By Paula Gottlieb Herman
My idea of the perfect New Year's Eve dinner starter may not include French champagne and Russian caviar, but to me, it is equally rich in flavor and texture. I'm talking about gourmet Pigs in the Blanket.
As part of my contribution to a New Year's Eve party menu, I decided to make those delectable li'l smokies, wrap them in a layer of puff pastry and Dijon mustard, and a sprinkling of sesame or poppy seeds. I purchased three different brands of weenies to work with. My goal was to see which kind made the biggest impact on the guests. Would it be the ones claiming to be all natural without nitrites or nitrates (Trader Joe’s Cocktail Pups), the kosher kind that was lower in fat (Hebrew National 97% Fat Free) or the standard cocktail franks (Nathan's Famous Beef Cocktail Franks)?
We set up a workstation that included parchment lined baking trays, flour dusted rolling pin, mats, silicone brushes, a pizza cutter to cut the dough into strips, some egg wash, Dijon mustard for the pastry, and bowls of Whole Grain Dijon and ketchup for dipping. Initially, it was just my husband Michael and I putting the piggies in their blankets, and then three pre-teen and teen-aged party guests asked to join in the fun. So, I handed out disposable chef hats and aprons since we wanted to avoid hair falling in food and fancy party clothing getting dirty.
Each of us had a job to do on our assembly line. Michael brushed the thawed Pepperidge Farms Puff Pastry with a thin layer of Dijon, then cut them into strips measuring 1.5" wide x 3.5" long, dried the franks with a paper towel to prevent sogginess, pricked them with a fork so they didn't explode, and handed them off to the girls. Our team then carefully wrapped the dogs in their pastry jackets. At first, a few looked more like mini egg rolls, since the dough was stretched out a little too much. But then, we all got the hang of it, and the rest were outfitted beautifully in their pastry coverings. I was in charge of quality control and the final steps of production. I had to check that each one was properly sealed, line them up on a tray seam side down, and painted on egg wash before a sprinkling of sesame or poppy seeds. We baked the individual trays for about 20-25 minutes at 450 degrees until the crusts became golden brown.
Our test kitchen was abuzz with guest predictions on which doggies would come out the best. Some liked the idea of having an uncured dog, some preferred less fat, some wanted sesame seeds, and some desired no seeds. When I purchased the Trader Joe's Cocktail Pups, I did so knowing that they wouldn’t contain nitrates, and would be the right cocktail size. I had no idea how greasy (but delicious) they would be, oozing out golden oil from the tender pastry, as well as the only variety needing to be blotted before plating. The Hebrew National ones were full size franks that required slicing into thirds. Initially, I was concerned that by cutting them, they would be dried out on the ends, but they baked wonderfully. None of us missed the extra fat, but I did miss the look of the rounded tips poking out of their jackets. Instead, since they were sliced, they had a slightly squarish appearance. The Nathan's Famous Beef Cocktail Franks did not taste or look greasy (though they really were loaded with fat), but were the right size to begin with. With so many choices to pick from, it is entirely up to you which kind you use for your next party. In this contest for best Pigs in the Blanket, there really was no clear “wiener” (hot dog pun)! If I could design my own perfect frank, it would be all beef, low fat, all natural and cocktail size.
While many of us have tried Pigs in the Blankets wrapped in crescent rolls, baked off some frozen ones from big box stores for convenience, this time, there was a bonus using the Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets. The flaky pastry with a hint of Dijon was a perfect accompaniment to the hot dogs that met everyone's criteria--full of fat, lower fat, no nitrates, with seeds, without seeds, with grainy mustard, or with ketchup.
We made just about 100 of these li'l beauties, and there were only a few stragglers left on the trays before the main entrees were served. So, overall, these dogs any way you slice it, were finger food stars this New Year’s. I really hope my parents, who are up in heaven, got a kick out of seeing us making one of their favorite party apps. I know I sure did!