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Two food items from Bullz-Eye’s Holiday Gift Guide

I was asked to write up a couple of cool products for Bullz-Eye.com’s Holiday Gift Guide, and I thought I should share them here with you. Both are already getting much use here in Mikey’s Kitchen!

NFL Crock-Pot® Slow Cookers

Chef JimWhen we saw an ad for these NFL logo slow cookers, our resident New York Giants fan had to have one. Crock-Pot slow cookers have traditionally been marketed to women, and they have always been a great kitchen staple across America. The concept is awesome—you put meat, vegetables, potatoes, and/or rice, canned tomatoes, broth and whatever else your recipe calls for, let it cook slow for 8-10 hours and you have dinner ready when you want. For Sunday football, these are great for chili, hearty soup, or for keeping hot dogs warm in a slow cooker full of water. And what better way to tailgate than to show off your team logo while you’re doing so? Another great feature of this particular slow cooker is that there are latches on both sides in order to clamp the lid on tight, and also a small hole in the cover to allow steam to escape. So the NFL themed Crock Pot is efficient AND looks great on Sundays.

The Essential James Beard Cookbook

Chef JimWe love to cook, but as hard as it can be sometimes, we try to stay on the healthy side. Of course, like most guys, we do like to make steaks, burgers and wings and some heavier soups, chilis and pastas. Indulgence is something reserved for holidays or for special Sundays. Such is the case with the new James Beard cookbook—a compilation from 12 of Beard’s books. We thumbed through it and noticed that almost every recipe calls for A LOT of butter. Beard was an American chef, but there is no doubt that some of his techniques are classic French. And on that note, the two recipes we tried were Gruyere soup and Beef Bourguignon Saute. Total amount of butter for both recipes—somewhere around two sticks. But the thing is, these recipes were fairly easy—time consuming, but easy. And the best part was that we learned so much, like taking a cooking class from a master. In particular, we learned how to make an amazing sauce for the beef dish. But wait, there’s more—literally. There are 450 recipes, including appetizers, pasta, soups, entrees, sides and desserts. In other words, we have 448 more to try.

You call this a diet?

For the last couple of months, I’ve been on Weight Watchers, trying desperately to lose a few pounds at the urging of my doctor, who wasn’t too pleased at how high my blood pressure was. I lost 12 pounds and my blood pressure was a near-perfect 124/80 when I had my follow-up visit. Weight Watchers indeed works, and it’s not as difficult as you might think. I’m still on it but have been slacking a little and I know I’m going to veer a little during the holidays, but I know I need to eat good most of the time. And most of the time, this diet is not too bad.

This photo is of an egg sandwich I made this week and is a typical breakfast on this diet for me–a whole grain English muffin, scrambled egg, 2% slice of American cheese, turkey sausage patty, and this particular time–a super thin slice of pan seared salami, adding only a half a WW point but enough of a slice to give it some real salami flavor. It was like a meat lover’s egg sandwich and only 8 points.

I’m not telling you this to preach. I’m telling you this because sometimes diets can seem daunting when they really don’t have to be. And I know many of you will contemplate dieting or eating better during or after the holiday season.

Cooking lessons

When I was growing up, I learned much of my basic cooking skills from my mom and brother. I also learned a lot on my own when I was diagnosed with high cholesterol at the age of 20, and began diving into healthy eating books and cookbooks–hence I had to learn how to make myself healthy lunches and such. I continued learning by reading and then by watching Food Network as that evolved. But I never took a formal cooking class until this past summer, when I enrolled in a 3-session course at Madison Area Technical College (MATC) on Thai cooking. I love Thai food, but it’s not easy to learn how to make real curry without having an instructor show you how it’s made from scratch, rather than by opening a jar of curry paste. I also learned how to make a real spring roll, and also pad thai, among other things.

I liked the course and instructor so much, that I took another course recently through MATC–same instructor, different location, and this time it was a 2-session course on making soup from scratch. I already knew how to do this, but the course taught me things I did not know, and it also was great to see how you make amazing chicken stock from scratch to start out. From there you can make, as we did, chicken noodle soup and wonton soup. The second session, we made chili and cream of mushroom soup. The latter is something I’ve never made, but it was phenomenal and I can’t wait to make it at home.

Then last week I received a James Beard cookbook and will be covering that in the Bullz-Eye.com Holiday Gift Guide. But this past weekend, I had to sample some of the recipes, which meant actually following the recipes of a master, and I learned so much in making just a couple of recipes from that book–gruyere soup; and beef Bourguignon saute. The latter involved making a sauce from scratch and making that the base–and learning how to do that was worth the price of the book, even though I didn’t technically pay for the book. That sauce was amazing and my mouth is watering just thinking about it. And it was SO easy. Of course, these recipes use crazy amounts of butter, but that’s why they taste so good, and because they are so rich, you can’t overeat. I also learned that by mixing flour and butter together, you can use that to thicken a sauce (cornstarch what?).

What’s my point? You can always learn more, especially with cooking, in which there are so many cuisines, methods and different foods out there in 2012. And I can’t wait to dive into that James Beard book some more.

Mikey’s kitchen tips

Happy Friday folks. I had this idea to come up with some kitchen tips for you, some that I learned quite a long time ago when my mom and brothers taught me how to cook; some from knowledge I gleaned on my own. Anyway, here are three tips and we’ll try to do this once a month or so…..

Perfect scrambled eggs–I can’t believe how long it took me to figure out how to properly cook eggs. In the past, I would scrambled the egg in a bowl and add it to a frying pan and almost seem like I was racing against time to try and cook the egg. Then for whatever reason, it struck me that scrambled eggs did not have to be rubbery and/or burnt around the edges. Maybe I saw Gordon Ramsay yelling at some chef on MasterChef or Hell’s Kitchen. Maybe I just figured it out on my own. Regardless, here is what to do–scramble the egg lightly and add a pinch each of Kosher salt and pepper. You can add a splash of milk too if you like, but I typically don’t. Anyway, heat the pan over medium-low heat and spray with cooking spray or add a tiny bit of butter. Add the eggs and stir gently, not leaving the stove. Just as the eggs begin to set, turn off the heat and stir a little more until just set and I mean JUST set. The result should be creamy and awesome eggs.

Soup add-ins–Lately I’ve had an obsession with raw jalapenos. If you’ve ever had pho, you might have had it with sliced jalapeno like this, but when I saw it done, I had to do it myself. But I took it further. I add raw, very thinly sliced jalapeno pepper to all of my soups, even if I make canned chicken noodle. It adds a great blast of heat, but natural, clean heat. Another thing I like to do is to add steak to soup, generally a soup that is already beef-based or a vegetable soup. I like to use tenderloin or sirloin, and the trick is to sear it on a grill or grill pan, for a minute or two on each side, and the key is to make sure it’s still not cooked in the middle. Of course, I’m not advocating to eat raw meat. Slice it very thin, and then add to your soup just as you’re about to eat it, and let the hot soup finish cooking the meat. That way you don’t have rubbery steak in your soup.

Three quick hits from Kansas City

Last month I went to Kansas City with my buddy Dave. We go somewhere every year for an NFL game, and this year it was Kansas City to see the Chiefs play the Ravens. We also had an acoustic duo back in the day which we revived to record a few new songs, and I’ll get to the reason I mention that in a minute.

First, we got off the plane and the rental car dude told us where we should go have some great Kansas City Barbecue–Oklahoma Joe’s. Oh my goodness, those may have been the best ribs I’ve ever had. Also maybe the best onion rings I’ve ever had. Damn. My mouth is watering thinking about how those ribs just melted off the bone.

Chef JimThe next night we had dinner with some of Dave’s relatives that live there. We went to a local pub and I saw something on the menu that caught my eye–charred chicken tenders. But not only could you get plain grilled tenders, you could get them fried like traditional tenders, and THEN grilled. And with Buffalo sauce already on, if you prefer. I could not not try this, and they were remarkably kickass. They were crispy, full of wing sauce flavor and then had this amazing, well, charred taste from the grill. That’s something I need to try at home–maybe next spring when I fire up the grill again.

Chef JimFinally, we recorded at a small studio in Eudora, Kansas–a very small town west of KC and just east of Lawrence. When we decided to get some take-out for lunch, we just had to try the place a few doors down in the center of town–Jasmin Restaurant, known for that all-American combo of….wait for it….Chinese & Mexican. I had a quesadilla and fried wontons, because I could!

I write this to talk about my experience, but also because I want to talk about why I think it’s important to find local gems like that when traveling. Some people like the familiarity of chain restaurants. Not me!

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