Category Archives: appetizers

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. πŸ˜‰

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. πŸ™‚

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! πŸ™‚

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Filed under appetizers, bread

Who says you can’t go home.

A few weeks ago, Eric and I took a day trip to our alma mater, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, to enjoy a day of football and pretending to be 21 again.

The football game? Ah-mazing. Not only a win but also one of the best games in recent memory. GLORIOUS!

The pretending to be 21 again? Well. That didn’t really go as planned.

The U of I was my home for four years. I felt like I knew every nook and cranny of that campus. Every tree-line walkway on the quad, every quiet place to study, every patch of grass to nap on in sun. Every bus to ride to avoid walking in the snow or the rain, every booth in my favorite hangouts, and every lecture hall seat to avoid because it was missing a desk. It felt as familiar as my childhood bedroom, and just as cozy and welcoming. I belonged there.

The connection I feel to that place is strong and intense. Emotional. I met and fell in love with my husband there. If it wasn’t for a college dorm and all it’s simultaneous awkwardness and awesomeness, I wouldn’t have met some of my very best friends. I think I look back so fondly on my college years because it connects my past with some of the best parts of my present and future.

But going back. Going back is weird. It’s funny how you expect everything to be frozen in time. It should look, feel, smell just the way you remember you it. And when it doesn’t, you’re a little shocked. You’re a little wounded. Sure, that abandoned Wendy’s building at the corner of 6th and Green served no purpose, other than maybe to attract crime and…other things, but when you see it’s been replaced with a luxury high rise apartment building with a pool on the roof (for college students, mind you…), you can’t help but feel a bit bewildered. And what is this gourmet frozen yogurt place doing here?Β  It’s just not the same.

That sense of belonging. You want it to be there so bad. But it’s not. The faces on campus hidden by sunglasses and headphones, weighty book bags slung over their shoulders – they are ten years or more your junior. Babies! Kids you probably babysat for while you were in high school! Waiting in line in the cold to pay $5 to get inside a smelly, dirty bar and drink bottom shelf liquor until you can’t see – there’s nothing fun about that anymore.

But that’s okay. It’s good actually. Because you’re older and wiser. Because chucking stuff off a balcony is frowned upon when you’re pushing thirty. Because staying out past 2am makes it really hard to get up and go to work in the morning. Because even though it’s not the same and even though you don’t really belong there anymore, you still have the memories. You still have those four years frozen in time just as they were when you were there. That’s totally enough. πŸ™‚ No one can take that away from you.

Our trip to Champaign-Urbana didn’t make us feel like we were 21 again, but it definitely drew up a ton of nostalgia. More than anything, we were overwhelmed with an intense craving for one of our favorite campus foods….Pokey Stix!

Did you have a Gumby’s near campus at your school? If so, you know EXACTLY what I’m talking about. If not, I’m sorry. Really. Womp womp. That’s a travesty.

When the campus bars would close, thousands of slightly intoxicated and famished students would pour out into the streets. The late night food spots would be packed to the brim. Burritos, sandwiches, french fries, and pizza. It didn’t matter how bad it was, there was no doubt it would taste amazing after all that bottom shelf booze.

But the holy grail of late night eats? Pokey Stix. A cheesy, doughy, pizza/breadstick hybrid consisting of a pizza crust topped with an uber-greasy garlic butter sauce and smothered with a golden layer of melted mozzarella. They were cut into long strips and came with marinara and a revolting, warm, watery ranch on the side for dipping.

NOTHING but the real deal would satisfy the craving. And, until now, I thought Pokey Stix were just another thing from days gone by. Surely they couldn’t be replicated. Surely they wouldn’t taste as good as they did with best friends in the wee hours of the morning.

Good news, lifelong Pokeys fans. They absolutely can. And they absolutely do. Eric and I each took a bite of these and were pretty much blown away by the garlicky, buttery perfection. We ate until our bellies ached. Just like we used to.

So grab some old friends, an ice cold cheap beer, and whip up a batch of these for some reminiscin’ and football-watchin’. Who says you can’t go home? πŸ˜‰

CHEESY GARLIC BREADSTICKS (Recipe inspired by and adapted from: Jam Hands)

INGREDIENTS:

  • Pizza dough (I used this Baking Illustrated recipe as seen at Brown Eyed Baker, but canned, premade, store bought, whatever you like will work. I would avoid a crust that’s too thin – the texture will be off.)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon dried minced onion
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
  • 8 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded (I would avoid pre-shredded – it’s too dry)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Prepare pizza dough as instructed. Preheat a pizza stone in a 500 degree oven for about 3o minutes.
  2. In a small skillet, melt butter. Add garlic and cook briefly until just fragrant, 15 to 30 seconds. Do not overcook the garlic or it will taste bitter! Stir in dried minced onion and salt and pepper.
  3. Roll the dough into a 12 to 14 inch circle. Drizzle with garlic butter and spread to the edges. Sprinkle with Parmesan and then mozzarella.
  4. Remove pizza stone from oven and reduce oven temperature to 425 degrees. Liberally sprinkle the stone with cornmeal to keep the dough from sticking. Carefully transfer the dough to the stone and bake until the cheese is melted and the crust is golden – about 10 to 12 minutes.
  5. To serve, cut the pie in half down the center once. Then make perpendicular cuts across the pie in the opposite direction to achieve long, thin strips. Serve alongside marinara and ranch for dipping. Cheap beer is optional, but recommended. πŸ˜‰ Serves 4.

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

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Filed under appetizers, pizza

Risk and Reward

If I had a personal assistant, I would tell her to go ahead and file this Creamy Blue Cheese Chile Dip under “Things the Boss Shouldn’t Like but For Some Reason Does.”

I’d also tell her to hold all my calls because my mouth would be too full of the stuff to yell at people over the phone. That is, if there was somebody that needed yelling at over the phone. If I was big and important I bet I could come up with someone that needed berating.

Anyway.

The words creamy and blue cheese are not ones you’ll come across very often in the Encyclopedia of Stuff I Like To Eat. In fact, based on history of eating that goes back nearly 30 years, these two words should never appear together in my world in any way, shape or form.

Until now. I’ll get my personal assistant on the task of alerting the media. I can see the headlines now: Erin Makes and Eats a White and Creamy Dip. Family Stunned.

Creamy foods and dips have almost always turned me off. There are a few exceptions, but they are rare. And blue cheese? Never been one of my favorites. But, I gotta say, trying things you’re not sure you’re going to like it is kind of fun. It’s like being back in the grade school cafeteria and having a friend dare you to mash up everything on your lunch tray and eat it in exchange for a dollar. It’s a risk/reward situation. The risk is relatively small. What’s the worst that could happen? It tastes horrible, you spit it out and you eat something else. The possible reward is great! A whole dollar! Oh, and for us grown ups, the expansion of our foodie horizons. Which beats the crap out of a dollar. So…take that, kids! πŸ˜‰

I recently came across this recipe for filets topped with a sauce made from cream cheese, blue cheese and jalapeno. For some reason, even though it goes against every fiber of my foodie belief system, I decided I just had to try it.

It was so good. Like seriously good. Something about the tangy kick of blue cheese and subtle hint of heat from the chile pepper made for an amazing topping for steak. I didn’t photograph it because lumpy white cheese sauce on top of hunk of meat is kind of….ew-looking. But when I found myself scooping up what was left of the sauce (I made all of the sauce even though we only cooked two steaks) with crunchy veggie dippers, I thought I just might be on to something.

So I just turned right around and changed that steak topping into a veggie dip. I sure did. It couldn’t be easier, it’s a fantastic out-of-the-ordinary replacement for your standard ranch dip (which I totally loathe anyway), and it makes vegetables taste like candy! Well…not candy. But still, good. It makes vegetables taste good.

It makes sense for the steak topping to be a cream cheese base as you need something sturdy that’s going to hold up after being plopped on top of a hot off the grill piece of meat. When it comes to dipping veggies, not only is cream cheese a little stiff and hard to dip, it’s also pretty high in fat. A substitution was in order…

Greek yogurt! Cool, creamy, tangy AND fat free. Whoop! I just took all the ingredients in the steak topping, mixed them into Greek yogurt, chilled it in the fridge so flavors could marry and called it delicious. The rich tang of the blue cheese plus the heat of the jalapeno is reminiscent ofΒ  the flavor of the ever popular buffalo wing – just without the greasy, fried chicken pieces. I wish I had some celery on hand this week for the dip because then it would have totally been a wing-like experience. Either way, after making this dip, I didn’t miss the wings OR the hunk of red meat underneath it. πŸ™‚

CREAMY BLUE CHEESE CHILE DIP (Recipe adapted from: Bon Appetit, April 2005 via Epicurious)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup finely crumbled blue cheese (about 1 ounce)
  • 1 small red or green jalapeno chile, seeded and finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon very finely minced shallot or red onion
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Additional minced parsley or chopped chives, for garnish (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Mix first six ingredients together in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and chill at least two hours before serving. Transfer to a serving bowl, sprinkle with garnish, if desired. Serve with the crunchy raw veggies of your choice or toasted pita chips. Makes about 1 cup.

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

One Year Ago: Cherry Berry Crumble Pie
Three Years Ago: Dijon Garlic Glazed Shrimp

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Summer Roast

The other day, I temporarily lost my mind and decided to try on last year’s bathing suit.

I’m not sure what prompted such a crazy idea. Let me tell you how often I put on a bathing suit. Try almost never. Yes, I realize summer is around the corner. Yes, I realize this makes me a bit of weirdo. But I don’t know anyone with a pool or a yacht or a canoe, I’m pretty sure my neighbor would give me the side eye if I appeared in his yard frolicking beneath the spray of his lawn sprinkler, and there is nay a beach to be seen within hundreds of miles of my house. Unless you count the Mississippi River, which I can actually see a tiny sliver of from an upstairs window (Water views, anyone? We be fancy like that.) Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure you couldn’t bribe me with all the cupcakes in the world to even dip my pinky toe into that body of water. Just saying.

But I do own a suit. You know, just in case some kind of life and death swim suit emergency should arise. Like when I get those spam-tastic recorded calls on my cell about having won free airline tickets and suddenly there’s a tropical vacation in my future. Stuff like that. πŸ˜‰

So I’m putting away some (still wintery) laundry recently and my lonely, waded up, wrinkled bathing suit caught my eye. I thought, what a nice suit. Look at the cute little ruffle. And pink straps. I like pink.

I contemplated just leaving it there and forgetting about it. Putting on a bathing suit after a long, cold winter does not a happy girl make. In fact, it sounded like a great way to straight up ruin the day. But, then I thought, hey, what the heck, ya know? Just do it.

I held my breath as I shimmied into the bottoms. I shut my eyes as I eased into the top…and then…

It was not quite the soul-crushing, self-esteem-slashing experience I built it up in my mind to be. Whew. Deep breath out. Okay, so the term muffin top is something on my radar now. Awesome. And maybe my butt is a little jiggly, but last’s years bottoms still cover it completely so…yay? Nobody’s perfect. Considering how much I like dessert and how sometimes I only get as far as putting the 30DS in the DVD player before I give up, we’ll call it a win.

Are there things I would pinch and tuck and trim and tone? Yes. Am I supermodel status? Absolutely not. But, I am me. I kinda like Me. Hear that, Me, you’re okay. Thumbs up, girlfriend.

And I do try my best. Isn’t that all you can do in your life in every situation you’re in? I pay attention to what I put in my body most of the time so I enjoy the HECK out of the times I don’t. I try to stay moderately active. So I’m not a rugby player or a derby girl or a marathon runner, I probably like sausage a little more than a dainty lady as myself should, and I know I watch too much TV. Even so, I can cook with fresh ingredients. I can get my fiber and eat my veggies. I can drink my water. I can do a modest workout and feel a sense of accomplishment. I may not look like a 10 in last year’s bathing suit, but I have succeeded in maintaining a healthy weight and I try to make good choices.

I find a really quick way to sabotage an entire day’s worth of healthy habits is to get hungry in the afternoon between lunch and dinner. Now that I’m in between jobs because of our move and home during the day, it becomes way too easy to reach for that bag of Eric’s potato chips or slice off a slab of brownie from the pan and call it a snack. Working-Full-Time Me would be horrified. With her strict weekday food rules and tendency to empty her purse of all singles and loose change before leaving the house so she couldn’t hit the vending machine, she would NOT approve. Scraping-Window-Stickers-and-Sock-Folding Me is hungry so LAY OFF. πŸ˜‰ Heh.

So I’ve started working my snacks into my meal plan to cut down on the 2:00 p.m. cookie temptation. Apples with a bit of natural peanut butter, carrots and bell pepper strips with hummus and now, this crunchy, salty, roasted edamame.

This is a super simple, completely customizable, protein packed, fiber full snack. It’s so easy and totally addictive. Frozen edameme (don’t even have to thaw it, how’s that for convenient?) is seasoned and roasted in a hot oven until the little, green soy pods get golden and crunchy. I like them simply dressed with just a bit of olive oil, kosher salt and lots of freshly cracked black pepper. Any seasonings or spices you have on hand would work – chili powder, cayenne, cumin, garlic or onion powder – whatever you’ve got and whatever you like. These are best made in small batches as they do lose their crunch as they sit around, but since they are so easy to make, it’s really no big deal. You could toss these in the oven while you’re getting for work and have an afternoon snack ready just in time to walk out the door.

Keep this recipe in your back pocket. Just in case a bathing suit emergency should arise. πŸ˜‰

ROASTED EDAMAME (Recipe Source: The Kitchn)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 16 ounces frozen shelled edamame
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
    (or 1-2 teaspoons alternate seasoning)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375Β°F.
  2. Pour the edamame in a strainer and run under warm water for a few seconds to melt any ice crystals. Spread the edamame on a clean dish towel and pat gently with another dish towel to dry them as much as possible.
  3. In a mixing bowl, toss the edamame with the olive oil, salt, and pepper (or other seasonings). Taste one of the edamame and add more seasonings if desired.
  4. Spread the edamame in a single layer on a sheet pan and roast for 30-40 minutes. Stir every 10 minutes and watch for the edamame to begin puffing and turning golden-brown. Their color will also darken, the exterior will be dry, and you’ll hear them “singing” as steam escapes from inside the bean.
  5. Remove the pan from the oven and transfer the roasted edamame to a serving bowl. They are best if eaten within a few hours of roasting.

ENJOY!

One Year Ago: Creamy Frozen Smoothie Pops
Two Years Ago: Strawberry Rhubarb Streusel Muffins

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Love and Laundry

I’m the one who gets to do all the exciting stuff around here. Like laundry. Oh boy, does laundry get my juices flowing. Cleaning the lint trap, accidentally throwing that expensive wool sweater into washing machine when it is clearly labeled dry clean only, chasing away those silly sock stealing gnomes, dropping a pair of underwear on the stairs that ends up going unnoticed for days – not to mention all that super fun folding and hanging.

Oh yes. I just LOVE laundry.

Hey Sarcasm. Say, have you seen Erin anywhere? Tell her we’re waiting on a recipe here. Thanks.

The only good thing about laundry is I get to decide when my husband’s gray pocket t-shirts have crossed over from Okay to Wear Out To Menards And Maybe Red Lobster If It’s Been A Long Day to Unacceptable For Anything Except Sleeping. These are the ones that are covered in stuff – paint, holes, burn marks (don’t ask, even he can’t explain that one). The collars are frayed, the hems are ripped, the pockets are hanging by a thread, all floppy and pathetic like. The fabric is stretched paper thin and soft from years of wearing and washing…

These are the most delicious sleeping shirts ever. I’d be lying if I said these snuggly pillows of shirt weren’t highly coveted by both of us forΒ  their superb slumber time comfort qualities.

But *I* do the laundry. I load ’em and I fold ’em. That means I handle these shirts on a regular basis. When I find a perfectly worn, soft as silk, old t-shirt, I do a little jig of joy and promptly place it in the PJ drawer in my dresser. Sorry Eric, you’re out of luck. Occasionally I miss one, and a sleep shirt ends up back in Eric’s dresser by mistake but I always get it back. Oh yes. They belong to ME!

Sometimes, for just a second, I feel kind of bad for hoarding my husband’s t-shirts. It’s kind of selfish and mean. I’m sorry. I should be ashamed of myself. In my defense, he has plenty of other pocket tees to choose from…it’s not like he’s running around half naked. He can spare ’em. πŸ˜‰

I do make up for it though by feeding him hot dogs wrapped in pretzel dough. This man clearly doesn’t have anything to complain about, right? πŸ˜‰ Every now and then, I take a break from veggie-sneaking and just make something for Eric I know he will love. Nothing funny, nothing fancy.

Soft pretzel dough is insanely simple to make. Seriously, in about 15 minutes, you’ll have a lovely ball of dough rising away. If you’ve got a mixer with a dough hook, it does all the work for you! Now, the shaping and boiling step does take a bit of time and then there’s the agonizing 15 minute wait while they bake. While these pretzel dogs are little involved for a weeknight endeavor, you can easily make them ahead and reheat later.

These little nuggets of deliciousness did not disappoint. I’d be lying if I said we didn’t eat these two nights in a row. The pretzel dough is perfectly golden, salty and chewy. Paired with the meaty, juicy bite of an (all beef) hot dog and nice spicy brown mustard- they are totally addicting. Perfect party food or as an occasional treat for kids, I promise you’ll be coming back to these again and again!

PRETZEL DOGS (Recipe source: As seen atΒ  Fake Ginger, originally from A Dash of Sass)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package dry active yeast
  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Pretzel salt, kosher salt and/or poppy seeds, for topping (Hey. I come from Chicago – the bread product that surrounds a hot dog has poppy seeds on it. Always.)
  • 8 hot dogs, cut in half

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine the warm water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes, until the yeast is foamy and begins to smell of yeast.
  2. Add the flour and butter to the yeast mixture. Attach the dough hook to the stand mixer and, on medium-low speed, combine the mixture until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and appears shiny, roughly 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Spray a large bowl with non-stick spray (or lightly grease with vegetable oil) and place dough in greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Place bowl in a warm area and let dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour.
  4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. Spray parchment paper with non-stick spray. Set aside. Meanwhile, bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a roiling boil in a large pot.
  5. Place the dough on a greased surface, and divide into 16 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope, roughly 12 inches long. Carefully wrap each piece around a half hot dog. Pinch the ends together to seal.
  6. Boil the shaped pretzels and pretzel dogs, one at a time, in the baking soda water for 30 seconds each. Using a slotted spatula, remove each pretzel dog from the water and place it on a drying rack to allow any extra baking soda mixture to drip off.
  7. Place the boiled pretzel dogs back on a parchment lined baking sheets. Brush with beaten egg yolk and sprinkle with desired toppings. Bake until golden brown, roughly 14 to 15 minutes. Transfer pretzel dogs to a cooling rack for a few minutes before serving. Makes 16 pretzel dogs.

ENJOY!

One Year Ago: Quiche Lorraine with Simple Salad
Two Years Ago: Chicken Piccata

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Filed under appetizers, bread, sausage

Two is better than one

Some things are just better in pairs. Shoes, for example. You always want to wear two shoes. Who wants to walk around with one shoe? And then what would you do with that one really dirty foot?

There’s other things too. Let’s make a list! I love lists!

<cough, cough> Nerd Alert! <cough, cough>

Anyway, back to that list. Here we go.

Things that are Better in Twos:

  • Chocolate chip cookies
  • Helpings of birthday cake
  • Hugs from adorable nieces and nephews
  • Consecutive days off work
  • Scoops of ice cream
  • Reruns of Seinfeld
  • Glasses of really good red wine
  • Hits of the snooze button
  • Favorite songs on the radio

Things that are NOT Better in Twos:

  • Sharp sticks to the eye
  • Kicks in the pants
  • Fillings at the dentist
  • Paper cuts
  • Hours in traffic
  • Trips to the DMV
  • Reruns of Friends (Sorry, all. I didn’t like that show when it was on and I don’t like it now. Lower the torches and pitchforks, Angry Mob, please and thank you, not everybody likes the same things. I hope we can still be blog buddies πŸ˜‰ )

Yep. I think that about does it. That was some mighty fine list-making…what other lists can we make?

Let’s see…how about a list of possible lists. As if I couldn’t dork it up any more in here.

  • Bands I Hate and Always Will
  • Top 10 Ways to Make a Huge, Ridiculous Mess in the Kitchen Without Really Trying
  • TV Shows I’m Only Slightly Embarrassed to Admit I Watch But Not Really Because I Don’t Have Near the Amount of Shame I Should When it Comes to That Sort of Stuff
  • Bugs and other Creepy Things I’m Afraid Of
  • Childish Names my Husband and I Call Each Other
  • The Many True and Compelling Reasons Why My Sports Team is Better Than Your Sports Team Despite the Fact that My Sports Teams ALWAYS Lose.

Hold up! These other awesome lists are going to have to wait! I need to make an amendment to the first list. One other thing that’s better in twos:

Ways to use up delicious summer produce!

How could I forget that one? We gotta use this stuff up while we can. Hurry, I say! Hurry! Remember THIS? Yeah, that’s coming back. And soon. Summer’s sun-kissed bounty will be gone before you know it so doing up big in twos, threes, fours – that’s the only way to go.

Here in Iowa we’re just starting to see the few of the seasons best at the farmer’s markets and roadside stands: sweet corn (I’ve got big plans for sweet corn, so stay tuned for that) and tomatoes.

It took me until I was a bit older to enjoy tomatoes in their raw and natural form rather than just in ketchup form. πŸ˜‰Β  Now that I do, I can’t get enough. Bruschetta is one of my favorite ways to stuff them in my face in copious amounts. πŸ™‚ There’s just something about the combo of sweet, juicy tomatoes, garlic and basil, with that pungent kick of balsamic in the background that is one of my favorite things about summer. LOVE it.

Below, I present Bruschetta two ways – because Bruschetta, like so many other things, is just better that way. One is the classic. The one we’re all used to seeing – a fresh tomato mixture, piled high on crusty toasts of french baguette. The other takes all the bruschetta flavors, adds homemade sourdough croutons and leafy romaine lettuce and calls itself a salad. That’s right. It went there.

First, let’s look at the classic. Because some things are so simple they just don’t need to be messed with.

On a recent trip to my hometown, my mom had this Double Tomato Bruschetta recipe picked out and asked if I wanted to help her make it. Um, YES! Before we got to the chopping and dicing, we had to first completely change the recipe. Ha. We nixed the sun-dried tomatoes, decreased the amount of garlic (because there is such a thing as too much garlic) and ditched the top with cheese and bake step. It came out GREAT! My mom really loved the taste of the fresh basil, having not cooked with it much in the past. This particular recipe didn’t call for any onion at all, but feel free to add some if you like it that way.

Now, I think classic bruschetta is best enjoyed outside, around a patio table under the shade of an umbrella with something like this sweating in your hand:

It’s kind of small group food. When you’ve got your four best girls around the table with you drinking sangria and talking about everything and nothing at the same time, this bruschetta fits right in. But if you’re partying on a bigger scale, this recipe may be a bit impractical. Logistics wise, that is….

TOMATO BRUSCHETTA (Recipe adapted from Allrecipes.com)

INGREDIENTS:

  • ο»Ώο»Ώο»Ώ6 roma (plum) tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, cut into thin strips
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 french baguette

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 400
  2. In a large bowl, combine the roma tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, basil, salt, and pepper. Allow the mixture to sit for at least 10 minutes. (The longer it sits the better it tastes, so make ahead if you can!)
  3. Cut the baguette into 3/4-inch slices. On a baking sheet, arrange the baguette slices in a single layer. Bake 7 to 9 minutes, until slightly browned and toasted.
  4. Spoon tomato mixture on baguette slices and serve. Makes 12 servings.

****

So instead of an intimate gathering of girlfriends, let’s say you’re having a great big blow out BBQ type party with 30 of your besties and at least one pony keg. The kind of party where people eat for hours on end, filling their plates to dangerous, teetering levels as they make their way across your white living room carpet to the patio door to sit outside. The kind of party where people are so happy to be there and eating, they don’t even care THEY ARE ABOUT TO PUT POTATO SALAD AND LIME JELLO IN THEIR MOUTH IN THE SAME BITE! If that’s the case, you need something that’s a bit easier to serve.

With this bruschtta salad you can get everything together ahead of time (in fact, I recommend making the dressing the day before, I just find homemade dressing taste better when they’ve had a chance to mellow in the fridge for a while) and then just toss it together with a drink in one hand while your friends are pulling up in the driveway. The bread soaks up the dressing just enough to be amazing but not enough to be soggy. The fresh mozzarella adds a great creamy texture.Β  It really does mimic the taste of classic bruschetta.

It’s so easy, it’s so delicious and you can set it, forget it and actually spend time with your guests as they compliment your awesome spread. πŸ˜‰

BRUSCHETTA SALAD (Recipe Source: The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen)

My tomatoes kind of sank to the bottom after tossing. πŸ™‚

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 cups cubed sourdough bread
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 small clove garlic, crushed through a press
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 cups chopped romaine lettuce
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes (about 4 medium)
  • 1 cup diced fresh mozzarella (4 ounces; half inch dice)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread bread on a baking sheet in a single layer and bake until just crisp on the outside – about 6 minutes. Remove from pan onto a wire rack to cool.
  2. Meanwhile, make the the dressing. Whisk together oil, vinegars, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Put lettuce, basil, tomatoes, mozzarella and bread in a large serving bowl. Drizzle with the dressing and toss until everything is evenly coated. Serve immediately. Makes 6 main dish or 12 side dish servings.

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

****

And, finally, one last list. If you’re still here and reading…HI! Thanks for playing. πŸ™‚

The lovely and talented Branny at Branny Boils Over tagged me with a bit of a getting to know you challenge. It just happens to contain lists. What luck! My answers appear below. Thanks for the shout out Branny! πŸ™‚

1) What was on your To-Do list today:

  • Sweep the bathroom. Make the sheer amount of hair I pick up into a wig. πŸ˜‰
  • Wash some clothes.
  • Clean out the fridge. Free to a good home: a container with….something inside. It used to resemble food.
  • Eat a cupcake. That one was so easy I may do it twice.

2) 5 Snacks you enjoy:
I actually don’t do much snacking let’s see what I can come up with:

  • Apples. I eat an apple every day.
  • Yogurt
  • Caramel corn. I can’t keep it around or else I will eat it until I get sick!
  • Hummus
  • Chips and salsa

3) 5 Places you have lived:

  • A happy home on a great block in suburban chicago
  • A couple of assorted dorm rooms at the U of IL
  • “The Players Club” that’s what we called our college apartment.
  • An apartment with my then boyfriend (gasp!), now husband
  • Our current lovely home. πŸ™‚

4) What were you doing 5 years ago:

  • 5 years ago was my first full year out of college. I went crazy and followed my boyfriend to Iowa. I sold clothes in the Junior’s department in a department store. Thanks, college education! The boyfriend proposed! And we bought our home. I can’t believe it’s been 5 years since all that. Wow!

5) 5 things you would do if you were a Billionaire:

  • I’d start a writing group for girls. I’m not sure how, what kind or the logistics of the whole deal but I want to help girls discover and cultivate their talents.
  • Travel, of course. Maybe I’ll even leave the Midwest! How ’bout them apples!
  • I want to have my own bakery. But I don’t want to do any of the hard stuff like working 14 hours a day 6 days a week. I bet if I were a billionaire I could hook that up. πŸ˜‰
  • I’d help my family and friends realize their dreams too, whatever they may be!
  • Save a whole bunch. I can’t help it. It’s what I do.

Passing on this little challenge to a few other awesome bloggers I adore:

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Filed under appetizers, salads, veggies

All Puffed Up

Sometimes it’s kinda fun to make a meal out of something that technically isn’t a meal. Like cereal. Is cereal dinner? From a balanced nutrition standpoint, probably not. But when it’s late or you’re tired or you just don’t feel like turning on the oven and dirtying up a bunch of pots and pans, cereal totally hits the spot. And I don’t know about you guys, but whenever Eric and I go on vacation, we always find a local ice cream parlor and make big ol’ sundaes dinner at least once. Ice cream for dinner is a vacation MUST!

Obviously this is not an every day thing, but every once a while it feels nice to forgo all the rules about what makes a balanced meal and just have fun with food.

Eric really likes finger food type stuff. Anything bite-sized that he can just pop into his mouth is always going to be a hit with him. The guy has been working extra hard lately and needed a little bit of cheering up. Let’s face it – if he needs cheering up, then I need cheering up. If he’s blue, I’m blue. I must love the guy or something. Huh. How about that. πŸ˜‰

So on Saturday, I decided we’d have a non-dinner dinner. Not a balanced meal? Meh. So what. It’s Saturday. For dinner, we had bread, cheese and meat. In tiny puff form that made it extra easy to eat way too many. Success. Although, for the record, I did cut up some raw veggies to eat on the side. So, I did do SOMETHING right. πŸ™‚

These little babies are super easy to make and a lot of fun. They are the perfect make-ahead snack for a game day or an appetizer spread. They are light, fluffy and cheesey with a great hint of crunch around the edges (which I just cannot resist. EDGES RULE!) The pepperoni gave them great flavor. Really these are pretty customizable. Perhaps bacon, cheddar and scallions for your next brunch spread or Parmesan, garlic and herb for a side on lasagna night. Any veggies, cheese or meat you desire can be mixed into this puffy batter. The combinations are endless!

PEPPERONI PIZZA PUFFS (Recipe Source: Everyday with Rachael Ray)

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 cup whole milk (I used 1% with fine results)
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 4 ounces mozzarella cheese, shredded (about 1 cup)
  • 4 ounces pepperoni, cut into small cubes (about 1 cup)Β  (I used turkey pepperoni)
  • 1/2 cup store-bought pizza sauce (I used Newman’s Own marinara – my preferred jar sauce!)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375Β°. Grease a 24-cup mini-muffin pan. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder; whisk in the milk and egg. Stir in the mozzarella and pepperoni; let stand for 10 minutes.
  2. Stir the batter and divide among the mini-muffin cups. Bake until puffed and golden, 20 to 25 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, microwave the pizza sauce until warmed through, then stir in 1 tablespoon basil. Sprinkle the puffs with the remaining 1 tablespoon basil. Serve the puffs with the pizza sauce for dipping. Serves 4.

Note: These can be made ahead of time. Place baked puffs on a baking sheet and put in the freezer until frozen. Transfer to a storage bag. When ready to eat, preheat oven to 350 degrees, place puffs on a baking sheet, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes until warm.

ENJOY! πŸ™‚

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Filed under appetizers, bread, muffins, pizza