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Spicy dogs and chili and mustard and olives

I’ve talked probably more than I’d care to admit that I’m trying to lose a few pounds. Aren’t we all this time of year?

Anyway, and maybe fortunately or unfortunately, I find loopholes in Weight Watchers’ point system. Maybe they are not loopholes, but they are ideas of healthy deliciousness. In the case of one of my favorite foods, the hot dog, I made this kickass lunch the other day–two fat free white meat turkey franks (thank you Ballpark) on Brownberry white Italian bread, and made two kinds. One had a Kosciusko spicy brown mustard and a small amount of Tony Packo’s Hot Dog Sauce (this stuff is remarkable and by that I mean tasty as hell); and the other had a (literally) kickass Beaver Brand jalapeno mustard and some spicy That Pickle Guy muffalatta style olive salad.

First of all, these hot dogs are fantastic. They do not taste fat free in the least, they are delicious, and they are mild enough to let the other toppings shine. And since I’m eating these dogs like two or three times a week, I’ve become more interested in trying different mustards. Which makes it convenient that we have the National Mustard Museum here in Madison.

And hey, it’s almost lunch time and this post is making me hungry. And I think I know what I want for lunch!

Mikey gives props to…..

Cooking Light Magazine–I’ve mentioned on here before that I am on Weight Watchers. Yes, it sometimes affects and stifles my creativity as a home cook, but it also opens up possibilities and challenges me. Well, I recently started subscribing to Cooking Light Magazine. And of all of the food magazine recipes I’ve made lately, almost everything we’ve tried the past two weeks from their 25th anniversary edition have been phenomenal. Here are a few you can try that we did:

Chef JimCreamy Four-cheese Macaroni & Cheese–You will not believe how few calories this is per serving. I defy anyone to find me a full-fat recipe that is as good as this one.

Chef JimCheesy Meat Loaf Minis–Some of the best meat loaf we have ever had. It helps that you can use full-fat cheddar, and being in Wisconsin, we have some good cheddar.

Chef JimTop Chef: Seattle–I need to be honest. I am a fan of the Top Chef brand, but have found Curtis Stone hosting Top Chef Masters to be grating. And their new Life After Top Chef is kind of so-so. But the original, which now is in Season 10 for Top Chef Seattle, remains one of the best shows on television, cooking show or otherwise. Bravo to Bravo and to Magical Elves production. I mean, I’d rather look at and listen to Padma Lakshmi than Curtis, and Tom Colicchio is like the Godfather of the show, but every season they do not disappoint with the collection of chefs, and with the episodes and challenges. It’s just a fun show to watch and guaranteed to make home chefs inspired.

Chef JimHome Run Inn Frozen Pizza–This is hands down the best frozen pizza on the planet. It comes from Chicago, so I’m not sure if they ship beyond the proximity of the Midwest, but my goodness. The crust is ridiculous–it tastes like fresh bakery bread. The sauce is perfectly simple with no garlic whatsoever, unlike many sauces on other frozen brands that ruin the pizza that way. The cheese is just mozzarella. And now they have thin crust varieties that are Weight Watchers friendly–for real.

You call this a diet?

For the last couple of months, I’ve been on Weight Watchers, trying desperately to lose a few pounds at the urging of my doctor, who wasn’t too pleased at how high my blood pressure was. I lost 12 pounds and my blood pressure was a near-perfect 124/80 when I had my follow-up visit. Weight Watchers indeed works, and it’s not as difficult as you might think. I’m still on it but have been slacking a little and I know I’m going to veer a little during the holidays, but I know I need to eat good most of the time. And most of the time, this diet is not too bad.

This photo is of an egg sandwich I made this week and is a typical breakfast on this diet for me–a whole grain English muffin, scrambled egg, 2% slice of American cheese, turkey sausage patty, and this particular time–a super thin slice of pan seared salami, adding only a half a WW point but enough of a slice to give it some real salami flavor. It was like a meat lover’s egg sandwich and only 8 points.

I’m not telling you this to preach. I’m telling you this because sometimes diets can seem daunting when they really don’t have to be. And I know many of you will contemplate dieting or eating better during or after the holiday season.

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.

Product review: House Foods Tofu

I know, I know. A food blog geared toward guys talking about tofu? Well, I’m not the biggest fan of the stuff, but its health benefits, especially for weight loss, are real. So when the fine folks who represent House Foods Premium Tofu reached out, I thought I’d give tofu another chance. They touted the prospects of cutting tofu into chunks and grilling it, with House Foods extra firm variety really standing up to the grill, whereas that is not always the case with standard tofu. For you novices, keep in mind that tofu typically comes in the extra firm variety like that, or the softer versions which are more like scrambled eggs (and can be used as such) and can be used as a salad dressing or “cream” soup base.

Anyway, I tried the firm variety, not extra firm, and used it cubed in a miso soup. I should preface this by saying that my doctor instructed me to lose some weight to help bring down my spiking blood pressure, so I’m doing Weight Watchers, which really has come a long way in being more guy-friendly. I mean, Charles Barkley does it, why can’t I? Anyway, this soup kicks ass–you fry some mushrooms in a bit of oil, add some broth along with sliced bok choy, and the tofu. And to make it more flavorful (and with some spice), I sliced some fresh jalapeno and put that in the soup. Delicious.

But wait, this is about the tofu. Well, tofu is the type of food that absorbs flavors, but it’s usually the texture that separates good tofu from not-so-good. And House Foods is good–the firm is firm, and it doesn’t fall apart in soup. It has a nice texture that isn’t offensive. And hey, I’d use it again, and I probably will!

White bread MIA

First of all, what I’m going to discuss here is going to sound somewhat hypocritical. And that’s because as of January 1, I’ve been trying to *mostly* eat clean–which means a very healthy diet that is low in sugar, refined carbs and fat. Kind of like South Beach or the new Weight Watchers but without sugar substitutes or counting, respectively. One of the things this diet entails is eating whole grains, including bread that is all natural with whole wheat or rye or other grains front and center. Trader Joe’s has excellent bread like this that has little or no preservatives either.

Anyway, let’s face it. If you grew up eating white bread like most of us baby boomers did, you sometimes just have to have white bread. In addition, our 3-year-old son is not keen on whole wheat bread and we like to make sure he eats some bread. I know this is the wrong message to send him at a young impressionable age, but still. Anyway, recently I went out in search of Wonder bread to buy our son for his sandwiches, and what I found were rows and rows of all whole wheat, fiber-added, whole grain white, or otherwise brownish-tinted white bread. Sorry, that ain’t white bread.

The one I wound up getting was Wonder “Smart White,” which is made with regular wheat flour and has wheat gluten and cottonseed fiber added to give it an obscene 5 grams of fiber per two slices. At this point, why wouldn’t you just go for the real thing? But I digress.

I wasn’t compelled to write about this until my wife brought home Thomas’ English muffins over the weekend. These, by the way, are also not available in classic white versions anymore. Oh, they’re white, but the ones she bought were called “Triple Health,” meaning they are 100 calories, high in fiber and low in sodium. Blech. These have farina and wheat gluten and oat cellulose added. Sounds yummy, doesn’t it? Well, I tried one of these yesterday and it toasted up unusually crispy with little flavor and almost no real substance. It was like eating a large, aerated cracker. Triple Health to me is not this English muffin. Blech.

I should add, however, that she also bought a loaf of Village Hearth Italian bread, and voila–this is real white bread as I remember it!

The moral of this story? If you have a hankering for real white bread and you have to spend an hour in the bread aisle trying to find what you need, just look for the I-word–Italian. My brother-in-law, who likens whole wheat bread to sawdust, and I, have this conversation regularly about white bread and why it just tastes good. Many whole wheat breads do as well, but sometimes white bread makes more sense to the sandwich you are making, or to your own nostalgic palate at any given time.

The last few days, I’ve been under the weather with a nasty cold, and when I am, I typically have a hard time sticking to a healthy eating plan (contrary to what I should be doing to get better!). So today I had a peanut butter sandwich with that Italian bread and it was awesome. And now, I can go back to my whole wheat ways for a while, until that white bread hankering hits me again. How about you?

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