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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 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….

Pink slime–no, thanks

It’s become a buzzword/term in 2012–pink slime.

Like you, I had no idea what it was until I read an article two months ago in Mother Jones. This is how the article describes it: “the cheeky nickname for scraps of slaughtered cow that have been pulverized, defatted, subjected to ammonia steam to kill pathogens, and congealed into a filler for ground beef.” It goes on to say that McDonald’s was using it but planned to stop doing so, along with Taco Bell and Burger King, who also succumbed to the public outcry.

But pink slime is apparently in school lunch ground beef. It’s in packaged and frozen burgers, and even in commercially sold ground beef. Wow. How the hell do you get around that if you eat and enjoy burgers, meatballs, meat loaf or other ground meat products?

I know what I”m doing. I’m not eating fast food ground meat. I’m thinking twice before ordering something made with ground beef in a restaurant. For home use, we buy ground beef from a local farm (at the farmer’s market here in Madison) that we know is organic and high quality, or from Trader Joe’s, which states on its website that their ground meat does not contain pink slime. We are not ready to give up meat entirely, but what we are also doing is trying to eat one or two vegetarian meals per week.

I am not naive enough to think that there isn’t crap like this in many foods–or pesticides or whatever. But pink slime? It’s vile, it’s scary and it has no place on my plate or on my family’s plates.

Back in action

Hey everyone……my apologies for falling off the grid…..I had back surgery last week and am trying to get back to normal. So I wanted to start by mentioning a few things about hospital food. This was my second surgery in a year after not having any the first few decades of my life. Both times I got to go home the same day, but both times they fed me first. I mean, you can’t leave on an empty stomach, right? And guess what the foods are you get to enjoy after being in an induced sleep for several hours and after being injected with all kinds of crazy meds?

Jell-O, graham crackers and saltines. And some cola with lots of crushed ice to keep hydrated. Yum! But wouldn’t you know that stuff all tastes great right at that time. I think I asked for seconds and thirds of the graham crackers. It’s funny, though surgery and pain are nothing to laugh about really.

That said, I’m healing and I’m really getting my appetite back, which is a great thing if you like to hang out here and read some of what I write. So it’s coming, I promise. Thanks for your patience and let’s eat!

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!

Some foods are too funny

Chef JimDo me a favor, try to keep a straight face when I say this–Spotted Dick.

If you didn’t laugh, I’m sorry but I can’t be friends with you. I saw that in a magazine a few years ago and my wife and I were howling. Turns out spotted dick is a sort of English sponge cake, almost like fruit cake.

Maybe some day I will be brave enough to try it, even though it’s not like eating monkey brains or anything. I just can’t get past the name or the fact that it is sold in a can. Anyway, I snapped the photo you see here at a World Market store recently. I couldn’t help it. And even as I write this I am snickering. Spotted Dick….ha!

More food pet peeves

Earlier this week, I wrote about my pet peeve for tomatoes and the fact that grocery stores do not carry good ones right smack in the middle of summer, a.k.a. tomato season. But that was just the start of my thoughts on food pet peeves I have. So with that, here are a few more…..

Soft pretzels dipped in butter–I blame Auntie Anne’s for this, but now butter-drenched pretzels are the only ones you can buy in any mall across the country. I might be old-school here (no, I KNOW I’m old-school), but I long for soft pretzels you can buy that are drenched in nothing but salt. Seriously, butter goes on a pretzel like ketchup goes on ice-cream. Okay, that’s extreme, but you get my drift. But the final straw happened to me recently when I was in Target and tried to buy a pretzel without the butter. They looked at me funny, and said they needed to drench it in order for salt to adhere to it. I asked if I could buy the display one, which appeared to be butter-less, and they said that that was a fake pretzel. Go figure.

Hydration systems for produce–Seriously, do you really need to drench the lettuce and herbs until they practically wilt and turn brown? And do they have to spray every 10 seconds so that when I reach for something I get soaked?

Peaches–This is akin to my tomato gripe. Why is it that more than half of grocery store peaches are hard as a rock? I’ll tell you why. Because they pick them way before they should be picked. And they don’t ripen. Those hard ones only become slightly less hard, and they crunch when you bite into them like an apple. That’s just wrong.

High-fructose corn syrup–It’s known to be really bad for us, so why is it the primary ingredient now in things like soft drinks and popsicles? And why is it in supposedly healthy items like whole wheat bread? I bet soon we’ll be brushing our teeth with the stuff.

Raw onions–If you’ve eaten a raw onion, you know that it has an extremely strong and pungeant taste. Cooked onions are delicious and sweet, but raw onions are vile. So why does every restaurant insist on throwing them on my salad? I don’t always remember to ask for them to be omitted and in that case have to remove them myself. Inevitably, even if I use a fork, the onion smell gets on my hands and I can’t wash it off for three days. And if I miss a piece in my salad and eat it by accident, I have to deal with the lingering taste in my mouth the rest of the day. I also have horribly bad breath to deal with. And I feel like I could drink seven gallons of water. Seriously, why?? And how do you people who eat big slabs of raw onion on your burger taste the freaking burger?

Seasoned fries–I may be old-school again here, but I’ve grown tired of excessive seasoning on my French fries. Fries are best when they are cooked in oil and lightly salted–that’s it. But restaurants, and I’m talking in particular about chains, decided at some point that coating my fries with additional spices like pepper, paprika, garlic powder, chili powder or all of the above was a good idea. Let me help you here…it’s never a good idea.

Servers who don’t use a pen–This is more of a restaurant-only pet peeve. Why do servers insist on trying to remember my order as well as everyone at the table’s order without writing it down? I am never impressed if you don’t screw up my order, but I’m always impressed if you have the class (and common sense) to write my order down so that it’s harder to screw up.

Hey, that was fun! Feel free to add yours….

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!

What’s the grossest thing you would eat?

I’ve noticed that on lots of food-oriented TV shows lately, hosts and contestants and just regular people are eating foods that I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

Remember “Fear Factor?” They would make people eat bugs, but now it seems like bugs are exotic cuisine. In Asia, they eat bugs like it’s nothing. Yum, bugs in your ice cream? Oh yeah, that’s good! Yikes.
Anyway, on Food Network’s “Chefs vs. City,” one of the obstacle course stations was to eat bugs at some place in New Orleans that specializes in bug cuisine. Really? And I mean they were eating grasshoppers, ants, and other disgusting creatures.

Then they make the chefs on “Chopped” make creations with stuff like chocolate covered grasshoppers, and the one I saw recently–canned haggis. So we’re talking tripe and other organ meats mixed with oatmeal. Oh, and they did rabbit kidneys the other night. Really, does anyone really eat this crap?

On Travel Channel, Anthony Bourdain has partook in some pretty disgusting things, like when in Italy they break open a lamb’s stomach and dip bread in the blood that spews out. EWWWWWWWW. Are you serious?

Then, speaking of Travel Channel, there is Andrew Zimmern. Okay, his show is called “Bizarre Foods,” and while I would eat about 5 percent of what he eats on the show, I recently got hooked on the show a bit and was even DVR-ing episodes of it. But then he did it. The dude was in Viet Nam or Thailand, and he ate at a place that served….are you ready? You might want to look away……he ate bull penis and testicles. Yes, Andrew Z ate a schlong and balls. I know they put weird shit in hot dogs, but i’m almost sure they never use the unit of an animal. But the worst part was, the dude ate it and liked it. And he has the, ahem, balls, to say he refuses to eat walnuts. Are you kidding me???

So I ask you…what is the grossest thing you would ever eat? I think I draw the line at hot dogs, seriously. Let me know and I’ll post this on Facebook too. Blah!

What’s your favorite fried food?

I’ve got fried food on the brain today. Maybe it’s because I haven’t eaten much today, or maybe it’s because I just love anything fried to a golden brown and crispy. I mean, what’s not to like? Of course, cardiologists and personal trainers dissuade eating this stuff, but we all do at some point. So rather than go into my favorite fried foods (I’ll do that soon), I wanted to pose this to you readers–give me your favorite fried food item, either something that you make yourself or order in a restaurant. E-mail me at mikeyskitchen@gmail.com and I’ll publish them next week…..stop it, you guys are making me hungry!

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