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Mikey’s Monday this and that

Some random food thoughts for your Monday morning and to start June…..

I think I’ve had just about enough of the spring vegetables. I love asparagus, peas and various spring greens and herbs. But I think almost every stand at the Dane County Farmer’s Market on Saturday had asparagus. My pee is going to smell funny for a month. But anyway, I’m very ready for the summer onslaught–tomatoes, corn, bell peppers, melon, berries….let’s do this thing.

I made meat loaf last night, but not just any meat loaf….Bobby Flay’s Roasted Vegetable Meatloaf. I made it with 2/3 beef and 1/3 ground turkey and I suddenly remembered why I love this recipe so much. The balsamic vinegar/ketchup glaze on top is so good that it’s making my mouth water right now. Next time you are in the mood for meat loaf, you HAVE to try this recipe.

Two summer food shows have started their new seasons–Fox’s Masterchef and Food Network’s Food Network Star. Now, I have nothing against these shows, but sometimes they can be predictable. Masterchef is in Season 4 now, and the best part is that they didn’t drag out the audition part–basically there was maybe one or 1.5 episodes of auditions. And we have our cat fight–between Krissi and Natasha. Natasha is so full of herself but appears to be able to back it up with skills. Meanwhile, Krissi is also talented and she has that east coast “don’t mess with me” vibe. Meanwhile, Food Network Star began its eighth season last night. It’s kind of getting old and stale the way American Idol did. And they seem to pick the same contestants every year–I don’t mean literally, but there are demographics they follow–the tough guy, the Hispanic, the chatty blogger, the dude who can cook his ass off but has no on-camera talent. Oh and this year we have the Ellie Krieger look alike. Of course, I watch these shows like it’s my job, and I don’t see that changing this season.

Have you ever taken a bunch of ingredients and tried to make a meal out of them, sometimes using way more of what you have on hand than you should? I did that last week when I made this chicken dish with bacon and cheese, and somehow tried to incorporate spinach and mushrooms. But I wound up doing the spinach and mushrooms on the side. However, in what should have been a sauce for the chicken, I instead added white wine to the spinach/mushroom stir fry and didn’t cook it out…blech. But I also had an avocado sitting there that I almost used. Sometimes I wonder about myself. I can put cool things together much of the time, but sometimes have cooking slumps. Does this happen to you?

At some point recently, I saw a cooking show about pizza and it may have been one of those competitions between two purveyors of pizza in New York City. And I was struck by the fact that this one pizza chef used canned San Marzano tomatoes as the sauce on his pizza. Those are usually seasoned with a bit of salt and maybe basil and that’s about it. The tomato shines by itself. So I tried this the other night and it was delicious. I’m just one of those people who doesn’t like those garlicky sauces or commercial pizza sauces, but I think this was the best and most natural way to go.

Oh, speaking of pizza…..I have to give a shout out to Scott and Jen at La Fortuna Pizza. I have found great pizza in Madison, and it’s as good as any I’ve ever had. They have a food truck and one of their regular stops in the summer is at the Verona Farmer’s Market, five minutes away. Every Tuesday. And hey, tomorrow is Tuesday! Low carb what?

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….

Spicy dogs and chili and mustard and olives

I’ve talked probably more than I’d care to admit that I’m trying to lose a few pounds. Aren’t we all this time of year?

Anyway, and maybe fortunately or unfortunately, I find loopholes in Weight Watchers’ point system. Maybe they are not loopholes, but they are ideas of healthy deliciousness. In the case of one of my favorite foods, the hot dog, I made this kickass lunch the other day–two fat free white meat turkey franks (thank you Ballpark) on Brownberry white Italian bread, and made two kinds. One had a Kosciusko spicy brown mustard and a small amount of Tony Packo’s Hot Dog Sauce (this stuff is remarkable and by that I mean tasty as hell); and the other had a (literally) kickass Beaver Brand jalapeno mustard and some spicy That Pickle Guy muffalatta style olive salad.

First of all, these hot dogs are fantastic. They do not taste fat free in the least, they are delicious, and they are mild enough to let the other toppings shine. And since I’m eating these dogs like two or three times a week, I’ve become more interested in trying different mustards. Which makes it convenient that we have the National Mustard Museum here in Madison.

And hey, it’s almost lunch time and this post is making me hungry. And I think I know what I want for lunch!

Five things I crave every so often

You know you have them–call them vices, foods you love and have to have every so often, or just items you are just a slave to. I could probably list 50 things here, but I’m going to start with five and maybe do another one of these soon. Here are five food items I crave either weekly, monthly, or a few times a year.

1. Buffalo chicken wings–It’s probably the sauce more than anything, but it’s also the fried. The crispy fried skin of chicken wings soaked with buttery, tangy hot sauce. You may as well inject this stuff, but then you wouldn’t get to taste it. I have gotten by of late by ordering those fried chicken tenders (or even grilled if I’m on a diet) at Buffalo Wild Wings (sorry, nobody does it better….it’s just true), but the real deal is sometimes the only way to kill the craving.

2. Green curry–an amazing combination of spices, hot peppers, coconut milk, fish sauce and other stuff that makes up a thick, spicy and addictive sauce that is cooked with meat and/or vegetables, and served over sticky rice. Sometimes you have to find the best green curry where you live, and that’s not always easy. But once you find it, you are golden. Or at least that’s the case with me.

3. Steak–I’ve tried to eat little or no meat before, but I’m just not wired for that. I love beef, and I especially love a great grilled steak. I also make a killer steak sauce, but if the steak is good enough I don’t like to drown it in anything extra-curricular.

4. Fried chicken–We have a diner here in Madison called Hubbard Avenue Diner. They have fried chicken every Thursday and Saturday, and sometimes on Saturdays I have to practically beg my wife to let me take us there. Their chicken is just phenomenal.

5. Donuts–I can’t always walk past them, but I really can’t walk past Dunkin’ Donuts or Krispy Kreme without buying a donut or twelve. Yum. Nothing like fatty, doughy, fried sweetness. Sadly, there are not many donut shops in Madison–only grocery store and gas station donuts.

What are your cravings? Let me know in the space below, or e-mail me at mikeyskitchen@gmail.com and I’ll post your replies soon!

Foods I miss from…..New York

I have lived in four states in my lifetime, and now live in Madison, Wisconsin. If you are a foodie like me and have moved around a bit in your life like me, that means that when you move from one place to another, there are going to be regional food items you miss from your previous dwelling. This week, I will write about the items I miss about the places I’ve lived–New York (Long Island), Cleveland (Ohio) and Nashville. Here we go…

New York

Pizza, pizza, pizza. With all due respect to you people in Chicago who like your pizza to be a couple inches thick, and everyone else who thinks a large pizza is like 14 inches wide, there is nothing like real New York pizza. Not that it’s all the same, but generally you get a thin crust (not too thin), and the perfect blend of sauce and cheese, a sprinkling of oregano, and that’s it. You take a slice of that 16 to 18 inch pie, fold it in half, and eat like a sandwich. Oh, and don’t forget the shake of crushed red pepper.

Jamaican beef patties–They sell them in every pizza place in and around New York. They also sell them at Jamaican bakeries and in the frozen food section of the grocery store. They are like empanadas–savory and spicy, and with that trademark yellow crust.

Potato salad–If you have ever had the potato salad they sell in German delis in New York, you won’t ever get potato salad anywhere else. I can’t even attempt to make potato salad, ever, because nothing comes close. One question–how do they keep the potato salad looking so bright white and not off white/eggy like store bought salad in any other state?

Nathan’s hot dogs and fries–Well, you can buy Nathan’s hot dogs in most stores. But the fries. I’m not even sure what it is…it’s not like they are super crispy or anything. They are thick crinkle cut, not under cooked and not over cooked–but the perfect companion to a glob of ketchup.

Bagels–Okay so we have Gotham Bagels here in Madison, and they are real New York style bagels. But it’s not near my house, so I have to stock up when I drive past.

Deli sandwiches–Do you sense a theme here? Yes, I miss delis, and you would too if you moved away from New York. There is nothing like a sandwich on a hard kaiser roll–with real meat like roast beef, turkey or ham that was cooked there and sliced thin right there. The roast beef and turkey you get anywhere else is not the same–it’s typically injected with broth and other stuff to preserve it and make it taste processed. Ugh.

Mikey’s Food Resolutions for 2012

The last few years, Mrs. Mike and I have done New Year’s resolutions together on New Year’s Day. And I must say, we’ve stuck to many of them, often referring to our lists as the year wears on. That’s what resolutions are intended for, but many of us forget about them on or around January 3. But I thought it would be fun to put together a few food resolutions for 2012–feel free to add yours below or on Facebook:

Try one new kind of cheese per month–I started doing this in 2011 and got sidetracked or disinterested. But wait, I live in Wisconsin. Disinterested? Not an option, so I’m going to follow through this time. There are simply too many good cheeses to try in this part of the country.

Try a few things that are out of my comfort zone–I’m not a big fan of seafood, or anything in the organ meat vicinity. But in a meal at Graham Elliott in Chicago this past September, Mrs. Mike and I had a meal that had cooked fish; a deconstructed Caesar salad with a whole anchovy on top; and a foie gras lollipop with watermelon pop rocks. That was enough out of comfort zone for a whole year for me, but the foie gras was phenomenal–and I’m glad I took a step out of my comfort zone to try it.

Eat less junk–and by junk I mean stuff like candy, snack cakes and greasy chips. I am vowing to get back into shape in the New Year, and especially after having back surgery in February. And while I don’t think there is anything wrong with occasional junk food, I ate far too much of it in 2011. Time to start eating more nuts, dried fruit and sensible snacks when possible.

Work even harder to eat what’s in season–we belong to a CSA (community supported agriculture) but found ourselves not using everything in our box before some of it went bad. I want to make more of an effort on that one.

Teach our son to eat better–our four year old, who has autism, is very picky about his food. We work hard on this, but it’s extremely difficult to get him to open his mind with food. I think we can work harder at it.

Revive “a can a week”–that was a fun column I started here but need to revive it, reviewing a canned food item per week, be it a new product or one that we’ve been eating for decades.

Use the deep fryer more–I don’t think I took that thing out at all in 2011, and that’s a shame. Who doesn’t love fried food (except me, when my doctor is reading this!)?

Find more cool restaurants and review them here–We live in Madison, one of the coolest food cities on the planet. Mrs. Mike and I love trying new places to eat but need to do so more often. And I’ll bring you the play by play here.

DVR more food shows–I keep seeing press releases and then forget to DVR the shows.

Eat more tofu–seriously? No, that was a joke. Blech.

Thanks for reading, and happy new year!

Real bagel shops have salt bagels

I’m from New York originally, so I’m a bit of a bagel snob. There are all sorts of bagels–but the ones I know I don’t like are supermarket bagels. You know, the ones that are basically bread shaped like a bagel. Or, worse, the packaged whole wheat ones that are sold in the bread aisle and are also like bread, but are nothing more than whole wheat bread in a ring form. They’re also usually stale because no one buys them. There are frozen ones, which are sometimes okay, but still have a weird taste and texture (I won’t shout out brand names to protect the innocent, or guilty, as it were).

Then there are the stores such as Panera Bread, that are nationally ubiquitous and have decent bagels that I believe are cooked properly (boiled first, then baked). The problem is, they are not quite authentic, and part of the reason for that is the name of the company, Panera BREAD. They also use foo-foo flavors liberally. Bruegger’s makes good bagels too, but, well, they are a notch below the big boys.

Which brings me to this post. It took a while once we moved to Madison to find a good bagel store, but we did, in Gotham Bagels. And one of the first signs that I had arrived in a time warp from my days in New York was that Gotham Bagels had my favorite–the salt bagel. And today I noticed another flavor that is typical only of real New York style bagel shops–the pumpernickel bagel. Yum. I had one of each already today. But the salt bagel is amazing. It’s like a giant pretzel but with a bagel taste and texture. This one is slathered with cream cheese, but I also like this bagel with olive cream cheese (another NY thing but also one I’ve found at Bruegger’s or Panera) to give it even more sodium. (note: as always, don’t tell my doctor…I am taking my cholesterol meds and fish oil, anyway).

Hey, is it dinner time yet? I think I need another bagel.

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.

Fried chicken

I’m thinking of doing fried chicken week at Mikey’s Kitchen sometime soon. I also still want to do bacon week. But before any of that, I wanted to talk about how perfect this meal of fried chicken, fries, cole slaw and a roll was at Hubbard Avenue Diner here in Middleton (a suburb of Madison). Fried chicken sounds easy, but while I’ve never actually tried to make it (that will change soon too), I almost have to order it when I see it on a menu. And I did just that recently for lunch on a Saturday at Hubbard–and they have it on special Thursday and Saturday.

This chicken was so perfectly crispy and moist, the fries were also perfectly crispy on the outside and soft inside, and the cole slaw was creamy and more importantly, had no onions in it. The roll was kind of eh, but I can let that slide.

If you live in Madison, chances are you have eaten at Hubbard Ave. Diner (note: they have not offered me a free meal or anything to post this–it’s truly on my own), and it’s almost always exceptional. They have great burgers, sandwiches and mac & cheese as well as killer breakfast items. Two other favorite items of mine there are pie (many different kinds, which they are known for) and quite possibly the best bloody mary I have ever tasted.

But now that my mouth is watering after seeing that pic of fried chicken again, I realize that today is Thursday and Hubbard Ave. Diner is 15-20 minutes away. See ya!

Tomatoes: a pet peeve

Chef JimI’m going to write more about food pet peeves tomorrow, but I thought since it’s the middle of July, that a stand-alone post about tomatoes is in order.

Now, I feel blessed to live in Madison, where we have one of the best farmer’s markets in the nation (and I’m not exaggerating…look up the Dane County Farmer’s Market). Anyway, I also belong to an awesome CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) with a local farm, Driftless Organics. But we get our box from the farm every other week and this past weekend was an “off” week. No problem, I can always head to the market on Saturday. But since my wife was out of town and I had our 3-year old in tow, the fact that an art fair moved the market off the “square” to a much more congested area of downtown, I decided to just get what I needed from the grocery store.

Which leads me to my gripe today–tomatoes.

Is it too much to ask that a “vine ripe” tomato in the grocery store, is, you know, vine ripe? Instead they are mealy and disgusting, something I expect in January, not in July. I am guessing that these tomatoes are grown in a hothouse, and/or are plucked before they should be plucked. But come on. Even the “cluster” tomatoes, the ones that are sold with the vines, are crappy from the grocery store.

There is no substitute for a farm-fresh tomato in the summer, or one you grow yourself (we didn’t do that this year but I’m regretting that decision already). But there is also zero excuse for a store–even a chain grocery store–to sell a crappy, mealy tomato in the heat of summer. It’s also a crime for a restaurant to serve mealy tomatoes this time of year, but raise your hand if you’ve had a mealy restaurant tomato recently. I know I see a lot of hands from where I sit because it’s true!

Anyway, I hope our CSA share has some tomatoes, and even if it does, I’m buying more from the market this weekend. It’s time for tomato sandwiches, one of the best parts of summer, and there is no room on my bread for crappy-ass tomatoes!

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