Archive for Food

A Cream Team Update

It’s been a while since I’ve written here, and definitely quite a while since I updated you on the goings-on of all things Cream Team. A few fun facts:

There’s more, I’m sure. But, suffice it to say, we’ve been busy cooking and competing and prepping our way to (mostly) victory! We feel good about our curry win, are fairly sick of making meatballs, and are looking forward to Quesoff 2016.

Until then…. the CREAM TEAM LIVES ONNNNNN!!! Stay tuned via Brett’s Flickr page, Paul’s Twitter page, and our hashtag #teamcreamteam.

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Cream Team at the WFC Part Two

This is part two of the post I took forever and a day to write; and this one didn’t come as quickly as I wanted it to either. C’est la vie..

(This is part two, the last part. So savor it… )

The Results

We could do nothing but wait. Wait and drink and wander the maniacal Fremont St. Experience. We packed up our stuff, loaded it into the rental car and set to wandering. Well, and drinking.

After cleaning up back at the duplex, we headed back to Fremont St. to await the awards presentation. Oodles of cooking teams, still decked out in their team gear and splattered with frosting, BBQ sauce or both, were milling about and huddling near the stage in the middle of the street. We joined the throngs, frozen mixed drinks in hand, tired and impatient. Elderly and middle-aged couples in khaki shorts and visors streamed past, bumping into us as they tilted their heads up to view the eagle screaming across the gigantic video screen.

Finally, the marketing director for Kenmore Elite (the brand of cooking equipment that graced the Kenmore Kitchen Coliseum) and the president of the World Food Championships took the stage, all glitzy smiles and coiffed hair.

I’ve known my fair share of less-than-easy-to-deal-with ladies, but this broad may take the cake. She strutted around onstage in her three inch heels, flipping her blond mane and gesticulating wildly with whatever hand didn’t happen to be holding the mic. But the kicker, was her voice—high, nasally, WAY too loud and saying nothing important or relative at all.

We were about ready to jet when she finally started announcing the categories and winners. One by one winning teams streamed by, and our category came and went. And we didn’t place, as you may have guessed. Because if we had, wouldn’t I have written this post sooner? Touted our win, gloated a bit, congratulated our backers? I would have, and rightfully.

Previously, after the judging of our first dish, we found out that we were in place #18 out of forty. Not exactly what we had hoped for, but we were positive about the ‘Chilly Con Queso’. Surely it’s inventiveness, delicious texture, super science-y technique and odd but awesome flavor combination would win ALL the judges over.

But they didn’t get it. They must not have appreciated our play on words, the ode to our town of Austin, TX–spicy and cool in it’s own right; the queso-like flavor of the smooth ice cream, the tart candied jalapeno bits, the slight but present sweetness that somehow paired perfectly with the spice.

The winning dish was a cordon bleu. Nothing inventive, boundary-pushing or even really that interesting apart from being a generally tasty dinner dish. But maybe it just tasted so good that the judges didn’t care about our story or our creativity. They just wanted to eat something that tasted good, that most Americans could cook and would want to eat, that they could put on a Food Network-like cooking show. That’s not us. That’s not the Brett and Paul combo that spawned some of these rad dishes.

We spent our last day going to the Hoover Dam, briefly checking out the neon museum, drinking on patios, slottin’ it up and gambling at seedy and unseedy casinos, eating fancy French dinner, shopping for gifts at the world’s largest gift shop and naughty store and generally checking out the view.

Hoover Dam

El Cortez Hotel in Las Vegas

drinking on patios in Vegas

See more photos of all this on Brett’s and my photo sets.

The Future

I guess we’re okay with the results now, though frankly it took a bit. It feels disappointing to ourselves and to our supporters (financial and otherwise). We know blah blah blah we did awesome blah blah Brett and Paul are really awesome cooks blah blah we get it. I think we all just REALLY wanted to place. We wanted to surpass our own lofty expectations and make everyone so proud they’d freak.

Paul in the thick of chili cooking

Months later, we’re looking on to other food competitions. We’ve done two local competitions this year, and were semi-successful at best. But it’s onward, and again we’re feeling positive and interested in trying some new things this year. So thank you, a heartfelt crazy thank you, to all of you who believed in us. The Cream Team lives on!!!

Follow us, Brett, me and Paul, to stay updated on when and where we’ll next delight you with our tasty noms and award-winning techniques!

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Cream Team at the WFC Part One

I’ve put off writing this post for a long time. Maybe because it was just such a big build-up to the event, or maybe it’s just because it was a harrowing experience and we weren’t ready yet. Or maybe it’s just because there is a lot of ground to cover, and the task seemed daunting. After staring at this item on my to do list for months, it’s got to go…

(This is part one. Part two will be posted soon, so stay tuned!)

The Deal

The Cream Team was invited to compete in the World Food Championships in Las Vegas this past November, in the Recipe category (a total of three possible dishes) with an emphasis on cheese as the featured ingredient. Last year’s Mac and Cheeze Takedown win qualified The Cream Team, Brett Spangler, Paul Czarkowski, and me as the juggler/project manager/nagger, for the event.

I contacted a couple of previous winners to get the lowdown, but I’m not sure much could have prepared us for what it was going to be like at our first big out-of-state food competition. We weren’t even sure we were going to go, as we had heard it was nothing but a stunt for the DIY network (fodder for their TV channel). But when presented the chance… why not take it?!


I crafted a compelling IndieGogo campaign page to help us raise a little dough to offset some of the traveling and food costs. We estimated we would need at least $3k to cover most main competition-related expenses. Our family, friends and supporters did not disappoint—we raised $2,670! Now I owe our generous supporters their due gifts (eek), which I am dutifully working on.

We planned planned PLANNED, made tons of lists, got tshirts printed (thanks Brian!), had many taste test sessions with a group of our friends (who all contributed very valuable feedback to the process) and tweaked our three competition recipes to the utmost point of tweakage. Our offerings would be: ‘Craft’ Mac and Cheese (our version of a fancy Kraft dinner), ‘Chilly’ Con Queso ice cream (our Quesoff 2014 winning-dish) and ‘Tater-yaki’ (our take on Japanese takoyaki).


The goal was to make dishes that were interesting yet approachable, using the specified ingredients in a major and recognizable way for our audience of judges. Turns out, it’s a little difficult to understand your audience and the expectations of the dishes you present to the judges. More on that later…

The Competition

We flew to Vegas with some select cooking equipment and specialty ingredients in tow, but had to purchase a lot while there. Paul and Brett ran around like crazy people for almost a whole day attempting to track down things like frozen green chiles, large mixing bowls and other small cooking equipment items and perishable foods. We stayed in a janky but pleasant little duplex in the shadow of the Stratosphere, so we were super close to the event space at the Fremont St. Experience, which was a very odd place: modern radio country music blared over the entire street area while patriotic videos meant to rouse our true American spirit (Paul is Australian) blasted across the street-long video screen above our heads. Casinos were selling liquor on the street and dazed tourists walked around sipping super fruity frozen drinks, wandering into glitzy casinos as they passed.


When we arrived at the competition space the morning of, we immediately started drinking. We were in VEGAS and it was GO TIME! Competitors with tshirts emblazoned with cutesy team names scurried around everywhere, some even sprinting to the judge’s table with their dishes, turning in just before their time was up. We got to our table and set up our station with our various containers of knives and ladles, chicharonnes, Hot Cheetos, mysterious science-y looking ingredients and cheese. Lots and lots of cheese.

I was the cleaner-up-er and the beer-ferryer during most of the cooking process: organizing, stirring, wiping up, finding ingredients, retrieving libations from casinos (two jumbo beers in hand, one gripped in my front teeth). The Cream Team must not go thirsty!


The first dish up was our ‘Craft’ Dinner Mac and Cheese, which, I have to honestly say, was the best mac and cheese they have made in all of their trials. The best mac and cheese I may have ever had, ever. Texas Hot Guts-style sausage was crumbled into creamy cheesy pasta shells and topped with chiffonade bacon, a chicharrones/Hot Cheeto dust and diced green onions. Paul and Brett plated it up, simply, in bowls on silver trays, and turned it in with plenty of time to spare. One dish down, one (or two if we SUPER-advanced) to go. High fives all around and more beer!


Now onto dish two: ‘Chilly’ Con Queso. There was a lot of mixing, and heating, and measuring of mysterious white powders. I must have been ferrying a lot of beer at this point, because I don’t remember much but stirring the milky mixture on the stove and the crazy smoke from the addition of dry ice to the mixer, turning that liquid gold into queso ice cream. We served the ‘Chilly’ Con Queso in a freeze-able shot glass, topped with a long red pepper and spiked with a thick fried corn tortilla strip. They looked delightful, everything went smoothly, the queso ice cream was on point and all we could do is clean up and hope for the best…


This story to be continued…

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Queso Kings Forever

Last year’s Quesoff win was a surprise, but a hard-earned result for sure. There was much hemming and hawing over the approach… a roux-based queso? One with beer? What about getting all gastronomical with sodium citrate? Strong cheese or mild cheese? What KIND of cheese? It was all a little baffling at first, at least for me. But they persisted, and my stomach remained leaden with cheese for the previous few months while testing and trials commenced.

This year they knew they had to come up with a super creative idea to ‘one-up’ their entries from last year: a Baby’s On Fire spicy queso and a Cheezy Hot Gutz meaty queso. Something different, but tasty enough to actually win. And people were definitely skeptical when Brett told them they’d be making a queso ice cream (along with a Cajun Boudain sausage queso) that was real ice cream that you actually ate with a tortilla chip.

ice cream magic (with dry ice)

Myself, and our neighbors/friends Dollie and Alan, along with a smattering of other willing taste-testers, judged queso ice cream attempts for a couple of months. As delicious as it was, a little saucer full was more than plenty. It tasted JUST LIKE queso + ice cream. Brilliant! And the boudain queso was chock full of real deal homemade boudain sausage that Paul cranked out. We had many people coming back to nab another taste.

I’m not sure if anyone else has attempted this feat, but with a little internet searching we definitely found more than a few cheese ice creams. As far as we can tell, The Cream Team is a pioneer in the ice cream world with their queso (the Mexican kind you dip chips in and is usually spicy) ice cream concoction.

makin' that queso ice cream

SPOILER ALERT There were tons of people in line at all times, many asking us if we were the ones with the queso ice cream, and The Cream Team won Best in the Wildcard Category for that entry! And again, for the second year in a row, we win Fun Fun Fun Fest Tickets! Woooo!

See more photos in my Flickr set.




queso ice cream cup

via Brett Spangler






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Cream Team Strikes Again

The Cream Team is on a roll! Fresh off the Chili Bowl win, Brett and his cohort Paul CZ entered the Mac and Cheeze Takedown at Shangri-la. Weeks of preparation helped Brett refine his ultimate cheesy recipe, and consequently made me utterly sick of it (a feat I never thought possible).

He found his secret ingredient, tested many kinds and ages of cheese, and concocted many different toppings before finally deciding on the right set of ratios and ingredients. A special thanks goes out to our friends Dollie and Alan for being the cheesiest of guinea pigs!

Screen Shot 2014-03-24 at 2.41.18 PM

And whaddya know it? The Cream Team won! They won the 1st place People’s Choice Award, with a haul of kitchen gear (including a 12 qt food processor) as the spoils.

“Cream Team won first place for a delectably smooth concoction entitled “Science B-tches.” The secret ingredient? Sodium citrate, which turned the six-cheese blend of vintage cheddars to a Velveeta-like consistency (the same duo just won the Quesoff this summer, too).” – Austin Culturemap


First, the Quesoff, then the Chili Bowl, and now this?! I’m a proud wifey and  the ultimate taste-tester.

Our friend Mary made a DELICIOUS mac and cheese ice cream sundae that knocked my socks off and she nabbed a pretty prize herself!

And just for all you cheesy lovers, here’s the recipe:

‘Science, Bitch’ Mac and Cheese by The Cream Team (Brett Spangler and Paul Czarkowski)

Makes enough to feed 6-­8 people.

530g (about 2 1/4 cups) whole milk
22g sodium citrate
350g Tillamook Extra Sharp Vintage Cheddar, shredded
280g extremely sharp Cheddar (1­2 year old), shredded
140g Gruyere, shredded
454g (about five 16oz boxes) dry pasta of your choice; shells or pasta with texture work great!
1 cup (two sticks) butter, melted
2 large sweet onions, diced into small/medium pieces
4 cups slightly stale sourdough breadcrumbs
Olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup parsley, minced
1/2 lb bacon
Fresh cracked pepper
Jalapeno powder
Cayenne powder

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.


Cook pasta per directions on package until al dente. Drain the pasta and shock it in ice water, then toss with 1/2 cup (half the called-for amount) melted butter. Melt 1/2 cup butter in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook over low heat until the onions are caramelized and gooey. Add salt to taste. Mix pasta into the onion mixture.


Add the milk, sodium citrate, jalapeno powder, cayenne powder and fresh cracked pepper to a three quart or similar sauce pan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer. Add shredded cheeses to the milky mixture one handful at a time and whisk until melted. Once the cheese has been incorporated into the milk mixture blend it with an immersion blender (stick blender) for 30-45 seconds, or until the cheese/milk mixture is completely emulsified.

Bread crumb topping

We made our own bread, but you can use any high quality sourdough that is a day or two old. Mix the bread crumbs, olive oil, garlic, parsley, and salt/pepper to taste in an oven proof pan or baking dish. Bake at 375 degrees until lightly toasted, about 15 mins.

Bacon topping

Chiffonade, or slice into short little ribbons, the bacon. Deep fry in canola oil heated to about 325 degrees until crispy. Fold the cheese mixture into the pasta mixture until well coated. Salt to taste (ours didn’t need any at this point). Top each serving with breadcrumbs and bacon. Enjoy!

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Bachelorettin’ it up with Ranch Style Bean Frito Salad

This isn’t a food blog. That’s really my husband‘s forte. But I couldn’t resist posting about one of my favorite meals growing up that has stuck with me way into adulthood! It’s easy, cheap, and something I can make for myself when hubby (ahem, the chef of the household) is gone away out of town on business. I actually made this for myself last night, as Chef Brett is in Seattle for business this week. It’s great as a lunch take-a-long as well!


Now, if you aren’t from Texas you may not understand the importance of the much-revered Ranch Style bean. I will admit, albeit not entirely pridefully, that I’ve eaten Ranch Style beans mixed into macaroni and cheese, with tortilla chips, poured over rice with cheese, and most often in a salad with Fritos. Yes, Fritos. Behold the infamous Ranch Style Bean Frito Salad…

*I’m super intrigued by fave Lisa Fain’s, of the Homesick Texan, homemade Ranch Style bean recipe!

Frito Salad photo from


Ranch Style Bean Frito Salad

Some variations exist. I’ve noted how WE make it at home, though the traditional recipe is slightly different. I’m sure French dressing would work and straight pinto beans would taste fine… I just prefer it this way.

A big ole thing of salad (mixed greens, kale, spinach, romaine… whatever you prefer)
1 red onion, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped (or cherry tomatoes cut in half)
1 cup cheddar cheese, grated or cubed
1 can Ranch Style beans (jalapeno or sweet onion variations can be used) — DO NOT DRAIN!
1 small bottle Catalina salad dressing
1 bag (regular size) Fritos

Optional Add-Ins
thinly sliced radishes
fresh corn
chopped avocado
thinly sliced pepperoncinis
jalapeno slices
chopped bell pepper
queso fresco or cotija

Toss the greens, onion, tomato, cheese and other add-ins together in a big bowl. Dump in the Ranch Style beans (including most of the can sauce if preferred – which I DO prefer). Dump in the Catalina dressing and Fritos based on your dressing to corn chip to salad to bean preferences. Using a large spoon or similar, gently toss/fold the wet ingredients into the previously tossed ingredients.

Serve in individual bowls and garnish with a sprinkle of sea salt and several cracks of fresh pepper.

This, my friends, is tasty and trashy in the most southern of ways… I love it! It’s a dish that even this wife, whose specialty is mac and cheese with tuna and peas, can master. Long live Ranch Style beans!

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