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Mikey’s food resolutions for 2013

Happy New Year foodie friends! My first resolution is to post more regularly here. Beyond that, here are some of my food resolutions for 2013, and feel free to add yours in the comments or by e-mail to mikeyskitchen@gmail.com.

1. Create two new original recipes per month. Any of you that are creative types know that getting started is the most difficult part. But once you figure out your medium (meat/veggies/sauce/herbs/spices), the possibilities are endless.

2. Try four new foods I’ve never tried before. This one is tricky as I am not the kind of person who wants anything to do with foods like snails or even squid. But one new food item every three months? I think I can do that without having to try anything too far out of my comfort zone.

3. Make better use of a local specialty. In Wisconsin, that would be cheese. I have had some of the best cheddars of my life here in Madison, and yet there are so many other varieties. Maybe this will also go hand in hand with both #1 and #2.

4. Eat less junk and eat more healthy but tasty food. That means less packaged chips and crackers and more homemade beef jerky or celery with spicy hummus. It can be done.

5. Create a new column or two. The first idea I have is to re-create vintage food items that I can’t find or that no longer exist. The first of these–Buitoni’s toaster pizzas. I think I have written about these before, and I miss them dearly. But I think with some experimentation, even without an elaborate test kitchen, I can work on coming close to re-creation. Intrigued? So am I.

6. Figure out a better way to organize recipes. We have mountains of magazines and cookbooks, and it’s getting scary. I try and clip recipes, and toss magazines when I can, but it’s hard to keep up. But hey, it’s winter time in Madison, and that means it’s freaking cold outside and time for indoor projects. No excuses.

7. Watch more food TV. Not necessarily Food Network, but any of the other food related shows that are popping up on various channels. Or maybe just watch all of the episodes of Sandwich King and Best Thing I Ever Made or The Minimalist on DVR for a change.

Okay, that’s enough for now. Any more, and I won’t even try to keep said resolutions. Now let’s get cooking….

Taco baked potato

Sometimes you have no idea what to make for dinner, and it’s getting late in the day. Lately, that’s happened a lot to me. I work from home and do most of the cooking in our house, so I’m usually planning and cooking, and trying to time things for when my wife gets home from work. Recently I had some ground turkey and didn’t know what to do with it, and had to think something up. We had some nice baking potatoes, and I’m one of those people who does not believe in microwaving potatoes–blech. So I popped two potatoes in the oven, and using some taco mix we had on hand, made taco meat with the ground turkey. And what was born? A combo that I’m surely not the first person to think of–a taco baked potato. This combines two awesome food items and it’s pretty healthy, so long as you’re not counting carbs.

Here is what to do–rinse the potatoes, and pierce them a few times with a fork. Bake at 450 degrees for an hour or so. Meanwhile, with about 15 minutes left on the potato cooking time, make the taco meat according to package directions. Shred some cheddar cheese (or used pre-shredded cheddar or Mexican blend cheese), and gather taco items such as chopped tomatoes, olives, jalapenos, sour cream and either salsa or taco sauce. You can also add chopped avocado as I did, and/or cilantro. Really, you can use your imagination or anything you have on hand. The only item that goes in tacos that might not be good here would be lettuce, since it would wilt when added to a piping hot potato.

So cut the potatoes in half, mash them a bit and then top with the meat and other toppings. Dinner is served!

Maple cheddar

Okay, so if you don’t live in Wisconsin, this might be a bit more difficult to relate to. But on a recent visit to the most awesome Brennan’s Market, I came across a new flavor of cheddar–maple cheddar. It’s cheddar cheese literally infused with maple syrup. I was a bit skeptical but when one of the employees asked me if I needed help and then saw the maple cheddar in my basket, she said that was her favorite. Okay, if I was ambivalent before, now I was sold. And I was already imagining what to do with this cheese.

I had also picked up some thick cut bacon at Brennan’s, and so my breakfast the next morning was an open faced bacon/cheese melt using the bacon and the maple cheddar. And as you might expect, it was awesome. Of course, you can make this with any type of cheese, but this maple cheese gave it that hint of sweetness, and it was subtle, as if you were eating pancakes and some of the syrup slid onto your sandwich. Yum.

And it’s simple–just cook 2-3 slices of bacon. Cut a thick slice or two of crusty Italian bread, top with the bacon and some shredded cheese, and broil or toast for about 2-3 minutes or until the cheese melts and is bubbly.

Perfect pizza

Maybe one of these days we will convince Trader Joe’s to advertise here, because I’m about to pimp them again. Seriously, even though it’s a good 20 minute drive from our house, we do most of our grocery shopping there. Their prices are great, they have cool and unique products and they get you in and out (plenty of cashiers and baggers) quickly. Some of their items that we go out of our way for from Trader Joe’s are the Greek yogurt (thick and tasty), whole grain bread with no additives or junk, and my personal favorite–pizza dough. Now, they have whole wheat dough, and an herb dough. But there is nothing quite like the plain white one. And if you, like me, have ever gone on a wild goose chase for a ball of pizza dough, you might bookmark this thought–the one that says Trader Joe’s has amazing pizza dough.

Anyway, if you do grab a ball (heh heh, he said grab a ball…I digress), here is how I make perfect pizza every time……preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Wipe a work surface clean, and then spread it with some white flour. Place the dough down and turn it over a few times to coat with flour, and flour a rolling pin. Roll the dough, adding more flour to prevent sticking to rolling pin and surface (this also makes the dough more elastic). Do this as far as you can in every direction to wind up with a round, thin crust. Grab a pizza pan and place dough on it. I like to use a 14 inch pan, rolling up the ends to make them thick.

Grab a can of pizza sauce (or use spaghetti sauce), and pour a small amount on the dough. Spread it with a spoon, adding more as needed to cover the dough, but not necessarily cover it all the way…there should be red swirls all the way around, with plenty of white space too, if that makes sense. For the cheese, I like to grab some shredded mozzarella and put that in a bowl. Then I shred some sharp cheddar and add that to the mozzarella, then add some grated Parmesan to that. The ratio should be something like 60-30-10. Spread that around the pie, but like with the sauce, don’t over-do the cheese (unless you like it that way). Finally, sprinkle with a dash of dried oregano.

Place the pie in the oven, and bake, rotating clockwise every 4-5 minutes to bake it evenly, a total of about 12-15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly, turning brown but not too brown. Remove, slice with a pizza cutter and enjoy. I know it’s perfect when I hear that “thwap!” as I’m cutting it, meaning my dough is thin and beautifully crispy. Man, I’m hungry! Anyway, enjoy and let me know if you have a chance to try this out.

It’s not not manly to pair cheese with Sledgehammer wine

No, really. I venture to say that when you’re drinking a wine that is called Sledgehammer, no one can call you a girly man. I reviewed this wine on the Bullz-Eye blog a few months back, and they are still in the same vintage–2007. But these folks were kind enough to send me more of this bold and awesome red wine when I told them about Mikey’s Kitchen. So here we are. I mean, I’m not drunk from having slammed two bottles of wine just now. I enjoyed them 1-2 glasses at a time. Okay, maybe three glasses.

But here is the best part–living in Wisconsin, I’ve become somewhat of a cheese snob. I can’t with a clear conscience munch on store brand or even Cracker Barrel’s most sharp sharpy cheddar. I have to buy my cheese at Brennan’s, a Madison institution and a place that has some of the most kickass cheese around, even for Wisconsin.

And yeah, I’ve become a snob, but by no means am I an expert on wine and cheese pairing. I do know what I like, however, and what I chose recently at Brennan’s went perfectly with the Zinfandel and Cabernet the folks at Sledgehammer sent me. I paired them with a 5-year cheddar and a butterkase. The cheddar is bold, super-sharp (like Cracker Barrel on steroids), and that means it’s got a natural zing and tang to it — which of course goes perfectly with a bold red wine.

Butterkase is something I stumbled upon by accident, and I would imagine it would go well with white wine too, since it’s a light colored cheese that could be from either the Swiss or provolone families. But trust me, it’s not wimpy like those cheeses can be in the store–butterkase is soft, but it has this big, giant flavor that hits you after about 15 seconds, and it’s just delicious. Even better, the fact that it’s bold despite being soft and white, is that it too pairs nicely with a bold red wine like Sledgehammer.

Okay, then. Your wine pairing class for the day is adjourned. But let me say again, it’s not because they sent me free wine. Sledgehammer is one of the best reds I’ve tasted. Heck, even Adam Carolla endorses it! And if you don’t live in Wisconsin, fear not–Brennan’s ships out of state.

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