Saturday, August 28, 2010

Karl's Famous Pretzels

I’ve been perfecting this recipe for several years now, and I think you will enjoy it. One word of advice is not to skip the quick immersion in the boiling water! This step makes all the difference in their final texture, creating pretzels that are moist yet crisp. I don't go into a lot of detail here about forming the pretzels, but just do your best. It takes a little practice. Even if they look odd, they should still taste great!

Ingredients and Preparation

1 1/2 cup water (1/4 cup of it warm for the yeast)
2 3/4 cups bread flour
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
about 1 1/2 tsp of dry yeast
2 tbsp softened butter
1-4 tbsp of sourdough sponge

1 or two beaten eggs
course salt
sesame seeds
1/2 stick of butter

Activate the yeast separately by adding it to the water and sugar. If you have a bread machine, try using this to prepare and knead the dough. (It helps if you add the water first.) If it’s too large a batch for the machine, try cutting the recipe in half. Otherwise, prepare the dough as you would for an ordinary loaf of homemade bread.

Neither the butter nor the sourdough is a required ingredient, but I think both help make a better finished product. The sourdough enhances the depth and richness of flavor. The butter not only improves both the texture and flavor, but it also seems to help when it comes time to form the pretzels.

Watch the dough’s progress in the bread machine carefully. It often requires a little fine-tuning with additional water and/or flour in order to achieve a proper ball of dough. You will want the dough to rise for several hours, and, depending on the size and habits of your bread machine, you may decide to transfer before long to a bread pan inside a barely heated oven and cover with a moist towel. (I pre-heat to a couple hundred degrees, put the bread in, then turn off the oven.) As an alternative, you may also want to form the pretzels now, then place in the oven under the towel to rise.

When it looks like it’s done rising, it’s time to get everything else ready. Beat your eggs for the wash and set aside. Get a deep pan and fill it halfway with water and bring it to a boil. Begin forming the pretzels by making eight-inch ropes. Once they're formed into their classic shape, carefully pick each up and dip in the boiling water for ten seconds before returning to the greased baking sheet.

When this step is complete and they’ve all had their hot bath, then brush the egg wash over each and season with the course salt and sesame seeds. Bake until lightly browned for about 20 minutes at 450 degrees. Enjoy with melted butter.

Some Quick Pretzel History

Pretzels are said to have had their origin in Europe in the 600s, and were used by monks to reward children for memorizing their prayers and studies. The History of Science and Technology, by Bryan Bunch and Alexander Hellemans, describe their invention by a monk " a reward to children who learn their prayers. He calls the strips of baked dough, folded to resemble arms crossing the chest, 'pretiola' ("little rewards")". Pretzels were also used as a teaching tool for the mysterious three-in-one nature of the Holy Trinity.

Friday, August 27, 2010

To Brioche or not to Brioche...

What, you ask, is brioche? I'm not a particular fan of Wikipedia, but check them out for the basics on this very rich bread. This recipe comes to us from family in Yakima, Washington. I'm taking tonight's recipe straight from the guest cook. No's Friday, after all.


1 pkg. active dry yeast (1 tablespoon)
1/2 c. warm water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 t. salt
3 eggs
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour, unsifted
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 Tablespoon milk

In a large bowl, dissolve yest in water. Stir in sugar, salt, and eggs. Cut butter or margarine into small pieces and add to liquid. Gradually beat in 3 1/3 cups flour, mixing until flour is evenly moistened and dough holds together. Shape into a ball and place on a floured board. (I use a pastry cloth on the dining table--the table is lower than the counter and that gives better leverage.) Knead until smooth and satiny (5 - 20 minutes), adding flour as needed to prevent sticking. (Start w/ 3 1/2 cups, use the last half cup in the kneading process....)

Punch dough down and knead briefly on a lightly floured board to release air. Divide in half and shape each half into a round loaf. Place loaves on lightly greased baking sheets; press down each loaf until it is doubled (about 45 minutes).

Bake in a 400 degree oven for 24 - 30 minutes or until crust is light brown and loaves sound hollow when tapped. Cool and racks. Makes 2 loaves.

Stir, or knead on floured board to release air. Shape dough and back according to directions for brioche a tete or petite brioches, following.

For brioche a tete, pinch off a sixth of the brioche dough and set it aside. Shape large portion into a smooth ball by pulling surface of dough to underside of ball.

Set ball, smooth side up, in a well-buttered 9-inch diameter fluted brioche pan or a 2/quart round baking pan. Press dough down to fill pan bottom evenly. Shape small piece of dough into a teardrop shape that is smooth on top. With your finger, poke a hole in center of large dough portion through to pan. Nest pointed end of small piece into hole--settle it securely, or topknot will pop off at an angle during baking.

Cover w/plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled (1 - 2 hours).

With a very soft brush, paint surface of brioche with egg yolk mixture; do not let mixture accumulate in joint of topknot. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven (325 for glass pan) for about 1 hour or until well browned and bread begins to pull away from sides of pan. Let stand for 5 minutes; then carefully invert to remove from pan. Turn upright and serve warm, or let cool on rack and serve at room temp.

Parting comments from today's guest cook:

I think challah is much nicer: lots of egg, but lighter. Brioche has a certain glamour: fiction scenes set in France describe characters dipping their brioche in coffee...At least, I've read that this summer. Who wants a bread that needs dipping like a biscotti?

Stay Tuned....for Karl's famous pretzels tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Strawberry Spinach Salad Extreme

Ever had one of those weeks? After we all picked blackberries along the Willamette River on Sunday afternoon, my wife prepared the most lovely blackberry pie yesterday, but the recipe was so complicated and convoluted that it created the most incredible amount of dirty dishes. In the process of getting everything cleaned up (yes, I am the husband who cleans), the dripping water off of the many dishes remaining after two dishwasher cycles created a little stream along the granite counter overnight, gathering on the lip of the refinished kitchen cupboard. When I opened the cupboard doors under the sink this morning, almost a cup of water splashed out on the floor.

So, after gluing and clamping the damaged cabinet facing back in position tonight, I'm back in the blog saddle here. Let this be a lesson on the importance of clear and sensible recipes!

This week, I thought I'd feature some recipes from friends and family. Unfortunately (hint...hint, reader), no Costco-sized boxes filled to the brim with recipes have yet arrived. We'll begin with this little number sent in to us from family in Kent, Washington. It looks delicious, and, for some reason, I have this craving for Sweet Tomatoes restaurant in Portland. Late night Sweet Tomatoes run, anyone?


1 quart thinly-sliced strawberries
1 can of drained mandarin oranges
12 to 16 ounces of fresh baby spinach leaves
1 tbs of poppy seeds
2 tbs sesame seeds


1/2 cup salad oil
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp worcestershire sauce
1/ tsp paprika

Blend dressing with mixer. Top salad with feta cheese.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pacific Northwest Salmon Dip

This has become one of our favorite dips.

Salmon Dip

2 – 8 oz. pkgs. of softened cream cheese

beat w 1/4-cup lemon juice

2-3 chopped green onions

Pepper and tobasco to taste

Fold into the above

1 good-sized piece of smoked salmon broken into pieces. Make one day ahead!

The "Make one day ahead" rule really is important, but it's hard to follow--especially if you're hungry. Smoked salmon is definitely the best choice. I would also recommend Josephson's salmon from Astoria, Oregon--if you're picky about your salmon. I try to pick-up some of their precious smoked salmon whenever I happen to be passing through beautiful Astoria.

Special thanks to T & K for sharing this one years ago. This coming week, I will be highlighting recepie suggestions for this blog from friends and family.

A Sunny Morning Start

I'm a granola fan, but when bought at the store, the stuff tends to be pricey and loaded with sugar. As an alternative, I thought I'd try a homemade oatmeal recipe. I've experimented several times with preparing it at home, but today's preparation seemed the most promising.

First, take a look at the recipe. Now, the only thing I really did differently was to substitute half a cup of milk with half a cup of buttermilk. I also cooked the mixture for an extra ten minutes, as it was a little too moist when it came out of the oven the first time. (Okay, I also added a little more brown sugar, but I wasn't going to admit to that.) I would suggest some slivered almonds, but I didn't have any today.

Remember to refrigerate the oatmeal after its cooled. Freshly-picked strawberries are a nice add-on. By itself, it tastes a lot like an oatmeal cookie, and it would probably work very well as an ice cream or frozen yogurt topping. When you're ready to try a bowl, bear in mind it doesn't require as much water or liquid as you might expect. Enjoy!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Blueberry Pancakes Extraordinaire

This is a special edition--two suggestions for the price of one post. Of course, there is no cost, so maybe that's not the best opening sentence... Suggestion #1 is simply to try sliced low fat cream cheese in your pancake batter. It is especially good with blueberry pancakes.

The second suggestion is a swiped recipe from our friend Barbara.

Gooey Butter Cookies Ingredients- 1 bx Duncan Hines butter recipe cake mix- 1 stk butter- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract- 1 pkg cream cheese @ room temp (8 oz. pkg)- 1 egg Directions- Combine all ingredients. Chill dough. Roll into balls then in powdered sugar. Bake 350 degree oven for 10 - 12 minutes..

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Dawn of the Monster Omelet!

Be afraid, readers...very afraid. Okay, so this photo may not generate a salivation frenzy, but the truth is that this humble looking monster tasted quite good. The trick turned out to be an adaption on the previous Test Kitchen method.

I added the extra yolk, as well as the cut butter as I was whisking it eighty times (give or take ten, or so). The rest of the process was standard omelet preparation--none of the on heat/off heat, scrambled eggs with a toothpick nonsense. After all, this culinary creation took place in the morning, and the coffee was not even ready yet. I assume you get the picture--it wasn't pretty.

The bottom line is that I cut about half of the preparation by skipping the middle steps. The end result was almost as tender as last Saturday's method, but it held together much, much better. So, I think this is the new way I will cook my omelets in the future. Now all we need is a chicken.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Summer-fresh Tomato Linguine

Here's a summer recipe we particularly enjoy. It's best prepared with fresh, ripe tomatoes. If you don't have garden fresh tomatoes readily available, then a visit to a local fruit stand or farmer's market is really time well-spent. (If you're in the area of Salem, Oregon, consider Bauman Farms in Gervais.) Using fresh basil also creates a remarkably fragrant dish.

Special thanks for this recipe to Tom and Karen of Monmouth. Enjoy!

Summer-fresh Tomato Linguine

6-8 chopped garden-fresh tomatoes

3 cloves garlic minced fine

1 1/2 cups fresh loosely packed basil leaves chopped

3/4 cup olive oil

2 T. red wine vinegar

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 8oz pkg cream cheese cubed in small bite

In large bowl, combine all the ingredients above. Allow to sit 2-4 hours until room temperature to allow the cream cheese to soften. In large pan, bring to boil and cook linguine until done. Drain and toss with sauce in serving bowl. Serve immediately. Garnish with parmesan and toasted pine nuts if desired.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

If You Enjoy Eating at Oil Can Henry...

Being as hungry as a family vegan tyrannosaurus(es?) yesterday evening, we all decided to try the new Five Guys in north Salem. We weren't that impressed last time, but wanted to give it a second try since everyone seems to be talking about it--except the cows which seem nervous of late.

First, the good news. The hamburgers and fries (virtually the extent of the menu) are very good. The hamburger patties are moist and not over-cooked. The hamburgers are stacked with whatever vegetable extras you might want for no extra charge. The flavor is a step or two better than Sonic, which says a lot in my book. The fries are lightly salted and delicious. (For those who have tried Dicks Drive-in in Seattle, they remind me of theirs. I could be wrong, though, as it's been many years since I've made a "Dick's Run" from Seattle Pacific University.) They're a little greasy, as my son repeatedly pointed out, but maybe that's part of what makes them so addictive? The peanuts are a nice touch, I suppose. At least you're not encouraged to throw them on the floor like one place in town.

Now, the not so good news. The atmosphere of Five Guys is reminiscent of a noisy Oil Can Henry. Everyone's talking so loudly that someone like me can barely here you if you're standing a foot away. Since no one can be heard above the din, the young employees have to bellow the order numbers either by voice loudspeakers. This, in turn, makes everyone talk a little more loudly. Why they can't have displays at different points around the serving area to notify patrons that their order is up, I have no idea. They could put the number up on the board, then, if no one gets up in a moment, use the speakers as a last resort. Even the floor is weird. It's colored to resemble either stone or wood, but the chairs make high-pitched squeaks and squeals like metal on metal.

I guess, for the money, I expect a little bit more civilized surroundings. I think the way to do this place is to buy a bunch of their burgers and fries, then enjoy them in the comfort of your own home. If you could keep them warm, it'd be a good way to impress your neighbors at the next barbecue. When it gets down to it, though, I don't think Five Guys is that much better than Sonic--and it's a little more pricey.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Few Words About Omelets

I've been a fan of omelets for years, but, until I watched Alton Brown prepare one on the Food Network, I never could consistently prepare them. Now, having learned about the importance of pre-heating the pan, I can produce a very nice appearing omelet. Sometimes they even taste great--but not so consistently. My problem is that they are often quite tough. I've never been able to master tender omelets.

Check out this episode from America's Test Kitchen. I'm not sure I want to go to this much trouble for those early morning omelets...but I think I know what we're having on Saturday. :)

For a twist on the fillings, try fresh mozarella or brie, good quality sausage, onions, and/or hash browns. And, don't forget to saute the onions before putting them in!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Great Food at La Roca Mexican Restaurant, Lincoln City

There's a long list of good places to eat on the Oregon Coast--from the Ship Inn in Astoria to Tidal Raves in Depot Bay, maybe still the Flying Dutchman at Otter Rock, and who can forget the ubiquitous Mo's Chowder? (While Mo's is not my cup of tea for its cafeteria like atmosphere, it's certainly worth a visit or two.) Anyway, as you can see, there are many outstanding places to eat on the Coast. The problem is usually cost and the consistency of the food's quality. You also have to decide how much you're willing to pay for an ocean view.

We've been visiting La Roca Mexican Restaurant off of Hwy 101 on the south end of Lincoln City (next to the Christmas Cottage) for years now. Sometime between our last visit in the spring and yesterday's visit, there was a big menu change in this little place. It's much harder to eat here for less than $30 for a family of four, but it remains a very good deal.

La Roca has never let our tastebuds down. The food is always fresh and in a generous portion. It is prepared well, always cooked to perfection. The spices used here really serve to enhance the natural flavors and textures of the food, not cover it up. The meals appeal to both adults as well as children. My son is always particularly happy with the quesadillas, while my daughter prefers the enchiladas. My wife and I tend to order whatever appeals at the time.

Not feeling particularly adventurous yesterday, I decided on nachos. I could go on at length about the nachos, but, suffice to say, there were no complaints from me. In particular, the smokey notes of their house salsa deserve special mention. The flavor and heat are perfectly balanced for Mexican food. The fresh guacamole sauce is also especially good.

The other nice aspect of this restaurant is a certain quality of homeyness (as opposed to homeliness). By and large, it's been the same wait staff there for years. The small size and unpretentious decor also convey a feeling more akin visiting someone's home then going to a restaurant--at least most of the time. It's a comfortable place to eat your dinner. So, next time your in Lincoln City, drive right on by Kyllo's Seafood Grill and take a chance on a little place called La Roca. You won't be disappointed.

Friday, August 6, 2010

A Good Dinner at Home

After some thought, I decided this would be as a good a time as any to start a new blog. In the past, I've been known to keep it pretty silly, but I am aiming now for something a little longer term and more (gulp) serious. Don't worry, though, as I'll try to inject humor whenever possible.

I want to preface this venture with a warning of sorts. This is not necessarily going to be the typical food blog (if there even is such a thing). I don't have the time or inclination to post incredibly detailed accounts of the newest restaurant visit, but I will instead attempt to keep the posts lively and varied. While there may be weeks between posts at times, I'll try to keep my entries fairly regular.

I don't know about you, but, if these are the dog day's of summer, I'm ready for the hamster days of fall. It's been a crazy summer around the Erickson household. When I'm not busy breaking my leg or injuring my back, I really enjoy good food. (In fact, I enjoy it too much, but we'll save the dieting blog for next year.) One of my favorite meals at home lately is really relatively simple.

The central dish features slices of fresh tomato in balsamic vinegar, crowned with fresh mozzarella, garnished with garden basil, and seasoned with freshly ground pepper and a dash of salt. The second entree is pickled asparagus gently wrapped in quality salami. (We were pleased with Freybe's Gypsi Salami, which we found at a local Roths.)

Of course, as I always ask, where's the carbohydrate? We selected a good Italian bread, sliced it down to a smaller size, buttered each, then toasted the bread in the oven. You could always use margarine, but why would you? I'm afraid I am a fan of the real flavor and texture that only comes from butter.

Last, but not least, we just enjoyed an extraordinarily good sparkling grape juice from RW Knudsen company, but wine is always a wonderful compliment to this meal. May I suggest one of our favorites? Saracco Moscato D'asti is a white Italian wine. It's not expensive, but it yields as rich and full a flavor as some of those more pricey wines. It really compliments this particular meal very well.

This is a simple meal for home in which the preparation of the meal seems to lend itself to building anticipation and bringing family members together. It's especially good with garden fresh tomatoes, but ours aren't quite to that stage yet.

Let me know how it works for you. Until next time, keep the kitchen light on for me!