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Product Review: Planter’s NUT-rition Men’s Health Recommended Mix

Chef JimThat’s a mouthful of a title, huh? Well, it’s a pleasant mouthful of nuts too (insert Beavis and Butthead snickering). Seriously, this new Planter’s NUT-rition Men’s Health Recommended Mix is a simple combination of peanuts, pistachios and almonds. And before I get to the health benefits, let me just say that it’s a winning combo. I like having peanuts in my nut mixes, and more often than not lately they are not included. But Planter’s is sort of known for their peanuts, almonds are the new peanuts, and shelled pistachios are becoming more popular as well.

I don’t think this is how it’s supposed to go down, but when I opened the can I inhaled almost half of it. I don’t want to look and see how many servings that is. But they are delicious, fresh, and a filling snack. There are six grams of protein per serving, six vitamins and minerals and 3 grams of fiber.

And not only are these nuts sold in a can, they also sell them in a six-pack of single serving (1 oz.) bags to take on the go–an excellent stash for your desk to go along with all that jerky and cheese sticks (or if you are like me, a bit too much candy and assorted junk food).

Look for a media blitz geared toward guys, but I can tell you my wife took a few bags to work as well and also enjoyed them. Planter’s, you have another winner.

Product review: Hormel Mary Kitchen 50% less fat Corned Beef Hash

Chef JimJust in time for St. Patrick’s Day, right? I popped open a can of Hormel Mary Kitchen 50% less fat Corned Beef Hash for lunch today, and it was awesome. What I did was to empty half a can into a skillet sprayed with cooking spray, and cooked on medium heat for about ten minutes with flipping it. That made the bottom nice and crispy, and then I flipped it over to crisp the other side. After about five more minutes, I cracked an egg on top and let that cook until set, added salt and pepper, and instant lunch! Of course, this is a food more suited for breakfast, but there are no rules here at Mikey’s Kitchen.

I didn’t compare this against the full fat version of this hash, but this one had less fat (I believe 7 grams per serving). However, it was still 290 calories, so if you’re watching your weight, you should keep this one on the shelf.

Anyway, the tasty combo of tiny cubes of corned beef and potatoes was filling and delicious, and even better crisped up with the egg on top. This is a good thing to keep on hand for hangover food or to impress your house guests.

A can a week: Swanson Chicken & Dumplings

Chef JimA can a week is back! We hope to bring this feature each week, since grocery store shelves are lined with the stuff…canned food, that is. Anyway, this week we tried Swanson Chicken & Dumplings. It’s not soup, but rather chunks of chicken and small dumplings in a rich chicken gravy.

The pros–very tasty and satisfying, especially on a cold day like today; quality chicken meat and nicely made dumplings; perfectly seasoned
The cons–a bit thin, and if I would have known, I could have tried it over noodles or rice; the chicken chunks were small; and I would have liked some carrots, peas or celery in addition to the chicken and the dumplings.

But overall this is a winning can of food, and as I said a very satisfying cold weather lunch.

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.

Roni Sue who?

So this past weekend, my wife was traveling on business to New York City, and when she had told me en route home that she picked me up something, I didn’t think much of it at the time other than it was nice she was thinking of me. But then when she arrived home and handed me a bag with 1) BeerCorn (beer caramel corn) and 2) chocolate covered bacon, it was like the holidays had arrived early.

The place she picked these items up from was a booth at a street fair, from a vendor called Roni-Sue’s Chocolates. The bacon is really good, but, well, how can chocolate covered bacon not be? But the BeerCorn blew me away. It’s beer and pretzel caramel corn with candied mustard seeds. So not only is the caramel corn itself delicious, but throw in the malty aftertaste of beer and the faint taste of mustard, and it’s like a ballpark exploded in your mouth.

Thankfully you can order this stuff online, and there are also items that are intriguing, like maple/bacon lollipops, chile/lime lollipops, truffles, BeerCrunch & bacon buttercrunch, and chocolate covered pretzels. But maybe the best part is that everything from Roni Sue is handmade and all natural. So yeah, it tastes amazing and there are no weird artificial ingredients. What more could you ask for? Except more!

Cooler weather=warmer food

I have to admit, by the time September hits, and there is a chill in the air, I’m ready to stop grilling and making salads and gazpacho and ready to start cooking stick-to-you-ribs meals like chili and stew and roasts. One of the reasons I was excited about moving to Wisconsin last year was for the earlier changing of the season from that of Nashville. Of course, there is the down side to that–i.e. early and lots-of-it snow. But we have some time before that happens (well, hopefully we do). And the warmer fall has been a mild bummer in a cooking sense, because who wants to make stew when it’s 80 degrees outside, as it was the first week to 10 days of the month here in Madison. Something is wrong with that picture, but I’m no climate scientist.

As I write this, however, it’s a brisk 60-ish with temps dropping into the low 40′s tonight. It’s stew time, and I’ve got a beef stew on the stove. I’m not making the one I posted here last year, but a new recipe I found in a magazine. But I have to tell you guys, I re-visited my chili recipe last week during a football Sunday (the beef one), and it came out way better than it ever has before. I think the key was just to let it thicken naturally, but either way I felt pretty good about that recipe, admittedly better than the first time I made it and created the recipe.

I’m also looking forward to re-visiting casseroles and mac & cheese like this one. I also want to give another go-round with this Buffalo chicken mac I saw in the Food Network magazine recently. Man, was that amazing. Oh, and don’t forget about soup. Maybe I need to make new soups a priority this year–dude soup. Yeah, that’s it.

Product review: Schwan’s mini meatball sandwiches and mini mozzarella bites

You’ve probably seen those yellow delivery trucks that are essentially refrigerators on wheels. These vehicles carry Schwan’s Foods. What you may not know is that you can order these products online now to be delivered to your door, but not necessarily by yellow refrigerator truck.

Anyway, I have never tried anything that Schwan’s made but I have heard that their food is mighty tasty, something you can’t always say about frozen foods. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when I was pitched two new products from Schwan’s–mini meatball sandwiches and mini mozzarella bites–as the company tries to appeal to the football watching public. So I popped them in the oven (the meatball sandwiches require about twice the time so I put those in first) and ate them–you guessed it–on Sunday while watching football.

Chef JimThe mini meatball sandwiches are kind of like mini Hot Pockets, but with one difference (no offense to the folks who make the aforementioned pockets)–they taste really good. The crust is actually nice and flaky, despite being a frozen product, and still house a good amount of whole grains without being grainy tasting. The meatballs do not taste like mystery meat, and don’t even have a weird texture as some frozen meatballs do. The only thing I would have liked more of is the tomato sauce, but this can be easily rectified by nuking some spaghetti or pizza sauce and dipping the sandwiches.

Chef JimIn fact, you might want to nuke extra sauce to go along with the mozzarella bites. For some reason, I was expecting breaded cheese sticks, but these were more like tiny pillows of dough with mozzarella cheese inside. Just like the sandwiches, the crust was nice and flaky and these were nice little bites. These have no sauce–it’s basically dough and cheese, but still delicious and perfect dipping into warmed pizza sauce.

Bacon woes

I had good intentions with another bacon recipe to post this past weekend, but lo and behold, not every recipe I develop is any good. My plan was to take refrigerated crescent rolls, and fill them with bacon and sausage and cheese. Mmmmm, breakfast-y goodness, right? Well, not really, and this makes me wonder how many recipes out there that are really good actually fail sometimes and fail as miserably as my breakfast sandwich.

I cooked a bunch of bacon, and our 4-year old son ate more of it than I needed. That’s my boy. I was left with two slices. I cooked a link of turkey breakfast sausage. Then I took the rolls out or should I say, Mrs. Mike and I (mostly her) had to fight to open the package, which should have been our first sign. I won’t say the brand, because I don’t want to throw anyone under the bus here, but I will say this–the crescent rolls I bought were butter flavored. Now, you’d think that anything’s better with butter, right? The catch here is I don’t think it’s real butter we’re talking about.

Anyway, I assembled the roll by pinching two triangles together to make a rectangle, and then I laid down some cheese, bacon and the sausage link and rolled that sucker up. I baked it for a few minutes longer than what the recipe suggested, and took a bite. B-L-E-C-H. I took another bite. B-L-E-C-H. It was the butter flavored roll, not anything else that made it disgusting. I imagine that with normal crescent rolls or biscuits, this sandwich would taste really good. But I haven’t recovered from that vile butter taste to give it a go.

I will say this, though…..it’s been fun writing about bacon and coming up with recipes, so why not extend bacon week for another little while? I’ll be preoccupied for a few days but will deliver more bacon posts next week and into the following week before turning our attention to Halloween candy. Sound good? I thought so.

Maple-y bacon breakfast sandwich

Psst, don’t tell your cardiologist about this one.

Last week, I saw Eggo French Toast Waffles, which are more of a waffle and less like French toast (the key is there is maple syrup baked in), in the freezer case at the grocery store. I thought our 4-year old would like these, so I picked them up. Then of course, I realized it’s bacon week and anything goes.

So this morning, I toasted two of these “waffles,” and scrambled some eggs. I cooked up two slices of thick cut bacon in the microwave. When the pillows of maple goodness were toasted, I put a slice of cheese down on one of them, then topped with the scrambled eggs and the bacon slices and put the other waffle on top. And there you have a breakfast sandwich that is every bit as tasty as it sounds, and looks (above).

It’s bacon week!

We’ll have plenty of bacon talk this week, but I wanted to just offer a few items today to kick things off.

First of all, I have to have blood drawn tomorrow morning for my semi-annual cholesterol check. I’ve come to learn that it’s not so much bacon and eggs that muddy your blood, or at least my blood. But rather, it’s carbs. So I like to eat lots of bacon and other meats when I’m watching my weight and/or carbs. But that doesn’t mean I at a pound of the stuff today before my blood test. But I will indeed eat much bacon this week as I sample and create some more recipes. Our 4 year old son also loves bacon, and often pulls the package out of the deli drawer in the fridge and hands it to me or Mrs. Mikey. Pretty funny.

Anyway, the other thing I wanted to mention was how to best cook bacon. The traditional way is in a frying pan, but this can get extremely messy and not result in the best product. You can also bake it in an oven on a wire rack set over a baking sheet, and it comes out perfectly crispy this way, but also takes a while.

The best way is to use a microwave. And I don’t mean cooking that “pre-cooked” bacon that you nuke in like 15 seconds. That stuff isn’t the same. I’m talking nuking real slices of bacon with either a bacon tray or a plate with paper towels. I’ve broken many a tray, so I am currently using the plate and towel method. You put about 2 sheets of paper towel down on the plate, lay a few slices of bacon down, and top with 1-2 more sheets of paper towel. You nuke on high for two minutes, turn the paper towels over and change them, and then nuke for another 1-2 minutes. Your bacon, unless it’s super thick, will be just about perfect. And you may never look at cooking bacon as a chore again!

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