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).

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Recipe: Cajun Pasta with Andouille Sausage and Peppers

Serves: 4

Prep. time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 15-20 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Cajun Pasta with Andouille Sausage and Peppers

Ingredients

  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 2-3 andouille sausage links, casings removed; pulled apart into small/bite-size pieces
  • 1 yellow or white onion, chopped
  • Red, green, and orange bell pepper (half of each), diced
  • 1-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1-2 dried chili peppers, minced, or a dash of crushed red pepper flakes
  • Approx. 1-2 cups chicken stock
  • Approx. 1/2 cup white wine
  • Approx. 1/2 to 3/4 cups heavy cream
  • Cajun seasoning blend
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Paprika
  • Dried parsley
  • Cornstarch-and-water mixture, as needed
  • Long, semi-wide pasta, like fettuccine or linguine

Directions

Bring water to a boil for the pasta. In the meantime, heat some butter and olive oil in a large pan over medium high heat, add the andouille and cook until browned on the outside and no longer pink on the inside, then remove from the pan and set aside on a plate. Add the diced vegetables and chili pepper/pepper flakes to the pan with a little more butter and olive oil, and cook until crisp-tender, then add in the garlic and cook for another minute. Remove the veggie mixture from the pan, bump the heat up a little bit, then add the chicken stock, wine, and a generous heaping of Cajun seasoning and paprika. Let the mixture gently boil, then slowly whisk in the heavy cream. Season as needed with Cajun seasoning, paprika, parsley, salt, and/or pepper, and thicken with cornstarch-and-water if necessary; don’t be afraid to add more liquid to the sauce if it starts cooking down—you don’t want to end up with soup, but you want enough to generously coat the pasta. While the sauce is cooking, cook the pasta (or start it earlier if you chose a style that will take longer than 3-5 minutes). When the pasta is cooked, drain it and return it to the pot. Add the veggies and sausage back into the thickened sauce, then add the finished pasta in with the sauce and toss to combine. Serve hot, with a sprinkling of Parmesan on top, if desired.

Cook’s Commentary

This dish is hearty and packed with flavor—spicy, creamy, salty, and meaty—it’s perfect on a cold day but bright and flavorful enough for warm weather too. Andouille sausage has a distinct flavor like no other sausage and Cajun seasoning amps up the flavor. Bell peppers, onions, and tomatoes create a confetti of colors that swirl into the warm, orange-red color of the sauce created through the blending of heavy cream, chicken stock, paprika, and Cajun spices. You’ve gotta get a quality brand/blend of Cajun seasoning to make this dish perfect (I used McCormick and it was pretty good, but I saw some specialty brands at Fresh Market that looked even better), and the right one will make this dish fantastic.

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: Pasta Bolognese

Servings: 2-4

Prep. time: 10-15 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Difficulty: Easy

Ingredients

  • 2 slices bacon
  • 1 carrot, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 strips prosciutto, cut into small pieces
  • 6-8 oz. lean ground beef*
  • Approx. 3 tbsp. tomato paste
  • White wine (cooking/dry)
  • Marsala wine (cooking/dry)
  • Chicken stock
  • Cinnamon
  • Paprika
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • 8 oz. pasta**

*I prefer 90-93% lean.

**I used medium shells. Papadelle and other long, wide noodles are great with this sauce, but small pastas, like shells or orchiette, are great too.

Directions

Heat a large, nonstick pan over medium-high heat, then add the bacon and cook until crispy. Remove the bacon to a plate covered in paper towels to drain. Add a little butter and olive oil to the bacon fat in the pan and add the onion and carrot, cooking until tender and fragrant, then add the prosciutto and continue to cook. Add the beef and cook, breaking the meat up as it cooks. Add a splash of marsala and splash of white wine and the garlic and continue to cook, letting the wine reduce and the beef continue to brown and cook. Crumble in the bacon strips and add the tomato paste, stirring to combine, then cook for approx. 3 minutes. Add the chicken stock, a little more of each wine, and reduce the heat to medium, stirring occasionally. Add in a pinch of cinnamon (a quick whiff of the sauce should let you know it’s there, but don’t add too much; 1-3 tsp. is probably enough) and paprika (1-3 tsp.), as well as some salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low and continue to cook, covered. While the sauce is cooking over low heat, bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook for 6-8 minutes, or until al dente, then drain, and add the finished pasta in with the sauce, tossing to coat. The finished sauce should be a brownish-orange color, scented with cinnamon and paprika, and it should be somewhat thickened.

The sauce, as it's cooking

The sauce, as it’s cooking

Pasta Bolognese

Cook’s Commentary

There are many different ways to make a bolognese sauce—some recipes call for plum tomatoes while others call for just tomato paste, some use ground beef and veal while others use ground beef and pork, some suggest pairing it with long pasta noodles while others encourage the use of smaller pastas—I looked at many of these differing recipes and went my own way. Beef is the bulk of the meat in this dish, while the bacon and prosciutto add a little texture and saltiness to the sauce. Cinnamon and paprika add a heat and sweetness that balances the tanginess of the tomato paste and the salty-savory flavors of the meats. Chicken stock and wine create a sort of brothy sauce that soaks deliciously into the pasta noodles. It’s a hearty meal perfect for cold weather, and the sauce is delectable sopped up on a piece of bread at the end of the meal, and absolutely perfect paired with a red zinfandel or other sweet red wine.

Recipe: Romesco Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1, 1 inch thick slice of fresh, crusty bread, toasted and pulled into chunks
  • 1/2 cup whole, unsalted almonds
  • 1 large tomato
  • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, skins on*
  • 1 to 2 red bell peppers, halved, seeds and cores removed
  • 1 to 2 fresh cayenne peppers, stems removed**
  • Approx. 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Splash of sherry or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • Garlic powder, if desired

*Cut of the little bit of root end from the cloves to make it easier to remove the skins later.

**Substitute with a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes if desired.

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375*F. Place the almonds on a smaller, ungreased baking sheet and roast for 3-6 minutes, until fragrant, then remove and set aside. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and spray with cooking spray (like Pam). Place garlic, tomato, bell pepper, and cayenne pepper on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil, and toss to coat. Roast for approx. 20 minutes, until the skins of the tomato and bell pepper blisters and everything is tender. Remove from oven, let cool slightly, then pull the skins off of the tomato, bell pepper, and garlic cloves and toss the skins. Add the roasted ingredients, bread, olive oil, vinegar, paprika, and salt and pepper to a food processor and blend until smooth. Serve as a dip, spread, or sauce. Sauce can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 5 days. Makes approx. 1.5-2 cups.

Pasta with Sauteed Shrimp, Mozzarella, Basil, and Romesco Sauce

Pasta with sauteed shrimp, mozzarella, basil, and romesco sauce

Steak sandwich with romesco sauce and arugula

Steak sandwich with romesco sauce and arugula

Cook’s Comments

I am in love with making all kinds of pesto—spinach and walnut, basil and pine nut, mint and pistachio—and this sauce is a lot like a creamy pesto. Roasted almonds give it a nutty flavor and slightly gritty (in a good way) texture. Bell peppers and cayenne peppers add heat, while sweet and tangy tomato help mellow the heat. This sauce is incredibly versatile—perfect with just about any meat, great tossed with pasta or slathered on a piece of crusty bread, and lovely as a sandwich spread. It’s easy to make, absolutely delicious, and one of my all time favorite sauces.

Recipe: Roasted Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • Approx. 8 medium-to-large tomatoes, cut into quarters
  • 2 small onions, peeled and cut into quarters
  • A handful of misc. vegetables*, cleaned and cut into chunks
  • 5-10 cloves garlic, root ends cut off, unpeeled
  • 1 (fresh) cayenne pepper
  • Dried thyme
  • Dried basil
  • Dried parsley
  • Dried oregano
  • Crushed red pepper flakes
  • Salt & Pepper
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Cooking spray

*This sauce can handle some extra veggies to give it a little extra body and flavor. I had a small eggplant left over from the farmer’s market and I peeled that and added it to the bunch. In other recipes I’ve found, I’ve seen people call for carrots, celery, or squash. I’d stick to one of the aforementioned ingredients—no broccoli, spinach, radishes, etc. Nothing with too strong of a flavor or too much texture.

 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350*F. Cover a large baking sheet/pan with foil and lightly spray the foil with cooking spray, like Pam. Place the tomatoes, onions, garlic, misc. vegetables, and cayenne pepper on the tray, drizzle in olive oil, sprinkle with seasoning (about 1 tsp. each), and toss to coat. The vegetables should glisten with the olive oil, but not be drenched (you can always add a little more as it’s cooking). Put the tray in the oven and cook for at least 1 hour (preferably 2-3) for maximum flavor. Once cooked through and fragrant (but not burnt), remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Peel the skins off of the tomatoes and pop the garlic cloves out of their skins (cutting the ends off at the beginning should make it so that you can squeeze the cloves right out of their skins and discard these skins/peelings. Place all of the ingredients in a food processor or blender, or use a stick blender, and blend together the ingredients until smooth. Serve hot with pasta or other dish, or freeze and use at a later time.

Serves: 4

Prep time: 10 min.

Cooking time: 1-3 hours

Roasted Tomato Sauce ingredients

Ingredients for the sauce

Pasta and Chicken with Roasted Tomato Sauce

The sauce, tossed with farfalle and chicken

 

Cook’s Comments

My absolute favorite thing about this sauce is the amazing aroma that fills my apartment while it’s cooking. It doesn’t take much longer than 10 or 15 minutes for the smell of sweet onion, warm garlic, and tangy tomato to fill the air, and the longer you let this cook, the better the aroma and flavor. This is an easy sauce to make—perfect for a weeknight meal or a day when you’ve got work to do around the house (because you simply throw everything on a pan, put it in the oven, and forget about it for a few hours while you do your thang). It’s tomato sauce, so it works in a variety of dishes—pasta sauce, pizza sauce, lasagna, and probably even as a tomato soup base.

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.