In 1975, I was making hummus before many knew what hummus was by 2005. Not a brag, just a lucky fact. Living in Portland, Oregon for awhile during my "youth" gave me an opportunity to cook with a couple of women from the Lebanese community who gave cooking classes. This was all new ground to me, and especially new to my tastebuds. You see in my hometown and especially in the 1970's, I could barely find the ingredients to prepare hummus, tabbouleh, pita bread (from scratch), koftka, baklava, tzatziki, to name a few of the wonderful recipes we learned to prepare. Today I can walk into any one of my local supermarkets and finally find the ingredients.
In 1999, two days after my divorce was granted in court, I found myself on a plane to Bondi Junction, an eastern suburb of Sydney, in the state of New South Wales, Australia. In fact, I was staying in the Hasidic neighborhood of Bondi, and it just happened to be the start of Passover. I had to learn rather quickly on how to prepare all things with matzoh, if I was going to survive. I am proud to say that my matzoh balls float - no sinkers. Since that experience, I have added to my kosher repertoire of kugel, charoset, rugelach, and of course - - latkes!
Recently, I ventured into the world of Dim Sum. Making dough has never been my favorite thing to do, and especially with limited success (This is where Julia Child would have to flunk me - yeast dough). However, I was pleased when one Sunday morning I took upon the task of making my own Char Siu Bao. Also known as, a Cantonese steamed barbecue-pork-filled buns. Those little suckers are difficult to roll, but with practice I found the technique.
So, I really do know how to cook, but once awhile one rather yearns for some of the old comfort foods that mom and Betty Crocker use to make, and even some of those timeless recipes from the Junior League recipe books.
Every Junior League or Junior Club has their favorite recipes and eventually they put them in a cookbook for sale. Back in the "day" when I was a Junior Club member of Walla Walla, Washington, we often had potlucks where our favorites would show up, and of course someone always brought the Strawberry Pretzel Dessert. This was at least 30 years ago when I was first introduced to this "delicacy," and frankly I have been craving it once a year, especially when the warmer weather sets in.
Oh, and let me just add that I have really taken a lot of heat for this recipe since it is made with a popular gelatin, but whatever ...
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First, let's make the crust.
1 1/2 cups crushed pretzels
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup of melted butter
Stir sugar and melted butter into the crushed pretzels. Press the pretzel mixture into a 9"x 13" pan. Bake for six minutes at 350 degrees. Let cool - completely.
6 oz package of strawberry-flavored gelatin
2 cups of boiling water
2 packages (10 oz each) of frozen strawberries, no sugar added - leave frozen*
Dissolve gelatin with the boiling water. Cool slightly. Stir in the frozen strawberries. Set aside.
8 oz carton of non-dairy whipped topping - thawed
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup sugar
Combine the whipped topping, cream cheese, and sugar. Spread the creamy mixture on top of the pretzel crust. Top with the strawberry gelatin mixture. Set for 2 hours. Cut into squares when ready to serve.
*Note: if available 4 cups of fresh sliced strawberries may be used instead of the frozen strawberries. However, if you are using fresh you will need to add 1 1/2 cups of very chilled water to the warm gelatin mixture to assist in setting up, and then add the strawberries.
It's always fun to take a recipe and "elevate" it a bit, and there are no rules that you are stuck with serving this dessert in a pan. For special occasions, and especially picnics and outdoor entertaining, individual servings in jars or even stemless wine glasses are perfect. However, instead of baking the crust in the containers, bake the crust in a separate pan. When cool, break up the crust and sprinkle it into your individual parfait containers.
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