Dan Whalen is used to folks telling him, “You’ve got a little something on your face.” On his blog, The Food in My Beard (thefoodinmybeard.com), he chronicles how he creates indulgent dishes (grilled cheese, sandwiches, risotto) at home. His first cookbook, “Stuffed: The Ultimate Comfort Food Cookbook” ($20, Page Street), released last week, is packed with recipes for hearty, flavor-filled fare.
Have you always had an interest in cooking?
I went to college for computer science and business. Five years after graduating, I started a website as a side project. I thought it’d be fun to write about food, because I was cooking a lot. So I just started posting recipes, and I loved it. I ended up leaving my job.
Why do you recommend stuffing foods rather than just serving something on the side?
I tried to shy away from recipes that didn’t become better with the stuffing. The mac-and-cheese-stuffed burger, for example, has a huge surprise element. The cheese gets nice and warm and oozes, and the meat drips into the mac and cheese as it cooks.
You must have had a lot of stuffed recipe mishaps.
I’m surprised that a lot of my recipes work out [Laughs]. There were definitely some broken things. But I’ve been blogging recipes for six years now, so even though the book is mostly new recipes, I know the constraints of what I could fit inside of meat or how different breads were going to bake.
Was there any dish that worked out better than expected?
The one thing I’d never made before and thought about at the last minute was a meatloaf mixture wrapped around a fresh corn on the cob. I threw it in the oven and baked it, and the meat shrink-wrapped to the corn. It worked perfectly.
Do these recipes require a lot of skill?
They read like your friend is telling you how to make it. I think anyone can make any of these recipes. You just have to be aware that some of them take a little bit more time. Some stuff has to sit overnight to harden or you have to have a little finesse to seal something off properly. As long as you’re aware of the time it takes, you’re not going to be stressed or annoyed.
Any thoughts on recipes that lighten up comfort foods?
There’s no problem with that as long as it tastes good. I have an over-the-top comfort food book that’s very fatty, but most of the meals I eat are healthy. If people don’t like eating healthy food, then lightening up comfort food is a great option for them.
And what about something for people with a sweet tooth?
The book doesn’t have a ton of dessert recipes, but there’s one where you bake a cherry pie and then drop it into cake batter and bake it like a cake.