Old Bay cheese crackers at Let’s Give Peas a Chance

Today I wrote a guest post for my friend Ann Marie, another Baltimore-based vegetarian food blogger, at her blog Let’s Give Peas a Chance. As a fellow Baltimorean, I knew Ann Marie would appreciate a snack highlighting everyone’s favorite Chesapeake-region seasoning. Hop on over today to find my recipe for Old Bay Cheese Crackers and say hello to Ann Marie!

Old Bay cheese crackers

Happy New Year! Make this Baltimore pull-apart bread to bring to brunch tomorrow.

Do you have a brunch to go to tomorrow? I hope so. New Year’s Day is the perfect day for brunch.

And this is the perfect thing to bring to a brunch.

Baltimore pull-apart bread

Especially if there are Old Bay bloody marys involved. Make the dough right now and let it rise in the fridge overnight. When you wake up tomorrow, you’ll have to get it out on the counter to rise for an hour, but then you can spend most of that time waking up the rest of the way until you actually have to do anything with it.

So, a lot of the pull-apart bread recipes out there are sweet rather than savory. It makes sense. This is basically a different shape for monkey bread, after all. But Deb over at Smitten Kitchen made a savory version inspired by Welsh rarebit and I knew I had to do something. I knew I had to give it the Baltimore treatment.

So obviously there’s a mess of Old Bay added to it.

Old Bay cheddar cheese

Aside from the immediately obvious, I used one of my favorite local Baltimore brews in the dough — Heavy Seas. Loose Cannon, which is an IPA, worked beautifully in it — though I intended to make it with the Peg Leg, an imperial stout, which was out of stock when I stopped by the liquor store. I think it would also be delightful with Black Cannon, the seasonal black IPA which just became available. Go get some! Even if just to drink it. Man, it’s so good. I’m not even a huge IPA person.

If you can’t get Heavy Seas in your region, just go for something that you like to drink, preferably something a bit dark. Or, you know, take a road trip to get some beer.

Baltimore pull-apart bread

Baltimore Pull-Apart Bread
Adapted from Cheddar, Beer and Mustard Pull-Apart Bread by Smitten Kitchen

Dough:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup Heavy Seas beer
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour + 1/3 cup flour, divided
2 tablespoons sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 envelope) instant (active dry) yeast
1 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Filling:
3 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon mustard (I used Dijon)
1 heaping tablespoon Old Bay (I used low sodium)
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 1/2 heaping cups)

First off, dough time. In a small saucepan over low heat, heat the 4 tablespoons of butter with 1/4 cup beer until butter is just barely melted. Remove from heat and add remaining beer, then set aside to cool. If you have one, pop a thermometer in there — you want the mixture to be between 110 and 116 degrees. If you don’t, you want it to be warm to the touch, not hot.

Drink the rest of the beer. You deserve it.

While the butter/beer cools, prep your dry ingredients. In the bowl of the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, stir together 2 cups of the all-purpose flour, sugar, yeast, and salt until combined. With the mixer on low, pour in the warm butter/beer mixture and let stir until dry ingredients are just moistened. Add eggs, one at a time, and stir until just combined. Add the remaining all purpose flour and again stir until just combined.

Replace the paddle with the dough hook and turn the mixer on low. Let knead for 3-4 minutes, until dough is not quite as lumpy. It will still be wet and sticky.

Oil a medium bowl and transfer dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour, until doubled in size. If you want to get this part over with before you’re battling a hangover, this is where you’d let the dough rest in the fridge overnight — wrap the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. The next day, let it rest at room temperature for 1 hour while you prepare the filling.

Speaking of filling: using the large holes on a box grater or your food processor, grate your cheddar cheese. Put in a storage container, dump the Old Bay on top, close it up, and shakeshakeshake. Pop it in the fridge while you’re waiting.

In your same small saucepan from before (no need to wash it out if you’re doing this all at once), melt your 3 tablespoons of butter over low heat. Once melted, stir in mustard and set aside.

Now it’s time to put it all together. First, spray or butter a 9″x5″ loaf pan and set aside.

Turn risen dough onto a floured work area, then roll out into a 20″x12″ rectangle. It may try to stick here and there, so pull it up every once in a while and add more flour as needed. Brush butter/mustard over the entire surface of the dough, all the way to the very edges. Really glop it on there. Then cut the dough into 5 4″x12″ strips — a pizza cutter is very handy for this.

Evenly sprinkle one buttered dough strip with a generously heaping 1/4 cup of Old Bay coated cheddar. Gently pick up the next dough strip and place it on top of the cheese. Repeat with all of your strips, ending with more cheese on top.

With a serrated knife, very gently and slowly, as gently and slowly as you can possibly manage, cut your dough stack into 6 to 7 segments, 2″x4″ each. The dough may or may not have stretched a tad bit with all that lifting and such, but it’s fine either way. Really.

Prop your loaf pan up on one short end to make this next part a little easier. Lift each segment, using a spatula if that helps, and plop it in the “bottom” of the pan, that is, on the short end. A 4″ wide cut end should be facing out towards you. Stack the rest of the dough pieces on top in the same way until your loaf pan is filled. If it’s a little under-filled, just shake it a bit to distribute the pieces. If you have more than it seems will fit, just squeeze everything together to jam the last bits in there. Once again, cover pan with plastic wrap and set aside to rise for 30 to 45 minutes.

When appropriate, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Pop the risen loaf in there and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until puffy and brown and the bits of cheese peeking out are bubbly and crisp.

Let cool in the pan for five minutes, then turn out to a cutting board. For the best pull-apart experience, enjoy warm and fresh. If it has cooled down and refuses to peel apart, use a serrated knife to cut thin slices. Or just continue to tear bits and pieces off like a pack of wolves, I won’t tell.

Make jalapeno popper dip to make people love you

So, this dip is everything you ever wanted from a jalapeno popper, only with way less active prep time. I love jalapeno poppers, so I don’t say this lightly. Make it. Just make it. Make it the next time you have some people over. They will love you forever.

Now, first things first, this recipe calls for a lot of jalapenos.

jalapenos

It may even seem like too many jalapenos, especially considering we’re leaving the seeds in. It’s really not. They’re sauteed briefly to mellow them out a bit, and they mellow out even more in the oven. Not to mention, there’s plenty of creamy stuff to balance the spice. Trust me.

There is one danger to making this dip. If you want to take a pretty photo of your completed dip, I recommend doing this before you set it out anywhere people may be able to access it. Otherwise you’ll turn around for a few minutes, and when you come back, you’ll be faced with this:

jalapeno popper dip

Jalapeno Popper Dip
Adapted from Jalapeno Popper Dip by Macheesmo

8-10 jalapeno peppers
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
6 ounces (about 1 1/2 heaping cups) cheddar cheese, grated (I like extra sharp)
2 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/2 heaping cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
Tortilla chips, for serving

Wash your jalapenos and remove the stems. Then quarter lengthwise, and dice ‘em up, seeds and all.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and find a 13″ x 9″ baking pan. No need to grease it. Really.

Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-low heat until it easily coats the bottom. Dump in chopped jalapenos and stir to combine. Cook, stirring occasionally to prevent burning, until jalapeno is slightly softened and vivid green — about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove to a bowl and set aside to cool.

In a large bowl, stir together softened cream cheese, mayonnaise, garlic powder and oregano until it’s all fully integrated. Stir in grated cheddar to combine, then repeat with cooled jalapeno. Spread evenly into the 13″ x 9″ baking pan.

In a medium bowl, stir together bread crumbs and grated Parmesan until combined.  Tip for melting your butter: microwave it for a lot less time than you might think — I did two bursts of 15 seconds each for a full stick — and stir around to let residual heat melt whatever solid pieces are still left. That way you don’t have to wait so long for the butter to cool to use it. Anyway, pour your perfectly melted butter over the breadcrumb mixture, and stir until fully coated.

Spread breadcrumb mixture evenly over the cream cheese mixture in the baking pan. Pop in the oven and bake for 30-40 minutes, until bread crumbs are brown and toasty. Let cool for at least 10 minutes, then serve with tortilla chips to ravenous snackers.

My love letter to Old Bay (eggs in the Bay)

So, I really love Old Bay.

Old Bay Seasoning, invented by a German immigrant to Maryland in the 1940s, is a blend of  (allegedly) eighteen herbs and spices. Buuuut, the only ones listed are: salt, celery seed, spices (including red and black pepper), and paprika. Speculation about the others include bay leaf, mustard, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cardamom, and ginger. The actual blend is anybody’s guess. The thing is, technically, it’s a crab and shrimp seasoning, which wouldn’t give me a whole lot of reason to use it, seeing as how I don’t eat meat. But… it tastes good on anything. And anyone who lives in or is from Maryland is likely to have one of those distinctive yellow cans in their cabinet.

All that said, I rarely meet people who are not from the Chesapeake Bay region express the same fervor of Marylanders (and specifically, me) for this delicious spice blend. It can’t be for lack of availability: Old Bay was purchased by McCormick in 1990 and they have nationwide distribution, so you can get it anywhere in the United States. But people I’ve met elsewhere generally don’t have it, or if they do, they don’t really use it. My mister’s mother has had the same can in her cabinet for “probably like twenty years,” which is just mind-blowing to me.

Sometimes I feel like an Old Bayvangelist — I tend to talk about it when I travel. I even brought a can to Amsterdam with me. I was there for four or five months, and I knew I’d need it. Although he was skeptical, the exchange student from Utah I met there admitted that the french fries I made him try, dusted generously with Old Bay and sprinkled with malt vinegar, were indeed very tasty.

That’s the thing, though: most of my Old Bay is consumed by being dumped on top of fries. Don’t get me wrong, this is delicious and I will never tire of it. But recently I’ve been thinking that there have to be some healthier ways to consume massive amounts of sodium.

I kept drifting back to a favorite dish of mine from Smitten Kitchen of eggs poached in a spicy tomato sauce. It’s kind of a perfect dish: quick, easy, cheap, tasty, fairly nutritious, and good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. The SK version, shakshuka, has an Israeli bent to it, though it’s roots are apparently Libyan. There’s also an Italian version called eggs in purgatory. And of course it bears similarities to huevos rancheros. Versions of this dish just seem to pop up in a bunch of different cultures; this is my contribution to the collection, tweaked to express my heritage. As a Marylander who really, really, loves Old Bay.

So, if you have a can languishing in your cabinet somewhere, here’s a recipe to use it in. If you’ve never thought to buy it or perhaps have never even heard of it, here’s a reason to purchase a can.

eggs in the Bay

Eggs in the Bay
Adapted from Shakshuka by Smitten Kitchen

Serves 2-4

1 14.5-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning (low sodium if you have it)
1/2 cup water
4 eggs
1/4 cup sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated
1 tablespoon fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped

Dump your can of tomatoes (including liquid) into a bowl, or one of those giant measuring cups if you have one. Then squish ‘em up with your hands! Try not to squirt too much tomato juice on your light colored shirt, unlike me. Set aside.

In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil until shimmering. Add jalapeno and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and softened — about 5 minutes. Add Old Bay seasoning and garlic and cook until garlic is soft, stirring frequently — about 2 more minutes.

Pour your tomatoes and the water into your skillet and stir to combine. Lower to medium heat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened — about 18-20 minutes. Give it a taste and add a touch more Old Bay if desired.

Carefully crack each egg into the sauce, evenly distributing them over the surface of the skillet. If you’re not a great egg cracker, you may want to crack them into a small bowl one at a time and pour them in to avoid any errant shell pieces. Cover skillet and cook about 5 minutes, until whites are set and yolks are just set. They’ll continue to cook a little bit once you serve it up, so err on the side of caution. Cut the heat and spoon up some of the tomato sauce to baste the whites with, then sprinkle the surface evenly with cheddar and parsley.

Serve up in bowls with a hearty roll on the side, or on top of a piece of toast. If you’re serving a salad or some other side, one egg per person is sufficient. If it’s the main meal, you’ll probably want two each. If you want to make this for more people, use a large skillet and a 28-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes, and double everything else except for the water.

Chipotle cheddar eggs for a Deviled Egg Pageant

I really love deviled eggs. I mean, really love them.

I love them so much that a few weeks ago I hosted a Deviled Egg Pageant.

That’s right, I invited a bunch of people over to make their very best deviled egg to compete for fabulous prizes. And of course, eat a bunch of deviled eggs.

Three of my friends volunteered to judge, which meant I was free to compete. This also meant that I was free to hem and haw about what type of deviled eggs to make. Zesty horseradish deviled eggs? Wasabi deviled marble tea eggs? Sesame deviled eggs with pickled ginger? Or maybe just my classic recipe, topped with capers and smoked paprika?

I decided on a smokey chipotle cheddar egg, in part because my recent trip to Ohio. We stopped at a cheese shop (I really love cheese, too) and I found a delightful smoked cheddar cheese which I knew would be perfect with the equally smokey chipotles. I also knew that a chipotle cheddar egg might be the way to my deviled-egg-hating friend’s heart, since she already loves my chipotle mayo.

Guess what? She ate one. Deviled-egg-hater my ass.

There were a bunch of delicious eggs (and some non-eggs) entered into the pageant. Best Egg in Show was a fabulous egg with sesame oil in the filling and topped with black and white sesame seeds. Audience Choice was a tie — potato skins, made to look like deviled eggs (by the egg-hater, of course) and a wonderful classic mustard/mayo/relish combination. Best Classic Egg was a stone-ground mustard and dill number. And Best Modern Egg?

chipotle cheddar deviled eggs

You’re looking’ at ‘em. In fact, they were so popular that I have to apologize for the quality of my photo. I was rushing around so much before the party started that I didn’t get a chance to take a photo. At some point I went over to the table to get more eggs and realized that only two of these puppies were left. I snapped a quick shot right before another one was grabbed!

I didn’t expect to win (there were so many good eggs), but I’m glad I did. Aside from having proof that I make pretty awesome deviled eggs, I got to keep one of the sweet plaques that I made for the winners. It’s now in our “trophy case” which only consists of this plaque, and my mom’s Silver Spurs trophy from 1974.

best modern egg

Chipotle Cheddar Deviled Eggs
Serves 10

12 eggs
1/2 cup chipotle mayonnaise
1/2 cup smoked cheddar cheese, finely grated
2-3 tablespoons adobo sauce (from the can the peppers came in when you were making your mayonnaise)
a few wedges of lime
1/4 teaspoon of salt, more to taste
homemade taco seasoning, to garnish
smoked cheddar cheese, to garnish

So, first you’re going to hard cook your eggs. There are a million different schools of thought on this, but the way I prefer is as follows:

Put your eggs in a single layer in a large pot. Cover with cold water that is an inch above the eggs. Pop a lid on that sucker, put over high heat and watch it like a hawk. Once the water just starts to boil, remove from heat.

Let sit for 9 minutes with the lid on. Then drain the hot water and immediately fill with cold water from the tap. Keep the tap running until the water is no longer heating up from the residual heat from the eggs. Or, you can add ice cubes until they stop melting. Basically, you just want to cool those eggs down!

I find it easiest to peel the eggs when they are completely cooled, so I usually cook them the day before I need them, then peel and assemble after a night in the fridge.

Peel your eggs! This would be a good time to mention egg peeling difficulties. You know when you just get eggshell shards and shredded whites all over the place and you want to just toss everything in the garbage can? This means your eggs are too fresh. If you are making deviled eggs, you should try to buy your eggs a week ahead of time to age them in the fridge. (It’s also never a bad idea to cook one or two more than you need, just in case.)

So slice your eggs in half and scoop out the yolks into a bowl. You see how perfectly yellow your egg yolks are, like the noontime sun? That’s what an expertly cooked egg looks like. Greenish-grey rings around pale yellow yolks? OVERCOOKED.

Crumble your egg yolks with a fork, then mix in your mayonnaise, adobo sauce, the juice from a lime wedge or two, and salt. Mix until all the lumps are gone. This might take a while doing it by hand, but it’s the difference between great deviled eggs and mediocre deviled eggs — no yolky lumps. If you find that your mixture is too thick, add a little more lime juice, or if you’d like it spicier, a little more adobo sauce.

Next, stir in the smoked cheddar. I grated mine with my microplane to get truly tiny bits of cheese that disappear into the filling, and was very pleased with the results. If you don’t have a microplane, just use the small holes on your grater.

Now give it a taste, and add more salt as needed. The salt will really depend on your personal tastes, as well as how salty the cheese you’re using is. It’s always easier to add more salt than to take it away, so just take lots of taste tests… nobody minds doing that, right?

Put your filling into a piping bag with a large tip of your choice. Or, put in a zip top storage bag and cut the corner off. When I travel with eggs, I like to arrange the whites on a plate and cover them, then bring my piping bag of filling and any garnishes separately. Then you can fill them quickly on site without having to worry about smushing on the trip.

So, arrange all your egg whites on a plate. Then pipe a generous amount of filling into each. Sprinkle a pinch of taco seasoning over each egg. Then with the microplane, grate a wee bit more smoked cheddar over the entire plate.