Pretzel Bites with Cheddar Beer Cheese Dip

So who else is completely melting in this heat?

Here in Northern New Jersey we certainly are. Now, I realize that in some areas of the country and the world 100 degree heat and hotter is totally and every day thing. But when you’re not used to that climate, man is it HOT. I think we’ll all cringe a little bit when we get next month’s electric bill and see what it cost just to stay mildly comfortable indoors these past few days. It also probably wasn’t a good idea that I decided that this weekend would be the time I made these adorable pretzel bites with beer cheese dip. Heating the oven to 425 degrees plus a boiling pot of water made the kitchen feel like I was on the surface of the sun. But, I’d already dreamt these up in my head and once I’ve done that there’s no changing plans or turning back. On the plus side, the crisp cold beers we had with these were so refreshing.

Here’s your warning with these….these are time intensive and I’d rate these as “medium” on the complexity scale. There’s multiple steps, rising rough, boiling, then baking. It takes time. But, these are so good and the taste of fresh pretzel dough that’s been soft-baked with coarse sea salt then dipped into sharp Cheddar beer cheese dip….well there’s just no substitute. Here’s my recommendation, make these when you’re not planning on making anything else. So, don’t try these for the first time when you’re hosting a party and you’ve got a ton of other things to make. Make these when this is the only thing you’ll cook up, or you’re going to a party and just need to bring one thing (everyone will love you if you bring these by the way). These would be the perfect football watching snack! Also, how awesome is this newsprint food paper? It’s a wax paper that doesn’t absorb oil, find them on Amazon!

The beer cheese dip tastes best when you use sharp Cheddar. I actually only buy sharp Cheddar, and in many cases I buy extra sharp. I find that the flavor you get when using sharp or extra sharp is really what gives you that taste of cheese you’re looking for. The beer cheese recipe calls for a teaspoon of Dijo mustard, I recommend following that and only using a teaspoon. You’re just getting the tangy kick from it, but you don’t want to create a mustard flavor here, the cheese is the main star.

Pretzel bites with Cheddar Beer Cheese Dip is an impressive appetizer that makes a large batch for a crowd. Perfect for entertaining or watching football, the pretzels are soft with just the right amount of salt. The beer cheese dip made with sharp Cheddar cheese is a smooth and tangy companion to the salty pretzel.

For the Pretzel Bites
-1 and 1/2 cups warm water
-2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
-1 package active dry yeast (2 and 1/4 teaspoons)
-3 ounces butter, melted
-2 and 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
-5 cups all-purpose flour
-Vegetable oil for greasing bowl
-12 cups water
-1/3 cup baking soda
-1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon cold water
-Coarse sea salt

For the Beer Cheese
-3 tablespoons butter
-3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
-1/2 cup beer
-1 cup half and half or whole milk (I used half and half)
-1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
-1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
-1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
-1/4 teaspoon pepper
-3 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

1. To start the pretzel bites, in a stand mixer combine the 1 and 1/2 cups warm water, the melted butter, sugar and yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes.

2. Add in the salt and flour and mix on low speed until the dough comes together, increase the speed to medium and knead for 3-4 minutes until the dough has pulled away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too sticky, add in flour a tablespoon at a time, although the 5 cups was perfect for me. Lightly flour your countertop and your hands and knead the dough on the counter until you form a large ball. Lightly grease a bowl with the vegetable oil, then place the dough inside. Cover with a towel and let it rise for 1 hour. The dough should double in size.

3. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Pour the 12 cups of water into a large pot and bring to a boil spray your baking sheets lightly with cooking spray. Whisk the egg and the tablespoon of water together.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl and cut into 8 equal parts. Rolls each piece into a long rope. I start this rolling it back and forth in my hands, like you were using a stick to try and start a fire. It lets the weight of the dough as you’re holding it up right pull the dough down, helping it to elongate and form the thin rope. Then I place it flat on the counter, and roll back and forth gently pulling outwards on any parts that are still a little too thick. Using a knife or kitchen shears (I find the shears much easier and faster to be able to snip off the bites rather than using a knife to slice) cut your pretzel bites and place them in a bowl, you want them to be about the size of a quarter. They will puff up when you boil them so you don’t want to cut them too big since they’re going to get bigger. Repeat this until all dough has been cut into the dough bites.

5. When the water has come to a boil, SLOWLY add the baking soda. This makes the water fizz up rapidly, do not pour it in all at once. Place 15 of the dough bites into the water at a time, boil for 30 seconds, then remove with a slatted spoon and place onto a baking sheet. Arrange them until the sheet is filled, make sure none of the dough bites are touching. Brush each with the egg wash, then sprinkle with the coarse sea salt. Bake for 13-15minutes. I found 13 minutes was perfect for my oven. Repeat until all dough has been made into pretzel bites.

6. To make the beer cheese sauce, melt the butter in a sauce pot over medium heat, add the flour and whisk to combine and cook for 30 seconds. Slowly pour in the beer, then the milk, whisking while you pour. Cook over medium heat until the mixture has thickened, this will take several minutes and will eventually become a consistency like a gravy.

7. Once thickened, add the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, pepper and salt. Stir to combine, then lower heat and add in the cheese 1 cup at a time, whisking to melt the cheese and form a smooth cheese sauce.

Now relax, crack a beer and enjoy!

Pretzel Bites Source: Two Peas and Their Pod
Beer Cheese Dip Sauce: The Chunky Chef

Baked Macaroni and Cheese

There are certain foods that come to mind when you say ‘comfort food’.

Cheesy Baked Macaroni and Cheese probably comes to mind, doesn’t it?

There’s just something about a homemade, super cheesy, crispy topping macaroni and cheese. It screams nostalgia, it evokes love, it makes you feel all warm and cozy when you dig in. I had the pleasure of living in Charleston,SC for nearly six years…and let me tell you, I ate some really good mac n’ cheeses in those years. The South definitely has the knack for perfecting certain foods, and comfort foods like mac n’ cheese is one of those foods. I feel like this is one of those things that becomes a staple food that as a mom, I just have to know how to make. So naturally, I turned to my mom for the recipe she used when we were growing up.

She brought over a cookbook that was browned on the edges, The Good Housekeeping All-American Cookbook, the classic recipe I remember eating as a kid. Now, the food blogger in me of course made a few minor alterations, making it a bit cheesier If you want an easy, classic tasting baked macaroni and cheese this is for you. The next time it’s rainy, or cold and snowy, or you’re bit down in the dumps…dig out this recipe and make yourself some feel-good food.

I love this first scoop, breaking the crispy topping and pulling up the scoop of cheesy baked noodles.

-3 cups uncooked elbow noodle pasta
-4 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
-5 tablespoons butter
-3/4 cup Panko crumbs
-1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
-1 teaspoon salt
-1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
-1 and 1/2 cups milk
-Paprika for topping

1. Preheat oven to 350. Cook the elbow noodles according to package, and spray a 9×13 baking dish with cooking spray.

2. In a small pot, melt 3 tablespoons of butter, then pour over the Panko crumbs and stir to coat.

3. In the same pot, over medium heat melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, then stir in the flour, salt, dry mustard, and a few dashes of pepper…stir until everything is blended. Slowly stir in the milk, and cook until smooth and slightly thickened. Remove from heat, then pour in 3 cups of the shredded cheese.

4. Place the cooked and drained elbow noodles in your baking dish. Then, pour the cheese sauce over top. Gently stir together to make sure all noodles are coated, even the noodles on the edges of the dish. Top with the remaining 1 cup of cheese, then the Panko, ad finally sprinkle generously with paprika. Bake for 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

Whipped Avocado

Whipped avocado makes a smooth and fresh topping to tacos, burritos, or any Mexican dish. 
We all love guac, don’t we?
We pay extra for it. That gorgeous dollop of green sitting on top of a burrito bowl or taco. But what if I told you there’s an avocado topping that’s just as good as guacamole? I’m not making this up. Whipped avocado is going to be your new must-have avocado condiment. 
Whipped avocado blends together so smooth, so much zest from the lime, and will drape over your chicken burrito rice bowl or ground beef taco so perfectly. Oh an also, it takes like 5 minutes to make. So whip this up (pun intended) and fall in love with your newest avocado creation.

-1 ripe avocado
-1 lime, juiced
-1/4 cup sour cream
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1/8 teaspoon pepper

1. Combine the avocado, the juice of an entire lime, and the sour cream, salt and pepper and blend until smooth with a hand mixer or in a stand mixer.

Enjoy!

Balsamic Reduction and Goat Cheese Pizza

 Balsamic Reduction Goat Cheese Pizza is an abundantly flavorful spin on pizza night. A sweet balsamic reduction drizzled over tangy goat cheese and smooth Mozzarella cheese then topped with fresh crisp arugula. Fast and easy to make but this tastes gourmet and complex.

I have to jump right in here and talk about this pizza.

I know, you’re used to the whole “blog” thing where I talk about what I’ve been doing, something that’s on my mind, or crack you up with my charming wit. But not today. You’re going to want to get right to this to. Just look at that photo below. Do you see those glistening onions drenched in a sweet balsamic reduction? And the pools of tangy goat cheese all melty and ready to be eaten.

This is one of my favorite pizzas to make. It tastes and looks difficult to make but it is absolutely so easy. A few quick preparations and this comes together in less then 30 minutes. I think this would be great to make for a pizza party or get together with friends. Just imagine a spread with this pizza and a few bottles of crisp cold white wine. Trust me, everyone will be asking you for this recipe! And I won’t make you wait any longer, here’s the recipe. Now go make your shopping list and make this this weekend!

-1 thin crust Pillsbury pizza crust
-1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
-1/2 tablespoon sugar
-1 large white onion, sliced thin
-1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
-2 and 1/2 cups shredded Mozzarella cheese
-4oz goat cheese (you won’t use the whole thing but this was the smallest size I could find.)
-Arugula 

1. Heat oven to 425. Lightly spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray and unroll the thin crust pizza dough onto the sheet and stretch the dough until it fills the sheet. Bake for 8 minutes.

2. In a small pan, add the balsamic vinegar and sugar. Heat to a boil then reduce to low to simmer, about 7-8 minutes. Whisk occasionally to it doesn’t burn. Remove from heat and pour into a small bowl.

3. In a large pan over medium-high heat, heat the EVOO and add the sliced onions. Cook until dark browned and lightly crispy. If onions are sticking to the pan, add a drizzle of EVOO and adjust the heat to medium if needed. Cook about 10 minutes, don’t over stir. You want the onions to sit on the heat to get browned before stirring them around too much.

4. Top the pre-baked pizza crust with the shredded Mozzarella cheese, making sure to leave an edge for the crust. Next add the onions, then lastly generously crumble goat cheese as much goat cheese as you like over top. I do about half of the 4oz block, so 2oz should be sufficient. But if you like more go ahead and add more! Bake for 10-12 minutes.

5. To garnish drizzle with the balsamic reduction and arugula.

Enjoy!

Source: Eat Good 4 Life

Mexican Biscuits and Gravy

 Mexican Biscuits and Gravy is a creative and entertaining breakfast. Bacon enchilada sauce drenched over freshly baked biscuits, eggs, and cool queso fresco. This is the breakfast you need to make every weekend.

Vacation to Cape May is just 10 days away.

Right now, I’m in that magical dreamy phase that happens right before a vacation. Anticipating the getaway, the break from monotony and work that seems to reinvigorate you allowing you to “life” again, the excited planning of where and what to eat while we’re in town. That’s where I am right now. 10 days of daydreaming about the beach, about having that ice cold beer with snacks about 1pm, and about sitting outside late at night watching the stars and hearing the waves crashing on the beach with a cool refreshing air on my face.

Cape May has always been a special place for me. It’s where we vacationed as kids, so many hilarious inside jokes with my brothers were made there. And now, being able to start new traditions with my husband and daughter there is incredibly special. My goal is we vacation there every year, form memories, and hopefully one day Lilly will be looking forward to our Cape May vacation just as much as I am.

This right here, this Mexican Biscuits and Gravy, is going to change your breakfast game forever.

I promise, I’m not being dramatic. Eat these once and you’re going to wonder why you haven’t been eating this every weekend. Mexican Biscuits and Gravy uses a bacon enchilada sauce smothered over fresh biscuits then topped with eggs and tons of cool queso fresco. This is the breakfast you need. This is the breakfast your weekends have been missing.

That enchilada sauce has tons of pieces of crispy bacon. The flavor of salty bacon with seasoned crushed tomatoes will be something you’ll want every weekend! Mexican Biscuits and Gravy are here to stay.

For the Biscuits
-2 cups flour
-1 teaspoon sugar
-1 tablespoon baking powder
-1 teaspoon salt
-8 tablespoons butter, cubed
-3/4 cup milk

-6 slices of bacon
-15oz can crushed tomatoes
-1 teaspoon garlic powder
-1/2 tablespoon onion powder
-1 teaspoon cumin
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1 cup water
-4-6 eggs (depends on how many servings you want)
-Queso Fresco for topping

1. Prepare biscuits, heat oven to 425. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut butter into the mixture using a biscuit cutter or large fork until it looks like cornmeal. Make a well in the middle of the flour mix and slowly add the milk into the middle. Flour your hands a bit and knead dough with your fingers. Lightly flour your counter and roll dough onto surface to desired thickness. Cut biscuits with a small biscuit cutter. (You can use a round cookie cutter too. I actually have neither so just used a knife to cut out circles). Place on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

2. Using kitchen shears or a sharp knife, cut/dice the raw bacon in to small pieces. Heat a medium pan over medium heat and add the bacon pieces. Cook for 10 minutes until crispy. Then spoon onto a plate lined with a paper towel and wipe clean the pan since you will use it to make the sauce.

3. To make the sauce, pour the crushed tomatoes into a the sauce pan over medium heat, add the garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, salt, and 1/2 cup of the water. Simmer for 10 minutes.

4. While the sauce is simmering, cook your eggs in a separate pan, I prefer for this receipt anything from over easy to over hard. I do not recommend scrambled.

5. After the sauce has simmered for 10 minutes, add the bacon pieces to the sauce and the remaining 1/2 cup of water. Stir until everything is combined.

6. To serve, cut open the biscuits. and place the biscuits halves on a plate, top each biscuit half with an egg, then generously cover with the bacon enchilada sauce. Lastly, crumble as much queso fresco as you want over top. I like a lot so don’t be shy to be very generous with this!

Easy Summer Pasta Salad

If you want to be the most adored person at your next pool party or BBQ, be the person that brings that pasta salad.

I think we can all agree that a cool and creamy loaded pasta salad is a basic requirement at any summer party. The meats always get all the attention: the burgers, the dogs, steaks, chicken wings. The men huddled around the grill, taking inventory of how many burgers there are, how many need toe be cheeseburgers…and who wants a dog? But you know where you’ll find me? Yes, the bar area but I mean other than that…you’ll find me hovered over the fixins. The pasta salad, the side dishes. That to me is what I gravitate to. I swear I could do without the grilled meats and be totally happy and full off the assortment of side dishes and appetizers at a party. That’s why for me, it’s so important to have a pasta salad such as this one at a summer party.

A sweet and tangy sauce of mayo, mustard, sugar, vinegar and dill drench every cork-screw rotini noodle…and take a look at all that color going on! Red onions, red peppers, bright green beans, and vibrant yellow Cheddar cheese make this an inviting dish you just want to dig in and take a heaping spoonful for your plate. Since this is a mayo-based dressing keep this in the fridge until your ready to serve, and put back in the fridge if there are any leftovers. I doubt there would be leftovers since this is so good, but you never know, and it’s best to keep leftover mayo chilled.

Make this for your next summer get-together!

-1 box rotini pasta
-1 cup mayo
-3 tablespoons dijon mustard
-2 tablespoons white vinegar
-2 and 1/2 tablespoons sugar
-1/4 cup fresh dill, lightly chopped
-1 teaspoon salt
-1 teaspoon pepper
-1 and 1/2 cups cooked frozen peas
-1 red pepper, diced small
-1 cup diced red onion
-6oz sharp Cheddar cheesed, cut into small chunks

1. Cook the pasta according to box directions. The strain, drizzle with a little olive oil and stir to prevent from sticking, pour into a large mixing bowl.

2. To make the dressing, in a bowl combine the mayo, mustard, sugar, vinegar, chopped dill, salt and pepper.

3. To assemble the pasta salad, pour the dressing over the pasta and stir until all the noodles are covered in the dressing. Then add in the diced red onion, diced red pepper, cooked peas, and Cheddar cheese. Stir until everything is well distributed throughout the pasta. Garnish with a little fresh dill. Store in the fridge until ready to serve.

Adapted from: Eating on a Dime

Creamy Curry Pasta

I don’t want this to sound like I’ve given up, but I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I may never wear a two-piece bathing suit again.

Why am I having a hard time with this? Maybe I’m feeling like having to retire the bikinis forever means a stage of my life is over that isn’t coming back. Or maybe it’s that I feel a little bit like a failure for not ‘snapping back’ all the way since having Lilly. Moms, we are so hard on our bodies. A pregnant woman’s body, especially the stomach/abs area, goes through such enormous change carrying a baby. It stretches, getting bigger and bigger until baby decides they’re good and ready to come out. Once baby is here, this little invisible clock starts ticking…time to get your body back to just as it was, or maybe even better, before getting pregnant.

I remember those first few weeks after having Lilly. You literally have no ab strength, standing over the sink to wash a few dishes felt like I was doing 1,000 crunches. And the thing is, you’re not even supposed to workout your ab muscles until 6 weeks postpartum since they also need time to heal before being thrown into a strenuous workout…you know those strenuous workouts that you’ll have so much time and energy for now that you have a non-sleeping newborn. As time passed, and Lilly is now 20 months old, I did my best to fit in workouts here and there, be mindful about not eating sugar, and trying to eat sensibly. But here I sit, with a flabby tummy I didn’t use to have, tummy rolls I didn’t use to have, and a little feeling that people may wonder why I just don’t workout harder.

Truth is, while I do get hit with waves of wishing my stomach was flat or wishing I had the energy and stamina for daily workouts and the willpower to eat healthy all of the time, I have to cut myself some slack. I had a baby. My body did an amazing thing, pushed to it’s limits, all for Lilly. When I look at that little girl how can I beat myself up so much? I’d want her to love her body as it is, and not feel pressured to be a certain size or weight. So if anything I’m trying to not body issues take room in my life and potentially doing damage to her self-image down the road. So this summer you can catch  Lilly and I at the beach, soaking up the sun…in our one-pieces.

Since I am trying to be mindful about making meals too indulgent or high calorie, this pasta dish is so perfect. This has:

-No butter
-No cream
-No dairy
-No cheese

And yet, it’s creamy and rich and so satisfying. The sauce is made with a blend of curry power, sesame seed oil, garlic and onions and a can of coconut milk. My trick is making a slurry of corn starch and water and that thickens the sauce from a soup-like consistency to more of a cream sauce. Roasted chick peas and broccoli give this some substance, each bit is so savory you’ll be wanting seconds. And since this isn’t packed with any high calories fats go ahead and have those seconds, or thirds.

Notes:
-When I cook with pasta I almost never use the entire box, I’m pretty consistent with using 3/4 of the box of whatever type of  pasta I’m cooking. I’ve always found that the entire box is just way too much.

-A slurry is a combination of water and cornstarch and is used to thicken sauces.

-You must use the canned coconut milk, you’ll find these either near the Mexican/Spanish food or near the Asian/Thai food in your grocery store. Don’t use the coconut milk found in the milk section of your store, it’s not going to give you the same results.

For the Pasta
-3/4 box thin spaghetti
-2 teaspoons sesame seed oil
-2 garlic cloves, grated
-1/2 cup small diced white onion (I like them diced very small)
-2 teaspoons white sugar
-1/2 teaspoon salt
-2 teaspoons curry powder
-1 13.5oz can coconut milk
-2 tablespoons water
-4 teaspoons cornstarch
-1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
-1/2 ladle of reserved pasta water

For the Broccoli
-3 cups chopped fresh broccoli (this was about 2 and 1/2 heads of broccoli for me)
-1 and 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-1/8 teaspoon salt

For the Chick Peas
-1 15.5oz can chick peas, drained
-1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
-1/8 teaspoon salt
-1/8 teaspoon garlic powder

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

2. Place the chopped broccoli florets in a large bowl, toss with the EVOO and the salt, then pour onto the baking sheet. Dump the chick peas into a strainer and toss a few times, remove any of the shells that have pulled away from the chick peas, then pour them into a bowl and season with the salt, garlic powder, and EVOO. Place the broccoli in the oven for 5 minutes, after they have cooked for 5 minutes remove the baking sheet and dump the chick peas onto the other side of the sheet, then place back in the oven and bake for 25 minutes.

3. Once the chick peas and broccoli are baking, bring a large pot of water to boil (make sure you always salt pasta water!). I like my pasta on the softer side so I boil mine for 11 minutes. Want firmer pasta? Only cook it for 9-10 minutes.

4. While the pasta is cooking heat the 2 teaspoons of sesame seed oil, diced onions, and grated garlic in a medium pan over medium heat for 3-4 minutes. Add the curry powder and stir to coat the onions. Pour in the coconut milk and season with the sugar and salt. In a small bowl, combine the water and cornstarch then pour into the coconut sauce, raise heat so the sauce boils, then reduce to simmer. Add 1/2 of a ladle of the boiling pasta water to the sauce and stir. Simmer the sauce on low heat until the noodles are done cooking. If the sauce at any point gets to watery/thin, add cornstarch a teaspoon at a time and whisk into the sauce, you’ll just need to reboil any time you add cornstarch so that it activates and thickens the sauce. If your sauce ever gets too thick, add small amounts of the boiling pasta water to bring it back to a cream sauce consistency.

5. To serve, pour the drained spaghetti into the pan with the coconut curry sauce and stir until all the noodles are coated. To each bowl of pasta, top with the roasted broccoli and roasted chick peas.

Enjoy! This also tastes amazing as leftovers.

Adapted from: In Pursuit of More