Soup, with garnish

The Beer Cheese Soup Story

Get the recipe here.

History:

Several years ago, my wife and I went out to dinner.  I do not remember where we were, but my wife ordered a cup of their beer cheese soup.  She was less than impressed, and in the course of the conversation that followed I mentioned that I could probably make a better one.

I should probably watch what I say, as I’ve spent the intervening three or four years dodging my wife’s requests for a pot of beer cheese soup.  At some point along the line I wrote down some ideas, but nothing really ever came of it.  Adding insult to injury, I actually enjoy a good beer cheese soup and every time we saw one while out eating I would get comment about the soup I had yet to create.

Finally, I broke down.  I decided to give it a shot.  I think I pretty much nailed it on the first go around.  The wife was happy, I was happy – though the boys were decidedly uninterested.  I think they will come around though, given some time for their tastebuds to adjust.

Aside from a few slight adjustments to beer quantity (we wanted a more beer forward soup) and the addition of worcestershire sauce (I forgot it entirely in my first batch), this soup is entirely as I made it the first time.

Notes and Thoughts:

We wanted a soup that was beer and cheese forward, but also thick and hearty.  By using a roux that gets added a bit at at time, it is possible to tailor the soup to your preference.  Using bacon fat to cook the vegetables adds flavor and depth to the finished product.  The shredded carrots add a sweetness that balances the beer nicely.  The leeks work perfectly in this soup.

We went with easy to find and consistent cheeses.  You could try something else, but for us, this combination worked out perfectly.  I would be tempted to substitute a gruyere for the gouda, but that might be a bit down the line.

I highly recommend using a good prepared mustard vs. using dry mustard.  We are partial to a brand out of Asheville called Lusty Monk (specifically their Burn in Hell Chipotle mustard) but any good mustard will do.

Check your butcher section at your grocery store for some good bacon.  Our local superstore usually has thick cut bacon by the pound.  You could certainly go for a nice artisanal bacon, but it’s certainly not necessary.

For the beer we went with Sierra Nevada Porter.  Sierra Nevada is distributed pretty much all over the United States, and their Porter is usually pretty easy to get ahold of.  Besides which, it happens to be a damned fine example of the style and finishing off the six pack is an enjoyable experience in itself.

The worcestershire sauce is a great addition to this soup.  I forgot to add it, and while the soup was excellent I think the worcestershire sauce would make a big difference. So do not be like me, add the L&P.

Serving:

We served this with a loaf of our Herbed Rustic Loaf and a glass of a nice red blend.  Had we been thinking, we would have tried it alongside the Sierra Nevada Porter that we used in the dish, but we did not think of that until well after dinner.  I highly recommend the crusty herbed bread mentioned above.  The herbs and salt paired fantastically with the soup.  If you could find a bread bowl to use for this recipe, I would recommend using that paired with the Herbed Loaf recipe.  It would make the soup a fantastic meal.

Herbed and Salted Loaf

Herbed Loaf

Soup, with garnish

Beer Cheese Soup Recipe

Read the article here.

Ingredients:

1lb thick cut bacon – sliced and diced

2 leeks – diced

1 medium Poblano pepper – diced

3 carrots – peeled and grated (fine grate)

4 cloves garlic – chopped

1 tbsp good prepared mustard (I recommend Lusty Monk Burn in Hell*)

1 tsp smoked paprika

1 tsp sweet paprika (get a good Hungarian one for Pete’s sake)

1 tbsp dried thyme

Dash Cayenne

1 Turkish Bay Leaf

(2) 12oz beers (Sierra Nevada Porter recommended)

1qt Chicken stock (preferably homemade)

1tbsp chicken base or similar (Better than Boullion)

1 tbsp Worcestershire Sauce (L&P recommended)

Salt and Pepper to taste (white pepper preferred)

20oz Heavy Cream

1/2 cup melted butter

1/2 cup all purpose flour

6oz Gouda* – shredded

6oz sharp cheddar** – shredded

chives (for garnish)

olive oil (for garnish)

reserved bacon (for garnish)

Mise-en-place:

Dice up your bacon and get it going in a heavy bottomed dutch oven or similar pot over medium heat.  While that is cooking, get your leeks and your Poblano diced (and remember to ALWAYS wash your leeks well). These two ingredients will go in together.  In another bowl, you can add your chopped garlic and shredded carrots.  Measure out your spices and have them ready to add together as well. Ditto for your cheese.

Method:

Add bacon to a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat.  Stir frequently.  When bacon begins to brown and foamy, remove from pan to a bowl lined with paper towels to drain.  Reserve the cooked bacon for garnishing later.

Add leeks and Poblano pepper to pan.  Cook until vegetables wilt and have released most of their liquid.  (about 5 minutes)

Add in the carrots and garlic.  Cook another 3-4 minutes.

Put the bay leaf and your spices into the pot.  Toss in some salt and grind in some fresh pepper.  Stir.  The heat will wake up your spices.  Enjoy the aromas!

Pour the 2 beers in.  Stir quickly to deglaze the bottom of the pan.  That fond is pure flavor and you want it!

Return to a simmer and reduce soup by 3/4.

Add chicken base, worcestershire sauce, and chicken stock.  Return to a simmer.

Reduce by half over low to medium heat. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

While the soup is simmering, make your roux.  Add flour to melted butter and whisk over medium heat.  You want your roux to thicken a bit, but not take on too much color.  More color = more flavor.  I recommend a tan roux.

Add cream and return to a simmer.  Adjust seasonings for flavor.

Whisk roux into soup a bit at a time.  You may not need it all, so do not add all of it at once.  After each addition, whisk soup thoroughly to incorporate.  Continue to simmer so the roux will activate and thicken the soup.  Add roux to desired thickness.  Aim for just shy of your ideal, as the cheese will provide a bit of thickening as well.

Taste and adjust seasonings.

Bacon cooking. Drool on!

Garnish:

Ladle soup into bowl.  Drizzle olive oil over soup.  Sprinkle chives over soup.  Place some bacon on top.  Serve with Crusty Herb Bread.

Notes:

* If you can find this brand and mustard, get some.  Lusty Monk is consistently awesome.

** I use Boars Head Gouda and sharp cheddar since it’s easy to find and consistently good for the price.  This combination just works great and is easy to get ahold of.

Herbed and Salted Loaf

Herbed Rustic Loaf Recipe

Ingredients:

1 Thick Rustic Style Loaf

3 tbsp Olive Oil

2 tbsp Italian Seasoning

1/8 teaspoon Kosher Salt

Method:

In a bowl, combine all ingredients and mix to combine.

Slice your bread lengthwise down the middle.  Make perpendicular slices every inch or so making a crosshatch pattern.  You want the cuts to go about 2/3 of the way through the bread.

bread, sliced

Bread, sliced for use

Next, use a brush to apply the oil and spice mixture to the bread.  Spread the slices apart to get the mixture into the interior. Spread liberally over the top of the bread.  Sprinkle kosher salt over the top of the oiled bread for added crunch and texture. Place on a foil lined baking sheet and heat at 375° for 12 minutes.

Pairing:

This bread works great with soups.  It’s super simple but makes a wonderful side dish.

Grilled cheese with bacon

The Humble Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Get the recipe for my favorite Grilled Cheese Sandwich here.

Childhood Memories

I dunno about you, but I have a LOT of memories connected to grilled cheese sandwiches.  I imagine many people will scoff at that statement, but allow me to explain.

My first clear and enduring memory related to a grilled cheese sandwich is attached to my cousin, Chris.  Chris is several years older than me and (to this day) one of the nicest people I know.  Years can go by between talking, and we still pick up a conversation right where we left off.  When I was about seven, I was visiting my cousins with my mom.  I couldn’t tell you where my mom and my Aunt Nancy were at the time, but we got hungry.  Being a precocious seven year old, I had yet to get any kitchen experience.  Chris, however, had a few chops.  He showed me how to make a grilled cheese from scratch (something which blew me away at the time).  He also let me make my own – something which I can definitively point to as a life changing experience for me.

Again, I can hear my readers scoffing.  A grilled cheese sandwich changed your life?

Yes.

That grilled cheese sandwich got me excited about cooking.  Granted, it wasn’t a souffle – but it was something I could cook (safely) for myself.  Somewhere, at that moment in time, my parents smiled and had no idea why.

Speaking of whom, my parents will tell you that there were several years where I ate nothing but hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches.

I can neither confirm or deny this assertion.

Now that I am older and wiser (hah!), I still enjoy the simple pleasure of a good grilled cheese.  I am not talking about white bread and american cheese (though you will still catch me eating those on occasion).  The grilled cheese sandwich is another one of those iconic dishes you can make as simple or as complicated as you like.  Sadly, this also means a lot of people muck it up in trying too hard.

The Basics:

At it’s core, a good grilled cheese is based around a few core ingredients.  Bread, cheese, and butter (I know, you can use Mayo – but I personally have not tried this).  Find yourself a nice bread you like and start there.  Get a couple cheeses – try out some of the ones that sound fun from your deli section at the grocery store. Snag some good butter.

Avoid loading the sandwich up with fifteen kinds of cheese.  You want balance between the bread and the cheese.  Don’t go too heavy on the butter (wow, that hurt to write).  You want it to get crisp, but not soggy. Soggy grilled cheeses make kittens cry.

Technique:

If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m picky about my grilled cheese sandwiches.  One of the most affirming things I have ever felt was seeing a making of scene from the movie Chef with Jon Favreau.  In it, Favreau is getting advice from a chef about how to act in a scene where the main character is making a grilled cheese.  It’s actually pretty intense (and the clip I think conveys the mindset better than the scene used in the movie)   Aside from the excellent technique employed (specifically – keeping the sandwich moving), I find that scene strikes a chord because someone else gets it.  Silly, I know. But hey, validation!

So, to begin.

From my father (and later Thomas Keller) – butter both sides of your bread.  This way, you get flavor as well as browning.  Again, use good butter.

I like to add potato chips to the inside of my grilled cheese sandwiches (again, from Thomas Keller).  I recommend kettle chips as they hold up better (although oddly, the old standbys do great too).  The chips give you a textural change which is great.  Depending on the cheese you are using, they can also keep things from going over to the gooey side.

Be sure you get your skillet or griddle hot before you start.  And have a spatula handy.  You want to keep the sandwich moving throughout to insure it doesn’t develop soggy spots (too much butter in one location), or have less than golden areas (not enough butter in another spot).  Keeping the sandwich moving helps to even this out and make your sandwich golden all over.

Putting your grilled cheese in the oven after the pan is a game changer.  If you like harder cheeses (gouda for instance), then just doing the sandwich in a skillet won’t result in grilled cheese goodness  – the bread will burn to blackness before the cheese ever gets to wonderful meltiness.  Popping the sandwich in the oven melts the cheese and also gives you a buffer to cook a few more sandwiches for family and friends.

Recommended:

Bacon.  Yes.  Put it in there.

I like to add a few chili flakes to mine, simply because I like the flavor.  In lieu of these, there are some nice pepper cheeses which also work – though I find many of them to be a bit on the overpowering side for my tastes.

Salt and pepper your sandwich just like any other food.  You’ll notice the difference!

Slices of chorizo and pear in the same sandwich linked in my recipe substituted for the bacon and chips would make a fantastic sandwich with some or cheeses.

Grilled cheese with bacon

My Favorite Grilled Cheese Sandwich Recipe

Read the article here.

Ingredients:

8 slices Brioche (or your favorite bread)

Butter (room temperature)

3 slices thicker cut cheese (Gouda, Cheddar, American, be inventive!)

Potato Chips (I like Kettle Chips)

2 slices thick cut Bacon

Red pepper flakes (optional)

Salt and Pepper

Method:

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Bake bacon until crisp in oven and lower oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Let your butter come up to room temperature.

Buttered bread

Buttered bread

Butter one side of each slice of bread.  Place one slice of cheese on the buttered bread (butter side up).  Add some potato chips, covering the space from edge to edge.  Add another slice of cheese.  Break two slices of bacon up and cover the

Assembly!

space.  Add another slice of cheese.  Sprinkle some salt and pepper on the buttered top slice of bread and set it on top.  You want the butter on the inside again.

Gently butter the bread on the top slice of bread.

Get a large nonstick skillet or griddle onto your stove and set it for medium to medium low heat.  You want to brown your bread, but not burn it.

Into the skillet!

Place your sandwich with the buttered side down first (if you move fast, you can get two or three going at once).  Quickly butter the top slice of bread.

You want to keep your bread moving in the skillet.  Shift and turn the sandwiches a bit at a time to insure the butter melts evenly and the bread browns evenly.

Golden brown goodness!

Now, once your bread reaches the color you prefer, you want to yank them out of the pan and put them on the heated tray in the oven.  Work your way through the rest of the sandwiches you are preparing in the same fashion.  The oven will insure your cheese is melted while retaining the crispy bread you have created in the skillet.

Enjoy your sandwich!

*Sandwiches cut into triangles taste better.  Its science.  Or something.

Grilled cheese with bacon

Blackened Chicken Mac and Cheese

Blackened Chicken Mac and Cheese

Get the recipe here.

Mac and Cheese is Heaven

As I move past the age of forty at a stately pace, there are many memories that stand out for me.  As you might guess from this blog, many of those memories are centered around food and the people I have enjoyed good food with.  There are plenty of great dining experiences I can recount; also plenty of great dining companions.  This article focuses around something slightly more humble.  What dish pray tell am I speaking of?  Why, Mac and Cheese of course.

Many people will scoff at the simple and wonderful glory of this dish.  I am not one of them.  I grew up enjoying the dish in many permutations – from various boxed varieties to homemade and restaurant versions.  When I was in my single digits, my esteemed Mother and I created a recipe for the dish which she still makes for me on occasion.  While I myself only barely remember the genesis of that recipe, I smile every time I see the joy on my Mom’s face when she recounts the story.

In large part, this recipe comes from my Mom.  While the technique, ingredients, and flavors are very different from my Mother’s dish the way they make me feel and the enjoyment I get from the dish are all Mom.  That said, there are a lot of influences I can point to regarding this dish.  Chief among them would be the delicious (and now extinct) Mac and Cheese my wife and I used to get at the Thirsty Monk Pub in Asheville, NC. They used to make a decidedly wicked version with smoked gouda.  Add to this my absolute love of all things blackened…  And here you go.

It is most definitely not boxed mac and cheese.  It is not boring mac and cheese.  This is the Mac and Cheese I make for my mom.

(photos courtesy of my son Liam’s 4th birthday – your Grandson loves it, too, Mom)

Notes:

This dish has a lot of moving parts but it’s less difficult to prepare than it looks.  The roux is the most difficult part to prepare, and even that is pretty easy to master.  Spend an afternoon on a lazy day drinking a beer or three and making this dish.  You will thank me for it.  Right before the food coma hits.

I like using three or four good cheeses for this dish.  The Parrano cheese mentioned in the recipe is one thing I think really makes the dish.  That particular cheese just really plays well off the flavors of the overall dish.

Get some good blackening and cajun spices.  They really are worth the money.  At some point I will probably try making up my own blend, but for now I recommend the ones mentioned in the recipe post.

Blackened Chicken Pasta

Blackened Chicken Mac and Cheese Recipe

Read the article here.

Ingredients:

16 oz buttermilk

1 lb chicken tenderloins*

6 oz Blackening seasonings (I recommend Paul Prudhomme’s)

4 tbsp Cajun seasoning (I recommend )

4 tbsp + 1/8 cup olive oil

1/8 cup unsalted butter

2 large shallots (diced)

2 cloves garlic (diced)

1/4 cup all purpose flour

1 tbsp thyme

1 tsp black pepper

4 tbsp salt

12 oz beer (I recommend a good Porter)

24 oz heavy cream

8-12 oz milk

4 oz sharp cheddar (grated)

4 oz gruyere (grated)

4 oz aged gouda (grated) – (I highly recommend )

1 lb pasta (shorter noodles work better, but your choice)

Method:

In a bag or bowl, marinate the chicken with a combination of 2 oz Blackening seasoning, 1 tbsp Cajun seasoning, and the buttermilk.  Marinate overnight.

Preheat over to 385 degrees.

Drain chicken and sprinkle some of the remaining Blackening seasoning over the chicken. Heat a skillet or cast iron pan over medium high heat and add 4 tbsp olive oil.  Sear chicken in pan on both sides.  Remove chicken to a sheet pan and cook in oven for ten minutes.

Remove chicken from heat and allow to cool. Reserve any pan drippings for later.

Get your water boiling for your pasta.  Add 3 tbsp salt to water.

In a heavy bottomed pot (dutch oven works great) over medium heat, add your butter and remaining olive oil.  Add shallots and garlic.  Saute until the shallots begin to darken slightly.  Add any drippings from the skillet you cooked the chicken in.  Add remaining blackening and cajun seasonings, thyme, 1 tbsp salt, and black pepper.  Stirring frequently, cook for about a minute.  Add flour and whisk to incorporate.  Cook 1 min, stirring constantly.

Add 12 oz beer and stir quickly.  This will make a lumpy paste.  Add heavy cream, and 4 oz of the milk.  Whisk to prevent lumps.  Bring to a simmer, sauce will thicken.  You want it to be slightly thinner than you’d like your finished product to be.  If it is too thick, add some milk to thin the mixture.

While the mixture is coming to a simmer, dice up your chicken.  Add any pan drippings to your sauce.

Turn heat off, and add shredded cheese a handful at a time, reserving 1/4 of the cheese for topping. Whisk to incorporate.  Add diced chicken.  Taste mixture and add salt/pepper as necessary.

Add pasta to cheese mixture either in dutch oven or a deep casserole dish.  Sprinkle remaining cheese over the mac and cheese and cover with a lid or foil.  Bake at 385 for 30 mins and remove lid.  Bake for 15 mins or until browned on top.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes.

Enjoy!

Notes:

*- A little extra chicken is a good thing in this dish.  It adds a nice texture component as well as protein.

Sierra Nevada makes an excellent Porter that is readily available in most states.

The Parrano cheese mentioned above is an excellent cheese that contrasts nicely with the flavors from the chicken.

Pairing:

This goes great with a nice Riesling or Pinot Grigio.  I recommend a drier version of either.

For a bit of green you could go with a salad, or some steamed broccoli.

Also great with a slice of Roasted Herb Bread.

Nor'Easter Cocktail

The Nor’Easter Cocktail

The Cocktail:

It is cold outside.  As I write this, it is 27 degrees and there is a light dusting of snow on the ground.  Granted, that light dusting of snow will be gone in an hour or two, but you get the point.  What a day like today calls for is bourbon.  Tasty, delicious, warming bourbon.  This cocktail seems to have come out of NYC a few years ago and made its’ way across the country from there.  Bourbon plays along nicely with the sour notes from the lime juice and the sweetness of the maple syrup.  Ginger beer comes in and gives it a nice backbone.

I think you are gonna love it (we sure as hell do)!

Recipe:

2oz Bourbon

.5oz Lime juice, freshly squeezed

.5oz Maple Syrup

Ginger Beer

In a cocktail shaker, combine maple syrup, lime juice, and bourbon with ice.  Shake until frosty.  Pour over ice into your rocks glass.  Top with ginger beer and garnish with a wedge of lime.

Recomendations:

I like to use a good bourbon for this one (that’s pretty much a general rule).  Four Roses Small Batch is a good choice and my usual house bourbon.

Find yourself a good ginger beer as well.  In my experience, Fever Tree and Cock And Bull are pretty good brands.  For the drink above, I recommend Fever Tree as the flavors generally pair better.

Spicy cocktail weenies

Cocktail Weenies of Doom!

Get the recipe here.

The Lowdown:

I have a confession to make.  I love cocktail weenies.  When I was a kid, they always turned up at parties somewhere (usually in some version of barbeque sauce) and I would wolf them down.  In the years since then, not much has changed.  I still love cocktail weenies.  Sadly, they are not generally considered a gourmet treat when you show up with them at a dinner party nowadays.  This recipe is my response to that conceit.

Yes, I say conceit.  Cocktail weenies are a wonderful thing to cook, under the right circumstances.  And they are delicious.  Trust me.  Rant over, let us continue.

The genesis for this recipe comes from a dinner party I threw several years ago for some friends. The entire dinner was centered around beer (specifically Stouts) and every dish featured beer as a component. Since I was going to be smoking the main course for the dinner, I decided to do my first course on the smoker as well.  These weenies (if you haven’t guessed by now) were that first course.  It ended up being a fun play on a childhood favorite that definitely gave everyone something to talk about.  They also disappeared from my serving bowl at a rapid pace.

Fast forward a couple of year, and my wife and I decide to throw a housewarming party for our new home.  I decided to make these again, since they are easy and delicious.  Yet again, they disappeared at a speedy pace.

My mother-in-law even loves these things, and she doesn’t even eat spicy food.  Go figure.

So here you go, enjoy some adult weenies!  Savor the spice!

Notes:

Using a better cocktail weenie is recommended for this recipe.  Don’t go cheap on your weenies.

Negra Modelo or a nice full flavored beer works well in this.

Having made this recipe with and without using , I find the version with to be far superior. The peppers and the adobo break down and give the weenies a nice spicy coating.

Spicy Cocktail Weenies Recipe

Read the article here.

Ingredients:

Mise-en-place

2 packs Lil Smokies or similar cocktail weenie of your choice

1 can *

1 large Yellow Onion (diced)

4x Garlic Cloves (roughly chopped)

12oz Chicken Stock

12oz Beer

4oz Tomato Paste**** (if not using Chipotles in Adobo)

1tbsp Salt

Method 1 (Smoker)**:

In a foil pan, combine all ingredients.  Stir to combine. Wrap in aluminum foil and place in smoker.  Cook for 2 hours or until hungry.

Method 2 (Crock Pot)***:

Combine all ingredients in crock pot.  Stir to combine.  Set to High setting, and cook for 3 hours or until hungry.

Serving Suggestions:

If you are having a cocktail party and use the Smoker method, just transfer the weenies to a separate bowl with some of the broth.  Serve with some toothpicks and a good spicy mustard on the side.  You will be amazed how quickly they disappear. This also happens if you serve them straight out of the crock pot, a method I also endorse.

My kids absolutely love eating these weenies on top of some cheap yellow rice from the store. Go figure.  (Confession time, my wife and I also like to eat them this way).

Leftovers also go great with beans.  Or in a lunchbox as an easy snack.

To adult it up a bit, you could add some kale close to the end of the cooking time and eat this as a kale and sausage soup.

Notes:

*- Omit these if you don’t like spicy or are feeding the littles. Alternate option, de-seed a dried and chili and add instead.  Chili flavor without chili heat.

**- I prefer the flavor from this method to the crock pot version.  That being said, I generally do not fire up the smoker just for cocktail weenies.  The weenies are a great side item to throw on the smoker when you are already cooking something else (turkey, pork butt, brisket, etc…).  With these, if the meat is taking its time to get tender, you have something to snack on in the meantime.

***- The crock pot method is super convenient and gets great results, but the smoker method generally has better flavor.  It is also great because it can travel pretty well in the crock pot if you are headed to the party vs. hosting the party.

**** – If you are not going the spicy route, I recommend adding a bit of tomato paste.  This gives the broth a bit more body and makes for a more flavorful dish overall.