Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Carny Surprise

It was between making this or Funnel Cake au Gratin.

Did you hear about the Casserole Party hosted by Emily Farris at Pryde's Old Westport last week? Sounds like it was wicked awesome, but alas, we weren't able to be there. Besides, the only casserole I've ever made is a little something called Carny Surprise, and since it's a modification of Taste of Home's Corn Dog Casserole, I doubted it was eligible for the big night.

True, the rules of the Casserole Party state that you can manipulate a pre-published recipe to make it your own. And while I've made a few changes to the Corn Dog Casserole recipe that might technically allow it to qualify, I still feel obligated to add a disclaimer that Carny Surprise is perhaps best described as a “straight-up rip-off.”

The deal is thus -- there are three big differences between Carny Surprise and Corn Dog Casserole. First, the Taste of Home recipe calls for a scant one-and-a-half pounds of hot dogs. Knowing there's no way that could ever even come close to possibly being enough, however, I double that.

That's right. Three pounds of hot dogs.

I don't use just any hot dogs, either. In order to more authentically evoke the seedy flavor of carny folk heritage, I go for “Old-Fashioned Wieners” from McGonigle's Market. Sure, at $4.99 a pound, they're mighty expensive, but they're worth it for both the delicious taste and unbeatable snap. Everything else in this recipe is dirt cheap, though, so it evens out.

The second difference is that Carny Surprise is to be served with a barrel of yellow mustard for topping.

The third difference is that I cut down the celery and the green onions to one cup each. I'm not quite sure what celery is bringing to the party anyway.

So it was a bummer to miss the casserole party, but it just so happened that this month's agency luncheon here at the office had the same theme -- and that was all the excuse I needed to get my casserole on and whip up a batch of Carny Surprise.


  • 3 lbs hot dogs, cut into coins (I recommend getting the best quality dogs available, if possible from the meat counter)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup sliced green onions (two bunches should do it)
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 packages Jiffy corn bread mix (8½ ounces each, 17 ounces total)
  • 1½ cups milk
  • 2 teaspoons rubbed sage
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • Barrel of yellow mustard
  1. In the largest pan you have, saute celery in butter for 5 minutes on medium heat. Add onions, and saute for 3 more minutes. Place in a bowl and set aside.
  2. In the same pan, saute the hot dogs for 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Add to the bowl with the celery and onions. Stir it all up real good, and set aside 2 cups.
  3. In the largest bowl you have, combine eggs, milk, sage and pepper. Stir in the cornbread mix, and add remaining hot dog mixture. Add 1½ cups of cheese. Spread into a 3 quart baking dish. Top with the reserved 2 cups of hot dog mixture and the remaining ½ cup of cheese.
  4. Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
  5. Serve the Carny Surprise alongside the yellow mustard barrel for topping.

Here's a warning -- after standing over a pan while sauteing three pounds of hot dogs, you will absolutely smell like hot dogs for the rest of the day.

Did I say warning? What I meant was, “Here's the best part.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

30 Rock's Cheesy Blasters

Don't leave us hanging, Meatcat!

What is a Cheesy Blaster, you ask? Watch this and find out.

They sound awesome, right? And while we've waited and waited and waited so patiently for Meatcat to arrive on his magic skateboard and bring us Cheesy Blasters, he's totally giving us the cold shoulder. Not cool, Meatcat. Not cool.

Clearly, we had no choice but to take matters into our own hands and make a batch of Cheesy Blasters ourselves. Here's how we did it.

  • Hot dogs
  • 8 oz bag shredded jack cheese (NOT pepper jack, just plain jack)
  • 8 oz bag shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Can of pizza sauce
  • Pepperoni
  • Tube of thin crust pizza dough
A note on the hot dogs: We used Johnsonville Stadium Style Beef Franks since they were the biggest I could find, hence more room for jack cheese. Once the Cheesy Blasters were assembled, though, we had a leftover pizza lump, so I think this recipe could easily accommodate any standard 8-to-a-pack hot dogs. Unless they're turkey dogs, the inclusion of which in Cheesy Blasters would be nothing less than morally wrong. Same goes for turkey pepperoni. I wish we'd gotten a picture of the leftover pizza lump -- there was something truly disturbing about it. It looked like it might start to scoot away of its own accord, like the raisin concoction John Cusack's mom made in Better Off Dead.

  1. Preheat oven to temperature stated on the pizza crust directions.
  2. Assemble pizza. We went in the order of pizza crust, pizza sauce, cheese and then a protective barrier of pepperoni in hopes of minimizing mozzarella/jack co-mingling.
  3. Cook hot dogs on stovetop according to package directions.
  4. Cut a slit lengthwise in the hot dogs, and stuff with jack cheese.
  5. Cut pizza into strips, not quite as wide as the length of the hot dog. You want some hot dog overhang coming out of each end.
  6. Roll a hot dog in each pizza strip. If at all possible, try to roll it so that the seam of the pizza ends up on the bottom but the jack cheese in the hot dog faces upward, thus preventing too much cheese from oozing out as it melts.
  7. Bake according to pizza crust directions, until golden brown. Don't forget to spray your baking sheet with Pam.

Boom! You got Cheesy Blasters!

No shocker, they turned out pretty delicious -- at least the sum of their parts. It probably helped that by the time our Cheesy Blasters came out of the oven, we were a couple of Old Styles into the evening. If there's anything bad to say about the Cheesy Blasters at all, it's that I envisioned them looking somewhat more cylindrical, and not so much like Hot Pockets.

Actually, here's the worst thing about Cheesy Blasters: It's nigh-impossible to get the jingle out of your head. Seriously, it's starting to drive me batty.

Meatcat, please come hang out with us. We'll even sweeten the deal with all the Old Style you can drink. How can you turn that down?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

King Buffet

Strip malls are the new castles.

So is King Buffet a Chinese buffet or a Japanese buffet? In the waiting area there's a giant mural of the Great Wall of China. However, they've also got an entree called Japanese Chicken. Then again, the buffet has Mexican food as well, so whatever. It doesn't matter. Really we just wanted massive plates of fried in sauce.

Studying the mural while we were waiting to be seated, Steve said with awe, “It's just like being there -- on a really blue day.” Shortly thereafter we were shown to our table, and I made my first trip to the buffet for a bowl of hot & sour soup and some appetizers. I got crab rangoon, chicken teriyaki on a stick, some fried pork dumplings that were 300% more doughy than any dumpling I've ever encountered before, a pork and shrimp Dim Sum concoction, and everybody's favorite traditional Chinese delicacy, cheese nuggets.

But the highlight was the Dragon Roll. Tug pointed to it and asked me what was in it. “Dragon,” I said.

Nick countered, “I think it's actually imitation dragon meat. Like K-Rab.”

“You mean it's Dee-Ragon?,” I asked.

“Yeah,” confirmed Nick.

Plates two and three were entrees. Like the appetizer selection, pretty much all the usual Chinese buffet suspects are present and accounted for. Your General Tso, your sesame chicken, your lo mein and fried rice, etc. And each one tasted about like they taste at every other Chinese buffet -- vaguely Asian with only slight variation in flavor from dish to dish. Which is exactly what we were in the mood for, even if it doesn't sound as good when you spell it out like that, though.

I should note that King Buffet does have two items I hadn't seen elsewhere.
  • House Special Chicken: I liked this quite a bit. Mostly because it had mushrooms in it, not because it tastes any different than anything else on the buffet.
  • Peanut Butter Chicken: First bite was awesome. Second bite less so. After the third bite, I never wanted to taste this again. Do not put more than two bites of this on your plate.
King Buffet also has sushi. Now I like sushi and everything, and this sushi looked fine, but buffet sushi, uh, well...thank you, but no. Yet between that and the soft taco -- technically more of a tiny burrito, I believe -- I probably should've braved the sushi. The soft taco tasted like it came out of a can.

Again, all we were looking for was fried in sauce, so barring my third bite of Peanut Butter Chicken and that soft taco, as buffets go this wasn't bad. Perhaps even slightly above average, thanks to the Dragon Roll and the mushrooms in the House Special Chicken. Although there weren't any Chinese donuts, and that totally blows.

Maybe it's a Japanese buffet after all.
1601 West 23rd Street | Lawrence, KS 66046King Buffet on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Los Corrals

Next door to The Peanut. Which is why I've never been before.

Years. It’s taken years for me to finally check out Los Corrals, because every time I intended to go I'd stop one storefront short, getting lured in by The Peanut and its promise of delicious bar food and sketchy service. Trust me, if you don’t have your heart 100% set on Mexican, it's easy to get caught in The Peanut's siren song.

This time, backed up by some encouraging reviews and a desire to blaze new ground, I joined fellow lunchophiles Caitlin and Wells for our inaugural Los Corrals visit. But just to be safe, we approached from the east to avoid any last-minute temptation from its neighbor.

My buddies went inside as I snapped a photo, and had already been seated when I entered the modest lobby. Trekking forward into the restaurant to look for them, I noticed that Los Corrals appears to infinitely expand into a series of increasingly larger dining rooms.

At last I found my group in the third room, although I couldn't help but wonder how much further Los Corrals went back. Like if deep within the catacombs, there's a Grail knight patiently awaiting his taco platter.

Service is fast here, and soon we were munching on the complimentary chips and salsa, with an order of cheese dip on the way. The chips are deep yellow and thicker than most, and they carry an almost meaty taste, which I can only guess is infused from being fried with the tacos and whatnot. Wells was a big fan, but both Caitlin and I were less enthusiastic. She thought they were overcooked and I was put off by the over-crunchiness that makes them hard to bite into. The cheese dip was fine, just unremarkable.

Speaking of cheese, they really load you up -- and it’s more of a Velveetaish consistency. Good in moderation. Much less so in excess.

We ordered right down the dinner combo plate menu 1-2-3, each option coming in under $8. Wells went with the two taco and two enchilada combo, and Caitlin with the taco, enchilada, soupy beans and rice plate. I liked the sound of the taco, enchilada, quesadilla and chalupa plate -- seemed like it would be a huge bargain and a chance to try a good variety.

How disappointed I was when I found out that the difference between a quesadilla and a chalupa is that the oversized corn nacho gets splashed with cheese dip rather than a layer of beans and lettuce. The enchilada was alright. However, the entire plate was redeemed by the taco.

I wasn’t expecting much, but when I took a bite, I had to pause and look for the cheese dip I could have sworn I was tasting in there. Nope, it was just beef -- fantastically greasy beef with great sauce snuggled up in a crispy shell. If I go back, I’m getting all tacos.

In fact, this experience opened me up to making tacos my usual at various other Mexican restaurants, instead of my standard go-to of enchiladas. I've yet to find one with the delicious initial impact of Los Corrals, but rest assured, I’ll keep looking.
409 West 9th Street | Kansas City, MO 64105
Los Corrals on Urbanspoon