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Game Day

Everyone knows I’m not a football fan. Actually, that’s an understatement. To me, football is a bunch of fat guys jumping on each other. I just don’t understand the obsession with football. My college didn’t even have a football team, not even a terrible one. I remember one of my first trips home with my husband, 5 years ago. We went to his buddy’s house to watch an Alabama game. Intimidated with all these new people, I whispered to the hubby, “did so-and-so play for Alabama?” Confused by my question, because the guy was not exactly built like a football player, I was told no. I should have just left it at that, but I whispered (a little louder than I realized), “If he didn’t play, then why does he have all these professional photos of Alabama football players on his wall?” I could  have understood it if the photos were of him, but some random dude he didn’t know? Just didn’t make sense to me. Needless to say, the hubby looked at me and rolled his eyes while the rest of the room overheard me and wondered what type of lunatic my now-husband had brought home.

You’d think that after being with my husband for 5 years, that I would have gained some appreciation for football. Nope. While the hubby watches football, I curl up with a mystery novel. Despite my opinion of football, I somehow got talked into watching a game at a friend’s house. In fact, not only did I have to pretend to watch the game, but I got volunteered to bring something. No idea how that happened…. and really, I think the only reason I survived the game was because I brought some crafts, and received constant compliments on how wonderful these pretzels were.

This was my first time making soft pretzels (or pretzel bites) and although a bit of work, they weren’t very hard. We all found them super tasty. I thought they tasted like real New York pretzels, bought just off the street. I served the pretzel bites with cheese dip from Two Peas and Their Pod, but I did not repost the recipe here because I wasn’t happy with the way it came out (although the dish was gone by the end of the night).

Note: I did make these in advance and reheated a couple times throughout the night. The flavor and texture was fine through each reheat.

Make ahead / freezing instructions available on Annie’s Eats, although she uses a slightly different recipe than the one below.

Homemade Soft Pretzels or Pretzel Bites

Adapted from Bobby Flay, via Two Peas and Their Pod

Makes 8 large pretzels or 8+ dozen pretzel bites

Ingredients

~ 1 1/2 c. warm water
~ 2 Tbs. light brown sugar
~ 1 pkg. active dry yeast
~ 3 oz. unsalted butter, melted
~ 2 1/2 tsp. kosher salt plus more (or coarse sea salt) for sprinkling
~ 4 1/2-5 c. all-purpose flour
~ vegetable oil or spray
~ 3 quarts water
~ 3/4 c. baking soda
~ 1 egg, beaten, with 1 Tbs. cold water

Make the Pretzel Dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine water, sugar, yeast, and melted butter until just combined. Turn off and let stand for 5 minutes.

After 5 minutes, turn mixer to low and add kosher salt and flour. When just combined, increase speed to medium until dough begins to pull away from sides, 3-4 minutes. If dough is too wet, add flour 1 Tbs. at a time.

Turn dough onto a flat surface and with your hands, knead into a ball.

Oil or spray mixing bowl and return dough to bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to rise. Dough should double in size, about 1 hour.

Cook the Pretzels: When dough has doubled in size, prep everything for cooking.

  • Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Spray with cooking spray and set aside.
  • Set a small roasting pan or large skillet with at least 3-inch high sides on the stove over high heat. Fill with the 3 quarts of water and bring to a boil. Add baking soda.
  • Preheat oven to 425F.

As water is coming to a boil, remove dough from bowl and place on counter or a large cutting board. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope, 22-inches long.

  • If making pretzel bites, cut dough into 1-inch pieces (I used a plastic bowl / dough scraper to protect the counters).
  • If making full pretzels, lay dough on counter. Take the right side and cross it over to the left. Then take the left side and cross it to the right. Press down slightly where dough overlaps.

In batches, put pretzel bites or pretzels into boiling baking soda-water for 30 seconds. Do not let the pretzels touch during boiling. With a slotted spoon, remove, letting excess water drip off before placing on baking sheet.

Brush tops of pretzels with egg wash. Sprinkle with salt. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until golden brown. Allow to cool slightly, about 5 minutes,  on baking sheet or baking rack before serving.

Variations: According to Two Peas and Their Pod, you can make these into cinnamon and sugar pretzels by sprinkling with cinnamon and sugar instead of salt. The frosting would be 3 Tbs. cream cheese, powdered sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla extract and a little bit of milk, whisked together. I have yet to try this, but plan on it!

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Did you ever have a meal at a friend’s house, and instantly, the meal became one of your favorites? It’s that dish you immediately try to work into your weekly menu, and immediately start nagging your friend for the recipe… For me, this Chicken Cobb Pizza went straight into the favorites list, from the moment I tried it at K’s house. I’ve made it a couple of times since then, and have begged K to make it when we get together (including for “lunch” at 9am, 10 miles into our Sunday morning walks).

This pizza is pretty healthy in general (the original Pampered Chef recipe, using 1-10 oz. can chicken, says that two squares of this pizza is only 300 calories), but can be made even better for you with reduced-fat versions of the ingredients and even more veggies.

Thanks to K for sharing this great recipe!

Chicken Cobb Pizza

Adapted from Pampered Chef’s Clubhouse Chicken Squares

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

  • 2-8 oz. pkg. crescent rolls
  • 1-8 oz. pkg. cream cheese, softened
  • 2 Tbs. mayonnaise
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. fresh dill, chopped (or 1 tsp. Pampered Chef All-Purpose Dill Mix or dried dill)
  • 1 1/2 c. cooked chicken, chopped/diced
  • 1/2 small cucumber, seeded and chopped/diced
  • 2 plum tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
  • 6 slices bacon or turkey bacon, cooked, drained, and crumbled

Make the Crust: Preheat oven to 375F.

Unroll one of package of crescent rolls on a baking sheet, with the longest sides of the dough running the length of the pan. With your fingers, seal in the perforations. Press the sides to form a crust.Repeat on a second baking sheet with the second roll of crescent rolls.

Back 12-15 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside to cool completely.

Make the “Sauce”: In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine the softened cream cheese, mayo, garlic and dill. If the cream cheese isn’t soft enough to mix thoroughly, throw in the microwave for 5-10 seconds.

Assemble the Pizza: When the crust is cooled, spread the dill mixture on top of each crust. Layer chicken, bacon, veggies, and cheese.

Note for preparing in advance: The “sauce” can be made in advance. If it sits overnight, it will be come very garlicky. Also, if put together far in advance, the shredded cheese tends to dry out. Sprinkle cheese on pizza as close to serving as possible.

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A couple of weeks ago, my hubby invited some friends over for the first college football game of the season. He promised light snacks, and everyone was coming over around 6:30. Light snacks? Really? Chips and dip were never going to suffice. We definitely needed something more substantial. These Ultimate Grilled Cheese Sandwiches satisfied that requirement – I couldn’t make them fast enough!

The only real changes I made to this recipe were the bread (my grocery store didn’t have sour dough so I used French bread) and the serving size. I don’t know if the bread was smaller or if I used less cheese and bacon, or a little bit of both, but I actually got more like 10 sandwiches out of this recipe. Ina also suggested shredding the cheese and crumbling the bacon. I ended up leaving the bacon slices whole (or halved when necessary) and “shredding” the cheese with a knife, so that I ended up with pieces larger than a traditional shredder would make. In the future (and in the recipe below), I actually changed this step, so that the cheese is thinly sliced. It will be easier to get more cheese on the sandwiches, and will keep the cheese from falling off when grilling.

Recipe chosen by Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake, of Barefoot Bloggers, from Ina’s new book, How Easy is That? to be released this October.

The Ultimate Grilled Cheese

Adapted from Ina Garten’s How Easy is That?

Makes 6-10 Sandwiches

Ingredients:

  • 12 slices thick-cut bacon, such as an applewood smoked
  • 1 c. good mayonnaise
  • 1/4 c. Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 loaf of sourdough bread (french bread also worked well), sliced 1/2 inch thick (12+ slices)
  • 6 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 oz. aged Gruyère or Comte cheese, coarsely grated or thinly sliced
  • 6 oz.good  extra-sharp Cheddar, coarsely grated or thinly sliced

Equipment: Panini Press or Grill Pan

Make the Bacon: Preheat oven to 400F. Prepare a rimmed baking sheet with foil on the bottom (optional – makes for easy clean up) and a baking rack inserted on top. Lay bacon in a single layer over baking rack. Cook about 20-30 minutes “until nicely browned.” (I cooked mine for about 40 minutes to get the bacon crunchy.) When done, set on a plate lined with paper towels.

Assemble the Sandwiches: In a small bowl, combine mayo, mustard, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Spread half of the bread with a generous serving of the mayo mixture. Add cheese (1 oz. each cheddar and Gruyère / comte, about 1/3 cup total if grated) and 1-2 slices bacon. Top with other slice of bread.

If using a Panini press on the stove, heat the Panini press over medium heat. Meanwhile, either spread butter on sandwiches (both sides), or melt butter, and when Panini press is hot, brush butter on both sides of the pan. Cook 3-5 minutes, flipping as needed. Allow to cool a couple of minutes before serving.

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