My name is Thomas Lott. I am a proud husband and father of two. Two of my favorite things are football and cooking. I'm no expert in either, but I certainly like to fool around with both. I’ve been a home cook for about 10 years, and been around football since I was 4 years old. This fall, perhaps I’ll find out which one I know better! So I'll be checking in periodically to make a pick - or picks (even I'm allowed a bye week here and there!). Again, I'm no expert, so please don’t go betting the mortgage on my humble picks! From that, I’ll make a dish that has something to do with the game - who I think will win, a star/key player, or other story line. Don’t worry - I’m a home cook so it won’t be anything you can’t do - I promise. I’m still learning so most of these will come from my stash of cookbooks or another recipe floating around the internet. I won’t pawn anything off as my own or pretend there’s some super-secret family recipe that I can't share. Most of these I will probably have made before, others might be an experiment. I hope all will go well, but some may go from stovetop right to the dumpster! I'll be sharing my successes, mishaps, and maybe even a few gratuitous shots of my crew of sous chefs and tasters :-)

I'm always a work in progress, so my food won't *always* be pretty (or healthy!), but it's going to taste good--and if it doesn't I'll tell you that, too. And just so you know, it's also a mathematical certainty that I'll whiff on some of my football picks, too. The whole point is to get better at both! So I hope you keep up with me this fall as I have some fun with the kitchen and the pigskin! I welcome all comments, suggestions, requests and discussions on all things pigskin and kitchen!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Week 14 - Monte Cristo

Well not such a great showing for my picks last week. Although, in baseball, 1 out of 3 on a consistent basis will get you in the Hall of Fame!

We've got some great football coming up for this Thanksgiving weekend. Now is the time of year where the big rivalry games start coming into play. The problem with picking rivalry games rivalry games is that records and rankings go out the window. How many times have we seen a team upset by their overmatched rival the last game of the season? 
First, there's a big one in South Carolina, with
Clemson going to play South Carolina in Columbia. This is a really tough one to pick. Despite the letdown at home against Florida State, Clemson has remained on track and is still having a fine season. SC isn't having a bad season either, but unfortunately for them they have to keep their fingers crossed for a Missouri loss to have a shot at the SEC title game (which isn't affected by this game). It is with the utmost uncertainty that I'm picking Clemson in this game. It's uncomfortable picking Clemson in anything, but having seen them both play, I think Clemson is the better, more complete team so I'll roll the dice on the Tigers.....again.....<heavy sigh>. 

Speaking of the Missouri Tigers, they welcome the Texas A&M Flying Johnnys to town, coming off an embarassing loss to the LSU Tigers. It really seems that for the past two years, LSU has been the only team that's consistently had A&M's number - including Nick Saban and Alabama - so since they aren't playing them, I'm inclined to expect A&M's high flying act to return to business as usual. Which to be clear is #2 running around until Evans can get open. But my goodness, their defense is terrible. I think I'm going to have to take Mizzou outgunning the Aggies in a shootout.

Lastly, the most exciting game of all: the Iron Bowl. Alabama travels to Auburn for their last test of the regular season. Auburn would love nothing more than to snatch the SEC West and more importantly the National Title hopes away from their hated rival. Auburn has had a fine season, and other than a loss to LSU has beaten everyone on their schedule. Their turnaround from last season has been really impressive. Alabama is a solid team without any real glaring weaknesses. They have an incredibly solid defense, a capable offense, and they very rarely beat themselves. This is why they're the #1 team in the country. None of this matters to Auburn, who will throw everything they have at the Tide. That being said, I like the Tide to beat Auburn in a very close and physical game.

So come game time on Saturday, I'm sure you'll be all turkey and hammed out by then and looking for creative ways to get rid of that last bit of leftovers. I'm going to show you a recipe for one of my favorite foods of all time: The Monte Cristo Sandwich. It's a ham and turkey sandwich that's normally deep fried and served with fruit preserves. I used to get them all the time at Bennigan's and Cheddar's, but now that I've hit 30, it just does all kinds of vile things to my stomach and I curse myself when I get home later that night! Well, I stumbled upon this recipe online one day for a baked version. I won't say its "healthy" but maybe "healthiER." Most importantly, as far as I'm concerned it's more than a fine substitute for the fried version!

Monte Cristo (Baked Version)

Start out with 8 slices of a good, perhaps kind of sweet-ish bread. Brioche or Challah is good, but I actually found a Sweet Hawaiian (same as the rolls) sliced loaf that was absolutely perfect for this. You'll need 8 slices of the bread. Also, you'll need 8 thin slices each of deli ham, turkey and a mild white cheese. I used white American.

Preheat your oven to 425, and line a baking sheet with foil. Spray the pan with Pam or even better, I've recently discovered that Reynolds Non-Stick Foil is the absolute truth. Lay out two slices of bread and build a sandwich the following way: slice of cheese, two slices ham, two slices of turkey, slice of cheese. Repeat for 3 more sandwiches.

Now it's time to make the egg coating. Whisk together eggs, flour, butter, salt and pepper in a shallow dish until smooth. Then whisk in milk.

Dip both sides of the sandwiches in the mixture and place on the foil/pan. This isn't quite a French Toast soak, just a light coating. If there is any excess, just drizzle it evenly over the four sandwiches.

Bake for about 8-10 minutes, so the bottom is golden brown. Flip the sandwiches.

Cook for about 8 more minutes until other side is golden. Remove from the oven and dust with powdered sugar.

Slice in half and serve with raspberry or strawberry preserves.

I can say as a certified Monte Cristo aficionado, that while this doesn't look like or have the consistency of the true fried version, it does actually taste very close to the real thing. Adding the preserves makes this a really special sandwich. I just spread a little on before each bite, but you could spread across the sandwich, inside, or just dip it. Ideally, the recipe works best with thin sliced deli meat, but I could see this working with some Thanksgiving turkey/ham, too, which is why I thought this would be a good week to share. Maybe not two slices of each meat, but it's definitely a possibility. If not, its totally worth a trip to the deli. This could work for any meal of the day. I could see this just as easily for a brunch as I could at dinner time. If you're like me and can't stomach the fried foods, this is an excellent alternative. I will absolutely be making this again!

Enjoy the weekend and I hope you have a great Thanksgiving!

Baked Monte Christo

8 slices bread (Hawaiian or Challah)

8 slices thin deli sliced mild white cheese

8 slices thin deli ham
8 slices thin deli sliced turkey ( I like smoked)
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon melted butter
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons milk  
powdered sugar, for dusting
raspberry or strawberry preserves

1) Heat oven to 425°F.

2) Foil and spray a baking sheet . 

3)Layer between two slices of bread, 1 slice cheese, 2 slices ham, 2 slices turkey, and another slice of cheese.

4)Repeat to make a total of four sandwiches. Whisk eggs, flour, butter, salt and pepper in a shallow dish until smooth.

5)Blend in milk.

6)Dip both sides of sandwiches into egg mixture until bread is lightly soaked.

7)Place on baking sheet; drizzle any remaining egg mixture over top of sandwiches.

8)Bake 8-10 minutes until bottom is golden brown.

9)Turn with wide spatula and continue baking 8-10 minutes or until second side is golden brown.

10)Serve warm dusted with powdered sugar and spread raspberry preserves on sandwiches.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Week 13 - Barbecue Burgers

Boy am I sure excited about this weekend! There are basically two games that I think will have tremendous impact on the national scale for two different reasons.

The first game is Texas A&M at LSU. LSU got A&M last year at home, and I’m sure they’ll be hungry for revenge. Baton Rouge is one of the hardest places to play, and I don’t think A&M has been anywhere like this. Johnny Manziel still has a chance to win a second Heisman, and this is a huge opportunity for him to make a case for himself. This one is a toss up for me. LSU has fallen somewhat short of expectations this year (but somehow remain in the AP  top 20 with 3 losses), and I suppose depending on who you talk to - and their degrees of separation from TAMU - one could say the same for Texas A&M. I actually had this circled as a loss for the Aggies a few weeks back before the Auburn game. That Aggie defense is certainly atrocious, and it is not going to be a friendly environment for them, but at the end of the day, I don't know if LSU is really that good. Despite being 4 point underdogs on the road, I’m taking the flying Johnnys.
The other big game is the de facto Big XII championship – Baylor heading up north to face the Oklahoma State Cowboys. It’s going to be a great atmosphere up there in Stillwater. I have been back and forth on this one, too. Baylor has looked unbeatable at times. I was joking with a friend how sometimes this time of year you see scores coming across the screen and you see some crazy numbers and do a double take – only to realize it’s a college basketball score because they've now started, too! Well, with this Baylor team, you really can’t tell their football scores from their basketball scores sometimes. They’ve been tested with a somewhat nail biter at Kansas State, and recently having to come from behind versus Texas Tech and Oklahoma. It’s tough to go against a team scoring 60 points a game. But I also know that when you’re on a streak like this each game gets harder and harder as the pressure mounts each week. Baylor isn’t used to being in this position and Oklahoma St. is the best team they have faced all year. So as much as I would like for them to win, I think Mike Gundy is going to drop it like its hot after this one. I’m taking the Pokes.

Finally, I am going to go out on a limb and boldly proclaim that Ole Miss will pick off the surprising Missouri Tigers this weekend. I love what's going on at Mizzou this year and frankly, Texas A&M and Missouri have both surprised me by how competitive they've been in the conference. QB Franklin returns for Missouri, but I think this could have the potential to throw off their timing a little bit – at least in the beginning of the game. Ole Miss is not a bad team at all, and I think they’re good enough to shock the Tigers in Oxford.

With a slate of games like this, somebody has got to be planning to make some burgers, right? I should be ashamed of myself for going 12 weeks writing a football/food blog and not sharing a recipe for the quintessential game day food. Well I’m here to make amends. This is super easy and the only way I make burgers.

Barbecue Burgers - adapted from Paul Kirk's Championship Barbecue

Start out with a pound and half of ground beef. Mix ingredients in one at a time (with your HANDS please!) without overworking the mix. Add breadcrumbs:  

Add a barbecue sauce of your choice. I usually use KC Masterpiece which is perfect for these burgers. It gives a smoky/barbecue flavor without being overly sweet or tart. Skip the Kraft.

Add mustard, brown sugar, lemon juice, pepper and seasoning salt (Tony's or Lawry's is good):

 And one egg to help bind the mixture:

Now make the patties. 1.5 lbs of beef should make about 5 - 6 decent sized burgers:

So how you cook these is up to you. Fire up your skillet or grill and cook for about 4-5 minutes per side depending on the thickness of your patty. I like to brush with just a bit of oil before putting on the heat. Your fire should be fairly hot and of course you'll hear that lovely sizzle when it hits the heat. This week, I did mine on an indoor grill top.

After about 2-3 minutes, brush the uncooked side with a little more oil, cook a little while longer and then flip. DO. NOT. PRESS. those burgers with your spatula!

About another 3-5 minutes, depending how well done you like your burgers, and pull those bad boys off! Let them rest for a few minutes before serving.

And of course dress your burger however you eat them! What's so special about these is the different flavors you can come up with just by using a different kind of barbecue sauce. I personally think KC is the best for this particular recipe, but it's always fun to experiment with others. Certain barbecue sauces can actually make the burger still taste grilled, even if you cook it indoors!

So the final verdict:

I hope you get to enjoy some great burgers on this FINE college football Saturday - have a great week!

Barbecue Burgers

adapted from Paul Kirk's Championship Barbecue

1 ½ lbs ground chuck
½ C fine breadcrumbs
¼ C KC Masterpiece (or other barbecue sauce)
1 Tbsp firmly packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp mustard
1 Tsp seasoned salt
1 Tsp ground pepper

1)Mix beef, breadcrumbs, sauce, brown sugar, lemon juice, mustard, salt and pepper in a large bowl with your hands.

2)Form 5-6 patties. Make sure to make a slight depression in the middle with your thumb so burgers don't swell in the middle.

3)Grill or pan fry on medium high heat, cooking around 4-5 minutes per side to your desired doneness.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Week 12 - Carnitas

Not a bad showing last week, huh? I know a disciplined bunch when I see them and I do REALLY like this Stanford team. I was so impressed by the way they took it to Oregon. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it always seems like there’s something missing from these Oregon teams. They're incredibly exciting to watch, but it’s something like a house of cards up there in Eugene. Perhaps next year this time they could rebound for a playoff run, but they didn’t show themselves to be really tough enough to handle a playoff anyway.
Looks like this week we’ve got another mmeh kind of schedule. Georgia travels to Auburn to take on the sneaky Tigers. Watch out for these guys. Nobody is paying any attention to them and they’re positioning themselves for an epic Iron Bowl in a few weeks if they keep on winning. Georgia is….whatever…you should know by now there’s no way I’m picking Georgia at this point in the season. I expect Auburn to take care of business.

There’s also Oklahoma State at Texas, who is finally back in the top 25 after a disastrous start to their season. This is a really tough one for me. The Horns have really come together as of late and seem to be playing with an “us against the world” type of mentality. They just outlasted West Virginia in a gutsy road win and now they come home to face a team that will attack them in the same way. Oklahoma State should definitely be on upset alert, but I think they’ll find a way to beat Texas.
So with the big game in Austin, I wanted to do something Tex-Mex, since there are so many amazing Tex-Mex places there. I’m going to be making carnitas, which is a delicious shredded pork perfect for all kinds of different things. You’ll be amazed at what you start out with and what it tranforms into .

Pork Carnitas - Adapted from Bon Appetit

So we begin with 3 lbs of boneless country style pork ribs. Cut them into thirds and remove any large pieces of fat.

Mince two canned chipotle chilis. You'll definitely want to seed them. Well, you can sneak a few in there if you like the heat. Depends on your tastes and your crowd! Reserve 2 tbsp of the adobo sauce from the can.

Add the meat to a deep skillet or dutch oven along with the water, chipotle chilis, adobo sauce, orange juice, whole peeled garlic cloves, and salt.

Bring to a boil, cover, reduce to low and simmer for 1 hour and 45 minutes. After the hour and 45 is up, take the lid off , turn to high, and begin reducing the liquid. It should look something like this when you first take the lid off and begin reducing:

Reduce it about halfway (This takes around 30 mins or so - just keep an eye on it). Stir occasionally.

Once you've reached this point, add dark rum and continue to reduce.

As the liquid evaporates you'll stir a little more frequently which will cause the meat to start shredding. It's OK if it sticks a little bit.


Keep reducing and stirring until the liquid is gone and you are left with tender, shredded, Tex-Mex goodness!

Yes, that's a paper plate-don't judge me. 

So there you go - Pork Carnitas! This is another one that I admit is not a weeknight recipe. After all the simmering and reducing is done, it's probably about a 3 hour process. But I can also tell you that it definitely tastes that way. You can do a lot with this meat - pretty much anything that you'd do with ordinary ground beef. You can make tacos, nachos, eat over rice, with eggs for breakfast (breakfast burritos?), etc. I don't even really think you need much salsa or anything like that because its pretty flavorful. It's great for feeding a crowd, too. Isn't it amazing what ribs and a couple of ingredients transformed into?

Have a great week!

Pork Carnitas
adapted from Bon Appetit

3 lbs country style boneless pork ribs
2 C Water
1 1/2 C Orange juice
6 Whole garlic cloves, peeled

2 Minced canned chipotles
      plus 2 tbsp adobo sauce

1 1/2 Tsp kosher salt
1/4 C dark rum

1)Cut ribs into thirds, and remove any large pieces of fat

Combine pork plus the next five ingredients to a deep heavy skillet or dutch oven. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer, then cover for 1 ¾ hours. Remove cover and reduce liquid by half.

Add the dark rum and continue reducing until all of the liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally. As the liquid evaporates the pork may start to stick a little. As you continue to stir, the meat will fall apart and brown.

4)Remove from heat after liquid is gone and serve hot.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Week 11 - Sticky Buns

It sure has become high drama between the #2 and #3 spots with Florida State and Oregon flip flopping each week. This is going to be a very interesting race down the stretch. The thought seems to be who is going to play Bama in the national championship, but I don’t even feel like Alabama is invincible. Not to mention they’ve got a huge target on their back and will continue to get everyone’s best game every week. While I highly doubt it will actually play out this way, the leaders of the SEC, Pac 12, Big 12, Big 10, and ACC are arguably on an undefeated trajectory. Wouldn’t that be a fitting send off for the BCS?

So game day comes early this week with the two biggest games happening Thursday night. First, we have the Oregon Ducks traveling to Stanford to take on the Cardinal. I am of the opinion that the Thursday game is always a trap game for the visiting team. I don't care what anyone says - playing on Thursday really throws off a team’s routine and can affect the entire group. So if both teams are going to be out of their element and they are somewhat evenly matched, I usually always like the home team because there is at least some semblance of normalcy for them. That being said, even though undefeated Oregon is coming off a bye, I'm going to take Stanford to knock off the Ducks. I like Oregon a lot and I LOVE Marcus Mariota, but Stanford plays a physical style that clashes with everything Oregon is trying to do. Stanford is probably the only team that Oregon will face this year that won't try to outgun them in a shootout. I don’t see Oregon putting up 50/60 points like they have been most of the season, especially on a natural surface.

Another surprise team this year has been the Baylor Bears. Art Briles has this team lighting up scoreboards everywhere. If you haven’t had a chance to see them they are really something to see. Oklahoma is very quietly a decent team, but they certainly aren’t setting the world on fire. They don’t seem to have an identity on offense and as a result, their defense is on the field A LOT. More importantly, I’ve been around long enough to know that a Stoops team on the road in prime time? No thanks. I’m taking the Bears in a big statement win.
And finally we’ve got LSU versus Bama. Alabama has had some “lighter” contests since the big win in College Station, and this will be the biggest test since. Of course Nick Saban treats the Kentuckys of the world the same way he treats the LSUs so they won't prepare for this game any differently than they have the past few contests. LSU is going to throw everything they have at them, but I just don’t think it will be enough to dethrone Alabama this Saturday. Plus I just can't justify going against Nick Saban right now! I like Bama in a close one.

And since I expect the tide to roll I think we will do some cinnamon rolls. I must be honest that I love LOVE cinnamon rolls, but am terrified of using yeast for some reason. I’ve never used it and don’t really know what I’m afraid of, but if I see yeast in a recipe, I turn the page. This particular recipe comes from Epicurious and doesn’t have yeast so I had to give it a try.

Jean's Sticky Biscuits - from Epicurious
Grease an 8 inch square pan and preheat the oven to 450.

Start out by making the glaze. Bring butter, orange juice, and light brown sugar to a boil. The original recipe calls for orange rind, but I don't care for too much of an orange-y flavor in my cinnamon rolls so I left it out. Spoon the mixture into the square pan so it completely covers the bottom and set aside.

For the biscuit dough, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Make  a well in the center.

In a smaller mixing bowl, whisk together oil and milk and pour into the well and stir until a dough forms. Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface and roll the dough into an 18" x 10" rectangle.

In a small mixing bowl mix the filling ingredients: brown sugar, cinnamon, and allspice, and sprinkle evenly over the rectangle.
This next part is a little tricky. Because you have to stretch the dough so thin to make the 18" x 10" rectangle you really have to use gentle hands. Roll the rectangle up into an 18" log and slice into nine 2" thick biscuits. Place them cut side down into the pan on top of the glaze. You should have three rows of three.

Bake for about 20 minutes, until they've puffed and turn golden brown. Invert the pan onto a large platter and let the glaze run down. Delicious!

These were a huge hit. It's not hard for only nine rolls to disappear, but nevertheless, those of us around my house eating solid food made quick work of them. I didn't miss the orange rind one bit. Aside from the tedious spreading of the dough and rolling, they are pretty easy. And most importantly - no fooling around with any yeast! So any of you yeastaphobes like me will surely love this recipe!

Have a great week!

Jean's Sticky Buns
Courtesy of Epicurious

¼ C (half stick) butter
½ C orange juice
½ C firmly packed light brown sugar
1 Tbsp finely grated orange rind.
2 C all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ Tsp salt
¼ C vegetable oil
¾ C whole milk

¼ C firmly packed light brown sugar
½ Tsp ground cinnamon
¼ Tsp ground allspice

1) Grease an 8-inch square baking pan. In a small, heavy saucepan, bring the glaze ingredients to a boil, spoon the mixture into the prepared pan so it completely covers the bottom, and set aside.

2) Preheat the oven to 450°F.
3) To make the biscuits, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl and make a well in the center. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the oil and milk till well blended, pour into the well, and stir just till a soft dough forms. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and roll into an 18 x 10-inch rectangle.

In a small mixing bowl, mix together the filling ingredients, then sprinkle evenly over the rectangle. Starting from the short side, roll up the rectangle jelly-roll style into an 18-inch-long log, slice into 9 biscuits 2 inches thick, arrange the biscuits cut side down in 3 rows in the glazed pan, and bake till puffed and golden brown, about 20 minutes.

5) Invert the pan immediately onto a large platter so the glaze runs down over the biscuits and serve hot.