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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?

Good news and good food

Sometimes life allows for overindulgence.

I love to eat, and I love to especially eat carbs–in particular foods like pizza, fresh bread, pretzels, and jelly beans. But it’s hard not to overeat when you are eating things you really love. And so I, like many Americans, have a bit of a weight problem.

I saw my doctor yesterday for a physical, and while my cholesterol and blood pressure numbers are pretty good, I’m about 40 pounds above what’s considered a good weight for my height. I’m only 10 pounds above what is considered borderline overweight, and so I really don’t have TOO far to go.

But the best part? My doctor said he does not believe in diets. He says I should not deprive myself of any food item because then I will resent him and resent myself and be miserable in general. Everything in moderation, fair amount of exercise, and all should be well–as long as I drop a pound a month or so. Totally doable, right?

So the numbers were mostly good news, but the food news was even better. Because it’s coming into summertime, and there are so many summer foods I love–ice cream, burgers, corn, tomatoes, melon. Ah yes. But there is a small catch–I can’t let myself get out of control, because freedom to eat is not an absolute. In other words–moderation.

Which also means that, fear not, Mikey’s Kitchen readers, I’m going to write about all of the great summer foods that lie ahead. Let’s get to it!

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.

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!

Foods I miss from…..Nashville

So trying to remember the foods I like from the places I’ve lived has become fun and has also jogged my memory, and made me hungry. So here is the latest one, foods I miss from Nashville, where we lived from 2003 to 2010. Nashville is known for its music, but it’s also smack dab in the middle of the South, and has its own regional food but also some unexpected treasures. Here we go…..

Fried chicken at Loveless Cafe–Good luck getting a table at this institution on the western fringe of Nashville. But it’s well worth the wait, especially the fried chicken and biscuits. My goodness, my mouth is watering thinking about the crispy on the outside, moist on the inside deliciousness that is Loveless fried chicken. Their biscuits are served with homemade jams and are also insanely good.

Hot chicken–Considering my love for spicy food, I didn’t get this nearly enough, but it’s quite a regional blast of heat and flavor. I think the chicken is broiled or baked (maybe fried but at this point it doesn’t matter). What matters is that it’s dusted and doused in cayenne pepper, giving it a high level of spice but also a blast of flavor that is just awesome.

Green Curry–yeah, I know, it seems odd, but Royal Thai made some of the best green curry I’ve ever tasted. And we lived right around the corner from this spot.

Pizza--There is great pizza in most places, and Nashville is no exception–the best there are Sal’s (authentic NYC style) and Mafiaozo’s, an awesome Italian restaurant in the 12 South neighborhood. The latter had a two-for one happy hour special so that you could have kickass wood-fired pizza and two frosty beers at once served at the same time.

Rippy’s Ribs–This downtown spot served dry-rubbed Memphis style ribs–smoked and dusted with Cajun spices. Damn, I’m hungry!

Popsicles–Las Paletas is another 12 South institution, down the street from Mafiaozo’s, and the perfect dessert spot in summer. They made homemade popsicles in crazy flavors like avocado or hot pepper/chocolate or cantaloupe along with traditional flavors like strawberry. There is really nothing like this place.

Meat and three–The best place for this that I found was Arnold’s downtown. Remarkable stuff like meat loaf, fried chicken, pot roast or chicken and dumplings, that were served with three sides such as mac & cheese, collard greens, creamed corn, or a gazillion other choices. The key is the meat, and three sides….reminding you of comfort food your mom made (at least if you grew up like I did). But also, the food is outstanding at Arnold’s (which was recently featured on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives).

Foods I miss from…..Cleveland

After living in New York from when I was born until I was around 27 or 28, I moved to Cleveland and kick-started my life and career in various ways that, while involving many twists and turns, were somewhat defining. I also went through various phases of food experimentation–and back in the late ’80′s, and ’90′s there was a lot of low-fat this and that, and less meat. Thankfully the pendulum for that stuff swung back toward high protein, low-carb, which is still not ideal (I want to eat everything, yo), but, well, I love bacon. Let’s leave it at that.

Anyway, as was the case when I moved away from New York, moving from Cleveland to Nashville left a void in some areas food-wise. And so here are a few items I miss and still do from the Buckeye state…..

Aladdin’s–okay so this isn’t a food item as much as it’s a restaurant, but it’s something I have to have when going back there. Aladdin’s is a local chain that serves delicious and inexpensive Middle Eastern food. They have great stuff like hummus, stuffed grape leaves and falafel. But it’s more than that–they have some delicious signature items like pita pizzas and one I miss in particular is the one with spicy chicken, peas, fried onions and a spicy tomato mixture. Also, they have these smoothies that you can get with combinations of fruits and vegetables. Seriously, they make veggies more palatable than you can imagine using a blender.

Pad thai–I’ve never had pad thai like the pad thai at Phnom Penh in Cleveland. It’s….wait for it…..Phnomenal. Sadly, I haven’t been back there since moving in 2003, but maybe next time. I mean, we have great Thai and Vietnemese and Laoatian food here in Madison, but….

Pizza–There really is great pizza in Cleveland. There is Mama Santa’s, Tasty, Geraci’s on the east side. There is Antonio’s and Santos on the west side. This is all coming from a New Yorker too.

West Side Market–There is nothing like the West Side Market in Cleveland. It’s an institution, and you can get all kinds of fresh produce, but also the indoor portion has vendors selling meat, bakery products, cheese, nuts, candies, and more. It was always fun to go there hungry, and we try to get to the market whenever we are in town. My mouth is watering thinking of the spicy jerky at this one place, and I think Michael Symon profiled it on The Best Thing I Ever Ate on Food Network once.

Krispy Kreme Donuts–I don’t think there is a single donut shop in Madison. In fact, you have to go to grocery stores and gas stations to find donuts at all. Yikes. But the ones in Krispy Kreme are freaking heavenly. The glazed ones in particular are their signature item, and it’s quite easy to down five or six at a sitting (no, I really haven’t ever actually tried that. No, really!).

Homemade granola/fruit bars–The Arabica coffee shop at University Circle has these pastries they sell at the counter, and they are like granola bars with a layer of cherry or berry preserves. And I go way out of my way to get some no matter how long we are in town for. In fact, last time I think I brought home a dozen.

Tommy’s fries–Tommy’s in Cleveland Heights has amazing french fries, but also makes some mean sandwiches and veggie creations. Oh, and milk shakes!

I know there is more. But we’ll have to just re-visit this column from time to time!

Foods I miss from…..New York

I have lived in four states in my lifetime, and now live in Madison, Wisconsin. If you are a foodie like me and have moved around a bit in your life like me, that means that when you move from one place to another, there are going to be regional food items you miss from your previous dwelling. This week, I will write about the items I miss about the places I’ve lived–New York (Long Island), Cleveland (Ohio) and Nashville. Here we go…

New York

Pizza, pizza, pizza. With all due respect to you people in Chicago who like your pizza to be a couple inches thick, and everyone else who thinks a large pizza is like 14 inches wide, there is nothing like real New York pizza. Not that it’s all the same, but generally you get a thin crust (not too thin), and the perfect blend of sauce and cheese, a sprinkling of oregano, and that’s it. You take a slice of that 16 to 18 inch pie, fold it in half, and eat like a sandwich. Oh, and don’t forget the shake of crushed red pepper.

Jamaican beef patties–They sell them in every pizza place in and around New York. They also sell them at Jamaican bakeries and in the frozen food section of the grocery store. They are like empanadas–savory and spicy, and with that trademark yellow crust.

Potato salad–If you have ever had the potato salad they sell in German delis in New York, you won’t ever get potato salad anywhere else. I can’t even attempt to make potato salad, ever, because nothing comes close. One question–how do they keep the potato salad looking so bright white and not off white/eggy like store bought salad in any other state?

Nathan’s hot dogs and fries–Well, you can buy Nathan’s hot dogs in most stores. But the fries. I’m not even sure what it is…it’s not like they are super crispy or anything. They are thick crinkle cut, not under cooked and not over cooked–but the perfect companion to a glob of ketchup.

Bagels–Okay so we have Gotham Bagels here in Madison, and they are real New York style bagels. But it’s not near my house, so I have to stock up when I drive past.

Deli sandwiches–Do you sense a theme here? Yes, I miss delis, and you would too if you moved away from New York. There is nothing like a sandwich on a hard kaiser roll–with real meat like roast beef, turkey or ham that was cooked there and sliced thin right there. The roast beef and turkey you get anywhere else is not the same–it’s typically injected with broth and other stuff to preserve it and make it taste processed. Ugh.

Pizza omelet

Yeah, you read that right. But I’m not talking about cracking eggs in a pan with tomatoes and mozzarella. I’m talking about the way I did it this past weekend–with bits of leftover pizza folded into an omelet. Something about it is very primitive, very college, very hangover. But mostly, it was delicious. Just ask my wife.

It started with some leftover pizza we had in the fridge. I used homemade pizza, like the one I posted here last month. But you can use any pizza you have left over from the night before.

Take out 2-3 large eggs. Heat the pizza (1 large or two small slices) for 30 seconds in the microwave or 5 minutes in the toaster oven at 350 degrees, just to warm it a bit. Cut the crusts off, then cut the pizza into bite size cubes. Heat a medium skillet over medium heat, and coat with cooking spray. Crack the eggs into a bowl with a splash of milk or water, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Pour the eggs into the pan, and swish the pan a bit to let the eggs cook and set evenly. When the egg is almost set, sprinkle with the pizza bits.

When the egg is almost entirely set, fold over half and cook for 30 seconds. Flip the omelet and cook for another 30 seconds. Slide onto a plate and cut in half. Serves two hungry and/or hung over people.

Bonus–try it with a Bloody Mary, like the one I posted here.

Why diets are a downer

I have excellent intentions every new year. I start every January on a diet and sometimes they last a few months, sometimes a few hours. I started this one on Monday and have made it thus far to the end of Wednesday doing the South Beach Diet, and if you have done this particular diet you know that the first two weeks (Phase 1) are extremely restrictive–no carbs of any kind. That means only meat, dairy, vegetables, eggs, beans and nuts. And it’s freaking HARD. Especially if you’ve been just eating whatever for whenever. And I think the reason so many of us fail at dieting is that we go from eating so bad to so good so fast, as I just did.

I’m not saying I can’t keep it up, but let me tell you a few reasons why all I want tonight is a huge plate of fries, a pizza and a whole coconut cream pie. One, I haven’t had time to adequately plan, which has left me scrounging for jerky and nuts mostly. Oh and sugar free candy. You get sick of these items real fast, believe me. Secondly, the broccoli cheese soup I made yesterday was great, but for whatever reason my belly was not happy yesterday. And today it really wasn’t happy after I ate it again for lunch. Finally, my breath smells like a large metropolitan market’s sewage plant. I know this because my wife keeps reminding me of it. And I can just feel how bad my breath smells.

Mrs. Mike is on Weight Watchers, so it’s pretty easy for us to synch these diets. But I have a feeling we’re about to binge, and try to start this diet again (or skip to Phase 2) tomorrow or the next day, or Monday!

Do you have diet horror stories, or anything else you’d like to share this January?

Perfect pizza

Maybe one of these days we will convince Trader Joe’s to advertise here, because I’m about to pimp them again. Seriously, even though it’s a good 20 minute drive from our house, we do most of our grocery shopping there. Their prices are great, they have cool and unique products and they get you in and out (plenty of cashiers and baggers) quickly. Some of their items that we go out of our way for from Trader Joe’s are the Greek yogurt (thick and tasty), whole grain bread with no additives or junk, and my personal favorite–pizza dough. Now, they have whole wheat dough, and an herb dough. But there is nothing quite like the plain white one. And if you, like me, have ever gone on a wild goose chase for a ball of pizza dough, you might bookmark this thought–the one that says Trader Joe’s has amazing pizza dough.

Anyway, if you do grab a ball (heh heh, he said grab a ball…I digress), here is how I make perfect pizza every time……preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Wipe a work surface clean, and then spread it with some white flour. Place the dough down and turn it over a few times to coat with flour, and flour a rolling pin. Roll the dough, adding more flour to prevent sticking to rolling pin and surface (this also makes the dough more elastic). Do this as far as you can in every direction to wind up with a round, thin crust. Grab a pizza pan and place dough on it. I like to use a 14 inch pan, rolling up the ends to make them thick.

Grab a can of pizza sauce (or use spaghetti sauce), and pour a small amount on the dough. Spread it with a spoon, adding more as needed to cover the dough, but not necessarily cover it all the way…there should be red swirls all the way around, with plenty of white space too, if that makes sense. For the cheese, I like to grab some shredded mozzarella and put that in a bowl. Then I shred some sharp cheddar and add that to the mozzarella, then add some grated Parmesan to that. The ratio should be something like 60-30-10. Spread that around the pie, but like with the sauce, don’t over-do the cheese (unless you like it that way). Finally, sprinkle with a dash of dried oregano.

Place the pie in the oven, and bake, rotating clockwise every 4-5 minutes to bake it evenly, a total of about 12-15 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly, turning brown but not too brown. Remove, slice with a pizza cutter and enjoy. I know it’s perfect when I hear that “thwap!” as I’m cutting it, meaning my dough is thin and beautifully crispy. Man, I’m hungry! Anyway, enjoy and let me know if you have a chance to try this out.

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