Thursday, June 30, 2011

Tequila Orange Glazed Grilled Pineapple

This was absolutely hedonistic, with ice cream on top of the warm pineapple and the orange sauce poured over the top.

1 large pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch slices (or canned)
1/2 cup tequila
6 tablespoons orange marmalade
3/4 cup brown sugar
6 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Mix tequila, marmalade, sugar, butter, vanilla, and cinnamon together. Heat until sugar is dissolved. I had my butter at room temperature for a while beforehand, and with a whisk, this made a nice and creamy sauce.

Preheat grill to medium high heat  Place pineapple on grill. Baste with tequila mixture while grilling and turn occasionally.

Grill about 10 to 15 minutes. Serve hot, with a scoop of your favorite ice cream and a generous drizzle of the sauce on top.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Blackberry Buttermilk Cake

This was pretty simple to make and makes for a very pretty dessert. A great cake to bring to an event, as it doesn't fall apart or sweat if it isn't refrigerated, and also holds together quite well when sliced.

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pan and parchment
2 1/3 cups cake flour (sifted, then measured) plus more for pan
2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) fresh blackberries
1/4 cup plus 1 1/3 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Special equipment:  9"-10"-diameter springform pan


Position a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350°. Butter pan; line bottom with a round of parchment paper. Butter parchment. Dust with flour; tap out excess. Arrange berries in a single layer in bottom of pan; sprinkle evenly with 1/4 cup sugar.

Sift 2 1/3 cups flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda into a medium bowl; set aside. Using an electric mixer, beat 3/4 cup butter and remaining 1 1/3 cups sugar in a large bowl at medium-high speed, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla and zest. Reduce speed to low; beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating just until incorporated. Pour batter over berries in pan; smooth top.

Bake until cake is golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool in pan set on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then run a thin, sharp knife around edge of pan to loosen. Remove pan sides. Invert cake onto rack and remove pan bottom; peel off parchment. Dust top generously with powdered sugar and let cool completely.
Tips:  I used two whole packages of blackberries, which was more than the recipe called for (about 16 oz instead of 10).  Most berries could be substituted here.  This cake is nice and light, and the orange zest really comes through in the flavor.  Serve with whipped cream for a summery treat!

Baked Chicken Flautas

I got this recipe from a recipe website and made some modifications to it.  These came out quite crispy without frying, which saves some calories!

2 cups of grilled chicken, chopped
3 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
3 tbsp cream cheese
6 tbsp Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 4 oz can chopped green chiles
Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
Flour Tortillas
Cooking spray

Cilantro Lime Sour Cream (optional)
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup freshly chopped cilantro leaves
1/4 cup lime juice
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with tin foil and spray with cooking spray.
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper.  Either heat oil in a grill pan, or drizzle chicken with olive oil and grill on an actual grill (if you don't have either, you can just saute the chicken).  Cook until slightly underdone, as this will be going into the oven and you don't want it to be dry.

Combine the chicken, chiles, cilantro, cheeses, coriander, chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Wow, I didn't realize nearly everything in the recipe started with a C until just now!  Mix until well combined.

Microwave flour tortillas in the for about 30 seconds until soft.  Place a bit chicken mixture in the center of the tortilla and roll tightly.  Place with the seam side down on the prepared baking sheet. Finish rolling the rest of the flautas, then spray them lightly with cooking spray.

Place into the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes or until crispy and golden brown.
Tips -  This is an easy recipe to modify - substitute the meat or cheese, or add beans or rice, etc!  If you don't like spicy food, you can omit the chiles altogether.  Serve with the cilantro lime sour cream, guacamole or your favorite salsa.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Garlic Black Pepper Lobster with Lemon Grass Fried Rice

This was a recipe I saw on some TV cooking show, then looked up online.  Who could resist this much garlic?  The original recipe was with live lobster, but I'm a bit squeamish about committing murders in my kitchen.  Instead, I decided to buy pre-murdered lobsters - nearly as tasty, and a clean conscience was had by all (except my bank account).

2 (1 to 2 pound) unwitting lobsters, alive or dead, tails cut into 4 or 5 medallions
20 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 cups sliced scallions (save 1/4 cup of sliced green scallions for garnish)
2 tablespoons ground black pepper, medium ground
1 cups white wine
1 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup fish sauce
6 tablespoons butter
Salt, to taste
Olive oil

In a large, hot saute pan or wok, coated well with olive oil, saute the lobster. Add the garlic, scallions, and black pepper. Deglaze with wine and add chicken stock and fish sauce. Add butter and check for seasoning.

Lemon grass fried rice:
3 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 small white onion, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1/2 tablespoon minced ginger
3 stalks lemon grass, minced, white part only
4 cups cooked jasmine rice
1 lemon, juiced
Salt, to taste

In a saucepan on high heat coated with sesame oil, sweat the onions, garlic, ginger and lemon grass. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Add the rice and saute the rice for 5-10 minutes until hot, slightly brown, and crispy. Add lemon juice and soy sauce and check for seasoning.

On a large plate, mold a mound of rice in the middle and top with lobster. Garnish with sliced scallions, if desired.
Tips -  This makes a lot of extra sauce, but I poured it onto the rice just before serving.   You can form the rice like this by using a cookie cutter or buying a cheap "ring", a chef tool made for serving piles of sides like rice or mashed potatoes.  Also, be careful not to overcook the lobster - I cooked the fried rice first and kept it on low until the lobster was ready.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Fried Onion Blossom

I believe this is also called the "awesome blossom" in some strip mall steakhouses across the country.  If you are a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you know that Spike, a terrifying centuries-old vampire, loves to snack on bloomin' onions, in between murders, of course. Regardless of that bit of pop trivia, this is fried, salty, and delicious!

1 large onion
4 eggs, beaten
2 tbsp flour
1 cup panko crumbs
3 cups vegetable oil
ice water
boiling water

Select a well-rounded onion. Peel outer skin off. Leave root intact and cut off any hanging pieces. Using a small, sharp knife, divide onion into four sections by making 2 cuts crosswise, beginning at the top and cutting toward root, stopping about 1/2" away. Cut each section twice.
Place the onion in a bowl with enough boiling water to cover it and leave for 5 minutes. The sections, or petals, will begin to open. Remove the onion from the water and immerse into ice water, which will further the opening. Drain well by turning upside down on paper towels. Put flour into a plastic bag, add the onion and shake gently to coat with flour. Roll floured onion in beaten egg to cover.
Put panko crumbs into a plastic bag, add the onion, and shake gently to coat. Refrigerate for 1 hour before deep frying in oil until golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes. The cooked onion can be kept for a time in a warm oven.
Tips - This was actually pretty simple to do.  Make sure to get the onion completely covered in flour and panko before chilling, it helps it adhere.  Also, be careful when lowering into the hot oil (I used a spatula).  Since the onion is cold, it definitely will splatter.  Enjoy!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pistachio Crusted Rack of Lamb

This is a nice combination of flavors and makes a lovely presentation, great for a dinner party or special occasion.  Besides, lamb is always delicious!


One rack of lamb, frenched
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 cup bread crumbs
1 cup pistachios
2 cloves chopped garlic
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped rosemary

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Bring the rack of lamb to room temperature and season with salt and pepper.  Heat a skillet over high heat with the olive oil.  Add the rosemary and thyme and let simmer for a moment.  Add the rack of lamb and quickly sear it, just enough to give it a bit of color and soak up some of the flavor of the herbs.  Remove from the pan (discard oil and herbs).

In a food processor, finely chop the pistachios.  Add the breadcrumbs, a tablespoon of olive oil, garlic, and the parsley and process to a paste, then season with salt and pepper.

Using a spoon, smear the lamb with the Dijon mustard.  Then coat with the breadcrumb mixture, packing it on and pressing down so it sticks.
Roast the rack for about 20 minutes, or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the meat registers 130° for medium-rare. Transfer the lamb to a cutting board and let rest for 5 minutes.

Carve the lamb rack into four 2-chop servings and serve.

Tips - This came out pretty tasty but I think next time, I will add more garlic.  I love garlic so that's just a personal preference.  Also, be careful when slicing as the crust will slide off when you are separating the chops if you do it too quickly.  Enjoy!

Give the Gift of a.... Mystery Trip!

So unless you're a Count, or Oprah, this is an idea that you might use only for a special occasion, or after you have come into a bit of extra cash - a tax refund, a bonus, a jewel heist, etc.

The idea is to give someone the gift of a surprise trip.  I have done this twice; once with a close friend, and another time for my current boyfriend.  You can either make it a complete surprise, if you're positive the person will be available, or you can let them know about the "mystery trip" and make sure they keep the dates clear, but not reveal the details.

The first time I did this was for my friend Roxann.  I took her to New York.  Neither of us had ever been, and she didn't know for sure where we were going until we got to the airport and printed out our boarding passes.  Part of the reason I chose New York was that Paul McCartney was playing at Madison Square Garden that weekend.
Something funny happened as soon as we arrived in the city.  I had planned the trip partially based on the McCartney concert, which my friend had no idea was going on. When we exited the subway, literally the first thing we saw was an enormous billboard advertising the concert.  It was literally festooned across an entire side of a high rise building, just outside the subway exit.  I thought my friend would notice and the jig would be up, but she made no mention of it.
I printed out the itinerary I had come up with (Statue of Liberty boat cruise, lunch at Tavern on the Green, MSG concert, getting on the list at a hot club, etc) and covered the destinations with post-it flags.  A few hours before each event, I would have my friend pull off one of the flags and reveal our next destination.  It was a fun game and a memorable trip.
Here we are on a windy and hot boat cruise that ended with Roxy looking wistful in front of the statue.
The smallest person to ever visit Times Square...

A couple of years later, I decided to do a similar thing for Kyle.  We had been dating for about a year and I wanted to take him somewhere special for a weekend.  He had never been to New York, so once again I used that as my mystery trip destination (what can I say? It's a cheap, short flight, and there's lots to do there!).  I took him to different places (a Broadway show, an expensive French restaurant, a Brooklyn bar for beer enthusiasts) and once again employed the post-it flag trick for our itinerary.  We had a grand time!
For some reason, Kyle decided to act like a real New Yorker and look furious in every picture.
Still angry....
On the way to a fancy restaurant and feeling either melancholy or resentful about it.... but still catching a great lean against that wall.
Tips  - Make sure the person you want to take on a trip is available and doesn't mind traveling.  Make it a short weekend trip - 3 days is ideal.  Plan the itinerary around your travel companion's interests, and have a "surprise" for every day.  It doesn't have to be expensive - museums are cheap and sometimes free, and so are landmarks. Sometimes the simplest things can be the most memorable - eating a messy and delicious meatball sandwich at a street corner NYC deli, discussing controversial art at a famous museum, having a frosty beverage at a place with a view.  There is something truly rewarding about planning the perfect trip for someone else and seeing the look on their face as they discover what you have organized.  I highly recommend it, if that jewel heist goes off without a hitch.  Good luck!

White Chocolate Caramel Macadamia Cheesecake

This is a nice alternative to plain cheesecake - the macadamia nuts give the crust a little added crunch.

1 1/2 cup crushed graham crackers
1/2 cup melted butter
1 cup white chocolate chips
1/2 cup macadamia nuts
1/4 cup caramel topping
2 pkgs cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs

Heat oven to 450 degrees and place a cookie sheet with water on the bottom inside. Mix together graham crackers and melted butter. Pat into the bottom of a 9" Springform pan and about 1/2 way up the sides. Sprinkle macadamia nuts on to the crust.

Mix cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla until creamy. Then beat eggs in one at a time. Melt white chocolate chips in the microwave, being sure to stir and careful not to let them burn (should only take about 30-60 seconds).  Mix melted chocolate into batter and stir thoroughly.
Pour batter into crust. Swirl the caramel topping into the cream cheese mixture with a knife.

When oven is heated, cover the bottom of the outside of the springform pan with aluminum foil and fold it up against the sides (so water doesn't leak in). Then place in the hot water bath for about 5-7 minutes.

Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 350 degrees. Drain water from the pan, remove tin foil from springform, then place cheesecake back on the cookie sheet and bake for about 30-35 min or until top is golden brown. Cool for about 30 minutes before refrigerating, then refrigerate at least 4-5 hours, or until firm.

Tips - This recipe was quite simple and I don't have very many suggestions.  The original recipe called for pouring the unmelted white chocolate chips on top of the crust, but I was worried it would burn, and since I've made white chocolate cheesecake before I knew another option was to melt and mix into the cheesecake itself. Anyway, just a minor modification, I'm sure it would taste good either way.  Enjoy!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Smoky Blue Cheese Crusted Tomatoes

This is a simple recipe that has a surprising amount of flavor.  Grilling the tomatoes gives them a smokiness that is really intense with the blue cheese.

6 medium tomatoes
1/2 cup dry breadcrumbs
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup crumbled blue cheese
Salt and pepper

Prepare 1 side of grill to high heat and leave other side unlit.
Mix breadcrumbs and olive oil in a small bowl.  Remove the core from each tomato and spoon out a bit of the tomato to make a nice opening.  Sprinkle tomatoes with salt and pepper and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  Fill each with 1-2 tablespoons blue cheese (as much as you can stuff in there!) and sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture.

Arrange tomatoes topping side up on unlit side of grill.  Cook until the tomatoes are soft and cheese has melted, about 10-12 minutes.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mini Fried Chicken with Waffles

This is a fun appetizer and a surprising flavor combination that actually works quite well together.

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken tenders
2 cups buttermilk (or regular milk, if you don't have buttermilk on hand)
2 tbsp hot sauce
3 eggs, beaten
3 cups vegetable oil
Maple syrup
Mini toaster waffles (20 individual rounds)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

2 cups flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne

Drain the chicken tenders on paper towels, making sure to get them nice and dry.  Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper.  In a medium bowl, mix the buttermilk with the hot sauce, and add the seasoned chicken pieces to the buttermilk mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to overnight.

Remove the chicken from the bowl and drain.  Place flour in a bowl and season with salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper.  Add the chicken pieces to the flour mixture and toss well, thickly coating each piece.  Next, dip the floured chicken pieces in egg, then return to bowl for a second coating of flour.  Either place these individually on wax paper, or fry them as you dip them, as they will stick if you pile them up.

In a large saucepan or skillet, heat oil on high until slightly smoking. Carefully add your chicken in batches, being mindful not to splatter or crowd the pan or the temperature of the oil will drop. Stir occasionally until nicely browned on all sides and then remove to a paper towel to drain. Repeat with remaining chicken pieces.

Toast the mini waffle rounds until golden brown and top each round with a piece of fried chicken. Drizzle with warm maple syrup before serving.

Tips - This is best served as soon as the chicken comes out of the pan, so it's nice and crispy.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Secret Benihana Shrimp with Ginger & Mustard Dipping Sauce

I recently went to Benihana, somewhat ironically.  Kyle and I were in the 'burbs visiting a friend and it seemed like a fantastic choice as far as chain restaurants go.  The food was delicious and I particularly liked the dipping sauces, which I immediately decided to try and recreate.  The recipes were awfully hard to locate online.  I ended up paying .79 cents of my hard earned money for it, from some "top secret recipe" website!  It was worth the money because it came out delicious and almost exactly like the real thing, so now I don't have to drive 40 miles for this shrimp!

Shrimp Recipe (per person, so multiply by how many you are serving):

5 large, preferably raw, shrimp
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 teaspoon garlic butter
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 dash salt
1 dash pepper


Heat a griddle as hot as you can get it.  Pour sesame oil on and let it heat until it just begins to smoke.  Place shrimp on griddle and saute about 3 minutes on each side.  Add garlic butter and continue to cook for 1 to 2 minutes longer, or until slightly browned on each side.  Sprinkle salt and pepper to taste.  Squeeze juice from half a lemon over the shrimp.  Remove from griddle and serve hot.
Mustard Sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup water
2 tsp spicy mustard
2 tsp heavy cream
1 tsp thai garlic chili sauce
1/2 tsp garlic powder

Ginger Sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and chopped (can substitute 1 tbsp ground ginger if preferred)
2 tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed if possible
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp white vinegar

If you do use fresh ginger for this sauce, you can run it through a food processor or blender for a minute to make it nice and smooth.

Tips - These sauces are really tasty - not sure which I prefer, so make both and decide for yourself!  They are also good on beef or chicken, or grilled vegetables.  When we ate at Benihana, we dipped pretty much everything they gave us in them.  Serve this as an appetizer or make a larger portion and serve with fried rice.  Yum!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Panko Crusted Zucchini Medallions

This are tasty little bites that could be served as a side dish or appetizer.

Several zucchini and/or yellow squash, cut into slices
Fresh basil
1/2 cup marinara sauce
1/4 cup mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup panko crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Slice the zucchini and/or squash into even slices and arrange on baking sheet.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Next, spoon a dollop of marinara sauce on each slice, place about a half a basil leaf on top, then about a teaspoon full of each type of cheese, and finally, sprinkle with panko crumbs.
Place into the oven and bake for 15 minutes or until the squash is cooked through and the panko is brown.
Serve while hot, and the cheese is still melty.  Enjoy!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Slow Cooker Italian Beef Sandwich

When I first moved to Chicago from CA, I had never had, or even heard of, an Italian beef sandwich.  Can you imagine living in such a state of ignorance and oblivion?  Luckily for me, I soon discovered all of the impossibly delicious and fattening foods of the Midwest - the Italian beef, the bratwurst, the stuffed pizza....

I combined a couple of versions of this recipe to get this right.  I wanted it to be as authentic as possible.


1 boneless beef roast (top sirloin or round), about 3 pounds
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 bay leaf
4 cups of beef stock
2 cups of water
2 beef bouillon cubes

Italian style sandwich rolls

Mozzarella or provolone cheese
Giardiniera (if desired)
Roasted bell peppers (if desired)

Place roast in crockpot and add seasonings.  Cover with water and beef stock.  Cook on low for 10 to 12 hours, or on high for 4 to 5 hours. When done, remove bay leaf, and shred meat with a fork, then place shredded meat back into the sauce, and leave on warm.
Apparently you can also make this recipe in the oven and then use a meat slicer to slice the meat.  I think this would be more authentic, as the meat for an Italian beef is usually cut in really thin deli style slices. When prepared in a crockpot like this, the meat comes out with a pulled pork or brisket-like texture.  However, the flavors are a perfect match and though I was worried about the texture at first, it made no discernible different in the taste of the sandwich.  So, I've decided I don't need to invest in a giant meat slicer!

To serve the sandwich, toast your buns (this is very important, as these sandwiches are meant to be juicy, and you don't want your bun to be too soggy).  Fill each toasted bun with the meat, being sure to get some of the sauce with each spoonful.  Next, using tongs, dip the sandwich once in the sauce.
I like to add cheese, which turns this into a "cheezy beef".  You can do this using your oven or microwave, whichever you prefer.  Simply add either shredded mozzarella or slices of provolone, and then quickly heat to melt.  Finally, top with giardiniera and/or bell peppers, if desired, and serve.  I personally love giardiniera, and if you are not familiar with it, I recommend trying it on this sandwich - the spicy, tangy flavor of the giardiniera pairs perfectly with the flavors of the Italian style beef.  It's a match made in heaven!
Here's a website I came across that has a lot of info about the history and preparation of Italian Beef sandwiches - Recipe Website

Tips - I don't usually do regular bell peppers on my sandwich, it just isn't my thing, but a lot of people like it that way.  To prepare them, simply slice a green and/or red bell pepper into long strips (remove seeds and membrane) and sautee in a frying pan with a bit of olive oil for about 15 minutes.  Enjoy!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Bavarian Pretzels with White Cheddar Cheese Sauce

I saw this recipe in a magazine and couldn't resist the challenge of making my own pretzels.  It was easier than I expected, and delicious. Freshly baked and hot out of the oven?  Irresistible.

Pretzel Ingredients:

1 package active dry yeast
1/8 cup warm water
1 1/3 cup warm water
1/3 cup brown sugar
4 1/2 cups flour
Baking soda (lots)
2 tbsp melted butter
Kosher salt
Pot of water

To make the pretzels:
Dissolve yeast in 1/8 cup warm water. Stir in 1 1/3 cups warm water, 1/3-cup brown sugar and flour. Knead dough until smooth and elastic.

Heat oven to 475 degrees. In a saucepan, measure 2 tablespoons baking soda to each cup of water. Put enough water to fill the saucepan at least 3 inches high. Bring soda and water mixture to a light boil and set heat to simmer. Make sure the baking soda is well disolved.  For the pot I was using, this took about 20 tablespoons of baking soda, which was nearly an entire container.

Tear off some dough and roll a long thick pencil shape with your hands  I found the easiest way to do this was by rolling slowly in an outward motion, sort of pulling the ends away from one another the whole time.
Next, make a U shape with the rope.  Then braid the two bottom ends around one another twice, as pictured below.
Finally, pick up the braided part and simply place it atop the U, pressing lightly down on the edges so that they stick.  Voila!
Repeat with remaining pretzels - I made 10 with this recipe, but it really depends on how large you want your pretzels.

Next, place pretzels one at a time in water/baking soda mixture for 10 seconds on each side or until the pretzel dough is light yellow in color. This may seem odd, but this step is very important to the final product.  The first few recipes I read recommended using food grade lye, which is difficult to come by, and can be dangerous to work with. I really did not want to use the lye, but most of the recipes I came across claimed it was the only way to get that crisp outside and "pretzel" flavor.

Finally I found this recipe, which suggested substituting baking soda. Unlike sodium hydroxide (lye), baking soda or sodium bicarbonate is not toxic or hazardous and is often used as a substitute for lye water.

Once you remove each pretzel from the water, place them on a salted cookie sheet.
The final step is to salt the top of pretzels with course ground sea salt or kosher salt.  Use liberally, pretzels are supposed to be salty!  Place cookie sheet with pretzels into the oven for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and drizzle melted butter over pretzels.  Serve warm, with mustard or cheese sauce (recipe below!).

White Cheddar Cheese Sauce

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black or white pepper
1 1/2 cups milk
1 tsp salt
8 oz grated white cheddar cheese

To make the sauce:
Melt butter; remove from heat. Stir in flour and seasonings. Gradually add milk, stirring until well mixed. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickened and smooth. Cook for 5 minutes longer; add cheese. Stir until smooth and well blended.  Keep on low heat until ready to serve with pretzels.

Tips: Do not refrigerate this dough, it will become difficult to work with.  The pretzels can be reheated the next day and still taste delicious, just microwave them for about 30 seconds.

This recipe is pretty versatile, you can omit the drizzled butter, or add other seasonings such as salt, sugar, cinnamon, raisins or nuts, etc.  Once I tasted the pretzels, I understood the importance of the baking soda bath.  They have a very distinctive texture and flavor and there is nothing else in this recipe that could account for it.  These pretzels taste very authentic.  Enjoy!