Jumbo Soft Pretzels

Hello! When summer started, I honestly thought I would be able to fit a blog post in at least every other week. I could not have been more wrong! My summer job was more physically demanding than my job during the school year, with the addition of longer hours.

Another important occurrence that captured most of my attention this summer was house hunting; house hunting all the way across the country. I moved to Eastern Montana with my husband (from New York) on the promise that we would only live here a few months, it has been exactly 6 years. I have missed holidays, birthdays, funerals, and many Daytona 500 parties. After much waiting, I can finally say I am going back home.

We made 3 trips across the country (by car) from Montana to Pennsylvania. That is a total of 4,695 miles.  Our realtor showed us at least 15 houses and after weeks of discussion, we finally picked the one for us. While we wait for our closing day, we are still “hanging out” in Montana. My hubby is helping to train new employees to do his job and I am getting us ready to leave and binge watching a lot of Netflix shows.

Between moving, settling in, and job hunting, I may not be able to be consistent on my blog posts for a while, but my passion for this blog and its purpose has not subsided at all and I think about it all the time (mostly with the pain of guilt). I am looking forward to sharing our new adventures with you. We will be living so close to Pittsburgh, which has a very large vegan community that is spreading like wildfire, so please stay tuned!

I do have a fun recipe to share with you in this post. The kids will especially love this one.  For some reason I always associate this food with baseball games and I know it’s because I had my first one at a Yankees game when I was a kid and that is jumbo size soft pretzel.

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Jumbo Soft Pretzels

Makes 4

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 C of warm water
  • 1 Tbs of vegan butter, melted ( I recommend Earth Balance, every grocery store sells it these day)
  • 1 tsp of raw sugar
  • 1 tsp of sea salt
  • 3 cups of flour

Baking soda mixture:

  • 4 Tbs baking soda
  • 2 C of water

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 475º
  2. Coat one – two baking sheets in non-stick spray or cover them with parchment paper.
  3. In a large mixing bowl add the yeast and warm water. Mix until the yeast becomes frothy. You can hand whisk or use your mixer.
  4. Once the mixture is frothy add the sugar, salt and melted butter. Stir in the flour slowly until the dough forms and is no longer sticky. Next, knead the dough with your hands for about five minutes, or until smooth and pliable. Shape the dough into a ball and let sit for 15 – 20 minutes.
  5. Baking soda mixture: In a sauce pot, add the water and baking soda. Boil the mixture until most of the baking soda dissolves. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool. Once the mixture is at a lukewarm temperature pour it into a 9×13 baking dish.
  6. On a large clean surface, take your dough out of the bowl. Flatten the ball slightly and then cut into 4 even sections.
  7. Set aside three of the sections. Begin rolling one section into a rope. To make a thick jumbo size pretzel, the dough rope should be about 40 inches long. Any shorter and you’ll end up with a small fat pretzel. Any longer and the dough will get too thin and burn in the oven.
  8. Once you have your rope rolled out, shape the dough into a pretzel shape. There are helpful instructions on how to create this shape right on Google.
  9. Now carefully (because it is a little flimsy at this point) place the pretzel in the baking dish with the baking soda mixture. Let it sit for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, again carefully take the pretzel out of the baking soda mixture and place it on a prepared baking pan. You may have to reshape the pretzel. Repeat steps 7 – 9 to make the other pretzels.
  10. An extra option is to sprinkle them with some sea salt or Himalayan salt before placing them in the oven. I don’t like to do this because if I have leftovers that I store overnight, the salt dissolves and makes the texture of the pretzels bumpy.
  11. Bake the pretzels for 8 – 10 minutes. They should turn a golden brown.  Take them out of the oven and let cool.
  12. I found that these pretzels stay good for about 2 days and then start to get stale. Best enjoyed fresh out of the oven! I love to eat my soft pretzels with mustard. What is your favorite way to eat a soft pretzel?

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Cornish Pasties, a timeless treat

What is a Cornish Pasty? The pasty (/’pa:sti/) is a traditional baked pastry and it is so versatile the possibilities are virtually endless. This recipe is my favorite way to fill a pasty, but I have also filled them with pie filling for a special personalized treat.

The Cornish Pasty gets its name from its origin, Cornwall, United Kingdom. But it wouldn’t take much work to find that most cultures all over the world have their own version of “The Pasty”. That is because it’s inexpensive and goes a long way.

So one day I brought some leftover pasties to work for lunch. A coworker was very intrigued by them and told me how a century ago Montana coal miners would bring pasties on the job with them. Coal miners did not make much money, so pasties were the ideal meal. Then more recently I was speaking with a co-worker who spent time living in South Korea and he said they have their own version of the pasty as well. It’s fascinating to see how cultures spread out all over the world have shared the same idea without ever even knowing it.

My Cornish Pasty recipe hits straight at the heart of comfort food. It’s filled with potatoes and freshly chopped vegetables. They can be eaten however you wish, there is no right or wrong way. I love ranch dressing (specifically by the brand “JUST”); I put it on a lot, and I enjoy dipping my pasties in ranch. The last time I made these, my incredible hubby found a recipe for a homemade vegetable gravy and HE made it!!! It was phenomenal! If I had the link I would share it, but you can probably google “vegan gravy recipes” and find yourself a good one.

In my recipe, I also share two different styles you could use to seal your pasties, the spiral (my personal favorite) takes a little practice, and “the fork” (I don’t know the technical term for it, but you use a fork), certainly the easiest method.

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I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do in our home. Once you have the dough recipe down, remember, your possibilities are endless. How will you fill your pasties?

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Cornish Pasty

Makes 8 pasties

Prep: 45 minutes  Bake: 35 – 40 minutes

*Allow at least two hours for the dough to sit in the fridge

Pasty Dough Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 sticks cold vegan butter (I like to use Earth Balance), separated into small chunks
  • 1/2 cup of ice water

Filling ingredients:

  • 3 small raw potatoes, cut into small 1/4″ chunks
  • 2 medium size carrots, cut into small 1/4″ chunks
  • 1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • (Optional Spices) garlic, cumin, and cayenne
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

*Remember, the dough needs at least two hours to sit in the fridge. I hate it when I start a recipe and learn halfway through that my dough needs to be refrigerated.

  1. In a food processor, add flour, salt, and butter chunks. Pulse until the flour and butter have become course and look like cornmeal. Make sure there isn’t any flour that has not been blended in. If so, use a rubber spatula to stir in the flour and then pulse the processor a few more times.
  2. Place the mixture into a large mixing bowl. Pour 1/2 a cup of water over the mixture. Begin folding the mixture back and forth with your rubber spatula until the dough starts to come together. Then with clean hands knead the dough. If the dough is still too dry add more water, one table-spoon at a time.
  3. Once the dough has come together, divide it in half and form into two disks. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and place in the fridge for no less than two hours or up to 3 days.
  4. While you’re waiting for the dough to chill, add the chopped potatoes, chopped carrots, and peas to a mixing bowl. Add seasoning and then toss to coat. Set aside.
  5. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. On a floured surface (I use my large cutting board), lay out the first disk. Pat it down so it is flat and level. Next, sprinkle some flour on a sharp chopping knife, then cut the dough down the center vertically, and across the center horizontally, so you have four equally sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball.
  6. Reflour your work surface and a rolling-pin. Set aside a saucer of water. Place one of the balls of dough in the center of your work space and then begin rolling it, with a rolling-pin, into a large circle, about 1/8″ thick.
  7. Using a one tablespoon measuring spoon, add the filling one tablespoon at a time. I can usually fit 3-4 tablespoons into my pasties.
  8. With your fingers or a basting brush, add water to edges of the dough (about 1/4″). You do not want it too wet, just enough for the edges to come together to create a seal. Now fold the dough over the filling and line up the edges to create a seal. Seal options: Decisions Decisions! Here are two options: Option 1: The fork method and the easiest. Once you’ve lined up the edges press down on them with a fork and done. For a little extra strength, to keep the edges from breaking, I will fold the edges (this makes them thicker) then I will press the edges down with a fork. This method makes the pasties look like cute little pies. Option 2: The spiral. This my personal favorite, because it makes this cheap pastry look like something that came straight from the local bakery. After the edges are lined up, moisten the top edge just a little. Then start at the end and twist inward. Use both of your hands, your right hand (if you’re right-handed, vis-versa if your left.) will start the spiral inward and your left hand will follow through and make it tight. When you’ve reached the other end there will be a little bit of a “tail” (extra dough from stretching) either add water to the “tail” and tuck it into the pasty or simply cut it off. If you’re nervous, you can tear a piece of dough from one of your balls and practice the spiral technique. It is pretty easy once you get the hang of it.
  9. Finally, cut slits into the top to make air vents. This can be a lot of fun. One time I cut our initials into the top.
  10. Place pasties on a greased baking pan and bake in the oven for 35 – 40 minutes or until they’re golden brown. Once they are golden brown, allow them to cool for at least 5 minutes. Pasties can be eaten dry or dipped in a favorite dressing.

Enjoy!

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SW Sweet Potato Hors d’oeuvres

First of all, my apologies for not updating my blog in over a month, I have really missed it! My February calendar was packed and then my oven broke, also breaking my heart a little. I had to make stove-top dinners for two weeks! Good thing my hubby and I love stir-fry.

I am excited to share this week’s recipe because I’m not just sharing one recipe; I am sharing three recipes that when put together, make one delicious appetizer. You can take one of the recipes and try it alone if you wish too.

I feel like I am constantly saying, “Oh that food is my favorite!”; I say it so often and about so many different kinds of food that I honestly don’t even know what my true favorite is anymore. I bring this confession up because I love southwestern food! I always have, when I was a kid I tried to put salsa and ranch on everything! Then I discovered guacamole and a whole new love affair was born. This recipe is a southwestern style hors d’oeuvre with all of those wonderful flavors I’ve loved since I was a child.

*Keep scrolling to read about my visit to The Ewam Garden of One Thousand Buddhas.

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Southwestern Sweet Potato Hors d’oeuvres

Prep time: 30 – 35 minutes (unless you have a chopper or food slicer, that’ll cut your time in half.)

Makes 30 – 40 (a rough estimate because it depends on the size of the sweet potato)
Hors d’oeuvres Ingredients:

  • 3 log shaped sweet potatoes (This is my recommendation if you want all your hors d’oeuvres to resemble the same size.)
  • 2 tbsp. of olive oil or cooking spray

Guacamole Ingredients:

  • 3 avocados
  • 1 vine ripe tomato seeded and chopped
  • half a red onion chopped
  • 1 jalapeño seeded and loosely chopped
  • Juice from 1 lime
  • 2 tsp. of minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp. of finely chopped cilantro
  • salt to taste

Pico de gallo Ingredients:

  • 3 vine tomatoes seeded and chopped
  • half a red onion chopped
  • 1 jalapeño seeded and finely chopped
  • juice from half a lime
  • juice from half a lemon
  • salt and garlic to taste

Directions:

  1. Set the oven heat to 450º and grease 1-2 baking sheets in olive oil or cooking spray
  2. Slice the sweet potatoes 1/8 inch thick and place them flat on the baking sheets
  3. When the oven is ready, place the baking sheets in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, after 10 minutes pull out the baking sheets and flip the potato slices. Then, place back into the oven and bake for another 5 – 10 minutes. Keep an eye on them, you want them to get tender, but not crispy or burned.
  4. While the sweet potatoes are baking, make the guacamole and pico de gallo (instructions below).
  5. Assembling: Place the sweet potato slices on your serving platter. Add a dollop of guacamole to each slice, then top the guacamole with a teaspoon of Pico de gallo. If you’re entertaining and want the hors d’oeuvres to look even fancier, garnish with fresh cilantro.

*Always be prepared. You may just find you have left over guacamole and/or pico de gallo, imagine the possibilities! Tacos, burritos or southwest salad!!! Or maybe a yummy snack with tortilla chips. Enjoy!
Guacamole Directions:

  1. Prepare the ingredients (i.e. chopping)
  2. In a food processor add minced garlic, cilantro, and jalapeño. Blend on high for about 30 seconds.
  3. Add the avocados. The best way to do this is to slice vertically (avoid slicing through the seed), then squeeze the avocado into the processor (when you squeeze a ripe avocado the seed should pop right out.). Also add the lime juice squeezed from a whole lime and a pinch of salt. Blend in the processor until it is creamy and smooth.
  4. Transfer the avocado mixture to a bowl ( can be a serving bowl or a storage container).
  5. Add the chopped tomatoes and chopped red onion. Fold them into the avocado mixture. Adjust the taste with a little more salt or lime juice.
  6. Chill in the refrigerator or serve immediately.

*Even with the lime juice, guacamole does not last long. You’ll want to eat this within one to two days.
Directions for the Pico de gallo:

  1. Add all the ingredients to a bowl and toss until the tomatoes and onions are coated evenly. Adjust taste to your liking.

*We love spicy food in our house, which is why I use Jalapeño. But if you are sensitive to spicy foods you can still make these recipes delicious and to your liking. Leave out the Jalapeño. Leave as is or add whatever you want.I recommend adding some cubed mango to the Pico de gallo. Mango is such a good complement to southwestern foods.

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The Ewam Garden of One Thousand Buddhas

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The Ewam Garden of One Thousand Buddhas is a real treasure that can be found in one of the most unexpected places; In the middle of nowhere, tucked between the valley of the surrounding mountains of western Montana. I had come across gorgeous pictures of this place a few years ago and knew it was going to be one of those places I just had to visit and see with my own eyes. My hubby and I recently made the decision to leave Montana within the year, so I honestly never thought I’d get the chance to visit the garden.

My friend and I had an engagement that took us to western Montana, to a town only 20 minutes away from the Ewan Garden of One Thousand Buddhas. When we were done with our engagement, I convinced her that this was a place she would not regret visiting.

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Here is an excerpt from their website http://www.ewambuddhagarden.org/on the purpose of this special place.

“Dedicated as an International Peace Center, the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas supports people in cultivating inner peace and in preserving the ancient culture of Tibet. The mission of the Garden is to provide visitors of all faiths with an opportunity to generate profound merit, to reduce global negativities, and to bring about lasting peace. Through the use of the ancient symbols of Buddhism, the Garden awakens one’s natural inner qualities of joy, wisdom, and compassion.” – the Ewam Buddha Garden website.

I am not a Buddhist, but I have studied Buddhism a bit and I have so much respect for their culture and beliefs. Most of my favorite quotes come from the Dalai Lama himself.

“Life is as dear to a mute creature as it is to a man. Just as one wants happiness and fears pain, just as one wants to live and not die, so do other creatures.” – Dalai Lama

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When we pulled up, they hadn’t yet opened their gates. So we sat and patiently waited while one of the kind workers came to open the gate and welcome us. I am already completely in love with the mountains and the mountains surround the garden were breath taking. It is the perfect place to find peace.

It was a chilly day with lots of snow and ice on the ground. The meditation pond was frozen over. There was a thick fog rolling in over the mountains and yet it was stunning. I didn’t care that my fingers and toes were starting to freeze, I just drank in the sights. I can’t imagine the kind of beauty inside and out of the garden during late spring and summer.

Here are some more sights from the Garden of One Thousand Buddhas.

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