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08/26/2016

~ I'm in the Mood for: Plain-Jane Chocolate Cookies ~

IMG_0270Hold the chocolate chunks, hold the chopped nuts and hold everything you think you can put in a chocolate cookie to impress me.  Don't bother sprinkling them with fancy sea salt, slathering them with caramel frosting or sandwiching them together with a layer of your best buttercream either.  It won't work.  As a well-seasoned foodie who lives in the blog world, where everyone strives to make each and every recipe unique in some way or another, in my kitchen, every once in a while, plain is the best flavor of all -- especially when it comes to these chocolate cookies.

Mostly crunchy, slightly chewy, just like mom used to make.

IMG_0280"Every once in a while, plain is the best flavor of all." ~ Melanie 

IMG_0266Generally speaking, when it comes to "chocolate anything", I don't crave it like most folks do -- I crave, for example, things like, mashed potatoes or french fries, fried chicken or hot dogs, and, rice pudding or a strawberry shake.  That said, I can't pass by a plate of basic chocolate cookies and not want one.  The kind I found in my lunch box at school or was given as a snack afterward. The kind that didn't take my mom five hours and a list of expensive ingredients to make.  The kind that doesn't get entered in a cookie competition but brings a smile to everyones face.  The one that was printed on the back of a tin of Hershey's cocoa powder back in the 1960's.  Sigh.

IMG_02061 1/4  cups salted butter, at room temperature (2 1/2 sticks)

2  cups sugar

2  large eggs, at room temperature

1  tablespoon pure vanilla extract

IMG_02633/4  cup "sort of firmly-packed" cocoa powder (Note:  My mom, and everyone in PA during the '60's and '70's, used Hershey's. Why wouldn't we?  Hershey's is a very-respected Pennsylvania company.  That said, unless you're buying Hershey's Dutch process cocoa powder, Hershey's cocoa powder is not Dutch process cocoa powder, which is why baking soda is used as a leavening agent.  If you choose to use Dutch process cocoa powder in this recipe, that is fine, but, substitute baking powder in place of baking soda.)

2  cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 1/2  teaspoons baking soda

1/2  teaspoon sea salt

IMG_0207 IMG_0209 IMG_0211~ Step 1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the dry ingredients:  cocoa, flour, baking soda and salt.  Set aside.  Line three 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans with parchment paper and set aside.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

IMG_0214 IMG_0216 IMG_0219 IMG_0222 IMG_0224 IMG_0226~Step 2.  In a large bowl, place butter and sugar. On high speed of hand-held electric mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl almost constantly.

IMG_0226~ Step 3 (pictured above).  Add and beat in the eggs and vanilla extract, about 1 minute.  Mixture will be soft and creamy.  On low- medium-low mixer speed, add and thoroughly incorporate the dry mixture in 2-3 increments, scraping down the sides of the bowl with the spatula constantly, until a thick, pasty cookie batter forms.  Note:  If the batter gets too thick for your hand-held mixer to handle, remove the mixer and fold it in with the spatula.

IMG_0227 IMG_0234~ Step 4. Working one-pan-at-a-time and using a 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop as a measure, place scoopfuls of dough, well apart, 12 on each pan.  Place the first pan in refrigerator to chill, while scooping the next pan, about 10 minutes. Repeat this "chilling/baking" process with second pan while first pan is in the refrigerator and subsequently in the oven to bake, and, a third time with the third pan.

IMG_0243~ Step 5.  Bake cookies, one-pan-at-a-time, on center rack of preheated 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.  Cookies will be puffed and cracks will appear across the surface. Do not overbake.  Remove from oven and allow to cool in pan for 5-6 minutes prior to transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.  Cookies will and should flatten as they cool.

A beautiful ball of cookie dough ready to go into the oven:

IMG_0235A beautiful puffed-up cookie coming out of the oven:

IMG_0238I'm in the Mood for:  Plain-Jane Chocolate Cookies:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 dozen, 3 1/2"-round, mostly-crunchy, slightly-chewy, plain, chocolate cookies.

Special Equipment List:  hand-held electric mixer; large rubber spatula; 3, 17 1/2" x 12 1/2" baking pans; parchment paper; 1 3/4" ice-cream scoop; wire cooling rack; small spatula

IMG_9598Cook's Note:  For a completely-loaded chocolate cookie recipe, complete with chocolate chunks, dried cherries, aromatic spices and a bit of cayenne pepper too, check out my recipe for ~ Loco for Cocoa: Spicy Chocolate Cherry Cookies ~ in Categories 7 or 13.  They're a chocolate-lovers dream come true!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016 

08/23/2016

~ Jalapeno, Cilantro, Lime & Yogurt Salad Dressing ~

IMG_0196It is salad season.  From the end of July through the end of September, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, onions, all sorts of herbs (and a host of other vegetables) get picked daily, right in my own backyard.  Rare is the day some sort of salad or crudités isn't on our table for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner.  It's simply appropriate that a salad composed of the freshest, homegrown ingredients get enhanced by an equally bright and bold scratch-made dressing.

A quick scroll through Category 8 (Condiments, Sauces & Gravies) here on Kitchen Encounters will reveal many of my favorite salad dressings and vinaigrettes, each one appropriate for either a specific salad or a salad geared to pair with a specific cuisine.  I've carefully developed these recipes over a long period of time, as, I take my salad dressings seriously.  Trust me, when I post a salad dressing on my blog, it has my family's whole-hearted stamp of approval on it.

IMG_0197Today's dressing is one that I make often during the grilling and tailgate season, as, Tex/Mex fare is a particular favorite of my family and is very popular with a lot of our tailgating friends too. Almost anything Tex/Mex that can be conjured up requiring a side-salad to complement it, this five-minute-to-make dressing is the ticket for it.  There's more:  It can be used as a dip, a spread, and, it goes great with a variety of meat, poultry, fish, seafood and vegetable dishes too.

IMG_01591  cup plain yogurt

1-1 1/2 cups minced, fresh cilantro (Note:  Since the cilantro is going to be processed, including more stem in your minced cilantro than you normally would in other recipes is just fine.)

1  8-ounce jar sliced, pickled jalapenos, well-drained

1  large lime, all of its zest and all of its juice (Note:  You need 1 tablespoon lime juice.  In a pinch, bottled concentrate is ok.)

1  teaspoon sugar

1/4  teaspoon sea salt

PICT0031Step 1.  Place all ingredients in work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade.  With motor running, process until smooth, 30-45 seconds.  Transfer to a food storage container and refrigerate 2-24 hours, and, up to one week.

Note:  This dressing thickens as it chills, and, its flavor intensifies if the flavors are given time to marry, so, if you have the time to make it a day in advance, yes, please do it.

A DIP for my Batter-Dipped Avocado Bites:

IMG_6726

A DRESSING on my Corn Cakes  & BLT Salad:

IMG_0171

A TOPPING for my Chili Cheddar Cheeseburger:

IMG_6481

Jalapeno, Cilantro, Lime & Yogurt Salad Dressing:  Recipe yields 2 1/2 cups.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; microplane grater; food processor

IMG_0129Cook's Note:  For a kid-tested favorite, my recipe for ~ Mel's "Happy Valley" Ranch-Style Salad Dressing ~ is one that every mom should have in her repertoire.  I can't promise your kids will eat all of their healthy veggie snacks, but they will eat more of them!

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie Preschutti/Copyright 2016)

08/20/2016

~ Garden Fresh Brunch: Corn 'Cakes & BLT Salad ~

IMG_0171Skip all the cloyingly-sweet things iHOP offers and pay attention -- there is more than one way to eat a pancake, and it's not just a sugary treat for breakfast or dessert.  Brunch is served, and this savory pancake meal is full of at-their-peak, in-season ingredients, all local, many from my own backyard.  Mix a batch of bloody Mary's, sit back, and savor the moment -- this is a bold-flavored, fresh-tasting way to celebrate the fruits-of-your-labor and an end-of-Summer garden.

IMG_0183A quick-trip back in American-pancake history & time:

I didn't invent adding cooked corn kernels, savory herbs and/or spices to pancake batter.  Our Native Americans are credited with that, the precursor to our present-day pancakes. They were called "nokchick", translated to mean "no (or not) cake" by the European colonists (who arrived with a host of their own pancake recipes which had existed in Europe for centuries, dating all the way back to the Romans who called them "alita docia", which is Latin for "another sweet".)

IMG_0191In the American colonies, pancakes were known as hoe cakes or johnny cakes, and, flapjacks or slapjacks, made with buckwheat flour or cornmeal.  In Amelia Simmon's American Cookery, published in 1796, hoe cakes and johnny cakes used milk, cornmeal and molasses. Recipes for flapjacks or slapjacks dropped molasses and added eggs. George Washington's favorite breakfast was 'pancakes' literally swimming in all-American maple syrup.  By Thomas Jefferson's time, the early 1800's, griddlecakes came into play -- they were lighter due to baking soda invented by French and Belgian chemists. After the invention of baking powder by a British chemist in the 1840's, our modern-day pancake was born.

For my quick & easy chile-lime yogurt dressing:

IMG_0159Feel free to use any dressing you like -- even store-bought ranch dressing drizzled over this corn 'cake BLT salad is great.  Trust me on one point though, now is not the time to use a vinaigrette, as, it will render the crispy-on-the-outside, creamy-on-the inside corn cakes mushy. This recipe requires creamy dressing, and, in my kitchen, this dish screams for full-throttle chile-lime and jalapeño flavor.  Typically I make this dressing with mayo (feel free to do that), but, yogurt is more in the spirit of breakfast or brunch, so I use it in mayo's place today.

6a0120a8551282970b01b7c7827468970bMake the chile-lime dressing before the corn 'cakes, and place it in the refrigerator, to allow it time to to chill and thicken.  To prepare it, in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, puree until smooth (about 30 seconds):

1 cup plain yogurt1 cup minced cilantro, a well-drained 8-ounce jar pickled jalapenos, the juice and zest of 1 lime1 teaspoon sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt.

For the BLT (bacon, lettuce & tomato salad):

IMG_0161BLT salad, it goes without saying, requires crisply-fried and chopped bits of bacon, a chiffonade of crunchy iceberg or romaine lettuce, and, diced garden-ripe tomatoes. In addition to those, I add some diced red onion and grated cotija or queso fresco cheese. Avocado is an option too, but, since it discolors so quickly and contributes little taste compared to the other ingredients, I do not bother with it (trust me, you will not miss the avocado).  

Whatever ingredients you use, in any quantity that makes you happy, when prepping them, aim for user-friendly bits and bites, not chunks and hunks.  Depending on whether you are serving one or two corn 'cakes per person, plan on needing a generous 1/2-3/4 cup salad per serving.

For my easy-to-make modern-day sweet corn (pan)'cakes: 

IMG_01072  cups + 2 tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

2  teaspoons baking powder

2  tablespoons sugar

2  teaspoons fine sea salt

2  teaspoons coarsely-ground black pepper

2  large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork

1 3/4  cups milk

4  cups cooked (boiled or grilled) corn kernels 

corn or peanut oil, for frying pancakes, not butter (Note:  Frying pancakes in butter is just plain wrong.  Just in case you don't know, if you fry pancakes in oil instead, they will fry up with seriously-crispy-and-light doughnut-esque edges.  You can thank me for this tip later.) 

IMG_0109 IMG_0111 IMG_0113 IMG_0120~Step 1.  In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, sugar, salt and pepper.  Add eggs and give them a quick whisk, about 10-15 seconds.  Don't try to thoroughly incorporate eggs. Whisk in the milk.  You'll have a smooth drizzly batter.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the corn.

Tip about mixing batter:  Allow batter to rest about 5 minutes -- about the time it takes to heat the skillet in the next step.  No matter what anyone else tells you or what you read elsewhere, do not mix your pancake batter any farther ahead of time than that.  In order to save time in the morning, do what I do:  Mix the dry ingredients together the night before, and, mix the wet ingredients together too.  Let the dry ingredients sit on the counter overnight and refrigerate the wet ingredients.  Mix the two together just before proceeding with the recipe as directed below.

6a0120a8551282970b01b8d14be3de970cStep 2.  In a 16" electric skillet, heat a thin, 1/16" coating of oil, not butter, to 350 degrees (medium on my gas stovetop).  Note:  I prefer the electric skillet over the traditional griddle.  It's got a big, flat surface area, which gives me plenty of space to cook and flip 3-4-5-6 even-sized pancakes and it makes heat control a breeze.

IMG_0140 IMG_0145~ Step 3.  Using a 3-ounce (1/3 cup) ladle, add ladlefuls of batter for 5 pancakes to skillet.  Do not overcrowd  skillet.  This batter, because of the chunks of corn, will not spread out on its own. Use a spoon to help it form 5, 4"-round pancakes.

Tips on cooking and flipping:  The heat should be hot enough that you hear and see an initial sizzle around the edges of each pancake, but, not hear or see a sizzle throughout the cooking process.  Sometimes it is necessary to adjust the heat as they cook, but, my skillet never leaves the 325-350- degree range.  Pancakes should not be rushed.  When bubbles rise to the surface, which can take 1-2 minutes, they are approaching being ready to gently flip -- but not quite. Pancakes are ready to flip when the bubbles begin to burst and no or little batter fills the holes back up.  When it comes to flipping, be gentle.  Skip the drama -- don't throw them up in the air or slap them over.  The object of the pancake game is to protect their hole-y-ness.

IMG_0155~ Step 4.  Cook pancakes, in batches of 5, turning only once, until golden on both sides, about 3-3 1/2 minutes on the first side and 1 1/2-2 minutes on the second, but, once again, time is not as important as those bubbles.  This recipe yields 14 pancakes -- two are missing from the photo.  Joe and I each ate one hot right out of the skillet.

Crispy outside & creamy-corn-kernel-crunchy inside:

IMG_0182Top 'em w/BLT salad, drizzle w/dressing & dig in: 

IMG_0176Garden Fresh Brunch:  Corn 'Cakes & BLT Salad:  Recipe yields 14 pancakes, 1 1/2 cups of salad dressing, and 6 servings at 2 corn cakes per person.

Special Equipment List:  cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; whisk; large rubber spatula;  16" electric skillet; nonstick spatula; ordinary tablespoon 

IMG_2563Cook's Note:  If you want to serve a BLT salad alongside a corn muffin instead of atop a corn 'cake (a great alternative for a picnic or tailgate, my recipe for ~ It's a Triple-Corn Jalapeño Corn-Muffin Kinda Day ~, is in Categories 5, 9 & 20.

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

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2016)