The Ranch BLT Dog

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I was watching Micheal Chiarello’s Easy Entertaining on Cooking Channel recently and he was preparing a ballpark feast for a little league team. He cooked hot dogs two different ways, one was heated in water and was fried. It made me crave a perfectly cooked hot dog. I have had a couple of grilled hot dogs this summer but they were burnt to a crisp, or should I say absolutely murdered by the cook. I guess some people can’t bring themselves to pull hot dogs off the fire until they are shriveled and charred.

I decided it was time for me to enjoy a gourmet dog. I put the hot dogs in a pot with cold water on the stove, brought them to a simmer then turned off the heat. It made for wonderfully cooked hot dog that retained moisture and made a little snap when I bit through the casing. Instead of the typical relish, onion and mustard, I decided to get crazy and make a hot dog “club” or basically a dog with a BLT on it. Restaurants try to get fancy and call sandwiches “club” when in reality it just means that they’ve added bacon, lettuce and tomato.

Joining the BLT on this dog is a special sauce that can make any sandwich mouth watering. It’s a mix of ranch dressing and the pickle brine from bread and butter pickle chips. The two combined are unbelievable. I made it as an experiment and can’t wait to make it a again. The combination of ranch with the tart yet sweet pickle juice is unbelievable. I highly recommend trying it on your next sandwich - no matter what else is on it. I had to hold myself back from just grabbing the bowl and guzzling it down.

This is the first recipe I have shot with my new tripod and reflector. I have changed things up a bit so I could get those really nice shots that use artificial lighting from behind the subject. As I have said before, I have worked hard on becoming a better photographer. Each shoot I learn a little more. I still have a long way to go but after styling and shooting the dogs I looked at the lot of pics and thought they were really starting to glow like the great food photographers I respect so much. Enough about that though, I need to get busy and prepare to shoot what I’m eating for dinner tonight.

Eat well, cook often ...

Mesquite Smoked Pork Loin

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My niece thinks Justin Bieber is awesome. I can’t wait for “Bieber Fever” to disappear. She thinks I’m a little off my rocker because I like Metallica. Different people have different tastes.

As with music, food has a similar effect, and in the end, personal taste determines what each of us think is the best. Saturday, I entered the Turtle Days Barbecue Cook Off and much fun was had.

My favorite part was at then end when I got to sample the other entries. They were all great in their own way and each very different. The one I thought was the best (which wasn’t mine) didn’t win – And neither did I. That’s no rip because the winning entry was delicious, it just happened to capture the judges fancy that day.

For this recipe, I share my entry in the competition. I use a basic brine to bring out taste and add moisture to pork loin. Then use the charcoal and wood chips to add flavor. A sauce or rub could be added for more taste but I wanted the smoke from the grill to be the star of the show.

Two years ago, my first food column was based on the recipe I cooked at the Turtle Days Barbecue Cook Off. It’s hard to believe it has been that long. Things have changed so much since then – the column’s design, quality of the photography and my cooking knowledge to name just a few.

I would not have been able create the recipe I did for the competition this year back then. One of the many things I have improved on is cooking large cuts of meat on charcoal. That is why I choose to do a diagram of the grilling set up. It is really the secret to smoking and cooking large cuts of meat over coals.

In honor of this milestone I am going to post my first food column as well. I wasn’t blogging at the time, so I am posting it in the format of my current blog. Here it is!


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In May, after 12 and-a-half years living in New York City, I relocated to Churubusco to pursue a career in the culinary world.

When a family member tipped me off to the Turtle Days BBQ competition, I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet some of the area’s finest pit masters and the perfect chance to create a new recipe to showcase.

I thought most competitors would be using tomato based sauces and meats that would take a while on the grill like ribs and bone-in chicken. To stand out, I created a mustard-based BBQ sauce, which I sweetened with pineapple, and used to smother inch-thick pork loin chops that would only require a half hour of actual cooking and resting. The end result was a tangy sweet sauce over melt-in-your-mouth meat with no bones to get in the way while it’s devoured. All said and done, I didn’t win, but I met some cool area cooks and created a killer sauce and recipe to share on Behind the Bites!

Eat well, cook often ...

Omelet Casserole

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Recently, I was asked to make a few brunch items for a party where 200 were expected. The first thing I thought of was an omelet casserole my Mom makes at Christmas.

She told me it was a recipe used by the ladies at St. John Bosco Church for their annual breakfast for high school graduates. She has helped put on the event for years and has access to the recipes. She granted me permission to use it, but I had to say 48 Hail Marys and 36 Our Fathers in exchange.

For this recipe, I make the St. John Bosco omelet casserole. I simplify it by using a bag of sausage skillet to replace a few fresh ingredients. The modification was made to save time because I had to make three pans of this for the party. The change doesn’t effect the overall taste and more importantly, it keeps the original recipe safe. I wouldn’t want to be excommunicated from the church for taking a secret dish from the ladies of St. John Bosco and publishing it in the local newspaper. 

This was one of three dishes I made for a family member’s graduation party. It was a late morning/early afternoon celebration that featured a brunch menu. Most people had multiple graduation parties that day and starting it off with a tasty brunch was a home run for those who attended. The other two dishes we’re biscuits and gravy and – the big hit of the party – french toast casserole. (French toast casserole is another gem that the ladies at St. John Bosco make. I’ll make it for the blog in the future – after I’ve said another 319 Hail Marys and 426 Our Fathers.) My mom insisted on making it for the party - which she did.

I went with the omelet casserole for the print column because of it’s ease. It has a wonderful flavor and it can feed a lot of people. It’s perfect for a breakfast or brunch party and the toughest part is cracking the eggs.

Although this was a brunch party, I think that the breakfast dishes would be a fun idea for a party in the evening, just for a different twist. I love breakfast food and could eat this dish for any meal of the day. Throw in a side of biscuits and gravy and I’ll be in culinary breakfast heaven.

Eat well, cook often ...

Featured on Taste and Tell

Please check out the cool food blog by Deborah Herroun called "Taste and Tell." She was nice enough to feature me in her blogger spotlight ...

Here is the link: Taste and Tell:Blogger Spotlight:BehindtheBites

Thanks Deborah!!!!!

Avocado Bacon Cheeseburger

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Grilling season is in full swing. When I was in college at Ball State, I’ll never forget walking to work at the campus newspaper on warm evenings and smelling barbecue grills all around campus perfuming the air like fresh cut grass on a five-acre lawn.

According to a 2009 study conducted by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, 82 percent of all U.S. households own a grill or smoker and during peak grilling season 45 percent of those grill at least 1 or 2 times a week. The most popular grilling occasions are Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day, but 56 percent report they grill during the wintertime. The survey also says the most popular foods for cooking on the grill are, in order: burgers (85 percent), steak (80 percent), hot dogs (79 percent) and chicken (73 percent).

For this recipe, I make America’s favorite grilling item – the burger. An avocado spread with jalapeƱo and lime juice gives it a signature flavor complimented by bacon, onion, tomato and cilantro.

This is an improvement on a concept that I originally did two years ago with my fourth column for print. It was a little different and I used chicken, but the basic idea here is deconstructed guacamole distributed throughout a sandwich. My basic recipe for guacamole is avocado, jalapeno, red onion, tomato, cilantro and lime juice. All of those elements are found here surrounding a bacon cheeseburger. (With pepper jack cheese for a little extra spice.) Bacon and avocado work so well together that it can make any sandwich taste awesome, and I must say, I absolutely destroyed two of these. My Dad made pretty quick work of the other two.

Another element to this sandwich is the charcoal flavor.

I recently upgraded to a 22.5” Weber grill from an 18” to have more room for roasting larger chunks of meat. What I have found is that the extra room and distance from the coals allows the meat to soak up more of the smoke created in the larger container. I am truly amazed at how much better the charcoal flavor is. This is the item recipe I have cooked on the new grill and all three have had exceptional charcoal flavor. If your in the market for a new charcoal cooker from Weber, spend a little extra and get the 22.5” size - It’s well worth it if your a fan of charcoal.

Eat well, cook often ...

Tandoori Chicken Pitas

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I started to become a real Food Network junkie around 2004. I was really into cooking by that time and was mostly following magazines like Cuisine at Home and Food Everyday. It wasn’t long before my television was tuned to the Food Network all the time except for occasional sporting events.

I made many of the recipes presented by the different network personalities. One star emerged as my favorite, not to just watch cook on TV, but my favorite cook to get recipes from and make myself.

Of all the Food Network Stars, I have made more of Bobby Flay’s creations than any other food TV personality. At least half of all recipes I have made from the Food Network have been his. I like spicy and Southwest and that is what he does. This recipe (although it’s Indian) is one of the first of his that I made after seeing him make it on his show “Boy Meets Grill.”

I give him credit for the spice paste here. It's the exact recipe, but a lesser amount. I use teaspoons – the original recipe calls for tablespoons. The rest of the recipe I have adapted for my taste but the spice paste really gives this dish its flavor, so I must give credit where credit is due.

I don’t cook Indian food often so I kind of need to follow the Indian recipes I make exactly. I don’t know enough about the cuisine yet to completely improvise. I could of course, but I learn a lot from following recipes exactly the first time I make them. It helps me learn different flavor combinations and techniques. Once I have made it, I then adjust to fit my taste. Here I use the spice paste from Mr. Flay’s, but the rest is a variation of the original recipe.

This recipe was created just for my blog. I stay away from recipes that would require $50 in spices for the print audience. I had most of the spices, but I still had to spend close to $30 to make it and I only needed to purchase ginger and turmeric. I had all the other spices on the list. (Mostly because I have made this before.)

This is a great way to beef up the panty. I'm able to make Indian food at any time because I keep my pantry stocked for it. If you're going to make a recipe where you have to buy a number of ingredients, it's really a great opportunity to add a variety of cuisine to your arsenal. This recipe could be an introduction to Indian food, because next week when your in the mood for these flavors, they're around. Or – if you hate it - your out $50 bucks in spices. If so, call me, I'll take the stuff off of your hands and turn it into yummy goodness!

Eat well, cook often ...

Chicken Wings With Bacon Chipotle Sauce

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Over this past Memorial Day weekend my cousin-in-law grilled up an inspiring mess of chicken wings. He used a teriyaki glaze that he kept basting them with as he turned them on the charcoal grill. The end result was a juicy and tender bite with great flavor. I’m glad there were bones to slow me down, because if there hadn’t been I would have plowed through the entire batch like a great white shark at a seal gathering.

For this recipe, I make my own version of grilled chicken wings. The sauce is made from scratch and features bacon and chipotle pepper as smoky elements to compliment the charcoal flavor from the grill. Also included is a hefty amount of fresh cracked black pepper for kick.

I made these with my nephews visiting. They begged me to leave the sauce off a few but I refused. I talked them into trying the wings by convincing them they were “peppery” and not “spicy.” It worked because they ate as many wings as the adults did at our Friday night feeding frenzy.

I love chicken wings, but for the most part I have only ever had them breaded and fried. Grilled wings are a relatively new experience. I love the smoky grill flavor and it’s a little healthier.

I make the sauce for these and leave out any Tabasco which seems to be the spice of choice with wings. I like buffalo style but for me a little goes a long way. Tabasco sauce is so acidic that after a few bites, all I can taste is the acid and it is not a pleasant flavor. That is why I enjoy making my own sauce. I can make it as hot as I want, I just do it without Tabasco. No offense to the residents of Buffalo, NY. It’s just not my style.

As I mention in the introduction, my nephews were visiting when I made the wings and they pleaded with me to leave the sauce off of some, but I didn't. I’m glad that they trusted me enough to try them with the sauce and I was genuinely surprised at how many they ate. My youngest nephew really chowed down. I am hoping that they will be more inclined to try spicy food, I’m sure they will eventually enjoy the spicier stuff like their uncle. They just have to acquire a taste for it.

Heat is kind of like beer, you have to gradually get into it before you can go bonkers. I’ll introduce my nephews to the spicy stuff now, but they're gonna need to wait until they’re legal before I tempt them with Miller Lite. By that time though, I'm sure they will have already have become experts through the corruption of their friends – especially if they decide to go away to college.

Eat well, cook often ...