Sunday, September 27, 2015

Pigs in a Blanket with a Ketchup Glaze

Pigs in a blanket with a ketchup glaze

I love pigs in a blanket as hors d'oeuvres or party food, right up there with meatballs. (Don't worry, those are coming soon.) They are fun to make, easy to eat, and plenty tasty. They are a hit with kids of all ages. When I came up with this recipe, I wanted to make pigs in a blanket that wouldn't require you to carry a dipping sauce around all night and possibly make a mess. So, I researched how to make a ketchup glaze and went from there.


½ C of dark brown sugar
½ C of ketchup
1 14 oz package of mini sausages*
2 tubes of croissant dough


Preheat the oven according to instructions on package of croissants.

Put the ketchup and brown sugar in a small saucepan and mix until smooth. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat. Let it simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the sauce is thickened, add the package of mini sausages, bring the sauce back to a simmer and simmer for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. When you are satisfied with how thick the sauce is, take it off the heat and allow the sauce and sausage mixture to cool.

How to cut the doughNow unroll one croissant (bottom left in picture) and cut it into two pieces (top two pieces in picture). Roll each sausage in a piece of dough and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Bake according to the instructions on the croissant tube and serve. Any leftover glaze can be served as a dipping sauce if you desire.

*I prefer Hillshire Farm 14 oz Lit'l Smokies. If you can find the Cheddar Lit'l Smokies, even better.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Taking Care of Cast Iron

Cast iron is one of my favorite cooking surfaces. It can handle high heat and low heat, heats evenly, goes from stove-top to oven easily and is easy to clean and resilient. Once it is cured properly, it has a surface that is rust resistant, nonstick, and nonreactive to acidic foods. You have to care for your cast iron properly, but fortunately that isn't hard to do.

Let's deal with some terminology up front: the cure, or seasoning. Seasoned cast iron has had a layer of oil baked into the porous iron. During the baking, the oil denatures and forms a water-proof, non-porous, and non-stick coating. The oil chemically changes and becomes a polymer coating that binds chemically to the surface of the cast iron. This coating is pretty durable, and so well-seasoned cast iron can be used for pretty much any application. However, it shouldn't be washed off with soap and it doesn't do too well if it just sits in water for a few days. Less established seasonings can be damaged by acidic foods, so avoid high-acid foods until you've used you cookware a few times.

To clean your cast iron, you only need 3 things: a stiff scrub brush, a pan scraper, and warm water. A stiff brush and warm water will get off most of the mess, but a pan scraper will help get off anything really stuck down. Again, you do not need soap to clean off your cast iron, as it can hurt the cure. If you really feel the need, use a mild detergent and rinse if off thoroughly.

Dry the cast iron thoroughly either with towels or letting it sit on a iron on a burner set to low to get it it hot but not scalding. While it is still warm, rub on a thin layer of cooking oil. This will reinforce the seasoning.

I own 3 pieces of cast iron that I use regularly. The first is a one burner griddle that I use for making toasted sandwiches, eggs, bacon, and searing meats.

I have a two burner skillet that I use for anything breakfast. It's great for pancakes, bacon, hash browns, or anything else you need to make in bulk for breakfast. Though, in my unfortunate experience, it is not very good for making scrambled eggs.

By far my favorite piece that I own is my 10" deep skillet. I use that for pretty much everything: sauteing, searing, one pan meals, pizza, casseroles, and breakfast. This one is my workhorse.

In the end, it really is not hard to take care of your cast iron, and if you take good care of your cast iron, it will take good care of you. When you take good care of your cast iron, just a little effort will reward you with some really display-worthy cookery that will last you a lifetime.

Monday, September 21, 2015


Horchata is a Mexican drink of sweetened rice water mixed with spice. It is a really great drink for hot days. My wife spent some time abroad in Mexico and developed quite the taste for Mexican food. She told me that recipe comes out with a texture most similar to what she experienced there. The flavor is authentic, with a bit of my own flair.


1 ¼ C of white rice
4 C of water
1 T of cinnamon
5 oz of sugar
¼ t of vanilla


Grind the rice in a blender until it is coarsely ground, then pour into a 2 qt container. Add the 4 cups of water and cinnamon and let it soak, covered, on the counter overnight, 12 hrs would be best. I like this 2 qt canning jar because I can shake it to stir it whenever I walk by, every few hours.
The difference between granulated
and super-fine sugar

Once your patience has been taxed long enough and you want to drink this tasty beverage, put the 5 oz (by volume) of sugar in a blender and grind for about 30 sec turning it into super-fine sugar. Because if its better surface to mass ratio, superfine sugar dissolves better in cold liquids which makes it great for lemonade, iced tea, and cocktails.

Pour the sugar and vanilla into the brew and stir vigorously. Strain the mixture into another container or pitcher, serve over ice and enjoy. If the horchata is too grainy for your taste, run it through some cheesecloth, that should improve the texture immediately.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ben's Bacon Wrapped Cheddar Dogs

When I was in college, my roommates and I used to have a guys' night every couple weeks, and I was usually in charge of the cooking. My roomies would tell me what they wanted and get me the stuff for it, and I would make it. One time, one of my roommates, Ben, had one of the tastiest ideas anyone has ever come up with: bacon wrapped cheddar dogs.


6 cheddar dogs (I prefer Johnsonville "Beddar with Cheddar")
6 slices of thick-cut bacon
12 wooden toothpicks
6 hot dog buns


Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat for a few minutes to get it good and hot. This will get you good color on the bacon and will decrease overall cooking time. Wrap each dog in bacon and use a toothpick at each end to secure the bacon in place.

Place the bacon wrapped dogs in the skillet, being sure not to crowd the pan, and cook on the first side until done to your liking. I go for about 1.5 to 2 minutes. Once the first side is done, flip the hot dog over and cook the opposite side.

Once those two sides have been cooked, the bacon will hold itself on, so go ahead and remove the toothpicks and cook the remaining two sides. Again, 1.5 to 2 minutes per side until the bacon is golden brown and delicious. When the bacon is thoroughly cooked, remove the dogs and drain on a paper-towel-covered plate and hold until ready to serve. If it is going to be a while until they will be eaten, wrap them in tinfoil and stash in a 200 degree oven.

Serve in your choice of buns and enjoy one of the least healthy and tastiest things I know how to make.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

This recipe might make me hand over my foodie card, because it uses jars of tomato sauce, but I don't mind. Making your own tomato sauce is time consuming and when I'm in the mood for comfort food I'm in the mood to set it and forget it. Spaghetti with meat sauce is one of the first things I used to make when I was a kid. When I turned 21, I usually cooked with a beer in my hand, and this recipe was spawned from that.


1 lb of ground beef
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 24 oz jars of your favorite pasta sauce
2 bottles of lager
½ cup of grated Parmesan cheese


Start off by opening one of the bottles of lager and drinking it while you cook.

Brown the ground beef in your cooking vessel of choice, I like my 10" cast iron skillet, over medium-high heat. When the meat is nearly done, add the garlic and sweat lightly. Once the meat is evenly browned, add it to a large pot with the sauce. Don't drain the meat, as you want all the flavor possible getting into your sauce. Pour in the lager and heat on medium-low until it simmers and then lower the heat to maintain a simmer.

Right now you would have a pretty good sauce, but the flavor really comes together if you let it simmer for awhile longer. You can even do this part in a crock-pot or slow-cooker if you would like. I usually let it simmer for at least 2 hours, stirring every few minutes, before I serve it.

Before serving, stir in the Parmesan cheese and serve over pasta with more Parmesan on top as desired. If you add the cheese too early and it gets too warm, it might curdle and get lumpy. The best way to prevent this is to mix it right before service and with the heat off. There will still be more than enough heat to melt the cheese.


My wife likes when I use 90/10 ground beef, but I prefer 80/20. 90/10 will make for grainier, slightly drier meat, but 80/20 will make a greasier sauce; it's up to you.

I cooked about a pound of spaghetti until a little before al dente, and then I added the under-cooked noodles to the sauce to allow them to finish cooking. This lets the noodles take on a bit more flavor, and any starch that is left on the noodles will get into the sauce, thicken it, and help it cling to the noodles better. Keep testing the noodles for doneness and serve as soon as they are cooked to your liking. The spaghetti should go in right before the Parmesan.

This would be a good recipe to use an actual block of Parmesan cheese, despite the cost. Pre-grated Parmesan cheese tends to include cellulose powder, or wood pulp, which keeps the product from caking or clumping. While that is a good thing, the added starch can make a sauce taste and feel grainy. Plus, you can't beat the flavor of the fresh stuff. Again, as with anytime I use a more "premium" ingredient, feel free to substitute.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Steve's Cheesy Buffalo Chicken Dip

We are getting to the start of the football season, let's make some good party food! My senior year of college, when I was living in an apartment on campus, one of my roommates used to make this all the time. We loved it. Steve was gracious enough to part with the recipe so I could share it with you. This is one of the only times you will get a recipe from me that has cream cheese in it.


2 12.5 oz cans of chicken
5 oz of your favorite hot sauce
1 C of ranch dressing (this can be substituted with blue cheese if you would rather)
2 8 oz bricks of cream cheese, softened
2 C of shredded cheddar cheese


Drain the cans of chicken and shred them with a fork (this is the real benefit to the canned chicken, it shreds easily). Put the chicken and hot sauce in a medium pan over medium h
eat and stir until the hot sauce has been adsorbed, about 1-2 minutes. Add the ranch and stir thoroughly to combine. Once the ranch has been worked in, add the first block of cream cheese and mix in well, then add the second brick, make sure there are no lumps left.

Reduce the heat and fold in the cheese. When the cheese is full incorporated, make any flavor adjustments you like, more hot sauce for heat or dressing or creaminess. Serve with chips, bread, or, like we did one time and loved it, cheddar cheese combos.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Not Beef Stroganoff

I love beef stroganoff, and this version has all the flavor with none of the beef. The shiitake mushrooms have a meaty flavor and texture that makes up for the lack of beef. It makes it a whole lot cheaper and a bit more nutritious. This recipe can be made either vegetarian or not depending on the kind of broth you use.


1 T of olive oil
10 oz by weight of shiitake mushrooms sliced
2 medium onions sliced
1 t of salt
2 cloves of garlic minced
1 T of flour
1 C of white wine (I use Chardonnay)
1 C of low sodium beef broth
½ t of Italian seasoning (yes, I use seasoning mixes occasionally, they are way cheaper and easier)
¼ t of fresh ground black pepper
1 C of sour cream


Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat until the surface starts to ripple then add the mushrooms, onion and salt. Saute over medium high heat until the mushrooms have lost about half their volume and everything is starting to turn a little golden brown, about 10 minutes. Make sure you keep it moving so nothing on the bottom has the chance to burn. Add the garlic and saute another 2 minutes then sprinkle the flour over the whole mixture and stir until there is no moisture left in the pan and everything is coated evenly, about 1-2 minutes.

Reduce the heat slightly and add the white wine and broth and adjust heat until a simmer is achieved and maintain. Add the seasoning and pepper and let simmer for about 10 minutes or until it has achieved the thickness you would like. This would be the time to make any seasoning adjustments you would like, but bear in mind that dried seasonings take a bit of time to bloom and so their full flavor impact won't be immediate.

Once the sauce is reduced, and right before serving, stir in the sour cream. Make anymore adjustments you would like and serve over pasta.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Caprese Salad

Caprese salad is one of my favorite presentation dishes to make. It involves no cooking and little mess, but is packed with color and flavor. Again, I added my own spin to this classic dish, but this time it is mostly in the presentation. Enjoy!


20 fresh basil leaves
20 cherry tomatoes
20 ciliegine or "cherry size" mozzarella balls
3 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T balsamic vinegar


Arrange the basil leaves on a plate and place one cheese ball and one tomato inside each leaf. Once all the of the leaves are filled, drizzle the balsamic vinegar and olive oil on top. For best results, let it chill for about an hour. This will let the oil extract some of the fat-soluble flavors from the vinegar and really kick up the flavor.

In this version, I used heirloom grape tomatoes because they were available locally and added a little extra color, but you don't have to. Standard grape tomatoes work really well and get you a much more traditional Italian flag look.

Alternatively, you can serve these on skewers or toothpicks if you are hosting the kind of party where people will be doing a lot of moving around or if you want to make them beforehand and then travel with them.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Curry Chicken Salad

Chicken salad is a great way to get cheap and flavorful protein into your diet. The easy conversion into a sandwich makes it portable and easy to pack as a lunch. Chicken salad recipes can be really basic or way over-complicated. At its core, chicken salad is usually cut up chicken breast, mayo, and spices or flavorings. This recipe kicks things up a bit flavor-wise, without getting too complicated.


2 chicken breasts cooked and cut into cubes or shredded
¼ C of mayo
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
¼ t of dried thyme leaves
¼ t of curry powder
½ C seedless grapes cut in half


Mix the chicken with the mayo and then stir in the salt and pepper. Honestly, at this point you have a pretty good chicken salad that I like to take to work for lunch all the time. But, for something a little more special, I add the thyme leaves and curry powder. After the chicken is thoroughly and evenly coated, gently stir in the grapes. Be careful not to be too vigorous, we aren't making jelly. Enjoy out of the bowl or make into a great sandwich.

My wife suggests that, if you are going to shred the chicken, you should slice the grapes thinner so that it spreads easier on a sandwich. It might also be easier to mix the spices into the may before mixing in with the chicken so that they easily mix evenly.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

My Favorite Cheesesteak

While I may live in the Philadelphia area, my favorite Philly style cheese steak is found not in the City of Brotherly Love, but about 2 hours south near Charm City, or Baltimore, MD.

Half an hour outside of Baltimore in Hunt Valley is a tiny joint called Pizza Connection. I've never had anything there I didn’t like, but when I lived in the area the real reason they recognized my phone number was their cheese steaks.

You walk into this tiny restaurant off York Rd with a small counter where they take your order, a few tables if you feel like eating there, a drinks cooler, and a small TV showing some news about local sports teams. You get your sub and you take a bite of what I believe to be one of the best sandwiches out there.

Let’s get the big selling point out of the way first: they use pizza dough for the bread. It’s amazing. I don’t know why more pizza/sub shops haven’t taken advantage of this opportunity. On top of this, they are generous with their filling, and they don’t charge extra for toppings, and it all just tastes so good.

I like to get lettuce, mayo, provolone cheese, and fried onions. My dad likes to get sweet peppers on his and you can’t go wrong with tomatoes or mushrooms. I know it isn’t traditional, and any of my purest friends will scorn me, but I don’t care, it’s tasty.

If you are ever in Northern Baltimore County I urge you stop in at this tiny hole-in-the-wall pizza shop and try one of their delicious creations.