Monthly Archives: March 2012

Those Summer Nights

As my Dad would say – New Years Day is right around the corner.

Oh, you thought New Years Day occurred on January 1? The day we pull out our new day planners and calendars? When the holidays end and it’s cold and miserable outside and there seems to be nothing at all to look forward to for months on end?

Well, yes, there’s that New Years Day. And then there’s the other New Years Day: Opening Day. The start of a new baseball season. A day most cherished by both my dad and my husband. We won’t talk about how they cheer for rival teams. Could get ugly. 😉

Now, I’ve never attended a ball game in April myself, because, let’s be honest, I’m just not that much of a die hard. Even so, I start craving the long, luscious days of summer as soon as the season starts. There’s just something about baseball. It’s the essence of summer.

When I was younger, I got taken out to the ball game more times than I can count. Thanks to my Dad’s devotion the game, I spent many hours of my childhood summers at the ballpark. Or riding in the car to get the ballpark. So much so that as soon as I was old enough to decide for myself if I wanted to go, I pretty much quit all together. Now that I’m older, I appreciate the ritual of the game so much more. I look back on all that time sitting with my Dad at the ballpark very fondly and find going to games with my Dad is still one of my favorite things to do. And it just so happens, I married a big baseball fan so the tradition of summer nights at the ballpark continue.

Baseball is reserved exclusively for the best days of the year. The kind of days that melt into warm, twinkling twilight. The crack of the bat, the suspense of the ball dangling in midair, the explosion of the crowd. It’s the perfect combination of excitement and relaxation. Being at a ball game is like chilling on the patio in your own backyard. All your best buds, eats hot off the grill, ice cold brew. Sure there’s a game going on, but if most the 9 innings is spent laughing and socializing, that’s okay. You still win regardless of the score.

Forget the peanuts and Cracker Jack, when I get to the park, all I want is big soft pretzel complete with a tiny cup of overpriced, overprocessed liquid cheese concoction. Oh, and a cold beer. Carbs, washed down with more carbs = dinner. Those ballpark pretzels….I keep going back. Are they that great? No. When it’s gone do I look down at the wayward pretzel salt stuck to my lap and think “hm, I sure am glad I ate that”? Uh, no. But it’s part of the ritual.

The good news is you can recreate that summer pretzel ritual at home all year round. And have it taste a million times better than the lukewarm, doughy, previously frozen version you get at the park.

Homemade soft pretzels are super easy to make and a great introduction to the world of yeast if you’ve yet to venture into that whole realm. The dough mixes up in a snap, it’s easy to work with and shape and the scrumptious reward at the end is well worth the extra time it takes to do it from scratch. The boiling step can be a bit tedious, but again, well worth it in the end. This time around I fancied them up a bit with classic flavors of an everything bagel. Peppered with a mix of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, salt, onions and garlic, these pretzels pack a ton of flavor. They’re excellent with a bit of honey mustard and outstanding with a homemade cheese sauce. Any way you bake them, break them, dip them or scarf them, you’ll stand up and cheer. 🙂

EVERYTHING SOFT PRETZELS (Recipe Source: Alton Brown via Foodnetwork.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Optional toppings: Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, course pretzel salt, dried minced onion, granulated garlic – all to taste

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.
  3. Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.
  4. In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.
  5. Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with desired toppings. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

ENJOY! Also…play ball! 🙂

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Filed under appetizers, bread

Where the Magic Happens

Hey! Remember last spring when we moved? And I said I was going to be sharing some of our home improvement projects here on the old blog?

About that. I lied. Or something. Honestly, there hasn’t been much worth sharing. Everyone knows the process of making a house your own is a slow one. I have a lot of blank walls, a lot of half finished rooms. I have a lot surfaces missing expertly placed decorative items. And most of all, I have a lot of windows missing window treatments. Luckily none of these windows look directly into the windows of any our neighbors. 😉

The one room that’s getting there is the kitchen. Thought you’d all like to take a peek.

Welcome to our kitchen!

I tend to spend a lot of time in here. Hours on end. Entire weekends. But it’s so cozy, I hardly even notice that what I’m doing in there (cooking, cleaning, washing dishes) happens to be what most people would define as work.

This crescent moon shaped island is without a doubt a unique conversation piece. It has plenty of room to spread out and has electricity. Pretty, but also functional. The stools provide a cozy place to have a quiet breakfast.

So you’re probably thinking…there TWO refrigerators in there? That’s crazy cakes. Well, here’s the thing. When we moved in there was the fridge behind the island and huge gaping hole along the back wall under the overhead cabinets there. We needed a forklift to pick our jaws up off the floor when we heard what it would cost to turn that space into additional cabinets and storage…that just wasn’t happening right away. So what did we do? We stuck a sad looking, half dead houseplant on the floor in the gap and stashed 12 packs of soda there. You know, the usual. When we decided to replace the fridge behind the island with a new french door (LOVE!) we just pushed the old fridge over to that empty space. Like a glove, friends!

I admit it’s a bit odd and it’s not a forever solution, but the extra space for beer and boxes of clementines and my ice cream maker bowl is nice. Someday the budget will allow to finish it off properly but for now, we’re content with being the weirdos with two refrigerators. 🙂

Now, a few of my favorite things about this room.

The view. Morning sun glistening off fresh snow. We see more than our fair share of friendly forest creatures out in our yard at the edge of the woods. The deer are particularly active. 🙂

The tile back splash. This was an unfinished mess when we moved in. Now it’s a beautiful focal point.

Kindly ignore the glaring dirt spot on the cook top. Please and thank you.

The glass front cabinets and drawers that flank the cook top. The drawers are the perfect size for spice jars and my out of control collection of loose measuring cups and spoons. And the cabinets allow for storage and a fun pop of color.

The booze shelf. Because… Duh. 🙂

The other thing I love about the kitchen is the way were able to personalize it. Eric constantly gave me a hard time at our old house about how I refused to put anything on the walls. I just couldn’t seem to find anything I liked. I hated every single mass produced metal wall piece and print I saw. So I stopped looking. Best decision ever. And now we have stuff on the walls.

Like these nifty little metal signs my brother-in-law had made for us for Christmas.

They have our name and other identifying info on them, so that’s been blacked out to protect the innocent. 😉 I’ve mentioned before how Eric grew up a on dairy – the top sign is the graphic that was printed on the side of his grandfather’s farm truck and the bottom is bottle cap from his product. Sentimental and special, these make the kitchen uniquely ours.

For Christmas, Eric bought and had framed this print from an Illinois artist. I love it because everywhere you look there’s something new to discover and it’s brimming with my favorite colors. It’s a little bit city and little bit country. Just like us. And of course, the U of I references are appreciated…seeing as that’s where we met.

Finally, as a blogger, there are plenty of photos of food laying around. Fitting for the kitchen, obviously! Now, my photos are nothing special so it’s not like giant canvas prints would be appropriate. But scaled way down, stuffed into cropped square frames, and tiled along a wall in the dining area, it’s a fun way to display a few favorites. I gave the photos a vintage feel by washing out the colors a bit so they wouldn’t be so harsh on the wall. I really liked how they turned out.

Sorry for the cruddy pic – the patio door is directly across from this wall and the glare is insane.

So there ya have it! I hope you enjoyed the detour for a little behind the scenes tour. Back with food in the next post. I have one of my most favorite recipes to date on deck so stayed tuned for that! 🙂

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Filed under Good Living, Just for Fun, Renovations