A few years back, I was diagnosed with extremely high cholesterol. So my wife, Karen, and I came to an understanding. Despite the fact that I am very well insured and probably worth more dead than alive, I’d get back into an exercise routine by walking our dogs more regularly, start taking two types of prescription medication and fish oil capsules every day. I even tried adding flax seed to my food for a short period of time, but that was a non-starter. Moreover, I began eating seafood and fowl for dinner, I frequently have salads for lunch and, despite a weakness for bagels and cream cheese, I even eat some heart-healthy cereal or a breakfast-bar for breakfast from time to time. I’ve minimized my consumption of egg yolks and I just about eliminated red meat (especially pork sausage and bacon) and nearly anything fried from my diet.
You see, I was one of those guys who played softball 4-6 days a week. Depending on the season, I played softball, volleyball, basketball and even flag football into my 40s. But I was also one of those guys who had a bacon, egg & cheese sandwich nearly every weekday for breakfast at the Charlotte Observer cafeteria. For lunch, it was usually a burger, bratwurst, fried chicken sandwich, or chicken wings. Without a moments’ thought, French fries were my “go to” side dish at lunch. Every now and then, I’d switch it up and have something “healthy” like mac & cheese. Long after I left the newspaper, the notion of having something green or, heaven forbid orange, on my plate, was still completely foreign to me.
I thought the fries would be a bigger issue, but I barley even miss them. If I get a severe hankering, baked Tater Tots are a very occasional, yet worthy option (especially with the world-class, turkey burger at Bad Daddy’s). Eggs are no problem either. In fact, on weekends, Karen and I routinely prepare and share an omelet that consists of two eggs and a half-cup of egg substitute. With the ham, mushrooms sautéed in sherry, tomatoes, etc., you can barely tell the difference. Cheese, however, was not negotiable. Admittedly, my doctor doesn’t love that idea, but as long as I take all the aforementioned steps, he cuts me some slack.
It should be noted that hard cheeses, like Parmesan and Romano are generally considered OK for folks with high cholesterol, but softer cheeses are on the “bad list,” so I found it easy enough to scale back considerably on cheese as a snack and even use less cheese in those Sunday morning omelets. But let’s face it; some things, like pizza for example, are hardly worth eating without a generous amount of cheese. In fact, Karen makes homemade pizzas from time to time. And, while fresh mozzarella is essential to a good pie, we both agree that there absolutely has to be at least three different kinds of cheese on our pizza.
Growing up in New York, there were basically two kinds of pizza: cheese and pepperoni. Somehow, even the plain cheese pizza had a glistening sheen of grease that ran down your arm as you folded a slice and devoured it, so it was clearly not exactly heart-healthy. Karen grew up in the suburbs south of Chicago, so years ago she turned me on to incredible, Chicago-style pizza with layer after layer of flat pork sausage, gobs of cheese and a thick golden crust. And, at some point along the way, I discovered “meat-lovers” pizza with sausage, pepperoni, ground beef, ham, and who knows what else on it.
Needless to say, those are not the kind of pizzas made at our house these days. Recently, however, Karen whipped up a pie that was reminiscent of the old meat-lovers and if I hadn’t seen it being made with my own eyes (I also helped out, but this was truly her creation), I would have sworn it was loaded with the sausage and pepperoni I so fondly recall from home. So, whether you are looking out for your own cholesterol intake or somebody else’s, here’s the recipe. I’ll leave it up to you to decide if you want to let them know it doesn’t have an ounce of red meat.
Karen’s “Meat on Wheat” Homemade Pizza
Start with a 16 ounce wheat dough ball. (Available at your grocer or local pizza place)
Let dough come to room temperature and sprinkle Italian-style bread crumbs onto a 12×16 pizza stone. Pre-heat oven 450 degrees.
Spread dough evenly onto stone, going all the way to the edge and making sure there are no holes in the dough.
Sprinkle with garlic powder.
Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes and remove from oven; leaving the oven hot.
Place slices of fresh mozzarella onto crust and cover with one cup of your favorite spaghetti sauce up to within 3/4 inch of the edge (we like Newman’s Own Tomato & Basil Bombolina).
Liberally place Jimmy Dean Hearty Turkey Sausage Crumbles and slices of Boar’s Head turkey pepperoni onto pizza.
Evenly place 12-15 Mount Olive sliced banana pepper rings (mild) on the pizza.
Cover with shredded mozzarella cheese, shredded Monterey Jack/cheddar cheese blend.
Sprinkle with basil, garlic powder, and crushed red pepper.
Bake for 12 minutes at 450 degrees.