Posts About ‘Food & Drink’

Meatless Mandays

Friday, March 15th, 2013

As I discussed in this space last week, we’ve been trying to incorporate a number of meatless dishes into our weekly meal plan. Recently, Manwich asked me to come up with an original recipe using their products for their Case of the Mandays campaign to help promote family meal time, so I decided to see if I could create a Meatless Manday.

It was definitely a risk, as one does not typically associate a meatless dish with Manwich, but it definitely worked out great. Craving chili I went with my gut and decided to see how I could transform it into a meatless dish using Manwich Thick and Chunky as a base ingredient.

For the longest time I’ve been making my wife a curried lentil stew for her to take to work for lunch. And the first thing I did when learning to prepare meatless dishes was to expand my lentil repertoire, as they are hearty and chocked full of protein. So, working from lentils as a substitute for the standard ground beef, I set out to make what would become my lentil and kale chili.

It came out rich, hearty, and flavorful. I garnished the bowl of chili with some shredded cheddar cheese and some thinly sliced scallions to add both a different color to the plate and texture to the meal. Surprisingly, it was even a moderate hit with our children.

To encourage consumption by our two children under the age of five, I did tone down the level of spice in this chili to make it a little more family friendly.  So if your kids are older, or more accustomed to spicier fare, you’ll probably want to make some adjustments to suit your families’ taste.

Overall, this lentil and kale chili was a crowd pleaser and will become part of the regular rotation at our family dinner table. As if that wasn’t enough, there are three other reasons why this dish makes for a great weeknight meal:

First, it is a one pot deal, so clean up is a cinch. Even though I do the cooking while my wife does the cleaning, I do whatever I can to limit the mess I make. This way we have more time between dinner and the bath time struggle to spend together as a family.

Second, a single batch makes roughly eight to ten servings, so depending on how big your family is you can scale it to make more, or be ready with several meals in advance. You could have dinner for multiple nights already prepared, or, since it freezes well, have a single meal you can grab whenever you need a lunch in a pinch.

Finally, it was very economical. All of the ingredients to make a single batch cost me less than $15, or $1.88 per serving based on eight servings.

Manwich would like to help you get over your Case of the Mandays and get your family together at the dinner table. After the recipe below you can enter to win a Manwich Manday Survival Kit, which includes:

  • 1 Calphalon skillet ($80 value)
  • 4 Manwich bibs
  • 1 wooden spoon
  • 1 mini canister of handiwipes
  • $50 grocery gift card
  • Manwich product

This great prize pack is worth more than $150, so enter from now through March 25, 2013. And, for even more Manwich Mandays ideas, be sure to check out all the entries in the Case of the Mandays campaign.

Lentil and Kale Chili with Manwich


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 3 bell peppers, finely chopped
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 6oz can Hunt’s tomato paste
  • 2 cups brown lentils
  • 2 15oz cans Manwich Thick and Chunky
  • 1 10oz can Rotel Diced Tomatoes & Green Chiles
  • 4 cups veggie stock
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 bunch kale, sliced into ribbons
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • scallions, thinly sliced (for garnish)
  • shredded cheddar cheese (for garnish)


  1. In a large saucepan or dutch oven heat the olive oil, then add the chopped onion and a pinch of salt and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, or until translucent
  2. Stir in the garlic, cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, then add the chopped green bell peppers
  3. Add the chili power, cumin, oregano, and paprika, then stir to coat the vegetables
  4. Mix in the tomato paste and cook for three or four minutes until the paste turns a deeper shade of red
  5. Add the lentils and stir to combine, then add the can of Rotel and both cans of Manwich
  6. Lightly season with salt and pepper, then cover the mixture with the vegetable stock and water and bring to a boil
  7. Once boiling reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the lentils are at the desired tenderness
  8. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary
  9. Ladle the chili out into a bowl, garnish with cheese and thinly sliced scallions, serve and enjoy

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: I am a compensated Weeknight Meal Expert for Manwich. Also, I was provided Manwich products to develop my recipe, as well as a prize pack similar to the one being given away. The recipe, ideas and opinions expressed in this blog post are my own.

Roasted Cauliflower Coconut Bisque

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

Things have been a little quiet here on the food front here at Digital Dads so far this year. The biggest reason has been that I’ve been trying to figure some things out. 2012 was a stressful year for me and I didn’t do a very good job of taking care of my health. As we rolled into the new year I finally decided it was time to get my act together. Fortunately, my wife’s work has a living well program that rewards her with discounts on our health insurance premiums for meeting specific health metrics. And for 2013 they’ve also included metrics on spouses covered by the plan as a way to increase the discount. One of the challenges was to incorporate more meatless dishes into the weekly meal plan. For the first week we have to refrain from red meat. The second week we skip pork, the third poultry. By the fourth week we have to have a certain number of days where we are completely meat free. Preparing for this has been difficult because I am an avowed carnivore who has never had the best history with vegetables. In the last few years I’ve gotten better at eating them in order to set a good example for my kids. Still, the idea of making the jump to a meatless diet, even if only a few times a week, was something I never could imagine. Over the past two months I’ve done a lot of research and made a number of different dishes with varying degrees of success. One of the best, in my opinion, has been this roasted cauliflower coconut bisque that I made based off a recipe I found over on PBS’ Fresh Tastes blog. Cauliflower has been one of the things I’ve really come to enjoy in my efforts to incorporate more vegetables in my diet, and soups are always a great thing to have pre made for the nights you don’t have the time to (or, don’t really feel like) cooking. From the original recipe I decided to add a few more elements to the soup by adding some heat with ginger and jalapeño and some acidity with a splash of rice wine vinegar. Then I topped it off with some chopped chili spiced cashews, thinly sliced scallions, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and a pinch of Malden sea salt. Throw in a chunk of crusty bread and this hearty soup is a great way to add some meatless meals into the mix. Do you have a favorite meatless meal?

Roasted Cauliflower Coconut Bisque

adapted from a recipe at the PBS Fresh Tastes blog


  • 1 medium head cauliflower
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 medium leek, roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeño, roughly chopped and seeded
  • 1 2″ chunk ginger root, roughly chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
  • 2 stalks lemongrass, halved and bruised
  • zest and juice of one lime
  • 2-3 cups vegetable stock, unsalted
  • splash of rice wine vinegar
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • scallions, for garnish
  • chili spiced cashews, for garnish
  • Maldon sea salt, for garnish
  • olive oil, for garnish


  1. Break down the head of cauliflower, place in an oven safe roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper, then place in 350 degree oven for 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown
  2. While cauliflower is roasting, sauté onions in a heavy bottomed pan for 5 to 6 minutes, or until translucent
  3. Add leek, jalapeño, ginger and garlic, and continue to cook for another 3 to 5 minutes
  4. When cauliflower is finished roasting, add to the heavy bottomed pan along with the cilantro, lemongrass, lime zest and juice and two cups of the vegetable stock
  5. Bring soup base to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 35 to 40 minutes
  6. Remove the bay leaf and lemongrass and discard
  7. Transfer the soup base to a blender in batches (you may need to add some of the remaining cup of veggie stock to thin things out).
  8. If desired, run through a fine mesh strainer
  9. Bring the blended and strained base back up to a low boil in the heavy bottomed pan and add the coconut milk and cook for 5 to 10 minutes
  10. Taste and adjust seasoning, as necessary
  11. Ladle the finished bisque into bowls and garnish with thinly sliced scallions, crushed chili spiced cashews, a pinch of Maldon sea salt, and olive oil
  12. Serve with some crusty bread and enjoy

Pesto Blasted Cruciferous Vegetables

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

About a month ago my wife and I met up with a friend for dinner at a restaurant over in the arts district of Charlotte. This is one of my favorite areas of town because it has tons of great restaurants, and, more importantly, several of the great microbreweries that have popped up over the last three years.

One of the appetizers at this particular restaurant was “blasted brussel sprouts” and both of my dinner companions were eager to try them. These sprouts were roasted, then tossed with an arugula and walnut pesto, which I thought was a solid way to make them more palatable.

Veggies and I have a very sordid history. It’s only been recently that I’ve started taking to certain vegetables, and most of the time I eat them reluctantly. However, since having these “blasted” veggies my food processor has been working over time making pesto. Coating cruciferous vegetables with essentially pureed vegetables is a flavorful revelation for someone that generally cannot stand them.

For some, cruciferous vegetables can taste quite bitter. To others, they are virtually tasteless. This is due to compounds in them that some are genetically inclined to taste, whereas others are not. I definitely fall into the majority who finds cruciferous vegetables, which include kale, bok choy, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage amongst others, quite bitter unless roasted for a long time and flavored with other things. Like bacon.

Over the past few weeks I’ve made pesto blasted cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and broccoli for dinner and served them the likes of grilled chicken, pork cutlets, and pan seared New York strips. While the cauliflower has been my clear favorite, I’ve enjoyed eating all three. I’ve even gone back for seconds.

We haven’t had much traction in getting the kids to eat these, but my wife is happy that I’ve become more enthusiastic about eating vegetables at dinner time. Aside from setting a good example for my kids, cruciferous vegetables are considered to be quite healthy for you, as they are high in vitamin c, soluble fiber, and contain multiple nutrients and phytochemicals with potential anticancer properties.

Lastly, they are super easy to prepare. After washing and breaking down your cruciferous vegetable of choice, all you have to do is heat up a pan until it is super hot, add some canola or other neutral cooking oil that holds up well to high heat, caramelize them, season with a little salt and pepper, then turn down the heat and cook until they reach the doneness you desire. We tend to like ours on the crunchier side, so I cook them for about 15 to 20 minutes. Brussel sprouts need about 30 to 40.

Finally, after removing them from the heat, allow them to cool slightly in a bowl before spooning a few tablespoons of the arugula and walnut pesto, or a pesto of your choosing, on top and tossing until well coated. These pesto blasted cruciferous vegetables can be served with a number of different proteins, or some nice pan roasted potatoes if you’re trying to keep your meal vegetarian.

What is your favorite way to “hide” your vegetables to make them more palatable to eat?

Smokey Bacon Deviled Eggs

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

The holidays are approaching, so it is time to flex the creative muscles a little bit and come up with little twists on entertaining classics. One of my personal favorites is the deviled egg. Unfortunately, they rank very high on my wife’s list of things that she will not eat under any circumstances, so I rarely get an opportunity to make them.

This past week, however, my inlaws came into town to celebrate Christmas early, as my wife has to work this year. Since they are open to just about anything, I took the opportunity to make some deviled eggs replacing the mayonnaise and mustard in the traditional recipe with my smokey pancetta aioli.

I didn’t deviate too far the standard script, using a recipe I found at Serious Eats as the basis for mine. The only other thing I replaced was the hot sauce for a little liquid smoke and I added some shallots in for a little texture and flavor.

They came out amazingly good, creamy with a nice smokey flavor from the liquid smoke, paprika and, of course, the bacon. I garnished them with finely chopped bacon and chives, a touch of Maldon sea salt, and a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil before dusting them with more smoked Spanish paprika.

And the best part of doing all of this was that I had plenty of aioli left over to make my favorite tuna sandwich of all time. Since I’ve never been successful in using either my food processor or an immersion blender to prepare an aioli, I only do it by hand and it takes far too long to do it as often as I’d like. Also, since I tend to overstuff my egg white halves, I usually have four to six leftover that need to be put to good use.

After mixing the leftover egg whites, the tuna, and the aioli, I dressed a handful of baby arugula with some lemon juice, olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt and made my family all a nice lunch. Plus we had a nice snack all ready for later when we exchanged our presents later that evening.

What are your favorite holiday entertaining recipes?

Smokey Bacon Deviled Eggs


  • 1 dozen eggs3 tablespoons smokey pancetta aioli
  • 1 small shallot, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon smoked spanish paprika, half reserved or garnish
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard powder
  • 1-2 drops liquid smoke (optional)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, equally divided
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • chives
  • crunchy sea salt (i.e., Maldon)


  1. Place eggs in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water.
  2. Put the saucepan over high heat and bring to a boil, then cover, remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes
  3. Drain the saucepan and peel the eggs under cold running water
  4. Split the hard boiled eggs in half, reserving the 18 best looking egg white halves
  5. Put egg yolks to a food processor, then add aioli, mustard, shallot pickled in the vinegar, liquid smoke (if desired), spanish paprika, and mustard powder.
  6. Pulse until smooth, occasionally stopping to scrape down the sides.
  7. With food processor running, drizzle 2 tablespoons of the olive oil.
  8. Taste, then season with salt and pepper to taste.
  9. Scrape mixture into a zip top bag, cut off a corner and pipe the yolk mixture into the reserved egg white halves.
  10. Drizzle with remaining olive oil and garnish with chives, sea salt, chopped bacon, and smoked spanish paprika, if desired.

PJ’s Smokey Bacon Tuna Sandwich


  • 1 can Bumble Bee Tonno in Oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons smokey pancetta aioli
  • 3-4 halves hard boil egg whites, chopped
  • Baby arugula
  • Lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • Bread of choice


  1. Crumble tuna in a medium sized bowl, then add the aioli and chopped egg whites and stir until combined
  2. Spoon tuna mixture onto bread of choice, then top with baby arugula dressed in olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice

Disclosure: As part of the Bee Squad I receive product information and samples and Bumble Bee sponsored my attendance at the 2012 Type A Parent conference. I was not compensated in any other way, nor was I offered or promised anything else in exchange or my review of their products, recipes or BeeWell For Life program. All opinions contained herein are my own.

Turkey Confit with Roasted Beet Salad

Saturday, December 1st, 2012

It’s been just over a week since Thanksgiving and I’m just about recovered from 17 hours of cooking over three days for thirty minutes of consumption. Clearly I have issues, but once again, it was totally worth it and I hope that you and yours had a fantastic day, however you chose to spend it.

Last year I tried my hand at preparing turkey three ways by going all Dexter on my turkey. It was so well received that my wife asked if I could make this our family Thanksgiving tradition after over five years of major overhauls to the holiday menu. I agreed in principle to prepare turkey three ways, but being me I couldn’t leave well enough alone.

Thanksgiving in our house is an intimate affair, as I usually only have four to six people to feed. So, it gives me the ability to go a little insane, culinarily speaking. If I had to cook for more than that, I would in all likelihood revert to a more traditional, family style meal.

The madness started a month or two before Thanksgiving. I wanted to keep the same three ways I prepared the turkey, but I wanted to be a little more playful in how I presented the meal. I decided that my three preparations would be presented to my family as breakfast (turkey sausage served on a waffle with a cranberry maple syrup), lunch (turkey confit with a roasted beet salad and a pumpkin seed vinaigrette), and dinner (turkey wellington served with green beans, duck fat fingerling potatoes, and, of course, cranberry sauce).

I bought new plates just for the day. I labored over every detail, every ingredient. I wrote a game plan covering the three days of preparation it would require to make every element of every dish from scratch. Finally, I made a list, checked it twice and then spent the GDP of a small island nation at Whole Paycheck.

It was a crazy idea, crazy delicious. I’ll probably never do anything like that again, but it was so worth it just to hear to oohs and aahs as I presented everyone with their dinner plates that night.

And, of the three presentations, my clear favorite was lunch. I’ve recently become enamored with beets and combined with the turkey confit, pumpkin seed vinaigrette, and pomegranate seeds it was a wonderfully flavorful and playful dish that I will likely make again all on its own.

It is a little time consuming to prepare, but this is something you can prepare in advance for a crowd or make a lot of and have as leftovers a few times.

If you’re looking for something new and interesting, I hope you’ll consider giving this a try.

Turkey Confit with Roasted Beet Salad


Cure (about 6 turkey legs and wings)

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 25 black peppercorns, crushed
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 2 teaspoons ground white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 bay leaves, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme


  • Cured turkey legs and wings
  • 6 to 8 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 1/2 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
  • 4 to 5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Turkey stock, to cover

Beet Preparation

  • 2 bunches of red beets (about six in total)
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons shallots, roughly chopped
  • zest and juice of one orange
  • kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • olive oil

Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette

  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoons shallot, finely minced
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 2/3 cup canola oil
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin seed oil
  • 2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds


  1. Mix the cure ingredients together and set aside; wash the turkey legs and wings and pat dry
  2. Liberally apply the cure, wrap tightly in plastic, then refrigerate overnight, or up to 12 hours
  3. Remove from refrigerator, unwrap and wash off cure under cold water
  4. Place the turkey in a cooking vessel large enough to hold them, then add garlic, cracked peppercorns, sprigs of thyme, and bay leaves; cover with turkey stock (or, if you want to be more traditional, use canola oil)
  5. Put in 300 degree oven for about 3 hours until cooked through and falling apart
  6. While turkey confit is in the oven, begin prepping the beets. Scrub the beets clean, cut off the tops and bottoms so they sit flat and arrange on a sheet of aluminum foil.
  7. Drizzle olive oil over the beets; add the garlic, shallots, orange zest and juice, and salt and pepper, then wrap them up in the aluminum foil and put them in the oven for about one and half to two hours, or until fork tender
  8. In a nonreactive bowl, add the honey, kosher salt, shallot, garlic, orange juice, and white wine vinegar and whisk to combine.
  9. Begin drizzling in the canola oil and whisk rapidly until an emulsion is achieved, then add the pumpkin seed oil, and finally the pumpkin seeds
  10. Set the dressing aside until ready to dress the beets (the dressing will separate, simply whisk back together before using it)
  11. When the turkey is done, remove it from the liquid, separate the meat from the fat and bone. Shred the meat with two forks, just as you would do with pulled pork; add a few tablespoons of the hot liquid to the shredded meat, cover with foil, and set aside
  12. Allow the beets to cool slightly, then while running them under cold water remove the outer layer and dice (gloves are a good idea, as your hands will turn purplish red otherwise)
  13. After the diced beets have cooled slightly, dress them with some of the pumpkin seed vinaigrette; let the roasted beet salad rest for 10-15 minutes, then taste and dress again with the vinaigrette, if necessary, to taste
  14. Plate this by spooning a serving of beets onto the middle of a plate, then arrange some of the confit on top of the beets and garnish, if desired, with pomegranate seeds


Tuesday, November 20th, 2012


OK, in preparation for Thanksgiving I’ve reviewed hundreds of recipes, ideas, tips, how-to’s, help lines and more. Here are the links that you might find useful.

– A whole lotta menus for 2 to 20 peeps (Gourmet)

– Overall Thanksgiving Guide includes Vegetarian and Gluten Free (The Daily Meal)

– Recipes you can make ahead (Saveur)

– Food & Wine’s Ultimate Holiday Guide

Every Stuffing Recipe You’ll Ever Need (The Daily Meal)

– Except this one

Veganizing Thanksgiving (FOOD 52)

– Gluten Free Ideas

– One more cranberry

– The Easy Thanksgiving Menu (Chow)

– Wait, you need even more recipes? (Foodista)

– Sweet Potatoes with Bourbon and Maple (Bon Appetit)

– Bryan Voltaggio’s go-to cranberry sauce (TastingTable)

– Sweet-Potato Casserole

– Good looking dessert: Apple Crostata with Spiced Caramel Sauce LINK

– A FREE downloadable digital guide with a lot of helpful how-to’s here (Tasting Table)

– Sam Sifton’s Thanksgiving Rules, an excellent video

– The Dry-Brined Turkey (Food 52)

– How To Carve (A Chicken, But It’s The Same for a) Turkey. Video

– Why You Should Spatchcock Your Turkey (CHOW)

– The Truth About Brining Turkey (Serious Eats)

– Steam the turkey? The best TV chef instructor in history does. How?

– Table setting ideas (The Daily Meal)

– The Thanksgiving Timeline, a stress free step-by-step checklist (Epicurious)

– A complete guide to roasting the perfect bird (Epicurious)

– Thanksgiving Help Line (NY Times)

– The Thanksgiving-erator, an interactive thingie (NY Times)

Wine: 4 Top Viogniers for Roast Turkey

– There’s an APP for that…

– Recipes, music ideas, wine & more

>>> I think this is THE perfect gift.

Anyone else need a nap already?

Sweet Potato and Tuna Holiday Wreath

Monday, November 12th, 2012

I love a challenge, especially in the kitchen. So, when Bumble Bee asked me to participate in a Holiday Recipe Challenge, I knew I had opportunity to do something really fun and creative. Cooking this time of year, with all the great fall flavors, is easily my favorite.

Immediately I began thinking about something that would look great on a holiday party table and that was representative of the season. Still, I wasn’t quite sure how I could get bring in tuna as a protein until my mother reminded me of a dish she used to make for dinner parties for guests that didn’t care for red meat. It was essentially tuna mixed with a number of other ingredients then baked in a biscuit dough. Taking this idea one step further, my wife suggested making it in the shape of a wreath, similar to a recipe she had seen done at a Pampered Chef party.

With these ideas in mind I began plotting out the tuna filling portion of this, filling it with as many fall oriented ingredients like sage, pecans, dried cranberries, and orange zest. I also decided to toss in red and green bell peppers to keep things festive. Finally, I thought that making a sweet potato biscuit dough would bring the whole thing together.

The filling for this sweet potato and tuna holiday wreath is very simple and easy to prepare. The biscuit dough was a little more time consuming, as I had to roast the sweet potatoes, make the dough, and then refrigerate it before rolling it out and cutting it into triangular shapes to create the foundation for the wreath.

If you didn’t want to take the time to make the biscuit dough yourself, the crescent roll dough you can buy in stores would really speed up the assembly process and give you a great result as well. This is especially important if you’ve already got a bunch of other holiday baking to get through.

All in all this was a lot of fun to make, and quite tasty. I will most certainly be making a few more of these to serve to our guests throughout the holiday season.

Sweet Potato & Tuna Holiday Wreath from PJ Mullen on Vimeo.

Sweet Potato & Tuna Holiday Wreath


  • Sweet potato biscuit dough
  • 2 cans Bumble Bee Tonno in Olive Oil
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup fennel, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup green bell pepper, diced
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 tablespoon fresh sage, finely chopped
  • zest of one orange
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 8 whole pecans (for garnish)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted


  1. Assemble the biscuit dough according to the Chow recipe, then refrigerate to firm up
  2. In a medium size mixing bowl, break up the two cans of tuna, then stir in the mayonnaise until combined
  3. Then, mix in the red and green bell pepper, fennel, cranberries, pecans, sage and orange zest
  4. Taste, then season with salt and pepper accordingly
  5. Roll out the dough approximately 1/4″ thick, then cut into triangles with the longest side approximately 6″ long
  6. Arrange the triangles in a star like pattern, overlapping the corners of the shortest side (see video for a visual)
  7. Scoop and place the filling around the inside of the biscuit dough, then fold over the long edge over the filling and tuck inside the middle of the ring
  8. Garnish the wreath with whole pecans (if desired), brush with melted butter, and bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until biscuit is golden brown

Disclosure: As part of the Bee Squad I receive product information and samples and Bumble Bee sponsored my attendance at the 2012 Type A Parent conference. I was not compensated in any other way, nor was I offered or promised anything else in exchange or my review of their products, recipes or BeeWell For Life program. All opinions contained herein are my own.

The Rookies

Saturday, November 3rd, 2012

Early last week one of my best friends reached out to me and asked if I’d like to help him in a chili cook off competition. Even though I’m not terribly passionate about chili, I thought it would be a fun time. Plus, the event was a fundraiser for the local Ronald McDonald House.

Considering that neither of us had a battled tested recipe at our disposal, it also provided us with an opportunity to do some research into the various styles of chili one could make. My friend took the lead in developing the recipe, while I offered up my opinion on things as the competition approached.

As my wife got home from work that Friday, I grabbed my overnight bag, said goodbye to my family, and headed out the door. Making the five-ish hour trek to Charlottesville, I arrived at my friend’s house just in time to taste the test batch he had been working on in advance of the cook off.

My buddy had chosen to keep the chili old school, sticking to the mantra that “if you know beans about chili, you know that chili has no beans”. He decided to bring the heat by toasting and grinding his own mix of chili peppers to be used in the spice mix and forgo the addition of any freshly diced chile peppers during the cooking process. We also decided to run with a mix of three different cuts of beef for our chili meat, a even blend between chuck, brisket and short rib. And, just for good measure, we added the tiniest bit of bacon to the grind to round things out.

Saturday morning we packed up his car and made our way to the competition. I’ve never participated in anything like this before, and we were very diligent about complying with the various Board of Health rules and regulations to enable us to participate. We finished setting up, got inspected, and a few minutes later were the proud owners of a temporary food establishment permit.

It was the first year that this competition was being held and there were only five other competitors in the cook off. We had dubbed ourselves “The Rookies”, however, roughly half the field had never competed before, so we felt both relieved by that fact and emboldened by our chances.

Due to the simplicity of our recipe we were sitting back enjoying a few brews about 45 minutes into the allotted three hours of prep and cooking time. Other than stirring, constantly adjusting the fickle gas burner, tasting and occasionally re-seasoning, we didn’t have a whole lot to do until it was time to prepare our garnish and serve our chili.

As the taste test portion of the competition started we eagerly awaited feedback on our creation. We felt it was a rather complex concoction with a moderate amount of heat and a nice texture from the meat blend we had chosen. In serving our chili, we offered those tasting it the options of adding freshly grated monterrey jack cheese and thinly sliced scallions as a garnish.

The people that came to the cook off received a spoon, dixie cups and a gold coin, which they were to use to vote for their favorite chili after sampling everyone’s wares. In surveying our competition we were the only entry that did not have beans, which gave us a little bit of pause, but soon the gold coins started to roll in.

When it was all over we finished third, one gold coin away from a three way tie for first place and the ability to participate in a final “taste off” that determined the winner. We felt it was a respectable finish given that our chili recipe was barely a week old and the only batch ever made was done the night before the contest with no real time or ability to make any major changes to the game plan.

We had a lot of fun doing it, met some great people, and, of course, helped to support a great cause. My buddy and I are already thinking about next year and what we might do different. I even managed to catch the “chili bug”, as I brought the leftovers home with me for further analysis.

Are you passionate about chili? What do you think makes a perfect batch? Is it a secret ingredient or just perfect execution of a time honored recipe?

Avoid the Slime

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Pink Slime | Jamie Oliver

That picture looks awfully appealing, no?

Awful by itself is probably a more apt description. That right there is pink slime, a seemingly unnatural combination of lean beef trimmings that have been separated from the fat and are passed through a centrifuge, then commonly exposed to an ammonia gas to kill bacteria such as e coli. You might have heard of it, as it has been in the news quite a bit over the past week.

If you have a package of ground beef in your refrigerator, then there is about a 70% chance that your meat contains this filler product. Some times called boneless lean beef trimmings or finely textured lean beef, pink slime is an industrial product created by those in the beef industry in the interest of not wasting any bits of meat that travel along the production line. The USDA has declared pink slime to be a safe source of nutrition and does not require companies using it as filler in their ground meat products to specifically label its presence or the quantity thereof because they consider it beef.

ABC News recently published an article titled “Where you can get ‘pink-slime’ free beef” where they sent out inquiries to a number of grocery store chains to determine whether or not their ground beef contained any of this filler product. One of the most disturbing parts of this article was from an interview with Kit Foshee, a former corporate quality assurance manager with Beef Products, Inc., the creator of pink slime, who stated that it “kind of looks like Play-Doh. It’s pink and frozen. It’s not what the typical person would consider meat.”

Foshee went on to say that “pink slime comes from a low grade of beef trimmings unlike what they called real ground beef…The low grade trimmings come from parts of the cow most susceptible to contamination, often close to the hide, which is highly exposed to fecal matter. But, because of BPI’s treatment of the trimmings – simmering them in low heat, separating the fat and tissue using a centrifuge and spraying them with ammonia gas to kill germs – the USDA says it’s safe to eat.

It was also recently reported that the USDA had purchased millions of dollars of pink slime for use in ground beef that is intended to be sold to schools. And while the USDA has gone on record saying they are leaving it up the individual schools to decide whether they want to purchase beef either with or without the so called lean finely textured beef, it is still unsettling that some schools will serve meat containing up to 25% pink slime to children across the country.

Now I rarely get on my soap box about food matters, mostly because what you eat or don’t eat really should be a personal decision. For my family I do my best to keep processed foods out of my home, I ensure the labels of whatever I do buy show that there is no high fructose corn syrup, and I work hard to do most of my shopping around the perimeter of the store, specifically in the produce, meat and dairy departments. But that is what works for us and I wouldn’t pass judgment on anyone that doesn’t think this way.  However, I can’t bare to stand silent on the matter of the slime.

I don’t care what the USDA says, what BPI’s “pink slime is a myth” website purports to explain away, or what any “expert” might say to defend this practice. Pink slime isn’t food and shouldn’t be consumed, especially when you consider that it’s original use was as an additive to dog food. Anything that has to be cooked at low heat and then sprayed with ammonia (regardless of the fact that it is considered a naturally occurring substance and can be found in some quantities in beef itself) in order for it to be edible shouldn’t be considered a food product.

The ABC News article does a nice job breaking down the response from the various supermarket chains and provides good information for consumers to make a educated choice about where they can purchase pink slime free ground beef. However, if you’ve read any of my columns with any regularity, you know there is only one true way to avoid the slime.

Grind it yourself!

Now you might be saying to yourself that grinding your own meat takes time and possibly an investment in some equipment. Sure, it does. Anything worth doing, or in this case avoiding, takes time and money. To be perfectly clear, I’m not advocating for anyone to go out and spend hundreds of dollars on a professional grade grinder. In fact, some the best grinders for home use that money can buy are less than fifty dollars.

I have been grinding my own meat whether it is beef, pork, chicken or lamb for the better part of five years. It is very rare that I ever purchase pre-ground meat and it is usually poultry from a source that I trust. I own a heavy duty electric grinder with a one horsepower motor that can churn out upwards of four hundred pounds of a meat an hour. It was pricey, but it is fantastic for big jobs like when I make fifty pounds or more of sausage. However, I don’t use that it all that often.

My favorite is actually a simple cast iron manual grinder that can attach to my countertop. It is easy to clean and great for when I have less than ten pounds of meat to grind. When I finish the island I’m building in the kitchen of our new house I have another manual cast iron grinder that I’m going to bolt onto the countertop so I always have a grinder at the ready.

It doesn’t take much to get started and you can really get creative in the meat blends you make. Whether it is a custom burger blend or a meatball mix there are so many possibilities when you are grinding the meat yourself from whole roasts, loins or shoulders. Some time ago I wrote an article about demystifying homemade sausage that gives a little more insight to how I approach grinding meat at home.

So, go get your grind on and avoid the slime. While it will take a little extra effort the higher quality meat you will have and the half inch you’ll add to your biceps will make it all worthwhile.

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Planning a birthday dinner

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Planning a birthday dinner | Digital Dads
One of my favorite aspects of cooking is preparing a menu for an event. I always use these opportunities to test out ideas, try out new techniques, and expand my repertoire in the kitchen. Usually this also involves allowing time for practice runs, which can at times produce tasty accidents.

By no means am I an expert at menu planning or food pairings, but I love giving the various aspects of a great meal a good deal of thought. Last week was my wife’s birthday, and a significant one at that, so it provided me an opportunity to do something special for her and at the same time have a little fun. I thought I’d share the process I went through in preparing the menu and offer up a few tips that might help the next time you are planning for an occasion.

I firmly believe that every culinary battle is won before it is ever cooked, so you have to have a plan. We’ve recently moved and, unlike the half built Death Star, my kitchen is not yet fully armed or operational. Also, my wife and I have been trying to eat better after nearly a month of take out. Knowing my production limitations and keeping in mind the desire to eat healthy I set out to plan a light, yet satisfying meal that I knew she would enjoy.

Know your audience

Birthday Dinner Menu | Digital DadsMy wife is exponentially better than I am in terms of eating a colorful plate and I knew going into her birthday dinner that I would need to keep things fresh and bright throughout. Early on I knew that the bulk of my ingredients for three of the four courses I was planning would be heavy on vegetation. Not only would this keep things light through the meal, but it would provide the opportunity to keep things colorful.

The other main thing I had to keep in mind is that we are trying to get more seafood into our diet. As much as we love a good burger or steak we want to reduce our red meat intake and get more fish into the rotation. I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to put this plan in action.

Consider flavors, textures

Golden Heirloom Tomato Gaspacho | Digital DadsAlmost immediately I knew I wanted to do a soup, a salad, a main entree and a dessert. In doing my research I started with the main entree and worked from the middle of the meal to the beginning keeping the various flavors and textures in mind.

When it comes to celebrity chefs I have two serious man crushes – Chef Michael Symon for all things pork and Chef Eric Ripert for all things seafood. Even though I’ve seen every episode of Avec Eric I have never attempted to recreate any of the dishes he’s made on the show despite them looking quite good and relatively simple. After perusing his recipes, I chose his Scallops in a Curry Lime Brothas the featured dish for the evening, which helped me narrow my choices for the dishes that would precede them.

Since the scallop dish consisted of just scallops, a curry broth and cilantro for garnish it would certainly be light. As a result it lead to me to go a little heavier in terms of a salad dish than I might have if I was serving a denser protein that had a starchier side dish. Ultimately, I chose a beet and citrus salad with a pinenut vinaigrette I found over at Serious Eats. The heartiness of the beets with a nice, bright counter balance from the citrus felt like the right move.

Finally, with the middle two dishes chosen I looked for a soup that would fit with the overall flavors. The curry lime broth for the scallops would have a touch of spice and bright, clean flavors thanks to the cilantro and lemongrass and so I chose to do a gaspacho that I thought would play off those elements as well.

Take a few risks

Beet and Citrus Salad | Digital DadsRisk was my middle name for this meal. I had never made any of the dishes before, so I knew there would be a high degree of satisfaction if I were somehow able to pull it all off. Of all the dishes the scallop entree was the riskiest if only because seafood is the biggest weakness in my culinary game. Working in my favor, however, was the fact that there wasn’t a lot of actual cooking in the preparation. Actually, most of the cooking of the scallops was done by the broth after they had a brief stay in a very hot oven.

Despite never having made Ripert’s dish before I felt very confident as my wife’s birthday approached. So much so that I did the unthinkable – I changed an element of the dish just because I could. Rather than simply garnish the scallops with fresh cilantro leaves, I thought it would be better to make a cilantro cashew pesto to spoon on top of the finished dish. What may in hindsight seem arrogant turned out to be a nice touch that I believe brought a lot of flavor and texture to the dish.

Practice, if necessary

Scallops in a Curry Lime Broth | Digital DadsWhile I didn’t really have the time or the opportunity to practice any of the dishes before the big birthday dinner I have been known to do test runs before major holidays. If you’re thinking of trying something new for a big event or meal, I highly recommend budgeting the time and materials to assemble a test dish well in advance. As an example, after last year’s Thanksgiving Dry Run I scrapped the Cranberry-Hard Cider Reduction not because we didn’t like it, but it just didn’t feel like the right fit as preparations for Thanksgiving approached.

I abhor the “cooking is too hard, let’s dumb it down mentality” because I don’t think that is the case at all. Most kitchen tasks are actually quite simple at their core and that the only time things can become difficult is when you have to coordinate them all.

Have fun

Bittersweet Flourless Chocolate Cake with Bacon Almond Brittle | Digital DadsLeading up to my wife’s birthday I’d joke with her by saying “Well, you know what Thursday is”. To which she would respond, “yes, it’s peanut butter lovers day” or “it’s National Pig Day”. Since there was no bacon or other pork products in the first three courses, I decided to get a little playful with dessert. We both really enjoy the contrast of salty and sweet and I struck gold when I found this recipe for bacon almond brittle. The bittersweet flourless chocolate mini cakesI was planning on serving are rather dense and I wanted something with a more savory element to cut through that. As it turned out, the bacon almond brittle was such a hit I could have just served a plate of that.

After all the thought and planning that went into the big birthday dinner menu I’m pleased to report that it came out just as I had played it out in my head. I was very satisfied with the dishes I produced and, most importantly, my wife was amazed with dinner which made all the effort worthwhile.

What tips do you have for planning a menu for a big dinner or event?

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