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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!

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?

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!

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.

Product review: Pizza Free Fat Free Pizza

So once again, I have found myself in need of losing a few pounds. Only this time, it’s doctor’s orders because of high blood pressure and being about 20-25 pounds overweight. I like South Beach because of how easy it is…i.e. you don’t really have to count calories or weigh food. But after the brutal two-week period in which you eat no carbs, you have to gradually add carbs back in. That’s hard if you like eating fruit, cereal, bread, pasta, rice and potatoes, even if it’s the healthy versions of those things. And your breath stinks during those two weeks as well. So this time, my wife talked me into doing Weight Watchers. She told me I did not have to go to meetings, but that even though it’s a pain to count points and log everything, you can eat anything you want. And I figured, why not? If Charles Barkley can do it, why not me?

Luckily, someone told me about Pizza Free, a fat free pizza company in Ohio. I love pizza as much as anyone, but when I first heard this, I thought, “Fat Free is so 10 years ago!” But alas, since the single serving pies are just 6 points on Weight Watchers (a number listed proudly on the website), I had to try them. So we ordered the smallest quantity available, which was six pizzas, and they were $39.99 including shipping.
But regardless, I was still extremely skeptical. Fat free cheese to me is like rubber, and since we live in Wisconsin now I was even more skeptical about that. But hey, the pizza is delicious, and the cheese isn’t flavorless rubber! You can’t overcook it or the crust and cheese will burn, but if you do it until the cheese just melts, it’s perfect. The tomato sauce has a nice flavor as well, not the processed flavor that dominates frozen pizza or Italian meals.

Of course, Pizza Free does not taste like traditional pizza, but as healthy pizzas go, and especially THIS healthy, you absolutely can’t beat it. And not only is the cheese and crust fat free, but the whole 6 inch pie comes in at just 248 calories.

Intrigued? I figured you might be. Check out www.pizzafree.com for more information.

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.

The Fourth–hot dog time

Last week I celebrated the 4th of July early with one of the synonymous food items for it–the hot dog. Specifically, I had a two-dog Chicago style dog rolled up in a tortilla. And really, this is a great way to have a dog with all those toppings, because you don’t have toppings all over your plate or the floor. It mostly all goes in your mouth. And also, it’s an easy way to slide two dogs into your bread vehicle.

So what goes on the Chicago? Any combo of this–yellow mustard, tomatoes, onions, sweet relish (neon green if you can find it), pickles, cucumber, hot peppers and celery salt. And it is best with all beef dogs, but that is not at all necessary. For me, I can’t eat raw onions without heartburn and bad breath, so I do myself and my wife a favor and omit those.

But really, you can also come up with all sorts of combos to top a dog. It’s the 4th, right? Also, the Nathan’s Hot Dog eating contest is on ESPN, another tradition that we have–going to our local parade, and then watching the contest and eating a dog (or 50!). Have a great holiday everyone, and make sure to hand your keys to someone if you have too many (drinks that is, not hot dogs).

More pizza and eggs

Chef JimI recently whipped up a kickass omelet using cut up pizza as the filling. It’s a combination that I’m not sure why it’s not done more. So when I was in upstate New York last week visiting family, and had the most awesome pizza from Bud’s Place, I commented that this pizza was so good, I might have to have it for breakfast with my eggs in the morning. And I wasn’t joking.

So the next day, I heated up a slice of pizza (my sister showed me that the best way to re-heat pizza is in a frying pan, and she was right). Then I fried an egg, sunny side up, and slipped that right onto the pie. Pure heaven. Seriously, I wasn’t hung over but if you can think of a better hangover food combination, tell me what it is.

Man, I’m hungry now. I wish I had some pizza on hand!

Worth the wait–beef jerky

Sometimes recipes look daunting. Or sometimes just the thought of making something delicious seems like it’s too much trouble. I subscribe to a great magazine called Clean Eating. Of course, I don’t eat as healthy as I should, or by the standards of this magazine all that much (if you read this blog, you know I have a soft spot for junk food)–but I do try to at the very least use it for some healthy habits and for some killer recipes. So last week my wife was reading the letters to the editor about how great their homemade beef jerky recipe was. I had missed that, so I dug it up from the January/February issue to see what the fuss was about.

And as you can see by the attached photo, it sure looked like a lot of work, and a bit complicated because you have to take out your oven racks, reposition them, hang the jerky from the racks on skewers, put foil down and use a towel to absorb moisture. You also have to freeze the meat to cut it easier, then marinate it for 3-6 hours before baking/dehydrating it for 5 hours or more. That’s a long day. So after buying a nice London broil on Saturday, I looked closer at the recipe and became scared. I didn’t want to spend all day Sunday doing this.

But on Monday I felt guilty and felt like I really should give it a go. I pulled out the recipe again in the morning, and fortunately I work from home. So I did it. I froze the meat for an hour, cut it, marinated for 3 hours, then did all the funky oven stuff (which was not difficult or time consuming as I had thought) and let the strips of deliciousness cook or dry out or whatever it does…for five hours. The result…..fantastic. Here I have homemade jerky that is tasty, spicy, just chewy enough, and with no ingredients I can’t pronounce. The only problem is that big batch from Monday is almost gone already. So it’s time to make more!

Note: I couldn’t find this recipe online, but I will reach out to the editor to see if they have one or a pdf…and if you’re interested in that, e-mail me at mikeyskitchen@gmail.com or message me on Facebook.

Pimento Cheese Grilled Cheese

I think I first had pimento cheese on a burger when I lived in Nashville. It was like crack on a bun, and I usually order it when I see it on a menu, no matter what form that it’s in. Well, you all know my favorite grocery store is Trader Joe’s, and last week I found two things to help celebrate Grilled Cheese Month–pimento cheese and these kickass ciabatta rolls. The rolls are those half baked ones that you finish in the oven, giving you the impression that you just baked them from scratch. Pimento cheese, if you haven’t had it before, is more of a spread–it’s usually make with a combination of cream cheese, cheddar, pimentos, and other spices and flavorings. And best of all, it melts into oozy goodness.

Today I tried to create some mini grilled cheese sandwiches using these items. I baked two rolls, cut them in half, and sprayed the outsides of them with olive oil spray. I then spread pimento cheese on the insides of both rolls, and added some salami slices to one of them. I cooked them in a skillet as if I was making a grilled cheese. This also meant I had to flatten them slightly with a spatula and cover the pan for a minute or so in order for the cheese to melt. It only took a minute or minute and a half on each side, but the result was amazing for both sandwiches. If you can find pimento cheese, grab it and try some version of this sandwich–you will thank me later!

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