Tag Archives: cheese

The “Just Trust Me” Fried Bologna Breakfast Doughnutwich

When Mike and I went to the North Carolina State Fair last year, I had two goals: pet as many dirty, adorable barnyard animals as possible, and eat as much ridiculous, unhealthy food as possible. High on my list was the Krispy Kreme burger, an admittedly gimmicky new sandwich being marketed (and mocked) across the country. The burger was just like any other burger, except that it was served on two Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the place of a bun. I was sure I was going to absolutely love every bite.


YES.

My first goal was readily accomplished. Mike and I stumbled around until we spotted the closest pettable livestock, whereupon we bought a bag of carrots and subjected our fingers to great peril. We fed goats, sheep, llamas, and even a camel or two. Is it weird that I think there may have been a buffalo in there? I might’ve made that part up.

Anyway, the animals pranced around, joyously accepting our scritches until we ran out of carrots. During this fiasco, I may or may not have illicitly scaled a fence to feed a goat that had been head-butted out of the way by his siblings. Put it this way: I didn’t get caught. Or head-butted.

My second goal turned out to be more complicated. We nibbled around the fair — corn dogs, cheesesteaks — until we finally found the vendor selling the notorious Krispy Kreme Burger. We slipped in line and waited our turn for greatness. When I got up to the booth, the cashier asked me what I’d like on the burger. That was the first sign of trouble.

I hate being asked what I want on my sandwich. Before you decide I’m one of those insufferably picky diners (okay, you might decide that anyway), let me explain. I go to a restaurant to taste a dish someone else has conceived of and prepared. I want the creator of a sandwich to decide what ingredients should be on it to create the right overall flavor. I don’t know what to put on my sandwich to make it taste like the dish they envisioned! And if I wanted to taste my own vision — to create my own sandwich — by golly, I wouldn’t have bothered coming to a restaurant to do it! (Side note: This is why I never go to Subway anymore.) (Side note #2: I think italics make people sound snootier. Don’t you agree?)

So when the cashier asked me to construct my own version of the Krispy Kreme Burger, I was understandably nervous. Would it taste okay with lettuce and tomato? Would mayonnaise be appropriate on it? Mustard? How about cheese? I was stumped and a little miffed, but I ordered the burger with lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise. Mike and I fought the crowds and found a seat by a kiddie ride to enjoy our culinary adventure.

Mike lasted two bites before he handed me the sandwich. I thought he was just giving me a turn, but it turns out he was down for the count. “I don’t like it,” he declared, wiping doughnut glaze off his fingers with an air of finality.

Really? After hours of waiting and pushing through sweaty throngs of people, you give the sandwich two bites’ worth of a chance? I wasn’t going to be discouraged so easily. I grabbed that sandwich, took a giant bite, and–

It was okay.

The pulsing carnival music from the ride in front of us suddenly seemed a little louder, a little more grating. After hours of waiting and pushing through sweaty throngs of people, the Krispy Kreme Burger was just OKAY?!

I debated in my head: would it have been better without the lettuce and tomato? Was it the mayo that made it so-so? I polished the sandwich off pensively, still disappointed with its mediocrity. Mike and I headed off defeated, in search of better treats (don’t worry, some deep-fried cheesecake later cheered us up).

The other day, though, I had a stroke of inspiration. I was planning on creating a fancy breakfast for Mike and I’d been craving a delicious Southern staple: fried bologna biscuits. Before you start in about how you don’t like bologna: I don’t like bologna either. But fried bologna is an entirely different experience (particularly with little cheese, some yellow mustard, and for breakfast, a fried egg). I knew I didn’t have time to squeeze biscuit making into my schedule, though.

Like a flash of brilliance straight from the heavens, I realized that these flavors — fried bologna with cheese and a gooey fried egg — were the exact sort of flavors that would’ve rocked that Krispy Kreme bun. Instead of the muddy, inexact flavor profile of the State Fair burger, this sandwich would have a bold salty and sweet combination in addition to the gooey, mild saucing of the egg. Far from a gimmicky novelty item you might dare your friends to eat, this sandwich was gonna be delicious.

And it was. In fact, unlike its burger cousin, it was more delicious in real life than it was in my imagination. I’d wait in line behind a thousand other sweaty fair-goers for this baby. Thankfully, though, I don’t have to. It takes about 5 ingredients and maybe 15 minutes to make your own in the comfort of your kitchen.

So listen, JUST TRUST ME! I know it sounds a little weird. I know it packs a caloric-punch. But I promise it’s an incredible breakfast treat. Pick a special weekend, scope out the “Hot Doughnuts Now” sign at your local Krispy Kreme, and try it for yourself.

What’s your favorite weird indulgence?

The “Just Trust Me” Fried Bologna Breakfast Doughnutwich



Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking
Yields: 2 doughnutwiches

This breakfast “doughnutwich” has the absolute perfect balance of salty and sweet. Pillow-light Krispy Kreme glazed doughnuts act as a bun for savory fried bologna, a slice of cheese, and a gooey fried egg. Make this your new special occasion breakfast. It’s a little out of the ordinary, but so incredible!

Ingredients:
2 eggs
4 Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnuts*
2 tablespoons butter
2 slices bologna
2 slices American cheese

Directions:
Lay 2 doughnuts out on a plate. Cut a slit from the middle of each slice of bologna to the edge (so it won’t curl). Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and melt 1 tablespoon of butter in it. Place the slices of bologna in the frying pan. Laugh at how they start to look like little PacMen. Fry them until they’re browning on one side and then flip them. Add a slice of cheese to the top of each piece of bologna and continue frying until bottom is browned. Place the slices briefly onto a paper towel-lined plate to drain off the excess butter, and then place them onto the 2 waiting doughnuts.

Melt the last tablespoon of butter in your skillet. Break one egg at a time into the pan and fry it to your desired doneness (I’d like to make a pitch for over-easy or -medium, since the gooey yolk is delicious in this sandwich!) Place the fried egg briefly on the paper-towel lined plate to drain off the excess butter, and then place one on top of each slice of bologna and cheese. Top each doughnutwich with another doughnut as the “top bun” and serve immediately.

*Note: Feel squeamish about eating 2 doughnuts in one sitting? Carefully split one in half with a serrated knife to use as your bun. I don’t have this issue myself…!

Edited to add: Oh by the way, someone just asked in the comments if Mike liked it. Of course you’d want to know if it was Mike-approved. I’m happy to report that he loved every bite!

Edited to also add: I didn’t receive any compensation or product from Krispy Kreme — I just love ’em.

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Foodbuzz 24×24: Cheap and Simple Taco Pockets

i sat watching a flower as it was withering;
i was embarrassed by its honesty.

-bright eyes

This is not a diary. I can’t smudge ugly, unfiltered thoughts into this blog and tuck it deep under a virtual mattress. This is a place for tidy stories that have fully played out in my life — or at least enough to have lost the raw, unfinished edge of uncertainty.

Otherwise, things just get sloppy.

But I’m going to get a little sloppy here for a bit: this has been the hardest year of my life.

I feel embarrassed saying that, because I know some of you are dealing with things that are so much harder, things that make my year look like a fairy tale. There are people right now losing their homes and carefully rationing their cash to afford the week’s groceries. So I hope you’ll forgive me my lesser struggle — that we can have the grace of being in different places and loving each other where we are.

For me, this year has been a mountain to climb — the air is thinning, and I’m not sure I ever wanted to reach the top in the first place.

Last November, as you may remember, I broke up with Mike, my boyfriend of almost 12 years. It took me two months to get up the gumption to write to you about it, but the struggle wasn’t over.

Month after month went by and I found I couldn’t get used to my new world, which had turned inside out and taken on a pallor. Daily life felt like stumbling through a thick wall of cotton. My grief became a dressing room in which I tried on all different Julies, searching for who I was without Mike. Everything I put on was too tight, too abrasive, too loose, too heavy.

Recently, though, a couple of you noticed and commented that I’ve been mentioning Mike here and there. It’s true — we’re slowly, carefully spending time together again. Feeling out the next steps. There’s just not time to waste when you love someone, and it feels like we’ve already wasted so much.

So there it is. This isn’t exactly a great time to tell you what’s up. This is not a diary, like I said, and I’m hesitant to share such a new, uncertain development. But first off, I know I’m among friends. Second off, Foodbuzz issued a 24×24 challenge this month that I knew I wanted to dedicate to Mike.

The 24×24 is usually an opportunity to showcase 24 fun dinner party ideas, but this month, Foodbuzz challenged us to create a meal using only pantry staples. Scraping together something passable from the pantry wouldn’t have been too hard; people do it every day for their families. But as I thought about what I usually have available — some ground meat, cheese, salsa, baking supplies — I realized I wanted to create something truly special.

One of Mike’s favorite dishes during our time together was a silly convenience meal. These Taco-Stuffed Crescent Rolls are delicious, but also based on a can of crescent rolls, for goodness’ sake. Nevertheless, I made them for him throughout our relationship as a quick way of saying, “I love you (and I want some carbs.)”

For the Foodbuzz 24×24, I invited Mike over and recreated this meal — this time with a homemade yeast dough. I wanted to turn my quick I love you into an earnest I love you. The things I took for granted, I can’t take for granted anymore, and I think he feels the same. What we’re working on between us is worth more than a can of crescent rolls. It’s worth adding flour bit by bit. It’s worth waiting the hour for the dough to breathe and rise. It’s worth the messy counter, the sticky shaping, the extra step of egg washing. I would slice avocados for years. I would clean my dough hook a million times over.

The beauty of this meal is that it’s homemade from scratch, but still simple and convenient. The recipe made plenty of dough for taco pockets with enough leftover to dress up as Apple Cinnamon Monkey Bread Sundaes (I’ll share how I did this in an upcoming post). Also, since you can prepare both dishes a day in advance, you have enough time to floof your hair and vacuum the apartment the day your long-lost boyfriend is coming over. Nice.

Oh, by the way, your fear of yeast called and told me to tell you it’s not working out. You’re just going to have to get over him. I’m stocking you up with simple yeast dough recipes so you’ll have a good place to start.

Speaking of good places to start, for me and Mike, this is as good a place as any. I don’t know how things will go, but no one ever does. I’m just going to hitch up my skirts and petticoats and keep on climbing.

I told you my secrets, now tell me yours. What new developments are coming your way these days?


Me and Mike via photobooth, a couple of years ago.

Cheap and Simple Taco Pockets


Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking (yeast dough recipe from Our Best Bites)
Yield: about 26 3-inch long crescent pockets, or 5-6 servings (or you can use half for pockets and half for making monkey bread!)

These Taco Pockets are pillowy yeast rolls filled with a creamy, cheesy, spicy Tex-Mex filling. I like to serve them with an array of accoutrements — sour cream, guacamole, salsa, and fresh cilantro. As a time-saver, you can wrap this cheesy filling in premade crescent rolls and bake per the package instructions, but don’t do it just because you’re afraid of yeast! This is a simple yeast dough that’ll help you conquer your fears. If you’d like, make taco pockets with half the dough and use the rest to make simple Monkey Bread Sundaes for dessert — two dishes for the price of one!

Dough Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees – use a candy thermometer to check)
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon yeast
1/2 teaspoons salt
3-4 1/2 cups flour
1 egg and a splash of water (for egg wash)

Filling Ingredients:
1 pound ground beef
1 packet McCormick’s cheesy taco seasoning (or taco seasoning of your choice)
6 ounces cream cheese, softened
2-3 heaping tablespoons salsa
1/4 cup shredded cheddar cheese
sprinkle of cheddar cheese for the top of pockets

Directions:
Notes on making this in advance: There are two points at which you can stop this recipe and refrigerate it overnight. The first is just before the first proof. Instead of letting the dough proof, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and then a clean, damp cloth. Place it in the refrigerator for 1-5 days, keeping the cloth damp. When ready to roll, let it sit out until it comes to room temperature and doubles (about 2 hours). Another point at which you can leave the recipe overnight is after the pockets are filled and shaped. Instead of allowing them to rise another 30 minutes, cover them and refrigerate them overnight. In the morning, allow them to come to room temperature and rise (about 2 hours) before egg washing and baking.

Make dough: Mix the warm water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl (such as in the bowl of your stand mixer, if you have one) and let it sit for 5-10 minutes until it foams. Add the salt and 1.5 cups of flour and mix. While kneading on a low speed, gradually add more flour (I added about 1 1/2 more cups) until the dough is pulling away from the sides of the bowl and barely sticks to your finger.

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray and place dough in the bowl for the first proof. Cover and place the dough in a draft-free place (many use the inside of a turned-off oven) to rise for 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Make filling: While dough rises, brown ground beef, drain, and return to pan. Add packet of taco seasoning with a bit of water and cook until combined. In a separate bowl, combine cream cheese, salsa, and cheddar cheese. Add ground beef mixture to the bowl (which will melt the mixture a bit) and stir to combine.

Shape and Bake: Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray or line it with parchment paper. Remove dough from bowl and place on a lightly-floured surface. I placed a damp, clean cloth over some of the dough while I tore off pieces to work with. Tear off golf ball sized portions (or maybe a little larger) and roll each portion out to about 1/4-inch thick (moving it around as you roll to ensure it’s not sticking, and reflouring your surface as needed). Use a large round cookie cutter (or a knife) to cut out circles about 3 or 4 inches in diameter. Spoon about 1-2 tablespoons of ground beef mixture onto each circle. Fold the circle over on itself, wetting and pressing the edges to seal. Poke each pocket with a knife to give it a steam vent, dust the excess flour off of it with a dry pastry brush, and place it on the prepared baking sheet.

Once all pockets are shaped, cover them with a clean dish towel and let them rise for another 30 minutes. When you have about 20 minutes left, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk egg and water together and brush over pockets just before baking. Sprinkle each pocket with a bit of shredded cheddar cheese. Bake pockets for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Let cool on sheet pan for a few minutes and serve warm.

Note: I received a stipend from Foodbuzz for creating this meal.

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World’s Best Grilled Cheese (Sharp Cheddar & Caramelized Onions on Beer Bread)

You’ve been shipwrecked on a desserted — ahem, I mean deserted — island. Your food options are limited to a sandwich (minus the “wich” part) and a very peevish looking saltwater crocodile who doesn’t seem to want you gnawing on him. After awhile your beard begins to rival that of Tom Hanks’s in Castaway, only there’s no Wilson to keep you company.

You’re hungry. You’re alone.

You’re gonna die.

Okay, sorry; that was an unpleasant beginning for a post, wasn’t it? And there’s that big knife up there underscoring the point.

I promise it gets better. Well, not too much better — you’re still gonna die. But something amazing happens first!

One day you’re wasting away on the beach entertaining fond memories of pizza while chewing on a piece of driftwood. Suddenly, a tiny Tiki Fairy appears. You know this is probably a brief hallucination indicating that an agonizing death is imminent, but you indulge your brain and greet her.

What do you know, she has a surprise for you! Drifters who find themselves starving to death on her island get to choose one last meal. Filet mignon? Truffle burger? Mom’s macaroni and cheese? You name it, you get it.

Ah, the question! It’s been posed to everyone from 50 famous chefs to death row inmates: what would you want your last meal to be?

Photographer Melanie Dunea is the one who had the brilliant idea to email 50 great chefs this question and compile their responses in her book, My Last Supper. Some of the chefs go fancy: caviar and spit-roasted pigs would be in Gary Danko’s final spread. Others prefer simple, comforting food from their childhood: Marcus Samuelsson wants gravlax with a dill mustard sauce in his last hours.

Funnily enough, the death row inmates seem to divide along similar lines. There are cost (and other) limitations to ensure the inmates’ meals don’t become extravagant, but some still think big! One, for instance, asks for two steaks, two burgers, a sliced turkey breast, bacon, two baked potatoes, one chef’s salad, one ear of corn, one pint of ice cream, and four sodas. Others cling to small pleasures; one asks only for cool whip and cherries.

Personally, I’m torn. I want comfort food. I want my mom’s chocolate sheet cake, macaroni and cheese, and yeast rolls for sure. I want a pimiento cheese sandwich on white bread, Dad’s chicken and dumplings, and at least a dozen Coke Zeros.

But I also want luxury! I could go for some fresh lobster tail and fried softshell crab. I want a thick Wagyu rib eye. I want this cheeseburger. I want this ice cream sundae.

Can I also have some Chinese pork buns?

Oh, and one more thing. A grilled cheese sandwich wouldn’t ordinarily make my list, but this isn’t your average grilled cheese — it’s the World’s Best Grilled Cheese.

In fact, Sommer from Mama With Flavor (have you seen her blog? hilarious.) started all of my “last meal” daydreams when she responded to my tweet about this sandwich. She proclaimed it “last meal worthy.” And worthy it is: sharp cheddar cheese and sweet caramelized onions are piled high and toasted between two slabs of buttery, freshly baked beer bread.

Trust me, this sandwich would be a far better companion on your deserted island than any anthropomorphized volleyball. With the very first bite I took, I knew I’d struck genius. Lunch (or dinner, or midnight snack, or breakfast, or even dessert) just doesn’t get much better than this. And with a recipe for fresh bread that consists of only four ingredients, it doesn’t get much simpler than this either.

You know what I have to ask for my parting question — and I can’t wait to read your answers! What would your last meal be?

Sharp Cheddar, Caramelized Onions, and Beer Bread Grilled Cheese


Recipe by: Adapted from Catherine Bienik (beer bread) and Simply Recipes (caramelized onions)
Yields: one loaf of beer bread (up to about 4-5 sandwiches)

Bread Ingredients:
3 cups self-rising flour
scant 1/2 cup sugar
12 ounces beer (I used Guinness)*
3 tablespoons butter, melted

Caramelized Onion Ingredients:
4 onions, sliced thinly
salt to taste
olive oil

Other Sandwich Ingredients:
about two tablespoon of butter per sandwich desired
sharp cheddar cheese

Directions:
Make bread: Preheat oven to 375. Grease a loaf pan or line it with greased parchment paper. Mix flour, sugar, and beer until combined and pour batter into pan. Cook for 40-45 minutes, or until top is well browned and loaf feels firm (you can also stick a toothpick in; if it comes out clean, the loaf is ready). When the loaf is close to done, brush the top thoroughly with melted butter and let the loaf bake for 3 minutes. Remove to a cooling rack to cool for about 20 minutes before removing it from the pan and cooling completely.

While bread is baking and cooling, caramelize onions: Put a few tablespoons of olive oil into a skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil is translucent and shimmering, add onions and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Add salt to taste and continue to cook, stirring every few minutes, for 30 minutes to an hour. The goal is to let the onions sit long enough that they start to cook down and caramelize, but not to let them burn. If they seem to be sticking or burning at any time, you can do any of the following: add some more oil to the pan, turn down the heat slightly, or add some water to the pan. Once the onions are a rich brown, remove them to a container to cool slightly before use. Store extra onions in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Assemble your sandwich: Once the bread has cooled, use a serrated knife to cut it into slices. In a skillet over medium heat, melt one tablespoon of butter. Place a slide of bread into the skillet and pile on sliced cheese and caramelized onions (note: you can brush the underside of the bread all over with melted butter first if you want to ensure even browning). Place another slice of bread on top.

Cook until the bottom slice of bread is well toasted (peek every now and then by lifting a corner) and then gently flip, using your hand to brace the top slice of bread as you do so. You can add more butter if your skillet looks dry, lifting the sandwich to allow the butter to run underneath. When both sides are golden and toasted, remove sandwich to a serving plate and microwave for 30 seconds to insure melty cheese. Repeat these steps to make as many other sandwiches as you want! Serve immediately.

*NOTE: I don’t drink, so I wasn’t sure what sort of beer to use. This recommendation from a friend was outstanding, though! For information about how much of the alcohol cooks out of a given dish, please see this chart. In this particular recipe for beer bread, only about 30% of the alcohol remains in the entire loaf after cooking.

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April Fool’s Day Cupfakes

Ah, April Fool’s Day! The perfect occasion to show someone you love them by playing nasty tricks on them and guffawing as they stand, bewildered, trying to figure out what just happened.

Orrrr you could play a sweet (well, savory) trick instead! Cupfakes are adorable, savory treats masquerading as their sweet cousins. At one time or other, I’ve had people mistake each one of the dinnertime cupfakes below for dessert! In reality, though, Deep Dish Pizza Cupfakes are fun Chicagoan deep dish pizzas topped with fluffy ricotta and a cherry tomato. Meatloaf Cupfakes are moist meatloaf with mashed potato “frosting” and colored salt sprinkles. Finally, my favorite: Cheddar, Chive, and Bacon Cupfakes with Avocado Frosting are slightly sweet, cornbready dinner muffins full of goodies.

One warning: when people are expecting to bite into a sweet cupcake and it turns out to be a cupfake, their brains do a little backflip of revulsion no matter how good your treats taste. It’s probably best to reveal your trick right before they take a bite!

Deep Dish Pizza Cupfakes

Meatloaf Cupfakes

Cheddar, Chive, and Bacon Cupfakes with Avocado Frosting

P.S. Only 1 week left in my Cheesecake Challenge! Choose any one of 9 cheesecake recipes to prepare within the next month. Email a photo to me by 4/5/2011 to be featured on Willow Bird Baking! Get more details about the challenge here.

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Mini Apple Pies with Cheddar Crusts

On car trips when I was younger, one of my favorite things to do was to torment my little brother. He would be tucked safely into his car seat minding his own business when I would attack. There was no tickling or hitting or poking involved — that’s just not my style. Instead, I launched a calculated verbal and psychological assault.

Despite the fact that we were usually in Tennessee or Kentucky at the time, I’d point out the window and scream, “HEY, look, it’s Disney World!” His hopeful little face would whip around to see the happiest place on earth, only to be confronted with cornfields and the occasional disinterested cow. “Oh, you just missed it,” I’d say, consoling him with a pat on the arm.

After he’d missed a few more Disney Worlds and a Sea World or two, he was about as frustrated as a hornet in a mason jar. His spluttering protests were met with one of those smug-big-sister shrugs on my part. “What?” I’d say, “I can’t help it if you’re turning around too slow.”

Okay, so I was kind of a punk. In my defense, I was little. And he was usually a pill, I promise.

Anyway, huge counterexample aside, I’m actually a pretty trustworthy person. I don’t know if Alex will ever trust me again, but you can.

One thing you should certainly trust me about is the fact that apple pies and cheddar cheese were made for each other. Some folks — especially in my part of the world, it seems — have never heard of this combo. People can be downright skeptical when you mention it.

I first heard about pairing apple pie and cheddar cheese only a few years ago. I was shocked to find out that this odd couple was an established and beloved tradition in some places. How had I missed out on this my entire life? I promptly ran to the grocery store, bought a mini apple pie and a block of sharp cheddar, and gave it a try. Turns out all those crazy New Englanders (love you guys!) weren’t wrong: the sweet filling with the sharp cheese was a perfect match.

So what would be better than a slice of apple pie with a slice of cheddar cheese on top? How about a pie that fully integrates the apply and cheddary goodness? I created these mini apple pies with cheddar crusts to do just that. The cheddar crust is phenomenal — I think I ate more of it raw than I used in the pies — and I chose a sweet apple filling to balance it out. The result is a buttery, sweet-and-salty piece of heaven.

If this is the first time you’ve heard of the apple pie and cheddar combo, trust me — all Disney Worlds and Sea Worlds aside — when I say you have to try it. And if you’ve enjoyed a slice of apple pie with a hunk of cheddar on top, back me up: tell us how much you love it.

P.S.: Some folks have apparently been known to say, “An apple pie without the cheese is like a hug without the squeeze.”

P.S. 2: Happy Pi Day — only one day late. These little guys are worth the wait.

Mini Apple Pies with Cheddar Crusts



Recipe by: Adapted from my own pie crust and Betty Crocker’s filling
Yield: 4 cupcake-sized apple pies and 10-12 mini apple-pies

Crust Ingredients:
4 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
10 ounces extra-sharp cheddar, grated
3/4 cup cold lard (non-hydrogenated if available)*
3/4 cup cold butter, chopped
6-8 tablespoons cold water
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water for egg wash
1/4 cup white sugar mixed with 1 teaspoon cinnamon for sprinkling
*you can substitute vegetable shortening here if you wish, but I highly recommend the lard!

Filling Ingredients:
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch salt
4 cups mixed apples, peeled and chopped (4 medium — I used Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, and Golden Delicious)
1 tablespoon butter

Directions: Pulse flour and salt together to combine. Add scoops of lard and pulse into the mixture has the texture of coarse sand, about 10 seconds. Add in chunks of butter and cheese and pulse until butter pieces are no larger than small peas, about 10 pulses. Add minimum amount of water and pulse on low. If dough remains crumbly and doesn’t come together, add another 2 tablespoons of water. Add as little as is required to enable the dough to be rolled into a ball. Form the dough into 2 disks, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for 20-30 minutes while preparing your filling.

Prepare filling: Mix all ingredients together except for butter.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F. Use cupcake pans, mini-cupcake pans or both for your pies, as desired. After crust has chilled, roll it out between two sheets of parchment paper until it’s relatively thin — a little thinner than 1/4 inch. Pull the parchment paper off the dough every now and then (flipping to do this on both sides) to ensure your dough isn’t sticking. Use a big round cookie cutter or a knife to cut out a piece of dough about 2 inches larger around than your cupcake wells (or about 1 inch larger around than your mini-cupcake wells). Fit this dough down into a well as a bottom crust. Fill it with filling, top it with a few bits of butter, and use another circle of dough to form the top crust. Crimp the edges (careful not to make your crimping too elaborate — if your edge is too big, your pies can be top-heavy and pull apart. You may just want to use a fork to create decorative edges instead of traditional “crimping.”) Repeat this process until all of your mini pies are ready for the oven. Brush them all with egg wash and sprinkle cinnamon and sugar mixture over the top.

Bake mini pies at 400 degrees for 15 minutes (for cupcake-sized) or 10 minutes (for mini-cupcake sized). Turn temperature down to 375 degrees F, open the oven to rotate your pans and cool it off for a few seconds, and turn temperature down to 375 degrees F. Bake cupcake-size pies for 7-9 minutes longer, and mini-cupcake sized pies for 6-7 minutes longer. Remove from the oven and let pies cool completely in the pan — then gently “twist” the pies in their wells to be sure they aren’t sticking and pull them out. Serve immediately or store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator.

P.S. Don’t forget about the Cheesecake Challenge! Choose any one of 9 cheesecake recipes to prepare within the next month. Email a photo to me by 4/5/2011 to be featured on Willow Bird Baking! Get more details about the challenge here.

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Soft Pretzel Dogs (an homage to Auntie Anne’s Pretzels)

I have this embarrassing salad bar practice. You’re going to think I’m silly (or else you’re going to leave me a comment saying, “I DO THAT EXACT SAME THING!” and make me feel a little better. No pressure.)

See, I’m a little shy about how much salad dressing I eat. I was never one of those mostly-veggies-with-a-spritz-of-lemon-juice salad people. I was (am!) one of those bacon-cheese-and-crouton salad people, where the dressing has to touch every leaf with its creamy goodness. But I can never quite shake the feeling that the person behind me at the salad bar is watching me pour my bleu cheese dressing with thinly veiled disgust, silently tabulating the calories I’m about to consume.

To deal with this uncomfortable situation, I developed a little pantomime routine in which I dump as much salad dressing as I want on my salad before giving a little gasp and jerking the bottle up as if to say, “Oops! Of COURSE I didn’t mean to pour that much salad dressing — it just came out so fast!” Then I snap up my salad and hastily head to my seat.

I’m sure the lemon-spritzers in line behind me think I’m disappointed that my salad got drenched and that I’m really only eating it because I hate to waste food . . . right?! Okay, maybe I’m not fooling anyone.

The truth is, while I eat reasonably all week, I go all out on the weekends. And I can eat a lot. Like, enough so that more than one waitress has been driven to exclaim over the amount I have consumed (they better be glad I don’t believe in docking tips). Like, enough that I can almost always out-eat any fully grown, healthy, hungry man around me.

In college, the impressive amount I could eat would become glaringly apparent in the dining hall, where most gals were ordering half a grapefruit for breakfast and my plate was overflowing with bacon and eggs. And a waffle. With, like, butter and syrup and stuff. This disparity produced lots of food embarrassment. For some reason, perhaps especially as a woman, I always feel like I should be, um, daintier or something.

Sometimes, though, a certain food compels me to stop caring about what other people are thinking. Recently, that food was Auntie Anne’s Pretzel Dogs. I first saw them in the Dallas airport on a layover. I was reserved, ordering only one along with a couple of other small snacks.

But my first bite of that buttery, yeasty pretzel wrapped around a juicy hot dog was a surreal experience — and I don’t think it was just the medicine I take for my flight anxiety. I was hooked. I talked about the pretzel dogs throughout my entire weekend trip, and when I found myself flying back home to Charlotte through Dallas, I was prepared.

As soon as we touched down, I hastily disembarked and headed straight for the nearest Auntie Anne’s. There, I immediately threw caution and food embarrassment to the wind, ordering 3 pretzel dogs and a big soft pretzel on the side to, um, balance out my meal. And cheese sauce. I was in pretzel dog heaven.

Clearly, the next step was to figure out how to make pretzel dogs at home in Charlotte. I found the following recipe and, while not perfect, it’s pretty darn close, not to mention pretty darn easy!

The baking soda solution I dipped my pretzels in didn’t seem strong enough to give them a nice deep brown color, so I tweaked it below. I also had a lot of fun with flavors. I made soft pretzels, pretzel dogs, cheddar pretzel dogs, and jalapeno pretzel dogs. And all bashfulness aside, over the course of a weekend, I ate almost every single one of them myself.

Do you ever feel any food embarrassment, or are you an unabashed eater?

Soft Pretzel Dogs



Recipe by: Adapted from CDKitchen
Yields: 8 pretzel dogs and 5-6 pretzels

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cup warm water
1 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup bread flour
3 cups regular flour
2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons baking soda
3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
8 Nathan’s all-beef hot dogs (do yourself a favor and don’t use anything but Nathan’s!)

Toppings:
cheddar cheese
jalapeno slices (wear gloves to handle, and don’t touch your eyes!)
coarse salt, to taste
4 tablespoons butter (melted)

Directions:
Place warm water in mixing bowl and sprinkle yeast in, stirring to dissolve. Add the sugar and salt and stir. Add the flour and mix until combined. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic (this took a few minutes on high speed with my KitchenAid mixer equipped with a dough hook). Place the dough in a greased bowl and cover it. Place it in a warm area to rise at least 1/2 an hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. When dough’s almost finished rising, prepare a baking soda water bath. I used one that I don’t think was strong enough (from the original recipe) to brown the pretzels appropriately, so I’ve poked around and found a better one for you. Mix the warm water and baking soda and continue to whisk periodically as you work with your dough.

Once your dough is risen, spray cooking spray over a spot on your counter and turn the dough out onto it. Use a sprayed pizza cutter to slice off a strip of dough. Roll it, starting from the middle and working outward with greased hands, into a thin rope — the thinner you get it, the more like Auntie Anne’s pretzels it’ll be. I even gently picked it up and let gravity help me lengthen it every now and then. For inspiration, watch this awesome video from the folks at Auntie Anne’s on shaping, dipping, and baking pretzels.

Form your strand into a pretzel shape OR wrap it around a hot dog OR wrap it around a hot dog and strip of cheese OR wrap it around a hot dog with a strip of cheese and some jalapenos. When you wrap it around the hot dogs, just slightly overlap the dough so there aren’t many gaps. Now dip the pretzel into your soda solution and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake for 7-10 minutes or until golden brown. Brush with melted butter and serve immediately with hot mustard or Cheez Whiz (tastes just like Auntie Anne’s cheddar dip!) for dipping.

P.S. Don’t forget about the Cheesecake Challenge! Choose any one of 9 cheesecake recipes to prepare within the next month. Email a photo to me by 4/5/2011 to be featured on Willow Bird Baking! Get more details about the challenge here.

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Quick Rosemary, Fig, and Goat Cheese Tarts

I’m a simple girl. I like complicated poetry and intricate novels and things like that, don’t get me wrong. But for the most part, I’m the sort of girl that puts my hair up so I don’t have to fiddle with it, forgets to wear earrings, and floats about in flip-flops whenever possible. (By the way, not to brag, but we’ve almost made it to flip-flop weather in North Carolina lately!)

I love a cute high heel every now and then, but for the most part (besides middle school dances), they sit in my closet.

But one day I bought these shoes. I cannot explain it.

These shoes were unlike anything I’d ever owned (or ever wanted to own). First off, they were bright flippin’ gold. And they were pointy-toed. And they had 4-inch heels. And, um, they might have been faux snakeskin.

Any one of these characteristics on its own (well, except maybe the snakeskin) might have worked for me. But all together?

What was I thinking?

Well, I know what I was thinking. I was thinking of how hot they’d look on, say, Cindy Crawford. And then my brain went off to the food court for FroYo while my imagination thought, “Hey, maybe they’d make you look like Cindy Crawford!” So I shelled out way more cash than appropriate on my then-college-student budget, and ta-da, they were mine.

Can you guess what happened next?

If you guessed that those hot gold faux-snakeskin pointy heels sat in my closet until I finally tried to sell them online, you would be correct. If you guessed that no one bought them because everyone else has prohibited their brains from frolicking off to the food court, you would be correct.

If you guessed that I do not look like Cindy Crawford, you would be correct.

Why do I ever forget that simpler is usually better? In honor of simplicity, here’s a fantastic and fantastically simple tart to serve with your next meal (I ate it with Cream of Mushroom Soup!)

This recipe originally called for just rosemary and goat cheese, but the reviews said it needed more flavor. I added a generous layer of fig jam and that really knocked it right out of the park! It’s a sweet and savory, buttery-but-light combination that will complement many meals and be ready in 20 minutes flat. If you’re feeling a little rebellious, though, feel free to make your own homemade puff pastry — and perhaps go buy some faux snakeskin heels?

What’s the silliest thing you’ve bought in recent years?

Quick Rosemary, Fig, and Goat Cheese Tarts



Recipe by: Adapted from Fine Cooking
Yields: about 8-9 servings

Ingredients:
3 ounces Bûcheron goat cheese (or fresh goat cheese)
4-5 tablespoons fig jam
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed (or use homemade puff pastry!)
flour, for dusting
1 lemon
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, only very roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

Directions: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. In a small bowl, mash the goat cheese (crumbled) and cream with a fork together until combined.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry sheet out into a 12 x 17-inch rectangle. Using a pizza cutter (and a ruler for a straight edge, if desired), cut the pastry in half lengthwise to form two rectangles. Measure off a 3/4-inch strip on each side of each rectangle and use a straight edge to cut each strip off. Use a pastry brush to brush water around the edges of the rectangles that will act like a “glue” to hold a border on. Now stack each 3/4-inch wide strip onto the damp area of the dough, creating the raised border.

Spoon the fig jam inside the border of each rectangle and spread it. Then spoon and gently spread the cheese mixture inside the border, over the fig jam. This is a little hard to spread, but it’s okay if some areas have more cheese than others. Remember, it’s supposed to be rustic, y’all. Then evenly grate lemon zest over the cheese, scatter the rosemary leaves on top, and grind some pepper evenly over everything else. Bake until the tarts are puffed and deep golden brown, rotating the pan about halfway through baking. The original recipe said this would take around 17 minutes, but they were a tad overdone around 15 minutes, so keep an eye on them! Cut the tart into pieces and serve while hot.

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