Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Healing Qualities of Cheese and Beer

Recipe: Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup and Homemade Pretzels

Before I get on with my post, I need to mention the upcoming nuptials of one William the Prince and Catherine Middleton which occur tomorrow at exactly 4 AM. I am excited, yes, as any good American girl would be. There will be pretty dresses (and one extremely pretty white dress), beautiful hats, flowers, famous people (hello Elton John), and of course delicious delicious food (with the exception of the wedding cake... fruit cake? gross.) Many people have been doing posts on what to eat for Royal Wedding Parties (scones! tea! cookies!), but as I probably won't be getting up in the middle of the night to watch some handsome guy and pretty girl (His and Her Highness) tie the knot (if it were at 9 AM that would be a whole other story), I am just going to get on with business as usual.

It has been a horrible spring here in the midwest and all this bad weather gets me thinking about soup. I realize that most of my posts begin with some musing about the weather or changing of seasons but that is how I decide what to eat most weeks. Anyways, I haven't seen the sun in weeks and maybe part of it is due to the fact that I work in a windowless room all day but also it has been raining a lot. On days (weeks!) like that I want to laze around the house eating hunks of cheese and sipping on beer, as most people would (and no "Sconnie" jokes, please).  There is something wonderful about a nice piece of cheese that gets me excited. Think about it, cheese is a mixture of the culinary and the scientific. Who first thought to eat fermented milk? It's really a miracle that we eat it at all. But, the flavors can be so complex and deep and interesting in a nice piece of cheese, that I often find myself having a Ratatouille moment when I eat it. Its such an easy way to brighten a little spot in my day.

Forget pairing cheese with wine! A good Wisconsin girl like myself would reach for a beer to pair with cheese. That combination, of beer and cheese, turns a really terrible day into a good one. Well, maybe I am being a little overly dramatic, but a really good pairing can push me over the edge sometimes. I, then, remembered that there is such a thing as beer cheese soup, thus combining all of my favorite things for a rainy day, and I decided to make it.

What pairs well with beer cheese soup, you ask? A nice soft pretzel! When I was younger I was amazed that you could make things at home that you usually bought at the store. For instance, I grew up on canned pasta sauce and the first time I had it homemade was a huge revelation. From that point forward I tried cooking all sorts of things that I usually purchased (cookies, breads, cream puffs....), and dragged my friends in the projects too. I think this is one of many reasons why I ended up as a professional cook. In any case, homemade soft pretzels are something my friend and I would make to pass the lazy summer afternoons. We would get the dough made, and then turn on Ever After while the yeast kicked in. Once we shaped the dough in to the first letter of all our friend's names and then hand-delivered the gifts. Nothing says love like a hand-shaped pretzel.

If you have a case of the rainy day blues spend the day indoors and try out this recipe. Maybe it would have quite the same healing power as it did on me, but you will enjoy it nonetheless.

Soft Pretzels 

I had a little trouble with this recipe (namely the shaping of the pretzel and the par-boiling. (See the ugly looking pretzel below.) I also had some Hawaiian black salt on hand, instead of pretzel salt so that's what I used to season.

Wisconsin Beer Cheese Soup

5 tablespoons butter
1/2 leek cleaned and diced
3 carrots, cleaned peeled and diced
1 large onion, diced
4 ribs of celery, diced
5 tablespoons flour
2 12 oz bottles of beer, use a pale ale or a lager
5 cups vegetable stock
1 cup milk
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons ginger powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Garnish with chopped chives

1. Heat beer in a sauce pan bring to a boil and reduce by half. Add vegetable stock and milk and heat.

2. Sweat leeks, carrots, onions, and celery in butter until softened. About five minutes. Stir in flour. Slowly whisk in hot liquids and bring soup to a simmer. Add cayenne, ginger, and paprika and simmer soup uncovered over medium low heat for 30 to 45 minutes.

3. Take soup off stove and puree with an immersion blender or in small batches in a food processor. Strain into a clean pot.

4. Return to heat and slowly whisk in cheese in small batches, allowing the cheese to melt before adding more. Strain again if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and serve hot with chives, a glass of beer and a nice soft pretzel.

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