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amid a civilized society – before the sky turned sooty black and neighbors routinely impaled each other on slightly outdated political yard signs?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???

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*

Finding Comfort in Sin: Shiitake, Shallot and Sage Macaroni & Cheese with Smoked Gouda

Shiitake, caramelized shallots and sage in smoked gouda cheese sauce with a panko topping

For those of you who follow my Twitter feed, you already know that I inexplicably managed to tear my back up while writing some preliminary notes for my pending novel…the term “pending” being used very loosely… And I wasn’t even writing the GOOD part. With a tentative release date sometime in the early-to-mid(-to-late) 21st century, you just can’t buy that kind of obscure publicity.

And for those of you who do not yet follow me on Twitter, how dare you?? May the shame and public humiliation prompted by my current indignation haunt you through all your remaining days – or at least until you repent and come tweet me a little love. Your choice, as always.

In addition to the incomprehensibly blinding and hysterically unprovoked back pain, I have also spent the past few days reconciling the fact that, after a full week, my “FOCKITALL” movement has yet to effect global social reform. So, yeah… Needless to say, I’m pretty bummed. Who knew that universal paradigm shifts  and global harmonization of all mankind took so damn much work…

However, you and I have been through much together – your insight is unparalleled and I know that you know, straight down to the darkest recesses of your foodie-fueled soul, that my crusade against willfully stupid things that piss me off shall continue, unabated… The only real question born of this crushing temporary agony of spirit and deltoid is, “what the heck am I going to cook when I once again conquer gravity and can craft some serious comfort food from a fully upright position?”

If you are an American, know an American, used to date an American or have ever read a book about an American, you probably know that this is more of a rhetorical question than an actual soul-searching inquiry. Comfort Food = Mac & Cheese.

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Sauce Boss Opens Up About His Affinity for “Drunken Quickies”

To all my impossibly beloved friends (I’m exaggerating, of course…), allow me first to apologize profusely for the unacceptable lapse in both time and attention paid to you, my dearest brethren…and…sisteren…?…, over the past several weeks. You see, Boss has been a bit emotionally detached recently — immersed in something of an unyielding temporal vortex of unspeakable evil, looping continuously in a cruelly endless cycle that would leave Dante himself cringing in his freshly-soiled shorts…

Stone. Cold. Wrong, mon.

“What’s that, Boss?” you say, dripping with impressively contrived concern…”for the love of all things holy, please tell us more!!”

Well, ok… I’ll try…by channeling the world’s most awesome theoretical physicist (if your brain didn’t just paint a picture of scientist-slash-rock-god-slash-national-treasure Michio Kaku then you’re no friend of mine). Imagine a very large truck leaves the township of Common Sense, carrying an original film reel of ‘Groundhog Day’. This film reel, of course, possesses magical powers and must never be looked at directly, lest your face explode — Spielberg-style.

Belloq head exploding

Wait for it… Waaaaait for it

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The Awakening

When the fine, skilled and unfathomably attractive (if you are unfamiliar with Stockholm Syndrome – SEND HELP) wardens of my past first unshackled me from my familiar shadowy bonds, handed me a laptop and thrust me into the light of day, my first reaction was a somewhat indignant, “and what the heck took you so long?” Ok, yes, I’m proud…but it’s not exactly something I’m proud of.

Granted, the shackles were figurative and the light of day idiomatic but I could not deny the vastness of potential quite literally at my fingertips.

In the stoic style of warrior poets before me, I couldn’t help but think, “if the pen is mightier than the sword, then surely the self-indulgent blog is mightier than the finest damascus steel.” As one who thrives on sharing my own experiences every bit as much as I live to learn from those of others, the possibilities are truly beyond limit.

Still, true damascus steel… To this day, I’ve never owned a damascus knife…and it IS the holiday season (German-forged…with 8″ European-style, laser-etched 22-degree cutting blade…and a sweet “SB” monogram…oh my god, I’d look SO hot…)…

Damascus steel chef knife

$1,695.00 at Williams-Sonoma...I'm sort of already registered.........I Love You.

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So… Who IS This ‘Sauce Boss’ Character, Anyway?

As with any epic mystery (humor us here), when a definitive answer to an enigmatic question fails to readily present itself, one must turn to the time-tested process of elimination.

What we can tell you is who The Sauce Boss is not: he did not shoot J.R. and our research verifies he did not kill Laura Palmer. To our British brethren still in search of the Stig, we can offer no answers… The Sauce Boss has never toasted Poe and, despite the rumors, he is definitely NOT The Batman. We can even confirm that he was never sent to prison by a military tribunal for a crime he didn’t commit and was never a “guest” at theBastille, despite sharing fashion sensibilities with one of its most famous and infamous former residents.

Artist’s Rendering:

Who SB is NOT

Left to Right: three people The Sauce Boss has no relation to... Sorry.

That said, The Sauce Boss is a flawed perfectionist, a solitary amalgamation…a contradiction in the truest sense of the word. But then, isn’t that precisely what lies at the heart of every aspiring cook – an internal need to master the universal skills, delicately balanced with a reckless compulsion to recombine the infinite palate of flavors into something new, something that puts their own small mark on the culinary pantheon?

“Boss” is driven by one delightfully rhetorical question: do those who eat merely for sustenance ever fully appreciate the vastness of experience they leave on the proverbial table? It is said that man cannot live by bread alone but, more important, why on earth would he want to? If a phenomenal meal breathes life not only into an event but into the people attending then should every dish not be infused with a passion and sense of edible adventure that honors both the chef and the ones served?

The Sauce Boss believes that food need not be the stable, innocuous bedrock on which we build pedestrian memories and bland conversation. Food can (indeed, often should) be seismic shifting ground that brings strangers together, forges unlikely friendships and makes folk heroes out of culinary mortals.

…Obviously, The Sauce Boss can be a bit of a drama queen and for that we apologize.

Still, his obsession is lovable, his perspective unique, his wit somewhat skewed and his abuse of ellipses rampant…and with that in mind, we make our introduction…

Sauce Boss, the World… The World, Sauce Boss…