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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!

Super easy: Sungold Omelet and Pork Fried Rice

I made a couple of tasty and healthy dishes this past weekend that I wanted to share with you all.

Chef JimFirst, since we had two pints of sungold cherry tomatoes from our CSA, as well as a wealth of basil, I had an idea. I heated some olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, threw in a handful of the sungolds, shook the pan a few times and let them roast for a minute or two. Then I scrambled 3-4 eggs with salt and pepper and poured those into the pan. I swirled the pan around a bit and once the eggs were just about set, threw in a couple tablespoons of feta cheese, and a sprinkling of chopped basil. I cooked for another 30 seconds or so and then transferred to a plate, cutting the omelet into two servings (you can also use more eggs and cut into four wedges).

Chef JimThe other thing I had a taste for was fried rice. I like to make mine with pork, but it’s always difficult or next to impossible to make the kind of red-tinged barbecued pork you see in Chinese restaurants. So I did the sensible thing and picked up a container of roast pork at our local Chinese takeout joint. They call it “boneless spare ribs,” but it’s basically strips of barbecued roast pork (and it’s freaking delicious). So here is how I made my fried rice–I took a bag of frozen bag brown rice from Trader Joe’s (this is the best tasting quick brown rice you will find anywhere–I guarantee it), nuked it for three minutes and set the bag aside. I heated a couple tablespoons of canola oil in a large nonstick skillet with a splash of sesame oil. I threw in some finely chopped onion, carrots, sweet pepper, shelled edamame, and a small bit of minced fresh ginger — and stir fried that for 3-4 minutes. Then I dumped in the cooked rice and maybe 1/2 cup of diced roast pork and stir fried for another minute. Then I added a few sprinkles of Kosher salt, some shakes of black pepper; and a sprinkling each of teriyaki sauce, soy sauce, and Korean barbecue sauce, stirring for about a minute. Meanwhile, at about the same time I added the sauces, I heated a small nonstick skillet sprayed with cooking spray, and dumped in one scrambled egg. Instead of stirring, I just let that set, and slid onto a plate, cutting into small pieces and adding to the fried rice, stirring another 30 seconds and then sprinkling with chopped cilantro. After dividing among two plates, I sprinkled mine with a few drizzles of chili oil.

You can make this rice with whatever you have on hand. Green onions are typical but I don’t like them and they don’t like me. You can also use peas, corn, bok choy or whatever you can find. It’s fun to try different combinations, but trust me — the pork is what makes it. My wife says it’s better than takeout, and who am I to disagree? So maybe you should try it and see if you like it too. But I already know you will.

Fish Boil

Greetings everyone….I am still here, so keep checking back often and I’ll have many updates to follow about recipes, food shows, product reviews and more. I mean, it’s almost football season…..well, it kind of IS already, so I’m getting my indoor smoker ready and also wanting to check out a recipe I saw recently for wings–in which you steam them first, then pan fry them before tossing with wing sauce. It’s an alternative to deep frying that I think would be cool to check out.

The other thing I wanted to bring up and mention is the fish boil my wife and I went to when on vacation recently in Fish Creek (ha), which is up in Door County, Wisconsin. We stayed at a renowned bed and breakfast called the White Gull Inn and one of their claims to fame is their Wisconsin fish boil, something that is a tradition year-round in that part of the country. Now, I’m not a huge seafood eater. In fact, only recently have I ventured beyond occasional shrimp or crab and made actual fish. But honestly, I’m still squeamish about cooking it, afraid I’m going to screw it up, like the time I made cod that became shredded fish on a plate.

So keep in mind this is not fried fish. What they do is have these master fish boilers, or whatever they call them. These guys dump buckets of large pieces of fish–skin, bones and all–into a vat of boiling water over a fire. After a few minutes, they dump kerosene on the fire and it shoots flames up to the sky, but what it also does is push all of the fish oil up and over the side of the vat–leaving you with tender, flaky whitefish that can easily pull from the skin and bones.
They serve it with a delicious horseradish sauce, boiled potatoes, slaw and bread. And it is delicious and not at all fishy tasting. If you are not sure about seafood, this is one meal I’d recommend trying if you are somewhere that they do this.

And honestly, the one thing I didn’t like about this meal was the slaw–for the life of me, I don’t get why anyone puts raw onions in cole slaw. It makes it so that all you taste is mayo and onions. Blech. Don’t onion the slaw, is what I always say.

Does bacon grow on trees? My kid thinks so

Kids say the darnedest things, don’t they?

Well, this past week, my 5 year old son Jonathan attempted to be a trendsetter when the teacher in his 4K class asked each student what they would grow if they had a garden. Most answers were what you’d expect–tomatoes, veggies….and less traditional items like peaches and watermelon. But Jonathan’s answer took the innovation prize–bacon.

Hey, she asked what they would grow, not what type of “produce” they would grow. Besides, to Jonathan, it must seem like Mommy and Daddy pick bacon from the microwave tree for him every morning.

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?

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!

Product review: Power Crunch protein energy bars

I’m a sucker for sweet and crispy wafers, such as Kit-Kats, those Belgian wafers you can find in the candy aisle, and the really-bad-for-us ones in the cookie aisle–you know, the ones that are usually “value” brand and are strangely colored to resemble vanilla, chocolate and strawberry. But of course, what makes these crispy and creamy snacks so delicious are the combination of fat (butter or oil or both) and sugar–lots of sugar. And that means eating too many of these things makes us fat at an exponential rate.

I also am constantly mesmerized by packaging and as my wife will attest, I gravitate to new products and HAVE to try them. It’s in my DNA or something. And when I’m trying to eat healthy, these items call out to me even more. Well, there are protein bars, right? Well, most of the time, stuff like South Beach, Zone and Cliff Bars are all nice options that are low in sugar, high in protein. But most of those just taste terrible–they have this protein powder-ish after taste, sort of like a combo of yogurt and ricotta in powder or nougat form.

Hence when I saw Power Crunch Protein Energy Bars in Trader Joe’s, I was skeptical but had to try them. The package made this bar to look akin to a Kit-Kat, and I picked up a vanilla and a chocolate bar. And when I was hungry later in the day, I grabbed a vanilla bar, and I suddenly heard a choir in my head as if I’d found the meaning of life. Could it be? A delicious crunch bar that was low in sugar? Yes! These bars are incredible–and are high in protein, low in sugar (14 grams of protein/5 grams of sugar), and the first ingredient is whey protein isolate blend. They have 12 grams of fat, from palm oil mostly, but if you are going low carb that’s usually not an issue. Is there an aftertaste? Well, ever so slightly but it’s not anything like those bars I mentioned earlier. And when it tastes this good and seems sweet, it doesn’t matter.

I went and bought a case of vanilla, chocolate and cookies N cream online–and the fine folks at Power Crunch sent me a box of peanut butter creme and berry creme. I also tried the chocolate fudge flavor from the store, but that was the only one I wasn’t crazy about. And the vanilla and chocolate are still my faves, and I can tell you they have a customer for life in me.

Hopefully you will find these bars too–you will be glad you did, I promise!

Mikey’s March Madness spread

As originally posted on the Bullz-Eye.com blog……

March Madness, like most big sporting events, has become a free-for-all of food options. But just because the Madison Avenue crowd tries to pump your eyes and ears full of pizza, tacos and subs, you don’t have to fill your belly with that commercially made food (and I use the word “food” loosely). So here are a few options to try and mix things up in your own kitchen, literally.

TANGY SWEET SOY-LIME WINGS

I’ve been trying to create and perfect various wing recipes, and lately I’ve been into the sweet, tangy and spicy notes of Asian flavors, so here is the most ambitious of this group of recipes.

Ingredients:

¼ cup each soy sauce
¼ cup mirin
¼ cup sake (rice wine)
¼ cup brown sugar
1 inch piece of ginger, trimmed and chopped fine
5 lb. bag chicken wing sections (if frozen, thaw in the refrigerator for 1-2 days before using)
¼ cup vegetable oil (such as canola or peanut oil), divided
Salt and pepper to taste
Sriracha hot sauce to taste
Juice of 2 limes
1/3 cup chopped roasted peanuts
¼ cup chopped cilantro

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine soy sauce, mirin, sake, sugar and ginger in a small bowl and whisk together. Set aside. Heat 2 Tbsp. oil in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven on medium heat. Lay wings on a large platter or a few plates and sprinkle with salt and pepper. When you put your hand about 2 inches from the oil and can feel the heat, add half of the wings, skin side down. Sear for about four minutes per side and remove to another plate. Repeat with remaining oil, wings and salt/pepper, but after searing the second batch, return the rest of the wings to the pot, and dump in the sauce. Turn down the heat and cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Remove cover, and let simmer another five minutes, until sauce is reduced and thick. Using tongs, carefully remove wings to a large baking sheet coated with cooking spray and bake for about 15-20 minutes or until browned and crispy. Remove wings to a plate, drizzle with some of the remaining sauce in the pan and Sriracha, and sprinkle with lime juice, peanuts and cilantro.

TRIO OF FAT FINGER SANDWICHES

People like tea-like finger sandwiches. They are also the food of choice for many fancy cocktail parties. But for dudes like us, they should be called something that reflects our caveman instincts, hence the name “fat finger sandwiches.” For the purpose of making this easy for you (and me), I’ll show you how to make about four sandwiches at a time, and you can multiply out as necessary.

Crispy Cristo Sandwich

Is it even worth saying that this may be the single most delicious thing I have ever made or tasted? Because, well, it really was. And after wrestling with the idea that I would have to figure out how to butter the donuts, I realized that with the sugar glaze, the donut as “bread” would become crisp on its own.

Ingredients:

Butter
4 glazed donuts, preferably Krispy Kreme
4 thin slices smoked deli ham
4 slices yellow American cheese
Cooking spray

Directions:

Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat and throw in a pat of butter. Slice each donut, lay a slice of ham and then cheese on the bottom and replace with the top, and then place donut sandwich in the skillet and press down with a spatula. Repeat with all donuts, and when bottom begins to brown (about 60 to 90 seconds), flip the sandwich over and cook for another 45 seconds to a minute. Move to a plate as is or slice in half or quarters.

Pizza Bagel and Sausage Slider

Another super easy and tasty snack.

Ingredients:

1-2 links (fully cooked) smoked Italian sausage, sliced
8 small pizza bagels

Directions:

In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, fry sausage slices on each side until brown and crispy, then drain on paper towels. Meanwhile, bake pizza bagels according to package directions. Let cool a few minutes, then put a few slices of sausage on four of the bagel halves and top with remaining bagel halves.

Chicken and Wafflewich

I’ve been semi-obsessed with this classic combo lately, and this is about as simple as it gets.

Ingredients:

6-8 small breaded chicken strips
4 double maple waffles (such as Eggo)
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
2 Tbsp. hot sauce
2 pats butter

Directions:

Bake chicken strips according to package directions and set aside. Meanwhile, combine syrup and hot sauce in a small bowel. Toast waffles and spread butter on each slice. Then, top two waffles with chicken strips and drizzle with syrup. Top with other waffles (they should be those waffles that are perforated that you can break into four large finger sandwiches) and serve.

PIMENTO CHEESE CANOES

Because you need some vegetables (well, maybe not!), here is an easy and tasty way to put three food groups together.

Ingredients:

1 bunch celery
½ cup pimento cheese (in a jar, looks like cream cheese)
Handful of slivered toasted almonds (Trader Joe’s has them pre-toasted like this)

Directions:

Wash and trim celery, leaving them as long “canoes.” Spread cheese on each and sprinkle with almonds.

BLOODY MIKEY SHOOTER

I imagine this would be a kickass hangover cure, although I haven’t tested that theory just yet.

Ingredients:

½ cup tomato juice or vegetable juice
1 Tbsp. Buffalo wing sauce
1 Tbsp. hot pickled cherry pepper juice
Juice of half a lime

Directions:

Combine all ingredients in a small juice glass and stir Drink up! (Note: This makes one shooter, but you can use this guideline to make as many as you want).

Product review: Krave Jerky

You know how when you buy a car, and then you notice your model of car everywhere on the road? Yeah, where am I going with this? Well, about a month ago I was perusing the cool and interesting food items at World Market, and on the little hooks in between shelves sat some beef jerky–called Krave. And I was struck immediately by the flavors–Chili Lime, and Sweet Chipotle. I must have this jerky, I thought. And so I did. I took it home and tried the chili lime first, and it was love at first bite. Not only was this jerky bursting with flavor and spice, it was extremely tender, the direction that many commercial jerky varieties seem to be going in–that is, away from chewy meat that takes an hour to chew, to a more tender, almost fresh type.

Anyway, the Sweet Chipotle kind of paled in comparison to the Chili Lime, which I inhaled almost in one sitting. Then I did what I do a lot of these days–I looked up Krave online, and contacted them to profess my undying love. And when I perused the site, I found out they have several cool flavors–including Basil Citrus and Orange Pineapple. But the cool thing is that they match the flavor profile to type of meat–so the Basil Citrus is for turkey jerky, as is Lemon Garlic. The other beef flavors are Garlic Chili Pepper (my new favorite that I am gnawing at like a caveman as I am writing this–tastes like beef teriyaki Chinese takeout) and Pineapple Orange. And their smoked teriyaki flavor uses pork as its canvas, and it’s also tender and delicious and one of my other faves.

Right now I have a big bag of Krave that I’m working through a little at a time, since my wife got me the 5-jerky sampler pack for Valentine’s Day, and the fine folks at Krave sent me the Pineapple Orange to try. I also keep finding Krave in stores–in Target, Walgreens and other places (back to my original point, you see). And if I see the Chili Lime, Chili Garlic or Smoked Teriyaki variety, I can’t walk past it without grabbing a bag. And so my bag O Krave is never empty.

My only complaint is that they got rid of the Curry flavor before I had a chance to try it. And when I went to order some of the Garlic Chili Pepper flavor yesterday, they were out of stock. Luckily I stopped at World Market yesterday and stocked up. But they also told me a new flavor is being developed–Black Cherry Barbecue. I love that this company is coming up with new, bold and interesting flavors and maybe rotating them out. And rotating is fine so long as I know I can stock up on my faves.

My point is, if you see Krave, buy it and eat it! You will Krave it just like I do now.

Mikey’s Beef Fried Rice

I’ve been on a mission lately to find Chinese roast pork in the grocery store. And I don’t think it’s gonna happen. One day I will stop being lazy and just pick up a container of it from the local takeout place and make my own fried rice with it. Because lately I can’t seem to find good fried rice. It’s either bland, too yellow and not brown enough, has too many onions or green onions, not enough meat, or all of the above.

So yesterday I was in the grocery store and saw these really nice stir fry beef strips. The last thing we had on our weekly menu (yes, Mrs. Mikey and I try to do that) was fish, and I had not thawed it, and want to be especially careful thawing seafood. So now then. I suddenly had a vision in my head for fried rice. Basically watching a lot of “Chopped” and “Top Chef” has made me try to think more creatively than usual lately.

So I took the beef strips and marinated then in teriyaki sauce for 15-20 minutes or until I prepped the other ingredients–Trader Joe’s frozen brown rice (poke a few holes in the bag and nuke for 3 minutes for absolutely perfectly sticky and delicious brown rice), carrots, 1/2 an onion, some snow peas, ginger, canola oil, sherry, soy sauce, sesame oil, sriracha, some cilantro, a lime, and a couple of eggs. I chopped the ginger up fine, chopped the carrots (I used baby carrots) and the onion, and then sliced the snow peas into slivers. I put about a tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet and when hot to the 2-inches-away touch, put the veggies in the pan and stirred, adding a bit of salt and pepper. After the onion just started to brown I removed the vegetables to a plate and added the beef to the pan, with some salt and pepper. The beef started to brown but I wanted it to be slightly charred in spots, or in this case a bit overdone to make it like a sponge for the teriyaki sauce if that makes sense.

Then I put the beef on a plate, and poured a little bit of sherry and soy sauce in the pan to deglaze it. I added a touch more canola oil, a sprinkling more of sherry and soy, a few drops of sriracha and a few drops of sesame oil. I put the veggies back in, chopped the beef into small pieces and added them to the pan, followed by the rice. Then I stirred, and added a little more teriyaki sauce and set aside to keep warm. Meanwhile, I heated a small nonstick skillet over medium heat and cracked two eggs in it. I put the rice in two bowls, topped each with a sunny side up egg, some chopped cilantro and a lime wedge, and there you have it….Mikey’s Beef Fried Rice!

My only regret is I forgot to snap a picture. But I will say it was some of the best fried rice I’ve ever made, and Mrs. Mikey agreed. Damn, now I’m hungry again.

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