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!

Friday, December 27, 2013

BCS Bowls

Well first of all, I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and enjoyed some great food! I know we had a huge Christmas feast at my house!

Now it’s time to talk about the big bowls. As I said before, I’m not crazy about the bowls as a whole, but there are a few that I think might be worth a look.

The Rose Bowl features somewhat surprising Big Ten Champ Michigan State against Stanford. These teams are actually pretty evenly matched. Despite the presence of a Big Ten team, I think this should be a pretty decent contest. I’ve got a lot of faith in The Cardinal. They are too well coached to not be ready for a team they’ve had a month to prepare for. I like Stanford in this one. 

I'll be watching Alabama vs. Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, but not necessarily because I think it's going to be a really competitive game. Bama got stung last game and while their national title hopes were dashed, I also think a huge weight has been lifted off their shoulders. This will be the last game for AJ McCarron and I know he'll want to go out with a win. Bama is still one of the best teams in the country and 1 or 2 crazy plays from being in the championship game. Meanwhile, I don't think the Sooners even belong in a BCS game. They're outmatched in just about every way possible and I don't expect them to beat The Tide. It could be competitive for a hot minute, but the only way the Sooners win is if Bama completely lays an egg and doesn't show up (like the 2009 Sugar Bowl). Not likely.

I think the Orange Bowl is somewhat intriguing. Ohio State is a very good football team as is Clemson. Tajh Boyd and Braxton Miller are two very, very good quarterbacks. It'll be pretty exciting watching these two go at it. That being said, no way I'm picking Clemson. I like the Buckeyes in a statement win that will be a springboard for the 2014 season.

I sure would love to see the Oregon Ducks in one of the BCS bowls instead of UCF, but I suppose it is what it is. Baylor is a fearsome offensive team, and while the Knights have had a great season,  I just can't see how they stop the Bears. I don't plan on watching this one for too long. As bad as the Big Ten was this year, this Athletic American Conference thing is even worse!

So with all these games, you have absolutely got to have some wings going on. This is a recipe I have tinkered with this fall and is a combination of a couple of different internet resources. The best part is these aren't fried, so they are maybe a teeny tiny bit better for you. But don't worry - these aren't soft mushy baked Tyson wings. I'm going to show you a method for baking them that still results in the crispy wings you love. 

Crispy Oven Baked Buffalo Wings

The Dry Out
Anyone can throw some wings in the oven, but the reason it's less than ideal is because they come out so soggy. This first step is how we keep that from happening. After rinsing and drying the wings really well, toss about a third of them with some kosher salt, baking powder, and cayenne pepper. Repeat the step two more times and makes sure they are covered. Then place them on a drying rack that's over a baking sheet covered in foil. Make sure to leave between each wing. Air is our friend!

Put them in the refrigerator and let them dry out uncovered for at least 12 hours and up to 24. 

When it's time to cook, take the wings out of the fridge and set the oven to 450. Remove the wings from the drying rack and place on another baking sheet (or the same one after it has been cleaned) lined with foil. Reynolds Non-Stick is the best for this. If you don't have Reynolds Non-Stick, make sure that you spray well, or they'll stick pretty bad. Bake for 20 minutes and then flip and cook for another 15-20 minutes or so. You can make the wing sauce while they are baking (see recipe below). They should be nice and golden and crispy when you take them out. Transfer the wings to a bowl and toss with wing sauce. Serve piping hot with ranch or...I guess blue cheese if that's your thing. Well, please don't ruin these with blue cheese!

After a good roll in the sauce!

**Wing Sauce**
This adapted wing sauce goes beyond the usual butter and wing sauce. Start out by melting butter over low heat in a saucepan. After it's melted add your favorite wing sauce (Franks, Louisiana, Sweet Baby Rays), plus cayenne pepper sauce, brown sugar, honey, cider vinegar, and a little cayenne. Whisk pretty well and continue to heat on low for about 10 minutes -stirring periodically - and set aside.

I've made these a couple times this season and they've been good each time. You can really tell a difference in the skin if you have been one of the unfortunate ones to have the usual soft and soggy baked wings. And of course you could use any number of sauces - barbecue, teriyaki, or any other sauce concoction you could come up with. This doctored up wing sauce adds a little something extra to normal wing sauce that I think you'll like. 

So I hope you enjoy your New Year's/Game Day wings. As for me, I'll be back next week to close out the season with a National Championship dish (and my pick)! So stay tuned, and have a Happy New Year!

Crispy Oven Baked Wings

4 lbs chicken wings (thaw if frozen)
1 Tbsp baking powder
2-3 tsp kosher salt (depending on taste)
1 tsp cayenne pepper

4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 C Wing sauce (Franks, Louisiana, etc)
2 Tbsp cayenne pepper sauce (Louisiana, Texas Pete, or Tabasco)
1 Tbsp dark brown sugar
1 Tbsp honey
2 Tsp cider vinegar
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (more if you like them hotter)

1)Rinse and pat the chicken wings dry with paper towels. Using about 1/3 of the wings at a time, put wings in a large bowl and sprinkle with 1/3 of the baking powder, cayenne, and salt and toss to evenly coat. Add wings, then dry ingredients twice more to make sure all wings are covered. Arrange the wings in a single layer on wire rack placed over a baking sheet lined with foil. Refrigerate uncovered 12-24 hours.

2)Heat oven to 450. Remove wings from refrigerator and place on another baking sheet lined with non stick foil (or sprayed). Bake wings for 20 minutes, carefully turn over with tongs, and cook for another 15-20 minutes or so until golden and crispy. Make sauce while wings are cooking.

3)Place butter in a small saucepan and melt over low heat. Whisk in the sauces, brown sugar, honey, cider vinegar, and cayenne until combined. Remove from the heat and set aside.

4)When wings are done, place in a bowl and toss with half the sauce. Make sure they are well coated, then add more sauce to your liking. Serve hot.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bowl Week 1

Bowl season is underway! Jameis wrapped up the Heisman in a blowout not unlike the way his Seminoles have been rolling up the competition in the ACC. No surprise there.
No real big games this week. I will probably take a look at USC and Fresno. USC has lost their head coach and the interim in a matter of months, so to say that the team is in disarray is a massive understatement. The players seemed to really play hard for Ed Orgeron, so I’ve got to believe his exit is a blow to the players. On the other side of the coin, this is essentially the third different USC team we’ll see this season. Every coach is different so Coach Helton (USC) will have an opportunity to throw in some wrinkles that have never been seen on tape before – which makes them somewhat dangerous. I’ve only seen USC this year, and they are the favorite, but I’m going to go out on a limb and take the Bulldogs because of the uncertainty in Los Angeles.

The food this week, is about another bowl that most people couldn’t care less about: The New Orleans Bowl. This game matches up Tulane against Louisiana-Lafayette. Two Louisiana teams facing off in New Orleans? How can I NOT make a New Orleans dish? I’ve searched far and wide for the perfect Jambalaya dish and I think that I’ve come pretty close. This recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks: Cooking Up a Storm. The book contains recipes from the Times-Picayune that were lost after Hurricane Katrina. These have been around for years and each one has a great story to go along with it. If you don't cook one thing out of the book, it's still a great read.

So there are essentially two kinds of Jambalaya: brown and red. Red jambalaya is unique to New Orleans and has tomato in it. Brown does not have tomato and is typical of regions west of the Mississippi. Since we’re in New Orleans it’s only right that we do the Red.

New Orleans Jambalaya - from Cooking Up a Storm
Start out by melting butter in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add green onions, yellow onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic. Cook and stir until soft.
Add shrimp, ham, and sausage. Stir for about 3 minutes until the shrimp are cooked.

Stir in canned whole tomatoes and chicken broth. Season to taste with salt and cayenne.
Add bay leaves and stir in rice.

Bring to slight boil, then cover and reduce to medium low. Cook until rice is tender and has absorbed the liquid. The original recipe says about 25 minutes, mine took a little over a half hour. When done, remove bay leaves and serve.
How'd that Louisiana Hot Sauce get in the picture?
I have to tell you, this jambalaya was really REALLY good. And pretty easy, too. The hardest part was definitely chopping the vegetables and peeling the shrimp. Even then, I have a Ninja so that wasn't too bad either. If you don't have one, I can't recommend it enough.

Here's my quick PSA for The Ninja:

So if all your food was prepped and the traffic Gods smiled upon you one evening, you could totally pull this one off on a weeknight. Also, if you put just a little bit of hot sauce on this, it really enhances the flavor. You don't want to eat a bowl of hot sauce, but when you have the right amount, you'll know it because it takes it to another level. It's not particularly spicy to begin with unless you go crazy with the cayenne. This stuff is the real deal and we will definitely be making this again. Wait, did I even make a pick?

Have a great week!

New Orleans Jambalaya
Cooking Up a Storm

6 Tbsp butter
½ C chopped green onions (white and black parts)
½ C chopped yellow onions
1 large green bell pepper, julienned
1 C coarsely cut celery
1 tsp minced garlic
½ lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ lb cubed ham
½ lb smoked sausage (andouille or kielbasa), sliced 1/4” thick
(1) 16 oz can whole tomatoes, crushed, with their juices
1 C chicken broth
Salt, cayenne pepper
2 Bay leaves
1 C long grain white rice

1)Melt butter in large heavy pot over medium heat. Add green onions, yellow onions, bell peppers, celery, and garlic. Cook, stirring until they are soft and pale gold, 6-8 minutes.

2)Add shrimp, ham, and sausage. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the shrimp turn pink.

3)Stir in tomatoes and chicken broth. Season to taste with salt and cayenne.

4)Add bay leaves and the rice. Cover and reduce the heat to medium low. Cook until the rice is tender and all the liquid is absorbed, about 25-30 minutes.

5)Remove the bay leaves and serve.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Heisman Week

Well everything turned out like I expected. ALMOST. I thought Ohio State would win, but I can’t say I’m surprised that they didn’t. MSU was a physical team with nothing to lose and frankly, they saved us from another Big 10 rout in the national championship.

There are a few good looking bowls, but overall I’m kind of feeling ho hum about them. I was really really hoping for an Oregon/Bama showdown, but instead Oklahoma snuck in there and I think we all know what they're going to do in a big game. That’s all I’ll say about the bowls for now – we’ve got plenty of time to get into those!
This week the big contest is the Heisman. Or as I like to call it, “Hottest Offensive Player Weeks 5-11.” I used to love watching the Heisman presentation and all of the hoopla surrounding it, but I haven’t actually watched the presentation live in a number of years. It’s basically a regional popularity contest with no real criteria. Best player on the best team? Player whose team would stink the most if he were gone? Lifetime achievement award for a senior? I can never tell. But I think it’s safe to say that now that Jameis Winston has been cleared, he’s got that puppy sewed up. What I think is interesting is that there are SIX finalists. I remember back in the day there would only be 3 or max of 4, but 6 seems like a lot. Really this year, 4 would be a lot. Tre Mason came on a little too late, Jordan Lynch is from NIU, and I hadn’t even heard of Andre Williams until this week. So I hope Jameis has his speech ready.

Well, I’m not sure if you all know, but we got snowed in last week so I didn’t have a chance to go to the store and do any SERIOUS cooking. BUT, I did have enough ingredients on hand to make a pot of apple cider, which has become a winter tradition at my house. This is a great recipe I came across that'll turn an ordinary jug of cider into something really special. It's super easy, and is sure to be a hit!

Spiced Apple Cider from Bon Appetit

Just a few ingredients to start with. Try to get dark colored cider for the best end product.


Pour the cider into a stockpot. It needs to be able to hold a gallon of liquid.



Add nutmeg, and allspice. Stir just a little bit.

Add whole cloves and cinnamon.

Split a vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds into the cider, then add the two halves. Stir again.
Gently bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for about an hour.
After about an hour, strain the cider through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl or another thick pot. Discard the cinnamon sticks, bean, and cloves.

Ladle yourself a mug and you are ready to go! Add brandy or bourbon if you like :-)
I think you'll be really pleased with this cider. With the addition of a few easy ingredients (well, vanilla beans are sort of expensive), you can transform regular old store bought cider into an awesome winter drink. Simmering and reducing strengthens the flavor tremendously. By the way, it fills your house with the wonderful smell of apples, cloves, and cinnamon, so it doubles as potpourri. As a matter of fact, we lit a Yankee Candle the next day and as soon as my 3 year old daughter got a whiff, she asked if I was making "that drink" again! I haven't had the spiked version, but I can only imagine! Also makes plenty so it's the perfect drink for Christmas gatherings!
Spiced Apple Cider
from Bon Appetit
1 Gallon high quality apple cider, preferably dark
1 Tbsp whole allspice (I used 1/4 tsp ground)
1 Tsp ground nutmeg
4 Whole cloves
3 Cinnamon sticks
1 Vanilla bean, split lengthwise
Brandy, Calvados (Apple Brandy), or bourbon - optional

1)Combine cider, allspice, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon sticks. Scrape in seeds from bean; add bean.

2)Bring cider just to simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook just below a simmer until flavors meld, about an hour.

3)Strain cider through a sieve into another pot or heatproof punch bowl; discard solids in sieve. Add brandy to taste, if using. Ladle hot cider into mugs.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Championship Week - Apple Crisp

Well once again I went 1 for 3. Although I really can’t be held responsible for that Auburn play. I don’t want to say it was a fluke….but nobody saw that coming. And I should just slap myself for picking Clemson - maybe it’s the rum from the Carnitas. Anyway, I still think that Bama is one of the top 2/3 teams in the nation. That’s one thing that I hate about college football is there is so much pressure to go undefeated and I just don’t think people understand how hard that feat is. Unless of course you play in a conference like the Big 10.

So now it’s on to championship week! Conference championships have served as a playoff of sorts for the last few years, although in some cases it has been better for some teams to not make their conference championship at all rather than lose in it (Alabama, Nebraska come to mind). But we've all seen many a dream get dashed on this last day before bowl season. I like the conference championship games, but either everyone should have them or no one should have them (And for the record, I don’t think that winning your conference championship is necessarily a requirement to be in consideration for the best team in the country). Let’s take a look at the most important conference championship games with possible national championship implications:
ACC ChampionshipDuke vs. Florida St; Duke is a great story. Hooray for the smart guys. Not a freakin chance. Florida St. wins big.

Big Ten ChampionshipMichigan St. vs Ohio St.; Michigan State’s defense is really REALLY good. I just don’t think at this point they have the offense to beat Ohio St. Plus, Urban Meyer is one of the best big game coaches in the business. He’s like Bob Stoops...only the opposite. Sure he's been beaten, but I can’t recall a time where his team has appeared unprepared in a big contest. I would love to see Michigan St. deliver him his first loss as a Buckeye because I REALLY don’t want to see a Big 10 team in the championship, but just don’t see it. I’m taking the Bucks.
SEC ChampionshipMissouri vs Auburn; First of all, anyone that says they predicted this as the 2013 SEC championship game is lying! Gary Pinkel was on the hot seat, and Gus Malzahn was definitely about to be. What a difference a year makes. This is a big game because the winner here will be waiting anxiously (along with yours truly) for Ohio St. to falter so they can slide into the championship game. Auburn has had some really exciting finishes the past few weeks. You always have to watch for the emotional letdown the week following a major win - let alone two. It seems these guys have to run out of gas soon, right? And with everyone telling them how great they are, can they handle the distraction? I expect a bit of a letdown, but I still think they’ll manage to beat Mizzou. I would like to say, though that there could be a sleeping giant in Columbia, MO. The media and Auburn have been talking all week about should they deserve a shot at the title after the SEC Championship Game. Wait a minute, don't we still have to play the game? That, friends is bulletin board material. We talk about cooking a lot here and this talk of an Auburn victory being a foregone conclusion over the "other" Tigers after a string of emotionally taxing victories is the exact recipe for an upset - so watch out. I believe Auburn is the better team, but don't be surprised if Mizzou uses this as fuel and shocks them.

Well in case you haven't guessed, I really would prefer not to see Ohio St. or any Big Ten team in the national championship, which ironically is going to make me clear my schedule to make sure to watch the Big Ten Championship. It’s all about the green this week so I’m going to show you a cool trick with granny smith apples! A while back we made the apple upside down cake, but this is totally different, definitely easier, and in my humble opinion even BETTER.

Apple Crisp

Start out with 8 granny smith apples. Peel, core and slice them thinly. Squirt a little bit of lemon juice on them to keep from browning.

 Add heavy cream, sugar, flour, cinnamon, salt, and lemon juice. Stir to mix well.

Spread apples evenly into a 13 x 9 baking dish. I have also used a round iron skillet before which turned out really well, too.

Mix up the crisp topping with a fork. It will be a little lumpy, but not quite like a full on crumb topping.

Spread the topping evenly over the apples.

Bake at 350 for 45 mins to an hour until the apples soften and the mixture starts to bubble. Mine took about 55 minutes, but I start peeking around 40-45.

Let it cool for about 5 minutes and serve with a scoop of ice cream!

This has been a huge hit every time I make it. It's incredibly rich, but it hasn't stopped anyone from making short work of it. Also goes great with a homemade caramel sauce that you can whip up in about 10-20 minutes. I will say though, that most of my patrons love it just fine without. It's one of those dishes that tastes much more like a big production than it actually is! Once you get the apples peeled and sliced, it's a piece of cake. I'll take this over the best apple pie any day of the year!

Enjoy and have a great weekend!

Apple Crisp (adapted from Reata)

8 Granny Smith apples, peeled and cored
1 C Heavy cream
1 C Sugar
¼ C All purpose flour
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp lemon juice
½ Tsp kosher salt
3 C crisp topping (recipe below)

1)Preheat oven to 350. Butter a 13 x 9 pan and set it aside.
2)Slice the apples into thin wedges. In a large bowl, toss the apple slices with the cream, sugar, flour, cinnamon, lemon juice and salt.
3)Layer the dressed apples in the prepared pan and generously spread the Crisp Topping over the apples.
4)Bake for 45-60 minutes until the apples are soft and the mixture is bubbling.

Crisp Topping
1 ½ C flour
1 C Brown sugar (dark or light works)
2 Tsp cinnamon
¼ Tsp kosher salt
12 Tbsp unsalted butter

Combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl. Cut cold butter into small pieces and mix into dry mixture with a fork, being careful not to overwork the mixture; it should appear crumbly. Makes about 3 cups.