Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Quiche

It's been a tradition for the last 14 years or so that I make a quiche for Christmas breakfast. Usually, I make the classic Quiche Lorraine with bacon and swiss, but I've been known to throw in a curveball every now and then with a quick quiche (using Bisquick in the filling) or a hash brown quiche. This year, Kara has specifically requested Lorraine, but since we've got a lot of ham left from a few days ago I figured I'd also make a ham and cheese quiche too.

Here are the recipes I plan to use, both culled from AllRecipes.com, one of my favorite idea spots.

Ingredients
  • 1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch single crust pie
  • 12 slices bacon
  • 1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1/3 cup minced onion
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups light cream
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Directions
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).

Place bacon in a large skillet, and fry over medium-high heat until crisp. Drain on paper towels, then chop coarsely. Sprinkle bacon, cheese and onion into pastry shell.

In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, cream, salt, sugar and cayenne pepper. Pour mixture into pastry shell.

Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven. Reduce heat to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C), and bake an additional 30 minutes, or until a knife inserted 1 inch from edge comes out clean. Allow quiche to sit 10 minutes before cutting into wedges.


Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 slices Swiss cheese
  • 1 recipe pastry for a 9 inch single crust pie
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh spinach
  • 1/2 cup canned mushrooms
  • 1 (4.5 ounce) can ham, flaked
  • 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

Directions
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Beat together flour, salt, half-and-half and eggs in a medium bowl.

Place Swiss cheese flat in the pie crust. Arrange spinach evenly over Swiss cheese, then cover with mushrooms. Pour the flour and egg mixture over mushrooms. Cover with flaked ham and top with Cheddar cheese.

Bake in the preheated oven 45 to 55 minutes, until surface is golden brown.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Baked Bacon

I love bacon; I mean, who in their right mind doesn't? But it's such a mess to cook! There's avoiding hot popping grease, cleaning up splatters, smoking oil, and the burnt-on bits left in the pan.... The remedy? Baked bacon.

Blasphemy, you say? No, it's bliss. Here's why: no popping messes, no cooking in batches, no flipping, no scrubbing pans afterwards, no muss, no fuss. Oh, and all the bacon is done at the same time!

Baked Bacon

Ingredients
1 lb of bacon

Directions
Place a rack on a large cookie sheet (do not attempt this with a "rimless" cookie sheet unless you want a horrible mess in your oven! Bacon grease will spill out all over everywhere! If you don't have a rack, use aluminum foil that has been crinkled and then mostly smoothed out. If you don't crinkle the foil you'll have sticking issues. Even if you do have racks, you might want to put foil under the rack (between the rack and the sheet, not between the rack and the bacon) to prevent grease from burning onto the pan.

Lay out your bacon on the rack in a single layer. I had to use two sheets and two racks to fit one pound of bacon. Slide the bacon into a cool oven.

Set the oven to 400F and cook bacon for 17-20 minutes. Check for doneness--you might go as long as 25 minutes depending on the thickness of the bacon and the speed at which your oven heats up. Be careful not to overcook; there's a fine line between crispy bacon and dried hunks of meat-that-was-formerly-bacon.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mrs. Hobbs' Banana Pudding

You might not have strong feelings either way about banana pudding, and normally I wouldn't have strong opinions on it either; however, today I was forced to come to grips with a new way of thinking. This banana pudding, as some of my elite friends might say, r0x0rz. The sour cream in the mix might sound surprising, but it adds a texture and tang that boxed pudding along can't touch.

Mrs. Hobbs' Banana Pudding

Ingredients
3-3.4oz boxes Jello French Vanilla Instant Pudding mix
1-16oz tub Kraft Cool Whip
2-12oz boxes Keebler Vanilla Wafers
1-8oz tub Breakstone's Sour Cream
6 to 9 bananas
3- cups 2% milk

Directions
Mix instant pudding and milk until well blended. Add Cool Whip and sour cream, mix thoroughly. Cover bottom of four quart casserole dish with pudding mixture. Add a layer of vanilla wafers, and a layer of banana slices. Repeat the layers and top with crushed vanilla wafers.

Chill and serve.

Best when prepared one day and served the next.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Surprise" Cookies




These cookies are a huge hit every time I make them! Fillings I have used:
  • The Teeny-mini candy bars (Snickers work really well!)
  • Rolos
  • Peanut Butter Cups
  • Mint Kisses
  • Mini Hershey bars (not as easy, since these are larger than, say, Snickers)

"Surprise" Cookies

2 sticks softened butter
1 c. creamy peanut butter
1 c. light brown sugar
1 c. sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
3 1/2 c. sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 pkg. snickers minis

1. Combine butter, pb, & sugars on low until fluffy.
2. Slowly add eggs & vanilla until combined. Then mix in flour, salt & soda.
3. Cover & chill 2-3 hours. (If you're in a rush, it won't kill you to make them right away.)
4. Unwrap minis.
5. Remove dough, divide into 1 T. pieces & flatten.
6. Place mini on dough.
7. Form ball around mini.
8. Place on greased cookie sheet & bake @ 350° for 10-12 min.
9. Let cool on rack or wax paper.

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Cape Skinner

Last year, I was given two identical knife kits by a fellow Scouter. They are comprised of a through-tang blade, a guard, a pommel, and a block for the handle. For months they sat on my workbench as kits, but a few months ago I was inspired to start on one.


I decided to make it ergonomic, which involved a lot of trial-and-error sanding with my Dremel--pretty much the whole thing was done with my Dremel using sanding drums or engravers.

A great big thank you goes out to John Sharp, who donated the leather, rivets, tools, and expertise for making the sheath.

This knife will be given to the Scout who completes the most Merit Badges between now and February. I hope it inspires them to work hard!

I *just* may be a little bit crazy

In addition to working lots of hours at my "real job," being Scoutmaster, Den Leader, Father of three, Husband of one, Crossfit junkie, and having more hobbies than you can shake a stick at, I have decided to add one more thing to the mix: The Paleo Challenge.

My gym is having a one month challenge (starting today) to stick to the Paleo Diet: Meat and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar. Kara and I are going to try it for a month and see how it goes--she'll be diligent about blogging it and I won't, but I will keep an "analog" journal.

Anyone who knows me will probably be gaping in amazement right now. One month without bread? Yeah. I know. But I'm only half doing this for me--if I bake fresh bread, it'll make it that much more difficult for Kara to keep to her goal. So we're doing this as a team, and it'll be great. :)

What's for breakfast?

Thick-cut deli meat (maybe cajun roast beef today)
Strawberries and grapes
Dry-roasted almonds

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Pork Tenderloin

I've made pork tenderloin a few times now, and they've been pretty good for the most part. But tonight, I made a pork tenderloin that put all my previous efforts to shame! It was flavorful, but not overpowering. It was simple, and not too terribly time-consuming. I based it off a recipe I found at http://www.foodnetworkfans.com/forum/pork-recipes/3449-balsamic-olive-oil-pork-tenderloin.html...

Balsamic and Olive Oil Pork Tenderloin
Ingredients
Reduction:
1/4 c balsamic vinegar
3 tsp honey
1 medium plum, diced

1 1/2 lbs pork tenderloin
4 T balsamic vinegar
4 T olive oil
2 t minced garlic (6-8 whole cloves, smashed)
2 t kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
8-10 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

Directions
Make the balsamic reduction ahead of time, because it takes about 30 mins to reduce. Place 1/4 c balsamic vinegar, honey, and plum in a small sauce pan over med-low heat. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally, for about 30 mins. Remove from heat. Sauce will thicken as it cools.

Preheat oven to 400F. Remove fat and silverskin from tenderloin.

Place tenderloin in a glass roasting pan, drizzle 4 T balsamic vinegar over the top of the loin, and rub into the meat. Pour 4 T olive oil over the loin and rub into the meat. Sprinkle garlic, salt, pepper, and basil evenly over the loin.

Bake uncovered for about 35-40 mins for medium rare to medium. Cover loosely with foil and let rest on a cutting board for about 5-8 mins then slice into 1/2 inch medallions. Place medallions on a serving plate/dish and drizzle the reduction over the meat.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Amish Friendship Bread - Feeding Techniques

A friend asked me to publish my personal take on AFB feeding techniques, so I thought I'd share them here too.

Standard AFB Feeding Procedure

Day 1: This is the date on the bag. You don't need to do anything this day other than put the bag in a place of moderate room temp. and where you'll notice it tomorrow and succeeding days.
Day 2: Mush the bag.
Day 3: Mush the bag.
Day 4: Mush the bag.
Day 5: Mush the bag.
Day 6: “Feed” it. Add to the bag 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, 1 cup milk, then mush the bag.
Day 7: Mush the bag.
Day 8: Mush the bag.
Day 9: Mush the bag.
Day 10: Baking Day.

Pour contents of the bag into a non-metal bowl. Add & mix:
1 ½ c flour
1 ½ c sugar
1 ½ c milk

Measure out 4 separate batters of 1 c each into 4 one-gallon Ziploc bags. Keep a yeast starter for yourself (if you choose) and give the other 3 bags along with copies of this recipe to friends. Write today's date on each bag so your friends will know what to designate as Day 1.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

To the remaining yeast mixture in the bowl, add the following:
2 c flour (sifted is optional)
1 lrge box instant vanilla pudding
1 ½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
3 eggs
1 c oil
½ c milk
1 c sugar
½ tsp vanilla

Grease or oil 2 large loaf pans. Mix an additional ½ c sugar and 1 ½ tsp cinnamon in its own bowl, and use half of it to dust the greased pan. Pour the batter evenly into 2 pans and sprinkle the remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture over the top. Bake 1 hour.

Allow the loaves to cool (about 10 min) until they loosen easily from the pans.

If you make the bread earlier or later than the days listed, just be sure you “feed” it every so often.

Alternate AFB Feeding Procedure
The feeding cycle for AFB can be lengthened or shortened to suit your schedule. You could have one feeding cycle at 7 days, and the next at 14 days without any ill effects—the starter is very resilient.

Also, if you've run out of friends willing to try AFB, you don't have to waste ingredients by overfeeding; you can reduce the feed so you have double what you need on the last day instead of 5x what you need.

Day 1: This is the date on the bag. You don't need to do anything this day other than put the bag in a place of moderate room temp. and where you'll notice it tomorrow and succeeding days.
Day 2: Mush the bag.
Day 3: Mush the bag.
Day 4: “Feed” it. Add to the bag 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 cup milk, then mush the bag.
Day 5: Mush the bag.
Day 6: Mush the bag.
Day 7: Baking Day.

Separate out 1 c of starter and bake with it, THEN add the following to the bag and mix:
1/2 c flour
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c milk

By baking with the starter before feeding it, you'll get a bit stronger sourdough flavor, but the sweetness of the recipe will counterpoint the sourness to make a great flavor.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Ding Dong Cobbler

My son wanted to have a birthday party this year, and the theme we came up with was...camping. And Spongebob. So we're having a Spongebob pinata, plus a sleepover in the backyard complete with tents.

I found the perfect recipe for a camping-themed birthday cake for a 7 year-old: Ding Dong Cobbler. This recipe comes from The Scout's Outdoor Cookbook, a veritable treasure trove of outdoor cooking genius!

Ding Dong Cobbler
Requires a 12" dutch oven, a large mixing bowl, and a mixing spoon. You may also want to line the DO with heavy duty foil.

Ingredients
2 (18 1/2 oz) boxes Betty Crocker yellow cake mix
6 eggs
2/3 cup vegetable oil
2 1/2 cups water
1 (21-ounce) can cherry pie filling
12 Hostess Ding Dongs
1 single-serving packet instant hot chocolate mix
20 large marshmallows
3 Tbsp butter

Options: You can substitute chocolate cake mix for the yellow, Twinkies for the Ding Dongs, and apples or peaches for the cherries.

Directions
Open can of pie filling and unwrap Ding Dongs to save necessary time in a later step.

Pour both packages of cake mix into a large bowl. Combine with eggs, vegetable oil, and water. Pour can of pie filling into bottom of oven. Then, pour half of the cake batter over the filling. Place 6 Ding Dongs on cake batter, spacing them evenly. Sprinkle half of the hot chocolate mix over the Ding Dongs. Pour remaining cake batter into oven. Place remaining 6 Ding Dongs on cake batter.

Set marshmallows on top of batter and Ding Dongs. Sprinkle remaining hot chocolate mix over marshmallows. Cover marshmallows with small pieces of butter, to promote browning.

Bake using 8 coals arranged in a ring under the oven and 17 coals on the lid. Cake will be ready to serve when browned on top and a toothpick comes out clean, about 45 minutes. (Or, bake at 350* F in a conventional oven.)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Whole Wheat Pancakes

This recipe calls for either all-purpose white flour or whole wheat flour. My family happens to have a lot of hard red wheat in storage and a wheat grinder, so I started making these with freshly-ground whole wheat. After a few weeks of making these on Saturday mornings, I think I've got this recipe down to an art. I usually quadruple the recipe and freeze the leftovers, four to a bag. My two boys love to eat them for breakfast during the week.

This recipe is adapted from the Betty Crocker's 40th Edition cookbook.

Ingredients
(Single batch)
1 egg
1 c all-purpose or whole wheat flour
3/4 cup milk
1 T granulated or packed brown sugar (I use brown sugar)
2 T vegetable oil
3 t baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 t vanilla

(Quadruple batch)
4 eggs
4 c all-purpose or whole wheat flour
3 c milk
4 T granulated or packed brown sugar
1/2 c vegetable oil
4 T baking powder
1 t salt
1 T vanilla

Directions
Separate eggs. Beat whites to stiff peaks and set aside. Combine remaining ingredients and mix just until blended--overmixing will cause tough pancakes--the mix will be lumpy. Add 1/3 of the whites to the batter and fold in. Add another 1/3 and fold in. Add the remaining 1/3 and fold in. (Adding the whites in 3 batches works well to ensure even distribution of the whites without over-folding, which would defeat the purpose of whipping the whites.) Let the batter rest for at least 5 minutes while the griddle heats.

Heat griddle or skillet over medium heat or to 375 degrees. (I use an electric skillet.) When a drop of water dances on the griddle, you're ready to cook. (At this point, I sparingly apply cooking spray to the griddle, but butter or margarine would work, too.) Pour 1/3 cup of batter onto the griddle. Cook until the pancakes just start to dry at the edges--if the top is dry, you've cooked it too long. Turn and cook other sides until golden brown.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Cake Balls


I can't remember the site where I first saw these done, but I do distinctly remember seeing them on Bakerella as cakepops. They're small and sweet, perfect for a party or a reception; they're infinitely customizable; and they're easy to make. Here's the basic recipe:

1 13" x 9" cake (made from scratch or from a box)
1 can frosting (or about 2 cups if made from scratch)
1 package chocolate bark coating (if you use regular chocolate, like melted Hershey bars, they will not turn out as well)
1 Tbsp oil or shortening

Make cake according to instructions, cool, then crumble into very fine crumbs in a large bowl. Mix in frosting. Shape into walnut-sized balls, then cool in the freezer for at least an hour--two would be better. Melt the chocolate coating and add oil/shortening, dip cake balls, cool for 15 minutes.

Not rocket science.

The beauty is in the variations. Try some of the following:
  • red velvet cake mix, cream cheese frosting, milk chocolate bark
  • devil's food cake mix, vanilla frosting, milk chocolate bark
  • strawberry cake mix, vanilla frosting, white chocolate bark
  • German chocolate cake mix, pecan coconut frosting, milk chocolate bark
  • chocolate cake mix, vanilla frosting plus peppermint extract, dark chocolate bark
  • chocolate cake mix, chocolate frosting, Andes mints
Tips:

  • A lot of good tips can be found at http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Cake-Balls/Detail.aspx.
  • Omit oil or shortening, if desired.
  • Some of the cake crumbs will get into the bark, so if you're using white chocolate bark, you may want to thin the coating with 2 Tbsp or so for a first coat, then redip in fresh chocolate.
  • To make cake ball cones, lightly coat the inside of a cake cone with chocolate bark. Cool. Lightly press crumb/frosting mixture into the cone. Dip cake into coating, swirling to coat throughly. Hold cone upside-down for a few seconds to drain, then cool upright. Warning: These are very rich!
  • Some prefer using one-half can of frosting for a more "cakey" ball. Be sure to freeze them until very firm before dipping.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Poached Pears

My wife went grocery shopping today right after her workout, which is good and bad. It's good because she got a lot of great food, and bad...for our budget. To make a long story short, as I looked over our comestible wealth, I spied a cluster of pears. I recalled having seen an episode of Good Eats where Alton Brown poached pears, but he poached them in a bottle of wine. My family and I neither cook with nor otherwise consume alcohol, making AB's recipe a no-go. Virtually every other recipe I found also poached pears in wine, with one exception of a rather vague recipe I found at cooks.com. I have tweaked the directions a bit to clarify the process.

The pears turned out delicious, by the way!

Poached Pears

Prep
Peel and core pears from blossom end leaving stems intact. Using the smallest spoon you can find may help.

Ingredients
6 ripe Bartlett, Anjou, or Bosc pears
4 cups water
1/4 cup orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 egg yolks

Directions
In a pan wide enough to hold all 6 pears, combine water, orange juice and sugar. Bring to boil. Add pears; poach gently 10-15 minutes or until tender. Remove pears and reserve 1/2 cup liquid.

Beat butter with powdered sugar until light. Blend in reserved liquid. Cook and stir over low heat 8-10 minutes or until sauce thickens slightly. In a small bowl, lightly beat egg yolks. Temper yolks by adding a few tablespoons of the sauce to the eggs while stirring constantly. Add a few more tablespoons of sauce to the eggs, still stirring constantly. Add the egg mixture into the remaining sauce and cook for 2-3 more minutes until thick. Serve warm or cold over pears.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dad's Casserole

I remember my dad making this casserole (or something similar) when I was a boy, and I've made it myself a number of times for my family. It's a simple recipe that we usually have all the ingredients for, so it's great for end-of-the-week-no-groceries-left-what-can-I-make-for-dinner nights.

Now, I don't usually measure these ingredients--it's a "shoot from the hip" kind of recipe--but I'll give you the basic idea:

Ingredients
2 lbs ground beef
Seasonings to taste
3 cups mashed potatoes
1 10oz can corn, drained
1 1/2 c shredded cheddar

Directions
Brown the ground beef and season to taste. I usually go with a subtle Italian flavor since that's what my family likes. A little "Italian Seasoning" mix, some garlic, and a little salt and pepper.

In a large casserole, mix the ground beef and 1 cup of the mashed potatoes. This step makes it easier to scoop out the meat in one piece and not have it crumble. Top with the corn. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of cheese over the corn. Top with mashed potatoes and sprinkle remaining cheese on top.

Bake at 350F for 20 minutes or until the casserole is warmed through and the cheese is melted.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Astle's Tortillas


Whenever I make Mexican food, I make up a batch of Melissa Astle's world-famous tortillas. Little Mike calls them "yum yum bread." And she is correct when she claims that they are way better than store-bought!

I have used flour ranging from 100% white to 100% freshly-ground whole wheat in this recipe with good results. I always use butter-flavored Crisco.

I weigh each tortilla at 2 oz (plus or minus .1 oz), for consistency in size. I roll using either a traditional or a French rolling pin, and a silicone baking mat.

I cook two to three at a time using an electric griddle set at 375F, and store them in a heavy plastic tortilla warmer until its time to eat.

http://melissaastle.blogspot.com/2008/05/tortilla-tutorial.html

Dutch Oven Jambalaya

When the Scouts were planning the campout this weekend, I offered to cook one meal. They picked dinner, so I flipped through my copy of The Scout's Outdoor Cookbook and settled on "Two-Can Jambalaya." I had never made jambalaya before, but I strongly suspected that the Scouts would like it. And I was right--it was a hit!

The recipe says that it serves 6-8 people, and we had 11 people, so I used three cans of everything, which turned out to be just a bit too much. But everyone ate until they were full and there were still leftovers, so I guess that's good.


Two-Can Jambalaya
Prep
About all you can do beforehand is to cube the sausage.

Ingredients
2 cans (10-ounce each) tomatoes
2 cans (10 1/2-ounce each) condensed French onion soup
2 cans (10 1/2-ounce each) concentrated beef consomme
2 cans (about 1 pound) white rice (measure using empty soup can)
2 cans (about 1 pound) kielbasa sausage (measure using empty soup can)
1/2 cup (1 standard stick) butter, cut into cubes

Directions
Combine all ingredients in Dutch oven. Bake using 8 coals under the oven and 17 coals on the lid. Cook for about 1 hour or until rice is tender, refreshing coals as required to maintain heat.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Netted Rope Hammock - Making Progress

After making a hundred or so feet of rope out of plastic grocery bags, I wondered to myself what I would do with it. A few ideas came to mind: use it for knot and lashing practice with the Scouts or make a coiled-rope rug were two of the most notable. But then I wondered if I could use it to make a rope hammock.

After a bit of web research, I found that there are two main ways of making a rope hammock--basically a net that you lay in. The first way is to have multiple pairs of cords running the width of the hammock, then knotting alternating pairs of cords to form the mesh. This seemed to be an easier concept, and perhaps easier to execute; however, very few of the hammocks I saw were knotted this way and I wondered why, if it seemed so easy.



The second way is to use one continuous cord (or several shorter cords knotted together) and...sew...the hammock. (The PDF I used to learn this technique can be found at the new URL of http://blogs.cornell.edu/garden/files/2009/04/technique4.pdf.)



This is the way I chose to go for a few reasons. First, it would be a challenge to learn a new knotting technique. Second, it seemed like a nifty skill to have. I can see it now...

Friend: "Here we are on our week long camping trip and I forgot my net! I wish I knew someone who could make a fishing net."
Me: "Have no fear! I can whip one up in no time at all. I just need to strip the inner bark fibers of that tree over there, twist them in to rope, and it'll be done in a jiffy!"

So here are a few pics of the hammock in progress. I figure I need about 30-40 more Meijer bags to get the job done. (So get shopping, Kara!) ;) Why am I insisting on using only Meijer bags? It's probably an OCD thing, but I don't want to have brown bags mixed in with the white ones. Or black Wal-Mart lettering mixed in with the red and white Meijer lettering. So it's purely cosmetic. However, if I had my way, I'd use 100% Target bags. They're larger (so I could use fewer), and they're a bit more rubbery than the regular plasticky grocery bags (so they'll be a bit more flexible, I think).


I doubt that this will be the world's most comfortable hammock, but that's not really why I'm making it. I'm making it to see if it can be done. And I really do think that it'll be able to hold me--but I'm testing it out with my 9 year-old first, just in case.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Cub Scout Pretzels

This week, we made pretzels in Cub Scouts. And anyone who knows me is probably thinking right now, "I bet Brig just watched an episode of Good Eats on pretzels." And anyone thinking that would be right.

Overall, it went really well. The pretzels browned nicely. They were chewy and soft in the middle and firmer on the outside. The Cubs were able to form their own pretzels, which was fun for them. But...they stuck to the waxed paper that I put on the cookie sheet. And not just a little sticking either. So don't forget to grease your sheet pan.

NOTE: Don't skip the baking soda bath. It helps to make the outsides soft and brown when cooked.

Here's the recipe:

Alton Brown's Soft Pretzels
Ingredients
1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 package active dry yeast
22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for pan
10 cups water
2/3 cup baking soda
1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
Pretzel salt (You may be able to find this at your local store. Don't use table salt or rock salt. We used Kosher salt due to a lack of pretzel salt, and it worked okay.)

Directions
Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Making Rope from Plastic Bags

For my first video tutorial, I demonstrate how to make rope out of plastic grocery bags.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Hawaiian Sandwiches

This afternoon, a friend asked for ideas on making a can of tuna taste good. I'm probably too late, but I thought I'd share a quick, easy recipe we use tuna for: Hawaiian Sandwiches. Credit for this one goes to my wife and her family, although our family has adopted it heartily. Sometimes though, my boys just eat the cheese on top and leave the rest.

Hawaiian Sandwiches
Ingredients
5 oz can tuna
approx 1/2 c mayo
approx 1 Tbsp mustard
8-10 slices bread
20 oz (approx) can pineapple slices
8-10 slices cheddar cheese

Directions
Preheat the broiler to 500F.

In a small bowl, mix the tuna, mayo, and mustard. Place bread slices on a baking sheet. Spread the tuna mixture on 8 to 10 slices of bread. Place one slice of pineapple on each slice of bread, cover with one slice of cheese.

Put sandwiches under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 5 minutes.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Cooking Bread in the Outdoors

Daniel Edwards asked me about my Sourdough AFB: "Do you know how to do this in a Dutch oven? I need to make some of this at a big scouting event (out in the wilderness), and so naturally, we don't have any conventional ovens out there to use..." Unfortunately, he didn't leave an email address in response, so I've put my reply in a new post.

You could do AFB in a dutch oven, but it would take at least two weeks of prepwork just to make the starter. Plus, if you're going to have dough rising overnight anyway I recommend making No-knead Pseudo Sourdough. It has a nice thick crust and a great, but subtle, sourdough taste without the hassle of starters. At the bottom of the linked post, it has directions for outdoor cooking in a dutch oven.

Edit: You could also check Mark's blog for an actual sourdough recipe cooked in a dutch oven.


OR

I recently acquired The Scout's Outdoor Cookbook, and it has a fantastic recipe for "Hungry Hunter's Basic Bread." I've made it several times in the last month or two in both a 12" and a 10" dutch oven in my conventional oven. Here's the recipe, although I highly recommend getting the book:

Hunter's Bread

Prep

If you're going to make this outdoors, I recommend mixing all the dry ingredients into a gallon-size zip-top bag while still at home. Don't forget to bring about two cup's worth of extra flour for kneading, or just in case the dough is too wet.


Note: Ingredient list is for a 12" DO)
Ingredients
8 cups all-purpose flour (6 cups for 10" DO)
3 tsp salt (2 tsp for 10")
5 tsp rapid-rise yeast (or two packets) (3 1/2 tsp for 10")
2 cups water, 120 to 130 deg. F (it's pretty darn hot!)


Directions
Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add water. Stir until too stiff to mix, then knead by hand for 10 minutes. When finished, the dough should be soft and a bit sticky. Add small amounts of flour while kneading to adjust if the dough is too sticky.

Form dough into a smooth-skinned ball and place in a greased 12-inch dutch oven. It is important that the dutch oven isn't cold. Preheat, if required, but only enough to take the chill out of the metal. Turn dough over so the entire dough ball becomes oiled. Cover the oven and place two coals on lid near the edge.

Let dough rise until doubled in bulk, about 45-60 minutes depending on ambient temperature and wind conditions. During this time, keep the oven warm but not hot. The dough ball should fill the oven. Once the dough ball has risen, gently press it down to de-gas it. Remove the dough and carefully reform it into a smooth ball.

Return the dough ball to the warm oven, replace the lid, and replace the two coals with fresh coals. Allow the dough to rise again to about twice its bulk--about 30-45 minutes. It should now fill the oven nearly to the lid. Don't be tempted to add coals to hurry the process.

Once the dough has nearly reached the lid, place 11 fresh coals under the oven in a ring, just inside the edge of the base. Place 21 briquettes on the lid in a ring along the outer edge. Place two more coals in the middle of the lid near the handle. (For a 10" DO, use 9 under, 19 over + 2 in the middle.) Once you can smell the bread, it is almost finished baking. It should take about 35-45 minutes. Take a peek at 35 minutes to see if the top is browned.

Once the bread reaches an internal temperature of 185F it is finished; however, the top may not be as brown as you like. To brown the top, add up to 6 coals to the lid and bake another 5 to 10 minutes. Remove the bread and allow to cool on a rack for at least 45 minutes.

Slice and serve with copious amounts of butter.




This loaf was baked in a 12" dutch oven.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Store-bought Skookies

If I haven't said it about myself at some point or other, then it's no doubt been said about me: I've never met a dessert I didn't like...until now.

It started a week or so before Christmas when I was wandering through my local Sportman's Warehouse looking for presents for my family. I picked up some camping utensils for my kids, and was walking through the cast iron aisle when I fell in love. I spotted a boxed skookie set! I figured the best way to get myself some new cast iron was to disguise it as a present for Kara so I picked it up, playing it from the skookie angle, because I know how she loves skookies. The set included two skookie pans, two skillet potholder things, a recipe booklet, and some just-add-water-and-oil double fudge brownie mix. Score!

Last night, I finally got around to making my first batch of skookies in the new pans. I mixed up the prepackaged mix using the 3/4 cup of water and 3/4 cup of oil that it recommended. The instructions said to pour the mixture into a greased 9x13" pan...which confused me a wee bit since it came with a pair of skookie pans! I divided it between the two pans and hoped they wouldn't overflow. (For a little overflow insurance, I put a 9x13 on the rack two positions below the skookie pans. I knew that it'd affect the cooking of the skookies to have that pan there, but figured that however it affected them would be small potatoes compared to how Kara would affect me if I managed to spill skookie dough onto the floor of the oven.)

After the allotted time (25 min), I checked the skookies and decided they needed another 4 or 5 minutes, probably due to the sheet pan below them. At 30 minutes, they appeared done...but were a rather odd consistency. They were spongy, had a slightly rubbery feel, and were pockmarked--just like the texture that I associate with microwave brownies. They didn't taste much better. They were bland and cakey, and even that squeeze of caramel topping I drizzled on couldn't save them. (Okay, it was two squeezes. So sue me.)

Yes, I have finally met a dessert I didn't like.

If I had this particular recipe to do again--which is highly unlikely since it was rather nasty and I have much better recipes for skookies--I would switch out the oil for 1/2 cup of applesauce, and add one chopped chocolate bar.

I do recommend the skookie pan set, but if you dare to try the prepackaged brownie mix it comes with, take my advice: tinker with it.

Disclaimer: There are probably other prepackaged skookie mixes out there that are much better. I don't know, since I haven't tried any others. If you find one though, let me know!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

One Gallon's Worth!

On January 6th, I gave blood! I've been a mostly-regular donor for years, but it has really helped my track record that my company sponsors quarterly blood drives. So, with my double-red cell donation, I reached one gallon's worth of blood donated since I've lived in Kentucky! (Actually, I suspect that I've achieved several pints more than that, and that they credited the "missing" pints to my evil twin.)