Soil and Cellar

Growing and preserving foods in Seattle


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Making Pretzels with Family

Mmm... salty crispy homemade pretzels.

Mmm… salty crispy homemade pretzels.

We go to Buffalo most Christmases. D is from Buffalo, and his parents still live in the same house he grew up in. (Which is wild to me, my Dad literally built my childhood home and we still moved out of it 10 years later!) It’s always great seeing the family, but I must say the cold wet gray of Buffalo isn’t exactly a great respite from the cold wet gray of Seattle. A group cooking project is a great way to bond and have fun without having to bundle up and venture outdoors.

St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, the morning of an ice storm. A great way to come in out of the cold!

St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, the morning of an ice storm. A great way to come in out of the cold!

D and I took a weekend trip up to Toronto. We walked to the St. Lawrence Market, which D told me National Geographic rated the BEST FOOD MARKET IN THE WORLD. When he said that, it was all over, there was no chance we were going anywhere else. I mean, I live within a couple miles of Pike Place Market, and it’s supposed to be better than that? Sign me up. Well, it is great, but I would love to go another time of the year to see if there is more produce. But they do have cheese like crazy, olives, meats and seafood (if you’re into that kind of thing), spices, mustards, jams… all delicious and amazing. We had a fantastic, deceptively simple lunch of egg and cheese sandwiches, sampled foods, and came home with bread, cheeses, a terrine, and a delicious mustard. That mustard will appear again in this post…

My new mustard purveyor - Kozlik's. We tasted them all, and it was genuinely hard to decide. We got honey-garlic, but a close second was the balsamic fig.

My new mustard purveyor – Kozlik’s. We tasted them all, and it was genuinely hard to decide. We got honey-garlic, but a close second was the balsamic fig.

Back in Buffalo, the snow was falling, and our pace slowed a little. Lucky for me, my mother-in-law and sister-in-law are great cooks who enjoy sharing the kitchen. Upon D’s suggestion, we decided to make pretzels one afternoon. It might have been Christmas day, and it was a lovely afternoon of baking with friends and family.

The recipe is easy, but it takes a little prep time and planning, because it is a yeast bread and needs to rise a bit. (Although I’ve never had to do the twisting, that part looks a little hard). These pretzels make an incredible snack, and would go great with a beer. We keep saying we’ll be doing it for game night, but keep forgetting. It’s a great communal project, fun and with a great reward at the end! I will caution you against making them alone the first time… D and I ate all of them in one day (with this cheese dip) and felt ill. But they are so good you will want to eat as many as you can get your hands on!

We use this recipe from Alton Brown:

1 1/2 cups warm tap water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for bowl
Cooking spray, for pans
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt (we couldn’t find this, so used large crystal sea salt)

Kneading the dough for the pretzels.

Kneading the dough for the pretzels.

Combine water, sugar, salt, and yeast packet in a bowl. Let this sit for about 5 minutes, or until the yeast starts to foam a bit. Add the flour and butter, and mix using a dough-hook attachment for about 4-5 minutes, until dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. (We didn’t have a stand mixer, so my SIL kneaded the dough for about 8 minutes, like a trooper.) Remove dough from bowl and coat the bowl with vegetable oil. Then return the dough the the bowl, cover bowl with saran wrap, and let sit in a warm place for an hour – until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 450. Line 2 baking pans with parchment and spray with cooking spray.

Ready the water and baking soda, and bring to a boil.

Action shot! The gang twisting the dough into long ropes. It helps to let gravity do some of the work.

Action shot! The gang twisting the dough into long ropes. It helps to let gravity do some of the work.

Oil a work surface (we used the counter) and divide the dough into 12 equal pieces (the original recipe says 8. We had 6 people so wanted to have an even number of pretzels per person. You can adjust as you like.) Roll each piece into a long rope about a half inch thick, about 24″ long. The dough might rebound so go back and stretch as needed.

Make the ropes into a “U” shape. Hold the ends off the counter, twist, and press onto the bottom of the U, making it look like a pretzel. It’ll take some practice, I hear, but lopsided pretzels taste just as good!

Dip the pretzels into the boiling water. This makes them chewy (like bagels), and the baking soda gives them that classic "pretzel" taste.

Dip the pretzels into the boiling water. This makes them chewy (like bagels), and the baking soda gives them that classic “pretzel” taste.

Put the pretzels into the boiling water/baking soda, one at a time, for 30 seconds each. Remove, and put onto the parchment lined baking tray. Give an inch or more of space between each pretzel.

Here the pretzels have been boiled, egg-washed, and sprinkled with salt. Ready for the oven!

Here the pretzels have been boiled, egg-washed, and sprinkled with salt. Ready for the oven!

Make egg wash with one yolk and a little water. Brush each pretzel (this will make them brown beautifully.) Then sprinkle with salt. More is better, in my opinion, because you can always brush it off later, and some people like them really salty.

Bake about 12 – 14 minutes, until a rich brown color. Cool on a cooling rack at least 5 minutes, and enjoy!

All done! And they only have to cool for a couple minutes, unlike other breads, so you can enjoy right away while still warm!

All done! And they only have to cool for a couple minutes, unlike other breads, so you can eat them warm!

We like them plain, or with cheese dip, as I mentioned above, or with mustard. The mustard we had is garlic honey mustard, sweet and very spicy, but a really wonderful flavor.

A little of this spicy mustard goes a long way. Enjoy!

A little of this spicy mustard goes a long way. Enjoy!

Happy New Year to you all! I count this blog, and you readers, in my blessings. I hope you have a year filled with fun projects, exciting adventures, and just plain pleasant times with friends and family.


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Brother-Sister Day making Pear-Cranberry Jam

Pear cranberry jam mixed into plain yogurt - a wonderful snack!

Pear cranberry jam mixed into plain yogurt – a wonderful snack!

I was up visiting my brother and his family last week. He lives a couple hours north of Seattle, and since I’ve had more time on my hands lately I’ve been able to visit mid-week a few times. My brother, Jason, had Friday off, so we had a “brother-sister day.” We have been talking for a while about making jam together, and we were finally able to make it happen. It was so fun!

Cranberries. You can probably find some on sale now that Thanksgiving is over.

Cranberries. You can probably find some on sale now that Thanksgiving is over.

Neither of us really took the time to learn to make jam from Mom. We both helped her a time or two, but didn’t really absorb the process. It was great being able to share this family tradition with Jason, I hope we’ll be able to make another batch next summer. If you haven’t already done canning with friends or family, do it soon! Humans bond over food, and preparing it together is a really wonderful experience.

Anyway, so we went to the store to see what was in season. There were some nice looking pears (Comice) on sale, and I remembered a recipe I’ve been meaning to make for a couple months. Pear and cranberry jam – yummy and seasonal!

Jason peeling the pears.

Jason peeling the pears.

A quick note about Comice pears: eat as many as you can while they are in season. Holy smokes, they are phenomenal! I know I’ve had them in the past, but never noted how juicy and sweet they are. In fact, if I had known they are so juicy, I would have adjusted the amount liquid in the recipe. They are the only pears I’ve every seen turn to mush unassisted when cooked. I made apple-pear-sauce this weekend (to put on French toast), and I barely had to smash them. And the flavor is exactly what a pear should taste like, only better. OK, digression over.

We used the pear corer to slice and core the pears, easy peasy.

We used the pear corer to slice and core the pears, easy peasy.

I like this jam a lot. It’s like a sweeter cranberry sauce, and you can really taste the pears and the cranberries. Very festive! And since cranberries have a lot of pectin already (I mean, cranberry sauce is basically low-sugar no-pectin jam) you don’t need to add any. It would probably also be delicious with vanilla, cinnamon, or other warm winter spices.

4 cups of each kind of fruit. I like Jason's large measuring cup, my biggest only goes to 2 cups.

4 cups of each kind of fruit. I like Jason’s large measuring cup, my biggest only holds 2 cups.

Recipe (from Food in Jars)

Makes 2 ½ pints, or 5 half-pint jars

4 cups pears, seeded and chopped (we peeled ours, but it isn’t necessary)
4 cups fresh cranberries
3 cups sugar
Juice and zest of one lemon
Up to 1 cup water (optional)

Letting the fruit and sugar sit a little before cooking, to dissolve the sugar a little first.

Letting the fruit and sugar sit a little before cooking, to dissolve the sugar a little first.

Wash the fruit. Pick out any bad cranberries, then measure 4 cups and put in a large non-reactive saucepan. (We found 1 bag of ocean spray was just about a half cup shy of this, next time I might just adjust everything down to keep my purchase to one bag.)

As the fruit cooks, the cranberries will start to "pop." If after a while of boiling, if they haven't popped, feel free to start smashing with the spoon.

As the fruit cooks, the cranberries will start to “pop.” If after a while of boiling, if they haven’t popped, feel free to start smashing with the spoon.

Core and chop the pears. We also peeled ours. Pears ripen from the inside out, and ours weren’t fully ripe at the skin level yet. The pulp was so delicious; we wanted only that in our jam. But if you leave the skin on it will soften and melt as it cooks.

And at last, the jam will meld into a jammy texture, with all the cranberries popped and mushed together with the pears. This is when you would add the lemon juice and zest.

And at last, the jam will meld into a jammy texture, with all the cranberries popped and mushed together with the pears. This is when you would add the lemon juice and zest.

Put fruit and sugar into a large pot, and let sit for a few minutes, to let the sugar dissolve into the pear juice. If your pears aren’t releasing any juice at this point, add a little water. The original recipe suggests one cup, but for our juicy pears that was way too much. We had to cook the jam for an extra half hour to get it to the right consistency. Use your best judgment, and remember you can always add more water (or cook longer to reduce the water out.)

Here we are pouring the jam into jars. Jason and his wife and I all got to take turns at this point, and the jam was firm enough that it didn't drip at all!

Here we are pouring the jam into jars. The jam was firm enough that it didn’t spill at all!

Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook for 15-25 minutes, until the jam is at a consistency you like. It will firm up as it cools, so try doing a plate test. As I mentioned above, we added a cup of water but probably shouldn’t have, so it took about an hour to cook down to a solid set.

We sampled the jam on the only two English muffins in the house. The 4-year-old girl they were babysitting was helping us taste test the jam... and she came back again and again for more toast with jam. It's a hit!

We sampled the jam on English muffins. The 4-year-old girl they were babysitting was helping us taste test the jam… and she came back again and again for more. It’s a hit!

Stir in lemon zest and juice. You could add this earlier, but adding it at the end preserves the flavor more.

Fill into hot sterilized jars, put on lids, and process in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Enjoy!