Crackers

Easter weekend, I hosted our almost annual wine and cheese party. I say almost annual because we somehow missed last year. I love hosting this party because everyone brings a wine and/or a cheese to share, keeping the menu diverse and the party stress-free. I always try to do a little something extra to make the food shine, like the cheesecake truffles I made a couple of years ago.

This year, I hoped that these crackers would stand out. I’ve been making them since they were first published in Fine Cooking in December 2007. They’re so easy to make, and I absolutely love the “everything” topping – it’s what first made me fall in love with fennel seeds. If you’re not interested in the “everything” or rosemary-sea salt toppings below, make up your own, but be sure to come back and share with the rest of us! 🙂

Crackers

Adapted from Fine Cooking No. 89 p. 45

Makes 3 dozen crackers

Ingredients for the Crackers:

  • 1 1/2 c. (6 3/4 oz.) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • scant 1/2 c. (2 oz.) whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp. table salt
  • 3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 c. water
  • Choice of 1 topping – “everything” crackers, rosemary-sea salt, or your own

Ingredients for “Everything” Cracker Topping:

  • 2 tsp. sesame seeds
  • 2 tsp. poppy seeds
  • 1 Tbs. fennel seeds
  • 1-2 tsp. kosher salt

Ingredients for Rosemary & Sea Salt Cracker Topping:*

  • 2 Tbs. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

* I did not mix rosemary and sea salt in a bowl or measure. Instead, I just sprinkled the sea salt and dried rosemary on the crackers until it looked like enough to flavor the crackers.

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 450F and pull out 1-2 large baking sheets. The baking sheets will remain unlined – no parchment paper necessary.
  2. Fill a small bowl with water and set aside, along with a pastry brush. Mix desired toppings in a small bowl and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, and table salt. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir in olive oil and water.
  4. Lightly flour a counter top with either flour. Place 1/3 of the dough onto the prepared surface, leaving the remaining dough in the bowl and covered with a clean towel. Using a rolling pin, roll out dough to 1/8-inch thick. Brush with water and sprinkle with your topping, adding extra kosher salt if necessary. Using a sharp knife, dough scraper, or pizza cutter, slice crackers into pieces, about 1-inch wide and 2 inches long.
  5. Using a rubber cookie spatula, place crackers on baking sheet, and bake for 9-11 minutes, until slightly browned. (While cooking, prepare the next batch of crackers to go in the oven.) Move to wire rack to cool completely.

Store cooled crackers in an airtight container or ziplock bag for up to a week.

Mixed Berry Salad with Vanilla Syrup

The weather is gorgeous – 70+ and sunny. Love it! It’s the perfect weather to renew good habits. I’ve been taking regular walks outside both to enjoy the weather and to start training for the Susan G Komen 3-Day for the Cure, which I’ll walk later this year. I’m also loving all the fruit that’s starting to appear in the stores and farm stands. I’ve been getting tired of apples and bananas and have been waiting for berries and nectarines.

This is one of my favorite fruit salads – mixed berries topped with just a touch of homemade vanilla syrup. The syrup adds a brightness and uniqueness to the berries and is a great way to dress up a simple fruit salad for a more formal event, such as a wedding or baby.

Mixed Berry Salad with Vanilla Syrup

Adapted from Fine Cooking, June/July 2004

Ingredients:

  • 6-8 c. fresh mixed berries (any type that are in season. I like a combination of strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries)
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1/4. c. water

Instructions:

  1. Clean and slice berries and toss in a large bowl. Cover and place in the fridge to keep cold.
  2. Fill a small saucepan with 1/4 c. water and 1/4 c. sugar.
  3. Split vanilla bean lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds from one half of the vanilla bean and place in the saucepan with water and sugar. (Save the vanilla bean pod for a garnish, or place in your jar of vanilla sugar or vanilla extract.)
  4. Over medium heat, bring water and sugar to just boiling. Stir until sugar has dissolved. Lower heat and simmer for 7 minutes, allowing the vanilla to infuse the syrup.
  5. Allow syrup to cool before moving to a refrigerator to chill completely.

Serve: Pour 1-2 Tbs. syrup over fruit & enjoy!

Game Day: Soft Pretzel (Bites)

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!

Rosemary Cashews

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Every year, we invite a lot of people to our annual holiday party. It’s a great time. Everyone tends to wander the houses between the living room and kitchen upstairs, and the pool room and second living room downstairs. While I set most of the food in our dining room, I always make sure there is something downstairs – usually little bowls of nuts on the bar tables in the pool room, and a mini appetizer and dessert tray in the second living room. These rosemary cashews were perfect. Sweet with just a slight kick, they’re delicious served warm or at room temperature.

Note that the recipe on Food Network’s website is different from the one found in Barefoot in Paris – it has different quantities of several of the ingredients as well as a different baking temperature. I used the recipe from Barefoot in Paris.

Rosemary Cashews

Adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot in Paris(p. 36)

Makes 3 cups

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. unsalted cashews
  • 2 Tbs. minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp. light brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs. kosher salt
  • 1 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Place nuts on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 5-6 minutes, stirring nuts halfway through.

Combine rosemary, cayenne, brown sugar and salt in a small bowl.

In a large bowl (or serving dish if serving immediately), sprinkle above mix and drizzle butter over nuts, tossing as you go. I do recommend sprinkling and tossing the nuts to make sure they’re evenly seasoned. Stir well until nuts are covered in the spices.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Chocolatey Pretzel Treats

A friend brought these to a holiday party a couple of years ago, and the hubby has been talking about them ever since then. Intuitively, I knew how to make these, but did a bit of searching around anyway, to see if there were hints or anything I was missing. It seems that most people use Hershey kisses to make these treats, although Beantown Baker used chocolate bark instead. I’ve also included two techniques for making these (for melting the chocolate) below, based on what sort of chocolate you use.

These goodies went into care packages this week – I hope the recipients of these goodies like them!

Chocolatey Pretzel Treats

By Books n’ Cooks

Makes 10 dozen treats

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 a 1 lb. bag of pretzels – either the ties, the circles, or the checker boards
  • 1 bag Hershey kisses (milk chocolate, dark chocolate, hugs, or other solid-chocolate kiss, unwrapped) or bag chocolate melts
  • 1 bag M&Ms

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Cover the baking sheet with pretzels, with the backside facing down.

  1. Method 1: If making with Hershey kisses, preheat the oven to 200F. Set a candy on the center of each pretzel. Bake until kisses are softened, 4-8 minutes. (The Hershey hugs soften the fastest). Remove from oven. Spread chocolate with a knife, or push it into place with the M&Ms.
  2. Method 2: If using candy melts or chocolate bark, melt in the microwave for 30-60 seconds, stirring chocolate until smooth. Pour a bit of the chocolate over each pretzel, using a teaspoon or a squeeze bottle.

Lay 3 M&Ms on each pretzel treat. Refrigerate the sheet until chocolate is set.

Store in an airtight container, or in the freezer.