Product review: Biggest Loser Simply Sensible meals

Chef JimNBC’s “The Biggest Loser” isn’t just a hit reality TV show–it’s become big business with cookbooks, workout videos, and now with easy-to-prepare refrigerated meals that you can buy in your grocery store. These aren’t frozen meals, and they aren’t the same meal plan fare we reviewed recently. These are meals anyone can buy, and nuke at home, putting a healthy option dinner on the table in minutes.

The PR company for the meals sent us four of them to sample, and quite honestly, they were all very good. Some stood out and some had things that stood out in a bad way, but for the most part, it’s hard to find food you can have on the table this fast that is this healthy that you don’t make yourself or eat in a restaurant. Here is the breakdown of what we tried….

Beef Tips with Gravy and Brown Rice–The meat was fairly tender, and while the sauce lists garlic high on the ingredient list, the garlic did not overpower the meal at all. The sauce was flavorful, and despite the fact that the rice was sort of undercooked and grainy, I didn’t want to stop eating this one.

Mediterraean Chicken with Bowtie Pasta–This meal had a strong red bell pepper flavor, and the chicken was surprisingly moist and tender. The pasta, like the rice in the beef tips meal, was kind of dry and grainy, even served with the sauce from the chicken.

Pot Roast and Gray with Mashed Potatoes–This one was a bit baffling, mainly because the meat was one big chunk instead of several little ones, but maybe that is the authentic feel they wanted. It was certainly tender meat that you could break apart with a fork, and was quite delicious. It was also stringy the way pot roast should be. However, the potatoes, which were supposed to be real potatoes, were bland and also grainy. I also would have liked to see more carrots in the dish.

Zing Chicken with Brown Rice–This one had a really nice sweet and spicy kick–maybe a bit too sweet for a “healthy” meal, but it sure tasted good. The chicken was tender, and just like the others, I would have liked more vegetables and the rice was dry and grainy. But overall this was maybe my favorite of the four.

If you have a chance to try these Simply Sensible meals, you can buy them and store them in the fridge for months before having to eat or freeze them….and they are really great meals to have on hand if you need something quick and healthy in your fridge.

Super Bowl Spread II

Here is last year’s Super Bowl spread post, and the second in a series of three. That’s because next week we will unveil a new Super Bowl spread on Grub For Guys.

Buffalo Turkey Meatballs, Steak Bites, Olive Poppers, Smoky Chipotle Dip, and Fiery Snack Mix

Hey guys….last year, we introduced you to some dude-friendly Super Bowl eats that you could pile on your plate before settling in for kickoff. This year, we took that concept a bit further, but without making things any more difficult than need be. Because really, you’ve got all that pre-game stuff to watch, and you have to drink a few beers to prime your gut for the barrage of awesome food that will ensue. Well, that’s just a suggestion. Meanwhile, here is what we came up with for Super Bowl 2010. All recipes serve four, so multiply them accordingly…….

Buffalo Turkey Meatballs
You know, I think I have published more than a few recipes that feature Buffalo chicken sauce. That’s because for guys, that spicy, tangy, peppery awesomeness stimulates our salivary glands like a Victoria’s Secret model. Well, here’s a way to get that wing sauce flavor without the mess of chicken bones.

2 stalks celery, finely chopped
3-4 baby carrot sticks, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lb. Ground turkey
1 egg
1/3 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup Buffalo chicken sauce (we like Buffalo Wild Wings medium sauce), and more for dipping
2 oz. crumbled blue cheese
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Heat oil in a large, ovenproof skillet over medium heat and then add celery and carrots. Sautee for about 5 minutes, or until they begin to soften. Allow to cool slightly, then place in a bowl with turkey, egg, wing sauce, blue cheese, breadcrumbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Form into 1-inch meatballs. Re-heat skillet, which should have some remnants of olive oil left, and add half of the meatballs, browning on all sides. Put meatballs on a plate and add second batch, browning them on all sides. Then put reserve meatballs back in skillet and place in oven. Bake for 10-12 more minutes, or until cooked through. Heat about a cup of wing sauce in a small saucepan and serve meatballs with a few spoonfuls of sauce on top.

Steak Bites
This one is super easy, and on Super Bowl Sunday, you need easy!

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A can a week: Blue Diamond Blazin’ Buffalo Wing almonds

Chef JimWell, this is the original “a can a week,” as the Blue Diamond Almond folks coined that phrase a few decades ago with their “A can a week, is all we ask” TV campaigns. And with nuts falling back into our good carb-hating graces again, Blue Diamond has expanded their line of almonds a lot in the past few years.

They first introduced their BOLD line which included flavors such as Chili Lime, Jalapeno Smokehouse and my personal favorite, Wasabi and Soy. Seriously, when that Wasabi flavor came out, I bought a case directly from the company–no joke.

Anyway, they have now introduced a flavor that is also near and dear to my heart–Blazin’ Buffalo Wing. If you love wings and if you’re like most folks who love wings, you’re addicted to the flavor of the sauce so much, that when you smell it or think of it your mouth waters on command. That’s how I am, and if you are, these nuts are for you….no pun intended.

However, if you eat these Blue Diamond beauties too fast –crunching and swallowing right away–you might miss the flavor of the powdered wing sauce on these almonds. So best to savor them slowly and let the taste of wing sauce linger on your tongue–yeah, i said “linger on your tongue”…go ahead and laugh, but these nuts are no laughing matter. They are bold and delicious and you should go try them, or buy a case just in time for Super Bowl week.

Worst Cooks Heats Up

So, how bad of a cook are you? Are you so bad that you’d be willing to go on national TV, show the world how bad you are, and then compete with other chefs who are equally miserable? That’s the premise of “Worst Cooks in America,” a reality show on Food Network now in its second season. The one thing, of course, that these contestants have going for them, is that they are being taught how to cook by world class chefs–who this season are returning team leader Anne Burrell, and also newcomer and host of “Restaurant: Impossible,” Robert Irvine. Of course, last season it was Anne vs. Beau MacMillan, and for some reason Beau’s contract was not renewed (we really dug this brash New Englander, but they went and replaced him with a brash Brit!).

This season, they began with 16 contestants, and each week two are eliminated after a challenge, one from each team by their team leader. Last night was episode 4, and we’re now down to four chefs on each team. The winning chef will take home $25,000, but the final challenge will involve cooking for food critics who don’t know they are being fed a meal cooked by one of the “worst chefs in America” who by then have been taught some mad skills by Anne and Robert.

The idea behind this show is brilliant, and it’s really remarkable how fast these chefs come along, some of them faster than others. In fact, just like last season, the finalists will probably have a hard time convincing the judges that they were so horrible in the kitchen when Season 2 began.

If you haven’t seen this show and are looking for a reality cooking show fix, check out “Worst Cooks in America” on Food Network on Sunday nights. I mean, football season is basically over, and were you really going to watch “Desperate Housewives” with your significant other?

Meatball Stuffed Eggplant

Here is a good one I ran on Grub for Guys a couple years back. This is another great recipe to try on a lazy weekend in the winter. Enjoy!

This is a good recipe for a lazy Sunday when you have an hour to whip something up, and it’s relatively easy and good for you. Eggplant can be bitter and tricky to work with, so choose ones that are firm but not too firm, and make sure to roast them as directed in the recipe before preparing the dish.

2-3 medium eggplants
1 Tbsp. olive oil
8-10 turkey meatballs (I like Purdue, but thawed frozen ones should work fine), finely chopped
½ green pepper, seeded and chopped
1-2 cloves garlic
¼ cup chopped black olives
1/3 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
½ cup prepared spaghetti sauce
½ cup + 2 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese
½ tsp. Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pierce eggplant several times with a fork and roast on a baking sheet for 20-25 minutes, turning occasionally. Remove from oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Cut ends off eggplant and slice in half lengthwise. Scoop out pulp into a bowl and save enough to make 1 to 1½ cups. Place eggplant shells on a baking sheet and set aside. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet and add eggplant pulp, sautéing for about 4-5 minutes or until it’s reduced a bit and darkened in color. Add chopped meatballs, green pepper, garlic, black olives, spaghetti sauce, Italian seasoning and salt and pepper, and continue cooking for another 3-4 minutes. Turn off heat and stir in ½ cup Parmesan and bread crumbs. Carefully spoon eggplant mixture into eggplant shells, dividing evenly, and sprinkle each with the remaining 2 Tbsp. Parmesan. Bake in 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes and serve. Makes 2 large or 4 smaller servings.

Serve with crusty bread and some good red wine.

Re-post of an interview with Food Network’s Michael Symon

Last year I had the privelege of interviewing celebrity chef Michael Symon from Food Network and Cleveland, Ohio’s Lola Bistro as well as several other endeavors on Here is a re-post of that interview….enjoy!

Iron Chef Michael Symon rose to prominence in the culinary world in the ‘90’s, and even hosted a show on the Food Network called The Melting Pot. Fast forward thirteen years, and Symon has several successful restaurants in his native Cleveland, Ohio (Lola Bistro being the most notable). And he was the winner of the inaugural “Next Iron Chef” season back in 2007, joining the ranks of Bobby Flay, Mario Batali, Cat Cora and Masaharu Morimoto as Iron Chefs on the network. Symon also has published a book, Michael Symon: Live to Cook. We had the chance to talk to Symon recently about being a successful restaurateur, as well as being a Food Network star and a huge Cleveland sports fan.
Michael Symon: Hello?

Bullz-Eye: Michael?

MS: Yes.

BE: Hey, it’s Mike Farley with Before we get to the interview, I wanted to tell you I lived in Cleveland for ten years.

MS: Oh nice.

BE: So you’ve really risen to national prominence in the last few years after winning “The Next Iron Chef.” How did it feel to essentially become a famous Food Network personality over night like you did?

MS: It’s interesting. In the culinary world I was always pretty well known nationally. And the restaurant and myself have been fortunate enough to win a lot to national awards and get exposure in that way. Obviously we’ve always had some good success here in Cleveland. It changes a lot. I had a show on the Food Network from ’97 to ’99, so I got a little bit of a taste of it then, and walked away from it and continued to focus on restaurants again. I think having that early, (well, Food Network wasn’t nearly as big then as it is now), but getting some of that early exposure helped me understand and deal with what’s happened since “Iron Chef.”

BE: OK. What show was that?

MS: It was called “The Melting Pot.”

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Super Bowl Spread I

A couple years back, I posted some Super Bowl recipes on Grub For Guys. Since I did this in 2009 and 2010, I’ll post the first one for you here to make for the championship games this weekend, and the 2010 version for Super Bowl week. Enjoy!

Grub For Guys’ Super Bowl Spread
Slow Roasted BBQ Ribs, Spicy Salami Sliders, Killer Taco Dip, Veggie Panini, and Savory Cilantro Chili Corn Muffins
By Mike Farley

One of the best things about Super Bowl Sunday, aside from the actual football game and even the commercials, is the license to serve and eat great party food. If you like the standard pizza and wing fare, there is nothing wrong with that. But if you want to go a little above and beyond for your Super Bowl party, I’ve come up with some great finger foods that in some cases will leave you with another hand to hold a cold beer. Most of these are real easy, even the ribs, which are simple but time consuming. But with kickoff at around 6:20 ET, you have all day to prepare anyway. So with that, here we go…..

Slow Roasted BBQ Ribs
Does the thought of making ribs with homemade BBQ sauce intimidate you? I felt the same way, until I watched Guy Fieri and Tyler Florence do it on the Food Network. The key is patience, because the actual cooking process is pretty simple.

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A can a week: Muir Glen Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chef JimI’ve been really making an effort to eat better in 2011–and by that I mean healthier. You may remember I posted something about buying bigger pants just before the holidays, and I’m still wearing them–but trying to eat less carbs, eat more produce and get to the gym. Don’t worry…..I still love fatty fried foods and bacon, so there will be plenty of that in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, here is a review of a soup I tried today that tastes pretty damn good for being good for you, Muir Glen Organic Chicken Tortilla soup.

It’s not like I go out of my way to eat organic, but I picked up this soup because it’s all natural–the ingredient list if fairly long but you won’t find any crap listed on it. It’s one large serving, though the can claims it’s two. But still, you’re eating quality food.

This soup is a rich tomato/chicken broth with black beans, corn, and giant chunks of chicken meat. It’s also a tad spicy, but being me, I had to add some hot sauce. It wasn’t overly salty or not salty enough, and the only spice drawback is that the flavor of cumin kind of dominated-and cumin is not for everyone (just ask my wife, who calls it the “armpit” spice).

Overall, this soup tastes great and is good for you, with 14 grams of protein and 6 grams of fiber per can. My only real complaint? There are no tortillas in it, and it’s called chicken tortilla soup. There is corn, and there is toasted corn flour to thicken it, but no actual tortillas. It didn’t affect the flavor, but still…why call it that?

So if you’re looking for a healthy option for lunch that tastes great, pick up a can of Muir Glen soup…..I found it in the health food section of our local grocery store. And I’ll see you on the treadmill!

Chipotle Mac & Cheese and Tex-Mex Meatballs

This is another great dish (or two dishes) to try during cold weather months, and is especially great for football-watching-food. I posted this on Grub for Guys a couple years ago. Enjoy and let me know what you think….

Two Spicy Dishes That Explode With Flavor:Chipotle Mac & Cheese and Tex-Mex Meatballs w/Spicy Tomatillo Sauce

Guys, if you like spicy food the way I do, I’ve created two dishes that you’re going to love. Skill level is easy to moderate on the mac & cheese, and a bit more complex for the meatballs, but worth it. I’ve tried to give you a classic mac & cheese with a twist, and a summery, fiery meatball dish that is different and made for the bold taste buds of the common dude. Enjoy!

Chipotle Mac & Cheese

8 oz. macaroni
4 small to medium chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely chopped
1 cup whole milk
8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese
8 oz. Monterey Jack cheese
¼ cup flour
½ stick butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cook macaroni, drain and set aside. Melt butter in large skillet, then add flour and stir for about 20-30 seconds. Add milk and whisk to break up chunks of flour mixture. When mixture is warm and starts to thicken, add cheese. Stir until cheese melts, and then add chipotle peppers. Put cooked macaroni in a large bowl, and pour cheese mixture over it. Stir to combine and then pour into a greased casserole dish. Bake for about 20 minutes or until top is lightly browned. Serves four, or like previous recipes I’ve posted here, two very hungry guys.

Tex-Mex Meatballs w/Spicy Tomatillo Sauce

For Meatballs
1 lb. ground beef
2 medium ears cooked corn on the cob
2 jalapeno peppers
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 slice white bread, cut into cubes and soaked in ½ cup milk

For Sauce
3-4 tomatillos, papery skin removed and rinsed
1 jalapeno pepper
¼ of a large red onion
¼ cup chopped cilantro
½ medium avocado
½ tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. black pepper
juice of one lime

For the sauce, spray the tomatillos, two jalapenos (one for sauce, one for meatballs) and red onion with cooking spray and grill over medium heat until the skins on tomatillos and pepper turn brown and begin to blister and onion lightly browns. Cut off tough core of tomatillos and remove the stem and seeds of jalapenos. Throw the vegetables in a blender, saving one jalapeno for the meatballs, and add remaining sauce ingredients. Blend for a few seconds until smooth.

For the meatballs, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut the corn off the cob, and chop the remaining grilled jalapeno. Combine in a large mixing bowl along with beef, cilantro, chili powder, salt and pepper. Then take the soaked bread and add to the bowl, discarding the milk. Mix thoroughly with your hands and shape into 1 ½ inch meatballs. Brown meatballs in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for about 3-4 minutes. Then move meatballs to a baking sheet and bake in the oven for about ten more minutes, or until cooked through.

Pour some sauce on a plate and top with a few meatballs. You should have about 20 meatballs in all, which will serve between two and four people. Serve with a frosty Mexican beer, and trust me, you’ll need it to wash down both of these dishes!

DVD review: Bitter Feast

Chef JimLet me preface this by saying I’m not a horror flick guy. I think you either are or you’re not, and I’m not. But that said, when “Bitter Feast” was pitched to me, it was pitched as “a horror flick for foodies.” And of course, they hook you in by telling you Mario Batali, the same Mario Batali who is an Iron Chef on Food Network, stars in the film. Well, okay, why not then?

So the story, created by Joe Maggio, takes place in what appears to be New York City, but I’m not sure that is ever referenced. Chef Peter Grey’s (James LeGros) world starts caving in around him when his TV show is canceled, and then he receives a bad review by notorious food blogger JT Franks (Joshua Leonard), which then leads to poor attendance at the restaurant where he is executive chef, owned by a fellow named Gordon (Batali). Gordon fires Grey, which is hilarious only because we get to see Mario Batali drop F-bombs like nobody’s business. And he fires him mostly because of that review.

Of course, this sends Grey into a tizzy and he can only suppress his rage for so long. We also find out along the way that Grey killed his older brother as a young boy in self-defense, so we know what he’s capable of. Franks, meanwhile, is having his own problems at home after his 2-year old son dies from cancer, and he and his wife are having problems coping and also getting along themselves. Grey knocks Franks out in a dark alley and drags him to what appears to be a cabin in the middle of nowhere, probably meant to be upstate New York.

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