January 31, 2019

Ultimate Hot Baltimore Crab Dip with Soft Pretzel Sticks

for the dip:


1 cup blue crab claw meat
1 cup lump blue crab meat
1 cup cream cheese, at room temperature
3⁄4 cup sour cream
1⁄4 cup Frank’s® RedHot® Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce
2 1⁄2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 1⁄2 tablespoons Chesapeake Bay seasoning (Old Bay)
1⁄2 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1⁄4 teaspoon garlic powder
1⁄4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 shallot, minced
3⁄4 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese


Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a medium bowl, stir together both crab meat, cream cheese, sour cream, Frank’s® RedHot® Original Cayenne Pepper Sauce, mayonnaise, Chesapeake Bay seasoning, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, black pepper, and shallot until smooth.

Spread the mixture into an 8 x 8-inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the cheese in an even layer. Bake uncovered until the cheese is melted and the dip is warmed through, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately with crackers, chips, bread, or Soft Pretzel Sticks.

Makes about 18 servings

for the pretzel sticks:

1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 1⁄2 teaspoons sugar
1 1⁄3 cups lukewarm water
4 1⁄3 cups flour
3⁄4 cup baking soda
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons pretzel salt (or sesame seeds)
canola oil for greasing bowl


In a large bowl, stir together the yeast, sugar, and warm water; let stand 3 minutes. Add the flour; mix with a stand or electric mixer with a dough hook attachment until the dough forms a smooth, elastic ball. Grease a large bowl with canola oil; place the dough in a bowl. Place in a cold oven for 50 minutes or until doubled in size.

 Remove the bowl from the oven. Preheat oven to 425°F.

Gently push your fist into the dough to deflate; divide the dough into 12 pieces. Using your hands, on a floured surface, roll each piece of dough into 1-inch-thick, 10-inch-long ropes.

Pour baking soda into a 6- to 8-quart Dutch oven or stockpot; fill it with water to within 3 inches of the top. Stir with a whisk until the baking soda is dissolved. Heat to boiling.

Line a large cookie sheet with cooking parchment paper. Using tongs, dip each rope into the boiling baking soda–water mixture for 30 seconds. Place on the cookie sheet. Brush the dough with egg; sprinkle with salt (or sesame seeds). Bake 12 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.

Yield: about 12 sticks.

Make It Even More Awesome

In Baltimore, there is a popular appetizer called the crab pretzel. It is a huge soft pretzel heaped with crab dip and tons of oozing cheese. To make it at home, make the Ultimate Hot Baltimore Crab Dip omitting the cheese topping. Then make the pretzel dough, but instead of making it into sticks, form it into one giant pretzel. Bake as called for, then remove from the oven and spread the crab dip liberally over the top of the pretzel. Sprinkle with shredded Cheddar cheese. Return to the oven for 5 minutes to melt the cheese. Serve immediately. (I also have another version of crab pretzels here)

My thoughts:
I hear there is a big game this weekend and it reminded me that I never posted this version of crab dip here! It appears in my cookbook, Cooking with Frank's RedHot Cayenne Pepper Sauce: Delicious Recipes That Bring the Heat along with more recipes using hot sauce than you'd know what to do with! It's a spicy version of the classic Baltimore crab dip that you find at every party here. The pretzels are really good with it but you can also just serve it with crackers,  bread, crudités or sturdy chips if pretzels are more of a commitment you're interested in making.

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January 28, 2019

Lamb Merguez with Roasted Vegetable Couscous


2 cups golden couscous
2 eggplants, cubed
2 zucchini, cubed
2 tablespoons ras el hanout
1 12-oz jar piquillo peppers, drained and chopped
10 oz lamb merguez sausages (I used these)
1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
freshly ground black pepper


Preheat oven to 375. Line a large baking sheet (or two if needed) with foil. Arrange the zucchini and eggplant in a single layer on the sheet(s). Drizzle with canola oil, the sprinkle with salt, pepper, and ras el hanout. Roast for 30 minutes or until soft.

Meanwhile, pan saute the sausages until fully cooked.

Prepare couscous according to package instructions (I used this couscous and 2 1/2 cups chicken stock). Place in a large bowl, toss with vegetables, thyme, and peppers. Divide into bowls, top with sausage.

My thoughts:
I almost didn't post this but it was so tasty and easy, I thought I would. I love merguez sausage but I never know what to do with them at home. Perhaps I'm not the only one?

Part of the beauty of sausage is that it is so quick to cook so I designed the rest of the meal to be done in 30 minutes or less too. The peppers are a little spicier than regular jarred peppers and add a ton of flavor. The ras el hanout ties the vegetables to the sausage flavor-wise and brings the whole dish together. Perfect for a weeknight when you are short on time.

The leftovers reheat well in a skillet as well.
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January 23, 2019

Steak and Smoked Oyster Pie


3/4 cup caramelized onions*
1 celery stalk, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 parsnips, diced
8 oz crimini mushrooms
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 tins (3.75 oz, each) smoked oysters, drained
2 1/2 lb stew meat
superfine flour (like Wondra)
2 cups beef stock
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (defrosted according to package instructions)
1 egg, beaten
freshly ground black pepper

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat a small amount of oil. Saute the caramelized onions, celery, carrots and parsnips until the carrots and parsnips are softened.

Toss the meat in the flour. Add to the pan and saute to lightly brown on each side. Add the spices, thyme, and stock (the stock should totally or nearly completely cover the mixture). Bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer about 40 minutes (I defrosted my puff pastry at this point) or until the liquid has reduced, the meat is tender and it looks like a thick stew. Stir in the oysters.

Preheat oven to 375.

Pour into a deep dish pie plate.

Cover with a sheet of puff pastry. Brush with egg. Vent with the tip of a knife. It is okay if the pastry does not totally cover the top of the pie plate.

Bake 30 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown and the pie is bubbling. Remove from the oven and let sit 5 minutes prior to serving.

*I made another batch of slow cooker caramelized onions for this. Alternately, you can caramelize 2 medium onions in the pan prior to adding the rest of the ingredients.

My thoughts:
I had come across a reference to steak and smoked oyster pie in a book I read last year. It was too warm for meat pies then but now that we are in the dead of winter, I thought I'd revisit the idea. I looked at a ton of recipes and they were all a little different. some called for puff pastry, some for jam(?), some for shortcrust pastry, some for dark beer, some for mushrooms,  some for no vegetables at all. The only thing that most could agree on was that the pie was popular in pubs and that the oysters were probably added (either smoked or fresh) to stretch the meat because they were so plentiful.

I finally decided to just come up with my own recipe using my favorite stew and meat pie ingredients with the addition of the smoked oysters. I don't think I had ever had smoked oysters (I found them near tuna in the supermarket) before but they were quite good! Very savory. I added them at the end of the filling cooking time to make sure they didn't get tough like regular oysters would have been after an hour plus of cooking.

I loved the result. It had a light smoky flavor from the oysters, was rich and hearty from the caramelized onions, mushrooms, vegetables and meat and the pastry top made it seem festive and special.

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January 17, 2019

Carbonade Flamande au Spéculoos (Flemish Beef Stew with Speculoos)

3/4 cup caramelized onions *
1 tablespoon butter
1 3/4 lb cubed sirloin
1-pint dark beer (preferably Belgian)
1 small slice country white bread spread with strong mustard (like Dijon or Ghent)
2 spéculoos cookies**
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon brown sugar
freshly ground black pepper
(beef stock if needed)

to serve:
fries or boiled carrots and potatoes
extra cookies for garnish (optional)


In a medium, Dutch or French oven saute the onions and meat in butter until the meat is browned. Add the cookies, bay leaf, spices, sugar and slice of bread.

Pour in the beer. The meat should be covered, if not, add some beef stock to make up the difference. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, covered 45 minutes or until the beef is tender, stirring occasionally.

Serve with fries, or boiled carrots and potatoes. Garnish with an extra cookie.

*about 2 onion's worth
**Two Lotus brand cookies or other brand speculoos/speculaas cookies or homemade.
My thoughts:

When we were in Lille, France a couple of years ago we, of course, tried all of the local dishes. Since Lille is very close to Belgium, a lot of the food is very similar. One dish was on nearly every menu, Carbonade flamande, which is a thick beef stew that is traditionally made with dark beer and a few slices of pain d’épices, a spiced loaf cake often referred to in at least the US as French "gingerbread". In looking at menus in Lille, however, I saw a variation made with not cake but cookies! Spéculoos (speculaas) cookies to be exact. When we were in Brussels nearly 10 years ago the cookies were everywhere (as were the molds to make them at home) and we brought back some speculoos spread which over five years later became very popular here as "cookie butter". If you are not familiar, it is a spice cookie somewhat similar to a gingersnap. I made a homemade version of the cookie after our trip but they can be found in stores. In the US, Lotus markets them as Biscoff cookies and Aldi sells various flavors of speculoos during the winter. You'll want the classic speculoos for this recipe, not a butter or almond version.

The idea of putting cookies in stew didn't seem odd to me at all because Baltimore is already home to Sour Beef and Dumplings which uses gingersnaps to make the gravy. Plus, the cookies are relatively easy to find here whereas I'd have to make pain d’épices myself to make the stew (which I plan to do but not today!).

To make this dish even quicker, I gave myself a head start and caramelized the onions in my slow cooker and heated them up vs starting with raw onions. That cut down the cooking time to well under an hour (and there was virtually zero hands-on time) so I was able to make this on a random Thursday evening vs waiting for the weekend.

Making a stew with a slice of mustard-coated bread and some cookies seems odd but it totally works! The cookie and bread completely disintegrate and magically create the thick sauce you see above.

January 15, 2019

Cara Cara Orange and Roasted Beet Couscous


6 oz dried couscous
3 medium beets, roasted and diced (I used golden beets)
1/4 red onion, cut into half moons
1 small green chile, minced
1 Cara Cara orange, supremed
1 large carrot, sliced into half moons
juice and zest of 1 Meyer lemon
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

fresh flat-leaf parsley for garnish


Cook couscous according to package instructions*. Set aside and allow to cool slightly.,
Place the beets, chile, carrot, onion and orange segments into a bowl. Add couscous. Stir. Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil, sprinkle with salt, zest and pepper. Toss to evenly distribute all ingredients.

 Garnish with parsley. Serve.

*I  tossed in some lemon zest into the recommended broth/water.

My thoughts:
I am not a fan of winter, at all. I even dislike autumn because I know it means winter is coming. The only good part of winter in my option is that citrus is in season. For this recipe I tossed some of my favorite Cara Cara oranges with some root vegetables and a chile for spice with couscous. I was surprised at how tasty it was! Very fresh yet winter-appropriate. 

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January 09, 2019

Speculoos Butterscotch 7-Layer Bars


1 3/4 cups speculoos cookie crumbs*
1/2 cup butter
10 oz semi or bittersweet chocolate chips
1 cup butterscotch chips
1 cup unsweetened finely flaked coconut
1/2 cup roughly chopped toasted pecans
1 (14 oz) can sweetened condensed milk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x13 inch baking pan. Set aside.

Melt butter in a small pan. Remove from heat and stir in cookie crumbs until thoroughly combined. Press, using the back of a spoon or the bottom of a measuring cup into the bottom of the buttered pan taking care to reach all corners.

Evenly sprinkle the chocolate chips, then the butterscotch chips,  coconut, and peanut over the cookie layer. Pour the sweetened condensed milk evenly over the top, and spread with the back of a spoon or spatula until the mixture is evenly coated.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until edges are golden brown.

Allow to cool on a wire rack completely before slicing. TYou can refrigerate them before slicing if you are a clean lines fanatic. Store in the refrigerator or on a cool counter in an air-tight container. Freeze leftovers up to 6 months if desired.

*You can also use pre-packaged cookies. Lotus brand speculoos (Biscoff cookies in the US) are readily available. You'll need one 8.8 oz container (minus a cookie or two for snacking and quality control purposes) to make 1 3/4 cups crumbs.

My thoughts:
Every year my husband and I do a themed NYE movie marathon with paired food and games. For a long time, we did decades then switched to other themes when we ran out of them. We've done everything from Hawaii to Westerns to Trains. This year we did movies with numbers in the title, played games involving numbers like Dos and this classic edition Yahtzee and made food with numbers in the name. 

I made a version of 7-layer bars over the summer I called cocoanuts bars  that we really enjoyed so it was obvious I needed to make a new version for New Year's Eve!  I had used speculoos in another recipe so I had them on hand and used that as a base to work out off. I thought the warm flavors of butterscotch and pecans would pair nicely with the spice cookie. It really did! These cookie bars were definitely sweet but had a cozy, warm feeling to them.

Once again, I used unsweetened coconut because the other ingredients are so very sweet. I found it in the "natural" food aisle if you have trouble locating it, not the baking aisle. It is pretty fine and the result is that the bars have a definite more candy bar feel vs the slightly cookie-macaroon of more coarsely grated coconut. I liked it a lot but there is a tiny texture difference. You can use unsweetened flaked coconut for a more traditional 7-Layer/Dolly Bar texture.