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01/31/2015

~ Sugar 'n Cinnamon Toasted-Pound-Cake Sticks ~

IMG_2137This simply-delicious short-and-sweet, playful post is for anyone who loves cinnamon toast with their coffee or tea in the morning -- just looking at the cute little Domino Sugar 'n Cinnamon container makes me smile.  This sweet 'n aromatic powdery concoction, when sprinkled atop a pat or two of sweet cream butter melting over a hot, crispy piece of toast is blissful.     

IMG_2007My grandmother had a penchant for sweets, sometimes finding ways to make sweet things even sweeter. She had a "sweet tooth".  One of the things my she did on occasion was treat a piece of 'Plain Jane' pound cake like a slice of bread. She would pop a slice into the toaster (later in life she placed it flat in a toaster oven), then butter it and sprinkle it with sugar 'n cinnamon.  

Two days ago I made ~ A Sweet Cream Cake:  A Dream of an Easy Cake ~. Sometimes called a IMG_1976whipping cream cake, the butterfat in heavy cream replaces butter in these cakes (which is why they don't technically qualify for pound cake status), but, the end result is essentially identical -- nothing fancy, just delicious and dense enough to make it suitable for toasting.  I'm just following in my grandmother's footsteps!

This really isn't a recipe, so just follow along while I play with my cake:

IMG_2027To make six cake-sticks, using a serrated bread knife, cut out a 4" x 3" rectangular piece of cake.  

IMG_2030Slice off the crusts (like you would do to sandwich bread), stand the cake up on its side, slice it down the center (to form two 4" x 3" halves), and, lastly, slice each half into three sticks.

IMG_2035Each one of my sticks are 4" L x 3/4" W x 3/4"H. Note:  If using loaf-shaped pound cake, start with 3/4" slices, cut off IMG_2037the crusts and cut into sticks.

Place the sticks on a rack in an appropriately-sized baking pan that has been lined with parchment.  Get the Sugar 'n Cinnamon out of the pantry and bring 3-4 tablespoons salted butter to room temperature.   The butter needs to be very soft -- to hasten the softening process, cut it into 1/4" slices or small cubes (it'll be ready in 5-10 minutes).

IMG_2050 IMG_2057Lightly butter the top of each stick with butter, then sprinkle the tops with cinnamon sugar.  

IMG_2076Place 4" underneath preheated broiler for 2 1/2-3 minutes on the the first side.  Remove from oven.

IMG_2083Sticks will be golden brown and bubbly.  Flip the sticks over on their bottom sides.  Repeat the buttering and sprinkling process.  Return to broiler until golden, about 1 1/2-2 minutes on the second side. Remove from oven.

Repeat this same process with the third and fourth sides, knowing that they will brown much quicker, about 30-45 seconds per side.  Remove from oven.  Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

IMG_2124Two Words:  Simply Irresistible!

IMG_2144Sugar 'n Cinnamon Toasted-Pound-Cake Sticks:  Recipe yields instructions to make as many toasted-pound-cake sticks as you want.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; serrated bread knife; baking pan; parchment paper; cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b014e8853ad68970dCook's Note:  Another breakfast food I must have Sugar 'n Cinnamon on is oatmeal.  You can find ~ It's a Mom Thing:  My Mother's Perfect Oatmeal ~ recipe in Categories 9, 11 or 16.  Guess what?  Crunchy Toasted-Pound-Cake Sticks go great with a big bowl of steaming hot oatmeal!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015) 

01/29/2015

~ A Sweet Cream Cake: A Dream of an Easy Cake ~

IMG_2007Guess who's coming to dinner?  Guess who needs a dessert pronto -- that'd be me. Simple, straightforward and scrumptious, this poundcake-ish yet light, dream-of-an-easy-cake recipe should be committed to the memory of every cook who ever entertained the thought of a boxed mix in a time of crisis.  Sometimes called whipping cream cake, because heavy cream replaces the butter or shortening (which is why it technically doesn't quality for pound cake status), you really can get this cake mixed in the time it takes to preheat your oven to 350 degrees!

Super fancy?  Not at all.  Super Good?  Yes it is!

IMG_1976And, if you're thinking "Plain Jane vanilla cake" -- not so fast!

IMG_1979OK.  I'll give you that one.  It's plain.  It's the "Plain Jane" of vanilla cakes, which makes it the perfect foil for anything you want to serve it with:  fresh berries, whipped cream, or, simply a light dusting of confectioners' sugar (whatever you've got on hand in your refrigerator or pantry). It's somewhat versatile -- within reason.  Besides basic vanilla extract, it plays well with other flavors (almond, coconut, rum, lemon or orange to name a few), and, I've even baked it in two 8" round pans, and served it with lemon curd sandwiched between the layers.  It's unpretentious yet impressive.  Admit it, how many people do you know who can bake a seriously yummy cake from scratch with little time and almost no advanced warning!

If I knew you were coming I'd have baked a cake!!!

IMG_19134  large eggs

2  cups sugar

3 1/2  cups cake flour

4  teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2  teaspoons salt

2  cups heavy or whipping cream

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

no-stick spray, for preparing pan

~ Step 1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13" x 9" x 2" pan w/no-stick.

IMG_1915~ Step 2.  Getting organized:  

Place the eggs in a large bowl.  

Measure and have ready the sugar.

In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  cake flour, baking powder and salt.

Stir the vanilla extract into the cream (I just add the vanilla to the 2-cup container and give it a little shake to combine.

IMG_1925 IMG_1923~ Step 3.  In a large bowl, starting on low speed of electric mixer and working up to high, beat the eggs until thick, about 6 minutes.

Note:  Don't take any short cuts with this step -- beat for the entire 6 minutes.  It does make a difference.

IMG_1935 IMG_1929~ Step 4. Lower the mixer speed and begin adding the sugar, in three-four increments, mixing thoroughly, about 30-45 seconds after each addition.  

Note:  Once again, take the time to mix well after each addition as this gives the sugar time to dissolve.

IMG_1947 IMG_1940                               ~ Step 5.  On medium-speed of mixer, alternating the cream mixture with the dry ingredients, mix until all of the cream and all of the dry ingredients have been added, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a spatula almost constantly.  This will take about 3 minutes.  Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top.

IMG_1960~ Step 6.  Bake on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for 30-35 minutes until golden and puffed through to the center, and, a cake tester inserted in the center in 2-3 spots comes out clean.  Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool completely prior to slicing and serving, about 1 hour.

Cake baking 101 couldn't be any easier, smell more heavenly...

IMG_1968... look prettier or taste any better!

IMG_2022A Sweet Cream Cake:  A Dream of an Easy Cake:  Recipe yields 12-16 servings.

Special Equipment List:  13" x 9" x 2" baking pan; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; toothpick or cake tester

IMG_6014Cook's Note:  Before you ask, you can't substitute all-purpose flour for cake flour in this recipe.  If you don't keep cake flour in your pantry, you should.  Read my post ~ Flour Facts:  All-Purpose, Bread, Cake and Pastry ~.  You can find it in Categories 5, 6, 7, 15 or 16!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015)

01/27/2015

~ Super Sunday Spud Skins of the Taco Tater Type ~

IMG_1879Potato skins -- a blast from my pub grub past.  Back in the '80's and 90's, one couldn't go out for a Happy Hour brew or two without encountering this snack on the menu -- right next to the Buffalo wings w/blue cheese dip, chicken fingers w/honey-mustard, nachos w/salsa and deep-fried mushrooms or zucchini w/marinara sauce.  If you traveled in a pack, pitchers of beer were ordered, everyone at the table selected one appetizer and you all shared.  Those were such good times -- shooting pool, throwing darts, swilling beer and eating crispy potato skins!

Suds 'n Spuds = perfect game-day pub-grub!!!

That was the suds-'n-spuds period of my life, and, I was the member of our group who always ordered the spuds.  The best ones were at Champs Sports Grill, just a few blocks from where we lived at the time -- theirs were extra crispy on the outside, nicely salted too, and, ooey-gooey cheddar cheesey to a fault.  They were my Friday-night Happy-Hour indulgence food.

PICT0094I remember my inital thought being "how practical", "making use of the potato skins". But then -- when I decided to make them at home for my husband and sons, I revised my thinking a bit: I can only make potato skins on days when I have a purpose for the baked centers. Allow me to recommend my ~ Baked Potato, Roasted Garlic and Cheddar Soup ~.  You can find the recipe in Categories 2, 11 or 22, and, it conveniently uses centers from eight baked Russet potatoes!

6a0120a8551282970b0163055c04a6970dA bit about the Russet potato: Known as the Idaho or Burbank (after their developer, horticulturist Luther Burbank), these potatoes are generically labeled "baking". They're long, slightly-rounded, and, have thick rough skins, which when baked are not only edible, are quite tasty. Their low moisture and high starch content gives them superior baking and frying qualities, but they don't do well when boiled.  For more details, read my post ~ Dear Perfectly Baked Potato:  Your Crispy Skin and Fluffy Center, Make My Steaks Taste Even Better ~ in Categories 4, 15 or 20!

For the crispy potato skins:

6-8 whole, even-sized Russet potatoes (Note:  I choose smaller Russets when serving just the skins (with the classic cheddar cheese melted inside each one then served topped with bacon bits, sour cream and thinly-sliced green onions) as an appetizer.  I choose larger Russets when I'm making my fully-loaded knife-and-fork taco tater skins -- nobody can eat just one.)  

4  tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon fat, for every 6-8 potatoes

4  tablespoons melted butter, for every 6-8 potatoes

4  tablespoons coarse sea salt, for every 6-8 potatoes

2  cups grated cheddar cheese, 2 generous tablespoons per potato half

IMG_9151Toppings for my fully-loaded taco tater skins:

2  cups ~ Kids Stuff:  Jesse's Favorite Tex-Mex Beef Taco Filling ~ made with ~ Mel's Homemade Tex-Mex-Style Taco Seasoning ~ (Note:  The star of my fully-loaded taco tater skins is my filling made with my homemade seasoning.  You can find both recipes in Categories 13 & 20. Make whatever makes you happy!)

sour cream, guacamole & salsa

cilantro leaves and/or thinly-sliced scallion tops, for garnish

6a0120a8551282970b0163055c3d7f970d~ Step 1.  Using a vegetable brush, thoroughly scrub the desired number of potatoes under tepid water, to remove any dirt.  I'm making six today.  Pat them dry in a few paper towels.  Using a fork, prick the skin of each one 16-18 times evenly around the surface.  

Note:  Pricking the potatoes is the step that allows steam to escape as the potatoes bake, which results in light, fluffy centers.

PICT2736~ Step 2. One at a time, place each potato in a shallow bowl or on a plate.  Drizzle each with about 1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable oil, and, using a pastry brush, paint the entire surface of each potato with oil.

Note:  If you are making the classic potato skins with melted cheddar, bacon bits and sour cream, paint the potato skins with the bacon fat rather than the vegetable oil.  Or, if you keep bacon fat on hand, feel free to use it instead of vegetable oil for fully-loaded taco tater skins.

PICT2739Step 3.  Line a baking pan with parchment paper.  A 12 1/2" x 8 3/4" pan will hold 6 potatoes, a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" pan will hold 8-12. Depending upon the size of the pan, sprinkle  2-4 tablespoons of coarse sea salt over the parchment. Arrange the oil-coated potatoes, well apart, on the prepared pan. Sprinkle more salt over the tops, about 1/2-1 teaspoon atop each.

PICT2737~ Step 5.  Bake on center rack of preheated 400 degree oven about:

30-40 minutes for small potatoes

60-70 minutes for large potatoes

Potatoes should be very soft and tender when pierced with a fork, and, slightly-crisp on the outside. Remove from oven and let rest until cool enough to handle with your hands, about 20-30 minutes.

IMG_1686 IMG_1696~ Step 6. Using a serrated knife, cut potatoes in half horizontally and open them up like a book.  Using a paring knife and a tablespoon carefully scoop out the soft center from each half, leaving about 1/4" of potato around the sides and on the bottoms.  Note:  Use the knife to mark a 1/4" line around the sides -- not so deep as to pierce the skin, just to loosen the proper amount.

IMG_1702 IMG_1698~ Step 7. Return all of the potato skins to the pan, insides up. Melt butter in microwave.  Brush insides with butter, flip potatoes over and brush outsides.  Return to oven and bake, 6 minutes.  Note: I'm doing mine in two batches of six tonight because I have to take  a series of photographs.  It's complicated.

IMG_1714 IMG_1708                                          ~ Step 8. Remove potatoes from oven. Flip them over, insides up.  Return to oven and cook until edges are turning brown, 12-15 minutes.  This is an important step.  Give them all the time they need to crisp up.

IMG_1744 IMG_1719Step 9. Remove potatoes from oven and immediately (no time to waste here) add the grated cheddar.  

IMG_1721Return to oven and bake until cheese melts, 3-4 minutes.  Remove from oven and transfer to a paper-towel lined serving dish.

Dollop taco filling atop molten cheese... 

IMG_1760... add toppings & serve immediately!

IMG_1842This spud's for you: 

IMG_1886Super Sunday Spud Skins of the Taco Tater Type:  Recipe yields 12 fully-loaded taco tater skins, or, 12 appetizer servings or 6 main-course servings.

Special Equipment List:  vegetable brush; fork; pastry brush; baking pan; parchment paper; serrated bread knife; paring knife; tablespoon; 1-cup measuring container; cheese grater

IMG_8667Cook's Note:  If it's not a spud your interested in while swilling your suds, perhaps I can interest you in my ~ Tequila-Lime Skirt-Steak Fajitas (Tacos al Carbon) ~.  These are the original tacos, the ones made by our Tex-Mex ancestors. You can find this winning recipe in Categories 2, 10, 13, 17, 19 or 20!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos Courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2015) 

01/25/2015

~ Philadelphia's Famous Cheesesteaks a la Melanie~

6a0120a8551282970b015390a44c89970b-800wiIf you have never eaten a cheesesteak sandwich in Philadelphia proper, you've never eaten a cheesesteak.  Like the soft pretzel, the iconic Philly cheesesteak just tastes better in The City of Brotherly Love.  Whether you're standing outside on a sticky-hot sidewalk next to a street vendor in Summer, or, standing inside against a counter in a sweaty-windowed sandwich shop in Winter, the experience, on several levels, cannot be duplicated elsewhere. Many have tried, many have come remarkably close, but everyone agrees:  Philadelphia owns this sandwich.

Philly041907-002-PatsKingofSteaksA bit about the Philadelphia Cheesesteak:  Back in the 1930's, Philadelphians Pat and Harry Olivieri, at their hot dog stand near South Philly's Italian market, invented this beloved sandwich of chopped steak piled high on a hoagie roll.  The sandwich became so popular, Pat opened up a restaurant of his own, Pat's King of Steaks, which still operates today. Olivieri claims that shortly thereafter, provolone cheese was 1024px-Genos_Steaksadded by the manager, "Cocky Joe" Lorenza.  Cheez Whiz, first marketed in 1952, was not available in the early versions of the cheesesteak sandwich, but it's now a common option, and, at Pat's, it is considered the "topping of choice". Directly across the street from Pat's King of Steaks is Geno's Steaks. Only in Philadelphis could two businesses located directly across the street from each other stay open all day and all night selling cheesesteaks and thrive.  

Located on Passyunk Avenue near Ninth Street (in the heart of South Philly), their pleasant, humorously-boastful friendly-rivalry has brought well-deserved national-acclaim (and lots of celebrities and tourists) to both establishments.  That said, Jim's Steaks, at 4th and South Street, is a longtime favorite of locals (and me), so, I thought I'd name drop that one too!

Trivia:  Eating a cheesesteak at midnight is a Philly tradition!

The Philly cheesesteak experience is more than just eating chopped steak with melted cheese on a roll.  These sandwiches, an Italian-American invention, are a civic icon -- a cultural obsession.  They're portable, real-deal fast-food, and, they're available in cafes, steak shops, delicatessens and pizzerias, as well as food trucks or street vendors, throughout the city and suburbs.  These are the standard upon which all others are judged, so, no matter where you are right now, if you are in search of the perfect Philly-style cheesesteak (even in Philadelphia they vary a bit from vendor to vendor), here are a few cheesy things you seriously need to know:

6a0120a8551282970b014e88632075970d#1.  The meat.  This is not frozen Steak-Ums.  A Philly cheesesteak is always made with high-quality, nicely-marbled, thinly-sliced, rib-eye steak.  For example:  this rib-eye would be cut lengthwise into 4-5 thin steaks.  The sliced meat is cooked rather quickly on a large lightly-greased flat-top griddle.  As IMG_3690the meat cooks it gets rough chopped into chunks and pieces.  

#2.  The options.  Each sandwich is made-to-order.  You decide what you want on yours (options vary amongst vendors):  sauted onions, peppers and/or mushrooms; American, provolone or Cheez Whiz, and; "steak sauce", which in Philly lingo means a tomato IMG_6778product similar to pizza sauce. 

#2.  The roll.  In Philadelphia, cheesesteaks are placed on an Amoroso or Italian Vilotti-Pisanelli roll, with the Amoroso being the most famous (and my favorite). They are long, 10"-12", thinnish and medium-textured -- neither fluffy nor soft, and decidedly not hard.  But, outside of Philly, they are hard to find.  Thankfully, I have a source.

#3.  The etiquette of eating.  When properly prepared, a cheesesteak artfully balances flavor with texture and "drip factor".  Yes, if it ain't dripping juices, it ain't a Philly cheesesteak.  In order to avoid ruining their clothing, Philadelphians have develped a technique affectionately referred to as the "Philadelphia Lean".  This involves standing and bending forward -- essentially you take your mouth to the sandwich instead of bringing the sandwich to your mouth.

#5.  The etiquette of ordering.  This takes a little bit of practice, so I'll start with just a few words of advice:  know what you want before you walk up to the counter to order.  Philadelphians detest standing in line behind someone who hasn't decided their cheesesteak fate before talking to the cashier.  Locals basically have this practice down to three precise words.  For example:  one American with, or, two Whiz without, means that you want one cheesesteak with American cheese and onions, or, two cheesesteaks with Cheese Whiz and no onions.

When properly prepared you can taste & feel the brotherly love!

My intention today is to show you a method for making really, really good cheesesteaks at home on your stovetop -- and not just one or two either.  I don't know about you, but, when I'm making these, I either have a crowd around me and/or I want enough cheesesteak filling for leftovers the next day.  Also, I'm making them the way I like them -- I'm not telling you how you should like them.  My instructions include onions, peppers and mushrooms -- feel free to use some of them or none of them.  My instructions include "steak sauce" (pizza-type sauce) too -- use it or don't!

Cheese Steak #2 (Steaks)Step 1.  This really isn't a step for you, it is a step for your butcher. Explain to him that you are making cheesesteaks and ask him to cut the rib-eye steaks to a thickness of slightly less than 1/4". Plan on needing 3-4 of these thin steaks per sandwich.  Once you get them home, refrigerate the steaks until well-chilled 1-2 hours.

Note:  My suggestion is to plan on 4 per sandwich if you are not adding any of the optional vegetables, and, 3 per sandwich if you are adding the vegetables.

Cheese Steak #3 (Sliced Meat)~ Step 2.  Stack the cold rib-eyes (I do this four at a time), and, using a razor sharp knife, slice them into 1/2" strips.  Do not saw the meat (which will cause it to rip, tear and shred), slice the meat.  

Note:  I refrigerate the steaks because experience has taught me they are easier to slice if they are cold.  There's more.  Because I am preparing these on my stovetop, not a flat-top griddle, chopping them into chunks and pieces after the fact does not work well for me.

24 thin rib-eye steaks, slightly less than 1/4" each, sliced into 1/2" strips

4  tablespoons olive oil

4  tablespoons salted butter

2  teaspoons dried oregano

1 1/2  pounds very thinly-sliced yellow or sweet onion

1  pound stemmed, cleaned and thinly-sliced white button mushroom caps

12  ounces green bell pepper, cut into 1/4" julienne, julienne strips cut in half

12  ounces red bell pepper, cut into 1/4" julienne, julienne strips cut in half

freshly ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

3  cups marinara sauce, preferably homemade, or your favorite brand

1/2  teaspoon peperoncino (red pepper flakes), more or less, for stirring into sauce

cheeses of choice:  provolone or Cheez Whiz

12  10"-12" long Italian rolls, the best available, toasted or untoasted, your choice

Cheese Steak #4 (Prepped Vegetables) PICT1997~ Step 3. Prep some or all of the optional vegetables as directed, placing them in a large food storage bag as you work.  Close the bag and toss them all together.  Tossing them together in the bag make it easier to stir them evenly into the cooking meat.

Note:  This is a task I usually do several hours in advance, sometimes even a day ahead of making the sandwiches.

Cheese Steak #5 (Meat in Pan)~ Step 4.  In a 14" chef's pan, melt the butter into the olive oil over low heat.  Stir in the dried oregano.

Cheese Steak #6 (Cooked Meat in Pan)~ Step 5. Place meat in pan and season the top of it moderately with  salt and liberally with peppercorn blend. Increase heat to medium-high and saute, stirring until steak is cooked through, about 12-15 minutes.

Cheese Steak #8 (Liquid Reduction) Cheese Steak #7 (Vegetables Addes)~ Step 6. Place the optional veggies over the top of the meat and lightly season their tops with more salt and peppercorn blend.  Using a large spoon, thoroughly fold the seasoned vegetables into the cooking steak.  Continue to saute, stirring frequently, until vegetables are very soft and only a thin layer of liquid remains in the bottom of pan, about 20-30 minutes.

Cheese Steak #9 (Sauce Stirred In)~ Step 7.  Stir the peperoncino into the optional "steak sauce", then stir the sauce into the cooking meat mixture.  In my kitchen that is my recipe for ~ My Fresh & Spicy Tomato-Basil Sauce (Marinara) ~, which you can find in Categories 8 or 12.  Adjust heat to a gentle simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes.

Note:  To this point, the cheese steak filling can be made 1-3 days in advance of reheating and serving.  Like many things, it actually tastes better the next day!

In Philly cheesesteak speak, here's "one Whiz with":

6a0120a8551282970b014e8a9794f9970d-800wiPhiladelphia's Famous Cheesesteaks a la Melanie:  Recipe yields 8, 10"-12"" cheesesteak sandwiches.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 2-gallon food storage bag (optional); 14" chef's pan w/straight deep sides; large spoon; serrated bread knife

IMG_0321Cook's Note:  For another one of my favorite steak sandwiches (perfect for a tailgate or Super bowl party), check out ~ My Pan-Seared Flat-Iron Steak Slider-Sandwiches ~ by clicking into Categories 2, 17, 19 or 20.  These go from stovetop to table in less than 30 minutes, and that includes the time it takes to make the cheese spread too!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/2015)