Monday, April 28, 2014

Soft Pretzels

 Home made soft pretzels??? Seriously??  YES Seriously!!! They're really not that difficult and the payoff is HUGE!! They're warm and chewy and they always hit the spot. I made these a while back with my friends Denny and AJ and Kelsie. We had such a good time! Lots of laughs and also a lot of "Whose pretzel looks the best?" hehehe
 Now, I know making home made soft pretzels may seem a little scary, but as my Mother used to always tell me "Just follow the recipe." This one is from Alton Brown and each step is explained very clearly. I know you can do it! Better yet, invite a few fiends over for a pretzel making party! Just be sure to have some spicy brown mustard on hand for the finished product! Not a mustard fan? Try serving broken pretzel pieces as a dippers for spinach dip or warm cheese sauce.

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, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt

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.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.
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.

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 the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

If you don't have a stand mixer with a hook attachment, you can still make the pretzels. You just have to knead them by hand. TBH, I couldn't find my hook, so the pretzels you see in the picture were kneaded by hand. Yes, it's a little more work, but it wasn't really that bad. I did the same technique as with kneading pasta.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bacon and Egg Corn Muffins

Ok here's an easy one for you. Instead of making a big breakfast of bacon and eggs, or pancakes and syrup, why not put it all together in one delicious piece of awesomeness?
 It's a regular corn muffin, yes. But baked into it is bacon and scrambled eggs and cheese. How awesome is that??? They're perfect for a special holiday brunch. You could even make them in advance so you have a little travel sized all-in-one breakfast to grab and go. And if you serve them  with maple syrup, they have sort of pancake vibe. So GOOD!  Oh, and as much as I'd love to claim the recipe as my own, I must always give credit where it is due. The recipe is from Better Homes and Gardens. It makes 12 muffins, but if you have a crowd to feed, you may want to make more. They'll go quickly! This one will definitely be a hit!

4 slices bacon, cut in thirds
5 eggs
Salt and ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil or butter, melted
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
 Maple or cane syrup (optional) 
 Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
 In a large skillet cook bacon just until it begins to crisp. Drain and reserve drippings. Return 2 tsp. drippings to skillet. For scrambled eggs, in a small bowl beat 3 of the eggs, 2 Tbsp. water, and a dash each of salt and pepper. Cook eggs in hot skillet over medium heat without stirring until eggs begin to set on bottom and around edges. With a large spatula, lift and fold for uncooked portion to flow underneath. Cook until set yet still moist. Transfer to bowl; set aside. Brush twelve 2-1/2-inch muffin cups with some of the remaining bacon drippings. Set muffin cups aside. In a medium bowl stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and 1/2 tsp. salt. In a separate bowl combine milk, oil, and remaining 2 eggs; stir into flour mixture. Fold in scrambled eggs and cheese. Spoon into muffin cups (cups will be full). Place one bacon piece on each muffin. Bake 15 to 17 minutes, until light brown and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in cups on a wire rack for 5 minutes. To loosen muffins from pan, run a small metal spatula or table knife around edges of muffins; remove from pans. Serve warm with maple syrup.
Vary the ingredients as much as you like! Do a veggie version with broccoli or asparagus or spinach. Switch it up with any kind of cheese. Try it with browned crumbled sausage. Do any combination!  It all works!
 If you want to take a little shortcut, just use a corn muffin mix and prepare it according to package directions. Then stir in your breakfast ingredients and bake them as usual. Easy!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Donut Muffins

  I was recently browsing through a bunch of sites, looking for brunch recipes, and I happened upon these little gems. They're just exactly what you think. Muffins that taste like donuts! What could be better? And they're SO easy, you can just whip up a batch in no time flat. You don't even need a mixer! You just stir everything together, spoon them into your mini muffin tin and you're good to go. The only problem is that the recipe only makes 2 dozen mini muffins, so you may have to double or triple the recipe. Wait, actually that's not really a bad thing, is it? ....When I brought some to Chris and Claire, Chris said he popped 5 of them before I even explained what they were! Claire decided they should be called Muffnuts. 'You know, like Muffin Donuts, get it?" Um, No, Claire, I'm not calling them muffnuts..... LOL (shaking my head) Anyway, you should definitely give 'em a try!

1/2 cup white sugar
1/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1 cup all-purpose flour   

1/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350ºF. 
Grease 24 mini-muffin cups. 
Mix 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup melted butter, and nutmeg in a large bowl. Stir in the milk, then mix in the sifted baking powder and flour until just combined. Divide the batter equally among 2 dozen mini muffin cups (about half full). Bake in the preheated oven until the tops are lightly golden, 15 minute.
While muffins are baking, place 1/4 cup of melted butter in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together 1/2 cup of sugar with the cinnamon. Remove muffins from their cups, dip each muffin in the melted butter, then roll in the sugar-cinnamon mixture. Let cool and serve.

You'd think that the key to making the muffins taste like donuts is the cinnamon sugar, right? Nope! It's the nutmeg! Who knew?
The original recipe said to bake them at 375F for 15-20 minutes. They turned out far too dark, so I tried it again at 350F for 15 minutes and they turned out perfectly. Best to just keep an eye on them and bake them until the top springs back when lightly tapped.
Just thinking.....wouldn't they be awesome if you dip them in chocolate or fill them with jelly??  YUM.


Monday, April 7, 2014

Joey's OMG Good Hash Brown Casserole

 The original inspiration for this recipe happened about a year before it finally came to be. My nephew, Daniel, made a hash brown casserole for my family's Easter Brunch and I loved it from the first bite. So I made a mental note to come back and revisit this idea some time. Cut to a year later and I'm just now getting back to it! So here we go.
   I did some browsing and looked up a few recipes here and there. I guess I reviewed about 10 recipes and there was one recipe that I kept finding. It was on all kinds of cooking websites as well as social media. I mentioned it to Daniel and he told me it was almost exactly the same recipe he had made for our brunch. Great! I'll give it a go! Lots of potatoes and cheese and butter and what's not to love?? Right? WRONG. It wasn't working for me. I mean, yeah, it was good and all, but it just wasn't what I remembered, and it wasn't OMG good. Know what I mean?
  Back to the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen....
  I pulled the recipe apart to decide what I liked and didn't like about the recipe. Well, for one thing, I didn't like the flavor. It was a little too bland, and merely adding salt wasn't the answer. And it definitely needed to be creamier. I wanted it to be warm and comforting.
  Next change: The butter. It was WAY too much and it made the dish FAR too heavy. So much so that I decided to completely omit it from the recipe. It really wasn't needed! Then I figured it need a little texture, so I decided to add the crushed potato chips for the top. At first I was gonna do the usual buttered bread crumbs like any other gratin, but then I thought "well, it's a potato dish, right? Why not use crushed potato chips?" Perfect. Then I swapped out a few ingredients, changed a few amounts, and I think we've finally reached OMG GOODness!
 I told Daniel about it and he immediately thought it sounded perfect to serve with ham. Great idea! Without realizing it, I took a brunch menu item and turned it into a new potato side dish for any meal, not just breakfast. It's perfect to serve with any Sunday dinner and it's even good enough to serve with your Holiday Ham! Think of it sort of like this: if Mac 'n' Cheese and Hash Browns had a baby, it would be this casserole. So, wherever you'd serve mac 'n' cheese, you can serve this instead! It's just what I wanted. It's easy and warm and delicious and comforting and not heavy and absolutely OMG GOOD!!

1 small onion, minced
1 10oz can cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 lb Velveeta cheese, cubed
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 32oz bag hash brown potatoes, thawed
1 cup crushed potato chips

Heat oven to 350ºF.
Spray a 3 qt casserole dish with nonstick spray. In a large bowl, stir together all ingredients except the potato chips. Place potato mixture in prepared casserole dish and bake uncovered in preheated oven for 45 minutes. Sprinkle chips over the top. Bake 15 minutes longer, or until golden and bubbly.

You can use either the diced hash browns or the shredded ones. Either one will work!
Don't like cream of chicken soup? Try a different cream soup such as cream of mushroom or cream of celery.
This recipe would also work really well with other additions, such as browned and crumbled bacon or sausage or ground beef. You can also turn it into a one dish dinner by adding shredded chicken and any kind of veggies. Broccoli, asparagus, peas, all perfect.
You can use all low fat ingredients, but frankly, if I'm trying to cut down on fat, I'd probably just try a different recipe altogether. Just sayin!