What I did this summer

Apologies for the long hiatus. Life took a number of weird turns on my this summer, and I ended up with a lot fewer interesting things to say that weren’t also mostly depressing. But my favorite season has come, and it’s a time of contemplation and cooking and watching way too much TV.

So first, summer in one paragraph: Became my own boss: good, though the added responsibility sometimes sucks. Became sole breadwinner: my wife had a nasty run of mystery health issues right around that same time, and while she’s better now the mystery was never really solved. This included an all-nighter in the ER on a night of epic rain, and when we got home I found out the next day that an old abandoned septic tank in our yard caved in. (It’s filled in now.) Went to Canada for vacation; it was too hot. Went to the Great New York State Fair, but only a few times before I somehow injured my foot and couldn’t bring myself to do so much walking, so I missed out on a lot of yummy food. (The place that made fried mashed potatoes was gone. Huge disappointment.) I haven’t used my grill too much lately in spite of the fairly decent weather, but then it’s also in bad shape because the heat tent is corroded and near death.

Lately I’ve been more about the home cooking, as being able to set my own hours means that I can mostly plan out how and when I’ll cook dinner—with the caveat that my wife gives the cats their wet food treat right around when I’d normally want to start cooking. (That’s pinned to certain times of day mostly because one of our cats has been on medication forever.) But with football season upon us, I had to start making some good stuff for game days.

I made chicken Parmesan meatballs for the first time in a while recently. When making them for myself I usually do half a batch, but this time I did two half-batches: one for me and one for my wife. She’s eating low-carb, with the extra wrinkle that she’s also redeveloped a childhood sensitivity to wheat. (Not gluten, just wheat; it tends to cause nosebleeds, especially when she takes vitamin D3.) I’d tried to make them for her before by using pork rinds as the filler in place of bread crumbs, but this time I used almond flour. Surprisingly, almond flour did the job pretty well; I used it as a 1:1 replacement for the bread crumbs, and added about half a tablespoon of Italian seasoning and a pinch of garlic.

Stuffed shells were on the menu again too, and this time I got smart about it. I made up an extra big batch using 30 shells—though I actually had a little more filling than I needed, and it was still looser than I wanted even after I tried to correct my original recipe. Oops. Instead of cooking the whole batch, I only cooked 10 of them for right away, and for the rest I bagged them up and used the FoodSaver so I could freeze them. A lot of filling oozed out of the shells that I froze, but honestly they were overstuffed anyway. Now I have a couple of awesome meals that will be easy to make when the weather gets colder and I don’t feel like putting in a ton of effort. Yay preparation!

The last time I made cheese I took a similar approach. I wanted a mozzarella and prosciutto roll for one of the football games that was coming up early on this season, and you can’t find those in Wegmans at all anymore. Sure I can find other brands if I look in Walmart or BJ’s, but they’re smaller and don’t look as good, and I like mine better than the ones I used to buy in the store anyway. So this time I got smart and portioned my mozzarella batch into three parts, made a roll out of each of them, and put two in the freezer in FoodSaver bags.

Sometime this summer I got back into writing again, here and there. Below is in the can, and next in the pipeline is Merchantman Halflight: Get a Crew, the first book of my long-overdue comic sci-fi series. I’m excited to get both of those out, but it’s been a frustrating run in a lot of ways and I’m still stuck for covers. Covers are the absolute worst, and that’s made worse by the fact that I now have to consider the problem of series covers. Those are a whole different animal, because you have to coordinate across multiple books.

What especially prompted me to write a catch-up post tonight was that I’ve finally finished the first draft of the second book in the series. This is a pretty good place for most series writers to be, except I only write when I find time and as I can get my brain to engage. Adapting the second book from my original webcomic script material was hugely difficult, as so many jokes simply didn’t work, and the comic at a few points suffered from pacing issues. The basic plot arcs are all there, but a number of things had to be shifted around a little at the detail level to keep things fresh and interesting. But at a glance, and having gone over the early parts of book 2 quite a few times, I like how it’s looking: revenge plots, character growth, selfish schemes, more aliens, a few more of Chekhov’s guns lying about, and more running gags about the former cook.

It’s a real sense of accomplishment when a first draft gets finished. Hopefully it won’t be too long before I can get a cover for Below and get it published, and by then I hope to also have started on book 3. This series route is kind of interesting, but what I like best about it is revisiting old friends and learning new things about them as the adaptation progresses. Going into fall, it’s nice having old friends around.

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Wanted: Summer

It’s supposed to be June.

The weather this month has been maddening. If we get any sunshine, it’s because it either just rained or it’s going to rain in a few hours. We’ve even had extra showers the useless weather goons never even predicted. Even for Syracuse this variability is a bit much. Ulgh. Send some of our rain California’s way; they need it.

Between that, and crazy hectic weekends, I haven’t had a chance yet to try my next mad science idea. What I want to do is butterfly open some big boneless chicken breasts, put in a couple folded slices of American cheese, and close them back up with meat glue. (Why American cheese? It’s fairly mild and melts nicely. I suppose Swiss is more of a classic choice, but I’ve never cared for Swiss.) Then, I want to also use meat glue to wrap, oh, maybe three strips of bacon around the whole thing. After wrapping tightly and leaving them in the fridge for a day, they should become one solid piece of meat with cheese inside, ready to throw on the grill. If I ever get a chance to do this, I’ll post how it turned out.

In other miscellany, one reason blogging has been sparse is that my job has been in transition—and so has my wife’s. My new job is the same as my old job, except I’m the boss now. Unfortunately my new boss is a jerk who won’t let me take road trips to nowhere in particular for absolutely no reason during our brief interludes of sunshine, or just blow off the day to read a book, so I have to ply him with promises of popcorn chicken to get him out of the house.

Oh, and recently there was the little incident with my car. A woman across the street (pretty sure she doesn’t live there) decided to back out seconds after I did, and ended up backing into my front end as I was not able to accelerate away in time. Long story short, my insurance company totaled the car but the payout was more than the repair cost, and the damage didn’t impact the car’s internals except for a headlight mount. No damage to the other vehicle, an SUV. I’m trying to get collision and comprehensive reinstated, because even though the car is 15 years old it’s in great shape. (Seriously, make your next car a Civic.)

I’m trying to get back into writing. Below has been stuck in limbo for a while for lack of beta readers. My sister started the book but found the dialogue was throwing her off, so I need to figure out what I can do to clarify who’s saying what. (This has never been a big issue for me before, so I’m also wondering if the fact that she just came off reading through the entire Harry Potter series had any bearing on her perception. Still, can’t hurt to check.) I’ve also been looking again at Gray Area, which I think is in better shape than I originally thought, but there are some rough edges I’m still working to sand down.

To the KBoards folks, sorry, I haven’t been on in quite a while now, so for now the blurb doctor is still out. Other priorities have pulled my attention. I’m hoping that eventually I’ll get back to something like normal here. Hopefully the weather gets back to normal first.

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Fried rice au gratin bites

Posting has been a little off lately because of a bit of a change in my day job—it’s a good thing, though—but this past weekend I finally managed to try something I’ve been dying to do for ages: Fried rice au gratin bites. This is a variation on the classic rice au gratin recipe I learned from my mother.

Of course because I was lazy, I only baked them the first time around, and that was stupid. They really, really needed to be fried. So I pan-fried the leftovers tonight, and got a much better result.

Rice au gratin bites

  • 3 cups cooked rice (from 1 cup rice, 2 cups water)
  • 10 oz. Velveeta
  • McCormick curry powder
  • Flour
  • Eggs
  • Bread crumbs (unseasoned)
  • Clarified butter (ghee) or oil

Cook rice, then mix with chunks of Velveeta. Microwave to melt cheese, then stir, repeating until well combined. Place plastic wrap on a cookie sheet and spread rice mixture on top. Spread out as much as possible, then cover with a second piece of plastic wrap and smooth by hand or with a roller. Transfer to freezer for about ½ hour.

Remove from freezer and cut rice mix into squares, about 1½ inches to a side. Prepare breading station: One bowl of flour, one bowl with beaten eggs mixed with ½ tsp. curry powder per egg, and one bowl with bread crumbs mixed with a little salt. Dip each square in flour, egg mix, then crumbs, and set aside. When finished, refrigerate (or freeze, if deep frying) for at least ½ hour. Pan fry with clarified butter, or deep fry.

As I mentioned I baked these first, and it really didn’t do them justice; they didn’t crisp properly and the bread crumbs didn’t get properly toasted. Pan frying fixed all that. I tried to do some of them in panko, and found that while panko made up for some of the sins of baking, it actually was inferior in the fried version. Your mileage may vary, but for my two cents just stick with regular bread crumbs.

Pan frying in ghee meant that the bites took on a buttery flavor, which actually made it taste very close to the original recipe. Other oils like peanut might be fine, and probably better for deep frying. Just don’t wuss out and try to fry these with an oil that’s supposedly healthy but isn’t, like vegetable oil or canola. (The oils the health “experts” have been pushing for ages have lower smoke points and are more likely to develop trans fats when cooking.) Lard probably would have been nice for this, although since I love to pair rice au gratin with steak, I think tallow would be even better. I’d love to start cooking more things with tallow.

As it happens I only cooked up half the recipe, and still have a bunch of pre-cut squares in my freezer. That’s a good thing, since I can snap them apart and try this whole process again sometime, but try deep frying. I haven’t done a lot of breading and frying, so I want to get more comfortable with the technique. Even though frying isn’t an everyday thing for me and I don’t see it becoming so, it’d be nice to be able to whip up some of my favorite snacks and freeze them for whenever impulse strikes.

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More fun with sodium citrate

I’ve continued experimenting with sodium citrate, because I want to master this ingredient so I can do all kinds of wonderful things with cheese. It’s so awesome I don’t even mind having to measure everything in grams. After experiencing success with a mac-n-cheese sauce, I decided the next thing to attempt would be loaded fries. I also thought it would be good to see if the recipe calling for less liquid—although intended for cheese slices—would work.

Using a small batch of shredded sharp cheddar (133 g, a number I chose to make the math easier), I used 5 g of sodium citrate and 30% of that weight (40 g) in water. Right away I noticed a problem: 40 g isn’t a lot of water, and wasn’t a good base for mixing a sauce. If that ratio is followed, the whole thing needs to be scaled up.

As it happened I decided to add more liquid, eyeballing it, and just kept whisking instead of ever getting out the immersion blender. This worked better than I was led to believe, which tells me sodium citrate is forgiving as long as it’s kept proportional to the cheese. In the end I probably ended up much closer to the cheese sauce recipe I’d used before, except this was with water instead of milk. The final cheese sauce came out nicely in spite of my needing to adjust it so much.

So much of this was by eyeball, it’s hard to give an exact recipe, but I’ll do my best.

Loaded French fries

  • Crinkle-cut French fries, enough to fill about a 3-cup bowl
  • 133 g shredded sharp cheddar
  • 120-125 g water
  • 5 g sodium citrate
  • Bacon bits

Prepare French fries according to package directions. While fries cook, add sodium citrate to water (whisk well) and bring quickly to a simmer. Whisk in cheese in small handfuls at a time to allow it to melt. Continue whisking until all the cheese is incorporated and sauce is smooth. Salt cooked fries to taste, and put them in a bowl or on a plate. Smother with cheese sauce. Top with bacon bits.

Yes the fries have to be crinkle-cut. If you buy straight-cut fries you’re a monster. Waffle fries are okay though.

Cheddar was ideal for this recipe, but anything goes. Use whatever kind of cheese you like best that you think would work well on fries. I found this cheese sauce to be far superior to anything I’ve ever managed to accomplish by nuking Velveeta, mostly because of its texture. (When you nuke Velveeta, parts tend to burn and other parts don’t melt.)

The liquid portion of the basic cheese sauce recipe apparently isn’t only forgiving of variations in quantity, but composition as well. You can use any liquid you like: water, beer, wine, milk, cider.

Lesson learned: For any given weight of cheese, use about 93% of that for liquid and a hair under 4% for sodium citrate, and you can’t go far wrong for a killer cheese sauce. Or maybe you can, but it seems hard to screw up, which is one thing I love in a good recipe.

With that out of the way, I decided to try something more ambitious: melty cheese slices. The recipe for that called for 380 g of cheese, 115 g of liquid, and 14 g of sodium citrate. I tried this with extra sharp cheddar and cider, even though I was concerned that the acidity of cider might throw this off somehow.

I discovered two things right away: 380 g is a crapload of cheese, and this ratio of liquid to cheese did in fact work when using a higher volume—although it still took new additions of cheese a while to smooth out. I hit it repeatedly with an immersion blender, but a whisk did most of the heavy lifting.

When the mixture was all ready, I spread it out onto a cookie sheet I’d covered with plastic wrap. After getting that as thin as I could with a spatula—it was so viscous it didn’t want to spread much on its own—I covered it with more plastic wrap, and then I decided to try smooshing it out a bit. This worked well, but I’d use a roller the next time around.

After chilling the tray in the fridge for a couple of hours, I took it out and sliced the cheese (plastic and all) into 12 pieces. At this point, I discovered that the cheese slices were thicker than I wanted: about 1/8″, instead of a nicer 1/16″.

In spite of its thickness and strong flavor, I found that on a freshly grilled burger (with bacon of course), the cheese was surprisingly not overpowering. It melted very nicely on the grill, but I might have gotten slightly better results with a little more cider. The apple flavor was subtle but noticeable. (Next to try: grilled cheese!)

The next time I try making melty cheese slices—oh yes, there will be a next time, because this was fairly easy—I’m going to go off-book. What I’ve learned so far is that the liquid amount doesn’t seem to matter very much, and largely depends on the final consistency you want. So I think I’d scale this back on the cheese and sodium citrate proportionally, but leave the liquid alone or even add more. At 227 g for an 8 oz. block of cheese, the proper amount of sodium citrate is a little over 8 g. If I left the liquid at 115 g, that’s roughly 67% more liquid in the mix. (The percentage out of the total isn’t all that drastic a shift, of course.) My goal would be to get cheese slices that are bendier, and make them very thin. Actually, even 8 oz. may be too much cheese for that end.

Now for something that sounds a little weird: My wife has long had a habit of eating peanut butter and American cheese together (she rolls up the cheese after spreading), which I used to think was weird. Eventually she talked me into trying it, and I have to say it’s awesome. Given how well peanut butter pairs with apples, I thought I could manage the holy trifecta by spreading peanut butter on this apple cheddar. Turns out the extra sharp is just too powerful to go with the peanut butter, suggesting the ideal choice to achieve a peanut butter-friendly slice would be a mild white cheddar instead.

Now for random ideas. I recently discovered garlic basil cheese being sold at Walmart, by a company called Sincerely, Brigitte. It’s a prairie Jack (I didn’t know that was a thing) mixed with, of course, garlic and basil, and it’s beyond fantastic. Something like this seems like it’s doable using the melty cheese method: 30% liquid, forming the thick “sauce”, then folding in herbs. But that also got me thinking: You can probably do this with fruit, like strawberries or blueberries. Crazy people might enjoy mixing in nuts. The best of us would give serious thought to folding in bacon bits.

Update: Having tried this in grilled cheese (with bacon of course), I have to say the extra sharp is too strong for grilled cheese alone. It needs bacon or a burger to stand up to it. I remain, however, suitably impressed with its melting properties. I added it to a microwave bacon cheeseburger because they always skimp on the cheese, and it was just as gooey as I wanted it to be. The texture of the cheese slices is also just like what you get with American slices: shiny and smooth, not hard and dry like the cheese was when it started life as a brick. So the technique is sound, but next time I’m definitely using less cheese (and proportionally less sodium citrate), and upping the liquid ratio slightly. The apple flavor is present but it’s very subtle, and I wouldn’t mind it being a little less subtle with the cheese part being a little more so.

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Sodium citrate cheese sauce experiment #1: Rotini and cheese

Recently I’ve wanted to try using sodium citrate, because apparently it’s awesome when it comes to making cheese sauces, and also making any cheese into slices that melt like American but retain their original flavor. This common “sour salt” acts as a powerful emulsifier, preventing the separation between oils and solids when most stubborn cheeses melt.

First, the experiment I did not try yet. You take some water or other liquid (some people use beer; I want to try cider but I wonder about the acidity), add sodium citrate, then simmer. Once it’s simmering you add your cheese a little bit at a time, and hit it with an immersion blender frequently. For any given weight of cheese, you’ll want the water to be 30% of that by weight, and the sodium citrate about 3.7%. Don’t take my word for it; I haven’t tried this, but apparently people do use it. Some people also add carrageenan if they want to form the cheese up like Velveeta. Once it’s made you can pour it into a mold or a mini loaf pan, or onto a cookie sheet with a nonstick mat, and let it chill before slicing.

But while I was investigating this I found a different recipe, for the ultimate mac & cheese. I decided to give that ago, albeit without the apples and bacon (even though they both sound awesome). That recipe calls for 240 grams of uncooked pasta, which should of course then be cooked, 285 grams of cheese, 265 of milk, and 11 of sodium citrate. The steps are all about the same: Get the liquid in the pot with the sodium citrate, whisk it up, simmer, then start adding cheese and hit it with the immersion blender.

(No, you don’t have to use grams, but you do have to go by weight. Grams are easiest because of the very small weight of the sodium citrate.)

Three things I discovered: You want a really small-diameter pot for the sauce, but tall enough to fit. The reason is because if you try using the immersion blender when the liquid level is too low, it makes a mess. Second, whole milk was probably overkill; I might try diluting with bottled water next time. Third, chickening out and using a little less pasta than the recipe calls for probably isn’t worth it. (The reason I did that, though: rotini seems to grab more sauce than elbows. I wanted to err on the side of cheesiness.) Just cook the full 240 grams.

For my cheeses I grated up an 8 oz. block of mild yellow cheddar, which only got to 227 grams, and then I added a bit of New York extra sharp white. The reason for using a mild cheddar for most of it was that unlike roux-based methods of making cheese sauces, the cheese’s flavor isn’t muted by butter and flour.

I’m pleased to say this sauce met all my expectations. The mild cheddar base was a good call, yet I got to enjoy just a little sharpness along with it. Supposedly this sauce remains creamy when reheated, although given my experiences with Velveeta-based sauces I suspect dribbling in a little water before nuking isn’t a bad idea.

Sooner or later you know darn well I’m making apple sharp cheddar slices.

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Quick copycat pizza skins

This weekend my wife had a work event that kept her busy during the daytime hours, so I was left to my own devices. I realized it had been a while since I’d sat down and watched some MST3K, so I decided to do that. In particular it had been a while since I’d seen Space Mutiny, one of the funniest episodes ever. Naturally it required the appropriate snacks.

First, I bought Phish Food. This is my favorite flavor of Ben & Jerry’s, but I don’t eat nearly as much ice cream as I used to. I hardly ever buy it anymore, but I used to enjoy it quite a bit while watching some of the old classics.

Second, cheese sticks. My favorite brand is Giorgio, but for several years now they’ve been completely absent from every grocery store I can find. Completely. Wegmans stopped carrying them. Walmart doesn’t have them. Is it a conspiracy against the best mass-market cheese sticks on the planet? No other brand I’ve found has come close, but I did find that Alexia makes something pretty decent. Their cheese sticks are really garlicky, but hey, I like garlic.

Then, I needed pizza skins. This is a classic appetizer at Pizzeria Uno, a restaurant I no longer eat at because they’ve been mismanaged to death; it’s torture going there these days, especially the one in Destiny USA where I first fell in love with the things. But here’s what they are, if you don’t already know: Pizza crust in a deep dish, topped with mashed potatoes, cheddar, and bacon. I set out to make this for myself, and the result was super easy.

Copycat pizza skins

  • ½ Pillsbury thin crust pizza dough, unrolled
  • 1 package Betty Crocker instant mashed potatoes (will use about 1-1½ cups)
  • Shredded sharp cheddar, about 8 oz.
  • Bacon bits
  • Butter or margarine
  • Milk
  • Olive oil

Preheat oven to 450°. Grease the bottom, but not sides, of a cake pan or deep dish pizza pan (6″ to 9″) with a small amount of oil. Open dough and cut in half, then unroll. Place dough in pan and press against edges; trim excess, if any. Bake for about 8-10 minutes. While crust bakes, prepare potatoes using butter/margarine and milk. Remove baked crust from oven, and cover the center with mashed potatoes; you will only use about half of the potatoes if using a package, so save some for leftovers or you can make two batches using the other half of the dough. Cover liberally with cheese in a thick layer. Cover liberally with bacon bits. Continue baking (the temperature can be turned down if you want to make something else, like cheese sticks) for about 5-10 minutes until cheese is fully melted and you can’t stand the waiting anymore.

I specify Betty Crocker potatoes because they’re the best instant I know of, and also they come in pouches for easy measuring. I used the garlic cheddar kind; I also like their butter variety.

The bacon I used was Oscar Mayer, which came prepackaged as bits. If you use prepackaged bacon like I did, this recipe comes together in no time. You can also grate your own cheese, but unless you want something that doesn’t already come in a shredded package (like extra sharp cheddar, pepper jack, or whatever else you fancy), don’t bother.

Of course this recipe is open to lots of variation, so any kind of potatoes will do—including your favorite home recipe, which would probably be way better. If you have leftovers from another meal, they’ll work great here. Use the kind you like best. Want to add chives? I think that’s sick and twisted, but go for it. Mushrooms? Why not? Uno, by the way, serves their pizza skins with sour cream.

When I made this myself I was obliged to use a 9″ cake pan. I didn’t have any other pans handy, and Wegmans had a set of two for just a few bucks. I think 9″ is actually kind of big for this recipe—though it still came out awesome—so I would recommend using a pan with a smaller diameter if you have one, but don’t sweat it. If you try anything past 9″ though, you’re gonna have a hard time getting the crust to hold up under the weight of those potatoes.

Bottom line: If you have all the packaged ingredients on hand, you can throw this together in just over half an hour. If you have the potatoes already made—whether leftover or maybe there’s just a ready-to-heat store brand you like—you can attend to other things while it cooks. It’s a great game day snack, especially if you pair it with something like chicken Parm meatballs—which you can cook while the cheese is melting.

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Calzone balls experiment, Mark I

After my mom posted a recipe on Facebook for pizza balls, I thought I’d have a go at modifying it to make calzone balls. I love a good calzone, and I’m really picky about them. For me, by which I mean this should be law, a simple cheese calzone is a mixture of mozzarella and ricotta, maybe a little Parmesan, no sauce, in a thin crust that is not seasoned or rubbed with flavors that would distract from the cheese. It is a perfect cheese experience. Before they basically spun out their business, I used to rely on Gino & Joe’s to make a good calzone, but they eventually changed their recipe and were therefore dead to me. Just about the only place left near me that makes a good calzone is a pizza place called Paladino’s, which is actually where I first learned to love them.

Look, it’s not that I have a problem with people who want to put sauce in with the cheese or use a thicker crust or rub the outside with garlic and butter and Parmesan. I don’t have a problem with people wanting to use only mozzarella or only ricotta. Knock yourself out. Just don’t call it a calzone.

So on to the recipe. For reference, and because I think a lot of people will enjoy it, this is the original pizza balls recipe. I tracked it down and found out it’s from the Gunny Sack, and is called “easy pepperoni rolls“.

The core of this recipe is merely getting biscuit dough and stuffing it with something, so I got a can of Grands buttermilk biscuits, and mixed up ricotta and shredded mozzarella for the stuffing. I would have added a smidge of Parmesan but I didn’t have any. This is the recipe as I made it, not as I would make it next time. Post-mortem follows below.

Calzone balls, Mark I

  • 1 can Pillsbury Grands buttermilk biscuits
  • ½ cup whole milk ricotta
  • ½ cup shredded whole milk mozzarella

Mix cheeses in a bowl to form stuffing. Cut each biscuit (the can contains 8) in half. Roll half-biscuits into balls and press flat. Curse because you do not have a small rolling pin or a big enough work surface to get the dough flat. Use fingers to spread dough flatter. Place a spoonful of cheese into each flattened round, and gather sides to cover. Fail spectacularly with two of them because biscuit dough was not flattened enough and does not stay stretched. Place on ungreased cookie sheet and cook in a preheated 425° oven for just under 15 minutes.

Now as promised, the post-mortem. First, the dough tastes too much like a biscuit, not enough like pizza dough. I guess that should have been obvious going in. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t quite a calzone experience. The dough also didn’t get crispy. Many of the balls leaked a little, but the leakage issue wasn’t too terrible.

Somewhat worse, my cheese mixture was all wrong. When mixing shredded cheddar with ricotta, I highly recommend using a 2:1 ratio (by volume) instead. There wasn’t remotely enough mozzarella. The soft filling also gave me a lot of trouble. I did expect some trouble, but with the dough constantly contracting every time I tried to close it up, I decided that next time, I’m portioning the filling ahead of time into little balls and freezing them before trying to wrap dough around them. How I’ll actually accomplish that in my freezer, I don’t know.

The one thing that saved this experiment was that I made a quick garlic butter dipping sauce to eat them with. That was a little over half a stick of salted butter, and I’d say a little under a teaspoon of dried minced garlic, melted in a ramekin in the microwave. Having something to dip made the biscuit work a lot better, which I suspect is the point of the original pepperoni balls recipe.

So if I used a thinner, actual pizza dough next time, it occurs to me I could stuff the balls with almost anything. Tonia of the Gunny Sack thought the same thing, which is why she has several recipes you can check out. For me, I think mac & cheese would make a phenomenal stuffing, but she got to that idea first.

If you’ve read a lot of my posts on cooking you’ve probably wondered by now: Why do you always modify recipes and experiment instead of making them as-is the first time? There are two answers. First, I’m a picky eater and some of the elements in many of these recipes would not work for me. I don’t think I’d object to anything in the pepperoni balls except for the pizza dipping sauce, but it still isn’t what I wanted to make. Second, every time I experiment I learn a little more, and I think it makes me a better cook. The truth is I don’t cook very often except for very simple food, because it’s hard to find time during the week. So I keep experimenting, and with luck and work more of my late-night bad ideas can end up as very good ideas indeed. Now if only I had some meat glue…

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