Thursday, September 17, 2009

Soft Pretzels

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One of my earliest vivid memories is shopping with my mom at our dinky little mall (now a small strip mall) when I was 4 or 5 years old. I loved going to this mall with her- partly because I learned the art of shopping at an early age (something I've already taught to 2-year old Rebecca) and partly because I could beg and plead for her to get me a soft pretzel from the pretzel stand.

It was a kiosk in the middle of the mall that sold gorgeous, saltly, doughy soft pretzels on a stick. And to  make it even more heavenly, they could dunk it completely in that gooey fake, hot soft cheese. I'm making myself hungry now.

These little pretzels (which ended up being MUCH bigger than I expected, by the way) were so close to that pretzel I remember so fondly (minus the disgusting yet delicious cheese). In fact, they were so similar that Brian cracked up as I took a bite and exclaimed "Oh my gosh! They taste just like a soft pretzel!" Sometimes I sound like such a dork.

I was slightly surprised at how easy these work to make. Really, the only "difficult" part was the boiling and that took me a total of maybe 20 minutes, tops. They're best stored at room temp, uncovered. Not that we had to worry about that since the entire batch was eaten within 24 hours. :)

Ingredients:

2 cups warm water (100°F to 110°F)
1 tablespoon + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 packet active dry yeast
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon salt
2 teaspoons canola or other neutral oil
1/4 cup baking soda
1 large egg
Coarse or pretzel salt (I used kosher salt since it was all I  had. It worked just fine!)
vegetable-oil cooking spray

Directions:

Combine the warm water, 1 T of sugar and the yeast into the bowl of an electric mixer and stir together. Let sit for 10 minutes or until the yeast is foamy.

Blend 1 cup of flour into the yeast mix until well combined, then  add the salt and 4 additional cups of flour, mixing until well combined, then beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Now add 1/2 cup more flour and combine until dough is smooth.

Lightly mist a large bowl with oil and roll the dough a few times to coat, then cover with a kitchen towel. Let sit in a warm location for about an hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

Heat the oven to 450° and prepare 2 baking sheets with either lightly sprayed oil or parchment paper (I went for parchment paper) and set aside.

Punch down the dough to remove any air bubbles (my FAVORITE part of making doughs) and divide into 16 equal pieces for larger pretzels and 32 for minis. *Note: I took the notes on Smitten Kitchen's recipe calling them "miniature" quite literally and also made some larger (like half the batch I made into 4 pretzels rather than 8 for the large size) pretzels. However, during the boiling process they puffed and the large ones got HUGE and the mini ones got to be the size I was expecting. Holycrap huge. I ate them to hide the evidence of my mistake. :D

Take the dough pieces and roll out to 18 inch long strip (or "worms" as Rebecca kept calling them) and twist into pretzel shapes, then place on the prepared baking sheets. Let rest for 15 minutes.

While the pretzels rest, fill a pot with 2 inches of water and bring to a boil. Once boiling add in the baking soda and additional 2 T of sugar. (Careful, it fizzes a lot!) Reduce the water to a simmer and place a few pretzels in the pan (I could only fit 2 at a time. Just make sure you have enough room that they don't stick and you can easily get to them to flip them). Let them cook for 1 minute in the water, flip and cook the other side for 1 minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and set on the baking sheet. Continue until all the pretzels are done.

Beat the egg with 1T of water, then brush the egg over each pretzel and coat with salt.

Bake until the pretzels are golden brown, roughly 12-15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Source: Smitten Kitchen

Monday, September 14, 2009

1 year blogiversary!

Happy birthday to my little blog.

I started this blog 1 year ago today. I started it more as a cookbook for myself, to keep track of recipes I loved, than anything else. A year ago I firmly fell in the Sucky Cooking category. After many, many attempts in the kitchen ended in tears, I decided that I needed to DO SOMETHING about it. I asked for advice and most people told me to just do it! The more you cook, the better you get. Boy was that ever true!

In one year I'm thrilled that I've gone from Sucky, tearful cooking to 100+ recipes (plus more that have yet to be posted) and my favorite culinary compliment so far: "This is the best thing I've ever eaten in my life" (FYI, it was the Chicken Cordon Bleu. Make it. You'll love it.)

Here's to another year of culinary successes!

Pasta ala Pam & Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

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Also known as Sausage, spinach, and roasted cherry tomato pasta. But that's a super-wordy name. A mouthful (get it. food? mouthful? I'm hilarious, I know. I crack me up)

Brian's Aunt Pam is just one of those women- Her home is gorgeous and always immaculately clean, she makes 5 star quality food without a recipe (and thus can't tell you exactly how to recreate it), she's kind, generous and sweet. Hear that? It's envy calling my name.

So when we were at her house a few weeks ago for a huge family gathering and she whipped up a pasta dish so summery and fabulous that I wanted to move into her kitchen to live for ever and always, I knew I had to figure out a way to at least TRY to recreate it.

When I asked her what was in it she replied "Oh. Gosh. I know I put in a basil leaf in the pasta sauce this time...." That's all she could remember. Someone needs to set up a hidden video camera in her kitchen so I can steal her secrets.

This pasta isn't exactly like the one she made (I think that's going to end up as one of those mysteries of the world) but it was close- and exact or not, it is fantastic. Even Brian, who claims he doesn't like tomatoes, eats half the batch of tomatoes with his pasta.

Ingredients:
angel hair pasta (or pasta of your choosing)
1 lb italian sausage
pasta sauce of your choice
4-5 cups raw spinach
parmesan cheese
1 pint cherry tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, minced
olive oil for drizzling

Directions:

Pre-heat the oven to 350°

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, place the tomatoes in a 13x9 pan, drizzle with olive oil and add the garlic to the top. Roast for approximately 20 minutes, or until they are slightly shrivelled (lovely, right?).

While tomatoes are cooking, brown the sausage, steam the spinach, and heat the pasta sauce.

Once everything is done cooking and drained, mix together the pasta, sauce, sausage, and spinach. Add tomatoes and top with parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Source: Original Laura recipe, inspired by Brian's Aunt Pam

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Garlic Knots

I could write an ode to garlic. But I'm not a very ode-writing kind of girl. So making these delightful knots will have to suffice.

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Ingredients:

For the knots:
3 cups bread flour
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1-1/4 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup + 2 tablespoons lukewarm water

For the garlic glaze:
2-4 cloves peeled, garlic
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°.

Combine the dry ingredients for the dough in the bowl of an electric mixer, then add in the olive oil, milk and water. Using the dough hook, knead together the ingredients until it becomes smooth and shiny.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and let rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Separate the dough into 8 equal balls. Roll each dough ball into a 10 inch long rope, then knot together. Let the knots rise again for about an hour, or until puffy.

Bake the knots for 15 to 18 minutes or until lightly golden browned. Meanwhile mix together the glaze ingredients. Once removed from the oven, drizzle with the butter glaze.

Source: Amber's Delectable Delights

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

100th Post! Homemade Girlscout Samoas

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Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time there was a very pregnant woman and she was constantly hungry due to the fetus sucking the life out of her.

One day, the gigantic pregnant woman was sitting at work, ready to eat her arm off from hunger. Suddenly, her boss walked in carrying an armload of girl scout cookies. And proceeded to be cruel and set them on the empty desk next to her. For an entire day. EVIL.

Finally, the kind boss distributed the cookies to the patiently waiting workers and the humongous pregnant woman devoured half a box of samoas in one breath.

Thankfully, the pregnant woman eventually gave birth, shrank to a slightly less enormous state and found a recipe for said cookies to help restore herself to said enormous state. :)

While these cookies aren't exactly the same as a girl scout samoa (obviously) they're extremely close and delicious. Being that we made them 2 days ago and there are only 2 of the bars left.

Ingredients:

Cookie Base:
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup butter, softened
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

Topping
3 cups shredded coconut (sweetened or unsweetened)
12-oz good-quality chewy caramels
1/4 tsp salt
3 tbsp milk
10 oz. dark or semisweet chocolate (chocolate chips are ok)

Directions:

To make the crust:
Preheat oven to 350° and prepare a 13x9 in pan by spraying lightly with oil.

In a large bowl cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Next add in the vanilla and egg and blend. Gradually, blend in the flour and salt. The mixture will be crumbly.

Press the dough into the pan evenly. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the edges are slightly browned.

Cool the shortbread completely before adding toppings.

To make the topping:

Preheat the oven to 300°.

Toast the coconut on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper until browned, aprox. 20 minutes- stir every 5 minutes.

Unwrap the caramels and place an a microwave-safe bowl. Add in the salt and milk. Heat in the microwave, stirring occasionally, until melted. This will take about 3-4 minutes.

Once the caramel is melted, mix together with the coconut and spread into an even layer over the top of the cookie.

Once the topping is completely cooled, cut the bars into even squares.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave, stirring occasionally. Dip the bottom of each bar into the chocolate, then place onto wax paper. Drizzle additional chocolate over the top of each bar in a pretty samoa pattern :)

Let cool completely before packaging.

Source: Baking Bites

Chicken Gyros

On our very first date, Brian and I went rollerblading (and I fell down a hill and almost got a concussion. Klassy, I tell you) then we went out to dinner at Brian's favorite hangout and I, being a girl on a first date, debated ordering a teeny tiny side salad. Thankfully, I instead decided on a chicken gyro and the rest, as they say, is history. Perhaps it was my superb ordering skills that hooked him :)

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Ingredients:

1.25 lbs chicken breast
4 cloves garlic, crushed
juice of 1 lemon
2 t. red wine vinegar
2 T olive oil
2 heaping T plain yogurt
1 T oregano
salt and pepper
sliced tomato
sliced red onion
lettuce
4 pitas- pocketless

Directions:

In a small bowl, mix together the garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, oil, yogurt, and oregano. Add in the chicken pieces and marinate for an hour in the fridge.

Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper, then pan-fry the chicken over medium heat until chicken is cooked through. Let the chicken sit for a few minutes before slicing.

While chicken is cooking, heat the pita in the oven. Once heated, top with chicken, tzatziki (I used garlic feta dip instead), tomato, lettuce, and onion and enjoy!

Source: http://ellysaysopa.com/2009/03/09/chicken-gyros/

Monday, September 7, 2009

Roasted Red Pepper and Basil Pesto Pasta

This dish was a simple and easy meal that came together pretty quickly. We enjoyed it, considering I don't actually like pesto. So why I chose to not only save, but make the recipe is beyond me.

It was good. I liked it. However next time I think I'm going to make a handful of changes: add spinach, less basil. Lots more cheese.

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Ingredients:

1/2 C roasted red peppers
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 C grated parmesan cheese
1/3 C pine nuts (I left these out since we don't like them)
1 1/2 C basil leaves
1/2 t. salt
1/2 C olive oil
1 lb penne pasta
1/4 C heavy cream- optional (I left this out)

Directions:

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, using a food processor chop the basil and red peppers. Add into the processor the salt, garlic, cheese and pine nuts and puree. Lastly, drizzle in the olive oil until combined.

Drain the pasta and mix in the pesto. Top with a bit of additional cheese.

Source: Picky Palalte

Roasted Red Peppers

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Directions:

Place red peppers on a baking sheet under the broiler.  Turn occasionally until each side is blackened.

Remove the peppers from the oven and seal in an airtight container for 10-15 minutes. This will help the skin peel off the pepper.

Remove the skin and slice.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Buffalo Chicken Sandwich

When we first got married Brian and I used to go out to dinner at the same place pretty often, and we almost always ordered the same thing: buffalo chicken sandwich. Unfortunately, a year or two later they discontinued the item on the menu and we were left wanting. Thankfully, they're pretty simple to make! Viola! Made at home deliciousness!

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Ingredients:

Cooked chicken breasts (or shredded/cubed chicken)
Buffalo wing hot sauce (We prefer Frank's buffalo sauce)
Swiss cheese
Lettuce
Sandwich buns

Directions:

Cook the chicken fully. I usually cook them in the crockpot on low during the day with just a smidge of chicken broth so that we just can put together the sandwiches when we get home after work. You can either then shred the chicken, cut it into cubes or eat it whole.

Cover the chicken with buffalo wing sauce and place on a bun. Add cheese and lettuce (and I also add a touch of mayo).

Source: Original Laura & Brian recipe

Friday, September 4, 2009

Quick Ginger Pork

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Ingredients:
3/4-1 lb pork, cut into bite sized pieces (I also use chicken, as in the photo above)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
vegetable oil
1/2 C soy sauce (I recommend lower sodium. otherwise this gets salty)
1t. ginger
1 t. sugar
2C water
4 slightly rounded T. cornstarch
1 head of broccoli

Directions:

Saute the pork and garlic in vegetable oil until the pork is no longer pink.

While the pork is cooking, mix together the soy sauce, ginger, sugar, water, and corn starch. Mix in with the pork and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, steam the broccoli. Add into the pork mixture and serve over rice.

Source: My mother in law- original source unknown