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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.

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.

The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Sixties Cookbook Giveaway

Chef JimJust in time for the start of Season 5 of AMC’s hit series Mad Men, you can make some of the drinks the characters drink on the show by checking out a new book from Rick Rodgers and Heather Maclean called The Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad Sixties Cookbook, and Mikey’s Kitchen is offering you a chance to win a copy of the book right now.

If you grew up in this era (I sort of did, but was more a kid of the ’70′s than the ’60′s), you will love creating some of the food and drink that your parents or grandparents made back in the day, or that Don Draper, Peggy Olson and company make or consume on the show. Rodgers’ drink recipes are authentic and the PR company shared one with us for an Old-Fashioned using Four Roses Bourbon, below.

Chef JimOld Fashioned
1 sugar cube
2 or 3 dashes of aromatic bitters, such as Angostura
2 1⁄2 ounces Four Roses Bourbon
Soda water
Orange slice, for garnish
Maraschino cherry, for garnish
Lemon zest twist, for garnish
Instructions: Put the sugar in an old-fashioned glass and moisten with the bitters. Crush them together with a muddler. Add the whiskey and fill the glass with ice. Stir well. If desired, fill the glass with soda water. Add the orange and cherry, and lemon twist, if using. Serve.

But being that this is primarily a food blog, I had to sample some of the recipes myself:
Chef JimFlower Drum Song Barbecued Ribs–These were sweet, tangy and delicious and used a method of parboiling the ribs before marinating that I hadn’t tried before.
The Ultimate Meat Loaf–Used potato chips and chip dip mix as time-saving ingredients, but overall lacked flavor and needed ketchup (and tasted like a McDonald’s hamburger after dipping in the ketchup!)
Cold War Beef Stroganoff–This one was heavy on the sour cream and maybe too saucy, but still very tasty.

If your mouth is watering from those recipes (others include fried chicken, piggies in blankets, beef wellington, vichyssoise, or desserts like pineapple upside down cake) or at the thought of enjoying a cocktail while you watch Season 5 of Mad Men, Mikey’s Kitchen is giving one lucky winner a copy of the new cookbook. Click here to enter for your chance to win!

CONTEST ENDS: April 25th

Recommended book: Recipes Every Man Should Know

Chef JimI haven’t tried a single recipe from the book I’m about to recommend to you, but I know enough about cooking and food to know good recipes when I see them. This book, Recipes Every Man Should Know,written by Susan Russo and Brett Cohen, and released on Quirk Books, is a small, hardcover black book that a guy could literally carry around in his pocket.

The book contains simple, honest and real recipes that are laid out easily and have no crazy ingredients. It’s man food, and a good primer for any novice or intermediate cooks. The book is broken down into hearty breakfast classics; sandwiches, burgers & snacks; meat & potato dinners; bacon, beer & bar food; and chocolate, cheesecake & more. Seriously–there is an entire chapter dedicated to recipes with beer and bacon. I, for one, cannot wait to try the bacon-wrapped meatloaf and beef and beer chili. Yum.

The book also has recipes as basic as how to cook an egg, something that you can’t find in just any cookbook.

And the two authors are credible–with Russo writing for Food Blogga and being a contributor to Kitchen Window on NPR; and Cohen is the author of Stuff Every Man Should Know.

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