Monday, October 19, 2009

Sick and twisted

We had a little of both happening in our house this past weekend. A little of sick and twisted I mean. Actually – the little sick turned into big sick and the little twisted was more twisted than I’d planned.

Let me explain….

I’d planned on making homemade soft pretzels with my daughter on Saturday afternoon. I’d stayed home with her on Friday as she wasn’t feeling well and was glad to see her feeling better – albeit not 100% by Saturday morning. We ran a few errands together and though she was feeling a bit ‘off’, she had a friend over (chatting with a friend over their Home Coming dance pans took precedence over the pretzels – that was cool…I was young once too :-)

I will say the pretzels turned out so yummy and chewy and the spinach cheese dip I made to go along with them was SO entirely like a restaurant version I’ve had…oh my gosh, yum - it was perfect. More info on making those pretzels & dip in a sec…

By the time we’d all eaten and watched a movie together, my daughter didn’t look so good – her temperature was 102.4 – so the Hubs ran her friend home and I started the medication and cold compress. Long story short, by the time the next afternoon rolled around, her temp was at 103.8! We more or less ran to the house straight to the doctors office. At this posting, she’s cooled a bit, but is not out of the woods yet. It made for a pretty scary Sunday, but hopefully within a day or two, she’ll be solidly on the mend.
Meanwhile, let me tell you how to make the most scrumptious, warm-n-soft-n-chewy pretzels y’ever had!
This recipe comes from the Food Network’s Alton Brown. Thanks Al! Not only were they easy to make on my own, but having my mom over on Sunday to make them a second time was a real treat.You start with yeast, water, salt and sugar, let all that sit for about 5 mins to activate the yeast, then just add the flour and some melted butter. Mmmmmm….butter……
This picture makes it look like I beat the heck out of the dough, but I assure you this is only speed 2 on the ol’ Kitchen Aide. After all the flour was incorporated (on speed 1) I let it run on speed 2 for 4 minutes straight. I then rolled it out into an oiled stainless bowl & covered it in plastic wrap.

Now, we don’t keep our house very warm – only had the heat on once so far this year, so I filled a bowl half full of pretty warm water and set the bowl with the dough, atop it to catch it’s cozy toastiness
After one hour, this beautiful puffed up dough was begging to be wo-‘man’ handled!
So we lined two baking sheets with parchment and then lubed up the parchment very lightly with olive oil
We did the same with one naked baking sheet as well, then….
…I turned the dough out onto that sheet (look at all those yeasty holies! It smelled SO good!
I then cut it into eight pieces. It was sticky, I ain’t gonna lie, but I’d just cut the knife down in and run my finger along the edge to separate the dough from the blade. This pic doesn’t exactly show it because I cold take the picture and run my finger alongside the knife – but it worked really well – take my word for it :-)
Now, the dough was fairly fragile – but we finagled each piece into a rope about 28 to 24 inches long. As soon as it was close to the length we wanted, it was laid on the oiled parchment in a ‘U’ shape, then the middle was twisted and the ends were gently pressed/massaged in.
While twisting the pretzels into shape, a big pot of water boiled. The recipe calls for 10 cups of water and 2/3 cup baking soda added. I eyed balled mine and had my pot filled about half way and I put in a good, healthy couple-a shakes of baking soda. When all the pretzels were formed, we carefully laid them one at a time into the boiling water and let them bathe for about 1 minute. The we used a slotted, flat 5” round ‘spoon’ to lift it out and rest it once again on the oiled parchment.
On the left is an unboiled pretzel, the one on the right just came out of the bath. The boiling makes the tiniest bit of a ‘skin’, if you will, on the dough. I know, I know….the word skin should not be associated with anything to eaten unless it’s chicken! But the boiling DID leave SOMEthing…..not a crust, they weren’t hard….certainly not tacky…. They just had a skin!
After all were boiled, they were brushed with egg yolk beaten with a little water, then salted and baked for 14 minutes. I baked two sheets at once, trade levels and rotated them halfway through for the most even baking. And here are the golden beauties now!
I made this warm and cheesy spinach dip to go with the pretzels and it was SO creamy and cheesy and fattening – translation – Heaven!
Alton Brown's Homemade Soft Pretzels
Ingredients: (yields 8 pretzels)
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 1 hour 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 pot. While waiting for the water to boil, 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 to 1 minute. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula or spoon. 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.
Spinach Cheese Dip
1 onion, chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 (14.5 ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 (4 ounce) can diced green chilies, drained
1 (10 ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed and drained and chopped well
20 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
2 cups half-and-half cream (mine was non-fat)
salt and pepper to taste
Tabasco - just a dash or two – optional (I opted not)
* Note - you can substitute two cans of Rotelle diced tomatoes with green chilies in place of the two separate cans of tomatoes and chilies - but the spice from the chilies will be less and it's not all that spicy anyway).
Sauté onion in skillet over medium heat in oil until softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and chilies, let cook 2 minutes. Pour in cream and add cream cheese, spinach and shredded jack cheese. Season with salt and pepper (and Tabasco if desired) to taste. Stir until combined – serve hot* Note – you can also make this ahead of time, spoon mixture into a baking dish and when ready, bake in a preheated, 400-degree oven until the dip is bubbly and the top is light brown, about 35 minutes.

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