Soft Pretzels, Cauliflower Alfredo, and Chipotle Chicken Corn Chowder

You all know by now that I’m all about comfort food.  If it’s hearty, filling, and warm, it’s more than likely to have my interest, if it’s not already in my arsenal of recipes.  It’s rarely in short supply around here. What I have to share this week says a lot about who I am: one brings back many happy memories, one is something new to try, and the other is a big warm bowl of cozy.  I know that doesn’t tell you much, but you’ll see what I mean.

Here’s to the monastery, from which came three of my favorite things: the preservation of literacy, beer, and the soft pretzel.  In my opinion, without these things, there is no civilized world.  I grew up going to many athletic events, most of which were to cheer on someone I know.  Since most took place during dinner hours, my folks and I often had supper through the concession stand.  My favorite was always soft pretzels.  Sometimes with cheese, since I didn’t eat mustard back then – I’ve grown into it since then, but usually by itself.  It kept my hands warm, and it was fun to pull apart.  When my husband and I got our stand mixer, this was the first thing we made. The soft pretzel has ingrained itself into the world I know to become synonymous with a small piece of good in the world.

We made these again with supper a few nights ago, and they were easier than we remembered. We forgot the egg wash, so yours will come out shinier than ours.  The extra steps are completely worthwhile, and fresh out of the oven, are better than those frozen things that dry out in your oven.  In this case, store bought can’t even compare with made-from-scratch.  These are great for a sport-watching party – like hockey playoffs, or the upcoming opening day of baseball season.

Alton Brown’s Soft Pretzels (from

Soft Pretzels2
Warm salty twists of happiness.
  • 1 1/2 C warm water (between 105 and 115 degrees F)
  • 1 Tbsp sugar 1 tsp. Kosher salt1 Package active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp.)
  • 22 oz. all purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 Cups
  • 2 oz unsalted butter, melted oil, for pan
  • 10 C water
  • 2/3 C baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 Tbsp. water
  • Coarse salt

Combine 1 1/2 C water, sugar, kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Let stand for 5 minutes, or until mixture begins to foam.  Add flour and butter, then mix on low speed until well combined. Bump up to medium speed to knead until the dough is smooth and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 5 minutes more. Remove dough, and oil the bowl, placing the dough back in.  Cover with plastic wrap and keep in a warm place for 50-55 minutes to rise, until dough has doubled in bulk.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper and lightly brush with oil, then set aside.

Turn the dough out onto a slightly oiled work surface and divide into eight pieces.  Roll out each piece into a 24-inch rope.  Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope,  cross the ends over each other, and press into

the bottom of the U-shape. Place on cookie sheets. Make sure to press securely, or they will fall apart in the next step.

In an 8-quart pot bring the 10 cups water and baking soda to a rolling boil.  Place the pretzels in the boiling pot one at a time, for thirty seconds each. Remove from the pot with a large flat spatula, placing back on the cookie sheet for an egg wash with the beaten egg and sprinkled with coarse salt. Bake until golden brown, about 12-14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool 5 minutes before serving.

I love finding healthy alternatives to food I love but shouldn’t eat all the time.  I love fettuccine alfredo, but if I made that rich, butter-and-cream based sauce all the time, my arteries would stop altogether.  I also love finding ways to work more vegetables into food.  This recipe marries the two ideas.  This is a cauliflower-based alfredo sauce.  It doesn’t really hide the taste of the cauliflower; you’re not going to eat this and think, “I had no idea this is veggie based!” But it is creamy sauce that goes great over pasta.  I made it just a little bit differently so that I could use my immersion blender (one of my favorite kitchen toys), but I’m going to give you the original instructions assuming you don’t have a stick blender.  In the future I think I’d season it just a little differently, perhaps some rosemary and definitely an extra grind of pepper. I cut the recipe in half, as the original is for eight people, and replaced the heavy cream with whole milk, and a little extra butter to help thicken it some.

Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce (from

Cauliflower Alfredo
Perhaps my best use of cauliflower yet.
  • 1 lb. fettuccine pasta
  • 1 medium-sized head of cauliflower, chopped
  • 3 Cups vegetable broth
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp butter, divided
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • pinch of pepper
  • 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/8 C milk
  • 1/2 C starchy pasta water

Bring broth to a boil over medium high heat, and add cauliflower.  Cook until soft, about 15 minutes, though the longer you cook it, the smoother the sauce will be.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, melt 1/2 Tbsp. butter over medium heat. Add garlic and saute 4-5 minutes.

As the garlic and cauliflower cook, bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook pasta according to its package, reserving some of its water for the sauce to be added later.

Transfer cauliflower to a blender, in batches as need be, adding the garlic, salt, nutmeg, and pepper, and puree until very smooth. When the mixture is moving, stream in the olive oil.  Return to large skillet when ready. Add the milk and remainder of the butter and stir in on low heat.  If too thick, add pasta water.  Toss in pasta, and serve immediately.

There are few things I enjoy more than a good bowl of soup.  Heck, given the opportunity and a large enough quantity, I’d swim in the stuff.  This may be my new favorite.  It’s thick, chunky, and has quite a flavor profile; rustic, earthiness of cumin, thyme, and oregano, meet spicy poblano and chipotles in adobo, sweetness of the corn and bell pepper, a hint of salt and savor through the potatoes and garlic, creamy cheesiness brightened by the lime and cilantro.

I absolutely love this. And the thing is, the potatoes, milk and cheese seem to absorb a fair bit of the heat of the peppers, so it’s not near as spicy as you’d think when you read through this recipe.  I even added extra adobo sauce, and it didn’t make too much of a difference.  Even the garlic, as much as there is, seems to mellow out a lot in this soup. It’s not overpowering at all.  Best of all, it’s ready in a half hour, unlike other soups that have to simmer for long periods of time.

Chipotle Chicken Chicken Corn Chowder (from

Chipotle Chicken Corn Chowder
So colorful, flavorful, and fun!
  • 1 Can Chipotles in adobo sauce
  • 2 TBsp unsalted butter
  • 1 poblano pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 6 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 Tbsp. All-purpose flour
  • 3 Cups whole milk
  • 2 Cups chicken stock
  • 6 small red potatoes, peeled and diced small
  • 1 C shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • 1 C shredded Cheddar
  • 2 Cups diced cooked chicken (about 1 breast)
  • 2 (15 oz) cans sweet corn, drained
  • 1 (15 oz) can cream style corn
  • 1 C crushed tortilla chips
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • Chopped cilantro to garnish (optional)

Remove one chipotle chile from the can and mince it. Remove 1 Tbsp of adobo sauce, and set aside. Save the rest of the can for another time.

Melt butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add chipotle, poblano, red bell pepper, cumin, thyme and oregano and saute for 5-7 minutes, until soft. Add garlic and stir until fragrant.

Stir in flour, until there is no visible raw flour.  Pour in milk and broth, scraping any bits off the bottom as you stir.  Add in the potatoes, and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Slowly stir in cheeses, until completely melted.  Add chicken, all cans of corn, tortilla chips, adobo sauce, and lime juice. Cover and cook 10 more minutes. Serve immediately.

Tip of the week: To help make your greens last longer, wrap them loosely in a damp paper towel and keep them in a resealable bag.  They can last up to four days longer.