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Product review: Planter’s Tailgate snacks

Chef JimFootball season starts next week–next Thursday night to be exact, with the Super Bowl champion Packers hosting the Saints. Then the Sunday after that, it’s the first NFL Sunday. Of course, this weekend marks the start of the college football season. And fans of both college and pro football share one thing in common–they love to tailgate, and that means lots of good food and good drink.

So with that, Planter’s is putting out some great new products for you to enjoy munching while watching the games, and they were kind enough to send a few for me to try…..

Honey Smoked Tailgate Almonds–Smoked almonds have long been a favorite of mine, but these are unique. They combine the smoky flavor of smoke-flavored almonds with the glazed sweetness of honey roasted nuts. So you have a sweet and smoky combo that, quite honestly, makes it hard not to eat the whole can. Good thing they sent me giant 19 oz. cans!

Tailgate Nut Mix--This is a smoky, salty combo of chipotle almonds and peanuts, corn nuts and pretzels. This has more of a subtle smoky taste, but there is more of a savory, almost tangy flavor that makes this just an explosive (though not spicy) snack. And again, I”m glad there are 19 full ounces of this stuff!

There is also pumpkin spice almonds, which are not my thing, but definitely a fall season item.

So go grab a couple of these cans and happy football season to you all!

Easy summer pasta with corn and tomatoes

I submitted a recipe last year for the Dane County Farmer’s Market newsletter using fresh, locally grown produce as well as ravioli from RP’s here in Madison. So here is an adaptation of that recipe, since summer is winding down and you’re looking for ways to stretch the last of the sweet corn as well as your tomatoes and zucchini that are very much in season right now.

Ingredients
1 lb. dry or fresh pasta
2 ears corn on the cob
¼ cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large tomato, chopped
½ cup diced zucchini
¼ cup minced basil leaves
1/3 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Cook the pasta according to package directions, and drain, reserving about ¼ cup of the cooking liquid. Cook corn in salted boiling water for about 6 minutes. Drain and cool, then cut off kernels and set aside. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and add the garlic, fry for 15-20 seconds. Add tomato, corn and zucchini and cook for 3-4 minutes. (Yes, it’s a lot of oil, but it will be absorbed by the pasta and cheese, and olive oil is supposedly good for your arteries.) Add the basil leaves, then the pasta, cooking water, and finally the cheese. Heat for a minute or two or until warmed through, add the salt and pepper to taste, and serve. Serves 3-4

Product review: Wheat Thins Stix

Wheat Thins have always been an under-the-radar, good snack–at least in my opinion….with a salty, slighty nutty and sweet taste that makes it hard not to eat half the box. So when I was approached about two new flavors of Wheat Thins Crunch Stix, I happily obliged. I’d never had the Honey Wheat or Fire Roasted Tomato flavors before, which came first, so I was trying these two new flavors first.

Before I talk about these flavors themselves, first let me say that I was pleasantly surprised that whole grain wheat is the first ingredient, something you don’t see often in snack foods (and there are a whopping 11 grams of whole grains per serving). There is also no high fructose corn syrup, another thing you don’t see often in snack foods these days. It also comes in a cool shaped box that you can open like a tub of popcorn. And now for the taste test…..

Chipotle Pepper--A mildly spicy and smoky taste, with a nice balance to the slightly nutty and sweet flavor reminiscent of Wheat Thins crackers. There is a faint tomato taste as well and since tomato powder is one of the ingredients, my taste buds did not deceive me. However, if you’re looking for these to knock your spice socks off, that isn’t going to happen. But that means more people in your family will enjoy them.

Cinnamon Kick–Amazingly, these might be even spicier than the Chipotle flavor, courtesy of jalapeno extract. But the combination of salty, sweet, spicy and of course cinnamon are a really pleasant flavor explosion. Imagine having a cinnamon roll with a hint of cayenne, and that’s these snack stix in a nutshell (well, not literally).

Anyway, if you’re a snack food junkie (and that I DO mean literally!), you should check these out.

Fried chicken

I’m thinking of doing fried chicken week at Mikey’s Kitchen sometime soon. I also still want to do bacon week. But before any of that, I wanted to talk about how perfect this meal of fried chicken, fries, cole slaw and a roll was at Hubbard Avenue Diner here in Middleton (a suburb of Madison). Fried chicken sounds easy, but while I’ve never actually tried to make it (that will change soon too), I almost have to order it when I see it on a menu. And I did just that recently for lunch on a Saturday at Hubbard–and they have it on special Thursday and Saturday.

This chicken was so perfectly crispy and moist, the fries were also perfectly crispy on the outside and soft inside, and the cole slaw was creamy and more importantly, had no onions in it. The roll was kind of eh, but I can let that slide.

If you live in Madison, chances are you have eaten at Hubbard Ave. Diner (note: they have not offered me a free meal or anything to post this–it’s truly on my own), and it’s almost always exceptional. They have great burgers, sandwiches and mac & cheese as well as killer breakfast items. Two other favorite items of mine there are pie (many different kinds, which they are known for) and quite possibly the best bloody mary I have ever tasted.

But now that my mouth is watering after seeing that pic of fried chicken again, I realize that today is Thursday and Hubbard Ave. Diner is 15-20 minutes away. See ya!

Food TV news roundup

Here is some food TV news, and if you have some of the reality shows on DVR, consider this a spoiler alert and click away!

On Food Network this past Sunday, the “Sandwich King” Jeff Mauro took the title of Next Food Network Star. Mauro had a fresh and interesting concept, but more importantly, the judges consistently liked his food, and Mauro, who has worked as a stand-up comic, had a funny and unique delivery that elevated him above other contenders. Mauro beat out Susie Jimenez’ Spice it Up Mexican-inspired concept and second runner-up Vic Moea and his Mama’s Boy theme. Mauro’s show, aptly titled Sandwich King, will premiere this Sunday, August 21.

Another season finale in the food world takes place tonight, as Fox’s Masterchef crowns their Season 2 champ. I had to break my own rule to write about this since I did not see last night’s episode or half of the one before that, and by reading the press release found out that Ben Starr was eliminated last week, though admittedly I still don’t know which finalist was sent home Monday. The final four are Christian Collins, Suzy Singh, Adrien Nieto and Jennifer Behm–four very different, distinct personalities with different culinary perspectives. Thankfully this show continues to excite, unlike Hell’s Kitchen, which jumped the shark about four seasons ago.

This fall, Bravo’s awesome Top Chef franchise returns with an all-new season taking place in Texas, with new judges Emeril Lagasse and Hugh Acheson alongside regulars Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons and Padma Lakshmi.

Finally, I’m looking forward to watching the screener I received of WE TV’s new series, Family Restaurant, which they say is “drama meets dimsum.” This one premieres tonight so you might get to see it before I do. Either way, let’s re-convene next week to discuss.

Thanks for reading!

Review: High Plains Bison

I ran this review on the Bullz-Eye blog and wanted to share it with my Mikey’s Kitchen readers too.

I was a bit nervous about trying what you might consider more of a game-type meat, but the parallel to beef in flavor was remarkable and maybe even better, and with the exception of the sausage, much lower in fat content.

So consider trying High Plains Bison, it’s worth checking out!

Grilled vegetables over cheese grits

I’m not a big seafood guy, so this is my version of “shrimp and grits”–it’s grilled vegetables over cheese grits. It’s simple, satisfying and a great light meal for the summer months.

All you need are some grits, a good sharp cheddar cheese, and some veggies to throw on the grill. I had received an awesome box of produce from our CSA (community supported agriculture) from Driftless Organics–and in it were zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, onions and banana peppers among other things. So I used all of those as well as a red bell pepper I bought at the farmer’s market.

Here is what to do……cook grits according to package directions for four servings, and add 1 cup of shredded cheddar at the end of the cooking process. Stir until cheese melts and set aside.

Meanwhile, cut vegetables (enough for 4 servings) into large chunks, spray with olive oil or cooking spray, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill for 4-5 minutes, or until cooked through and slightly charred with nice grill marks. Divide grits among bowls, top with some veggies, and then throw a few cherry tomatoes on top (we also got these from Driftless…you can grill these too but it’s not necessary), and then splash with hot sauce.

That’s it. This is an easy and really tasty dish. Of course, the sharper the cheese, the better. And the hotter the hot sauce, the better. Enjoy!

Summer Tomato Sandwich

One of the best parts of summer is the fresh tomato. And I do mean fresh, as in the ones you get from a farmer’s market, farm stand on the side of the road, or CSA. Or of course, the ones you grow in your backyard. I wrote recently how I have a pet peeve about crappy grocery store tomatoes, because in grocery stores, it’s always the middle of winter when it comes to tomatoes.

But for as awesome as fresh tomatoes are and the recipes you can make range from pasta to pizza to salads, there is nothing as simple and delicious as this–the open face tomato sandwich. You toast a couple slices of bread, slather some good mayo, put a few tomato slices on top and sprinkle with salt–maybe a bit of pepper too, but that’s optional. That’s it. Of course, you can close it up like a traditional sandwich, but it’s better open faced for some reason. And sorry health nuts and low-carb supporters, it’s always best with a good white bread.

Man, I’m hungry.

Mikey’s breakfast bowl

Breakfast bowls have become all the rage these days, and I’ve decided to join the party–with rice as the backdrop. Here is my version, and we’ll called it Mikey’s Breakfast Bowl and it serves one (but you can multiply it out).

Ingredients
3/4 cup cooked brown rice
1/3 cup cooked pinto beans, from can, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup chopped smoked sausage or ham
1/4 cup chopped avocado
3 cherry tomatoes, halved
2 eggs
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
Hot sauce

Directions
Warm rice in microwave according to package directions (Easy to microwave rice is everywhere now, but I love Trader Joe’s brand–it comes in pouches that are frozen and microwaveable in 3 minutes). Stir in beans and nuke for another 20 seconds. Stir in avocado, tomatoes, and sausage or ham. Meanwhile, spray a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray, and crack two eggs into the pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for 2-3 minutes or until the whites of egg are set and not runny. Slide eggs into bowl, and crack the yolks to let the egg run into the bowl. Sprinkle with cheese, cilantro, and hot sauce, and serve.

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