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

11/15/2017

~ Confessions from an Instant Ramen Noodle Junkie ~

IMG_0495While watching a late-night episode of "Locked Up" on MSNBC last night, I learned an interesting fact about those super-curly square-block instant ramen noodles:  They are the #1 selling item in prison commissaries.  That didn't surprise me as much as the reason:  Prisoners buy them for the seasoning packets, not the noodles.  It seems that prison cafeteria food is so lacking in salt, those packets get sprinkled on or stirred into almost everything.  Get in my my soup!  I learn something new every day (or night).  In my kitchen, we use the noodles, not the seasoning packets.

IMG_0502Amongst other things, in the course of a year, I make several soup stocks:  beef, chicken, Thai chicken, veal, shrimp and vegetable.  They're carefully-simmered, seasoned to suit my palate, portioned into containers and stacked neatly in my freezer.  As every well-seasoned cook will tell you, homemade stock turns an ordinary meal into an extraordinary one.  There's more:  If I get a soup craving, I thaw a 2-cup container of stock, simmer it with a handful or two of frozen mixed vegetables, then, I drop a square block of ramen noodles into the saucepan.

  2 cups soup stock + 2 handfuls of frozen mixed vegetables +

IMG_0526a block of instant ramen = (3 minutes later), a luscious lunch. 

Perhaps it's because I never had to live on instant ramen noodles in college that I agree with a Japanese poll done in 2000:  Their best invention of the twentieth century was dried noodle blocks -- noodles that simply need to be cooked or soaked in boiling water before eating.  The main ingredients used in dried noodles are usually wheat flour, palm oil and salt.  The ingredients in the seasoning packets are salt, monosodium glutamate (MSG), seasonings and sugar.  

Invented by Momofuku Ando of Nissin Foods in 1958, these inexpensive (cheap) dried noodle blocks are created by flash-frying cooked noodles (the main method used in Asian countries), and, air-drying (to sell to Western countries).  Both types have a shelf-life of well over a year, and, while they might not look like it in their dry state, they have higher elasticity than other types of noodles (like udon or flat noodles).  They cook up perfectly in a short 3-4 minutes too.

51rTOVjBYwL._SY450_Instant Ramen Trivia includes: When first introduced, instant ramen was considered a luxury item in supermarkets.  It's the #1 selling item in prison commissaries, and, guards are permitted to provide hot water to cook them in the cells. Only "Oriental" and "Chili" flavors of Nissin ramen are vegetarian.  David Chang, founder of the Momofuku restaurant empire, reminisces about uncooked ramen sprinkled with seasoning as an after-school snack. "Ramen" is the Japanese word for the Chinese word "lo mein".  China consumes more instant ramen than any other country.  The Japanese consider ramen their best invention. It would cost about $150 to eat instant ramen for every meal.  There is a museum in Yokohama, Japan, dedicated to the history of "cup noodles", called The Cup of Noodles Museum.  The first noodles eaten in space were instant ramen noodles.

Three minute instant ramen noodles...

IMG_0514... sans the seasoning packet:  Get in my soup! 

IMG_0519Confessions from an Instant Ramen Noodle Junkie:  Recipe yields 2, 2 cup servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-quart saucepan; colander (optional); soup ladle

IMG_9113Cook's Note:  Much like learning to make sushi, learning to make real-deal ramen noodles is a highly-respected art form in Japan.  I consider myself very lucky to have had the opportunity to experience both of them on a trip to Tokyo back in the 1990's.  To learn a bit more about the rich history of real-deal, scratch-made ramen, read my recipe for ~ Cooking 101 for One: Asian Ramen & Steak Salad ~. This cold salad is another one of my favorite quick-to-make lunches (when I've got some leftover steak).

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

11/13/2017

~ Dare to be a Square: Individual Breakfast Frittatas ~

IMG_0468As an egg lover, for me, a frittata is a relatively-easy quick-to-make hunger-satisfying meal any time of the day -- for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner or late night snack.  It tastes great served hot, warm, at room temperature or cold, and, leftovers reheat beautifully in the microwave.  A bit of slicing, dicing or chopping is typically required, but it's minimal, and, since frittata can also be a tasty way to use up leftovers from a previous meal, in some instances, no knife is required.  In my food world, making individual-sized frittatas, a perfectly-portioned quick-as-heck protein-packed meal or snack that I can reheat and eat in seconds, is an efficient use of my time. 

IMG_0418My girlfriend Elaine is a Pampered Chef representative.  Over the years, from time to time, I've purchased gadgets and specialty items, and, I've never been disappointed in the quality.  A few weeks ago, while browsing through the catalog, when I came across these "individual brownie pans", with shallow, "square cups" (for folks who want four crispy sides on each and every brownie), I ordered two.  

That said, I didn't buy them with the intent of baking brownies.  I bought them to make individual frittatas because:  the size (2 1/2" x 2 1/2") and depth (1") of each cup makes for perfect portions that cook up evenly each and every time.  If you've ever baked individual frittatas in traditional muffin tins, you know that the depth and shape of that cup is not exactly ideal for this eggy concoction.

IMG_6400To know a traditional frittata, is to love any frittata.

IMG_6345Commonly referred to as "the Italian version of an omelette", a frittata is a concoction of whisked eggs and real-deal cream, sliced, diced or chopped always-previously-cooked vegetables, meat or seafood and/or grated cheese.  I prefer to compare it to a custard-like quiche without a crust rather than an omelette because, like a quiche, a frittata is traditionally round and rather thick -- not at all elongated and comparatively flat (like the French and American omelettes I've encountered).  There's more.  I think of an omelette as something that goes from stovetop to table in a few short moments -- that's not the case with a frittata, which takes 30+ minutes.

IMG_6358The egg mixture is poured into the same oven-safe (usually cast-iron) skillet the vegetables and/or meats have been cooked or placed in.  The Frittata is started on the stovetop for a few moments, just long enough to allow the bottom of the mixture to solidify a bit, then finished in a moderate oven for 30-45 minutes depending on its size and the recipe.  That said, a frittata can be prepared in the skillet entirely on the stovetop, or, in a casserole entirely in the oven (usually to make a large-size frittata).  Frittata can be served directly from the pan, but, family-friendly-sized frittata is often inverted onto a platter, to reveal its golden crust, then sliced into wedges.

IMG_6362Sautéed vegetables or a medley of vegetables, any kind you like, can be added, as long as they are cooked in some manner first.  Why? Vegetables, particularly those that contain lots of liquid, unless cooked first, will render the frittata watery. Root vegetables, like potatoes and carrots, won't fully-cook if not given a head start on the stovetop. Onions and/or garlic are almost always added. Other options include asparagus, broccoli, bell peppers, spinach, peas, and/or mushrooms. They all work great.  Extremely watery vegetables, like tomatoes, summer squash and and zucchini work well too, but the extra step of seeding prior to sautéing is recommended.

IMG_6376When it comes to meat or seafood, the same rules apply:  if it's cooked first it can be added. Leftover diced porcine, like ham or sausage crumbles, along with crispy-fried bacon bits are my three meaty favorites, and, crab meat or shrimp, or both, are divine.  My teenage boys liked frittata made with diced salami or pepperoni as a late night snack.   That said, if you like to eat steak with your eggs, by all means, throw in slivers of that leftover roasted or grilled red meat. Feel free to disagree, but, for my taste, poultry has no place in a frittata -- there is just something about chicken or turkey in an egg dish like this that I find unappealing (save it for a sandwich).

Making individual frittatas is efficient & just plain smart.

The Italian word "frittata" derives from the word "friggere", which roughly means "fried".  This is why frittata is traditionally associated with a skillet, namely a cast-iron skillet.  If a casserole dish is more convenient, by all means use one -- simply season and sauté your fillings ingredients in a skillet, and toss them into the bottom of a casserole that has been sprayed with no-stick spray, add the whisked egg and cream mixture and bake as directed.   Making individual-sized frittatas is not much different than making a frittata in a casserole, but, you've got to know the capacity of the cups in the pans, and, shorten the cooking time, to accommodate the smaller size of each one. Each square cup in this Pampered Chef pan holds slightly less than 1/2 cup, so, to fill all twelve, I need 6 cups total filling -- the same amount used for a frittata baked in a 1 1/2-quart casserole.

IMG_62911  cup diced, previously cooked meat or seafood, or, 8-ounces uncooked ground beef or sausage (Note:  I'm using sweet sausage today.)

1/2  cup diced sweet onion

1 1/2   cups diced, cooked vegetables or a combination of vegetables, your choice (Note: I'm using green bell pepper, red bell pepper and mushrooms today.

sea salt and coarsely-ground black pepper, for lightly seasoning vegetables 

3/4  cup grated melting cheese (Note:  I'm using yellow cheddar today.)

6  extra-large eggs

3/4  cup cream (Note:  You can substitute half and half or whole milk, but anything less than full-fat dairy renders a rubbery rather than an unctuous frittata.)

1/4 teaspoon sea salt and coarsely-ground black pepper, for seasoning egg mixture

no-stick cooking spray, for preparing pan

sliced or diced tomato, cilantro leaves & your favorite hot sauce, for garnish & accompaniment

IMG_6295 IMG_6295 IMG_6295Step 1.  Using an old-fashioned hand-crank egg beater, whisk the eggs, cream, salt and pepper together.  Set aside.

IMG_6306 IMG_6306 IMG_6306 IMG_6306~Step 2.  Place the sausage in an appropriately sized skillet over medium-high heat.  Sauté, using the side of a spatula to break the meat into small bits and pieces, until cooked through, about 6 minutes.  Turn the heat off.  Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the sausage from the skillet to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain, allowing the flavorful drippings to remain in skillet.

IMG_6318 IMG_6318 IMG_6318 IMG_6318 IMG_6318 ~Step 3.  Adjust heat to medium.  Add onion, bell peppers and mushrooms.  Lightly season with salt and pepper.  Stirring almost constantly, sauté until vegetables have lost about half of their volume and are starting to show signs of browning (which means they are becoming flavorful), 5-6 minutes.  Stir in the sausage.  Remove from heat.

IMG_0422 IMG_0422 IMG_0422 IMG_0422 IMG_0445~Step 4.  Spray the inside of each "square cup" with no-stick spray. Portion some of the vegetable/meat mixture into the bottom of each one, about 3 tablespoons in each. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon grated cheese over the top of the vegetable meat mixture.  Using a fork, briefly rewhisk the egg mixture, and, slowly, in a thin stream, gently fill cups to just short of the top.  Bake on center rack of 350° oven 16-18 minutes, until puffed up in centers. Remove from oven and cool in pans about 5 minutes prior to using a thin spatula to serve. Frittatas deflate and firm up as they cool.  Garnish w/tomato, cilantro & your favorite hot sauce.

Bake on center rack of 350° oven, 16-18 minutes:

IMG_0440Cool in pans 5-6 minutes prior to serving:

IMG_0448Frittatas will deflate a bit & firm up as they cool:

IMG_0460Garnish w/tomato, cilantro & serve w/your favorite hot sauce:

IMG_0483Dare to be a Square:  Individual Breakfast Frittatas:  Recipe yields 6-12 servings/1-2 per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held box grater; 2-cup measuring container; old-fashioned hand-crank egg beater (optional); appropriately sized oven-safe skillet or casserole of choice; thin spatula

IMG_9460Cook's Note:  In the event you need to feed a lot of people for breakfast or brunch, an eggy casserole is always a crowd pleaser.  ~ My Big Baked Denver Omelette Brunch Casserole ~, which is in actuality a frittata disguised under a different name, is an example of a frittata baked in a casserole dish.  It contains ham (in place of sausage) and has a distinctive Southwestern flair.  It's been a favorite of our tailgate group for years.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)

11/11/2017

~ My Mom's Old-Fashioned Home-Canned Peach Pie~

IMG_0405The Summer peach season is long over, but, in my kitchen, that is not a reason to not bake a peach pie.  Yes, you can use canned peaches to make a peach pie, and, if the peaches are home-canned with love, the pie is just as good, if not better, than a pie made with fresh peaches. I'm not joking.  Women have been doing it for generations.  They water-bath-canned large quantities of fruits and vegetables so the family could enjoy them during the cold weather months.

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09671996970dMy mother's pantry was never without home-canned peaches.  My grandmother had a green thumb, and, in her smallish, in-town back yard, for as many years as she lived there, her peach tree gifted us with some the best peaches I have ever tasted -- I'm not just saying that because she was my grandmother. The peaches were exquisite, and, she did a stunning job of canning them.  They were pretty as a picture and tasted even better -- "to the tooth" (not at all mushy) and pleasantly, not cloyingly, sweet.

I do not know if it was my grandmother, mother, or someone else of their time who came up with our family's canned peach pie recipe.  What I do know is there isn't much to it.  After all, the hard work was done up front in the canning.

Every slice is plump w/peaches, nicely-spiced, & ...

IMG_0384... a canned-peach pie is one of the easiest pies to make too.

IMG_03052   9" pie pastries for a double-crust pie, preferably homemade pie pastry (pâte brisée)

7  cups sliced or chunked, very-well-drained canned peaches (Note:  If using store-bought peaches, drain 3, 29-ounce cans packed in light syrup.  Once I drain the liquid, I put the peaches on a paper-towel-lined plate for a few minutes, to remove as much excess liquid as possible.)

2  teaspoons lemon juice

2  teaspoons pure peach extract (optional)

1/2  cup granulated sugar

5  tablespoons minute tapioca

1  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

1  tablespoon salted butter, softened

1  large egg white, ideally at room temperature

additional granulated sugar, for sprinkling on top of pie prior to baking

IMG_0307 IMG_0307 IMG_0307 IMG_0307~Step 1.  Roll and fit one 9" pie pastry in the bottom of a 9" pie dish.  Using a pair of kitchen shears, trim it to hang slightly over the perimeter (about 1/8").  Set aside.  Thoroughly drain the peaches, placing them in a large bowl as you work.  In a medium-bowl, stir together the sugar, tapioca, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt.  Add the lemon juice and peach extract too.  Using a rubber spatula, gently toss to thoroughly combine the peaches with the tapioca/sugar/spice mixture.

IMG_0326 IMG_0326 IMG_0326~Step 2.  Spoon the peach pie filling into the pie pastry, mounding it slightly towards the center. Dot the top of the pie filling with the softened butter.  Place the second pie pastry over the top, and, using the kitchen shears, trim it around the perimeter to match the overhang of the bottom pastry (about 1/8").  Using your fingertips, seal the two crusts together and form a decorative edge all the way around perimeter.

IMG_0335 IMG_0335 IMG_0335 IMG_0335~Step 3.  Using a fork, whisk egg white until frothy.  Using a pastry brush, paint the smooth surface of top crust (not the decorative edge) with egg white, then, using your fingertips, sprinkle a light coating of sugar over the glossy top.  Using the sharp tip of a knife, poke a few small holes in the top pastry (to allow steam to escape as pie bakes).  Bake on center rack of 350° oven until golden brown and bubbly, 50-55 minutes, stopping to give the pie a quarter turn every 15 minutes, to insure even browning.  Place on wire rack to cool completely, about 3-4 hours, prior to slicing.

Bake on center rack of 350° oven, 50-55 minutes:

IMG_0359Place on a wire rack to cool completely, 3-4 hours:

IMG_0355Slice & serve ever-so-lightly warm or at room temperature:

IMG_0379And enjoy a peachy-keen taste of Summer all year round:

IMG_0408My Mom's Old-Fashioned Home-Canned Peach Pie:  Recipe yields 1, 9" double-crust pie/8-10 servings.

Special Equipment List:  pastry board; rolling pin; 9" pie dish, preferably glass; kitchen shears; cutting board; vegetable peeler; chef's knife; large rubber spatula; fork; pastry brush; sharp paring knife; wire cooling rack

IMG_4817Cook's Note:  Back in the 1990's, I was given this recipe, ~ Alice's Super-Simple Georgia Peach-Pie Cobbler ~, from a tailgating girlfriend.  Alice hailed from Atlanta. She made no secret of the fact that she detested the sport of cooking -- which complicates things for a woman in a tailgate group like ours. That said, she participated and prepared something good each week, and, this recipe is even easier than making a canned-peach pie!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017

11/09/2017

~ Caribbean-Style Sweet Potato & Black Bean Stew ~

IMG_0295A steaming hot and hearty stew on a cold day.  Almost nothing is more comforting than it, except perhaps, enjoying it in front of a roaring fire listening to the wind howl and watching the snow flakes fall.  As a lover of sweet potatoes, I am always on the lookout for a scrumptious new way to prepare them, so, quite a few years ago, when I came across this recipe in January (amongst the pages of a in-flight-magazine on my way to a land of sunshine, palm trees and sandy beaches), I was intent on having it -- I'm the one who tore that page out of your magazine, and I'm not sorry.

IMG_0287It was a joy to add it to my recipe box along with another of my favorite cold-weather stew-type dishes, Winner-Winner Crockpot Dinner: Sweet Potato & Ground Beef Chili, and side-dishes like Maple-Smashed Sweet Potatoes, Sweet Potato & Caramelized Onion Casserole, Sweet Potato & Apple Stuffing for Poultry or Pork, and, Spicy, Crispy Oven-Roasted Sweet Potato Fries, plus, two of my signature desserts: a Seriously-Simple Sweet Potato & Apple Cobbler, and a Sophisticated Sweet Potato & Frangelico Tart.  I do adore sweet potatoes.

IMG_5635Sweet potatoes were introduced to North America when Columbus brought them from the island of St. Thomas, where this large, edible root (belonging to the morning-glory family) is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.  There are many varieties of sweet potato, but the two most widely grown commercially are a pale sweet potato and a dark-skinned variety Americans erroneously call "yam" (the true yam is not even related to the sweet potato).  The pale sweet potato has a thin, light yellow skin and pale yellow flesh.  Its flavor is not sweet, and after cooking, it's dry and crumbly, similar to that of a Russet potato.  The darker variety (pictured here in my photograph) has a thicker, dark orange skin and vivid-orange colored center flesh.  When cooked, it has a very sweet flavor and a very tender, creamy texture. Note:  The dark-skinned, orange-colored variety is the only kind I use in all my recipes.

When buying sweet potatoes, choose firm ones without cracks or bruises.  Because I'm often planning to bake them, I pick even-sized ones so they will all cook in the same amount of time.  While they shouldn't be stored in the refrigerator, they do need to be stored in a cool, dark, well-ventilated place.  If the temperature goes above 60 degrees, they'll begin to sprout, get woody and/or shrivel.  Cooked sweet potatoes, if stored in the refrigerator last for about a week.  Like regular potatoes, sweet potatoes are always eaten cooked, and, you can cook them by all the same methods you cook a potato:  bake, boil, fry, grill, roast, microwave or deep-fry.

IMG_02382  tablespoons aceite de achiote, achiote-flavored vegetable oil (vegetable oil with annatto)

1/4  teaspoon ground allspice

1/4  teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

1  teaspoon ground cumin

1/2  teaspoon garlic powder

1 1/2  teaspoons sea salt

1/2-3/4  teaspoons red pepper flakes

7-8  cups peeled and 3/4" diced sweet potatoes (1 3/4-2-pounds diced sweet potatoes from 2-2 1/4 pounds sweet potatoes)

1 3/4-2  cups medium-diced sweet onion (8 ounces)

1  14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained

1  cup vegetable stock (8 ounces)

1  13 1/2-ounce can coconut milk

1/4  cup jerk-flavored barbecue sauce, your favorite brand

2  15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained 

1  recipe for my aromatically-spiced yellow Caribbean coconut rice (Be sure to read Cook's Note below.)

fresh, chopped cilantro leaves, for garnish

IMG_0242 IMG_0242 IMG_0242 IMG_0242 IMG_0257 IMG_0257~Step 1.  Place achiote oil in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot over low heat.  Stir in all of the spices (ground allspice, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, garlic powder, sea salt and red pepper flakes), to season the oil.  Add the diced sweet potatoes and onion.  Adjust heat to medium- medium-high and cook, stirring frequently (almost constantly), until the sweet potatoes are softening and the onion is soft, 7-8 minutes.  Add and stir in the diced tomatoes, vegetable stock, coconut milk and jerk barbecue sauce.  Adjust heat to a gentle, steady simmer and allow to cook, uncovered, until sweet potatoes are fully-cooked, 12-15 minutes.

IMG_0251 IMG_0251 IMG_0251 IMG_0270 IMG_0272~Step 2.  While the stew is simmering, rinse and drain the black beans.  Remove and place 3/4-1 cup of the beans on a plate.  Using a vegetable masher, mash that 3/4-1-cup portion of the beans.  Add all of the beans, whole and mashed, to the pot.  Stir well, reduce heat to simmer, slowly, for 3 minutes.  Turn the heat off, cover the pot, and, allow stew to steep for 1-1 1/2 hours.  This will allow time for the flavors to marry and the broth to thicken (the whole and mashed beans are going to absorb some of the liquid, transforming it from soupy to stew-like).

Thick & chunky, rich & nicely-spiced, steaming hot & hearty:

IMG_0293Add a scoop of rice to your bowl, ladle in some stew, &, dig in:

IMG_0297Caribbean-Style Sweet Potato Stew & Black Bean Stew:  Recipe yields 2 quarts, and, 8 very hearty servings when served over rice.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; garlic press; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot; large spoon; colander; vegetable masher

IMG_5162Cook's Note:  This rice is so good, I'm at a loss for words (imagine that) to adequately describe it.  It gets its pretty yellow color from aceite de achiote (achiote-flavored vegetable oil) and bijol seasoning.  Click here to get my recipe for ~ Aromatically-Spiced Yellow Caribbean Coconut Rice ~. Tip from Mel:  Because the stew cooks so quickly in the stockpot, I like to prep the ingredients for the rice before cooking the stew, then cook the rice during the hour the stew is steeping.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2017)