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, January 3, 2014

The Championship

Wow I didn't do so hot on my BCS picks. They've actually been quite entertaining for the most part, though so that's good. I stick by my picks, but can't say that I'm surprised by any of the outcomes. OK I'm lying - I'm still trying to wrap my head around the Sugar Bowl and that aggressive team that showed up in Sooner uniforms. If that type of team had shown up in their previous BCS appearances, Bob Stoops might be spoken of in the same way we speak of Nick Saban. Just goes to show you - give a hot team 4 weeks off or a well coached team 4 weeks to prepare, anything can happen in one game.

So now we're down to one game - THE game. #1 Florida State versus #2 Auburn. The final BCS (good riddance!) Championship. This matchup is so intriguing. You've got Auburn trying to defend the SEC's 7-year stranglehold on the championship as well as the state of Alabama's 4 year reign on the trophy. They completely came out of nowhere and appear to have "destiny" written all over them. Florida State has been supremely dominant this year with all victories coming by double digits and many of the games well in hand by halftime. Jameis Winston was the nation's most outstanding player this year, and the program as a whole looks to be back to the glory days.

This is such a tough one to pick. It's hard to pick against the SEC, and when a team is rolling like Auburn has been, it feels like there are supernatural forces at work. QB Nick Marshall and RB Tre Mason make a lethal combo when running the spread option and will be tougher than anyone FSU has seen all season. On the other hand FSU's defense has the speed of any SEC team that Auburn has faced. They should surely be up to the task. Auburn's defense certainly isn't historic, but more than capable of slowing the Seminoles. I'm really looking forward to seeing WR Kelvin Benjamin and CB Chris Davis match up on the outside. By the way - watch out for Benjamin next season. He is a stud.

So who to pick? Florida State makes me nervous because the ACC is just positively dreadful. They really haven't played anyone this season so it's really hard to project how they would perform against a really good team like Auburn. Also, Heisman winners don't always have the best track record in the championship. As for the Tigers, I've seen teams get hot at the right time late in the season and ride that momentum to the championship - if the postseason immediately follows the regular season. Auburn has had some time to cool off and I still feel like they are very lucky to even be here. That being said, I'm going to be a homer and go with the #1 ranked Florida St. Seminoles to cap off their dominating season holding the crystal football.

What better way to celebrate a championship than a perfectly cooked steak? Now I love a good charcoal grilled steak, but to me it's just not worth it to fire up all that charcoal to cook a steak or two. And you don't want to just "pan fry" an expensive cut of steak. I have a good friend who is the executive chef at his restaurant, Chez Nino (BTW-they also carry the finest whiskeys and will soon be serving smoked fish), and he taught me the most excellent method of cooking a steak indoors and on this Championship Monday, I am going to share it step-by-step. I like a dry rub so I can get that nice crust, but this isn't so much about the rub, marinade or seasonings, as it is the technique (the rub I like to use is below). You can use any cut of steak you like - I like ribeye the best, but for the example, I have a couple of bacon wrapped filets. They were really thick (2") so I had to adjust cooking times slightly.

Pan Cooked Steak

Pull your steak(s) out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before you plan to cook. Put on your steak rub and let them warm up a bit on the counter. This will help tremendously with cooking time. I have a rub that I use with ginger, pepper, garlic powder, seasoning salt (Tony's), and pepper. I don't add salt until right before it's going in the pan. This helps with forming the crust and also prevents the salt from drying out the meat while it's sitting. So if you are making your own rub, omit the salt until it's go time. After the rub, I sprinkle a little Worcestershire Sauce and massage it into the rub/meat. I do this to both sides and let it sit for 30-45 minutes.

Heat up 1-2 tbsp of olive oil in a pretty hot pan - a little hotter than medium high, but not all the way high. Also set your oven to 500 degrees (perhaps a little lower if you have a really thick steak) and place the rack 3" from the heat source.

Sprinkle your steaks with salt and as soon as the oil begins to smoke slightly, cook for 2 minutes without moving the steak. Sprinkle the other side with salt as it's cooking. While the steak is searing, add a couple of tablespoons of butter and a couple cloves of garlic  to the pan. Remember - don't move the steak!

After about 2 minutes, flip the steak and cook for 2-2 1/2 minutes more. During the final minute or so, continuously baste the steak with the butter. My mom got me this sfork of a spatula/spoon for Christmas that actually worked great for this. Tilt the pan so the butter collects on the edge and spoon over the steak repeatedly for 60-90 seconds.

When your 2-2 1/2 minutes are up, transfer the pan to the oven to finish cooking. If you can, I would suggest using a meat thermometer to make sure your steak is cooked to the right doneness for you. These filets took much longer at nearly 15 minutes in the oven (since I had to drop the temp a little bit) as opposed to the ribeyes I did last Christmas that took about 5-7 minutes and both were cooked to medium well. The thermometer will keep you from constantly opening the oven.

When the steak is about 5-10 degrees from where you like it, pull the pan out of the oven and let the steak rest on a plate tented with foil for about 10 minutes. I want to remind you to please PLEASE don't forget this pan came out of the oven. At some point, every single time I cook this way, I inevitably grab the pan out of instinct and burn my hand. But even then, it's totally worth it for this:

So the next time you think about going to a steakhouse, I want you to really think about trying this method. Don't judge me by my terrible bowl picks-this is the best way to cook a steak! You'll realize how overpriced a good steak is and how you can pull off the same thing in your own kitchen. I just can't bring myself to order a steak out anymore. I've put the rub I use below and it's always a hit. F
orget about the steak sauce - it's for college kids! Remember that time in the oven can vary depending on thickness and how you like your steaks. This method requires a little intuition and you'll get a feel for it the more you do it. So get that oven safe skillet out and go to work!

Well thanks for keeping up with me this fall. I hope you've been able to make some great food this season. I'll be taking a break for a while, but I'll be checking in from time to time. And I shall return with my new Pigskin Chef apron and my brand new blow torch! Thanks for your support and enjoy the championship!

Happy New Year!
PS- Big ups to my M.I.L. for my new apron!

Steak sauce-less Steak Rub (enough for 3-4 steaks)

1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp Tony's, Lawry's or other seasoning salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp kosher salt

1)Mix together ginger, seasoning salt, black pepper, garlic powder. Sprinkle onto steaks.

2)Pour a few drops of the Worcestershire on the steak(s) and rub into the meat to form a bit of a paste. Turn steaks over and repeat.

3)Allow steaks to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with kosher salt right before cooking. Place on grill or pan salted side down, then salt the other side while its cooking.

Pan Cooked Steak Method

1)Allow steaks to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before cooking. If using salt omit until right before cooking. Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

2)Heat up 1-2 tbsp olive oil in a pan on medium high heat. As soon as oil begins to smoke, salt steak and put in the pan salted side down. Cook for 2 minutes without moving. Add a couple of tablespoons of butter and a few garlic cloves to the pan. Salt the other side of the steak.

3)After 2 minutes flip the steak(s) and cook for an additional 2-2 1/2 minutes (depending on thickness). With about a minute to go, turn the pan at an angle so that the butter/oil collects and continuously baste with a spoon for the whole minute. 

4)When done basting, place the pan into the 500 degree oven approximately 3" from the heat source. Cook an additional 5-7 minutes depending on how you like your steak and it's thickness.

5)When steak is cooked to perfection, allow to rest on a plate tented with foil for 10 minutes.