Snack Food

Pico De Gallo

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Living in Southern California there is one condiment I crave, I especially crave it during the summer when the tomatoes are fresh and plentiful. That treat is Pico De Gallo or Salsa Fresca, the fresh chopped tomatoes, crisp chopped white onions, jalapeño chili’s, fresh squeezed lime juice, a good handful of chopped cilantro and a touch of salt and pepper. Bring on the margaritas and a big bowl of fresh made tortilla chips, this has to be my favorite summer meal. Yes, a big bowl of pico de gallo some chips a margarita and a book will happily satisfy me.

When I make my homemade salsa I always try to choose my home grown beefsteak tomatoes. Their thick and dense flesh can hold up to the other layers of ingredients with out breaking down into a mushy pulp. From time to time I do experiment and so far the other tomato varieties I have tried are: Brandy Boy, Celebrity, Super tasty, Sweet Seedless and my second favorite next to Beefsteak is Early Girl. That tomato is a touch on the sweet side and when you are using a good amount of Chili in your salsa that sweet can help cut the heat.

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I remember watching an episode of Alton Brown’s Good Eats TV show that was all about the Scoville scale and how it is used to measure heat in chili peppers or spicy food. Sit back and be amazed; a sweet bell pepper is measured in at 0, jalapeño at 8,000 and the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion registers at 2,000,000. YES!!! 2,000,000 you read that correctly. However, according to The Guinness Book of World Records in 2012 the Carolina Reaper measured in at 2,200,000. Back to Alton Brown, he tested all sorts of cool your mouth down aids such as;  water, chips, bread, corn and beer- ALL FAILED! The two that did not fail were a glass of milk and a glass of sugar water, now the next time you want to tempt your taste buds into a fiery rage or put your body into a bit of gastronomical hell ask for a glass of water and add 3 sugar packets to it and give it a good stir, then ask for a glass of milk too, you will need it. But there is a secret when you drink the milk DONT SWALLOW, just spit the milk out. The fat in the milk will carry a good portion of the oil from the chili thats now imbedded in your tongue away.  The sugar water, drink after the milk it will help the residual burn.

Here is a word of caution about fresh made salsas I am sorry to say, but between 1998 and 2008 the reports of food born illness rocketed and unfortunately, fresh made salsa was to blame. You need to keep this condiment cold so what ever bowl you are serving it in have another bowl under it with some ice and always throw out any that has been left in the bowl, its contaminated, throw it away please. Remember the potato salad sitting in the sun food sick story? Guess what it was not necessarily the mayonnaise- it was the onions and potatoes sitting there with their sponge like broken cell walls collecting air born bacteria and happily growing it in the mayonnaise because that salad was not kept on ice to stay in the safe food temperature zone. Lesson one and always #1 keep onions covered and cold all times once you have sliced them. Don’t believe me ask Mr. Google about the medicinal qualities of onions and how they have been used over the centuries to pull bacteria from wounds.

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Ok science side done back to the flavors of salsa fresca. In the past I was nothing but a purest; tomato, pepper, onion, cilantro, lime juice, S&P. However with age, time and creativity I have added ingredients such as; mangos, avocados, peaches, cucumbers, roasted corn, zucchini, mint leaves, basil leaves, shrimp, blueberries and the list goes on and on. This salsa is exactly what you add to your guacamole recipe, or grill up a batch of tequila-lime chicken then top this salsa over it and garnish with cilantro. Add it to a pot of fresh made white rice; add it to your Mexican lasagna or keep it traditional with a bowl of good quality tortilla chips. However you choose to enjoy fresh homemade pico de gallo salsa remember to keep it cold and if you can grow a few salsa tomatoes in your garden this season please let me know what you used your tomatoes for. I’m off to make a batch of salsa I’ve gotten very hungry all of a sudden and I just picked a few lovely bright red tomatoes from my garden this morning, take care.

Cheers!

Pico De Gallo

3-4 pounds tomatoes, large or small heirloom or not, use what you like

1/2 of a small red or white onion, chopped into very small pieces

1 small jalapeño pepper chopped, or more depending on heat preference

1 large handful of chopped cilantro

1/2 of a lemon juiced or ½ a lime juiced

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Roughly chop tomatoes, onions, and jalapeño peppers.
  2. Add all ingredients to the food processor.
  3. Pulse until desired consistency.

Keep the bowl with the salsa in it on ice, serve with fresh corn or flour tortilla chips, enjoy.

Soft Style German Pretzels

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I remember making soft pretzels for the first time in my 8th grade home economics class. In my small cubical kitchen with the electric stove that took hours for water to boil, I honestly fell into another world of pure contentment every time I walked through that classroom door when I attended Anacapa Middle School. I learned to make muffins, cookies, breads, sauces, chicken cordon bleu, pasta dishes and my teachers family recipe for German soft pretzels. That class was such an escape for me, I liked school don’t get me wrong it was just that my time in that particular class was truly a foundation builder for me, I effortless earned my A+, my teacher had my full attention and dedication every day during those extraordinary 90 minutes. I learned that baking recipes should be measures in grams because 1 cup of whole-wheat flour weighs differently than 1 cup of all purpose flour or 1 cup of cake flour, I suggest you all get a digital scale and see just how different the weights are. I also learned that when making pretzels, fresh baking soda was key as well as doubling the amount called for. My teacher said it added an extra chewiness to the outer skin of the pretzel and helped to develop the deep golden color along with the egg wash.

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This past weekend I asked my family if they wanted to help me make a batch pretzels, my daughter, Paige, jumped up and excitedly did the “I’m going to help mommy in the kitchen dance.” Lots of butt wiggling, some jumping spin tricks too. Her brother, Andrew, took a pass he just received a new lego set and that was his center of attention for the day. My husband was thrilled; he’s a really good pretzel maker it has to be because of his German heritage. I believe soft pretzels have to be my husband favorite snack food; he loves them more than salt and pepper potato chips. His all time #1 nostalgic type pretzel are the ones served at Disneyland, they are in the shape of Mickey Mouse. Ok, I cannot lie I like them too.

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My Daughter also has taken to making pretzels like her father, so I am even more convinced it’s in her blood. She was rolling the dough out with her hands, stretching and lengthening it with every pass. Paige carefully took the snake like dough ropes and made the shape of the letter U to start then she crossed the ends over the required two times and then secured the twist to the big loop. Time after time she got a little bit better, she was in a fierce competition with her Father to see who could make the most pretzels- I’m giving the win to her, she’s adorable and she throws better fits than her father. I did overhear her at one point saying “daddy, I love helping mommy cook it’s so much fun” to which my husband replied “well, Paige now you can be mommies Sous chef, her all time helper.” She replied “ I like that and it means I get to be her taster too.” I’m blessed what can I say I have a mini-me.

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Here are a few tricks I learned from my teacher and I am glad to share them with you.

  1. Use bread flour instead of all-purpose flour, the bread flour has more protein than all-purpose flour, which helps the gluten bonds develop. When you want a chewy or elastic texture this is your go to flour.
  2. Always double the amount of baking soda in any soft pretzel recipe. The average recipe calls for 2/3 cup in 10 cups of water, add 1 1/3 cup baking soda, it helps the dough swell quicker in the boiling water. It also dries the outside a bit so the dough browns better with the egg wash in the oven.
  3. Oven should be set to 425F (the extra baking soda is going to make it brown faster) and use the convection setting if your oven has it.
  4. Use Kosher or sea salt.

 There you go, secrets to an amazing soft and chewy German style pretzel.

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This time I changed the seasonings up a bit, on half of the batch I did the traditional egg wash with Kosher salt but the other half I used the egg wash and sprinkled my everyday seasoning on it. Talk about a different flavor but a truly wonderful one at that. Salt, pepper, granulated garlic, granulated onion, and parsley. That addition along with the baking soda’s acidic wash was unbelievable, I hope that you try it some time. I included my every day seasoning too along with my pretzel recipe. Grab some deli style mustard or make a smooth and creamy cheese sauce and enjoy the fresh flavors and surprising fun you will have making fresh German style pretzels.

Cheers!

Soft Style German Pretzels

DOUGH
  1. 1½ cups warm water (105-110)
  2. 2 tbsp sugar
  3. 2 tsp Kosher salt
  4. 2½ tsp or (1 pkg) yeast
  5. 4 cups bread flour
  6. 4 oz melted unsalted butter
WATER BATH
  1. 10 cups water
  2. 1 1/3 cups baking soda ( do not double this amount, it already has been for this recipe)
EGG WASH
  1. 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
TOPPING
  1. Kosher salt or sea salt

Instructions

  1. In the bowl of your stand mixer add the salt, sugar, melted butter and warm water. Mix with a whisk until sugar and salt dissolve. Sprinkle yeast in water and give it a quick mix with the whisk, let set for 5 minutes. Add all the flour to the yeast mixture and with a dough hook, mix on low speed until combined, then raise the speed to medium and let mix for 8 minutes.
  2. Take dough out of the bowl and set it on a clean dishtowel. Oil your mixing bowl lightly and return the dough to the bowl, turning once to make sure the dough has an even coat of oil. I like to use grape seed oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place the dish towel over it, let it rest in a warm place in your kitchen for about an hour. It should be doubled in size.
  3. During the rise time, line 2-4 baking sheets pans with parchment paper and lightly spray with cooking spray. Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a boil in a large pot. Pre heat over to 425 F.
  4. When the dough has risen, lightly oil your work surface, turn out the dough and divide into 8 pieces. For large pretzels, roll out each piece of dough into a 2 foot rope. Make a U shape and flip ends of the rope across each other two times to make a rope twist and press onto the bottom of the U to create the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the baking sheets.
  5. To make mini pretzels take the 8 pieces of dough and roll each ball out a few times until you get a t 4” log shape, divide that into 3 pieces, roll each dough piece into a rope shape, make the U shape and flip ends of the rope across each other two times to make a rope twist and press onto the bottom of the U to create the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the baking sheets.
  6. Very carefully place the pretzels into the boiling water, two at a time, for 30 seconds; I lightly flip them over at the 15-second mark. Remove with a slotted spoon and place back on the baking sheet, brush the top of each pretzel with the egg & water wash then sprinkle the pretzel with your salt.
  7. Bake 20-25 minutes for the large pretzels 12-14 minutes for the small pretzels or until golden brown. Watch carefully a golden brown pretzel can burn very quickly.
  8. Place on a cooling rack.

Everyday Seasoning

Ingredients
  1. 1 cup Kosher salt
  2. 1 tablespoon granulated garlic
  3. 1 tablespoon granulated onion
  4. 1 tablespoon fresh ground pepper
  5. 1 tablespoon dried parsley

Instructions

  1. mix well and store in a jar or zip top bag.
Notes
  1. A few other ingredients you can add to change up the flavors are: dried rosemary, mustard powder, cumin, dried basil or chili powder.