For The Packers: Mac-‘N-Beer-Cheese Soup

beer cheese soup with macaroniI’m not actually much of a sports fan.  Oh sure, I watch football every Sunday, but only because Jeff does.  And I have a Patriots sweatshirt, but Jeff bought it for me and I wear it because it’s warm.  Even so, I love football.  Not for the game itself, but for the food. I’m realizing just now that I’m devoting more energy to this year’s Super Bowl menu that I did to Thanksgiving and Christmas combined.  That should probably tell you something about my palate. 

I’d been thinking for months about what I’d cook if the Patriots made it to the Super Bowl.  White clam pizza, baked beans, Parker House rolls, Boston Cream Pie…  but now none of those dishes seem quite right.  However, beer cheese soup, complete with elbow noodles and a generous sprinkle of scallions, is just the thing.  I love Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup, and I love macaroni and cheese, why not combine the two? 

Hearty and rich, this soup feeds a crowd, and will keep well in a crock pot on a buffet table. It’s creamy and cheesy but the hoppy beer cuts through the richness, as does the hint of spice from the jalapeno.  There’s plenty of flavor from the Worcestershire sauce and mustard, but I’m a mustard addict so next time I might add an extra teaspoon of it. And if you like more spice, you could certainly add more jalapeno. Be sure to use a beer you like to drink, because the flavor really comes through. I went for an IPA we happened to have in the fridge, and it was lovely.

And for you Steelers fans, not to worry, I’m working on a Pittsburgh-inspired recipe too!

beer cheese soup

Mac-‘N-Beer-Cheese Soup

Serves 6

1/2 lb elbow macaroni

4 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, diced

1 medium carrot, peeled and diced

3 loves garlic, diced

1 small jalapeno, seeded and diced

1 teaspoon dry mustard powder

4 tablespoons flour

11/2 cups vegetable broth

1 (12 ounce) bottle beer

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/4 chopped scallions, for garnish

Cook the macaroni in boiling salted water until al dente.  Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a dutch oven.  Saute the onion 1 minute.  Add the carrot, garlic and jalapeno and saute over medium-low heat until the vegetables are slightly brown and very soft. Stir in the mustard powder. Add the flour and stir well, cooking for 1 minute.  Slowly wisk in half of the broth to form a smooth paste.  In a slow stream, wisk in the remaining broth and the beer.  Once well incorporated, add in the cheese and stir continuously until melted.  Add the milk and Worcestershire sauce and then stir in the macaroni.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve topped with a sprinkle of chopped scallions.

Published in: on January 30, 2011 at 8:13 pm  Comments (22)  
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Gourmet Piggies for the Super Bowl

gourmet football food

I really want to say something profound here.  I do.  But we’re talking about pigs in a blanket.  Bits of tubular meat wrapped in pastry from a can.  Not profound, not fancy, and certainly not healthy, but very delicious.

Have you ever been to a party where there were leftover pigs in a blanket?  Of course not. They fly off the tray. You may have half eaten bowls of crab dip, a mangled wedge of brie, or a bag of soggy chips, but never a forgotten pastry-wrapped hot dog.  No way.  Seriously retro and still as tasty as ever, they are a hit from Bar Mitzvahs to weddings to super bowl parties.

So I’m making a plea on behalf of your super-bowl guests this year: make pigs in a blanket.  Please.

Better yet, dress up your pigs in a blanket and make one of our favorite creations. You put fun toppings on your hot dogs, don’t you? Why not on piggies?

cuban sandwich pigs in blanket

Try Cubano Piggies, which taste like a warm and crusty Cuban Sandwich. These are my favorites, but that’s probably because I have a thing for pickles.

football food

Or go for Piggies Parmesan, a pastry wrapped bite of chicken parm.

pigs in a blanket with bacon and jalapeno

Of course, there are Piggies from the City of Angels, filled with jalapeno and bacon and a bit of brown sugar.  Sweet and smoky and spicy and wonderful, these are like Jeff’s catnip.

super chili pggy

And we can’t forget the ultimate piggy: The Super Chili Piggy.  Life is not complete without a chili cheese dog.  Yeah, that’s my philosophy and I’m sticking to it.  Serve ’em with sour cream. 

Or try your own combos.  I’m thinking kielbasa with sauerkraut wrapped in pastry would be yummy served with spicy mustard.  Perhaps a piggy with cumin sautéed onions served with a cucumber raita would be tasty.  The possibilities are endless! 

Cubano Piggies

Makes 24

1 package refrigerated crescent roll dough

6 pork hot dogs

2 ounces mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced into strips

1/4 pound deli sliced ham, cut in strips

1/8 cup thinly sliced dill pickles

horseradish mustard, for serving (or 1 cup mustard mixed with 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish)

Slice the dough in 24 strips. They won’t be even, but it doesn’t matter. Cut each hot dog in 4 pieces.  Make a small slit in each hot dog and stuff with a piece of cheese.  Top each hot dog piece with a slice or two of pickle, and wrap with a piece of ham.  Wrap with dough and pinch to secure. Arrange the piggies on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes until golden brown. Serve with the mustard.

Piggies Parmesan

Makes about 21

1 package refrigerated crescent roll dough

3 fully cooked Italian chicken sausage links

1/4 cup marinara sauce

2 ounces mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced into strips

1 tablespoon melted butter

1 tablespoon shredded parmesan cheese

1 tablespoons bread crumbs

Slice the dough in wide strips. They won’t be even, but it doesn’t matter. Cut each sausage on the diagonal in 1/2 inch thick coins. Place a dollop of sauce and a slice of cheese on each sausage coin.  Wrap with pastry and pinch to secure, taking care not to drip sauce.  Arrange the piggies on an uncreased baking sheet. Brush the pastry with melted butter and then sprinkle the piggies with the cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes until golden brown. Serve with additional sauce if desired.

Piggies from the City of Angels

Makes 24

4 ounces bacon, chopped

1/2 cup minced jalapeno (about 3 peppers)

1/4 cup minced onion

2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons water

6 all-beef hot dogs

1 package refrigerated crescent roll dough

In a skillet, saute the chopped bacon over medium-low heat until it starts to brown.  Add the jalapeno and onion and cook until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the sugar and water and stir well, cooking 1 minute more.  Remove from the heat and set aside.  Cut each hot dog in 4 pieces.  Slice the dough into 24 strips, they won’t be even but it doesn’t matter.  Spoon a bit of the bacon mixture onto each strip of dough, top with a hot dog piece and roll to wrap, pinching the dough to secure. Arrange on an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes until golden brown.

Super Chili Piggies

Makes 24

1/4 pound ground beef

2 tablespoons minced onion

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 cup canned tomato sauce

salt and pepper

1 package refrigerated crescent roll dough

6 all-beef hot dogs

3 ounces cheddar cheese, thinly sliced into strips

1 cup sour cream, for serving

In a saucepan, brown the beef over medium heat, breaking up with a spoon. Once the meat is cooked, add the onion, garlic and chili powder and cook until the onion softens, about 3 minutes.  Add the tomato sauce and reduce heat to low.  Simmer at least 15 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside the chili to cool slightly.  Meanwhile, slice the dough into 24 strips. They won’t be even but it doesn’t matter. Cut each hot dog into 4 equal pieces.  Cut a slit in each hot dog piece and stuff with a piece of cheese.  Spoon a bit of chili onto each piece of dough.  Top with a hot dog and wrap, pinching to secure.  Arrange on an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes, until golden brown. Serve with sour cream.

Roasted Onion Barley Risotto

sweet onion barley risotto

Was your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier? How long did it last? A few days? A week?  I usually start out the year exercising daily and eating my five-a-day quota.  But it doesn’t last long, and by the middle of January it all falls apart. My cravings for the warmth of winter favorites, from gooey macaroni and cheese and rich beef stew to creamy hot chocolate and flaky cinnamon buns, always seem to win out. 

When it’s cold and grey and blustery, all I want to eat are hearty, indulgent favorites.  And risotto is high on that list. A steaming plate of creamy risotto is just the thing to warm the belly on a chilly night.  But it is generally not the thing to flatten that belly. 

Although my resolution this year is to simply enjoy, to eat for pleasure, and to savor every bite, nutrition still counts. For the moment I’m content to hide these extra few pounds under bulky sweaters and puffy jackets, but I know that I’ll have to pull out that bathing suit soon enough. So while I may not make it to the gym every day, I’m trying for some balance.

A little more fruit and a little less ice cream.  A handful of carrots in place of those potato chips.  And more whole grains across the board. 

Barley risotto has all the wonderfully creamy steaminess of traditional risotto (which is typically made with Arborio rice), with the added benefits of toothsome texture and plenty of fiber. The sweet onions and salty cheese build plenty of flavor in this tasty risotto.  Although lovely as is, this risotto is also fantastic topped with a few grilled shrimp for a special meal.

risotto with onions, Italian health food

Roasted Onion Barley Risotto

Serves 4 as a side dish or starter

1 medium yellow onion, sliced

4 teaspoons olive oil, divided

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 cup pearled barley, rinsed

½ cup dry white wine

3 cups vegetable stock

3 tbsp shredded parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Toss the sliced onion with half the oil and roast on a baking sheet until soft and slightly browned at the edges, about 10-15 minutes. Toss the hot roasted onion with the vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, sauté the garlic in the remaining oil over medium heat until fragrant.  Add the tomato paste to the garlic.  Add the barley and cook, stirring, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the wine and simmer until evaporated.  Add half a cup of the stock, and cook, stirring often, until the liquid is mostly gone.  Add the remaining stock by the half cup, stirring often, until the barley is tender and only a small amount of liquid remains. Stir in the cheese and salt and pepper to taste.  Fold in the onions.  Serve hot with extra cheese, if desired.

Published in: on January 18, 2011 at 11:58 am  Comments (15)  
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Beef Stew: The Little Black Dress of Dinner

beef stew

Beef stew is one of those chameleon dishes.  It’s homey enough for tonight, when the wind is whipping and the snow is falling and all I want to do is curl up on the couch and keep my toes toasty.  But it also works wonderfully for dinner parties, since it keeps very well warming on the stove, and looks awfully fancy in pretty bowls.  Kids love it, dogs love it, I love it.  It’s my little black dress in the kitchen, as it pretty much works for any occasion. 

And there are a million variations on the theme.  I’m a big fan of the classic Boeuf Bourguignon, of course.  And who can resist a hearty Irish stew, chock full of potatoes and served with a Guinness? I love to dress up beef stew occasionally with smokey chipotle chilis and a pinch of cumin.  But for a weeknight, this Chianti Beef Stew is my go-to comfort food.  Rich, deep wine flavor and tender chunks of beef melt in your mouth.  And the noodles are a must.  The gravy coats the pasta, stretching the flavor, extending the pleasure. 

Chianti Beef Stew

Serves 4

4 ounces pancetta, chopped (you can substitute bacon)

1/2 cup sliced onion (about 1/2 a medium onion)

1 tbsp minced garlic

1/4 cup chopped carrots (about 1 medium carrot)

salt and pepper

2 tablespoons butter

1 pound beef chuck, cut in 1 inch cubes

2 tablespoons flour

1 tablespoon tomato paste

3 cups Chianti (or other red wine)

1 cup beef stock

12 ounces egg pappardelle or egg noodles*, cooked according to package directions

3 tbsp shaved parmesan cheese

In a large pot over medium heat, cook the pancetta until crisp.  With a slotted spoon, remove the pancetta to a paper towel lined plate and set aside.  Add the onion, garlic, and carrots to the fat in the pot.  Add salt and pepper and cook until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Remove the vegetables to a dish and set aside.  Add the butter to the pot.  In a small bowl, toss the beef with the flour and salt and pepper.  Add the beef to the pot.  Cook, undisturbed, for two minutes to allow the beef to brown.  Move the beef around for a minute or two to allow for some browning on all sides, but do not cook through.  Stir in the tomato paste and cook one more minute. Add 1/4 cup wine to deglaze and stir, scraping the bottom of the pot to bring up all of the caramelized bits.  Add the remaining wine and broth.  Stir the pancetta and vegetables back into the pot.  Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring every so often, for 45 minutes to an hour.  Serve the stew over pasta and topped with cheese.

* I typically buy fresh papardelle at DePasquales Pasta Shop a few streets over, but given the blizzard conditions, I improvised with a bag of simple egg noodles, and turns out, egg noodles are a very tasty stand-in!

Published in: on January 12, 2011 at 2:24 pm  Comments (23)  
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Fruit and Nut Popcorn Balls

popcorn balls

My husband has a knack for gift-giving, but I’m not talking about flowers or diamonds. He knows that, to me, the popcorn popper he bought for Christmas is so much more exciting than any trinket. Thoughtful and sweet, his presents are enough to make up for the fact that he shrunk all of my delicates this week! My own fault, of course, for suggesting he take a stab at the laundry.

peanut butter popcorn balls

After I discovered that all of my underthings had taken a trip through the hot dryer, and was reasonably cranky, he made up for it with marshmallows.  Yeah, I’m easy to please.  But he knows how much I adore cocoa during a snow storm, and a mug of cocoa is not complete without a handful of mini marshmallows. 

Appeased and armed with pounds of popcorn and mountains of marshmallows, I dove into a sticky, gooey mess. Popcorn balls are fantastic fun. Playing around with tacky marshmallow drizzle would make for a great diversion for little hands.  And since you’ve got to work quickly to make the popcorn balls before the marshmallow hardens, I suggest a little help anyway.

fruit and nut popcorn balls

You could certainly use any kind of dried fruit you like here, although the raisins and dried cranberries I had in the cabinet added just the right amount of chewy sweetness to the popcorn balls.  And if honey roasted peanuts aren’t your thing, cashews might be fun.  You could even go for almond or cashew butter instead of the peanut butter.  Basically, all of these ingredients are just suggestions, so get creative. Next time I think I’ll add a few chocolate chips.

Although perfect for snacking as is, if you make smaller popcorn balls you might enjoy them as part of a football Sunday spread.  When was the last time you had a popcorn ball?  Decades, I’d guess. Your friends will get a kick out of the nostalgia! Popcorn balls might also be a fun hostess gift all wrapped up with a bit of ribbon. 

cranberry nut popcorn ball

Fruit and Nut Popcorn Balls

Makes about 12 2-inch balls

8 cups popcorn (popped without salt or butter)

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries

1/4 cup honey roasted peanuts

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 tbsp butter

4 cups mini marshmallows

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

Nonstick cooking spray

In a large bowl toss together the popcorn, dried fruit, peanuts, and salt.  In a large pot melt the butter over low heat.  Add the marshmallows and cook, stirring, until melted.  Add the peanut butter and stir until smooth.  Pour the marshmallow mixture over the popcorn mixture and incorporate quickly.  Spray your hands with nonstick cooking spray so that the mixture doesn’t stick to your hands.  Working very quickly, form the mixture into 2-inch balls.  Place popcorn balls on parchment paper to harden for at least 30 minutes.

Published in: on January 8, 2011 at 3:12 pm  Comments (17)  
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Madeleines: Savoring Every Bite of 2011

orange scented madeleines

Usually about this time of year I’m deep into deprivation mode. Eschewing ice cream, banishing butter, avoiding alcohol… not fun.

But 2011 will be all about fun.  If I learned anything in 2010 it was that life is about living in the moment.  Why put off for tomorrow would could be fun today? This isn’t an easy lesson for me. I’m a planner at heart.  My husband jokes that I have more fun planning a vacation than going on vacation. But life is full of uncertainties, so this year my New Year’s resolution is simply to enjoy.  To enjoy everything, especially food.

orange flower water madeleines

I pledge to savor each and every bite as if it were a chocolate truffle. You know the way you pay attention, really experience a morsel of quality chocolate? Or the first sip of a full-bodied Cabernet? Roll it around in your mouth, enjoy the aroma.  What if you could devote that much attention to each and every bite?

When was the last time you really tasted a whole meal?  Maybe you take the time to appreciate the first bite, or even the second, but before you know it the sandwich is gone and your belly is full.  Which is why 2011 is all about the pleasure of food.  The mindful enjoyment of dining is taking a bit of adjustment for us.  Jeff isn’t thrilled about no longer eating in front of the television (except popcorn, which is so much more fun when accompanied by a movie). But dinner at the table, with candles and wine, feels wonderfully decadent.

As do these adorable petites madeleines.  These simple little cakes are the poster child for mindful eating.  Has any bite ever been more examined, more considered than Proust’s tea-soaked madeleine? If the feel of soggy cake on the tongue brought about a memory powerful enough to rock the literary world, imagine what paying a bit more attention to your supper might do for you. 

petites madeleines

I love the faint floral aroma of these tea cakes.  The orange flower water enhances the sensory experience of the madeleines, and the pleasure of the snack.  Delicate, spongy cake, beautifully crowned with browned scalloped edges makes a wonderful tea-time treat, or a cute gift tied with a ribbon. While you will need a madeleine pan (with scallop-shaped depressions), there is really no trick to these cakes.  Simple ingredients make for simple flavors and an honestly pleasurable experience. Food doesn’t have to be fancy to be fully and completely enjoyed. 

Enjoy these madeleines; have fun making them, have fun eating them. And savor every bite of 2011!

Orange Scented Madeleines

Makes about 18

Nonstick cooking spray

2/3 cup flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup butter, melted and cooled

1 teaspoon orange flower water

1 teaspoon orange zest

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray the madeleine pan with the nonstick cooking spray. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Using a wisk, whip the eggs, orange extract, and orange zest until very frothy.  Gradually beat in 1 cup of powdered sugar, until the mixture thickens slightly.  Stir in the melted butter and then fold in the flour mixture.  Fill the madeleine cups about 3/4 full.  Bake about 8 minutes until the edges are lightly browned.  Remove from the pan with a butter knife and cook on a rack.  When cool, dust with remaining powdered sugar.

Published in: on January 4, 2011 at 8:02 pm  Comments (18)  
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