Archive for Food

Creative Lifestyle Changes

It’s hard to say “diet” and stick to it.  If you call it a diet it sounds like you are sacrificing every good bite of food to never be enjoyed again.  We are trying hard not to think that way.  We are trying look at lifestyle changes that are incorporated into our lives.  No one food is out…it just has to be enjoyed differently, and something has to be traded out for it.  Can he still have a beer?  Sure….just  not with a high carb meal.

Last week we went to Rocky’s Pizzeria, our favorite local pizza place.  Thin crust, greasy, lots of bad for you stuff.  We decided to go at lunchtime, when you can order a 1 or 2 piece special.  We each ordered one slice of pizza.  And we used knife and fork and those pieces last 20 minutes.  20 mouth water minutes.

Tonight we made our own pizza.  We went with the cauliflower crust that everyone has been raving about.


It was simple and tasty, although many dead Italians are, I’m sure, rolling in their graves at the nerve of us calling it PIZZA.

Cauliflower crust pizza
1 pkg frozen cauliflower
1/4 c grated parmesan 
1 egg

Preheat oven to 400. Line cookie sheet with parchment. Lightly spray with olive oil. (I have an evoo mister that I used.)

Using salted water, steam cauliflower for 15 minutes or until really tender. Remove from heat and chill. In the bowl of a food processor put cauliflower and process until finely chopped, it look kind of like rice.

Mix cauliflower with remaining ingredients. On the parchment, pat the dough out into a 12 inch ‘circle’. Bake 20 minutes until golden brown.

Add topings, then bake until cheese melts.

We both agreed that this should not have a heavy red sauce, the sliced tomatoes worked well. Ours was topped with sliced tomatoes, basil and mozz.


Prickly Pear Adventures

Prickly Pears A coworker of hubby’s was throwing a party to celebrate their anniversary and housewarming. She had a challenge for me, she was wondering if she provided the prickly pears from her cacti could I come up with a salad? Always up to a recipe challenge, I said sure. She sent a large bowl of the fruit home with hubby and, of course, first thing I did was taste them

Prickly Pears

I immediately noticed upon cutting them open was the large concentration of inedible seeds. The seeds were easily scooped out, tho, and I took a bite of the juicy flesh. It’s a different taste, hard to explain, but sort of a savory watermelon. And the lovely dark pink/purple color juice went everywhere. So I conned hubby, my sous chef, into seeding the prickly pear fruit.

With a little thought I decided the flavor would play off nicely in a sweet/heat salsa. To get the sweetness I wanted I roasted a 2 pound assortment of hot and sweet peppers, garlic and red onion.



Processing in the large bowl of a food processor, and working in batches, I whizzed all the veggies & a good handful of cilantro.

Along with the processed peppers, garlic, onion and fruit, I mixed in the juice of a lemon and lime along with a pinch of salt

Garnished with some cilantro and sliced lemon, lime and prickly pear fruit

Serve with chips.

Andrea has promised us more prickly pear fruit and I am looking forward to trying out some new recipes.

Prickly Pear Salsa

2 lbs mixed peppers (I used half heat and half sweet)
1 large red onion
1 head garlic
1 handful cilantro leafs
1/2 lb prickly pear fruit, de-thorned, sliced in half and deseeded
juice of 2 lemons and 1 lime
pinch of salt

On large baking sheets arrange peppers and garlic head in a single layer. Peel the onion and cut in 1″ sections, arrange on baking sheets. Roast at 350 for 30 minutes or so, turning halfway thru.

Prepare the prickly pear fruit by removing the thorns, slicing in half and scooping out the seeds with a spoon.

In batches process the peppers, garlic, fruit and cilantro leafs. Mix in a pinch of salt. Chil at least 6 hours for the flavors to meld. Garnish with slices of lemons, limes, prickly fruit and cilantro leafs.

Serve with chips.

Healthier Habits

Hubby had some not-so-good news last week when he went for his doctor appointment. He was told he is pre-diabetic, which wasn’t all that surprising. Like many of us, he has been battling his weight since retiring from the Navy.

At one time we kept a very healthy diet. Lots of white meat, veggies and no sugars. Over the last few years those habits had slipped away. Time was a big factor, we were both working long hours and then my medical issues kept me off my feet for any period of time.

Well, now its time to pay the piper. First thing I did was as my food friends, whom I’ve been chatting with online for almost 20 years, for suggestions and advice. As always, they came thru with some tried and true lifestyle changes.

This past week I worked hard at making healthier dinners that are filling. First up was Chicken in a Summer Squash Sauce, served over brown rice.

I went looking for a recipe that included chicken and zucchini since that was what I had on hand. After looking at several for inspiration I ended up going a different direction with it.

Chicken in a Summer Squash Sauce
Serves 6

12 oz Chicken Tenders
2 tsp Olive Oil
1 tsp *Ancho Chili Powder
1 tsp Dried Oregano
1/2 tsp Kosher Salt
Ground Pepper
1/2 tsp Chili Pepper Flakes
1 small Sweet Onion
4 Cloves Garlic (more or less to taste)
1 Yellow Squash
1 Zucchini
1 15 oz can Fire Roasted Tomatoes

Combine seasonings in a small bowl. Sprinkle half over chicken tenders, reserve remaining.

Chop onion, garlic, squash, zucchini and place in the bowl of a food processor. Add tomatoes and reserved seasonings. Pulse to desired texture.

In a large skillet heat olive oil over med-high heat. Brown chicken on all sides, set aside. Add sauce to pan and bring to a simmer. Add chicken to sauce, bring back to a simmer and cover. Cook on low for 45 minutes.

Serve over brown rice.

In a large skillet heat olive oil med-high heat. Brown chicken tenders on all sides, remove to a plate and cover loosely with foil.

Baked Potato Salad

Hubby’s schedule changed recently. He’s now working three 12-hour days along with his callback schedule. This schedule change has really impacted our lives in several ways. Because he no longer will be working an 40 hour week his pay is reduced. Because he is working longer days he is eating dinner much later. I need to come up with meals that are lighter and that can “hold” from the time I eat around 5 to when he eats around 8.

This week’s menu included turkey sloppy joes with baked potato salad. I made the turkey Sloppy Joes using the same recipe as beef, substituting ground turkey for the ground beef.

The baked potato salad is a recipe I spent several years trying to perfect. My first taste of this salad was from a little grocery store up the street from us when hubby was stationed in Bremerton Washington. After relocating cross country I tried to replicate it, just going by memory (and no internet to search back then).

It wasn’t until I tried a 50/50 split of mayo and sour cream that I had a winner. And if I have roasted garlic I will add that to kick it up another notch.

Baked Potato Salad
Baked Potato Salad

Serves 6

4 med red potatoes — washed
2 oz olive oil
1 tbsp kosher salt

4 pieces bacon — diced and cooked
2 oz butter
2 whole scallions — chopped
4 oz cheddar cheese — shredded
4 oz sour cream
4 ounces mayonnaise
2 tbsp cracked black pepper
1 tbsp salt

For the potatoes:
Wash and dry the potatoes, then rub potatoes with olive oil and season with salt. Bake in a 350 degree oven until done. Remove from oven, let cool and dice in 1-inch chunks. Set aside.

For the dressing:
In a large bowl, mix together bacon, scallions, cheddar cheese, sour cream and mayonnaise. Mix in potato chunks and season cracked black pepper and salt.

Sunday Dinner: Slow Cooker Pork

Pork shoulder in the slow cooker:

First layer was onion slices and baby carrots, then add a cup of white wine (apple juice w a splash of apple cider vinegar would work as well). Cut the skin and most of the fat off of a 6 pound pork shoulder. This one fought me until I tried holding the knife like a bow (thank goodness for violin lessons as a child) and then it sliced right off. The pork laid on top of the carrots and onions, fatty side up, and it was heavily sprinkled with salt, pepper and thyme and garlic cloves jammed into slits the fat. Finally, topped with 3 bay leafs and baby gold potatoes (if using larger potatoes, slice in half). Cook on low, 8 hours.

Week in Review

Dixie and Desi enjoying the warm weather.

The weather has been warmer than usual, with highs close to 90. Even for the desert this is unusual.

At work we’ve been working for over a year on a project near Joshua Tree National Park. To this point it has been all paperwork shuffling with a lot of misdirections from the government. It looks like we are finally nearing the permit stage and we went up to look around. Found this little hummingbird on the ground, obviously stunned, after hitting a window. Poor guy! The homeowner moved him to a safe location to recover and I managed to get a some pretty cool shots showing off his colors.

Recovering Hummingbird

Recovering Humming bird

Recovered and back into the trees.

On the dog training front we were at the shelter again this week, leash training with basic obedience thrown in for good measure, along with evaluating new intakes. This guy is Skitch. A little skittish to start but he warms up fast. It was good to see that several of the dogs we have been working with have found homes.


But the BIG news for this week is that we started corning the corned beef for St Patrick’s Day. I’ve blogged about this before, and it is a favorite subject. I cannot state emphatically enough that homemade corned beef is a gazillion times better than the chemical laden package you buy at the grocery store. Julia Child rocked the original recipe and, with a few minor tweaks, it has yet to fail me.

Start with assembling the seasonings: 1 1/3 c coarse (Kosher) salt
1 T cracked peppercorns (pound whole corns to crack them)
1 t ground black pepper
1 T cracked allspice
2 t thyme
2 t paprika,
2 crumbled bay leafs

Assembled spices

Blend the seasonings.

Put the meat (brisket, tri tip, rump roast) into a 2 gallon ziploc bag and rub the seasoning into the meat, evenly distributing.

Rub seasoning onto the meat.

Make sure all excess air is pushed out, zipper close the bag and then massage the meat thru the plastic.

Massaging the meat before it goes in the fridge.

Now it goes into the fridge, laying flat, with a heavy weight over it. (We previously used 12 packs of soda but this year we have 2 cast iron skillets with a garden brick on top.) Every day for two weeks the meat needs massaged and turned. You will see a nice red liquid by the first turn.

After at least two weeks (we’ve gone 4) remove it from the bag and soak in cold water, changing it out at least 3 times, for 24-48 hours. This desalting will make the meat perishable so it should be cooked ASAP. We do ours in the slowcooker on low for 8 hours with a can of beer, slices of onion and garlic, red potatoes and then at about half an hour to go sliced cabbage.


As you can tell, I have been lacking in my posts. I am trying to go too many directions at one time and something has to suffer, in this case it is the blog. For that, I am sorry. I really enjoy putting my thoughts or tidbits about my life in writing. Right now, tho, I have to balance what I can and this is where the teeter totter hits the ground on occasion.

I am constantly learning between school and my mentor. It seems like my brain will explode with all the new knowledge. The small breakthroughs with dogs who are are afraid of everything or the wild child dogs that are learning impulse control and starting to have a little family harmony, these let me know I am on the right path.

This is Napoleon, who, unlike his namesake, does not want to take over the world and is working hard on his impulse control.

This is Peanut, who would give a scaredy cat a run for it’s title. Little by little he’s coming out of his shell, tho.

I try to get into the kitchen but I don’t have the time for creativity in there that I would like. The closest I’ve come is this Sausage Minestrone soup.

Sausage Minestrone
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 pound Italian sausage
2 large carrots, chopped
salt and pepper (go easy on the salt…more can be added at the end)
Pinch of crushed red pepper
2 red bell peppers, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup white wine
6 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 cans (15 ounces each) white navy beans, rinsed and drained
2 cans (14-1/2 ounces each) fire-roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
2 bay leaves
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 cups ditalini or other small pasta
Shredded or shaved Parmesan cheese


In a 5 quart pan saute onion and carrots over medium heat until the onion is almost translucent; Add the garlic, red bell pepper, sausage, crushed red pepper, salt and pepper. Break up the sausage as it cooks.

Stir in the broth, beans, tomatoes, bay leaves, oregano, tomato paste and wine. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 30 minutes. (Can be cooled and frozen at this point.) Bring to a boil. Stir in ditalini; return to a boil. Reduce heat and cook, uncovered, for 6-8 minutes or until pasta is tender. Serve with cheese. Yield: 13 servings (3-1/4 quarts).

Take Me Home, Country Ham.

Country Ham

Country Ham

Hubby and I hadn’t been married very long when UPS showed up on our doorstep with a large, heavy box from his parents. Inside the box was a very intimidating Country Ham. How can a ham be intimidating , you ask? Easy. All hams that I had ever met previoiusly came in a can with a key to ‘roll’ open the top. Out would plop this gelatinous pink triangle shaped ‘meat’. Diamonds would be scored into the top and then a clove poked into each diamond and then heated in the oven just until warmed thru.

The ham that arrived via UPS was not in a can. It was wrapped in paper and tucked into a cloth bag. A recipe booklet that came with it advised that mold was normal in a dry cured ham and should be scrubbed off. Then it should be cooked in 7 Up to help desalt the flavor. Since my cooking skills were limited at the time to spaghetti sauce from a jar and foods that could be cooked in cream of mushroom soup this entire country ham process was intimidating. Instead, we hung it in the closet where it stayed until the military packed it and us up and moved it across the country.

My favorite widowed aunt and her new husband spotted the ham as it was unpacked by the movers. Uncle Dutch was excited to see that ham. He cradled it like a baby and announced that we were to bring it with us to Thanksgiving dinner at their house. We did as ordered and brought the now year old ham with us to dinner.

Uncle Dutch was like a kid in a candystore. He directed hubby to scrub the mold off and then found the sharpest knife he could and they started shaving small pieces off to nibble on. Apparently this is not a recommended way to eat it, but that didn’t matter. They continued to nibble away as Uncle Dutch would tell us about his childhood in pre-WWII Holland and that ham was just like the ones they’d have there. He would also lean against the cabinet where a light switch (or, as he called it, a Peter switch) causing the lights to flicker on and off. The ham was noticbly smaller by the time it was cooked and brought to the table.

Shortly after that Thanksgiving dinner we were asked to contact hubby’s parents and request that they send another country ham. His parents lovingly and with a bit of amusement complied. They became his ‘ham connection’.

As the years passed they would send a country ham for our Thanksgiving. When we moved to Washington hubby was at sea for Thanksgiving. Undeterred, his folks mailed a ham and we wives sent all the holiday side dishes that would travel to him aboard the ship. Not to be bested by the ham our sailors cooked the ham in the autoclave. Sailors were drifting in and out of the medical department to find out what that wonderful aroma was and hoping to snag a bit for themselves. The medical department ate the best Thanksgiving dinner ever eaten on a ship at sea.

As the years passed they continued to send us country hams about once a year. We tried to locate them outside the south and talked to local grocers but the cost was just prohibitive for them to offer. After his dad passed away and his mother moved I went online to see if I could order one, but the cost of a full country ham was over $100 when shipping was added in. We could not justify the expense.

Last Friday I stopped into the local grocery store to pick up beans to go in a ham and bean soup that was on our menu. It was to be made with a smoked hock and would be a nice comfort dish during the nasty weather we were expecting. A miracle had happened, tho. There, in the meat section, right next to the foil wrapped, honey hams was a country ham. Sixteen pounds of memories. My mood went from crappy to happy in the blink of an eye. Memories slammed into me, one after the other. Now we need to sit down and plan out a dinner worthy of this beauty. Some will be carved off to become ham steaks for breakfasts. Ham and potato gratin. Ham sandwiches. The bone will eventually become gallons of bean soup that we will share with friends.
And I just know Uncle Dutch is smiling down on us.

Sausage and Corn Chowder

Sausage and Corn Chowder
The weather has been frightful which makes soup so delightful.

Sausage and Corn Chowder

Sausage and Corn Chowder

1 tbsp olive oil
12 ounces mild italian sausage (I like turkey)
Salt and pepper
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
32 ounces chicken stock
5 medium red potatoes, peeled and diced
½ cup corn (frozen or canned)
1 cup cream or half n half

In a 5 quart skillet or stock pan, heat skillet on medium. Drizzle olive oil so it covers the bottom of the pan. Remove the sausage from the casings and crumble into the hot pan. Add the onion and salt and pepper. (I use about ½ tsp of kosher salt, not too much because the chicken stock has salt.) When the sausage is browned add the garlic and bell pepper. (Sometimes I had a diced jalapeno for a tad bit of warmth.)

Once the onion is translucent and the garlic and pepper have cooked a bit add the stock, being sure to scrape up any browned bits off the bottom. Add the potatoes. You may need to add a bit more stock if the potatoes aren’t covered. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender…about 20 minutes or so. At this point use a potato masher to smoosh some of the potatoes and break up the sausage a little more. This will help thicken the broth up. Add the cream, bring back to a simmer and voila…soup is ready.

Ciabatta (Slipper Bread)

ciabatta and dipping oil

I love a good flat bread, crusty on the outside and full of air pockets on the inside. Ciabatta is a simple one to make and it helps that the sponge is done the night before, then a few moments to mix the sponge and the rest of the ingredients in the morning and it can hang out in the fridge all day and be ready to shape and bake with dinner.

This recipe makes 2 10″ flat breads.

1/8 Tsp Dry Yeast
2 Tbsp Warm Water
1/3 C Water — Room Temp
1 C All-purpose Flour

The Ciabatta does require a simple sponge but it takes only a few minutes to put together the day before making the bread. Though the dough for Ciabatta is very wet and sticky, resist the temptation to add more flour.

To make the sponge:
In a small bowl proof the yeast and warm water; let stand 5 minutes, or until creamy. In a bowl stir together yeast mixture, room-temperature water, and flour and stir 4 minutes. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let sponge stand at cool room temperature at least 12 hours and up to 1 day.



1/2 Tsp Dry Yeast
2 Tbsp Warm Milk
2/3 C Water — Room Temp
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Cups All-purpose Flour
1 1/2 Tsp Salt

Make bread:
In a small bowl stir together yeast and milk and let stand 5 minutes, or until creamy. In bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with dough hook blend together milk mixture, sponge, water, oil, and flour at low speed until flour is just moistened and beat dough at medium speed 3 minutes. Add salt and beat 4 minutes more. Scrape dough into an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours. (Dough will be sticky and full of air bubbles.)

Have ready 2 rimless cookie sheets covered with well-floured and cornmealed sheets of parchment paper. Turn dough (**this is a VERY wet and sticky dough and should be handled as little as possible when shaping; flour your hands well or you will wear the dough out**) onto a well-floured work surface and cut in half. Transfer each half to a parchment sheet and form into an irregular oval (thier name comes from their shape, that of a slipper) about 9 inches long. Dimple loaves with floured fingers and dust tops with flour. Cover loaves with a dampened kitchen towel. Let loaves rise at room temperature until almost doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

At least 45 minutes before baking, put a baking stone or 4 to 6 unglazed “quarry” tiles arranged close together on oven rack in lowest position in oven and preheat oven to 425° F.

Uncover the loaves and slide gently (parchment and all) onto the stone or tiles. Bake ciabatta loaves 20 minutes, or until pale golden. With a large spatula transfer loaves to a cooling rack to cool. To serve, tear off individual pieces.

Notes: Drizzle them with olive oil and a sprinkle of kosher salt or poke 12 kalamata olives into the dough prior to baking and then top with basil, garlic and or toasted onion. They also go well dipped into a roasted garlic-olive oil or an olive oil-seed-nut mix.