Monday, November 5, 2012

OMG a Recipe (Sort of): Come to the Dark Side... It's Snacktacular

I felt like my head was shoved into a trash can, right before being tossed overboard into the open sea. That's what it feels like when you're sick with a nasty head cold -- sensory deprived and completely out of sorts, which was exactly how it was when both myself and the Mister were Infected With Pure Evil. Well, to be clear, the Mister was Wicked Sick, I was getting the steady onset of Sickness to Come, with that awful stuffy head/inner-ear off-balance feeling that you get when a cold is brewing. So what do you do when you're trapped indoors and all  your senses are about as sharp as a bowling ball? You cook and bake up a storm, of course!

Homemade Doritos - a new wonderful/terrible discovery thanks to Lara Ferroni's new book - Photo by Wasabi Prime
The nice thing about being sick, if there is such a thing, is you're a captive audience to focus on things you've been wanting to do, such as try out new recipes from new books. I had been flipping through Lara Ferroni's new Real Snacks book, which you can get off Amazon or her website, or even better, a bookstore where you can browse all the lovely sweet and savory snacks she's put together. I had a copy of one of her previous books,  Doughnuts (only one guess about what it's about!), and I made baked maple bars, which turned out more like buns for me, but they were plenty tasty. I was excited to try out some recipes from Real Snacks because at heart, I'm more savory than sweet, and with recipes for at-home versions of pretzel sticks, cheese puffs, crackers of all sorts and even the almighty Dorito, I knew I was going to be in blissful snack-ville.

Sweet and savory options from Real Snacks - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The real treat behind Real Snacks is that it's not just about recreating your favorite childhood snacks, it takes favorite childhood food and breaks everything down, even to the seasonings. There's recipes for homemade onion and cheese powder, a list of natural sweeteners and different types of flour, which all strive to make the junk food less junky. It's still salty-sweet goodness, but doesn't it make you feel a little better to have a homemade Twinkie or Ding-Dong, filled with real cream filling and not the mysterious goo that could probably outlive a nuclear winter? And I'm going to go out on a limb to say I'm pretty sure the homemade pastry snacks taste better.

Yes, there's more effort involved in following the recipes to the letter, preparing the homemade seasonings ahead of time, but it's a good middle ground if you want to remove the mystery preservatives from your lifestyle but not give up your favorite guilty pleasures. There are a few recipes like the homemade Cheetos which require special equipment like a food dehydrator -- I don't have that -- but I realize a lot of people have those newfangled gadgets and if so, congratulations, you're on your way to homemade cheese puff bliss. But there's plenty of basic recipes that don't require fancy gear that I'm already marking off to become this year's edible holiday gifts. This is a great book as both a gift and a source for making homemade goodies to give away -- because who's going to say no to a batch of homemade Oreo cookies? If you're shaking your head "no," shame on you. Why do you hate America? Why do make bald eagles cry? You'll eat those homemade Oreos and love them.

The homemade Doritos gave me a reason to live that weekend. You're sick, you lose a lot of motivation and energy, and worst of all, food is just so lackluster when your senses are dulled by the Sickness of Evil. But the recipe was simple enough and I had most of the ingredients handy. I made some modifications -- I baked the tortilla wedges because gadzooks almighty, I hate to fry. A little brushing of cooking oil and baking the wedges until crispy at about 350 degrees in the oven is just dandy, even if it takes a little longer than throwing them into oil. The seasoning mixture I put together was minus the homemade onion powder -- I blame being lazy and not feeling well, but I mostly wanted salty and spice, so I added more salt and cayenne pepper. I even put a bit of cumin powder to add another layer of flavor. Mostly, I just wanted something salty, crispy and to remind my tastebuds there was a reason to live. I tossed the baked tortilla triangles in the powder, let the oven set the flavoring for a few minutes, and I seriously ate the whole batch over the weekend. I could not stop, I turned into the Doritomonster, barreling through the population of Doritotown with abandon, leaving nothing but sorrow and Dorito-emptiness in its ravaged wake. But I could afford to be callous and selfish -- I was really hungry and I knew I could make this again easily enough.

An apple pastry a day keeps the munchies away - Photos by Wasabi Prime
For every thing, there is a season, and for every savory, there a sweet craving ready to emerge like a bat out of hell. I had just received a bag of apples from a friend's tree. Beautifully natural, waxy gems from Mother Nature, but tart as all get-out. My friend gave me fair warning: they're baking apples, don't bite into it, doofus. Noted. Although I did take a little bite from a slice and my ugly-squinchy-unpleasant-face confirmed that they were, indeed baking apples. Nothing makes a house feel cozier than something baking in the oven, so I got it in my noggin to make a heavily spiced apple pie, full of cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, the works. I had more apples than I needed for a pie, but then I saw one of the recipes in Real Snacks for homemade Pop Tarts. My brain made the little "ding" sound your egg timer makes, because gosh darn it, I'm just that much of a simpleton.

I never liked jams or jellies growing up. I didn't even like fruit pies. So for a long time, Pop Tarts weren't on my radar, as a strawberry filling sounded about as thrilling as a punch in the face. But when the cinnamon-sugar flavor came out, I gave it a whirl and I was addicted to those Diabetes in a Box morning treats. Common sense kicked in at some point and I said goodbye to Pop Tarts forever, but I liked the notion of homemade cinnamon-apple toaster pastries. The leftover apples were just enough to make a filling for two batches of the homemade Pop Tart recipe. It's basically a pie filling, but I cooked down the apples until they were almost applesauce, as I wanted it to be that smooth, gooey texture I remember from those Pop Tarts of yore.

The Great Pop Tart Caper - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The dough was the perfect combination of soft and heartier grain flours, so that you get that signature sturdy pie dough crust. Less flaky, more solid and sturdy, but not stale or cardboard-like, as actual Pop Tarts are. The work involved is constructing each tart -- you're basically making giant pastry ravioli. I was generous with the filling, overfilling most of the tarts, but the dough stood up nicely and so what if some of the tarts looked like a giant ravioli. Getting that signature crimp texture along the edges from a fork felt especially satisfying. I'm already envisioning a peanut butter and homemade jam version, which would be really delicious and dangerous to my waistline.

I added the frosting once the tarts were cooled, but you could easily go without, maybe sprinkle some finishing sugar over the tarts before baking, to give it a little decoration. Once the frosting is on, it doesn't really make the tarts toaster-friendly, I think the frosting would burn, but I was just lightly reheating each one in the microwave for 10-15 seconds. Any more than that, and the heat will literally make the frosting boil. There's no need to reheat them at all, but there's just something extra-good about a warm mini apple pie. It felt like a Food Circle of Life to give my friend some of the apple Pop Tarts made with fruit from her tree. Simba, I am your Father.

Darth Vader just wanted apple pie and homemade Pop Tarts. And Love. - Photos by Wasabi Prime
So, despite the Dark Side of being sick and not wanting to do anything but sit on the couch and watch cartoons -- which we did all weekend -- Lara Ferroni's Real Snacks book did get me off my germ-riddled behind and get cooking. Give the book a look-through, even if you're not a Pop Tart or Dorito enthusiast, I guarantee there is some snack in there that will get your food nostalgia doing a happy dance.

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