pretzel bites.

pretzel bites.

Friday, December 28, 2012

caramel : chocolate : candy + pretzel rod

joey and i went to college together. for a year and a half. the first half of my junior year before i went abroad and all of my senior year. he was accepted when i was a sophomore. at first i had some concerns about this plan, which is a nice way of saying i totally freaked out and had a self indulgent tantrum into my pillow when i found out because nothing would be okay again ever. i mean, i thought it was the. worst. idea. ever. so how else was i going to respond? i went to a tiny college. it seemed like everyone knew everything about everyone all the time. seriously. all the time. 
the last thing i needed was my little brother around.  GLARBH! a little brother! at college! little brothers weren't supposed to go to college with you. they were supposed to come visit and you were supposed to let them get drunk and make a fool of themselves at a party and it was all supposed to be okay because then on sunday evening they would leave. if joey came to kenyon with me, he would never leave. he would just be there being my disapproving little brother all the time. worst. idea. ever.
i was wrong. very, very, very wrong.
having joey on campus was one of the best things that ever happened.
as it turns out college freshman and sophomore joey was not at all like high school freshman and sophomore joey. he improved immensely over time! he wasn't annoying anymore! he was hilarious and brilliant and kind and supportive and forgiving and fun. and i loved sharing a tiny campus with him. we got to eat lunch together on random weekdays and randomly bumping into him here or there always made me happy. he made his own interesting friends and i liked hanging out with them just as i liked when he came around to hang out with my friends. going to parties with him was equally fun because he's one of the greatest dancers i've ever known. and, to top it all off, he always filled up the gas tank of our car. being at kenyon with him laid the foundation for the extremely close and happy relationship we share today and i don't know if we'd know each other as well as we do if he hadn't been there. that said, sometimes pillow tantrums are okay. 
my senior year i lived in a tiny little house called a bexley and joey used to come and laze around the living room all the time. he frequently came bearing treats, and that was the year he discovered one of the great combinations of all time. pretzel rods and salsa con queso. i ate a lot of questionable things at questionable times when i was in college including, but not limited to, pizza subs made at some extremely late or unreasonably early hour--depending on your perspective--at a gas station called hotrods (all one word) that never closed. HOTRODS. (at least i wasn't eating meat.)
the last time i was awake and hungry at said extremely late or unreasonably early hour was because of my baby, and not, sadly, because i've been up all night drinking and dancing. anyway these days i imagine it would be hard to get someone to agree to go with me to a 24 hour gas station for a sub. and even if i could find someone to go with me i'm sure i'd leave sub-less, guilt and reason having directed me to purchase a string cheese, a granola bar (maybe some chex mix instead of the granola bar if i was feeling feisty), and a very old now and later. though my questionable foods group has grown considerably since my college days, salsa con queso will always have a place in my home. first of all, i have checked the nutritional information and the first three ingredients of the wondrous substance are water, nonfat milk, and monterey jack cheese, which means it was actually probably providing me with much needed protein and calcium when i was in college, and is more than enough for me to consider it wholesome, and anyway the truth is i'd probably still eat it proudly even if i couldn't pronounce the first three ingredients. it is that delicious. joey seems to share my belief that pretzels are as good or better things to dip in other things and i think we learned this from our mom, who taught us that hummus with pretzels is far superior to hummus with pita. joey introduced the pretzel rod to the queso jar, i assume, to avoid a mess. though i very much prefer regular pretzels to pretzel rods, i understand that there is a time and place for them. 
like with salsa con queso.

and caramel. and chocolate. and candy.

caramel, chocolate, and candy covered pretzel rods. 
ingredients for the caramel:
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup butter (salted or unsalted, depending on how salty you like it)
1 cup light corn syrup
ingredients for the chocolate and candy covering:
two bags chocolate chips of your choice
candy or cookies of your choice all ground up
little bit of butter
to make:
1. line cookie sheets with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray.
2. mix the caramel ingredients over medium heat and let it boil for five minutes, stirring frequently to make sure it's not burning. when it's done, transfer it to the deepest bowl you have.
3. spread the caramel over the pretzel rod with a spatula leaving about two inches of exposed pretzel at the bottom. place each caramel rod on the parchment paper and let it set and cool for at least 30 minutes. (i actually ended up leaving them in the fridge overnight but that was because i got inspired a little too late at night and by the time the caramel had set i wanted to go to bed.)
4. prepare your candy toppings. i used crushed butterfinger, mini chocolate chips, mini m&m's, a crushed up cookie, little sour gummy things, shredded sweetened coconut, heath brickle, and gold sprinkles. i also used melted white chocolate and peanut butter and melted butterscotch, but those don't have to be ready to go in this step.  (i had almost all of these things in my pantry.)
5. line more cookie sheets with parchment paper, or if you've run out of cookie sheets just line your countertop if you have the space. melt the chocolate in the microwave with a little bit of butter. if the caramel has pooled away from the pretzel roll it either in your (very clean) hands or on the parchment paper to bring it back, then spread the chocolate over the caramel with a spatula and place it on the parchment paper. (the chocolate may spread a little and if you're one of those people who needs things to look perfect then try pouring the melted chocolate into a tall glass and dipping the pretzel rod in the glass to get nice even coverage.)
6. sprinkle your toppings over the chocolate before it sets. if you're going to use melted flavored chips of any kind, melt them and drizzle them over the chocolate, too.
7. let the chocolate and toppings set before moving them. they should set fine on their own, but i put each cookie sheet in the fridge for about 20 minutes (i only had room for one at a time) just to be sure.
in the end i had 30 pretzel rods which i arranged in threes in fancy little baggies tied with bows which i gave people as gifts. they're really delicious.

if i haven't inspired you to make caramel, chocolate, and candy covered pretzel rods, i hope i've at least convinced you that salsa con queso and pretzel rods is a winning combination. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

peanut butter pie. comfort in a few ingredients.

sometimes you just need simple, unadulterated comfort. in a pie.

1 jar peanut butter
1 container defrosted cool whip
1 pre-made pie crust (chocolate, oreo, or graham all work)
1/2 bag chocolate chips
a little butter
a little milk or cream
about 6 reese's peanut butter cups

scoop the peanut butter and the cool whip into a big bowl.
mix it together until it's combined.
spread it into the pie crust.
lick the bowl.
melt chocolate chips with a tab of butter either in the microwave.
add the milk or cream bit by bit.
a few tablespoons should be fine.
smooth the chocolate onto the top of the peanut butter cool whip combo.
crush the reese's cups up and decorate the top of the chocolate however you like.
put the pie in the fridge to let the chocolate harden.
take the pie out of the fridge.
eat it.
it's very rich.

next time i think i'll incorporate some pretzel...

Monday, December 10, 2012

hanukkah donuts. forget the jelly. use peanut butter instead.

so it's hanukkah again. i was surrounded by a seemingly endless supply of jelly donuts and chocolate gelt coins at work last hanukkah. and when i say surrounded, i really mean it. they were literally in my actual physical office. i have almost no willpower as it is when it comes to sweets, and last hanukkah i was pregnant. it's no surprise i consumed an astonishing amount of treats. the truth is, i probably would have consumed the same amount had i not been pregnant, but last year i was able to do it shamelessly and with gusto. that's why, when it came time for my own hanukkah baking, i was done with fried things and i decided to go a lighter route and make lemon olive oil cookies.

this year i've been surrounded by cheerios and baby yogurt, and the closest i've come to a holiday sweets binge was on saturday night when i stood a little too close to the bowl of red and green m&m's at the christmakah party my friends were throwing. so i'm all about fried holiday treats now. this year, i decided to make sufganiyot, or fried donuts, for the very first time. 
last night jake, joey, and gaby came over to celebrate hanukkah with us and i made a very healthy, balanced dinner with the delicious things we procured at the farmers market on saturday. that's why it was okay to serve the dessert we served. not just okay, but appropriate. jake doesn't eat jelly anything, so i decided to just skip that whole part (even though i'm a jelly donut convert) and make unstuffed donuts, which are really just like dough bites. i tried, rather unsuccessfully, to put some chocolate chips in between two donuts and push them together before i fried them, but i wouldn't recommend it because most of them just separated and the chocolate fell out. besides, they really didn't need the chocolate. not when they were topped with powdered sugar, $12 ice cream, and hot chocolate sauce. let me explain:

every tuesday, when i'm at work, josh takes rapha to a wonderful little cheese shop called valley shepherd creamery where they both sample cheeses and talk to the lovely girl who works there, who, it turns out, graduated from kenyon college 7 years after i did. (is there no end to the smallness of this world??) rapha helps josh decide which cheese to buy. seriously. he has a very discerning palate for a 7 month old. valley shepherd also sells delicious jams and cookies and breads and ice cream. expensive ice cream. the most expensive ice cream i have ever seen in my life. $12 pints of ice cream. josh and i talk about it a lot. what could possibly justify that astronomical price? is this the ice cream to end all ice creams? is there really a discernible difference between this ice cream and, say, ben and jerry's? there was, obviously, only one way to find out. so yesterday, when we stopped in to pick up some cheese for dinner we finally pulled the trigger and bought a pint. the flavors they had available were the good kind of bizarre, but not all of them would go with fried dough. i was having a little trouble choosing between boozy eggnog, brambleberry crisp, salted caramel, and roasted strawberry buttermilk when i saw the obvious choice. the buckeye state. peanut butter. ohio. meant to be.
after dusting the donuts in powdered sugar i whipped up some chocolate sauce by melting a little butter, some chocolate chips, and a drop of the milk left over from the donuts, which i whisked together and then poured on top of the donuts. that was before the ice cream. it was the right thing to do.

this is the recipe i used. i halved it and used lowfat milk instead. please don't think i have the ridiculous notion that using lowfat milk would make deep fried pieces of dough smothered in chocolate sauce and topped with peanut butter ice cream healthier in any way. i used lowfat milk only because there's actually a chance we'll get through it before its expiration date and i'm not much of a whole milk drinker. as far as i could tell, the substitution worked just fine.
1 cup flour plus more for dusting
1/8 cup sugar
1 1/8 teaspoons yeast
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon warm milk (105-115 degrees F)
1 tablespoon room temperature butter (i hal- melted mine)
3 cups vegetable oil for frying
powdered sugar for dusting

to make:
1. combine the flour, sugar, yeast, and salt and then add the egg yolk and milk and mix it together for about a minute either using a dough hook or a spatula. add the butter and knead until the dough is shiny and smooth looking. it'll be pretty sticky. form it into a ball, transfer it to an oiled bowl, and let the oil coat it. cover it and let it rise in a warm spot for about an hour or so.
2. punch down the dough and then roll it out on a floured counter until it's about 1/4 inch thick. use any kind of small, 2 inch round glass or cup you can find--i used a candle holder--to cut out dough rounds. i think i had about 18. transfer them to a floured baking sheet. lightly cover the baking sheet with saran wrap and let the dough rise in a warm spot for about 30 minutes. the dough will rise and the rounds will be about 1/2 inch thick.
3. when the 30 minutes is up, heat the oil over medium in a heavy bottomed pot or dutch oven and until it reaches 350 degrees F. line another baking sheet with paper towels. using a spatula, carefully put the dough rounds into the oil one at a time. depending on the size of your pot you should be able to fit 5-10 at a time. fry them until the bottoms are golden brown and then flip them over with a fork until the other side gets golden, too. this could take anywhere between 30 seconds-1 1/2 minutes. the dough will puff up considerably and when its done frying, use a slotted spoon to pull it out piece by piece and drain on the paper towels. (you can use a wire rack if you have one)
4. dust with powdered sugar and serve with whatever decadent toppings you can think of!
it was a successful hanukkah dinner. jake and gaby gave rapha the loudest toy in the history of the world, we drank great wine, joey finally admitted he likes brussels sprouts, i laughed so hard i nearly peed, we devoured the donuts and licked the plates clean. the pint of $12 ice cream is gone. turns out it was worth every penny.