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Pretzels!

Our last post was about Oktoberfest, but you may have noted a glaring omission. While I mentioned pretzels when talking about the joys of Oktoberfest, we were lacking pretzels in the actual meal. We didn’t make them then because they are a bit of a production, but they’re actually one of my favorite things to make, and eat, and awesome at baseball games, and they go great with a beer, and really they’re not as hard to make as you might think. Making bread is also a pleasant way to spend a Sunday afternoon. Our recipe is based on Alton Brown's.

 

A quick caveat before we start - I weighed out all the ingredients using a scale, mostly because I’m a nerd and like that sort of thing, but if you don't have a scale (or aren’t inclined toward precise measurements), you can measure the old fashioned way. I've done this recipe both ways and haven’t had any issues, so both types of measurements are down in the full recipe at the bottom. I also use a mixer, but you can mix and knead by hand.

 

We start with dry active yeast. Use ¼ oz, or one sleeve.

 

 

Then some sugar and salt go in our bowl, along with some warm (110 - 115° F) water.

 

 

Combine it all with the yeast and let it sit 5 minutes or so, until everything wakes up and starts to foam. It should also smell pretty bready. Have I ever mentioned I love yeast? I love it. Magical stuff.

 

 

While waiting for the yeast, measure out 22 ounces (4½ cups) of flour.

 

 

And melt 2 ounces (roughly 3½ tablespoons) of butter.

 

 

Add the flour and butter to your bowl, and mix with the dough hook. Start slow until the mixture is well combined. Then turn to medium and allow it to knead until it smooths out and completely pulls away from the sides. This should take about 5 minutes. If you aren’t using a mixer, mix and then knead on a clean countertop until the dough is smooth and stops being sticky.

 

 

When done, remove the dough from the bowl. Clean the bowl and oil it with a little vegetable oil, then return the dough and cover with plastic wrap. I also roll the dough over a few times so the whole things is oiled. Leave it somewhere warm for about an hour until it has doubled in size. We ran some errands.

 

 

When your dough looks ready, turn your oven on to 450° and grab your biggest pot. Fill the pot with 10 cups of water and ⅔ cups of baking soda and put it on high heat. While we wait for it to boil, we roll out the pretzels. Start by dividing the dough into eight pieces on a clean countertop.

 

 

Roll each piece until it is about 24 inches long, although I just roll it out until it is roughly “pretzel thickness”, a definition that varies depending on your opinion. Then fold over into “pretzel shape.” I don’t really know how I do this, but it looks like a pretzel, so do that.

 

 

As you’re doing this, put your pretzels onto parchment lined baking sheets.

 

 

Hopefully by the time you are finished folding, the water you put on before will be boiling. Drop each pretzel in and let it float for 30 seconds, then return to the baking sheet. I use a spider style skimmer for this, but you could use a slotted spatula just as easily.

 

After each pretzel has taken a bath, whisk an egg yolk and a tablespoon of water together, then brush each pretzel with the mixture. You could get special pretzel salt and sprinkle it on, but I just use kosher salt. Toss them into the oven for 12 or so minutes, until they have browned up to your liking. Cool on a rack and enjoy the hell out of them.

 

 

A perk of these is that they can be frozen and re-heated later. Just put them in an airtight bag and freeze. To warm up either put them in the oven or toaster oven for a few minutes.

Pretzels

Makes 8 pretzels.

¼ oz (1 package) dry active yeast

1 tbsp sugar

2 tsp salt

1 ½ cups warm (110-115°) water

22 oz (4 ½ c) all purpose flour

2 oz (3 ½ tbsp) unsalted butter, melted

10 c water

⅔ c baking soda

1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tbsp water

Rehydrate the yeast with the warm water, sugar and salt. Although to rehydrate for 5-10 minutes until foaming. Using the dough hook on a mixer, mix the melted butter and flour with the yeast. Knead with the dough hook or by hand for 5 minutes or until smooth and no longer sticky. Clean out and oil the bowl, then return the dough to it. Cover with saran wrap and allow to rise one hour until doubled in size. Preheat oven to 450°. Combine the 10 cups water and baking soda and bring to a boil. Divide the dough into eight pieces and roll into a 24 inch rope, then fold over into pretzel shape and put onto parchment lined baking sheets. Boil each pretzel in the baking soda mixture for 30 seconds and then return to baking sheet. Brush each with the egg and water mixture, then sprinkle with salt. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown.

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Oktoberfest

The short story of Oktoberfest is that it originated as a wedding celebration for a German prince. Activities include drinking beer, eating sausages, listening to polka and just generally having a bangin’ time. We’re big fans. This may be because of our lineage - Hillary is roughly 105% German, myself an unknown pedigree, but we both have family members who came through Ellis Island wearing lederhosen and eating pretzels. However, lineage aside, I suspect most people find Oktoberfest to be a good time.

 

Despite the name, Oktoberfest actually begins in September. Originally, it was an October exclusive, but somewhere along the line it was decided “why not extend the drinking into September, when the weather is a bit warmer?”  In Buffalo, almost every Oktoberfest activity happened on September 28th this year. We tried to take part in several of them, with varying degrees of success. The ultimate conclusion was that not enough (or any) potato pancakes were consumed, so we decided to make a mini Oktoberfest meal for dinner.

The things we made were: potato pancakes, chicken schnitzel, and spaetzle.

For potato pancakes, the first step is typically to shred potatoes with a box grater and ring out as much liquid as you possibly can. In our case, we had some frozen shredded potatoes already, so the first step was to run home on my lunch break and pull them out for thawing because I forgot to do it before leaving for work.

Like most recipes, you’ll need some chopped onions…

Once you’ve got thawed (or drained) potatoes and chopped onions, throw them in a bowl with a lightly beaten egg, salt, pepper, and roughly ¾ cup of flour. I’d never made potato pancakes in this way before, so I wasn’t really sure what consistency I needed for the mixture. I got things to the point where they were loosely sticking together, and it worked out ok in the end, so go for that.

Next, start heating oil up to fry these guys in. I use vegetable shortening for this kind of frying, but you could use vegetable, peanut or any other oil with a high smoke point. I also turned on the oven to a low temp to keep them warm while I worked on the rest of dinner.

When your oil shimmers, drop spoonfuls of your potato mixture in and flatten. Let them go until nicely browned and flip.

At some point here, you should be starting to boil salted water for spaetzle. Spaetzle is an egg based noodle, sort of like pasta. We got some pre-made from Wegmans. I assumed making it was similar to pasta, and it is, but it needs to boil longer. I let ours go for 14 minutes or so, when it stopped being super resistant.

While the pancakes fry and the water warms, let’s talk about the chicken schnitzel. I assumed that schnitzel was some sort of special recipe, but after doing some research, it appears that it is basically your standard breaded fried treatment. The traditional schnitzel would be weiner schnitzel, which uses veal. We don’t eat much veal, so we opted for chicken, but I imagine the treatment is identical. You need three containers to pull this off. First, one with flour to dredge, then two eggs beaten with some dijon mustard, and finally some breadcrumbs. 

Meat goes through in the same order I listed the components: flour, egg, then breading. When finished, they can go right into the same oil you just used for the potato pancakes.

Every recipe I looked at had you pounding your chicken to an even thickness. Out of sheer laziness, I did not do this, and we had some issues with even cooking. Anyway, fry until well browned and cooked through. Serve with your spaetzle (covered in butter) and potato pancakes. Probably some Oktoberfest beer as well!

 

Potato Pancakes

1 lb drained shredded potatoes or thawed frozen shredded potatoes

1 small onion, chopped

1 egg lightly beaten

¾ cup of all purpose flour

Mix potatoes, onion, flour and egg in a large bowl until of a just sticking together consistency. Drop by the spoonful into heated oil and flatten into a pancake. Fry until browned and flip, cooking second side until browned.

 

Spaetzel

Boil in salted water as indicated by package

 

Chicken Schnitzel

2 Chicken breasts

1 ½ cups all purpose flour

2 eggs, beaten

1 tsp dijon mustard

2 cups bread crumbs

Beat the eggs together with the mustard. Heat some oil to shimmering, dredge the chicken first in the flour, then egg mixture and coat with the bread crumbs. Place in hot oil and fry until browned and cooked through. Flip and finish.

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Shakshuka

When we lived in Brooklyn, we were very spoiled by our proximity to Mimi’s Hummus, a place that specialized in middle eastern cuisine, from Israeli to Iraqi, and, of course, hummus. The hummus there was the best we’ve ever had. They even delivered to our apartment! As a result, our eating horizons expanded a lot. One of the things we discovered there was Shakshuka, a dish of spicy sauce and eggs. According to wikipedia, Shakshuka comes from Tunisa and is spelled Shakshouka. Since neither of those spellings is in Arabic, I'll assume both are fine.

However you spell it, we liked it, and looked for a recipe to make it ourselves. Our recipe is based on the first we stumbled upon, over at Smitten Kitchen. It turned out easier to make than we thought. One pan, healthy, easy, and even vegetarian. You could make it vegan if you omitted the eggs, cheese and pitas, but I wouldn't recommend it. Not to pat ourselves on the back too much, but I like our homemade version more than what we used to get from Mimi's. What I'm saying here is that you should try it.

Peppers are one of the major components of this recipe, and as luck would have it, our jalapeno plant was one of the ones that did best this summer. Perhaps the title of this post should be "Locally Sourced Shakshuka."

So let’s make some food! Start by chopping up a bunch of veggies.

Your jalapenos… (you can substitute whatever you’ve got available - anaheim chiles, cherry peppers, etc..)

An onion...

Five (or more!) cloves of garlic...

Then we measure out some cumin and paprika…

Open a 28oz can of crushed tomatoes and we’re ready to apply heat.

Add some oil to your pan, and when it’s warm, onion and peppers go in. As always, don’t forget to salt and pepper.

Let those go until soft and brown, then add the spices and garlic.

Once you can really smell the spice and garlic, which should only take a few minutes, you add the tomatoes and about ½ a can of water.

Partially cover and let simmer for half an hour or so until it has thickened nicely. Beware that this will potentially spit red sauce all over your oven and make your spouse mad, so do the covering carefully and clean up after yourself.

Next up, drop four eggs in and continue to simmer until they are just barely done - they are best when the yolk is still runny. If you wanted to save some and freeze it, before you drop the eggs in is the time to set some aside.

Once your eggs are set, dish them up, garnish with feta and serve with pita on the side. We haven’t yet found pitas we really like in Buffalo, so some good bread will do in a pinch.

Shakshuka

3 jalapenos or other peppers, chopped and seeded (vary this depending on your spice preference)

1 onion, chopped

5 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 tsp cumin

1 tbsp paprika

1 28oz can crushed tomatoes

4 eggs

Feta cheese

Pitas or bread

 

Saute the onion and peppers in a deep pan with olive oil until soft and browned, then add the cumin, paprika and garlic. Once the garlic and spices are aromatic, add the tomatoes and bring to a partially covered simmer. Allow to simmer for a half hour or until it has thickened. Add the eggs and continue to simmer until they are just set. Serve garnished with the feta and with the pitas on the side.

Note: We usually eat two eggs per person, but a batch this size can easily do six eggs and feed three (we always have some leftovers.) It also scales very nicely, so if you wanted to half it or double it, I doubt you would have any issues.

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