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Cooking lessons

When I was growing up, I learned much of my basic cooking skills from my mom and brother. I also learned a lot on my own when I was diagnosed with high cholesterol at the age of 20, and began diving into healthy eating books and cookbooks–hence I had to learn how to make myself healthy lunches and such. I continued learning by reading and then by watching Food Network as that evolved. But I never took a formal cooking class until this past summer, when I enrolled in a 3-session course at Madison Area Technical College (MATC) on Thai cooking. I love Thai food, but it’s not easy to learn how to make real curry without having an instructor show you how it’s made from scratch, rather than by opening a jar of curry paste. I also learned how to make a real spring roll, and also pad thai, among other things.

I liked the course and instructor so much, that I took another course recently through MATC–same instructor, different location, and this time it was a 2-session course on making soup from scratch. I already knew how to do this, but the course taught me things I did not know, and it also was great to see how you make amazing chicken stock from scratch to start out. From there you can make, as we did, chicken noodle soup and wonton soup. The second session, we made chili and cream of mushroom soup. The latter is something I’ve never made, but it was phenomenal and I can’t wait to make it at home.

Then last week I received a James Beard cookbook and will be covering that in the Bullz-Eye.com Holiday Gift Guide. But this past weekend, I had to sample some of the recipes, which meant actually following the recipes of a master, and I learned so much in making just a couple of recipes from that book–gruyere soup; and beef Bourguignon saute. The latter involved making a sauce from scratch and making that the base–and learning how to do that was worth the price of the book, even though I didn’t technically pay for the book. That sauce was amazing and my mouth is watering just thinking about it. And it was SO easy. Of course, these recipes use crazy amounts of butter, but that’s why they taste so good, and because they are so rich, you can’t overeat. I also learned that by mixing flour and butter together, you can use that to thicken a sauce (cornstarch what?).

What’s my point? You can always learn more, especially with cooking, in which there are so many cuisines, methods and different foods out there in 2012. And I can’t wait to dive into that James Beard book some more.

Mikey’s kitchen tips

Happy Friday folks. I had this idea to come up with some kitchen tips for you, some that I learned quite a long time ago when my mom and brothers taught me how to cook; some from knowledge I gleaned on my own. Anyway, here are three tips and we’ll try to do this once a month or so…..

Perfect scrambled eggs–I can’t believe how long it took me to figure out how to properly cook eggs. In the past, I would scrambled the egg in a bowl and add it to a frying pan and almost seem like I was racing against time to try and cook the egg. Then for whatever reason, it struck me that scrambled eggs did not have to be rubbery and/or burnt around the edges. Maybe I saw Gordon Ramsay yelling at some chef on MasterChef or Hell’s Kitchen. Maybe I just figured it out on my own. Regardless, here is what to do–scramble the egg lightly and add a pinch each of Kosher salt and pepper. You can add a splash of milk too if you like, but I typically don’t. Anyway, heat the pan over medium-low heat and spray with cooking spray or add a tiny bit of butter. Add the eggs and stir gently, not leaving the stove. Just as the eggs begin to set, turn off the heat and stir a little more until just set and I mean JUST set. The result should be creamy and awesome eggs.

Soup add-ins–Lately I’ve had an obsession with raw jalapenos. If you’ve ever had pho, you might have had it with sliced jalapeno like this, but when I saw it done, I had to do it myself. But I took it further. I add raw, very thinly sliced jalapeno pepper to all of my soups, even if I make canned chicken noodle. It adds a great blast of heat, but natural, clean heat. Another thing I like to do is to add steak to soup, generally a soup that is already beef-based or a vegetable soup. I like to use tenderloin or sirloin, and the trick is to sear it on a grill or grill pan, for a minute or two on each side, and the key is to make sure it’s still not cooked in the middle. Of course, I’m not advocating to eat raw meat. Slice it very thin, and then add to your soup just as you’re about to eat it, and let the hot soup finish cooking the meat. That way you don’t have rubbery steak in your soup.

Product review: House Foods Tofu

I know, I know. A food blog geared toward guys talking about tofu? Well, I’m not the biggest fan of the stuff, but its health benefits, especially for weight loss, are real. So when the fine folks who represent House Foods Premium Tofu reached out, I thought I’d give tofu another chance. They touted the prospects of cutting tofu into chunks and grilling it, with House Foods extra firm variety really standing up to the grill, whereas that is not always the case with standard tofu. For you novices, keep in mind that tofu typically comes in the extra firm variety like that, or the softer versions which are more like scrambled eggs (and can be used as such) and can be used as a salad dressing or “cream” soup base.

Anyway, I tried the firm variety, not extra firm, and used it cubed in a miso soup. I should preface this by saying that my doctor instructed me to lose some weight to help bring down my spiking blood pressure, so I’m doing Weight Watchers, which really has come a long way in being more guy-friendly. I mean, Charles Barkley does it, why can’t I? Anyway, this soup kicks ass–you fry some mushrooms in a bit of oil, add some broth along with sliced bok choy, and the tofu. And to make it more flavorful (and with some spice), I sliced some fresh jalapeno and put that in the soup. Delicious.

But wait, this is about the tofu. Well, tofu is the type of food that absorbs flavors, but it’s usually the texture that separates good tofu from not-so-good. And House Foods is good–the firm is firm, and it doesn’t fall apart in soup. It has a nice texture that isn’t offensive. And hey, I’d use it again, and I probably will!

Easy chicken barley soup

Chef JimFinally things are starting to cool down, and when “soup weather” is upper 70′s, you know we have a problem. But hey, this blog is about the food, right? And it felt good to make some soup last night and eat some for lunch today. Not the open a can type of soup, but the real, from-scratch kind. And as with most of my recipes for this blog, I try to keep things simple, so here is how I made it…..

Ingredients
1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast half, diced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3/4 cup sliced carrots
1/2 cup sliced celery
1/4 cup chopped onion
Salt and pepper
1 carton (32 oz.) chicken broth
1/2 cup quick cooking barley
1/2 tsp. each–dried basil, oregano, thyme
Pinch of garlic powder
Pinch of onion powder

Directions
In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add chicken, and stir until browned, about 2-3 minutes. Add carrots, celery and onion and stir/cook for about 3-4 minutes, adding a generous pinch of both salt and pepper. Add chicken broth, barley and spices, and bring to a boil. Turn down heat, cover loosely and simmer for about 15 minutes. You can add more broth or water if the soup is too thick. Serves 4, or 2 really hungry people.

That’s it–simple and it tastes really good! I should add that I really like Trader Joe’s Free Range Chicken Broth. It really makes the soup.

Easy chicken vegetable soup

Here is an easy soup I made twice this past week, and one that is real easy–chicken vegetable soup. Here is a general list of what you’ll need:

Olive oil or vegetable oil
1-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 carton chicken broth
assorted vegetables such as onion, carrot, celery, cabbage, green beans (whatever you have on hand)
assorted frozen vegetables such as corn, optional
noodles or pasta
Salt, pepper, and dried herbs

Grab a large soup pot and pour in about 2 tablespoons of oil. Heat on medium heat for a minute or two, and meanwhile cut the chicken into small pieces. Put chicken in pot and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then stir very few minutes. Meanwhile, chop your vegetables (maybe 2 cups total), and add to the pot. Sprinkle more salt and pepper. Cook for a few more minutes, then add frozen corn and other frozen vegetables if using (1/2 to 1 more cup total), and chicken broth. Add another 1-2 cups water, noodles or pasta (about 3/4 cup dry), a bit more salt and pepper, and herbs such as Italian seasoning, oregano or basil (just a teaspoon or so). Stir and cook for about 10 minutes or until pasta is tender. Serves 3-4.

1-2-3 chicken soup

Last weekend I was caught by the smell of the rotisserie chickens in the grocery store. Sometimes I can walk right by them and sometimes I shop hungry, which is always bad for the wallet. And it’s especially bad when confronted with especially delicious smelling roasted chicken. I got home and we had chicken sandwiches for lunch and picked it all off the carcass to save for recipes or chicken salad. Sometimes I throw the bones away, but as you should do with a cooked chicken or turkey, I wrapped it up and made soup on Sunday.

Making homemade chicken soup is so easy, a monkey can do it, especially when you have grocery stores that roast the chicken for you. Anyway, here is how to do it…

Put the carcass in a large soup pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, while adding chopped carrots and celery and some parsley sprigs. Add some salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, thyme, a bay leaf, and pinches of onion powder and garlic powder. Lower heat and simmer for about two hours, adding more water as necessary and adding more salt and pepper to taste. When cool enough, remove bones, and make sure you leave the meat in the soup (or add in meat you may have taken off the bone earlier). Then cook some noodles or rice separately and add to the cooked soup or in individual bowls to serve. Nothing is better than homemade chicken soup. To me, canned soups are for some reason becoming more and more disgusting. I’m not sure if it’s the preservatives or the weird spices or thickening agents used, but blech. So yeah, make my soup instead!

A can a week: Campbell’s Chunky Chicken Corn Chowder

Chef JimI’ve always been a fan of Campbell’s Chunky Soup. Maybe it’s because like the name implies, there are big chunks of stuff in it, making it good man-food. Or maybe it’s because they take the time and care to put real ingredients in that taste good. But here is one flavor that stands out–Chicken Corn Chowder.

Chowder to its core is a thick, hearty soup, usually involving cream and/or potatoes–with a base of either clams or chicken or corn or, like this one, a combination of chicken and corn. It’s also often flavored with bacon.

Campbell’s Chunky Chicken Corn Chowder has big chunks of white meat chicken, potatoes, and carrots; as well as a lot of corn kernels. The base is a chicken broth that is thickened with corn starch but tastes extremely creamy, and there is also bacon to give it a hint of smoky flavor. Above all, this chowder just rocks and is the perfect cold weather soup. There is also a “Healthy Request” version that has a lot less fat and about 2/3 of the calories (this one has 200 calories per serving, 400 per can).

If you have never tried this chicken corn chowder or any chicken corn chowder, go try it and let me know what you think. And now if you’ll excuse me, I have to finish the rest of the can.

All-natural hangover cures

Chef JimHung over after too many cocktails over the Christmas weekend? Maybe not, but chances are better you will be after New Year’s Eve this coming weekend. And if you are, you may or may not have your go-to remedies such as Tums or Alka-Seltzer (my personal favorite). Or you may opt to cure it with food or, for you hardcore drinkers, more alcohol. A great food cure is huevos rancheros, or a couple of the other recipes we posted recently on Bullz-Eye’s Grub for Guys–”hangover” soup and bloody marys. Here are those recipes….but either way, be safe during this holiday season and always by not getting behind the wheel if you’ve had a few too many:

Hangover Soup and Bloody Mary
Okay guys. The following recipes are for those days when you wake up after a night of imbibing, and have cottonmouth, a pounding headache, sore muscles, and a thick fog hovering atop your very existence. That, and you surely don’t want to put anything into your body right now. Well, you sort of need to, because you need to replenish with fluids and protein, give yourself a jolt with hot sauce, and if using vodka, getting the dog that bit you last night. And believe me, I know firsthand that these both work, as well as drinking plenty of water.

Hangover Soup
Ingredients:
1 carton (or 2-3 cans) chicken broth
½ cup small pasta such as orzo
1 egg, beaten
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
Black pepper to taste

Directions:
Bring chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add pasta and cook according to directions, 6-8 minutes. Remove from heat, and slowly add egg as you stir the soup. Add Parmesan and pepper, and serve. Makes about 4 1-cup servings

Bloody Mary (or Virgin Mary if you omit vodka)
Ingredients:
2 cups tomato or vegetable juice (such as V-8)
1 shot vodka (optional)
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp. hot sauce (more if you like it hot)
Juice of ½ lime
1 Tbsp. prepared horseradish
¼ tsp. celery salt
Salt and pepper to taste
1 stalk celery

Directions:
Combine all ingredients except celery in a tall glass. Stir, add ice and serve with celery stick. Serves 1, but if it does the trick, you may want to have another…I’m just sayin’!

A can a week: Progresso Creamy Chicken Wild Rice

Chef Jim

If those condensed canned soups aren’t your thing, and you prefer a soup that is closer to homemade, Progresso is the best commercial one that is widely available. And they make so many kinds now, the options are almost endless.

So for A Can a Week this week, we tried Progresso’s Rich & Hearty Creamy Chicken Wild Rice soup. You’d think that with a cream based soup you’re looking at crazy amounts of fat and calories, but this stuff weighs in at 140 calories and 5 grams of fat per serving, or 280 and 10 if you eat the whole can, which I’m assuming most of you do. I mean, who doesn’t?

But here’s the best part–this soup tastes great. There is a richness to it without being too rich, and the dominant flavor is that of roasted chicken, as if you picked it off the bone yourself. There are big chunks of white meat with no gristle, and a good amount of wild rice that is cooked perfectly and has that nice snap that wild rice has. There is some celery and onion too, but those flavors are in the background as they should be. And here is why it’s not fatty–there is no cream. It’s just thickened chicken broth with a bit of butter and soy protein. But you’d never be able to tell. Well, maybe you would, but you sure don’t miss the cream if you don’t know it’s not there.

So if you’re looking for a good, hearty soup on a winter day, give this one a shot. Mama Progresso would probably be happy you tried it too.

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