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Black Bean and Corn Enchilada Nachos
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Black Bean and Corn Enchilada Nachos

How is it that some weeks my menu planning skills go completely out the window?  OK, so I take that back.  Maybe not completely out the window but rather altered considerably.  I go from having 6 strong meals and a leftover night to a Sunday night that sounds a little like this:

T: “Well, I was going to make eggplant…”
K: “Eggplant?” (scrunched face)
T: “Yeah, remember those pitas we made a few weeks ago? But the eggplant takes a while to cook…”
K: “Oh. (pause) I could really go for a burger.”

And so I totally sabotaged dinner that night and we ended up at the bar & grill down the street from the house; me with shrimp fajitas and him with a gigantic burger.  At least I finished my [98%] meatless month out strong.

Black Bean and Corn Enchilada Nachos

These black bean and corn enchilada nachos were born from a similar conversation.  I had planned to make tortillas for our originally-slated-on-the-menu enchiladas but a nap during a snowy afternoon this week got the best of me.  It felt gooood (minus the nightmare I had but that’s another story for another day).  So instead, I whipped out the bag of blue corn chips, made the filling from the enchilada recipe while the enchilada sauce simmered for a few minutes on the stove and we made enchilada nachos for dinner instead.  Who seriously would have thought that vegetarian nachos could be such a filling meal?  Together with the enchilada sauce I posted yesterday, these nachos can be borne from pantry staples in no time…and perhaps just in time for your anti-Super Bowl party or for the real thing Sunday night.  Either way, you can’t lose.

Soft Pretzel Bites with Cheese Sauce
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I am a complete sucker for mall pretzels.  And it’s a darn good thing that you’ll only find me at the mall once or twice a year because more trips would like equal more pretzels.  And as much as I love them, I’ve only made them once before, admittedly to great success but since Kyle isn’t a huge fan (crazy boy), I haven’t made them again.  But in all the years since I first made them, there’s been one recipe I’ve been saving and I finally decided to bust it out just in time to share it with you while you’re all getting crazy planning your Super Bowl (or maybe anti-Super Bowl?) party menus.  For the record, we’ll both be watching movies this Sunday, as is our annual tradition, while the rest of the nation is either watching the Super Bowl or waiting for the commercials (rarely both).

So this recipe isn’t any big secret; in fact, it’s probably the most widely adored one out there but if you haven’t made it yet, you need to get.on.it.  Like now!  And don’t be intimidated by making homemade soft pretzels either because this recipe is practically fool-proof.  I not only halved the recipe (something that isn’t always recommended with yeast recipes), but I also refrigerated the dough overnight after the rise (something that is usually done to yeast dough before the rise, if at all).  I let the dough come back to room temperature for about 2 hours before using it and the pretzel bites turned out like a dream.  Seriously awesome soft pretzels.  And dipped in the homemade cheese sauce (no processed ingredients with this recipe!), I was floating through mall pretzel heaven.  Josie made this recipe back in October and suggested brushing the pretzels both before and after baking them and I couldn’t agree more – buttery soft pretzels might just be the perfect snack food!

Soft Pretzel Bites with Cheese Sauce

Prep Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Cook Time: PT10-12M

Yield: about 10 dozen pretzel pieces

If one batch of pretzels is too much for your needs or you want to make them in advance for a party, these pretzel bites can be frozen after you cut them and before you boil them. Place the dough pieces on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze then toss them in a zip-top bag. When you want them later, boil them directly from the freezer (add an extra 15 seconds to the boil time) and bake for the time instructed.

Ingredients

    For the pretzels:
  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 1/4 tsp instant yeast
  • 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • Pretzel or Kosher salt
  • For the cheese sauce:
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 8 oz extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (not package pre-shredded cheese - shred your own)
  • Kosher salt

Instructions

  1. To make the pretzels: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix together the water, sugar, yeast, and salt on low speed for 10 seconds. Switch to the dough hook and add the flour and butter. Mix on low speed until well combined. Change to medium speed and knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Remove the dough from the bowl and transfer it to a well-oiled bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.
  2. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Set aside.
  3. Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an wide 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.
  4. In the meantime, turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into 8 equal pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into a 24-inch rope. Slice each rope into 1 1/2-inch pieces. Place a lightly damp towel over the pretzel pieces to prevent them from drying out while you roll and cut the other pieces.
  5. Using a slotted spoon lower a handful of the pretzel pieces into the boiling water and boil them for 30 seconds, flipping them around in the water with the spoon a couple of times. Remove the pretzel pieces from the water using the spoon, drain as best you can, and place them on the baking sheets. Brush the top of each pretzel with the melted butter and sprinkle with the pretzel/Kosher salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 10 - 12 minutes. Brush with remaining melted butter before serving. Serve warm.
  6. To make the cheese sauce: In a small saucepan set over medium heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour and cook for 30 seconds, whisking constantly.
  7. Slowly whisk in the milk until no lumps of flour remain. Stirring constantly, bring the milk to a simmer over medium-low heat until it thickens, about 3-5 minutes. Remove the pan from the stove and stir in the shredded cheese until all of the cheese has melted. Add a pinch of salt, if needed. Serve warm. Leftovers can be reheated in the microwave on medium power at 30 second intervals.

Source

source: pretzels adapted from Alton Brown; cheese sauce is a Smells Like Home original

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http://www.smells-like-home.com/2012/01/soft-pretzel-bites-with-cheese-sauce/

Monster Munch (Halloween Popcorn Mix)
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More than usual this year, I’ve been scouting around for Halloween treats to make.   I typically only oogle at all the fun stuff posted around the interwebs, bookmarking and filing ideas away into the recesses of my brain.  But I feel much more “in the spirit” this year, quite possibly because our new house is finally under construction (!!!) thus giving me a big project to focus on other than everyday “life stuff.”   And dare I say that I’m stoked to get my Martha on with some glitter, Mod Podge, and pumpkins?!

This Monster Munch popcorn mix is one of the treats I Pinned a few weeks back and I was immediately sold.  It is chocolate covered popcorn with candy after all – how bad could it be? – and it took me all of maybe 8 minutes to put this popcorn mix together over the weekend, thanks to my new Whirley-Pop that revolutionized my life with fresh popcorn in 3 minutes.  That’s my kind of treat!  I can’t ever seem to find almond bark in the grocery store (should I just order it from Amazon?) so I used orange candy melts, which were way more festive than white chocolate/bark anyway.  You’ll toss your favorite add-ins into the fresh popcorn – anything from candy to nuts or even pretzel snaps – then drizzle on some melted chocolate and stir everything together.  It’s almost an instant Halloween treat!

Black Bean and Beef Chili
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Black Bean and Beef Chili

With Fall on the doorstep, the morning temperatures here have been dipping into the 30s and honestly, it’s been lovely!  This weather has also got us craving (and I mean craving) cold-weather foods and I’m the first one to say, “Bring on the chili!”  Actually, when I was making up our menu for this week last Friday morning, I sort of had an epiphany when I realized, with my winter slippers already on and a hot cup of coffee sitting next to me, that it’s time for cozy food again.  What an exciting moment in a Fall-favoring foodie’s life!  So this black bean and beef chili made it to the menu and the weather hasn’t disappointed us yet this week.  It seems as if Fall is the only season that “knows” it’s place here in New England – Winter lasts well into Spring, sometimes it feels like we miss Spring and jump directly into Summer, and Winter often feels like it starts in November.  Fall…you’re right on time!

Black Bean and Beef Chili

We made this chili once last winter and decided that it deserves a place of honor next to my turkey chili.  It’s really fantastic…for a beef chili.  Believe it or not, this was our first beef chili – it’s been one of Kyle’s long-standing, yet never-fulfilled requests and I can assure you that he is a happy camper with this recipe.  I was mainly afraid of beef chili being greasy but the use of very lean ground beef in this recipe remedies this issue…which made me a very happy camper.  What’s so cool about this recipe is that you’ll purée one can of the black beans with the tomatoes and this mixture will thicken the chili as it cooks.  The chili ends up thick and hearty without too much heat despite the various types of chile powders.  I can’t think of a better meal to welcome in my favorite season…and paired with a few scoopable Fritos, I’d say it’s pretty darn close to perfection.

Restaurant Style Queso Dip
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I’m sure I’m not the only person out there who is always looking for the ever elusive queso dip that we all love from our local Mexican restaurants.  As far as the easy options go in order to make it at home, there are two typical options: the jarred stuff and the block stuff to mix with salsa or Rotel.  But you know what?  This homemade version isn’t any more difficult than making queso dip with block cheese and in my opinion (and not just my opinion), it’s 100x better than either the block cheese version or the quick and dirty jarred stuff.  A quick sauté of some diced onions and fresh pepper, melt in some shredded cheese then add some cream, tomato, and cilantro and you’ve got homemade restaurant style queso dip!

Restaurant Style Queso Dip

The key to this recipe is the addition of deli-sliced American cheese (don’t judge!).  I also threw in some pepper Jack and provolone partly because they both melt really well but mostly because I didn’t have enough American in the house when I made this on a whim last weekend – my modifications to the original recipe are below.  Once heated through (and thoroughly stirred while it’s being heated), this recipe yields a nice, creamy queso dip.  As you can see, it’s also the perfect topping for some chili nachos (game time, anyone??) and we also topped a couple of steamed hot dogs with the queso for dinner one night this week as well.  And wouldn’t this queso be an awesome way to make homemade cheese fries as well?  You bet!  Overall, this is a definite winner and you certainly won’t find any other queso dip in my house from here on out.

Pizza Bites
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What a better way to start the new year than with some Pizza Bites?  When there’s bread and cheese involved, diets be damned! Actually, I made sure I made these bites before the annual resolution kicked in today so as to avoid any guilt.  And boy were they worth every bit of anticipation I had about them since Annie posted about them almost a year ago.  Seriously, they were amazing – so good that I’m ashamed to admit that Kyle and I polished off the whole batch by ourselves on NYE.  You could fill them with practically anything but the process is simple: cut pizza dough into 20-24 pieces, press some mozzarella cheese and pepperoni (or turkey pepperoni, or cooked ground sausage, etc.) into the dough, and wrap the dough around the filling.  You’ll bake them for 20 minutes and then watch them get devoured.  I can’t see these lasting very long at any party so go ahead and double the recipe – your friends will thank you.

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