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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.

Good news and good food

Sometimes life allows for overindulgence.

I love to eat, and I love to especially eat carbs–in particular foods like pizza, fresh bread, pretzels, and jelly beans. But it’s hard not to overeat when you are eating things you really love. And so I, like many Americans, have a bit of a weight problem.

I saw my doctor yesterday for a physical, and while my cholesterol and blood pressure numbers are pretty good, I’m about 40 pounds above what’s considered a good weight for my height. I’m only 10 pounds above what is considered borderline overweight, and so I really don’t have TOO far to go.

But the best part? My doctor said he does not believe in diets. He says I should not deprive myself of any food item because then I will resent him and resent myself and be miserable in general. Everything in moderation, fair amount of exercise, and all should be well–as long as I drop a pound a month or so. Totally doable, right?

So the numbers were mostly good news, but the food news was even better. Because it’s coming into summertime, and there are so many summer foods I love–ice cream, burgers, corn, tomatoes, melon. Ah yes. But there is a small catch–I can’t let myself get out of control, because freedom to eat is not an absolute. In other words–moderation.

Which also means that, fear not, Mikey’s Kitchen readers, I’m going to write about all of the great summer foods that lie ahead. Let’s get to it!

Trader Joe’s does it again with Black Forest Bacon

It seems like every week when we visit Trader Joe’s for a family grocery shopping experience, there are new products that catch my attention and somehow become pulled by gravity into the shopping cart. This can be good and bad–good because more often than not, it’s something delicious and unique or both. Bad because it’s typically something we want to eat and not stop eating.

Such is the case with Trader Joe’s Black Forest Bacon. You know what’s crazy though? There is almost no information on this stuff online. It’s like they are sort of trying to keep it top-secret. Which is fine, because that means more for me and for my wife. But mostly for me (shhhhh). I did find this contest on Food & Wine and while there are some TJ’s bacons on here, I don’t have to try anything on this list to know that the Black Label will whip their bacon asses all up and down that page.

Why is it so good? Well, it crisps up beautifully, meaning it’s tender and the fat becomes something of a liquid pork rind (which is, well, what it is), and the bacon slice itself is bursting with flavor and crispness. It also has no fake taste whatsoever, as it’s real smoked and uncured and has a nice dry rub, but it’s even more remarkable that even if you slightly burn it (which you almost have to to get it crisp), it doesn’t even taste burnt. I don’t know how they do it, but they do, and they do so in my house almost every day lately. We now buy two packs at a time, and might ramp up to three this weekend. I mean, you never know when you will have a bacon emergency, right?

K-Cup new and interesting varieties keep on coming

Being a K-Cup ambassador has surely opened my eyes (literally) and taste buds up to new and exciting flavors and varieties. There have been a few duds along the way, but for the most part, the items that the fine folks at Green Mountain have sent have been stellar.

Chef JimIn February, they delivered a sample pack of Donut House flavors–which included plain, chocolate glazed donut, cinnamon roll and decaf. The plain is very similar to the delicious coffee you might find in a donut shop–and I’m not saying that to be snarky! The cinnamon roll has a subtle, slightly sweet twist, and the chocolate donut has a nice chocolate undertone without being overpowering, but it’s a bit more than subtle as compared to the cinnamon roll. The decaf? I’m one who believes that coffee should be consumed to help me wake up, so the decafs are still sitting in our kitchen.

Chef JimMarch brought Tully’s Hawaiian Blend, and while I’ve never been to Hawaii, I imagine that the coffee there is always delicious (I also imagine shoe leather would be delicious against the backdrop of Hawaii, but I digress). This Hawaiian coffee is a darker roast but not too dark, and it has a hint of sweetness. It’s definitely one of the better ones they have sent so far.

Ah, we’re almost to iced coffee season. But first, here are some statistics courtesy of my K-Cup representative:

* Coffee consumption is on the rise! About 8 in 10 Americans (83%) are coffee drinkers, up from 78% in 2012

* Americans are switching up their brewing habits: 13% of surveyed coffee drinkers used a single-cup brewing system vs. 4% in 2010

* More people know about and own single-cup brewing systems, like the Keurig: 86% have heard of these, while ownership has grown to 12% from 10% last year! With more than 200 options for coffee, tea and other beverages it’s easy to see why!

Don’t skimp on the salt or the spice

I don’t want you to mistake my message here, and I certainly don’t want my doctor to read what I’m going to write about salt. And my message isn’t necessarily that processed foods need more salt or that you should use as much salt as possible when cooking. I do think you should be generous enough with salt and pepper to bring out the flavor of your food, though. But what I’m talking about here is the salt on commercially made pretzels, and the spice on packaged food in general.

Let’s take the first part of this, shall we? Have you ever noticed that in the last, maybe, 10, 15 or 20 years, that the salt on pretzels has diminished? First of all, I’m old-school in that I like the white pretzel salt, which has a better texture. But in general, I want my pretzel to be absolutely covered in the stuff. I know how bad it probably is for me, but I seek out the saltiest pretzels in the store. I also tend to shy away from over-processed brands (I’m looking at you Rold Gold) and toward the locally made kind or the ones made in Pennsylvania. But seriously. Who wants a pretzel with little to no salt? Yet, if you go to the store right now, you will find bags and bags of under-salted pretzels. I’m not joking–go make this a fun (or not so fun) exercise in futility. But if you seek out the likes of Tom Sturgis or Utz brands, for instance, you will find nicely salted and in some cases, perfectly over-salted treats.

Chef JimSpice. Now, have you ever noticed that when something is labeled “spicy” or even “extra spicy” it’s usually a 3 or 4 on a scale of 1 to 10? I’ve always wanted my foods, even foods like pickled jalapenos, to be spicier. Other foods like snack foods, dips, bloody mary mix, soups, chili, frozen foods….even “spicy” chicken wings….are just never spicy enough for a guy like me that likes it really hot. But alas, I have found a commercially made food that fills the bill and then some–Claussen pickles Hot & Spicy. I like Claussen pickles–they are somewhat close to the deli pickles I grew up eating in New York. But they still have somewhat of a processed thing going on. However, when I saw their Hot & Spicy variety in a local grocery store, I couldn’t not try them. But I was pleasantly surprised at the level of heat. I mean, I’d say 8 out of 10, which is super hot for a jarred pickle. I bought another jar, wondering if maybe it was a fluke. Dare I say, the second jar was slightly spicier than the first. Damn, Mr. Claussen, you are not messing around with the hot pepper essence. But I freaking love it. Now, if only everyone else would be less wimpy with the heat!

Easy Ham & Cheese Quesadilla

The other day I had a hankering for grilled cheese, but I’m watching my girlish figure–and by girlish I mean I am developing man boobs. Not good.

Anyway, I found some awesome whole wheat tortillas in the fridge that we bought recently at a local grocery store called Miller’s. The store often has local products, and sell locally made tortillas that are flat out amazing, by the Gitto Family Farm n Kitchen (Watertown, Wisconsin). The tortillas are light and airy and when you cook them in a skillet they become even more delicious, so they are perfect for soft tacos or in this case, quesadillas. And their whole wheat variety are not “woody” but also light and airy.

So making a “grilled cheese” in this way was the perfect compromise, and in some ways even better than the real thing.

Basically I heated up a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and put a couple of thin slices of ham and a cut up slice of American cheese (the deli kind preferably) on a tortilla half with a squirt of spicy mustard. I did this with a second tortilla and then put them in the skillet together, spraying the tops with cooking spray. After a couple minutes (or maybe just 90 seconds–be sure to check), I flipped the quesadillas over and cooked another 45 seconds to a minute or until browned. Then I removed to a plate and cut into segments with a pizza cutter.

I didn’t serve with anything to dip in but you could indeed use salsa or sour cream or even more mustard. Oh, and you have to serve some pickles on the side, like the giant garlic dill chunks I got from Tony Packo’s online store. Yum. Now I’m hungry again!

Product review: Power Crunch protein energy bars

I’m a sucker for sweet and crispy wafers, such as Kit-Kats, those Belgian wafers you can find in the candy aisle, and the really-bad-for-us ones in the cookie aisle–you know, the ones that are usually “value” brand and are strangely colored to resemble vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. But of course, what makes these crispy and creamy snacks so delicious are the combination of fat (butter or oil or both) and sugar–lots of sugar. And that means eating too many of these things makes us fat at an exponential rate.

I also am constantly mesmerized by packaging and as my wife will attest, I gravitate to new products and HAVE to try them. It’s in my DNA or something. And when I’m trying to eat healthy, these items call out to me even more. Well, there are protein bars, right? Well, most of the time, stuff like South Beach, Zone and Cliff Bars are all nice options that are low in sugar, high in protein. But most of those just taste terrible–they have this protein powder-ish after taste, sort of like a combo of yogurt and ricotta in powder or nougat form.

Hence when I saw Power Crunch Protein Energy Bars in Trader Joe’s, I was skeptical but had to try them. The package made this bar to look akin to a Kit-Kat, and I picked up a vanilla and a chocolate bar. And when I was hungry later in the day, I grabbed a vanilla bar, and I suddenly heard a choir in my head as if I’d found the meaning of life. Could it be? A delicious crunch bar that was low in sugar? Yes! These bars are incredible–and are high in protein, low in sugar (14 grams of protein/5 grams of sugar), and the first ingredient is whey protein isolate blend. They have 12 grams of fat, from palm oil mostly, but if you are going low carb that’s usually not an issue. Is there an aftertaste? Well, ever so slightly but it’s not anything like those bars I mentioned earlier. And when it tastes this good and seems sweet, it doesn’t matter.

I went and bought a case of vanilla, chocolate and cookies N cream online–and the fine folks at Power Crunch sent me a box of peanut butter creme and berry creme. I also tried the chocolate fudge flavor from the store, but that was the only one I wasn’t crazy about. And the vanilla and chocolate are still my faves, and I can tell you they have a customer for life in me.

Hopefully you will find these bars too–you will be glad you did, I promise!

Mikey’s March Madness spread

As originally posted on the Bullz-Eye.com blog……

March Madness, like most big sporting events, has become a free-for-all of food options. But just because the Madison Avenue crowd tries to pump your eyes and ears full of pizza, tacos and subs, you don’t have to fill your belly with that commercially made food (and I use the word “food” loosely). So here are a few options to try and mix things up in your own kitchen, literally.

TANGY SWEET SOY-LIME WINGS

I’ve been trying to create and perfect various wing recipes, and lately I’ve been into the sweet, tangy and spicy notes of Asian flavors, so here is the most ambitious of this group of recipes.

Ingredients:

¼ cup each soy sauce
¼ cup mirin
¼ cup sake (rice wine)
¼ cup brown sugar
1 inch piece of ginger, trimmed and chopped fine
5 lb. bag chicken wing sections (if frozen, thaw in the refrigerator for 1-2 days before using)
¼ cup vegetable oil (such as canola or peanut oil), divided
Salt and pepper to taste
Sriracha hot sauce to taste
Juice of 2 limes
1/3 cup chopped roasted peanuts
¼ cup chopped cilantro

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine soy sauce, mirin, sake, sugar and ginger in a small bowl and whisk together. Set aside. Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven on medium heat. Lay wings on a large platter or a few plates and sprinkle with salt and pepper. When you put your hand about 2 inches from the oil and can feel the heat, add half of the wings, skin side down. Sear for about four minutes per side and remove to another plate. Repeat with remaining oil, wings and salt/pepper, but after searing the second batch, return the rest of the wings to the pot, and dump in the sauce. Turn down the heat and cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove cover, and let simmer another five minutes, until sauce is reduced and thick. Using tongs, carefully remove wings to a large baking sheet coated with cooking spray and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until browned and crispy. Remove wings to a plate, drizzle with some of the remaining sauce in the pan and Sriracha, and sprinkle with lime juice, peanuts and cilantro.

TRIO OF FAT FINGER SANDWICHES

People like tea-like finger sandwiches. They are also the food of choice for many fancy cocktail parties. But for dudes like us, they should be called something that reflects our caveman instincts, hence the name “fat finger sandwiches.” For the purpose of making this easy for you (and me), I’ll show you how to make about four sandwiches at a time, and you can multiply out as necessary.

Crispy Cristo Sandwich

Is it even worth saying that this may be the single most delicious thing I have ever made or tasted? Because, well, it really was. And after wrestling with the idea that I would have to figure out how to butter the donuts, I realized that with the sugar glaze, the donut as “bread” would become crisp on its own.

Ingredients:

Butter
4 glazed donuts, preferably Krispy Kreme
4 thin slices smoked deli ham
4 slices yellow American cheese
Cooking spray

Directions:

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and throw in a pat of butter. Slice each donut, lay a slice of ham and then cheese on the bottom and replace with the top, and then place donut sandwich in the skillet and press down with a spatula. Repeat with all donuts, and when bottom begins to brown (about 60 to 90 seconds), flip the sandwich over and cook for another 45 seconds to a minute. Move to a plate as is or slice in half or quarters.

Pizza Bagel and Sausage Slider

Another super easy and tasty snack.

Ingredients:

1-2 links (fully cooked) smoked Italian sausage, sliced
8 small pizza bagels

Directions:

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, fry sausage slices on each side until brown and crispy, then drain on paper towels. Meanwhile, bake pizza bagels according to package directions. Let cool a few minutes, then put a few slices of sausage on four of the bagel halves and top with remaining bagel halves.

Chicken and Wafflewich

I’ve been semi-obsessed with this classic combo lately, and this is about as simple as it gets.

Ingredients:

6-8 small breaded chicken strips
4 double maple waffles (such as Eggo)
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. hot sauce
2 pats butter

Directions:

Bake chicken strips according to package directions and set aside. Meanwhile, combine syrup and hot sauce in a small bowel. Toast waffles and spread butter on each slice. Then, top two waffles with chicken strips and drizzle with syrup. Top with other waffles (they should be those waffles that are perforated that you can break into four large finger sandwiches) and serve.

PIMENTO CHEESE CANOES

Because you need some vegetables (well, maybe not!), here is an easy and tasty way to put three food groups together.

Ingredients:

1 bunch celery
½ cup pimento cheese (in a jar, looks like cream cheese)
Handful of slivered toasted almonds (Trader Joe’s has them pre-toasted like this)

Directions:

Wash and trim celery, leaving them as long “canoes.” Spread cheese on each and sprinkle with almonds.

BLOODY MIKEY SHOOTER

I imagine this would be a kickass hangover cure, although I haven’t tested that theory just yet.

Ingredients:

½ cup tomato juice or vegetable juice
1 Tbsp. Buffalo wing sauce
1 Tbsp. hot pickled cherry pepper juice
Juice of half a lime

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a small juice glass and stir Drink up! (Note: This makes one shooter, but you can use this guideline to make as many as you want).

Product review: Krave Jerky

You know how when you buy a car, and then you notice your model of car everywhere on the road? Yeah, where am I going with this? Well, about a month ago I was perusing the cool and interesting food items at World Market, and on the little hooks in between shelves sat some beef jerky–called Krave. And I was struck immediately by the flavors–Chili Lime, and Sweet Chipotle. I must have this jerky, I thought. And so I did. I took it home and tried the chili lime first, and it was love at first bite. Not only was this jerky bursting with flavor and spice, it was extremely tender, the direction that many commercial jerky varieties seem to be going in–that is, away from chewy meat that takes an hour to chew, to a more tender, almost fresh type.

Anyway, the Sweet Chipotle kind of paled in comparison to the Chili Lime, which I inhaled almost in one sitting. Then I did what I do a lot of these days–I looked up Krave online, and contacted them to profess my undying love. And when I perused the site, I found out they have several cool flavors–including Basil Citrus and Orange Pineapple. But the cool thing is that they match the flavor profile to type of meat–so the Basil Citrus is for turkey jerky, as is Lemon Garlic. The other beef flavors are Garlic Chili Pepper (my new favorite that I am gnawing at like a caveman as I am writing this–tastes like beef teriyaki Chinese takeout) and Pineapple Orange. And their smoked teriyaki flavor uses pork as its canvas, and it’s also tender and delicious and one of my other faves.

Right now I have a big bag of Krave that I’m working through a little at a time, since my wife got me the 5-jerky sampler pack for Valentine’s Day, and the fine folks at Krave sent me the Pineapple Orange to try. I also keep finding Krave in stores–in Target, Walgreens and other places (back to my original point, you see). And if I see the Chili Lime, Chili Garlic or Smoked Teriyaki variety, I can’t walk past it without grabbing a bag. And so my bag O Krave is never empty.

My only complaint is that they got rid of the Curry flavor before I had a chance to try it. And when I went to order some of the Garlic Chili Pepper flavor yesterday, they were out of stock. Luckily I stopped at World Market yesterday and stocked up. But they also told me a new flavor is being developed–Black Cherry Barbecue. I love that this company is coming up with new, bold and interesting flavors and maybe rotating them out. And rotating is fine so long as I know I can stock up on my faves.

My point is, if you see Krave, buy it and eat it! You will Krave it just like I do now.

Mikey’s Beef Fried Rice

I’ve been on a mission lately to find Chinese roast pork in the grocery store. And I don’t think it’s gonna happen. One day I will stop being lazy and just pick up a container of it from the local takeout place and make my own fried rice with it. Because lately I can’t seem to find good fried rice. It’s either bland, too yellow and not brown enough, has too many onions or green onions, not enough meat, or all of the above.

So yesterday I was in the grocery store and saw these really nice stir fry beef strips. The last thing we had on our weekly menu (yes, Mrs. Mikey and I try to do that) was fish, and I had not thawed it, and want to be especially careful thawing seafood. So now then. I suddenly had a vision in my head for fried rice. Basically watching a lot of “Chopped” and “Top Chef” has made me try to think more creatively than usual lately.

So I took the beef strips and marinated then in teriyaki sauce for 15-20 minutes or until I prepped the other ingredients–Trader Joe’s frozen brown rice (poke a few holes in the bag and nuke for 3 minutes for absolutely perfectly sticky and delicious brown rice), carrots, 1/2 an onion, some snow peas, ginger, canola oil, sherry, soy sauce, sesame oil, sriracha, some cilantro, a lime, and a couple of eggs. I chopped the ginger up fine, chopped the carrots (I used baby carrots) and the onion, and then sliced the snow peas into slivers. I put about a tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet and when hot to the 2-inches-away touch, put the veggies in the pan and stirred, adding a bit of salt and pepper. After the onion just started to brown I removed the vegetables to a plate and added the beef to the pan, with some salt and pepper. The beef started to brown but I wanted it to be slightly charred in spots, or in this case a bit overdone to make it like a sponge for the teriyaki sauce if that makes sense.

Then I put the beef on a plate, and poured a little bit of sherry and soy sauce in the pan to deglaze it. I added a touch more canola oil, a sprinkling more of sherry and soy, a few drops of sriracha and a few drops of sesame oil. I put the veggies back in, chopped the beef into small pieces and added them to the pan, followed by the rice. Then I stirred, and added a little more teriyaki sauce and set aside to keep warm. Meanwhile, I heated a small nonstick skillet over medium heat and cracked two eggs in it. I put the rice in two bowls, topped each with a sunny side up egg, some chopped cilantro and a lime wedge, and there you have it….Mikey’s Beef Fried Rice!

My only regret is I forgot to snap a picture. But I will say it was some of the best fried rice I’ve ever made, and Mrs. Mikey agreed. Damn, now I’m hungry again.