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11/24/2014

~ Nobody's Pizza - For the Somebody in All of Us!!! ~

IMG_8280Pizza makes me happy.  I'm not alone.  It's my belief that next to watching baseball, eating pizza is America's favorite past time.  Everybody goes to the ball park and the pizza shop to have a good time.  If you're a traveler in search of the perfect slice, the one made just for you, you already know it's important to not give too much credence to personal recommendations and published "pizza shop reviews".  I've been burned way too many times paying attention to that over-rated banter.  Pizza, like toothpaste, is personal.  Some of the best pizza is the simplest, and, is found in the least likely and lesser recognized places.  This is one such story.

IMG_8293Pizza:  oven-baked flat bread topped w/tomato sauce & cheese.

XlcGrDN1iVmKM4There's a pizza joint close to Joe's hometown (Lackawanna County, PA).  The atmosphere is old-school casual with memorabilia hanging on the walls.  You can order take-out or eat-in sitting on a stool at the bar, in a wooden booth or at a table. They serve pizza only, one size only, and, you'll only wait 5-10 minutes to be served. You'll get no menu -- sign boards list the toppings and how much each will add to the price of the $11.00 pizza. Since 1945, they open at 4:00PM & close at Midnight (6 days a week).

Andy's PizzaJoe took me there just before we got married, on my very first visit to Jessup.  My love affair with this pizza began on that very first trip, with that very first bite of that very first slice and has continued now for almost 35 years.  It's no wonder the loyal locals refer to this uniquely different pie as "the pizza world's best kept secret."  I am in their camp, but, as with all pizza, there are those who feel otherwise.  We two love this legendary pizza so much, that, once a year, every Fall, Joe makes a pilgrimage for the sole purpose of bringing home twelve pies for our freezer.  We order them uncut, then I just slide each one into a ziplock bag and freeze 'em all.

NOBODY can make Andy's Pizza in Peckville, PA, better than Andy's, but, after many tries, I've have come up with a close in-home rendition!

A bit about Andy's Pizza:  The yeasty taste (resemblant of beer without beer being added) of the otherwise bland, chewy, tender, really crispy crust is the first thing everybody remembers.  It's thick around the perimeter, medium-ish across the bottom, breadlike in appearance (meaning it doesn't have big, gassy air holes in it), and, most amazingly, it is not overly-browned (which would dry it out).  At first glance, it fools you into thinking it is undercooked, when in fact it is perfectly cooked.  It is neither a fold-and-eat Neopolitan-style crust nor a knife-and-fork Sicilian-style crust.  After the crust, more magic happens when a rather generic sauce (not too sweet or spicy with no distinguishable flavor of any dominant herb) meets a goodly amount of creamy, molten, white American-type processsed cheese or cheese blend -- once again, perfectly-melted without over-browning.  If you like a pie with long strands of stringy mozzarella, this, pie is not for you, but do not knock it until you have tried it.  The sauce and the cheese unite in such a way that neither one dominates the other or the crust.  It's a delightful experience!

IMG_8161A bit about Nobody's Pizza:  After more experiments than I can count, Joe nicknamed my trials (none were inedible failures) "Nobody's Pizza", because while good, they weren't even close to the target. Persistence pays off.  Happily, my home version is now as close to eating an actual Andy's pie sans them handing me their recipe.  

A couple of years back, however, I gave up on using my electric-stand mixer with paddle attachment to make the dough.  I'm certain Andy's most likely uses a giant Hobart-type mixer of some sort in order to produce the hundreds of pies they need to turn out at warp speed.  The day I decided to place all of my ingredients in my bread machine, on the pizza dough cycle, I never looked back.  In 55 minutes, my dough emerges perfectly mixed, proofed and ready to rock 'n roll.  Feel free to use your stand mixer -- the dough turns out the same.

IMG_8154For the pizza dough:

1  cup water + 6 tablespoons water

3  cups unbleached bread flour

1  cup semolina flour (pizza makers commonly add this to pizza dough in place of some of the flour to give it "chew")

IMG_81571 1/2  teaspoon fine sea salt

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

4  tablspoons total olive oil, 2 tablespoons each for oiling 2, 12"-round pizza pans

~ Step 1.  In order listed, place the IMG_8163water, bread flour and semolina in bread pan of bread machine.  Using your index finger, make a shallow well in the center (do not expose any of the water).  Add the salt and the yeast to the well.  Close the lid and push the "select" button.  Then choose the "pizza dough" cycle. Push the "start" button.  When machine signals, remove pan of dough from the machine.

Step 2.  Using a paper towel, oil each of 2, 12"-round pizza pans with 2 tablespoons olive oil.

IMG_8169~ Step 3.  Remove the dough from the bread pan and form it into a large ball, then divide the dough into two even-sized balls and place one on each oiled pan.

IMG_7961Note:  You'll have 2-pounds of dough.  If you have a kitchen scale, use it to divide precisely.

IMG_8197 IMG_8174~ Step 4. Taking your time, gently pat and press the dough evenly across the bottom and evenly up the sides of the pan.

Note:  I do this in 3 parts taking 15 total minutes, allowing the dough to rest about 5 minutes each time before patting and pressing again.

IMG_8205 IMG_8190~ Step 5. Using a fork, gently prick the surface of the dough about 30-40 times.  This will prevent the bottom of the pie from bubbling up when baking.  

Note:  Do this so as to break the surface without opening any holes through to the bottom of the pan.

IMG_8320For the sauce and the cheese:

2 1/2  cups pizza sauce, preferably homemade, or your favorite brand

5 1/2  cups grated Provel* or American cheese (Note:  This is a matter of taste and I use Provel.)

*A bit about the Provel cheese: Provel cheese was developed by the St. Louis firm Costa Grocery in the 1950's.  Made in Wisconsin, it's processed American cheese made from a combination of provolone, Swiss and white cheddar.  It is 6a0120a8551282970b01774463628e970dwhite, slightly smoky and slightly salty.  It has the exact same texture and melting qualties as white American with a bit more tang.  I purchase it (it comes in 5-pound blocks or grated in bags) on line at www.itsastlouisthing.com.

IMG_8240 IMG_8219~ Step 6. Place 1 1/4 cups of sauce in each of two small  bowls.  Add 1 cup of grated cheese to each bowl and stir to combine.

IMG_8228Note: Stirring some cheese into IMG_8256the sauce is what gives this pizza that ubiquitous layer of sauce and cheese rather than the typical layer of sauce with a layer of cheese on top.

~ Step 7.  Spread the cheesey sauce evenly over the surface of both crusts, then, sprinkle 1 3/4 cups of additional cheese over each.  Set pizzas aside, uncovered, for 1 hour, to allow dough to rise up around the sides.

~ Step 8.  Place a pizza stone on center rack of oven and preheat to 375 degrees (no higher and no lower for this pizza in the home kitchen).  Bake pizzas, one at a time, as follows:

IMG_8264 IMG_8286Place pan of pizza on pizza stone and bake for 9 minutes.  

With the aid of a spatula, lift a corner of the pie up and using your other hand (and a pot holder or oven mitt), tilt the pan to slide the pie off the pan and onto the stone.

IMG_8268Fashion and place a very loose dome of aluminum foil over pie, making sure the foil does not touch anything but the crust (not the surface where the cheese is bubbly. The foil will prevent the cheese from over-browning.  Continue to bake for 6 more minutes, for a total of 15 minutes baking time.  The crust will be barely-browned and the cheese will be molten.  Do not overbake!

Discard foil, and, using a pizza peel transfer from stone to cooling rack:

IMG_8291Allow to cool 15-18 minutes (molten, lava-esque cheese needs to set):

IMG_8307Slice...

IMG_8334... pick a slice... 

IMG_8339... take a taste and appreciate!

IMG_8362Nobody's Pizza:  For the Somebody in All of Us!:  Recipe yields 2, 12" pizzas.

Special Equipment List: 1-cup measuring container; bread machine; 2, 12"-round pizza pans; paper towels;  2, 2-cup measuring containers; cheese grater; pizza stone; spatula; pizza peel; large cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b0147e3591d45970bCook's Note:  We Preschutti's love homemade pizza and I make several different kinds (just click on the Related Article links below to get the recipes).  Click into Category 8 to read ~ Preschutti Pizza, Parts I, II & III:  Our Favorite Sauce, Our Favorite Crust & Our Favorite Four Toppings ~!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014) 

11/20/2014

~ Roasting Poultry and Making Gravy Too: My Own Techniques and Oration (the long and not short of it) ~

IMG_7341After thirty years of roasting almost every type of  poultry, from 2-pound game hens to 24-pound monster-sized turkeys, I've faced and solved almost every glitch imaginable, carefully documenting them (so as not to let any of them occur twice).  I won't lie to you, in the early years there were some tears, but about 5-6 years into my meticulous list of DON'T EVER DO THIS AGAIN, I started producing those moist, juicy birds with crispy, golden skin that everyone covets. Then, about 18 or so years ago, I switched to a different list.  One that documented the size of each bird, the temperature(s) it was cooked at, and the exact time it took to cook it.  To my surprise, a pattern emerged.  The best birds, no matter what size, were all cooked using the same basic method, which worked perfectly for me in my kitchen -- and it was easy too! 

IMG_6120So, if I'm so darn good at this, why am I so terrified to write this post?  Because when I click "publish", I'll immediatley be associated with the multitudes of little- to well-known foodies in the world who profess to knowing the secrets to roasting the perfect birdI'm not sure I like that.  Roasting poultry is personal.  If my grandmother (and yours) could do it under less than perfect conditions, who am I to set rules?

Everything from pans to poundage affects the process and the end product.  Yes, of course, it obviously helps to have a set of well-written guidelines, a knowlege of the process, and more importantly, a knowledge of its options.  BUT, if you get fanatical and adopt a closed-minded "my way or the highway" approach to roasting poultry, you're not only taking all of the sport out of it, there is a good chance it will screw you up for life.  In all seriousness:  keep it simple!

IMG_6118The  turkey which appears in all of the pictures in this post is not special or famous.  It is a random 16-pound bird that was bought at a local grocery store over the weekend for the sole purpose of writing this post a week before Thanksgiving.  It came to me thawed and sealed in plastic. That said, when possible, I always buy or order a fresh-killed turkey:  I prefer fresh over perviously frozen.  

My point is:  you can have success with any turkey, so, don't feel 'lesser' if all you could find three days before the holiday was a 'block of ice', frozen-solid bird -- thaw it in the refrigerator for two days and carry on as if it walked through your door and you killed it yourself.  Any bird roasted according to my guidelines, if I do say so myself, will emerge beautifully golden brown on all sides with perfectly-cooked, juicy meat.  I now present my method(s) to you.  You be the judge:

IMG_6383~ Step 1To Portion.  Deciding how large a bird to buy depends upon how many people you plan on serving, how you plan on serving it (pre-portioned and plated individually or family-style on a big platter), and, if you want leftovers.  I plan on 8-ounces per person, 12-ounces if there will most likely be second helpings and 16-ounces or more if you want leftovers.  In my house, I plan on a 16-pound bird serving 6-8 people with a few leftovers, but certainly not an overabundance.  For more specific guidelines and a nifty chart, read my post ~ Portioning Poultry:  The Chart/Guide that will Help ~, by clicking on the Related Article link below.

IMG_7194~ Step 2To Thaw.  As previously mentioned, I always try to avoid buying a frozen bird, but sometimes in the "off season", that just isn't possible.  If you happen to buy a frozen bird, or have a frozen bird in your freezer, place the bird, in its wrapping in the refrigerator.  Allow 3 1/2-4 hours of defrosting time per pound.  Once thawed, use the bird as you would a fresh one, within two days of thawing it.  Never refreeze poultry.  Never ever.

~ Step 3To Brine (or not to Brine).  If you keep up with all the trendy food commentary, everyone and his monkey's uncle is promoting this process, which is fine, but it's not for me. My opinion is:  it's just one more step, both time-consuming and messy, that over-complicates roasting poultry -- which of iteself is simple and stressfree.  Except for the instance of a wild turkey, I am not a proponent of brining.  In the case of a wild turkey, which does not have a lot of meat on it, has a game-y-er taste than farm-raised poultry, and, tends to be dry from the get-go, I have yet to find any reason of major substance, be it texture or flavor, to brine any poultry.

Turkey-brine-3.gifA bit about brining:  Brine is a basic mixture of salt, sugar and water (sometimes brown sugar or molasses are used, and, sometimes herbs, spices and friesh or dried fruits are added).  It was used before the invention of refrigeration to preserve and prevent meat from spoiling.  Nowadays, brining is not so much done to preserve food, but to tenderize and flavor it.  Because of the increased salt content, it also cuts the home cook quite a bit of slack in terms of exact timing and temperature.  Brined poultry is an acquired taste, one which I have not yet managed to acquire.  In fact, I dislike the taste and texture of brined birds, and I don't need to be cut any slack.  Simmer down and read on:

My oven-roasting method produces moist, naturally-flavored, evenly-cooked birds with crispy, edible, golden-brown, butter-flavored skin.  I have no need to resort to the reincarnation of a semi-outdated, time-consuming cooking process.  This being said:  Will brining visually make your bird camera-ready, like it's had several injections of botox?  Yep.  Will brining impart a juicy texture to your meat?  Positively.  Will it give your turkey a salty, lunch-meaty, sometimes hamlike  after taste?  In my personal opinion, absolutely.  I've gone through this brining experiment several times over the past three years, under the supervision of and prompting from well-versed experts (a couple of whom have sent me their recipes and prepackaged brining salt mixtures to try).  Brining has never once lived up to my expectations or standards.  Enough said.

~ Step 4To Stuff (or not to Stuff), or, The Evils of Stuffing:  Make this decision before you even begin to prep your bird for the oven.  I'm here to talk you out of stuffing the bird, but if you insist upon doing it, prepare the stuffing recipe according to the recipe directions and have the stuffing mixture ready and at room temperature before removing the bird from the refrigerator.  Stuffing that is too hot or too cold will cause serious timing problems at the end of the roasting process.  Stuffing in general, causes problems.  It appeared early on my DON'T EVER DO THIS  AGAIN list, so I do not stuff the bird.  To make a long story not any shorter:

IMG_7294Stuffing is evil.  Stuffing itself isn't evil, but from a food-safety standpoint, stuffing the bird is.  By the the time the center of the stuffing cooks to a safe-to-eat temperature of 165-170 degrees, you will have grossly overcooked your bird, resulting in very dry, almost tasteless meat.  If you take your bird out of the oven when you are supposed to, when the meat reaches a temperature of about 160-165 degrees (then cover and rest it to allow carryover heat to cook it to a temperature of 170-175 degrees), your stuffing is more than likely:  not sufficiently or fully-cooked.  There is no "gray area" or "middle ground" here, just a bad prognosis.  This is not said to start any arguments with grandmothers across the USA who successfully stuff their birds and do not poison their friends and family.  These are just statements of food-safety fact.

After reading the above, if you are still intent on stuffing your bird:  #1.  Have stuffing at room temperature.  #2.  Pack stuffing very loosely, into both the neck and breast cavities.  For less mess, be sure to stuff the neck cavity first.  #3.  Once again, do not compact the stuffing in either cavity, as stuffing expands as it cooks.  Over-stuffing will result in a dense, inedible product. 

IMG_7381~ Steps 5 & 6Preparing to Roast & Roasting.  I like to remove my bird from the refrigerator and let it "chill out" on the countertop or in the sink for about 30-60 minutes before:  Using kitchen shears, carefully remove the plastic wrapping from the completely thawed or fresh bird.  Be careful not to puncture the skin of the bird with the sharp tips of the shears.  Remove the neck and packet of giblets from the breast and/or neck cavities and set them aside.  Thoroughly rinse the bird under cold water, then, using some wadded up paper towels, pat the exterior and interior of the bird dry. 

Place bird, breast up, on a large rack which has been placed in a large roasting pan to which 6 cups of chicken stock, along with the neck and giblets,  has been added

IMG_7910You can use an expensive roasting pan with a V-rack insert, or an inexpensive disposable aluminum pan with a flat cooling rack placed in the bottom of it.  The choice is yours, but the bird must be elevated so it does not sit in and cook in its own juices.  I'm showing you the inexpensive way to do it today, so you'll believe me when I tell you it works just fine.  I add chicken stock to the pan, because I like to have plenty of gravy for dinner as well as leftovers.  As the bird roasts and its fat and juices drip down, the stock will take on all the great flavors of the bird and its seasonings.  Because I do not stuff my bird, I place a mixture of aromatics inside of the breast cavity.  These are not meant to be eaten, but, as the bird roasts, they impart flavor and moisture to the bird and the drippings.  My favorite combination is:

Roasting Poultry #4 (Aromatics) 3-4  5"-6" sprigs fresh rosemary

3-4  5"-6" stalks celery

1/2-1  yellow or sweet onion, coarsely chopped

1/2-1  tart apple, unpeeled, coarsely chopped

The amounts used will vary depending upon the size of the bird you are stuffing.

Roasting Poultry #5 (Ready for Oven) Place some thin slices of butter evenly over the surface of the bird.  This may look like a lot of butter, but it is only about 3-4 tablespoons.  Finish with a grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend over all.

Some food authorities recommend painting/brushing the bird with vegetable oil instead of butter, because they worry about the butter burning.  Here's my 2 cents: 

#1.  I use butter because I like the buttery taste of the crispy skin after the bird is roasted.

#2.  The butter will not burn if you follow my cooking instructions.

Roasting Poultry #6 (First 20 Minutes) Place the roasting pan on the lowest rack of preheated 450 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes, or until breast and the top of legs are beginning to turn a light golden brown.

During this time, take a 8"-12"-16" piece of aluminum foil and fold it to form a protective cover/shield for the breast of the bird:

Roasting Poultry #7 (Foil Shield)The size of the piece of foil depends upon the size of the breast of your bird.

Roasting Poultry #8 (Foil Shield On) Remove the roasting pan from the oven and immediately reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Place the aluminum foil shield loosely over the top of the breast.  Using your fingertips, pat, press and mold it to the shape of the breast.

Immediately return the bird to the oven (don't worry if the oven temperature isn't down to 350 degrees yet) and continue to roast as per the following guidelines:

Note:  These are guidelines.  They will get you close to the finish line, but when it is in sight, please use an instant-read meat thermometer! 

20 minutes per pound for small birds up to 8 pounds

15 minutes per pound for medium birds 8-16 pounds

13 minutes per pound for large birds over 16 pounds

(Whatever weight, add 3 minutes per pound for birds that contain edible stuffing.*

Begin timing the bird the moment it goes into the 450 degree oven.  *Note:  The 3 minute per pound addition does not apply to aromatic stuffing mixtures, as they are not meant to be eaten. 

The best test for doneness is an instant-read meat thermometer placed in the breast and then the leg-thigh portion.  Remove the bird from the oven when the meat has reached an internal temperature between 160-165 degrees.  I ideally like to remove mine when the meat is at 160 degrees.  In the event you do not have an instant-read thermometer, an alternative test is:  Using the tip of a sharp knife, pierce the skin near the thigh joint.  If the juices run clear, the bird is cooked.  NEVER rely upon:  the evil convenient pop-up thermometer!

IMG_6059Remove from the oven and remove the foil breast shield.  Remove the rack (with the turkey on it), or just the turkey, and tightly seal in heavy-duty aluminum foil.  Allow turkey to rest for 45-60 minutes.

Note:  This is the ideal time to bake your stuffing and all your oven-ready casseroles in the preheated 350 degree oven!

Real Roasted Chicken Breasts #4 (Fat-Lean Separator) ~ Step 7Making the gravy.  Pour all liquid from pan into a fat/lean separator.  You will have 2-3-4 cups of drippings (depending on size of bird).  Anything short of 4 cups, make up the difference with chicken stock to total 4 cups of fat-free liquid.

Note:  If you do not own a fat/lean separator, this is an inexpensive gadget you seriously need to invest in.  Mine is 1-quart in size and glass.  Smaller, lesser expensive plastic ones work just as well.

Real Roasted Chicken Breasts #5 (Making the Roux)In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt 6 tablespoons butter over medium-low heat.  Whisk in 1/2 cup all-purpose flour along with 1 teaspoon poultry seasoning.  Do not add any salt and pepper as your fat-free drippings are already seasoned.  Whisk constantly, until the mixture (referred to as roux) is thickened and smooth.  This process takes 1-2 minutes.

Real Roasted Chicken Breasts #6 (Gravy Done) Whisk in all liquid (4 total cups) from the separator, discarding all fat.  Adjust heat to medium-high and bring gravy to a gentle simmer.  Continue to simmer, whisking constantly, until gravy has thickened to your liking and coats the back of a spoon, 2-3 minutes.  The longer you simmer the gravy, the thicker it will get!

IMG_6083Note about making giblet gravy:  At this point, I like to remove/pull as many shreds of meat from the neck as I can, finely dice/mince the soft liver and stir them into the gravy.  As for the heart and the kidneys, because they are so tough and chewy, I discard them, but if you do decide to use them, grinding them in a food processor makes quick work of them.  The option to make giblet gravy is entirely yours!

IMG_6390~ Step 8.  Carving.  From my 16-pound turkey, I received two perfectly cooked breast halves and lots of lovely leg-thigh meat (my personal favorite).  This is easily enough to feed 6-8 people with a few leftovers.  Carving a turkey is no different than charving a chicken. Click on the Related Article link below to lean ~ This Woman's Way to Roast the Perfect Chicken + My Stressfree "Carving for Dummies" Methodology ~ !

Gobble!  Gobble!  Gobble!

6a0120a8551282970b017ee592f6f4970d

Thanksgiving is an American holiday that is all about being thankful for what you have been given and sharing it with others:  family, friends, and yes, even strangers.  It doesn't have to be complicated or fancy.  Just try to relax and make whatever time you have in your kitchen count:

~ The Countdown to the Big Turkey Day Feast Begins (Melanie's Top 10 Tips to Not Let it Drive You Crazy) ~ can be found by clicking on the Related Article link below!

6a0120a8551282970b017c3387c403970bRoasting Poultry and Making Gravy Too:  My Own Techniques and Oration (the long and not short of it):  The 16-pound turkey used in this post will yield 6-8 hearty servings and 4 cups of gravy.  Depending on the size of any type of bird or birds you roast, the number of servings will vary.  As long as you add 4 cups of chicken stock to the pan, the amount of gravy will not vary.

Special Equipment List:  kitchen shears; paper towels; large roasting pan w/V-rack insert, or, 2, 20" x 12" x 6" disposable aluminum roasting pans, doubled to form one sturdy pan; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" cooling rack; cutting board; chef's knife; aluminum foil; instant-read meat thermometer; fat/lean separator; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight, deep sides; whisk

IMG_6915Cook's Note:  Trussing and basting. In the event anyone is concerned about trussing the bird:  I usually don't.  The advantage to trussing is supposed to be a more appealing presentation, but I've had the string rip and tear the delicate, crispy skin when I've tried to loosen and remove it from the cooked bird.  Experimentation has proven that birds cook evenly with IMG_6390or without trussing, so the option is yours.  That said, when the legs are bound, the breast cavity is better suited to hold stuffing.  I've had good results by using a short length of twine and tying the legs together with a simple knot.  If you do decide to truss in any manner, be sure to use cotton twine specifically made for use in the kitchen.  PS:  Basting is for the birds.  After the initial browning of the skin, basting is just a pointless waste of your time!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2014)

11/18/2014

~ Parmesan Sherry Cream Sauce for Pasta/Seafood: Don't Debate It, Grate It -- It'll melt your heart away! ~

IMG_7877"Calling all cars, there's a woman in Happy Valley putting cheese sauce on her seafood".  That sounds nonsensical because it is nonsensical and no self-appointed authority on Italian food (yes, Italians in particular get their panties in a bunch over this) is going to convince me otherwise.  In certain circumstances I find the combination of pasta and seafood swimming in a sea of silky, smooth, cheese sauce sensuous and seductive.  In fact, the food world is a better place because philistines like myself aren't afraid to break a culinary commandment once in a while -- especially one without any meaty purpose except to say "thou shall not".  What???

IMG_7876Read my 'rant', then let your taste buds & heart be the judge:

Religion & tradition.  For centuries the consumption of meat and dairy were forbidden on religious holidays and Fridays.  On such occasions, fish and seafood were the logical replacement for meat and poultry.  Since cheese is a dairy product, the few times a year and one day a week the family cook served fish or seafood, cheese was never a part of their recipe. Traditional fish dishes passed down from generation to generation contained no cheese because it was a rule, not because it didn't taste good.  Hear me:  I have nothing against religious tradition -- I've got plenty of cheeseless fish and seafood recipes in my repertoire.  

Geography & economy.  After considering the time period this rule was imposed, I think it to be brilliant.  People naturally gravitate to warm climates near a source for water (rivers, lakes, oceans)  where they can raise animals and grow crops to feed their family.  Wherever you have a large populous, like it or not, you've gotta have a government, and, if you're in charge and want to stay in charge:  you've gotta keep your people fed, and, money in the pockets of the people who sell food to people who don't grow their own.  It's the economy stupid, and, in an economy in a warm climate with no refrigeration, eating fish once a week was the perfect control mechanism to encourage fisherman to deliver fresh fish to the dock on the same day each week. The fish didn't spoil and the fisherman had money in their pockets.  It was a win/win situation.    

Common sense & logic.  Never say never, or, at least not to me.  In this day and age, with the information superhighway and the ability to purchase and taste all sorts of exotic ingredients from all corners of the world at my fingertips, that attitude is unattractive.  I will listen all day to someone banter intelligently about the history and customs behind a classic dish, but to no one who lacks the capacity to embrace thoughtful, inciteful ideas for an update or even a complete makeover (within culinary reason).  It's all about striking the right balance, and, for me, seafood and certain cheese sauces play quite well together:  I enjoy seafood alfredo, lobster mac & cheese, and, shrimp tetrazzini.  I like a sprinkling of cheese on my linguini with clam sauce and my mussels marinara too.  There is no food rule in the world that could ever prevent me me from eating properly-prepared lobster Thermidor either -- vive la France.  Now ponder this: Parmesan crusted cod, halibut or tilapia is a tasty way to get your kids to learn to like fish.  And, last but not least, don't even think about removing the cream cheese from my bagel with lox!  

When in Rome, eat like the Romans and enjoy it, but:

Don't adopt a notion just because you've heard it from birth!      

IMG_7889This is a nice, mild (not overpowering), versatile cheese sauce that works for my delicately-flavored fish and seafood needs.  I usually make it with all cream, not fish or seafood stock, although a half cream, half stock version works great too.  I season it with cayenne pepper for a bit of added heat, but, feel free to substitute white pepper.  When I make seafood lasagna, I often add a half cup of minced onion too.  We all know what a splash of sherry does to bring up the flavor of our crab, lobster, shrimp or seafood bisque -- it does the very same thing for this sauce. You can make it a day in advance too.  Just reheat it gently on the stovetop or microwave, but be prepared to add additional cream (or stock) to thin it to the consistency you're looking for.

IMG_75444  tablespoons salted butter

4  tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/8  teaspoon ground nutmeg

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

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

2  cups finely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

2-4  tablespoons sherry, to taste

IMG_7563 IMG_7559~ Step 1.  In a 3 1/2-quart chef's pan, melt the butter over low heat.  

Increase heat to medium and stir in the flour, nutmeg, garlic powder, cayenne pepper and sea salt. Using a large spoon or a small whisk, stirring constantly, cook until mixture (roux) is thick, smooth and bubbly, about 30-45 seconds.  This happens really fast.

IMG_7576 IMG_7573~ Step 2. Add the cream, in a slow steady stream, stirring or whisking constantly.

Carefully adjust heat to a gentle simmer (not too high or it will scorch) and continue to cook until smooth, thickened and drizzly, about 2 minutes.  Turn the heat off.

IMG_7587 IMG_7586~ Step 3. Sprinkle in the Parmigiano-Reggiano. Finely-grated cheese melts evenly and quickly.  Stir until the mixture is smooth and ribbonlike, adding milk if necessary, or, just because you want the sauce a little thinner.  Add the sherry, to taste. You will have 3-3 1/2 cups of silky-smooth, mild, well-balanced cheese sauce suited for fish or seafood:

IMG_7631Moral of the story:  put it on a plate & stick a fork in it:

IMG_7895Parmesan Sherry Cream Sauce for Pasta/Seafood:  Recipe yields 3-3 1/2 cups, enough to sauce 1 pound of pasta tossed with 1 1/2 pounds of cooked pieces of seafood.

Special Equipment List:  microplane grater; 3 1/2-quart chef's pan w/straight deep sides; large spoon or small whisk 

6a0120a8551282970b019aff73c661970bCook's Note:  While I personally don't equate cheddar cheese or cheddar cheese sauce with fish or seafood, there are a lot of food enthusiasts who might.  You can find ~ My Basic Cheddar Cheese Sauce for Vegetables ~ by clicking into Categories 4, 8, 14, 17 or 20!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 20140