Creamy Mac and Cheese

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Discovering I have a surplus of various leftover cheeses in the drawer in my fridge always inspires and justifies me doing one thing…making a pan of mac and cheese!

While I already have a couple recipes for yummy mac and cheese on the blog you know I am always interested in trying or adapting new recipes.

In the November issue of Saveur magazine I found the inspiration for my Creamy Mac and Cheese you see in the photo above.

I used a combination of white cheddar, Fontina, and Monterey Jack cheeses along with a mixture of whole milk, skim milk and half and half.  I often find that mixing non fat milk with whole milk and/or cream will give you the rich taste without all the fat.

The addition of the minced onions sauteed in butter, a half onion studded with cloves, and a couple of bay leaves  in this recipe gave me pause as I have never included those ingredients in my previous mac and cheese dishes, but then I thought all the more reason why I should try it. 

And I wasn’t sorry.  It added a subtle layer of flavor to the sauce that I loved, and by straining the finished sauce, the resulting sauce remains very creamy, fully blanketing the pasta.

As soon as it came out of the oven I helped myself to a taste which somehow turned into a large section missing from the pan before it even had a chance to cool. 

I packed up some to take to my son and his girlfriend in LA whom we were visiting the next day, and quickly froze the rest until my other son and his girlfriend come to visit us next. 

You might say I don’t trust myself with an entire pan of this yummy stuff sitting around, or I’m just a good Mom???

Here’s the recipe…and do allow yourself to be creative with whatever cheeses and milk/cream you prefer and/or have on hand.  Just be sure to include a favorite creamy type cheese such as the Fontina I used here.

Creamy Mac and Cheese

(adapted from the recipe for Macaroni au Gratin, Saveur, Nov, 2014)

(serves 8-10)

1 to 1 and 1/4 pound macaroni ( I used a combination of Ziti and Cellentani (a pasta tube that has been twisted to resemble the shape of a corkscrew)

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

12 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium yellow onion (1/2 minced, 1/2 whole)

1 cup flour

6 whole cloves

2 bay leaves

8 cups whole milk ( or a combination of whole, skim and half and half)

1 and 1/2 pounds combination of Fontina, white cheddar, and Monterey Jack, grated

1 tablespoon finely grated fresh nutmeg

1/4 cup Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)


Cook pasta in a 6- 8 qt. saucepan or stockpot of boiling salted water until al dente, according to pkg directions.  Drain and transfer to a bowl.  Stir in 2 tablespoons of butter and set aside.

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Add remaining butter to the pan; melt over medium-high.

Cook minced onions until golden, 6-8 minutes.

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Stir in flour; cook 3 minutes.

Stud remaining onion half with cloves and add to the pan with the bay leaves.

Add milk/cream, and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat to medium.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Strain sauce through a fine-mesh sieve over the pasta. 

Stir in 3/4 of the cheese, the nutmeg, salt and pepper; transfer to a 9”by 13” baking dish.

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Top with remaining cheese and the breadcrumbs; bake until golden and bubbly, 40 to 45 minutes.

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Meat Kreplach

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Kreplach are small dumplings filled with ground meat, chicken or potato.  They are typically served in soup or fried, and are sometimes called  “Jewish wontons”.

They are often served at the Jewish New Year, beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur.  Since Yom Kippur is traditionally a day of fasting they are served at dinner the evening before.

This year for our dinner before Yom Kippur I had planned to serve chicken soup, noodles and matzoh balls, a filling meal as is. 

As an after thought  I decided to add some meat kreplach  to the mix and found a fairly simple recipe online using ground beef.  It just so happened I had some ground chuck defrosting in my fridge.  Perfect!

Although many recipes for meat kreplach are made with leftover braised chuck or brisket, sauteed ground beef can be substituted as long as it is well seasoned.

It is a simple preparation.  A soft dough is made of flour, eggs, and water.  It is rolled out, cut into small squares and filled with the minced or ground beef mixture.

These squares are moistened and sealed forming small triangles which are then boiled in simmering water before being served in soup or fried and served with gravy, sour cream or apple sauce.

With apples and honey, fresh homemade raisin challah (egg bread) lovingly baked by a friend, and a bowl filled to the brim with chicken soup, matzoh balls, noodles, carrots and kreplach it is safe to say we had no room for dessert!

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Meat Kreplach

(adapted from Fried Meat Kreplach, NYT Cooking, Alex Witchel)

Ingredients

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 cup minced onion

1 small clove garlic, minced

1/2 pound ground beef chuck

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For Dough

1 and 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

2 extra-large eggs

Kosher Salt

Preparation

1.  For filling:  In a small skillet, heat oil over medium heat.  Add onion, and saute until well browned,   6 to 8 minutes.  Toward end of cooking add garlic, and stir well.

2.  Add beef, breaking it up well with side of wooden spoon.  Saute until it has lost its raw color.  Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, and saute another 2 minutes.

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Remove from heat and let cool.

3.  For dough:  Mound flour on a wooden board or in a large mixing bowl.  Make a well in center.  Break eggs into well, then add 2 tablespoons lukewarm water.

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With a fork, beat eggs and water together, incorporating a bit of the flour.  As liquids blend, continue to push flour into well.  Drizzle in 2 more tablespoons water, one at a time, or as needed to make a cohesive dough.

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4.  When dough is well blended, mix it by hand, then begin to knead it on a flat surface.  With a bench scraper, turn dough and press it with your fingertips, then knead a few strokes again.  The dough should remain slightly sticky but become smooth and elastic; if dough is very sticky, lightly sprinkle work surface with flour.  Form dough into a ball and let rest on board, covered with a bowl or a piece of plastic wrap, for 30 minutes.

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5.  Using half the dough at a time, and keeping other half covered, roll out very thin on floured board.  You may need to stretch as you roll. 

6.  To fill and shape kreplach, cut rolled dough into approximately 3-inch squares.  Put one rounded teaspoon of filling in center of each square.

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With a brush or a finger, moisten edges of squares with water.  Fold dough from corner to corner, forming a triangle, and seal carefully.

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7.  To cook kreplach, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat.  Working in batches, if necessary, add kreplach— do not crowd pot—and boil until dough is cooked and tender to taste,  6 to 8 minutes.

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Drain and cool.  Serve in soup. (Kreplach can be frozen at this point.  To use, thaw in refrigerator or at room temperature.)

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Honey Chiffon Cake

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We welcomed the Jewish New Year in a few days ago. This was a special year for us since we could share it with our children for the first time in many years.

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At the holiday table you will find many sweet dishes symbolizing our wish for a sweet year ahead.

Among the most traditional of desserts at this time is the honey cake.  This year I made a different version than my other favorite ones which are already posted on the blog.

This year I made a Honey Chiffon Cake. The October issue of Food & Wine magazine featured  this recipe from a new cookbook called The Feast Goes On.

This book is the work of The Monday Morning Cooking Club, a group of six women from Sydney, Australia who have a calling:  to save traditional Jewish cooking, one recipe at a time.

For founding member Lisa Goldberg, the catalyst was the death of her Auntie Myrna, a platinum blonde from Poland who made phenomenal cabbage rolls. 

Ms. Goldberg states, “Our mission is to find all the Auntie Myrna’s in the world and save their recipes before it’s too late.”

For The Feast Goes On, they asked Jewish home cooks from all over  Australia to send in their family heirloom recipes.  They tested and tasted hundreds of recipes, and only unanimous favorites went into the book.

Honey Chiffon Cake (makes one 10-inch cake)

This recipe is an especially light and moist take on the honey cake that Eastern European Jews traditionally eat for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

The cake must be cooled upside down to maintain its distinctive fluffy texture.

3/4 cup honey

1/2 cup strong black tea, warm

1 and 1/2 cups self-rising flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 cup granulated sugar

6 large eggs, separated

3/4 cup light olive oil

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  In a small bowl, stir together the honey and tea; let cool.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour and baking soda.  In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer at medium-high speed, beat half of the granulated sugar with the egg yolks until thick and pale, about 2 minutes.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, beating until thickened, then beat in the honey-tea mixture and the dry ingredients in alternating batches.

2.  In another medium bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form.  While beating, gradually add the remaining granulated sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.  Fold the egg whites into the batter until no streaks of white remain.  Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch angel food cake pan.  Smooth the top and bake for 45-50 minutes, until the top is dark golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Immediately invert the cake pan onto a wire rack and let the cake cool completely.

3.  Meanwhile, stir the confectioners’ sugar with the lemon juice, adding 1 teaspoon at a time, to form a thick glaze.  Once the cake has cooled, run a thin knife around the edge to release it from the pan.  Lift out the cake by the central tube.  run a knife between the bottom of the cake and the pan, then transfer the cake to a serving plate.  Drizzle with the lemon glaze.

Make Ahead The cake can be wrapped and stored at room temperature for 1 day before glazing and serving.

Note:  I used a local honey which I purchase at one of the many farmer’s markets here.  It is called Native Wild Sage Honey, (raw and unfiltered) and is amazing!

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The Sturgeon Queens …A Bagel and a Movie

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This morning my husband and I had the pleasure of viewing this deliciously charming documentary presented by the Jewish Community Center/ Federation of San Luis Obispo.  

It tells the story of Russ and Daughters, the famous fish emporium on the lower east side of New York. 

The Film

100-year-old Hattie Russ Gold and her sister 92-year-old Anne Russ Federman have life stories that hit all the key notes of the Jewish immigrant experience: hard work, humor, romance, and a little tsuris. Hattie and Anne are the two surviving daughters from the famed lox and herring emporium Russ & Daughters on the Lower East Side. They are also the stars of THE STURGEON QUEENS.

This documentary – timed to coincide with the store’s centennial in 2014 – traces four generations of Russ family history, from patriarch Joel Russ, who immigrated to the US from Austria-Hungary with little more than the shirt on his back, to Josh Russ Tupper and Niki Russ Federman, Joel’s great grandchildren, now in their 30s, who run the store today. Niki’s father Mark Russ Federman, who ran the store from the 1970s until 2008, adds insights from his years researching Russ family history.

The film also features Herman Vargas, aka “The Artistic Slicer,”  longtime Russ & Daughters employee, now manager, who represents the new wave of immigrants behind the R & D counter.

Here’s a link to the film’s website, an article about it, and a little taste of what the film has to offer:

Peach Tart

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With peaches at their peak a couple of weeks ago this fresh Peach Tart from the Food 52 website was the perfect ending to the meal I prepared for our friends from Maryland on the first evening of their arrival.

Not only is it delicious it is so simple to prepare.  Here is what Amanda Hesser has to say about her recipe…

"Every cook needs a good dessert recipe that can be whipped up anywhere-especially when you’re away from your kitchen and its mixer and rolling pin and comforting gadgets.  this peach tart is that recipe for me.  To make it all you need is a knife, a bowl, and some kind of a pan.  A tart pan ideally, but I’ve even made it on a baking sheet with one sideshored up with aluminum foil.  And when I’ve been without a bowl, I’ve even mixed the dough right in the pan.

The dough is made with oil, milk and almond extract, and is pressed into the pan.  there is no blind baking nonsense.  you just top the dough with the peaches, and then shower it with a sugary, salty crumble and send it on its merry way to the oven.

I got the original recipe from my mother, who uses all vegetable oil in the crust.  I use half vegetable oil and half olive oil.  she neatly peels her peaches.  Lazy kin, I do not.  Hers is probably better, but you are stuck with me.  I can promise you, however, that whoever you serve this to will not mind.”

I made it just as she suggests, and it is definitely a keeper.  Here is the recipe…

Peach Tart ( recipe from Amanda Hesser, Food 52)

Makes one 11-inch tart; serves 8

1and1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

3/4 cups plus 1 teaspoon sugar

1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil

1/4 cup mild olive oil

2 tablespoons whole milk

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter

3 to 5 small ripe peaches, pitted and thickly sliced (about1/2-inch wide)

1.  Heat the oven to 425 degrees.  In a mixing bowl, stir together 1 and 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar.  Stirring enables the salt and sugar to sift the flour, so you don’t need to sift it in advance.

In a small bowl, whisk together the oils, milk, and almond extract. 

Pour this mixture into the flour mixture and mix gently with a fork, just enough to dampen; do not over work it.

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Then, transfer the dough to and 11-inch tart pan ( you can use a smaller one if needed), and use your hands to pat out the dough so it covers the bottom of the pan, pushing it up to the sides to meet the edges. 

This will work if you pat firmly and confidently, but not if you curl your fingertips into the dough.  It should be about 1/8-inch thick all the way around; trim and discard excess dough.

2.  In a bowl, combine 3/4 cup sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the butter.  (If your peaches are especially juicy, add 1 tablespoon additional flour.)  Using your fingers, pinch the butter into the dry ingredients until crumbly, with a mixture of fine gramules and tiny pebbles.

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3.  Starting on the outside, arrange the peaches overlapping in a concentric circle over the pastry; fill in the center in whatever pattern makes sense.  the peaches should fit snugly.

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Sprinkle the pebbly butter mixture over top. (it will seem like a lot).

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Bake for 35-45 minutes, until shiny, thick bubbles begin enveloping the fruit and the crust is slightly brown.

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Cool on a rack.

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Serve warm or room temperature, preferably with generous dollops of whipped cream, (or, in my case, vanilla ice cream).

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Heirloom Tomato Salad with Pickled Fennel

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This past week our very best friends from Maryland visited us for the first time since we moved here just over a year ago.

Our friendship began 26 years ago when we had both moved into the same new development in a Maryland suburb, about 25 miles northwest of Washington, DC. 

We moved there from Chicago, and they from Cleveland, but we soon discovered our differences were few compared to so much that we shared.

We became fast friends., all four of us. The kind that even though we haven ‘t seen each other for over a year, and over 3000 miles now separate us, when we embraced at the San Luis Obispo Airport last Sunday it was though no time had passed at all.  We picked up where we had left off without skipping a beat.

It is a full day flying from the east coast to the west coast, especially with the time difference so after picking them up we came back to the house to eat, relax, chat, and of course, eat some more.

Before leaving for the airport (my husband and I are still getting used to the idea that a trip to the airport is only a 10 minute drive), I had arranged some assorted cheeses, crackers, olives, and fruit to nibble on along with the first of many glasses of local wine we shared this past week.

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I included some of the wonderful items we have discovered in our short time living here… the handcrafted sopressa salami from one of our favorite restaurants, and sold at some of the farmer’s markets, http://www.allepiasalumi.com/about/our-story.

The vibrant and  delicious California apricots, along with local grapes and small gala apples I bought at the farm stands as well.

For dinner we served a favorite of theirs that I had made for them many times over the years… my husband’s Grilled Baby Back Ribs with my special BBQ Sauce. 

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We also grilled some fresh sausage with fennel seed from the same source as the sopressa salami…

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Fresh corn on the cob and the Heirloom Tomato Salad with Pickled Fennel rounded out the meal.

To be able to share all this with our best friends made it even more special.  Now for this delicious salad…

 Heirloom Tomato Salad with Pickled Fennel (Bon Appetit, August, 2013)

6 servings

The flavor of the spiced pickled fennel really pops with the sweet tomatoes.

Pickled Fennel

1 whole star anise pod

1  teaspoon aniseed

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/4 lemongrass stalk, tough outer layer removed, crushed

Zest of 1/4 orange, removed with a vegetable peeler

1 medium fennel bulb, cored, thinly sliced

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1 and 1/2 cups unseasoned rice vinegar

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons kosher salt

Assembly

2 lb. large heirloom tomatoes (about 3), cut into wedges

1 cup cherry tomatoes, preferably heirloom, halved

2 tablespoons while balsamic or Sherry vinegar

7 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

2 Cubanelle peppers or Anaheim chiles, sliced into 3/4 inch rings, seeded

Note:  unable to find any Cubanelle peppers I used a pastilla green pepper and a yellow chile pepper, both fairly mild, and perfect for this salad.

Fennel fronds (for serving)

Pickled Fennel

Toast star anise, aniseed, coriander seeds, fennel seeds, and cumin seeds in a small skillet over medium-low heat, stirring often, until fragrant, about 3 minutes.

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Bundle toasted spices,lemongrass. and orange zest in a piece of cheesecloth and tie with kitchen twine to make a sachet.  Place sachet and fennel in a 1-qt. jar or bowl.

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Bring vinegar, sugar, salt, and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. 

Pour vinegar mixture over sachet and fennel and let cool; discard sachet.  Cover fennel and chill at least 12 hours.

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Note:  Pickled fennel can be made 2 weeks ahead.  Keep chilled.

Assembly:

Combine large and cherry tomatoes, vinegar, and 6 tablespoons oil in a medium bowl; season with salt and pepper.  Let sit at room temperature 30 minutes.

Before serving heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over high heat.  Cook the peppers, tossing often, until charred in spots, about 4 minutes.

Serve tomato salad topped with peppers, pickled fennel, and fennel fronds.

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With peaches at their peak I made this Peach Tart., the perfect ending to a summer meal.  I’ll be sharing this easy recipe with you soon.

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We packed a lot into the time we had with our good friends, showing them the highlights of San Luis Obispo with all its history, charm and beauty.

We even had an impromptu lunch I threw together where we dined in the shade of the olive trees at a beautiful vineyard, toasting to our friendship, all the time pinching ourselves to make sure this wasn’t a dream. 

It wasn’t a dream.  We  really are living in California, and  our best friends were here with us .  It was perfect! 

Soft Pretzels

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A week ago we were invited to our friends’ home for Sunday brunch.

When we are together the conversation always seems to come back to food in one way or another.

On one occasion my husband and I had shared with them our love of pretzels, especially warm soft pretzels.

Growing up in  Pennsylvania Dutch Country, pretzels quickly become a staple of one’s diet.  Good pretzels, we are talking about here… whether hard or soft, Bavarian or beer, in the form of rods, sticks, or nuggets, you cannot roam around this area very long without realizing you are in pretzel country.

Here is a little of what Wikipedia has to say about the subject…

In the late 18th century, southern German and Swiss German immigrants introduced the pretzel to North America. The immigrants became known as the Pennsylvania Dutch, and in time, many handmade pretzel bakeries populated the central Pennsylvania countryside, and the pretzel’s popularity spread.[30]

In the 20th century, soft pretzels became popular in other regions of the United States. Cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and New York became renowned for their soft pretzels.[31][32] The key to success was the introduction of the new mass production methods of the industrialized age, which increased the availability and quantity, and the opening up of multiple points of distribution at schools, convenience and grocery stores, and entertainment venues such as movie theaters, arenas, concert halls, and sport stadiums. Prior to that, street vendors used to sell pretzels on street corners in wooden glass-enclosed cases.[33]

In particular, the S-shaped soft pretzel, often served with brown mustard, became iconic in Philadelphia and was established as a part of Philadelphia’s cuisine for snacking at school, work, or home, and considered by most to be a quick meal. The average Philadelphian today consumes about twelve times as many pretzels as the national average.[34]

Pennsylvania today is the center of American pretzel production for both the hard crispy and the soft bread types of pretzels.[31]Southeastern Pennsylvania, with its large population of German background, is considered the birthplace of the American pretzel industry, and many pretzel bakers are still located in the area. Pennsylvania produces 80% of the nation’s pretzels.[35]

The annual United States pretzel industry is worth over $550 million.[36] The average American consumes about 1.5 pounds (0.7 kg) of pretzels per year.[37]

To this day my husband and I have vivid memories of running out of elementary school when the dismissal bell rang and getting in line to buy a hot soft pretzel from the “pretzel man’s wagon”.

So when we moved to San Luis Obispo we were disheartened to see the dearth of good pretzels here on the central coast.

Here most stores seem to carry one, maybe two brands, where in the past  we had been accustomed to practically a full aisle of pretzels.

Hot, handmade soft pretzels are still available in much of the area where we grew up…some baking and selling from their home kitchens.

So when our invitation to brunch included an opportunity for me to help the hostess make soft pretzels from scratch as a precursor to brunch I was excited. 

This was also the recipe that won her a first prize ribbon in the Mid-County Fair here on the central coast a year or so ago!

It was a lot of fun…she had the dough ready to go when we arrived, so I helped her divide the dough into balls for each pretzel…

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Then we shaped  them, (and we definitely gave them a home made look)…

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We dropped them into the boiling water…

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and baked them (some sprinkled with salt and some with onion bits)…

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It didn’t take long once they were out of the oven to smother them in some good brown mustard and eat them along with a glass of local champagne. 

Now that is a delicious combo I’m pretty certain the Pennsylvania Dutch have not tried !  But they should!

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Here’s the recipe…

Homemade Soft Pretzels (Recipe courtesy Alton Brown, 2007)

Ingredients

1 and 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, approx 4 and 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

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 4-5 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- 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-qt  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, one by one, 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 12-14 minutes.

Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Grilled Salmon Dinner

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For the past couple weeks my brother, sister-in-law and niece who live in New York have been visiting the west coast. 

They began their vacation in LA where they were able to connect with various extended  family members including my older son and his girlfriend among others. 

After successfully accomplishing this no small feat which entailed covering a lot of ground around greater Los Angeles, they headed up the coast to spend several days in Big Sur, before heading back down the coast to visit us in San Luis Obispo for six days.

Along their way from LA they stopped by for a quick tour of our new home and a short walk to one of our favorite places for lunch here.

We last saw them a year and a half ago when we went back east for a cousin’s wedding, and in all this time we have been talking about our new house and this new hometown of San Luis Obispo, sometimes ad nauseum, I’m sure.

So all that talk turned into a reality as they stepped over the threshold to see our beautiful new home.  It was such a good feeling to have them here!

After they pulled away to continue on to Big Sur (where they would meet up with our younger son and his girlfriend for an afternoon) we were thrilled to have my now  23 year old niece stay with us for a few days. 

For many years when she was younger she would spend a week with us in the summer in Maryland.  So having her here now was just icing on the cake.

I planned a relaxing dinner at home the evening they returned from Big Sur. 

While we enjoyed many fantastic meals out at local restaurants,  I was eager to serve a few home cooked meals as well.  Here is the menu…

For starters we  had  some appetizers on the deck… a Caprese platter with some beautiful local heirloom tomatoes…

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and a platter of melon and prosciutto de Parma…

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 My husband grilled fresh wild sockeye salmon fillets. 

The salmon was simply prepared with extra virgin olive oil, kosher salt, freshly cracked pepper, a bit of chopped fresh dill, and a squeeze of lemon juice. 

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As long as the grill was hot we grilled an assortment of summer squash with peppers…

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and a platter of assorted new potatoes, all tossed with some olive oil, salt and pepper…

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And some homemade tzatziki on the side for dipping with any or all of the above.

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A green salad with a Blood Orange Vinaigrette completed the meal.

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Except of course for that Sour Cherry Pie I had promised my brother.

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We had a fun packed week, and still found time to relax, and just hang out. 

We showed them around our neighborhood and walked  our very walkable downtown.

We impressed them with our Mediterranean micro-climate.

We went to the vineyards, the beaches, and the farmer’s market.

We went hiking (got a little lost, but found our way),  and enjoyed delicious meals at many of the marvelous farm to table restaurants that surround us.

We love our home, and we love our new hometown, but being able to share it all with our family is what really makes it feel like home. 

We will be looking forward to our other family members and friends  coming to visit us as time goes by, and repeat visits from all.

Through the entire process of our move I continued to tell myself that although change is hard at times change is good, and I do believe that.

 But with my brother’s visit this past week i am reminded that some things never change, and that is a very good thing.

 

Ina’s Shrimp Salad

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Last week my cousin came to visit for a few days from Sunnyvale, California.  She has lived on the west coast for the last 35 plus years. 

Growing up we lived about a half hour away from each other in small towns in Pennsylvania.  Our mothers were sisters and enjoyed a very close relationship.

Through most of our youth our families shared many holidays together. Thanksgiving at their home, Passover, and the Jewish New Year at ours, and much time spent together at the home of our grandparents  who lived near us.

Many Sundays my sister, brothers, parents and I would all pile into our car and with our grandparents in theirs, we would make the trip caravan style to my cousin’s house for a backyard barbeque and  an afternoon of baseball.

Those are wonderful memories to have.  While my mom and her sister and their cousins all seemed to settle down where they were raised many of our generation flew a bit further from the nest. 

That  kind of extended family we grew up with no longer exists. College, career paths, marriage and children have led many of us to put down roots far from the home where we were raised.

The close relationship our parents had with their siblings and their own parents  we witnessed growing up has impacted our lives today. 

It is the reason to this day that we all try to stay connected regardless of the distances. 

Be it through  weddings, bar-mitzvahs, family reunions, or simply by driving 3 or 4 hours to visit  a cousin who has recently moved to her coast we continue to maintain the strong connection to family the foundation of which was laid down for us so many years ago.

We planned a busy few days for my cousin.  She arrived in time for lunch, and with the temperature in the 80’s I thought a summer salad was called for.  I chose a Shrimp Salad, cold roasted golden beets with a citrus vinaigrette, a summer fruit plate, and a crusty baguette for the menu.  For dessert a fresh peach tart .

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Here is the recipe for the wonderful shrimp salad…

Ina’s Shrimp Salad ( from the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten)

Note:  This recipe serves 12 but it is easily adapted for serving less.
Ingredients
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3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 lemon cut into quarters
4 pounds large shrimp in the shell (16 to 20 shrimp per pound)  *
2 cups good mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons white wine or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons minced fresh dill
1 cup minced red onion (1 onion)
3 cups minced celery (6 stalks)
*you can also buy frozen large shrimp  already shelled and deveined with the tail on. Defrost in the bag  overnight in the fridge and proceed with the directions  below.  Remove the tail after cooking.
When cooking shrimp use plenty of salt, and do not overcook!

Directions

Bring 5 quarts of water, 3 tablespoons salt, and the lemon to a boil in a large saucepan. Add half the shrimp and reduce the heat to medium. Cook uncovered for only 3 minutes or until the shrimp are barely cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl of cold water. Bring the water back to a boil and repeat with the remaining shrimp. Let cool; then peel, and devein the shrimp.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, wine or vinegar, 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, and dill. Combine with the peeled shrimp. Add the red onion and celery and check the seasonings.  Serve or cover and refrigerate for several hours.

A Dinner with Mozart

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Last week we were fortunate to attend what has become an annual event in San Luis Obispo, The Festival Mozaic.  What began as 3 concerts over a weekend 44 years ago has grown to encompass 22 events over a 10 day span during the month of July.

An array of very talented musicians have come to the Central Coast to participate in this unique and special musical event, performing in various venues throughout the area.

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