Pretzel Bread (and Rolls!)

>> Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Pretzel Bread (and Rolls!)
My brother-in-law, Jim Calder, is a very methodical man. For years he has been working on making soft pretzels, mall-style. He was having trouble with the twisting part, so he decided to go on a fact-finding mission to the local pretzel shop and see how they did it. Once he saw these indifferent teens flipping the twist into the pretzels, he realized that anything he did would look fine.

Jim came up with a recipe for bread that can also be used to make rolls or buns for burgers, sandwiches, or whatever. In my opinion, this tastes best the day you bake it. By the way, if you'd like some great soup ideas to go along with this bread, just click on the "Soup" link to the right.


2 1/4 tsp dry yeast (1 .25-oz package)
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups warm water (110-115 degrees F)
4 cups all-purpose flour, plus 1/3 cup for kneading
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 cups warm water (110-115 degrees F)
2 tbsp baking soda
2 tbsp butter, melted
2 tbsp coarse sea salt or kosher salt


Pour warm water into a large mixing bowl. Stir in the brown sugar and salt, then stir in the yeast until dissolved. Allow the mixture to work for 15 minutes. Stir together the flour and baking powder, then stir it into the yeast mixture until well combined.

Sprinkle a kneading surface (a counter, a large cutting board, a table) with flour, and put the dough on the surface. Coat your hands with flour and knead the dough by folding it in half and pressing towards the center, until it is smooth and elastic and has lost some of its stickiness. This should take 5-10 minutes.

Place the dough in a large greased bowl, and turn it over to coat the surface. Cover with a damp towel and let it rise in a warm place for one hour.

Stir the baking soda into the warm water and pour it into a shallow pan. Grease a cookie sheet. Once the dough has risen, turn it out onto the floured kneading surface. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

If you are planning to make pretzel rolls, cut the dough into 6 pieces. Form each piece into a bun shape, then quickly dip it into the baking soda solution and place it on the baking sheet. Do the same with the rest of the pieces.

If you are making pretzel bread, cut the dough into 3 pieces. Roll each segment between your hands until you have made a rope of even thickness about 12-14 inches long. Dip the three pieces into the baking soda solution and lay them side-by-side in the cookie sheet. Pinch one of the ends together, then braid the ropes across to the the other side. Pinch that end together, too.

Bake the buns for 20-30 minutes, the bread for about 40 minutes. They are done when the crust is browned and has a slightly hollow sound when you knock on it. Brush with melted butter, and sprinkle with the coarse salt before serving.

Makes 1 loaf or 6 large pretzel buns.


Yellow Rice with Pigeon Peas (Arroz con Gandules)

>> Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A few years ago, we took a group of suburban teenagers on a mission trip to Puerto Rico to help fix houses, take care of children, and share our faith with the people we met. Our teens were wonderfully hard workers who also tried to speak a bit of the language (though they also tried to just add "o" to the end of English words to make them Spanish!).

Teen work crew in Hormigueros, PR

Once in a while the teens tried out the Puerto Rican dishes that were outside their comfort zone. One night we traveled from the little town of Hormigueros to a beach on the south side of the island. After swimming until sunset in a pretty little cove, we had dinner at a busy local restaurant. Arroz con gandules (say a-ROSE cone gon-doo-lays) was one of the side dishes. It was hearty, savory, and flavorful without being spicy-hot. We ate it all up.

La Casita restaurant,  La Parguera, Puerto Rico
La Casita restaurant in La Parguera, PR

(My dinner is in the tower at the bottom left - mofongo with shrimp. I can't wait to make this for you! Come over, we'll eat, we'll talk...!)

Joe and I bought a cookbook when we were in the Caribbean so we could make some of these dishes at home. Rice with pigeon peas is an inexpensive and filling dinner for a Meatless Monday, or a nice side dish with any kind of Latin American main dish. If you're not making a vegetarian version, it's traditional to stir in chopped sausage, ham or bacon.


1 tbsp oil
1/2 cup red pepper, chopped
1/2 cup onion, sliced
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups long grain white rice
4 cups water
5 green Spanish olives, pitted and chopped
1 can green pigeon peas, drained
1 tbsp annato oil or 1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp fresh oregano, chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste


Heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the onion, pepper, garlic, and cilantro and saute until tender (if you're using meat, saute it with the vegetables).

Place all ingredients into a large saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cover. Simmer for 20 minutes on medium heat, or until rice is cooked.

Serves 2-4.


Lemon Garlic Shrimp with Pasta

>> Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Lemon Garlic Shrimp with Pasta

We love this simple, fresh, and quick recipe for Fish Fridays or any busy day of the week. I usually serve this in the summertime, but I recently found a fantastic sale on frozen shrimp and was craving this shrimp scampi-like dish. It made an ordinary weekday special.

Try pairing the pasta with a salad with sweet dressing like French or Russian, and a crisp, lemony white wine like a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.

This recipe serves four and can be ready 20 minutes after you step in the kitchen. Can't beat that!


1 1/2 lbs. large shell-on shrimp
12 oz whole wheat pasta

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp red pepper flakes
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp oregano, finely chopped

Juice of 1 lemon, or 2 tbsp bottled lemon juice
1 cup hot chicken, fish, or vegetable broth
2 tbsp chives, chopped


Peel and de-vein the shrimp; let it drain in a colander. Cook the pasta according to the package directions, then toss with a bit of oil to prevent sticking.

Melt the butter and oil in a large skillet. Add the pepper flakes and allow to sizzle for 1 minute. Saute the garlic and oregano in the oil until tender and fragrant. Add the broth and lemon juice, then stir in the shrimp. Cook the shrimp for about 2 minutes on one side, then flip them over and cook for 2-3 minutes, or until pink and tender. Do not overcook or they will become rubbery!

Stir in the pasta and toss until well coated. Sprinkle with the chives before serving.

Serves 4.


Creamy Beef Pot Pie

>> Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Creamy Beef Pot Pie

This creamy-savory pot pie is a dressed-up version of one of my Mom's economical comfort foods. When I was a kid, there were never any leftovers when she made this for dinner. Recently I was craving that old-time meal, so we turned out the vegetable bin and whipped up this fabulous casserole.

There were leftovers, but I had them for lunch the next day.


1 pound very lean ground beef (you can use lean ground turkey if you prefer)
1 cup white onion, chopped
1 cup carrot, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp thyme
1 1/3 cups fat-free milk
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
1 tube Pillsbury Crescent Rounds


Crumble the meat into a frying pan and cook until completely browned. Drain off the fat and set the meat aside. In the same pan, saute all the vegetables and thyme until tender. Add the meat back to the pan and keep warm.

In a small saucepan, heat the milk until bubbles form at the edge. Slowly whisk in the flour, cayenne, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until thickened to the consistency of gravy, about 10-15 minutes. If it gets too thick, add a bit more milk. Off heat, stir in the sour cream. Stir the sauce into the meat mixture, and pour it into a 9x12 casserole pan.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Open the crescent rounds and unroll them onto a cutting board. They should pull apart into long strips; cut 1/3 of these strips in half. Starting in one corner of the casserole pan, lay one long strip along the long side and a short strip along the short side. Begin alternating the long and short strips, laying them over and under to form a basket weave (a helper is very useful during the weaving!).
Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the filling is hot and bubbly.

Serves 4-6.

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