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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

05/23/2017

~Oven-Roasted Caribbean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries~

IMG_9437Sweet potatoes can be cooked via all the same methods all-purpose spuds can.  Baked, boiled, pan-fried, grilled, oven-roasted, microwaved, and, last but not least, deep-fried.  When it comes to sweet potatoes, I am a bone fide lover of this healthy super-food, and, when it comes to cooking and eating them, I love them in any form, any time of year.  I am an equal-opportunity sweet potato eater.  Oven-roasted sweet potato fries, which pair great with so many things (especially poultry and pork) are easy to make, but I'm not going to lie, if they're not prepared correctly, "just so", they can be downright disappointing -- limp and lackluster.  It's exasperating.  It wasn't until I started tossing them with a bit of cornstarch (in addition to the dry spices), then a bit more cornstarch, then a bit more, that I landed on my "secret formula" for seriously-crispy oven fries.

IMG_94422  tablespoons cornstarch (in addition to dry spices as per recipe) tossed w/2 pounds fry-cut sweet potatoes + 1/4 cup vegetable oil = my secret formula for seriously-crispy oven fries.  

IMG_5635A bit about sweet potatoes:  Sweet potatoes were introduced to North America by Christopher Columbus, who brought them from the island of St. Thomas, where this large, edible root (which belongs to the morning glory family) is native to the tropical regions of the Americas.  There are many varieties of sweet potato, but the two most commercially grown are:  a pale-skinned sweet potato and a dark-skinned variety (that many 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 has a thicker, dark orange skin and vivid orange, sweet flesh. When cooked, it has a very sweet flavor and almost creamy texture and it's the only kind I use.

IMG_9442Mel's easy Caribbean-spiced sweet potato fries:

IMG_93862  large, even-sized sweet potatoes, about 1 pound each* 

2  tablespoons each:  cornstarch and light brown sugar

1  teaspoon each:  allspice and ground cinnamon

1/2  teaspoon each:  cayenne pepper, ground ginger, sea salt

1/4  teaspoon ground cloves

4  tablespoons vegetable oil 

freshly-ground sea salt and peppercorn blend

*Note:  Do not overcrowd the potatoes on the baking pan, meaning:  if you want to double this recipe, use two baking pans.

IMG_0902Step 1.  I like the classic "fry shape":  about 1/2" thick, 3"-3 1/2" long, square-tipped and boxy-looking. Why? Pointy tips burn.  I don't like fries with burnt ends. Using a sharp knife, trim the left and right ends from each potato, peel and slice ("fry-cut") as directed.

IMG_0916IMG_0920IMG_0925IMG_0927

 

 

 

Step 2.  Place the sweet potatoes in a 1-gallon food storage bag.  Add the cornstarch and the dry spices.  Toss to thoroughly and evenly coat potatoes in the dry mixture.  Add the vegetable oil and toss again, until the potatoes look glistening and wet, with no dry, powdery spots.

IMG_0938IMG_0933Step 3. Line a 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan with aluminum foil.  Note:  I like to use Reynolds Release, no-stick foil.

Generously sprinkle the bottom of the pan with a coarse grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend.

IMG_9415 IMG_9409Step 4. Transfer the sliced and seasoned sweet potato fries to the prepared pan.  Using your fingertips, take a moment or two to make sure they are all positioned in a single layer with none of them touching.  

Sprinkle another (this time lighter) grinding of sea salt and peppercorn blend evenly over all.

IMG_9428Step 5.  Roast the sweet potatoes on center rack of preheated 450 degree oven for 15 minutes.  

Remove from oven.  Using a large spoon or spatula, a few at time, scoop 'em up and flip 'em over.  

Return to the oven and continue to roast, about 15 more minutes, or until the sweet potato fries are golden brown and caramelized around the edges.

Transfer to a paper-towel lined plate & serve A.S.A.P. 

IMG_9450Oven-Roasted Caribbean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries:  Recipe yields 4 side-servings.

Special Equipment List:  Cutting board; chef's knife; 1-gallon food storage bag; 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pan; aluminum foil; spatula; paper towels

IMG_9352Cook's Note:  I like to serve my Caribbean spiced sweet potato fries with my recipe for ~ Joe's Caribbean Chicken Dog w/Joe's Island Salsa ~ which you can find by clicking into Categories 2, 10, 11, 17 or 20.

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

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

05/21/2017

~ Joe's Caribbean Chicken Dog w/Joe's Island Salsa ~

IMG_9338Because a lot of Americans will be firing up their grills this weekend, there's no time like the present for me to talk about an experiment I conducted on myself this week:  chicken hot dogs. For years I've been telling people "I think I was a hot dog in a past life" (that is how much I love high-quality all-beef franks).  That said,  chicken hot dogs have been popping up (again) in stores of late.  For years I've been saying, "If you dislike something, you really ought to try it once every ten years, just to see if your taste has changed or the product has improved".  Would I love them or would I hate them.  My money was on the latter and I spared no expense (wink) to find out.

The first thing I set out to do was find the best quality chicken dog available to me (as the only one I ever ate was served to me by an over-the-top, health-conscious, extremist-nut job about 8-10 years ago and it tasted like sawdust in a chewy casing).  The second thing I set out to do was come up with a unique flavor profile (traditional toppings typically slathered and heaped on American-regional all-beef dogs were off limits).  My ideal chicken dog would be surrounded with a combination of sweet and savory flavors that enhance the mild flavor of chicken (not hide it in the hopes of passing it off as an alternative all-beef dog) -- all on a soft, slightly-sweet potato roll.

IMG_9306Meet the Trader Joe's all-natural uncured chicken hot dog:

IMG_9311Low-fat, full-flavored and made with boneless, skinless chicken (60% breast meat and 40% thigh meat), what they are not is:  made from mechanically separated meat of any kind, nitrites or nitrates, MSG, gluten or any fillers.  They contain simple spices like garlic, onion, black pepper and paprika, which boost the flavor without adding any fat or calories. They're fully-cooked too, so, they're fine with any method of cooking -- they just need to be heated up.  I cooked mine on the stovetop in a grill pan for 8-10 minutes and they emerged moist and juicy on the inside with a crispy casing, and, they tasted great.

IMG_9326 IMG_9315So simple: Place four Trader Joe's chicken hot dogs in a grill pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat.  Grill, using a spatula to roll them back and forth occasionally to create some nice grill marks, until nicely golden all the way around, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat and serve hot.

Meet Trader-Joe's (chunky & thick) Island Salsa:

IMG_9318Let's face it, 90% of the condiments we put on our all-beef hot dogs are store-bought and ready-to-eat, and, those that are not require just a bit of easy hands-on slicing, dicing or chopping and/or minimal cooking. My goal was to find a store-bought condiment that enhances the mild flavor of chicken, and, to my glee, I did, right at Trader Joe's.  Their Island Salsa is savory, slightly-sweet and a bit spicy too.  It's chunky and thick and chocked full of Caribbean island flavors:  mango, pineapple, red jalapeño peppers, green and red bell pepper, onion, cilantro and lime. This high-quality product is pure perfection atop a Trader Joe's chicken hot dog.  Moving along:

Meet Mel's sweet & savory super-easy Island Slaw:

IMG_9277The next and last thing my newly-invented Caribbean chicken hot dog needed was a fresh, crunchy, easy-to-make cole slaw that DID NOT compete with the flavors in the Island Salsa.  To make my honey 'n lime dressing, I chose three pantry ingredients (all shaken together):

1/2  cup high-quality organic lime juice (not from concentrate)

1/4  cup + 2 tablespoons honey

1/4  cup vegetable oil

Once the dressing was made, I decided on four compatible but not competing ingredients (meaning IMG_9283the flavors are compatible with but not in competition with those of the Island Salsa) to make my Island Slaw:

1  8-ounce bag slaw mix (green & red cabbage & carrot)

1  cup thinly-sliced green onion (scallion)

1  cup chopped, salted macadamias

1  cup sweetened, flaked coconut

all the lime 'n honey dressing (from above recipe)

IMG_9286 IMG_9292Place slaw ingredients in a bowl, add the dressing and toss together. Refrigerate until well chilled, 1-2 hours or overnight, re-tossing a few times now and then, when convenient.  Recipe yields: 1 cup honey 'n lime dressing and 3 cups slaw.

Four components full of compatible flavors =

IMG_9298a truly great, moist & juicy, Caribbean chicken hot dog.

IMG_9352No need to tell 'em it's healthy -- just enjoy the Island flavors

IMG_9379Joe's Caribbean Chicken Dog w/Joe's Island Salsa:  Recipe yields:  1 cup honey 'n lime dressing/3 cups honey & lime slaw/1, 12-ounce jar Island salsa/enough for 16 Caribbean chicken hot dogs.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container w/tight-fitting lid & pourer top; cutting board; chef's knife; grill pan

IMG_9442Cook's Note:  "Would You Like ~ Oven-Roasted Caribbean-Spiced Sweet Potato Fries ~ with that?" They are the perfect side-dish complement to these Caribbean chicken hot dogs.  Just click on the link to get my recipe.

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

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

05/18/2017

~Thai-Style Grill-Pan Chicken Tacos w/Peanut Sauce~

IMG_9238Over the years, like many other busy foodies, I've come to the conclusion that tacos should be referred to as a style of eating. Like two slices of bread, a tortilla is a great foil for anything that tastes great in a sandwich.  I keep corn and flour tortillas on hand in my refrigerator 365/24/7, and, on any given day, there's "no telling" what cold or hot leftovers I'm going to put in them -- anything and everything is "fair game".  That said, over the years, like many other foodies, I've started coming up with fresh, new-to-me ways to serve tacos that don't involve leftovers.

My love affair with all types of Asian food is no secret.  Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, etc. You name it, I adore it.  Give me a recommendation for an Asian restaurant in your locale, when I'm in your town, you can be sure I'm going there to eat.  I dabble in cooking a great deal of it too. I crave Asian and rarely does a week go by without my needing it.  Some of my recipes have been classically learned, while others are a product of my own creative cravings for Asian fare.

IMG_9254Today:  Thai-Asian flavor meets the Tex-Mex soft taco.

"Fusion cuisine" or "fusion food".  Popularized in the 1970's, these words describe the preparation of a meal that combines two different culinary styles and/or traditions to create a new dish. Today's recipe teams some of my favorite Thai-Asian flavors and traditional Thai-Asian ingredients with the Tex-Mex taco-style of eating grilled meat, poultry or fish.  My marinated chicken mixture is being prepared in a grill pan instead of a wok, it's being heaped into a soft flour tortilla atop a broccoli slaw (which is replacing the typical shredded lettuce mixture), and, a spicy peanut sauce gets drizzled over the top (instead of salsa and/or sriracha-infused crema).

Indulge me in this delish 5-minutes-to-fix Asian slaw recipe.

No pretense here.  They day I came across store-bought "broccoli cole slaw mix" (cole slaw mix made with crunchy green broccoli stems instead of green cabbage), my mind immediately raced to the flavors of soy sauce and sesame oil.  Why?  Broccoli is classic Asian.  There's more.  I didn't have to experiment with the perfect dressing for it -- I'd already come up with one for my Asian chicken salad recipe.  After a quick mix of the pre-shredded store-bought raw vegetables and my honey-sesame dressing, Asian slaw perfection was revealed.  The brand I use is organic, and, contains just three crunchy ingredients:  broccoli, carrots and red cabbage. It truly is a high-quality time-saving mixture that any busy cook can and should appreciate.

IMG_09781/4  cup each: vegetable oil and white rice vinegar

1  tablespoon each: sesame oil and Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons honey

1, 12-ounce bag broccoli slaw + 1/2 cup thinly-sliced scallions

IMG_0977Step 1.  In a measuring container w/a tight fitting lid, combine all the liquid ingredients.  Shake vigorously.

IMG_0986IMG_0982Step 2. Place the broccoli cole slaw in a medium bowl and add all of the dressing.  Give it a thorough stir.

Place the slaw in the refrigerator for 2-6 hours (or overnight will work too), stopping to stir it about every 30-45 minutes in the beginning so that all the slaw gets to absorb the dressing equally.  Note:  This recipe yields 3/4 cups of salad dressing and 4 cups of broccoli cole slaw.

Spicy 5-minutes-to-fix creamy-crunchy peanut sauce too.

I especially love this spicy classic-Thai sauce incorporated into poultry or pork dishes, but, it's great drizzled on my Thai-chicken pizza (another example of a fusion meal), and, it's a fantastic dipping sauce for raw vegetables or a dressing for salads, noodles and noodle salads too.  My recipe yields 2 1/2 cups, and, while that might sound like a lot, it freezes great and thaws relatively fast.  A little goes a long way, so I typically portion it into 5, 1/2-cup containers. 

51ahAHfpozL._AA160_A bit about peanut sauce:  This sauce is widely used in the cuisines of Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China and Africa.  The main ingredients are roasted peanuts or peanut butter (crunchy or smooth), coconut milk, soy sauce and palm sugar.  Pulverized spices (red chile peppers, coriander, cumin, garlic, galangal and /or lemongrass, are almost always added.  You can easily purchase your favorite brand, but, when you see how easy this is to make, I don't know why you would.  My recipe, which came from my Thai girlfriend Kanya, contains one small can of Thai-style red curry paste, which provides all of the above named pulverized spices.

IMG_9773For the peanut sauce:

2  tablespoons sesame oil

1  4-ounce can Thai-style red curry paste

1  13 1/2-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk (briefly stir after opening the can)

6  tablespoons smooth or chunky-style peanut butter

2  tablespoons firmly-packed palm sugar (light or dark brown sugar may be substituted

IMG_9777IMG_9781IMG_9783IMG_9787IMG_9790~Step 1. Place the sesame oil and the red curry paste in a small 1-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Continue to cook, stirring almost constantly, until the curry paste is bubbling rapidly and is very fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add the coconut milk, peanut butter and sugar.  Continue to simmer steadily but gently, stirring almost constantly, until smooth and thickened, about 2 1/2-3 minutes.  

IMG_9804Remove from heat, cover, and set aside, to cool slightly, about 15-20 minutes.  Serve slightly warm, or, place in a food storage container (or two) and cool, uncovered, until sauce is at room temperature.

Store indefinitely in the refrigerator and reheat gently in the microwave, stirring occasionally prior to serving.

Oh my Thai:  Marinated & grilled moist & juicy chicken strips.

IMG_9153I use chicken breast tenderloins because they stay juicier & moister than ordinary boneless, skinless chicken breasts do when subjected to the high, dry heat of a grill or a grill pan.  Feel free to use what you like best, but in either case, lightly-pound them with a flat-sided meat mallet for added tenderness.  That said, feel free to substitute thinly-sliced and lightly-pounded pork tenderloin for the chicken tender -- it'll be just as good.

IMG_9173For the chicken & the marinade:

2  pounds boneless chicken tenderloins, about 10 large tenderloins (pictured above)

1/4  cup each:  honey, lime juice (fresh or high-quality organic), &, Thai seasoning soy sauce

2  tablespoons each: Thai fish sauce & sesame oil

1  tablespoon each:  garlic paste & ginger paste

1/4  cup minced cilantro leaves

1/4  cup thinly-sliced green onion, white & light green part only

1-2  small, hot, cayenne chile peppers, minced

IMG_9221For the assembly:

12, 6"-round flour tortillas

5 cups, chicken tenderloin strips, marinated and grilled as instructed below

4  cups Asian broccoli slaw, from above recipe

1  cup Thai peanut sauce, from above recipe

1  cup chopped & lightly-toasted unsalted peanuts, for garnish 

IMG_9164 IMG_9158~ Step 1. Sandwich tenderloins between two pieces of plastic wrap on a flat work surface.  Using a flat-sided meat mallet, lightly pound them to a thickness of about 1/2" -- do not smash them to smithereens.

IMG_9190 IMG_9179~ Step 2.  In a 1-cup measuring container or a small bowl, stir together all of the marinade ingredients as listed.  Pour the marinade into a 1-gallon food storage bag, add the pounded tenderloins, seal the bag and toss to coat.  Set aside to marinate for about 2 hours at room temperature, or 4-6 hours in the refrigerator.

IMG_9193 IMG_9202 IMG_9211 IMG_9217~Step 3.  On the stovetop, heat a grill pan that's been lightly- with no-stick cooking spray over medium-high heat.  Add half of the tenders (5) and grill until golden and cooked through on both sides, turning only once, 6-7 total minutes, about 4-4 1/2 minutes on the first side and 2-2 1/2 minutes on the second side, regulating the heat carefully as the honey in the marinade (like sugar) can scorch.  Transfer the cooked tenders to a plate and repeat process with remaining tenders (5). Slice each tender into long thin strips, then, slice strips into thirds.  It's time to eat:

In each of 12, soft flour tortillas, place 1/3 cup Asian broccoli slaw & 1/2 cup grilled chicken strips.  Drizzle w/a generous tablespoon spicy peanut sauce & garnish w/a sprinkling of toasted peanuts:  

IMG_9247These are some rockin' & rollin' soft-taco, Thai-wrap sandwiches:

IMG_9262Thai-Style Grill-Pan Chicken Tacos w/Peanut Sauce:  Recipe yields 4  cups broccoli slaw, 1  cup peanut sauce, &, 5 cups grilled chicken strips/enough to fill 12 tacos/12 hearty servings.

Special Equipment List:  plastic wrap; flat-sided meat mallet; cutting board; chef's knife; 1-cup measuring container; 1-gallon food storage bag; grill pan

IMG_0825Cook's Note:  This kid-tested mother-approved recipe was one of the ways I introduced my three growing boys to the flavors of Thai food.  You can find my recipe for ~ E-Z Thai-Style Ginger-Chicken Pizza w/Spicy Peanut Sauce ~ in Categories 2, 3, 13, 19 or 20.

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

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