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.

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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.

Cream Cheese Frosting

Certain cakes go best with certain icings. A carrot cake with out cream cheese frosting is just isn’t the same. I also use this for red velvet cake.

Cream Cheese Frosting
Servings: enough to frost a 13″x9″ cake (or probably 2 8″ rounds)
Prep time: 2 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz. room temperature cream cheese
  • 12 oz. room temperature unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp. vanilla
  • 24 oz. powdered sugar
  • 2-3 Tbsp. milk or heavy cream

Directions:

  1. Combine the cream cheese and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Beat on low for about 30 seconds to break out both and move to high for 2 minutes to cream both ingredients together.
  2. Reduce the speed to low once again and add the vanilla. Beat on medium for 30 seconds to incorporate.
  3. Once more reduce the speed to low and add about a third of the sugar and a tablespoon of milk. Beat until combined and repeat with the second third of sugar and another tablespoon of milk.
  4. Add the remaining sugar and once combined with the frosting increase the mixer speed to high. Beat for 1 minute to incorporate air and increase the volume of the frosting.

Notes:
It’s important for the cream cheese and butter to sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes before making this frosting.

12 oz. of cream cheese is 1 1/2 packages and 12 oz. of butter is 1 1/2 sticks at my mega-mart.

Chicken and Pork Stew

I came across the basis for this recipe a couple of years ago on the King Arthur Flour blog flourish. I made it as they suggested and found it a bit bland. A bit of cayenne pepper helped however I thought I could do more with it.

On this retry I used the remainder from a pack of bacon plus an odd bit of kielbasa we had sitting in the fridge to boost the meatiness. The celery went in to add a bit of bulk.

[Chicken and Port Stew]

Chicken and Port Stew on toasted potato bread


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Pumpkin Cheesecake

Our sister-in-law asks for this every Thanksgiving and it is delicious. The original recipe came from an early 2000’s issue of Cook’s Illustrated. While the active in the kitchen time is probably 45 minutes be sure to set aside at least 6 hours before you want go somewhere (like to bed). You’ll need that much between baking and cooling time.

[Pumpkin Cheesecake]

Pumpkin Cheesecake
Servings: 12
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 2 hours active, 6 hours before you can put it in the fridge (24 hours after overnight refrigeration).

Ingredients:

  • 1.5 cups granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger, divided
  • 3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves, divided
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice
  • 9 whole graham crackers, broken into large pieces
  • 6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp. table salt
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pumpkin
  • 3 8 oz. bricks cream cheese (1.5 lbs. total), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1 cup heavy cream

Directions:

  1. In a small bowl combine 3 tablespoons sugar, 1/2 teaspoon each of ginger and cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon clove. Set aside.
  2. Put a kettle or large pot of water on to boil. You’ll use it for the water-bath later in the recipe.
  3. Line a baking sheet or cutting board with a triple layer of paper towels. Spread the canned pumpkin over the paper towels. Top with another triple layer of paper towles and press until towels are saturated with liquid. Remove the top layer of towel and discard. Fold the bottom layer of towels in thirds, like in a letter, so that the pumpkin is left in the center of the towel. Set aside.
  4. Adjust the oven racks so that one is in the center of the oven and a second rack is located below that. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9″ springform pan with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
  5. Combine the cracker pieces and sugar/spice mixture in the bowl of a food processor. Processor for about 30 seconds in multi-second pulses. You should end up with a fairly fine powder. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with melted butter. Mix thoroughly with a rubber spatula.
  6. Dump crumb mixture into the springfold pan and spread evenly. Using a ramenkin or measuring cup press the crumbs into the bottom of the pan. Place a sheet pan on the lower rack and bake the crust on the middle rack for ~15 minutes, until fragrant. Cool on a baking rack while making the filling.
  7. Beat the cream cheese in the bowl of stand mixer at a medium speed for about 90 seconds. Combine the remaining sugar, ginger, cinnamon, clove along with the nutmeg and allspice. Add about half the sugar mixture to the mixer, stop and scrap the bowl, add the remaining sugar mixture, beat for 1 minute.
  8. Add the dried pumpkin and vanilla; beat for 1 minute. Stop and scrap the bowl.
  9. Add 2 eggs, beat for 1 minute. Stop and scrap the bowl.
  10. Add remaining eggs; beat for 1 minute. Stop and scrap the bowl.
  11. Add the heavy cream; beat on low for about 30 seconds. Stop mixer, scrap bowl thoroughly and give a final stir by hand.
  12. Wrap the bottom and sides of the springform pan with aluminum foil. Place the springform pan a roasting pan and fill the springform pan with the cheesecake mixture. Shake the springform pan gently to settle the mixture and smooth the top.
  13. Transfer the roasting pan to the oven. Carefully pour the hot water you boiled earlier around the springform pan so that it comes about halfway up the side of the springform pan.
  14. Bake for 85 minutes and check the temp. of the center of cheesecake. Once the temp. reaches 145 to 150°F remove it from the oven to a cooling rack. If not at temp. then bake another 5 minutes and check again.
  15. Immediately after removing from the oven run a small knife around the inside of the springform pan to loosen the cake from the side of pan.
  16. Rest cake in roasting pan until the water has cooled substantially, about 45 minutes. Remove the springform pan from the roasting pan, discard the aluminum foil and set the cake on a cooling rack. Cool for at least 3 more hours before wrapping in plastic wrap and refrigerating overnight.
  17. Before removing the side of the springform pan run a knife along the inside edge once more. Remove the side and slide a thin metal spatula, such as a frosting knife, between the crust and the pan bottom. Transfer cheesecake to a serving plate. Serve with whipped cream, if desired.

Notes:
Make sure to remove the cream cheese and eggs from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before you start making the recipe.

All springform pans, even the best, will allow a small amount of fat to escape while baking the crust. The baking sheet should catch any drips and save you from a smoky oven (and shrieking fire alarm). Likewise the double layer of aluminum foil should keep the water bath from reaching your tasty creation.

You can enjoy the cheesecake after a 4 hour rest in the fridge however it will taste better if you allow it to rest overnight. Trust me.