Baby Back Ribs

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Ribs are not easy to cook on the grill. I spent an entire summer two years ago trying my best to figure out the perfect method.

What I learned: bake them in the oven first!

For the grill flavor, all that is needed is to finish them off over some charcoal, just a few minutes to caramelize the sauce and soak up the smoke does the trick. I was able to get good ribs on the grill but they weren’t fall-off-the-bone. I accomplished that starting them in the oven wrapped in foil then finishing over the coals.

This recipe features an original rub and sauce.

The rub features paprika and ground mustard with a little cayenne thrown in for some kick. The spice mix provided a great flavor foundation and alone would have made the ribs really tasty.

The sauce featured molasses and dijon mustard and was a sweet and mildly spice compliment to the rub. The molasses provided a sweet balance to the spice of the dijon and was the real star of the sauce.

Overall, these ribs were absolutely delicious. The cooking process, rub and sauce worked as planned and made for a restaurant quality rib.

I dug into these like a maniac.

If your looking for a rib recipe - this is it.

Every time I eat ribs I think of my 9-month stint working at the Texas Roadhouse. One of their selling points is fall-off-the-bone ribs. (As a server, they expected us to say that to customers.) The Roadhouse ribs are delicious but what I remember most about them is the mess that customers would make eating them, especially teenagers. Hands, faces, seats, tables, ketchup bottles - everything would be covered with rib sauce.

I remember one kid on his 13th or 14th birthday. He had sauce covering his face and I won’t ever forget him looking at me and telling me how great they were as the sauce literally dripped from his cheeks. It was comical.

Even when I’m alone I don’t like to get anywhere near that kind of messy when I eat. It amazed me that people would actually do that, or let their kids do that in public. As amazed as I was at the messes, it was often a great laugh or a highlight of a shift, which would sometimes be a grueling marathon of slinging steaks and ribs at customers for hours on end.

Eat well, cook often ...

Serves 4; 3 hours
3 Tbs Paprika
3 Tbs Salt
2 Tbs Pepper
2 Tbs Ground mustard
1 Tbs Garlic powder
1 Tbs Onion powder
1 tsp Cayenne pepper

1 - 4 to 5 lb slab Baby back ribs

1/4 C Onion, diced
1 Tbs Garlic, minced
1 C Ketchup
1/2 C Molasses
1/4 C Vinegar
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
1 tsp Liquid smoke
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce

Make rub, prepare ribs
In a bowl mix together paprika, salt, pepper, mustard powder, garlic powder, onion powder and cayenne pepper. Remove membrane from bone-side of ribs. Liberally rub the seasoning over both sides of the ribs, wrap in aluminum foil and let marinate in fridge at least 25 minutes or up to overnight.

Bake ribs
Place ribs in a preheated 325° oven and cook until meat is tender and has receded from the bones, Approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 20 minutes.

Make sauce While ribs bake, in a sauce pan over medium heat sauté onion in a little olive oil until soft, 2 to 3 minutes. Season to taste. Add garlic cook 1 minutes more. Add ketchup, molasses, cider vinegar, dijon mustard, worcestershire sauce and liquid smoke. Bring to a simmer and remove from heat.

Finish ribs

Slather ribs on both sides with sauce. Place on a prepared charcoal or gas grill for a few minutes on each side to caramelize sauce. Slather more sauce on ribs after each turn. Total time on grill 8 to 10 minutes. Remove to a cutting board, slice and serve.

Homemade Chili Dogs

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When it comes to hot dogs there is one item that stands alone as the best topping – chili. Chili dogs are my favorite guilty pleasure, I don’t indulge in them very often, but when I do – I go crazy.

Years ago, I used to eat chili dogs after a late night out on the town. There was something comforting and hangover-curing about a hot dog smothered in Hormel chili that seemed to get the day going for me. Not sure if the dogs contained a little magic or it was just what a 20-something guy living in New York City needed to get his ass off the coach after a late night of beer swilling.

For this recipe, I make my own chili sauce for the dogs. I started by browning the ground beef. While it cooked I made sure to completely break it up into fine little bits. When it was finished I draining most of the fat away. The aromatics were next and when ready I mixed in a little tomato paste to help thicken the final product. I returned the meat, stirred in the spices and beef broth then brought it to a simmer. I cooked the mixture until most of the liquid had evaporated and was thickened into a nice sauce to coat the meat.

The end result is a meaty chili, loaded with flavor and perfect on top of a frank. I finish the dog with a little cheese and raw red onion. Then it was time to devour a couple or 6!

This is the second dog inspired by a hot dog bar I created recently for a gathering that I attended. No hot dog bar could be complete without chili for chili dogs, it wouldn’t be a hot dog bar without it. The last time I made chili for chili dogs I went with a Cincinnati-style chili which included cinnamon and clove. This time I stuck with a more traditional chili flavor and made a meatier sauce than usual. The chili reminded my of a Mexican bolognese. It had that fine textured meaty quality to it. I thought it held the flavor well and made a nice topping for the dog.

If I were to do this same sauce again I may add a half cup of crushed tomato or tomato puree just to make it more saucy. That’s all I would change though because this really packed a great chili flavor and was perfect for dogs. It wasn’t bad eating alone either - I ate about a third of it just snacking on the chili while I took pictures of the dogs for the blog.

Eat well, cook often ...

Makes 16 hot dogs; 45 minutes
2 lbs Ground beef
1/2 C Onion, diced
1/4 C Jalapeño seeded, diced
2 Tbs Tomato paste
1 Tbs Garlic, minced
1 C Beef broth
2 Tbs Chili powder
1 Tbs Cumin
2 tsp Mexican oregano
16 Hot dogs
16 Hot dog bun

1 C Cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 C Onion diced

Brown beef
In a pot over medium heat brown ground beef, 6 to 8 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate and drain all but 1 tablespoon of the drippings.

Create chili base
Add onion and jalapeño to pot and cook until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in garlic and tomato paste, cook 2 minutes more.

Make chili
Return ground beef to pot, add chili powder, cumin, oregano and broth. Bring to a simmer and cook 35 minutes or until thickened slightly. Adjust seasoning if necessary and remove from heat.

Cook and assemble dogs

While chili simmers, cook hot dogs on a grill over medium heat until cooked through, turning often, 6 to 8 minutes. On a bun layer hot dog, chili, cheddar cheese and diced onion. Then serve.

Ranch Coleslaw Bacon Dogs

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Hot Dogs are a summertime staple. I couldn’t imagine going an entire summer without having at least one at either a family gathering or a cookout. I think they’re as American as apple pie. I will eat a hot dog with just ketchup and mustard, but I love to dress them up with everything from chili to lettuce and tomato.

For this recipe, I adorn my hot dogs with one of my favorite flavor combos of all-time - bacon and ranch. The creamy coleslaw is really a vehicle for the ranch flavor in this and acts as a relish and condiment all-in-one. When I assemble it I place a full strip of bacon right beside the dog before topping with the slaw.

The two combine to give this summer classic a great flavor that will have you going back for seconds and possibly thirds.

I recently put together a hot dog bar for a church gathering that included chili, cheese, sauerkraut and a few other toppings usually found on hot dogs. This inspired me to create a couple of new ones here at the blog.

The hot dog bar that I made for the church was put together with all store-bought items for convenience and cost effectiveness. I couldn’t believe how well it went over. I was worried that people would be turned off by the dogs and their reputation for being unhealthy, but to my surprise they were a huge hit and everyone was able to make a dog the way they wanted it to be.

I hope that I get the opportunity one day to go all out and cater an event that requires a gourmet hot dog bar. It would be a fun way to feed a crowd, and a great way to come up with some outstanding new dogs to gobble down for those mid-summer cookouts.

Eat well, cook often ...

Makes 8 dogs; 20 minutes active; 50 minutes total
3 C Coleslaw mix
1/3 C Mayo
1 Tbs Vinegar
1 Tbs Sugar
1 Tbs Vegetable oil
1 1/2 Tbs Ranch seasoning mix
8 strips Bacon
8 hot dogs
8 hot dog buns

Make slaw
In a bowl mix together cabbage, mayo, vinegar, vegetable oil, sugar and ranch seasoning. Refrigerate and let sit for at least half an hour.

Cook bacon, dogs
On a broiler pan in a preheated 425° oven, cook the bacon until crisp, 15 minutes. On a prepared grill cook hot dogs until cooked through, turning periodically. 6 to 8 minutes.

Assemble dogs

Place a dog and strip of bacon in a hot dog bun and top with coleslaw, then serve.

Asian Beef Skewers

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Ginger was introduced to China by way of India more than two thousand years ago and is believed to have originated in the tropical jungles of Southeast Asia, according to The Practical Encyclopedia of Asian Cooking. It has a very distinct aroma and sharp flavor and is widely used in Eastern cuisine, not just for its flavors, but for its medicinal value also. It’s thought that ginger helps digestion, soothes coughs and eases nausea.

Fresh ginger root is sold in most super markets. It has a light brown skin that is easy to removed and the flesh is diced or grated before being added to a dish. It’s also available in dried, ground and pickled form.

For this recipe, I make an Asian sauce featuring fresh ginger, hoisin sauce and orange. I apply it to the beef at the end of cooking and serve it on the side of the finished plate. It has a sweet, citrus flavor with a ginger and garlic base, perfect for a warm summer night in the backyard with a hot grill to cook on and cold drinks to go around.

I love using ginger. During the first winter I was in Fort Wayne I made a Christmas dish for the family that featured ginger and hoisin sauce, two of the ingredients here. It was a vegetable medley with cauliflower, broccoli and red peppers. I thought it was really tasty and complimented the roasted chicken it was served along side of.

Dad ate a little and he didn’t seem all that happy. I asked him what was wrong, he said very frankly “Vegetables taste like soap!” He obviously wasn’t a fan of the ginger.

I really don’t think the dish had enough in it to really taste like soup, but that’s what Dad thought of the dish. I have since made many recipes that have featured ginger and shared with Mom and Dad and he has either gotten used to the taste or he just doesn’t say anything about it any more.

Eat well, cook often ...

Makes 3 to 4 servings; 40 minutes
1 lb Sirloin, thin sliced
10 to 15 Bamboo skewers
1 Tbs Ginger, minced
1 Tbs Garlic, minced
1/2 C Hoisin sauce
1/4 C Plum sauce
1/4 C Orange juice
1 Tbs Orange zest
1 Tbs Sesame oil

Soak skewers, season beef
Soak skewers for at least 30 minutes. Cut beef into 1-inch strips and place on skewers. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Start coals, make sauce
Start charcoal. In a sauce pan over medium heat sauté ginger and garlic in a little olive oil until soft. 1 to 2 minutes. Add hoisin sauce, plum sauce, orange zest, orange juice and sesame oil. Simmer and remove from heat.

Grill, baste skewers

Place skewers on medium-high charcoal grill, baste with sauce, cook 2 minutes. Flip skewers, baste with more sauce and cook another 2 minutes or to desired doneness. Remove and serve with more sauce if desired.

Grilled Ham and Colby-Jack Cheese

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What could be better than a grilled cheese? A grilled HAM and cheese! When I was in high school I worked near a small diner and I loved their grilled ham and cheese. I would have ordered them all the time if they served three per order. I could destroy one in about 20 seconds and I was always left wanting more. I would get them as a snack and they were one of my favorite items on the menu.

When I make them at home I usually make at least two. The first goes down in record time and then I can savor and enjoy the second. I don’t know what it is, but I just seem to devour these little guys like a hyena devouring a wildebeest on the Serenghetti plain.

Instead of going with American cheese I decided to get creative and I went with colby-jack, which added an extra flavor element to the final product and really just inspired me to eat the first one even quicker. Also, I use thin slices of ham, which is key - a slice too thick gets in the way of the creamy cheese. Maybe I should experiment with bigger slices of ham just to make them last longer than 30 seconds.

The first sami didn't last long enough for a photo.

Over the weekend the family was out at the campground for a Saturday afternoon dinner. I decided to make a variety of grilled cheese sandwiches to contribute. I have a new camp chef stove with a griddle attachment and I was itching to put it to use. Needless to say the grilled cheese went over like new toys on Christmas morning. Each one I made I cut into quarters turning them into finger food. The kids inhaled them and most of the adults grabbed a couple for a snack. I made some with cheddar cheese and some with a new cheese, chipotle pepper jack that was really tasty. I think the campground grilled cheese might become a tradition.

After dinner was over, the golden brown crust I had on the sandwiches became a topic of discussion. Most thought I had used butter and were surprised to learn I had used mayo. It’s the only way to toast your bread!

Eat well, cook often ...

Divide for 4 sandwiches
1/4 C Mayonnaise
8 slices Bread
16 slices Colby-Jack cheese
12 slice Ham, cut thin

Spread a thin layer of mayo on side of bread to be grilled. Layer 2 slices of cheese, 3 ham slices, 2 more slice of cheese and top piece of bread. Repeat 4 times. Grill sandwiches until bread is golden brown and cheese is melted, flipping half way through. Then serve.

Italian Sausage and Shells

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A few months back I made a huge pot of chili using Italian flavors and seasonings rather than the usual Mexican flavors. The chili was good, but it tasted as though something was missing. This recipe is an improvement upon the original idea of Italian chili. The addition of pasta shells really helped complete the dish. It may have been the starch or just the need for a vehicle to bind everything together, but whatever it was, its addition sent this out of the park.

I took this to a gathering for a hardy snack and it disappeared in less than 15 minutes. I thought the dish was delicious from the beginning but it disappeared right away. The faster it goes the better the food - unless the people eating haven't eaten for days - and that was not the case here.

Many people will give food a small sample first, then go back for more. When a bunch of people go for that second try the dish will vanish in no time. When that happens you known you did something right.

This is another recipe created for a crowd, I used a large dutch oven for this rather than a slow cooker. It was easier to do on the stove. I was really happy with how this turned out, the sausage had great flavor and, like a said in the beginning, the pasta brought everything together. It’s really a hardy bite, there is a lot of fuel in a few mouthfuls.

It’s important to use a good quality sausage here because it will make or break the entire dish. It’s the seasoning, there are other flavors to compliment, but the spice and flavor of the sausage are front and center. I personally like to buy sausage in links, rather than bulk and remove the sausage from the case. In my experience the bulk sausage is a bit more greasy than what’s in the casing. It could just be me, but I always seem to get a better end result when I use it instead of bulk.

Eat well, cook often ...

Make 12 to 15 servings; 1 hour
3 lbs Italian sausage
1 C Green pepper, diced
1 C Red onion, diced
1 Tbs Garlic, minced
1 jar Traditional pasta sauce (24 oz)
1 box Shells (16oz)
1/2 C Fresh grated parmesan

Brown sausage
Start pasta, see below. In a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat cook sausage until just cooked through and browned, 6 to 8 minutes, break up large chunks, stir occasionally. Remove to paper-towel lined plate and drain all but 1 tablespoon of drippings.

Cook vegetables
Add onion and green pepper to pot and sauté in reserved drippings until soft 3 to 4 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in garlic cook one minute more.

Finish serve
Return sausage to pot, add sauce and stir together with vegetables. Add pasta once finished and drained. Let mixture cook on low until heated through and simmering. Spoon into a bowl, garnish with fresh grated parmesan cheese, then serve.

Bring a gallon of salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add pasta shells, return to a boil and cook 7 to 8 minutes or until al dente, then drain. 

Pulled Pork For 100

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My cousin Tammy is a cancer survivor and every year she organizes a Relay for Life to help raise money for cancer research. Last year she asked me to make the main course for a special meal for survivors at the relay. I must have done ok because she decided to ask for my services again.

This year I not only donated the time to make the food but the cost of the food also, it was the least I could do to help in her effort to help stop the disease that effects all of us one way or the other.

The dinner this year was for 100. Tammy told me there had been a huge donation of rolls so something for a sandwich would be plausible. (Last year I made sliced tenderloin). A few months back I made a slow cooked loin that made for delicious pulled pork sandwiches and I thought it would be perfect for making the large amount needed for the dinner. I found the meat on sale at Kroger and snatched up 25 pounds. All I had to do was prepare, cook and deliver it. I’m happy that I was able to contribute to this great cause that Tammy works so hard at making happen each year.

Over the last year I have really branched out on my own when cooking for crowds. I have learned much from working with my Mom at private catering events and helping the Ragin’ Cajun, John Maxwell, cook for the masses at the Shiloh reception hall last summer. I feel confident enough now to do it myself. Mostly it’s understanding what and how to prepare things that work for large groups.

I would still have trouble creating individual plates for a massive sit-down dinner, but putting out a spread on a table for 60 to 100 is something I can embrace. It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun to do. Catering is not something I want to do full-time but for extra money on the side, or for a great cause like Tammy’s Relay for Life – I’m happy to do it.

Eat well, cook often ...

Makes 100 4 oz servings or sandwiches; 12 hours
1 C Brown sugar
1/2 C Cocoa powder
6 Tbs Chili powder
4 Tbs Cumin
6 Tbs Salt
4 Tbs Black pepper
25 lbs Pork loin, boneless
5 cans Diced tomatoes (28 oz)
5 Onions, diced
100 sandwich buns
1 gallon BBQ sauce

Make rub, season loin
In a bowl mix together brown sugar, cocoa powder, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Sprinkle over and rub into loin with hands until loin is completely covered, set aside for 30 minutes and let marinate.

Sear loin, prepare cookers
In a large pan over medium-high heat sear loin in olive oil (1 or 2 at a time). Mix together tomato, onion in large roasters or crock pots.

Cook loin, shred
Place seared loin on top of vegetable mixture in slow roasters or slow cookers. Cover and cook on low for 10 hours. Remove lid and shred loin with a fork, then stir together meat, juices and vegetables.

Make sandwiches
Place a portion of pork on a sandwich bun and dress with barbecue sauce for serving.

Pizza Grilled Cheese

Printable version
If you like pizza, you will like pizza grilled cheese.

Seriously, I was as impressed with this as I am with a hot slice of pepperoni pizza from a pizza joint. The pizza grilled cheese was a little more portable and finger food friendly though.

This will easily be your kids favorite lunch and it might replace pizza night every once in a while. The crispy toasted bread is an excellent replacement for traditional pizza crust and everything else is the same, so it’s not that far off from a real slice of pie.

Using mayo on the surface of the bread that will touch the hot griddle is an absolute must if your making grilled cheese. For years I used butter and then I read a tip in a magazine that said to use mayo. Hands down, the mayo is the best way to get that golden brown crispy bread, just like the diner. The mayo provides a little grease, but that grease is flavor and it’s the only way to make grilled cheese sandwiches on the griddle.

I had two of these left over (after eating two of them myself) and to my surprise my mom ate both. She had one for lunch on two different days - not two in one sitting. She wrapped one up and put it in the fridge for the next day after eating the first one while it was still warm.

I was surprised that she ate them.

She has been very dedicated to weight watchers for the last two years and has really slimmed down. Part of that is not eating things like pizza grilled cheese, but weight watchers does allow a little splurging. To stay true though, she needed to make up for it at another meal. She thought these were tasty enough to cut points else where.

I thought they were really good when I ate them, but the fact that she was willing to eat them TWICE really tells the true story of how tasty these are.

Eat well, cook often ...

Divide for 4 sandwiches
1/4 C Mayonnaise
8 slices Bread
8 slices Mozzarella cheese
1/4 C Pizza sauce
36 slices Pepperoni

Assemble, grill
Spread a thin layer of mayo on side of bread to be grilled. Layer slice of cheese, 9 pepperoni slices, a tablespoon of pizza sauce, 1 more slice of cheese and top piece of bread. Repeat 4 times. Grill sandwiches until bread is golden brown and cheese is melted, flipping half way through. Then serve.

Crock-Pot Chicken Stir Fry

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I realize that slow cooker stir fry is really an oxymoron. I guess I could call it slow cooker chicken and vegetables with stir fry flavors, but that's just not fun. This pot of yummy goodness tastes like a plate full of stir fry from a fast-food Chinese joint. I could have pumped up the flavors a little by adding some sautéd ginger and garlic but for a dish that will serve fifteen at a pot luck, this totally does the trick.

I made this in the afternoon and didn’t have to serve it until that evening, so for the purposes of the event, I mixed the rice together with the vegetables and reheated the two together before serving. I recommend this method if you’re taking it on the road just for the ease of travel.

This is yet another dish to add to my collection of recipes made to serve a crowd. It’s the first to be Asian inspired and I think I’m going to refine this in the future, like I mentioned in the beginning, I could do a few things that are relatively simple to punch up the flavors but this simple mix really does the trick. It's a low maintenance crowd pleaser.

I served this with srirach on the side.

A friend of mine at the get together put a fair amount of sriracha on his stir fry and that's when the fun began. I love to watch people eat really hot stuff. It seems that as they eat the dish the bites get quicker and quicker, the spicy heat is addicting and it's almost as if they're stoking the fire. Sometimes they’ll even sweat or have a runny nose. I can always tell when someone is indulging in something spicy and hot.

Sriracha is one of my favorites to eat and observe being devoured, it makes most domestic sauces labeled “hot” seem like a mild salad dressing – And it really hits the spot if you love the spice.

Eat well, cook often ...

12 to 15 servings; 2 hours, 30 minutes
3 lbs Chicken thighs, boneless and cut in pieces
3 lbs Stir fry vegetables, frozen
1 jar Stir fry sauce (12 oz)
2 C Rice
4 C Water

Brown chicken
In a large skillet over medium-high heat brown chicken thigh pieces in a little olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste. Cook in batches if necessary. Once browned move to crock-pot.

Cook vegetables
Mix vegetables and stir fry sauce with the chicken in crock pot. Cover and cook on high until vegetables are heated through and chicken is fully cooked, 2 hours. Serve over rice, see below.

In a large pot over medium-high heat toast rice in a little olive oil for 2 minutes. Add water and bring to a boil, cover and remove from heat. Let sit at least 25 minutes. Remove lid and fluff rice fork. 

Smoky Pablano Black Bean Soup

Printable version
I was walking through Meijer the other night and a little package caught my eye. When I stopped to inspect, I found it was jowl bacon. It was cheaper than normal bacon and I had a soup on my mind – long story short – I bought it and everything else I needed to make a smoky black bean and pablano soup.

I had never worked with jowl bacon before.

Right off the bat I noticed that there was a lot more fat in it than regular bacon – And a little goes a long way. I diced up the pound package and realized I had enough to make about 6 gallons of soup. I divided it, reserved what I needed and froze the other portions. The first step to making the soup was rendering my new found ingredient.

And render it did!

I cooked the jowl bacon until some brown crispy goodness started to appear, then poured off all but a tablespoon of the fat. I had to get rid of some of it because the third of a pound I kept had created what seemed like a cup of drippings. I was really surprised my the amount of fat that came from such a small amount.

I used the drippings to sauté the veggies, then returned the bacon and added the rest of the elements to the pot and let it simmer away.

In the end, it turned out to be a flavorful bite the featured the pablano pepper. As the soup simmered more of the jowl bacon broke down and the fat melted away into the rest of the soup, giving it a nice but somewhat greasy flavor. A couple days later I went to eat leftovers and was surprised to see that once cooled, the soup became solid. There was enough fat from the jowl bacon to solidify the whole thing once chilled down! 

In hind site, I would just rather use regular bacon because it is the superior product for making this type of soup. I want to work with jowl bacon again though, but I want a recipe that needs that much fat or added flavor – for soups, I’ll stick with regular bacon. The jowl bacon was just too greasy for my taste, but it might be just what some people are looking for.

Eat well, cook often ...

Serves 4; 35 minutes
1/3 lb Jowl bacon, diced
1/2 C Onion, diced
1/2 C Celery, diced
1 1/2 C Pablano pepper, diced
1 Tbs Garlic, minced
4 C Chicken broth
1 can Black beans, drained (15 oz)
1 Tbs Thyme, fresh

Render bacon, sauté vegetables

In a large pot over medium heat sauté jowl bacon until slightly crisp and much of the fat is rendered. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate with a slotted spoon. Discard all but 1 tablespoon of drippings. Add onion, celery and pablano peppers. Season to taste and cook until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add garlic cook 2 minutes more.

Make soup, finish
Return bacon to pot and add broth, black beans and thyme. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until beans are soft, 20 to 25 minutes. Spoon into bowls and serve.

Tomatillo Ranch Dressing

Printable version
Recently I discovered a number of recipes for Tomatillo Ranch Dressing from the Cafe Rio Mexican Grill, a chain restaurant located mostly in the Western United States. The dressing is on a list that includes Michael Jordan, The Empire Strikes Back, Led Zeppelin and cargo shorts. They are what I like to call “the greatest ever.” The dressing is so good that it makes the “special sauce” on a McDonald’s Big Mac seem like “OK sauce.” I personally think it is so delicious that I’ve considered doing shots of it to wash down french fries.

Last weekend I ate at the Salsa Grille in Fort Wayne and to my excitement they had their own version of the dressing. I asked the manager for the recipe and he told me where to find it on-line, so I looked it up.

For this recipe, I’m sharing my copycat version of the Cafe Rio’s Tomatillo Ranch Dressing. There are several places that this recipe can be found and it’s not something I invented myself, but it’s so good it must be shared — It’s my culinary obligation.

I first tasted Tomatillo Ranch Dressings at the St. James Deli in New York City. I have mentioned this little bodega many times here at Behind the Bites, but this sauce was THE reason I kept going back. They called it “White Sauce.” I once successfully bartered a trade for it from a young man working the graveyard shift. I traded him a CD from the heavy metal band I was playing drums in for a pint-sized bottle.

I put it on everything I ate for three days in a row. Then by accident I left it out all night. It was a devastating mishap, because it happened before I could really narrow in on the ingredients to recreate it. Honestly, It would have been a while before I would have figured it out because I thought the secret to the sauce was pickle brine, but really the secret here is the ranch packet. It would have taken me a while to go that direction simply because I thought it didn’t include any premixed seasoning packets.

I was so happy when I found this recipe on-line the other day, I will always have it on hand now to dress salads, sandwiches and tacos - I think I’ll go drink a glass of it right now.

Eat well cook often ...

Inspired by version at Cafe Rio
Makes 1 quart; 10 minutes (2 hours resting)
1 C Buttermilk
1 C Mayonnaise
1 C Cilantro, fresh
2 Tomatillos quartered
1 pkg Ranch dressing mix, (1 oz)
1  Jalapeño, seeded, diced
1 Tbs Lime juice
1 clove Garlic

Blend, refrigerate
In a blender place buttermilk, mayo, cilantro, tomatillo, ranch seasoning, jalapeño, lime juice and garlic. Blend until smooth. Pour into a jar, seal and refrigerate for at least 2 hours for the flavors to meld.

Cheddar Chipotle Potato Cakes

Printable version
For my last post I created Nacho Potato Skins, which left me with 3 cups of cooked potato that I could either throw away or put to good use. Rather than throw it out, this is what I made – Chipotle cheddar potato cakes! They were fun to make and tasty to eat. I got dirty and used my fingers to make the patties for this one. It was just like mixing together a meat loaf, I could’ve used a spoon but it’s easier and more thorough to use the fingers and just get messy.

The potato is really just a canvas used to hold and present the other flavors. I decided to use my holy trinity: cheddar-bacon-chipotle, or creamy-smoky-spicy. I love that flavor combo. I bet I ate 7 or 8 of these myself, enough for the spice of the chipotle to give me heartburn and for me, That’s a lot! On second thought the pickled jalapenos as garnish may have contributed to that also. Hard to tell, one thing’s for sure though – I ate a bunch of these.

It took me a batch in the skillet to get these right. At first I had too much oil in the pan and I wasn’t getting the crust, so I had to change course. That’s when I cleaned the skillet and used just enough oil so the cakes wouldn't stick, and I left them alone until they were sizzling. It took a little patience and a change of direction, but I got the crispy skin to compliment the creamy and cheesy center.

I ate them with sour cream and pickled jalapeno but these could have been put in a sandwich just as easy. Any number of ingredients and flavors could be used to make them and I highly recommend trying something like this when there is left over baked or mashed potato. Actually, I’d be willing to cook some potatoes to just make more cakes like these again.

Eat well, cook often ...

Make 10 to 12 cakes; 30 minutes
3 C Potato, fully cooked or mashed
1 C Cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 C Bread crumbs
1/2 C Bacon, crumbled
1 Egg
2 Tbs Chipotle pepper, minced
Pickled jalapenos and sour cream for garnish

Mix ingredients, form patties
In a large bowl mix together potatoes, cheese, bread crumbs, bacon, egg and chipotle pepper. Thoroughly combine. Roll about a 1/4 cup of the mixture into a ball and flatten into a patty. Repeat until mixture is gone. Should make 10 to 12 patties.

Cook and serve
In a large skillet with a little oil cook patties in batches until golden brown. 3 to 4 minutes per side. Remove to a plate, garnish with sour cream and pickled jalapeño, then serve.