Friday, March 26, 2010
Homemade Junk Food, Pretty Delicious
I don't even really like Hostess Cupcakes.
I wasn't born with a sweet tooth (I was lucky, I guess, just getting stuck with a fat tooth. You know, a hankering for all things butter and bacon...) and my Mamma didn't buy much junk food.
She bought it so rarely, in fact, that I often tried to finagle my Dad into getting it for me. He was a sucker for treats, as long as they were treats he liked to eat, too. Symphony chocolate bars? Absolutely. Fanta? Not so much.
When I was in fourth grade my family took a vacation to Sweden where we got to stay in a great apartment in Stockholm owned by close friends of my parents who were in the Swedish parliament. The whole Sweden experience was totally awesome -- except the breakfast.
While my Mamma hadn't served us anything very processed for breakfast at home, I was used to a steady diet of brown-sugared cream of wheat, pancakes, eggs, or King Vitamin breakfast cereal. "Muesli" was not on the menu. Nor was it welcome, especially since my Dad referred to it affectionately as "bird droppings and sawdust." Yeah, that nickname pretty much sealed the deal for me. Also, I was still in my I'm-afraid-of-fish phase so gravlax was totally out. After a couple days of me refusing to eat breakfast, my frustrated father finally marched me down the nearest cobblestone street to a corner store.
"What do you want to eat?" he demanded.
No fool, I saw my opportunity. "Count Chocula."
He had never heard it, and wandered, lost, up and down the foreign aisles for a while. I will never forget the look of exasperation on my father's face -- or puzzlement on the poor Swedish clerk's -- as he tried to explain his search. Priceless.
For the record, I first tasted Count Chocula after I was married and buying my own groceries. It was delicious.
Much to my bemusement, I now balk at purchasing junk food for my family. I walk, freely, up and down the aisles of the grocery store staring at the vast sea of processed foods and all I can think of is, "Maybe I should get another bag of radishes. Those went really fast on the last crudites platter." It's a curse.
That is not to say that I'm a health food nut; on the contrary, I'm happy to try my hand at just about anything the kids can think of to eat. That's the key though -- homemade is healthier, even when it's not a terribly healthy dish to begin with. At least it's fairly free of corn syrup, preservatives, false coloring and other three-eyed-fish producing chemicals.
With that in mind, I present the following recipes:
1. Pretzel Dogs
3. Hostess Cupcakes
The recipes themselves along with much prettier pictures than mine are found if you click through the links to the underlying articles, but the changes I made to them can be found as I describe the process. The Spaghetti O's and Cupcakes are going to get separate blog entries, because I made a lot of changes to the one and there are a lot of stages to the other.
And no, I didn't make the "dogs" from scratch. Just the pretzels.
Given protein's natural superiority on the dinner table hierarchy, let's begin with the pretzels. I have one word for you:
Okay, that's two words for you, but I could wax poetic on these suckers all night long.
I followed the recipe exactly, except for the actual rolling of the dough out into the long pieces you're supposed to use to make the pretzel shapes and twirl around the hot dogs. The instructions say "pencil thin, or thinner" but miner were about the thickness of my index finger. My fingers are pretty narrow, but not nearly as narrow as a pencil. And you know what? They were perfect. Next time, I may even make them thicker, since that would make them even softer than they already were.
HC and I proved not very talented in the pretzel-shaping department, so we got a little creative. Here's pretty much how we progressed (digressed? regressed?):
Basic Pretzel Shapes and Dogs:
That one in the middle there was a frustrated first attempt. We like to think it looked like a person curled up in the fetal position face down. Don't worry, we didn't cook them too deeply brown.
Creative Use of Too-Long Pretzel Arms: Butterfly
That one next to it that's mostly cut off was just a rope.
Let's Get These Things Over With: Spiral and Bracelets
It's rude to play with your food...but what about wearing it?
After they come out of the oven you paint them with melted butter and sprinkle salt on top. The texture was perfect. They were amazing. Also, if you don't like cleaning gunked-up cookie sheets, parchment paper is a godsend.
Oh also, another change I made was to take them out of the oven much earlier than the recipe calls for: with a good ten minutes left to go, I took a peek and they were on the verge of over-browning. Luckily my ninja reflexes kicked in and saved the pretzel day.
Seriously, these things are extremely delicious. I've only ever had one pretzel dog from the mall and it was ok.
These, however, are heavenly.
NEXT UP: Spaghetti O's!