Sunday, March 29, 2015

Dining In-A Culinary Tour of America: St. Louis, Missouri

The City: St. Louis, Missouri
This stop marks two milestones for me: The first is that we are officially 1/5 of the way through the states of this country. That's pretty exciting to me! The second is that we are in a city that was featured in the most famous road trip movie in American history-National Lampoon's Vacation. The first, the original, and the best. You might recall Clark Griswold pointing out the world-famous St. Louis Arch to his family as they drove over the "Mighty Mississip" and then claim that they had no time to actually go to it. Then they got lost in the city in a hilarious, if racist sequence featuring the dangers of inner cities...If you have not seen this movie, do yourself a favor and watch it.

St. Louis was founded in 1763, and was a slave state. It has a long and complicated history, much too long to get into here, but I will focus on a few points of interest.

Prior to the European invasion, the region all along the Mississippi River was home to the Osage and numerous other tribes. They lived there for at least 700 years, during which time they created mounds of earth for various reasons. These reasons included ceremonial rites, burial mounds, and commemorative purposes. The majority of these mounds, sadly, were razed when Europeans began to settle the area and needed the space for their own needs. Several mounds still exist, however, and you are able to see them if you travel to the area.

A couple of interesting factoids about the city: It is the home to the country's first gas station, and not surprisingly, also the location of the very first car accident.

The current population, as of the 2010 census, is 319,294 people. 49.2% are African American, and 43.9% are white. This isn't the first time I have visited a city where white people are the minority, however this is the first large city I have visited where this was the case.

There is too much history to get into here, but there is one moment I would like to highlight. As a history major who focused on food and its role in history, the 1904 World's Fair marks an important time in American food history. It introduced a number of foods now considered to be standard American fare, to the nation. These foods include: hot dogs, hamburgers, ice cream cones, banana splits, iced tea, Dr Pepper, cotton candy and peanut butter*. Most of these foods existed in some form in other countries or areas of the United States already, but the World's Fair popularized them across the country. Imagine our nation now if the hamburger had never been introduced. No Burger King, no McDonald's...Some of you would love that idea, I know, but it has shaped our nation's history, whether or not you like the food. Roadside restaurants began popping up around the same time as highways were being built and people began to take long car rides on vacation or to get away for a few hours. The foods at those restaurants all had their beginning at the 1904 World's Fair.

The World's Fair is also the subject of one of my favorite musicals of all-time: Meet Me in St. Louis, starring Judy Garland.

This movie introduced one of the most famous Christmas songs ever, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Again, if you have never seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it. It's such a sweet movie.

The Food: Gerber Sandwich and Toasted Ravioli

You're probably asking why I chose these foods over the foods I've just waxed poetic about from the World's Fair. Well, the answer is simple, I've never had a Gerber Sandwich or toasted ravioli before, but I've had all the foods from the fair. I am trying to feature items that are new to me, or at least items I have never made for myself before. These are currently very popular foods that define St. Louis culture today, and for good reason--they're super delish.

I have links I will post for both recipes but as they are both so simple I will write out what I did for them here as well.

Toasted Ravioli:
-Your favorite brand of frozen ravioli, thawed(I used Rising Moon Organics brand and selected their vegan spinach and soy cheese flavor. I have eaten this brand before and highly recommend it to any vegan/vegetarians or lactose intolerant people who miss being able to eat ravioli. Be sure to look at the package carefully though, as they also have non-vegan ravioli as well.)
-Italian seasoned breadcrumbs(I used Trader Joe's brand since they have no corn syrup in theirs, and added my own Italian seasoning, as well as salt and pepper to flavor it)
-1 egg
-oil for frying
-Spaghetti sauce of choice(I used my sister's that was sitting in the fridge. Nobody tell her...)
-Parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top

Combine the milk and the egg in a small bowl, whisking until well mixed. Pour the breadcrumbs onto a plate. Dip the ravioli one by one into the milk and then place in the breadcrumbs and carefully cover both sides with the breadcrumbs. Place onto another plate and let sit for 15 minutes or so to let the breadcrumbs adhere to the pasta really well.

Using a saute pan, heat oil over medium-high heat and carefully place the ravioli in the pan. Pan-fry both sides until nicely toasted brown. Do not worry about the pasta not being cooked in water first. The heat from the frying will cook it through as well as heat the filling. When they are done, remove from the pan and drain on a paper towel for a minute. Serve them on a plate with the sauce on the side and a sprinkling of cheese on top.

This was really amazing. So simple really, but unlike any other ravioli I've ever had before. These could be used as an appetizer if you wanted, but it could also be a meal.

Gerber Sandwich:
Made famous by Ruma's Deli in the city, this open-faced sandwich feels almost like eating a French bread pizza, minus the tomato sauce. It is traditionally made with something called "provel" cheese, but I don't have access to that here, so I made an approximate substitute that was recommended, of one part white cheddar, one part Swiss, and two parts provolone. I diced all of these up and mixed it together and sprinkled it on top. Here is how I made it:
-1 small loaf of French bread(my store sells individually-sized French breads so I just used one of these) split down the middle and laid out flat
-garlic powder
-deli ham slices
-cheese, as described above

Spread both halves of the bread with butter and sprinkle with garlic powder.(None of the recipes I found specified what kind of garlic, so I went with garlic powder. I was concerned that fresh garlic might not cook through fast enough and I don't like raw garlic, though I found I didn't really taste the flavor of the powdered kind. Granulated might have worked better, though fresh probably would have cooked through so I might try that next time.)

Layer the ham slices on top of it and then top with the cheese. Place them on a sheet pan(I actually did everything on the sheet pan to start with and found it was easier that way) and cook in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes until the cheese it melted and starting to brown on top.

This was pretty tasty, though like I said, the garlic didn't really come through. It was also really hot and the roof of my mouth is still burned the next day. I would recommend letting this sit for a while before eating it. The flavor of the cheese combination was pretty tasty, though the cheddar was drowned out by the provolone and Swiss.

Both of these recipes were really easy to make. There was nothing out of the ordinary about the actual ingredients, it's all pretty simple stuff. But putting it together in that way was so unique to me that it really stood out as a special treat. I highly recommend both of these, but if I had to choose one over the other, it would be the ravioli. They were just fantastic!


City Pic

Movie Clip

Worlds Fair Food info*List of food is a direct quote taken from here

More World's Fair info

City History

Toasted Ravioli recipe

Gerber Sandwich recipe

Provel Cheese info

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Cincinnati, Ohio

The City: Cincinnati, Ohio
This is the first big city I've explored so far on this journey and I am really happy I chose it. When I thought of this project, this was one of the first destinations I came up with and I knew exactly what I wanted to try here. I was not disappointed.

Cincinnati is Ohio's third largest city and was founded in 1788. It has approximately 332,252 people living there and as of the 2007 census, 23.5% of them live below the poverty line. It is the 10th poorest city in the nation.

The city's geographical location made it an important place during the Civil War. The city is located along the Ohio River, which shares a border with the state of Kentucky. Kentucky was a slave state, and Ohio was a non-slave state, however, a lot of people in Ohio did business with slave-owning businesses in the bordering states, so the citizens of the city supported both sides of the war. The Union Army, however used Cincinnati as a major supply base.

Cincinnati is also the location of some rather interesting firsts for American history. The first major league baseball game was played there in 1935, and it also is home to the first concrete-reinforced skyscraper that was built in 1902.

The Food:
Cincinnati/Skyline Chili
Cincinnati is known as the "Chili Capital of America"-sorry Texas. I have seen Cincinnati's chili highlighted many times on the Food Network which is where I saw it first and decided I wanted to try making it sometime. When I had to pick a place in Ohio to feature, there was no doubt in my mind that it would be Cincinnati, and I knew the food would be the chili. If you have ever heard of the term "Cincinnati Threeway," this is what they're referring to. Each "way" refers to another addition to the toppings. The chili is a meat-based sauce without beans. One of the "ways" you can have it, is with beans added. I kept mine very traditional as far as toppings go, but I did revamp the chili itself to fit my own dietary needs. I based it on one recipe I found online and tweaked it based on some of the comments that explained how the original version was. I will provide the link to the original recipe, but I will write out what I did for mine for you to read here.

Cincinnati/Skyline Chili:

1/2 large onion, chopped
1 pound ground chicken
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon red (cayenne) pepper-this can be doubled if you like more heat.
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
Toppings (see below)

In a frying pan, cook the onion, garlic, and chicken in a little bit of oil. I used canola, but vegetable or olive oil would work well too.

Mix the tomato sauce, water, and all the spices in a crock pot, and when the chicken and onion mixture is cooked, pour it into the crock pot as well. Cook on low for 3-4 hours. You can do this on the stove as well if you want, but the crock pot is the greener option for something that needs to simmer for a long time. It uses far less energy to use a crock pot than the stove top. If you do use a pot on the stove, simmer for 1.5 hours.

The toppings are traditionally as follows:
Two-Way Chili:   Chili served on spaghetti
Three-Way Chili:   Additionally topped with shredded Cheddar cheese
Four-Way Chili:   Additionally topped with chopped onions
Five-Way Chili:   Additionally topped with kidney beans

I did mine as the three-way. I cooked pasta, I used fettuccine because I had a box I wanted to use up, but I think any pasta would work. Elbow macaroni in particular would work really well. As with one of the comments in the link I used, it emphasized the importance of using oyster crackers over the pasta too, which I did as well. They got pretty soggy pretty quickly, but I think the next time I'll put them over the very top so they'll be crunchy for longer. I also used shredded cheddar cheese, which to me was a vital flavor component.


This was so good! I was concerned about the allspice and the cinnamon but it really was a great addition to the spice blend. I think it'll improve over time too, so I am really excited about the leftovers tomorrow night. I'm sorry that nobody else will get to taste-test this, but I will be keeping all the leftovers for myself! It was that good.

I would definitely make this again and I will probably double the recipe and freeze portions because I don't see why it wouldn't freeze and thaw out easily. This was a great alternative to spaghetti sauce and I cannot recommend it highly enough. It was super easy to make. Almost embarrassingly easy.


City Pic

Census Info

Cincinnati Chili recipe

All historical info came from Wikipedia

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Dining In-A Culinary Tour of America: Celebration, Florida

Location: Celebration, Florida

This city is a relatively young city, and has an interesting background. It was developed in the mid 1990's by Disney's real estate division. The city's architecture has a distinct Disney touch to it. To a Disney fan, this city might be heaven on earth, but if you're not a Disney fan, it might be a bit much for you...It's proximity to Disney World is also beneficial to Disney fans. I am a Disney fan and if I could handle the heat and humidity, I would seriously consider living here one day. It would be like living in Downtown Disney and who wouldn't want that! The company continues to do much of their office-related work for the park in Celebration.

As of the 2010 census, there are 7,427 people living in Celebration. 91% are white, and the majority of the rest of the people are Hispanic/Latino. 4.1% of the city's population lives below the poverty line.

You might be asking, why did you choose Celebration? Well, for one good reason: It is the host of the annual "Great American Pie Festival" and 3/14/15 is Pi Day. One must always make pie on Pi Day, so what better place to visit? The festival is held in April, so we're a little early for it, but I think it still works.

The Food: Asparagus Quiche and Bumbleberry Pie

My first thought for dinner-related pie was the obvious: Chicken pot pie. However, I have done something quite similar to that already when I featured Vermont and I don't want to repeat myself if at all possible. So I wracked my brain a bit more and thought of quiche, another savory pie. I was able to find a recipe card that I had never tried and was quite excited about that. I also wanted to make a dessert pie and ran across another card for bumbleberry pie and thought it would be a fun one to experiment with. The quiche I followed the recipe exactly, but the bumbleberry pie I altered so much that I will just write out what I did, as opposed to writing out the original recipe with my notes. It'll be easier to read that way.

Asparagus Quiche: Courtesy of the Taste of Home Magazine, a recipe I cut out forever ago, but have never tried till now.

1lb. fresh asparagus, trimmed
1 unbaked pastry shell, 9"
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups milk
4 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese(I used reduced fat and it worked just fine)
1/4 cups dry bread crumbs(I recommend Trader Joe's brand or make your own. All the other brands from the store have corn syrup in the ingredient list and that's not what I want in my bread crumbs...But to each his/her own...)

Cut 8 asparagus spears into 4" pieces; cut remaining spears into 1/2" pieces. Cook all of the asparagus in a small amount of water until tender(I did it until it was al dente. It will continue to cook in the oven so you don't want to overcook it at this point.); drain and set aside. Line the unpricked pastry shell with a double thickness of heavy-duty foil. Bake at 450 degrees for 5 minutes. Remove foil; bake 5 minutes longer.(This is known as blind-baking, where you prebake the shell for a while without the filling in it. If you ever come across this term in a pastry recipe and don't know what it means, now you know!) Remove from the oven and set aside.

In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter, stir in flour and salt. Gradually add milk; cook and stir until thickened.(This is called a bechamel sauce and is usually the base for macaroni and cheese, if you have ever made that from scratch before.) Stir a small amount into eggs(this is called "tempering" and it's vital to do this properly or you will scramble the eggs. Do not skip this step and make sure to whisk the eggs constantly while adding the hot bechamel sauce.); return all to the pan. Stir in cheese and 1/2" asparagus pieces. Pour into the crust.(I found it was just a bit too much for the crust and about 1/4 cup of the liquid spilled out. I allowed it to spill and just cleaned it up because I didn't want it to spill even more in the oven and burn. This turned out to be a good way to do it because it turned out just fine.)

Bake at 400 degrees for 35 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean. Arrange the 4" spears in a spoke pattern at the top.(As you can see from the pictures, I actually did that prior to baking and I think that worked out just fine.)
Yield: 6-8 servings

This was good hot out of the oven and I ate a piece cold for breakfast today and it was good too. I think though that room temperature would probably be ideal. This is obviously good for breakfast or brunch. Because the filling made so much that it spilled, I would not recommend adding anything else to this unless you wanted to leave out or reduce the amount of asparagus. This had no meat in it and I felt like it was just fine without it.)

Bumbleberry Pie: Source unknown, but heavily altered by me, so I will present my recipe.
1 unbaked frozen pie crust, thawed
1 cup each fresh/frozen blueberries(I used fresh), raspberries(I used frozen), blackberries(I used frozen), and sliced strawberries(I used fresh)(If you use frozen, let them sit in your bowl for a bit to begin to thaw)
1 cup fresh/frozen chopped rhubarb(I used fresh)
2 honeycrisp apples, peeled and cored, divided(One apple, dice for the pie. One apple, grate on the small holes of a box grater and make sure to collect any juice that comes out of it. Drain the majority of the juice from the shredded apple and keep these in separate containers.)
1/3 cup flour
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

Oat Crisp Topping:
1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup sliced almonds, crushed(I just had this on hand. You can leave it out or use walnuts or any type of nut you want.)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 Tbsp. butter
3-4 Tbsp. apple juice from the honey crisp apple you grated

In a large bowl, combine all of the berries, the rhubarb, the diced apple, and the lemon juice and mix together. Add the shredded apple and mix well to break up the clumps of shreds. This is replacing the sugar you would normally add to a pie.

In a small bowl, combine all of the oat crisp topping ingredients and use your hands to mix the butter in. When it's well incorporated, sprinkle in the 3-4 Tbsp reserved apple juice from the shredded apple and mix in to sweeten the topping. There will be juice left over from this, so mix it into the berry mixture for the pie.

Sprinkle the flour over the berry mixture and mix well until completely incorporated. Pour the berry mixture into the pie shell. You do not need to pre-bake or poke holes in the shell. When it's filled, place the pie onto a baking sheet. You don't want to bake it without one or you'll spill everywhere and the oven will become a smoky mess. Carefully spread the oat topping over the pie filling and try to make sure it's evenly divided over the top.

Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes or until the filling is bubbly and the crust is cooked through.

I ate this while it was warm last night and it was good. The flour felt a little gummy and I was concerned that it might have been too much. I ate another piece cold this morning and it was just fine. This is definitely better chilled overnight. The diced apple is still basically raw, however. This was the only issue with the pie. If I do it again, I might saute the apple in a pan to partially cook it before adding it to the berry mixture. The flavor is amazing and you absolutely do not need added sugar to make this taste good. I really feel that I am onto something with this fruit-juice flavored desserts. I might need to develop a cookbook or something...! I would definitely enter this one in the Great American Pie Festival.

This was really easy to make. It was just chopping for the prep. You could make this gluten-free if you wanted too. All you'd need to do is prepare the fruit filling and leave out the flour. You could probably sprinkle a little cornstarch or tapioca in it and mix it together to help thicken it as it bakes. Put it in a pie tin or a baking pan and top it with the oat-crisp topping and you'd have a lovely fruit crisp that's added-sugar and gluten-free! And if you used vegan margarine instead of the butter for the topping, it would also be vegan!

My pies turned out really great last night and some day I will work on my pastry and not rely on frozen pie shells. But last night was not that day...! These were pretty simple baking projects. They'd be good for beginners who feel like they don't know what they're doing. So, if that might be you, then maybe you can try these out next year for Pi day! Happy baking!

City Picture


City Information with Pictures of the Town

Other City Information

Great American Pie Festival website

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Lititz, Pennsylvania

The City: Lititz, Pennsylvania

Lititz was founded in 1756 by the Moravian church, but the area had been home to the Susquehannock tribe, prior to the European invasion. The town, actually a borough, is located about eight miles north of Lancaster County, famously known for their Amish population. The town of Lititz was named after a castle in Bohemia, and for the first century of its existence, only Moravians were allowed to live there. After that, others were allowed to live there, however, you had to be a Moravian in order to own a home. That lasted until just prior to the Civil War. In 2013, the town was named "America's Coolest Small Town" in an online survey conducted by Budget Travel.

According to the 2000 census, there are approximately 9029 people who live in Lititz. It is made up of about 97.23% white people, and 4.1% of the total population live below the poverty line.

Why did I choose Lititz? Well, one very good reason: It is the home of the oldest pretzel company in the United States. The Julius Sturgis Pretzel Company was founded in 1861. When you think of foods from Pennsylvania, or at least when I think of foods from Pennsylvania, I think of two things: Philly Cheesesteaks, and Pretzels. Since I don't eat beef and am lactose intolerant, the cheesesteaks don't really appeal to me. But I love pretzels...And I've never made them from scratch before, so I thought that would be a fun challenge, and it proved to be so.

The Food: Soft Pretzels and Potato-Cheddar Soup

The month of March doesn't have as many built-in holidays like February, so there will be more random foods and places to visit that don't necessarily tie in with anything. This is one of them. It is possible that my mind went to Pennsylvania due to a recent twitter discussion with Kam Chancellor of the Seattle Seahawks who was at the time, in a layover in Philadelphia. Long story short, I might have gotten the idea of Philly Cheesesteaks on my mind and from there, the leap to pretzels. I have never made soft pretzels before and found the idea intimidating, so I'd never attempted it. I mean, how do you do the twisting? And I know there's some sort of water bath involved. And how do they get so brown on the outside? It all seemed really complex to me, so I stayed away from them. I really should have tried these sooner, because they were fantastic. The recipe I used is from the Sunset series of cookbooks, the one entitled, "Breads". It was originally published in 1963, but the version I have is from the 1989 printing. I will type it out, along with my own notes, but I claim no ownership of the recipe. Since they include notes in brackets, I will distinguish mine by bolding them.

German Soft Pretzels
1 pkg. active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
2 1/2-3 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. salad oil(I used canola)
1 Tbsp. sugar
6 Tbsp baking soda in 6 cups water
Coarse salt(I used Kosher)

In a bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Add 1 1/2 cups of the flour, the oil, and sugar. Beat for about 3 minutes to make a smooth batter.(I did this by hand and found it didn't really take 3 minutes. Just use a fork at this point and you'll be fine.) Gradually stir in enough remaining flour (about 1 cup; I added 1/2 cup at a time and didn't really pay attention to how much. I just stopped when it was no longer terribly sticky) to form a soft dough. Turn out onto a floured board and knead until smooth and satiny (about 5 minutes), adding flour as needed to prevent sticking. Place dough in a greased bowl; turn over to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled (about 1 hour.)(The best place I have found to let dough rise, is the back burner of my stove. One of the burners has a pipe from the oven that opens onto the stove and the heat comes out of it. If you turn the oven to "warm" it will have just enough heat to make the dough rise perfectly.)

Punch dough down, turn out onto floured surface, and divide into 12 pieces. Shape each into a smooth ball by gently kneading.(I actually didn't do this part and found it worked just as well. It'll save you a few minutes.) Then roll each into a smooth rope about 18 inches long, and twist into a pretzel shape.(I thought this would be very difficult, but it really was pretty simple. The book includes a picture on the other page, of a person twisting a pretzel, that I can't include here, but if you can't recall what that looks like, pull up a youtube video, or google an image, and you'll be able to figure it out pretty easily.) Place slightly apart on a greased baking sheet(at least 12 by 15 inches), turning loose ends underneath. Let rise, uncovered, until puffy (about 25 minutes).(I put the plastic wrap from the first rise over them and the dough did stick a bit, so it probably is best to leave it off, or grease the plastic wrap first.)

Meanwhile, in a 3-quart stainless steel or enameled pan (don't use aluminum) (I used my Revereware pan as it is all I had. I don't know what metal it is. I don't know what will happen if you use aluminum, but I found they turned out just fine in my pan.) bring soda-water mixture to boiling; adjust heat to keep water boiling gently. With a slotted spatula, lower one pretzel at a time into pan. Let simmer for 10 seconds on each side, then lift from water, drain briefly on spatula, and return to baking sheet. Let dry briefly, then sprinkle with coarse salt and let stand, uncovered, until all have been simmered.(I tried using a metal fish spatula but this didn't work as well as I'd expected. I ended up using a traditional pancake turner after that and it worked better. The pretzels are difficult to work with, though. The dough is very tender and the water only par-boils it briefly. When you lift it up, you are lifting up a heavy, soggy dough blob that looks sort of like a train-wreck. You will be thinking that you've made a terrible mistake somewhere along the way, but all you did was follow the instructions. This is ok, just be gentle and accept that some of the pretzels will tear at certain points in the process. It will be ok, trust me. But this step, after they've boiled, you will probably feel slightly disappointed that the beautifully-shaped pretzels you worked really hard to make look perfect, now look like bloated, blobby hot messes.)

Bake in a preheated 425 degree oven for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. (I did mine all in one time, so I rotated the pans halfway through the baking time. If you do this, you will notice that the oven is very steamy when you open it and that the pretzels almost seem like they're burning. This is normal, I think. It must have to do with the soda-water bath. Also, I did 7 and 7 for mine and they were perfect with that amount of time, in my opinion.) Transfer to racks; serve warm with butter or mustard. Or let cool completely, wrap airtight and freeze. To reheat, place frozen pretzels on ungreased baking sheets and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until hot. Makes 1 dozen pretezels.
The blobby mess appears to resolve itself in the baking process. The soda-water bath smooths out the surface as the pretzels bake so they look much more normal when they're done. The problem I ran into, was getting them off the pan. I ended up losing most of the bottoms because they stuck so badly to the pan. I think the soda-water bath also makes them stick really badly to the pan. I think what I would do differently is one of two or possibly both things: 1-Put them on newly greased pans instead of back onto their original pan after I boil them. 2-Put them on parchment paper or 3-Put them on greased parchment paper. Between any of those things, this might be resolved without losing the bottoms of the pretzels. Seriously, I thought I was going to break the spatula in my attempts to get them off. The flavor, however, is exactly like a store-bought pretzel. It's the soda-water bath that gives it that pretzel taste. And have you ever noticed that sensation on your tongue when you touch it to the surface of a pretzel? That's the soda-water. If you don't know what I mean, try that out the next time you eat a soft pretzel. You can also try it with hard pretzels but those are so salt-covered that it's difficult to find enough surface area to test it out on. It's hard to describe, so just test it out for yourself and you'll know what I mean! Also, when you make these by hand, you control how much salt goes onto them. I am not a salt fan, so I kept it to a very minimal amount, and with kosher salt, you have smaller pieces than the kind you get from the store or the mall. I thought it was just perfect.

Now, what to serve with soft pretzels? My mind turned to cheese sauce. It's a traditional pairing. However, I also wanted a meal, and that is not a meal. So, I chose cheese...soup! Yes, I've stated that I am lactose intolerant, but there are varying levels of this issue, and most cheeses I can actually eat because they age long enough for the lactose to burn off. I picked one of my own recipe cards to try, and I don't know the source of it, but I will write it out here for you to try, along with my notes.

Slow-Cooker Potato-Cheese Soup
2 lb. potatoes, peeled and cubed(Russet potatoes)
1 medium onion, chopped
5 cups chicken broth(I used vegetable broth because I had most of a container left over from my last blog and needed to use it up. I think it was just fine in this.)
1 cup low-fat milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Place potatoes, onion, chicken broth and salt and pepper to taste in a slow cooker. Cook for 6 hours on a low heat setting (or 3 hours on high), until potatoes are tender. (I did about 4 hours on low, then I got paranoid that the potatoes weren't really cooking enough even though I never tested them, and turned it to high for the last 2 hours. It turned out just perfect this way.)
Ladle half the mixture into a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Pour pureed mixture into a large pot over medium-low heat and add the unpureed half. (I have a hand-held blender, which I highly recommend. I poured the unblended half into the large pan and pureed it right there before pouring in the unpureed half. This saves some cleaning up afterwards.) Stir in milk. When the soup begins to simmer, turn heat to low(do not let boil). Adjust seasonings. Sprinkle with cheese and serve.(I mixed the cheese into the soup and let it melt and mix into the rest of the flavors. I did put a bit of cheese on the top just to make it look pretty.)
4 Servings
The cheese flavor was actually pretty mellow, so if you want more of a cheesy flavor, you'll need to add more than the recommended amount. I thought it was pretty tasty as it was, though. That and the pretzels made a filling dinner for me that I would easily make again. I can't vouch for using other sorts of milk, but I would assume soy or rice milk would work just as well. Probably not coconut milk, though, because of the flavors it would add. Unless you wanted to add some curry spice to the soup and take it in a whole different direction. That would probably be quite tasty, actually.

The most important lesson I have learned so far in this blog project, is that many of the things we buy from the store are actually not that difficult to make by hand. They often taste better, have better texture, and better-quality ingredients. They just don't necessarily last as long which is probably because they're not full of chemicals and preservatives. When this project is over, I will seriously have to rethink what I make for myself vs. what I buy from the store. 


Sunset Breads Cookbook --I'm pretty sure I got my copy at a thrift store which always seem to have a large and steady supply of the books from this series. They have some good stuff in them, so I would highly recommend looking around for them.