Sunday, October 11, 2009

Beer Cheese Soup with Custom Croutons 10/11/09

What a weekend this is going to be! FCT has a huge week coming up with its WLCE. Make sure and check it out when you have time. You might even win a Free Cruise! With the smell of college football and the crispness in the air, why not make some fall food. I love this time of the year! My inside cooking brain works at its best when it is frisky outside! My weekend will start off with a late night ESPN game. Matt and the Bulldogs will take on the Wolfpack from Nevada. I decided to make my Whine & Wangs for the game. I did not disappoint myself as they came out just spectacular. I kept getting wang sauce on my whine glass! The Bulldogs did not do as well as they came up short against Nevada. The season is still young my friends. Saturday will be my day to put my spin on a Wisconsin classic. Our food trail will take us down the path to Beer Cheese Soup. A little beer and cheese will not hurt anyone. The recipe I will be using is a recipe that Bryan Thomas gave me back in 2004. Bryan is the President of Thomas Reprographics and like me is food and wine junkie. We sort of take food ideas and modify them on the fly. Are you ready? I am! With all of my ingredients present and accounted for, I am ready to begin the process. The first thing that we need to do is prep our vegetables. You need to get 4 carrots, 5 stalks of celery with the lettuce looking things in the middle. Whenever you cook with celery make sure you include the lettuce looking things. That is where all of your celery flavor comes from. You will need a medium to large sweet onion and 5 to 6 garlic cloves. The last vegetable you will need is 1 beautiful Habanero. I am going to use 2 of them because I am only feeding myself and heat is my thing. Here is a funny little hot food story. Several years back Bryan and I were in Albuquerque for planning meeting for an upcoming Reprographics convention. The Fiery Foods Festival was going on at the same time and with our love for fiery foods we decided to attend. I kid you not you were in a hot sauce candy store. We sampled so many different things. Being on fire was an understatement. You know when they have a milk station you are in some trouble. If you ever get to attend one of these events make sure when they give you a toothpick or a spoon to taste their product that you do not pull out the toothpick or spoon with your lips closed. You will come out of there looking like you have red lipstick on. It was still a blast! Now that you have all of the veggies ready you need to slice and dice as you please. I cook a lot with enamel coated cast iron Dutch ovens and I will do the same today. They maintain a better constant heat in my opinion. You need to add some olive oil and sauté your veggies for 10 to 15 minutes. (Salt & Pepper to taste) My twist to the recipe is to sauté some andouille sausage. Whoever said a Cajun and a Cheesehead could not get along! The real way to eat beer cheese soup is to top it off with popcorn. Not! My crouton of choice will be andouille sausage and pork skins. You know, like letting the north and south touch each other! After your veggies have your house smelling good, you need to add 1/4 cup of flour. Make sure and coat the veggies good and cook for another minute or so. This is the step where the roux will start to take shape from. The next ingredient is the most important one. You must be very selective during this process and I would highly recommend a dark beer. I normally would use Guinness, but I had Shiner Bock on hand. There is nothing wrong with Shiner Bock. The next step is to add 1 1/2 bottles of beer to your veggies along with 24 plus or minus ounces of chicken stock. Don't use broth, get the good stuff. You could add all beer if you want, but I am staying close to Bryan's recipe. Cook all of this for 30 minutes or so at a slow boil. We want to get the veggies tender. The next part of the process involves blending. If you have a cooking boat motor then start pureeing until everything is completely blended. Since I do not have one of those gadgets I am going to let everything cool down some and move a little at a time to my stationary blender. Words of advice though, only fill your blender half way up. When blending hot liquids you will shoot your lid off if you are not holding it down good. I have been there and done that. Once everything is blended you will have this awesome yellow/orange looking soup base. It really looks and tastes good. You need to put all of this back into your pan and put your heat on low. We have a few more ingredients to bring to the party. Our next participants will be 8 ounces of heavy whipping cream and 16 ounces of cheese. The recipe calls for Colby Jack and that is what I am going to use. You can use any mixture of cheeses that you want. I can see mixing Smoked Gouda and a Fontina the next time I make this. You need to add your cheese slowly while stirring and melting. After all of the cheese is incorporated, add 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard and 3 table spoons of Worcestershire sauce and stir all of this in. If you need more salt then this would be a good time to do it. I figured I would let this all simmer on low so all of the flavors could get to know each other. I had some more habaneros left, so I got out my microplain/zester grater thing out and zested one more habenero into the soup. Just make sure you wash your hands good when you are done. Otherwise you might have something on fire that you do not want too. Been there and done that one too. I have waited long enough and it is time to plate up. Soup hits the bowl and my andouille sausage and pork skin croutons make their way on top. All of this garnished with another habenero. No I did not eat it. It was just for presentation. All I can say is Wow! What an amazing full of taste bowl of soup. This is Fall Food at its finest! You know you have seasoned it well when you get a little burn deep in the back of your throat and your nose won’t quit running. Bryan, all I can say is thanks for sharing your recipe with me. I had a blast making it. You all know that I am crazy when it comes to food! I never know where my mind is going to take me. I hope you too will one day get to share your version of Beer Cheese Soup with your family and friends! Find something you enjoy and just do it! 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!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Steak & Stuff 9/18/09

Well the week was a week. It seems like I never catch up now that football season is in full swing. FCT was good, but could be better. I had a warm fuzzy happen on Tuesday. Giving good news is always a good thing. Anytime you can make three ladies going to Alaska happy you are going to have a good day. Are you ready for some Steak & Stuff? One of the nights that we stayed at Jim & Jean's while we were in Troy, we experienced one heck of a meal. I mean an awesome meal! Chef Jim & Chef Jean are awesome cooks, so I got to watch and take pictures. This also allowed me to drink a little more than I should have. That was ok because it also allowed my camera to stay in focus even though my eyes were not. Our evening started off with this incredible fried calamari appetizer with a crazy yummy oriental style dipping sauce. Jim & Jean have a restaurant in Clearwater, FL that they know one of the chefs at. They buy their calamari from him in 1 lb packs, but 10 lbs at a time. Iron Chef Jim took the honors and was frying some golden goodness. I have to tell you the calamari was to die for. It was crunchy and oh so tender. Did we talk about the dipping sauce? Oh my! We had some wimps with us who would not eat calamari, so there had to be specially prepared items for them. Actually I think it was only one person who would not eat them and he has the same name a s mine. We had caught a few small bass earlier in the morning with our guide Jimmy. Jimmy (Jim & Jean's son) worked on fileting them and smoked them on a vertical smoker during the day. They brought out these smoked bass fillets and I am not kidding you, these little guys were the bomb. In the water in the morning and in my belly later that day. Dinner would have to wait a bit so we could rest and make a new adult beverage. Three ladies a chopping would start making the salad stuff. They did a good job and the salad items were consistently chopped the same size. This salad had 15 items in it. It was a meal in its self. I was quite impressed after watching them drink a few pink lemonade adult beverages. Let’s see. Pink lemonade vodka and pink lemonade sounds like something that could affect your knife skills. Chef Jean was up next with her famous sweet potato chips. There were a lot of sweet potato chips to fry up. What an awesome partner to go with the king of meats. Filet Mignon was the meat of choice. It was butchered and made its way all the way from The Villages, FL. The person with the same name as mine who would not eat calamari was the delivery man. Each steak was carefully placed in the pan and the doctor would go to work prescribing all sorts of ointments to help this meat live up to its name. The medicine had been prescribed and the waiting game began. That left us a few minutes to prepare another adult beverage. Chef Jim had one more recipe to go before the meat hit the fire. Here is how the recipe goes. Take a pan, add 2 sticks of butter, garlic salt and as much garlic as you can chop. Turn the fire on low and let the butter and garlic become husband and wife. A marriage made in heaven. This would become my last treatment before the filet hit the grill. Each filet would be double dipped in the butter garlic mixture and gently placed on the grill. Gently would be an understatement, as when butter hits the fire it becomes war. This is how you lock in the prescribed flavors and get a good char. The filets are now all on and the cooking instructions start flowing. They sounded like instructions but I think it was the adult beverages that were flowing. You know everyone wants to be a grill doctor. After we came to an agreement as to which doctor was in charge of working with the patients the meal all started to come together. Chef Jean was completed with the sweet potato chips and the filet's were resting awaiting their surgery. The wine bottles are opened and the conversation gets lively. We all take are places and fill our plates with this wonderful meal and most important the amazing company that we were all part of. The food was really awesome and all of the flavors married well together. As the meal comes to an end I take time to reflect on how blessed we all really are. Family and friends are what makes the world go around. I just want to say thanks again to Jim & Jean for letting us invade their incredible home as we get ready to go see Matt play at Auburn. You already know that I am crazy when it comes to food! I hope you too will one day get to share your Steak & Stuff with your family and friends! Find something you enjoy and just do it! 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!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Whine & Wang's 8/28/09

What a week! The business was average this week, so this allowed me time to play with some different foods this week. It makes it pretty easy when she is up there and I am still here. I decided to experiment with one of my favorite foods. Chicken Wang's! I have been working on perfecting my perfect wing for many years. I think my perfect wing would be naked! You know no clothes on! I would prefer it fried and tossed in a sauce of some kind, along with some heat. I am so tired of ordering wings at restaurants. No one does it right. Some come close, but most have soggy skins and I want a crispy skin. I will admit that I give in when someone wants to go to Hooters. Who can pass up a naked Bentley's in the presence of orange shorts. When it comes close to finding a wing to my likings, it is at Plucker's. This Texas wing establishment even has Dr Pepper wings. While that is pretty cool, I prefer the wings that have enough heat to make you sweat and Plucker's delivers that with the "Fire in the Hole" wings. I can taste them now! They will make you burn inside and out. So what I decided to do was play with my wings. I can fry them, I can grill them, but can I bake them and get the same effect as fried. Being in new in the travel business you do a lot of research and a ton of reading. This way you become an expert. So this is where my mission would start. Research! What is it that the others are doing? After reading and researching, I came to the conclusion that if you want to achieve the same effect as fried wings while baking them you must do the craziest thing. Do you have a steamer? If you do, you can do this. I know this is strange, but trust me. Get your steamer fired up. Don't laugh at me. I know you are. I promise I am leading you down the wing heaven path! I use nothing but drumettes. Do they really have miniature chickens? How do we get drumettes? I am not sure, but I am very thankful that we have been introduced. My seasonings consist of cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper, adobo spice, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Make sure you massage those guys from top to bottom. Once the steamer is ready I place them in their steam bath for 18 to 20 minutes. Once the bathing is accomplished I take them out, place them on a plate to cool. Then we head to the fridge for a cool down of at least an hour. Are you still with me? I know this is very weird, but the results will wang you. Heat your oven to 425 with your rack in the center and get ready. It’s a process I know, but well worth it. Get your pan and you have to use parchment paper. Who, what, paper? No foil? I am a true believer in parchment paper. No more foil and spray cans for me. This stuff is non stick heaven. Take our chilled steamed drumettes and line them up on the pan. I place mine in opposite directions to make them look manly! Once you hit 425, place these guys in the oven for 22 1/2 minutes. Take them out and turn them over and repeat this process for 21 1/2 minutes. Hang with me on these times as they do work. During the cooking process take your favorite hot sauce and heat up with a half stick of butter. I am a huge fan of anything with habaneros and I they go well with my wing sauce. Once these guys are done, toss them with your homemade sauce and you have the perfect baked, fried tasting wang's you have ever tasted. I promise! Blue cheese dressing is my dipping sauce of choice. The coolness helps cut some of the heat. Make sure you have you favorite beverage on hand. My beverage of choice is red wine. It has a nice balance to the hot sauce. Plus wine is good for you. The doctors tell us so! I have to say thanks to my buddies for hanging with Pop's (me) during his crazy cooking weirdness. They already know that I am crazy when it comes to food! I hope you too will one day get to make Whine & Wang's! Find something you enjoy and just do it! Have fun and smile! Until next time, "Cookin' with John" will be playing with some more food ideas to share with you!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Silly String Pizza 8/22/09

For those of you who know me, you know I love to cook. I like taking what you have and try to make something unique out of it. I call this playing with food! When you are on a limited budget, trying to sell your home and start a new travel business, you have to get creative. She is up there and I am down here. Let me explain! I currently live in our home in Cibolo, TX while we are trying to sell it. My wife is in Dallas working full time. My oldest son "Pea" lives in San Marcos, TX and my youngest son "Pod" is playing football at Louisiana Tech in Ruston, LA. This gives me more opportunities to play with food. I am currently on a low carb diet and have been since May. You only have so many choices and by mixing things up, you can come up with some pretty unique recipe's. As I start my life with Cookin' with John I hope I can share with you some of my crazy ideas with food. You are probably wondering if he is on a low carb diet, then what in the world is he doing making pizza! As I told you, I love to play with food. My brain goes way too far outside the box sometimes. It does not matter to me if you eat dinner for breakfast or breakfast for dinner. Life is to short to do things normal. I keep frozen pizza dough balls in the freezer for those times when the kids come home. I said what the hay! Let's get the pizza stone out and make some pizza. I did not say I was going to eat it. I just felt like making it. Playing with food keeps my mind young while I dream up these wild things. Ok, let's see. I have thawed dough and I can make some of my mom's famous sauce recipe. I don't have any pepperoni, but some sausage will do. I know I have an onion that I can use to. What I don't have is cheese. How is this going to work? Nope, I am not going to the store. Maybe I will use American cheese slices. Then I remembered that I have like 24 packets of string cheese. This is mozzarella right? Everything is good! I can now make pizza. So I thought! I go to get the flour so I can roll out three pizzas and I am flour less. I guess I could of gone to the neighbours and borrowed some flour. I am going to make this work. I have corn meal and that will have to do. The pizza stone goes into the oven at 475. I get the ole pizza peel out along with the other ingredients. I still can not believe I am going to use string cheese. How many will it take? What is the best way to do this? I got 12 string cheese packages out. I will use 4 packages per pizza. I spread the corn meal on the counter and take my rolling pin and commence to roll some dough. It is not working very well, but eventually I come up with a 14 inch circle. What will this taste like with corn meal in the dough? I use corn meal on the pizza peel to keep the dough from sticking, but not in place of flour. I take a couple of spoonfuls of my mom's pizza sauce and spread it out on the dough. I open my four packets of string cheese and start pulling the little strings off. This is pretty wild looking. I don't know how to explain what this looks like. I guess it looks like spaghetti piled up. I am not even sure if this will melt right since I am not covering all of the sauce. I throw some sausage and onions on. Sprinkle it with some oregano and slide it onto the pizza stone. I have cooked pizza's on this stone hundred's of times, so I know that in 8 minutes that we should have our first look at my Silly String Pizza. I was shocked to all get out! I am staring at something that looks like real pizza. I can't believe it! I get the pizza peel under it and lay it on the counter. I had to stare in amazement. How could something that started out so funny looking now look like the perfect pizza pie? I must of sniffed the pizza for two minutes. I had to make sure it was really real. I cut the pizza in slices and moved them on to a pizza pan. Now it was time to duplicate this two more times with the remaining two dough balls. I never knew playing with food could be so much fun. Maybe it was the two glasses of wine that helped me be a believer in this crazy idea! I cut the other two pizza's up and put them all in freezer bags. This way Janet, Pea and Pod could try them the next time they come home. I did sneak two pieces. I did feel like I had committed the diet sin, but it tasted so good. I will ask for forgiveness in the morning. I had such a blast making it. These slices of pizza are now sharing freezer space with the other frozen dough balls. They now know there fate one day. I hope you too will one day get to make Silly String Pizza! Find something you enjoy and just do it! Until next time, "Cookin' with John" will be playing with some more food ideas to share with you!