Pretzel Bun Stuffing

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Have you ever been in a restaurant and decided on a nice, big, juicy burger for dinner? You’re super-excited and think nothing can be better than your highly anticipated burger? So you place your order with the server, and then s/he asks you, “Do you want that on a regular bun or a pretzel bun?” Literally NO ONE EVER has responded with, “Ehh, just give me the regular bun.” Why? Because even though you were excited about that highly anticipated, big, juicy burger in and of itself… a pretzel bun just makes everything better!

Ok now, translate that sentiment to Thanksgiving stuffing. We made this stuffing entirely from pretzels buns. When we made stuffing last year for Friendsgiving, we added a few pretzel buns for a little surprise, and it worked well. So this year, we decided to up the ante and go with 100% pretzel bun! The idea of pretzel bun stuffing inspired me to add a few non-traditional touches to this recipe, but it’s not so non-traditional that people will turn their noses up at it. Honestly, given the overwhelming herbaciousness of the stuffing (with very traditional herbs!), you’d never notice the extra ingredients. But you will know just how delicious it tastes as you inhale it!

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Pretzel Bun Stuffing

Ingredients: 
  • 8 pretzel rolls, torn
  • 1 high quality beef hot dog, finely chopped
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 stick of unsalted butter, divided (1/2 cup + 1/4 cup + more)
  • 1/4 cup fresh sage, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tbsp fresh thyme, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tbsp fresh rosemary, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • Fresh black pepper
  • 1 tbsp brown mustard
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3+ cups beef stock, divided (2 cups + more)
  • 2 large eggs
Instructions: 
  1. Tear the bread & rolls into bite-sized pieces at least 24 hours prior to making the stuffing. Let sit out to dry.
  2. On the day you’re preparing the stuffing, place the bread into a large bowl.
  3. Toss your finely chopped hot dog into a pan over medium heat with just a splash of broth. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the hot dog has released a little fat.
  4. Add the 1/2 cup of butter to the pan, followed by the onions and garlic. Top with fresh ground black pepper. Saute for ~5 minutes as the onions soften.
  5. Now add herbs, salt, and 10 turns of pepper. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally for another 5 minutes.
  6. Pour this mixture over the bread in the bowl and toss well.
  7. Melt another 1/4 cup of butter. Whisk together with 2 eggs and 2 cups of beef stock.
  8. Pour that mixture over bread. Stir until liquid is absorbed by the bread.
  9. Add additional stock by the 1/4 cup until the bread is saturated. Wait a few minutes between adding stock to ensure it all gets absorbed. (You want the bread to be very wet, but without pools of liquid in the bowl. I used just an additional 1/4 cup this time.)
  10. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  11. Butter a large glass baking dish. Place the bread mixture into the dish.
  12. Butter a large piece of foil and cover the dish. Bake for 30-35 minutes.
  13. Increase oven heat to 450 degrees. Uncover and bake for a few additional minutes for a crispy top.
Serves 8-12.
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How To Make Basic Pasta

We’re doing our best to keep up with one of our goals on our Culinary Bucket List, to never use store-bought pasta again. Obviously, this is a slightly tongue-in-cheek goal; sometimes you just don’t have the time to whip up homemade pasta. But, not going to lie, every time we make our own pasta, it just reconfirms how much we love it and moves us slightly closer to keeping up with that goal! We’ve shared a few recipes with homemade pasta so far – see, Pappardelle with Braised RaguCacio e Pepe, & Homemade Pasta Carbonara. With all of these, we’ve developed our standard recipe for pasta dough. We thought we’d share that here as it’s own recipe for ease of browsing! Over time and trial & error, we think this is the best way to create your basic pasta blank canvas. {This recipe makes between 2 and 4 servings – let me explain. We have a bad habit of making pasta and then inhaling it, leaving us over-full. So – 2 portions. If you have more restraint and/or do not wish to need to unbutton your pants after dinner – 4 portions. We’ve easily doubled this recipe in the past with the same results.}

Basic Pasta Recipe

(Our recipe is adapted & combined from several sources: The Cook’s Book400 Sauces, & KitchenAid’s insert that accompanied our pasta attachments.)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
Instructions:
  1. In a large bowl, stir the salt into the flour. Create a well or crater in the center.
  2. Crack two eggs into that center well/crater.
  3. Using a fork, slowly mix the egg into the flour. Try to keep the eggs within the crater, pulling in more and more flour. (If you fail, don’t worry, life will go on.)
  4. Once the egg is mixed into the flour and is beginning to resemble a cohesive dough, turn out onto a clean counter-top, and switch to using your hands. Fold together until well combined. [You made need an extra dusting of flour if the dough is wet and sticky, or to wet your hands if it’s a bit dry.]
  5. Continue kneading the dough, stretching and folding, for at least 5 and up to 10 minutes. By this point, the dough should be smoother and elastic, so that you can form into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes, and up to two hours.
  6. The type of pasta you want to make will dictate your next steps. Generally, you will likely cut the dough into smaller portions, flatten with a rolling pin or pasta roller, and then cut as desired.

 

Coq au Vin

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At our house, we do a lot of adapted recipes, even the most traditional ones. We substitute a little of this, add a little of that, combine these two ideas, or even entirely make stuff up. (See the entire tag on our blog – Twisted Traditions). But sometimes you just can’t do that. Coq au vin literally just means “cock {rooster ⇒ chicken} of wine,” which, if you were speaking French, you’d understand to mean chicken cooked in wine. So you’d think this would be wide open for interpretation. But hearing the phrase ‘coq au vin,’ doesn’t just make most people think vague thoughts of wine + chicken; it makes most minds immediately jump to this specific dish, Julia Child, and her famous cookbook. So for this, we went to the penultimate source: Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The recipe we’re sharing is 99% true to hers – with two differences. One, we skipped the cognac and lighting it on fire, solely because I didn’t feel like going out and buying some. We’ll definitely do it next time, because I really want to light cognac on fire. And two, instead of portioning the mushrooms like Julia instructs, I chopped them fairly finely, because I don’t really like the texture of mushrooms, although I do love their flavor.

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Coq au Vin

(Recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking)
Ingredients: 
  • Chicken
    • 3-4oz bacon, sliced into lardons
    • 2 + 2 tbsp butter
    • 2 1/2 – 3 lbs bone-in, skin-on chicken
    • Salt & pepper
    • 3 cups dry, full-bodied red wine
    • 1-2 cups beef stock
    • 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
    • 2 cloves minced garlic
    • 1/4 tsp thyme
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 3 tbsp flour
  • Mushrooms
    • 2 tbsp butter
    • 1 tbsp olive oil
    • 1/2 lb mushrooms
  • Onions
    • 20-25 pearl onions, peeled
    • 1 1/2 tbsp butter
    • 1 1/2 tbsp oil
    • 1/2 cup beef stock
    • 1/4 tsp thyme
    • 1/2 bay leaf
Instructions: 
  1. Bring 2 quarts of water to a simmer and submerge the lardons of bacon. Simmer for 10 minutes.
  2. In a large dutch oven, heat 2 tbsp butter until melted.
  3. Once bacon has simmered, transfer it to the dutch oven. Saute for a few minutes over medium heat until lightly browned, then remove to the side.
  4. Pat chicken pieces dry. Top with 1/2 tsp salt and a few turns of pepper. Brown each piece on all sides in the hot butter/bacon fat.
  5. Return the bacon to the dutch oven and cook over low-medium for 10 minutes, flipping the chicken once.
  6. Pour wine into the dutch oven. Scrape the bottom of the dish to remove any stuck brown bits.
  7. Add additional stock until the chicken is just covered. Stir in the tomato paste, garlic, and herbs.
  8. Cover and simmer for ~30 minutes.
  9. While the chicken is cooking, prepare the onions and mushrooms.
  10. For the onions: In a skillet, heat butter and oil together over medium heat. Once warm, add the onions. Saute for 10 minutes, rolling the onions around frequently. Pour in the stock and add herbs. Braise, covered, simmering lightly for ~40 minutes.
  11. For the mushrooms: In a skillet, heat butter and oil together over medium heat. Once the butter has foamed and subsided, add the mushrooms. Saute for 6-8 minutes, shaking the pan frequently. Once lightly browned, remove to the side.
  12. After 30 minutes, remove the chicken from the dish.
  13. Increase heat and boil the braising liquid until it has reduced to ~ 2 1/4 cups. [Julia’s very specific suggestion, not mine.] Discard the bay leaf and adjust salt and pepper as needed. Remove from heat.
  14. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2 tbsp butter and flour. Once combined, whisk into the braising liquid.
  15. Return liquid to a slow simmer. Return the chicken to the dish, along with the mushrooms and onions.
  16. Simmer for just a few additional minutes, basting the chicken.
  17. Julia would serve with potatoes, but you can do whatever you want 🙂

Cacio e Pepe

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Number 10 on our Culinary Bucket List states, “Figure out how the Italians’ make pasta cacio e pepe a million times better than we can. Also, master that twirling the pasta at the table trick.” If you’ve ever been to Rome, you know what I’m talking about. Literally ever Roman restaurant we set foot in served some type of cacio e pepe. It draws in tourists’ attention for its theatrical table-side preparation, but turns out it’s also delicious! Not lying, I think my cousin Scottie ate cacio e pepe for almost every meal when we were in Rome after the first time she tried it.

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All of us in St. Peter’s Square! From L to R: Selim, family friend Henry, Ally, Ally’s brother Jeffrey, and cousins Scottie, Jayme, & Luke

How is it that good though? ‘Cacio e pepe’ literally means pepper and cheese. It’s that simple – pasta + pepper + cheese. But somehow, when we came home and tried to recreate it, it never turned out the same. It was mind-boggling – how are we screwing up something that seems so simple?? The cheese would get all clumpy, and we wouldn’t really get a “sauce” per se.

Well, apparently we’re not the only ones. I found this article from Serious Eats that addressed our dilemma, from the point of view of someone who knows way more about cooking and testing recipes that we do. Thank goodness for smart people! Read it and learn like we did. We followed all of the tips and tricks in the article and were rewarded with a much better result. While it’s still not as good as what we had in Italy, and we still don’t know how to do the twirl the pasta at the table trick, it’s good enough to share!

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Cacio e Pepe

(Recipe adapted from this Serious Eats article & recipe)
Ingredients: 
  • 1 1/3 cup AP flour (plus slightly more for dusting your counter, hands, etc)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2 tbsp melted butter
  • 40 turns fresh ground black pepper, divided
  • 2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 2-3 tbsp pasta water
Instructions: 
  1. Start by making the pasta dough. On a clean, dry counter-top, mix together the flour and salt and form it into a volcano (a mound with a crater scooped out in the middle). Crack two eggs into that center well/crater.
  2. Using a fork, slowly mix the egg into the flour. Try to keep the eggs within the crater, pulling in more and more flour. (If you fail, don’t worry, life will go on.) Once the egg is mixed into the flour enough that it’s not trying to run away anymore, switch to use your hands. Fold together until well combined. [You made need an extra dusting of flour if the dough is wet and sticky, or to wet your hands if it’s a bit dry.]
  3. Continue kneading the dough, stretching and folding, for at least 5 and up to 10 minutes. By this point, the dough should be smoother and elastic, so that you can form into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes, and up to two hours.
  4. Once the dough has set, roll out and divide into quarters. Using the pasta roller attachment on the stand mixer, flatten out (to #4 if using KitchenAid’s model). Let the flattened dough rest on a floured surface. Then cut into spaghetti noodles using that attachment. [Follow your particular pasta roller/cutter’s instructions for doing these things.] Tip: keep your hands and the surface of the dough lightly floured during this process.
  5. Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to a boil with a dash of salt. Use less water than you typically would – just enough to cover the pasta.
  6. Add fresh pasta and cook until al dente. This only takes a few minutes with fresh pasta – it will take more like 6-7 minutes with store-bought pasta.
  7. In a second pan, heat 3 tbsp of olive oil and the first 20 turns of black pepper over medium-low heat.
  8. Add 2-3 tbsp of starchy pasta water and the melted butter to the pan. Stir to combine with the olive oil.
  9. Using tongs, lift noodles out of their pot and place into the pan as well.
  10. Slowly add the cheese and the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil. Stir vigorously while adding the cheese so it doesn’t get clumped up.
  11. Add more pasta water as needed to ensure all noodles get coated with the sauce.
  12. Top with 20 more turns of black pepper and salt if you think it needs.
Makes 2 large individual servings, or 4 non-fat-American-sized servings.

Hamburger Helper, Minus the Box

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I may have mentioned it once or twice, but I have an embarrassing love of most things that come in a box, especially with powdered cheese. Kraft mac & cheese? Clearly. Those Knorr rice or noodle sides in a bag? So good and only $1! Hamburger Helper? Be still my heart 🖤🖤🖤 Are any of these things actually good or good for me? No and no, but my taste buds are confused. Someone mentioned Hamburger Helper the other day, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. (Don’t judge me!)

I knew the chance of convincing Selim that Hamburger Helper was a decent meal choice was slim to none, so I went for a slightly less processed version. Maybe not exactly low calorie or low fat, but hey – I added vegetables and cut out the processed/powdered cheese. Wins all the way around. And it’s delicious! Take that dinner in a box! I guess I should also mentioned that this is based on Cheeseburger Macaroni – which to me is THE Hamburger Helper, but that might not be true for everyone.

I looked to Pinterest for a little guidance in getting started with this recipe. I checked out these lovely blogs, but didn’t follow one in particular – onetwo, & three.

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Hamburger Helper, Minus the Box

(Inspired by a few different blogs – see above)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 tsp oil
  • 1/2 of a large onion, diced
  • 4 carrots, chopped
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 1lb ground beef
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 cups dry macaroni
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
Instructions: 
  1. In a large pan with tall edges, heat the oil.
  2. Over medium heat, cook the onions and the carrots for just 2-3 minutes. Top the onions with a few turns of black pepper and a pinch of salt.
  3. Increase heat to medium-high and add the beef and worchestershire sauce to the pan. Break up the beef with your cooking spoon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beef has browned.
  4. If you have any excess grease, drain it off before adding the next ingredients.
  5. Now add the rest of the ingredients, except for the cheese. Stir together.
  6. Bring liquid to a boil. Then turn the heat back down to medium-low, cover the pan, and simmer for ~10 minutes. Stir once or twice.
  7. Remove lid. Stir in the cheese. Once it’s well-combined, serve!
Makes ~8 servings.

The ODB – The Ol’ Dirty Burger

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One of my all-time favorite restaurants is a breakfast and BBQ place in Charlottesville, VA where I lived for 10+ years or so. It’s called Ace Biscuit & BBQ. It’s a little bit of a tucked-away, hole-in-the-wall kind of place… with some of the best breakfast biscuits I’ve ever had. It used to be the best kept secret in C-ville, but the word has gotten out. If you ever find yourself in Charlottesville, I cannot recommend it more highly. Now maybe you’re asking yourself, why is this crazy woman talking about a BBQ joint in Charlottesville, when she should be telling me all about the burger she made for dinner? There is a connection, I promise. Plus, I like to send business towards my favorite places. (I act like this blog is so well-read that an established restaurant is going to benefit from my recommendation… 🙄🙄)

Anyway. Moving further into my tangent… In case you have forgotten, back in the 90s there was a rapper who called himself Ol’ Dirty Bastard, or ODB. He was one of the original members of the Wu-Tang Clan. The owners of Ace’s must share my love of popular 90s hip-hop, because two of their dishes pay homage to the era. There’s the Ace Doggy Dogg (their hot dog) and, you guessed it, the ODB! In this case, the ODB stands for Ol’ Dirty Biscuit. Y’all. You haven’t lived until you’ve clogged your arteries with this guy. Ace’s ODB consists of a homemade biscuit, topped with fried chicken, sausage gravy, pimento cheese, and pickles, all house-made. It is amazing! (And super low-cal, obviously.)

What does all of this have to do with the burger I made tonight? Really nothing honestly. For whatever reason, all afternoon as I’ve been mentally planning my decadent burger, the real ODB’s shout-out to himself in Mariah Carey’s Fantasy Remix, “Ladies and Gentlemen… Introducing the Old, Dirty, Doggy… Here we go now…” kept playing over and over in my head. I guess my subconscious was trying to tell me that tonight’s burger is to a standard boring burger what the Ol’ Dirty Biscuit is to a cheap fast food breakfast biscuit. The secret to making this burger over the top as compared to other burgers? Mixing sausage and ground beef! Ups the flavor and deliciousness! It’s still a simple burger, but the taste is 👌🏼👌🏼

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Humor me and pretend my ramblings were linear and logical. And enjoy an ODB – of any variety.

The Ol’ Dirty Burger

Ingredients: 
  • 1 lb ground beef (85%-15%)
  • 1 lb ground Italian sausage
  • 1 tbsp granulated onion*
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • Salt
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.**
  2. Mix together all ingredients except for the salt.
  3. Form the meat into patties.
  4. Sprinkle salt and a little extra pepper on top of each burger.
  5. Place patties on a rack over a cookie sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes. [Since the patties are on a rack, they don’t need to be flipped. We made six 1/3lb burgers and cooked them for about 12 minutes – yielding medium burgers. I was going for medium-rare and overshot, ho hum.]
  6. Top with your favorite burger garnishes!
*Do yourself a favor and pick up some granulated onion instead of onion powder – it’s so much better than that clumpy, powdery stuff.
**You can also grill these like a normal person would, if you don’t live in an apartment complex that doesn’t let you have them like we do…
Makes 6-8 burgers.

Meatloaf with Beef-Onion Gravy

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I don’t think it was until I was in high school or college that I realized that my mom’s meatloaf was different that most other people’s. Apparently, it’s more standard to have a tomato-based sauce, brown sugar, or BBQ sauce mixed in or coating the meatloaf. Don’t get me wrong, those are good too – but my mom’s meatloaf is better. It’s an indisputable fact… don’t argue with me! This was the only meatloaf I ever knew, but in looking through the family cookbook, I recently noted two separate recipes: “Mama’s Red Meatloaf” and “Mama’s Brown Meatloaf.” (“Mama” in this context being my grandmother.) So apparently my own mother was the one partial to the “Brown Meatloaf.” She probably made it for us once every few weeks, while I don’t think she ever made the red version. The meatloaf itself is simple. There’s not much more to it than the ground beef. But the gravy… oh the gravy… that’s what makes the dish! It’s so savory, thick, and delicious. There’s plenty to coat your meat, as well as whatever starch and/or vegetables your choose to serve with it. My recipe is slightly adapted from my mother’s, which is slightly adapted from her mother’s. This may not be nostalgic for you as it is for me, but it is homey, comfort food no matter what.

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PS: Can someone teach me how to photograph meatloaf and gravy so it looks appetizing? I promise you, this is delicious, despite it’s blah appearance!

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Meatloaf with Beef-Onion Gravy

Ingredients: 
  • 2 lb ground beef
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 cup fine bread crumbs
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 10 turns fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 tbsp + 2 1/2 cups beef stock
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 packet of dry onion soup mix
Instructions: 
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the first 7 ingredients (beef through 2 tbsp beef stock). Mix together with your hands until well-combined.
  3. Form the mixture into a loaf. Place your meatloaf into a glass casserole dish.
  4. Place in the oven on middle rack. Baking times will vary based on the thickness of your loaf (if you make a longer/thinner loaf, aim for the lower end… if you make a thicker/stouter loaf, aim for the longer end…). Plan on an hour & 15 minutes to an hour & 45 minutes. Safe internal temperature per the FDA is 160 degrees for ground beef.
  5. After 45 minutes to an hour, begin to make the gravy. Start by melting butter in a pan over medium heat.
  6. Once butter has melted, whisk in the flour. Whisk continuously until the butter and flour have come together to make a thick roux.
  7. Next, add the 2 1/2 cups of beef stock in by the 1/2 cup. Continue whisking. (You, of course, may add more or less depending upon how you like the thickness of your gravy.)
  8. Lastly, stir in the onion mix and milk. Lower heat and stir occasionally.
  9. With 20-30 minutes left in the cooking time for the meatloaf, remove it from the oven briefly. Pour off any released grease/fat.
  10. Coat the meatloaf with the gravy. Return to the oven for an additional 20-30 minutes.
  11. Serve after confirming that it is fully cooked.
Serves 4-6.