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Corn

Oh yeah. that photo says it all, doesn’t it? It’s prime time for corn. I guess, as the farmers call it, it’s sweet corn….if you just say “corn on the cob,” you also mean corn that is used for feed for pigs and cows on farms.

Where I live in Wisconsin, sweet corn is available from local farms from late July until early September or so. The first crop is super sweet and tender, and as the season wears on, the kernels get bigger and thicker and more dense, and less sweet and less tender. But for now, it’s prime time for corn and that means we eat it in our house pretty much every day for six or so weeks. There is no good reason not to!

Mikey’s this and that

So….it’s freaking hot outside. It’s a great time of year once again for my “Guy Gazpacho,” which I’ve already made three or four times including this past week. It’s 90-plus in most parts of the country, and yeah–we sit in air conditioning most of the time. But there is something about a cold tomato based soup that just hits the spot in summer. And I’ve been doctoring up my own recipe lately–adding lemon juice and spicy olives/olive juice.

Speaking of cold soup, I picked up the new issue of Bon Appetit, a mag that my mom still has stacks of, like from the ’80s, never read. So while I associate the magazine with my mom and foo-foo French cooking and cooking that takes all day, I saw the issue on the newsstand and there was this kickass chicken skewer with a sriracha sauce. Oh man. I grabbed it and never looked back, reading that thing cover to cover. My mouth is watering now as I write that there was a page on cantaloupe, now in season. I made prosciutto and melon risotto, and plan on making their cantaloupe gazpacho. Damn. That risotto was freaking insane.

Speaking of cooking magazines, we’ve gotten hooked on Cooking Light lately, as their recipes are (mostly) easy, interesting and tasty. There were a couple of smoked meat recipes–a BBQ pork shoulder that was crispy, spicy, and tender. And a smoked chicken cobb salad with creamy avocado dressing. Yeah, maybe a bit foo foo but not over the top foo.

Do you ever watch shows like Chopped and Masterchef and think that you could be a contestant? Me, I watch those shows and know for a fact I would have zero chance of even creating something edible from whatever they put in front of me–not in 20 or 30 minutes anyway, and certainly not with ingredients I’ve never used befoe. I need time to cultivate the ideas in my head. Anyway, if you are watching Masterchef as Mrs. Mike and I are, let me offer something to hope for–a Krissi vs. Natasha finale. Man, those two would claw each others’ eyes out.

This is the best month of the year for produce–corn, tomatoes, peaches, melon. You can have the 11 other months, I will take July.

Great article the other day about bagged lettuce. However, the article didn’t answer the one question we all have–why does bagged lettuce have that weird chemical aftertaste? Blech. It’s one of the reasons to join a CSA–your lettuce is organic and has no weird stuff sprayed on it or washed with. And it actually tastes good.

Product review: Mamma Chia

Quick, what is the first thing that pops into your head when you think of chia seeds? Yes, that commercial for Chia Pets that maybe you saw during late-night TV. But apparently chia seeds have a significant health benefit, as in Omega-3′s and fiber. And Mamma Chia, a juice/smoothie hybrid type drink/snack is a portable and tasty way to get your Omega 3′s, especially if you do not like fish or the idea of taking fish oil capsules.

I must admit I was skeptical at first when Mamma Chia was pitched to me, but for the most part I am adventurous with new products like this, so I offered to try it and write it up. There is no need to refrigerate the product, as it’s basically one of those portable juice squeeze bag type things that are all the rage right now, especially among kids. But I refrigerated mine and tried them all this past weekend when it was a wicked hot and muggy Midwest day, and not only was Mamma Chia refreshing, but they all tasted pretty good, some more than others. The grainy texture of the tiny seeds also had a somewhat pleasant mouth feel, sort of the way sprinkles on ice cream does.

Here are my observations of the four flavors I tried:
Green Magic–I’m a sucker for these “green power” type things, because it’s an easy way to get the nutrients in like four bunches of kale easily without eating all that roughage. And this one was slightly tart, not as sweet but not bad at all.
Strawberry Banana–This was a thicker consistency, and the berries were more dominant than the bananas but still tasty.
Apple Cinnamon–My favorite flavor, it tastes like apple pie. Yum.
Blackberry–This one was more watery, but not too tart nor sweet.

Chef Jim
And the added bonus? I took them out and told my wife that I read about Mamma Chia online, and that it’s a hair growing remedy just like the old Chia pets. I think she believed that for about half a second, but it is still funny to say that and I’m sure I am not the first person to joke about it.

But hey, Mamma Chia is something I’d highly recommend–have it on hand in your desk, briefcase, home, or car. It’s a tasty, easy way to get some important nutrients.

Product review: CitrusZinger

As things you can be addicted to go, seltzer water is not something that can do the body much harm. It’s basically carbonated water, and thanks to my SodaStream device, I drink even more fizzy water now than ever before. And because sometimes the flavor extracts can get boring, I like to use real lemon or lime juice (or small amounts of soda syrup). But that’s not always easy; that is, it’s not easy squeezing citrus juice into a small mouth bottle.

But now, there is a product that makes it super easy to have water or carbonated water with a twist of real citrus juice. The product is called CitrusZinger and the concept is simple. There are two ends to the plastic bottle–a large mouth screw top with a juicer attachment; and a small mouth drinking side. So basically you cut some lemon, lime or orange, juice that and close up the bottom of the bottle. Then you flip the bottle over and add water, seltzer or even maybe cola or iced tea. And you’ve got instant and fresh twisted beverage.

Of course, there are a million ways to use CitrusZinger, but I was boring and only tried it with lemons and oranges and the combination of the two. But you can even add sweeteners, herbs such as mint, and spices such as cinnamon. If you look at the booklet, you’ll see what I mean. But there are also a VodkaZinger, AquaZinger and SaladZinger–which means seriously endless possibilities.

Right now the Zinger products are only available online and at Brookstone Stores. For more information, please visit the Zing Anything website.

Wing Sauce Wednesday–gazpacho revisited


note: this photo is not mine, but it looks a lot like my gazpacho

I posted a recipe a couple years back called Guy Gazpacho on Bullz-Eye’s Grub for Guys section, and I re-posted it here last May. And I thought that now is a good time to re-visit that one, because it’s getting brutally hot outside everywhere, and because tomatoes are coming into season, as are cucumbers and peppers. Plus, hey, it’s Wednesday, and that means it’s a great time to have another Wing Sauce Wednesday column. That’s because wing sauce is one of the secret ingredients of my gazpacho.

If you, like me, love Buffalo wing sauce and feel like you’d be really happy just doing shots of it, this is the soup for you. It has 2 tablespoons of wing sauce, but I have started adding more like 3-4 per batch. The other secret ingredient for me? Avocado. It gives the soup a nice smooth texture and taste. I also do not use onions or raw garlic as many chefs would, because my stomach is not a fan of that stuff in its raw state. But you could certainly add some of either or both. There are no rules, but if you do make this gazpacho on Wing Sauce Wednesday, you should definitely add the sauce. Trust me, it’s worth it on Wednesday or any day.

Pink slime–no, thanks

It’s become a buzzword/term in 2012–pink slime.

Like you, I had no idea what it was until I read an article two months ago in Mother Jones. This is how the article describes it: “the cheeky nickname for scraps of slaughtered cow that have been pulverized, defatted, subjected to ammonia steam to kill pathogens, and congealed into a filler for ground beef.” It goes on to say that McDonald’s was using it but planned to stop doing so, along with Taco Bell and Burger King, who also succumbed to the public outcry.

But pink slime is apparently in school lunch ground beef. It’s in packaged and frozen burgers, and even in commercially sold ground beef. Wow. How the hell do you get around that if you eat and enjoy burgers, meatballs, meat loaf or other ground meat products?

I know what I”m doing. I’m not eating fast food ground meat. I’m thinking twice before ordering something made with ground beef in a restaurant. For home use, we buy ground beef from a local farm (at the farmer’s market here in Madison) that we know is organic and high quality, or from Trader Joe’s, which states on its website that their ground meat does not contain pink slime. We are not ready to give up meat entirely, but what we are also doing is trying to eat one or two vegetarian meals per week.

I am not naive enough to think that there isn’t crap like this in many foods–or pesticides or whatever. But pink slime? It’s vile, it’s scary and it has no place on my plate or on my family’s plates.

Product review: Element Bars

I realize that this blog is often geared toward recipes, reviews and ideas that are not exactly healthy. But we do include our share of healthy ideas, and truth be told, my gut is growing in inverse proportion to the inactivity I’ve endured following recent back surgery. And so I need to eat better, something that is always easier when it’s more convenient.

Well, there is a product that was pitched to me recently for this blog that is healthy, convenient, and tasty–and has the added bonus of being gluten free–Element Bars. Standard granola bars often have so much added sugar or other sweeteners that offset the health benefits. Protein bars have long lists of ingredients that you can’t pronounce and usually they have this weird aftertaste. And there has been another wave of bars–the all natural kind, and Element Bars fit that bill. But they take it a step further by allowing you to customize your bars.

Go to www.elementbars.com, and poke around. You can make your own bars based on whether you’d like them chewy, oaty, crispy, datey or fruit&nut. Those are the “core” parts of the bar, and from there you add whatever types of dried fruit, nuts, sweeteners (such as honey or maple syrup) and “boosts” such as whey, fiber or Omega-3. But you can also order pre-determined recipes, and some flavors I sampled were Datey Divine, PB Power, Almond Sunrise, Cherry Charge, Banana Repair, and Cherry Chocolate.

They were all delicious, and I’m not just saying that because they sent me product to try. But there was the added bonus of knowing I was eating something all natural and good for me–with good amounts of fiber or protein or both. I have to say though that I was really partial to the “Cherry Charge,” which had oats and whey crisps, as well as dried cherries and cashews. And maybe one of the best points here–I was running out the door twice recently and realized I had no time to make breakfast. I grabbed an Element Bar, ate one in the car and my hunger was curbed for a few hours. No joke. I guess when you give your body the nutrients it needs, you don’t get hungry. Imagine that!

Seriously though, for you folks that are health conscious, you won’t find a bar that tastes this good with this much nutrition. Or one that you can create on your own. Now that’s good marketing.

For more information, check out www.elementbars.com

Easy summer pasta with corn and tomatoes

I submitted a recipe last year for the Dane County Farmer’s Market newsletter using fresh, locally grown produce as well as ravioli from RP’s here in Madison. So here is an adaptation of that recipe, since summer is winding down and you’re looking for ways to stretch the last of the sweet corn as well as your tomatoes and zucchini that are very much in season right now.

Ingredients
1 lb. dry or fresh pasta
2 ears corn on the cob
¼ cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large tomato, chopped
½ cup diced zucchini
¼ cup minced basil leaves
1/3 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Cook the pasta according to package directions, and drain, reserving about ¼ cup of the cooking liquid. Cook corn in salted boiling water for about 6 minutes. Drain and cool, then cut off kernels and set aside. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and add the garlic, fry for 15-20 seconds. Add tomato, corn and zucchini and cook for 3-4 minutes. (Yes, it’s a lot of oil, but it will be absorbed by the pasta and cheese, and olive oil is supposedly good for your arteries.) Add the basil leaves, then the pasta, cooking water, and finally the cheese. Heat for a minute or two or until warmed through, add the salt and pepper to taste, and serve. Serves 3-4

Grilled vegetables over cheese grits

I’m not a big seafood guy, so this is my version of “shrimp and grits”–it’s grilled vegetables over cheese grits. It’s simple, satisfying and a great light meal for the summer months.

All you need are some grits, a good sharp cheddar cheese, and some veggies to throw on the grill. I had received an awesome box of produce from our CSA (community supported agriculture) from Driftless Organics–and in it were zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, onions and banana peppers among other things. So I used all of those as well as a red bell pepper I bought at the farmer’s market.

Here is what to do……cook grits according to package directions for four servings, and add 1 cup of shredded cheddar at the end of the cooking process. Stir until cheese melts and set aside.

Meanwhile, cut vegetables (enough for 4 servings) into large chunks, spray with olive oil or cooking spray, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill for 4-5 minutes, or until cooked through and slightly charred with nice grill marks. Divide grits among bowls, top with some veggies, and then throw a few cherry tomatoes on top (we also got these from Driftless…you can grill these too but it’s not necessary), and then splash with hot sauce.

That’s it. This is an easy and really tasty dish. Of course, the sharper the cheese, the better. And the hotter the hot sauce, the better. Enjoy!

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

A few years ago when we lived in Nashville, we were a bit disappointed with their farmer’s market. It was not as nice or easy to get to as the one I remembered from my days living in Ohio before that. But then my wife and I went to an Earth Day festival three or four years ago and there were booths for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) from local farms. We talked to a few farmers and were extremely intrigued. Of course, we’d heard of CSAs before but the thought of not having a say in what we picked up for each share turned us off–temporarily. That all changed when a farmer that day told us how it’s a matter of eating what is in season and fresh. We were sold. So we did our CSA for two seasons and absolutely loved it.

Then we moved to Madison, Wisconsin in April of 2010. Madison, of course, is home to the greatest farmer’s market known to man, the Dane County Farmer’s Market. I’m not exaggerating here, it’s awesome. It goes all the way around the Capitol on Saturday mornings and has farmers who grow produce as well as meats, and there are cheeses, baked goods and all kinds of other amazing local foods. So last year we just enjoyed what the market had to offer.

But this year, we had the CSA jones again. A friend told us about Driftless Organics, and after visiting their website once and reading about the farm and their CSA…well, let’s just say I wrote the check and mailed it that day.

There is a small bit of difference in the Driftless CSA than the Nashville one–they grow a very diverse and interesting set of crops at this farm, and encourage you to try things you haven’t tried before. We’ve had pea vines, green garlic, baby fennel and kohlrabi. We’ve also had some of the best green beans we’ve ever tasted, and some incredibly sweet beets. We are, of course, looking forward to summer favorites like peppers, tomatoes and sweet corn.

The photo above is of a meal we made a few weeks ago that included some fresh yellow squash from our CSA; and some roasted beets with sauteed beet greens. And once I find the time and creative energy to develop some more interesting recipes using our share, I will post them here. Meanwhile, if you haven’t yet tried a CSA–let me tell you, you’re missing out. There is no better feeling than the feeling of supporting a local farmer, eating what’s fresh (and I do mean fresh), and enjoying produce that is 100% organic.

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