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.

pretzels2

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

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lovin’ the herb

I love to grow fresh herbs. I love the smell of fresh herbs. I love to cook with fresh herbs. There’s nothing that says summertime to me more than overflowing pots of lush herbs on my back steps; it makes me happy just to look at them. Sometimes I run my hand along the rosemary or sage stems just to let them give off their lovely aroma. And who doesn’t love the way fresh basil smells. I’ve been thinking I just may start rubbing the leaves behind my ears as my summer scent. Anyway with all these wonderful herbs around I try to use them at every opportunity and since the more you clip herbs the more abundant they become, it’s really a win-win situation.

Finding uses for fresh basil is really a no brainer— as soon as Jersey tomatoes start hitting the farmers market I make a simple caprese salad or a Sweet Summer Sauce with my homegrown cherry tomatoes. Abundant amounts of oregano go into my Smokey Baked Beans, I use fresh rosemary on roasted potatoes and to marinade pork, cilantro has a starring role in my Spicy Corn & Black Bean Salad and what would Herbed Drop Biscuits be without fresh thyme. However as tasty as these few dishes are, they don’t really put a significant dent in my herb supply. I’m always looking for new ways to work fresh herbs into my cooking and my latest creations are a brush on grill sauce for chicken and a creamy buttermilk salad dressing.

The grill sauce is a super simple way to give some fresh summery flavor to chicken or vegetables without much advance prep. Sure it makes a mess of the grill, but the you’ll enjoy dinner so much it will totally be worth a few extra minutes with the grill brush. And the salad dressing is something like a healthy hybrid of caesar and ranch, it turns nothing fancy greens into a salad worth serving guests.

Here’s wishing you a Summer filled with lovely sights, sounds and smells.

Buttermilk & Fresh Herb Salad Dressing
Say so long to that bottle of store bought dressing and hello to yum! I usually sprinkle a bit more shredded parmesan on top of the salad and sometimes a few slivered almonds.

herb salad5

2 tbsp. fresh basil
2 tbsp. fresh dill
2 tbsp. fresh parsley
1 tbsp. fresh tarragon
3 tbsp. sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp. lemon juice
4 tbsp. light mayo
3 tbsp. plain low-fat yogurt
2 tbsp. light sour cream
1 cup reduced fat buttermilk
2 tbsp. shredded parmesan cheese
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. black pepper

  1. Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the herbs are finely minced and the ingredients are fully blended.
  2. Pour into a glass jar and chill overnight, allowing flavors to blend, before drizzling over salad greens and serving.

Grilled Chicken with Fresh Herb Sauce
You can brush this on the chicken or vegetables as you grill them. It will make a mess of the grill, but it’s totally worth it!

herb grilled chicken

6 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
1 tbsp. fresh parsley leaves
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 package of chicken, thighs or breasts

  1. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Allow to run until herbs are minced and a thick sauce has formed.
  2. Heat grill to medium-high. Brush the chicken with the sauce and begin to grill. Flip and continue to baste with the remaining sauce until chicken is completely cooked.
*adapted from serious eats