider or large slotted spoon; colander; cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; large spoon; large rubber spatula; 11" x 7" x 2" casserole; 1-cup measuring container; ordinary tablespoon

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d2c31f90970cCook's Note:  Another great use for poached or roasted turkey tenderloins is ~ The Classic Kentucky Hot Brown Turkey Sandwich ~. Simply known as "the hot brown", or "Louisville hot brown", this Kentucky ope-faced sandwich is a culinary legend.  Invented in 1926 by Fred K. Schmidt at The Brown Hotel in Louisville, unlike many other famous sandwiches, this one was no accident.  It was specifically created, from some carefully-selected, well-thought out ingredients, to please his hungry late-night crowd.  It was a sort-of spin-off of the British Welsh rarebit and Scotch woodcock (using a smooth, creamy fondue-like "cheese sauce on toast").

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

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

11/09/2019

~ Let's Talk about Roasted Turkey Breast Tenderloins ~

IMG_5909While my family always celebrates Turkey Day with a traditional dinner, with all the pomp and circumstances leading up to the moment when the oven-roasted and well-rested turkey gets carved and served, there are many folks, both novice and experienced cooks, (single men and women, young couples, elderly couples, etc.) who neither need nor want, or, don't have the time for an entire turkey.  There are other folks, for whatever the reason, simply want to eat some turkey for the sake of the day and move on.  That's why I'm talking about turkey tenderloins.  

IMG_5784While we're all familiar with whole, bone-in turkey and whole bone-in turkey breast or breast halves, we're not all as familiar with turkey breast tenderloins.  Weighing anywhere from 8-ounces to 1-pound each, these 7 1/2"-8" long, plump pieces of turkey are the tenderest part of the turkey. I love them, and use them occasionally, because, quite frankly, an entire turkey or a turkey breast all-to-often yields more turkey than needed, or takes more time to cook than I've got.  There's more. Trust me, a roasted turkey tenderloin sliced and served with mashed potatoes, gravy, a green vegetable and cranberry sauce is as wonderful as any oven-roasted whole turkey dinner.

That said, unlike its cute cousin the chicken tender, turkey tenderloin, because of its larger size, is not quite as versatile.  When it comes to cooking turkey tenderloins, any method that works for a bone-in or boneless chicken breast half can be adapted to work for a turkey tenderloin. My two favorite methods of preparing it are oven-roasting or stovetop poaching, but, it's worth mention I've had excellent results marinating it or applying a dry rub to it to grill it outdoors too.

Poaching vs. Roasting = Low Moist Heat vs. High Dry Heat.

Poaching = 30-40 minutes.  Roasting = 1-1 1/4 hours.

Loosely defined for modern times, roasting implies food items, like meat, poultry, fruits and vegetables that "stand on their own", meaning, they have an independent structure prior to being roasted -- unlike baking, they are not dependent on a vessel to attain their shape during the cooking process.  Like baking (a casserole for example), roasting can be done, covered or uncovered or a combination of both, but unlike baking, roasted foods are placed on a rack so they do not cook or stew in their own juices.  Typically, the desired end roasting result is a brown crust, which requires fat, either provided naturally by the item being roasted, or, applied by hand.  In the case of roasting turkey tenderloins, open roasting to attain browning is not ideal in that they emerge dried out -- they do not have the body mass to support a moist end result no matter how much fat one apples.  Please trust me on this point, or, do your own experiment at your own risk.

Place 2, large 3/4-1 pound turkey tenderloins on a rack in a small (disposable aluminum) roasting pan to which 2 cups chicken stock, 1/2 cup diced yellow onion, 1/2 cup diced carrot, 1/2 cup diced celery, and, 2 sprigs fresh rosemary sprigs (or 2 thyme sprigs or bay leaves depending on what you're making/serving with tenderloins) have been added.

IMG_5845Using a pastry brush, the paint entire top surface of the tenderloins with 2 tablespoons (microwave) melted salted butter, and, a fresh grinding of sea salt and pepper corn blend.

IMG_5849Tightly seal the top of the roasting pan with aluminum foil and bake on center rack of preheated 375º oven for 1 hour.

IMG_5857Remove from oven, remove foil and transfer tenderloins to a plate.  There's not need to discard the stock.  It's well seasoned and perfect for making gravy.  

IMG_5858Cover plate of turkey with plastic wrap and wait until it has cooled until you can comfortably handle it with your hands, prior to proceeding with specific recipe.

IMG_5867Steamy, roasted perfection, fork-tender, moist and juicy too.  Each tenderloin yeilds 3-4 servings sliced and about 3-4 generous cups of chopped or pulled turkey tenderloin:

IMG_5887Let's Talk about Roasted Turkey Breast Tenderloins:  Recipe yields instructions to oven-roast 2, 3/4-1 pound turkey tenderloins/6 servings.

Special Equipment List: 3" x 9" x 4" disposable aluminum roasting pan;  cooling rack; cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; pastry brush; aluminum foil; plastic wrap

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49b39b1200cCook's Note: Looking for an all-purpose gravy that goes well on almost anything?  I've got one.  One basic recipe, made with a few pantry staples, and, in a few minutes:  a great gravy that carnivores and vegetarians can sit down to enjoy, together. Got pan drippings?  Just add them to my ~ Vegetarian Herb Gravy for Whatever Floats the Boat ~ along with the stock. Like a chameleon adjusts its color to blend in, this gravy graciously accepts any carnivorous flavor you've got to add.

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

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

11/07/2019

~Let's Talk about Poached Turkey Breast Tenderloins~

IMG_5828We're all familiar with chicken breast tenderloins.  Weighing in at about 2-3 ounces each, these 4 1/2"-5" long, thin strips of chicken are the tenderest part of the chicken.  I love them, and use them often, because, quite frankly, they are superior to the last-luster, "rubber chicken" boneless, skinless breast.  Whole, chopped, sliced or lightly-pounded, they cook quickly.  They can be poached or simmered, pan-fried, deep-fried, stir-fried, or grilled-panned to use in any recipe that requires cooked chicken -- appetizers, soups, salads, sandwiches, or casseroles, and, dishes like chicken curry, Parmesan, Milanese, Oscar, Piccata, etc.  They're versatile.

IMG_5784While we're all familiar with whole, bone-in turkey and whole bone-in turkey breast or breast halves, we're not all as familiar with turkey breast tenderloins.  Weighing anywhere from 8-ounces to 1-pound each, these 7 1/2"-8" long, plump pieces of turkey are the tenderest part of the turkey. I love them, and use them occasionally, because, quite frankly, an entire turkey or a turkey breast all-to-often yields more turkey than needed, or takes more time to cook than I've got.  There's more. Trust me when I tell you, a poached turkey tenderloin sliced and served with mashed potatoes, gravy, a green vegetable and cranberry sauce is as wonderful as any oven-roasted turkey dinner.

That said, unlike its cute cousin the chicken tender, turkey tenderloin, because of its larger size, is not quite as versatile.  When it comes to cooking turkey tenderloins, any method that works for a bone-in or boneless chicken breast half can be adapted to work for a turkey tenderloin. My two favorite methods of preparing it are oven-roasting or stovetop poaching, but, it's worth mention I've had excellent results marinating it or applying a dry rub to it to grill it outdoors too.

Poaching vs. Roasting = Low Moist Heat vs. High Dry Heat.

Poaching = 30-40 minutes.  Roasting = 1-1 1/4 hours.

The term "poach" is from the French verb "pocher" meaning to cook gently in water or seasoned liquid.  The liquid, called "court bouillon" or "short broth", is classically a mixture of water, an acid (such as lemon juice, wine, and/or vinegar or wine vinegar), aromatics (such as onion, celery and/or carrot), an herb or two (such as parsley, thyme and/or bay leaf), salt and peppercorns. That said, poaching chicken is a worldwide sport and the liquid should be seasoned accordingly. For example: When I'm poaching chicken for Asian fare, I use ginger, lemongrass and/or lime leaves, cilantro, soy sauce and/or fish sauce (in place of salt) and a cayenne chile pepper.

Shallow poaching involves placing the food to be poached, presentation side up, atop or in the center of the aromatics, herbs and spices in a shallow cooking vessel.  Cold or room temperature court bouillon is added until the food is partially-submerged in liquid.  The pan gets covered and the food gets cooked gently at a low temperature (barely simmering/shivering), which preserves both the flavor and the structural integrity of the food.  Deep poaching is almost identical, except the food is placed in a deep vessel and fully-submerged in liquid.  In both cases, depending upon the recipe, the liquid might require skimming at the start of or throughout the cooking process.

Place two large 3/4-1 pound, bone-in, skin-on turkey tenderloins, in a wide-bottomed 3 1/2 quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides (or a deep skillet):

IMG_5786Around perimeter, arrange 6-ounces onion chunks (half a medium onion), 4-ounces carrot cut into 2" lengths (one large carrot), 2-ounces celery cut into 2" lengths (one large celery stalk), 2 bay leaves (or 2 rosemary or thyme sprigs depending on what you're making/serving with tenderloins), and, 2 teaspoons each coarse sea salt and peppercorns:

IMG_5790Add 1 quart water, or, 3 1/2 cups water + 1/2 cup white wine:

IMG_5792Cover and place on stovetop over high heat.  When liquid comes to a rapid simmer, adjust heat to a very gentle simmer/shiver and continue to cook until turkey reaches an internal temperature of 170º, 30-40 minutes (smaller or larger tenders cook quicker or longer.):

IMG_5801^^^ Tip from Mel.  If you have a chef's pan with a glass lid, it's ideal, as it allows you to watch the poaching process and regulate the heat as necessary.  Remove from heat:

IMG_5803Using a large slotted spoon, transfer turkey from liquid to plate.  There's no need to discard the liquid, it's well-seasoned and tasty.  Simmer some egg noodles or rice in it:

IMG_5809Cover plate of turkey with plastic wrap and wait until it has cooled until you can comfortably handle it with your hands, prior to proceeding with specific recipe.

IMG_5813Poached perfection, fork-tender, moist and juicy too.  Each tenderloin yeilds 3-4 servings sliced and about 3-4 generous cups of chopped or pulled turkey tenderloin:

IMG_5818Let's Talk about Poaching Turkey Breast Tenderloins:  Recipe yields instruction to shallow-poach 2, 3/4-1 pound turkey tenderloins/6 servings.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; vegetable peeler; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides and lid (preferably glass); instant-read meat thermometer; large slotted spoon; plastic wrap

6a0120a8551282970b01bb0a00852d970dCook's Note: Looking for an all-purpose gravy that goes well on almost anything?  I've got one.  One basic recipe, made with a few pantry staples, and, in a few minutes:  a great gravy that carnivores and vegetarians can sit down to enjoy, together. Got pan drippings?  Just add them to my ~ Vegetarian Herb Gravy for Whatever Floats the Boat ~ along with the stock. Like a chameleon adjusts its color to blend in, this gravy graciously accepts any carnivorous flavor you've got to add.

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

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

11/04/2019

~ Doritos Taco Salad w/Catalina &/or Ranch Dressing ~

IMG_5672If you were a mother in the 80's, or if you were a kid in the 80's, you likely know all about this salad.  It showed up everywhere:  birthday party buffets, weekend sleepovers, support-the-team sports benefits, potluck school functions, Summer pool parties, neighborhood block parties,  etc. There was never a doubt it would be served.  Anyone organizing a get-together assigned someone in the neighborhood or group to make the Doritos salad -- everyone had a recipe.

From a small tacup to a large taco salad to the Doritos taco salad:

IMG_5431The history of the taco-bowl salad, as per this book, Taco USA, How Mexican Food Conquered America:

The earliest record of taco salad dates back to the 1960's, with its predecessor being the small teacup-sized Tacup:  Ground beef, beans, sour cream and cheese served in a small bowl made entirely of Fritos.  

The Tacup was the creation of Fritos founder Elmer Doolin*, who invented all sorts of "strange stuff" spinned-off his Fritos: Frito sauce for meat, Frito Jell-O pie, Frito salad dressing, and, the Tacup (short for taco cup).  

Tacups were first served in Dallas, TX (where Doolin headquartered Frito), in the early 1950's, and by 1955, he was selling them in Fritos' flagship restaurant, Casa de Fritos, at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA.

The Tacup became popular enough that folks decided to make it bigger -- the taco salad, served in a full, main-dish-sized bowl was born.

*Doolin founded Fritos, bit its worth note that Fritos were a wholly Mexican creation, invented by an Oaxacon immigrant who sold his recipe and machine to Doolin in the 1930's.  It's also worth note that heading the Casa de Fritos were members of the Morales family, known for their XLNT tamale brand, and their family would go on to invent Doritos and the famous Doritos taco salad.

6a0120a8551282970b0240a496b5ea200cA bit about Doritos.  The original product was made at the Casa de Fritos at Disneyland, in Anaheim, CA, in the early 1960's.  Using surplus tortillas  and taking the original idea from the Mexican snack known as totopos (deep-fried triangular-shaped taco chips), the company-owned Morales family cut them, fried them and added dry seasonings. The Vice-President of Marketing for Frito-Lay noticed their popularity, and, in 1964 made a deal with Alex Foods (a provider of many food items for Casa de Fritos restaurant) to produce the chips regionally.  Doritos were released nationwide in 1966, and, were the first chip to ever be launched nationally in the USA.

Doritos Taco-Salad is mealtime fun w/family & friends.

There is no right or wrong way to make Doritos taco salad, as long as it contains Doritos. That said, my fully-loaded version is different than most in that I don't toss the salad in its entirety in one bowl prior to serving -- the presentation is too messy looking for my taste.  I start by tossing the lettuce with the fragrant cilantro and mildly-pungent scallions.  Next, I lightly-dress/toss the lettuce mixture with either the Catalina or Ranch dressing, then add either the nacho cheese Doritos or cool ranch Doritos and toss again.  After that's done, I portion the salad into individual serving bowls or salad plates and layer the rest of the ingredients on top of each individual salad. 

IMG_5614For four large, main-dish servings of salad (listed in order of additions):

10-12  cups iceberg lettuce torn into bite-sized pieces and chunks (about 1 large head)

1/2-3/4 cup minced, fresh cilantro

1-1 1/2 cups thinly-sliced scallions, white and light-green parts only

3/4-1  cup Catalina salad dressing or Hidden-Valley Ranch salad dressing

6-8  ounces nacho cheese or cool ranch Doritos, broken into smaller bite-sized pieces

1  cup well-drained and rinsed black beans or red kidney beans

1/2  cup well-drained whole corn kernels

1  cup quartered cherry or grape tomatoes

1  cup  shredded jalapeño Jack, Monterey Jack, or colby Jack cheese

4-6  tablespoons sliced black olives

2-3 dozen small thin slices pickled jalapeño peppers

1 1/2-2  cups slightly-warm or room temperature ground beef taco filling 

Optional garnishes for each portion of salad:

2  tablespoons warm refried bean dip

6a0120a8551282970b0240a497229e200c1  tablespoon avocado crema (a spicy food processor processed mixture of 1 cup Hass avocado, 6 tablespoons Mexican crema or sour cream, 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce and 1/4 teaspoon salt), or, 1 tablespoon guacamole or high-quality store-bought guacamole such as Wholly Guacamole, or, 3-4 fresh avocado slices

1  tablespoon Mexican crema

1  tablespoon pico de gallo (salsa fresca/fresh salsa) 

IMG_5617 IMG_5617 IMG_5617 IMG_5617 IMG_5626 IMG_5626 IMG_5626~Step 1.  Using your hands, break, tear and place the bite-sized lettuce pieces in a large bowl as you work.  Add the cilantro and scallions, and, using two forks or two spoons, give the mixture a toss to distribute the cilantro and onions throughout lettuce.  Lightly dress the lettuce mixture with either the Catalina or Ranch dressing -- just enough to lightly-coat and flavor the lettuce mixture, not enough to puddle in bottom of bowl.  Crumble, add and toss in either the nacho cheese or cool ranch Doritos. 

IMG_5637 IMG_5637 IMG_5637 IMG_5637 IMG_5637 IMG_5637 IMG_5637~Step 2. Portion the lettuce/Dorito mixture into individual serving bowls, about 3 cups per bowl.  To assemble each salad, scatter 1/4 cup black or kidney beans, 2 tablespoons corn kernels and 1/4 cup quartered tomatoes over the top of the dressed lettuce/Doritos mixture, followed by 1/4 cup shredded cheese, 1-1 1/2 tablespoons sliced black olives and 8-10 thin strips pickled jalapeño peppers.

IMG_5658 IMG_5658~ Step 3.  Place a measured 1/3-1/2 cup of the warmed beef mixture in the center of the top of each salad. Decoratively dollop all or some of the optional garnishes on top of the beef filling:  the refried bean dip, avocado crema (or guacamole or sliced avocado), Mexican crema (or sour cream) and pico de gallo (salsa fresca/fresh salsa).  

Serve w/additional Catalina or Ranch dressing at tableside:

IMG_5712Doritos Taco Salad w/Catalina &/or Ranch Dressing:  Recipe yields 4 large and hearty main-dish Doritos taco salads.

Special Equipment List: cutting board; chef's knife; small colander; hand-held box grater; kitchen scale; salad servers or two forks or two spoons 

IMG_5541Cook's Note: Unlike the classic taco salad, where the ingredients get layered into a deep-fried flour tortilla bowl (to be eaten as you work your way through the goodies in the bowl), the ingredients for a Doritos salad get tossed in large bowl. Crumbled nacho cheese- or cool ranch-flavored Doritos are tossed in for crunch, just before the salad is dressed with Catalina (French) or Ranch dressing and served.  Like the taco salad, pick and choose from your favorite store-bought or scratch-made ingredients.

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

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

11/02/2019

~Scratch-Made All-American Catalina Salad Dressing~

IMG_5712As a lover of sweet and tanilizingly savory combinations, Catalina dressing was always on the door of my mom's refrigerator.  While she and dad didn't, for the most part, ever stray past the bottle of Wish-Bone Italian dressing, for some reason my brother and I gravitated to this red-orange concoction.  While I enjoyed it on chef-type salads that contained "the works" (lots of cheeses and meats), my brother would drench large chunks or wedges of iceberg lettuce with it.

Please don't confuse Catalina dressing w/French dressing. 

6a0120a8551282970b0240a49661b5200b 6a0120a8551282970b01b7c8d729c1970bCatalina dressing is an American creation defined as: A commercially-emulsified, tomato-based dressing that is creamy, tartly-sweet and red-orange in color. Catalina is often confused with French dressing.  I find that odd because basic French dressing is an oil-and-vinegar combination seasoned with salt, pepper, and herbs or herbes de Provence -- creamier versions of French dressing (see small photo) contain mustard (to stabilize it and give it its yellow color) and sometimes mayonnaise for a creamy version.  There are no tomato products in French dressing. I could more understand Catalina being confused with Russian and/or Thousand Islands Dressings (see larger photo), as both of these contain a tomato product.  That said, both are considerably lighter in color because because they contain mayonnaise, which Catalina does not.

There are no tomato products in classic French dressing.

IMG_5573It's no surprise there came a time when I wanted to create my own version of this beloved bottled dressing.  After several attempts and experiments (using "tomato-y" ingredients such as ketchup, chili sauce, tomato paste and even one try with tomato puree -- all ok but not great), this simple version using canned, condensed tomato soup produced what I consider to be perfection.

IMG_55821  10 3/4-ounce can condensed tomato soup

1/2  cup white vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon Worcestershire

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

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

IMG_5586 IMG_5586 IMG_5599~ Step 1.  In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the tomato soup, white vinegar, granulated sugar, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire, garlic powder, onion powder sea salt and white pepper.   Gradually, and in a thin steady stream, vigorously whisk in the oil.  Continue to whisk until the mixture is smooth, thickened, satiny and emulsified.  The whisking process will only take about 1-2 minutes.

IMG_5608~ Step 3.  Use immediately or transfer to a 2-cup food storage container with a tight-fitting lid and a pourer top.  Use or refrigerate.

Return to room temperature and gently shake or stir briefly, just prior to using.  You will have 2 cups/16 ounces dressing. This is conveniently, the same amount as is contained in one bottle of store-bought Catalina dressing.  

Note: This dressing keeps very nicely in the refrigerator for several weeks.  Once it is whisked together, it really never separates, which makes it great to serve on a buffet table or at a gathering where repeatedly shaking or stirring a salad dressing can be a messy nuisance.  Because it contains no mayonnaise, it's also great for taking to any outdoor picnic and tailgate.

Because scratch-made is way better than store-bought Catalina:

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4af24c0200bScratch-Made All-American Catalina Salad Dressing:  Recipe yields 2 cups/16 ounces salad dressing (the equivalent off 1, bottle store-bought).

Special Equipment List:  whisk; 2-cup food storage container w/tight fitting lid & pourer top.

IMG_5672Cook's Note: If you were a mother in the 80's, or if you were a kid in the 80's, you likely know all about this salad.  It showed up everywhere: birthday party buffets, weekend sleepovers, support-the-team sports benefits, potluck school functions, Summer pool parties, neighborhood block parties,  etc. There was never a doubt it would be served, and, everyone had a recipe.  Try my version of the now retro ~ Doritos Taco Salad w/Catalina &/or Ranch Dressing ~. It's taco salad fun.

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

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

10/31/2019

~Instead of Taco Tuesday, Taco-Bowl Salad Thursday~

IMG_5535Taco Tuesday.  I'm clueless as to who started it, but, I thank them profoundly.  Like pizza and cheeseburgers, it's downright difficult to find a man, woman or child who is disappointed at the sight of tacos on their lunch or dinner menu.  Other than needing a fork, taco salad is not much different than eating tacos. Served in a large, deep-fried, edible flour-tortilla shell, anything and everything one would expect to find in a pick-it-up-to-eat taco can be served in a taco salad.

Serving taco salad in edible bowls is mealtime fun.  While they lend a festive, impressive "you cared enough to make the bowls" touch to the meal, they allow family and friends to add crunch to their salad as they work their way down, through and around all the goodies in the bowl. Speaking of goodies, taco salads come fully-loaded.  Pick and choose your favorite store-bought or made-from-scratch ingredients.  There's no right or wrong way to make taco salad -- just make it.

A taco salad is a divinely delicious & decadent meal.

IMG_5417Served in a large, edible, deep-fried, flour-tortilla shell.

The most common ingredients in any taco salad (also called a taco bowl) are: Tex-Mex-spiced ground beef, shredded steak or chicken (small shrimp are good too). The list goes on:  crumbled Mexican cotija- or queso fresco- or shredded queso blanco- cheese (jalapeño Jack, Monterey Jack, Colby Jack or cheddar are often used in their place), crispy iceberg or romaine lettuce, sliced green or black olives, corn kernels or Mexican rice, black beans or refried beans, pico de gallo (salsa fresca or fresh salsa), Mexican crema or sour cream, and, sliced avocado or guacamole -- and let's not forget those cilantro or scallion garnishes too.  With all or even some of that going on, make no mistake, while every forkful of a taco salad is divinely delicious, it is decadent -- "healthy" or "light" are hardly the words I would use to describe this meal.

From a small tacup, the large taco salad was born. 

IMG_5431The history of the taco-bowl salad, as per this book, Taco USA, How Mexican Food Conquered America:

The earliest record of taco salad dates back to the 1960's, with its predecessor being the small teacup-sized Tacup:  Ground beef, beans, sour cream and cheese served in a small bowl made entirely of Fritos.  

The Tacup was the creation of Fritos founder Elmer Doolin*, who invented all sorts of "strange stuff" spinned-off his Fritos: Frito sauce for meat, Frito Jell-O pie, Frito salad dressing, and, the Tacup (short for taco cup).  

Tacups were first served in Dallas, TX (where Doolin headquartered Frito), in the early 1950's, and by 1955, he was selling them in Fritos' flagship restaurant, Casa de Fritos, at Disneyland in Anaheim, CA.

The Tacup became popular enough that folks decided to make it bigger -- the taco salad, served in a full, main-dish-sized bowl was born.

*Doolin founded Fritos, bit its worth note that Fritos were a wholly Mexican creation, invented by an Oaxacon immigrant who sold his recipe and machine to Doolin in the 1930's.  It's also worth note that heading the Casa de Fritos were members of the Morales family, known for their XLNT tamale brand, and their family would go on to invent Doritos and the famous Doritos taco salad.

No pressure.  Go as scratch-made or homemade as you want.

IMG_5515Taco-Salad Tuesday is all about having fun w/family.

For each salad (listed in order of addition):

1  deep-fried tortilla bowl

1 1/2-2  cups chiffonade of iceberg or romaine lettuce

1-1 1/2  tablespoons minced, fresh cilantro

1 1/2-2  tablespoons thinly-sliced scallions, white and light-green parts only

1/4  cup well-drained and rinsed black beans or red kidney beans

2  tablespoons well-drained whole corn kernels

1/4  cup quartered cherry or grape tomatoes

1/4  cup  shredded jalapeño Jack, Monterey Jack, or colby Jack cheese

1- 1/2  tablespoons sliced black olives

6-8 small thin slices pickled jalapeño peppers

1/3-1/2  cup (6-8 tablespoons) warm ground beef taco filling 

2  tablespoons warm refried bean dip

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c9136615970b1  tablespoon avocado crema (a spicy food processor processed mixture of 1 cup Hass avocado, 6 tablespoons Mexican crema or sour cream, 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce and 1/4 teaspoon salt), or, 1 tablespoon guacamole or high-quality store-bought guacamole such as Wholly Guacamole, or, 3-4 fresh avocado slices

1  tablespoon Mexican crema

1  tablespoon pico de gallo (salsa fresca/fresh salsa)

1/4  cup flour tortilla wisps, for garnish 

IMG_5519 IMG_5519 IMG_5519 IMG_5519~Step 1.  In bottom taco bowl, place the lettuce chiffonade, minced cilantro and sliced scallions. Scatter the black or kidney beans, corn kernels and quartered tomatoes over the top of the lettuce mixture, followed by the shredded cheese, sliced black olives and pickled jalapeño peppers.

IMG_5531 IMG_5531~ Step 2.  Place a measured scoop of the warmed beef mixture in the center of the top of salad. Decoratively dollop the determined condiments on top of the beef filling:  the refried bean dip, avocado crema (or guacamole or sliced avocado), Mexican crema (or sour cream) and pico de gallo.  Garnish with deep-fried flour tortilla wisps.

Serve immediately.  Stick a fork in it &, have at it: 

IMG_5541Instead of Taco Tuesday, Taco-Bowl Salad Thursday:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many taco salads, served in edible bowls, as you want to.

Special Equipment List:  deep-fryer; paper towels; cutting board; chef's knife; small colander; hand-held box grater 

IMG_5512Cook's Note:  Not a fearless fryer? That's ok.  Lot's of folks fear frying. The good news, there's another way to go about making your own edible bowls using inexpensive bowl molds in the oven.  Learn ~ How to Make Baked Restaurant-Style Taco Salad Bowls ~.  Your family and friends will thank you. 

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

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

10/28/2019

~How to Make My Crispy Crunchy Flour Tortilla Wisps~

IMG_5702Like corn tortillas, flour tortillas do great in the deep-fryer.  They fry up really fast, in less than three minutes, and, come out super-crispy and light and airy too, meaning:  they're not nearly as dense as corn tortillas.  They almost melt in your mouth.  Because flour tortillas are a bit too fragile to make traditionally shaped taco shells, they're traditionally deep-fried whole, in a molded fryer-basket, to make large-edible bowls for serving taco salad.  That said, in my kitchen I like to make these fun little wisps, to use to garnish Tex-Mex-style soups, salads and 'burgers.

Fry these fun little wisps to garnish soups, salads & 'burgers.

IMG_543210  6"-round "fajita size" flour tortillas (Note:  Any size flour tortillas may be used, I just find the small ones the easiest to work with.)

freshly ground sea salt

corn or peanut oil, heated to 375º in deep-fryer (or in a 4-quart saucepan on the stovetop) according to manufacturer's instructions

IMG_5439 IMG_5439 IMG_5439~Step 1. Stack and thinly slice five flour tortillas in half. Stack and thinly slice the second five tortillas in half. Each of the four stacks of halves will be one batch.  Slice each stack of halves into thin strips, as thin as you can.

IMG_5471 IMG_5471 IMG_5471 IMG_5471~Step 2.  Preheat oil in deep fryer to 375º.  Ready a large pan or baking sheet by lining it with 2-3 layers of paper towels.  Working in a series of four batches, drop the first batch (one handful) into hot oil of in deep fryer, close the lid and fry for 2 1/2 minutes.  Lift the fryer basket up and out of the deep-fryer and transfer the crispy wisps (invert the basket) to the paper-towel-lined pan. Season wisps with a generous grinding of sea salt.  Repeat with remaining three batches. 

Cool & store in an airtight container for up to one week:

IMG_5483How to Make My Crispy Crunchy Flour Tortilla Wisps:  Recipe yields about 6 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; deep-fryer or 4-quart saucepan and candy-type or digital thermometer; disposable aluminum pan or baking sheet; paper towels

IMG_5417Cook's Note: If you prepare taco salad often enough to merit wanting to serve it restaurant-style, in the traditional deep-fried, flour tortilla bowl, I highly suggest making a small investment, $15.00-ish, in a metal, one- or two-piece fryer-basket that will not only make this task easy, it will keep you from getting burned by jury-rigged crack-pot methods -- puns intended.  Read ~ How to Deep-Fry Restaurant-Style Taco Salad Bowls ~, then, have some safety-first taco-Tuesday fun with your family and friends.

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

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

10/25/2019

~ Making Baked Restaurant-Style Taco Salad Bowls ~

IMG_5512When you're in a Mexican restaurant, if a taco salad, the kind served in an edible deep-fried flour tortilla bowl, is one of your favorite menu items, or, if you prepare taco salad at home often enough to merit wanting to serve it restaurant-style, in an edible bowl, you should know there is an alternative to deep-frying them.   A small investment of about $15.00 will get you four fluted bowl molds that will enable you to bake professional looking tortilla bowls in the oven.

Not a fearless fryer?  Baked is the way to go.

IMG_5493Serving taco salad in edible bowls is mealtime fun.  While they lend a festive, impressive "you cared enough to make the bowls" touch to the meal, they allow family and friends to add crunch to their salad as they work their way down, through and around all the goodies in the bowl.  By using a set or two of tortilla bowl molds, the bowls all bake at the same, at the same rate of speed, and emerge uniform in color and shape -- they can even be stacked like plates for a party.

Fold & place 1, 8" flour tortilla in bottom of each mold:

IMG_5497Open tortillas & gently press into the fluted perimeters:

IMG_5499Place molds directly on center rack of preheated 350º oven:

IMG_5503Bake until lightly & nicely browned, about 10 minutes:

IMG_5506Cool in pans 5-6 minutes, remove from pans & use:

IMG_5509Have some mealtime fun.  Serve fully-loaded taco salads:

IMG_5563Making Baked Restaurant-Style Taco Salad Bowls:  Recipe yields instructions to bake as many taco salad bowls as you want to. 

Special Equipment List:  4-8 fluted bowl molds

IMG_5417Cook's Note:  I am a fearless fryer, and, while deep-frying tortilla bowls is admittedly a little harder than baking them, nothing compares to a tortilla bowl fresh out of the fryer. That said, once again, a small investment, $15.00-ish, in a metal, one- or two-piece fryer-basket will make this task easy-as-pie.  Learn ~ How to Deep-Fry Restaurant-Style Taco Salad Bowls ~.  Your family and friends will thank you.  Each bowl, from start to finish, only takes 2 1/2 minutes, and, they can be made 1-2 days ahead of serving too.

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

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

10/23/2019

~How to Deep-Fry Restaurant-Style Taco Salad Bowls~

IMG_5421If you prepare taco salad often enough to merit wanting to serve it restaurant-style, in the traditional deep-fried, flour tortilla bowl, I highly suggest making a small investment, $15.00-ish, in a metal, one- or two-piece fryer-basket that will not only make this task easy-as-pie, it will keep you or yours from getting burned by jury-rigged crack-pot methods -- puns intended.  All kidding aside, regulating the heat on an open pot of hot oil on the stovetop, while maneuvering a tin can placed inside a larger can to form the taco bowl, is an accident waiting to happen.

Serving taco salad in edible, fried or baked bowls is mealtime fun.  While they lend a festive, impressive "you cared enough to make the bowls" touch to the meal, they allow family and friends to add crunch to their salad as they work their way down, through and around all the goodies in the bowl.  By choosing and using the tool best suited to you, the bowls deep-fry, one-at-a-time, in a very short time (2 1/2 minutes) and emerge uniform in color, even-sized and similar in shape.

Three similarly-priced taco-bowl fryer-basket gadgets...

IMG_5358... three similarly-sized, great-to-eat taco bowls:

IMG_5416One, two, three (in order of my favorite gadgets):

IMG_5361 IMG_5361~ Step 1.  Remove fryer-basket from deep fryer. Preheat corn or peanut oil in deep-fryer, according to manufacturer's instructions, to 375º. Place two-three layers of paper towels in bottom of a large pan or baking pan.  Ready a 3-minute "egg" timer, and, depending on the gadget you're using, a metal spoon and a pair of tongs too.

IMG_5370 IMG_5370 IMG_5370~ Step 2.  In gadget of choice (#1, #2, or #3), position 1, 8"-round flour tortilla in the bottom to form a bowl. In the case of gadget #1, a two-piece fryer basket (and my favorite), this means placing the flour tortilla in between the two pieces, which will hold the tortilla securely in place during the frying process.

IMG_5380 IMG_5380 IMG_5380~ Step 3A.  To deep fry in gadget #1, lower the fryer-basket into the preheated deep-fryer.  With fryer-lid open, fry the taco bowl until lightly-browned and firm, about 2 1/2 minutes.  Lift basket from hot oil.  Remove the top from the fryer-basket and the invert taco bowl onto paper-towels to drain and cool.  Sprinkle inside of bowl with salt or sea salt the moment it comes out of the fryer basket.  Easy peasy perfection.

IMG_5389 IMG_5389 IMG_5389 IMG_5389~Step 3B. To deep fry in gadget #2, lower the fryer-basket into the preheated deep-fryer.  Place the back side of a large metal spoon into the bottom of the tortilla, to keep the bowl from prematurely floating to the top.  With fryer-lid open, fry the taco bowl, with spoon in place, until lightly-browned and firm, about 2 1/2 minutes.  Lift basket from hot oil.  Invert the taco bowl onto paper-towels to drain and cool. Sprinkle inside of bowl with salt or sea salt the moment it comes out of the fryer basket.  This basket works fine, but, it requires being hands-on the entire time.

IMG_5403 IMG_5403 IMG_5403Step 3C. To deep fry in gadget #3, with a spoon placed in the bottom of the fryer-basket, lower the fryer-basket into the preheated deep-fryer.  With the spoon in the bottom of the tortilla, to keep the bowl from prematurely floating to the top, with fryer-lid open, fry the taco bowl, repositioning the spoon as necessary (several times) in the the bottom of the taco bowl, until lightly-browned and firm, about 2 1/2 minutes.  Lift basket from hot oil.  Invert the taco bowl onto paper-towels to drain and cool. Sprinkle inside of bowl with salt or sea salt the moment it comes out of the fryer basket.  This fryer basket works just fine too, but it requires being hands-on and "on your game" the entire time.

Be smart.  Be safe.  Use a fryer-basket to fry taco bowls:     

IMG_5417Have some mealtime fun.  Serve fully-loaded taco salads:

IMG_5541How to Deep-Fry Restaurant-style Taco Salad Bowls:  Recipe yields instructions for deep-frying as many taco salad bowls as you want to, plus recommendations for purchasing fryer-baskets.

Special Equipment List:  deep-fryer; taco-bowl-shaped fryer-basket insert to use in a pot or a deep-fryer; 3-minute "egg" timer; large disposable pan or baking sheet; paper towels; large spoon (optional); tongs (optional)

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d10e0e73970cCook's Note: For those of you who love to eat and cook your own Tex-Mex food, I'm going to suggest this:  next time you make your favorite chili, bean dip or a bowl of chile con queso, take 20 extra minutes and deep-fry some tortilla chips (in corn oil). Tortilla chips deep-fried at home are head-over-heels better than any that come out of any $4-$6 bag of any generic-to-gourmet brand.  Take 3 minutes for ~ Deep-Fried & Crispy Corn Tortilla Chips (Totopos) ~.

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

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

10/20/2019

~ Pucker Up for Buttery Lemon & Yogurt Pound Cake ~

IMG_5487Pucker up.  I am an eternal sourpuss.  Lemonade, lemon sorbet, lemon meringue pie, lemon tart, lemon cheesecake, lemon shortbread, etc.  Spring, Summer, Fall or Winter, these are a few of my lemony favorites.  As a lover of all things tart and citrusy, I consider the lemon the diva of all citrus.  I'm never without lemons in my refrigerator and lemon oil in my pantry, because, like salt, fresh lemon zest and juice, and, textureless bold-flavored oil just makes everything taste better. I'm not a lemon snob though.  I prefer the ordinary, tart, supermarket lemon to the "sweet" Meyer lemon -- Gourmets will say they are "sweet", while in reality, they're just less acidic.    

That said, when it comes to how I achieve lemon flavor in my sweet treats and savory things, I do have my preferences.  I like fresh zest and fresh juice used in "wet" concoctions -- like sweet puddings and pies, or savory salad dressings and sauces.  When it comes to "dry" baked goods, like sweet cakes and cookies, or savory breads and quick breads, I prefer the textureless, full-throttle lemon oil -- a little goes a long way, and, that pesty zest isn't muddling around amongst the crumb(s).  What about lemon extract?  Hey, I'm not going to call the food police if that's all you can find, but, if it is pure lemon flavor you're after, extracted from the zest, oil is the ticket.   

Pucker up for my buttery lemon & yogurt pound cake:

IMG_5287For the cake:

8  ounces salted butter, at room temperature, very soft (2 sticks)

8  ounces cream cheese, at room temperature, very soft

1/2  cup Greek yogurt, at room temperature

2  teaspoons pure lemon oil, not extract

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

2 1/2  cups sugar

1  3.4-ounce package instant lemon pudding

1  teaspoon salt

6  large eggs, at room temperature

10  ounces cake flour (about 2 1/2 cups)

1 1/2  teaspoons baking powder

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing bundt pan

IMG_5339For the glaze:

1 1/2  cups Confectioners' sugar

1  teaspoon pure lemon oil

1  teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3-4  tablespoons milk

1-2  drops egg-shade (yellow) food coloring (optional) 

4  tablespoons finely-ground walnuts, for topping cake

IMG_5294 IMG_5294~Step 1.  In a large mixing bowl, place the very soft butter, cream cheese, room temperature yogurt, lemon oil and extract.  Starting on low speed of hand-held electric mixer and working your way up to high speed, cream until smooth, about 1 1/2-2 full minutes, scraping down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula the entire time.

IMG_5299 IMG_5299~Step 2.  Turn mixer off.  Add sugar,  pudding and salt.  Over low speed,  incorporate sugar mixture, then, increase mixer speed to high and continue to beat for 1 full minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl with the rubber spatula the entire time.

IMG_5303 IMG_5303~Step 3.  Reduce mixer speed to low again and add the eggs.  Thoroughly incorporate the eggs, then, increase speed to high and continue to beat for another full minute, scraping down the sides of the bowl with the rubber spatula the entire time.

IMG_5307 IMG_5307~Step 4.  Turn mixer off.  Add flour and baking powder.  On low mixer speed, fold the flour into the wet mixture.  Work up to high speed and continue to beat, about 1 1/2-2 full minutes, scraping down sides of bowl the entire time. 

IMG_5313 IMG_5313 IMG_5313~Step 5.  Lightly-spray a 12-cup bundt pan with no-stick cooking spray.  Using a large spoon and working your way around the pan in a circle, dollop spoonfuls of batter into the prepared pan.  Give the pan a few vigorous back-and-forth shakes on the counter to even the batter out.  Bake cake on center rack of preheated 325º oven for 1 hour, 15-20 minutes, or until a cake tester placed deep into the center in several spots comes out clean.  Remove from oven and place cake on a wire rack.  All cake to cool, in pan on rack, for 30-40 minutes.  Loosen external and internal sides of cake with a sharp knife. Invert cake onto wire rack to cool completely, about 2 hours, before glazing as directed below.

IMG_5321 IMG_5321~Step 6.  To glaze cake, in a 2-cup measuring container, place Confectioners' sugar and extracts. Add 3 tablespoons of the milk and stir. Add the 1-2 drops optional food coloring and stir again. Continue adding additional milk, if necessary, 1 teaspoon at a time until a drizzly consistency is reached. Cover measuring container with plastic wrap and set glaze aside for about 15 minutes -- this will ensure an extremely smooth glaze.  If you have a plastic squeeze bottle, transfer the glaze to it.  To glaze the cake, using a back and forth motion, slowly drizzle the glaze over the surface of the cake.  Sprinkle the walnuts over top.

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

IMG_5328Slice, serve & pucker up for every luscious lemon bite:

IMG_5340Pucker Up for Buttery Lemon & Yogurt Pound Cake:  Recipe yields 1, 10" bundt cake, and, depending on how thick or thin you slice it, 16-20 servings.

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

6a0120a8551282970b01a73d731445970d 6a0120a8551282970b01a3fcb810db970bCook's Note: Looking for a lemon pie that will hold its own against all other lemon pie recipes? Bursting with lemon flavor and piled high with light, airy meringue, this recipe is all about:  ~ My Love Affair w/Lemon & Lemon Meringue Pie ~.

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

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

10/18/2019

~ Stewed-Tomato Gravy for Mom's All-Beef Meatloaf ~

IMG_5272Meatloaf is personal.  We all have a favorite recipe.  That said, there's no other way to say this:  I Love My Mom's Old-Fashioned All-Beef Meatloaf.  I know many of you do too, because you've made it and you've told me so. Both my mother and grandmother used beef exclusively to make meatloaf -- never a combination of beef, pork and veal.  My grandmother, who owned a mom and pop grocery store during the Depression era, simply did not like the gelatinous texture that comes from adding mild-flavored veal and did not approve of mixing pork and beef together -- no bacon strips were ever draped over a meatloaf (to muddle up the flavor) in any of my family's kitchens.

Stewed tomatoes w/onions, celery & green peppers, makes for an amazing accompaniment to mom's meatloaf. 

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d27640d2970cMom never glazed her meatloaf with anything.  On nights when mom was serving meatloaf with mashed potatoes, mom would mix the precious-few beefy meat drippings with some seasoned flour and a can of beef broth to whip up some brown gravy to drizzle over the top.  On nights when mom was serving meatloaf with macaroni and cheese, she would mix the precious-few beefy meat drippings with some seasoned flour and a can of stewed tomatoes to drizzle over the top.  

We affectionately referred to it as:  stewed tomato gravy.  

IMG_52521/4  cup beef drippings from mom's meatloaf

1/2  teaspoon onion powder

1/2  teaspoon celery salt

1/2  teaspoon coarse-grind black pepper

2  tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

1  14 1/2-ounce can "original-style" stewed tomatoes w/onions, celery and green peppers, NOT, Italian-style stewed tomatoes with my mom's all-beef meatloaf 

IMG_5256 IMG_5259 IMG_5260 IMG_5261~Step 1.  In a 1 1/2-quart saucepan, place meatloaf drippings.  Stir in seasonings (onion powder, celery salt and black pepper).  Heat over medium until drippings are bubbling.  Add the flour.

IMG_5263 IMG_5263 IMG_5268 IMG_5269~Step 2.  Increase heat to medium-high and stir constantly until a thick, pasty roux forms, about 30 seconds.  Add stewed tomatoes.  Reduce heat to simmer gently and cook, breaking tomatoes into smaller pieces with side of spoon, about 1 minute.  Remove from heat and serve.

Serve gravy w/meatloaf & mac-'n-cheese please:

IMG_5278Stewed-Tomato Gravy for Mom's All-Beef Meatloaf:  Recipe yields 1 1/2 cups tomato gravy.

Special Equipment List:  1 1/2-quart saucepan; spoon

6a0120a8551282970b0240a4a9986d200bCook's Note:  For another meatloaf my mom would occasionally make, just for us kids, check out my ~ Kid's Stuff:  Souper Fix-Quick Bowling-Night Meatloaf ~.  This quick-to-throw-together-recipe uses a package of store-bought meatloaf mix, and, it gets its tomato-y flavor from Campbell's condensed tomato soup.  My brother and I adored it. And yes, you guessed it, this recipe goes great with stewed-tomato gravy drizzled on top too.

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

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