Recipe: Soft Pretzel Buns, Brats, and Blue Cheese Slaw

A month or so ago, my boyfriend and I met up with one of his friends from law school and went to the downtown Memphis Farmers Market. On that beautiful sunny day, we played with shelter dogs out for a visit, noshed on food truck food, and filled up a bag each of goodies, including Nutella “Pop-Tarts,” fresh baked ciabatta, and jam. One of my finds that we were quite enthusiastic about was a package of beer-and-cheddar bratwurst from West Wind Farms. While I was dreaming up tasty sides for them (cole slaw, potato salad), John was dreaming up the perfect beer to pair with them, but there was one thing we both thought up that we knew we had to have with them: pretzel buns. Our favorite restaurant in Memphis, Hog & Hominy, has a house-made cheddar beef hotdog served in a homemade pretzel bun that we absolutely adore and I wanted to recreate that taste. After a little research online, I came across a recipe from Jeff Mauro, Food Network’s “Sandwich King,” and I figured, if he’s the king of sandwiches, he oughta know how to make a damn good pretzel bun. Well, these buns weren’t just good, they were phenomenal, and even after we’d had our meal of brats and buns, we’d toast up the leftover buns and eat them as a snack. A touch of honey adds sweetness to the bread, while garlic and little butter adds a salty element, and, when prepared properly, they’ve got that perfect shellacked outside and fluffy-chewy inside.

Pretzel buns

Yields: Approx. 8 buns

Prep. time: 20-30 minutes

Inactive time: Approx. 1 hour

Cook time: 15 minutes

 

Ingredients 

  • 2 tbsp. honey
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter
  • 2 small cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • Approx. 1/2 cup baking soda
  • Coarse salt for dusting pretzels

Directions

In a small pot, heat honey, brown sugar, water, and milk to 105*F to 110*F, then pour into the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle packet of yeast over the liquid mixture and let sit for 10-15 minutes, until the yeast blooms.

In a separate pot, heat butter and garlic together over medium-low heat until butter is melted and garlic is fragrant.

Mix together the flours and add them to the bowl of the mixer with the yeasty mixture, then pour the butter and garlic mixture into the bowl and mix on medium speed until the mixture becomes smooth and elastic in texture and pulls away from the walls of the bowl, approx. 6-8 minutes.

Line a baking sheet with a silicone mat, like Silpat, or parchment paper (or other nonstick product). Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and form into a ball. Cut into 8 equal pieces, then roll each piece into a ball and place onto the prepared baking sheet. Cover with a dish cloth and let them rest in a warm place for 12 to 15 minutes (I left mine out on the counter in the kitchen).

After allowing the dough balls to rest and rise a bit, dust your work surface again and roll the 8 balls into logs about 6-7 inches long. Place back on the lined baking sheet, cover with the dish towel, and let rest in a warm spot for an additional 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425*F and place one oven rack high and the other one low. Line a second backing sheet with Silpat or parchment paper. In a large pot, bring approx. 8 cups of water to a boil, then add the baking soda. In batches of one pretzel at a time, drop a dough log in the water and cook on both sides each for 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spatula, lightly dust the outside with coarse salt, place on one of the two baking sheets, and repeat until all of the logs have been dipped and salted. Cut three shallow diagonal slits in the top of each roll.  Bake for 10-13 minutes, rotating the pans between the top and bottom of the oven, until they are shiny brown and fully baked.

 

Brats & Slaw Serving Suggestion

Fully cooked brats can be cooked in a nonstick pan until crispy and browned on the outside and warmed through. To create the blue cheese slaw, blend a few tablespoons each of mayonnaise, sour cream, and blue cheese (or gorgonzola; use a creamier variety for easier blending) with a little salt and pepper. Toss with a prepackaged cole slaw blend (cabbage and carrots) until evenly coated. Serve the brats on pretzel buns topped with the slaw.

The bun, complete with beer-and-cheddar bratwurst and blue cheese cole slaw

The bun, complete with beer-and-cheddar bratwurst and blue cheese cole slaw

Cook’s Commentary

While this most certainly didn’t qualify for the “healthy” category we’ve been aiming for with our dinners lately, this meal was well worth it. The pretzels had that perfect chewy texture that you expect in a soft pretzel, with a little crunch from the coarse salt. The honey and garlic created a sweet-and-savory flavor that make these pretzels perfect with hotdogs, brats, or burgers (if you changed the bun shape), but would pair perfectly with a sweetened cream cheese spread or a dipping of cinnamon sugar. These pretzels are dynamite right out of the oven, but reheat quite well in a toaster oven (don’t cut them open, that way, you get a warm and crispy outside, while the inside still stays fluffy, chewy, and warm).

Recipe: Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie

When I was a little girl, my Grandma Nan and Opa (grandpa) lived in a small home in southern Pennsylvania, with a swimming pool and vegetable garden out back and an old weeping willow out front. My cousins and I would spend days there in the summertime, playing “mermaids” in the pool and helping my Opa pick raspberries and dig up potatoes. During these warm months, my grandma would always make homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie—buttery crust dusted with sugar, filled with sweet-and-tangy fruit filling. At the moment, I have no idea where her recipe has disappeared to, but the other day, as I was huddled in my apartment, dealing with a late winter sleet storm here in Memphis, I thought about that pie, and warm weather, and sunshine and I’ve been craving that pie ever since. I found this recipe on Food Network’s website and the title “Grandma’s Strawberry-Rhubarb Pie” pulled me in. This recipe combines sour rhubarb, sweet ripe strawberries, tangy lemon juice, spicy cinnamon, and lots of sugar to create a rich fruit filling.

 

Makes: 1, 10 inch pie

Prep. time: 20-30 minutes

Baking time: 1 hour

Difficulty: Easy

 

Ingredients

For the crust

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional flour for dusting and rolling the dough (approx. 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup cake flour*
  • 3 tsp. powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 cup (butter-flavored) shortening, like Crisco
  • 1/4 cup salted butter
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tsp. vinegar
  • 1/4 cup ice cold water

*You can make cake flour with regular flour if you don’t have cake flour on hand. For every 1 cup of all-purpose flour, removed 2 tbsp. flour and replace with 2 tbsp. cornstarch. Sift well to blend.

For the filling

  • 2&1/2 cups fresh red rhubarb, chopped
  • 2&1/2 cups ripe strawberries, de-stemmed, washed, and cut into halves or quarters
  • 1&1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp. minute tapioca
  • 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp. unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 egg white beaten with 1 tsp. water, for egg wash
  • Large granule sugar, for dusting the crust
The fruit filling mixture; the filling in the pie crust, topped with butter; the pie in the oven; the pie right out of the oven

The fruit filling mixture; the filling in the pie crust, topped with butter; the pie in the oven; the pie right out of the oven

Directions

For the crust

Cut the butter and shortening into the flours, sugar, and salt with a pastry blender. Whisk the egg, vinegar, and cold water in a bowl or measuring cup and pour over the dry ingredients, then gently blend by hand to combine—do not overwork the dough or it will become tough. Shape the dough into two equal-sized balls, wrap separately in saran wrap or wax paper, and chill in the fridge for a few minutes. Remove one dough ball from the fridge, roll it out to fit the pie pan, then place it into the pie dish and return to the fridge to chill.

For the filling

Preheat the oven to 425* F. Add the strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, tapioca, flour, lemon zest and juice, cinnamon, and vanilla to a large bowl. Mix well and and pour out into chilled pie crust in the pie pan, then dot the top of the filling evenly with the butter cubes. Brush the edges of pie crust with egg wash. Roll out the other piece of dough and place over filling, then crimp to seal the edges. Brush the whole top of the pie with egg wash and sprinkle with large granule sugar. Wrap the edges of the pie crust with foil to prevent burning and bake at 425* F for 15 minutes. Decrease temperature to 375* F and bake for an additional 40 to 50 minutes, or until the filling starts bubbling and the pie crust is golden brown. Remove from oven when done and cool before serving. Great with vanilla ice cream!

My boyfriend and I were too eager to wait for the pie to cool properly, so we made a bit of a mess. :)

My boyfriend and I were too eager to wait for the pie to cool properly, so we made a bit of a mess. 🙂

Cook’s Commentary

This variation of strawberry-rhubarb pie has a unique blend of flavors that makes it a big winner in my books. Strawberries add their sweetness, while rhubarb adds a tangy-sour flavor, but then you get this pop of brightness from the lemon juice and zest and warmth from the cinnamon and vanilla. Flaky buttery crust is perfect with this sweet, gooey filling. Be sure to be patient and let it cool completely before cutting into it, otherwise you’ll get the fruity mess that you see in the picture above (totally tasty and worth it though!). It’s not my Grandma Nan’s recipe, but it’s pretty damn good and I’ll definitely be making it again once summer arrives.

Recipe: Baked Lobster Tails with Broccolini and Cheddar Cheese Polenta

Lobster Tail with Polenta and Broccolini

Serves: 2-4

Prep. time: 10-20 minutes

Cooking time: Approx. 30 minutes

Difficulty: Easy to Moderate

Ingredients

For the lobster tails:

  • Salted butter
  • Paprika
  • Garlic powder
  • 2-4 lobster tails, cleaned
  • ½ – 1 package (2-4 servings) instant polenta
  • 1-2 bunches broccolini, stems cleaned and ends removed
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Chicken stock
  • 4-6 strips of bacon
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 1-2 bunches green onion/scallions
  • Salt and pepper
  • Lemon juice
  • Paprika
  • Garlic powder
  • Sharp cheddar cheese (Cracker Barrel Vermont White Cheddar is lovely), shredded
  • Heavy cream/milk

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400*F. Steam or parboil the broccolini to get it a little tender, then set aside. Measure out the liquid for the polenta (I usually use all chicken stock or half chicken stock and half water instead of all water—chicken stock adds flavor) and pour into a large pot and start to heat it. Cook the bacon strips in a nonstick pan until crispy, then remove them to drain on paper towels and reserve a few tablespoons of the bacon fat. Cut a slit down the underside or back of the lobster tails to expose the meat (cut a chunk of shell out to expose more meat, if desired). Melt salted butter for the lobster tails, blend in the seasoning, and drizzle onto the meat of the lobster tails. Place the tails, uncut shell side down, on a piece of foil, wrap the foil around them, place them on a baking sheet, then place in the oven. Cook for 10-20 minutes, until the meat is white and tender. While the lobster is cooking, heat up the reserved bacon fat with a little butter and olive oil over medium heat, then add the green onion and broccolini and season with salt and pepper—cook until tender, then keep warm over low heat. Instant polenta generally takes 3-5 minutes to cook, so start to cook this when the lobster is just about finished. Pour the polenta into the boiling chicken stock (or water) and cook according to package instructions. When done, reduce the heat to medium-low, slowly stir in the shredded cheddar, add a splash of milk or heavy cream and a chunk of salted butter, and season (garlic powder, salt, and pepper) to taste. Keep warm over low heat, stirring occasionally to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. When the lobster is done, remove it from the oven and unwrap it. Carefully remove the flesh from the shell and plate it atop the creamy polenta and tender broccolini on a plate or in a large, wide bowl.

Cook’s Commentary

This is an easy to make meal that feels like a dish from a fancy downtown restaurant. Lobster has this sort of savory-sweetness that is much more delicate than the flavors of shrimp and other shell-fish, and cooking it in melted butter and seasoning lightly flavors it. Polenta is delicious on its own, but adding cheese to it brings it up to a whole different level and turns it into the ultimate comfort food. Broccolini is like slimmer, dainty broccoli and combined with the sharp, oniony taste of the scallions, it adds much-needed color and lightness to this dish. This dish is very easy and quick to make and will impress anyone from a significant other to a guest from out-of town.

Recipe: Key Lime Bars

Ingredients

  • 1 cup and 3 tbsp. honey graham crackers, finely crushed
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 3 large egg yolks*
  • 1&1/2 tsp. key lime (or reg. lime) zest
  • 1, 14 oz. can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2/3 cup key lime juice** (approx. 1 bag, or approx. 20-25 key limes)
  • Whipped cream or lime wedges for garnish, if desired

*If you’re worried about wasting egg whites, save them and try making meringues, souffle, omelets, or angel food cake.

**If you run a little short on key lime juice, use a little regular lime juice.

 

Directions

For the crust: Preheat oven to 350*F. Stir together crushed graham crackers, sugar, and melted butter in a small bowl until well-mixed (should look a bit like wet sand). Press evenly into the bottom of an 8-inch, oven-safe baking dish. Bake for approx. 10 minutes, until crust is golden brown and slightly dry, then let cool completely.

For the filling: Keep the oven at 350*F. Put the zest and egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer (fitted with a whisk) and mix on high speed until the mixture is thick, creamy, and pale yellow (approx. 4-6 minutes). Reduce speed to medium and slowly pour the condensed milk into the mixture in a steady stream. Raise the speed to high again and mix until thick (approx. 3-4 minutes). Reduce the speed to medium and slowly mix in the lime juice until just combined. Pour the mixture over the cooled crust and spread it evenly all over. Bake for approx. 10-12 minutes, until it is set (wiggles ever so slightly) and is just faintly golden around the edges. Let cool completely and then cover and chill in the fridge for a few hours. Serve with whipped cream, lime wedges, or a drizzle of chocolate or caramel. Eat within 3 days.

Adapted from Martha Stewart

Key Lime Bars

Cook’s Comments

I bought key limes on a whim the other week and, after noticing them languishing in my fridge a week later, I went on a frantic search for recipe ideas. Dessert bars are fast, easy, and delicious and the key limes worked perfectly in this application. These were a hit at work and at home—tangy, sweet, and creamy. Best in the summer time, but not bad on an unusually warm October day.

 

Recipe: Cheddar Biscuits

Ingredients

Biscuits

  • 2 1/2 cups Bisquick
  • 4 tbsp. cold, unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sharp (yellow) cheddar cheese, shredded*
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/4 – 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • Dash of salt

*Better/higher quality cheese will yield better results. Sharp cheddars have more flavor, and full fat is also better.

Butter mixture for biscuit tops

  • 3 tbsp. salted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 3/4 tsp. dried parsley flakes
  • Dash of paprika

Directions

Preheat oven to 400*F. Lightly grease a cookie sheet (with Pam or butter) or line the cookie sheet with parchment paper, then set aside. In a medium bowl, add together Bisquick and butter and use a pastry cutter (or fork) to cut the butter into the Bisquick—the butter should be broken up into pea-sized chunks through the Bisquick. Add the shredded cheese, milk, garlic powder, and dash of salt and gently mix together by hand—don’t over mix, because it will make the biscuits tough. Drop 1/4 cup portions of the dough onto the cookie sheet, being sure to keep each biscuit a few inches apart so they don’t expand into each other while baking. Bake for 11-13 minutes, or until cooked through and lightly golden brown. While the biscuits are baking, stir together the warm, melted butter with parsley flakes, garlic powder, and a dash of paprika. Brush the butter mixture onto the tops of the fresh-out-of-the-oven biscuits, and sprinkle with just a bit of salt, if necessary.

Yields: 1 dozen

Total cooking time: Approx. 20 minutes

Cheddar Biscuits

Cook’s Comments

When I was a kid, Red Lobster was a near-weekly dinner staple (along with Olive Garden and Max & Erma’s—clearly, we dined high class in small town 1990s Indiana). I loved getting a big ol’ batch of popcorn shrimp with a baked potato (I’d scrape all of the salt off the side of the potato, and let the butter from the potato pool on my plate so I could dip the shrimp into it); however, it was those fluffy, cheesy, garlicky Cheddar Bay Biscuits that really made my night. This recipe I shared here is pretty spot on and it’s very easy to make. Do yourself a favor and go whole hog on this—get a good, sharp cheddar cheese (I am actually quite fond of Cracker Barrel brand) and don’t try to cut calories with margarine or skim milk—your taste buds will thank you.

These biscuits are fluffy on the inside, slightly crunchy on the outside, and absolutely perfect fresh out of the oven, right after the luscious melted butter mixture has been brushed on (in fact, I’d argue that the butter on top is what actually really makes these shine).

Recipe: Cheesy Polenta with Sausage and Chicken in a Creamy Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • Butter and olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2-3 links hot Italian sausage, casings removed, pulled into small pieces
  • 1 chicken breast, cut into small cubes or small slices
  • 1 yellow or white onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Approx. 14.5 oz. canned tomato sauce or diced tomatoes*
  • Red wine (cooking wine)
  • Heavy cream
  • Dried basil
  • 1-2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 package instant polenta (serving size at least 4)**
  • Italian cheese (Parmesan, Asiago, Pecorino-Romano, or a mixture)
  • Garlic powder

*I prefer Hunts brand and I used sauce that I had leftover from another dish.

**I used Delallo brand (they’re based in western PA, where I’m from, and have great products). I cooked the entire 9.2 oz. bag and, after John and I each got a serving, there was enough left over for 2-3 more servings.

Directions

Heat some butter and olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add the chicken and sausage to the pan, season with a little salt and pepper (and garlic powder), and cook for a few minutes. Add the onion, garlic, and crushed red pepper flakes and continue to cook until the onions are soft and the meats are cooked through, then add the tomato sauce/diced tomatoes and a splash of red wine. Reduce the heat to medium low, add a little dried basil, then add heavy cream to the mixture and stir it in—the mixture should be a creamy orange-red color (it actually looked almost like an Indian dish to me); 1/4 to 1/2 cup of cream should be enough. Bring water (and chicken stock) to a boil for the polenta (I sub in 1 to 2 cups of chicken stock in place of some of the water—it adds more flavor to the polenta). Towards the end of cooking, stir in some butter, a little heavy cream, garlic powder, salt, pepper, and Italian cheese. Remove from heat—the mixture should be creamy and the add-ins should be well-mixed in. Serve the polenta in bowls, topped with the meat and sauce mixture, topped with a little Italian cheese.

9-17-13

Cook’s Comments

I kind of have this thing for heavy cream—it makes just about everything better (heavy cream to me is a little bit like butter to Paula Deen). A splash in this dish’s tomato sauce adds a velvety texture and rich flavor. A drizzle in the polenta helps keep it smooth and creamy. This is definitely a comfort meal with rich, delicious flavors—the polenta is thick and cheesy and soaks up the creamy tomato sauce (which gets a bit of a kick from the crushed red pepper flakes). My boyfriend suggested adding both chicken and sausage, and, boy, was that a great idea—two great textures and flavors that mix together beautifully. This dish reheats well (I had a lovely lunch of leftovers today) and if you have any extra, plain polenta, you can always cut it into chunks and saute it in butter and serve with another meal.

Recipe: Lemony Chicken and Rainbow Chard

Ingredients

  • 1-2 bunches of rainbow (or Swiss) chard, stalks chopped and leaves chiffonade* cut
  • Fresh basil leaves, chiffonade cut
  • 1 shallot, finely chopped
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Fresh lemon zest
  • Butter (salted)
  • Olive oil
  • Chicken stock
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • White wine**
  • Salt & Peppers
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Garlic powder
  • 2-4 chicken breasts, cut into slices or cubes
  • Heavy cream
  • Cornstach-and-water mixture***

*Chiffonade means “cut into ribbons.” Cut the leaves from the stalks, roll them into long tubes and slices the tubes into pieces from one end to the other, creating ribbons.

**Cooking wine is fine. No need to break out a nice bottle (unless you plan to drink some with dinner).

***This is used to thicken sauces

 

Directions

Heat butter and a little olive oil in a medium to large skillet over medium heat. Add the chard leaves and stems, basil, lemon juice, lemon zest, shallot, salt, pepper, and a pinch of crushed red paper flakes and let the mixture start to wilt and cook. Add a splash of white wine, a splash of chicken stock, a little more butter and lemon juice, and the garlic and continue to cook. Push the mixture off to the side and add the pieces of chicken; season lightly with salt, pepper, and garlic powder; and cook until cooked through and tender. In the meantime, add heavy cream (about 1/2 pint) and butter (about 2 tbsp.) to a small pot and heat over medium heat until simmering. Add a generous pinch of lemon zest, a splash of lemon juice, garlic powder, and a splash of chicken stock, and continue to cook. Season with salt and pepper and add a little cornstarch-and-water to help thicken the sauce, then reduce the heat to low. The completed chicken will be tender and the chard will have wilted and cooked down. Serve the dish topped with a drizzle of the cream sauce or serve the sauce on the side with a ladle/spoon. If you want a slightly more filling dish, roast some chunks of red potatoes in the oven with a little olive oil and seasoning, then toss with the chicken and chard mixture; toss the mixture with hot pasta; or consider spreading the mixture and a little sauce on toasted ciabatta bread and make a sandwich.

[Check back for a picture. My camera wasn’t cooperating for this one.]

Cook’s Comments

This dish is buttery, tart, bright, and savory all in one. Cooking the chard in butter, white wine, and lemon juice helps create a delicious sauce that coats everything and pools into a lovely little puddle at the bottom of your plate. The velvety, buttery lemon cream sauce is the perfect accomplishment and helps mellow out the tart citrus flavor. Lemon pairs really well with the chard—it’s a bit like eating wilted spinach, but with an earthy flavor that’s perked up by the pop of lemon.