Monday, May 30, 2011

Easy comfort - with a twist

We love soft pretzels.  Years ago, I was surprised to learn exactly how easy they are to make.  A fabulous recipe for Hot Buttered Pretzels can be found in King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion.  (Fabulous, all-around baking cookbook.)

The ingredients are simple:  all purpose flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and water.  Ingredients are all placed in the bowl of a stand mixer.

Mix thoroughly, then let the machine knead the dough for five minutes.

Place the dough in a ziplock bag spritzed with baking spray.

Allow to rise 30 minutes.

Cut the dough into 8 pieces.  Allow the dough to rest.

Time to make snakes!  Roll each piece into a long rope and form the pretzel shape.  Dip each pretzel into the sugar water solution, place on the prepared baking sheet, and sprinkle with pretzel salt.  Allow to rest.

Bake at 500F according to instructions.  Brush baked pretzels with melted butter.

In less than one hour, you are enjoying fresh baked pretzels!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Summertime....and the living's easy

We had plans to visit family over the holiday weekend.  My coming down with a nasty sinus infection foiled all those plans.  I ended up running a few errands this morning and laying low the rest of the day.  I really hope to be back in my groove tomorrow.  The offspring is in the mist of a massive Lego build.  (Hopefully we can reclaim our den tomorrow also.)

Just because I am feeling a bit under the weather doesn't mean we can't eat well.  It is summer (perhaps not officially on the calendar, but Mother Nature is telling us otherwise), that means cooking is fresh and easy.

I thawed a few boneless, skinless chicken tenderloins.  While they were thawing, I mixed up a quick marinade with fresh thyme, onion, white wine, garlic, salt, pepper, dried hot mustard, sugar, and vegetable oil.  The tenders marinaded in the frig for a few hours.

Vine ripe tomatoes were on sale today and the basil needed a haircut, so capress was added to the night's menu.  It is always a big hit at our house.  Tomato, basil, fresh mozzarella, fresh ground pepper, and balsamic vinegar is such a tasty, fresh combination.

Large white shrimp were also on sale, so I peeled the shrimp and seasoned them with cajun seasoning and a tad of vegetable oil.  I also sliced a fresh lemon in half.

When it was time to cook, the grill was lit.  We used lump charcoal after a friend presented such a convincing argument for us to give it a try.  Honestly, where we both grew up, everyone used charcoal briquets.  We enjoyed the outcomes and are switching to lump charcoal.

I placed one of my cast iron skillets on the back of the grill while the chicken and corn were cooking.  Just before everything was done, I pour a dab of vegetable oil in the hot skillet and used a silicon brush to coat the entire inside of the skillet.  The grill lid was closed to allow the oil to heat.  After a few minutes, I dumped the seasoned shrimp in the skillet and juiced the lemon into the skillet.  I stirred the shrimp, then closed the grill lid.  After stirring the shrimp a few times, they were done.

Dinner was great.

I hope you are enjoying quick, fresh summer meals also!

Friday, May 20, 2011

How does your garden grow?

Spring is here!  That means it is time to plant the garden!

This year, a dear friend asked to join us, so we are expanding our usual family garden.  Nothing major, but we have a nice crop of fresh tomatoes, hot peppers, herbs, okra, peas, squash, and whatever else was sewn.

My husband plans and executes the garden.  He has a wonderful, yet elaborate, plan which involves tilling compost, laying drip irrigation, installing landscape fabric, and "rabbit proofing" the peas. (I love my composter.  It was my Christmas present several years ago.)

I grew up gardening.  My family grew and stored vegetables and fruit each summer to use for the entire year.  We didn't waste anything.  If you have never canned or frozen your own food, contact your local cooperative extension department and they will be more than happy to help you get rolling.  It isn't hard.  I was a certified Master Food Preserver by the time I was 13 years old.  You can find some great resources here.
Perennial herbs

I love returning to this process (albeit on a much smaller scale) and introducing the offspring to it.  Food does not "come from the grocery store" and all children should have the opportunity to learn how food is grown and prepared.

One of my other favorite things about gardening is cooking with fresh herbs.  I plant seasonal herbs in the garden.  We go through tons of fresh basil.  I also prepare pesto base all summer and freeze it in ice cube trays for use throughout the fall and winter.  Last spring, I started several pots of perennial herbs.  The results have been bountiful.  The investment:production ratio has been great!  I moved the allspice tree and bay bush inside for the winter with fabulous results.

The thymes and oreganos came back like game busters, so I gave them huge haircuts and dried the results.  I have almost 1 1/2 cups of dried oregano from this picture.  I also dried approximately 1 cup of thyme.  (If you live in the area, let me know if you need any fresh or dried oregano and thyme.)  The drying process was incredibly easy.  I spread the cut limbs on cooling racks (keeping varietals separate).  It took approximately a week, living on top of the dryer in the laundry room.

As for composting, it just makes sense.  Period.  Why waste the fabulous fruit, vegetable, and grain scraps from the kitchen when you can recycle them into your garden?  After a couple of cycles, I have determined that grass clipping from the yard, kitchen scraps, and once a week watering and turning produce GREAT compost.  Over the winter, I throw a container of fishing worms in for additional breakdown during the cold months.  A key point for this particular composter is to place it in the sun so it can absorb heat.  I use a spading fork to turn my compost.  Give composting a whirl at your house.  You don't have to buy a big, fancy composter to get results.

Happy gardening!  I'll keep you updated as the summer progresses.  (Now, if only I could convince my husband we need an asparagus bed.....)