Sunday, May 16, 2010

Soft Pretzels with Warm Poblano Queso

These pretzels are the kind of thing you want to curl up with when it's cold outside, tuck into while the wind howls or the rain comes down.

But, they are also good on a cool spring evening, and they are so irresistible I imagine they would be good anytime, really.

A couple of months ago, I watched a big bowl of these get eaten at a party, one after another, until the party was practically over and almost everyone had left.  
The few of us still there kept eating until the pretzels were gone, too.  It was sad when the bowl was empty and we had to drive home.

A week later, on a carb-craving evening, I accidentally drove to the grocery store and bought the ingredients.  It was a night when I was pretty sure there'd be a snow day the next day.

There was, and I slept in late after sharing half a batch of these with S.  I put the other half batch of dough in the freezer and had them for dinner last week.  When S objected, I explained that it was just like eating pizza, nutritionally.  He relented and finished off his half.   

You can find the recipe here.  Courtesy of Bobby Flay and the Food Network.  Thank you, Bobby.  Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.  These pretzels made my winter.  And my spring.

The darker pretzels you see above are ones from the first time I made them.  I followed the recipe exactly, and they came out tasting like a pretzel.  This may not seem strange to you, but I mean, they tasted like a pretzel!  I had never made my own pretzel before. 

The pretzels you see in all of the other pictures are Linda's variation.  She was the one who made them the first time I had them.  They are shaped into fat little sticks, perfect for dipping into the cheese sauce.  Instead of 3/4 cup of baking soda, I just sprinkled a bit in, as did she.  Her cheese sauce was thinner (she didn't measure-so maybe more milk or less cheese?), too, and instead of the egg wash, I brushed the tops with melted butter, as did Linda.  The result is less pretzel-tasting, but mouth-watering.  I suggest you try them both ways, as you are sure to make these more than once.  Cup O' Cake Designs' Chrissy made them recently after her husband raved about them, and you can see her post here.  

Monday, May 10, 2010

Baby Banana Cream Cheesecakes

Some things to be thankful for:

Lovely bananas,

and cream, 

and cheese.  

Makes 18 baby cakes.  

For the crust:  
2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
2-3 T butter, melted

For the filling:
2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, softened
6 T plus 1 1/2 tsp granulated sugar
pinch of salt
4 tsp cornstarch
2 eggs
1/2 cup mashed banana
5 T plus 1 tsp heavy cream
1 tsp vanilla

For the decoration:
3/4 cup whipped cream
2 tsp-2 T. confectioner's sugar (depending on taste)
1 ripe banana
1.  Prep:  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.  Line 18 muffin cups with paper liners and set aside.  

2.  Make the crusts:  Mix together the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter.  Put 1 T of crumbs in each cup and use your fingers to pat down the crumbs.  [The crumbs do not need to come up the sides of the cup, but it's okay if they do.  If you plan to remove the liners before serving, you will want to pack the crumbs down into an even line so that they look attractive.]  Bake the crusts for 5 minutes.  Then allow to cool for a couple of minutes while you prepare the filling. 

3.  Make the filling:   While the crusts are baking, beat the cream cheese in a mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment until fluffy.  Add the sugar, salt, and cornstarch and beat until mixed.  Then add the eggs, beating adequately after each until batter is smooth.  Mix in the mashed banana, heavy cream, and vanilla.  

4.  Fill and bake:  Fill each cup almost full (this will be easier if you use a cookie scoop).  Place muffin tins in a roasting pan or pans or other large pan(s) and put in oven.  Then fill the roasting pan(s) with hot water to come about halfway up the sides of the muffin pans.  Bake for 22 minutes, until centers are set.  

5.  Cool:  Allow the cakes to cool in the pan before removing them.  Then carefully lift them out of the muffin tin and set on a wire rack to cool completely (if not already cool).  Place in refrigerator and let set for about 4-5 hours, until firm.  

6.  Prepare the decoration:  Beat the heavy cream in a mixer with the wire attachment (or a hand-held mixer) until it holds a shape.  Then add the confectioner's sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.  Slice one ripe banana into 1/4 inch thick slices.  Cut each slice in half.  

6.  Decorate:  Fit a pastry bag with a wide star tip (I used Ateco #824) and fill with the whipped cream.  Decorate each cake with a large star.  Finish by placing one banana half-slice on top of each star.  Chill until ready to serve.  [Note:  These are best decorated right before serving, or a couple of hours before serving.  After that, the whipped cream will begin to melt and the star will no longer hold its shape.]

All on a Monday evening in May.  

Sunday, May 9, 2010


Yesterday, my day was spent in food.  

Reading about food.
Planning what food to make.
Shopping for food.
Making food.
Eating food.  
Writing about food.  

I can't imagine a better day.
In the morning, after perusing cookbooks and blogs, Steve and I went to the New Haven farmer's market for the first time this year.  We purchased:

fresh baby lettuces, bagged, from the Yale Sustainable Food Project garden on Edwards 

large, pale brown eggs 
tiny, bright red radishes with green leaves
potatoes, still a little bit dirty 
all from George Hall Farm in Simsbury

thick-cut, smoked bacon from Four Mile River Farm in Old Lyme

a pretzel from SoNo Baking Company in Norwalk

Then, we came home and cooked.  For dinner we ate

anchovy gougeres from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food
Villa Wolf Gewurztraminer
baby lettuces salad with olive oil and lemon vinaigrette, avocado, and roasted beets
grilled rack of capretto, from Dom's home in Sheffield, MA, and our favorite place to buy meat, Moon in the Pond Farm
baked potatoes with olive oil, cream, and parmigiano
Palmiers, recipe below

Afterwards, we felt full, and lucky.

Recipe from Sur La Table baking workshop I took in March

2-3 c granulated sugar
1 batch quickest puff pastry--see recipe below (or 2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed and unfolded into a rectangle)

Roll dough out using sugar as you would with flour.  Press about 1/2 cup sugar into dough using a rolling pin, turn over, and do the same on the other side.

Fold both outer edges of doug in toward the middle from top to bottom.  Then fold the rectangle of dough in half, from left to right.  Finally, fold bottom edge up to the top one.  Set aside any remaining sugar on a small plate.  Press the dough lightly, then chill for 30 minutes.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Slice the folded dough every 1/3 inch and dip the cut sides into the sugar before placing on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Leave 2 inches of space around each cookie.  

Bake for 10 minutes on each side, until they are well carmelized.  The color should be deep amber, not brown.  Cool pastries for a few minutes until crisp and serve warm.  

Quickest Puff Pastry

2 1/2 sticks cold, unsalted butter
1/2 c cold tap water
1 tsp salt
2 c unbleached all-purpose flour

Cut 2 sticks butter into 1/2 inch dice and refrigerate. 

Measure the water and stir in the salt to dissolve.  Set aside.

Coarsely dice the remaining 4 T butter.  Place flour in the work bowl of a food processor and 4 T of butter.  Pulse until the butter is absorbed--it should be ground finely, with no pieces of butter showing. 

Add the chilled butter and pulse a couple of times to distribute.  Shape dough into a rectangle and place between 2 pieces of plastic wrap.  Press dough with a rolling pin to flatten, then roll back and forth several times with a rolling pin to make a 12x18 inch rectangle.  

Peel away top layer of plastic wrap and turn dough over onto the floured work surface.  Peel away the second layer of plastic wrap and fold the dough in thirds the short way, to make a 4x18 inch rectangle.  Then roll the dough up from one of the 4-inch ends.  Make sure to roll the end under the dough.  Press the roll of dough out into a square, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 1 hour, or until firm.  

Use dough within 2 to 3 days.  Or freeze up to one month and defrost in refrigerator overnight before using.  

*Adapted from "How to Bake" by Nick Malgieri, and included in our recipes from a baking workshop I took at Sur La Table in March with Chef Meg Buchsbaum.