Strawberry Pretzel “Salad”

We first learned about this odd sounding recipe on Cook’s Country. I suppose someone might enjoy it as a first course however in our home this fits firmly in the dessert category. While a 24 hours recipe might seem daunting there is a lot of downtime between steps and a most of that time can be a long overnight rest in the refrigerator. I think active time is around a hour, spread across maybe 2 hours.

I’ll repeat this hint at least twice more, thaw the strawberries in the refrigerator the night before you want to make the recipe. Maybe you need 48 hours before you start. Trust me, the end product is worth the wait.

This is a fine make ahead recipe. You could make this up to 3 days in advance and the pretzel base will remain fairly crisp.

Strawberry Pretzel Salad
Servings: 8-10
Active time: 1 hour
Total time: 7 hours minimum (24 hours would be better)

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs. frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 12 Tbsp. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 6 1/2 oz. pretzel sticks
  • 2 1/4 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 8 oz. room temperature cream cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 lbs. frozen strawberries, thawed
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin (see note)
  • 1/2 cup cold water

Directions:

  1. Take your strawberries out of the freezer, stick the unopened bag in a bowl and slip them into the refrigerator over an overnight thaw.
  2. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F. Spray 13 by 9-inch baking pan with vegetable oil spray. Take the strawberries and cream cheese out of the fridge so they can come to room temperature.
  3. At any point forward you can slice up 1 pound of the strawberries and set them aside. You’ll need them in step 9.
  4. Melt the butter by your preferred method (see note) and set aside to cool while you complete the next step.
  5. Place the pretzels and 1/4 cup of sugar in your food processor and pulse 15-20 times until you have coarse pretzel crumbs. Pour in the slightly cooled butter and pulse another 8-10 times to incorporate it. Transfer pretzel mixture to the prepared pan and use the bottom of measuring cup to press crumbs into bottom of pan. Bake for 10 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Transfer crust to a cooling rack and allow it to rest for at least 20 minutes.
  6. Beat the cream cheese and 1/2 cup sugar with a stand mixer on medium for about 2 minutes. Slowly add the heavy cream and, once incorporated, increase the speed to medium-high for 1 minute. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the cooled pretzel crust, cover with plastic wrap and then refrigerate it for at least 30 minutes.
  7. Next up we finally get to those thawed strawberries. Place 2 pounds of the strawberries, plus any juice that came out during thawing, into the bowl of the food processor. Process until pureed smoother, 30-45 seconds. Transfer the pureed strawberries into a fine strainer set over a medium saucepan. Use the bottom of a ladle to gently push the puree thorugh the strainer, leaving behind the seeds.
  8. Stir in the remaining sugar, and the salt. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until bubbles begin to appear around the side of the pan, about 5 minutes. Note, the sugar should be completely dissolved. Remove pan from heat and set aside to cool briefly.
  9. Add the water to a large bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let sit for about 5 minutes to allow the gelatin to soften. Whisk the strawberry puree into the gelatin and add the sliced strawberries. Refrigerate for 45 minutes to an hour until the gelatin thickens slightly; it should start to cling to the side of the bowl.
  10. Carefully pour the strawberry gelatin over the cream cheese layer. Recover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the “salad” is fully set-up. That’s at least 6 hours; a 20+ hour rest couldn’t hurt.

Notes:
The original recipe I worked from called for 4 1/2 teaspoons of unflavored gelatin. In my experience that is what is found in 1 envelope of the name-brand unflavored gelatin that I see in most megamarts. You might want to check the first time you make this recipe.

Final Reminder – you’ll be much happier if you thaw the strawberries overnight prior to making this dish.

Mustard-glazed Pork Loin

When you host friends for dinner as often as we do you sometimes run low on inspiration. Luckily there are a host of websites, TV programs, cookbooks and magazines aimed at helping you find something to try. I believe the inspiration for this came from an copy of Food Network Magazine that I thumbed through while at my doctor’s office.

I used pork loin “roast” for this recipe. A pork tenderloin would also work however the cooking time would be less.

Mustard-glazed Pork Loin
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • a 2 lb. pork loin
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp. whole grain mustard
  • heaping Tbsp. Dijon
  • 3 Tbsp. cider vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp. maple syrup

Directions:

  1. Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Pat the pork loin dry and then sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
  3. Mix the mustards, vinegar and maple syrup together and set aside.
  4. Add the oil to a oven-safe heavy bottomed skillet and heat on high until the oil shimmers. Sear the pork on all sides until nicely browned.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and brush the pork with about 1/2 the glaze. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast for 15 minutes. Brush on the remainder of the glaze, rotate the skillet 180°’s and roast another 15 minutes.
  6. Check the temperature of your pork roast. If it hasn’t reached 145°F on an instant-read thermometer then roast in 5 minute increments until it reaches that temp. If it has reached that temp then remove the skillet from the oven and transfer the roasts to a cutting board. Allow them to rest for 10 minutes before cutting.

Notes:
I thought this paired very well with Za’atar Roasted Sweet Potatoes that I served that night. The savory glaze, with a hint of sweetness matched the earthy sweetness of the side dish really nicely.

Za’atar Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Za’atar is a spice blend used in Middle Eastern cooking consisting of sumac, thyme, white sesame seeds and salt. In this recipe it lends a slight lemony flavor to, and enhances the earthy scent of, some lovely sweet potatoes.

Sumac Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Servings: 4-6
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 30-35 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs. sweet potatoes
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tsp. za’atar
  • 1 tsp. ground sumac

Directions:

  1. Place oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat it to 425°F. Line a rimmed baking pan with parchment.
  2. Peel sweet potatoes and dice into 1″ cubes.
  3. Toss sweet potatoes with the olive oil and spices. Transfer to the prepared pan and spread into a single layer.
  4. Roast for 25-30 minutes, tossing the potatoes and redistributing into a single layer half way through cooking.

Brown Sugar Cookies

Browned butter and dark brown sugar combined equals something delightful. These cookies are pretty sweet yet I’m pretty sure you’ll find yourself reaching for a second one.

We came across the original recipe in Cook’s Illustrated. While we enjoy reading the magazine, and watching the TV programs by the same producers, I think they tend to overwrite their recipes. I’ve tried to simplify the instructions while giving you advance notice that some ingredients are used in different steps.

Brown Sugar Cookies
Servings: ~30 cookies
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 90 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 14 Tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 cups packed dark brown sugar, divided
  • 2 cups plus Tbsp. all-purpose flour (~300g)
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 1 egg and 1 egg yolk
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F with a rack in the middle of the oven. Line 2 rimmed baking pans with parchment.
  2. Place 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a the bowl of a stand mixer and set it aside. Heat the remaining butter in a stainless-steel skillet over medium heat until melted. Continue to cook until the butter is dark golden brown and you smell a nutty aroma. You’ll want to swirl the melted butter after it melts to ensure even browning. Add the browned butter to mixer bowl and allow to cool for 15 minutes.
  3. While the butter cools mix the granulated sugar with 1/4 cup of packed brown sugar in a shallow dish, such as a pie plate, until well combined. In a separate bowl whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, soda, powder and salt). Finally combine the egg, extra yolk and vanilla in a small bowl and beat until blended. All 3 bowls can be set aside.
  4. When the butter is cooled add the remaining dark brown sugar and beat until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the egg mixture. Beat again until combined and scrape once more. Finally add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. This is a dense dough so you might want to give your mixer a break if it sounds like it is straining.
  5. Use a disher to scoop out 12 balls of dough. Roll each between your hands and then toss with the reserved sugar. Place 12 coated dough balls on one of the baking sheets. Bake for 7 minutes, rotate the pan, and finish baking for 6 additional minutes.
  6. While the first pan of cookies bakes you can scoop up, form and coat the remaining dough. I usually usually end up with about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

Notes:
I use a #40 disher to get ~30 cookies. You can tell the disher size by the number stamped into the sweep inside the bowl of the disher. In theory the stamped number indicates the number of scoops necessary to fill a 32 oz. container. Dishers are widely used in food services to control portion size.

Saturday night – 01/21/2017

The menu for this week’s dinner changed pretty significantly between when I wrote my grocery list on Thursday night and when I started cooking. I originally planned to make a curry, improv some kind of tandoori flavored pork and rice. Then I realized I had some cooked farro slowly wasting away in the fridge and that our vegetarian friend would probably not be coming for dinner. So I shifted plans, still used most of the ingredients from my shopping trip and found a home for the farro.

Menu
Mustard-glazed Pork Loin
Buttered Farro
Za’atar Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Green Beans with Red Peppers

Chewy Brownies, Jubliee Roll

Notes under the cut

Bacon Bites

Every year I try to think of things I can make in advance that will simplify the days leading up to our annual after-the-holidays holiday party. This recipe certainly fits in that category. It can be made up to 6 weeks in advance and stashed in the freezer to unexpected guests or a planned gathering. Plus it includes one of the current “it” ingredients, bacon.

One added bonus of this recipe is that you can substitute to your hearts content and produce a new variant of bacon bites with whatever you have on hand. Replace the cream cheese with any spreadable medium, switch up the cheese, replace the peppers with salami, or black olives, or gummy bears. Well maybe not gummy bears. Make them your own.

Bacon Bites
Servings: 60 pieces
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup drained and diced Peppadew peppers
  • 3/4 cup sliced scallions, white and green
  • 20 slices soft white bread
  • 20 pieces uncooked bacon (avoid the temptation of thick-cut)

Directions:

  1. Mix together the cheeses until smooth. Stir in the peppers and scallions until evenly distributed; set aside.
  2. Trim the crusts from the slices of bread. Gently flatten the bread slices with a pastry roller or rolling pin.
  3. Once the bread is trimmed and flattened, spread the slices with the filling, covering it completely.
  4. Roll the bread up from the short side, pressing down just enough to make it stick to itself.
  5. Take a slice of bacon and wrap it around the roll diagonally, overlapping the bacon to cover the bread completely. If you need more than one bacon slice, tuck the end of the second bacon slice under the end of the first. Trim the bacon when you get to the end of the roll.
  6. Place completed roll on a parchment lined rimmed baking pan. When all rolls are completed freeze them for 30 minutes to firm them up.
  7. If making for consumption at this time then preheat the oven to 350°F and line a second rimmed baking pan with parchment. If making for later enjoyment, transfer to a large ziptop bag and return to the freezer.
  8. When ready to enjoy, slice the rolls in thirds and place on the baking sheet, cut side down. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the bacon is crisp and the tops are golden brown. If fully frozen bake an extra 5 minutes.
  9. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Notes:
There’s no need to thaw these if you are pulling them from the freezer after they are fully frozen. Just bake an extra 5 minutes or so and they should be good to go.

I usually bake these in 2 batches so that the folks who come later in the evening are able to enjoy the bacony goodness. You might want to bake them all off at once though to encourage your guests to arrive in a timely manner. 🙂

As best I can remember the original recipe I used came from King Arthur Flour’s website.