This year will be the first year in five years that my hubby and I will not be hosting our annual holiday party. With moving to a new home in early December, it’s just going to be too difficult to manage. In fact, I’m not even sure that we’ll be decorating for Christmas this year. Even though I know it’s the right decision, I am disappointed. I absolutely love Christmas time – the parties, the decorations…. I love putting up our Christmas tree on Thanksgiving day, wrapping gifts and setting them under the tree as soon as I purchase them…
But I couldn’t let this year pass without doing something for the holidays. While I might not be able to decorate or throw a party, I plan on indulging in holiday sweets over the next several weeks. And, I’m going to share those sweets with you! Over the next 10 weeks, I’ll be participating in Meal Planning Magic‘s 12 Weeks of Christmas Treats (I missed the first two weeks due to travel). Every Thursday, I’ll be sharing something new with you that might interest you for this year’s festivities.
For the first post, I’m sharing a sweet snack – Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels. Addictive is the best word to describe them. My book club ladies, my hubby, and my coworkers loved these little snacks. They’re quick and easy to make and keep pretty (mine were eaten within 3 days but were still fresh by the end). If I were hosting my holiday party, these would definitely make the menu!
½ c. cinnamon sugar for sprinkling (½ c. sugar + 1½ tsp. cinnamon)
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Pour pretzels into a large mixing bowl (microwave-safe if you have one).
In a measuring cup, gently whisk together oil, the 1/3 c. sugar and the 1½ tsp. cinnamon. Microwave for 1 minutes. Gently whisk again. Microwave for an additional 30 seconds. Gently whisk. Pour over pretzels and toss until pretzels are coated in mixture. (If you have a microwave-safe mixing bowl, pour mixture over pretzels, microwave for 1 minutes, toss, microwave for 30 seconds, and toss again).
Pour pretzels onto prepared baking sheets, spreading so that pretzels are in one even layer. Sprinkle with additional ½ c. cinnamon sugar. Allow to sit out for 30 minutes before moving to a serving dish or storage container.
Confession: I’ve got the munchies and I’m tired of the usual snacks. Cheerios and my little bags of popcorn that usually satisfy my munchies aren’t appealing to me. Granola bars, crackers & cheese, and fruit don’t really work for munchies. What I really want are potato chips. That would work. Salty, thin Lay’s chips, perhaps with a bit of homemade onion dip. While I can eat these until I make myself sick, I would have to walk the entire weekend just to burn off those calories. And that’s not going to happen (instead, I’ll be painting our downstairs and shopping for dresses for my future sister-in-law’s bridal shower).
Inspired by some dried cranberries I found in my baking drawer, I went in search of a trail mix recipe that I found years ago. While higher in calories, the dried fruit and nuts qualified that recipe as a healthy munchie, at least in my mind. I wasn’t able to find the recipe online, in my recipe binders, or in my huge folder of torn-out recipes but I think this is a pretty good estimate of what I remember – the sweet cranberries adding a burst of flavor to the crunchy banana chips and the almonds. This is a munchie that will be left at home, out of sight of my cube-mate who loved this snack when he sampled it.
Cranberry-Banana Trail Mix
Inspired by a lost recipe from Self Magazine
Makes ~2 cups
1 1/2 c. banana chips
1/2 c. dried cranberries
1/2 c. almonds or walnuts
1/4 – 1/2 tsp. pepper (white pepper is better than black, but use whatever you have)
Directions: Throw all ingredients in a bowl and toss.
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! 🙂
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.
Preheat oven to 450F and pull out 1-2 large baking sheets. The baking sheets will remain unlined – no parchment paper necessary.
Fill a small bowl with water and set aside, along with a pastry brush. Mix desired toppings in a small bowl and set aside.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Clean and slice berries and toss in a large bowl. Cover and place in the fridge to keep cold.
Fill a small saucepan with 1/4 c. water and 1/4 c. sugar.
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.)
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.
Allow syrup to cool before moving to a refrigerator to chill completely.
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.
~ 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!