Okay, so this is the story. My daughter’s day care was having a holiday party and each parent had to bring in a dish. The day care chose the menu and posted it on the wall. I had to choose what I would make. My jaw dropped when I saw Pigs-in-a-blanket on the list.

Now, I know that I am off the mainstream, but I thought it was common knowledge that hot dogs are one of the worst things you can feed your kid. Check this out, or this, or this for more info on that.

After I composed myself and was able to lift my jaw off the floor I decided that if someone was going to bring Pigs-in-a-Blanket it should be me. (I don’t care if that sounds pompous. We are talking about my kid’s health.) There must be a way to make this a healthy dish. But could I make it healthy and yummy?!?!?!

Pine Woods Farm

Pine Woods Farm: All natural 100% grass fed beef, no-nitrite hot dogs

The first thing I did was check out weelicious.com to see if Catherine had made this dish. But since her site is devoted to healthy food for kids, I came up short. Go figure. Out of desperation I e-mailed Catherine. She too was floored that a day care was requesting pigs-in-a-blanket. So I was on my own. I considered making a stink at the center, but I have already done that in regards to their lunch menu and the fact that they don’t serve organic milk. The result of that discussion was that I should pack my daughter’s lunch and bring a thermos of organic milk for her. It was clear that I did not have the power to change things.

So here I am, trying to figure out if I should attempt a healthy version of pigs-in-a-blanket or bring in something completely different. I decided to try and play nice. I would revise this recipe of Americana and see if I could create a new American treat.

The first problem to solve was with the hot dogs. I know that some farms are now making nitrite-free and even organic hot dogs. So I figured I would buy the normal sized hot dogs and cut them down to bite size. During a regular visit to my local winter farmer’s market I found Pine Woods Farm and they make nitrite-free hot dogs. Whoa-hoooo!!!

Next I found a basic recipe on the food network website and figured I could make some healthy changes. Below is my revised recipe and my notes after the whole experience. But for those that have no desire to make this dish – I will end by saying that blankets were meant for broccoli and cheese, or sweet potato and spices, or even organic beef, but not pigs (aka: hot dogs). The end result of this ridiculously long and painful process was anti-climatic. The cancer causing Pigs-in-a-Blanket that you can buy in your frozen food section seem to pack a nice punch, which is probably why they became a part of our American heritage. Mini nitrite laden hot dogs and white malnourished flour seem to make a perfect pair. But now that we know how damaging they are I suggest that we embrace our southern neighbors and find ways to make healthy empanadas! Does this mean I’m not a patriot or does it make me cosmopolitan? Either way, I am glad that I tried this recipe since it has given me the courage to attempt other baked goodies like empanadas or calzones. But in the end, I’m afraid, I will never try to make healthy pigs-in-a-blanket again. The results were just not worth the effort. I will, however, use this blanket recipe again and experiment with other stuffings.

—— local business plug ——-

Now, speaking of empanadas… if you have not yet tried Ana’s Empanadas from Rutland VT, you are in for a treat. I could only find a FB page for her – but you can get them at 54 Strongs Ave. in Rutland, VT, or at the Rutland Farmer’s Market each Saturday, or at the base of Needle’s Eye trail on Killington Mountain or at the Diamond Run Mall in Rutland. Ana is the best! I strive to bake like her.

———- back to the piggies ———–

If you are cornered by your school or day care and must make these, you can follow the recipe below for a healthier version. If you have the time and the gumption, I recommend doing some upfront research to find the right substance to tuck into the blanket. There are many options out there and I did not have the time to test them all. Talk to your local butcher if you prefer meat stuffing – or experiment with some flavorful veggies. These really did seem like little empanadas that could be stuffed with anything, so the world is your oyster.

the Pigs-in-a-Blanket, if you must, RECIPE:
Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cups plus 5 tablespoons all purpose four
3 tablespoons baking soda
1 heaping teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons grated cheddar
1 cup whole organic milk
1 organic egg
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
12 hot dogs (Cut in half and then sliced half lengthwise. Four parts to each dog.)

For glazing:
1 egg, mixed with a splash of organic milk and .5 tsp salt

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F, if you are an experienced pastry chef. If you are new to this dough thing, you can wait until you are done making the dough to turn the oven on. It takes plenty of time to roll out the dough and roll up these little piggies, so the oven can pre-heat while you figure out the details. No need to waste energy.

Cooking pigs-in-a-blanket

Experiment in the works

Measure 1 cup of all purpose flour and 1 cup of whole wheat flour into a bowl, add the baking soda, salt and grated cheese and mix lightly with a fork. Pour the milk into a measuring cup to come up to the 1 cup mark and then crack in the egg and add the oil. Beat to combine, then pour into the dry ingredients, forking o mix as you go. You may, at the end, feel the dough’s either too dry or too damp: add either more milk or m ore flour and fork together again until you’ve got a soft dough that’s not too sticky to be rolled out.

Break the dough into 2 pieces and roll 1 piece on a lightly floured surface. Just roll as clumsily and heavy handedly as you like: no harm will come to it. You want a thin, rectangle – but don’t stress. I found the dough to be easy to work with and my shapes were not spot-on.

nitrite free hot dogs

These locally made hot dogs look different and taste a bit different, so they are not an easy sell to picky toddlers or picky husbands.

The recipe said to cut the dough into approximately 1 3/4 inch strips, and then cut each strip at approximately 2.5 inch intervals so that you end up with a collection of small, raggedy oblongs. I was not able to do this. It was easier for me to cut out one rectangle at a time and I had to experiment with a few before I found the right size for my pieces of hot dog. I also found that the thinner you can roll the dough out, the better. My first few were a bit too thick and the result was way too much bread around the meat.

Take one of your cut pieces of hot dog and put it at one end of an oblong, at a slight diagonal and then roll up, pressing on the infinitely compliant dough to squeeze it shut, and then place on a nonstick baking sheet, or one lined with parchment. Carry on until you’ve finished all your strips and then get to work with the remaining dough. Three baking sheets should do it.

Now, dip a pastry brush into the beaten egg mixture and paint on the pastry for a golden glaze. Put in the oven and cook for 12 – 15 minutes, by which time they should be puffy and burnished. Remove from the oven and let cool a little before eating.

Ready to bake

28 little piggies ready to bake! The orange brush is my favorite kitchen tool and the little wooden knife on the plate is my daughter's toy knife.

Mrs. D’s Notes:
Pros:

1. After making this dish the biggest benefit for me was realizing that if I can do this, I might be able to make empanadas. Wow. That was encouraging. So it is a bit of an ego booster.

2. The dough turned out good using 1 cup of whole wheat flour. I used King Arthur’s unbleached whole wheat flour and they boast that since they use the “highest protein wheat, you still get exceptional baking results with this flour.” I can’t argue with that.

3. I was able to use my favorite kitchen tool, an orange brush (see photo).

4. I was also able to use Adelle’s toy wooden knife. It cut the rolled dough nicely and did not cut into my counter.

5. Since I do not own a rolling pin it was fun to improvise and use a wine bottle to roll out the dough. I don’t drink much these days and it made me feel like I was a young ex-pat again. Not sure why, but I’ll take it.

6. I only used half of the dough for my daughter’s party so I saved the other half and used some organic chicken-spinach-feta sausages in place of the piggy. My husband, daughter and I ate them as a fun appetizer over the holidays. These were better received than the hot dog version.

 Cons:

1. If you are trying to make every meal and snack as healthy as possible, this probably is not a great choice. Even with the non-nitrite hot dogs it does not get too high on the healthy list.

2. It is time consuming.

General thoughts:
I considered marinating some chicken tenders in soy sauce and rolling them up. The problem was that I needed to cook the chicken first to ensure that it would be cooked after only 12-15 minutes in the oven. I was feeling a bit insecure about this since chicken makes me nervous. I did not want to under cook it or over cook it.

My next thought was about veggies. What kind of veggies can I wrap up? I’m planning to investigate some empanada recipes to compare and go from there. If any experienced cooks out there stumble upon this post, please offer up some advice.

Let the experiments begin!

3 Comments

  1. Love this post and can’t wait to try the recipe!

  2. Barbara Grazoer
    6:20 pm on January 4th, 2012

    I’m still laughing…MOM

  3. Liz Cantrall
    8:23 pm on February 23rd, 2012

    Way too funny…but cheers for keeping it healthy!