This is my Uncle Mike, the culinary god of our family.
This is a title I have privately bestowed upon him, as I aspire to one day be as good of a chef as he is. Yes, I said chef. Because that title is also fitting. He is a true artist with food. My dad has a couple stories he likes to tell me about Mike’s “food experiments”, which reminds me of all of the reasons I love Alton Brown. Mike has a firm grasp on what makes food do all of the mysterious things it likes to do. If ever I am needing to troubleshoot something, Mike has an answer.
I will always be indebted to him after he saved me one Thanksgiving from making an ugly cheesecake (which is one of THE worst crimes you can commit) by educating me on giving cheesecakes “a water bath”. It’s worth a google. Absolutely blew my mind that the steam in an oven created by a dish of water can save your cheesecake from cracking on the surface. And Mike would also have to in an award for his cheesecakes. They are legendary. He has made all kinds. I think there was a record of him having 6 different kinds in his fridge at the same time. I couldn’t tell you the different kinds because I stopped listening after I heard “Snickers cheesecake”.
So, Mike, let’s start off with any easy one. What would you say your philosophy is on the way we should eat?
Years ago, there was a popular saying going around: “We should eat to live, not live to eat.”
I hate this saying.
Sure, we shouldn’t “live to eat”, but there’s there’s no reason to feel guilty about enjoying something that’s such a huge part of our daily life, our heritage, and our culture. When you use a faded, hand-written recipe on a 3×5 index card to prepare a meal for your family, you can’t help but reminisce fondly about your grandmother, co-worker, or life-long friend that gave you that recipe. When you use new spices to try and replicate a dish you had at an Indian, Italian, or Mexican restaurant, you develop a little bit more appreciation for that part of the world. Preparing good food is one of the simplest ways so give someone “comfort and joy”.
I love that! And I totally agree. I think experiencing food is a way we can share a part of ourselves. Something we are proud of, you know? So what is one of your favorite accomplishments of cooking that you’re proud of?
I’d heard about bagels for years, but no there was no where in Nashville (at least no where I had been) that sold them. So I found a recipe and made some myself. It was a bit of an ordeal, since you have to shape them, let them rise, boil them, then bake them. But the first bagel I ever ate was one I made. It was a little heavy, and extra chewy, but it was pretty good.
That is really impressive. And I’ve heard making bagels is pretty…”involved”. What would you say your earliest memory is of cooking?
My earliest memory is Mom teaching me how to scramble eggs. My mom and my grandmothers, Dot and Amanda, were the ones who taught me the most about cooking and baking.
I’ve heard a lot about Dot and Amanda (yes, I am her namesake). They seem to all have been good cooks. Is there anyone else you learn from with cooking?
Alton Brown. His show, Good Eats, was the most informative and entertaining show on Food Network. And Bobby Flay. His recipes are great, and he seems like a regular guy.
I have grown to like Bobby Flay’s recipes, mainly because I want to get really good at grilling. And Alton Brown is one of my favorites as well. What would you say your favorite thing to cook with is?
When we updated our kitchen a couple of years ago, we installed an induction cooktop, which is great. It gives you total control of the amount of heat you use, like a gas stove would, but more accurately and more safely.
I bet you can really have a fun time cooking with that. I’m very jealous. What would you say is your favorite “sweet treats”?
My favorite flavor is dark chocolate, but probably the best dessert I’ve ever had is the Tiramisu. It’s the first one that comes to mind; the one they serve at Maggiano’s is excellent.
Tiramisu is my favorite dessert! I’ve never had Maggiano’s, but everything else I’ve had there has been out of this world amazing. What would you say your favorite meal is?
Fried chicken, mashed potatoes, southern-style green beans (i.e., cooked with bacon fat), biscuits with butter and peach preserves, blackberry cobbler w/vanilla ice cream. I crave fried chicken most every day.
Mike’s Pumpkin Spice Snack Mix
3/4 light brown sugar
1/2 cup water
4 oz (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
9 cups chex (or chex-like) cereal
1 cup cheerios (or other torus-shaped toasted oat cereal)
2 cups mix of nuts (pecans, almonds, cashews, et al.), preferably unsalted
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds (optional)
In saucepan, combine brown sugar with water over medium heat. Stir until sugar is dissolved.
Simmer over low heat for 8-10 minutes, or until it’s as thick as pancake syrup.
(Note: If you want to splurge a bit, use 3/4 cup real maple syrup instead of this brown sugar syrup.)
Remove from heat; add butter, stir to melt.
Cool syrup and butter mixture to room temperature.
Stir in spices, vanilla and salt. Mix cereals, nuts and pumpkin seeds in large bowl. Slowly pour in syrup mixture, stirring cereal mix constantly to coat evenly. Spread coated cereal mix into two large cookie sheets.
Bake at 250 degrees for 1 hour, stirring mixture every 15 minutes or so to ensure even baking.
Turn off oven, leaving mixture in, and let cool for at least 1 hour.
Consume, or share with friends and/or family.