Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Pretzels, Please!

Words cannot describe my delight of eating a big soft pretzel. My tongue rejoices as the salt granules melt in my mouth, spreading salty NaCL goodness on my tongue as the soft, buttery dough makes my tastebuds sing.

Okay, that's a little hokey, but pretzels (hard or soft) are one of my all-time favorite foods. Our house is never without a bag of pretzel twists in the cabinet, and my favorite mall or stadium snack food is a soft pretzel with mustard (preferable honey mustard). I could not be more excited when I saw an entire episode of Good Eats devoted to pretzels. Unfortunately, after making a batch of these, the appeal of your standard food court pretzel will significantly drop.

These are have a slightly leathery crust, but they soft and chewy on the inside. And they make the whole house smell good as they bake.

You begin by mixing up the dough. First, you proof the yeast in water with sugar for a few minutes. Then, add the flour, salt, and butter. Use a stand mixer to mix everything together and then knead it for 4-5 minutes. Then, transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, cover, and let it rise for about an hour (or until its size doubles).

Look at that beautiful, smooth dough!

While the dough rises, preheat the oven to 450 degrees and get out 2 sheet pans (or cookie sheets in my case), and line them with parchment paper. Then, brush the paper with vegetable oil.

Then bring 2 1/2 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot (a dutch oven works well), and once the water is rolling add baking soda.

While the water is coming up to a boil, divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Then roll each piece into a 2-foot long log. Then, you twist. My twisting skills aren't up to par as is evident from the photo (I think I did one too many twists), but whatever shape you manuever your pretzels into, they will still be tasty.

Eight pieces of dough.

A slightly skewed pretzel.

As you shape each pretzel, put it on the parchment paper. Once all the pretzels are shaped, you can put them in the boiling water. I only put in 2 at a time, and you only need to boil them for 30 seconds. Remove the pretzels with a large slotted spoon (or something simalar) and return them to the baking sheet.

 A pretzel after its spa treatment.

Brush each pretzel with the egg wash, and bake them for 12-16 minutes (or until dark golden brown).

 Applying the egg wash.

Once the pretzels have acheived the correct level of goldiness, transfer them to a cooling rack. And then wait 5 loooong minutes before eating. These are best eaten on the day you bake them, but you can enjoy them the next day or freeze them.

Note: You don't have to use a stand mixer for this recipe. The first time I made it by "hand." It was more work but the results were the same-yummy!

Here's the full recipe for Alton Brown's Homemade Soft Pretzels.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pear, Apple, and Cranberry Crisp

The crisp chill in the air is a sure sign that fall is here. Our first day of cold weather hit last week, putting me in the mood for something warm and fruity. I wanted something that included pears, and happened upon Ina Garten's Pear, Apple and Cranberry Crisp recipe. This was a terrific follow-up to our chicken & gravy & biscuit dinner last Friday night.

This recipe was very good-- since I was cooking for two I cut the recipe in half, and we had enough for five desserts.

You begin by peeling, coring, and chopping the apples and pears, and then you add the dried cranberries, cinnamon, sugar, flour, orange juice and zest, and lemon juice and zest. The tart cranberries really help balance out the sweetness, and the orange juice gives the dish a hint of something different. I didn't have any nutmeg so I couldn't put any in my filling.

Gently mix everything up and transfer it to a baking dish.

Up next is my favorite part of the dish-- the crisp topping! It's easy enough, combine your diced, cold butter with brown sugar, oats, granulated sugar, and flour.

I used a fork to mix everything together (but Ina recommends using the paddle attachment on a stand mixer. Personally, I didn't feel like get a huge mixing bowl dirty when I could mix the topping up in a smaller bowl. Maybe KitchenAid needs to develop smaller mixing bowls for its stand mixers...)

Once you're topping is all mixed together, pour it over fruit.

The recipe calls for baking the dish in a preheated 350-degree oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour. This is also a good dish to make ahead-- I put it together about 3 hours before I baked it (and kept it in the oven for 50 minutes). The fruit was soft but had enough texture so you knew it came from fresh fruit and not out of a can.

We ate this with fresh whipped cream, but of course you couldn't go wrong with ice cream. 

Golden brown and bubbly!

This recipe is going into my recipe box. It was easy to prepare, fool proof, and can be made ahead of time. Click here to view the entire recipe for Pear, Apple, and Cranberry Crisp.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Roasted Chicken with Garlic and Herbs & Roasted Garlic Gravy

Friday was fun day since we had the day off from work. It was one of those dreary, cloudy days that just begged for some comfort food. I decided to roast a chicken for dinner. I wasn’t  sure what to do to add some flavor, but then I remembered my little herb pot out back, so I headed out to see what I could find.

There was a little bit of parsley, and a whole bunch of sage and thyme, which met their end at the blade of a knife.

 ‘This is a good start’, I thought to myself. ‘But what else can I add?’

Then I recalled the large jar of minced garlic in the fridge. Yum- fresh herbs, garlic, with a little bit of salt and pepper added in, would make a great rub for the chicken.

After I rinsed the chicken and patted it dry, I rubbed the herb/garlic/salt/pepper mixture under the skin. Then I trussed the chicken (not sure if it’s the proper way to truss, but it looked almost identical to the illustration in the Joy of Cooking), put it in a casserole dish, coated the outside with olive oil, seasoned the skin with salt and pepper, and put it in a 350 degree oven.

Two hours later, I had a beautiful chicken.

While the chicken roasted, I cooked green beans. After I took the chickens out to rest, I also baked some made-from-scratch biscuits and made roasted garlic gravy. I was so excited to eat I forgot to take a photo of the whole bird before it was carved. Oh well, at least I got a photo before we ate it all.

And of course we had to have dessert after such a great meal—look for what I baked in the next post.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Cousin D's Slow Cooker Beefy Cheese Dip

This is a recipe I learned from my Cousin D (the guy in the tie-dye)during our family reunion in Montana. My husband (he's the one in the blue shirt) and I took a bite and said this would be great to have while watching football games in the fall. During the reunion in August, we were hanging out at “The Ranch,” and D had cooked up this fantastic dip.

While sitting out on the deck, enjoying views of wheat and barley fields with mountains in the distant, he recited the ingredients for the dip: ground beef, cream cheese, queso dip, and sour cream. And don’t forget to throw in some taco seasoning.

Pretty simple, pretty good, and pretty bad for waistlines and hearts. But hey, you can’t always walk the straight and narrow path by eating rabbit food all the time. 

That being said, I’m not going to be held liable for any medical bills related to heart disease.  In the words of my couz, “It ain’t diet food.”

So, if you’re ready to blow your diet, get the ingredients together and pull out your slow cooker. I made this the other night so we’d have something to munch on while watching football (we had a couple of people over to help us eat it). My guess is that it would safely feed 6-8 people.

Brown the ground beef in a skillet and season with taco seasoning. Put the ground beef in the crock pot, then add a block of cream cheese, a cup of sour cream, and two jars of queso dip (I used Tostito’s Monterrey Jack Queso dip. Don’t worry, according to the website you don’t have to feel guilty about eating it because it’s gluten, pork, soy and onion free and has NO trans fat. Of course, they fail to advertise there’s still 35 grams of fat in each jar…)

But, we’re not here to think about fat grams-we’re here to make some good game-watching food. Turn your slow cooker to low, cover, and cook for a couple of hours and stir it occasionally. When all the cheese/cream products have achieved a smooth, almost soupy consistency, you’re ready to serve. Use a ladle to transfer the dip to a bowl. Then, put some Fritos corn chip scoops on the top and use those to eat the dip. It’s a complete meal unto itself: dairy, meat, carbs, and veggies (yes, veggies, there’s some pieces of pepper in the queso dip--I'm trying to help you rationalize eating it so work with me here). It’s all you need to sustain yourself through a day and/or evening of football watching.

This dish was a huge hit. The guys all went back for seconds, and as I sat in the bedroom typing this post, I kept hearing their satisfied belches from the living room. Unfortunately, I don't have any good photos of the dip-- while tasty, it's kind of a big soupy cheesy mess.

Cousin D's Beefy Cheese Dip
1 8-ounce block of cream cheese
1 cup of sour cream
2 jars of Tostitos Queso Dip
1 lb. of ground beef
1 package of taco seasoning
Fritos corn chips for dipping

Brown the meat in a skillet over medium heat, add the taco seasoning. Transfer the beef to a slow cooker and add the cream cheese, sour cream, and queso dip. Cook on low, stirring occasionally, until everything has melted together. Serve the dip in bowls with the Fritos on top.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Chocolate Peanut Bites

Hubby and I had some friends over on Saturday to watch football games. We needed a dessert, so I had to find something that would go well with the beefy cheese dip, chicken tenders, and soft pretzels we were having for dinner. So I turned to my folder of saved recipes, and came across this one for Chocolate Peanut Bites from the Rachael Ray Magazine.I figured these would be good for a small sweet treat (and who doesn't like peanut butter and chocolate?)

These turned out to be perfect-- not too sweet, and it's a pick-your-own-size dessert. Just in the mood for a sweet treat? Take one. In the mood for a heartier dessert? Take five. 

It starts out easily enough, just melt three tablespoons of butter, 1 cup of creamy peanut butter, and a 12-ounce bag of chocolate chips in a pot on the stove top. (Heat over low heat). Then you transfer the mixture to a 9X9 inch pan and let it rest in the fridge.

The butter...

The peanut butter...

And the chocolate!

Mix all that up with a spoon...

Keep stirring...

And then switch to a whisk to get everything nice and smooth!

Then transfer the mixture to the pan.

The recipe reads to only leave the mixture in the fridge for 45 minutes before shaping. However, I made it Friday night, so I let it chill overnight in the ice box.

Before I started shaping the bites in the morning, I got the "crust" ready. All you do is finely chop 1 1/2 cups of unsalted, roasted peanuts and put them on the plate. Then it was time to get rolling!

Hooray for the mini food processor!

Since I let the mixture chill overnight, it was a little hard to shape it the next morning.  But, after a few minutes, the chocolate was more malleable. Through trial and error (not all of the bites were round) I found the best way to get the chocolate into a somewhat pretty shape was to scrape a spoon across the top of the mixture so you ended up with a "curl" of chocolate. Then, you can gently press the curl onto itself to form a cylinder-like shape. Once the chocolate is shaped, then you lightly press it into the peanut mixture to coat. This is a kind of messy process, so I wasn't able to take any photos.

Place them in an airtight container and chill until you are ready to serve them.

It is a little time consuming to form the bites-- it took me about 30 minutes to get them all coated. All in all, it's a pretty simple dish to make. Here's a link to the recipe for Rachael Ray's Chocolate Peanut Bites.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Slow cooker black bean soup

The past week was fairly easy when it came to cooking-- basically I made a big batch of chili and spaghetti sauce early in the week, and we had a lot of leftovers. This wasn't by accident, dear hubby and I had a crazy week at work. That being said, I didn't have time to try out any new recipes this week, so I'm writing about a soup a made a few weeks ago: Slow Cooker Black Bean Chipotle Soup. I know, I know, we eat a lot of beans, but they're cheap and taste good (not to mention they are good for you). This recipe has a lot of ingredients, and basically all you do is through them in a slow cooker, turn it on and leave it alone. This was another recipe recommended by my mother-- I think she found it in a Rival Slow Cooker cook book. I've made a couple modifications to my version.

You do have to precook the dry black beans or you could soak the beans overnight to soften them up, too.

The veggies: carrot, celery, and onion.

The veggies with salsa, canned green chiles, black beans, cumin, and chipotles in adobe.

Make it a soup by adding stock.

The finished product (I used an immersion blender to smooth out the soup a bit).

 It's great served with some cheese on top, and sour cream would be good, too. Also excellent served with tortilla chips (I like to tear up flour tortillas and bake them in the oven-- they're great for dipping into the soup).

Here's the list of ingredients and instructions for Slow Cooker Black Bean Chipotle Soup.
1 lb. dry black beans
2 stalks of celery, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
1-2 tsp. of pureed chipotle in adobe OR 1-2 canned chipotle in adobe peppers
1 cup of salsa (I like to use medium)
1-4 oz. can of mild green chilies, drained
2 tsp cumin
Salt & pepper to taste (Don;t add the salt until AFTER the beans have cooked in the soup. If you add the salt at the beginning, the beans will end up gritty. Take my word for it.)
3-4 cups of chicken broth or stock (depends on how thick/thin you like your soup)

Rinse and sort black beans. Cover beans with cool water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for 1 hour. Drain and rinse. Add the beans to the slow coooker and add the resto of the ingredients except for the salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Cook on LOW for 7-8 hours or on HIGH for 4 1/2-5 hours, or until beans are tender.
Add salt and pepper.
You may leave the soup chunky or puree to desired consistency with an immersion blender.