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Soft, Salty Pretzels

My family is big into Sam’s Club.


When we were kids my brothers and I could drink a gallon of milk a day, and once we learned how to use the oven, we burned (usually figuratively, sometimes literally) through frozen pizzas at an alarming rate. One of my favorite things from the jumbo-sized retailer were microwaveable soft pretzels. Except they weren’t actually very good– they were hard and flavorless and probably packed with preservatives. But I loved the idea of a soft pretzel– a little salty, warm and fluffy… and today, I made them myself. Forget the giant box in the freezer section. These are fun to make and not as hard as you’d think! The recipe is a halved variation on this one.

Ingredients

1 teaspoon yeast

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

1 cup warm water (maybe plus a little more. I added a few more teaspoons but I often do.)

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup bread flour

1/2 teaspoon iodized salt

1 T baking soda

some cornmeal to dust the baking sheet

3 cups of water, plus 1 teaspoon

1 egg

kosher salt

Make Em:

Proof the yeast in the water with the sugar added. Combine the flours and salt, then pour in the dissolved yeast and mix to form a sticky dough. Knead until smooth and elastic, maybe 5 minutes or so. The dough at this point should be sticky, but not stuck to your hands… add flour as necessary. Let rise one hour, covered, in a warm place.

Divide the dough into six balls. Roll each ball into a long, thin rope about a 15-18 inches long. Form a circle, leaving a few

inches on each end. Twist the ends once and then bring them to the inside of the circle in a pretzel shape. (Although you could put them in any shape you please, really. Pretzel bread, circles, hearts… follow your bliss.) Pinch the ends into the circle. Let rest while you boil 3 cups of water with 1 tablespoon of baking soda added.

Like this.

Preheat oven to 425. Reduce heat on water to medium. Drop pretzels, one by one, into simmering water. Flip after fifteen seconds (they should be floating) and then drain on a plate. Repeat with remaining pretzels. Once drained, place pretzels on baking sheet dusted with cornmeal. Mix one egg with one teaspoon of water and lightly brush pretzels with egg wash. Sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake 12 minutes until golden and fabulous.

Makes six pretzels… four if you immediately eat two of them. Enjoy!

Ready for the Oven

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Filed under Bread., Non-Breads

Making Friends With Crepes

So there’s a crepe restaurant here in Charlottesville. And everybody loves the crepe restaurant. Except me. I’m not really all that into crepes.


See? Everyone but me.

I had them in Paris, back in the 90s, and they were fine, I guess– lackluster pancakes, really. I just wasn’t all that enthused. But now, it’s 2011, and I have some leftover melted chocolate from the strawberries, which I’ve mixed with peanut butter. Which would be really good on… crepes.

We’re going to get liberal with this recipe from Alton Brown.

Ingredients:

1 egg

1/4 cup plus a splash more of milk

1/4 cup water

1/2 cup flour

1-1/2 T butter, melted, plus extra for the pan

1 T sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

Make Em:

Mix all the ingredients in a blender, then let the batter sit in the fridge for an hour. (Mr. Brown says this will keep the crepes from tearing.) Then heat up a nonstick pan and coat it with butter. Pour batter into the pan like you would pancakes, flipping and cooking on each side. This should make 6-7 crepes.

Crepes can be served with lemon and powdered sugar, or strawberries, or banana, or plain, or whatever. You can also make them savory, with sausage or spinach… I mean, it’s flour and an egg, right? It goes with everything. I’m serving mine with sliced strawberries and chocolate/peanut butter sauce.

Yum! I may just like crepes after all.

Do you have a food that you never really liked until one day, you just… did? What is it?

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Chocolate-Covered Strawberries

Strawberries were on sale at the grocery store, and I got a little overzealous.

Like that time I went apple-picking:

I have a tendency to buy more fruit than I can reasonably eat. Luckily, the amount I can reasonably eat increases tenfold when I dip the fruit in chocolate.

Ingredients

Strawberries. Or: pretzels, marshmallows, banana…

Bittersweet chocolate.

Make It

Rinse the strawberries well and then pat dry with a paper towel. The drier they are, the better the chocolate will stick. What you really want is for the chocolate to form a shell that snaps open when you bite down. For this you need decent quality chocolate. I’ll touch on that in a second here.

Heat up the chocolate in a double boiler. If you don’t have a double boiler, use the microwave at 50% power, stirring every thirty seconds until your chocolate is melted. Although I am a little in love with my double boiler…

Grab your strawberry by the green part (Stem? No. Leaves? Erm, kinda.) and dip into the chocolate, swirling a bit to coat all sides. You want the top third uncovered, because it looks nice and because it’s easier to handle. For the sake of presentation, you should probably just eat all the ones that fall all the way in and have to be fished out with a spoon…

Place the dipped berries on a parchment paper sheet and let dry in the fridge for an hour or so.

Now, a word on chocolate: I swear by Ghirardelli’s bittersweet chocolate chips. The Nestle stuff, or the supermarket brands, aren’t high enough quality and they just sort of gum on the strawberry, so you don’t get that crispness. They also don’t taste particularly good– and this is chocolate, people! It’s an indulgence, so it should be tasty. That said, I don’t think it’s worth springing for Lindt or more expensive stuff for baking– I guess Ghirardelli just hits my threshold for chocolatey excellence.

What sort of chocolate do you like to bake with?

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Filed under Chocolate, Dessert.

Whole Wheat Pitas- Complete with Pocket!

I am on a total food detox after my (awesome!) Spring Break road trip. At the ripe old age of 22 I’m having a harder time tolerating even a few days of  rich food/no vegetables/ lots of booze/ no sleep. I need to rebalance! So, I’m sticking to produce, brown rice, nuts, milk, and Greek yogurt for a bit.

Except then I found this recipe for pita bread.

But I’m detoxing!

But I want pita.

Okay, let’s try to make it with whole wheat flour, then.

Fiber, y'all!

Ingredients

1-1/4 cup water

2 teaspoons active dry yeast

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

3 cups whole wheat flour

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

Make It

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water (warmed) to proof. Once you’re satisfied that your yeast is cooperating, combine the other ingredients in a bowl and then dump the yeast mixture on top. Mix into a dough. Knead until smooth, then leave in the bowl, covered, for an hour.

Preheat oven as hot as it will go– mine hits 500. Split the dough into eight pieces and roll them out into something like a circle (I can’t ever do it perfectly!) on a greased surface. Place the circles on a VERY well-greased cookie sheet (you’ll probably have to work in batches) and let them rest 15 minutes. Then put them in the bottom rack of the oven for a couple minutes, until they puff up. Move them to the middle rack for another minute until they brown in spots and look done to you. (The total cooking time is only like five minutes.)

According to the source of this recipe, the pitas can be stored in a Ziploc bag or airtight container, presumably at room temperature.

So now I need to find a recipe for hummus, right? Or falafel? What’s your favorite thing to put on a pita??

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Road Trip Food Part Deux: Poppy Chow

So since I burned the muffins, I need SOMETHING to bring for my friends on the trip. My buddy John is letting me have full reign of his couch for the weekend, Miss Alisha is going to be my partner in crime for the Charleston leg, and then my good friend Jamie will be hosting on the way back.

I was considering rice krispie treats when I came across THIS.

Game Changer.

 

Nobody loves Puppy Chow quite as much as my college family, so this, I expect, will be well-received.

Poppy Chow

9 cups plain popcorn (I popped mine from kernels in a little oil on the stove)

1 cup chocolate chips

1/2 cup peanut butter (I used creamy but crunchy could be interesting)

1/2 stick butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup powdered sugar

Make It:

Prepare your popcorn. I find that stove-top popcorn is a bit more resilient than the microwave stuff, but I also recognize that most people don’t have popcorn kernels in the house, so work with whatcha got.

Melt the peanut butter, chocolate chips, vanilla, and butter together in a double-boiler, or the microwave (at 50% power to avoid burning the chocolate.)  Douse the popcorn in said chocolately goodness. Mix in powdered sugar so it looks like this:

Lay it out on a baking sheet to firm up, then scarf it all down– erm, divvy it into bags with a little ribbon for your amigos.

The thing is, now that I’ve blogged about this, it will be expected once I show up, so I can’t eat the whole thing on the drive. Maybe just a little…

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Spinach, Mushroom, and Sun-dried Tomato Frittata

Breakfast of champignons!


It’s going to be a busy week, but in the best of ways: doing all sorts of interesting things, spending time with friends, and staying on top of work and other commitments. So, I am making breakfast in advance. In the form of a frittata.

Ingredients

This is relative, of course. A frittata is glorified scrambled eggs; put in whatever you like. I like my eggs salty, so in go the sun-dried tomatoes. I am trying to eat more greens, too, and this is a good way to get in some spinach before I’m even fully awake.

But, essentially, for 2 servings:

– 4 eggs

– 1 T milk

– 1-1/2 T Parmesan cheese

– salt and pepper, to taste.

– butter to grease the pan

Not so essentially:

– one cup of mushrooms, chopped

– 1/4 tsp minced garlic

– 2 cups spinach, rinsed and torn into pieces

– 4 sundried tomatoes, cut into strips

– 1/4 cup mozzarella cheese

-1/4-1/2 tsp oregano

If you have any vegetables involved, sautee them in a buttered pan with garlic, starting with those that contain the most water. In my case, mushrooms first.

Meanwhile, combine your eggs, milk, and parmesan with salt and pepper and whip with a fork until frothy. When the mushrooms are cooked, throw in the spinach to wilt

— it will reduce down to almost nothing so don’t worry if it overflows from the pan at first. Then drop in the sundried tomatoes. Finally, pour the egg mixture on top.

Turn on your broiler. Your stovetop should be heating at medium-low, so that most of the frittata cooks up without the bottom burning. When only the top layer is uncooked (you’ll know if you jiggle the pan handle), sprinkle with mozzarella and oregano. Broil, watching– staring!!– until the top is just beginning to show brown spots. If you look away, it will burn.

Remove from heat, remove from pan. Marvel.

I like frittatas for breakfast, but they make an excellent dinner when combined with a salad and good crusty bread. Enjoy!

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Filed under Meals, Vegetarian.

Dad’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

My father, who is recovering from a successful tussle with oral cancer, is one of the best bakers I know.

Although he is currently unable to eat (due to the side effects of the cancer therapy) he is constantly cooking and baking. Preparation is one half of the food ritual, after all– even if he can’t taste the final product, Dad still gets to be involved with the food. To make basic ingredients into something sublime. Interestingly, although generally pretty solid to begin with, many of his most-used recipes have become even better while he’s been unable to taste them. We’re very excited for his mouth to recover so he can enjoy his baked goods as much as we do.

This is my Dad’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies. It’s Tollhouse, perfected. Enjoy.

Ingredients

2 sticks of unsalted butter

1.5 cups brown sugar

2 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

3 cups flour (sometimes I use some whole wheat flour, but he uses 100% all-purpose)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking soda

chocolate chips, to suit (I generally throw them in by the fistful until I’m satisfied. Maybe 1-1/2 cups?)

chopped walnuts or pecans, optional, and to suit (Again with the fistfuls. Maybe 1 cup. Be sure you only include chunks of nut– the powdery, dusty remnants have a way of making you cough when you bite into them in the cookie, and in general mess up the cookie’s smooth texture.)

Step One: Put the brown sugar in a mixing bowl. (I love my Kitchenaid mixer, which was inherited from the grandmother and is significantly older than I am. You can do this with a hand mixer, but it’s going to take a while.) Melt the butter in the microwave until you can break it into clumps with your fingers. Add these clumps to the bowl and turn the mixer on to combine.

Step Two: Walk away. Seriously. The butter and brown sugar should be mixed at a fairly high speed for 10 minutes or so, so that they combine and change color and become fluffy. This is what makes the cookie so good! If you’re doing this with a hand mixer, be patient.

It should look like this when it's ready.

Step Three: Add the eggs, combine. Add the vanilla, combine. Add the dry ingredients. Recipes often say to mix them together beforehand so you don’t get pockets of salt, and I think that’s good advice, but I don’t usually do it. Haven’t had a problem so far.

Step Four: At this point you should have a lovely dough. Now I add the chocolate chips and nuts until it’s where I want it. Some people like more, some less. Keep in mind that this dough is less sweet than classic Tollhouse dough, so you might want to up your chocolate quotient.

Step Five: Preheat the oven to 350. Stick dough in the freezer for a while (30 minutes?) so it’s stiff when you drop it by large tablespoons onto the greased baking sheet. Oh yes, these are pretty big, fluffy cookies. Bake for 8-12 minutes, keeping a careful eye so the bottoms don’t burn. Let cool. Enjoy.

No wimpy cookies here.

If the cookies seem slightly undercooked at 12 minutes, take them out anyway. They’ll continue to cook as they cool, so you’ll get perfectly soft insides. These freeze pretty well, too– I like to throw a bag in the freezer in case of an emergency.

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Filed under Chocolate, Dessert.