Coney Dogs and Root Beer Floats

SSS-TinyFoodParty07Amy’s story began in the far reaches of the Great Lakes, in that blustery cold state of Michigan. Although she’s been in DC for a decade, it still feels like home to her. As a nod to her roots, we chose to make tiny Detroit-style Coney Dogs served alongside root beer floats. Serious cute and yum factor galore!

While this was one of the least challenging foods to make in miniature, I had a lot of questions. Just what are Coneys? How are they from Michigan and not Coney Island in New York? I had heard of chili dogs, of course. And, growing up, a visit with my mom’s family in south western New York was never complete without a few Johnny’s hots. But neither is quite like a Michigan Coney, the secret hiding somewhere in its meaty sauce.

As I researched this, I found that there are several varieties of Coneys from Michigan. It seems that Detroit and Flint have competing sauces sold at local restaurants. Then there’s the Jackson variety, which is now only sold in cans. They all have common ingredients: ground beef and a tomato-based sauce with seasonings, topped with chopped onions and a drizzle of yellow mustard.

Then, of course, there’s the hot dog. To be authentic, the dogs should have natural casing and originate in Michigan. The Flint style must use Koegel Meats’ “Coneys”. But, as I discovered, these aren’t sold in mini form.

After conferencing with Amy, in between planning a huge DIY wedding, she agreed we should keep it as simple as possible. If you really want to get technical, the cocktail wieners I served were not true Coneys. Cringe.

SSS-TinyFoodParty05Remember, when you’re making things in miniature, and especially if you’re taking on ten courses, you may have to bend the rules and rely on shortcuts! Not saying this couldn’t be done old school. You could make your own mini hot dogs from scratch with a grinder and casings. Or you could ask your butcher if he or she could make smaller versions as well.

Or you could spend that extra time trying to figure out what to do about bite-sized buns. Arguably the cutest part of this whole endeavor, if you can’t find them, you may need to make them from scratch. One quick shortcut here is to follow my lead and buy pre-made frozen dough to shape into small bun-shaped loaves. Once baked, simply slice into the top enough to fit the little wieners inside.

And don’t forget the diced onion and yellow mustard! These are absolute musts.

All in all, this was easy. But if you’re planning a shower for a Michigan bride who’s dead set on the real deal … good luck. That has the potential to be pretty intense and time consuming. Better pour yourself a tall, cold Founders.

Simple Coney Island Style Mini Dogs with Root Beer Floats

This is the simpler version of Coney Dogs. I used several short cuts, including cocktail wieners and pre-mixed bread dough. The sauce isn’t truly authentic, but it’s close! A quick Google search on Detroit or Flint will draw a bunch of variations on the recipes found at local restaurants. And, if you’re really in a pinch, pick up some canned sauce (wink!).

Detroit-style Coney Dogs:
1 large white onion, chopped (mince about 1/3 for topping)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef
1 14-ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon saltSSS-TinyFoodParty06
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 pinch cayenne pepper
2 pinches celery salt
2 packages of cocktail wieners
1 package pre-made, frozen bread dough
yellow mustard

Root beer floats:
1 quart vanilla ice cream
1 liter root beer

Thaw and prepare the bread dough as per the instructions on the package. When ready to bake, roll or shape the dough into small oval-shaped loaves. It should just fit the cocktail wieners. You may want to bake a test batch to determine the best shape and size, as well as cooking times. Bake according the package’s instructions, though it will take far less time for these smaller “loaves”. Remove from oven when done and transfer to a cooling rack.

Add about 2/3 of the chopped onion to a medium sized pot with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the ground beef, breaking it up to ensure it’s in very small pieces – you don’t want the sauce to be too chunky! Stir occasionally until fully cooked. Stir in the chili powder, salt, cumin, cayenne pepper and celery salt. Add the tomato sauce, stir and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

Heat the wieners up in a pan on the stovetop. Cut the tops of the buns and assemble the Coney Dogs: dog in bun, sauce on top, minced onions and mustard drizzle.

For the floats, use a small spoon or melon baller to scoop a tiny amount of ice cream into small glasses. We used larger sized shot glasses bought at Ikea, almost like ones you’d see used for beer tastings. Pour root beer to top and add small straws (we just cut down full-sized paper party straws).

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Posted in Savory

The Spread, With A Side Of Shishito Peppers

The Spread2 Whenever the hubs and I are on the road, you’ll find me diligently Googling “best restaurant <INSERT NAME OF TOWN HERE>” to find the spots on other foodies go-to lists. That’s exactly how we ended up in The Spread a few weeks ago.

I was accompanying my husband on a business trip to Stamford when my search-term BFF turned up an article in Connecticut Magazine: the 2014 Reader’s Choice Restaurant Awards. The Spread, in Norwalk, was named “Best New Restaurant,” and ranked no. 2 for “Best Overall Experience.”


On both occasions we visit, the place is busy — surprising for a time of year when most people are stealing away to enjoy those last few moments of summer. And it’s nothing short of inviting, with knives haphazardly stacked in glass mason jars and delicate vintage plates contrasting perfectly against the rough wood tables and somewhat industrial décor.

Then there’s the food, which starts with a plate of warm, buttery corn bread. Now, I’m not a big cornbread fan, but The Spread’s version has truly changed my mind. It absolutely melts in your mouth.

The establishment is the brainchild of four former bartenders –Andrey Cortes, Chris Hickey, Chris Rasile and Shawn Longyear – who collectively bring more than 80 years of drink-slinging awesomeness to the table. Or bar, as it were. Hickey, who greeted us on our first visit, joins us at a bright orange table on the sidewalk to chat during our second visit.

The last partner into the deal, Hickey says it wasn’t money that motivated his business associates to approach him; it was location, location, location. They’d been looking to launch a few towns over in Greenwich, but hadn’t found a good spot. Norwalk was Hickey’s stomping ground growing up, and his expertise on the area led them to this location on Main Street. Now going on its second year, the business is thriving there.

When I ask about the inspiration behind the menu, Hickey says two things informed the tapas-style offerings that make up the bulk of the restaurant’s bill of fare. The first was the partners’ past experience.

“We’re talking about four bartenders as owners — we were used to serving calamari,” he says. And, he adds, those small plates mean big variety for diners: “Sharing is a good way to experience a lot more of the menu.”

Plates begin to fill our table. There’s veal and ricotta meatballs with Anson Mills polenta, grilled Portuguese octopus with crispy chorizo, burrata crostini with fennel and olivette peach-infused white balsamic. We dig in as Hickey tells me about the second source of inspiration: Chef Carlos Baez.The Spread

Born and raised in Mexico City, Baez grew steeped in the food industry, working in one of his father’s three taquerias. He got experience working with fresh fish in a Japanese restaurant there before moving to the United States a little more than a decade ago. Eventually, he landed working under The Spread’s first executive chef, whose talents lay in Jewish, French and Moroccan food.

It’s an eclectic mix, but the owners have given him a lot of latitude, and the flavors are testament to Baez’s culinary talent. He’s taken all of that experience with flavors and truly made the dishes coming out of The Spread’s kitchen his own.

Hickey says his favorite thing on the menu right now is the roasted shrimp with carmelized onion quinoa cake. Which is funny, he adds, because he doesn’t like quinoa. When Baez suggested it for the menu, he thought he’d just eat around it. But one taste …

“That dish changed my mind about quinoa,” Hickey laughs.

The quartet’s next move will bring Baez even closer to his roots. The lower price-point establishment, which will also be in Norwalk, will serve humble fare like fish tacos and ceviche (you know how we feel about ceviche!) at simple, communal-style tables like this one gracing the sidewalk eating area of their flagship. The name? El Segundo. Look for it sometime next year.

Now I guess you’re all wondering why we’re talking about this restaurant for our cooling foods series. I won’t keep you in suspense any longer: It’s the dish that brought me back for this interview: grilled shishito peppers. I was pretty astonished when I read that peppers are considered a cooling food.The Spread3

Apparently, capsaicin, the chemical in peppers that burns when it gets on your skin (yet, ironically, is used to treat pain), can lower body temperature. Peppers and other spicy foods get your blood circulating, which, in turn, raises your internal temperature. Sweating ensues, and as that moisture evaporates, you begin to cool off. There’s a little more science behind it, but it’s far too much detail to go into after talking about this fine establishment … so I’ll segue back to those shishito peppers here.

It’s a sweet Japanese-style pepper. Only one in every 10 is spicy, which Hickey playfully describes as “pepper roulette.” They are so simple, fun to eat … and absolutely delicious. But don’t take my word for it. The Spread was kind enough to provide the recipe below.

Make a batch. Improvise with other peppers. Make relish from the leftovers for burgers or chicken — or quinoa! And the next time you’re in Norwalk — stop by The Spread.

Shishito Peppers

Recipe provided courtesy of Chef Carlos Baez and The Spread restaurant.

1 pound shishito peppers (or substitute padron peppers)
1/8 cup of EVOO
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped

Roast peppers in hot sauté pan over medium heat for 8-10 minutes with the olive oil.

When cooked through and tender to the bite, toss with lemon juice, sea salt and parsley.

Serve alone or with grilled country bread.

Serves 3 to 4 people

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Posted in Savory

All In One Basket

Photo credit for feature image: Andreas Kollegger via Flickr

I’m not going to claim that these deviled eggs are the healthiest morsels of deliciousness on the planet, but I would wager my money that they are some of the best. And don’t take my word for it. Last week, one of my lovely colleagues, Anna, suggested (and when I say suggested, I mean demanded) that I bring them to our department’s holiday get-together next week.

Adam and I took several cooking classes while in Bali for our honeymoon. At the last one, Adam suggested (and when I say suggested, I mean encouraged) I make them for the chef who had been hinting that I should teach HIM an American dish. They’re actually on the resort’s brunch menu now.

 Let’s just say … they have a reputation. Or a following. Whichever.

Amy’s Deviled Eggs

1 dozen eggs, hard boiled
½ to 1 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons strong Dijon mustard
¼ tablespoon garlic paste, or more
½ tablespoon curry powder, or more
Salt and pepper to taste
Chives, finely chopped

Boil eggs. Peel and cut in half lengthwise. Carefully pop out yolks into a bowl. Add ½ cup mayonnaise, mustard and seasonings. Mix thoroughly until there are no lumps. You want the consistency to be thicker than pudding, but not look dry. Add more mayonnaise until you get a smooth, creamy texture. Add more spices to taste (I like mine with a strong curry flavor!).

Using a spatula, put yolk mixture in a Ziploc bag, working it toward one of the bottom corners. Cut the corner off and pipe the yolk in a circular pattern into the egg whites. Sprinkle with chives.


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Posted in Savory
photo credit to Aaron Otis Photography 2014

Watermelon is the perfect summer food. It hydrates, it cools, it's sweet and juicy. We have some great ideas for your table, including a salad, ceviche cups, popsicles and cocktails. Get ready to beat the heat with us!

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