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Maple Bacon Walnut Oatmeal

First of all, I wanted to apologize again for falling off of the grid. My passion for food has not gone away, though I have had to make a few adjustments in my diet which I will get to shortly. Mostly, it’s been a time issue, but it’s been a bit more than that. Without going into gory details, let’s just say my cholesterol, blood pressure and weight have been far less than ideal and my doctors suggested some changes to not only help with those issues but to help with my lower back disc issues. So I did something I thought I may never do–I saw a nutritionist. Granted, I know a lot about food and maybe you do too. But you can always learn more about anything and you certainly should do that when it comes to food.

I thought that overall my diet was not horrible, until I started a diary and recognized that while I’m currently not drinking alcohol and mostly stick to coffee and carbonated water/seltzer, I was compensating by eating tons of empty calories. And even when I thought a light lunch of a baked potato and tomato soup was good, little did I know that it was a double whammy of bad–because of the carbs in the potato coupled with the sugar in the soup (more carbs)….but the thing my nutritionist pointed out about this lunch made a light bulb go off in my head. “You’re not eating enough protein,” she said. That lunch had zero protein (or maybe a negligent amount), and because of that it explained why I was often hungry an hour later.

When she started to plot out some good choices for me, it started to make sense. Would you consider a breakfast of cottage cheese and fruit, two slices of whole wheat toast each with a tablespoon of peanut butter, and a small glass of tomato juice part of a “diet?” Trust me, it’s not. That breakfast is filling as hell. Which of course means no mid morning blood sugar spike leading to pretzel or doughnut gorging. The plan is now to have 30 grams (or more) of protein AND up to 45 grams of carbs, with some vegetables–at breakfast, lunch and dinner. And to have 7-14 grams of protein plus 15 grams of carbs as a snack (example apple and cheese or greek yogurt and nuts or an orange and some jerky). The magic words I heard are that I CAN have carbs. I’m also allowed to have one treat per day–ice cream after dinner or cookies or jelly beans. If I have the treat during the day, I have no treat after dinner. It’s a fair trade and way of deal-making with myself.

Look, I know you don’t come here for health and nutrition advice. But I think it’s important enough that you should consider looking at your own eating habits, especially if you need to lose a few pounds (oh yeah, I lost 3 pounds this past week and I’m just starting) and are getting up there in age. So I’ll offer hints and suggestions where I can, starting with my breakfast this morning–Maple Bacon Walnut Oatmeal. Yes, I’m serious.

I told my wife the other day that I had a single serving of oatmeal (I like to make it from scratch, which only takes 10 minutes or so), with walnuts and maple syrup, and bacon on the side. She suggested taking it one step further and crumbling bacon on the oatmeal. That’s one of the many reasons I married her–she is simply brilliant (and hilarious, I may add). So I tried that this morning. I made the oats the same way (with a splash of half and half too) and crumbled two slices of bacon on top. As good as it sounds, this particular version was not a home run. The bacon was overpowering because it was all on top. But as I got deeper and had more spoonfuls of oats with bacon accents, it was, then, a home run. A touchdown. A three-pointer at the buzzer. You get the idea, sports fans. I also need to try this with bacon that crumbles better without burning quickly as I used today. You’ll notice that frosty glass of milk on the side. I have always had milk with my oatmeal, and now even more so since I need that extra protein to balance the carbs in the oats. But I like to also put the milk in the freezer before I cook the oats, making it ice cold in a frosty glass. It’s the little things, I tell you.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Mikey’s this and that

So….it’s freaking hot outside. It’s a great time of year once again for my “Guy Gazpacho,” which I’ve already made three or four times including this past week. It’s 90-plus in most parts of the country, and yeah–we sit in air conditioning most of the time. But there is something about a cold tomato based soup that just hits the spot in summer. And I’ve been doctoring up my own recipe lately–adding lemon juice and spicy olives/olive juice.

Speaking of cold soup, I picked up the new issue of Bon Appetit, a mag that my mom still has stacks of, like from the ’80s, never read. So while I associate the magazine with my mom and foo-foo French cooking and cooking that takes all day, I saw the issue on the newsstand and there was this kickass chicken skewer with a sriracha sauce. Oh man. I grabbed it and never looked back, reading that thing cover to cover. My mouth is watering now as I write that there was a page on cantaloupe, now in season. I made prosciutto and melon risotto, and plan on making their cantaloupe gazpacho. Damn. That risotto was freaking insane.

Speaking of cooking magazines, we’ve gotten hooked on Cooking Light lately, as their recipes are (mostly) easy, interesting and tasty. There were a couple of smoked meat recipes–a BBQ pork shoulder that was crispy, spicy, and tender. And a smoked chicken cobb salad with creamy avocado dressing. Yeah, maybe a bit foo foo but not over the top foo.

Do you ever watch shows like Chopped and Masterchef and think that you could be a contestant? Me, I watch those shows and know for a fact I would have zero chance of even creating something edible from whatever they put in front of me–not in 20 or 30 minutes anyway, and certainly not with ingredients I’ve never used befoe. I need time to cultivate the ideas in my head. Anyway, if you are watching Masterchef as Mrs. Mike and I are, let me offer something to hope for–a Krissi vs. Natasha finale. Man, those two would claw each others’ eyes out.

This is the best month of the year for produce–corn, tomatoes, peaches, melon. You can have the 11 other months, I will take July.

Great article the other day about bagged lettuce. However, the article didn’t answer the one question we all have–why does bagged lettuce have that weird chemical aftertaste? Blech. It’s one of the reasons to join a CSA–your lettuce is organic and has no weird stuff sprayed on it or washed with. And it actually tastes good.

Product review: Planter’s Dry Roasted Peanuts Honey BBQ and Roasted Onion & Garlic

Greetings and happy weekend everyone! If you are looking for a snack that has more substance the chips, perhaps more protein without being greasy, look no further than new Planter’s Honey BBQ Dry Roasted Peanuts, and Planter’s Roasted Onion & Garlic Dry Roasted Peanuts. I specifically say chips, because these are flavors most often associated with potato chips.

One of the nice things about these nuts is that the flavors are not super assertive–a good thing if you plan on eating more than a few handfuls. This is also a drawback if, say, you like big and bold flavors.

Chef JimThe Honey BBQ flavor taste like honey roasted peanuts a bit–though not as sweet, and with a background flavor that resembles the barbecue seasoning on, well, barbecue potato chips. For me, the flavor was just too subtle. Of course, my nut of choice in this case would more likely be the spicy ones, a la Planter’s “Heat” nuts.

Chef JimThe Roasted Onion & Garlic peanuts were more flavorful and had a really nice savory flavor profile that was also mellow and subtle enough, but with just the right amount of onion and garlic punch. The thought here is maybe that real roasted onion or garlic is more sweet than harsh. If you have ever had Wise brand Onion/Garlic chips (do they still make those?), that’s what these nuts taste like in reference to snacks I’ve had before. And I did like these more than the BBQ ones.

It’s summer and time for outdoor barbecues and just lounging around outside, and these Planter’s peanuts will definitely be a nice addition to your snack pantry for these occasions.

Cheesy Garlic Bread? Really?

Chef JimRemember back in March when we wrote about the Lay’s Potato Chips contest called “Do Us a Flavor?”

Well, last month they announced the winner, Cheesy Garlic Bread, submitted by Karen Weber-Mendham of Wisconsin. I live in Wisconsin, and I love cheese, but this one was my least favorite of the three. I’m not sure who came in second and third, but I liked the Chicken & Waffle the best, followed by the Sriracha. Oh well, I guess in the end most of the country is more likely to opt for a flavor that is classic and a tad more common and old school of an idea. And that’s okay. Or maybe those folks genuinely liked the Cheesy Garlic Bread the best, and that’s okay too.

But the reality that I’d never get to have those Chicken & Waffle chips again kind of bummed me out. Have no fear, the Frito-Lay publicist told me, however. She sent me a bag of the Chicken & Waffles (as well as two more bags of Cheesy Garlic Bread…ha!), and told me the other two flavors might be making an appearance on shelves for a limited time this summer. Lay’s sure has the marketing to this down, because in the end they may satisfy all palates with this contest.

And I’m already thinking about a flavor I could submit next year. How about you? What are your flavor ideas?

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?

Product review: Mamma Chia

Quick, what is the first thing that pops into your head when you think of chia seeds? Yes, that commercial for Chia Pets that maybe you saw during late-night TV. But apparently chia seeds have a significant health benefit, as in Omega-3′s and fiber. And Mamma Chia, a juice/smoothie hybrid type drink/snack is a portable and tasty way to get your Omega 3′s, especially if you do not like fish or the idea of taking fish oil capsules.

I must admit I was skeptical at first when Mamma Chia was pitched to me, but for the most part I am adventurous with new products like this, so I offered to try it and write it up. There is no need to refrigerate the product, as it’s basically one of those portable juice squeeze bag type things that are all the rage right now, especially among kids. But I refrigerated mine and tried them all this past weekend when it was a wicked hot and muggy Midwest day, and not only was Mamma Chia refreshing, but they all tasted pretty good, some more than others. The grainy texture of the tiny seeds also had a somewhat pleasant mouth feel, sort of the way sprinkles on ice cream does.

Here are my observations of the four flavors I tried:
Green Magic–I’m a sucker for these “green power” type things, because it’s an easy way to get the nutrients in like four bunches of kale easily without eating all that roughage. And this one was slightly tart, not as sweet but not bad at all.
Strawberry Banana–This was a thicker consistency, and the berries were more dominant than the bananas but still tasty.
Apple Cinnamon–My favorite flavor, it tastes like apple pie. Yum.
Blackberry–This one was more watery, but not too tart nor sweet.

Chef Jim
And the added bonus? I took them out and told my wife that I read about Mamma Chia online, and that it’s a hair growing remedy just like the old Chia pets. I think she believed that for about half a second, but it is still funny to say that and I’m sure I am not the first person to joke about it.

But hey, Mamma Chia is something I’d highly recommend–have it on hand in your desk, briefcase, home, or car. It’s a tasty, easy way to get some important nutrients.

Trader Joe’s does it again with Black Forest Bacon

It seems like every week when we visit Trader Joe’s for a family grocery shopping experience, there are new products that catch my attention and somehow become pulled by gravity into the shopping cart. This can be good and bad–good because more often than not, it’s something delicious and unique or both. Bad because it’s typically something we want to eat and not stop eating.

Such is the case with Trader Joe’s Black Forest Bacon. You know what’s crazy though? There is almost no information on this stuff online. It’s like they are sort of trying to keep it top-secret. Which is fine, because that means more for me and for my wife. But mostly for me (shhhhh). I did find this contest on Food & Wine and while there are some TJ’s bacons on here, I don’t have to try anything on this list to know that the Black Label will whip their bacon asses all up and down that page.

Why is it so good? Well, it crisps up beautifully, meaning it’s tender and the fat becomes something of a liquid pork rind (which is, well, what it is), and the bacon slice itself is bursting with flavor and crispness. It also has no fake taste whatsoever, as it’s real smoked and uncured and has a nice dry rub, but it’s even more remarkable that even if you slightly burn it (which you almost have to to get it crisp), it doesn’t even taste burnt. I don’t know how they do it, but they do, and they do so in my house almost every day lately. We now buy two packs at a time, and might ramp up to three this weekend. I mean, you never know when you will have a bacon emergency, right?

K-Cup new and interesting varieties keep on coming

Being a K-Cup ambassador has surely opened my eyes (literally) and taste buds up to new and exciting flavors and varieties. There have been a few duds along the way, but for the most part, the items that the fine folks at Green Mountain have sent have been stellar.

Chef JimIn February, they delivered a sample pack of Donut House flavors–which included plain, chocolate glazed donut, cinnamon roll and decaf. The plain is very similar to the delicious coffee you might find in a donut shop–and I’m not saying that to be snarky! The cinnamon roll has a subtle, slightly sweet twist, and the chocolate donut has a nice chocolate undertone without being overpowering, but it’s a bit more than subtle as compared to the cinnamon roll. The decaf? I’m one who believes that coffee should be consumed to help me wake up, so the decafs are still sitting in our kitchen.

Chef JimMarch brought Tully’s Hawaiian Blend, and while I’ve never been to Hawaii, I imagine that the coffee there is always delicious (I also imagine shoe leather would be delicious against the backdrop of Hawaii, but I digress). This Hawaiian coffee is a darker roast but not too dark, and it has a hint of sweetness. It’s definitely one of the better ones they have sent so far.

Ah, we’re almost to iced coffee season. But first, here are some statistics courtesy of my K-Cup representative:

* Coffee consumption is on the rise! About 8 in 10 Americans (83%) are coffee drinkers, up from 78% in 2012

* Americans are switching up their brewing habits: 13% of surveyed coffee drinkers used a single-cup brewing system vs. 4% in 2010

* More people know about and own single-cup brewing systems, like the Keurig: 86% have heard of these, while ownership has grown to 12% from 10% last year! With more than 200 options for coffee, tea and other beverages it’s easy to see why!

Don’t skimp on the salt or the spice

I don’t want you to mistake my message here, and I certainly don’t want my doctor to read what I’m going to write about salt. And my message isn’t necessarily that processed foods need more salt or that you should use as much salt as possible when cooking. I do think you should be generous enough with salt and pepper to bring out the flavor of your food, though. But what I’m talking about here is the salt on commercially made pretzels, and the spice on packaged food in general.

Let’s take the first part of this, shall we? Have you ever noticed that in the last, maybe, 10, 15 or 20 years, that the salt on pretzels has diminished? First of all, I’m old-school in that I like the white pretzel salt, which has a better texture. But in general, I want my pretzel to be absolutely covered in the stuff. I know how bad it probably is for me, but I seek out the saltiest pretzels in the store. I also tend to shy away from over-processed brands (I’m looking at you Rold Gold) and toward the locally made kind or the ones made in Pennsylvania. But seriously. Who wants a pretzel with little to no salt? Yet, if you go to the store right now, you will find bags and bags of under-salted pretzels. I’m not joking–go make this a fun (or not so fun) exercise in futility. But if you seek out the likes of Tom Sturgis or Utz brands, for instance, you will find nicely salted and in some cases, perfectly over-salted treats.

Chef JimSpice. Now, have you ever noticed that when something is labeled “spicy” or even “extra spicy” it’s usually a 3 or 4 on a scale of 1 to 10? I’ve always wanted my foods, even foods like pickled jalapenos, to be spicier. Other foods like snack foods, dips, bloody mary mix, soups, chili, frozen foods….even “spicy” chicken wings….are just never spicy enough for a guy like me that likes it really hot. But alas, I have found a commercially made food that fills the bill and then some–Claussen pickles Hot & Spicy. I like Claussen pickles–they are somewhat close to the deli pickles I grew up eating in New York. But they still have somewhat of a processed thing going on. However, when I saw their Hot & Spicy variety in a local grocery store, I couldn’t not try them. But I was pleasantly surprised at the level of heat. I mean, I’d say 8 out of 10, which is super hot for a jarred pickle. I bought another jar, wondering if maybe it was a fluke. Dare I say, the second jar was slightly spicier than the first. Damn, Mr. Claussen, you are not messing around with the hot pepper essence. But I freaking love it. Now, if only everyone else would be less wimpy with the heat!

Easy Ham & Cheese Quesadilla

The other day I had a hankering for grilled cheese, but I’m watching my girlish figure–and by girlish I mean I am developing man boobs. Not good.

Anyway, I found some awesome whole wheat tortillas in the fridge that we bought recently at a local grocery store called Miller’s. The store often has local products, and sell locally made tortillas that are flat out amazing, by the Gitto Family Farm n Kitchen (Watertown, Wisconsin). The tortillas are light and airy and when you cook them in a skillet they become even more delicious, so they are perfect for soft tacos or in this case, quesadillas. And their whole wheat variety are not “woody” but also light and airy.

So making a “grilled cheese” in this way was the perfect compromise, and in some ways even better than the real thing.

Basically I heated up a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and put a couple of thin slices of ham and a cut up slice of American cheese (the deli kind preferably) on a tortilla half with a squirt of spicy mustard. I did this with a second tortilla and then put them in the skillet together, spraying the tops with cooking spray. After a couple minutes (or maybe just 90 seconds–be sure to check), I flipped the quesadillas over and cooked another 45 seconds to a minute or until browned. Then I removed to a plate and cut into segments with a pizza cutter.

I didn’t serve with anything to dip in but you could indeed use salsa or sour cream or even more mustard. Oh, and you have to serve some pickles on the side, like the giant garlic dill chunks I got from Tony Packo’s online store. Yum. Now I’m hungry again!

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