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Mikey’s Food Resolutions for 2012

The last few years, Mrs. Mike and I have done New Year’s resolutions together on New Year’s Day. And I must say, we’ve stuck to many of them, often referring to our lists as the year wears on. That’s what resolutions are intended for, but many of us forget about them on or around January 3. But I thought it would be fun to put together a few food resolutions for 2012–feel free to add yours below or on Facebook:

Try one new kind of cheese per month–I started doing this in 2011 and got sidetracked or disinterested. But wait, I live in Wisconsin. Disinterested? Not an option, so I’m going to follow through this time. There are simply too many good cheeses to try in this part of the country.

Try a few things that are out of my comfort zone–I’m not a big fan of seafood, or anything in the organ meat vicinity. But in a meal at Graham Elliott in Chicago this past September, Mrs. Mike and I had a meal that had cooked fish; a deconstructed Caesar salad with a whole anchovy on top; and a foie gras lollipop with watermelon pop rocks. That was enough out of comfort zone for a whole year for me, but the foie gras was phenomenal–and I’m glad I took a step out of my comfort zone to try it.

Eat less junk–and by junk I mean stuff like candy, snack cakes and greasy chips. I am vowing to get back into shape in the New Year, and especially after having back surgery in February. And while I don’t think there is anything wrong with occasional junk food, I ate far too much of it in 2011. Time to start eating more nuts, dried fruit and sensible snacks when possible.

Work even harder to eat what’s in season–we belong to a CSA (community supported agriculture) but found ourselves not using everything in our box before some of it went bad. I want to make more of an effort on that one.

Teach our son to eat better–our four year old, who has autism, is very picky about his food. We work hard on this, but it’s extremely difficult to get him to open his mind with food. I think we can work harder at it.

Revive “a can a week”–that was a fun column I started here but need to revive it, reviewing a canned food item per week, be it a new product or one that we’ve been eating for decades.

Use the deep fryer more–I don’t think I took that thing out at all in 2011, and that’s a shame. Who doesn’t love fried food (except me, when my doctor is reading this!)?

Find more cool restaurants and review them here–We live in Madison, one of the coolest food cities on the planet. Mrs. Mike and I love trying new places to eat but need to do so more often. And I’ll bring you the play by play here.

DVR more food shows–I keep seeing press releases and then forget to DVR the shows.

Eat more tofu–seriously? No, that was a joke. Blech.

Thanks for reading, and happy new year!

Maple cheddar

Okay, so if you don’t live in Wisconsin, this might be a bit more difficult to relate to. But on a recent visit to the most awesome Brennan’s Market, I came across a new flavor of cheddar–maple cheddar. It’s cheddar cheese literally infused with maple syrup. I was a bit skeptical but when one of the employees asked me if I needed help and then saw the maple cheddar in my basket, she said that was her favorite. Okay, if I was ambivalent before, now I was sold. And I was already imagining what to do with this cheese.

I had also picked up some thick cut bacon at Brennan’s, and so my breakfast the next morning was an open faced bacon/cheese melt using the bacon and the maple cheddar. And as you might expect, it was awesome. Of course, you can make this with any type of cheese, but this maple cheese gave it that hint of sweetness, and it was subtle, as if you were eating pancakes and some of the syrup slid onto your sandwich. Yum.

And it’s simple–just cook 2-3 slices of bacon. Cut a thick slice or two of crusty Italian bread, top with the bacon and some shredded cheese, and broil or toast for about 2-3 minutes or until the cheese melts and is bubbly.

Cooking Shows and Food TV on the Rise

A number of new genres of television shows have become extremely popular in recent years, due in large part to the wider exposure of specialized networks and the general expansion that always permeates the entertainment industry. For example, there are a number of shows that revolve around “dark creatures” – such as vampires, zombies, etc. – that have become very popular just in the last two years. However, even more sweepingly popular, because of its variety, is the concept of cooking shows, or rather, food-related shows, which have become some of the most popular items on direct tv. Generally, there are three types of food related shows – informative, instructional, and competitive. Here is a brief glance at each type.

Informative cooking shows strive to show you things about the food or cooking industries. This of course can have a good deal of variety within itself. It may apply to showing an audience the best restaurants in a certain area, or simply some of the best dishes around. Consider “Man Vs. Food” as an example. In this show, the charismatic, food-obsessed host Adam Richman travels the country exploring towns for their most famous restaurants and dishes. Each episode culminates in an eating challenge in which Richman devours something either deathly spicy or shockingly huge. It’s a great show for showing off the top restaurants in popular areas, as well as some decadent treats and dishes.

Instructional cooking shows are more about showing the audience how to prepare certain types of dishes or meals. There are many different shows that follow this basic formula, and often the audience sees fit to literally cook along with the host. One good example is “Boy Meets Grill,” in which star chef Bobby Flay shows his audience different tips not only for how to cook great food, but how to throw an amazing barbecue. These shows, in general, are very helpful for those who have culinary interests or inclinations.

Finally, there are competitive cooking shows, which may well be the most popular. These shows – such as “Top Chef” – feature host chefs, celebrity chefs, and cooking contestants, who compete for who can make the best dish, often with all of them using a single ingredient at the core of the dishes. Generally, contestants are eliminated one by one, until only one chef remains, and is crowned Top Chef. This can be instructional, as you do get to see amazing food created, but it is meant primarily for entertainment purposes.

Grilled cheese and tomato soup always classic

A gray day in December just screams for a grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup, so thankfully we had everything on hand to have the combo for lunch. Here is my take on the most authentic version…..

The sandwich: You can use any kind of bread, but for authenticity sake I used Italian bread–the packaged kind that is essentially glorified white bread. For the best results, also use real butter, thawed to room temperature (seriously, the sandwich will come out perfectly crispy, and you will not have ingested any of that plastic tasting fake stuff). Slice about a quarter inch slab of butter and place in a quality nonstick skillet. Then butter the outsides of two bread slices. Meanwhile, grab either two thin slices of American cheese or cut a few thin slices off a log of Velveeta. Put the cheese on the bread so that the buttered sides are facing out. Warm the skillet over medium heat and once the butter is melted, put the sandwich down. Cook for about 60-90 seconds or until brown and crispy, then flip the sandwich. Cook for about 30-45 more seconds (the second side cooks in about half the time, but I’m not sure why that is). Slide onto a plate and slice in half if you like.

The soup: With all due respect to chefs who make killer tomato soup, or to soup companies that create nice versions of tomato soup, I have to say that nothing quite compares to Campbell’s. And make it with a can of milk instead of water for a nice creamy soup. I’m not sure if it’s because this is the tomato soup my mom made growing up, but regardless, it always tastes perfect and awesome.

I’ll work on more versions of the combo in the next week or so. Meanwhile, do yourself a favor and make this one–I guarantee it will be the best lunch you have all week. Okay, maybe, but you get the point.

Grub for Guys: beef tenderloin

Greetings and welcome to Mikey’s Kitchen in the week before Christmas. Wow, did I just say that? Anyway, we posted my recipe for beef tenderloin with a horseradish dipping sauce over on Bullz-Eye’s Grub for Guys today. I’m also pasting the recipe below. Enjoy!

If you read my column here and food blog, Mikey’s Kitchen, you know that I don’t always suggest using expensive and/or exotic ingredients. It’s more of a an every-dude column for the average guy, mostly ones who don’t necessarily cook much but who are looking for tips and ideas on how to get more comfortable in the kitchen. And so in the spirit of the holidays, since it’s a special time of year that may require a special meal or two, I am suggesting you go buy some beef tenderloin – aka filet mignon. Because sometimes you just have to, and because I made this dish last week and it came out freaking awesome. Now, you can buy the whole tenderloin as I did, and you can roast it whole and then slice it, as I did not do. You can also buy the filets pre-sliced. But I cut my own steaks from the whole tenderloin, and the result was maybe some of the best steak I’ve ever had.

INGREDIENTS:
4-5 pound whole beef tenderloin (filet mignon)
Olive oil for brushing
Kosher salt
Black pepper
Chopped fresh parsley

FOR THE SAUCE:
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoons jarred horseradish
Pinch salt

DIRECTIONS
Let meat sit at room temperature for an hour or so. Meanwhile, combine dipping sauce ingredients and set aside or refrigerate until you are ready to continue.

Preheat a grill pan (or large nonstick skillet) to medium high heat. Combine salt, pepper and parsley on a plate. Slice steaks into 8 oz. portions or so (about an inch thick), brush all sides with oil and then roll in salt mixture so that the outside rim of the steak is coated. Also sprinkle some salt on both sides of the meat, then place in grill pan and cook for about 4-5 minutes per side for medium (it helps to cover while cooking to seal in the juices and not set off your smoke alarm). Let stand on a plate with tented foil for about 1-2 minutes before pouring the juices back on top, and serving with the dipping sauce. Serves 3-4.

Good sides for this dish are my twice baked potatoes and sautéed spinach (heat a few tablespoons oil in a very large, deep skillet, and add a 16-20 oz. bag of spinach. Cook down for about 2 minutes, add salt, pepper and a pinch of garlic powder before serving).

5 Questions with Jennie Kelley from MasterChef/Polyphonic Spree

Chef JimAs someone who is passionate about both food and music, finding someone else who resides near that same intersection is always fun. But it’s even more fun when that someone is someone like Jennie Kelley, who was one of the last remaining contestants on Season 2 of Fox’s hit reality show, “Masterchef.” Jennie is also a choral member of the 21-person symphonic group Polyphonic Spree, who released a holiday song, “It’s Christmas,” on their own Good Records Recordings label. We had the opportunity to chat with Jennie about–what else? Food and music.

Mikey’s Kitchen: So how often do people make the connection between Jennie Kelley from the Spree and Jennie Kelley from “Masterchef,” and are you surprised either way?

Jennie Kelley: More often than not, if I am recognized it’s for “MasterChef.” Not so much with the Spree. There’s a lovely level of anonymity that comes from being in a 20-person ensemble! Oh and yes, I’m always a little surprised when it happens because it’s usually when the show is the last thing on my mind. But it’s always cool… people usually want to know how much drama was really going on and if we stay in touch. Which, by the way, we do. We all have this food boot camp connection and a bond that’s unbreakable.

MK: How has your life changed since the show, and what projects are you working on food-related?

JK: My life is totally different. Ya know, I actually went on the show as a way to segue out of a job that was creatively unfulfilling and to get my food critiqued by true chefs. After being gone for a couple of months for filming I realized there was no way I could ever go back to doing something that wasn’t inspiring. I’d had this notion for a while that I’d like to try to get into food styling. So when I got back I did just that. I assisted for free sometimes, just to learn, as it’s a very unique field. The fact that I did the show and got as far I did also helped. A lot of clients took a chance on me because they knew I must be pretty passionate about food to have gone through the wringer that is “MasterChef.”

MK: Your favorite thing to cook, and your favorite thing for someone else to cook for you?

JK: I am savory all the way. So I don’t really do a lot of sweets at home. My favorite thing to cook is always changing, but right now I’m really into homemade pastas and braised meat of any kind. My favorite thing for someone else to cook? Dessert, yep, definitely dessert.

MK: Are any of the other members of the Spree foodies and if so, in what capacity?

JK: For sure. Tim (DeLaughter) and Julie (Doyle) are definitely passionate about food and are great eaters/diners. They’re very open to trying what’s current and modern. Although, sometimes if Tim finds something he really loves, it’ll hinder him breaking out. We were in Sweden once and he got on a Swedish meatball kick. He couldn’t get enough of it and ordered it almost everywhere we went. Jenny Kirtland’s brother is a chef, so she’s pretty in-the-know and has a great palate. And they’ve all been incredibly encouraging of my culinary journey and more supportive than I can describe here.

MK: Have you been to any of the restaurants of the “Masterchef” judges?

JK: Yes, I’ve been to Osteria Mozza, Joe Bastianich’s place in Los Angeles. I’ve been there twice, actually, once when Joe was there. He’s an unbelievable host, has great front-of-house skills and you could tell he knew what was going on everywhere. The food there is killer. The other time the service wasn’t so great, but it was close to kitchen closing time. And even though there were some major service hiccups, the food was still stellar. I am also mad for Eataly in NYC. I was there for the first time last weekend and had two great dishes (lobster spaghetti and orecchiette with sausage and pesto). The entire space is a culinary dream.

MK: Lastly, if you have holiday recipe to share or link to one, that would rock…..

JK: Yeah, I like to do a few appetizers… something for people to nibble on while the big meal is being made. You can prep them the night before and just pop them in the oven the next day. I’ve got a “devils on horseback” link here: (http://www.theperfectlastbite.com/2011/05/devils-on-horseback.html) or shortened here: (http://bit.ly/pVgpxB). The trick is the taleggio cheese-simply delicious. You can also use prosciutto instead of bacon to change it up a bit.

For more information about Polyphonic Spree, please visit here.
For more information about Jennie Kelley, please visit www.theperfectlastbite.com

Perfect pizza

Maybe one of these days we will convince Trader Joe’s to advertise here, because I’m about to pimp them again. Seriously, even though it’s a good 20 minute drive from our house, we do most of our grocery shopping there. Their prices are great, they have cool and unique products and they get you in and out (plenty of cashiers and baggers) quickly. Some of their items that we go out of our way for from Trader Joe’s are the Greek yogurt (thick and tasty), whole grain bread with no additives or junk, and my personal favorite–pizza dough. Now, they have whole wheat dough, and an herb dough. But there is nothing quite like the plain white one. And if you, like me, have ever gone on a wild goose chase for a ball of pizza dough, you might bookmark this thought–the one that says Trader Joe’s has amazing pizza dough.

Anyway, if you do grab a ball (heh heh, he said grab a ball…I digress), here is how I make perfect pizza every time……preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Wipe a work surface clean, and then spread it with some white flour. Place the dough down and turn it over a few times to coat with flour, and flour a rolling pin. Roll the dough, adding more flour to prevent sticking to rolling pin and surface (this also makes the dough more elastic). Do this as far as you can in every direction to wind up with a round, thin crust. Grab a pizza pan and place dough on it. I like to use a 14 inch pan, rolling up the ends to make them thick.

Grab a can of pizza sauce (or use spaghetti sauce), and pour a small amount on the dough. Spread it with a spoon, adding more as needed to cover the dough, but not necessarily cover it all the way…there should be red swirls all the way around, with plenty of white space too, if that makes sense. For the cheese, I like to grab some shredded mozzarella and put that in a bowl. Then I shred some sharp cheddar and add that to the mozzarella, then add some grated Parmesan to that. The ratio should be something like 60-30-10. Spread that around the pie, but like with the sauce, don’t over-do the cheese (unless you like it that way). Finally, sprinkle with a dash of dried oregano.

Place the pie in the oven, and bake, rotating clockwise every 4-5 minutes to bake it evenly, a total of about 12-15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly, turning brown but not too brown. Remove, slice with a pizza cutter and enjoy. I know it’s perfect when I hear that “thwap!” as I’m cutting it, meaning my dough is thin and beautifully crispy. Man, I’m hungry! Anyway, enjoy and let me know if you have a chance to try this out.

Roni Sue who?

So this past weekend, my wife was traveling on business to New York City, and when she had told me en route home that she picked me up something, I didn’t think much of it at the time other than it was nice she was thinking of me. But then when she arrived home and handed me a bag with 1) BeerCorn (beer caramel corn) and 2) chocolate covered bacon, it was like the holidays had arrived early.

The place she picked these items up from was a booth at a street fair, from a vendor called Roni-Sue’s Chocolates. The bacon is really good, but, well, how can chocolate covered bacon not be? But the BeerCorn blew me away. It’s beer and pretzel caramel corn with candied mustard seeds. So not only is the caramel corn itself delicious, but throw in the malty aftertaste of beer and the faint taste of mustard, and it’s like a ballpark exploded in your mouth.

Thankfully you can order this stuff online, and there are also items that are intriguing, like maple/bacon lollipops, chile/lime lollipops, truffles, BeerCrunch & bacon buttercrunch, and chocolate covered pretzels. But maybe the best part is that everything from Roni Sue is handmade and all natural. So yeah, it tastes amazing and there are no weird artificial ingredients. What more could you ask for? Except more!

Finally….

The weather outside in most of the country is chilly, and in Wisconsin it’s downright cold. I think I might make a giant pot of chili this weekend. We fired up the slow cooker this past week to make one of my favorite meals, beef burgundy. The one we made is from an old cookbook and includes beef, mushrooms, onion soup mix, cream of mushroom soup, cream of celery soup and red wine. That’s about it. But to help you out, check out this Google search for beef burgundy, which basically is a beef stew made with some sort of red wine.

So what about you? What do you like to make when the weather gets cold, football season is in full swing, fires are raging in your living room, and you’re out shoveling snow, cross country skiing or out Christmas shopping, and want something hot to eat. Man, I’m getting hungry.

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