Bacon Ranch Pasta Salad

Printable version
Steve and Gayle Henson opened the Hidden Valley Guest Ranch near Santa Barbara California in the 1950s. Visitors enjoyed hiking tours, horseback riding, fishing and home-cooked meals. Activities brought guest to the ranch but there was a growing demand for a buttermilk, herb and spice dressing invented by the owners and served on their salads. Guest requested jars to take home and soon a mail-order business began.

Today, that original Hidden Valley Ranch dressing is sold throughout the United States and in more than 30 countries world-wide.

I use Ranch dressing on everything – burgers, fries, vegetables and wouldn’t think of eating a salad without it. The dressing is great to include in recipes along side or replacing sour cream or mayonnaise, which is what I do for this recipe. The ranch dressing provides a binder and extra seasoning in this pasta salad. I use it lightly here, but the salad could be made much more creamy by adding more dressing if desired.

This is the first side dish I have made for my column in a long time. I thought it was a good time to start rolling out some of the warm weather dishes I have planned for this summer.

This dish was inspired by a pasta salad my cousin had purchased at Meijer, which was good but I thought there was way to much ranch. This was hard for me to believe. It was the first time in my life that I actually thought there was to much ranch because I can almost drink the stuff from the bottle.

Notice I said “almost" drink it?

That was the problem with the Meijer pasta salad, there was so much ranch it was like drinking it from the bottle. Together bacon and ranch is pretty much a slam dunk in what ever dish it is put in, so I went with it – and went easy on the dressing. This dish could very easily be a potato salad by replacing the pasta with cooked spuds and would be just as tasty next to that big steak at your next backyard barbecue.

Eat well, cook often ...

Chili Dog Pizza

Printable version
Every so often I will absolutely crave a chili dog. I have no idea why, but many of those cravings in the past have come while nursing a hangover. I think it is derived from the attitude of “Well it’s not as bad for me as what I did last night.”

Whatever the reasons, I love chili dogs and I wish they were as healthy for me as broccoli. I still love to indulge from time to time but that is why I have set out to transform my beloved chili dogs into different forms. They are still a health hazard but more of a snack item for a party, rather than three dogs at lunch.

For this recipe, I have turned the chili dog into a pizza, replacing the bun with crust. A slice is all you need to get that heavenly chili dog rush and then you can move onto the tofu kabbob for the main course. This is the second item I have turned chili dog. I made chili dog dip a while back and highly recommend giving it a try as well.

I used Hormel chili with no beans in this recipe, which I find adequate for something out of a can. This is just a quick snack that I didn’t feel it was necessary to make a pot of chili for. If I had wanted to be a hardcore foodie, I could have made the dough, chili and even the dogs from scratch for something truly gourmet. That may happen one day, but I was hungry and didn’t feel like spending all day in the kitchen to prepare this.

Hormel has has been around for more than 100 years. George A. Hormel founded the Hormel Foods Company in 1891 and in the beginning the company flourished as a processor of fresh pork.

In 1926 Hormel introduced the world’s first canned ham. Nine years later Dinty Moore beef stew and Hormel chili hit the market. In 1937, Hormel’s most famous product, SPAM, took the world by storm and would go onto to sell 1 billion cans by 1959. Today, Hormel sells a number of products from pepperoni to Tailgating trays and earned nearly $500 million in 2011.

When I learned that Hormel produced the first canned hams it reminded me of a story I heard about David Letterman. He started out as a news weather man and once described hail from a storm as “the size of canned hams.”

Eat well, cook often ...

Mexican Sloppy Joe

Printable version
It’s not known when the name “sloppy joe” was given to the sandwich, but recipes similar to it started to appear in cookbooks in the beginning of the twentieth century according to the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink.

Most sloppy Joe sandwich recipes contain a mixture of ground beef, tomato sauce, onion and selected spices, served hot on a hamburger bun and are hard to eat without slopping something on the table or yourself.

Some food historians believe it evolved from loose meat sandwiches served in Iowa by Floyd Angell, founder of Maid-Rite Restaurants in 1926. Whatever the origin, the Great Depression helped propel this economical way to stretch meat, and by the late 1940s the sloppy joe was a staple in kitchens throughout the United States.

For this recipe, I make a Mexican version of the sloppy joe that I call the sloppy josé. It features jalapeño, chili sauce, chili powder, cumin and is as tasty and sloppy as the American version. I recommend wearing a bib while eating it.

In all the years I have been cooking I had never made a batch of sloppy joe. I decided to make this recipe with a Mexican twist but that is just one direction it can be taken, I think you could make an Italian version and maybe even an Asian inspired version.

In the introduction, I touch on the history of the sandwich, my hunch is that it may have originated when someone ran out of pasta after making a pot of bolognese and decided to through it on a bun instead.

One thing is for sure about this sandwich - it is sloppy. I think that's why they are popular at outdoor events. The yard is the only place they should be eaten. I literally ate two of these over the waste basket in my kitchen. That’s when the name really sunk in. There really isn’t a need to explain how the sandwich got it. All you have to do is eat one and the reason why it’s called “sloppy” is apparent. Feed these to a group of toddlers and you’ll need a power washer to clean up the mess. If the sandwich was named after an actual person named Joe, he must have been the messiest human to have ever lived.

Eat well, cook often ...

Broccoli and Cheddar Soup

Printable version
This is the 93rd weekly food column I have created for print. My Aunt has clipped everyone before it from the paper and saved it in a scrap book. I like to bring her samples to try before she gets the issue in the mail on Thursday, that way she has the memory of the taste of the dish while she reads about it. She has been sick for a while, and I thought I would make a soup for her to try that would also be good to share here.

For this recipe, I make a broccoli and cheddar cheese soup. The secret is to cook the broccoli separately and sprinkle it in when the soup is served. That way it’s not overcooked and mushy when eaten. I purchased the ingredients early last week and had intended to make it for the weekend and share it with my Aunt on Easter.

Sadly, the battle she has been fighting with cancer since July became to much for her. She passed away peacefully last Friday evening with family by her side. She didn’t get to taste the soup, or read about it in the paper, but this is for her – my biggest fan, my friend, my Aunt Roxy.

It has been a tough couple weeks for the family and I. We are close-knit and loosing someone as important as Aunt Roxy has been a big ordeal.

When I started my food column I did a lot of the cooking at our private family campground which is on Aunt Roxy and Uncle Denny's property. I was there all the time during my first few month after moving back to the area in May of 2010. For me, it was the summer of camping and cooking. Aunt Roxy loved the campground too and we spent a lot of time there together that summer. She got to sample most of my creations and would offer honest assessments of their quality. We had always been close but our bond as family – and as friends – grew much stronger during those first months back in Churubusco.

Aunt Roxy and I in June of 2010.
Aunt Roxy was diagnosed with lung cancer last summer so it was a long fight for her. It was the first time I have experienced a terminal illness up close. It was like she aged 40 years in 9 months. The disease effected her entire body not just her lungs. Through it all she remained stoic. At first, it was hard for her to accept but eventually she took hold of it and lived each day as fully as she could.

In many ways she was a second mother to me. She visited New York more than anyone else except my own mom in the 12 years I lived there. In the years when all you can do is disagree with your parents, I went to Aunt Roxy often – as did my sister. She was the most non-judgmental person I have ever known and a valued source of wisdom that only age can provide.

She is no longer here in the flesh but her influence is alive and well – in all of us that loved her.

This post was supposed to be about broccoli and cheddar soup but through the course of living life it became a post about the person the soup was intended for, a person I loved unconditionally, a person I will miss dearly.

See you on the other side Aunt Rox.

Eat well, cook often ... and don’t be afraid to love.