Monday, June 13, 2011

Cheddar Jalapeno Pretzels

They are a winner! Well "almost." :)

I haven't entered into many recipe contests lately. Life has just been busy with the kids and all their activities. But when I saw this contest come up again, The National Festival of Breads, that I actually was a finalist in 2009, I had to give it another shot. The Kansas Wheat Commission does a great job hosting this event and King Arthur Flour and Fleischmann's are wonderful sponsors.

So here is this year's entry. I am not a finalist this go around but really, if you can develop a good recipe that your family loves, then you already are a winner. I did find out when opening this weekend's mail, that my recipe was chosen for an Honorable Mention and thus I got sent a packet full of goodies from the Sponsors. Thanks!

Cheddar Jalapeño Pretzels

This recipe combines two of my favorite things: luscious, warm pretzels and Tex-Mex food. One day, while eating a hot, buttery pretzel from a mall shop, I was struck with the thought that it would be so great to have the spicy cheese flavor already baked inside the pretzel than to have to dip it into some less than healthy sauce. So, tinkering in my kitchen, this recipe was developed. It is fairly quick and easy. Your family will be asking you to make these again! Although they do include pickled jalapeños the flavor is not overtly spicy.


4 Cups King Arthur Bread Flour

2 ¼ teaspoon Fleishmann’s Rapid Rise Yeast

1 teaspoon Salt

1 ½ Cups Water, 130° F

1 Tablespoon Honey

2 Tablespoons Pickled Jalapeños, finely chopped

1 Cup Sharp Cheddar Cheese, finely grated

2 Cups Boiling Water

¼ Cup Baking Soda

3 Tablespoons Melted Butter

Kosher Salt for sprinkling


In a bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook, combine 2 cups flour, yeast and salt. Stir in the warm water until well combined with dry ingredients. With the mixer on low, add the honey, jalapeños and cheddar cheese. Continue to add up to two more cups of flour, until a soft dough is produced, kneading the dough in the mixer for about 8 minutes. Remove dough from the mixer and place in an oiled bowl and cover with damp towel and allow to raise for one hour, roughly doubling the dough.

Preheat oven to 450ºF. After dough is risen, push it in to deflate it. Divide into 12 equal sized portions. Boil 2 cups water. In a shallow bowl, measure out baking soda. Pour the boiling water over the baking soda and stir until the baking soda is completely dissolved. Set soda water aside.

Line two 10 x 15 baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out dough portions into 2 ½ to 3 foot lengths (about a ¼ to ½ inch in diameter) and twist into pretzel shapes. Dip each pretzel into the baking soda water and place on a baking sheet. Allow to raise for 15 to 20 minutes and then place in oven. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Take pretzels out of the oven and transfer them to wire racks. Lightly brush with melted butter and sprinkle with salt. Best enjoyed warm but they are still great when completely cooled as well.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Versatile Homemade Granola

Granola. The very word alone brings to mind Birkenstock footwear and hemp necklaces. Or maybe for you, it is hiking boots and a forest trail. Whatever conjures in your mind at the sound of this word, it probably has something to do with nature or being natural.

And, in essence, granola is very unrefined. What is it? Some whole grains, a sweetener and maybe some dried fruit or perhaps even some nuts all mixed together. There are recipes for stove top granola and oven baked granola. I bet there is even a recipe for a crock pot granola! Maybe a dehydrator recipe? Yep, I can see it happening. I've tried both stove top and oven recipes and I by far prefer the oven recipe so that's what I'm going to share with you here.

But the nice thing about granola is that it can easily be personalized. You can add what you like. Some people dig raisins and others dried cranberries. How about dried apricots, bananas, currants or cherries? Some people like almonds or sunflower seeds but why not pumpkin seeds? Or coconut? I like to use honey as the sweetener but brown sugar could also be used - maybe even maple syrup (now I've got another idea....)

So switch it up - here's a basic starter recipe - make it your own by filling in the gaps:

Basic Granola

3-4 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup chopped nuts (you pick)
1 cup dried fruit (you pick)
1/2 cup sweetener (honey is great, or brown sugar)
1/2 cup butter (some recipes even use canola oil)
1-3 tsp flavor additive (think vanilla extract, lemon extract, almond extract or even a citrus zested plus some of the juice!)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl combine oats, nuts and fruit. On a stove top (or even in a microwave!), heat butter and sweetener together until butter is melted and it is well combined. Take off the heat and stir in the "flavor additive." Pour the butter mixture over the oat mixture and stir until all is equally wet. Spread out wet granola on the parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 - 10 minutes. Take out and allow to cool. Store in an air tight container in the pantry.

So with this recipe, I made lemon cranberry granola with sunflower seeds and almonds. But before I've made vanilla coconut date granola. And before that I made raisin cinnamon granola. The possibilities are really endless! Make what your family likes and enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Embracing Your Inner Granola

The title of this post is what I did yesterday. Now, it may have something to do with Mike fixing the breaks on the van. Which he did a great job on, by the way, even despite running into a few problems (which we think caused them to need to be fixed....). Anyway, Mike was running around town most of the day looking for bolts and parts and what not and I was home with the kids - without a vehicle.

First, thing that happened is I realized we were totally out of bread for sandwiches. Thankfully, I noticed this early on and had time to make bread. Of course, I was nearly out of all my whole wheat and bread flours but I did find some rye flour in the pantry. So I made rye bread, or made up my own recipe for it, since I figured I also use up the white whole wheat and the bread flours too. Abby helped and she has informed me that it is the best bread. Frankly, I think she's a little biased and she also liked the idea of of the cocoa powder we added to give it a darker color.

Then, I realized we were pretty much out of snacks. Are you sensing a theme here? So I decided to make some granola. Why? Cause it is cheap, easy, and the kids like it on yogurt. I'll get to the yogurt part soon enough. So I made some cranberry lemon flavored granola.

Now, having been inspired by several blog posts on making homemade ricotta cheese, I had picked up a gallon of full fat milk (we usually drink one percent here) last week during my weekly shopping trip. Yesterday was the "best by" date so I figured I better use it up. But what I didn't realize is that I didn't really need a full gallon of milk to make the ricotta so I also decided to make yogurt in the crockpot. Also something I hadn't done before.

Making the ricotta cheese was so fun!!! And easy! Here's what I did:

1/2 gallon (8 cups) full fat milk
1/3 cup of white distilled vinegar
1 tsp of kosher salt (I might even add more if I knew the ricotta was bound for a savory dish)

Heat the milk on the stove top in a non-reactive pot. Heat to about 180 degrees over medium heat. If you don't have a thermometer then heat it just to the point where it starts to simmer. From what I've read though, anywhere from 165 to 185 degrees is just fine. You may want to stir as it is heating if you don't have solidly built pans as you do not want the milk to scorch! Turn off the heat, gently stir in the vinegar. Stir for about a minute. You'll see curds start to form right away. Use a slotted spoon or I have a small enough wire mesh colander that I simply used that to scoop the curds out of the whey. Have a colander lined with paper towels over another bowl, and place the curds on the paper towels to drain. Oila! Ricotta cheese! It tastes whey, I mean way, better than the stuff from the store. Refrigerate and use in the next 7 days. Save the whey, there are lots of uses for that nutritional liquid (including using it like buttermilk in recipes!).

So, after making the cheese, I still had another half gallon of milk so I started making yogurt. I have no fancy yogurt machine and frankly, bacteria, for the most part scare me. But after reading this blog post, I decided I had to give it a try. It was very simple. I let it drain again in paper towel line colander in the fridge (so I have more whey!) and gave some to the kids today for a snack. I served it with homemade strawberry/rhubarb jam, topped with homemade granola. I'm feeling my "inner granola" big time. :)