It takes very little to send me into an obsessive recipe-research mode. Last week, I started thinking about soft pretzels (and then rye pretzels and then rye pretzels with caraway seeds) and, after discovering that none of my bread-focused cookbooks cover them in sufficient detail, was trying to learn all the things the internet wanted to tell me. I promptly came to an impasse – to lye or not to lye?
Traditional soft pretzels are treated before baking with a lye or baking soda bath, which gives them their distinctive flavor and texture through a Maillard reaction. Lye is said to produce the darkest, crackliest, pretzeliest pretzels. But many recipes substitute baking soda as a milder, alternative alkali because lye has to be handled with care – gloves and goggles come recommended — to avoid chemical burns.
In the end, my impatience made the decision for me. Getting food-grade lye was going to take a week or more. Baking soda was already waiting in the kitchen.
So I got to work kneading and shaping. The dough came together quickly and was easy to roll out and shape. I didn’t need additional flour to prevent sticking. The boiling baking soda bath was quicker and easier than I’d expected. The pretzels poached for 30 seconds per side, drained briefly on a kitchen towel, and then needed only a sprinkle of flaky sea salt before baking. I topped half of my pretzels with caraway seeds, which are traditional in rye breads and I highly recommend.
Maybe my pretzel standards aren’t as high as they should be, but I was thrilled at the result. These rye pretzels have the perfect chew and pretzel flavor. I’m already dreaming of more pretzels — stuffed pretzel bites, sourdough pretzel sticks — and possibly some bagel experiments, given my new enthusiasm for poaching dough.
We’re more than halfway through January – a little late for resolutions – but I’ve been thinking that I need to start cooking more at home. In my former life as a communications consultant, I would spend most of my “mental breaks” sitting at my desk reading about food (and as all my coworkers knew, I took a lot of those breaks). I never had a problem coming up with ideas for dinner that night and would head into the kitchen to take stock of the pantry as soon as I got home. I went out a good deal, too, but I was cooking dinner at least three times a week.
Now when I get home from the restaurant, I tend to want to sit down. And once I sit down, standing in the kitchen and waiting for inspiration to strike seems rather unappealing. I’ve been standing and thinking about food for about 10 hours already and I’m not really into it.
I’ve never been great with planning meals for the week (real talk: my food shopping strategy is grabbing whatever looks good) and I generally like coming up with a meal based on what I have on hand. So, I’m going to need to shop smarter to ensure I can have some components of meals prepped for the week in addition to making sure I have a well-stocked vegetable drawer.
As part of getting the new Japanese milk bread (pictured above) on the menu last week, we had to work out a recipe for the whipped honey and benne seed butter that would accompany it. I was tasting butter all day on Monday. Tiny spoonful after tiny spoonful. All. Day. After that, I was ready to EAT ALL THE VEGETABLES.
I’m having three very January cravings right now: brothy soups, hearty salads, and avocado toast. The last one is the easiest since I really only need to remember to get bread and avocados. Here’s some of my inspiration for dinners this week:
- This spicy sweet potato burrito bowl is just a bed of lettuce away from meeting all my requirements.
- This lemon and chicken soup adds brightening lemon to a quick and hearty bean, chicken, and pasta soup.
- This carrot, avocado, and orange salad from April Bloomfield has been on my “to cook” list for a while and is perfect for taking advantage of winter citrus.
- This classic Italian lentil soup looks like a great made-ahead option.
- This carrot-and-chickpea salad with fried almonds is making me rethink my reliance on bags of greens from the grocery store.
- This 30-minute chicken posole could be my ideal way to get my Mexican fix in cold weather.