The Great Obamneycalypse of 2012 (and Herbal Cheese-Stuffed Pretzels)

Cheese stuffed homemade pretzels with herbs mozzarella parmesan basil oregano

In the waning hours leading us ever closer to the intellectual apocalypse of Election Day 2012 – presuming you survive to tell the tale at all – where do you want to be able to say you were when it all went down? Who were you with when the last vote was tallied and the gods snickered down from Olympus, forever mocking the deity who forgot to give us brains with a viable shelf life?

Minerva being mocked by the other gods

“Hey Minerva, nice Snooki … HAAAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA … LOSER!!”

And, seeing as you’re currently aboard this unsinkable gluttonous vessel with me, what were your last meals amid a civilized society – before the sky turned sooty black and neighbors routinely impaled each other on slightly outdated political yard signs?

As for The Boss, I ain’t gonna lie. I’m already cowering in the corner, clutching my (culinary) bible, a crossbow and can of string cheese.

caveman holding crossbow aimed at viewer

You want my fire? Come and take it, you chad-hanging heathens. “Sharp” cheddar, indeed. Here, have some!!

Amid the good-natured federal fraud, bipartisan intimidation, inexplicably patriotic zombie voters and general rainbow coalition of redneck hatred toward our fellow man, now is precisely the time when those left with a shred of sanity (aka, independents) are busy navigating the angry seas of political turmoil and the pools of vitriolic vomit cast upon the floor, in search of the warm and stable ground of the familiar. I don’t know about y’all beeches but if you know Boss, you know that means I’m taking my titanium ass back to New York – STAT.

Of course, seeing as we are mere days away from all forms of public transportation bursting into flames or otherwise rendered obsolete in dramatic fashion, this journey home will have to occur in the vast recesses of my not inconsequential mind … and, of course, in my belly!!

Lest you presume I would do this half-assed, I welcome you back from your subterranean holding cell and shamelessly mock your terrible timing. No, if this recipe were any more New York, it’d be wearing a navy blue pin-striped yarmulke and rolled around the upper west side in an ergonomic baby stroller by a hefty Puerto Rican nanny.

What?? Oh come on, the world is ending, people!! If you want to waste your energy on 11th hour political correctness then I am totally stealing your daughter and your Spam. We’ll be holed up in that big cave on the ridge. If you want them back, I accept euros, shiny seashells and cabinet positions in the next regime.

mozzarella parmesan cheese basil oregano on white table in colorful mixing bowls

Herbal Cheese-Stuffed Pretzels

Pretzels
• 1 1/2 cups warm water (to around 115° F)
• 1 Tbsp sugar
• 2 tsp kosher salt
• Active dry yeast (1 pkg)
• 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
• 2 ounces unsalted butter
• Splash of vegetable oil
• 10 cups water
• 2/3 cup baking soda
• 1 egg yolk beaten into 1 Tbsp water
• Kosher or pretzel salt

Marinara Dipping Sauce
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• 3 Tbsp sweet onion, finely diced
• 4 garlic cloves, minced
• 84 oz (3 cans) whole, peeled tomatoes, roughly torn by hand
• 3 sprigs french thyme
• 4-5 chopped basil leaves
• 2 tsp kosher salt
• black pepper to taste

Stuffing
Mozzarella, grated
Parmesan, finely grated
Fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
Greek Oregano, finely chopped

Blend warm water, sugar and kosher in a mixing bowl and let it sit until it starts to foam like Joe Biden in the VP debate. Seriously, dude HAD TO BE high on something … all bug-eyed and giggly … *shiver*. This will really work best with a stand mixer but if I know my peeps, you are nothing if not enterprising.

Mix in the butter and flour slowly and crank it up to medium for about 5 minutes. Move the pliable dough to a bowl, oiled with the vegetable oil, and let it rest, covered, for an hour.

Add baking soda to 10 cups of water and boil in a large pan.

While the water is heating, separate the dough into 8 roughly equal balls and roll them out over a floured surface like a snake to around two feet. The dough will retract so allow it to rest, lift from the rolling surface and roll out again until it keeps its shape.

With a floured rolling pin, roll each rope flat. Run a fine layer of mozzarella slightly off-center, allowing space to roll over and pinch closed. Top this with any herbs you choose (fresh basil and oregano just happen to work flawlessly) and a dusting of parmesan.

Pretzel dough with mozzarella parmesan basil and oregano

Fold the dough over and pinch closed down the length.

Stuffed pretzel dough folded over and pinched closed

Finish with a gentle roll to reshape and form into the shape of a pretzel … or whatever else your artistic little heart desires. Hey, keep it classy!! Place onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and brushed with olive oil.

Pretzels on cookie sheet panties in a bunch

Little pundit comes out of the cave… Swims into the hole… Comes out of the hole… Goes back into the cave again… *BOOM*, little pundit has his panties in a perfect twist.

When your water is boiling, give each pretzel a thirty second bath and return to the baking sheet. Give each a brushing with the egg wash and dash with pretzel of kosher salt, herb flakes and any parmesan you may have left. Hint, grate more parmesan. What, is this your first rodeo?? More cheese!! ALWAYS more cheese!!

Mel Gibson in face paint war paint Braveheart

They may tax our lives … But they will never tax … OUR FROMAGE!!!!

In a preheated 450° oven, bake for 10-15 minutes, keeping a close eye and removing when they turn golden brown.

Stuffed homemade pretzel dripping with cheese

If you’re not excited right not, I don’t want to know you…

SAUCE:

Let the pretzels rest as you whip up a perfectly basic marinara for dipping. It makes a decent amount so let’s be clear: you are supposed to have pasta on hand for “leftovers.” It’s kind of a package deal. A boxed set of Sopranos DVDs is optional but if you know what’s good for ya……….

First, heat up your olive oil in a saucepan. When hot, drop in your onions and garlic and a pinch of kosher to help the blend “sweat” a little. Stir constantly until translucent and slightly browned. After discarding approximately half of the juice from the tomato cans, add in the remaining ingredients and simmer until the mixture thickens. Remove the herb sprigs and season to taste. This is just *fuhgedaboutit* when served fresh and warm but tastes damn good reheated. Your call.

ALTERNATIVE:

Of course, should you wish to cut back on the awesomeness (for health reasons or something … go back to Jersey, ya wuss!!), foregoing the filling turns these beauties into the perfect walking-around-Central-Park-on-a-chilly-Autumn-day pretzels. And not to shamelessly self-promote, but what is any pretzel without the world’s finest homemade mustard? Or, you can flip flop like one of those aggravatingly indecisive purple states and split the recipe in half to try both. I’d be curious to see how the popular vote came on out such an issue where the American people actually had two WINNERS to choose from, for a change.

Pretzel political ad debate

Just remember, my friends, when the Trumps and the Allreds of the world have fired their last salvos of cancerous stupidity across the bow of our tiny little sanctuary, we will remain. And we will be freaking starving. As the elephants and jackasses wage ongoing war across the barren wasteland of a once-proud culture, we will raise our bread and cheese and proclaim proudly into the night, “We are the Foodocraticans (I just made that up, you can’t use it!!) and we shall inherit the Earth.”

Never again shall we elect a President based on the color of his skin or the depth of his offshore accounts. Mister Candidate, we care not about your position on green energy but rather your stance on green salads. Sure, you would defend the Mexican border, but what are you doing to protect our fine Mexican food? Long ago, we gave up the hunt for viable nuclear fusion but, my good sir, when will someone finally take a stand on Asian fusion??

The future is ours, my friends. Shall we continue to scavenge the outskirts of the beltway for the strewn scraps of self-interested politicos, or shall we finally stand up to the bland and tasteless status quo, and fill our plates with the feast of … liberty, or whatever?

Who’s “hungry” for better options? Come on, fellow eaters of life… Who’s with me???

angry frenchman Jacques flipping the bird

Damn it, Jacques… Ok, who’s with me and NOT French???

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Put a Little Mustard on that Blog!!

Mustard in rameken and spread on white cheddar and wheat cracker on cutting board

Since my earliest cognitive days, I recall being thoroughly taken by that damn Grey Poupon commercial. The rich, creamy texture … the enticing flecks of spicy black heat … the pompous regality of name and label.

Yep, then and there – as a wide-eyed culinary toddler – I simply knew: I REALLY freaking wanted a Rolls Royce and pretentious British accent so damn bad!! It would be mine, I thought to myself…

Rolls Royces passing Grey Poupon

…oh yes, it WOULD be mine.

Life, it appears, can be a cruel, cruel jokester… *shrug*

Two fat rednecks next to car up on blocks

…what ya gonna do…

Still, as we have all learned in the midst of the bleak intellectual apocalypse brought down upon us by the Kardashians and Snookis of the world, with a little self-absorption and an absence of self-awareness, you too can pretend to be valuable and relevant … and I can show you how – right from the comfort of your own home!!

No longer will you hang your head in lowly shame when confronted by that ‘rich-guy-gray’ Rolls, fully stocked with sandwich fixings yet woefully ill-equipped with condiments. Nay, my friends. The next time Thurston Howell reaches his money-counting hand YOUR way in search of blue chip investment advice and flavor-infusing handouts…

Thurston Howell fron Gilligan's Island

Wait … what did I ever do to you?

…you can scoff at the notion of a bourgeois store bought mustard while instructing your driver to hand him this recipe instead.

Benito Mussolini in arrogant pose with nose in the air

Remember, nose up! Proper scoffing requires a very clear nasal passage. This guy “nose” what I’m talkin’ about… HA!!!

Yes, relish this moment, my friends … for it mayo just be your finest.

Sous Chef Cooper laughing maniacally

I see what you did there. HAAAAAAAAAAAA!! God, stop your wicked word sorcery, you’re killing me.”

honey mustard seeds dry mustard powder kosher salt thyme herbs

Honey Herbal Spicy Mustard

1 cup cold filtered water
1/2 cup dry yellow mustard powder
4 Tbsp yellow mustard seed
2 Tbsp brown mustard seeds

3/4 cup + 1 Tbsp cider vinegar
0.2 oz (by weight) fresh herbs

1/2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup honey
1/4 tsp turmeric powder

In a medium glass bowl, combine the mustard powder, mustard seeds and cold water. You’re going to set this aside and let it soak for a couple hours, stirring it up occasionally. I can’t stress this enough – you want the water cold when you add it. The colder, the better…

Giant iceberg

TOO COLD … don’t be a jackass.

See, here’s the thing: there’s a lot of crazy-ass scientific logic for this but the bottom line is that mustard in its raw form doesn’t have any heat. The heat and pungency come from chemical reactions that take place when the compounds in mustard are exposed to cold. Using hot water will strip away much of this heat – and once it’s gone, much like the whimsy of youth, you ain’t getting it back. On the flip side, if you retain the heat through the process, then you can always reduce it down the road by exposing it to heat at any point. Keep this in mind when deciding whether to cook with this mustard versus adding it after the fact.

Mustard seeds soaking

While the seeds and powder are soaking, place your vinegar and herbs in a small covered pot. Bring to a boil then remove from heat and set it aside to steep. Once it’s cooled a bit, you can run it through a strainer and *BOOM* you’ve just made your own herbal vinegar. You can use any herb mixture you wish and it’s always fun to experiment, but I try to stay away from the more pungent herbs (e.g., the heavy hitters like sage, oregano and basil) because they can really overwhelm everything else. For mine, I chose English thyme (LONDON 2012, baby!!), sweet marjoram, winter savory and a 1″ sprig of rosemary. I might have gone with some tarragon too, if it weren’t such a demanding little diva of an herb and if I weren’t doing this in the dead of summer.

Once your mustard seeds have softened – that is, when you can squish them against the edge of the bowl with some ease – puree the mixture, along with the infused vinegar, in a blender until it reaches your preferred smoothness. It may take a couple minutes and it’s always a good idea to stop a few times and stir it up with a spatula to get all of it down into the blades.

Back into the glass bowl, add in the chopped herb, turmeric, salt and honey. Stir and allow to sit for another couple hours to mellow at room temperature. Check occasionally to gauge the heat and refrigerate once it reaches a level you like. Remember, the flavors will not fully meld for 24 hours or so. At this point, you are just testing for heat before refrigerating – not overall flavor.

It’s not a bad idea to bottle a bit for year-round use since it does make a decent sized batch. If you’d rather keep it simple, it will last months in the fridge, as long as you keep it adequately covered.

Pair a dish of this mustard with a platter of stoned wheat crackers and sharp aged cheddar – and maybe a few apple wedges – and your friends will look up to you with the fanciest of fancy admiration.

mustard in rameken with spreader stoned weat crackers and aged sharp white cheddar cheese on cutting board

Spread on a hot, fresh pretzel and they will spend the rest of their lives chasing your condimentatory (it’s a word now, shut up) prowess … but don’t worry, they will never ketchup.

Sous Chef Cooper laughing maniacally

KETCHUP!! *snort*

Pickled Cherry Tomatoes (Little Orbs of Summer, Creepily Kept Suspended in a Jar. YUM!!)

Admit it … you’ve missed me. C’mon, GROUP HUG.

sliced cherry tomatoes

For those falling victim to the widespread rumors that I had been killed in a bar fight, called back to my home planet or kidnapped and sold off for scrap metal, I cast shame upon thee. I’ve never met a bar fight I couldn’t handle, I’ve held DUAL planetary citizenship for years now, and my platinum visage is fully insured.

No, the truth is I have been an inexcusably lazy bastard – listening intently for the siren song of inspiration, yet hearing only the tepid footsteps of pedestrian mediocrity. A shell of my formerly glorious self, swapping muscle for blubbery reserves and reapportioning hair from where it should be to where nobody wants it…

Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito from Twins movie

Oh wait, no, that was some other guy who I’m not. I’ve been busy as hell!! Between my efforts to breed a superior alpaca and the nurturing of my rooftop jiujitsu superhero hobby…

NYC Rooftops from above

Leaving NYC has really done wonders for my vertigo.

…I have also thrown myself into a couple new writing ventures which I might share with you someday, once I verify the complete lack of suckage contamination…

CDC hazmat suits and lab

…no suck so far … but we are seeing symptoms consistent with dangerous levels of awesome.

Alas, this is no excuse for being so remiss in recent weeks. Even through times of trial and burdensome stress, a man’s gotta eat – most women do too, I hear. And then the children … oh god, the children!!

That said, and by way of humble apology, I shall start you off with a suitably extravagant, and entirely timely, little snacker that smacks of gentle, warmth-kissed summer breezes and vibrant, garden-grown flavors. It’s a sexy little garnish that screams “high class,” yet does so in a suitably classy way. Just be sure to plan ahead. Don’t wait until you’re already hungry, though … because it takes about 4 weeks to prepare to perfection. Sorry, probably should have tossed this one your way about 3 1/2 weeks ago, huh? I suck as a friend. But they’re still pretty darn good right out of the gate. Come on, give ’em a try now AND bottle up a couple jars for the short, cold, bleak, suicidally dank days of winter (WHAT? I’m a writer now … I’m SUPPOSED TO be a buzzkill)…

And on THAT high note:

Pickled cherry tomatoes in jars

Pickled Cherry Tomatoes

1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup kosher salt
2 Tbsp cane sugar
Approximately 36 oz (by weight) cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 sprig fresh dill per jar, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic per jar, halved or quartered
2 whole black peppercorns per jar
1 thin onion slice or three small slices of shallot
2 fresh Tabasco chiles per jar (dry red pepper flakes will do, to taste)

Honestly, this is something of a quick throw-together, so there is very little finesse involved. The vast majority of time goes into the prep and the canning, although you can just as easily prepare and refrigerate in an unprocessed jar for up to two weeks. That said, summer ain’t gonna last forever and I don’t want you to come crying to me in February when you can’t get your fix of garden fresh goodness. I am enabling you right now – if you don’t heed my warning, I will shed no pity on your wintertime shakes and cold sweats. Tough love, mes amis!!

I have found that 36 oz of small cherry or grape tomatoes will just about perfectly fill three 8 oz canning jars, once juice is added. The ones in the included photos are fresh off the vines of an underproductive-albeit-tasty home garden. Store bought works fine, obviously, but we all know they can’t compare to tomatoes sun-ripened in the back yard. Either way, halve the tomatoes and stuff right into your sterilized jars. There are 500 ways to sterilize a jar for canning, and everyone has their favorite method, so I will leave that part to you.

Cherry tomato halves in jars

Don’t go crazy on stuffing them in but give the jars a little tap and shake to settle the tomatoes. You can bring them right up to slightly below the neck of the jar.

Combine the vinegar, water, salt and cane sugar into a medium sized pot and bring the mixture to a boil, then remove from the heat and set aside.

With beautiful and elegant simplicity, chop your dill…

Sprig of fresh dill on cutting board

Smell the elegant simplicity?

finely chopped fresh dill

Ok, how about now?

…and toss it into your jars, along with peppercorns, garlic and onion or shallot. I find it helps to remove a bit of tomato and slip these ingredients deeper into the jar, then replace what you removed … especially if you’re going for a quicker processing for more immediate consumption.

shallots and herbs added to tomatoes in jar

Line up your tomato-packed jars and ladle in enough of your vinegar-water solution to reach to right around 1/2″ beneath the mouth of the jar. Seal and process for 15 minutes in a covered boiling water bath. Store in a cool, dark place and write me this winter to tell me how freaking awesome life is everytime you toss a few over a salad or garnish your martini.

tomatoes and tabasco chiles pickled in jar

NOTE: Sauce Boss does not endorse pickling your own insides with excessive consumption of pickled-tomato-garnished martinis … but I do applaud your commitment to the craft.

Coming soon … SOMETHING ELSE!!