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Simple Homemade Soft Pretzels


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Simple & Delicious Soft Pretzels

Simple Homemade Soft Pretzels

Simple Homemade Soft Pretzels

I’m a sucker for those big soft pretzels they sell in those pretzel specialty shops in the mall.  The thing is though, I don’t get to the mall much these days and when I do I usually have my kids in tow who end up trotting from store to store grabbing anything that catches their fancy.

“Mommy, can I have this?  I wasn’t running, I was skipping.  You said it’s almost my birthday so can I just have this now?”

Simple Homemade Soft Pretzels

Simple Homemade Soft Pretzels

It doesn’t matter that you told them before going that we were on a mission for something specific and that they are to behave, walk along with mommy and not to beg and plead for something new.  The last thing we need in this place is more “things” to toss into bins that are shoved in closets for the sole purpose of being able to walk through a room without tripping.

I get it though…kids loves toys, but mainly just “new” toys.  The hundreds of gifted toys and toys that were acquired through begging and pleading are now in those bins and put away because well, they’re old news.

Simple Soft Pretzels

Simple Soft Pretzels

Somehow, they have even resorted to turning the kitchen into a play area at times…usually the times when I’m in there trying to clean up or cook.  I am flattered, children, that you love me so much that you refuse to let me out of your site, but I can assure you that I’m only a few feet away and you will be just fine at that distance.

“The sooner you allow me to finish what I’m doing babies, the sooner I’ll be back in there with you.  I’m right here”, I say.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

One thing I’ve learned though is that the little one follows the older one most of the time so if I can get her to stay out of the kitchen when I’m busy, he’ll usually stay where she goes.  I’m thankful to have such a helpful little girl.  She really looks out for her little brother. =)

Soft Pretzels (1)

Simple Homemade Soft Pretzels

My kids love pretzels.  I’m pretty excited for my daughter to get home because I know she’ll be so excited to see a big, soft pretzel waiting for her.  I’m positive her dip of choice will be cheese.  I prefer cream cheese, which she likes too, but I’m certain she’ll prefer some time type of nacho cheese.

Ingredients (makes 4):

  • 1 packet dry, active yeast
  • 1 1/2 cup warm water
  • coarse sea salt to top pretzels
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (and some for counter-top kneading)
  • 3 1/2 cup bread flour

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Fill a big pot with 9 cups of water and 2/3 cup of baking soda and bring to a boil.  Beat egg in separate container and set aside. In a medium bowl, add warm water and yeast and stir.  Add salt, sugar and stir again.  Add cup of all-purpose flour and stir to combine.  Next add bread flour, one cup at a time, kneading into mixture (this will be sticky).  Continue to add additional sprinkles of flour over dough as you stir it until it’s no longer sticky to touch.  Move dough to clean, floured surface and knead.  Continue adding sprinkles of flour to reduce stickiness to make dough handling easier.  Shape dough into ball and cut dough into 3-5 sections, depending on how large or small you want your pretzels.  Take each section and use the palms of you hands to roll section out into a long rope that is even in diameter lengthwise.  Take ends of dough rope and lift upward on surface to create heart-shape, then wrap the ends around each other 2-3 times, pulling downward and lay pretzel dough ends atop bottom of pretzel ring.  In other words, create the traditional pretzel shape with this dough.  Drop dough pretzel (one at a time) into pot of boiling water/baking soda pot and cook for 3-5 minutes each.  After quick boil, place pretzel on baking sheet and baste with egg on both sides (or dip into egg).  Bake for 15-25 minutes or until cooked throughout and golden brown, depending on pretzel size it may take longer.

Simple Homemade Soft Pretzels

Simple Homemade Soft Pretzels

It’s finally Friday.  Try your hand at making these soft pretzels if you find the time.  Kids absolutely love them…of course I shook off some of that sea salt for the kids.  I caked it on the dough before baking to make sure much of it would stick, but it’s pretty simple to get off once it’s baked if you find it’s too salty.

I’m not sure what I’ll have cooking up for the weekend but I’m looking forward to the family time.  Thanks for stopping by and don’t forget to cook, bake and eat life up!  See you next time. =)

Garlic Butter Sauce (5)


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Garlic Lime & Herb Butter Sauce

Garlic Butter Sauce (7)

Garlic Lime & Herb Butter Sauce

It’s pretty humorous the random things Ryan comes home with.  While stopping by the store on his way home from work for milk and baby wipes he noticed that the Alaskan King Crab legs were on sale and just had to pick some up.  Of course, I didn’t complain.  Crab legs are awesome and always welcome on our dinner plates!

Luckily, my son decided to nap late afternoon which gave me the chance to prepare this meal, undisturbed, as he slumbered peacefully on the sofa.  Unfortunately, he fell asleep about 20 minutes before the time we have to get to the bus stop to walk my daughter home from school.  I kept playing the scenario out in my head as I filled a pot of water and set it on the stove to boil.

When I wake him up for anything, he is incredibly crabby (pun intended).  I’m not exaggerating either, the kid will scream and fuss for a good hour.  I try to allow him to wake up on his own as much as possible to make sure he gets all the rest his needs and to avoid the crab and fuss.

Fortunately, one of my neighbors has a son in my daughter’s class who also rides the same bus and she happily walked her home for me.  Crisis averted!  Thanks neighbor!  It was more helpful that she even knows.

Garlic Butter Sauce (12)

Garlic Lime & Herb Butter Sauce

I’ve experimented a bit with butter sauce before.  It’s really simple to make, doesn’t take much time at all to make, and is the perfect dipping sauce for crab legs.  Of course, an all butter sauce with a splash of olive oil is great, but the addition of freshly minced garlic is always better.

I’ve also tried the splash of lemon in addition to the garlic, which is pretty incredible too (even for scampi or pasta).  This time around though, I used a smidge of lime juice instead and added a pinch of dill weed for a hint of herb flavor.

Perhaps you wouldn’t think of adding dill weed or lime, but it was superb!  The garlic butter pairs well with the hint of lime and dill.  Trust me.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if you give it a try.  Ryan asked me several times as he ate about what it was I put in that sauce this time around because he couldn’t believe how amazing it was.

Garlic Butter Sauce (10)

Garlic Lime & Herb Butter Sauce in Cornbread

Unless you were to consume several pounds of crab legs you won’t have a full stomach.  It’s a chore in itself to crack that shell and get that delicious crab meat out, so it’s always wise to make a little something to go with this meal that’s a bit more substantial.  I paired it with a simple cornbread, Jiffy to be exact, and that cornbread served well for two reasons.

The first reason being that it’s filling.  The second reason being that you can cut the center out of the cornbread muffin and fill it with that delicious butter sauce.  I plated it on a separate little saucer on the plate of crab legs, filled it with some butter sauce and voila! Once the dipping sauce has been used you are left with a cornbread muffin saturated with that flavorful butter sauce. Yum!

Garlic Butter Sauce (8)

Garlic Lime & Herb Butter Sauce

Ingredients (makes 1 cup):

  • 1/2 cup butter (salted)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp dill weed
  • 1 tsp lime juice

Directions:

Heat butter in saucepan over medium heat.  Add garlic and allow to cook with butter for 1-2 minutes to infuse flavor.  Add olive oil, dill weed and lime juice.  Reduce heat, stir and simmer for an additional five minutes. Pour into a dipping dish and serve warm with crab legs.

So, it’s simple and quick.  If you want to make the cornbread to use as a side and/or dipping dish just make it according to package instructions.  I believe it only takes 1 egg and a little milk.  As far as the crab legs go you can bring a pot of boiling water with a bit of salt in it to a rolling boil, add your crab legs that have been thawed (immersing in water entirely) and boil for 5-7 minutes.

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King Crab Legs, Garlic Butter Sauce

Thanks for stopping by to visit me and I hope to see you again soon.  I think it’s about time for some baked goodies!  Look forward to sharing that with you next time I hope. =)

Chicken Alfredo (2)


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Fettuccine with Chicken Parmesan Alfredo

Chicken Alfredo (5)

Fettuccine With Chicken Parmesan Alfredo

This wasn’t the simplest of dishes to photograph.  We were craving pasta, Chicken Fettuccine Alfredo to be exact, but by the time I finished this dinner yesterday I was so hungry that I wanted to eat first….the pictures could wait, but my hunger had waited long enough.

I saved a small portion for lunch today and that’s what I snapped a few pics of before I ate it up with my son.  The sauce thickens as it sits so if you do decide to save some for later keep in mind that it heats up tastier than ever the second time around, but the sauce will be thicker.

Can I just say this was some of the best Fettuccine Alfredo I have ever had?  You can add chicken like I did, or just leave it out and I can assure you it’s excellent either way.  The taste is all about the Alfredo Sauce.  The addition of simple garlic bread completed the meal for my family, but is completely unnecessary if you’re watching your carbs (I’m not).

 

Ingredients (Serves 4-6):

  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1 12 oz box fettuccine pasta noodles (cook according to box instructions)
  • 1/2 tablespoon sea salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup or 1 stick of butter (I love Land ‘O Lakes)
  • 2-3 cups of heavy cream (1 small/short carton whole)
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 3 chicken breasts, cubed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

Directions:

Cook pasta according to box instructions as you prepare the sauce.  In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium and cook chicken.  Reduce heat to medium low.  Add butter and stir to melt, followed by minced garlic. Allow to simmer with chicken for 2 minutes or so.  Add heavy cream, sea salt, pepper and Parmesan Cheese.  Let simmer for an additional 10 minutes, stirring on occasion.  Add 2 tablespoons of flour and stir to blend (this helps thicken the sauce).  Reduce heat to low/warm and let stand about 5-7 minutes to allow sauce to thicken a bit. Pour over plated dish of fettuccine noodles and serve hot.

Chicken Alfredo (1)

Fettuccine Chicken Parmesan Alfredo

I have a lot of random work to finish up so my time has been spread thin lately.  It’s been nice being able to cook again and everyone enjoyed this pasta.

My daughter, who has become pickier with age absolutely loved this pasta.  She usually adds a lot of Parmesan but it wasn’t necessary for this pasta.

The sauce is creamy and so full of Parmesan flavor that adding additional salt or Parmesan after it’s plated isn’t required.

If you need a good Alfredo recipe, try this sauce!  Thanks for stopping by and I’ll see you soon. =)

Cheesy Mac & Shells


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Baked Cheesy Mac & Shells

Cheesy Mac & Shells

Cheesy Mac & Shells

So I’ve had certain things I’ve made and taken pictures of for the blog that haven’t been posted yet and what better time than now to get them out there?

As you can see from my previous post, a lot has happened and I have been preoccupied with some major life changes lately, but we’ve still been eating….maybe not so much and I haven’t had much time to get in the kitchen and cook or bake much, but of course, we’ve been eating.

I was organizing my photo files and noticed these lovely pictures of a mac & cheese (well mac & shells dish) I had made a while back that never made it to a post.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned that Mac & Cheese is one of my daughter’s most favorite foods so I’ve taken the time to get inventive with such a dish to hone in on something that will appease her.

cheesey mac & shells (1)

There’s a wonderful restaurant on the lake down the road from here that serves a Mac & Cheese dish that she absolutely adores.  They claim to use the finest of Wisconsin Cheese in the dish and oh my goodness, it sure is hard to not devour half of her order after only stating I would like a “bite to taste”.

Ryan and I actually went there on a “date night” this past Friday and the only thing that stopped me from ordering the Mac & Cheese despite the absence of my daughter was their incredible crab cake.  We had a great night.  After dining indoors we made our way to the large outdoor patio section they call the “beer garden”.

cheesey mac & shells (3)

Every seat on the deck off the lake was taken and we stood in the back south-west corner of the lot and before too long, the people who occupied the large table in front of us offered us seating as long as we agreed to dance at some point throughout the night as the woman of the table was celebrating her birthday.

Now I don’t dance much and Ryan especially doesn’t dance much but hey, it was a deal we couldn’t refuse.  It was fun actually, and we got some good laughs out of watching each other attempt to follow along with dances everyone else seemed to know but us (even those older than us).

What can I say?  We work hard and play little.  We haven’t had much free time for such things as learning the new dance moves of whatever new song hits the radio.

Long story short, it’s nice to cut loose sometimes and act goofy.  Life’s too short to refrain from doing the silly harmless things that could make you laugh simply because you’re afraid of looking like a fool.

Ingredients (Serves 4-6):

  • 1 (10 oz) block sharp cheddar cheese (freshly grated from the block)
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 (16 oz) package of macaroni shells, cooked
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tsp ground mustard
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 Degrees F.  Melt butter in Dutch Oven and whisk in flour until well-combined.  Heat milk in microwave for 1 minute and whisk into butter/flour mixture in Dutch Oven for about 5 minutes or until thickened. Whisk in ground mustard, salt and pepper and add pasta shells, 1 cup of shredded cheese stirring in to cover with mixture.  Top with remaining freshly grated sharp cheddar cheese and bake uncovered in Dutch Oven for 20 minutes or until cheese had melted and become bubbly.

cheesey mac & shells (2)

 

This gives you an idea of just how much cheese I loaded on the dish.  The final result was pretty incredible.

I hope you all have had a great weekend.  Mine seemed to have flown on by, but it was a good one.  Thanks for stopping by and I hope you gather the chance to cook, bake & eat life up this week!

See you next time!


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And Donna Was Her Name

There’s a lesson in death.

When you are forced to stand beside someone you love in suffering, you suffer too.  When that person dies, it feels as if a part of you has died too.

donna

Donna Ann Brannon-Grepke

My sister Donna was only thirty when she passed last Tuesday (August 5th, 2014).  She was the youngest of 5 children and fit perfectly in her role as the baby of the family, even after we had become adults.  But, being the youngest didn’t stop her from teaching me some things about life.

My sister was a piece of happiness.  She was a burst of energy.  When I sat in a room with her, there were very few awkward moments of silence.  Her energy fed off of attention and her ability to entertain and socialize spread to everyone else in her presence. Silence was no match for her.

She always referred to herself as, “the life of the party”, and she truly was.  Her presence alone was like a party in which she played the roles of hostess, entertainer, commentator and spectator, simultaneously.

My sister was light. She was a spark in a dark room that set off an invisible series of fireworks to brighten the darkness…and even our moods. She burst and she boomed with light that filled the night sky above us and created a unique sound that resonates in our ears as fireworks do, and even after she had to go, our eyes can still see her sparkle and hear the sound of her laughter.

My sister was hope. She made it hard for anyone she encountered to sulk in feelings of their own gloom. She was a ray of sunshine that fell from the Heavens and landed in our small section of Earth. She used her light and warmth to blanket us.

She was silly and fun; She demanded entertainment on ordinary days and her goofy jokes and laughter seemed to seep into the cracks of broken hearts and troubled minds to fill the void with a lightheartedness that could subdue the woes of just about anyone.

She was all of these things despite her health problems.  Although her body was dying, her spirit grew stronger. She whimpered as she suffered and smiled in between.  She was fearful of how death would take her, but her soul was abundant in faith.

The weeks before moving I had been going to visit her in the hospital on a regular basis.  Her stay there totaled about a month when the Doctor finally stated that there was nothing more they could do for her.

There was a choice she had to make…go to a sort-of “in between” facility to attempt to regain the strength in her legs to walk again so that she could home and let her disease run it’s course without proper pain management and care, or to check-in to hospice and stop treatment all-together.

She chose the “in-between” facility and after about 2-3 days decided she had enough.  At that point, she was too weak and ill to walk and the effort was pointless as the result was suffering and death either way.

It took an amazing amount of courage to make that decision on her own. Despite the sadness and overwhelming frantic fear I felt, I also felt proud of her strength.  She was brave, and so very courageous.

I received a text from her that day stating that she was getting moved into her new “short-term home” later that afternoon.  It was time to enjoy the time she had left as best she could and she wanted us there.

She checked in on a Tuesday.  She passed on a Tuesday.  She lasted a week.

Donna enjoying a visit from her beloved cat Max.

Donna enjoying a visit from her beloved cat Max.

With the exception of the day she checked-in, I spent the next 6 days there with my sister.  Wednesday we had arranged for what I called a “slumber party”, and mom and I packed our bags and hit the road.

It’s a two-hour drive from where we live to where she was.  Two hours worth of silent mouths and busy minds. One-hundred and twenty minutes of thought creating emotion and subconscious regression of outward expressions of those emotions.

We had to be strong for her.  We had to make it feel a little less frightening somehow.  We had to capitalize on the time we had left.

We spent the afternoon talking and laughing; Reminiscing about slumber parties we had thrown in the past as kids, listing who we could remember was there and teasing mom about the funny things she would do and say to our friends.  Donna was in good spirits that night.

When it got late mom and I stepped outside for a bit to gather our things from the car. When we returned we discovered that two nurses had come in and had moved the loveseat alongside her bed so we could be near her, pulled the hide-away bed out from inside and left a stack of neatly piled blankets and pillows there for us.

MichelleMomHospice

Hospice “Slumber Party”

Donna gladly announced that she had called them in and asked them to do that while we were out so we wouldn’t have to go through the trouble.

Donna was one of the most considerate people I knew, even as she lay there dying. She was so happy that we were there to stay for the night.  She was as accommodating as she could be, as we were her “guests” for the night.

That was only her second night there at hospice.  Time has been a blur to me as of late.

“I’m going to stay up and watch some TV”, she said.  “I can’t sleep very well lately.  Is that going to bother anyone?”

“No,” we replied.  “You can do whatever you need to do and we will be fine”, I said.

Another example of how considerate my little sister was.

For eleven years Donna was advised to follow a Renal Diet.  During both her hospital and hospice stay those diet restrictions were thrown out the window.  I remember asking the nurse about it just to clarify and getting this as a response: “If I were in Donna’s position now I would eat German Chocolate Cake every single day.  I mean, why not?  Enjoy what you love as much as you can now”, she said.

And, that’s exactly what she did.  Instead of German Chocolate Cake though, she wanted cheeseburgers and soft drinks, mom’s Asian food like Chicken Adobo and Chinese Noodles and sweets like cookies and cake.  They had a cook that would come in daily and prepare made-to-order meals for the patients there and the food was actually good she said; Nothing like the hospitals food.

When she had no requests for something we could make her, she would order meatloaf from the hospice kitchen and as I walked into the family sitting area to grab a cup of coffee or juice, I would see the man with his blue apron preparing it for her.

It amazed me that she had such an appetite at first, but she told me it wasn’t that at all.  She said even though she didn’t really feel all that hungry she wanted to eat everything she loved while she still could.  That broke my heart in some ways.  To think that in her last days one thing she enjoyed most was simply being able to eat whatever she wanted, as she hadn’t been able to do that for years without getting a slap on the wrist for it.

Donna deciding what to order from the Menu.

Donna deciding what to order from the Menu.

My sister was a simple person, with a kind heart.  Material items didn’t interest her and while she was still able to, she had spent much of her time at the local Step House in the city she lived, helping those there through their problems and driving them to job interviews and appointments.  She was selfless.

Because of that many of them attended her funeral in tears and they held a meeting using her as the topic.  She was an inspiration to them and they had grown to love her.

She always told me stories about the people she had met there and how they had become her family.  They listened to her and looked up to her.  Some of them would call her “mom”, but most called her friend.

It felt like it would last forever, yet happened so quickly.  There were four solid days in which she was pretty alert.  She was surrounded by family her entire stay, even when it got bad and they limited it to two visitors in the room at a time.  Her husband Steve slept in her room every night with the exception of the night mom and I had slept there.

Steve was there for her in the end.  He laid his head down on her bed to sleep and when he awoke she had passed early Tuesday morning.  They loved each other so incredibly much.

donna steve

From Donna to Steve

Saturday was an especially packed house.  I went ahead and told her I was going to head home to prepare things for my daughters first day of kindergarten on Monday.  She text me after I left and asked what was wrong.  I said nothing and explained that I just wanted to let everyone else have their time to visit too so I may as well get some errands done at home.

She told me she wanted to give me something to get some special food/snacks to pack in Ashley’s lunchbox for the week.

“You don’t have to do that Donna,” I said.

“I know,” she replied.

“But I want to do something nice for my niece since she’s starting school and I won’t be around,” she said.  “Promise me that when you come tomorrow you’ll take me up on my offer and go do that,” she said.

During her last days of life she was concerned about others.  Donna wanted to do what she could for her family and if she couldn’t physically be there, she tried to find ways to share in the experience somehow.  That offer and kind gesture was her way of doing so.

When I came back the next day, she was asleep.  She had began to sleep more and more and struggled to stay awake.  We sat around her room to watch over her.  The clock kept ticking and still, she slept.  I began to think that perhaps she wouldn’t wake again at that point but a while later, she did.

One of my other sisters noticed her moving her lips so she figured she may be thirsty.  She ran to hallway to get a cup of ice and rubbed ice along her lips and a few seconds later, she opened her eyes.

Everyone filled the room.  We were so thankful that she actually woke up again and we all wanted to be there for that.  Of course, she was disoriented during that stage, but she still knew who we were and regardless of her state-of-mind at that time, it was a blessing to have been able to talk to her that last time.

That was the last time she woke up and spoke to us.  After she fell asleep again, she stayed asleep until she passed.

The Memorial Service was Sunday; The funeral was Monday.

I can’t describe what it’s been like since she passed, I’m still going through the process of grieving.  After all, she passed only last week and we attended her funeral just two days ago.

Part of this tribute to her and telling this story is part of this process and what Donna had requested of me before she passed.

“You can tell my story, Michelle,” she said.

Only I couldn’t understand how and I still don’t, really.  How could I describe my sister and all that we shared with words?  Could I sum it all up in one story?  No. I can’t.  There are layers and layers of history, countless instances of laughter, memories of the hardships we shared and had gotten through together, nicknames we had given each other that changed upon various points in our lives, babies born and marriages, divorces and re-marriages.  There is too much in my heart and soul that involved her that I couldn’t possibly sum that up in words.

There is a lesson in death.

People are left with a different piece of the puzzle as they move on to the grieving process.  Some step closer, some step further, some stand still, and some lie down.

Some feel guilt for whatever reason.  Others don’t.  We have all been feeling utterly sad at times.  We all have shed tears.  I feel like someone in the room is missing.  I can’t bring myself to delete the last group of text messages she had sent me, yet I’m shocked at first glance each time I tap that messages icon on my screen and see her name there, as if she had just sent me a text message.

Our place is adorned and fragrant with flowers from her service that are still very much alive.

The lesson learned and thoughts collected in the aftermath is different for everyone.  I’m thankful to have had thirty years with my sister.  She taught me that there are many doors presented to you in life and death but to get through it you must realize that Faith is the key and Love is the lock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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