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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

05/25/2018

~ Spring Chicken w/Garlic-Butter Pasta & Asparagus ~

IMG_8318This winner of a weeknight chicken dinner is taken straight from pages of my working parents' playbook.  Before heading out the door in the morning, my mom would put four chicken breasts, doused with store-bought Italian dressing, in a bowl, and, at the end of the work day, dad would dredge the breasts in bread crumbs and sauté them in a skillet, while mom cooked a box of kid-friendly pasta and readied some fresh green beans.  It was simple and straightforward, nothing fancy, but, it was a dinner we all liked, right down to the vegetable.  If we four could look back and critique our dinner menus, all of us would agree:  we were not an easy family to feed.

A family that sits down to dinner together, stays together.

IMG_8326A quirky family?  To say the least.  Dad loved Italian dressing -- it was suitable for anything.  My brother detested tomatoes and tomato sauces -- but loved ketchup.  I disliked macaroni and cheese -- but loved pasta and all cheeses.  Mom disliked heavily-breaded chicken, pork or veal cutlets -- but loved batter-dipped, deep-fried fish and seafood.  We all liked green beans and peas (cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, potatoes and mushrooms too) -- we ate green beans and peas a lot.  We all hated squash.  That said, we ate well, rarely argued, and, mom and dad cooked dinner together every night.  My job was to set the table.  My little brother was in charge of harassment.

Fast forward to present day.  Trying to get four people to agree on anything, let alone what to eat, how to eat it, when to eat it, and, who's going to cook it and/or clean up after it, is:  rocket science. Throw in an occasional vegan or self-imposed gluten-free nut job, well, enough said. That said, if you're courageous enough to give it a try, you have a lot more options available to you now than my mom and dad did back in the 1950's and '60's.  Fresh asparagus is a prime example.  

V_B0D9EDA444FC425C8932E0BE8198AAA5Asparagus, which came to America in the 1850's, wasn't available outside of its immediate growing areas until refrigerated trucks started rolling across our highways, and, even then, it was sold mostly to restaurant chefs because home cooks had no idea what to do with it. Click here to watch Julia Child, in a 1966 episode of the French Chef, Asparagus From Tip to Butt, show us how to properly prepare it.

Spring forward:  Eat more fresh asparagus.

Interestingly, I enjoyed this family meal so much when I was growing up, forty-five cooking years later, I've not changed it in any way, except for the green vegetable -- asparagus, broccoli, green beans or peas, depending on what's in season.  I kept my dad's favorite skip-the-eggs no-need-to-make-a-heavy-breading method for the chicken cutlets the same (for the traditional Italian-style method and recipe, check out ~ A Flash-in-the-Pan Dinner:  Chicken alla Milanese~), and, I make it in my electric skillet like he did too -- dad sautéed the chicken in the skillet on the countertop while mom simmered the pasta at the stovetop and the two components cooked in about the same amount of time.  Quirky?  Yes.  Yummy?  Yes.  The Italian dressing (along with its herbs and spices), is a great substitute for lemon juice -- a common pairing with asparagus.

IMG_82108-10  chicken tenderloins, lightly-pounded (2-2 1/2 pounds)

3/4 cup Wish-Bone light Italian dressing, for marinating chicken 

1  pound trimmed asparagus, from 2  pounds medium-thickness asparagus, trimmed as directed below, to yield 1 pound trimmed asparagus

1  pound fork-friendly, non-tubular pasta like rotini or bow ties

1  tablespoon sea salt, for seasoning water to cook pasta

1/2  cup butter (1 stick)

1/4  cup additional Wish-Bone light Italian dressing

1  teaspoon garlic powder

1/2  teaspoon red pepper flakes

IMG_8217 IMG_8217 IMG_8217 IMG_8217~Step 1.  Arrange the chicken tenders inside a 2-gallon food storage bag.  Using a flat-sided meat mallet, lightly-pound the chicken tenders to flatten them out a bit.  Do not smash them to smithereens.  Add the Italian dressing to bag and seal to close.  Using your fingertips, gently squish the chicken around in the bag to thoroughly coat the tenderloins in dressing.  Place in the refrigerator to marinate 1-2+ hours or overnight.  If you've got the time, overnight is best.

IMG_8212 IMG_8212~ Step 2.  Trim the tip ends of the asparagus to a length of 2-2 1/2 inches, then trim the stalk ends into 1" lengths, stopping when the sweet, tender part of the stalks meets the bitter, woody end stalks.  There will be 1-pound trimmed asparagus.

IMG_8230 IMG_8235 IMG_8235~Step 3.  In a 16" electric skillet, heat a little less than 1/4" of oil, about 1/2 cup.  Remove the chicken tenderloins from the marinade, allowing excess marinade to drain back into the bag, transferring the tenders to a 13" x 9" casserole as you work, arranging them in a single layer in the bottom.  Sprinkle a generous amount of breadcrumbs over their tops, patting the crumbs in with fingertips and let rest about 2 minutes.  Using a fork, flip the tenders over and do the same on their second sides.  

IMG_8249 IMG_8249 IMG_8249 IMG_8249~Step 4.  Add the bread-crumb-coated chicken tenders to the skillet, all ten will fit, just look at the photo.  Give them a light sprinkling of freshly-ground sea salt.  Adjust heat to sauté, 240°-250°, until nicely-browned and cooked through, turning once and salting the second sides too, about 6 minutes per side.  Using a fork &/or a spatula (not tongs), gently transfer tenders, so as not to disturb the delicate crumb coating, to a wire rack that's been placed atop a layer of paper towels.

IMG_8294 IMG_8294~Step 5.  Add the asparagus to the perfectly-seasoned drippings in skillet.  Sauté, using a spatula to keep them moving around constantly, until just cooked through and crunch-tender, about 3-4 minutes.  Do not overcook the asparagus.

IMG_8265 IMG_8265 IMG_8265 IMG_8265 IMG_8265 IMG_8265 IMG_8265~Step 6.  Meanwhile, back at the stovetop, bring 5 quarts of water to a boil over high heat and add 1 tablespoon sea salt.  Add the pasta, give the water a stir, and cook pasta as package directs, until al dente, 10-11 minutes. Drain pasta into a colander and immediately return it to the hot stockpot on the still warm stovetop.  Add the butter, Italian dressing, garlic powder and red pepper flakes.  Stir until butter melts and spices are incorporated throughout this tangy make-shift garlicy-butter-sauce.

IMG_8300 IMG_8300 IMG_8300~ Step 7.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the freshly-sautéd asparagus to the pasta, then give the mixture a gentle stir. Portion into 4-6 pasta bowls and serve with 1 or 2 sliced chicken tenderloins atop each portion.

Portion 1-2 sliced chicken tenderloins atop pasta & eat ASAP:

IMG_8320Garlic-butter pasta & asparagus -- a fantastic side-dish too:

IMG_8330Spring Chicken w/Garlic-Butter Pasta & Asparagus:  Recipe yields 4-6 servings.

Special Equipment List:  2-gallon food storage bag; flat-sided meat mallet; 1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; 16" electric skillet; 13" x 9" x 2" casserole; fork; slotted spatula; wire cooling rack; paper towels; 8-quart stockpot; colander

6a0120a8551282970b01bb080c3d4d970dCook's Note:  The first time I ate classic Oscar was in 1983 in The Big Easy.  We were sitting in a fancy New Orleans French-Quarter restaurant, Arnoud's, listening to a jazz band.  My meal arrived and it was wonderful:  a lightly-pounded, gently-sauteed, fork-tender veal paillard, heaped with Louisiana crayfish, drizzled with buttery bearnaise and garnished with asparagus tips.  Click here to get my recipe for ~ All that Jazz Chicken Oscar w/Blender Bernaise ~.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/22/2018

~ Buttery Candied-Pecan and Toffee Bit Shortbread ~

IMG_8199Shortbread.  Melt-in-my-mouth, buttery-rich, slightly-salty and not-too-sweet, every bite of one of these humbly-crumbly understated cookies is akin to an extravagant indulgence -- the amuse bouche of the sweet treat kind.  From one or two sitting atop a paper napkin next to a cup of caffeine, to hundreds piled high on shiny trays at a celebration, shortbread has earned its place on the table of any occasion.  In my food world, every day and its accompanying problems has the potential to turn out ok, as long as there are a few shortbread to nibble on in the cookie jar.

A day w/shortbread in the cookie jar is a good day: 

IMG_8191Throughout the United Kingdom, shortbread has been a tradition at tea time since medieval days. As the name implies, shortbread contains shortening in the the form of butter, plus sugar and flour -- more specifically, one part sugar, two parts butter, and, three parts white flour.  After this super-easy to make dough is mixed together, it can be be baked in several forms.  Many home cooks pat the dough into one or two flat, round discs that get cut into wedges as soon as they emerge from the oven.  Most manufacturers bake it in rectangular molds then cut it into fingers.  Because the dough holds shapes very well, it's ideal for either cut- or drop- cookies that can be patterned/decorated with the simple tines of a fork or an elaborate stamp.  It's common for various extracts, citrus oils and/or aromatic spices to be used as subtle flavorings.  In all cases, shortbread is baked in a moderate oven to render its signature pale ever-so-slightly brown color.

IMG_8193Candied pecans + English toffee bits = the perfect additions.

IMG_81131  cup salted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature, very soft

1/2  cup sugar

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

1  large egg, at room temperature

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 1/2  cups unbleached all-purpose flour + additional bench flour

1  cup  finely-chopped candied pecans (from 4 ounces candied pecans)

1/2  cup English toffee bits

IMG_8118 IMG_8118 IMG_8118 IMG_8118 IMG_8118 IMG_8118~Step.  In a large bowl, over medium-high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream together the butter, sugar, salt, egg and extract, scraping down sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula during the process, about 1 minute.  Reduce mixer speed to low.  Gradually, in 3-4 increments, thoroughly incorporate the flour, about 2 minutes.  Remove mixer.  Using the spatula, fold the candied pecans and toffee bits into the cookie dough.

IMG_8142 IMG_8142 IMG_8142 IMG_8142 IMG_8142 IMG_8142~Step 2.  Ready a pastry board with some bench flour, then get out a rolling pin and a 2"-round cookie cutter.  Line 3-4 large baking pans with parchment.  With no need for exacting accuracy, divide dough into three parts and form each part into a disc shape.  Sprinkle a bit of bench flour on the pastry board, place a disc of dough on top of the flour, sprinkle it with a bit of flour, then roll it to a thickness of about 3/8".  Cut the dough into rounds.  Place the rounds of dough about 1" apart on parchment-lined pan.  Set the scraps of dough aside.  Repeat this process with remaining two discs of dough, then, gather all the dough scraps together, form a fourth disc and repeat the process again, and again, using all dough.

IMG_8160 IMG_8160 IMG_8160 IMG_8160~Step 3.  Place one pan in the refrigerator for 18 minutes.  Remove it from the refrigerator and place on center rack of 325° to bake for 18-20 minutes, until cookies are light golden on the bottoms and sides.*  Remove from oven and cool on pan about 1-2 minutes.  Using a thin spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack to cool completely, 1-2 hours.  Repeat this process until all cookies are baked.  *Note:  While one pan of cookies is baking, start chilling another one.

Make & bake a big batch & cool completely on a wire rack:

IMG_8175Pile 'em into your favorite cookie jar to nibble on until gone:

IMG_8206Buttery Candied-Pecan and Toffee Bit Shortbread:  Recipe yields 4-4 1/2 dozen, 2"-round cookies

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; pastry board; small rolling pin; 2"-round cookie cutter; 3-4, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; thin metal spatula; wire cooling rack

6a0120a8551282970b01bb09614461970dCook's Note:  I developed a crush for English toffee in London the 1990's.  There was a Confectioner across the street from our hotel and it was the first place I wandered into on my way to take a bus tour of the city.  While the sweet treat in this photo is something that typically gets made around the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, if you'd like to learn a bit more about English toffee, read my post ~ Old-Fashioned Chocolate & Almond Buttercrunch ~.  My freezer is rarely without a bag of English toffee bits in it.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)

05/19/2018

~Summer's Coming Fresh-Fruit & Pastry-Cream Tarts~

IMG_8107One whirl around the produce section of the grocery store and it becomes crystal clear that Summer is coming to my Northeast.  There are fresh berries galore and they're plump, juicy and super-flavorful -- my indicator that our own locally-grown berries will be appearing in our farmers' markets in a few weeks. I couldn't decide between the blackberries or the strawberries, so I bought 'em both, then I picked up a fresh pineapple too.  My plan is to serve them as unadulterated and au natural as possible -- by using them "as is" in small, fresh fruit tartlets.

IMG_8103A bit about making fresh fruit tarts in general: 

IMG_8104The tart pastry.  It doesn't take too much longer to make 21-24 small, 3" individual-sized tartlets than it does to make two, large, 10-12" ones. Both are seriously pretty to look at, and they taste the same too, but when serving times rolls around, the individual-sized ones win.  That said, I won't call the food police if you use store-bought pie pastry.

The pastry cream.  Some people dream about chocolate.  I dream about pastry cream. It's both decadent and naughtily-seductive. Desserts containing this luxurious egg-custard are at the top of my favorite-sweet-things short list. To make 21-24 tartlets, cut the recipe provided below in half (to make 4 cups) and substitute banana extract for some of the vanilla extract.

The fruit & the glaze.  Choose the freshest, prettiest fruit available -- any kind or combination will work. To make 21-24 tartlets today, I used a pint each of strawberries, large blackberries and pineapple chunks. It's not an exact science, and, I had some of all three leftover.  The glaze is a concoction of 1/2 cup pineapple jam and 2 tablespoons water.

How to:  Cut, Form & Bake Pie-Pastry Tartlet Shells:

IMG_9602Sweet Dreams:  Creme Patissiere (Pastry Cream):

IMG_8037A combo of berries &/or fruit + a light-colored jelly or jam:

IMG_8042To assemble & glaze 21-24, 3"round fresh-fruit tartlets:

IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8045 IMG_8048 IMG_8048 IMG_8048 IMG_8048~Step 1.  Place the empty tart shells on a large baking sheet that has been lined with parchment paper.  Spoon and spread a generous two tablespoons pastry cream into each shell. Decoratively arrange the fruit atop the pastry cream, slicing or dicing fruit, if necessary and on an as-needed basis, to fit -- the fruit you choose will determine the configuration.  Each one of these tartlets contain: 1 large whole blackberry, 2 halves of 1 whole strawberry, 2 chunks pineapple diced. Place the tartlets in the refrigerator to chill, 1-2 hours prior to glazing as directed below:

IMG_8083 IMG_8083 IMG_8083 IMG_8083~Step 2.  To make the glaze, place 1/2 cup of a light-colored jelly or jam in a 1-quart saucepan with 2 tablespoons water.*  Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly.  Once simmering and thoroughly combined, 15-20 seconds, remove from heat and allow to cool about 10 minutes. Using a pastry brush and a light touch, dab glaze onto fruit to coat.  Refrigerate glazed tartlets, uncovered, 1-2 hours prior to serving.  Tarts are best served the same day they are assembled.  

*Note:  I used pineapple jam today, because I used pineapple to top my tartlets.  That said, for a clear, all-purpose glaze that complements all fruit, apple jelly is my go-to choice.

Refrigerate tartlets, uncovered, 1-2 hours prior to serving:

IMG_8106Summer's Coming Fresh-Fruit & Pastry-Cream Tarts:  Recipe yields 21-24 3"-round tartlets.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; 1-2 large baking pans; parchment paper; 1-quart saucepan; pastry brush

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c906c921970bCook's Note:  When I've got a whole lot of plump and juicy store-bought or home-grown strawberries, when I'm finished eating them out-of-hand and before I make ~ Super-Easy Strawberry Preserves ~ in my bread machine, ~ Seriously Simple & Sweet:  Fresh All-Strawberry Pie ~ is my favorite use for these short-seasoned Summer berries.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)