Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Soft Pretzels


A new challenge has hit me as the head chef in my kitchen during Snowzilla:  my vegetarian has now decided she wants to be vegan.  Vegan! Vegetarian, no problem.  As a family, we actually found it easy to adjust to her lifestyle change when we were only talking about cutting meat out of her diet.  We still ate meat, but a lot less of it.  I had successfully worked around Madison's decision back then.  However, she was determined to do more and it wasn't necessarily for any social issue. Instead, it was mostly for herself.



You think vegetarian, you think vegetables.  Well, that wasn't the case for our dear girl.  Madison had come to realize that she was still making bad food choices overall and relied way too heavily on cheese and pasta.  She came to her decision simply because she wanted to eat healthier.  Being vegan, she claims, will help her eat better.  How do you argue with that?  If it were me, I'd just eat healthier.  Yet, if she thinks she can't do it without giving herself a label, then let's give her that label.  I couldn't exactly deny her the opportunity to make healthier choices, and if this is what it would take to make it happen then I had to make it happen.  

Being a cheese-loving, egg-loving, dairy-loving family this new decision of hers definitely sent me into a panic. I live for baking.  I am a dairy farmer's best customer.  The amounts of eggs, butter, and milk I use in my food knows no bounds.  Well, now they do.  What to do?!


I immediately hit the internet and the cookbooks.  I love a good challenge in the kitchen.  We took a trip to our local organic market and looked at all of the ready-made options we could find.  I've learned all about how to work around ingredients such as eggs.  I also for the first time took a look around the store and noticed just how many things are labeled vegan.  There really are not just great alternatives but some delicious foods out there that are dairy-free.  Obviously, I'll be posting some of these great finds in future blog entries.


We tried the new vegan "eggs" out on the market. Two words: don't bother.  Egads! The smell alone is enough to turn the stomach of anyone wanting to scramble that "egg" for breakfast.  At one time in my life I lived near a paper mill outside of Auburn, Alabama in the town Norma Rae made famous, Opelika.  If you've ever smelled the air in a paper mill town, you'll know what smell I'm referring to. Sulphur. Sulphur, people! Rotten, rotten, rotten smell.  What always astounded my senses was the people sitting outside on their porches waving as you drove through.  I am convinced they had become so used to the smell and desensitized to it that they didn't even notice how awful it was.  That's the only explanation.  These vegan "eggs" smelled exactly the same only you were supposed to eat them after stinking up the entire house.  Then, you taste them and it's as if you're tasting nothing. Madison said it was like eating air. No taste at all.  So, why go to the trouble? It's something I've always wondered about.  If you make the decision to be vegetarian, I think you can live without anything resembling meat.  If you make the decision to become vegan, I think you can live without an egg.  After our experiment, I think we will be doing just that.


As a family, we are actually enjoying the new dishes.  The rest of us are not going vegan since I don't think the men in my life could survive without some of their favorites.  However, we are enjoying many side dishes that are all new and have been fantastic for the holiday weight gain Gary and I have not enjoyed packing on.  I'll be featuring some of these soon from some great cookbooks and blogs I've found. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, let's begin with the first snack I made after Madison's declaration.  The biggest challenge the kids (and I) have had is in the dessert and snack department.  Madison misses her cookies and brownies.  No ice cream anymore.  No rice pudding.  What to do?


Well, it's time to make new snacks.  The first thing I made was mainly for my own benefit, I'll admit.  Last year, I chaperoned a trip to Philadelphia with Aidan's 5th grade class.  After a day of visiting the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, and Benjamin Franklin's home, we boarded the bus back to Maryland.  One of the other chaperones was from Philadelphia and had a family member who ran a pretzel stand.  At the end of the day, he boarded the bus with a box of fresh pretzels for every person.  What a guy!


Now, I'm used to New York pretzels, large-sized skinny pretzels that are on the chewy and dry side.  I had never had Philadelphia pretzels.  In fact, I didn't even know there was a difference.  Well, there is and I've never been able to move on from the memory of those pretzels.  They were smaller but more dense.  Doughy and buttery.  Soft and warm.  I never knew I could get so excited by a pretzel.


When met with Madison's challenge and a day at home (one among many) during Snowzilla, I took to the internet and some of my favorite blogs to find a recipe that would mimic the pretzels I loved so much on that bus.  With luck, I found a great recipe right away on King Arthur Flour's site.  As long as I used all organic ingredients, including the sugar, and substituted the brushed-on butter with vegan "butter", I was golden.


These pretzels are surprisingly easy to make.  The dough takes no time at all to make and only has to sit for 30 minutes to allow the glutens to rest.  It's not a sticky dough and was incredibly easy to roll and shape.  The finished pretzels sit in a baking soda/water bath for two minutes before baking in the oven in order to give them that golden brown color we know and love so well in our pretzels.  You finish each pretzel off with brushed-on melted butter, or in our case vegan butter.


The taste-test results:  success! All of the kids loved them and Aidan declared them to be the best pretzels he has ever had.  He even noticed how much they were like the ones we had in Philadelphia without my mentioning those had been my inspiration.  Madison, who happens to not care for pretzels that much, was a fan as well.


If you're looking for a fun snack to put out there for your guests during the Super Bowl, try King Arthur's recipe for homemade pretzels.  Make them big or cut them into bite-sized pieces.  They will be a definite crowd-pleaser.  Add a little mustard to dip them in and you will be a star.  Your guests will be shocked you made them from scratch.  And, you never have to tell them how easy it was.

And, if you're looking for more Super Bowl recipe ideas, follow my Pinterest board at https://www.pinterest.com/foodismytherapy/super-bowl-fixins/.  Great ideas for the vegans, vegetarians, and carnivores in your life.

Click here for the pretzel recipe:  http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/hot-buttered-soft-pretzels-and-pretzel-bites-recipe