one man's ceiling
Saturday, September 16, 2006
  toasty dawgs -- food of the gawds
part of the impetus for starting this blog comes from the idea that i wanted a more public way to share recipes with friends (and now strangers). an equal influence was discovering slashfood, and in particular a recent conversation about memories concerning favorite hot lunch items from school days.

i said it before and i'll say it again, two words: toasty dawgs. spelled just like that.

i'd like to think that back in the day my school lunch was better than what's being served now, but with so much health consciousness going on it's hard to say. on the one hand i'm certain we never ate anything that was anywhere near close to passing as organic; on the other hand, i was eating school lunches in the days before high fructose corn syrup (which, as a consequence, meant i grew up before there was such a thing as rampant childhood obesity. but i digress). i won't argue that tater tots were healthier, or that fish stix didn't taste like reconstituted paper pulp with a bread coating, but there is no doubt that one of the most beloved items on the menu at my elementary school was the toasty dawg.

simplicity at it's best: a piece of soft white bread, buttered on both sides, lined with a slice of american cheese, wrapped around a hot dog and held together with a toothpick, oven toasted to golden perfection. yes, they even trusted us enough to serve it with a toothpick. can you imagine how many helicopter parents would raise a stink to protect their little babies because they couldn't be trusted to not puncture the roof of their mouths with a toothpick?

but there it was, a meal-sized, low-rent pig-in-a-blanket. if you were lucky you might get a served a toasty dawg whose cheese melted out a bit and browned to a crust clinging tenaciously to the bread. chances are good i missed the news story about how nearly burnt processed cheese causes cancer, but it still tastes good. and the only appropriate accompaniment to the toasty dawg is a potato in fried form, either french or the aforementioned tot. which meant lots and lots of little foil ketchup packets squirted over everything.

as much as i loved them it was decades before i decided to reintroduce the toasty dawg to my diet. at the time i had not only learned about organic foods, i was deep into artisan breads, had sampled dozens of the world's cheeses, and came to prefer unsalted butter made from the milk of cows who had no rBST in their systems. i found a nice, soft potato bread, buttered it with sweet cream butter, lined it with a slice of locally produced yogurt cheese and slapped on a chemically free hot dog and baked until it was melty and golden and smelled just like i remembered.

too bad it tasted like crap.

the crust of the bread had hardened in the oven to the point that when i bit into it i couldn't tell if the crunching sound was the bread or my teeth. the large, open holes in the bread which, under the normal conditions of morning toast would yield nice little kettle pools for melted butter, had grown sharp along the edges and tore deep into the roof and gums of my mouth. cheese continued to melt and ooze and drip long after it was out of the oven and tasted like nothing more than slightly sour milk. and while the hot dog had the right flavor it was still missing something in the spice department that matched those memories long ago. it may be a deep memory of those chemicals, i don't know.

since then, lesson learned. toasty dawgs require the softest, spongiest, least healthy white bread you can stand. currently i'm happy with what's called in these parts canadian bread because it's almost soft enough to wrap without cracking, doesn't look totally like wonder bread, and has the least amount of crap in it. toasty dogs require a processed cheese square, the kind individually wrapped which(fortunately) come in american, chedder and white chedder varieties that do not alter the flavor or texture of the final outcome. toasty dawgs also demand an all-beef hot dog of quality that include nitrates and nitrites. i hate to say it, but i can taste the difference and it makes a difference. i may wake up the next day with a chemical headache but that's the price one pays for a piece of rekindled food memory.

for better or worse, i've introduced the toasty dawg to my loved ones and they have embraced them like a lost food cousin. easy to make and satisfying in a comfort food kind of way. what more could you want?

oh, right. tater tots are a must.
 
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