Sunday, November 23, 2008

Learned in Amish Country

I did some research a while back on how to make hard pretzels and couldn't really find any real recipe online. All I found were recipes for soft pretzels, but my visit to Amish Country this weekend proved very profitable because the Julius Sturgis pretzel bakery explained the whole process. This place is the oldest pretzel bakery in America and they have some pretty gourmet pretzel varieties such as spicy jalapeno and cinnamon sugar baked into the dough. Most pretzels these days are just dipped in some synthetic junk to give them overpowering flavor, but these pretzels had just enough flavor to not overpower the pretzel itself. So the process of making a soft pretzel is something you can look up anywhere online. You basically make a bread dough, let it rise a little, roll it out and shape it anyway you like, dip it in some sort of caustic solution, which these days usually means a boiling water and baking soda mix, and baking it in the oven at 550 degrees until golden brown. Then, you decrease the temperature in the oven to 200 degrees until the pretzels are hard. Super easy, right! I'll have to put it to the test.

The really fun thing about making hard pretzels over the holidays is that you can shape them anyway you like and even decorate your tree with them. You can make gigantic candy cane pretzels or pretzels that look like snowmen or snowflakes or make the manger scene all out of pretzel people! Well, maybe next year I'll attempt that one:)

I also have to mention that we visited the Wilber Chocolate Company before we found the pretzel place and as soon as we opened the car doors, our senses were flooded by the aroma of chocolate and I almost died! Even though we were in Hershey, that chocolate smell was nothing like this gourmet chocolate factory. Totally delish. I bought some chocolate molds, including a two sided cornucopia that I hope to use to make a chocolate centerpiece for Thanksgiving. We'll see if it works!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Pizza Napolitana Anyone?

Anyone who know us knows that we are Italian foodies, however I have never learned how to make pizza mostly because I know I could never make it as good as our favorite pizza, Grimaldi's, in Brooklyn, NY. When our favorite local Italian restaurant here offered a brick oven pizza class, I jumped at the occasion. I spent the entire evening with very lively and tipsy people and we learned how to make everything from the dough to how to turn the pizzas in the 1200 degree oven. Bea was strapped to me the entire time and was admired by all in attendance. The pizzas were incredible and a couple nights ago I tried to re-create my masterpiece at the class and the pizzas came out awesome. I do have a pizza stone, which is totally key, and we got fresh mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes (you can get them in a huge can at Costco for cheap), Basil that I processed with olive oil and froze this summer which we drizzled over the top instead of fresh basil, olive oil and salt. We cooked our pizzas at 550 degrees and they turned out almost as good as the brick oven. One key is to let the pizza stone heat back up again in-between pizzas so the crust rises more and gets more soft on in the middle of the crust.

One tip I got from the class was to buy the largest pan you can find that covers the bottom of your oven, take it to Home Depot and get un-glazed ceramic tiles and have them cut them to the exact size of your pan, then set that on the very bottom of your oven (only if you have a gas oven) and keep it there forever. You can cook pizzas and bread right on top of that and it makes everything else you cook come out less "well done" and more "golden brown" on the edges. I can't wait to do it!

I am ashamed to admit, though, that I'm planning on using whole wheat dough from now on, which my teacher said ruins the whole idea of eating a pizza, mostly because I have a million pounds of wheat in my basement and I just got a new wheat grinder that makes the superfine flour that pizza dough requires. Otherwise it's like $5 for 5 lbs of pizza dough grade flour and that's just ridiculous when I have it for free in my basement. Sorry Larry!

Breakfasts are the yummiest

I am a hot cereal breakfast kind of girl, but since I'm usually in a hurry in the mornings I don't have time to boil water and wait for my oatmeal to cook so I have created my own way to cook it and my own yummy additions to make it special. I basically throw in...
an arbitrary amount of oatmeal into a bowl
1/4 cup golden and red flax seeds
a few tablespoons natural pumpkin seeds
and a pinch of salt
pour milk into it about a half inch above the dry ingredients and cook it in the microwave for three or so minutes.
I let it sit for an extra minute or two to soak up the milk and then add...
toasted coconut that I make myself (which I will hilight at some point)
fresh or frozen pomagranite arils(those are the red seeds which I will also talk about soon)
I also throw in whatever fruit is in season. Henry LOVES this breakfast and it has no sugar, plenty of fiber, and is hearty and delicious.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Me and my food

I had to start this blog because I was writing pretty much everything about my life and kids through Henry's blog and Bea's blog, but the one thing I was missing that seemed really important to me and that brings me great joy is cooking! I really enjoy the process of planting my tomato seeds to harvesting to preparing the food to eating it. I feel such a sense of satisfaction when I cook, especially bake, and I need to share my feelings with the world. I'll also post other crafty projects I'm doing on my blog from time to time, but this will mostly be a food blog and I hope you enjoy it and are inspired to cook by reading it!