Soft Pretzel Bites

Ever since I moved to Wisconsin, my intake of beer, brats and cheese has skyrocketed.  I think it is inevitable in a place where sausages, cheese and microbrews are the pride of the land.  And it shows.  They are everywhere, fragrant and delicious.  And affordable.  So. . . darn . . . affordable.  It will be the death of me, surely.

And what goes better with beer, brats and cheese?  Pretzels, of course!  Salty, soft, warm pretzels.  These are a delicious snack for a party, of just pigging out at home with your favorite extra sharp cheddar and New Glarus ale.  That is usually what I do.  Did I mentioned I started running again?  🙂

Whether or not you plan to share these or enjoy them all yourself, I highly advise making them.  I can’t tell you from experience because my husband made them, but he made it look super easy.

No tips for this recipe, except that it sounds totally crazy to boil the bites in 2/3 cup of baking soda and water, but it works some sort of magic, because they were soft and pillowy on the inside.  I’m sure there is some sort of science behind this, but I don’t know what it is.  (message me if you know!)  And just for your enjoyment, a picture of my hubby leisurely reading The Hunger Games while he bakes these in our minuscule kitchen.

I got these from What’s Gaby Cooking

2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast

2 tbsp light brown sugar

1 1/2 cups warm water

5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

2 1/2 tsp salt

4 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour

Vegetable Oil, for the bowl

10 cups water

2/3 cup baking soda

1 egg yolk

splash of water

coarse sea salt

Combine the yeast, brown sugar and warm water in a mixer bowl fitted with a dough hook attachment. Let it sit for 5 minutes until the yeast gets foamy.

Once foamy, add melted butter and salt to the mixture and combine by turning mixer on a low setting. Add flour while the dough hook is rotating and mix until the dough has formed a large mass.

If you want to make the dough ahead of time, store it in the refrigerator before you let it rest and raise.  You can remove it from the fridge when you are ready and let is raise at room temperature.  If you are ready to make the pretzel bites now, remove dough from bowl and let rest in an oiled bowl for an hour, covered with a kitchen towel.  It should nearly double in size.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.  Place a large pot with 10 cups water on the stove and bring to a boil. Add the baking soda. The water WILL bubble up.  This is normal.  Remove the dough from the bowl and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 14 inches long. Cut the rope of dough into little bite sizes pieces about 1 inch long.

Using a slotted spoon, add about 20 to the boiling water at a time. Once they rise to the top of the water, about 30 seconds, remove with your slotted spoon to a paper towel to dry. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough. Transfer the bites to parchment lined baking sheets or a silicone baking sheet.

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolk and a splash of water. Brush the tops of each pretzel bite with the egg wash and sprinkle with coarse salt. Transfer to the oven and bake until golden brown, about 10-16 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool slightly before serving.

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Breakfast Cookies

I’m on a roll this month!  This is another guest spot from my friend living in Germany.  She has been experimenting with recipes, especially those that incorporate cookies into breakfast!  This is recipe is especially nice because it is flexible.  She provided me with a base recipe, but you can add any other tasty ingredients you would like.  There are all sorts of different things you can add: craisins, raisins, or other dried fruit, chocolate chips, chopped almonds or walnuts, flax seeds, or sesame seeds.  (Personally, I think dried cherries, flax, and walnuts sound fabulous!)  You can also substitute half of the flour with whole wheat flour for a slightly less guilty indulgence.

Thanks for the great recipe!  These cookies are sure to make breakfast much more exciting.  After all, who can’t use a little dessert in the morning? 🙂

The base recipe is:
1 ½ cups brown sugar
2 ½ cups rolled oats
4 cups of flour
1 tsp. Baking soda
1 tsp baking powder together in a bowl
Add 5 eggs and ¼ cup of vegetable oil and mix well.
(You can add small amounts of water to reach the correct consistency.)

These cookies will be baked on a greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about eight to ten minutes.

Mix brown sugar with egg and oil mixture.  In a separate bowl, mix together dry ingredients.  Add dry ingredients to sugar, egg and oil mixture.

Lastly, add in any other yummy ingredients.  My friend used chopped almonds, 1/2 package of craisins, and 1/2 package of chocolate chips.  They turn out kind of like granola bar and a muffin mixed together; quite tasty 🙂

Drop cookies onto greased cookie sheet and bake.  Then ENJOY!

The return and French words

As many of you know, I have been MIA from blogging for a little over a month for lots of exciting reasons.  First, we moved.  The boyfriend and I had been living on the edge of the city in a quaint little suburb.  While this was a lovely area, new jobs and no more classes (hooray!) persuaded us to move into the city.  This way, we are both closer to work and friends.  We now have a nice little apartment in the city with a view worth a million bucks.  Here’s the proof.

You will notice the train tracks in front.  Yes, we live next to the train.  Luckily, it is a suburban commuter train so it provides more of a soft rustle than a loud, disturbing noise.  My favorite part about the new apartment is my huge kitchen.  It’s lovely, with lots of counter space and tons of cupboards.  I can’t wait to start filling them up!

Second, (as I alluded to above) I am officially and finally done with school forever!  Well, classes that is. When you are a professional, the work is never done, so I do not have my degree yet.  I now have the daunting task of finishing my dissertation and internship before they hand me my diploma.  I foresee lots of late night cooking to keep myself sane over the next year.

Lastly, the boyfriend has now become the fiance!

I love the ring and he proposed in a very sweet and personal way.  We are very excited.  However, the thought of planning a wedding in the next year while finishing my dissertation and internship makes me want to hyperventilate, so the actual event will be more than a year away.  In the mean time, the fiance (that word is still strange to me) and I are just enjoying ourselves in our new apartment.

In honor of strange, French words like fiance, I decided to post a French dessert called clafoutis.  Don’t let the French intimidate you; this is a very simple recipe.  I have made it a few times and it almost always turns out great.

Essentially, clafoutis (pronounced klah-foo-TEE) is a cross between a pancake and a custard.  Its light, slightly sweet, and should have the consistency of flan.  Clafoutis is one of those strange concotions that is difficult to explain, but has a strange familiarity when eaten.  It is often baked in a pie pan and has fresh fruit in it.  It is much easier to just show you what it looks like.

I used nectarines for this clafoutis.  Traditionally, the dessert has cherries or blackberries, but almost any ripe fruit works well.  The edges of this clafoutis really puffed up, a bit like a Dutch Baby.  This often happens with clafoutis because of the amount of egg in it.  I think it has a classy, rustic look.  It is a very simple dessert that you can make quickly for unexpected company with some basic ingredients you have around the kitchen.  In fact, I made this clafoutis for some friends of ours who happened to be in town and were stopping by after dinner.   It only takes about 30 minutes to prep and make, and is usually a crowd pleaser.

Clafoutis (adapted from Playing House)

1 Tbs unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup white, granulated sugar

3 extra-large eggs, at room temperature

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/4 cups milk (this works best with whole milk, or cream)

1 dash of salt

1 Tbs pure vanilla extract

1 large nectarine, sliced 1cm thick

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter a pie pan liberally.  If you like, sprinkle one Tablespoon of white sugar in the pan for a nice crust.

Beat eggs and sugar together in a large bowl.  Beat together well.  It is helpful to do this with a blender or stand mixer.  Slowly add in flour, milk, salt and vanilla.  Mix until smooth.

Place netarine in the bottom of the greased pie pan.  Pour mixture over the fruit.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Serve warm.  If you like, sprinkle with powdered sugar or ice cream.

Start a Revolution

I am gonna start my own little revolution.  I’ve never done anything like this before, but a recent trip to a new brewpub has persuaded me to share my thoughts on a restaurant.  So I’m giving Revolution Brewing Company in Logan Square my first full review.

I went to Revolution on a total whim.  I was out with some friends who suggested we grab a bite to eat.  Someone chirped that they had heard Revolution had some good food.  Plus, he added, it came from the same people who own Handlebar.  If you are not from Chicago, Handlebar is a great vegan-friendly restaurant.  I was intrigued, so I agreed to go.

Wow am I glad I did.  Revolution is a pretty darn good brewery and an impressive restaurant.  First of all, the this is a hidden gem.  The outside is quiet and undiscerning, but the inside is stunning.  The large open space is essentially a prodigious loft.  Oddly airy, yet inviting.  The staff is warm and knowledgeable.  The beer, from what I gathered, was tasty and refreshing.  I had a Hard Working Woman and it was indeed the beer for me.  Then, there is the food . . .  Oh the food.  This is NOT your normal bar food.  This takes bar food to a whole different level.  I mean solidly, unreal.  I was really floored, maybe because I hadn’t expected or anticipated anything terribly spectacular.  I mean, after all, you go to a brewpub for the beer, not the food.

This is one brewpub I would revisit just for the food.  Their menu is creative and trendy.  There is the obligatory duck confit pizza and goat cheese salad.  However, they also have the more exciting testaments you would expect from someone who owns Handlebar, like italian seitan pizza and beluga lentils, quinoa, and winter vegetables.  And the taste and professionalism will blow you away.

That’s exactly what you think it is.  Bacon.  Parmesan.  Sage.  Popcorn.  Not only that, but the popcorn is cooked in bacon fat.  No joke.  This is a serious appetizer.  Not surprisingly, it also seems to be their most popular appetizer.  I’m not even sure how to explain it.  The word most people at the table seemed to agree on was, addicting.  Its salty, crunchy, and I dare you to stop eating it.  No really.  I dare you.

This is what they called “Sweet potato cakes”.  They take an Indian twist on latkes.  They are deliciously savory little sweet potato cakes seasoned with some lovely spice.  The dipping sauce is a roasted red pepper yogurt sauce.  Its cool and sweet.  I actually preferred this appetizer to the popcorn, but that might have something to do with my affinity for Indian food.

Yes, this is as delicious as it looks.  I love pulled pork.  I have tried to make it at home several times, but I just have not perfected the art yet.  So, I often order it when I go out to eat.  This was not your average pulled pork.  The pork was moist, tender, and slightly smokey.   But the slaw on this was amazing!  They call it a honey-jalapeno slaw and it has exactly what you would want and expect.  It’s creamy; it’s crunchy; it’s spicy; it’s sweet.  And it complements the meat perfectly.  And those fries!  They are incredible!  I don’t know how they make them, but the sprinkle them with coarse salt and they are more addicting than the bacon popcorn.

Needless to say, I highly recommend this place.  And the cherry on top of this calorie-laden sundae is that all of this food is . . . affordable.  Not just for Chicago, but generally affordable.  The bacon popcorn is only $4!  (Just to give you an idea.)  Its such a rarity to get not only good, but great, food at such a reasonable price, you better get moving.  The revolution isn’t going to wait for you.

Buffalo Chicken Dip

This concoction is sometimes referred to as “crack dip”.  I made it for my boyfriend and he agreed, it has some deliciously addicting qualities.  It is a mixture of all the things we love about wings – chicken, buffalo sauce, and blue cheese.  This recipe has a sort of cult status in the food world.  There are many different versions of this dish, all are very similar with the same basic ingredients.

Please excuse my bad nail job in the picture.  This dish is creamy and full of flavor.  I never thought combining chicken, sauce, cream cheese, and dressing would make something so delicious, but it does.  Honestly, at first, I thought, “gross, I’m just gonna throw this all together?!”  Somehow, it all works out.  It is definitely a guilty pleasure.

Ingredients:

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1/4 cup ranch dressing

1/4 cup blue cheese dressing

1/2 cup buffalo sauce

1/2 cup blue cheese (you can also use 1/4 cup blue and 1/4 cup mozzarella)

1 cup chicken (the recipe calls for canned, but I’m a snob and used leftover chicken breast)

Heat the oven to 350.  Mix cream cheese, salad dressings, buffalo sauce, and cheeses together.  Stir in chicken. Bake uncovered for 20-25 minutes.  DO NOT over bake.  Serve warm with your favorite veggies or bruschetta.

Cake in a cup?

Today I am reviewing a recipe going around the internet called Cake in a Cup.  The e-mail, which I received from my aunt, describes a way to “bake” chocolate cake in a coffee mug.  Cake in a Cup Initially, I had my doubts.  I mean, come on cake? In a cup?  Thee whole idea behind the recipe is that you put a little dash of this, a splash of that, mix it all up and nuke it in the microwave to make your own single-serving instant cake for those late night cravings.

Brilliant, right?  Wrong.  While this did take a mere 5 minutes for me to whip up, I wouldn’t exactly call it “cake”.  As you can see, the end product looked more hardened lava rather than fluffy cake.  The taste was just as disappointing.  It had a tough, spongy texture.  It tasted bland and faintly of plastic.  I blame it on the egg to dry ingredient ratio.  After all, most cake recipes have a couple of eggs and couple of cups of flour.  This recipe calls for one egg and only a few tablespoons of flour.

I wouldn’t recommend this speedy treat to anyone; if you have a late-night chocolate craving, I’d stick to the Oreos.  However, just in case you want to experiment with it on your own – here is the recipe. (Since no one is credited in the e-mail, I don’t know who to credit with inventing it)

4 tablespoons flour
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 egg
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons chocolate chips (optional)
A small splash of vanilla extract
1 large coffee mug (make sure its microwave safe)