Sunday, April 29, 2012

Homemade Soft Pretzels and Jerry's Minestrone Soup

The past few weeks have been crazier than my “Sharon Matten Normally Crazy” life.  Since my dear Dad (A”H) passed away just before Pesach, our family has been trying to function daily – get up, get dressed, go to work, take care of the kids, and try to pick up a little where my Dad left off.  He left really big shoes to fill, and we really miss him.

It’s a custom in our family for the women to say Kaddish along with the guys.  I have never been to Shul so much in my entire life!  It’s taken a lot of adjusting, not just for me…but for my entire, very very understanding and supportive family.  Three times a day I daven in the little office just off of the Shul’s Beis Medrash and say Kaddish with the “men”-yan.  I’m really impressed with the guys that are on time and come to minyan every day.  It’s a huge commitment and it is because of them that I am able to say Kaddish for my father with a minyan.  I’m still learning the rhythm of the minyan davening too – what prayers are said when, what’s skipped in the siddur, and when to jump to another seemingly random page for a single tefilah only to jump back to where we started from.  This is also the first time in my whole life that I’m still counting sefirah with a bracha (yay me!).  I know that it’s been that number plus a little over a week that my life irrevocably changed. 

I never realized that there is a 15-20 minute break in between mincha and maariv when davening at Shul (I never went during the week before).  One of the weird plusses of the whole experience is that I bring cookbooks to review (Levana’s new one!) and some of my favorite culinary magazines to read during the break.  I have a quarter hour of complete quiet to chill and catch up on new and interesting recipes and articles.  I recently received the latest copy of the Penzeys Spices Catalog which not only has descriptions of all their fabulous spices, but articles and recipes as well.  This week I was looking for comfort food.  Something warm and welcoming that made a lot so I would have leftovers for additional meals during my “gerbil on an exercise wheel” week.  I came across an interesting recipe for Homemade Soft Pretzels that looked delicious and not too hard to make, and I could even top some of them with our favorite “Everything” spice mix (thanks Jamie!).  I figured it would make a great fast weeknight dinner (everything has to be fast these days!) along with a hearty Minestrone Soup.  Any leftover pretzels could be part of the kid’s lunches the following day.  I had a plan.  I then went to my favorite Mega Fruit store, Jerry’s, and found tons of amazing, fresh, beautiful vegetables.  Because time was short, I figured I’d make the soup with a tomato juice base and save time by purchasing the juice at the fruit store too.  As luck would have it, none of the tomato juices at the store had hashgacha.  ARGH!  I had to come up with a fast plan B.  It turns out that one of the other items that I purchase at Jerry’s is pasta sauce!  They have a great selection of sauces and the prices are cheaper than anywhere else.  I grabbed a few jars of tomato basil pasta sauce to use as the base of my Jerry’s Minestrone Soup. It had all the ingredients and spices that I would want to have in my soup, and thinned with some water it was perfect! I ended up using my favorite Hindy Chopper (see here for more information) to make what normally would be a huge, time consuming job into a quick “chop-chop” zippy fast task.  I could have even used frozen pre-washed cauliflower to make the job faster, but the cauliflower at Jerry’s was so fresh and appealing I figured it was worth the extra prep time to use it in the soup. 

Warm, hearty & comforting...
Well, the pretzels came out great – the kids were arm wrestling for seconds (what was I thinking…leftovers??).  The soup was thick, rich, healthy! and incredibly delicious too.  The recipe makes a lot so I was even able to have some during the week for tasty and nutritious fast lunches.  I guess there are times in our lives where warm and inviting food can be a comfort, and the simple, routine process of making it can bring some security and consistency to an otherwise out-of-control, crazy life. 

Homemade Soft Pretzels
Based upon the Penzeys Spice Catalog recipe Early Summer 2012.
This recipe is cool because the Pretzels are boiled in a baking soda and water mixture before being baked – not fried!  It also uses brown sugar instead of regular for a wonderful soft, chewy, home baked treat.

1 ¼                         cups                       warm water
1                             tablespoon              rapid rise yeast
¼                            cup                         brown sugar, packed
2                             cups                       bread flour
1 ½ - 2                    cups                       all-purpose flour
4                              cups                      water
4                              tablespoons           baking soda
                                                   Kosher or Sea Salt, or your favorite “Everything” spice mix

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water.  Let the yeast sit for 5 minutes until foaming.  Add the sugar, bread flour and 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour.  Mix by hand or with a dough hook until the dough is smooth and elastic – around 10 minutes, adding the additional ½ cup of all-purpose flour as needed.  Cover the dough and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes.  The dough will not necessarily double in size.

Preheat oven to 500° F.  Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper.  Set aside.

Divide the dough into 12-18 pieces, depending upon the size of pretzel you want.  Roll each piece into a “snake” around 18 inches long.  Twist the dough into pretzel shapes and firmly pinch the ends to keep them from unfolding in the boiling water.

Bring the 4 cups of water to a boil.  Add the baking soda and stir to dissolve.  Dip each pretzel in the baking-soda/water for 5 to 10 seconds making sure the pretzel is completely immersed.  Shake off excess water, and place the pretzel on the prepared baking sheet.  Sprinkle with your favorite toppings.  Repeat with remaining pretzels.

Bake for 6-8 minutes until golden brown.  Serve warm with your favorite hearty soup (Minestrone!) or dipping sauce (like hot spicy mustard).

Jerry’s Minestrone Soup
2              large                      potatoes (around ¾ lb. each), peeled and chopped
2              cups                      green beans, tips removed, cut into 2 inch pieces
½ - 1       pound                    baby carrots, chopped
3              large                      ribs celery (around 2 cups), sliced
2              medium                 tomatoes, diced
3-4          cups                      cauliflower flowerets
1              small                     onion, diced (around ¾ cup)
2              26 oz. jars            tomato basil pasta sauce (or your favorite flavor)
52           ounces                   water (use pasta jars to measure)
2-3          cups                      cooked ditali pasta (or other small bite sized pasta)
1              tablespoon           fresh basil, finely chopped
1              tablespoon           fresh cilantro (or flat leaf parsley), finely chopped
                                           salt and pepper to taste               
                                           croutons, crackers, or your favorite soup toppings (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in a large 8 quart stock pot.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes until all the vegetables are tender.  Serve with your favorite soup toppings and a toasted crusty bread or Soft Homemade Pretzels.

1.       Use the large holed blade on the Hindy Chopper for bite sized vegetable chunks.
2.       To measure the water for the recipe, empty the sauce into the stock pot, fill the jar with water, swirl the water to get any remaining sauce in the jar, then add it to the soup.
3.       Depending upon how thick your sauce is, this recipe will most likely make a thick, hearty soup.  To make a more “liquidy” soup use 3 jars of sauce plus one additional jar of water. 
4.       You can substitute frozen vegetables for some of the fresh ones to expedite the preparation of this soup.

Homemade pretzels...
make the dough then cut it into 
12 pieces....
Roll them into pretzels & pinch the ends....
Boil 'em, top 'em, bake 'em, 
eat 'em warm!!

Minestrone Soup:
All the ingredients for a 
hearty, healthy, comforting soup!
 Use the Hindy Chopper to speed up
the prep time...
 Perfectly chopped veggies!
Perfect floweretts!
Can't wait to eat!
(and there's even enough for later!) kids do play with their food...sigh.

Kosher Everyday is dedicated to the memory of my father
Dr. Theodore Saltzberg - Tuvia Ben Nachum Z”L
May his memory be for a blessing - Yihi zichro baruch.

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  1. Have been looking for a (good) pretzel recipe forever, I'm going to try yours, if it tastes as good as it look on the picture a lot of people here are going to be happy :)

    The minestrone soup looks great as well, however I usually buy minestrone mix pre-cut from the freezer section, not as good as freshly made but nevertheless a lot less work and tasty.

    Thank you,


    1. Thanks so much for your comments!! Please let me know how your pretzels turn out...

      You CAN use the pre-cut frozen vegetables for this recipe - they still taste great and the flash freezing saves the nutrients in the vegetables. Faster and easier (always good) and you can use the pasta sauce base for a speedy and delicious soup.

      Please keep me posted!

  2. Hi,

    Pretzels were big success and delicious with some butter inside.

    It wasn't clear to me what the difference was between the to types of flour (I always use a generic one, but I should note that I'm located in Europe).

    Nevertheless we enjoyed them a lot, thanks for the recipe.

  3. Thanks for your comment! I'm so glad they worked out for you. Bread flour has more protein than all-purpose flour. Here is a link to a great article that discusses it further. I'm sure there is a comparable flour in Europe under a different name...readers?

    Hope this helps! Thanks again!