Cobbled Together

In an effort to avoid the grocery store this weekend, I raided the heck out of our pantry to see what we could eat to get through the week. You see, I already have an issue with letting good food go to waste, and this is only intensified when I’m forced to let things go to waste as a result of being away for a few days. These are the times when I might cobble together a recipe with a ton of random ingredients (panzanella salads are great when there’s lots of produce involved, and this Moroccan shepherd’s pie was a great way to use up mashed ‘taters) or conversely, I might make something uber simple using some standby grains or pasta.

In general, they aren’t meals that really make one salivate, but they get the job done, more or less.

Of course, there are always the exceptions – the dishes you toss together, pulling stray carrots and a forgotten bunch of scallions from the crisper to add up to enough stuff to make a meal come together – that somehow end up tasting like you’d planned it that way all along. It helps when you have a few fresh ingredients hanging around (thanks, Joanne, for the tomatoes!), because those are the ones that provide the inspiration, the kick-start to power you through to the end of the recipe, if you even have a recipe in the first place.

(The fresh ingredients are also the ones that make me feel a little less guilty about tossing leftover bagged shredded cheese into a perfect biscuit dough, knowing full-well that a freshly-grated cup of cheddar would have been tons better, not only in terms of taste, but also quality and texture.)

So, here we are, at the moment where I did something like that and actually get to tell you about it, because I truly feel that this new-found recipe is something you just might want to make yourself. I take that back – it’s something you should make yourself. Rarely is there a time in the year where the produce is this perfect, this satisfying, and this accessible than now – when you get to eat fresh corn and! fresh tomatoes ’til your heart’s content. And I’m telling you this: if you do have access to both ingredients, straight from the market or the store, please do purchase them. I think I already mentioned my stubborn desire to avoid those places this week, and as a result my trusty freezer bag o’ corn came in handy here. And while it was fine, mighty fine indeed, I know it could be that. much. better. with just-shucked morsels of yellow goodness.

If the mixture of tomatoes and corn isn’t enough to get you in a tizzy, have you noticed the biscuits on top? Need I say more?! Even though I’ve moved away, I still read the blogs of many Chicagoans, and I tell ya – Midwesterners get some kinda excited about summer produce. Tim over at Lottie + Doof posted a tomato cobbler recipe from Martha Stewart a couple of weeks ago, and it sounded like the kind of food they’d have in Paradise. I figured I could make it work, or something like it, even if I didn’t have but approximately half as many tomatoes, no regular onions, heavy cream, or Gruyere on hand, not to mention a penchant for never adhering to the regular ol’ all-purpose flour suggested in most recipes.

So yeah, you could say this recipe is a pretty far leap from the original, but that’s what happens from time to time. You may not have scallions on hand, and maybe you have a different cheese, or no cheese at all, and maybe you have neither pancetta nor bacon for the smoky twist I was craving. Maybe the carrots aren’t doing it for you, and understandably so, maybe you don’t have 10 types of flour in your pantry (15-20 if you count the ones used almost solely for gluten-free cooking). You might even be one of those people who are afraid of a little shortening in your life, for reasons I just can’t figure out. I promise you – it’s okay, and ultimately, it might even be better to use this as your inspiration, and run with it (after, or course, you put down your knife…).

I’m sure Martha would understand.

Tomato & Corn Cobbler
Inspired by Lottie + Doof; serves 4-6 as a meal

time commitment: 2 hours (~40 minutes active)

printable version

2 T evoo
2 oz finely chopped pancetta or bacon (optional)
6 scallions, chopped
2 carrots, medium dice
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 c fresh or frozen corn (2-3 ears if fresh; thawed and drained if frozen)
~1 lb cherry tomatoes
~1 lb heirloom tomatoes, medium dice
1 t crushed red pepper flakes
3 T white spelt flour (or all-purpose)
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

biscuit topping
1 c white spelt flour
1 c whole wheat flour (or use 2 cups all-purpose flour to replace both)
2 t baking powder
1 t kosher salt
4 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 T shortening, cut into small pieces
1 c grated cheddar cheese, plus 1 T, for sprinkling atop biscuits
1 1/2 c buttermilk, plus ~2 T more for brushing

Make the filling. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pancetta, if using, and cook for 2 minutes, then add onions and carrots, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Add garlic, and cook until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Toss in corn and remove from heat; let cool.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Toss onion/corn mixture, tomatoes, red-pepper flakes and flour with 1 1/2 t salt and some pepper.

Make the biscuit topping. Whisk together flours, baking powder, and 1 t salt in a bowl. Cut in butter and shortening with a pastry cutter or rub in with your fingers until small clumps form. Stir in cheese, then add buttermilk, stirring with a fork to combine until dough forms.

Transfer tomato mixture to a 2-quart baking dish. Spoon large clumps of biscuit dough (about 1/3 c each) over top in a circle, leaving center open. Bake 30 minutes. Remove, and brush dough with buttermilk, and sprinkle with remaining T cheese. Bake until tomatoes are bubbling in the center and biscuits are golden brown, another 30 minutes or so. Transfer to a wire rack. Let cool for 20 minutes.

Top of My List

July absolutely has to be one of my very favorite months. I’m also a big fan of November (because of Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday). September and October aren’t too bad, either. And while I’m at it, I may as well throw in August, which means we are clearly at the very beginning of all of my favorite times of the year. Let the games begin.

For now though, I’m going to keep it together and just talk about July.

When I think about July, a few things come to mind. First and foremost is Summer, and that’s probably because I’ve lived in Chicago for so long. It doesn’t always warm up in May and June there, although from what I’ve heard, this year has been a little toasty. Here in San Francisco, it seems to always be sunny in at least one part of the city, although it’s certainly not always warm, so to speak. That said, we haven’t grilled out nearly as much as we normally would, but I think the warm weather is right around the corner, and for that I’m thankful.

I also think about fruit – cherries, blueberries, watermelon, and all those berries with seeds that sorta get on my nerves. Peaches. Which reminds me – I need to bust out a cobbler or something, like yesterday. And some ice cream, but I’ve got an ice cream recipe in queue that I’m guessing is gonna knock my socks off (yes, I still sleep in socks, even in July).

This year, July means biking through Golden Gate Park or back over to the bridge, and hopefully a road trip over to Tomales Bay for oysters, and maybe some more Stairway Walks (more on those later) and neighborhood hang-outs. Maybe even another baseball game? or is that being too optimistic? We are halfway through this month, I’m aware.

Clearly, many things have changed over this past year, location-wise most definitely, but some things haven’t; one of those is my adoration for this month, and really, all months, but I’m trying to be specific here. July truly is at the top of my list.

And last but certainly not least, July = burger time. Check this out: we’ve had burgers in July for three years in a row, and that’s sayin’ somethin’. Last year, I waxed poetic about getting a meat grinder attachment, and this year I finally did it. Of course, it sat in storage for a while, and even though I’ve had the thing for months, I have used it now for the first time. But like I said last year, the meat grinder is some kinda awesome, and I finally proved it to myself that I needed to get one (ok, use one) a long time ago.

With said ground meat, I churned out a relatively quick and easy burger recipe, sans grill: griddled smash burgers. It’s not a bad idea, really. Heat up your griddle (or pan, if you’re not into pancakes enough to have a griddle specifically for flapjacks), ball up some ground meat, and smash ’em onto the surface, letting the juices sizzle away, smoking up your house almost enough to flip the smoke alarm. Smoosh some onions into them, and finish them off with cheddar cheese and pickles; simple and quick is key here.

Put them on a plate with some baked ‘french fries’, and let the rays of the sun shine on ’em like a pot o’ gold at the end of a rainbow. Two seconds later, eat them as quickly as possible – we’ve got a lot left to do now, and half of July’s already passed us by.

Cheddar & Onion Smashed Burgers
Adapted from Food & Wine, June 2011; serves 4

time commitment: 30 minutes

printable version

16 thin bread-and-butter pickle slices, patted dry
4 burger buns, toasted
1 1/4 lb ground beef chuck (30 percent fat)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 small onions, sliced paper thin
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, sliced
ketchup, and other fixin’s that you choose

If you’re into this sorta thing, grind your own meat, which takes about 5 minutes if you have a good grinder.

Heat a griddle until very hot. If you don’t have a griddle, you can probably use a frying pan on high heat, but I used a griddle that is normally used for pancakes ;). Layer the pickle slices on the bottom buns.

Without overworking the meat, loosely form it into 4 balls and place them on the griddle. Cook the meatballs over moderately high heat for 30 seconds. Using a sturdy large spatula, flatten each ball into a 5-inch round patty. Season the patties with salt and pepper and cook for 2 minutes, until well seared. Press a handful of sliced onions onto each patty. Using the spatula, carefully flip each burger so the onions are on the bottom. Top with the cheese and cook for 2 minutes. Cover with a roasting pan and cook just until the cheese is melted, 1 minute more. Transfer the burgers with the onions to the buns. Top with the ketchup, any other fixin’s, buns and serve.


Sure, here’s a burger recipe, and I’ve linked to 2 more on here, but just in case you still want more choices, here’s a list.

All Grown Up

I hope you all had yourselves a lovely weekend. Over our way, it was a perfect June Saturday and Sunday (maybe even a little atypical for us, from what I’ve heard). We kept busy on Saturday by having a tasty dim sum brunch with new friends, shopping for layers (key here people, key!), and hanging with more friends over food and wine.

Sunday involved the regular grocery shopping and farmers’ market events, and then a challenging bike to the Golden Gate Bridge, at which point Chris drove over and met me where we proceeded to have a nice lounging hour looking at our gorgeous new city. Of course, Sunday also included a nice conversation with my Pops.

I’ve talked about my Pops quite a few times, from tales about his old-fashioned habits to bonding when Gramma died to cutting up chicken. But my favorite blogstory involved a discussion about one of his best meals – breakfast. Every Saturday & Sunday, the ‘samich’ would surface: plain, white untoasted bread, extra-crispy bacon, floppy American Kraft cheese (only the best, friends), and a heavily peppered fried egg left out at room temperature on that cream colored plate with the brown rim, a chip on its edge. It was my very favorite breakfast, for a lot of reasons.

Breakfasts around these parts are generally nothing to write home about – a bowl of cereal or oatmeal, a smoothie, or maybe a homemade granola bar if I’m feeling motivated, is about all we muster up. If I ever do become one of those people who like to be awake at the crack of dawn though, you best believe we’d begin our day with these samiches, French toast, pastries, egg casseroles, and fresh coffee, maybe even some homemade juice from the juicer I’ve yet to buy.

This week was a little different, since I’ve been craving something that included the words “cheese” and “bacon”. It seemed that there was no better time than Sunday to make my own version of the sandwich I woke up to every weekend morning of my childhood. This one is a little bit fancier, a little more mature, in way – loaded with all the local Bay Area ingredients I could find, including a new addiction of mine, sourdough bread (where has it been all my life?!). Also, the bread is crunchy, a total no-no according to my Pops, at least in the way of breakfast samiches.

Bells and whistles aside, at its core this samich is nothing but pure comfort, through and through. It’s crunchy, it’s cheesy, and it reminds me of those samiches I used to eat so often, only it’s a little bit different. Nonetheless, I doesn’t change my memory of them; it just makes it even better.

I would say these same things to my Pops when talking about our relationship. Sure, I’m much older now and yeah, you could say I’m more mature than I used to be, for the most part. And of course, I’ve moved away not just once but three different times, each a little further away than before, but knowing those facts doesn’t change too much. At the end of the day, I’m still his little (grown up) girl, no matter where I am.

My Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Sandwich
inspired by my Pops; makes 2

printable version

4 pieces of thick-cut bacon
2 eggs
salt & pepper
2 T butter
2 slices of sharp cheddar cheese
4 slices of sourdough bread, ~1/2″ thick
small handful of baby spinach

cook bacon in a large saucepan until nice and crispy; let drain on paper towel-lined plate. remove some bacon fat from the pan, if it seems like a lot.

over medium-high heat, crack both eggs into the same pan; sprinkle with salt and pepper. cook on one side for a minute or so, then flip and cook on the other side another minute or so. remove and set aside.

wipe down the pan, and over medium-high heat, melt butter. on one slice of bread, add a slice of cheese, an egg, then 2 pieces of bacon; top with another slice of bread. once butter is melted, put sandwiches into the pan, pressing down on them with a spatula. after a couple of minutes, use spatula to flip sandwich and cook on the other side. remove from heat and plate; place spinach between top slice of bread and bacon.

Blast from the past

Changing is part of growing up, part of becoming who we really are, a constant process. We make mistakes along the way, some of us more than others, and those mistakes shape us just as much as our successes. I’ve had a fair helping of both, and I hope you all have too.

I don’t claim to know everything, I don’t claim to be flawless, and I know I’ve been wrong about things many times in my short 30 years (don’t tell the Hubs though, because I don’t admit this to him!). But what I hope is that at the end of every day, I can rest my head knowing I’ve been the best person I can be, most of the time.

This past year is almost over, and it’s been an interesting one. A couple of scary telephone calls is about all it takes to make you realize that your friends and family members, even your parents, are mortals. A couple of arguments, falling-outs with friends, is about all it takes to make you realize that your relationships will change, and that even your closest friends may one day seem like strangers you pass in the cereal aisle. A couple of new friends, and new traditions, is about all it takes to make you realize that it doesn’t matter when you meet, or how you meet, but that you’ve met. Change is good, for better or for worse.

And as strange as it might seem, a recipe about pimento cheese is completely and totally appropriate here, today, this year. On the surface, the reason is more apparent – I used to hate pimento cheese (pimento cheese sandwiches were more common than PB&J during my childhood), and this recipe was gobbled up as if it were bread pudding itself. Kris and I were both watching Food Network one night, and in moments we were texting about pimento cheese, and the perfection that was an appetizer at a restaurant in my hometown.

But even below the surface, this recipe is appropriate. A little less of this, a little more of that, this recipe was tweaked and adjusted along the way, based on how I remember it to be, a couple of years ago. It’s an interpretation of what used to be, but an adjustment too – spicier, warmer, and robust, but also a little bit rustic, craggy along the edges. It’s not exactly what I remember, but it’s close. Like so many things, pimento cheese may have its rough patches in our minds, but we try to forget those, if we can, and we try, as hard as we can, to move on.

Baked Pimento Cheese Spread
chiknpastry recipe, inspired by Chef & the Farmer; makes ~3 cups

time commitment: less than 1 hour

this ain’t no store-bought tub of pimento cheese spread, that’s for sure. you could make the pimento cheese without the sausage and eat it cold, like i was forced to during my childhood (although now, i’d probably like it), or you can add the sausage, which is what the folks at Chef & the Farmer do – hence the recipe.

printable version

2 T onion, small dice
1 clove garlic, minced
8 oz hot sausage (Jimmy Dean)
1 8oz package Neufchâtel cheese
1 c extra-sharp cheddar cheese
1 c gruyere cheese
1 4 oz jar diced pimentos, rinsed & drained
2 T mayo
1/4 t kosher salt
pinch of fresh ground pepper
1/4 t cayenne pepper

for serving: thinly sliced and toasted baguette, veggie sticks, crackers, etc.

heat skillet over medium-hi heat. add garlic and onion, and cook for 1-2 minutes or until soft. add sausage and cook until browned completely. let cool, and use paper towels to remove as much fat/drippings as possible from the sausage.

meanwhile, make the pimento cheese. in a large bowl, combine Neufchâtel cheese through cayenne pepper, and using a mixer on medium speed, blend thoroughly. add salt and pepper to taste.

preheat oven to 350 F. add sausage mixture to pimento cheese and mix together. bake in an ovenproof dish for 15-20 minutes, until browned on top and bubbly.

Battle Tomatoes: Jazzed-Up

What’s your favorite type of music? Rock & roll, or pop? Rap, or R&B? Classical? Post-rock? Indie rock? You get the point, I’m assuming; I could go on and on listing the styles of music until you hear the one that sings to you. Music reminds me of food, in a way, because of the potential for it to bring people together, to connect them via that common thread of a song, or genre – similar to a cuisine, a restaurant, or a family recipe.

This weekend, we were brought together because of food, but we were united by something different: smooth jazz on the lakefront.

It was a typical Iron Chef battle in many ways: a great ingredient (thanks to, ahem, the three-time reigning Iron Chef), great people, and truthfully, killer food. Jenn, a semi-newbie, and her hubs, Mark, graciously hosted in their ‘hood, Rogers Park. Their building just happens to be right on the lake, and for our listening pleasure we were graced by the presence of a summer party out on the patio and the sensual rhythms of smooth jazz on the speakers.

Last time I checked, Wilco, Gaslight Anthem, and Bruce Springsteen were not part of the smooth jazz genre. And I won’t lie, I (rather, we) were all a little reluctant to let smooth jazz into our hearts. But after a little wine, some good conversation, and a lot of tomatoes, we were mystified. The sequins and brightly-colored attire worn by some of the party-goers didn’t hurt.

Our little romantic rendezvous for 7 on the balcony lasted until midnight, and sadly the smooth jazz died out about an hour before that time which really dampened the mood, but we chatted on a bit longer, hoping we’d be enlivened with an encore which unfortunately just wasn’t in the stars that night.

(dishes listed at end of post)

As was fitting, Hope nailed her 2nd win at her final battle, given her upcoming move to the Deep South. As such, she’s the second repeat winner and a bonafide Iron Chef. Her tomato pie was out of this world, or maybe just Southern instead of from the Midwest, and it was certainly a winner in my eyes. Hopefully she’ll get her own IC group started down there, that is, after she chooses the ingredient for Battle 12 – her final obligation.

The Top Three:

  1. Hope’s Green Tomato Pie (gluten-free & vegetarian)
  2. Terri’s Smoked Salmon Bruschetta
  3. my Hushpuppies w/ Green Tomato Chutney (gluten-free, dairy-free, & vegetarian)

Green Tomato Pie
Hope’s winning recipe; serves ~8

printable version

1 9″ prebaked pie crust^
4-5 green tomatoes
1 T mayonnaise
1 c pepper jack cheese
1 c sharp cheddar cheese
salt and pepper

preheat oven to 350 F. slice tomatoes to 1/4″ thickness & place layers on paper towel to soak up some of the water. mix cheese together in a medium bowl with mayo and a little salt and pepper. place prebaked crust in pie dish. layer 1/3 of tomatoes onto bottom of crust, then 1/3 of cheese mixture. repeat this twice, using remaining tomatoes and cheese/mayo mix. bake for ~30-45 minutes, until brown.

^regular or gluten-free, depending on your eaters!

the “life” of the party!

The dishes pictured earlier, from right to left: my hushpuppies and green tomato relish, Rachel’s tomato, basil, & brie sammies, Jennifer’s tomato, mozzarella & basil pasta salad, Rachel’s polenta tart with tomatoes, Terri’s smoked salmon & tomato bruschetta, Hope’s green tomato pie, Jenn’s leek and roasted tomato pizza, Mark’s double salsa combo, and Terri’s lamb & rice stuffed tomatoes.

Stewy Indian Giver

ancho pork stew

I’m sorry. I couldn’t do it. I might be what some would call an “Indian giver” (Simps – don’t tell Jon I’m talking about his people). I know, amidst my excitement about the oozing with tastiness triple ginger cookies, that I offered to give you guys control of the next post. As things go, that would have ‘technically’ been this post. You all aren’t all that nitpicky though, are you? Will you forgive me? Forego the little details, pretty please?

pork spice mix

You see, I wholeheartedly intended to write 4 straight posts about all those cookies I made. I really did. But two things happened that caused me to veer a wee bit off track.

  1. I worried that maybe I was just a tad too excited about those cookies, and maybe you are not as excited? I was sorta hoping for a close voting battle, a little competition, for the next cookie post. I mean, I did give you a choice, right – the chance to pick the next cookie? I thought that was cool. I thought ya’ll liked cookies as much as me. But I think I must have been delusional as the voting wasn’t quite the fierceness I was anticipating.
  2. Probably more importantly, I worried about ya’ll being all chilly, teeth chattering in your abodes as you nibbled on little morsels of ginger and sugar cookies and chocolate bark. Morsels that surely fill the cookie tins for the work crowd or your home-snacking desires but definitely do not satisfy the soul. Morsels that don’t stop the shivering and nullify the goosebumps caused by (in these parts, at least) the single digit windchills.

jalapeno corn muffins

You know what will take your temp up a notch or two? Stew – it warms the heart and makes that weather seem like a non-issue. Stew makes you want to wrap your sweatered arms around someone you love and stay indoors all weekend without a care in the world.

Specifically pork stew infused with ancho chile powder – the smells emanating from the kitchen, wafting into all nooks and crannies are enough to make you forget about all those sweet treats and instead focus on those Mexican spices, peppers, fire-roasted tomatoes, and hominy – if only for a little while. (And I do mean a little while – this is a straight-up under 1 hour recipe from start to finish. Cook it on Monday – I dare you).

stew and muffin

Not to mention a little palm-sized nugget of corn meal, cheddar cheese, and jalapeno. I love cookies, but I can’t (or shouldn’t, rather) dunk cookies into a glowing bowl of ancho-spiced broth and come out with anything close to what happens when you douse these babies with soup broth. I mean, you can eat them without the stew juices, no doubt, but in some households it’s better to sop up juice with muffins rather than lick the bowl clean with your tongue. Just sayin’. Although, you could do both…

stew and muffin

So yeah, I reneged on the cookie offer. But only temporarily – I promise. I hope you forgive me :). In the meantime, whip yourself up some of this yummy stew and some sauce-soppin’ muffins. I’ll be back next week to share another cookie recipe – and from the looks of the comments so far, I’m guessing it’s gonna be those cardamom-clementine sugar cookies. Ya might wanna bake those up for Santa!

Ancho Pork & Hominy Stew
Adapted from Cooking Light, December 2009; makes 6 servings
300 kcal, 2.1 g sat fat, 28.9 g protein, 6.1 g fiber

printable recipe

2 T ancho chile powder
2 t dried oregano
1 1/2 t smoked paprika
1 t g cumin
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 lbs pork tenderloin, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 T olive oil, divided
2 c chopped onion (1 lg yellow onion)
1 1/2 c chopped green bell pepper (1 lg pepper)
1 T minced garlic
1 28-oz can hominy, drained
2 1/2 c low sodium chicken broth
1 14.5-0z can fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained

combine first 5 ingredients in large bowl (set aside 1.5 t spice mixture) and add in pork, tossing well to coat.

heat 2 t oil in Dutch oven over med-hi heat. add pork and cook 5 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. remove pork and set aside. add remaining 1 t oil to pan and add onion, pepper, garlic. saute 5 minutes or until tender. return pork to pan. add spice mixture, broth, hominy, tomatoes; bring to a boil. partially cover, reduce heat, and simmer 25 minutes.

Cheddar-Jalapeno Corn Muffins*
Adapted from Gourmet, November 2009; makes 12 muffins

printable recipe

5 T unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 c yellow cornmeal
1 t salt
1 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
3/4 c corn (fresh or thawed)
1 1/4 c buttermilk
1 egg
1 3/4 c grated sharp white cheddar cheese
1-2 jalapenos, seeded and small-diced

spray or butter muffin pans and preheat oven to 425 F with rack in middle.

whisk together cornmeal, salt, baking powder and soda in large bowl.

whisk together corn, buttermilk, egg, melted butter in another bowl and then stir it into the flour mixture until just combined. stir in 1 1/2 c cheese and jalapeno.

divide among muffin tins and top muffins with remaining cheese. bake until puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes. cool on rack and serve warm or room temp.

If desired, muffins can be frozen individually on a sheet and put into ziploc freezer bag for individual use 🙂

*Muffins gluten-free, not dairy-free

Wetzel’s Pretzels

stuffed pretzels

Stop drooling. Well, stop just long enough to read, print the recipe, and drool over your own. I’ve been wanting to make pretzels for a while now and all I needed was a teensy weensy shove – or maybe just a little nudge would have done. Either way, here we are.

Maybe you’ve never really thought about this before, but ‘pretzel’ is really the only word I can think of that rhymes with ‘Wetzel’ (my last name…thanks to hubby – my old one was much easier to spell and rhymed with things like ‘fall’, ‘mall’, ‘ball’, and so on). The sad fact of the matter is that I actually have to say something along those lines often when spelling my last name for some idiot on the phone. “Wetzel – like pretzel”. Good times.

And sadly enough, we aren’t related to the lucky owners of the real deal Wetzel’s Pretzels. It’d be so cool if we were though.

risen dough

Although Auntie Anne’s is much better, if you ask me. I do fancy a greasy, jalapeno-studded pretzel every now and then, particularly when shopping at the Woodfield Shopping Center, which I don’t do often. Chris, on the other hand tends to grab a pretzel anytime he sees anything resembling a pretzel vendor – Auntie Anne’s or not. And yes, he prefers those over Wetzel’s too, if you can believe it. He really wants to like theirs better, but it’s utterly impossible.

He even gets the pretzels at the Cubs games or at concerts – the nasty, über salty, room temperature (although generally downright cold) blobs of dough that in my opinion can barely be eaten even when doused in hot melted nacho cheese. I’d honestly rather eat the nacho cheese with my fingers rather than dip those chewy nubbins of briny stiff dough into otherwise perfectly good over-processed cheese.

filled with cheese and ham

That being said, I knew he’d practically swoon over homemade pretzels. And although I’ve meant to find a good recipe for them, I was relieved of that duty when Gourmet magazine’s penultimate edition (sniff, sniff) graciously provided me with a recipe for ‘mini pretzels’. I don’t know about you, but in my mind the only thing better than regular-sized pretzels is lots of mini-pretzels – especially if they’re stuffed with ham & cheese! Don’t they look strangely familiar?

cut into little bites

The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. In Chris’ quest to knock out another graduate degree with about ten “sub-degrees”, he can sometimes have a rough week or two, and these last couple really had him in a tizzy. And when he’s in a tizzy, I get to cook. I figured I’d really do it up and make an appetizer, which I only do when we have company. Well, sometimes I’ll make things that can be either appetizers or dinner, and sometimes I’ll make salads, if that counts. But in general, I don’t make dishes specifically meant to be an appetizer.

pretzels - fresh outta the oven

 After scarfing down a handful of these here pretzel bites, I’m beginning to think I might be missing out. Good thing I tucked a few of them into the freezer for safekeeping.

But you – you gotta make your own. You know you wanna.

pretzel bites with mustard sauce


Ham & Cheddar Pretzel Bites w/ Jalapeno Mustard
Adapted from Gourmet, October 2009; makes 4 dozen bites

while these are fine as-is, do not hesitate to use other ‘mix-ins’. bacon would work well as a ham substitute, and there are a list of cheeses to try. i took the liberty of adding more cheese and ham below as i had to chop more halfway through filling :). like jalapenos? these would be great with a little diced jalapeno inside. i bet they’d even be good with a little nutella or chocolate if you’re wanting something more along the lines of dessert.

printable recipe

1.5 t active dry yeast
2 T plus 1 t light brown sugar, divided
1/4 c warm water
1 c warm milk
2 1/2 – 3 c ap flour
1/2 – 1 c country ham
1/2 – 2/3 c sharp cheddar cheese
4 t baking soda
1/2 c Dijon mustard
2 T finely chopped jalapeno (~1 average-size)
1 T honey
1/2 stick melted, unsalted butter (for brushing)
1-2 T coarse salt or pretzel salt


  1. stir together yeast, 1 t brown sugar, and warm water in a large bowl and let stand until foamy (8 minutes or so; no foam = bad yeast).
  2. in a separate bowl, stir remaining brown sugar and warm milk until sugar is dissolved
  3. add 2 1/2 c flour and milk mixture to yeast mixture and stir until a soft dough forms, adding up to 1/2 c more flour if necessary. turn onto lightly floured surface and gently knead a few times to form a smooth ball. transfer to clean bowl and cover with plastic wrap. let rise in draft-free place, room temp, for about 2 hours
  4. turn dough out onto lightly floured surface and cut into 4 equal portions. lightly dust your hands with flour and gently roll and stretch 1 piece into a 12-inch long rope. flatten and roll (with floured pin) into an approximately 12×4 inch rectangle. press 1/4 of cheese and ham into lower third of rectangle, leaving a 1/2 inch border at bottom. stretch bottom up and over filling and roll tightly. cut into 12 1-inch pieces and transfer to sheet pan. repeat 3 more times. let rest at room temp for 30 minutes
  5. preheat oven to 400 F. line two sheet pans with parchment paper or silpat and bring a large pot of water to boil
  6. once water is boiling, reduce heat and add baking soda, stirring to dissolve. cook pretzel bites in batches in gently simmering water, turning over once, about 20 seconds. bites will slightly puff up. transfer with slotted spoon to baking sheets
  7. bake until puffed and golden, about 15 minutes. that cheese will be oozing and looking yummy
  8. meanwhile, stir together mustard, honey, and jalapeno
  9. brush just-baked bites with melted butter and sprinkle with salt

*if desired, you can freeze these little suckers, once cooled. thaw them for ~30 minutes and bake for about 10 to reheat