Saturday, February 5, 2011

Cheese Ball a la Margaret 2/5/11

The day ended up quite nice! I finished and published my latest travel blog "Travelin' with John". The best thing of the day was that most, but not all of the snow and ice has melted. You can't see me, but I am doing a Happy Dance! The melted slush is like walking on an Icee. I would much rather be drinking one than walking on one. I think the dogs liked the snow better than the wet slush! They walk like they are walking on fire! Oh well at least we are thawing out a bit before the next winter weirdness hits. Since we just finished up our Wacky Fire Crackers recipe I thought I would share a cheese ball recipe that my mother-n-law has made as long as I can remember, so that must be a long time. All I know is whenever she makes it that it is always a battle to take home any of leftover cheese ball. The majority of the time this famous cheese ball is devoured once it hits the table. In honor of my mother-n-law I have named this signature recipe "Cheese Ball a la Margaret" I am not sure how something with a few ingredients can taste like heaven on a cracker, but it does! Let's get started! You need 2 - 8oz packages of cream cheese at room temperature, Worcestershire sauce, Accent, 5 - 6 green onions with the tops and 2 packs of Budding Beef. I told you there were only a few ingredients. You will need a medium size bowl. Go ahead and chop your green onions and the 2 packs of Buddings Beef. Make sure and reserve 1/2 of your chopped beef. Add your 2 - 8oz packages of room temperature cream cheese to your bowl. Then add 3 TBS of Worcestershire sauce, 1 TSP of Accent and the chopped green onions. Mix this very well and then add 1/2 of the chopped beef. At this point I put the cheese ball mixture in the refrigerator to firm up just a little bit. Once the cheese ball mixture has firmed up go ahead and form it into 1 ball or 2 balls depending on how big you want your cheese ball to be. Roll out a sheet of wax paper and put your cheese ball on the wax paper. Then take your remaining chopped beef and completely cover the cheese ball. You should have a work of art in front of you. It's ok, you can admire it before you wrap in the wax paper. You should have an amazing aroma in your kitchen right now! I would put it in your refrigerator and let it setup before you serve it. There are a couple of other items that you can add to your cheese ball like chopped jalapeños or several dashes of your favorite hot sauce. I have made many different variations of this recipe, but I always fall back to the original recipe. Also if you want a firmer cheese ball then cut your Worcestershire sauce down to TBS. When you’re ready to serve grab your favorite cracker and enjoy. I bet you fall in love with this recipe as our family has. Just make sure if you take it to a party that you claim dibs on the leftovers if there are any. I want to thank my mother-n-law for sharing this recipe with me. She is an amazing cook and I hope to share many more of her recipes. Thanks Meggie! Love You! After you make this recipe shoot me a note or post a comment and let me know how you liked it. If you make any modifications please share. I love to experiment with food and recipes. If you have a favorite recipe you want to share please send it to me. I would love to make it and then write about it! Happy Super Bowl Sunday and may your favorite yellow team win! Thanks for following “Cookin’ with John”. Find something you enjoy and just do it! Life is way too short! Have fun and smile! You never know what tomorrow will bring! Until next time, “Cookin’ with John” will be playing with some more food ideas to share with you!

Wacky Fire Crackers 2/5/11

This has been a very crazy week! We were blessed with a great weekend last weekend! The Super Bowl teams fly in on Monday and Tuesday morning we are kicked in the butt by this wicked ice storm. It was like Wham Bam Thank You Mam! They said we had ice thunder. I am not sure what ice thunder is but Mother Nature said she was closing the city down! After several days of frozen tundra she threw several inches of snow at us Friday morning. Schools would end up closed for the remainder of the week and I made an accidental snow angel when I busted my butt on some hidden ice underneath the fresh powder Friday Morning. My dogs thought it was extremely funny! I love where we live, but this winter has been pretty crazy! The travel business was a little busier this week and my search for full time employment continues. With the Super Bowl in town this weekend I thought I would share a very strange recipe called Wacky Fire Crackers! It is not really strange, but I never would of thought all of these ingredients would make something so yummy! This very addicting cracker was first introduced to me at one of our tailgate parties before one of Matt's football games at Louisiana Tech! Tom & Sherry Toups from Southlake, TX shared this recipe with us and we have been making them ever since. You have to hang with me on this one! These crackers are like Lay's Potato Chips and you cannot just have one! Are you ready? Here we go! You start off with a box of your favorite saltine crackers and a gallon zip lock bag. Go ahead and empty your 4 sleeves of saltines into the zip lock bag. Here comes the bizarre part. Take 1 3/4 cup of canola oil (That is correct 1 3/4 cup of canola oil) and mix it with 1 package of Hidden Valley Dry Ranch Dressing. Then you add anywhere from 3 - 4 TBS of dried crushed red peppers. You can add more if you like it hotter. Then you add 3 - TBS of dried dill. Mix all of this up until it is well incorporated. Here comes the fun part. You take this mixture and pour it all into the zip lock bag full of saltines. Don't be afraid! It works! You just have to trust me. Go ahead and seal the zip lock bag and move the crackers back and forth in the bag until everything looks coated. Find a nice corner on your counter and toss every 15 minutes and set the bag on a new side of the zip lock bag. After an hour you should have had the crackers sit on each of the 4 sides of the zip lock bag. Another twist is to substitute the dill with dried oregano. You will now have a cracker that taste a little like a pizza. After an hour or so I get a sheet pan and line with some paper towels and pour the crackers onto the sheet pan. Throw away your zip lock bag and get a new one. After about an hour put the crackers in your new zip lock bag. While your filling the bag go ahead and sample some of these crackers from heaven. I bet you will be a fan of these Wacky Fire Crackers. They taste even better after 24 hours. Serve them with your favorite dip, soup or whatever you want to load you new found love up with. We like them with guacamole or any type of cheese. No matter what you top your cracker off with I hope you like these as much as we do. The Super Bowl is here and the weather looks like it is going to be nice for game day. No matter whom you are cheering for I hope you have a great Super Bowl Sunday. Family, Friends, Great Food, Great Commercials and Competitive Football make for a Great Day! I hope you try this recipe. If you do, leave me a comment. I would love to know how it turned out. If you make any modifications with the herbs or peppers please share. I love experimentation with food! A special thanks to Tom & Sherry Toups for introducing this amazing recipe to us! Find something you enjoy and just do it! Life is way too short! Have fun and smile! You never know what tomorrow will bring! Until next time, “Cookin’ with John” will be playing with some more food ideas to share with you!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Focaccia Caramelized & Blue 1/24/11

Happy New Year! Where is time gone? It is already 2011 and as I stumble out of my hibernation, I need to get back to cooking! I am not sure why I blacked out! Maybe I am part bear. I guess all of the food I have consumed had put me in a food coma and now that 2011 is here I need to get back on the stove. Since we have last crossed paths we have sold the house and now reside in the northern suburbs of Dallas. My youngest son completed his 2nd season playing football for Louisiana Tech and my oldest son skied for the first time ever. The travel business is making a slow crawl up the start your own business mountain and now that I have been reunited with my wife, the dogs and I are getting back to normal. I am currently looking for full time work, so if you know anyone hiring let me know. I will have the travel business and continue to grow it as well. I finally figured out it just takes time. I am going to follow the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson ~ “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail” What an inspiration! I think that wraps up my hibernation in a nut shell. Hey big fella, this is supposed to be about food so let's get on topic! During my food coma I cooked several recipes that were outside of my box. I will introduce those to you very soon. I decided to start 2011 experimenting with Focaccia. I guess I need to explain. Focaccia -(foˈkattʃa) is a flat oven-baked Italian bread, which may be topped with herbs or other ingredients. Focaccia is related to pizza, but not considered to be the same. My inspiration came from reading Food & Wine magazine and I ran across a Focaccia with Caramelized Onions, Bosc Pear's and Blue Cheese recipe. These are all things that I like so why not make them into one. This should be very interesting. To make the Focaccia recipe you start out with 1 cup of warm water, 1 package of active dry yeast, 1/2 TSP of honey, 2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour, 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil and a TSP of kosher salt. Sounds simple enough! In a large bowl, combine warm water, yeast and honey and let it stand for 5 minutes. Then stir in 1 cup of the flour and 1/4 cup of EVOO; let stand for 5 minutes. Then stir in the remaining flour and the kosher salt and knead until smooth. Transfer the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with plastic and let stand for an hour or more. This gives me time to take the dogs out. I know I am in need for a walk. This food coma as added a few extra pounds to my waist line. After a nice walk around the lake it is time to start working on the rest of the ingredients for the Caramelized & Blue Focaccia. Take a large onion and slice thin. In a skillet, heat 1 TBS of oil. Add the onion, cover and cook over moderate heat for about 10 minutes. Then add a TBS of brown sugar, cover and cook another 10 minutes or until caramelized. Now that your onions are caramelized take 2 Bosc pears and core them. Then slice them anywhere from 1/16th to 1/8th of an inch thick. I squeezed a little lemon juice on them so they would not turn brown. I must of had a bad lemon as my sliced pear's did turn a little brown while they were waiting to be added to the building process. Go ahead and preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Oil a 9 X 13 inch sheet pan. Then transfer the dough to the sheet pan and press it into all corners of the pan. Then dimple the dough all over with your fingers and drizzle 2 TBS of EVOO on the dough. Let the dough rise until puffed, about 20 minutes. After 20 minutes it is now time to scatter the caramelized onions on the dough. Then arrange the pears over the caramelized onions and sprinkle with 3/4 cup of your favorite Blue Cheese or Gorgonzola. I used Gorgonzola for my version of the recipe. Now we drizzle 2 TBS of EVOO over the Focaccia and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. The aroma is amazing! Once she is done, transfer her to a rack to cool. I am not waiting very long. My red wine is in my hand and I am grabbing me a slice or two. Yum! Yum! I think my culinary nose is now awake! I am pleasantly surprised with how all of these flavors go so well together. Another glass of red wine and one more slice please. Oh my! That was incredible! My mind sure is wandering with these flavors. I can see other creations. I hope you try this recipe. I just wanted to thank Jill Giacomini Bash for providing the recipe and for the inspiration to create my version. I want to apologize for the length of my hibernation. I am on new medication and I promise many more recipes will be coming your way! When you have time send me your favorite recipe and I will make it and then write about my experience with it. When you try this recipe send me a note and let me know how it came out. Find something you enjoy and just do it! Life is way too short! Have fun and smile! You never know what tomorrow will bring! Until next time, Cookin' with John will be playing with some more food ideas to share with you!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Pizza Out of Bounds! 3/29/10

The sun has been shining most of the week. With all of this off and on rain we have had as of late things are still a little damp. I will be glad when things start to dry out. I am even stoked that I get to get the mower out soon. I know I am weird, but green grass looks a lot better than the brown dried looking stuff. I got this Aero Garden for my birthday last year and since the house is up for sale I never took it out of the box. Well what the heck! It is set up and the three pods that I planted were basil, dill and oregano. You need to check these things out. It is a hydroponic system with a grow light. It will be fun to see how everything turns out. I planted some strange tomatoes and some exotic peppers in some pots I have on the deck. I hope they do well this year. Last year was not a huge success. The travel business is hanging in there. Alaska, River Cruising and All Inclusive Resorts are pretty hot items right now. A summer vacation is right around the corner and now is a pretty good time to get things in place. I don't know what it is, but my mind spins when it comes to cooking. I have been doing most of my experimentations with breakfast and have combined some pretty strange ingredients that work well with eggs. Some of the exotic combinations have been with capers, green olives, jambalaya, enchilada stacks and refried beans inside of an omelet. They all have worked for me, but I am not sure the rest of the family would ever eat any of it. One of my all time favorite foods in the world is pizza. Mama Mia it is pizza time! Did you know that the first pizzeria in the United States was opened by Gennaro Lombardi in 1895 in New York City? I am a pizza junkie and love to create different and unique pizzas. My parents went to a small college in Iowa and they used to hang out at this pizza joint called the Pizza Shack. They became friends with the owner and he shared his recipe with them. The only thing was it was for 100 pizzas so they had to cut it down to a recipe for 3 pizzas. Not only is this recipe still with our family it was also the start of Johnny's Pizza headquartered in Monroe, LA. Johnny Huntsman the owner of Johnny's Pizza and my parents went to college together and have shared the recipe ever since. Johnny's Pizza has 30 to 40 locations scattered out in Louisiana and Texas. This cooking session was going to consist of pizza made 3 different ways. Pizza #1 is going to be a potato pizza! Pizza #2 is going to be an alfredo pizza! Pizza #3 is going to be a normal with pizza sauce! The dough for 3 pizzas is quite easy. I mix 2 packets of rapid rise yeast to 1 cup of warm water and 2 table spoons of sugar. I let that proof for about 5 minutes. My dry ingredients are 3 cups of all purpose flour and 1 teaspoon of sea salt. I mix the wet and dry together with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Once all of this comes together pour it out on a floured surface and knead it into a ball. Then place it in a greased bowl about twice the size of the dough ball, cover it with a towel and put it in a warm place for 2 hours to rise. After 2 hours knock the dough down and dived into thirds and make 3 balls. Cover them with saran wrap and let rise a second time. The pizza sauce recipe is for 3 pizzas, but I am only using it on 1 of the pizzas. You take 1 can of tomato paste (Contadina), 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of salt, 1 teaspoon of garlic powder, 1 heaping tablespoon of ground oregano, 1 tablespoon of Louisiana hot sauce, 1 tablespoon of olive oil and I add a little water to thin it out some. Mix all of this together, cover and set aside. I normally cook my pizza outside on the grill, but I was bringing the show indoors. I cook a unit called a VillaWare Pizza Grill. It is a pizza stone made into a unit that will fit on your grill or oven. I have used it on my gas grill and my 22” Weber. I put my oven rack at the lowest level and the pizza grill goes on to of that. I set the oven to 500 degrees and let the stone heat up for at least 30 minutes prior to cooking. I had some ingredients that I needed to prep first. I needed to make some caramelized some onions, crisp up some bacon, chop some mushrooms, slice some green olives and put the potatoes thru the mandolin. The Italian sausage and mozzarella cheese are the easy part. Once all of the prep work was complete and the onions had caramelized I was ready to roll. I forgot to mention this earlier, but you will need a pizza peel to slide your pizza on and off of your stone. Make sure and sprinkle corn meal on it first or your pizza will not come off. You will not be a happy camper if you forget this part. You can add more as needed. The first pizza is rolled out and placed on the pizza peel. This would be the strange pizza of the night. Olive oil would be used instead of pizza sauce. Then I layered thinly sliced potatoes on next. The mozzarella cheese came next. I prefer sliced cheese over grated. It seems to melt easier. I put crushed red pepper on next and she was ready to go. Just slide it on the stone and set your timer for 8 minutes. I was not sure how this was going to come out. I have never made a potato pizza before. The pizza was thin and crispy with a gooey cheesy potato topping. I cut the pizza into 12 slices and was ready to try my first bite. I must admit it was pretty good. It could be a keeper. Pizza #2 was going to be an alfredo pizza with caramelized onions, bacon and mushrooms. I used Bertolli’s alfredo sauce in a jar. I know I should have made my own. I rolled to dough out on a floured surface and then placed it on the pizza peel. The alfredo sauce goes on next and the mozzarella cheese. The caramelized onions, mushrooms and bacon go on next. Then it gets a shower of oregano and on the stone she goes for 8 minutes. This one smelled amazing! I cannot wait to taste this one. I have made alfredo pizza before, but not with these toppings. After 8 minutes this girl is bubbling. I slide her off onto the cutting board and let her sit for a minute before I slice into her. The smells of this pizza did not disappoint me. It was incredible. I need to drink a glass of red wine with this one. I am in pizza heaven and I still have another one to make. Pizza #3 will be Italian sausage and green olives and the famous pizza sauce. The dough is rolled out and the sauce and cheese go on next. The sausage and green olives join the party next and then it is showered with oregano. 8 minutes on the stone and this bubbling goodness is ready to come out. I don’t know what it is about green olives and pizza for me, but it gets my motor running. I know this one is going to be good. I believe it is time for another glass of red wine as I am going to sit down and eat this one. This has been an amazing pizza experimentation night. Another pizza that I make in the summer time when I grill pizza outside is a barbeque chicken pizza. I use barbeque sauce as the base on the dough before the cheese. I then add rotisserie chicken, onions, pickles and a drizzle of barbeque sauce on top of that. I kid you not you will want to do a jig after the first bite. I knew I should have made 4 pizzas tonight. I told you playing with pizza can be fun. Let your hair down and play with your food. This has been an amazing night and my taste buds have been satisfied. I think I need another glass of red wine to finish the night off. I hope this has helped give you some new pizza ideas. It is not authentic Neapolitan pizza, but it backyard fun pizza. Authentic Neapolitan pizzas that are made with local ingredients from Naples like San Marzano tomatoes, which grow on the volcanic plains to the south of Mount Vesuvius, and Mozzarella di Bufala Campania, made with the milk from water buffalo raised in the marshlands of Campania and Lazio in a semi-wild state. The dough is made from type 0 or 00 Italian wheat flour. I am sure it is good, but I will stick with the backyard fun version until I visit Naples! If you have any questions just shoot me a message. I would be glad to help. If you try something really weird like chocolate pizza let me know how it came out. I am learning about cooking everyday! Another night of cooking has come to an end and I am truly blessed with my family and friends that I have. Cooking is a passion of mine and I hope you enjoy making pizza as much as I do. I have to give special thanks to my mom for keeping the pizza recipe strong and alive in our family. She still uses these special pizza pans that are over 50 years old. She can achieve the same crispy crust that I get from my pizza stone. I love you mom! When you have time send me a recipe and I will make it and then write about it. I would be honored if you would share this blog with a friend who loves to cook. Find something you enjoy and just do it! Life is way too short! Have fun and smile! You never know what tomorrow will bring! Until next time, “Cookin with John” will be playing with some more food ideas to share with you!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pork Fried Rice Brooklyn Style 3/4/10

The snow has moved on and we have had some semi sunny 60 degree days. Snow in South Texas is for the ducks! This has been the strangest year for weather. I am not sure I understand it, but I am sure that it is happening for a reason. I know we are being set up for triple digit temperatures this summer. I can just feel it! The dogs have been happier now that they don't have to get wet and then go through the towel dryer when they come back in. I can't have any dirty feet tracks on the floor for the potential home buyers to look at. They know the drill and are being good sports about it. I have been attending a lot of webinars this week. My head has been in education mode. As a Professional Travel Agent you have to be up to speed with the cruise and tour companies. Otherwise you are going to get blown away. Knowledge in this business is the key to you experiencing the ultimate vacation. During my years prior in the Reprographics business I have had the pleasure to work with many amazing people and one of those amazing people is Kathryn Williams. Kathryn & I worked together in Austin for several years. Kathryn has since moved to Brooklyn, NY with her husband and son. You should see all of the snow they have had in Brooklyn this winter. Where I am going with this is Kathryn is one heck of a cook. We share recipes back in forth and the recipe I am cooking today is her recipe. Pork Fried Rice is on the menu today. I have never made this before and was really excited to make it. So where did fried rice come from? Fried rice, which originated in Yangchow province, is a standard method of cooking leftovers, involving frying cold boiled rice with chopped-up meat and vegetables. In really superior restaurants, rice is specially boiled and dried for this, but usually old, unused rice is served. The common (and favorite) recipe, however is not Cantonese, but eastern, deriving from Yonchou in the lower Yangtze country; it involved mixing chopped ham, beaten egg, green peas, green onions, and other ingredients to taste, and then rather slowly sautéing the rice. The rice is neither deep-fried nor stir-fried, but is cooked slowly in a little oil, producing a fluffy product with a slight crust. That is pretty interesting! I am ready to get started! Earlier in the day I cooked 3 cups of rice so it would have a chance to dry out some before I used it in the recipe. I know that is a lot of rice, but being home alone I get a little crazy with my food projects, plus I need some leftovers. The ingredients that we are using today are cooked rice, medium onion, small bag of frozen peas, small bag of frozen carrots, (you can use fresh peas and carrots) sesame seeds, 2 eggs, soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, butter, sesame oil, green onions, chopped garlic and marinated cubes of pork. (I marinated the pork in some teriyaki sauce and sesame oil) It sounds pretty simple so far. You need to cut you onion and green onion into a small to medium dice. Your garlic need to be cut into a small dice as well. Then you need to mix your 2 eggs and scramble to your liking. Now that all of the prep work is done get your wok or your favorite non-stick pan. You need to heat your wok up pretty high and then add 1/4 cup of oil. (I used canola oil) Once you see a little smoke start you are good to go. Your cubed pork is the first thing to hit the wok and be careful as there will be a little hissing going on. You need to stir fry the pork until it is done all the way through and then drain it on a paper towel. Then take a couple of tablespoons of butter and add to the remaining oil. Once your butter is melted add all of your vegetables and sesame seeds and cook until your veggies are soft and the onions are translucent. Now here comes the fun part! Take your rice and dump it on top of your veggies and then shower the rice with sesame oil, soy sauce and teriyaki sauce. Mix your rice and veggies together and taste to see if you need to add more soy or teriyaki sauce. It is now up to your taste buds. Then take your scrambled eggs, sesame seeds and your cooked pork and stir fry. Just keep mixing everything together until it is hot enough for you and then it is ready to serve. I told you it was easy to do. The hardest part was the prep work. The best way to eat your fried rice is to serve it with an egg roll and your favorite adult beverage. Those of you who know me know it is going to be a glass of red wine. The last thing you need to do is drizzle everything with Sriracha Hot Sauce and now you have a very awesome comforting meal. I will put this up there with any Chinese restaurant that I have ordered fried rice at. It was really really good! I ate way too much and I am really glad the rice was already cooked. If not, there is no telling how much bigger my stomach would have gotten. I know my wife is going to be upset that I am making this while she is in Dallas, but I promise to make it for her one day soon. Kathryn you did it again. You shared a recipe with me that will stay in the family. It is a keeper in my book. Thanks so much and I look forward to cooking the other amazing recipes that you have shared with me. I am still waiting on that secret banana pudding recipe. Please! For all of those of you reading, make sure and try this recipe out. I know you will be happy that you did. Send me a note or leave me a comment on what you thought and how yours came out. Another day of cooking has come to an end and I am truly blessed with my family and friends that I have. Cooking is a passion of mine and I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I have. When you have time Send me a recipe and I will make it and then write about it. I would be honored if you would share this blog with a friend who loves to cook. Find something you enjoy and just do it! Life is way too short! Have fun and smile! You never know what tomorrow will bring! Until next time, "Cookin with John" will be playing with some more food ideas to share with you!