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amid a civilized society – before the sky turned sooty black and neighbors routinely impaled each other on slightly outdated political yard signs?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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Raid the Melon Patch and Fire Up the Coals One Last Time (Grilled Watermelon Salad)

grilled watermelon, goat cheese, baby spinach and chocolate balsamic vinaigrette

My friends, Labor Day is once again upon us: a day of smiling through tears as we send another summer into the Great Unknown not with sorrow in our hearts but with beer in our bellies. Also, charred meat. Oh god, the charred meat. Like a proper jazz funeral, it is a festive and bittersweet day for celebrating the journey rather than mourning its end.

crowd gathers around jazz funeral in new orleans

Looks like a crowd … better throw on more meat!!

As a child, I always detested the day. After all, what kind of savage sub-humans could derive such glee from a day that heralds a return to the morbid confines of another soul-sapping school year?

children screaming

You cold bastards!! You said we were getting up early for pony rides!!!!

As I have grown into a matured mind (and rock-solid, taut, muscular, ageless body),  however, I have come to appreciate the true sadism of such a holiday.

kids crammed into yellow school bus

Goodbye, ‘hey you damn kids, get off my lawn’ … and HELLO to another nine months of laughing and pointing as that big yellow bus drives away.

But Labor Day is about so much more than taunting the incarcerated youth of the neighborhood while sipping my coffee and reveling in my fluffy slippers; it is also about finding another excuse to eat and drink like heathens between the patriotic feast on the Fourth … and the generally idiotic feast on SuperBowl Sunday.

On this day of prideful tradition, I would not dare suggest what form of small animal you roast over your open flame, or what alcoholic concoction you wash it down with. But might I humbly offer a single suggestion for the coming weekend … a new ritualistic sacrifice over your personal pit of despair. Rustic enough for the county fair, yet plenty fancy for you finest cutoff denims.

creepy man in short cutoff denim shorts and leather jacket

If you’re not grilling in these bad boys, then you’re not grilling.

grilled watermelon, baby spinach, vinaigrette and goat cheese on white plate

Grilled Watermelon Salad

1 big, juicy seedless watermelon
Coarse sea salt
Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Baby spinach leaves, washed
Crumbled goat cheese (or drained cottage cheese to cut down on salty taste)
Chocolate-Balsamic Vinaigrette

Cut your waterlemon in half, across its widest point. Place the flat side down on a cutting board and cut away the rind, leaving a solid dome of red flesh. Cut lengthwise into 1 1/2″ thick filets.

watermelon slices on cooling rack and salted

Salt both sides of the watermelon slices and rest on a cooling rack to sweat for 20 to 30 minutes, placing a cookie sheet below to catch the drainage.

macro of salted watermelon slices and salt crystals

After the rest period, rinse each side thoroughly and set aside until you’re ready to grill. Brush a fine coating of olive oil on each side and grill over medium-hot coals for about 3-5 minutes per side.

charred grilled watermelon with char marks
While this makes quite a delicacy fresh off the grill, with a little salt added back in, its most ridiculous application is serving as the base for a simple summer salad. Referring to the link above, whip up a quick batch of Chocolate-Balsamic Vinaigrette sufficiently in advance to allow it time to cool.

Cut watermelon into squares approximately 3 to 4 inches across and top with crumbled goat cheese or cottage cheese. Add a few baby spinach leaves and drizzle conservatively with vinaigrette. The smoky, intensified sweetness of the melon, coupled with the acidic kick of balsamic and bitter greens is refreshing and truly unique.

grilled watermelon salad with baby spinach and goat cheese cottage cheese and vinaigrette on white plate

And, if you really want my respect, tell me that you remembered to set aside just enough to wash it down with an impromptu watermelon margarita.

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!!

I’m a Blogger, Dammit – Now, Who the Hell Am I?

Legend has it that Hemingway would do much of his writing while standing up (that’s Ernest, by the way, not Mariel…what she does standing up is none of my concern). Interestingly, I have discovered that I tend to to do the same, albeit often unconsciously. What’s more, nothing puts an old-school kibosh on a freestyle random thought process faster than sitting my taut, muscular backside down in a comfy chair for a spell of focused writing. If true art is born not of misery, at least I can see how it is nurtured along by discomfort.

And so it was this morning as I lost myself in a brief catatonic stasis (yes, another one… no, I do not need to “see someone” about it), standing mid-kitchen, somewhere between an unprepared bowl of oatmeal and the siren song of the coffee pot. I was conscious of my surroundings, yes. I had surveilled the countertop to ensure the ritualistic elements of my morning breakfast routine were at the ready. And yet, I was not “whole.” Oddly, and without warning, my thoughts had retreated inward, yet I recall passively watching my subconscious frolic somewhere out in the middle distance.

Yes, I am pretty sure I was giving myself the thousand-yard-stare. And, as my gaze unlocked with…myself…it’s complicated…after what felt an uneasy eternity, a tiny ember of truth expanded forth with the blinding MichioKakuan force of an over-eager singularity, bursting at its adolescent seams with testosterone and galactic energy…

Morgan Freeman against a backdrop of the universe

An epiphanic event so epic, it was totally narrated by this guy…for free.

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“Hollywood Sucks and I’ll Cook Like I Want To”

“There are no new ideas… Everybody steals everything from everybody else…”

These words, forever burnt into my conscious along with every brush-stroke of subtle nuance with which they were so cavalierly delivered, were spoken long ago by a man that none of us should aspire to be like…that comically smug type of man who will always – always – know better than you.

Honestly, I cannot fathom falling into such a sad resignation of life itself. It is one thing to groan every time we read of another unnecessary Hollywood remake, or throw profanities and tangibles at the TV during yet another rehashed promo, thinly veiled as a new movie and yet not-so-veiled as to hide the fact that it is rehashing something that succeeded once before. For there, we are not lamenting mankind itself but merely the wealthy idiots willing to violently pillage our memories to line their own pockets with a few more crumbs of cash (Yes, F*ck you, Michael Bay. F*ck you twice with the broad side of a rusty garden tool).

Rusty garden rake on lichen-covered stone

Bumblebee will NEVER be a damn Camaro. SAY IT!!

It is another thing entirely to allow oneself to first accept, and then embrace, an emotionally bankrupt lifestyle of justification whereby one’s own lack of ambition or creative inspiration mystically and delusionally becomes “insightful” by application of the “realist” tag.

Make no mistake, creativity is not dead. It is simply difficult. Imagination is rare and becomes rarer still, the further we remove ourselves from our wide-eyed, youthful enthusiasm and clip our own wings because it is so much easier than saying “no, thank you” to the drab, monochromatic establishment…

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“Spring Has Sprung… BATTER UP!! (aka, Lemon & Pinot Sorbet)”

Bowl of sorbet, glass of pinot grigio and jelly beans on outdoor table top

Ahhh, springtime…that magical time of year when the earth wipes the gloomy slumber from its eyes and springs back into technicolor life…that fabled time of year when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of one thing:

Marisa Miller, hot Japanese girl and Eva Longoria in baseball uniforms

...BASEBALL!!

The burgeoning emergence of April, arriving on tender shoots of vibrant green glory. Without fail, a wondrous time of year…as the bitter gales of January mature into a balmy breeze that warms both the skin and the soul…as the melting snowfalls of February now water the blooming fields of color…and let’s face it…March just has a really shitty reputation all-around – especially right around the middle…

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“Exposing” Myself, in the Name of Art

As is the affliction of every misguided soul who fancies himself a legitimate writer, I also frequently pretend to be a photographer (two creative outlets you will be thrilled that I pursued in earnest the first time you hear me try to carry a tune)…

But I suppose such unfortunate delusion is to be expected, if not endured. After all, one who derives creative inspiration from life generally does so with every one of their senses.

Granted, just because one can transfer the beauty of a shared moment with friends into a renaissance revival of epic culinary brilliance, or turn an inspired sunrise into a free-flowing prosaic tapestry that draws tears from the eye of the most stoically stone-hearted reader, only to dry those tears on a gentle breeze of poetic affirmation, does not mean they can take a picture for sh#t…

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In a Word, “Brevity.” (Because “Thank You” Would be Two Words)

It has come to my attention that some of my ramblings can be a bit…wordy. Verbose, even. Ok, yes…perhaps, on rare occasion, I have found myself guilty of the unintentional crime of weaving long-winded and loquacious webs of rambling, sometimes redundant and oftentimes rhetorical, vernacular.

Cochinita pibil, lemon, spinach and risoni soup and blood orange margaritas

Although, to be fair, I do give you pretty things to look at and my undying virtual companionship

Orange-Habanero bacon, skirt steak beer marinated fajitas and jamaica hibiscus tea and island rum sorbet

For that particular transgression, however, you will have to blame my passion for the topic. I can assure you that I never start out a new entry with the blow-hard intent to drown my fair, loyal, attractive and, hopefully, manipulable readers in an unyielding wash of crashing verbal rapids.

No, the process always begins innocuously enough…typically, with a diligently crafted ingredient list, its corresponding set of protocols, about 20 minutes of uncontrollable sobbing over a lifetime of regrets – and a good-hearted compulsion to share with you not only the technical details of amazing food, but the playful joy of the journey.

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You Can’t Spell “White Wine Risotto with Spinach, Gorgonzola and Crumbled Bacon” without R-E-S-U-R-G-E-N-C-E

White Wine Risotto with Spinach, Gorgonzola and Crumbled Bacon and lemon pepper asparagus

Wine bottle unopened with orchid and bambooThere are certain dishes in the gourmet universe that just scream “PROTOTYPICAL COMFORT” to your average food-worshiper, and I am sure I don’t stand alone in putting risotto atop that list… So, when I recently surveyed my surroundings, in search of a shining beacon of inspiration for my latest culinary entry – only to find myself adrift in a sea of restless uncertainty; without anchor, tether or any apparent means of halting my tide-bound ebb and flow –  “comfort” was the very subject that commanded center stage.

Still, seeking safe harbor in generic ol’ Risotto Bay is a cop-out, isn’t it? Much like calling ice cream one’s favorite dessert – it says a lot without conveying much of anything… By opening the door to risotto, are we not really just pulling the curtain from the window of possibility? Touting the culinary virtues of risotto does not place one before a masterpiece so much as it leaves one, gawking, at the threshold of an entire museum…

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Cochinita Pibil with Cilantro-Lime Rice: Making “Fat Little Piggy” Sexy Again

Cochinita Pibil with cilantro-lime rice in ceramic bowl on banana leaf with yellow mango salsa

As you may know, I am a man who thrives on mystery…a man who feeds on it, I guess you could say. Do disembodied spirits still walk among us? What really happens inside the event horizon of a black hole? Why the hell do they call a cut of meat from the shoulder of an animal a “Boston Butt”??? (my array of passions can be…eccentric)

But the fascinating thing about any good mystery is the force of curiosity catalyzed by the mystery itself, independent of the issue being shrouded. Once unveiled, the cold and clinical underlying facts will invariably fall short of hopes and expectations and we will be left feeling cheated and lessened. What’s behind Door #1 will never be as fascinating as what could be behind Door #1.

Need real-world proof? Let us consider the Great Boston Butt issue… For those of us not burdened with an over-abundance of knowledge, the self-created visuals are limitless. For me, genetically programmed with a lifetime of American League East superiority, I find myself envisioning a city dripping with history and tradition, and filled with all the world-class ass a man could ever imagine…

Boston Butt asses ass assholes idiot moron jonathan papelbon is a jerk

HA, gotcha…for disambiguation of the term "ass," see…………now, when's the next train back to civilization?

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