Homemade Pretzels

A couple of Sundays ago, instead of watching the Super Bowl, I spent some time in the kitchen. I wanted to take a crack at some of the other things our bread machine can do. Pretzels were a big part of football watching in the house growing up.  Mainly dipped in salsa and cream cheese, or just cream cheese, or french onion dip. Needless to say, pretzels are a favorite of mine and have been for quite awhile. How could I pass this up?


Making the dough was simple enough, we simply followed the list from the recipe book and turned on the machine.  About an hour and a half later, we had a big ball of dough and were ready to start forming our pretzel twists. We separated the dough into 12 pieces per the instructions, rolled them into long logs. We did our best to twist them into the traditional pretzel shape and let them sit for a bit. That’s when things got a little more interesting.

Rather than popping the cookie sheet in the oven, we placed them one at a time into a pot of boiling water for a few minutes, making sure to flip them halfway through their time. From there, they were dipped into a mix of baking soda and water before they went into the over to turn brown and crispy. That’s where the recipe booklet ended and we took over.  We wanted to make sure and get those tasty salt crystals sprinkled on top. To make sure it all stuck we drizzled melted butter over the tops before we sprinkled salt across them.  We kept half of the pretzels salty but with the other half tried a sweet mix of cinnamon and sugar.


We wolfed down the warm pretzels pretty quickly eating 4 salty and 2 sweet right away that night.  The rest we’ve been trying to keep for toasting up in the stove after work. They’re just about gone. These will definitely get made again, maybe for the Olympics, or just for Friday. I’m also making sure we have cream cheese on hand for the next batch too.

Winter Project List

It’s December 3rd and, despite the fact that there isn’t any snow on the ground, the garden is all tucked in for the winter.  Usually, when this happens I sort of stop thinking about projects to do and start stocking up on holiday treats.  This year I’ve decided to change that.  I’m going to try and get some projects underway for the long cold weekends we’re starting to have.

First on the list is basic organization.  I would absolutely LOVE to open my cupboard doors and have them look like this.  Realistically, I’ll settle for getting rid of old soup mixes stuck in back corners of top cupboards and figuring out what sort of thing we’d actually use and want to have on hand.

Image: Home Shopping Spy

Image: Home Shopping Spy

Other organizing ideas, are to make freezing and canning easier for next spring and summer.  Blank labels for freezing and canning as well stocking up on enough storage containers will keep any last minute runs to the store to a minimum.

Image: marthastewart.com

Image: marthastewart.com

In a perfect world, I’d get to add in an extra piece of counter with a couple of cupboard/drawers similar to the photo below.  Like I said, in a perfect world.

Images: Chris Perez, from theKitchn.com

Images: Chris Perez, from theKitchn.com

Aside from organizing, I want to get some non-seasonal food stored.  First up would be pasta.  Easily the most bought and used dry good in the house.  I’m also going to look for some other dry goods that would be easy to make and store, like crackers or other snack foods.

image: Copyright Paula Jones with bellalimento

image: Copyright Paula Jones with bellalimento


But most importantly I want to learn how to make CHEESE!!!

Images: Emma Christensen, TheKitchn.com

Images: Emma Christensen, TheKitchn.com

Lastly, I’m wondering about entrees I can make and freeze, like this pizza.  We’ve had so many busy weekends without time to grocery shop, stuff like this would have really come in handy.

Image: America's Test Kitchen

Image: America’s Test Kitchen

I’ll keep you posted on any updates to the list.  I think starting with the organization will make the rest easier and, to be honest, get the worst of it out of the way first!


**just a note, I didn’t intend this to be a post about how many projects you can find at TheKitchn.com but I couldn’t help it, they’ve got some good ideas

mmmMinneapolis Thanksgiving

Hi All!  I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving weekend!

I hosted my first Thanksgiving meal this year and took care of the majority of the meal.  Our Moms helped us out with a couple of salads and appetizers but I was pretty insistent about trying to do it all myself (I’ve got a bit of a stubborn streak I suppose).  I did the usual turkey and mashed potatoes but updated some of the other side dishes, courtesy of Bon Appetite’s Thanksgiving inspiration slide show.  Seriously, look through the pictures on the site and try to not get hungry.

Check out that Turkey!  The bird was ordered through Clancey’s where we usually get our meat for the week.  It was about 14 pounds, free range from a local farm.  It was a great bird but I was thrown off a bit by the giblets and such that were left in the bird.  I remember growing up with the organs and all that wrapped neatly in a plastic bag inside the turkey so you didn’t have to look at it if you didn’t want to.  Long story short, we used a flashlight and shook the bird a few times over the sink to make sure we got everything out.  I’m sure it was pretty funny to see us shaking this huge turkey over a sink:)

We brined the bird for about 6 hours before cooking.  We used one of Hub’s brewing pots to fit the bird, you use about a cup of salt per gallon of water.  You need enough water to cover the bird.  To cook the bird, I followed the advice of a friend at work that used to work in a professional kitchen.  Low heat, overnight, wake up to a finished turkey.  You add in some veggies and butter to the cavity of the turkey to help with the flavor and the juices.  I’ll have to OK it with her before I hand over the full details, but I can tell you it made for a juicy turkey that was perfectly done!

And now for the sides!
First up, Cream Cheese Mashed Potatoes, we’ve made similar versions of this in the past.

Maple-Braised Butternut Squash with Fresh Thyme

Spiced Glazed Carrots with Sherry and Citrus

Slow Roasted Green Beans with Sage

We also had Creamy Corn following a family recipe but somehow I missed getting a close up of it

Now, if that wasn’t enough for you, dessert!  We made a chocolate and apple pie from scratch.  I didn’t get a photo taken of the chocolate before it was dug into, but I’ve got one of the apple for you.  I got the recipe here.  It was the first time I had a successful pie crust on the first go.  I was pretty pumped.  I made the pie the weekend before and froze it for the week raw.  Then that day I took it out and let it bake while we were eating the rest of the meal.

It was a great day and it was a fun experience to do the hosting this year.  By the end of the day we were all stuffed, as we should be.  I’m pretty sure my face looked like this kid’s.

Hope you have a good week and good leftovers!

Pinterest Recipe of the Month- Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart

We’ve been starting to get more cherry tomatoes ripening up in the garden over the last couple of weeks, so I’ve been on the look out for a way to use up quite a few and to give us a break from eating them in pasta.  I came across this tart from Martha Stewart on Pinterest and thought I’d give it a shot since it seemed pretty straight forward.  Really, it wasn’t to hard to put together since it uses a store bought pastry dough.  Just a little more work than you’d want for a weeknight meal.

First thing was getting a pastry dough set up.  I defrosted it in the fridge overnight before laying it out and rolling it to a 12″ square.

My ‘square’ pastry dough was anything but.  I liked it though, makes it more rustic that way.

Next up was a sour cream and mustard mix that spread out pretty thin on the dough.  Then I folded over the edges to make a little bit of a raised crust.  I was able to square up my tart a little doing this.

I popped that into the fridge to set up a bit and got started on my leeks. 2 chopped up into fairly thin slices.

I sauteed them in butter for a bit until they were nice and soft.

Then I pulled the dough back out of the fridge and spread my leeks evenly over the tart.

Next I took my cherry tomatoes, halved them, and spread them over the tart.  Then popped the whole thing into the oven.

Look at that, nice and toasty!  The edges of the crust puffed up nicely and the tomatoes roasted up beautifully.

With the baking out of the way, I sprinkled the cheese and some fresh thyme over the whole thing.

We had the tart for lunch both days this weekend.  The tomatoes popped a little in your mouth and combination with the cheese was perfect.  It would be good for a savory brunch or side dish.  Instead of warming it up in the microwave on Sunday, I put the leftovers in the oven.  I think the crust would have gotten soggy in the microwave  I think next time I would try and make something like this when I knew I would be able to finish the whole thing.

Dessert of the Month- Lavender, Lemon, Almond Cake

In the spirit of the change of seasons into spring, I went with a light dessert this month.  It’s also my first shot at a recipe, not a recipe from scratch mind you, but adapting one that I’ve had success with before.The base of the recipe is from Giada De Laurentiis of Everyday Italian on the Food Network, you can find the original recipe here.  The additions I made were adding in the lemon juice and lavender flowers.  I also adjusted my cooking time based on the size of cake pans I had available.  Her original recipe calls for an 8 inch cake pan at 35 min.  The local ingredients I used were butter, eggs, sour cream and lavender.

Start by pre-heating your oven to 350 degrees and butter and flour a 9 inch cake pan.  Then mix together your cake flour, cornmeal, and baking powder in a medium bowl and set aside.

Then, cream together your butter and almond paste until it’s nice and smooth.  I scraped down my bowl a few times and spread a bit of it against the side to make sure it was well mixed and I didn’t have any large pieces of almond paste left behind.

Next up, I added in my vanilla as well as fresh squeezed lemon juice.

When its it well blended, slowly add in your powdered sugar, keeping the mixer going until it’s light and fluffy.

Next start adding your eggs one at a time, waiting until each one is incorporated before adding the next.

When your eggs are incorporated do a quick scrape of the bowl before you add in the sour cream.

Finally, slowly add in the mix of dry ingredients until incorporated.

Once the batter was fully mixed, I measured a tablespoon of lavender.  It’s important to note that I bought the lavender at the co-op in the spice section.  Make sure you use lavender that’s meant for cooking and not anything that’s been treated for home decor use.  Probably not the best idea for your stomach.  I ran my knife through the dried flowers to chop them up a bit, then slowly folded them into the batter little by little to make sure they were evenly distributed.

Then I poured the batter into the prepared cake pan and smoothed the top with a spatula before letting it bake for 30 minutes.

When the top of the cake is golden brown and the edges are pulling away from the pan its done.

I let it cool in the pan for a bit before turning it out onto a cooling rack to bring it to room temperature.  To dress it up, sift some more powdered sugar over the top before you cut and serve.  You could also sprinkle with a bit of lemon zest or more of the lavender to really make it shine.

You’ll end up with a fairly dense cake that’s subtly sweet and gives you a nice blend of flavors.  Enjoy!

Pinterest Recipe of the Month- Rustic Artisanal No Knead Bread

For the Pinterest Recipe this month, I wanted to try something other than a main dish and take a stab at bread.  I pinned this recipe form Anna’s Table and with only 4 ingredients, and the promise of minimal labor, this seemed like a good place to start.

Talk about easy!  First thing you do is combine your flour, yeast and salt with a wooden spoon or your hands.

Then you add in your water.  Anna didn’t call out what temperature it needed to be, I nuked mine in the microwave for a minute to make sure it got the yeast working.

Then I slapped some cling wrap across the top of the bowl and left it alone for a little over 12 hours.  You can leave it for up to 24, but I didn’t want to wait that long for my bread.

After 12 hours, you scrape out the dough onto a floured piece of parchment paper.  Make sure you have a good amount of flour down so your dough folds easily later.

Then spread it out to about a 10×10 square, it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Then you fold in the edges from side to side and top to bottom.

Flip the dough, folded side down onto another floured piece of parchment and wrap with parchment loosely, then cover with a dishtowel.  Let it rise under the towel for another couple of hours.

When the two hours are up, put a cast iron dutch oven in the oven with the lid on  and pre-heat  to 500 degrees.

Once the oven has reached 500 degrees, put the dough in the dutch oven folded side up, place the lid back on, and let it bake for 30 minutes.

After the 30 minutes are up, remove the lid, turn the oven temp down to 375 and let bake for another 15-30 minutes depending on how dark you want your bread.

I ended up making 2 loaves this weekend.  The first one because I didn’t turn the oven down to 375 for the last 15 minutes.  The crust was burned a bit on top but the inside looked (and tasted) pretty good.

I gave it a second shot tonight and turned the oven down like I was supposed to.  The top came out a beautiful golden brown.

While it was still warm we sliced it up and buttered it to have along side some cheesy chili.  Pretty perfect for a night with a temp of 33 degrees:)

I was really happy with how the bread turned out and with such a simple recipe, I want to try making it again adding in some herbs or top with cheese.  I also want to try adding in some cinnamon or sugar to make a sweet bread for breakfast, I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

Dessert of the Month- Red Velvet Whoopie Pies

Hi Everyone!  I hope you all had a good Valentine’s Day yesterday and got some fun treats to celebrate!

For the February Dessert of the Month I thought it was only appropriate it went along with the holiday and after some online searching I settled on Red Velvet Whoopie Pies…with cream cheese frosting filling:) Courtesy of the blog, Annie Eats.

To start up, I whisked together my dry ingredients; flour, salt, cocoa powder and baking powder and set aside.

adding vanilla

I creamed together the butter sugar until fluffy.  Then added in the egg and  vanilla one at a time making sure each was incorporated before moving on.

Next up, added about a third of the dry ingredients followed by half of the buttermilk.  I repeated until both the dry and buttermilk were gone.

Then I added in my 1 oz. of red food coloring.  Handy little tip: you can buy food coloring in that size at the grocery store.  It’s easier to do that than useing the little guys you can buy in packs of 4.

Once the batter was mixed together the real fun began.  Obviously I had to go for the heart shapes so I loaded up my pastry bag with red velvet dough, laid out my parchment paper and went to work.

I started with a round tip.  It was way to small of a tip.  The dough didn’t come out easily and took too long to pipe out and make a heart shape.

Next I tried a star tip.  The dough came out a little better but I didn’t like the texture I was getting.  So I took out the metal tips and just used the cut end of the bag.  Much, much easier.

I didn’t use a template that was recommended by Annie.  However, if I were to make it again, I would.  The hearts were pretty easy to do, but without the template they were a little lop sided.

The cookies baked pretty quickly, only about 7-9 minutes and the pans had to be turned halfway through. Then I let them cool for a bit before moving them to cooling racks.

While they were cooling I started on the cream cheese frosting.  It goes really quickly.  First, you cream together the cream cheese and butter until it’s nice and smooth.  Make sure you don’t have any lumps.

Next up, add in your vanilla.  Then you start gradually adding powdered sugar.  I sifted in half a cup at a time letting it get fully incorporated before adding in the next batch.  You’ll end up with A LOT of frosting.  Not that it’s a bad thing:)

With the frosting done and the cookies cooled, I started pairing up my ‘hearts’ to make sandwiches.  Here I had another realization on why the template was so important.  Besides the fact that a lot of my hearts ended up looking more like kidney beans, it was hard to get good matches for even sandwiches with the cookies back to back.  I fudged it a little and had some cookies face up just to make them even and keep frosting on the fingers to a minimum.

I used a second pastry bag to pipe frosting on for each tiny sandwich.  I didn’t go all the way out to the sides when I piped it on.  This kept the frosting from spilling all over the place when you press on the top.

And there you go!  I put them in the fridge over night to let the cream cheese frosting firm up a bit.  I brought some to work the next day.  They got good reviews and it was fun to make something so mini and bite sized and I like giving out something homemade for holidays.  I think I’ll also use the cream cheese frosting again for cakes or some other treats.  I’m sure you could just do little rounds or go really crazy and try some other shapes for cookies too.

Give it a try and have some fun!

Red Velvet Whoopie Pies
Recipe from AnnieEats.com
(Source: cookies adapted from Dinner and Dessert, originally from Better Homes & Gardens, December 2008; frosting frosting adapted from Confections of a Foodie Bride)

Yield: approximately 18 sandwich cookies, but depends entirely on the size of hearts you make

For the cookies:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. cocoa powder
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ cup buttermilk, at room temperature
1 oz. red food coloring


For the frosting:
8 oz. cream cheese
5 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted

Preheat the oven to 375˚ F.

Using a heart template cut out from card stock, trace evenly spaced hearts onto pieces of parchment paper sized to fit two cookie sheets.  Place the parchment on the cookie sheets so that the side you have drawn on is facing down; set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Beat in the egg until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.  Blend in the vanilla.  With the mixer on low speed, beat in about a third of the dry ingredients, followed by half of the buttermilk, beating each addition just until incorporated.  Repeat so that all the buttermilk has been added and then mix in the final third of dry ingredients.  Do not overbeat.  Blend in the food coloring.

Transfer the batter to a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip.  Pipe the batter onto the parchment paper using the heart tracings as a guide.  Bake 7-9 minutes or until the tops are set, rotating the baking sheets halfway through.  Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheets at least 10 minutes, until they can be easily transferred to a cooling rack.  Repeat with any remaining batter.  Allow cookies to cool completely before proceeding.

To make the cream cheese frosting, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until well combined and smooth, about 2-3 minutes.  Mix in the vanilla extract.  Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until totally incorporated, increase the speed and then beat until smooth.

Transfer the frosting to a clean pastry bag fitted with a plain, round tip.  Pair the cookies up by shape and size.

Flip one cookie of each pair over so that the flat side is facing up.

Pipe frosting onto the flat-sided cookie of each pair, leaving the edges clear.  Sandwich the cookies together so the flat sides are facing each other and press gently to help the filling reach the edges.  To store, refrigerate in an airtight container.

Dessert of the Month- Tart Tatin

To start off my Dessert of the Month posts I wanted to try something new.  I’ve done cakes, cookies and pies in the past but I haven’t had much experience with pastry dough.  After flipping through my cookbooks I decided on Tart Tatin, in other words an upside down apple tart.  Looking at the recipe it seemed pretty simple, a short list of ingredients and only 6 steps.  Well, let me tell ya, I need to keep working on my pastry dough.

I split the recipe over two nights.  The first night I worked up the dough to let it chill in the fridge over night.  First things first, I slightly softened the butter by pounding it with a rolling pin per the recipe.

Second, I sifted the flour into a pile and made a little well in the middle to hold the rest of the dough ingredients.

I separated the yolks from the whites of two eggs.

Then added in sugar and a table spoon of water.

And then put in my butter after splitting it up into chunks.  Then the fun started when I got to mix it all up with my fingers:)  I love working with dough like this.

Once it reached a crumbly consistency, I started to knead it until it all held together and came off my board in one piece.

Then I formed a ball, wrapped in in two sheets of plastic to be safe, and put it in the fridge overnight.  I think this might be where my problems started…according to the recipe it only needed half an hour so it may have been in there just too long.

Night two, I got started peeling 5 pounds of Minnesota Honey Crisp Apples.  Because of their size I didn’t have the 14-16 called for in the recipe, but I wanted to try and keep them local.  I used a vegetable peeler to keep from taking off much of the fruit flesh, chopped them in half, cored them, and rubbed them with half a lemon to keep them from browning.

I also checked to see how it would all fit in my skillet.  My apples looked much bigger than the apples they used in the cookbook.  Sure enough, I ended up not needing an apple and a half.

With the apples done and set aside, I started on the carmel sauce.  I melted a stick of butter and added a cup of sugar and let it cook on medium until it reached a dark golden brown color.  I had a little trouble getting to this point.  For some reason I kept adding a stick and a half rather than a stick of butter…I ended up making it three times before I had the right ratio, ugh.

Once the carmel was done and slightly cooled I arranged the apples back in the skillet and brought it up to a medium high heat and let them caramelize.  I did about 10 minutes on each side to keep an even color.

With the apples done I turned my attention to the crust.  I had pulled the dough out of the fridge when I started peeling the apples to let it warm up a bit before I started to roll it out.

I learned two things really quickly. 1- I need to work on keeping the dough round when I roll it out and 2- The consistency was off.  It was crumbly and splitting on me.   I tried adding just a bit of water, didn’t help, added some flour, got worse, so I took a deep breath and just went for it.

I kept working with it to try and get the size I needed.  To fix the shape, I used the lid of my skillet as a guide to cut and patch the dough so it would cover the bottom and we would have a full crust.  It was working OK until I tried to move it from the counter to the pan.  It split up into several pieces the second I moved it.

At this point the dough was really warm from me handling it.  I formed it back into a ball (which it didn’t want to do) and popped it into the freezer to firm it up for 10 minutes.  When I took it back out, it was cool but still a bit crumbly. I repeated the same technique as above using the lid as a guide.  This time I rolled it on the saran wrap so I had a little bit of help moving it to the skillet.  It worked but looked nothing like the photo in the book…..sigh…

I put the tart in the oven for about 25 minutes and once the crust reached a golden color, took out the tart to cool.  Once the pan was cool enough to handle I went for the flip.  The skillet was pretty heavy with roughly 5 pounds of carmel soaked apples.  I wasn’t quite quick enough and lost a lot of carmel sauce to the stove top when I flipped it.  On the plus side it looked great!

The hubs and I had a piece for dessert on Friday and as much as I was disappointed with the consistency and visual appeal of the crust, it tasted pretty good.  The crust helped balance out the sweetness of the carmel sauce and was sturdy enough to hold up to the big pieces of apple.  It was a great fall/winter dessert, especially served warm.  I would have loved a small scoop of vanilla ice cream along with it.

Tart Tatin
from The Illustrated Step-by-Step Cook
DK’s classic Look and Cook series

Dough:                                                                   Filling:
5 Tbsp unsalted butter                                   14-16 apples, total weight about 5 pounds
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour                          1 lemon
2 egg yolks                                                           1 stick unsalted butter
1 1/2 Tbsp sugar                                                1 Cup sugar
pinch of salt                                                         creme fraiche, to serve (I skipped this)

1. Using a rolling pin, pound the butter to soften it slightly.  Sift the flour on to a work surface, and make a well in the center.  Put the egg yolks, sugar and pinch of salt in the center of the well, then adde the softened butter and 1 Tbsp of water.  using your fingertips, work the ingredients in the well until throughly mixed.

2. Work the flour into the other ingredients until coarse crumbs form.  If they seem dry, add a little more water.  Press the dough into a ball.  Lightly flour the work surface, then knead the dough for 1-2 minutes until it is very smooth and peels away from the work surface in 1 piece.  Shape into a ball, wrap it tightly, and chill for about 30 minutes until, firm.

3. With a vegetable peeler, carefully peel the apples, then halve and core them.  Cut the lemon in half and rub the apples all over with the cut lemon to prevent discoloration.

4. Melt the butter in a heavy-based oven-safe frying pan.  Add the sugar.  Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 3-5 minutes, until caramelized to a deep golden brown.  Remove from the head and let cool to lukewarm.  Arrange the apple halves over in concentric circles to fill the pan.  They will shrink during cooking so pack them firmly.

5. Cook the apples over high heat for 15-25 minutes, until caramelized.  Turn once to caramelize on both sides.  Take the pan from the heat, and let cool for 10-15 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190 degrees Celsius)

6. Roll out the pastry to a round, about 1 inch (2.5 cm) larger than the pan.  Roll up the dough around the rolling pin, then drape it over the pan.  Tuck the edges down around the apples.  Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.  Let cool to lukewarm, then set a plate on top, hold firmly together, and invert both.  If any apples stick to the pan, replace on the tart.  Spoon some caramel over the apples. Serve with creme fraiche.

CSA Zucchini Bread

Hi Everyone!  I hope you’re having a good summer.  I can’t believe we’re halfway through August already!  It’s going way to fast for me.

Our last CSA delivery was really full and along with the usual salad mix, we got about 20 pounds of squash!  Ok, that might be an exaggeration….  We’ve eaten quite a bit of it, but we still have more to go before the next delivery.  To keep us from eating it  for every lunch and dinner, I consulted my old friend Betty Crocker for a good zucchini bread recipe.

The recipe called for 3 cups of shredded squash and I was able to get that before I was two thirds through one zucchini.  To that I added the flour, sugar, vanilla and local eggs along with a few nuts and spices.

The smell of the bread baking was so great!  It reminded me of summer back at home when my dad would bring in a 5 gallon buckets of them from the garden and get to cooking.

We still have yet to get any squash from our garden in the backyard but I’m planning on making and freezing a few loafs for us to eat after the garden is done for the year.  I’m also thinking I’ll have to find a few more ideas for all the squash thats still to come:)