Meanwhile…Pepperoni Rolls

Summers are pretty laissez-faire around here. There’s usually food in the house, and we get around to something dinner-like late in the evening but beyond that it’s every one for themselves. This all changes when school starts. Dinner happens earlier,

Snickerdoodles

Snickerdoodles

more meals are planned, and a lot of Sunday baking happens in preparation for the week ahead. Each week includes a cookie of the boy’s choosing, some kind of lunch foundation, and breakfast bread(s).

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this, but my last name is a misnomer. Baking and pastry really aren’t my thing because they require a delicate dance of chemistry and patience (what I call “excessively fiddly cooking”), neither of which is in my wheelhouse. Obviously, I do it anyway. Mostly, I do it because the results are much more satisfying than anything I can buy and I end up feeling weirdly triumphant about the whole mess.

Harvest Muffins

Harvest Muffins

This week, I tackled snickerdoodles and pepperoni rolls, then had fun(?) playing with Melissa Clark’s harvest muffins and Ted Allen’s onion bagels (from an old copy of Food Network magazine that I kept around just in case I ever decided to take on the bagel challenge). Have I mentioned my mad crush on Ted Allen? I’ve crushed on Ted since his Queer Eye days. It’s not a secret; when Ted did an event in Rochester that I couldn’t attend, the hubs very kindly (he really is one of the good guys) went and got me an autographed cookbook. He’s very understanding about my thing with Ted. I’m not entirely sure how Ted feels about it.

Onion Bagels

Onion Bagels

But enough of crushes and baking neuroses. Let’s take a little side trip to West Virginia, home of the pepperoni roll. Pepperoni rolls are iconic West Virginia food, and are considered to have originated as an easy, portable lunch for miners. They are also one of the boy’s current favorites–he calls them “fake Hot Pockets” and takes them for lunch, like, daily. No surprise, I’ve been making a lot of pepperoni rolls lately. They’re a basic olive oil yeast dough stuffed with pepperoni and mozzarella. The fat in the dough keeps them from going stale too quickly, and they travel very well. Also: if I can make them, anybody can.

Pepperoni Rolls

Makes 8

Dough

1 Tbs yeast

1 cup warm (110-120º) water

1 tsp sugar

2-3 cups AP flour

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp fine salt

Filling

32 slices of pepperoni

3/4 cup shredded mozzarella

Instructions

  • Stir the sugar into the water, sprinkle the yeast on top and let sit for 5-10 minutes until bubbly*
  • Whisk the salt and 1 cup of the flour together in a large bowl
  • Add the yeast and olive oil, stir together until something dough-like starts to form. Add in the second cup of flour 1/4 cup at a time until you have a workable dough.
  • Sprinkle your countertop or other work surface with more flour, turn out the dough, and knead it for 5 minutes. Add more
    A little sticky, but nothing a good bench knife can't handle.

    A little sticky, but nothing a good bench knife can’t handle.

    flour as needed to prevent it from sticking to your hands, the counter, the cat. I tend to leave it slightly tacky because I want the final product to be less dense.

  • Shape the dough into a ball
  • Coat the inside of a large bowl with more olive oil–a tablespoon or so. Add the dough, turn once to coat the top, cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free environment until doubled–about an hour.*
  • When the dough is ready, pinch it into 8 equal pieces, shape them into balls and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • After resting, use your hands to shape each piece into a 4×6 rectangle. Be careful not to get the center too thin–the pepperoni will break through and create an oozy mess.
  • Place four slices of pepperoni across the centerIMG_9298
  • Top with 2-3 Tbs of mozzarella
  • Fold lengthwise into thirds
  • Fold over the ends, then flip onto your baking sheet (lined with parchment if you have it…it’s hit or miss around here)
  • Let rise for another 20 minutes while the oven preheats to 375º
  • When the oven is ready, bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned. Some of the IMG_9304cheese may melt out and brown–this is the best part, I think. Sometimes I even let the boy have it.
  • Cool throughly, then refrigerate in an airtight container.  They’re good cold, and even better after 20 seconds in the microwave.
Lunch is served.

Lunch is served.

Notes

You could probably just throw it all into a bowl and start mixing without doing this step, but I’ve lost too many batches of dough to dead yeast so I always proof mine ahead of time.

I find this dough to be fairly bullet-proof. If I’m short on time, I fill and shape after the first rise. If I’m in the middle of 15 other things, I’ll punch it down and give it a second rise. Both give me good results.

Although I make pepperoni rolls for the boy, this is adaptable to any kind of savory filling–broccoli and cheddar, spinach and feta, ham and swiss, heck maybe even peanut butter and jelly. Go crazy.

At Long Last Coffee Milk

I knew I would get back on this trip eventually and coffee milk is, for me, the perfect re-entry. I love coffee. All coffee. Even really bad 7-11 at 3-in-the-afternoon coffee. Confession: I even drink hotel room coffee from those little weird-brand pod packets without much complaining (mostly, I complain that there aren’t enough of those “whitening powder” packets in the room…and no, I don’t want to know what they put in there). Coffee milk, for the record, is significantly better than hotel-room coffee.

There are websites dedicated to the history and development of coffee milk as Rhode Island’s signature drink. For a more in-depth look at coffee milk history, I recommend this piece on Quahog.org.  Coffee syrup, in case you’re wondering, isn’t just for coffee milk. Narragansett Brewing Company offers a Coffee Milk Stout using the classic Autocrat coffee syrup. For the record, if you can find Autocrat in your area, it’s considered the real thing. If you can’t, you can make your own.

Making it is easy: coffee syrup + milk=coffee milk. Here’s the basic recipe for coffee syrup:

Take 1 cup double-strength coffee, add 1/2 cup sugar, simmer over low heat for 5-10 minutes. Simmer, don’t boil; boiling will turn it into an unpleasantly bitter mess.

Here’s my version:

Start with coffee that you like as is. My current love affair is with Intelligentsia’s El Diablo Dark Roast, so that’s what I used. IMG_9270Instead of brewing a double-strength pot, I decided to make mockspresso in my Moka Express. I like the richness and dimension that this brewing method extracts (definitely better than hotel coffee).

I used demerara sugar because it’s what I use in my coffee. I like the slightly caramelized flavor that it brings.

IMG_9268When the coffee is ready, transfer it to a small-medium pan on your stovetop (I measured mine because I didn’t know how much I’d end up with). Add half as much sugar as you have coffee (in this example, 1/2 cup.) Bring to a simmer over low heat, and maintain the simmer for 5 minutes. Do not allow it to boil.

After simmering, remove from heat. The coffee syrup is now ready to use.

To make coffee milk, start with 1 ounce of syrup to 6 ounces of milk. Add more of either according to taste. Although dairy milk is traditional, I made a glass with almond milk, and it was really quite good. It would probably also be good mixed into chocolate milk–either dairy or almond. Or soy, rice, cashew, etc.

And okay, I know this is a post about coffee milk, the traditional Rhode Island beverage. But you know what I liked even more than the coffee milk? Coffee Soda. Oh yeah.

Coffee Soda

IMG_9277

1 glass full of ice cubes

2 ounces coffee syrup

6 ounces club soda or seltzer

A light dash of cream

Stir together and don’t share because then other people will think you should make them one, thus depleting your supply of coffee syrup. Don’t give in to that kind of pressure.

What else can you do with that leftover coffee syrup (“leftover”, ha!)? Here are three more suggestions:

Brush it onto chocolate cake layers before frosting (or cupcakes. That would work too)

Add a shot to flan, brownies, coffee cake, (any baked good, really) before baking, just be sure to adjust the volume of your other liquids.

Use it in barbecue sauce–especially on pork ribs since the blend of sweetness and coffee are pork’s natural allies.

Oh, and a fourth–cocktails. A coffee-milk martini would be pretty dreamy. There’s probably a recipe out the for one, I just haven’t looked (yet).

Meanwhile…We Enter Our First Barbecue Competition

I’m a big believer in pushing myself (kicking and screaming usually) outside my comfort zone, so after spending my summer taking the first baby steps toward building a barbecue catering business, I decided we should enter the Finger Lakes Fire and Smoke competition. It’s brand new this year, and less than an hour from home so it seemed like the perfect place to start.

I knew from my research (translation: spending quality time with “the Google” and watching every available episode of “BBQ Pit Wars” and “BBQ Pitmasters”) that competition ‘cue doesn’t bear a whole lot of resemblance to restaurant/catering/backyard ‘cue. Judging is one-bite, which means that the sauce, smoke, and rubs have to pretty much blow the palate on that bite. Not my typical cooking style; I prefer flavors that build over the course of the dish so I knew that I was in for a challenge. I had two goals going into this thing–getting all of my boxes turned in on time, and, in barbecue speak, not coming in DAL (dead-ass last). We accomplished both of those.

Here’s what the weekend looked like (sort of. In retrospect, I wish I’d taken a lot more pictures. I blame a combination of tunnel-vision and dead batteries).

Before

IMG_9003

Step one: Joining KCBS is required if you’re signing up for a sanctioned event. You have to take this solemn and binding oath: “I promise to faithfully uphold the tenets for a Barbeque fanatic. I will cook and/or eat as much barbeque as the law allows, while having as much fun as possible.”

You also have to come up with a unique team name to register with KCBS.

You also have to come up with a unique team name to register with KCBS.

Getting the timing down is hugely important. We completely blew our trial run.

Getting the timing down is hugely important. We completely blew our trial run.

And then there's the equipment. The Rebel Smoker is a cheap, readily available smoker-grill that I did some mods on to improve our cooking quality. It doesn't even begin to compare to the professional equipment, but I like it anyway.

And there’s equipment. The Rebel Smoker is a cheap, readily available smoker-grill that I did some mods on to improve our cooking quality. It doesn’t even begin to compare to the professional equipment, but I like it anyway.

Lots of sassy red food-grade, high-heat silicone sealant.

Lots of sassy red food-grade, high-heat silicone sealant, a new fire box and some gasket seals and she was read.

We picked this uber-cheap barrel smoker up off Craigslist.

We picked this uber-cheap barrel smoker up off Craigslist.

Gave it a new paint job.

Gave it a new paint job.

And renamed it R2BQ.

And renamed it R2BQ. (R2 still needs some clean-up.)

We also gave our 40-year-old Weber a facelift.

We also gave our 40-year-old Weber a facelift.

Friday Afternoon

I really regret not taking a shot of the loaded-down truck. We looked like the Joads, rambling onto the site with all of our belongings shoved into disorganized boxes and bins.

I really regret not taking a shot of the loaded-down truck. We looked like the Joads, rambling onto the site with all of our belongings shoved into disorganized boxes and bins.

We eventually managed to get it all set up.

We eventually managed to get it all set up. (And learned later that bringing Keurig-style coffee-makers is just not done.)

See the tent? Yeah, that's ours.

Circuit pros have trailers, commercial-grade equipment, and a whole lot of knowledge. See the tent? Yeah, that’s ours.

2 AM Comes Early.

Eventually, the boy crashed in the tent and his dad decided he’d rather just sleep in the truck. I tried to sleep, I really did, but knowing that the fire needed to be lit crazy early made it impossible. I gave up about 1 and spent the time reading instead. At 1:45 am, it was very, very quiet. 15 minutes later, it felt like a house party. 2:00 is the witching hour when everyone gets up, gets out, and gets the fires lit.

2 AM, we have ignition.

We have ignition.

When the blue flames and wild sparks (not pictured) started shooting out the top of my chimney, I grabbed the smoke extinguisher and hovered over it until I was sure I wouldn't burn down the whole damn competition.

When the blue flames and wild sparks (not pictured) started shooting out the top of my chimney, I grabbed the smoke extinguisher and hovered over it until I was sure I wouldn’t burn down the whole damn competition.

The venue was gorgeous. I took this just after sunrise on Seneca Lake.

The venue was gorgeous. I took this just after sunrise on Seneca Lake.

Bad coffee: Nectar of the Gods.

Bad coffee: Nectar of the Gods.

Turn-In

Chicken thighs. I wasn't sure until about 9 am if we'd even managed to get the chicken cooked. I was out of room on the smoker, and all of my attempts to make a bite-through skin had failed miserably. When the brisket point came off to rest, I had just enough room for it so I had to hustle through the breakdown (deboning, pulling excess fat, shaping) and decided to leave the skin off. We placed 23rd, so not DAL but also not good.

Chicken thighs. I wasn’t sure until about 9 am if we’d even have an entry.

Ribs. Also 23rd. Of our entries, I thought this on had the best chance of being

Ribs. Also 23rd. Of our entries, I thought this one had the best chance of being “not awful.” I was wrong (it wasn’t awful, it just didn’t place quite as high as I’d hoped).

Brisket. We came in at #18, placing above a couple of teams who won in the pork categories so I was pretty giddy about that.

18th-place Brisket. We placed above a couple of teams who won in the pork categories so I was pretty giddy about that.

Pork. Pulled on the left, and the

Pork. Pulled on the left, and the “money muscle” on the right. I had a lot of fun explaining to our butcher (who’s a great guy but not familiar with competition meat) that I needed that loin piece left on. We placed at #20 for pork

Afterword

We met some amazing people over the weekend. When they talk about “barbecue family” it’s not just lip-service. Barbecue people are friendly, generous, and kind. Being complete noobs, we expected disdain at best and contempt as more likely. Instead, we had helping hands, received some good advice, tasted some samples of winning entries, heard great storytelling and had a whole lot of goofy fun. The cherry on the sundae is that when awards time rolls around, all the cheering and clapping for the winners is genuine. Because it’s family.

Addendum

We found a partial of the loaded-up truck.

We found a partial of the loaded-up truck.