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Loaded Potato Skins

We recently attended a potluck event and I signed up to bring both an appetizer and a dessert.  David and I had been talking about how much fun it would be to make our own potato skins, so I thought this would be the perfect dish to take along.  It’s hard to go wrong with potato skins.  You get the slightly crispy outer shell of a potato and you get to fill it with whatever you want.  It’s like getting the perfect bit of a baked potato every time.  I filled them with the obvious choices- cheese and bacon!  These were also incredibly simple to make.  I baked and prepped the potatoes early in the day and right before leaving, I popped them in the oven to broil for a few minutes so they would be fresh when served.  These were a big hit.  David was definitely satisfied at this version of homemade potato skins and we will make it a point to have them around when football season rolls around this fall!

Loaded Potato Skins
Source: adapted from Simple Comfort Food

6-8 small russet or Yukon potatoes, rinsed clean

8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled

¼ stick unsalted butter, melted

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Poke the top of each potato with a fork and place on a baking sheet.  Bake for 60-70 minutes.  Remove from oven and let cool for about 15 minutes.

Cook bacon on stove over low heat, about 10 minutes.  Remove, drain on paper towels, then crumble into small pieces.

Once potatoes are cool, cut in half lengthwise, so that each potato will yield 2 skins.  Carefully scoop out center of the potato, while still leaving some potato in the boat.

Heat broiler to high.  Brush melted butter on the inside and outside of the potatoes.  Season each side with salt and pepper.  Place under the broiler for 8-10 minutes to allow the insides to get crispy.  Remove from oven and place cheese and bacon on each skin.  Return to the broiler for 3 to 4 minutes, or until cheese is melted and bubbly.  Remove from oven and serve.

Homemade Applesauce

I’ve always liked applesauce, and lately I’ve really enjoyed eating it as part of breakfast.  And since I always prefer homemade versions of food, I wanted to try a homemade version.  I found one that looked promising, and couldn’t wait to try it out.  Homemade applesauce is actually quite easy.  After slicing the apples, you simply mix them in a pot with the other ingredients and simmer for about 20-30 minutes, or until the apples are tender.  Once the apples are tender, you just mash them (I used my immersion blender) until you get the right consistency.  You can have chunky or smooth applesauce depending on your preference.  My applesauce is darker than the original, but that probably is because I used ground cinnamon rather than a cinnamon stick.  This was a great version and was full of cinnamon flavor.  I loved having this for breakfast every morning!

Homemade Applesauce
Source: slightly adapted from Simply Recipes


  • 3 to 4 lbs of peeled, cored, and quartered apples. (Make sure you use a good cooking apple like Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji, Jonathan, Mcintosh, or Gravenstein.)
  • 4 strips of lemon peel – use a vegetable peeler to strip 4 lengths
  • Juice of one lemon, about 3-4 Tbsp
  • 3 inches of cinnamon stick (I used 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon)
  • 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar
  • up to 1/4 cup of white sugar
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt


1 Put all ingredients into a large pot. Cover. Bring to boil. Lower heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes.

2 Remove from heat. Remove cinnamon sticks and lemon peels. Mash with potato masher.

Ready to serve, either hot or refrigerated. Delicious with vanilla ice cream or vanilla yogurt.

Freezes easily, lasts up to one year in a cold freezer.

Homemade Salsa


David and I eat Mexican food at least twice a week.  We never get tired of it!  We don’t go out to eat very often because I’d rather cook at home, but I do really love eating chips and salsa at Mexican restaurants.   We’ve already been frying our own chips using corn tortillas, but I haven’t tried homemade salsa until now.  I’m not sure what the delay was, because it’s not hard, and I’m all about cooking and baking from scratch.  I found a recipe that I thought we would like, and when David’s grandparents gave us some tomatoes from their garden, I knew what I had to do!

I can’t believe I didn’t try this sooner.  Besides being incredibly easy to make, this salsa tastes fabulous and it so much better than any store bought salsa I’ve had and the salsa I’ve had in restaurants.  It was probably about a medium on the spicy scale.  We like spicy salsa, but if you want to tone it down, you can either omit the seeds from the jalapeno or just not add as much jalapeno.  The original recipe called for cilantro, but I’m not a big fan of cilantro, so I just left it out.  If you like salsa, definitely try this.  It’s so easy- after some simple prepping of ingredients, you just whirl it all in a blender, and you’ve got some tasty salsa!

Homemade Salsa
Source: adapted from Serious Eats

1 pound fresh tomatoes (or one 28-ounce can diced tomatoes if you don’t have fresh)

2 jalapeno peppers
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 cup diced onion
2 tablespoons of chili powder
Salt to taste
A dash of sugar
Juice from 1/2 lime

Put all ingredients in the blender and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust spices if needed.

Soft Pretzels


My husband is a sucker for soft pretels.  When we’re at the mall, he looks at Auntie Annie’s longingly, wishing for some of that warm, doughy goodness (and I almost always encourage him to just get one!).  He doesn’t make many requests, but he has been requesting some homemade pretzels, so I decided to make some for him one afternoon.  I’ve heard very good things about Alton Brown’s Soft Pretzels, so I went with that recipe.

It seems as if bread recipes often take a long time and can be very time consuming, but that was not the case with this recipe.  The pretzels were ready in only a matter of a couple hours.  The ingredient list was simple and came together quickly.  The dough took just under an hour to double in size, just like the recipe said.  This was a very easy dough to work with.  It was nice and soft and I had an easy time handling it.  My pretzel-shaping skills need a little work, but it will get better as I keep making these.  The recipe calls for pretzel salt, but I used kosher salt instead and it didn’t seem to make a difference in the final product.  David said that these were better that the mall pretzels.  He is brutally honest when it comes to food, so I know he meant it!  His favorite type of pretzel is cinnamon sugar, so I also made that version for him.  These made a great snack one weekend night as we curled up on the couch to watch a movie.  I will definitely be making these again!


Homemade Soft Pretzels


  • 1 1/2 cups warm (110 to 115 degrees F) water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 22 ounces all-purpose flour, approximately 4 1/2 cups
  • 2 ounces unsalted butter, melted
  • Vegetable oil, for pan
  • 10 cups water
  • 2/3 cup baking soda
  • 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Pretzel salt


Combine the water, sugar and kosher salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes or until the mixture begins to foam. Add the flour and butter and, using the dough hook attachment, 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, clean the bowl and then oil it well with vegetable oil. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and sit in a warm place for approximately 50 to 55 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Line 2 half-sheet pans with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Bring the 10 cups of water and the baking soda to a rolling boil in an 8-quart saucepan or roasting pan.

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. Make a U-shape with the rope, holding the ends of the rope, cross them over each other and press onto the bottom of the U in order to form the shape of a pretzel. Place onto the parchment-lined half sheet pan.

Place the pretzels into the boiling water, 1 by 1, for 30 seconds. Remove them from the water using a large flat spatula. Return to the half sheet pan, brush the top of each pretzel with the beaten egg yolk and water mixture and sprinkle with the pretzel salt. Bake until dark golden brown in color, approximately 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer to a cooling rack for at least 5 minutes before serving.

Source: Alton Brown

Classic Granola

I was looking through my drafts, and realized that I had a couple updates that I have forgotten about!  I made this back in May for the out-of-town bags for our wedding guests.  This was a really great recipe, so I wanted to share!

I had been interested in making granola for a while now, and found a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated that I wanted to try. I thought it would be a good idea to include it in our out-of-town bags for guests at our wedding. I figured granola would make a good snack that they would appreciate while staying at the hotel. This granola was quite tasty. It wasn’t as crunchy as I expected, but it did have a great flavor.  I really liked the addition of the coconut and raisins.  The maple syrup gave it a great boost.  It was slightly sweet, but not overly so.  This would be great added to yogurt or fruit, or just eaten alone.

Classic Granola (Source: Cook’s Illustrated July 1994)

1 cup walnuts, broken up into ¼ to ½ inch pieces
3 cups rolled oats
½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
½ cup blanched almonds, halved
¼ cup sesame seeds
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup maple syrup
¼ cup honey
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup raisins

Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Mix first 6 ingredients together in large bowl.

Heat maple syrup and honey together with oil in small saucepan, whisking occasionally until warm. Pour mixture over dry ingredients; stir with spatula until mixture is thoroughly coated. Turn mixture onto an 11-by-7-inch jelly roll pan, spreading mixture in an even layer.

Bake, stirring and respreading mixture into an even layer every 5 minutes, until granola is light golden brown, about 15 minutes. Immediately turn granola onto another jelly roll pan to stop cooking process. Stir in raisins, then spread granola evely in pan; set on a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Loosen dried granola with a spatula; store in airtight container.

Yield: 7-8 cups

September Daring Bakers: Lavash Crackers

This was a new experience for the Daring Bakers group this month, as the hosts made it easy for the bakers to go gluten free.  Natalie of Gluten a Go Go and Shel of Musings from the Fishbowl chose the Lavash Crackers from Peter Reinhart’s book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. I was excited about this recipe because I’ve made several breads from Reinhart’s book and they’ve all turned out great (I highly recommend the Italian Bread).  I thought about what kind of crackers to make, and decided to go with something on the sweet side.  I sprinkled the dough with cinnamon sugar and made a caramel sauce to go with it.  My husband and I both love anything cinnamon, and you can’t beat the cinnamon sugar combination.  I really did enjoy these, although I need to roll the dough out thinner next time so that they are more cracker-like and less chewy.  I also want to experiment with more savory combinations.  I’m thinking that paprika would be good with this, and I’d like to make a really spicy cracker.  I’ll definitely be trying this again, because the possibilities really are endless.

Lavash Crackers (from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

Makes 1 sheet pan of crackers

* 1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz) unbleached bread flour or gluten free flour blend (If you use a blend without xanthan gum, add 1 tsp xanthan or guar gum to the recipe)
* 1/2 tsp (.13 oz) salt
* 1/2 tsp (.055 oz) instant yeast
* 1 Tb (.75 oz) agave syrup or sugar
* 1 Tb (.5 oz) vegetable oil
* 1/3 to 1/2 cup + 2 Tb (3 to 4 oz) water, at room temperature
* Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, or kosher salt for toppings

1.  In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt yeast, agave, oil, and just enough water to bring everything together into a ball.  You may not need the full 1/2 cup + 2 Tb of water, but be prepared to use it all if needed.

2.  For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough:  Sprinkle some flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter.  Knead for about 10 minutes, or until the ingredients are evenly distributed.  The dough should pass the windowpane test (see http://www.wikihow.com/Determine-if-Bre … ong-Enough for a discription of this) and register 77 degrees to 81 degrees Fahrenheit. The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), satiny to the touch, not tacky, and supple enough to stretch when pulled.  Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.


2.  For Gluten Free Cracker Dough:  The dough should be firmer than French bread dough, but not quite as firm as bagel dough (what I call medium-firm dough), and slightly tacky. Lightly oil a bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 90 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size. (You can also retard the dough overnight in the refrigerator immediately after kneading or mixing).

4.  For Non Gluten Free Cracker Dough:  Mist the counter lightly with spray oil and transfer the dough to the counter.  Press the dough into a square with your hand and dust the top of the dough lightly with flour.  Roll it out with a rolling pin into a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches.  You may have to stop from time to time so that the gluten can relax.  At these times, lift the dough from the counter and wave it a little, and then lay it back down.  Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap while it relaxes.  When it is the desired thinness, let the dough relax for 5 minutes.  Line a sheet pan with baking parchment.  Carefully lift the sheet of dough and lay it on the parchment.  If it overlaps the edge of the pan, snip off the excess with scissors.


4.  For Gluten Free Cracker Dough: Lay out two sheets of parchment paper.  Divide the cracker dough in half and then sandwich the dough between the two sheets of parchment.  Roll out the dough until it is a paper thin sheet about 15 inches by 12 inches.  Slowly peel away the top layer of parchment paper.  Then set the bottom layer of parchment paper with the cracker dough on it onto a baking sheet.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with the oven rack on the middle shelf.  Mist the top of the dough with water and sprinkle a covering of seeds or spices on the dough (such as alternating rows of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, paprika, cumin seeds, caraway seeds, kosher or pretzel salt, etc.)  Be careful with spices and salt – a little goes a long way. If you want to precut the cracker, use a pizza cutter (rolling blade) and cut diamonds or rectangles in the dough.  You do not need to separate the pieces, as they will snap apart after baking.  If you want to make shards, bake the sheet of dough without cutting it first.

5.  Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crackers begin to brown evenly across the top (the time will depend on how thinly and evenly you rolled the dough).

6.  When the crackers are baked, remove the pan from the oven and let them cool in the pan for about 10 minutes.  You can then snap them apart or snap off shards and serve.

RECIPES – Toppings

You may use your choice of topping/dip/salsa/relish/spread for your lavash crackers as long as it is vegan and gluten free.

We had a couple of favorites that you might want to try along with your own creations:

Honeydew – Peach Salsa from The Splended Table (http://splendidtable.publicradio.org/re … eydew.html)

Try the salsa with grilled seafoods and poultry, or over rice noodles. Chile could be added to taste. Is best eaten within several hours of preparation. Use organic ingredients if at all possible.

* juice of 1 lime
* 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
* 1/4 to 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
* 1 Red Fresno and 1 Hot Yellow minced chile (seeds removed)
* 1 to 2 teaspoons sugar,
* 1/2 ripe sweet honeydew melon, cubed into bite-sized pieces
* 4 small, ripe peaches, peeled and cubed into bite-sized pieces
* salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 1/3 cup minced fresh coriander, or coriander and mint combined

In a medium bowl blend the lime juice, garlic, onion and chilies. Let stand 20 minutes, then blend in sugar and fruits with salt (a generous pinch) and pepper (to make piquant) to taste. Refrigerate up to 3 hours. Fold in fresh herbs just before serving.

Copyright 1997 Lynne Rossetto Kasper, all rights reserved.

Tahitian Almond Dipping Sauce by Robert Yarosh and Lisa Soto, from The Complete Book of Raw Food, Lori Baird, Editor.

* 1 1/2 cups almond butter
* 1/2 cup pine nuts
* 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
* 1 clove garlic
* 1/4 cup fresh orange juice (you may want to add more juice or add some water, depending on the consistancy you like).
* 1 1/2 tablespoons agave syrup or honey

Blend all ingredients together until smooth (in your blender or food processor). Serve with your favorite crackers and fresh fruit.


I first tried hummus for the first time almost two years ago. I had heard about how great hummus is from a few people, but I categorized it into a food that I wouldn’t eat because I thought it was too weird. This is unusual for me, because I will try almost anything at least once before deciding if I like it or not. In October 2006, when David and I were at his cousin’s wedding, they had hummus at the cocktail hour. I decided then that I should try it. I was surprised to discover that I loved hummus! I kept going back to that table for more. Even though I realized I liked it, I never had it much after that. A few months ago, David was talking about how he had tried hummus recently and liked it. He thought it would be great to make some at home. I thought this was a good idea, and I went to Cook’s Illustrated in search of a good recipe. I definitely found one, and this hummus is great! It’s really easy to make, and it has great flavor. We love snacking on it in the afternoons or in the evenings as we’re preparing dinner. This would also make a great appetizer for when you have people over. I will keep this in mind as football season approaches! One of the next baking endeavors I hope to make is homemade pita bread, which would be great with this.

Hummus (Source: Cook’s Illustrated February 2005)

1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 medium clove garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
¾ teaspoon table salt
Pinch cayenne pepper
3 tablespoons lemon juice, from 1 large lemon
¼ cup tahini
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup water

Process all of the ingredients in a food processor until smooth, about 40 seconds. Transfer the hummus to a serving bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill until the flavors meld, at least 30 minutes; serve cold. (The hummus can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

Yield: about 2 cups


I actually made these at the end of June, but am just getting around to posting!  I had been wanting to try homemade bagels for quite some time, and when I was flipping through Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I knew that I wanted to give his recipe a try. The recipe is pretty long, but if you read through it, you’ll find that the instructions are very detailed and include pictures that help you as you mix the dough, shape the bagels, and get them ready to bake. I does take two days to complete, but it’s definitely worth it, and the second day is really only a matter of boiling the bagel dough and then baking them. This was quite a bit of dough for my Kitchen Aid mixer and it was incredibly hot by the time I was finished mixing and kneading! All of the effort was definitely worth it though, because we really liked these bagels. I think store bought bagels tend to be to tough and chewy. These bagels were crispy on the outside and nice and chewy on the inside. They were also perfect with strawberry cream cheese. I used my new kitchen scale to weigh the bagels before I shaped them so I would be sure that they were all the same size. This helped when I had to boil them right before baking and to ensure that they would all bake at the same rate. I am once again very happy with the outcome of a Peter Reinhart recipe!  I don’t think I’ll ever buy bagels again.

Bagels (Source: The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart)


recipe from “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” by Peter Reinhart


Makes 12 large or 24 mini bagels


  • 1 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour (I used all purpose)
  • 2 1/2 cups water at room temperature


  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 3 3/4 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
  • 2 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 tablespoon malt syrup OR honey OR brown sugar (I used brown sugar)

To Finish:

  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • Cornmeal or semolina flour for dusting the pan
  • Toppings for the bagels such as sesame seeds, poppy seeds, kosher salt, dried minced garlic or onions


Day 1

  1. To make the sponge, stir the yeast into the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the water, whisking or stirring until it forms a smooth, sticky batter. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature for two hours. It should swell to nearly double in size and collapse when the bowl is tapped on the countertop.
  2. To make the dough, in the same mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer), add the additional yeast into the sponge and stir. Add 3 cups of the flour, brown sugar and the salt into the bowl and mix until all of the ingredients form a ball. You need to work in the additional 3/4 cups of flour to stiffen the dough, either while still mixing in the bowl or while kneading. The dough should be stiffer and drier than normal bread dough, but moist enough that all of the ingredients are well blended.
  3. Pour the dough out of the bowl onto a clean surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes. There should be no raw flour – all the ingredients should be hydrated. The dough will be too big to fit into the 5-quart Kitchen Aid mixer, so I strongly advise you do this by hand. If you’ve used all-purpose flour like I did, kneading time goes up to 30 minutes.
  4. The Windowpane Test: At this point, your dough needs to pass the windowpane test, which is a reliable method to determine when gluten development is sufficient (also called membrane test). The test is performed by cutting off a small piece of dough from the larger batch and gently stretching, pulling, and turning it to see if it will hold a paper-thin, translucent membrane. If the dough falls apart before it makes this windowpane, continue mixing for another minute or two and test it again. The finished dough should feel satiny and pliable but not be tacky. If it seems too dry and rips, add a few drops of water and continue kneading. If it seems tacky or sticky, add more flour to achieve the stiffness required.
  5. Immediately after kneading, split the dough into 12 small pieces around 4 1/2 ounces each. Roll each piece into a ball and set it aside. When you have all 12 pieces made, cover them with a damp towel and let them rest for 20 minutes.
  6. To shape the bagels, poke a hole in a ball of bagel dough, gently rotate your thumb around the inside of the hole to widen it to approximately two and a half inches in diameter. The dough should be as evenly stretched as possible.
  7. Place the shaped bagels on a lightly oiled sheet pan, with an inch or so of space between one another (use two pans, if you need to). If you have parchment paper, line the sheet pan with parchment and spray it lightly with oil before placing the bagels on the pan. Cover the pan with plastic and allow the dough to rise for about 20 minutes.
  8. The suggested method of testing whether the bagels are ready to retard is by dropping one of them into a bowl of cool water. If the bagel floats back up to the surface in under ten seconds it is ready to retard. If not, it needs to rise more. If it floats, it means you passed this test, too! Place the bagels in the refrigerator (covered in plastic) and retard overnight. If the bagel does not float, return it to the pan and continue to proof the dough at room temperature, checking back every 10 to 20 minutes until a tester floats.

Day 2

  1. The following day, preheat the oven to 500F with two racks set in the middle of oven.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add one tablespoon of baking soda to the pot to alkalize the water. When the pot is boiling, drop a few of the bagels into the pot one at a time and let them boil for a minute (two minutes if you like your bagel extra chewy).
  3. Use a large, slotted spoon or spatula to gently flip them over and boil them on the other side.
  4. Before removing the bagels from the pot, sprinkle cornmeal onto the sheet pan. Remove them one at a time, set them back onto the sheet pan, and sprinkle your topping them right away, while they are still slightly moist.
  5. Repeat this process until all of the bagels have been boiled and topped.
  6. Place the sheet pan into the preheated oven and bake for 5 minutes, rotate the pans, reduce the heat to 450 degrees, and bake for another 5-10 minutes (depending on how dark you like your bagel) until the bagels begin to brown . Remove the pan from the oven and let cool.