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Bacon Week is coming

I think I’ve been talking about this for as long as I’ve been writing about food–having a Bacon Week. I think it is time, and I think the time is next week. It will be all bacon, all the time, and we’ll have recipes, ideas, man-love or other random thoughts revolving around our favorite part of the pig.

Last month some of Mrs. Mikey’s relatives came to visit, and being Jewish, her uncle told me that he’d never had bacon in his life. I realize that a large portion of the population has not because of religious beliefs, being vegetarian, or because their doctors won’t allow them to eat something with that sort of fat content. But I felt very sad for him at that very time, and I think that those of us who have come to love and appreciate the taste of bacon would feel the same way.

Heck, even Mikey Junior (not his real name) loves bacon, and he’s four years old. True story, I asked him today what he wanted for lunch. He walks to the fridge, opens the meat drawer and hands me the package of bacon. That’s my boy. Anyway, stay with us and buckle in your bacon belts! (yeah, I just said that).

Chicago meal #3: Graham Elliot

Mrs. Mike and I walked off our lunch at Frontera Grill by taking a leisurely 90 minute walk from our hotel to the park with the giant reflective bean and then to our final Chicago meal of the weekend, dinner at Graham Elliot. You may know Mr. Elliot, first from Top Chef Masters, and then on the hit Fox show Masterchef, in which Graham is a judge along with Gordon Ramsay and Joe Bastianich.

Elliot, still only in his early 30′s, is known for interesting and exciting cuisine, and when we showed up at his restaurant, the atmosphere from the start was interesting. The music was hip and sort of blaring, almost like it was a nightclub. Then the menus arrived, and the list of items was a bit confusing, but again, extremely interesting.

We decided to go with the tasting menu–which would give us the chance to try small portions of many items from the menu. There were three levels of tasting–and we went with the first one, which they said would take about an hour and a half. There was a mid-level and a top level that was more of an event–but based on how large our lunch was, the smaller tasting menu would be perfect.

The server told us that the chef would bring us a few “extras” that were not listed on the menu, and if we desired, they would also bring us each a foie gras lollipop coated in watermelon Pop Rocks. Now, I’m not adventurous, but this was too weird to pass up.

But first, they brought an “extra”….a shot glass of watermelon consomme with mint and jalapeno oil. Oh, but before that, some popcorn with parmesan and truffle oil. Then came the lollipop–holy crap, that was the first time I’d had foie gras, and it was delicious, something I’d totally eat again. But the Pop Rocks gave it the most amazing contrast–creamy and fatty with popping candy in your mouth. Just crazy but delicious.

Next was the deconstructed Caesar salad–this was the one we had a hard time with–it was creative and cool looking–a nub of romaine with Parmesan, some dressing on the plate, and a brioche twinkie with marscarpone. But it also had a Spanish anchovy on top, and that tasted like it just came out of the ocean. We ate it, but blech! Next was the corn bisque, with lobster, toasted coquito and vanilla essence. This was an interesting contrast in flavors too, and one that totally worked. Yum.

Next up was an extra of “cucumber salad,” which consisted of tiny bits of cucumber with rice wine and sabayon. Pretty good, and it was what they might call a palate cleanser after the creamy soup. Then came the main courses–first the seafood dish, which was crispy seared halibut topped with bacon, leeks and haricot verts (thin green beans). I’m not a big seafood eater, but this was also very good–at least way better than the anchovy! Then it was the meat course–bison loin with an onion ring, baked bean puree and pepper salsa (pictured above)–it was unbelievable.

Then there were a few small dessert items–first, a homemade grape soda; then a flourless chocolate cake with root beer ice cream, port cherry and birch caramel. Wow, that was one of the highlights of our weekend. Finally, there was an extra–a small pistachio and coconut biscotti.

I love trying new and innovative cuisine, and this entire meal was that. If you are in Chicago and feeling adventurous, you have to try Graham Elliot–just make sure to make a reservation well in advance!

Chicago meal #2: Frontera Grill

It’s amazing how being away from your kid and pet for a night makes you sleep a few hours later than normal, but that’s what happened this past Saturday. Mrs. Mike and I slept off our Friday night food coma, grabbed some a small breakfast at the bagel shop downstairs in the hotel we were staying at, and then walked around town for a couple hours before arriving at Frontera Grill for our 1pm lunch reservation. If you’re not familiar, Frontera Grill is owned and operated by celebrity chef Rick Bayless, who is a Top Chef Master. And his MO is fresh and creative Mexican food. Even before I tell you what we had, my mouth is watering, the food was that freaking good and quite honestly, the highlight of our trip.

Chef JimFirst, after discussing that maybe we should forgo the alcohol and try to enjoy the food more, Mrs. Mike read in an article posted in the Frontera window that the cocktails are as good as the food. Well, duh. We’ll take two blue agave margaritas, please. You want to talk about fresh tasting, smooth and butt-kicking all at the same time? Man, were those tasty. And by tasty I mean tasty and butt-kicking.

Chef JimThen we shared an apps platter that had the following–cheese quesadillas, which were more like little empanadas; chicken and black bean taquitos; fresh guacamole and chips; tuna ceviche on tortilla chips; and a salad of jicama, pineapple and cucumber dusted with chili powder. Holy freaking crap. The quesadillas were fried pillows of deliciousness. The taquitos were also delicious, but had a semi-interesting flavor we couldn’t pinpoint. The guacamole was fresh and tasty. Even the chips were phenomenal. The ceviche was fresh and not in the least bit fishy, and I must say that even as I must say I don’t really eat or like seafood. But I would eat that again. And the jicama salad was something I’d order even as a meal–the chili powder, I’m sure, was homemade like everything else, and really brought the crisp jicama to life.

Chef JimFor the main course, Mrs. Mike had the sopitos–corn cakes with chorizo, chicken and scrambled eggs with black beans and cheese sauce. The one bite I had was delicious, but I want to tell you that my main course–the huevos vechios (I could not find this item on the menu online and will correct it when I confirm what it was called), was one of the ten best meals I’ve ever had. It was masa corn cakes with poached eggs, chorizo and a poblano cream sauce. It was spicy, and creamy and the eggs were done to perfection; plus, the chorizo was tangy and delicious and a few days later my mouth is still watering.

Chef JimFinally, we closed our meal with a dessert of zucchini donuts with chocolate sauce, cinnamon ice cream, candied zucchini and glazed walnuts. Damn. If that was borderline orgasmic reading it, imagine what it was like eating it. Yeah, it was that good.

Oh, two other things–we saw Bayless when he poked his head out of the kitchen to see what was going on in the restaurant. That was cool. And the homemade hot sauces (made fresh daily) were just unbelievable–especially the habanero one, that was equally tasty and explosive.

You know, when we go back to Chicago and intend to try more restaurants, I think I will insist that we return to Frontera Grill–maybe even for dinner this time if we can get in (I think you have to make reservations for dinner like 2-3 months in advance). And if you go there, you must eat at Frontera or Bayless’ other gem in the same location, Topolobampo. I know we’ll be back and maybe we’ll see you there.

Chicago meal number 1–The Purple Pig

Mrs. Mike and I rolled into Chicago last Friday night, sans kid–that meant that it didn’t matter how late we arrived, that we could just drop our luggage and go grab some grub. And we did just that as the clock struck 10pm. The first place we intended to check out was called The Purple Pig–and their theme is “swine, wine and cheese.” It sounded too funky and cool to pass up. So we were disappointed at the 60 minute wait. However, the hostess assured us that a lot of folks did not stay, so that it could be much less than 60 minutes.

We thought about not staying, but then decided to just have a drink and see what happened. Turns out 60 minutes was more like 3 minutes, and we were thrilled. Then we got a look at the crazy menu–which had sections such as appetizers, fried items, sandwiches, cheeses, sausages, and main courses. It is a tasting menu too, with most dishes being small portions that are meant to be shared.

Okay. So we ordered some wine, and then chose a few food items–salt roasted beets with goat cheese and pistachios; fried manchego cheese; fried olives with chorizo; a coppa, cheese and fennel panini; and a JLT–their take on a BLT with the J standing for “jowels,” i.e. pork cheeks, i.e. just real tender ham-like meat. Anyway, Mrs. Mike was willing to try the fried pig ear and/or the bone marrow, but not me. The jowels were the extent of my ambition.

Anyway, the beets were sweet, salty and had the creamy cheese–a crazy combination of flavors that just worked. The cheese was in squares and along with the really tasty olives were like sophisticated bar food. Seriously, that was some killer fried cheese. The panini was good, but the JLT was better–and the duck egg on top was the weirdest part of it. So much for tasting menus– we were rolling out of there, and ordered dessert to go–a nutella, banana and whipped cream panini–that I could not force a bite of until the following morning.

But the meal itself, and especially the experience, was a great start to our weekend in Chicago.

Chicago: foodie weekend

Greetings fellow readers of Mikey’s Kitchen. This past weekend Mrs. Mikey and I went to Chicago for the weekend, for the sole purpose of eating at some of the city’s great restaurants we have heard much about. The rest of this week will be devoted to talking about the meals we had–at The Purple Pig, Rick Bayless’ Frontera Grill, and Graham Elliot. There was some interesting food–stuff we would never try on any given day–but it was all good. So stay with me this week for the recap….

Product review: VeeV

Chef JimLet me preface this by saying I’m not big on liquor or mixed drinks. I like beer and I like wine, and sometimes a bloody Mary. But it might be difficult for me to tell you how one vodka or rum tastes over another. That said, when I received a bottle of a new product called Veev to try, I was intrigued. VeeV is a new liquor created by two brothers, and it’s made with one of the recently discovered superfruits, the acai (pronounced a-SIGH-ee) berry. The literature touts acai as the new pomegranate.

So over Labor Day weekend, when it was blazing hot outside, my wife and I decided to give VeeV and some of the recipes they included a try. We made the mojito and the “superfruit sangria.” The mojito was delicious–not too sweet and the kind of drink you have on a hot day in which you can’t even tell there is alcohol in it. That is a good thing and a bad thing, if you know what I mean. The sangria was made with red wine, cranberry juice and pomengranate juice, and it was refreshing too, but somehow not as tasty as the mojito. The materials included several more recipes including “skinny acai lemonade,” an “acai cosmo” and a “ginger fizz.” In other words, VeeV can be used as a substitute for many other clear liquors such as gin, vodka or tequila.

Being a superfruit beverage, there are no doubt claims about the benefits of the acai berry. Of course, assuming you will drink a lot of VeeV and receive a lot of health benefits might be misleading–however, VeeV probably does have a leg up on many other liquors in that regard. And hey, the bottom line is, it tastes really good–and there is still some summer and then Indian summer left to enjoy it on a hot day.

Check out www.veevlife.com for more information or availability where you live.

Healthy breakfast bowl

Last week I posted something on easy breakfast tacos, but it doesn’t always have to be about tacos or burritos when you are making a quick and healthy breakfast. What follows is my take on the breakfast bowl, something that has become more prominent in fast food chains as carbs have fallen out of favor the last few years.

So here we go…..

Chop some tomatoes, shred some cheddar cheese and open a can of pinto beans.

Prepare some quick brown rice (I like the Trader Joe’s kind in the freezer section, that you nuke in three minutes) and put about 1/2 cup of the cooked rice in a bowl. Set the rest aside (or multiply this recipe out for more servings).

Cook 2 eggs in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until the whites are just set (don’t overcook–you want a runny yolk). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the beans and tomato in the bowl with the rice, top with the cooked eggs and shredded cheese. (Other options and add-ins are green pepper, jalapenos, cooked corn off the cob, or diced avocado.)

Top with salsa or hot sauce and serve.

Product review: Trader Joe’s Chile Mango Popsicles

Chef JimTrader Joe’s is awesome. There, I said it. They have great, fresh food at very reasonable prices. It’s sort of like Whole Foods with less selection and at far better prices. They also have some unique food items, and last week I took a chance on another one of those–Chile Mango popsicles.

You might think, why would a food blog geared toward dudes be writing about popsicles. But note the first word–chile. These are mango and hot pepper frozen treats, and they are awesome.

Trader Joe’s makes excellent frozen fruit desserts like this, and this chile-mango combination is a great blast of cool, sweet and then spicy that makes for an amazing taste explosion. And I do mean explosion, because they are about a 6 out of 10 on the spice scale, something you wouldn’t expect from a popsicle. In fact, I had to make a concerted effort to keep these away from our 4-year old son.

But for the rest of you, go grab a 4-pack of these and serve them up during Sunday football. It might not go with beer, but hey, maybe I’m wrong!

Easy breakfast tacos

It’s not always easy to make a quick, healthy breakfast, but here is one you can do that is way better than something you can get at any drive-thru. Breakfast tacos, and super easy ones at that.

For one person, you’ll need 2 corn tortillas (I like the white corn rather than the yellow), 2 eggs, some shredded sharp cheddar, optional bacon and some good salsa or hot sauce or both.

You can either warm the tortillas by wrapping them in foil and putting in the oven or toaster oven for 10 minutes at 300 degrees. OR my way is to quick fry them in a nonstick pan by spraying both sides with cooking spray and cooking over medium high heat for about 30-45 seconds per side.

If using bacon, cook 2 slices according to package directions (I use the microwave for this).

Meanwhile, heat another nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk with salt and pepper. Pour into pan and cook for 2-3 minutes or until just set. Divide the egg on each tortilla, sprinkle with cheese, crumbled bacon and hot sauce or salsa.

Fold in half and eat!

Holy crap, is summer almost over?

So here we are….Labor Day Weekend. In the blink of an eye, the summer grilling season has given way to football tailgating season. Which means that the chill of fall is going to be in the air soon. And while it was 95 degrees in Madison yesterday, by Monday we’re going to have a high of 69. I love it, but it’s going to feel downright cold! Anyway, what are you grilling this weekend? I’m sure I’ll be firing it up but not quite sure what we will slap on it.

I do know I’m going to make a stew of chicken thighs, brats and hot peppers (and a few more tasty things) cooked in Guinness. It’s not quite in my head yet, but hey, the weather will be perfect for it.

We are also heading to Taste of Madison on Sunday, where my goal will once again be to try a few foods I’ve never tried before (within reason of course).

Have a happy and safe holiday weekend, everyone….and get those grills fire up and those beers on ice (just please drink responsibly).

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