Hot Tots

So bad that they’re good; unwanted scraps that everyone can’t get enough of; terminally uncool to the point of being a new trend. Tater tots live in a world of conflicting extremes, forever at odds with themselves and the public at large. We have Ore-Ida to thank for the innovation in 1951, when new French fry cutting technology gave birth to immaculate shoestrings while leaving mountains of potato slivers and small pieces in its wake. That excess became the foundation of tots as we know them, formed and fried into something entirely new.

Any kid growing up in the 90s had more than their fair share of the crispy potato bites, piled up on cafeteria trays and smothered with ketchup, in lieu of any other vegetable-like matter. I remember my first encounter in first grade, when I got to the front of the line and found the paper boat of tots before me. These weren’t the thick potato wedges I wanted, and not even the smooth mashed potato puree that I tolerated. With great trepidation, I took a microscopic bite, chewed once, chewed twice… And spit it into the trash. For the rest of the day, I languished in the nurse’s office, convinced I was sick, and that those demonic tater tots had done me in.

Drama aside, I came to learn after many years that tots were not all bad. Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed. Consistent, reliable, affordable, and ageless, they’re an accommodating neutral base for toppings and dips of all types. Now that Millennials are “grown up” and seeking solace in their kitchens, tater tots are finally reaching their full potential. No longer reject spud shards but genuinely worthy starters and snacks, I, too, have come around to the ways of the tot.

That said, I don’t crave them. I wouldn’t go out of my way to try them, nor are they my first, second, or third choice on a menu. It needs to be something really special to catch my eye… Like the cauliflower tots served at Better Half Coffee & Cocktails here in Austin. These savory nuggets are square, fried to crispy perfection, and served alongside a silky purple beet ketchup. Sadly, they’re not vegan thanks to the generous application of eggs and cheese, but I couldn’t get them out of my mind after one visit. They certainly made a more lasting impression than the date I was on at the time.

I could sell these as a healthier, lower-carb option that’s naturally gluten-free and higher in protein, but this isn’t about getting the most nutritious snack. Let’s be honest: No one eats tater tots for the health benefits, so caulitots shouldn’t try to be anything other than delicious. That is where they truly excel. The outsides are browned to a satisfyingly crunchy finish, while the interiors remain moist, creamy, and slightly gooey thanks to the inclusion of vegan cheese shreds.

For a recipe worth more than nostalgic value, caulitots truly elevate the humble bar snack to a new level. Though you could serve them with regular old ketchup, BBQ sauce, plant-based honey mustard, or even ranch dressing, give the beet ketchup a try, at least once. It’s better than your average dip, and these upscale tots deserve the best, as do you.

Continue reading “Hot Tots”

Parm for the Course

Cravings don’t always make sense. That’s the beauty and madness of it all. Humans are completely inscrutable sometimes, and I’d nominate myself as a prime candidate to represent this phenomenon.

Why would I start craving something that I didn’t enjoy in the first place? It makes no sense. Thanks, I hate it, I’ll have some more, please. I offer no explanations, but a far more rational remedy to an illogical appetite.

Plant-based ParmCrisps have obvious appeal. Crisp, cheesy, snackable, and packable, they can be eaten out of hand or added to a larger meal. The trouble is, I just didn’t love them. To each their own, but for approximately $1.75 per miserly 1-ounce serving (which would never satisfy), those tiny treats had better be pure instant gratification, no holds barred, to be worth the investment.

We can, and will, do better. May I introduce my very own Parm-ish Crisps, fresh from the oven and easily tailored to your specific tastes?

With a texture you can really sink your teeth into, my version is a bit thicker and more substantial, which gives them a heartier bite. Boldly flavorful beyond what you might expect for such a short list of inclusions, it’s hard to stop at just a handful. They’re perfect for using as chips with dip, tossing into salad as croutons, or stashing for snacking on the go. Get fancy and build a full charcuterie board around them or eat them straight off the baking sheet before they even finish cooling.

These babies aren’t so precious that they need to be saved for a special occasion. It takes a scant handful of pantry ingredients and just a few minutes of your time, so you can fully indulge your cravings, reasonable or not, whenever they might hit.

As it stands, these savory little morsels are already gluten-free, grain-free, dairy-free, and eggless! To accommodate even more dietary restrictions, adaptation is easy.

  • Keto or Paleo: Replace the vegan butter with coconut oil.
  • Oil-Free: Replace the vegan butter and water with aquafaba.
  • Nut-Free: Replace the almond flour with sunflower seed flour.

Don’t forget about the flavor variations! Simple cheesy satisfaction is all I need most days, but you can easily change things up for a different flavor adventure everyday. There’s no limit to the possibilities, but here are some of my favorite options…

  • Salt and Vinegar: Omit the water and add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar. Sprinkle coarse sea salt on top before baking.
  • Pesto: Add 1/4 cup basil, finely minced, into the dough.
  • Everything Bagel: Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of everything bagel seasoning on top of the crackers, pressing it in gently before baking.
  • Buffalo: Add 1/2 tablespoon of hot sauce and reduce the water to 1 1/2 tablespoons.
  • Garlic and Herb: Mix 1 tablespoons of herbs de Provence or Italian seasoning and 1 1/2 teaspoons of garlic powder into the dough.
  • Smoky Tomato: Omit the water and add 2 tablespoons of smooth tomato sauce and 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke to the dough.

No matter what you’re craving, or why you’re craving it, these cheesy treats should do the trick.

Continue reading “Parm for the Course”

Fig Newton’s Laws

Physics are not my strong suit, but I do know one thing is for sure: Sir Isaac Newton understood the laws of cookies. It was all cleverly disguised as the principles that govern motion, but I can see through that ploy. It’s all written out, clear as day.

Law #1: A body at rest will remain at rest, and a body in motion will remain in motion, unless it is acted upon by an external force.

Unless you start preheating the oven, it will never get hot. These cookies won’t bake themselves, you know.

Law #2: The force acting upon an object is equal to the mass of that object multiplied by its acceleration.

A rolling pin must be wielded with both gentle yet firm pressure to properly flatten the dough.

Law #3: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Though tempting, if you eat a whole batch of cookies by yourself, you WILL get a stomachache.

Whether or not Fig Newtons were named for the mathematician is still up for debate, though we can all agree that they’re logically sound snacks. They’ve been around since the 1850’s, changing very little over the years. Take a wholesome, lightly sweetened pastry dough and wrap it around a whole fruit filling for surefire success. Sure, they’re not as glamorous as chocolate-coated, sugar-encrusted, or sprinkle-topped sweets, but they’re deeply comforting in a way that such flighty trends can’t even touch.

For their latest evolution, I’m bringing healthy back and taking out the gluten and refined sugars. With a touch of lemon juice mixed with the lightly simmered fig jam, these humble little bars taste so much brighter and fresher than anything sitting around on grocery store shelves.

I think Mr. Newton himself would be proud.

Continue reading “Fig Newton’s Laws”

Uncanny Casserole

Thanksgiving as we know it is an entirely modern phenomenon. Nearly every element is so far removed from the original harvest, the original pilgrims and native Americans would find the spread entirely unrecognizable. The “classic” dinner menu is more of a marketing ploy than historical homage, after all. The indispensable green bean casserole is the best example on the table.

Invented by none other than the crafty Campbell Soup Company, it hit the holiday scene in 1955 as a thrifty way to utilize canned goods. As canning technology picked up following WWII and the end of rationing, hapless housewives needed guidance on how best to work with these novel tin cans. The green bean casserole called for just six ingredients, minimal prep, and a short cook time; perfect for a party.

Quite frankly, I never saw the appeal. Mushy green beans with mushy mushrooms baked until they’re mushier? Yum…! Despite that, I’m in clearly in the minority, as the infamous casserole graces the table for over 20 millions Americans every Thanksgiving. This year, I was determined to take back the green bean casserole on my own terms.

For starters, let’s lose the cans. Modern innovations mean that fresh fruits and vegetables are no longer out of reach, no matter the season. Crisp, snappy green beans retain their crunch through a flash fry without oil, but the favorite kitchen toy of our generation: The air fryer.

Freed from their tomb of mushroom goop, the beans get a light coating of crushed fried onions in this festive twist on green bean fries. Better than breading, it infuses savory flavor into every crunchy bite, while providing a naturally gluten-free alternative to bland old breadcrumbs.

Now these slender green dippers can take center stage as an appetizer before the main event, or stand up to competition on the dinner plate as a truly stellar side. Don’t forget to whip up an extra batch of rich gravy for dunking to your heart’s content.

Continue reading “Uncanny Casserole”

Better Than Butterfinger

Gather ’round and don’t be scared now. Conventional candy bars do have many frightful ingredients, reading like a chemistry experiment gone terribly wrong. Tempting with bewitching spells cast from sugar and corn syrup, even the strongest hero have occasionally fallen for their evil tricks. It’s time we beat those monsters back once and for all.

Butterfingers were original unleashed upon the world almost one hundred years ago and continue haunting hapless shoppers at checkout stands to this day. Escape from that dangerous trap because back in the safety of your home, we can make a real treat together.

Resoundingly crunchy, crisp throughout, and packed with deeply toasted nutty flavor, this recipe is more than just a resurrection of a past favorite, but a complete revival and revamp. Cloaked in devilishly dark chocolate, these rich, intense flavors would utterly slay the old phantom.

Originally featured in my now defunct eBook Wicked Treats, it seemed a same to let this gem meet such an timely end. If there’s only one treat you plan on making for Halloween, make it this one!

Continue reading “Better Than Butterfinger”

Melon Drama

If it’s named for a melon and looks like a melon, then obviously, it should taste like… Not a melon.

Such is the curious case of melon pan. Captivating the imaginations and cravings of Japanese bakers since the early 1900’s, right around the time that Western influences made bread the trendy starch of those in the know, it gave traditional rice flour a run for its money. Simple, sweet buns wrapped in a buttery cookie exterior, the name has more to do with its deeply grooved, crackled exterior than flavor. Said to evoke the appearance of the delicate skin of a muskmelon, covering the fruit like natural lace, it’s one of many theories, though it strikes me as the most plausible explanation.

Some are round, others are more like ovoid footballs. Most are plain, but some are filled with cream or jam. A few intrepid bakers try to make sense of the misnomer by adding artificial melon flavoring to the dough itself. For years, that was my impulse as well, but I could never fully connect the dots. Melon extract is not exactly the most common ingredient in the pantry, and even as a special order, few genuinely tasteful options exist.

What I’m proposing instead might seem like a stretch, but it’s the most sensible extension of the concept I’ve devised yet. The melon family, cucurbitaceae, is a classification that includes a diverse array of plants both sweet and savory, starting of course with melons like cantaloupe and honey dew, but also squashes such as pumpkins. That connection was the catalyst I needed to finally make a melon pan I could better justify.

Continue reading “Melon Drama”