Thursday, September 13, 2012

to top the professionals

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on September 11, 2012.


A few weeks ago, on the way home from one of our last visits to the pool, the kids and I stopped by a local pizza shop to claim our free orders of cinnamon breadsticks, courtesy of the library’s summer reading program. When I exited the store with the four large boxes, the kids nearly bounced out of their seats with excitement.

“We’ll eat them at home, not in the car,” I said firmly. I’d borrowed  my brother’s car and wasn’t about to let them sticky it all up.

My husband arrived home the same time we did and joined us at the kitchen table. I poured glasses of milk and passed out napkins.

“Everybody has to give up one of their sticks,” I announced. “Three for your papa and one for me.”

I was acting all cool and aloof, but inside I was nearly as excited as the children. Soft bread! Sugar! Icing!

I took one bite and promptly deflated. The sticks were tough, and the icing, oh my. It tasted like melted plastic spoons. The children were doggedly munching away, scattering sugar hither and yon, but they didn’t seem quite as excited as before. I noticed my younger daughter scraping off the icing. Oh, so it wasn’t just me!

“I should go into business,” I huffed to my husband. I was talking off the top of my head. “To think that people pay good money for this stuff. It’s crazy!” 

“But you don’t make these,” he pointed out.

“Well, I could.” I already had a breadstick recipe I was in love with. The switch from savory to sweet wouldn’t be all that difficult, I thought.

The night before my baking experiment, I was so excited I had trouble sleeping. In the morning, the thought of butter and cinnamon propelled me out of bed.

It was nearly lunchtime when I pulled the breadsticks from the oven. The kids watched impatiently while I sampled one. Then I felt guilty for eating in front of them and gave them each a half. Their cries of delight were loud and unceasing.

“What do you think? Are these any good?” I asked.

“Yes, yes!” they cried, their mouths stuffed full with the sugary bread, their hands sticky.

After lunch, I let them eat their fill. They scarfed down every last one. They even, when they thought I wasn’t looking, polished the plates with their tongues like a pack of motherless waifs.

Cinnamon Sugar Breadsticks

2½ teaspoons yeast
1 cup warm water
3 cups bread flour
3 packed tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup oil
4 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup white sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1 cup confectioner’s sugar, sifted
½ teaspoon vanilla
milk or half-and-half

In a small bowl, combine the yeast and warm water. Set aside for five minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, brown sugar, and salt. Stir in yeast and oil. Knead until satiny smooth. Flour the bowl. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a cloth, and let rise until doubled.

Grease a large, sided baking tray. Roll/press the dough so that it covers the bottom of the pan. Cut the dough down the middle lengthwise and then crosswise about 11 times, aiming for about 24 sticks. Cover the dough and let rise for 30-60 minutes.

Bake the breadsticks at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes. Brush the hot breadsticks with the melted butter and sprinkle generously with the cinnamon sugar (you will have some leftover).

Combine the confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, and enough milk to make a runny icing. Drizzle it over the breadsticks. Serve warm.

Monday, September 3, 2012

a sauce to talk about

The following article first appeared in the Daily News Record on August 29, 2012.


The words for my next newspaper column weren’t falling into place. Tired of getting nowhere, I finally called up my mom. “I’m trying to write about a pizza sauce recipe, but I’m not sure what my point is.”

“Didn’t you just write about that in the last column?”

“No, that was a spaghetti sauce.”

“Pizza sauce, spaghetti sauce, what’s the difference?” my mom asked.

“It’s totally different,” I said. “The spaghetti sauce was made with canned tomatoes. This pizza sauce is made with roasted tomatoes. Roasted garlic, too. A whole head. And it’s fast.”

“There’s nothing fast about roasting tomatoes. It takes hours!”

“No, no! These get roasted for just one hour!”

“Oh, really?” She was listening now.

“Yeah, they caramelize and get blistered black in places.”

“What? You put in black tomatoes?”

“When they’re blended up, they make the sauce look speckled. It’s gorgeous! And really, it couldn’t be easier.”

“Okay, okay,” Mom laughed. “You go to all this trouble and here I am just picking my jars of sauce off the grocery store shelves. I won’t get the mushroom kind and I try to choose something chunky—if you ask me, that’s easy. But your sauce does sound good.”

“It’s incredible!” I gushed. “So flavorful and rich. I get all sorts of traffic on my blog over that recipe—”

“All right,” she interrupted. “You have your column now.”

“Wha—?” I asked, bewildered.

“This phone conversation. Just write it down. That’s your column.”

“Mom, you duped me!” I shrieked. “You did this on purpose!”

“No, I did not! But now you have your column. Go write it.”

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Pizza Sauce
This recipe first appeared on Simple Bites.

12 pounds paste tomatoes, such as Roma
½ cup olive oil, plus extra as needed
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 head garlic
3/4 cup green pepper, rough dice
1 cup onion, rough dice
1 jalapeño, rough mince
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon each, dried basil and dried oregano
citric acid, bottled lemon juice, or vinegar

Cut off the top of the head of garlic, making sure that the tippy-top of each clove has been removed. Set the garlic, cut side up, on a piece of foil, drizzle it with a bit of olive oil, and wrap tightly.

Wash and core the tomatoes. Cut them in half lengthwise and toss with ½ cup olive oil, 2 teaspoons salt, and the black pepper. Divide the tomatoes between two large, sided trays (put the foil-wrapped garlic on one of the trays) and roast at 400 degrees for 60-90 minutes, rotating as necessary. The tomatoes will blister and blacken a bit—this is good.

While the tomatoes are roasting, sauté the peppers and onion in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil until very soft.

Dump the roasted tomatoes into a large stockpot and add the sauteed veggies. Squeeze the garlic pulp out of the skins and add to the vegetables. Puree the mixture. Stir in the sugar, dried herbs, and more salt to taste—2 to 3 teaspoons.

Ladle the sauce into pint jars. To each jar add 1/4 teaspoon citric acid or 1 tablespoon lemon juice or 1 tablespoon vinegar. Screw on the lids and process the jars in a hot water bath for 20 minutes at a gentle rolling boil.

Yield: approximately 5 pints.