The Science Nerd

Kitchen Experiments

Homemade Pretzels

April 29, 2013

First attempt at making pretzels

I love pretzels!  I’m partial to salty snacks anyway, but there is just something about that flavor, it’s one of my favorites.  So, when Gayle told me that Friday was “National Pretzel Day” I knew we had to try to make pretzels.

I went Friday afternoon and purchased the ingredients we would need, which wasn’t difficult – the ingredients were things like flour, oil, salt, milk and yeast.

The first step was to add the yeast to some warm milk and let it sit.

Ready to make the dough

While the yeast was activating, I mixed the flour and salt.  Then I added water and oil to the yeast mixture and mixed it all together.

Needs more flour

The dough was very sticky, so I needed to add more flour, in fact, I added more than I thought I would need to, but it all worked out.  I placed a towel over the bowl and let it rise.

(Im)patiently waiting

 

After an hour, I kneaded the dough for a minute or so and then formed it into 8 balls.  Gayle came to check out the progress and decided that the balls were boring, so she made a circle and a pretzel shape.  We let the dough rise for another 15 minutes.  While waiting, I got the hot water bath together by mixing salt and baking soda in a pot of water and set it on the stove.

Pretzel ring in boiling salt water

When the water was boiling, I added the dough 2 or 3 balls at a time and let them boil for about a minute, then placed them on a greased cookie sheet.  Each pretzel was scored with a knife and sprinkled with coarse sea salt.

Adding salt to the pretzels before baking

After they had all been boiled, they were placed in the oven at 400 for 20 minutes.

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but they looked great – and tasted great too. Just like soft pretzels!

Fresh from the oven

The balls were a bit doughy because they were so thick, so next time we will probably roll them all out into shapes so there is more outside surface area.  The recipe I used made 8 large pretzels, and we only ate two of them.  We placed the rest in a Ziploc bag, but by the next day, they were soggy and not very good.

The next time we make them we will just make enough to eat right then and freeze the rest of the dough or make them when we are having people over to help eat them.

Here is the recipe:

Ingredients:

The Dough

3 3/4 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 tablespoons canola oil

1 teaspoon active dry yeast

1 1/4 cups milk, slightly warmed

1/2 cup water, slightly warmed

Coarse sea salt for sprinkling

The “Bath”

3 1/2 cups water

1/2 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons baking soda

In a small container, mix yeast with warmed milk and let rest for 10 minutes. Whisk 3 1/2 cups of flour and salt in a large bowl.

Add canola oil and warmed water to yeast mixture. Pour into bowl with flour and salt. Knead in the bowl until dough is mostly smooth. Only add more flour if your dough cannot be easily handled.  The dough will be somewhat stiff. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and put in a warm place to rise for one hour.

Punch down dough and knead in bowl for one minute. Cut dough into 8 pieces. (Cut more pieces if you would like smaller size rolls.) Shape the dough as desired. Place on a well-greased surface. Let the dough balls rise for 15 minutes.

While the dough balls are rising, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and get the pretzel “bath” ready. In a large pot, bring water, salt, and baking soda to a rolling boil. Plunge three dough balls into the water and let them “poach” for 1 minute total. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to a well-greased baking sheet. With a serrated knife, cut 2-3 lines across each roll and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until pretzels are a rich brown.

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Tonight was “try something new in the kitchen” night and I had a recipe I was eager to test out. It involved chicken, mushrooms and sherry so you know it had to be good. And without further ado…here it is.

Ingredients

2 skinless boneless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut in half lengthwise
Salt
Pepper
1/3 cup flour
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 small can mushrooms
1/2 cup sherry
1 can cream of mushroom soup

Directions

1.  Coat both sides of the chicken breasts with flour.

2.  Place oil in a skillet and heat over medium heat.  Brown chicken on both sides.  (The chicken doesn’t need to be fully cooked as it will finish cooking in the oven.)

3.  Transfer chicken to a casserole dish.

4.  Place butter in the same pan, add mushrooms and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Cook while stirring until mushrooms are heated through.  Add sherry and cook an additional 1-2 minutes.  Add cream of mushroom soup and cook until hot.

5.  Pour soup mixture over chicken and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

I served the chicken with mashed potatoes and green peas.   It tasted great.  Both Gayle and I decided it should be added in to the rotation.  And as a bonus, it was not difficult to make.  You could serve it with rice or noodles, there was  plenty of gravy to put over whatever your side is….it was very good over the potatoes.  Next time, I might saute some onions to add in the gravy.

We will definitely have this one again…..and I’ll try to remember to take a picture!

 

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Hearty Meal – Beef Stew

December 6, 2012

Sometimes you just want a hearty dinner.  And even though it was a warm December day,  (temp was in the 70′s, no kidding!) it just felt like the perfect day for beef stew or stroganoff.   So, knowing that we needed to eat fairly early so I could go to my knitting group and then on to choir practice, I began searching for a beef stew recipe that could be made in the crock pot.  (I love my crock pot!  It makes dinner, or even lunch, super easy!)  After searching around a little bit, I found something that sounded good and used stuff we already had in the house.  A trip to the grocery store for one little ingredient would have thrown off my whole day!

So, while I was fixing lunch (OK – heating up leftover pizza) I also worked on dinner.  I defrosted half a roast we had frozen.  We like to buy a pretty good sized roast when they are on sale and cut it into two or three pieces.  One gets cooked right away while the others get frozen (the other kitchen gadget that I really love is my Seal-A-Meal.  I am able to vacuum seal leftovers or meat or whatever and it lasts so much longer.)  Anyway, I defrosted a roast, cut it into bite sized pieces, covered it with flour and placed it in a skillet with a small amount of oil.   While the meat was browning, I cut up 4 small potatoes, 2 carrots (I’m the only one in our house that likes carrots, so I didn’t put many in there) and one large onion and put them all in the crock pot.  When the meat was browned on all sides I added it to the crock pot and then added one cup of beer.  Finally, I put a cup of water into the pan that browned the meat, scraped up all the browned pieces from the pan and added it all to the crock pot as well.  I set the crock pot on medium ( which says 8 hours, but the food is usually ready in half that time with this particular model) and let it get to work.  All in all this took about 15 minutes.

After lunch, I pulled out the bread machine, added everything to make a loaf of bread and let it get to work too.  It wasn’t long before the house was smelling wonderful!

And Voila! at 5:00, dinner was ready –  and it tasted great too!  The beef stew was not as soupy as I’m used to, but it hit the spot.  And fresh bread is rarely a bad addition to a meal.

We decided that this was definitely a keeper meal.  The only thing we might do next time is add some mushrooms.  I could also get everything ready days in advance, seal it and freeze it for a quick easy meal with no prep – just defrost, place in the crock pot and hit start.

Ingredients (serves 2):

  • 1-2 pounds beef roast, cut into bite sized pieces
  • flour
  • 4 small potatoes
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup beer
  • salt and pepper to taste

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 5 hours

 

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French Dip – Quick and Easy

November 2, 2012

I love French Dip sandwiches.  I frequently get them at restaurants, but don’t often make them at home.   Well, this week, when planning my menu I decided to make French Dips one day for lunch.  And today was that day!  And they were pretty good – along with being super quick and easy.

Photo by Gayle Tabor

I started by putting some french fries in the oven to bake.  While they were cooking, I sliced an onion, placed it in a fry pan over low heat with a small touch of oil.  I let them cook for about 15 minutes, stirring every once in a while. In a sauce pan I put some beef broth, a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce  and a few of the onion slices and let it simmer.

When the fries were almost ready, I toasted two sub rolls on a flat skillet   Then I heated up 4 slices of roast beef (2 for each sandwich) I heated them on one side for about 15 seconds, and when I flipped them over I covered them with slices of provolone cheese.  Once the cheese was good and melty, I transferred the roast beef and cheese to the sub rolls and covered with the cooked onions.  Put some fries on a plate and transferred the au jus to ramekins and that was it. Lunch was ready.

Ingredients (serves 2):

  • 2 Sub rolls
  • 4 slices roast beef
  • 3 slices provolone cheese
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1 can beef broth
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • side of choice (fries, chips, salad, etc.)

Prep Time (for sandwiches): 15 minutes

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One evening a few weeks ago, Gayle wanted something chocolate.  We didn’t have any of the usual options (Little Debbie Swiss Cakes, mostly), so I turned to Google.  I found a recipe that looked easy and quick, plus I knew we had all the ingredients we needed.  I headed to the kitchen, telling Gayle on the way that if this recipe was good we were in BIG trouble.  It is something that we could make every evening without much fuss.

Well, the recipe was good and it is big trouble!  For the amount of time it takes, it is ridiculously delicious and probably chock full of calories.  Fortunately, it only makes single servings, so we have to make a choice every evening to make them or not.

And without further ado – here is the recipe as we make it.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 tbsp cocoa powder (we use dark chocolate cocoa powder, a friend made the recipe with regular coca posder and said it wasn’t as good as ours with the dark chocolate)
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/8 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tbsp chocolate chips (optional)

Directions:

Put all ingredients into a mug, small bowl or ramekin.  Mix well.  Microwave for 70 seconds.  (This is the time we use, as microwaves vary greatly, you might need to play with the time to get it right.)  This makes a good serving for us, but you can double it if you’d like.

AND THAT”S IT!!

See, super easy.  And it is soooooo good.  Try it tonight.  I can almost guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.

 

 

 

 

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I have been extremely remiss in posting the second phase of our homemade Chinese Take Out meal.  However, I am finally sitting down to complete the adventure.

If you recall, it all began with egg rolls and egg drop soup.  The soup was good, the egg rolls weren’t.  We decided that next time we would just purchase egg rolls from the Chinese take out place.  Or, if I’m feeling ambitious, I might try to make them from scratch.

Part 2 of dinner was fried rice and General Tso’s Chicken.  The fried rice was fairly easy.  I cooked some rice and set it off to the side.  In my wok, I lightly scrambled 2 eggs and moved them off to a plate.  Then I added 2T of oil to the wok and stirred in my rice.  I let it cook for a few minutes, then added 1T of soy sauce, the egg and some chopped green onions and stirred it all together.  You could add almost anything you wanted to this recipe….meat, veggies – it’s up to your taste.

The General Tso’s Chicken was a bit more complicated.  Here is the recipe:

1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
2 cups green onions, sliced
4 small dried chilies, seeds removed (You can vary this according to how hot you want your sauce to be)

Cornstarch slurry
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 egg, beaten
1 cup cornstarch

Sauce
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup white wine
1 can chicken broth (a can)

Directions:

1  Place 3 T oil in wok and heat to 350 degrees.

2.  Mix cornstarch slurry in a large bowl- the mixture will be strange but trust me it works. It will be VERY thick almost paste like. Add chicken pieces to coat. Using a fork remove ONE chicken piece at a time and let the excess mixture drip off. YES even though the mixture has a weird consistency it will not stick like paste and the excess will drip off. Add chicken to  hot  oil and fry until crispy.

3.  Drain on paper towels. Keep warm- I just put them in the oven with the oven off. Repeating until all chicken is fried.

4.  Add a small amount of oil to the wok and heat to 400 degrees.

5.  Add green onions and hot peppers and stir fry about 30 seconds.

6.  Stir sauce mixture, and then add to pan with onions and peppers, cook until thick. If it gets too thick, add a little water.

7.  Add chicken to sauce in wok, and cook until all is hot and bubbly. The quicker this is done the crispier the chicken stays.

 

The chicken was great – not too spicy, but it did have some kick.  We will definitely have it again.  The rice was good (how do you mess up fried rice?) but it could have been cooked a bit longer – crunchy rice is not my fav.

If you love Chinese take out, but are trying to eat at home, this was a great alternative.  I would highly recommend trying it yourself.

 

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For dinner tonight, I thought I would try and recreate one of our take out favorites.  We don’t order Chinese often, but when we do, Gayle enjoys the General Tso’s Chicken.  And that was on order for tonight.  In fact, we did the whole enchilada (sorry to mix cuisines on you).

We started with egg drop soup and egg rolls.  I made the egg drop soup from scratch, but the egg rolls were frozen, purchased at the grocery store.  The soup was very easy to make.  Here is the recipe -

Ingredients:
  • 4 cups chicken broth or stock
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 -2 green onions, minced
Preparation:
In a wok or saucepan, bring the 4 cups of chicken broth to a boil.
Very slowly pour in the eggs in a steady stream. To make shreds, stir the egg rapidly in a clockwise direction for one minute. To make thin streams or ribbons, gently stir the eggs in a clockwise direction until they form.
Garnish with green onion and serve.
 

Not sure why the soup had to be stirred in a clockwise direction, but I did it.  I don’t know if I stirred too slow, poured the egg too fast or what, but my egg did not look like what you get from take out.  It was more lumpy…kind of like scrambled eggs in broth.  And the broth was cloudy.  It tasted great though.  Next time I’ll try something different with the eggs….probably pour slower.

The egg rolls were not good at all.  We decided that next time we would just get our egg rolls from the take out place and forget the frozen ones.

I don’t want to go crazy with the recipes, so I will save the second course for a later blog post.

Happy eating!

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Crock Pot Steak Fajitas

March 20, 2012

In our quest to add diversity to our dinner repertoire, I have turned to Pinterest.  (You can check out my Food page here).  If you haven’t checked out Pinterest yet, I would highly recommend it.  Just don’t start if you have somewhere to be.  Tonight’s dinner was found while goofing off planning this week’s dinners.

Here is the recipe

Ingredients

1 pound thin steak, cut into strips

This isn't my picture, I forgot to take one.

1 green pepper, cut into strips

1 medium onion, cut into strips

1/2 cup beer (or water)

1 tsp. chili powder

salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Place all ingredients into crock pot, cook on high for 4-6 hours.  Serve in corn or flour tortillas with cheese, salsa and sour cream (or whatever you like with your fajitas).

I also heated up some refried beans as a side dish.

These were incredibly tasty, the only complaint we had was that they were too watery.  Next time I will take the steak, green peppers and onions out of the crock pot and drain them before serving.  Other than that, they were excellent.

This is also one of those crock pot meals that can be made ahead of time and put in the freezer.  Just put all the ingredients (except the beer) into a Seal-A-Meal bag or freezer bag and place in the freezer.  Then, when you need a quick easy meal, it can go straight from freezer to crock pot along with the beer and a few hours later, dinner is served!  It couldn’t be any easier.

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Oven Baked Chicken

February 28, 2012

Last night’s meal was not anything fancy, but it sure was tasty.  Oven roasted chicken, parmesan mashed potatoes and green beans.  Here is the recipe – perfect for those evenings when you don’t feel like cooking, but are too hungry for cereal.

 

Directions

  • Preheat the oven to 425.
  • Take one large chicken breast and cut in in half (which makes the perfect portion size for us).
  • Then I covered both sides of chicken with rotisserie seasoning.
  • While working on this, heat 1 Tbs oil in a oven proof skillet on medium-high heat.
  • Place the chicken in the skillet, allow one side to brown (2- 3 minutes), then flip.
  • Brown the other side and then place skillet (and chicken) in the oven.
  • Cook for 30-40 minutes, or until meat thermometer reaches 170 degrees.

While chicken is cooking, work on the side dishes

  • Peel and cube potatoes.
  • Boil on the stove until soft.
  • Drain, add milk, cream cheese and 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese.
  • Mash with a potato masher until desired consistency.

And I just heated up some canned green beans (french cut) to keep it simple, you certainly could pair this with any vegetable or salad that fit your tastes.

So, the whole meal took about 40 minutes to prepare and cook, but it certainly wasn’t an intense time of prep work.

 

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Chicken & Dumplings Redux

February 18, 2012

A few weeks ago I made chicken & dumplings in the crock pot and while they were very good, they weren’t great.  So, Thursday was another cold rainy day and we decided to have them again with a few changes.  Check out the original post here.

I made sure to buy some Cream of Chicken soup and used that instead of the Cream of Celery.  I also omitted the onions.  The plan was to dice them much smaller because in the first batch they were just too big, but I was lazy and just decided to leave them out altogether.  They were not missed.

The Cream of Chicken soup gave a much better taste to the dish and as I said above, neither of us missed the onions.  I might leave them out in the future as well.

Of course, when making this dish, you could add anything you wanted – peas, carrots, mushrooms, celery, corn, onions….whatever makes you happy, and I’m sure it would still be good.

 

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