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Archive for September, 2010

Hiya.

Yeah, that’s right.  I’m talking.  Me.  The pretzel.

So how’s it going?

That’s nice.

Enough small talk.  This is just a friendly reminder that if you haven’t made your own soft pretzels yet this year…

What could you possibly be waiting for?  Everyone knows the Germans actually celebrate Oktoberfest in September.

But you can have a free pass this time.  I give you until mid-October.  Frankly, there’s no bad time for pretzels and beer.  (What’s that, Atkins people?  You don’t like carbs?  What are you even DOING at this blog?)

First, the beer.  Whip up a batch of delicious home brew, a la The Boy.  Or find some local brew pubs that may be selling growlers of malty, hoppy, autumnal carryout craft beer near you.

If you’re in the Chicago area, you might try Half Acre, Piece, or the fine offerings on tap for sampling at Brew & Grow.

Well that was easy enough.  Now onto those pretzels.  Here’s one nice recipe I found for your classic, white, soft pretzel.  Craving something different that’ll pass for dinner so you can soothe your conscience?  (” A conscience?  What’s that?”) How do chicken stuffed soft pretzels with homemade honey mustard sound?

Somewhere, Keanu Reeves just went, “Whoah.”

Or, OOOooooooh, Garlic Soft Pretzels.

And if you’re a fan of those big ‘ol pretzels ye can procure from ye olde chaine shoppe in the mall, this should intrigue you: Mall Pretzels. (Because sometimes we just gotta calls ’em as we sees ’em.)

Or, gaaaaaaa, cannot speak because sweet tooth is enlarging, ENLARGING: Cinnamon Raisin Soft Pretzels.

What’s that, you say?  You want the recipe for mine?  The ones in the picture?  The ones that look like…

THIS!?

Well, you can’t have it.  Not because I don’t want to give it to you.  But because there isn’t one.

I couldn’t give you measurements on this one if I tried.  But I can tell you roughly what I did, and those of you who are accustomed to baking bread and working with sourdough and work by feel and instinct, as I do, will be able to follow along.

By feel and instinct.  You can do a lot of things that way. Including making love, raising children, and killing a man.

But I digress.

The FEEL AND INSTINCT METHOD for soft sourdough pretzels is:

Proof some sourdough starter.  A little for a few pretzels.  A lot for lots.  (Told you this would be vague.)  Once it’s ready, toss in some flour.  Some whole wheat.  Some white.  Mix it in.  Add some kosher salt, and some melted butter.  I’m going to say I made a large batch, somewhere around 3 lbs. of dough, and I used about 8 Tablespoons, or 1/2 cup, of melted butter.  Oh, relax.

Now stir that all in, and add more flour.  You know what I’m talking about.  Until it’s…not needing any more flour.  Don’t worry about getting it quite as dry as regular bread dough.  And it doesn’t need to be elastic either.  Just knead in enough flour and work the dough until it could hold a decent shape.  Now stick it in that trusty, oiled bowl and cover it with your favorite heirloom tea towel until it’s doubled…2 hours, wouldja say?

Actually, guys, I don’t feel as if I’ve been honest with you.  I didn’t let it rise for a few hours.  Instead I stuck it in the fridge overnight to rise in there.  What?  You didn’t know you could do that?  Well, you can.  Just let your dough sit at room temp a little while before you work with it.  I know, I know.  I’m brilliant.  I should really charge for all the fascinating things you learn here.  Like how to kill a man by instinct.  Anyway.  Moving on.

Divide the dough into balls and roll ’em into ropes.  I’ll say mine were about 18-20 inches long.  I like my soft pretzels on the small-ish side.  You know that annoying person who always takes, like, two bites of something, and then puts it back in the container for later?  That would be me.  Anyway, small foods give you options, man.  And that’s what I’m all about, dude.  Options.

Do a cool twisty thing where you make a pretzel.  The Girl says some of my pretzels have an extra twist in them.  I say they have just the right number/amount of twist(s).  Decide for yourself, man.  You gotta do what’s right for you, dude.  That’s what it’s all about, bros.  Doing what’s right for you.

Crud, this is going to take all day.

‘Kay, so now you’ve got a bunch of baby pretzels all lined up on some buttered parchment.  Oh, yeah, go back in time and butter some parchment.  Now set a pot of water to boil.  I used 10 cups of water and 2/3 cup baking soda.  Once it’s boiling, slowly tong each pretzel into the water, let it cook for 30 seconds, and take it back out.  Repeat.  As many times as you need.  Until you’re out of pretzels.

Now go back in time again, and preheat the oven to 450.  Thanks.  Take some coarse sea salt and sprinkle it over the pretzels.  Be sorta liberal about it.  Pretzel making is no time for conservatism.  Or limited sodium consumption.  I’m not making a political statement here.  I’m just saying, I think even the GOP could agree that pretzels should be salted liberally.

You know, pretzels are really the thing that could bring our nation together.

Wait, didn’t George Dubya Bush aspirate on a pretzel or something?

Forget it.  Peace and Harmony plan busted.

Once they’re all salted, bop ’em into the oven.  Now watch ’em.  That’s right, I said “watch ’em.”  I’ll be honest, friends…I don’t use recommended baking times that much.  I find that most of the time, they’re not accurate.  I just know when bread is done.  And if you’re actually able to follow this recipe up to this point, you probably do, too.  But it’s maybe around 15 minutes.  When they’re nice and golden.  My darker batch was more to my liking than my lighter batch.  What can I say?  I like my pretzels like I like my….

Not going there.

Now this is optional.  After you’ve pulled them out of the oven and oohed and aahed over how amazing you find yourself to be and how you don’t know why someone hasn’t made you Princess Pretzel yet, brush them with melted butter.  Oh.  Yeah.  Now stick ’em on a cooling rack to, you know, cool and stuff.

But eat ’em while they’re still warm.

I’m only gonna say this once: pretzels do not keep well.

Actually, this is important, so twice: Pretzels do not keep well.  Only make what you think you’ll eat today.  I hear you whining, being all, “wah wah wah, I don’t wanna do all this again tomorrow.”  Well, tough, Cupcake!

Just kidding, Cupcake.  Please don’t be mad, Cupcake.  I don’t know what’s come over me lately, Cupcake.

You could do what I did.  Just go back in time, now, and don’t boil all your pretzels.  Freeze them after the shaping, and make a solemn promise to pick up where you left off the next time you want pretzels, adding just a few seconds to boiling and a few minutes to baking.  You could also continue to do as I did, and break that solemn promise and end up with an emergency bag of emergency soft pretzels for when you have a soft pretzel emergency…for emergencies.

Totally awesome.

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Why this photo?  Because happy vegetables make delicious salsa.

And also because the neighbors didn’t seem alarmed enough yet.

Anybody plant one little tomatillo plant and end up with bushels of fruit?  No?  How about you CSA subscribers?  Did you open your box this week only to be buried under 3 feet of little green paper lanterns?  No?

Okay, fine.  Well, any misfits out there like salsa verde?  Is that a good enough reason for you to read this, then?

Is it?!

IS IT?!

I have a compulsive need for approval.  I’m working on it. In the meantime you’ll just have to placate me.  I mean, if that’s okay with you.

A few weeks ago, The Boy and I attended the Chicago Beer Society’s annual picnic so he could show his support for his newest beer-related membership, eat and drink to excess, and have an excuse to make multiple kinds of potato salad (Kalamata Olive, and Hot Pepper Ranch).  What with a chili cookoff, a rib cookoff, an “other meats” cookoff (not as suspicious as it sounds, promise.  Okay, slightly suspicious.  Shut up, that pate was amaaaaaazing.  But it wasn’t, interestingly enough, “cooked off.”  Ooh, totally suspicious now.), a salsa competition, and 16 self-serve kegs of local craft brew, I don’t think I need to tell you how completely awesomesauce it was.

What I do need to tell you is that 16 self-serve kegs of local craft brew is a GREAT way to sell t-shirts that say “Chicago Beer Society” to people who aren’t even members of the Chicago Beer Society.  I won’t tell you whom.

I don’t want to name names.

Wouldn’t want to embarrass anyone.

Anyhoo, as I stood in the salsa line and surveyed my options, a revelation came over me.  Actually, what the hell, let’s call it an epiphany.  A life-changing, zesty, sweat-inducing epiphany.  I scanned crocks and bowls of various shapes and sizes, some containing chunky concoctions, some smooth, some with mango, some with cilantro, some that looked suspiciously like Pace Picante–

–friends, clearly the word of the day is “suspicious;” just puttin’ that out there.  Didn’t think we could ignore the truth any longer–

–and some that were so hot they were practically melting the Tupperware they came in.  But I wasn’t having any of it, folks.  ‘Cause most of them were red!  (Commie connotations aside.)

Now don’t get me wrong.  I like me a red salsa.  But oh.  Oh.  OH.  That green stuff is where my heart is.

That green stuff is where my heart is.  I must say that at least 80 times a day.

Enough time passed, and eventually 2 or 3 green salsas made it to the table.  And they were decent.  Good, even.  Not suspicious at all.  But I longed for the day when I could make my own salsa verde.  When some beautiful tomatillos would show up on MY doorstep, and then I could make my OWN salsa, and take pictures of MY salsa, and give you a recipe for said SALSA, and then I’d show EVERYBODY!

That’s right, I’ll show EVERYBODY.

All of them.  Whoever they are.

But there weren’t any decent tomatillos to be found.  None in a convenient two-block radius, at least.  Hey, I never said I was willing to go the extra mile for this salsa.  Just the extra two blocks.  So I commenced waiting…

Waiting…

Lurking…

More suspicious Lurking…

Waiting…

Until finally I was able to nab some fresh, locally grown, organic tomatillos.  Pretty convenient, actually–showed up in a kit with my CSA delivery, complete with a recipe that I didn’t end up using, since I already had one that was, oddly, pretty close to that one.

Anyhow.  Tomatillos.  Nom nom nom.  Actually, more like nom, ow, nom, eww, nom, spit.  ‘Cause tomatillos are hard little buggers that take a little softening up to bring out their delicious side.  A little cajoling.  A little persuading.  A little…something special.

Alright, so you dump in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes, ‘kay?  Goooosh!

Let’s talk salsa.

We had this on steak last night.

Steak Before <cue sad trumpet noise that signals disappointment>:

Steak After <cue triumphant trumpeting>:

Whoah, yeah!  That steak is one prime suspect!  The crime?  Severe deliciousness!

It’s also great with chips, on burritos or enchiladas verdes (ooh, idea!  idea!), stirred into guacamole, or, oh hellz bellz, on eggs in the morning.  If I know The Boy, and I think I do, he’s going to come home from work (aka, that place that takes him away from me and causes me to cry and then actually get some work done and then cry some more) and stir this green heaven into vegetable juice for a spicy Bloody Mary.  He’s a genius, that there The Boy.

And not even a bit suspicious.

The Suspicious Salsa Verde to End All Suspicious Salsa Verdes (It’s the word of the day, guys, I kinda hafta take this all the way)

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

Suspicious Ingredients:

10 to 12 tomatillos, suspicious, of varying sizes, peeled
2 teeny suspicious-looking onions, peeled
1 small bunch cilantro leaves (suspicious)
3 cloves garlic (I suspect them…of making this salsa awesome! Oh ho ho!)
1/2 jalapeno, with seeds (this makes a solid medium heat salsa; use more or less, or leave out the seeds, depending on your preferences); the jalapeno isn’t suspicious.  It’s just flat out diabolical.
1/2 T. lime juice (not so suspicious)
salt to taste (I used about 1 tsp.) (suspicions abound!)
freshly ground black pepper (I used about 1/4 tsp.) (SUSPICIOUS!)
Suspicious Directions:

Gather your ingredients. Hey, everybody know what time it is?

Tool Time!

Wait, wait, wait…that’s not right.

Tomatillo Time!

Yes, I do realize there are only 10 tomatillos on my clock.  Tomatillo time knows no numeric restrictions.  It knows no rules.  It only knows what the heart wants.  And the heart wants what the heart wants.  And the heart wants salsa verde.

“Hey, guys!  Can we join?!”

“Group huddle!”

“Should we let the outsiders join our tomatillo party?”

“They’re clearly not tomatillos.”

“Come on, Frank, don’t be such a jerk.  They probably have booze.”

“We don’t need their booze.  And we don’t need them!  WE DON’T NEED ANYBODY!”

“Frank…”

“<sigh>…Okay, fine.”

Bring a pot of water to boil.  Tong the tomatillos (yes, I did just use tong as a verb), into the water and let ’em cook until they’re just a bit softened–it took about 6 minutes for me.  Tong them (there I go again!) into a bowl and allow to cool slightly.

Throw all the ingredients except the salt and pepper into a food processor and give it a good whir.  Now, some people like to leave their salsa verde chunky–I prefer mine to be a bit runnier than that, with a coarse, jelly-like texture.

Process your salsa accordingly.  Now throw in a bit of salt and pepper to taste and pulse the processor two or three times to incorporate it really well.

You can enjoy this right away, or let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight before using.  Personally, I’m a fan of letting all those flavors sit and meld together.  But if you can’t wait, don’t beat yourself up about it.  I’ve been there, my misfits.  Oh, have I ever been there.

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Wanna know what I did on my summer vacation?  Besides drive myself and everyone else batty?  And tweet too much?  Well, I’ll tell you.  I…

Visited a beautiful farmhouse B&B set on a five-acre organic farm in Wisconsin.  Then I wrote it up for an article.

Celebrated my un-burfday with my twin brother, Johnny.  Being born on Christmas could have sucked royally.  Thankfully, my family applied the same logic to birthdays as they do to shopping furniture sales–Christmas in July is never a bad thing.  What you see there is my birthday dessert of choice–a banana cream pie from the always-nommiful Hoosier Mama Pie Company in Chicago’s bohemian West Town neighborhood.  Better pie I have not found.  And believe me, I’ve looked all around.

Did you notice that rhymed?  I worked hard on that.

I’m also going to take this opportunity to offer a shoutout to The Brother, Johnny.  You’re one cool dude, Johnny.  If Bad Mama Genny has to share a birthday with someone, she’s glad it’s you.  ‘Cause frankly, you’ve put up with a lot of shite over the years.  I’m sorry about that one time with the thing.  And that other time, with that other thing.  And though I’m sure it scarred you for life, the incident with that third thing, that was really hilarious to me at the time, but which I’m sure was annoying as hell at the time said thing occurred.

Uh, love you!

Made an extremely popular, mostly-natural version of those cream-filled Hostess cupcakes for one of my many un-burfday parties.  What?  Look, if it’s just a birthday, maybe you only have one party, but this was an un-BURFday party, ‘kay?

Don’t hate.

Notice the “g” hidden in the swirl.

Blew up an obscene number of balloons for said un-burfday party.  Walked through, bodysurfed over, and danced around them for two days.  Vowed to fill my apartment with balloons and live that way year-round.  Carefully migrated the balloons down two flights of curving stairs and into the backyard for the un-burfday party.  Watched them all pop systematically as soon as the vicious heat expanded their gases enough to push them past their limit.  Cried a little.  Jumped into The Boy’s arms and screamed every time one bit the dust.

I also scream every time that timer thingy from Scattergories goes off at the end of the thinking time.  Every time.  Does not fail.  Hey, guys, wanna play Scattergories with me again?

No?

Ya’ sure?

They must be intimidated by my brilliance.

Carefully migrated every refrigerator magnet, including the magnetic poetry, from the old fridge into a plastic bag.  Then put them up, one by one, on the new refrigerator.  Which, by the way, bit the dust one month after purchase SO HOLY HELL I HAD TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN.  Onto a third fridge.

I think there’s a circle of hell where all you do is migrate magnetic poetry from fridge to fridge.  And now that I think about it, that’s probably the circle of hell I’ll inhabit one day.  Magnetic poetic justice.

What’s that, dearest mommy?  You didn’t think I was going to hell?  Well, I am.  Apparently, it’s all part of selling your soul to Satan.  But I’ve talked it over with Jesus, and he knows it’s nothing personal, and he promised not to take it out on you.  So I’m sure you’ll still get that pineapple whipped cream room when you die, like you’ve always wanted.

Glad we had this talk.

Took bizarrely-lit nighttime photos of my cucumber bounty before I turned it into pickles.

Yep.  We made pickle spears, smaller pickle spears (out of the white cucumbers), and bread and butter slices (from extra lemon cucumbers).  I dunno about you, but I’m not a huge fan of sweet pickles.

Actually, that’s an understatement.  I LOATHE SWEET PICKLES.  So when I’m in my magnetic poetry circle of hell, I’m sure someone will be force-feeding me sweet pickles.  DAMMIT!

Ooh, look, finally a natural light photo.  Took me long enough.  Pickles, pickles, pickles!

!!!!

Made brandied cherries…aren’t they pretty?  And I love that vintage pink jar (thrift shop!).  You don’t even need a recipe, but here’s one that’s sorta close to my method.  By the way…these things’ll knock your socks off.  Put ’em on a cocktail, top a sundae with ’em, or just sit on the couch armed with a jar of these and your cherry-pickin’ fingers.  Just know that they’re strong.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you stand up to put ’em back in the fridge and Charlie the Unicorn invites you dance with him to the greatest hits of Pink Floyd while you search for his missing kidneys.

Made some kickass chicken thighs.  Very good recipe, by the way.  The Boy died in my arms tonight when I made them.  Then he unmelted and asked for seconds.

And by golly, any chicken thighs that can melt and unmelt a man with as much structural integrity as The Boy is A-OK in my book.  A-OK, I tell you.

Harvested every one of these little Parisian round carrots from a little spot in back of the old apartment that my landlady so kindly allowed me to borrow.  I couldn’t bear to leave them behind, so just know that some of them are a little undergrown.  At an inch to an inch and a half per plant, they’re not the most efficient use of space, but you know what they are?  Cute.  Very, very cute.  And probably a great addition to a garden-themed dinner party’s appetizer spread.  Ooh, note to self: garden-themed dinner party.  Wanna grow these yourself?  Ask and you shall receive, my sweet poppets.  Sweet, sweet misfit poppets.

Sweet, sweet, sweet misfit poppets.

Too much?  Chill out–there will be no eating of your liver with fava beans a nice chianti, okay?  Not today.  Here’s the link.

Took unfocused, sideways shots of unwashed produce and didn’t bother to reorient them before posting them here.  It’s just who I am these days.

Celebrated my mom and aunt’s actual, for real birthday!  Like, it wasn’t even an un-burfday!  They’re also twins, but they’re for really real twins.  Not that Johnny and I aren’t for really real twins.  But we’re fraternal.  And we don’t have a mind-reading thingy going on.  My mom and aunt are identical twins, and they do have a mind-reading thingy going on.  Wanna know what kind of cake this is?  Yellow, with pineapple and whipped cream filling.  And, oh my, look how this blog post has come full circle; suddenly I’m filled with a feeling of oneness and harmony.

Moving on.

Tried to figure out what happened to make my eggplants change color and stop producing.  The answer is me.  I happened.  By neglecting to fertilize my eggplants for a two month stretch while I moved my earthly possessions from one plot to another, I happened to my eggplants.  And they weren’t happy with the happening that happened.  But I’ll be better next year, lil’ eggplanties, ‘kay?  I’ll also plant a billion more, since aside from the happening that happened to them, they were beautiful and productive and beautiful and problem-free and beautiful.

May I remind you of a fabulously delicious way to use prepare eggplant?  Besides the eggplant parmigiana thing that everyone knows about and has done a thousand times?  And baba ghanoush?  Here you are. She’s my all-time favorite food blogger.  And I hear she’s also absolutely stunning in person.  True story.

Found my old favorite gym shirt!  From back when I used to go to the gym.  When dinosaurs roamed the earth.

In case you’re too damn lazy to read this backwards, it reads “Asthma is Sexy!”  Note the striking background silhouette of a man using an inhaler.  I’ve now made a promise.  A life changing promise.  To myself.  To never go to the gym again.  Oh, and another promise.  That every time I use my inhaler, I will strike a sexy, dramatic pose like that one.  To propogate the notion of asthma’s sexiness.

So what have we learned today?

Well, I’ll tell you what we’ve learned.

One, I am now on a personal crusade to erase guilt from my life by legitimizing all my actions.  It’s a beautiful thing.

Two, other stuff.

Three, I’m pretty lazy when it comes to wrap-ups of what we’ve learned.  It’s just who I am these days.

See you soon, my precious babies!  Precious, precious, babies.

Precious, precious, precious misfit babies.

Am I doing it again?  Sorry.

It’s just who I am these days.

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