MAKING PRETZELS – Marilyn Armstrong

We like pretzels. One of the things I really miss is fresh warm pretzels, the kind we used to buy at the old mall in Auburn. I don’t know if the mall is open or will open. It was barely functioning before the COVID-19 shutdown. It’s an aging mall in a bad location, not convenient to any major road. Very hard to find, even when you’ve been there often.

Inside the mall

Their two lead stores were Macy’s and Sears and I’m not sure either of those will survive because both are currently in bankruptcy. What they had going for them was a kiosk where you could always get a new watch battery, a LensCrafters, plus another kiosk where they made warm pretzels while you waited. Oh so good.

I wanted pretzels and as it happened, I came across a recipe on a CBS site.

This is the recipe:

Homemade Soft Pretzel Ingredients

1-1/2 cups warm (110° to 115° F) water
1 tablespoon white sugar (Too much sugar — use half that amount)
1 package active dry yeast (2 ½ teaspoons)
22 ounces all-purpose flour, about 4 1/2 cups (1 cup = 8 ounces, so how can 4-1/2 cups = 22 ounces?)
2 teaspoons kosher salt (Don’t measure the salt. Just shake it onto the pretzels and don’t be shy about it)
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil or cooking spray (Cooking spray works better)
10 cups water for boiling the pretzels — not part of the recipe
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt (for topping) (Kosher salt)

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine water, sugar, and yeast, stirring gently to combine. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam.
  2. Add the flour, salt, and butter. Use dough hooks and mix on low speed until combined. Increase to medium speed until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, 4 to 5 minutes.
  3. Take a big bowl and oil it. You can use an oil spray. There’s no reason to take it out of one bowl, put it in another, then put it into another bowl that you had to clean. Twice the work for no good reason.  Remove the dough, wipe out the bowl and then oil it with a little vegetable oil or cooking spray. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap,
  4. Cover the bowl and put it in a warm place for about an hour 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size (more or less).
  5. Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper or a Silpat sheet. One big cookie sheet is plenty.
  6. Lightly brush with vegetable oil or lightly coat with cooking spray.
  7. Bring the water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.
  8. Gently whisk egg yolk and water together and set aside.
  9. While the water heats up, turn the dough out onto a lightly oiled floured work surface. Oil your hands to keep the dough from sticking. Divide into 8 pieces, as many as seem reasonable.
  10. Roll out each piece of dough into a rope about 24” long. (Do whatever you want!)Make a U-shape with the dough rope, and holding the ends, cross them over each other and press on the bottom of the U to form the shape of a pretzel.
  11. Place on the prepared cookie pan.
  12. Lower the pretzels into the boiling water, one at a time, for about 30 seconds each, turning over with a slotted spoon about half-way through. Remove them from the water using a slotted spoon or spider, allowing excess water to drain off. NOTE: I put in three at a time which was fine.
  13. Brush each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk (I used a small paintbrush) and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes (it took closer to 20 minutes. Just keep an eye on them and you’ll know when they are done.
  14. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Despite the years I spent baking, I had forgotten how much work it is. I also forgot what a mess it makes. At least I had the sense to change my clothing before I started By the time I finished, it was obvious what I’d been doing. Though I’ve washed my hands repeatedly, I’ve still got dough under my nails.

I also, since there is no yeast in the stores, I used yeast I’ve had in the fridge since 2009. You wouldn’t think it would work, but it did.

I didn’t try for the classic pretzel shape. By the time I had gotten to that point, I was ready to nap on the kitchen floor. I just made them into a circle then twisted them. I got better at it as I worked.

I boiled the pretzels, baked the pretzels and we ate ALL the pretzels instead of dinner. Junk food makes a great dinner, especially when it’s your own junk food. I have to find a better recipe. Or maybe I just buy some pretzels, assuming someone is selling them.

Why did I pick the hottest day since last July to bake? All I wanted warm, soft pretzels. Desperation drove me.

HUMMUS – Marilyn Armstrong

Feel like a nourishing meal without cooking? A lot of food from in and around the Mediterrean is some kind of salad, typically vegan.

How about humous? This is an Armenian recipe, but it’s delicious, easy, and all you need is a food processor, a few spoons and a knife to cut a lemon. If you don’t own one, you can get an inexpensive one for well under $20. I haven’t found that the expensive ones work any better. The only thing the expensive ones are is quieter.

HUMMUS – Armenian-Style

2 – 15-1/2 oz cans chickpeas (with water drained). You can also use the double-size can from Goya which equals the two smaller cans.

1 cup organic Tahina. The Yehuda brand (from Israel) which I find in my grocery store is not expensive and not gluey. In fact, you can use the whole can and save measuring.

1 fresh lemon, juice squeezed into the processor
¼ (or a little more) cup of olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin (if you like it hotter, use a little more)
1 heaping tablespoon chopped (or ground) garlic

salt to taste (about a teaspoon and a bit)
1 – 2 tablespoons of water. Use more if it’s too gloppy.

Hummus, Armenian-style (but really, it’s all the same)

Processor (it’s the least expensive one I’ve seen and it does a great job.

Process everything until it is as smooth as you like it. Taste, add anything you think it needs. If it’s too thick, add more water, a little at a time. You shouldn’t need much.

I add a couple of teaspoons of hot sauce (chipotle or other).

This makes a lot of hummus. I usually divide it into two containers, serve one and freeze the other.

Serve with pita (fresh if possible!) Nice with a side of fresh avocado, fresh lemon, and sliced fresh tomatoes. In Israel, it is usually served with a drizzle of olive oil, a shake of paprika, and a bit of fresh, chopped onion on top.

And hot sauce on the side. Over there, they use very hot sauce. I’m not that hearty. I’ll settle for milder Arizona-style!

THE DAIRY FARM AROUND THE BLOCK – Marilyn Armstrong

As 2019’s first major winter storm closes in, memories of summer seemed in order, not to mention a recipe for one great and classic cake.


Garry wanted pound cake for which I needed eggs. Our half-and-half was going “off.” With pound cake, we obviously will want coffee, hence we need fresh half-and-half. I wanted new pictures; Garry needed a photo airing too.

We accomplished it in one fell swoop (click here for a history of fell swoop), merely by driving around the block.

fresh eggs at the farm

It’s a dairy farm. Milk, eggs. Sometimes local honey. Today they had homemade jams and organic lip balm. The eggs come from the chickens wandering around the yards and are often fertilized. The milk is from the happiest bunch of cows I’ve ever seen. They loll around the green pasture which lies along the Blackstone River.

farm an windmill

There are several pastures. The pasture further down the road has a small creek running through it. They take the cows there in very hot weather so they can wade in the cool stream and graze on the wildflowers and weeds along the banks. It’s shady there. The calves have a pasture of their own and graze together along a hillside on the other side of the barn.

The milk isn’t homogenized or pasteurized, which means it’s very close to half-and-half, but you have to shake it before using because the cream rises to the top.

cows in pasture on the farm

I splurged on a jar of homemade elderberry jam. They had fresh corn, but I don’t need corn today. Maybe I’ll go back Monday, get some corn then. We don’t eat a lot, so I try not to over-buy things that will spoil and end up getting thrown out.

elderberry jamAnd we got pictures. I haven’t downloaded most of them yet. These are the first batch.

Here’s my recipe for pound cake. I’ll be baking as soon as the butter softens.

  • 1 pound (3-1/3 cups) flour
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 4 sticks softened sweet butter
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (use the real thing)
  • 9 large eggs, lightly beaten.

It makes two cakes in standard loaf pans. I’ll freeze one. We will happily devour the other. I can feel my hips expanding as I write.

The elderberry jam is delicious. And 2 pound-cakes are baking in the oven. The smell is … wow.

REVISED REVISITED GINGERBREAD – THE JANUARY RECIPE

It has been cold and really nasty out. Garry went out and unasked, shoveled the walk again. This was very brave considering the near zero temperature.

I decided to warm him up with gingerbread. I thought I had everything, but I turned out to be 1/4 cup short of molasses and I decided to use my mixer instead of beating it by hand with a wooden spoon. I think it’s less complicated and less messy using a spoon, but this certainly produced a much smoother batter. Which took an extra 10 minutes to bake.

Was it the beating that did it? Extra air in the batter? Maybe the eggs were too big? 


The NEW REVISED RECIPE for GINGERBREAD

This a very fine, old-fashioned recipe. I bake it in a loaf pan in a counter-top electric oven and it takes between 40 and 50 minutes at 370 to 375 degrees.  You can use a regular baking pan and a standard full-size oven, but you will probably need to change the oven temperature to whatever works in your oven. Hopefully, you know your oven and whether it should be turned up or down.

This is not a difficult recipe. It pretty much always comes out well, even if you make mistakes. It can take as long as 50 minutes or as few as 42 and sometimes. I’m not sure what makes the difference.

Baking is like that. When I baked bread, I always had to check and make sure it was done, even when I baked the loaf in the same oven using an identical recipe to the previous time. Ovens don’t always seem to run exactly the same from use to use — or maybe there are tiny differences in the way you prepare something that changes something ineffable in the batter.

I should have taken the pictures before I lopped off two big pieces, but it was hot and it smelled SO good …

I think the batch I made today took 50 minutes (a little more?), about 8 minutes more than last time and for the final 10 minutes, I had to turn the temperature up higher.

Identical never really is, you know. Ovens running at the same temperature may not really be exactly the same each time … which is why owning an oven thermometer is a good idea. I had one, but it died and I haven’t gotten around to replacing it. In any case, I don’t think it would work in the mini-oven.

Also, flour varies from use to use, even when it all came in the same bag. Eggs are different sizes. Mixing versus beating changes things. This use, the molasses seemed thinner, though it came in the same bottle as the last batch. Room temperature? Take your best guess.

I check for doneness by pressing lightly on the top. If it springs immediately back, it’s done. If not, it goes back in the oven and damn the recipe. Also, look to see if the edges have pulled away from the pan — another sign of whatever it is being fully baked. I don’t use toothpicks to check for doneness because sometimes, poking deflates it. I know that’s what cookbooks recommend, but it doesn’t work for me.

2-1/2 cups flour (sift or not, I don’t sift.)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
Optional: 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 cup melted butter or other shortening (I use corn oil)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup molasses
1 cup very hot water (not boiling) from the tap.

Note: I ran short of molasses and used 1/4 cup of Vermont maple syrup to make up the difference. The result is delicious. Maybe that’s why it took longer to bake?

I put everything in together then mix or beat it. It honestly doesn’t seem to make much difference how you do it, but beaten using a mixer produces a smoother batter. And seems to take a longer to bake.

Pour it in either a greased loaf pan or a Teflon loaf pan. I’m a dedicated Teflon user and I’m not sure if a greased pan would change baking time … but I do know you need to use a slightly hotter oven if you’re using a glass dish.

Preheat the oven before you bake. That does make a difference. A big difference.

Serve it hot or cold, it’s good any way you eat it.  Anything left over will go great with coffee in the morning.  Traditionally, it’s served with honey butter, but it’s delicious alone. The smell of it as it bakes gets every nose in the house twitching. Especially the dogs.

I should mention this is not the kind of gingerbread out of which you build houses, though I suppose you could fiddle with the recipe and see how it goes.

This gingerbread is for eating.

MY BEST-EVER COOKIE RECIPE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

For a short while, many years ago, I had the fantasy that I could start a dessert catering business from home. I spent a year collecting and testing recipes and producing marketing materials. After all that, I discovered that my town didn’t allow any type of commercial cooking from a residence without a professionally licensed kitchen. I had been given misinformation when I inquired before starting this process.

The cover of my marketing flyer

The year of experimenting with and tweaking recipes was a wonderful time for me. I threw myself into the process of education and invention. My concept was to adapt old-fashioned English desserts into exciting and new American treats.

I first discovered English ‘puddings’ (the English word for desserts) on a canal boat trip through the countryside of England. The local pubs we ate at served glorious dessert concoctions that were different from the average American dessert. I was infatuated and became obsessed with these recipes. I bought some English cookbooks specializing in this genre of English baking.

One of the paperback cookbooks I bought in England

One very popular English treat is called a ‘Flapjack Bar’. It has no relationship to the pancake that we refer to as a Flapjack. This bar has more in common with our Rice Krispie Treats. It’s a soft and chewy, sweet bar made from oats rather than Rice Krispies.

Flapjack Bar

Everyone who tried my Flapjack Bar loved it. We especially loved the crispy bits around the edges of the bar. It occurred to me that I could get an all crispy snack if I flattened the ‘bar’ into a cookie. I experimented with different recipes and finally came up with the perfect ‘Flapjack Cookie’ recipe. I checked with my friend in London. No one in England has come up with my idea, so I’m very proud of my invention.

This cookie became the most popular item when I tested my recipes on family and friends. People went crazy for this chewy, crunchy, tasty, unique cookie. When I was invited for dinner, I was often asked to bring some of my addictive cookies.

I consider this cookie to be one of my most creative and successful ideas. I would like to share the recipe with you so you can enjoy it too.

My Flapjack Cookies

The recipe is incredibly simple, quick and easy to make. It’s pretty foolproof too. However, the key ingredient is something that is very popular in England but is not always easy to find in America. It’s called Lyle’s Golden Syrup. It’s the brown sugar version of clear corn syrup. It has the delicious flavor that makes this cookie unique. It also insures the right texture. I’ve tried to replace it with honey or corn syrup and it just isn’t the same.

NOTE: You can find half a dozen versions of this for sale on Amazon, so don’t give up. Just type “Lyle Golden Syrup” into the Amazon finder and it will pop up … in bottles, cans, and various sizes.

Lyle’s Golden Syrup in can and plastic bottle

I can get Lyle’s Golden Syrup in the honey and maple syrup section of my supermarket. I have also found it in the English/Irish part of the international aisle in other supermarkets. Some gourmet food stores will also sell it. If you can’t find it locally, go online and order it. You can use it in dessert recipes instead of honey or corn syrup. It gives everything a wonderfully different taste.

These cookies will last for up to a week if you keep them well covered. You can also freeze them and defrost them naturally (no microwave). Another option is to freeze extra balls of the pre measured batter and take them out when you want to make a fresh batch of the cookies. Just add a minute or so to the cooking time if you’re cooking them frozen.

Ready to bake frozen balls of cookie dough

You can also add chopped dried fruit or nuts to the batter to vary the flavor if you want some variety. I used chopped dried cranberries or chopped skinless almonds (I started with the diced almonds and further cut them down a bit).

Here is the recipe. I hope you like it as much as I do!


FLAPJACK COOKIES


5 oz. butter (unsalted)
3 oz. Lyle’s Golden Syrup
7 oz. light brown sugar
2 ½ cups (8 oz.) quick oatmeal oats
¼ cup (1 oz.) shredded sweetened coconut
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350. Put parchment paper on cookie sheets.
  2. Heat the butter, brown sugar and syrup until butter has completely melted. Add the vanilla and mix through.
  3. Mix the oatmeal and the coconut together.
  4. Stir the sauce into the dry ingredients and blend thoroughly.
  5. Cool slightly till batter thickens a bit.
  6. Place heaping teaspoons of the batter (about .5 oz per cookie) on the cookie sheets. Place cookies at least 2” apart.
  7. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until edges are a dark caramel color.
  8.  Cool completely till firm and crisp before removing from sheet.

Notes: (1) For Cranberry Flapjack Cookies, add 2.5 oz. chopped cranberries to dry mix. (2) For Almond Flapjack Cookies, add 1.25 oz. chopped almonds to dry mix.

CORN BREAD

Bet you’re wondering what this is about.

It’s about corn bread. Because for the first time in more than two years, I actually baked something. From scratch. I even turned on The Big Oven to do it.

I’ve had a yen for cornbread. The cornbread commercial mixes I’ve bought as well as the cornbread I’ve bought already baked have not been worth either the effort or the eating. Not nearly as good as my cornbread. I gave in. I was also yearning for comfort food. Garry hasn’t been feeling well and he wanted soup. Cornbread and soup are two of my favorite comfort foods and they go well together. So, that’s what we had for dinner.

72-cornbread-10022016_1

I found this recipe on the back of a bag of stone-ground cornmeal probably 20 years ago. It’s simple and if you don’t forget to take the cornbread out of the oven when it’s done, it’s pretty much fool-proof.


Corn Bread: The Recipe

This makes the best cornbread I’ve eaten anywhere. It’s also super simple to bake. I’ve added a bit more preparation information than the original recipe included because not everyone is intuitive about baking.

3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
3/4 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 cups milk
2 cups flour
1 cup yellow corn meal (stone ground if possible — yes, it makes a difference)
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon melted butter (alternatively corn or olive oil)

Mix everything together in a big bowl. The original recipe calls for sifting, but I have never sifted and it has always come out perfectly.

72-cornbread-10022016_3

Stir the batter until it is mixed and not lumpy. Do not overbeat. No electric mixers, please! A wooden spoon will do the job nicely.

Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C) or 450 (235 C) depending on your oven — in mine, I use the lower temperature. Bake in a large, well-greased pan —  9 inches by  12 inches (22 X 30 cm approximately) is fine or there about. I think it bakes better in a metal pan. If you’re going to use glass, you may want to use the higher baking temperature

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. After 15 minutes, check for doneness. It’s done when it’s light golden on top and has pulled away from the sides of the pan. If you press the top, it should spring back.

Even if you use a Teflon-coated pan, grease it. Don’t argue. Just grease it!

NOTES:


I have never tried cutting the recipe in half or doubling it, so I don’t know how well it would work.

Don’t bang around in the kitchen while it’s baking. It’s sensitive and will fall.

My mother-in-law (Garry’s mom) liked my cornbread (trust me, that was the ultimate compliment) and asked for the recipe. She added a cup of golden raisins and that was good, too.

I like it toasted the next morning with a bit of butter melting on top. It doesn’t keep well. It will be too stale to eat after 24 hours.

EASY HOME-MADE HUMUS (NO MEAT, EGGS, OR DAIRY)

Memory on the menu? Not really. But today — there’s humus on the menu and it’s good!

I love humus and don’t understand why it costs so much at the supermarket. Especially since the supermarket stuff isn’t particularly good. So, I make it myself.

Making hummus

HUMUS

2 15-1/2 oz cans chick peas (with or w/o water drained)
1 cup organic tahina
1/8 cup lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil (NO substitution)
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 heaping tablespoon chopped garlic (more if you prefer it garlicky)

Add salt to taste (about a teaspoon and a pinch), plus water as needed.

Optional: Chopped onion and/or hot sauce

Throw everything in the food processor. Process until smooth. If it’s too thick (that is, the food processor seems to be laboring), add a bit of water, a little at a time. You won’t need much.

Taste. Adjust seasonings. I add 2 teaspoons of hot sauce (chipotle or whatever I have on hand).

Makes two good-sized containers of humus. I use one for dinner and there’s usually some left over, depending on how many are eating. I freeze the second container.

Serve with pita wedges (fresh if you can get it, lightly toasted if not). Nice with a side of fresh avocado, fresh lemon, and sliced tomatoes. In Israel, humus is typically served with a drizzle of olive oil, a shake of paprika, a bit of fresh, chopped onion and hot sauce. Often very hot sauce.


hummus with pita

I got the basic recipe from my Armenian bank manager, added a few Israeli twists. It’s good. Really good and not expensive. This is not a particularly sensitive recipe. If you have two mismatched cans of chick peas, not to worry. A little more or less water? No problem. The hardest part is cleaning up … and there is always a lot of cleanup. No matter how hard I try, humus and tahina winds up everywhere.

I highly recommend buying organic tahina. Not only does it taste better, but it doesn’t turn rock solid when left in the cupboard. Do not refrigerate it. That’s like refrigerating peanut butter. It will become solid and may be impossible to stir back to life. Tahina — organic or otherwise — does not require refrigeration, either before or after opening.

I usually make a double recipe, thus using up the entire jar of tahina. After you have collected all the ingredients and set up the food processor, you might as well make full use of it. One jar of tahina will make two big (double) batches of humus.