tomato soup and scooby-doo

Grilled cheese and tomato soup; it’s the ultimate comfort food combination. No matter who you are or where you’re from I’m betting you have some memory directly connected to this classic combo; for me it’s cozy weekend lunches as a kid. I’d set myself up with a tv tray smack in the middle of the living room, turn on one of my favorite shows; perhaps Scooby-Doo, Josie and the Pussycats or Schoolhouse Rock and settle in with a piping hot bowl of tomato soup and a good ‘ol grilled cheese. Simple. Classic. Perfect.

Flash forward 30+ years and nothing has changed. Sure the show on tv is probably SpongeBob, Fairly Odd Parents or Uncle Grandpa (Unfamiliar with this one? Count yourself lucky.) The soup is Slow-Roasted Tomato Bisque and the sandwiches are Grilled Rosemary Ham and Muenster on Marble Rye; but the cozy, comforting perfection is just the same.

Slow-Roasted Tomato Bisque
You can also make this soup with canned whole tomatoes and it will be perfectly good, but nothing beats fresh.

tom soup2

2 1/2 lbs. fresh Roma tomatoes
2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
3/4 cup low-fat half and half

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside. In a small bowl mix together the brown sugar, cloves, salt and pepper. Slice the tomatoes in half and place cut-side up on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle each half with olive oil then sprinkle liberally with the brown sugar mixture.
  2. Roast in the oven for 2 1/2 hours, or until the tomatoes begin to soften and collapse. Transfer the roasted tomatoes to a blender. Add the vegetable stock and blend until smooth.* Transfer the puree to a medium pot and heat until warmed, but not boiling. Stir in the half and half and cook for an additional minute. Ladle into bowls and enjoy!

*To make ahead: Follow the directions up to this point, then pour into a storage container and refrigerate. When ready to use heat until warmed, but not boiling. Stir in the half and half and cook for an additional minute, then serve.

*adapted from injennieskitchen.com

irish blue cheese + walnut crisps

As I’m sure you’re aware Saint Patrick’s Day is on Monday. The one day of the year that EVERYONE is officially Irish, that green beer is a thing to be celebrated and that a meal of boiled meat is consumed with gusto by a significant amount of the population. Don’t get me wrong— I like St. Paddy’s Day just as much as the next Polish/Italian girl and I will in fact be eating corned beef (or Chicken Stout Stew) and soda bread right along with the masses. My question is why? Why was Saint Patrick such a big deal that he deserves an entire boozy and bloated from the brined beef day named after him. Seriously, why?

I did a little research and quickly found out few things. First of all Saint Patrick’s Day has it’s own website, nope not kidding! It’s filled with lore, recipes, parade schedules and the like. Secondly, I found this great graphic from History.com of Saint Patrick’s Day stats…

st-patricks-day-infographic-final-forweb

Pretty impressive numbers for a day celebrating a guy who wasn’t actually Irish. Yup that’s right, the third thing I discovered was Saint Patrick was apparently born to either British or possibly Roman parents; either way his lineage was not Irish. Crazy, right?!? So why is March 17th such an international big deal? Well, it wasn’t always. Prior to the early 1900’s the day was considered a minor religious holiday in Ireland; a simple church service, a big family meal (which could include meat and beer, items normally abstained from during Lent) and that’s about it. Hmmm, so then how on earth did it become such a “day” here in the States? Well I’ll tell you how… According to NationalGeographic.com: Eighteenth-century Irish soldiers fighting with the British in the U.S. Revolutionary War held the first St. Patrick’s Day parades. Some soldiers, for example, marched through New York City in 1762 to reconnect with their Irish roots. Other parades followed in the years and decades after, including well-known celebrations in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago; primarily in flourishing Irish immigrant communities. ‘[Saint Patrick’s Day] became a way to honor the saint but also to confirm ethnic identity and to create bonds of solidarity…'”  And there you have it; we apparently have a bunch of Irish mercenaries to thank for the grand celebration that is Saint Patrick’s Day as we know it.

When you think of typical “Irish food” potatoes, corned beef and beer are undoubtedly the first things to pop to mind. But in fact the Emerald Isle actually has a strong connection to seafood and dairy as well. You’ll find delicious Irish cheeses and butter for sale everywhere; from Costco to Shop Rite, Trader Joe’s to Fairway. Irish butter is a “European-style butter”, meaning it has a higher butterfat content than your average American butter and a richer, creamier texture. It’s fantastic on a slice of toast, or melted on some veggies but it really shines when you use it for baking. Your typical American butter contains more water and less butterfat than it’s European counterpart. When used for baking this additional water can act as a glueing agent and result in tougher pastry dough. Higher butterfat = light and lovely baked goods! (Next time you make a pie crust try using Irish butter instead, the results will amaze you.)

This year to celebrate the not so Irish patron saint of Ireland I’ve decided to pay a simple homage to the Irish dairy industry. What goes better with a few cocktails and snacks than some yummy crisps. (Listen to me, next I’ll be suggesting we put the kettle on the cooker and have a cup of tea!) Anyway back to the crisps… Irish Blue Cheese + Walnut Crisps to be exact. These are perfect with a bit of cheese and a pint, but equally delish all on their own! So until next we meet…

“May the Irish hills caress you;
may her lakes and rivers bless you;
may the luck of the Irish enfold you;
may the blessings of Saint Patrick, behold you.”

Irish Blue Cheese + Walnut Crisps
These are so amazingly tasty that you just may want to consider doubling the recipe so insure there are leftovers!

bluecheese crisps2

1/2 cup walnut pieces, toasted and finely chopped
8 tbsp. unsalted Irish butter, at room temperature
8 oz. Irish blue cheese, crumbled and at room temperature
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp. cold water
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. of water, for egg wash

  1. In a medium dry skillet over low fame, lightly toast the walnuts. Remove to a cutting board, finely chop and set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and blue cheese for 1 minute, until smooth. Add the flour, salt, and pepper and continue beating on medium speed until the dough resembles large crumbles. Add 1 tablespoon of cold water and mix until the dough comes together.
  3. Gather the dough together (you’ll need to scrape the bowl) and place on a lightly floured surface. Gently roll it into a 12″ long log. Brush the log completely with the egg wash. Spread the reserved walnuts on a cutting board and roll the log back and forth in the walnuts, pressing lightly to distribute them evenly. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350°F and line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Carefully cut the log into thin coins with a serrated bread knife (you may need to reshape them a bit after cutting) and arrange the coins 1/2 inch apart on the cookie sheets. Stagger the cookie sheets in the oven and bake for 11 minutes, rotate and continue baking another 5-6 minutes until they are lightly browned and crisp. Cool on a rack and serve at room temperature. Sláinte!

*adapted from barefoot contessa

gnocchi tinged memories

When I was a little girl nothing would please me more than a trip to the local G. Fox & Co. department store. I’d talk my mother into taking the escalator upstairs to the housewares department and that’s when the fun would begin. I would wander around the department reading the little bridal registry cards attached to each place setting, imagining which espresso machine or serving platter I would choose and dreaming of the day grown-up me would finally be able to register for all the housewares my little heart desired. I wasn’t dreaming of being a bride mind you, I was dreaming of having a fully stocked kitchen. Funny right? But true none the less.

My love of housewares hasn’t diminished at all over the years, which would explain why I own: Five sets of dishes (we had a yard sale a few years ago and I sold my two “extra” sets), enough serving pieces to easily set a buffet for a hundred, a ridiculous number of tiny antique aperitif glasses, a crazy collection of water pitchers, just about every size and shape cocktail glass imaginable, a huge variety of pots, pans and steamers, a cast iron skillet, Dutch oven and griddle, a kitchen scale, stand mixer, potato ricer and several sizes of box graters, not to mention an array of blenders and hand mixers, a waffle iron, espresso machine, regular coffee maker and a set of individual serving ice cream makers, plus all your standard whisks, spatulas, spoons and whatnot. (Yes I realize my love may border on obsession. We all have our vices.) However, believe it or not there is actually one cooking implement that I do not have but have seriously considered… a pasta maker. I thought more than once about buying an attachment for my KitchenAid stand mixer, but one thing always stopped me. What if I found making pasta to be just as frustrating and disastrous as my attempts to make bread?!? Those attachments can be quite pricy and that just wasn’t a financial (or emotional) commitment I was ready to make. But that didn’t mean I was willing to give up my desire to make fresh pasta— come now silly reader, you know me better than that! No instead I decided to approach pasta making in the simplest fashion possible, one that required limited special equipment and with a recipe that seemed nearly fool-proof. My recipe of choice— gnocchi.

I first discovered gnocchi in college when my boyfriend (now husband) took me to dinner at Louis Seafood on E. Tremont Ave. in the Bronx. The restaurant has been around since the 40’s and it was and still is the epitome of good Italian comfort food with a side of Bronx attitude. I had considered myself fairly well versed in pasta (being half Italian and all) but somehow gnocchi had never made it on my radar. The gnocchi at Louis Seafood was unlike anything I had ever tried, it was dense and filling (especially with the Bolognese sauce he always seemed to order) but at the same time I couldn’t stop myself from snitching forkfuls off his plate. For years the term gnocchi make think of college, the Bronx and Louis Seafood. Then we traveled to Florence, Italy and my perception of gnocchi completely changed.

We arrived in Florence late one afternoon after a long train ride from Rome, and we were starving! So hungry in fact that once we physically found our hotel we didn’t even step foot inside it. Instead we dragged our luggage to the little cafe next door in hopes of getting something to eat. “Oh, mi dispiace signora.” the waiter said “La cucina è chiusa.” We looked at him in disbelief, we were starving and the kitchen was CLOSED?!? This was Italy for peat’s sake, they were soposta feed us till we popped! Thankfully the waiter sensed our desperation and decided that he could in fact offer us a few limited selections off the menu. We collapsed in our chairs, ordered a few glasses of vino rosso, looked over the menu and placed our lunch order. I’ll be honest with you, I have absolutely no idea what I ate that day. The only thing I remember of the meal is my husbands gnocchi. It was like air, little puffs of loveliness, amazing and unlike anything I had ever imagined gnocchi could be. It’s been quite a few years since that trip to Florence yet every so often one of us still wistfully mentions that gnocchi.

When I decided to try my own hand at homemade gnocchi I truly didn’t anticipate stellar results. It seemed like the opportunity for heavy little lead sinkers was just too great. So imagine my delight when they turned out light, airy and delicious. There not quite Florence quality gnocchi, but then nothing could ever possibly be, they are however the closest we’ve ever come to replicating that amazing Italian meal. Buon appetito!

Simple Potato Gnocchi
These were as wonderful as the ones we always reminisce about eating in Florence, as evidenced by the nearly clean plate below.

gnocchi3

4 cups riced russet potatoes, (about 2 large)
4 egg yolks
2 1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
sauce of your choice, for serving
optional special equipment: potato ricer, gnocchi paddle

  1. Place potatoes (skin on) in a large pot of salted water and boil until tender when pierced with a fork. Drain the potatoes, let them cool just enough to handle and then peel. Cut each in half and place in a potato ricer. Rice into a large bowl. Stir in the egg yolks and salt, then add the flour and stir until a shaggy dough forms. Knead gently until a smooth but slightly sticky dough forms.
  2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and dust with flour. Divide the dough into 8 pieces. Lightly flour a work surface and roll each piece into a 3/4-inch-thick rope, then cut each rope into one-inch pieces. Place each piece against the gnocchi paddle and gently roll with your pointer finger to make ridges on one side and a small indentation on the other; drop onto the prepared baking sheet and repeat the process with the other ropes.
  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer and add the raw gnocchi, 36 at a time. Allow to cook until they rise to the surface, then simmer for another 2 minutes longer. Add to a bowl with you’re favorite sauce, sprinkle with the cheese and serve.

To Make Ahead: The uncooked gnocchi pieces can be frozen on the prepared baking sheet, then transferred to a resealable plastic bag and frozen for up to 1 month. Boil without defrosting.

*adapted from food & wine

survive a snow day popcorn

I am so over this winter. I was home with my kids for nine years and we barely had enough snow to go sledding. I go back to work and New Jersey ends up having a Winter that could make Celine Dion feel at home. (She’s Canadian, get it. Never mind…) The kids have already used all their snow days, so it looks like they’ll be in school until at least mid-July. Our inflatable tube for sledding popped early in the season and since the stores are full of bathing suits and sunscreen, forget about replacing it. Northern NJ is reportedly out of salt, which would explain why the short drive to school has become more like an Olympic slalom course. And don’t get me started on the gluttonous amount of “well it is a snow-day” treats we’ve all been enjoying these past few weeks. I’m not just talking about the soft pretzels and snack bars, no I’m talking about the countless marshmallows we’ve roasted in the fireplace, the batches of cookies and muffins we’ve consumed, the ice cream at lunch because “you played so hard in the snow” and most recently the dark chocolate drizzled popcorn.

We eat a considerable amount of popcorn around here. After school every Friday I make the kids a big bowl of the stuff and pop in a DVD. They chill (usually with minimal bickering or complaining) and I get a little time to get dinner started or putter around without having to tell anyone to stop yelling, stop mauling the dog or stop annoying each other— it’s become a nice relaxing way to start the weekend. Popcorn and dvd’s have also become this mom’s saving grace during this exceptionally cold winter. Our last big snow storm had the kids pounding on the backdoor with red little noses and frozen tears in their eyes about ten minutes after going out. “Hot chocolate!” they cried “And popcorn…” Chocolate and popcorn, that’s a crazy combination… or is it? In the past I’ve made homemade Caramel Corn, which was a totally tasty and “junky” treat, but it was a bit involved. What if I simplified the sugared popcorn idea and instead made something like Dark Chocolate Drizzled Popcorn?!?

It turns out that those half-frozen kids of mine were actually onto something… a seriously delicious, totally addictive and super easy to make treat and the perfect reward for surviving yet another snow day. Enjoy!

Dark Chocolate Drizzled Popcorn
Crazy. Addictive. Delicious.

choc popcorn2

1 tbsp. coconut oil
1/2 cup jumbo popcorn kernels (such as Pop-Secret)
3.5 oz. 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tsp. sea salt, divided

  1. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment and set aside. Add the coconut oil to a large pot and allow to melt. Add the popcorn kernels, cover, and allow to continue warming. As the popcorn begins to pop, shake pan. Once the popping slows to 2-3 seconds between pops, immediately remove the pan from the heat.
  2. Pour the popcorn onto the prepared baking sheet in as even of a layer as possible, removing any unpopped or partially popped kernels.
  3. Place the chocolate in a double-boiler (or a glass bowl over a pot of boiling water) and heat until the chocolate becomes completely liquid when stirred. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 teaspoon of salt.
  4. Pour the melted chocolate into a small ziploc bag, snip off a tiny bit of one corner of the bag and drizzle the chocolate evenly all over the popcorn. Immediately sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and let sit in a cool spot until the chocolate has hardened, about 1 hour.
  5. I understand that this will keep for a few days in an airtight container— Good luck with that!

*adapted from the washington post

the michael corleone of bread

After my last bread baking fiasco I swore that I was done. I vowed to myself that I wouldn’t make anymore attempts until I finally took that baking class. I just couldn’t face one more disappointment. But the thing is, I have a sickness. An obsession. A undeniable need to fulfill my bread baking desires. I just can’t stop myself from attempting another “this might be the one” recipe. Sigh… It’s as if the very moment my latest baking disaster wound heals, there I am with yet another recipe to try. But the odds are in my favor, right? Sooner or later I’m bound to find success. I mean, you remember the pretzels don’t you!?!

Sure enough and completely true to form, a few weeks post fiasco I had my lastest bread baking blast of brilliance (say that three times fast). “Wouldn’t it be lovely if my family woke up to something freshly baked for breakfast?” I thought over coffee one morning. I’d been jonesing to try my hand at bialys, those wonderfully oniony cousins of the bagel, and (since the sting of my last disaster had dissipated nicely) this quiet Saturday morning seemed like the perfect time to give it a shot.

A little mixing, a bit of kneading. Some proofing and then sautéing. Deflate, form, spoon, bake and… “Just when I thought I was out— they pull me back in!” Yeah they were good, really good. So good that I will undoubtedly be lulled into giving “the perfect crusty loaf” another go sometime soon. And who knows (big wink), maybe this next recipe really will be THE ONE.

Bialys
These contain way more onions than traditional bialys, which is perfectly fine by me. Slather a little butter on one of these babies fresh out of the oven and— Whoo-hoo, call yourself a rock star!

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3 cups bread flour
1 tsp. instant yeast (such as SAF)
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup + 2 tsp. lukewarm water

for the filling:
2 cups onions, finely diced
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tbsp. poppy seeds

  1. Place the dough ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook. Allow to knead on medium for about 8 minutes, or until you have a smooth, fairly stiff dough.
  2. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and allow it to rise in a warm spot for about 2 hours, or until it’s just about doubled in size.
  3. While the dough is rising, make the filling. Sprinkle the diced onion with salt and sauté in olive oil over medium-high heat, stirring often, until it’s a dark golden brown. Remove from the heat, stir in the poppy seeds and transfer to a small bowl to cool.
  4. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment and set aside.
  5. Gently deflate the dough and divide it into 8-10 pieces (depending on how large you want your bialys). Shape each piece into a disc, place the discs on a prepared cookie sheet and use your thumb to flatten out the center and give the bialy it’s classic bowl shape. (Be sure to keep the remaining dough covered until you’re ready to use it.)
  6. Spread the onion filling into the center of each bialy.
  7. Top the prepared bialys with a sheet of parchment paper; then with another cookie sheet. (You want to weigh them down so they don’t puff up too much.)
  8. Bake the bialys for 5 minutes. Remove the top cookie sheet and parchment paper and continuing baking for another 8-10 minutes, or until they’re a dappled golden brown.
  9. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Repeat with the remaining dough, slather with butter and enjoy the adulations.

*adapted from king arthur flour

the almond milk rescue

I was still on a high from last weeks pretzel success and feeling rather invincible when I decided that this week I would make another attempt at baking “the perfect crusty loaf”. Going back to work has seriously affected the amount of time I have to cook, so when I found a recipe that actually read “1. Mix together all the ingredients in the morning before you go to work. 2. Leave it in the warmest spot in your kitchen and allow to rise for 6-8 hours. 3. When you come home from work…” Are you kidding?!? I had joked that 2014 might be the year I finally achieved baking success, but I didn’t actually believe it. So before I left for work one morning I followed the recipe directions (seriously, I did!); mixed together the ingredients, left the covered bowl in a warm spot, said a quick prayer to the baking gods and hustled myself and the kids out the door. Flash forward eight hours to the biggest epic fail of my baking career. BIGGEST. EPIC. FAIL. After an eight-hour rise the dough was still fairly flat, I gave it a quick knead and attempted a second proofing only to be left with a big sticky mess to clean up and to top the disastrous attempt off nicely—the loaf stuck like glue to the bottom of my brand new dutch oven. Sigh… Calgon take me away.

It seemed a little early for a glass of wine and while I love coffee; freshly ground, freshly brewed, strong coffee, if you know me then you know that the only time of day I actually drink it (or anything caffeinated for that matter) is in the morning. If I need something warm and soothing later in the day then its usually a cup of decaf chai tea with a splash of milk—I love the creamy, spicy warmth that comes with chai. I’ve recently started making green smoothies again which means that I have always have almond milk in the house. I started tinkering around with other ways to use almond milk and discovered that when you heat it up and add lots of spices to it you wind up with the perfect warm, smoothing chai-type drink. Sure it won’t make you the queen of all bakers, but it will warm you from the inside out and offer you a few moments to regroup before the next “perfect crusty loaf” recipe comes along.

Warm Spiced Almond Milk
This recipe also works with regular milk, however I actually prefer it with the almond milk.

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2 cups almond-coconut milk
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. Chinese Five Spice
1/2 tsp. real vanilla extract
2 tsp. honey

  1. Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan. Heat over a medium flame, stirring frequently, until the milk is hot but has not yet begun to simmer.
  2. Stain milk mixture through a fine mesh strainer and into a large mug and enjoy!

the hercules of soft pretzels

Beginnings and endings beg for reflection, that’s just how it is. They force you to pause for a moment and contemplate the ups and downs of the past and the changes you hope for in the future. I don’t typically make formal New Year’s resolutions, however there are a few little things I’d like to see happen over the next twelve months. For instance— I would like to be a more patient mother between the hours of 8 and 9:00 a.m. (getting out of the house on a school morning without yelling would feel like a minor miracle!). I would like to laugh at the ridiculous more and worry about the clearly inalterable less. I would like to make plans with my girlfriends at least once a month to go out for drinks, dinner or just adults only ice skating. And I would like to once and for all achieve success and finally fulfill all my bread baking ambitions.

I’ve told you before about my obsession with and repeated failures at bread baking. I truly and with all my heart long to successfully make an eye-rollingly delicious, crusty on the outside light and wonderful on the inside, loaf of bread. A simple seeded boule or a rustic baguette, bread so amazing it could easily serve as the meal, rather than just the accompaniment to it. I’ve even joked that I either need a bread baking class or an intervention. As luck would have it a baking studio offering bread classes recently opened near my house, so perhaps there is already a glimmer of hope on the horizon. In the meantime I plan to keep plugging along on my own, hoping that one of these recipe will be “the one”. With that in mind I recently decided to attempt to make soft pretzels. I’ve been toying with the idea and collecting pretzel recipes for some time, but something always stopped me from giving it a go. Then along came Hercules (the winter storm not the Greek hero) and the timing just seemed right.

My first inkling that I might be onto something was when my dough actually doubled in size in the amount of time the recipe suggested. Next it was when years of making play-dough snakes finally paid off and my little ball of dough quickly turned into something resembling a pretzel. (Actually at this point I was so excited at the prospect of a successful outcome that I called the kids to come checkout my pretzels!) After a quick baking soda bath and a few minutes in the oven, the moment I dread with every bread recipe I attempt was upon us. Would it be another baking debockle or would 2014 be my year?

♫ Oh yeah. Uh huh.  I baked a pretzel. ♪  It’s my birthday. ♫…

Soft Rosemary Pretzels with Cheddar Sauce
Even if you’re not a big fan of rosemary you should still consider using some. The flavor is really subtle and it’s the difference a good pretzel and an extraordinary one.

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1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tbsp. light brown sugar
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp.)
6 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 1/2 tsp. salt
4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh rosemary
Canola oil, to grease bowl
3 quarts water
2/3 cups baking soda
1 egg, beaten + 1 tbsp. cold water
coarse salt

2 tbsp. butter
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups milk, warmed
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder
4 oz. sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded
4 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, shredded

  1. Combine the water, sugar, yeast, and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and whisk to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes.
  2. Add the salt, flour, and rosemary to the mixture and mix on low-speed until combined. Increase the speed to medium and continue kneading until the dough is smooth and it has formed a ball. (If the dough appears too wet, add additional flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.)
  3. Coat a large bowl with canola oil, add the dough and turn to coat with the oil. Remove the dough from the stand mixer bowl, knead a few times and place in the oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot until the dough doubles in size. This will take about an hour and a half. (I usually warm my oven, turn it off and place the covered bowl inside it to allow it to rise.)
  4. When the dough has doubled preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment and set aside. Bring the water to a boil in a large stockpot.
  5. Divide the dough in half, then dived the halves into eight equal pieces. (Cover the bowl with a towel while working.) Roll each piece into an 12” rope, take the right side and cross over to the left, twist together and bring to the bottom. Pinch onto the curved bottom piece to create a pretzel shape.
  6. Slowly add the baking soda to the boiling water. Boil the pretzels in the water solution, 2 at a time for 30 seconds. Remove with a large flat slotted spatula and place on the prepared cookie sheet. Brush the tops of each pretzel with the egg wash, sprinkle with coarse salt and bake for 18-22 minutes or until pretzels are rich golden brown.
  7. Remove pretzels from oven and let cool on a wire rack.
  8. To make the cheese sauce: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook until it’s a golden brown. Add the warm milk, salt and garlic powder and whisk until the mixture thickens. Add the shredded cheese and stir until the cheese is melted and smooth. Serve alongside the warm pretzels.

*adapted from two peas and their pod

sweet summer sauce

As I mentioned last week my tomatoes and peppers are very happy with this record breaking hot weather. So happy in fact that I have an insane number of cherry tomatoes sitting on my kitchen counter. I’ve been eating them everyday day; quickly sauteed with eggs, in a green salad or as a snack, but I’m not even close to making a dent in my overwhelming supply. So, what’s a girl to do but… make sauce!

Ordinarily I make red sauce during the cool months with canned tomatoes, a bit of lean meat (to round out the flavor) and a full day of simmering on the stove. But this was going to be a summer sauce; all garden fresh ingredients with a short cooking time and instead of meat I’d use a bit of butter to knock down the acidic bite.

This resulting sauce was some of the best I’ve ever made. Seriously, the best! It was so good that after we enjoyed it for dinner the remainder went directly into the freezer; how lovely it will be to pull out a container of that wonderful sauce on a cold winter night. And with the way my plants are continuing to produce tomatoes, I just might be able to squeak out another batch or two of sauce before the end of the season. Hooray for happy heat loving tomatoes!

Fresh Cherry Tomato Sauce
This sauce was the perfect way to use the freshest of summer ingredients from my garden. It was only a matter of hours from harvesting to serving.

3 tbsp. olive oil
4 cups chopped onion
8 cloves garlic, minced
4 1/2 lbs. cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
5 springs fresh thyme
6 large leaves fresh basil, julienned
3 bay leaves
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup red wine
3 tbsp. unsalted butter

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Cook the onion until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another 5 minutes. Add the whole cherry tomatoes, give a good stir and let cook (covered) until the tomatoes begin to pop.
  2. Add the fresh herbs, bay leaves, red pepper, salt and wine. Let cook, stirring every 2-3 minutes and smashing the tomatoes with the back of a spatula, until all the tomatoes are popped, about 20 minutes.
  3. Turn the heat to low, cover and let simmer until the sauce has thickened, 25-30 minutes. Once everything is soft and cooked through remove the bay leaves and thyme stems. Use an immersion blender to break down the skins, seeds and onion and make the sauce smooth.
  4. Add 3 tbsp. of unsalted butter and 1 tsp. white sugar and let cook uncovered for another 10 minutes. Adjust the salt to taste and serve with your favorite pasta or cool for use at a latter date.