UPDATE! The Boston Globereports that Chef Evan Deluty, who runs Stella in the South End, is “passing papers” on the Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe this week and plans to re-open the restaurant in 2015.
Charlie’s Sandwich Shoppe (love that it used the old time spelling of Shoppe) closed today. I can’t add anything to the story, except that I was a regular there for years. I pretty much ate my way through the breakfast menu, and must admit that it was the place I took anyone to when I was trying to impress them. It was that perfect, divvy, kind-of-hidden, I hope this-is-as-good-as-it-looks-and-smells kind of place. The closing is so sad and it is a great loss for the city, but especially for low-arts fans and students like myself. Because now I am certain that I will never learn how to make their incredible Turkey Hash. Though if you know me, you know I will never stop trying. Check out the full story at WBUR. Photo below from Jesse Costa/WBUR.
One of the things I am always focused on as a parent is getting my kids to eat healthy. But this is a RELATIVE term because “healthy” in the end is measured by degrees, and is by no means an absolute. For instance, you are not often given the choice of “salad with quinoa or chicken nuggets with fries.” In most cases you have to make a decision which I would call “the best of the worst.” Which has the most overall net positive effect? Which is actually worse for my kids? This overall quest has led me to try to make things at home that my kids like or have liked in their store-bought versions. While a home-made Reese’s Peanut Butter cup may be no healthier than the crisply-orange wrapped retail alternative, I certainly feel better about it because to a higher degree I know what it’s in it. Of course, I can’t be sure what’s in ANYTHING today, but as I said, it’s all about degrees.
In this category, I have experimented with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Cheez-Its, and those horrible packages of crackers that come in vending machines with peanut butter or cheese in them. This week I had an assignment to bake for a gathering, and I was kind of stuck for ideas. Then, I saw the King Arthur Recipe for “Hand Pies,” or what most of us would call Pop-Tarts. This was an excitingly easy recipe with lots of great reviews (“easy!”, “delicious!”) so I realized I had to make them immediately.
But there problems. For starters, the deceptively simple filling recipe called for Instant ClearJel, which I understand is one of the greatest baking products known to man, but it might as well have been a time-machine, since I didn’t have any and wasn’t going to order it and wait to make my own pop tarts. This was not for lack of trying though, it is not sold through grocery stores. I know because I called everybody. Ultimately, this would require a dreaded substitution.
Secondly, their recipe didn’t specify a frosting, only an egg wash with shimmering sugar. Now I don’t know about you, but I never liked the unfrosted pop-tarts. Sure, they’re better for you (by degrees) but not as yummy. That crackly, be-sprinkled top was the best part!
So, I had some research to do. I had to figure out a filling AND an icing. And that was even before I realized that cutting out 16 3.5 squares requires a mathematical skill I didn’t possess and a steady hand which I could not provide. So much for consistency of product! I knew I better make it taste good, because it was likely going to look amateurish.
So I started out with the King Arthur Flour recipe for the dough.
As with most pie-type doughs, you combine dry ingredients first; then add the butter until thoroughly mixed but big pieces of butter remain. Then add the sour cream and knead until cohesive. The directions said this would take some doing but it came together right away for me. Fold a few times (this is detailed in the KA instructions) and chill overnight.
For the filling I read a lot about substituting corn starch for ClearJel but I’m not a big corn starch fan, so after some research I decided on Minute Tapioca. I have had a LOT of success making quick-pies with it in the past, so I figured I would do the trick. I modified it according to a Cook’s Illustrated recommendation to make sure blueberry pie filling doesn’t get too sweet: add apple and more lemon.
I put my 4 cups of fresh blueberries into a bowl, and added the other ingredients, then waited 15 minutes as instructed. Then I realized: whoops, you’re supposed to cook it in the pie! That wasn’t going to work, not only because the pie dough wasn’t going to be ready any time soon but its cooking time (20 minutes) meant it might not be sugary and bubbly when complete. So, I dumped it in a saucepan and simmered it for 45 minutes. Bravo! It was perfect. I cooled it down and stored it overnight in the fridge. IT WAS DELICIOUS. Not too sweet, and not too clumpy.
The Filling (adapted from the Kraft recipe for Blueberry Pie filling)
4 cups fresh blueberries
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup Tapioca
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 shredded apple, something sour, like a granny smith or honey crisp.
Assemble ingredients in a stainless steel bowl and after thoroughly mixing, let sit for 15 minutes. Heat on low for 45 minutes. Cool down before storing overnight.
Unlike pizza dough or bread dough, this dough, filled with artery-blocking sour cream, rolls out fairly easily and stays where you put it. That’s good because otherwise trying to shape it into a 14 x 14 rectangle (as directed by KA) would be impossible. As it was, I needed a ruler, which made me feel silly, because all I had was my daughter’s wooden school ruler. Dusting the counter with flour was a requirement and I did have to re-roll the whole thing a few times to correct for shape, thickness and other problems. Once I cut out 8 3.5 squares (mas o menos) I was ready to add the filling. I had read of lot from make your own Pop-Tart pioneers about how once they made their creations they were sad with the final product because there wasn’t enough filling. I made sure that didn’t happen. I filled them to the edge, which was practically their breaking point, especially given the thin and erratically shaped dough squares I was working with.
Topping (not the glaze)
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon of water
white sparkling sugar, for garnish
I did apply the egg wash and shimmering sugar because at that point I was in doubt about finding a good glaze. Ultimately, I glazed over it and it was fine.
I put them in the over at 425 degrees for 20 minutes. They came out beautifully golden, but a few of them ‘bled’ due to improper sealing and forking. I cooled them on the baking rack while I made the glaze. The recipe I found, from food.com, was substantially similar to all the other recipes I found about a hardening glaze. Many of them called for almond extract, which I never use (due to a tragic marzipan incident in my youth) and some called for lemon, which I also avoided. Ultimately, it has to have a taste so I added a small amount of salt and vanilla. It also has to be ‘drippable’ (read: maybe add more milk) to make it work. The corn syrup may seize up in your mixer, so be prepared to work fast.
2 tablespoon milk (skim or 1% is fine although I have made this successfully using 2% fat milk)
1 tablespoon corn syrup (more if needed to reach desired consistency)
1-2 teaspoons vanilla
1/8 tsp salt
When I was finished, all I could think of was the “Nailed It” Pinterest meme, where home bakers attempt to make things made by professionals and the results are heartbreakingly hilarious. Alls well that ends well, though, as these “hand pies” were the hit of the evening— folks were kvelling over them, and ultimately the remains were taken home by the lucky and the salivating, so maybe a not a direct hit on the target, but off by only a few degrees.
Update: Strawberry Rhubarb Filling Recipe
2 Cups Strawberries (you can use Winter Strawberries, but they’ll be taste-challenged)
2 Cups Rhubarb, diced small (this is about two or three stalks)
1/4 cup Tapioca
1 cup Sugar
pinch of salt
zest of an orange (I used a clementine)
Optional: 2 tablespoons citrus (I used the clementine, but you could use lemon or orange).
Mix everything (except the citrus) in a bowl and let sit for a minimum of 15 minutes. Then, transfer to a small pot and slowly bring to a boil, taste and correct with citrus if necessary, and simmer for about 40 minutes at low heat. Cool before storing. Best and easiest to work with when completely cool. I use a small ice cream scooper to place the filling.
2nd Update: Size Matters Of course everybody loves a hot glazed home made pastry! That is why it is so important to limit their size. So, I found you can do a little better if you size them 3.5 tall and only 3″ wide. (Of course you can make them any size you want). So far, these seem like the right size though with every reduction you have to be mindful that’s less filling you can add.
As I reflect on the holiday known as Father’s Day, I am thinking about my relationship to food and my children. I desperately want to teach them things I know about food, and some things I think about food, which aren’t facts, but to me are just as important. There are two big goals for me: in teaching them to cook and prepare food, make sure I teach them to appreciate flavor, and to love food and foods for what they are. In doing this, I have thought a lot about how men relate to their children through food. In some cases, the kitchen and/or preparation of food is central to their relationship, as it is in the movie “Chef,” which I highly recommend to sentimental father-loving foodies. And in some cases, the father has almost no relationship to the food in the house other than paying for it, or carrying it in, like when he’s called upon to pick up the pizza or Chinese Food. Food does not have to play a pivotal role in child-rearing, but it has always been important to me.
My father was an original foodie, and was very interested in new foods, foods from other countries and generally any and all spices, tastes and flavors from outside the united states. From him I learned to love spicy things, like horseradish, and Lingham’s Chili Sauce and I suppose, eventually refuse all that is tasteless and flavorless, like the French’s “Classic” Mustard. I can’t remember ever liking French’s, and for most of my adult life I have waged war on it, whenever anyone gave me the canvas, or opportunity to weigh in on it. Except for it the fact it was completely tasteless, I could only bring one argument to mind, and that was this exchange (below) between Linus and Lucy, from Peanuts:
Linus: How do you like the chocolate I made for you? Lucy: It’s terrible! It’s too weak! It tastes like some warm water that has had a brown crayon dipped in it! Linus: (tastes it.) You’re right. I’ll go put in another crayon.
That’s all I can ever think of when I taste French’s. It tastes like a melted yellow crayon. It is a slimy, flavorless condiment that I suppose is used as a “starter condiment” for children who cannot tolerate flavor. For whatever reason, it continues to be the choice (the #1 mustard and #7 most popular condiment in the United States) for hot dogs and sausages around the country, and I suppose on Father’s Day, and all the rest of the summer BBQs it will be on hand to ruin some father’s fine and hard work at the grill turning out hot dogs, sausages, burgers, and the like.
As for the other element—appreciating foods for what they are—that for me has really been the understanding that most of the best foods in the world don’t need too much ‘fixing.’ Certainly I have learned this from my Mom, and from my Wife and her family, but it is an important lesson for kids, and one that I think is completely obscured by people like Jessica Seinfeld (“Deceptively Delicious”) who advocate “hiding” or “sneaking” veggies into other foods like brownies for kids to eat. Why should I sneak “cauliflower” into brownies? My kids love cauliflower. Sure that took a couple of years to figure out how, but the alternative— where they eat lots of brownies later in life and wonder why they aren’t thin or healthy—seems absolutely tragic. When is Jessica going to tell her kids about the ol’ Switcheroo? How is that teaching kids to love food? Or love honesty?
For me, I am going to keep being honest— which means adding all the bad stuff—salt, sugar and fat— to foods I make as long as those things are relatively organic (like butter or olive oil). I am going to make sure my kids know the difference between stuff that’s bad for them, like Sour Patch Kids, and stuff that’s not especially bad, but I don’t like (like French’s Mustard or Boston’s Bagels). As they start to work with me in the kitchen, I will happily teach them that you can easily and healthily make a grilled cheese sandwich without butter, but it just won’t taste as good. And as I typed this, my daughter was making a grilled cheese sandwich with lots of butter. She pronounced it perfection. So, to know that I’ve given her at least that one skill is probably the best Father’s Day gift I can get.
My daughter got an assignment to bring a lunch to a trip to Ye Olde Schoolhouse. One of the conditions of the lunch was that it be carried in authentic containers from the 19th century, like a burlap sack or such. The other more pertinent condition was that all lunches had to be made from foods that were available back then. No juice boxes (which is OK since I never give my kids juice; it is liquid candy), no zip lock bags, no single-serving packs of snacks. Fine, I said. I’m going to bake a loaf of bread for a sandwich, make ginger bread cookies, and add a piece of fruit. But what about the crunch? I felt like I needed to have something to go crunch. Of all the problems of leading a carb-free or low carb life, having crunchy things is at the top of the list.
So I thought, “Sweet Potato Chips!” Clearly something they had back in the old days. I read a lot of food sites about the historical eating habits of 19th century Americans and I must tell you that it was all very upsetting. Stuff about mutton heads was enough for me to get back to what I had in my kitchen.
I finally found a recipe I liked— at the Minimalist Baker. Really, all the recipes said the same thing, but that was the best version of it that I found. There were a lot of recipes out there that advocated adding paprika, parsley, garlic, etc, but I think the sweet potato oil and salt, when crispy, is so good it doesn’t need anything else.
1 Sweet Potato
2 Tbs Olive Oil
As directed, I sliced the sweet potato as thin as I could, which is not to say papery-thin so it couldn’t be held up as a slice, but more like a thin radish slice (only bigger and a lot more orange). Make sure all slices are covered in oil and salted.
Lay on a baking sheet (I used foil) and bake for 2.5 hours at 250 degrees. Let sit for about 30 minutes. The longer it sits after baking the crispier they get. So don’t worry if they’re not all crispy when you take them out of the oven.
For starters, let me say that you are not going to read anything here that’s surprising or new. That the title of this post claims this is perfect is part marketing, part hyperbole and all the results of user-testing in my household; from visiting guests to permanent residents. Over and over again it meets with 100% satisfaction as evidenced by the clean plates of all those who it is served to, including the crust.
Now I have been to a lot of restaurants claiming to serve “upscale comfort foods” and their version of a grilled cheese uses artisanal and often seeded bread, expensive cheese and other non-necessary ingredients like truffle oil. Please don’t get me wrong. I will eat these. I love all of these. But over and over again, my kids and the kids that I have had to cook for, don’t like this. They basically like the ‘cheap diner’ version of a grilled cheese. And that has three ingredients:
Like coffee, something made with so few ingredients must be made with the best version of those ingredients. You may have in your house better versions then what I use, but I suggest you use what you regularly buy and have in the house. Otherwise, you’re not really satisfying the tenets of “Low Arts.” Going out buying stuff for special is really more chef than short-order cook. (The really ambitious and health-concious could make the bread using the great recipe of “Almost No Knead Bread” and make your own cheese and butter. But I’m not set up for that).
I used Wholesome Valley Organic American Cheese, Whole Foods Enriched White Bread and Kate’s Salted Butter (natch).
This isn’t even really a recipe, which I regard as a solved puzzle detailing ingredients and how to use them. This is simply a set of directions about how to make the standard grilled-cheese more yummy. Of course the secret is butter and making sure it gets cooked properly, so the end result is a soft and crunch, melty-on-the-inside sandwich. This is by no means health food. I am not recommending it for anyone. I’m just saying if you’re going to make something, you might as well as make it delicious. And doing that, with the exception of pulling fresh produce from a tree or vine, means adding fat, salt or sugar. With that disclaimer out of the way, I willl go on:
Assemble the sandwich separately: take two slices of bread and lay them next to each other. Cover one slice of bread with American cheese. I find in most cases this requires at least two slices of cheese. I generally don’t overlap them. Rip and puzzle-piece them together. Place the other slice of bread on top.
Place the pan on a medium heat.
Turn your toaster oven on its highest toast setting and push ‘start’, ‘toast’ or whatever button begins the heating process. I know, nothing’s in it. You’re doing this so you can put the grilled cheese into a warm oven and wait less time for the cheese to melt.
Add butter to the pan, melt, but don’t let it burn.
Place the whole sandwich in the circle of melted butter. Press down with your hand or spatula. I like to move it around the pan to get it well-coated.
Carefully lift up the sandwich, add more butter and melt. Place the sandwich back in the pan, and press down.
When both sides of the sandwich are well-browned, remove the sandwich from the pan and put it in the toaster oven, on the grates, unless you fear a cheese-melt fire.
If the toaster cycle has ended, start it again; I find it takes about two minutes for complete top-browning and side-cheese melting to occur.
Remove from toaster and set on wooden cutting board on cookie cooling rack; putting it on a plate will invite condensation. Wait five minutes.
Cut and serve.
So I have experimented and rejected a lot of different ways to do this differently. A lot of people suggest buttering the bread first; I have found that this is extra work that does not significantly improve the outcome. There are also people who suggest ways to get the cheese melty in the pan or use the microwave; those don’t work for me. I personally like adding bacon, ham or any pork product, but it did not test well with kids.