CATEGORIES

Sun Prairie Sweet Corn Festival–fun and flavor for all

Chef JimThanks for the fine folks at Grassland Butter, I took my wife and 5-year old son to the Sun Prairie Sweet Corn Festival two weekends ago. We moved to Wisconsin two years ago and this was the first time we went to the fest. It also certainly won’t be the last time. The food was great, the rides were great for our thrill-loving boy, and the weather was perfect as well (75 and sunny).

Chef JimGrassland was an official sponsor of the event, which meant their butter was the perfect companion to the sweet corn. We were amazed at the production line for the corn–as we waited with our tote, we watched the corn come out of the steamer in husks, after which we had to peel (ouch!) ourselves. Then we brought the corn to the butter table, where the fine folks rolled our corn in a gigantic block of Grassland butter, and then we made our way to the hanging salt shakers before gorging ourselves with the corn. Of course, it was peak season and the corn was delicious, but the Grassland butter really did take it to another level. My only regret was that I totally forgot about the grilled cheese sandwiches, which are also slathered with the butter and supposedly a fair favorite. Next year though!

Chef JimBefore we ate, our son dragged us to pretty much every ride there was, and every weird haunted house “ride.” My wife had the pleasure of going on just about everything, while I skated by only going on the flying swings with him once. He had the best time, and that is always the most important thing.

Chef JimSo, is it next August yet?

Easy chicken barley soup

Chef JimFinally things are starting to cool down, and when “soup weather” is upper 70′s, you know we have a problem. But hey, this blog is about the food, right? And it felt good to make some soup last night and eat some for lunch today. Not the open a can type of soup, but the real, from-scratch kind. And as with most of my recipes for this blog, I try to keep things simple, so here is how I made it…..

Ingredients
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast half, diced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3/4 cup sliced carrots
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/4 cup chopped onion
Salt and pepper
1 carton (32 oz.) chicken broth
1/2 cup quick cooking barley
1/2 tsp. each–dried basil, oregano, thyme
Pinch of garlic powder
Pinch of onion powder

Directions
In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add chicken, and stir until browned, about 2-3 minutes. Add carrots, celery and onion and stir/cook for about 3-4 minutes, adding a generous pinch of both salt and pepper. Add chicken broth, barley and spices, and bring to a boil. Turn down heat, cover loosely and simmer for about 15 minutes. You can add more broth or water if the soup is too thick. Serves 4, or 2 really hungry people.

That’s it–simple and it tastes really good! I should add that I really like Trader Joe’s Free Range Chicken Broth. It really makes the soup.

An interview with folk musician Charlie Parr

In my other life, I am a music publicist. And one of my clients is Duluth based folk musician Charlie Parr, who is a global icon in Americana/folk circles. For good reason, too. The publicist in me says you should all listen to Charlie Parr (he re-released fan favorite albums 1922 and Glory in the Meeting House yesterday on House of Mercy Recordings and has a new studio album due in early 2013), but Charlie has an interesting method of cooking while on tour in his van — he cooks meals on top of his exhaust manifold. Well, being a foodie and music publicist, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to discuss this cooking method with Charlie and share it with all of you…..

Mikey’s Kitchen: When did you start cooking on your manifold and what was the first dish you made?

Charlie Parr: Year’s ago, at least 20 or so. I started with real simple re-heating stuff and made brats, warmed up corn-bread, heated up sandwiches.

MK: How long does it take to heat up any given dish?

CP: There are many variables, such as the weather. If it’s raining it won’t work, if it’s cold out, you may need to construct a simple air-dam to trap some heat, if it’s real hot you can’t go too far. Generally, all things being equal, I can get sufficient heat to warm something through in 20 miles or thereabouts. Cooking things like beans or veggies, or meats will usually go to about 50-75 miles depending on the dish. A nice melt-sandwich can be had in 30 miles depending on the weather. This is all freeway, by the way, traveling in traffic changes everything and is harder since if you cook in hot weather and your commute is 30 minutes in traffic, you’ll end up burning your breakfast burrito. It needs checking at about 15 minutes or less if you’re idling to see how it’s going. If you have a Dodge Van from about 1965 or so you can open the doghouse at the top while you’re driving and check it that way. But I don’t have one of those.

MK: What dish works the best with this method?

CP: I like making mixed veggies or black beans and rice. You start with three layers of tin foil with the folds at the top, make it easy to open and close since you’ll be checking and stirring once, add a bit of water for steam, and plenty of spice (I like Sriracha). If you’re using rice, the instant kind works best unless you’re cooking them separate (need a V8 for this). Make sure everything is mixed well and let her go for 30 miles–then stop and check and stir, re-wrap and maybe grab a new hot spot and go another 30-40 miles and it should be ready to eat.

MK: What limitations do you have cooking this way?

CP: Things that need to be checked a lot. Seafood is hard unless it’s precooked. Potatoes take a while and often need to be given more water about halfway through. Meat is hard unless it’s ground or in a sausage form, then it’s very easy. Things that need direct contact with heat (steaks, etc) are out since you’re really steaming everything and can’t apply direct heat (the food would get dirty/oily). Tin foil is the only thing I’ve found that conducts heat well enough to cook – I’ve tried little pans, foil pans, tin cans and those work sometimes, but tin foil works all the time and rarely leaks if you wrap it carefully.

MK: What you have you not tried yet that you would like to?

CP: I’ve started doing a few bread-style things and want to do more. I also have been meaning to do Toad-in-the-hole for some time, and I also got a vegetarian cookbook that I’m going to dig into and try some things. Emily’s (Charlie’s wife) not into this, though, so I can only really cook when I’m touring on my own.

For more information, please visit www.charlieparr.com

Product review: Sweet and Creamy Iced Coffee K-Cup packs

First off, let me say that I am thrilled to be a K-Cup Ambassador, having the opportunity to try new flavors of coffee in the Keurig brewing system. I used to be steadfast in my coffee drinking, that I would not drink anything other than “regular” flavor and that anything flavored amounted to “foo-foo.” But as you get older, you try new foods and drinks, and when I tried hazelnut coffee once, and it tasted like Cocoa Puffs, I was hooked and began to try different flavors. And so right on cue, the folks at Green Mountain Coffee have given me the opportunity to try their new K-Cup flavors each month.

The first installment is the Original Donut Shop Sweet & Creamy Iced Coffee K-Cup packs, which come in two flavors–Regular and Nutty Hazelnut. They are both delicious, with the regular packing the punch of coffee while the hazelnut one was more like a coffee flavored creamy drink and nice Cocoa Puffs undertone. But the best part? Have you ever made iced coffee at home? It’s a royal pain, waiting for it to cool down before icing, which could take an hour or more. But with the Keurig, you put ice in a sturdy plastic cup (they generously supplied one with a cover and straw), and brew right over the ice. Of course, it melts most of it and you have to add more, but all you do is that, which takes a minute or so, and shake it up. You have to do this in order for the sweetness to permeate the drink. But that’s it. You have iced coffee in literally two minutes. And since we’ve had record temps, even here in Wisconsin, drinking hot coffee in the afternoon is not the best option. So the K-Cup gives me (and you!) the chance to enjoy easy iced coffee as the hot climate continues.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Keurig, it is a home brewing system that allows you to make single cup servings of coffee. And if you have one and would like to order these Donut Shop iced coffee flavors, please visit www.BrewOverIce.com

Product review: Barilla microwaveable meals

This has nothing to do with the fact that one of my publicist contacts sent me some pasta to review–but Barilla is my favorite store-bought pasta. So I was thrilled that Barilla has new microwaveable meals. I’ve tried other versions of easy pasta like this, and kind of went into this a tad skeptical, but Barilla exceeded my expectations. There are five varieties–Mezze Penne with Tomato & Basil; Mezze Penne with Traditional Marinara Sauce; Mezze Penne with Spicy Marinara (my favorites); Whole Grain Fusilli with Vegetable Marinara Sauce; and Whole Grain Mezze Penne with Tomato & Basil Sauce.

Not only does Barilla have delicious pasta that cooks up nicely al dente, but this pre-cooked variety was very similar to Barilla pasta that you would make yourself. And these microwaveable meals are incredibly easy to make. You fold back the edge to “vent” the sauce, and warm for one minute. You peel back the entire top, and the sauce portion comes out, after which you pour it over the pasta and stir. A monkey could do this, and I mean that literally. Not only was it easy but tasty–we tried all but the fusilli, and the pasta was perfectly cooked and the sauce tasty as well. The best part of these meals is that they do not taste processed. So often meals like this have sauces that taste like (and probably are) re-constituted powder–not these Barilla meals. They are a home run in every way.

Oh, wait, since we’re talking baseball, here are the other stats–all of the meals are 320 calories or less with no artificial ingredients; they have 9 to 11 grams of protein and are an excellent source of fiber and vitamin A; and the whole grain varieties are a good source of iron.

Magazine recipes that linger–cole slaw and “flapjacks”

If you are like me, you read new food magazines voraciously, especially ones that have cool typeface and awesome photos like Food Network Magazine. But then after trying a recipe or two, they pile up until you have a chance to clip your faves. I swear there is a business idea in there, if only I had time to develop such an idea.

Anyway, that being said, there are recipes I have clipped that I go to–frequently. One such recipe is the one I use for cole slaw from…wait for it….GQ. I have to hand it to GQ. My comp subscription has made me feel old at times, but every month I look for its recipes and ideas about food. Seriously. So in the June 2008 issue, there were barbecue items–how to cook a hamburger properly for one, how to make kickass grilled peaches for another. But the one that stood my test of time was the cole slaw recipe–it’s simple, it’s classic, and it’s delicious. It also gives me a template even if I veer a bit with the ingredients, but I never seem to want to because of how delicious the original recipe is.

Then there was this other one–an article and recipe in the March 2010 issue of Bon Appetit. This is a mag my mom reads and probably has 35 years worth of them piled up, but I grabbed one in an airport one day and wound up clipping this article about British “flapjacks.” Food journalist/blogger/restauranteur Molly Wizenberg wrote it and made these things appear to look and sound delicious. The recipe haunted me for two and half years until I pulled it out again the other day. The one thing holding me back–an ingredient called golden syrup, which is only available in specialty food stores and British import shops. They are not pancakes per se, but more like cookie/granola bar hybrids that they call flapjacks. The ingredients are simple–quick cooking oats, butter, brown sugar, golden syrup and a pinch of salt. I’ve always loved the taste of oatmeal and oatmeal cookies and anything made with oats, but dang…golden freaking syrup. Finally, I realized something. The last few months I have found things the new-fashioned way–online. Well, duh. You can buy anything on Amazon.com these days. So there it was–Lyle’s Golden Syrup, maybe $5 a can but about $10 in shipping. That was fine with me. It arrived and I made the recipe the next day. My wife and I devoured the whole tray and I made another tray which I devoured this past week. Now let’s be frank–a stick of butter will make almost anything taste good. But these flapjacks are the bomb, and I suspect we will make them again this weekend, making two trays or more.

Thank you, Molly Wizenberg. You brought me something from your own experiences/memories, and now I’m going to get really fat eating them because they taste so good. Now, if anyone can share a recipe that resembles those Buitoni toaster pizzas from my childhood that they don’t make anymore, I will be forever grateful.

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