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Mikey gives props to…..

Cooking Light Magazine–I’ve mentioned on here before that I am on Weight Watchers. Yes, it sometimes affects and stifles my creativity as a home cook, but it also opens up possibilities and challenges me. Well, I recently started subscribing to Cooking Light Magazine. And of all of the food magazine recipes I’ve made lately, almost everything we’ve tried the past two weeks from their 25th anniversary edition have been phenomenal. Here are a few you can try that we did:

Chef JimCreamy Four-cheese Macaroni & Cheese–You will not believe how few calories this is per serving. I defy anyone to find me a full-fat recipe that is as good as this one.

Chef JimCheesy Meat Loaf Minis–Some of the best meat loaf we have ever had. It helps that you can use full-fat cheddar, and being in Wisconsin, we have some good cheddar.

Chef JimTop Chef: Seattle–I need to be honest. I am a fan of the Top Chef brand, but have found Curtis Stone hosting Top Chef Masters to be grating. And their new Life After Top Chef is kind of so-so. But the original, which now is in Season 10 for Top Chef Seattle, remains one of the best shows on television, cooking show or otherwise. Bravo to Bravo and to Magical Elves production. I mean, I’d rather look at and listen to Padma Lakshmi than Curtis, and Tom Colicchio is like the Godfather of the show, but every season they do not disappoint with the collection of chefs, and with the episodes and challenges. It’s just a fun show to watch and guaranteed to make home chefs inspired.

Chef JimHome Run Inn Frozen Pizza–This is hands down the best frozen pizza on the planet. It comes from Chicago, so I’m not sure if they ship beyond the proximity of the Midwest, but my goodness. The crust is ridiculous–it tastes like fresh bakery bread. The sauce is perfectly simple with no garlic whatsoever, unlike many sauces on other frozen brands that ruin the pizza that way. The cheese is just mozzarella. And now they have thin crust varieties that are Weight Watchers friendly–for real.

Easy breakfast tacos

It’s not always easy to make a quick, healthy breakfast, but here is one you can do that is way better than something you can get at any drive-thru. Breakfast tacos, and super easy ones at that.

For one person, you’ll need 2 corn tortillas (I like the white corn rather than the yellow), 2 eggs, some shredded sharp cheddar, optional bacon and some good salsa or hot sauce or both.

You can either warm the tortillas by wrapping them in foil and putting in the oven or toaster oven for 10 minutes at 300 degrees. OR my way is to quick fry them in a nonstick pan by spraying both sides with cooking spray and cooking over medium high heat for about 30-45 seconds per side.

If using bacon, cook 2 slices according to package directions (I use the microwave for this).

Meanwhile, heat another nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Crack the eggs into a bowl and whisk with salt and pepper. Pour into pan and cook for 2-3 minutes or until just set. Divide the egg on each tortilla, sprinkle with cheese, crumbled bacon and hot sauce or salsa.

Fold in half and eat!

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.

Chicken, bean & spinach stew

Here is one of my favorite recipes that I came up with for my Grub for Guys column on Bullz-Eye.com. It’s chicken, bean and spinach stew–healthy, tangy, spicy and filling all at once. In fact, have some with some crusty bread and you have a meal. Heh-heh, I said crusty. Anyway, give this a shot and let me know what you think….

So the summer is winding down and you’ve got that spare tire around your midsection. Longer daylight hours and warmer weather usually means lots of burgers, hot dogs, ice cream and cold beer—all delicious, yet all fattening. Well, here is a dish I came up with that is not only good for most diets, but packed with protein and vitamins. And oh yeah, it tastes really good. So this fall, if you’ve got 30-40 minutes to whip something up before the game starts, this stew is an easy and healthy option.

Ingredients
8-10 oz. boneless skinless chicken breast, cubed (2-3 breast halves)
1 can Great Northern beans
1 16 oz. bag baby spinach
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 clove garlic
½ medium tomato, seeded and chopped
½ cup white wine
½ cup chicken broth
salt & pepper to taste
red pepper flakes
Grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:
Heat oil in large, deep skillet. Sautee garlic 30 seconds, then add chicken. Stir fry for about 3-4 minutes or until chicken just starts to brown on the outside. Add wine and stir to loosen brown bits (for you guys who want to impress someone, this is called “de-glazing” the pan). Add spinach and chicken broth. Simmer for a few minutes until the spinach wilts. Add beans, tomato and salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. Stir and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until sauce starts to thicken. Serve in bowls topped with Parmesan. Serves (about) four.

Cheeseburger Wellington

Here is another recipe I posted a couple years back on Grub for Guys, and along with the cheeseburger recipe, I included one on my own home fries. Enjoy!

If you’re familiar with Beef Wellington, you know it’s the kind of menu item typically reserved for fine dining. Most are made with filet mignon, pate and mushroom duxelle. Right. I don’t know what that last thing is either, but it’s in a lot of the recipes I’ve seen. Well, if you’re a novice cook, the news is good. One of the best parts about Wellington is the flaky crust. So here, I combined the puff pastry with something a bit more mainstream—a cheeseburger. Admittedly, I came up with this in my head and had to refine it a few times, but the result was pretty tasty. Here we go…..

Cheeseburger Wellington
Ingredients
1 pound lean ground beef (use fattier cuts at your own risk…too much juice can mess this up)
1 portion puff pastry (9 oz.), thawed to room temperature
¼ cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 dill pickle, sliced thin
¼ cup homemade Thousand Island dressing (mix equal parts mayo and chili sauce or ketchup with a Tbsp. chopped pickle)
Salt and pepper

Directions
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put some flour on a clean work surface (your kitchen counter) and on a rolling pin. Divide the pastry dough into 4 equal parts and roll out six-inch circles. Put 1 Tbsp. cheese, a few pickles slices, and 1 Tbsp. dressing in center of each circle. Set aside. Divide the beef into four patties, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and sear in a hot skillet for 2 minutes per side to seal juices in. Lay each patty on top of condiments on pastry, and fold up ends to the top, sealing with your fingers. Turn over, and place on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Pierce a few slits in each pastry (now you look like a pro), and bake for 20 minutes, or until each Wellington is golden on top and the pastry is cooked through. Let sit for a few minutes, then dig in. Serves 4 (or 3, if you divide meat and pastry accordingly).

And here’s a great side, but not one to make if you’re getting your cholesterol checked soon…

Mike’s Home Fries
Ingredients
1 pound red or Yukon Gold potatoes
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
Kosher salt

Directions
Cut potatoes into small chunks (about ½ inch pieces). Place in a medium saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Boil for about 6 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water, then set aside for a bit until cool. Heat about 2 inches of oil in a large saucepan (if you have a deep fryer, you’re a step ahead of me). When you can feel the heat if placing your hand an inch above the hot oil, it’s hot enough (375 degrees if you’re keeping score). Carefully lower the potatoes into the hot oil, and cook for 10-15 minutes, or until potatoes start to turn golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with kosher salt and serve.

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