Balancing Out the Cookies

Raise your hand if your calendar is often crammed with activities. I don’t know about you, but our social calendar seems to revolve around food. In December, for example, I had three separate events centered around cookies. From cookie exchanges to cookie Fridays at the office, I was slightly overloaded on the sugar. Earlier this month, we hosted the dessert portion of a progressive dinner, and then, I decided to bake some cupcakes for our small group just because it had been a while since I’d made some.

I firmly believe that life (as far as food goes, anyway) is all about balance, so when our social life became all about dessert, I started looking for something to offset all the sweetness.

I wanted something that would be easy to put together. Bonus points if I can make it with whatever was in my pantry / fridge. I remembered Annie’s white bean dip, and I thought it’d be perfect for the occasion. Plus, it’s healthy, and it takes all of 5 minutes to make. Cutting the veggies for serving takes longer than making the dip!

And, even better, it’s a dip that Andy truly enjoyed, which is saying something.

garlicwhitebeandip

Garlic Rosemary White Bean Dip

2 15 oz. cans of great northern beans, rinsed and drained
4 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons water
6 tablespoons olive oil
freshly ground black pepper

Place the garlic and rosemary in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the mixture is finely minced. Add the beans, salt and water to the bowl and process until the mixture is coarsely pureed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.

With the food processor running, pour the olive oil into the bean mixture and process until it is fully combined. Scrape the sides of the bowl, and then process another 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture is smooth and fluffy. Taste the dip and season with pepper and salt if needed.

Serve with sliced vegetables and crackers. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

From Annie’s Eats, originally from A Couple Cooks

Click here for a printable version.

Toast: Not Just for Breakfast

I first tried this recipe in an attempt to use up some ricotta cheese before it went south. I had all of the ingredients on hand, and it seemed better than letting the cheese mold in the back of the fridge. I didn’t know how Andy would feel about them, but I went ahead and served them for dinner anyway. (Yep, my kitchen is a dictatorship. I like to think of it as a benevolent dictatorship though…) Turns out, we both loved them.

I can’t decide what takes these things over the top. Maybe it’s the caramelized onions. Or the cheese. Or the bread. Maybe it’s everything put together. Either way, this is our new favorite appetizer. I may never make soup again. (Just kidding, Andy. Mostly.) 

I like to tell myself that, as far as appetizers go, this one is relatively healthy. Yes, there’s cheese and bread, but it’s buried underneath a hearty serving of squash and onions. Which meant that cramming several of these in my face on New Year’s Eve was perfectly acceptable.

It’s best on fresh, homemade bread, but it’s not bad on crusty Italian bread from the grocery store bakery. I’ve garnished it with mint (per the recipe) and with parsley (after my mint was done for the year), and we’ve liked it with both. And, as you can see from the picture, it’s just as good if you forget to buy something green.

I’m not sure how Deb figures that four slices of bread is enough for all of the squash. Maybe her bread is bigger than mine, or she heaps the squash more heavily. I’ve also given up measuring the ricotta for the toasts. Instead, I just take a spoon and smear a generous scoop of cheese on the warm toast before piling the delicious squash-onion mixture on top. (Of course, this means my “instructions” will be more like guidelines. Oh well.)

squashtoasts

Squash Toasts with Caramelized Onions and Ricotta Cheese

olive oil
1 loaf of Italian bread
1 2-1/2 to 3 lb. butternut squash
pinch red pepper flakes
coarse salt
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 – 1 cup ricotta cheese
finely chopped parsley or mint, for garnish

Preheat oven to 450° and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and the cut each half into slices that are about 1″ thick. Toss the squash with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and then sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and the red pepper flakes. Spread the squash in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast until tender (usually 25-40 minutes, depending on how thick your squash slices were). Remove from the oven and let the squash cool until you can handle it (about 20 minutes).

Scrape the squash from its skin and put the roasted squash into a large mixing bowl. Discard the skin.

Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. (I use my 12″ Lodge.) Add three tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and then add the onion slices. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt and cook, stirring often, until the onions begin to soften and turn brown. Reduce the heat and let the onions cook until they are golden brown and delicious. Add the vinegar and maple syrup to the pan and cook, stirring often, until the mixture is jam-like.

Remove the onions from the heat and add them to cooked squash. Use a fork to mix the squash and onions together. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasonings if necessary.

Slice the bread into 1″ thick pieces. Heat a large skillet (again, I use the cast iron skillet) over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Toast the slices of bread in the skillet until they are golden brown on each side. Depending on how many slices of bread you have, you may need to add more olive oil to the pan. Place the bread on paper towels to drain while you finish cooking the bread.

Spread a generous spoonful of ricotta cheese on each piece of bread, and then top with a scoop of the onion-squash mixture. Garnish with the chopped mint or parsley. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store leftovers (if you’re lucky enough to have them) in the refrigerator.

Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen, via NYTimes Cooking

Click here for a printable version.

Summer Snacking

Guess what day week it is!

EAA 2014 038
Yes, this is one of last year’s pictures. I haven’t made it down to the brown arch for my 2015 picture yet.

That’s right, we are smack-dab in the middle of EAA Airventure. It’s arguably the world’s largest aviation celebration/event/convention/party, and we are lucky enough to live just up the highway from the excitement. Andy and I share a love for all things aviation, and we spend as much time as we possibly can down in Oshkosh this week. (Side note – and shameless plug – for the event: Even though the airplanes are cool, the people are the real reason for going. Yesterday, we got to hear three WWII vets talk about their experiences in a B-17. Priceless.) 

Several days at an airshow means several days of packed lunches and dinners. (Yes, we could buy food there, but this is cheaper, healthier AND tastier.) Our typical airshow snacks include fresh veggies (cucumbers and green beans from our garden), cheese and crackers, fruit and whatever else sounds good when I’m packing the cooler. This year, I decided to make something new for airshow snacking.

Several years ago, I saved a recipe for a maple nut snack mix from the now-defunct Cooking for Two magazine. I don’t know why it took me so long to make this, but I’m glad I finally did. It was easy to make, and I had nearly all of the ingredients on hand. I substituted pecans for the walnuts, since that’s what was in my pantry, and I added some dried cranberries to the mix after it came out of the oven. The result was a super-addicting, sweet-salty snack that’s perfect for enjoying on the flight line (or wherever your summer adventures take you).

Maple Snack Mix

Maple Pecan Snack Mix

6 cups of rice chex cereal
1 1/2 cups pretzels
1/2 cup pecan pieces
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1/2 cup real maple syrup
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, stir together the cereal, pretzels, pecans and sesame seeds. In a glass measuring cup (yet another use for the 2-cup Pyrex cup!), whisk together the maple syrup and butter. Pour the butter-syrup mixture over the cereal mixture and gently stir until it is completely coated.

Spread the mixture on the prepared pan and bake until crisp, about 40-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before adding the cranberries to the mixture. Store in an airtight container.

Adapted from Cooking for Two, Spring 2007

Click here for printable version.

Onions & Bacon – What Could Be Better?

Let’s get something out of the way, right off the bat: I don’t make a lot of dips. It’s not that I don’t like them; it’s that I like them too much. You see, I can make dinner out of a pile of chips/bread/pretzels and whatever dip happens to be nearby (salsa, guac, hummus, spinach artichoke dip… you get the idea). So what’s the problem, you ask? Well, Andy doesn’t like dip. (Not even queso! It’s melty cheese! What’s not to love?) And while I am perfectly capable of eating an entire batch of dip, I’m also trying to be a responsible adult here and exercise some self-control.

However, a few weeks ago, I decided that I WANTED DIP. I was going to make this caramelized onion dip that had been teasing me for months. And since we had friends coming over for a movie night, I knew that I wouldn’t have to eat the entire bowl myself. Andy was pretty disappointed when he discovered that the caramelized onions and the bacon were destined for dip, rather than dinner. He mourned the “waste” of such perfectly good ingredients and tried to “save” some of the onions from being smothered in sour cream. (So noble, right?)

I halved the original recipe (out of necessity – somehow, I only had a scant cup of sour cream in the fridge), which gave me a manageable amount of dip for three dip lovers and one dip hater (who did try a few bites and deem it “not terrible”). One of the best things about this dip (besides how good it tastes, both on chips and on a spoon…) is the way it makes your house smell while you’re prepping the ingredients. Onions caramelizing and bacon cooking are up there with fresh bread on my “favorite smells” list. And, like most dips, it’s easy to make, which is a good thing. Especially when the resident dip hater decides that caramelized onions and bacon make dip acceptable, which means you’ll need to make it more often. 🙂

Caramelized Onion Dip

Caramelized Onion & Bacon Dip 

1/2 cup caramelized onions
3 slices of bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled into pieces
2 scallions, thinly sliced, some greens reserved for garnish
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
pinch cayenne pepper
1 cup sour cream
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium bowl, stir the onions, bacon, sour cream, vinegar, cayenne and scallions together. Taste the dip, then season with salt and pepper as necessary. Top with reserved onion greens and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Chill the dip in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes. Serve with your favorite chips (I used pita chips).

From Smells Like Home, who adapted it from The Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook.

Click here for a printable version.

 

Why Didn’t I Think of This Before?

I didn’t plan on writing about these. In fact, they weren’t even on my mind when I put the potatoes in the oven. Potato skins (tasty as they are) are one of those things that I don’t make at home. In my mind, they’re one of those things that you order with wings when you’re out at your favorite sports bar. But then, as I was preparing my favorite potato soup, I noticed that I had a giant pile of potato skins. Lightly salted, cooked potato skins. Perfect for topping with cheese and bacon.

Why hadn’t I noticed this before? (Think of all of the missed opportunities!) 

Since I made this up on the fly, these aren’t exact measurements. Call it a guideline, rather than a recipe. I’m including my baking directions, but if you have a baking method that you prefer, by all means, use that. The goal is to have baked potatoes that are cool enough to handle so you can de-skin them. Once the potatoes are baked and skinned, it comes together very quickly. Perfect for Sunday afternoon snacking, if you ask me.

Potato Skins

 

Baked Potato Skins

5 large white potatoes
olive oil
kosher salt
shredded cheddar cheese
green onions, sliced
fresh parsley, finely chopped
bacon, cooked and crumbled

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Scrub the potatoes and lightly prick them with a fork. Place potatoes on a baking sheet and lightly drizzle them with olive oil. Sprinkle the potatoes with salt and bake until tender, about 1 hour. Remove the potatoes from the oven and let them cool until you can handle them. (I used my oven’s “time bake” feature for this. I popped the potatoes in the oven before church, set the timer, and came home to perfectly done spuds. It’s almost as good as the crockpot for hands-off effectiveness!) 

When the potatoes are cool, slice them in half and gently peel the skins away from the cooked potato. Reserve the potato for another use. (May I suggest soup?)

Arrange the potato skins in a single layer on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese, green onions, parsley and bacon. Broil until skins are crispy and cheese is melted and bubbly. Remove from oven and serve immediately.

A Beth’s Blue Plate Original

Click here for a printable version.

Cooking Club Win!

The theme for our most recent “cooking club” evening was appetizers, which meant that I had lots of possible recipes to chose from. There’s the avocado feta hummus. Or the avocado lemon feta dip. Or the sweet potato discs with pecans and cranberries (and since I’m not crazy about goat cheese, I’d swap it out for, you guessed it, feta). And those are just the recent additions to the list.

Thanks to some crazy schedules (and some last-minute planning), I knew I didn’t have time to fit in a stop to buy avocado, feta, or sweet potatoes. So I decided that bread could be an appetizer. I mean, you eat it while you wait for your meal to come at a fancy restaurant, right? (OK, so maybe that’s fancy bread that you dip in balsamic and olive oil, but just go with me on this, mmmk?)

What we have here is a cheesy, bacony loaf of deliciousness. It smelled fantastic while it was baking, and it tasted good too. (It had cheese and bacon. How could it not??) Its’a quick bread, which meant no monkeying around yeast and letting the dough rise. It was good on its own, and it wasn’t bad with apple butter either.

I have to admit, the directions for this one weirded me out just a bit. Pour the melted butter in the bottom of the loaf pan? Add the dough and pour the bacon grease on top? I was convinced that I was going to end up with a greasy, soggy mess. But amazing things must have happened inside my oven, because the finished product wasn’t greasy OR soggy.

Amazing things indeed. After all, we’re talking about bacon, cheese and beer. In bread. The finished product didn’t last long at all.
Bacon Beer Cheese BreadBacon Beer Cheese Bread

6-7 slices of bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled, drippings reserved (The original recipe called for 6 thick slices, but my bacon was on the thin side, so I went with 7.) 
3 cups of all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1 12-ounce bottle of beer
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons reserved bacon grease

Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.

Stir the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Add the cheese and crumbled bacon and stir to combine. When the cheese and bacon are evenly mixed into the flour, pour the beer into the bowl. Stir the mixture with a large spoon until it comes together.

Spoon/pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Spread it evenly in the pan and drizzle the melted butter and bacon grease over the top of the loaf.

Bake until a knife inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to cool on a wire rack. After 10-15 minutes, you can flip the loaf out of the pan.

Slice and serve. Cover leftovers (what?) with plastic wrap and store at room temperature.

From Brown Eyed Baker, who adapted it from the Novice Chef

Click here for a printable version.

 

Cooking Club Dish, Round One

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I have excellent friends. I mean, without them, there wouldn’t be trips to the Wilton tent sale, taco nights, puppy chow parties, or wine coolers. OK, maybe those things would still exist, but I wouldn’t want to experience them by myself. The world would be a much sadder place.

Here’s the latest idea, courtesy of my friend Emily: Cooking Club Nights!

Once a month, several of us girls are getting together for an evening of food and fun. The host provides the main dish and sets the theme, and everyone else brings side dishes, appetizers, desserts, drinks, etc. It gives us a chance to catch up on each other’s lives and try recipes that our husbands aren’t always interested in eating. Which is why I made bruschetta.

This wasn’t a new recipe, but it is one that I hardly ever make, simply because I’d be the only one eating it. (Wait… is this a bad thing?) It’s easy, and it uses lots of tomatoes (always a bonus). Plus, who doesn’t love toasted, garlicky bread? No one I hang out with, anyway. 😀

Bruschetta

Tomato Bruschetta

1 loaf of French bread, sliced into 1″ thick pieces
3 garlic cloves, two sliced in half and one minced
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cups diced tomatoes (The original recipe calls for Romas; I used a mix of Roma and cherry tomatoes.) 
3-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I broke out the good stuff for this recipe – Andy’s brother went to Italy and brought us back a bottle of olive oil!) 
1/3 cup thinly sliced basil leaves, plus more for garnish, if desired
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the sliced bread in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake until just golden. Flip the slices over and toast the other side. Remove from oven and rub both sides of each piece of bread with the halved garlic cloves. Lightly drizzle with olive oil, and then sprinkle with grated cheese. Return the bread to the oven and cook just until the cheese has melted.

In a medium bowl, toss the tomatoes with the minced garlic, basil, vinegar and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow tomato mixture to sit for five to 10 minutes for the flavors to meld before serving.

Top bread with tomato mixture and enjoy!

From the Food Network

Click here for a printable version.

Beauty isn’t everything

almost decided against sharing this recipe with everyone. Not because it wasn’t good or because we didn’t like it, but simply because it wasn’t pretty. And while looks aren’t everything (or so we tell ourselves), in the food blog world, looks seem to be worth a lot. After all, no one pins pictures of ugly food, do they?

Well, I’m here to tell you that you should give this guy a chance. After all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts, right? And what’s on the inside here is gooood. 😀

Butternut squash. Caramelized onions. Fontina cheese. Flaky pastry dough.

Are you interested yet? Oh good.

This recipe was one (of the many) that caught my eye as I paged through the Smitten Kitchen cookbook. (For proof that this CAN look as good as it tastes, check out Deb’s picture in the book. It’s beautiful. Of course.) Thanks to a ridiculously busy schedule, I didn’t get a chance to make this before I had to return it. I wasn’t going to let a little thing like a due date keep me from trying this dish though, so I did what any girl with a printer/scanner/copier would do. I made a copy. (Of course, I accidentally cut off an inch of the page, so I had to  guess at some of the instructions, but that’s besides the point.) 🙂

I halved the recipe and made a 9″ galette (which is what I’m sharing below). And what this galette lacked in looks, it more than made up for in flavor. Yum.

ButternutGalette

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Galette

For the crust:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (feel free to sub 1/4 cup whole wheat flour if you’d like)
1/4 teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
16 teaspoons ice water

For the filling:
1 small butternut squash (about 1 1/4 pounds)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons butter
1 large sweet onion, thinly sliced (I didn’t have a sweet onion on hand, so I used a standard yellow onion.)
1/8 teaspoon sugar
pinch cayenne pepper
1 cup freshly grated fontina cheese (just over 3 ounces)
1/4 dried thyme
pinch dried sage
1 egg yolk
freshly ground pepper

In a medium bowl, whisk together the salt and flour. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a pastry blender until the butter resembles small peas.

In a liquid measuring cup, stir the sour cream, vinegar and water together. Pour the cream mixture into the bowl with the flour and butter. Stir with a spatula until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out on to a floured work surface and knead a couple of times. Shape the dough into a round ball, then wrap it in plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Peel the squash, slice and discard the seeds. Cut the squash into chunks that are between 1/2″ and 1″ in size. Brush a large baking sheet with a tablespoon of olive oil and spread the squash chunks on the baking sheet in an even layer. Sprinkle the squash with a 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Roast the squash until tender, about 30 minutes, turning the pieces about halfway through the cooking time to make sure they brown on all sides. Remove the squash from the oven and let cool, but leave the oven on.

While the squash is hanging out in the oven, melt the butter and 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet. (I LOVE my cast iron skillet for this!) Sprinkle the onions with the sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook over medium-low heat, stirring every now and then, until the onions are soft and caramelized. Sprinkle with the pinch of cayenne pepper.

Mix the squash, onions, cheese and herbs together in a large bowl.

Roll the chilled dough into a 12″ round on a floured work surface. Gently fold the dough in half, then transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Unfold the dough. Spread the squash mixture in the center of the dough, leaving about a 2″ border. Fold the edge of the dough over the squash, leaving the center open.

Beat the egg yolk together with a tablespoon of water and brush the egg wash over the pastry dough.

Bake the galette until golden brown, between 30 and 40 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand for 5 minutes, then slide the galette off the baking sheet and onto a serving plate. Can be served warm or at room temperature.

From the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Click here for a printable version.

Better than the ballpark

It amazes me (and maybe it shouldn’t) that even after five years of marriage, I’m still learning things about Andy. While he loves snacks, I’d never heard him express an interest in soft pretzels. He’ll walk right by the vendors at the ballpark, and he doesn’t give food trucks at the fair a second glance. (Yes, the man has amazing will power.)

Imagine my surprise when he wanted to share my soft pretzel at a hockey game we went to not long ago. Turns out he loves them – he just never wants to pay inflated ballpark prices for sub-par pretzels. (What can I say? He’s all about getting the best bang for his buck.) 

Well then. Let me just move soft pretzels up a few notches on my “things to make” list. I actually ended up making these guys twice – once for our New Year’s Eve party and once for our small group Bible study. They vanished in record time on both occasions. They’re the perfect soft pretzel – chewy without being doughy, and when you combine them with the cheese sauce, well, let’s just say that you’ll never go back to stadium pretzels again. (Although, I suppose you’d have to come up with some way to sneak these bad boys into the ball park. Hmm.) 

I used Alton Brown’s recipe for the pretzels, which I found on Branny’s blog. I decided to go with this one because it gave the amounts in weights, rather than volume, and I thought that might produce a better result. (I also figured that Alton knew what he was talking about.) I went with this recipe for the dip because, well, I thought it sounded the best. 🙂 (Really, do I need a better reason than that? It’s my blog, after all.) I shaped half of the dough into pretzels and half into pretzel bites. I actually think that I’d like to make larger “bites” for pretzel buns. A burger on a pretzel bun with melty cheese and bacon… mmm….

Soft pretzels with beer cheese dip. What’s not to love?

Soft Pretzels with Beer Cheese Dip 

For the pretzels:
1 1/2 cups warm (110-115 degrees) water
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
22 ounces all-purpose flour (about 4 1/2 cups – I used my food scale and weighed out the ounces.) 
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
10 cups of water
2/3 cup baking soda
oil, for the pan
1 large egg, beaten, with one tablespoon water
kosher salt, for sprinkling

For the cheese dip:
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup “good quality” beer (I really have no idea what this “should” be. I say, if you have something that you like drinking, use it here.)
1 tablespoon horseradish
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 cup freshly shredded cheddar cheese

To make the pretzels, pour the warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer. Stir in the sugar and salt. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Attach the dough hook to the mixer.

On the low speed, mix in the flour and butter. Mix on low until combined, then increase speed to medium and knead until the dough is smooth and cleans the sides of the bowl, about 3-5 minutes. Turn dough out into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough sit in a warm place, free from drafts, until doubled in size, about an hour.

Preheat oven to 450 and line baking pans with parchment paper. (While we’re on the subject of parchment paper, I’m going to share this trick I just picked up from Cook’s Illustrated. If you crumple the sheet and then “uncrumple” it, it lays flat in the pan and won’t roll off the pan and onto the floor… not like that ever happens here…) Brush parchment with a little bit of oil.

Bring 10 cups of water to a full boil in a large (bigger is better here, unless you want baking soda water to overflow all over your stove) pot. Add the baking soda and maintain a rolling boil. Brush your work surface with a little bit of oil (I used my pastry mat) and divide the dough into equal-sized chunks. (Branny suggested 8 pieces; I went much smaller – I made eight pretzels and then cut the rest into bites. I would guesstimate that I divided my dough into 12 or maybe even 16 pieces.) 

Roll out the first ball of dough into a long, relatively thin rope, about 22-24″ long. Shape the rope into a U, then bring one “arm” down and across the bottom of the U. Repeat the process with the other arm to form a pretzel shape. Place the shaped pretzels on one of the prepared pans. Repeat with the remaining dough balls. To make pretzel bites, simply roll out the dough into the rope, then slice with a butter knife into equal-sized pieces (mine were about 1 1/2″ to 2″ in length). When you’re done forming the pretzels, it’s bath time! (For your dough, of course.) 

Dip each pretzel into the boiling water bath, one at a time, and let them hang out for 30 seconds. (For the pretzel bites, I plunged them all in at the same time and had no problems with them sticking together or crowding the pan.) Using a skimmer or wide, slotted spoon, remove the boiled pretzels from the water bath and place on the prepared pans. Brush the pretzels with the egg wash and sprinkle with the salt.

Bake for 14 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from pans and place on a cooling rack. Wait five agonizing minutes (seriously, the longest five minutes EVER) for the pretzels to cool before consuming. Serve with cheese sauce, if desired

To make the cheese dip:

In a microwave-safe bowl (I used one of my Gusto bowls), microwave the cream cheese until soft, about 30 seconds or so. Stir in the beer, horseradish and garlic powder. Microwave again for another 30 seconds and stir in the cheddar cheese. Whisk until smooth, microwaving again if necessary. Store leftover dip in the fridge.

Pretzels from Alton Brown, as seen on Branny Boils Over
Dip from Peace, Love and French Fries, who got it from Jenna’s Cooking Journey, originally from AllRecipes.com and Sunny Side Up San Diego

Click HERE for a printable version.

Cheese Snowflakes (a.k.a. Cheese Straws)

I’m not sure where this greatness has been all of my life. Being a Midwestern girl through and through, cheese straws weren’t something I’d ever encountered before. But a wonderful friend gave me a gift subscription to Southern Living, and these babies were featured in the recipe section of my first issue. A easy-to-prep, savory snack that I could add to my Christmas goodie boxes? I’m in. (After all, I’ll try anything once.)  

Gifts
One of my Christmas gift boxes: Smoked Almonds, Everyday Granola, Cheese Straws, and a bottle of my favorite local wine.

Then, I baked these suckers and discovered that they taste just like A HOMEMADE CHEEZ-IT. Seriously. And now that Christmas is over, you don’t have to add them to anyone’s gift box. You can keep the whole batch for yourself and not feel guilty about it. (Hey, New Year’s resolutions don’t kick in until Tuesday.) 

CheeseStraws

Cheese Straws

10 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 cup unsalted butter (one stick), softened
1 tablespoon half-and-half (I diluted some heavy cream)
1 teaspoon kosher salt (I went easy on this, since the cheese has salt in it.) 
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the cheese and butter together. Beat in the half-and-half and salt. Gradually add the flour and spices, mixing until just combined. Form the dough into a ball.

Turn the dough out on to a well-floured surface (I used my pastry mat) and divide the dough into two equal portions. Roll out the first portion until it is 1/8″ thick. Using cookie cutters (or a knife, if you’re not interested in fun shapes!), cut out shapes. Place cheese straws on prepared cookie sheets about one inch apart.

Bake until golden, about 15 minutes. (Mine were done in about 14 minutes.) Remove from oven and let cool on sheets on wire rack. When straws have cooled, remove them from the cookie sheets.

Repeat with second ball of dough. When finished, reroll all of the scraps and cut into shapes. (Southern Living suggested only rerolling the scraps once; I disregarded that advice and kept rolling and cutting until all of the dough was gone.) 

Store in an airtight container.

Note: I had the best luck with the snowflakes and the tiny airplanes. I also used my tiny biscuit cutter to make round ones, however, I found that those softened the quickest after being stored overnight. The snowflakes and airplanes kept their crunch. 

Barely adapted from Southern Living, December 2012