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Friday, July 26, 2013

Cooking 4 Guys - Pizza

Pizza, along with Wings, are 2 of the most eaten foods on SB Sunday. You either order from your favorite pizza joint, many have pizza and wing deals for the game, or you pop a frozen pizza into the oven before the game, or time it so it's ready at half time. It's so easy, but it's easy to make your own quicky pizza for one or a small group with items that may already be around.

First is one that they already sell at some pizza joints, the french bread or garlic bread pizza. You take a sub or steak roll, or even a hot dog or burger roll. Put some butter, margarine, or veggie oil, purist may say olive oil, but we aren't purist, we are just hungry, onto the roll. Add some garlic powder, or grated garlic to it. A pinch or two of your favorite Italian seasoning, an Italian seasoning blend, some basil, some oregano as example. Stick it in the toaster oven and toast for a minute or so. From here you can go white and just add the toppings and some cheese, and toast until the cheese starts to turn brown. Or you can go red, and add some tomato sauce of some sort, the toppings, and the cheese. Using English muffins as the base is also a great choice.

For those who like thin pizza, you can move over to tortillas or wraps. Make it the same way as the french bread pizza, except I would use a spray like Pam, especially the garlic, or olive oil flavored. Don't bother to toast it before had, and watch it as it gets cooking, the tortillas can start to burn quickly. A combo I like to make with tortilla pizza is a taco pizza. For this I use crushed or diced tomatoes, or salsa, as the tomato sauce. Add some ground beef, and either some chili powder or taco seasoning, (you know you can close up the packets and save them in a sandwich bag or in a plastic container to use again later).I'll use a Mexican blend or cheese, or even just cheddar cheese. Let it cook until the cheese melts, top with your favorite taco toppings, avocado, guacamole, tomatoes or more salsa, lettuce, onions, olives. Another option is re-fried beans on the tortilla before putting on the tomato or salsa, and you can make your own personal version of a 7 layer dip.

Finally I have an easy pizza for a group of guys getting together. Get a can of biscuits like Pillsbury Grands. Read the can for 2 numbers, the temperature to cook it on and how long to cook it. Turn on the oven to the temperature you read. Grab a square cake pan, a round cake pan, or pie pan, a casserole dish, or some sort of oven cookware, even a cast iron skillet. Open the can of biscuits and cut each biscuit in quarter. Oil the bottom of the pan how every you want to, spray or actual oil. Place the biscuit pieces into the pan. Top with your pizza sauce, same as above, use what you have and a little bit of seasoning of choice. Place toppings and Italian cheese on top, and put into the oven and cook for however long it said on the biscuit tube. Make sure the cheese is melted to you liking, and enjoy.

Each one is quick and easy, and with the french bread and tortilla pizza, everyone can make their own combination.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Cooking for Guys - Wings

Everyone knows that Buffaloes don't fly, but we love their wings. You can get them HOT, mild, suicide, Asian, barbq, garlic and spice, bone in, boneless, breaded or not, drummies, and multiple other combinations and variations. They are great with pizza, watching the game, as an appetizers, by them self, and most restaurants have them.

First off, where did they come from? Buffalo, New York. The story I hear is that some college guys were home over the holidays, and wanted something to eat. The stores were closed for either Christmas or New Years Eve, so the one asked his mother to make something for them. She looked in the refrigerator and saw chicken wings, Franks(tm) Red Hot sauce, some celery, and some bleu cheese dressing. She figured with guys this age she would make something out of this. So she fried up the wings, coated them with the Franks(tm) hot sauce, cut some celery and served it with bleu cheese on the side. The guys loved it, and later in the holiday they went to their local drinking establishment and got them to make a batch of wings for them. The bartender and cook tried them, agreed they were awesome, the owner figured, 'hey, if guys eat wings, they need beer to cool it down.' and at that, Buffalo Wings were born.

Now I don't know if that was the whole truth, or just one of the many internet stories that grow, but with that said, who but a bunch of guys would think of making what has turned into the only food that competes with pizza on SB Sunday, or for a great guy gathering.

So how do you make them at home? It's so simple, any guy can do it. Get a bunch of bunch wings. Seperate them into the 3 parts, the tip, the drum, and whatever that other part is called. Throw out the chicken tips (my mom, or most professional cooks might keep the tips to use to make stock or broth) Deep fry them until they are cooked through. Get a bowl, put the wings in the bowl. Poor enough Franks (tm) hot sauce over the wings. Toss them so the Franks(tm) Red Hot sauce coats the wings. Dump them on to your favorite serving plate/platter/tray or whatever you plan on serving them on. Cut the celery into 2 1/2 to 3 inch pieces, cut the ones from the bottom of the stalk in half, put them on a plate, fill a bowl with bleu cheese dressing. Use the bleu cheese as a dip for either the celery or the wings.

Variations to this are using other types of wings, I have seen many recipes and offerings of turkey wings, especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Use another type of dressing, Ranch is now the favorite dressing offered with wings at restaurants. Bake the wings instead of deep frying, if you don't have a fryer or some sort of pan you can deep fry in. They also have racks to let you cook the wings on a bar-b-q grill Vary the vegetable sticks in addition to or instead of celery.

I have a couple of other variations that go beyond just the basics.

I use to work at Pizza shops during my cooking career. Some had wings, some didn't. At one of them (T.D. Alfredos in Phoenixville, good people, good food), one of the drivers used to take the wings and fry them half way and them finish them up by running them through the over. It gave the wings a crispy sking. Then he would coat them with the sauce and eat them. I saw that and decided to take it a step further. I fried the wings for a couple minutes, until about half way done. I then made a dry rub of what we had on hand, some garlic powder, some oregano, some cayenne pepper, some salt and pepper, and using one of the to go containers I would shake the wings in the rub until they were coated. Then I ran them through the over, a conveyor belt oven for half the time that a pizza cooked. The amounts of spices varied on how I was feeling that day, and whether I wanted the wing hot or HOT. While the wings were cooking I took a small sauce pan and melted half a stick of butter, when it was melted, I added the Franks(tm) Red Hot to it. Then when the wings came out I dump them in the sauce pan and let them soak up the sauce. After a minute or 3, I would pick them out, and plate them up (usually a sandwich tray with a sheet of wrap) making sure to pour the sauce that was left in the pan over the wings. With some bleu cheese dressing, and plenty of napkins, I was ready.

Another variation is the Asian Spice wings. Some restaurants started serving the wings with a spicy sauce that resembled a General Tso's or Sesame sauce. When going to the places that serve these, they are my wing flavor of choice. Finally, Frank's(tm) has come out with an Asian Spicy Sauce, made for wings or anything else you want to give an Asian tang. I can make the wings using the basic recipe and substitute the Frank's(tm) Spicy Asian sauce instead of the normal Franks's(tm) Red Hot.

The final variation I am going to bring up isn't really wings. The boneless wing is usually a chicken breast that is cut into chunks and usually coated with a batter or breaded. I enjoy eating them at restaurants, but would prefer if they didn't have the coating on them. Two items that restaurants serve that give you the kick of Buffalo Wings are Buffalo Chicken Salads, and Wraps. Take a chicken breast, or chicken tenders, cook them how you wish, cut them into slices. Coat the slices with your Buffalo sauce and build a salad or wrap and add the Buffalo chicken to it. Most people who eat these tend to go with Ranch dressing on the salad or in the wrap.

There are many other things you can do with your wings, don't be afraid to give them a try. If you aren't sure just try it on one wing to see if you like it, them go for it or adjust it to your taste.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Cooking for Guys - Ramen

Everyone knows what Ramen is, it's that square packet of noodles and a small pouch of seasoning. At least for most that's what it is. I first really found out what Ramen is from the movie "Ramen Girl", it's sort of an anti-love story. The main character moves to Japan to be with her boyfriend who moved there for work, it's not a big part of the movie but it is a big part of her motivation. He then takes off for another job, leaving her behind in the apartment, basically telling her he doesn't know when and if he'll be back. This eventually ends up with the girl going to a Ramen shop and finally becoming the apprentice of the Master. The movie is mostly a chick flick, but the cooking, and the view of Japanese custom and lifestyle kept me watching. After watching this movie I started to learn about Ramen, and even how to take it from the pack to an actual meal.

One of the first things I learned is that the seasoning packet contains so much sodium and salt that it gives you 1/3 of the daily recommended value for the day. So usually the first thing I do when I open the pack is to throw away the seasoning packet. Then I get started with creating dinner. Second thing I figured out, is that Ramen isn't much different then angel hair pasta, they are both thin wheat noodles, Ramen noodles can be bought in a 5 pack for about $1 to $1.25, a one pound box of angel hair noodles can cost about the same. A pack of Ramen is 3 ounces, by using angel hair pasta, you can get 5 1/3 portions of this size. Angel hair pasta may take an extra 2 or 3 minutes to cook, but the rest of the preparation is the same, so if you want, just buy the angel hair and use that, and you don't have to throw away the packets any more.

Now on to the cooking part.

Tonight I was in the mood for some Italian food, so I took a can of tomato soup, started heating it by the directions on the can.. I added some garlic salt, and some Italian seasoning to the soup. Then when it started to steam I put the Ramen noodles into the soup. When it started to bubble a bit I lowered the heat to medium and let it cook the Ramen. When it was done I added some Parmesan cheese, and had a nice bowl of quick and easy pasta.

Another Ramen creation I made was when I was in the mood for Cajun food. I cooked the Ramen and drained the noodles with a colander. While the Ramen cooked I chopped some onions, I had some shrimp in the freezer so grabbed a couple of them, grabbed some cajun seasoning, and garlic. While the Ramen drained I put some oil in the pan, added the onions and cooked them for a couple of minutes. Then I added the garlic and cajun seasoning, and finally the shrimp. I let the shrimp cook for a couple of minutes and then added the Ramen. I stirred it up good to mix the seasonings and to make sure the shrimp was done cooking, then added a bit of Louisiana hot sauce to add a little bit of a kick, and even though it was noodles and not rice, I had a substitute Jambalaya. You can add chicken if you want, a little bit of ham, some diced celery. In fact I was told by a cook from Louisiana, that basically Jambalaya is a stew that you can put anything you have or like into it.

If you like stir fry, get out your fry pan or wok if you have one. Chop up some vegetables, onions, peppers, carrots, celery, even broccoli or cauliflower, whatever you have, already cut up, or frozen is fine. Even a mixture from a bag of frozen stir fry veggies. Pick your choice of meat(s), I like to use left over or frozen chicken, or shrimp, but you can use any meat, look at the variety in a Chinese menu, and those are just the "Americanized" Chinese foods. Then finally the sauce, could be as simple as the packets from your last trip to a Chinese restaurant, you know the soy sauce, and duck sauce, or you buy another type of sauce in the ethnic section of the grocery store. Again start by cooking the Ramen and draining it. Then put some oil in your pan and heat it up. Don't use olive oil as that will start to smoke, basic veggie oil, corn oil, or peanut oil. Take the meat you have and cook it until mostly done, you don't want it fully done because you are going to finish with the veggies and noodles later. Take the meat out and set it aside in a bowl or on a plate, I'll use the plate I am going to eat it on (remember to wash the plate when you return the meat to the pan, you don't have to scrub it, just run it under hot water to clean and sanitize it). Add the veggies, things like the onions and garlic first, followed by carrots and celery, then the peppers and broccoli. Cook each set of added veggies for a minute or two before adding the next. Then add the sauce to the pan, and cook it in to the veggies. Make sure you have enough sauce that it is still wet. After a minute or two you put your meat back into the pan (remember to wash the plate or bowl) and finally the noodles. Stir it up good to mix it together. If you want to you can add some sesame seeds or a little bit of hot sauce to finalize the dish right before eating it.

These are 3 quick ideas to build on for the nights you need something to eat and think you don't have anything to make. You can make Ramen Alfredo, or Ramen butter noodles (both are the same, except you add some Parmesan cheese and a bit of milk or cream to the Alfredo, just cook the noodles in the butter, and salt and pepper,and let it soak in a bit). It can be as easy or complicated as you want to make it. Use your leftovers, or check what's in the freezer. Any thing you can do with spaghetti or most other pastas, can be done with Ramen.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Cooking for Guys - getting started.

I am what is known as a professional cook. All that means is I get paid to cook. So I decided I'm going to start posting some recipes, and cooking tips. Most of these are directed towards guys, not men, or gentlemen, just guys. They will be stuff that you make late at night, or when a bunch of guys get together and hang out. A lot are going to be like how Buffalo Wings were said to be invented. You look in the fridge or in the pantry and see what you have.

One thing you may notice as I go along is that I like using gadgets. In my life I've owned a George Forman Grill, a rice cooker, a bread maker, a quesadilla maker, a food dryer, a couple of coffee machines, a food processor, a sandwich maker, and some more gadgets I like to play with. I also had access to a griddle, grill pan that covered 2 stove top burners, and you flip over to have either a flat surface or the grill lines. My brother had one of the Magic Bullets, which also is a great item for drinks.

As far as actual pots and pans, and utensils, I have a couple of items beyond the typical things you have around the kitchen.

I have an egg pan, it is an 8 inch pan that is only used for making eggs, fried, scrambled, and omelettes. I do not put it in the dish washer. I do not use any harsh scrubbing material. I do not use metal utensils or scrubbers on it. I use rubber spatulas and plastic coated utensils. I do my best to not scratch the surface so it is non-stick. The one I have now has the non-stick coating, but I've also used cast iron, aluminum, and stainless steel. Each if taken care of keep a good non-stick surface. I've also gotten to use one of the new green pans, they are worth the price but like any other you have to take care of it.

I have a wok. I use this for stir fry obviously, for regular pan cooking, for hot oil frying, for making pop-corn, and for steaming. A good wok can be one of the most versatile pans you can have.

I also have a professional quality chef's knife. I bought this at a store that only sold knives. I got one that felt right to me, was comfortable in my hand. It is an 8 inch blade on it. I also have a block set of knives with a serrated blade, a 12 inch cooks knife, a filet knife, a paring knife, and a utility knife. The only other knife I use is a cleaver. For that I have a Chinese cleaver as I enjoy using that for more aggressive chopping and splitting meats like ribs, and chicken, into pieces.

A couple of utensils I have and use are high temperature rubber spatulas and a couple of sets of tongs.

You don't need any of these items, they are just things I've picked up through the years, because I enjoy cooking. At work I need to follow directions, so at home, and even for my own meals, I like to be creative. As I post more of these posts, I will occasionally feature one of them, as I will also feature a certain ingredient, or cooking style, or item. In my mind I've already started thinking of a post about ramen noodles, and pizza, among other topics. If you have any suggestions, make sure to leave comments so I can either respond to them directly, or take them into consideration for a future post.