Cooking Fine Meals for the Dog

November 18, 2009
Annabelle Guards the Living Room

Annabelle Guards the Living Room

Two major events forced me to change my cooking habits last week.  My dog Annabelle was injured chasing deer in the house.   My brother-in-law was diagnosed with high cholesterol.  The vet and the doctor ordered changes in diet immediately.

First, you must understand that Annabelle, our 2-year-old Portuguese Waterdog, is mesmerized by the wall of glass that is the exterior of our living room.  This strategic view allows her to monitor and patrol the tree line every morning when the deer are feeding.  Later in the day, the bunnies pose a grave concern.  And when she is bored, the squirrels are an imminent threat to our freedom-loving way of life. 

That day, in an effort to alert the house, that some slow-chomping omnivores posed an imminent danger, she flew from a sound sleep and charged the glass.  This manuever led to the injury and nausea that landed her squarely in the vet’s office. Dr. Becky x-rayed her, cancelled walks for 10 days and ordered a new diet.  Diet?  Riet?  Off with the peanut butter toast snacks we share, cancel the bowl of kibble in the kitchen and no more steak bits to sneak at the dinner table.  Annabelle was ordered a bland diet of cottage cheese, chicken and rice.   We were both crushed.

Thus, began the week of cooking dinner for the humans at the same time I cooked dinner for our beloved canine.  Bu, oh my–who wants to cook two meals?  That is how I discovered the secret pleasures of ground chicken.  Have you ever seen it in the grocery store next to the tenders, breasts and thighs?  It’s there, but you have to really look for it. When I tasted Annabelle’s first meal, it felt like we humans were missing out…not bad…not bad at all…actually, mmmm very good. 

So, out of this experience came new recipes that were leaner and more in tune with the diet my brother-in-law had been ordered:  Less red meat and high cholesterol foods like butter.  Actually we don’t consume large portions of red meat, but as a family, we do consume about a pound of butter a week.  Shhhh.  That’s just between you and I.  Our secret.  I bake a lot and it’s evenly distributed among us all…not like one person is chowing down a stick of butter…okay, I’ll take it down to half a pound.

During this crisis, I made two meals that were particularly good:  Chicken Enchiladas and Chicken and Wild Rice Soup.  They were wonderful meals.  No one noticed they were healthy and that is how you know it’s good. 

I encourage you to change-up some of your cooking habits and routines by inserting a healthier substitute.  And for the record, I baked some peanut butter cookies last week with Crisco which reduced the cholesterol content by half.  They were good.  Baking without butter isn’t the evil I thought it might be afterall.  Actually, I can report that not one cookie was left behind because it was too kind on the arteries.  (Don’t tell Dr. Becky, but Annabelle agreed that Crisco cookies taste just as good as butter cookies.) 

This time of year do not forget the special loved ones who are on doctor or vet ordered special diets.  Save the really fattening stuff for holiday dinners.  You might even start to like the new cooking routines.  Annabelle wanders over the stove now at dinner and then over to her bowl where she paws at it, as if to say, ‘Where’s the good stuff?’

Make mine a tuna fish sandwich–with a side of attitude

October 3, 2009
Tuna Fish Sandwich with a Side of Attitude

Tuna Fish Sandwich with a Side of Attitude

I work from home.  This presents me with the amazing opportunity to do what I love:  cook.  In between phone calls, studio work and sales calls, I can bake a loaf of chocolate chip banana bread or throw some ribs into the oven to cook until the meat is fleeing the bone.  

This work-from-home situation also allows my husband and brother-in-law to come home for lunch.  Some days are better than others, but they know there is always good coffee and a “side of attitude” being served.  Before you think of me adopting a sassy wise-cracking diner-waitress-persona(and believe me there is plenty of that), I want to introduce and define the “side of attitude” which I consider to be a point of personal pride. 

 A “side of attitude,” is a creative, nourishing, tasty and unexpected side dish.  The first time my brother-in-law saw a prepared lunch of Tuna Fish Salad served with Cottage Cheese and a Grapefruit Half, he smiled and joked, “Excuse me, but I ordered the unhealthy lunch. ” My husband loved the way that lunch looked when they walked in the door.  “Wow.  Honey, this is great.”  It was very diner-like, but so inviting, so simple and if I say so myself, thoughtful. 

A good side dish is thoughtful because that food eventually becomes part of the person who is eating it.  Now, this may seem a bit Polyanna, but I have been accused of that and worse.  In fact, my brother-in-law refers to me as, “Someone who is happy about the world,” where puppies can do no wrong and “ordinary life occasions can become big events.”  A side dish fits into this last observation as something ordinary that can bring a little unexpected happiness to a meal. 

Lunch in particular can be a tricky time.  People seem to slip into a fog when it comes to choosing a companion for their sandwich.  It’s not their fault.  The American pysche has slipped into a dollar-menu mentality when it comes to companion foods.  I am here to tell of a different way of life.  It is a world of foods that are fresh and tasty, quick to prepare and dazzling to the eye.  I am here to proclaim a higher standard for side dishes capable of  nourishing bodies and  being  included in the quick lunches America is forced to consume.

Allow me to further clarify.  French fries are a counterfeit vegetable.  Potato chips are not a side dish.  Lettuce covered in dressing is a cruel mockery to authentic salads every where.  And the rice/baked potato song and dance bores me to tears.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  Take the challenge.  Use more creativity and take some pride in the long-forgotten side dish. 

Try these delicious lunch menus to get you started:  Turkey Sandwich with Mozzarella Cheese, Red Pepper and Pesto Spread with a side of Baked Zucchini Sticks; Grilled Cheese on Texas Toast with Tomato Soup and Seedless Black Grapes; Left over Spaghetti with Apple Slices and Peanut Butter.  It’s easy if you think fresh and fast.  Add a side of broccoli, cashews, carrot and celery sticks, an orange, yogurt and the list goes on…

This Week in the Kitchen Spa…

September 23, 2009

Creating and planning meals in my kitchen is a spa-like experience.  Last year, my husband modernized the tiny kitchen in our 1940s bungalow.  He and his brothers stained every piece of wood, pushed the dolly with the new fridge into place and installed the gigantic stainless steel farm sink I insisted upon (because it’s big enough to give the dog a bath.)  There is so much of my husband’s labor in the kitchen that I feel like I’m working within the space of a giant hug. 

The kitchen walls are painted a quiet yellow cream.  Tortoise brown tiles with shades of grey, hints of silver and rare bursts of blue shield the walls from spaghetti sauce and flying cake batter.  I have great lighting (my brother-in-law says, “enough to conduct alien autopsies”) and a view of the squirrels who scavenge in the front yard and make strange click-cluck sounds I recently took the time to notice.  A satellite radio is perched next to my gas range and always set for the 1940s channel.  The quiet upbeat croon of Sinatra or the Ink Spots matches the kitchen-spa mood and I love the WWII news updates rebroadcast in-between songs.  This is when I let the day go and focus only on creating food that will be a joy to share with my small family consisting of husband, bachelor brother-in-law, dog and often my sister’s family of four.  I just relax and unload my shopping bags or raid the cupboards for what is on hand. 

This week in the kitchen spa I rediscovered the Brown Betty when I made a last minute dessert to follow the shrimp, asparagus and lemon risotto meal I prepared.  Can you really make risotto without coffee and dessert to follow?  It’s like trying to listen to an orchestra without the string section–too vulgar to consider. 

I had little available for a  dessert in the cupboard.  However, I did have 4 pink lady apples sitting in my fruit bowl (intended for oatmeal addiction) and a new box of graham crackers (for making smores with the nephews.)  Without enough time to make a pie crust or enough apples for a crisp, there was one beautiful answer:  Apple Brown Betty. 

The Brown Betty is technically a baked pudding dessert made with spiced fruit and buttered crumbs.  Personally, I think the apple recipes are more like pies without crusts.  This dessert was first created by American Colonists who lacked the sophisticated cooking utensils to make the English pudding recipes they craved and missed.  Adapt, overcome, create and enjoy–now the Betty is truly a product of America.  And the great thing about the Brown Betty is that it can be made with apples, bananas or other commonly available fruits.  In fact, if the colonists can make the Brown Betty without electricity or running water, it’s a sure bet that you can whip up a fantastic unplanned dessert in no time (Apple Brown Betty Recipe found at bottom of text.)

Good cooks will tell you that the best recipes often begin with limited ingredients.  Happy cooks might also explain how the kitchen is not just a landscape of labor, but an environment ripe for creativity and fun. After all, isn’t anything worthwhile work?   I urge you to make your kitchen a spa experience by kicking everyone out, creating an atmosphere that is designed to accomodate you and focusing on both your literal and metaphorical tastes.  Paint the walls, play music, buy a new rug or add a soft chair for staring out the window and incorporate a little more of yourself into a room where you spend too much time to feel unsatisfied. 


Excellent table presentation

Excellent table presentation


Apple Brown Betty:

4 pink lady apples (or other tart variety)

1 1/2 packages of graham crackers crushed into crumbs, approximately 2 cups, (or 2 cups unseasoned bread crumbs)

1 1/2 sticks of butter

1 1/4 cup packed brown sugar

cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves to taste; dash of salt

3 tablespoons of lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 F. Whisk sugar and spices together in a bowl.  In a separate bowl, mix graham crackers with melted butter.  Use a third of the cracker/butter mixture to spread on the bottom of a unbuttered 9-inch pie pan.  Arrange half of  the sliced apples around the pan and sprinkle with half of the sugar/spice mixture.  Then distribute half of the lemon juice over the sugar.  This is the first layer.  The second layer is a repeat of the first–spread 1/3 cracker/butter mixture, layer apples, sprinkle sugar/spice and distribute lemon over sugar.  Finally, sprinkle the last third of the cracker/butter mixture over the top and cover with foil.  Take foil off after 35 min and turn oven up to 400 F to brown for last 10 or 15 minutes.  Serve with vanilla yogurt or ice cream.

Apple Brown Betty with Frozen Vanilla Yogurt

Apple Brown Betty with Frozen Vanilla Yogurt

Suffering and Raspberry Pie

September 4, 2009

“Raspberry pie.  Mmmmm. This is why we suffer.”  My husband smiled in agreement and offered no sound, but for the ping of a fork deliberately released, quiet chewing and the delicate sound of savoring as his tongue pressed the roof of his mouth and coaxed the tastes to linger a little longer.  Luscious berries, buttery crust and the crescendos of tart and sour are a symphony of textures and tastes beyond compare. 

Although I detest self-disclosure or public confessional, the contrast of suffering and a perfect raspberry pie speaks to the power of this simple and elegant dessert.  I live in Northern Minnesota, where snow is harvested by the feet, cold is measured below zero and times occur when warmth cannot be obtained, even indoors.  Summer comes in July and leaves at the beginning of September before giving way to a rainy cold fall.  This leaves just enough time to get everything repaired and secured for the next winter. ‘Why do we continue to live here?’  This is a conversation I’ve had countless times with perfect strangers huddled under four layers of clothing, teeth chattering. So began the list of ‘Why we suffer.’

This part of the country offers some spectacular treats for those willing to endure the brutal extremes of the environment.  The Northern lights, deer and fawn grazing the back yard almost daily, bunnies too numerous to name, yesterday a black bear perched at the top of a tree and the occasional fiesty racoon are part of our urban family and on the list of  good reasons for ‘why we suffer.’    Nothing, but nothing beats the raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and rhubarb that grow in this region.  They are the unexpected gifts that gently persuade the people to inhabit this unconquered real estate. So out of this bountiful gift was born an elegant dessert– Raspberry Pie.

The simplicity of the ingredients calls out to the least experienced cook:  raspberries, brown sugar, corn starch, lemon peel–add crust.  Sigh.  The truth is that you don’t have to be a suffering Minnesotan to make such a culinary delight.  Thanks to the interstate trucking system and Pillsbury pie crust, you don’t even have to travel, learn to make grandma’s crust or become a food snob to enjoy.  This is the recipe: 

2 1/2 cups raspberries

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp cornstarch

lemon zest

 2 Tbs butter

1 egg white mixed with 1 tsp water

Toss berries, sugar, cornstarch, a dash of salt and lemon zest  in a bowl.  Prepare crust according to package directions or use grandma’s crust recipe.  When the bottom crust is in place, brush with egg white, then pour fruit mixture into the crust. Cut butter into small squares and place all over the top of the pie before adding the top crust.  I prefer a lattice pie design for my raspberry pies.  Tip: Begin the lattice design with a giant x in the middle and it goes much smoother.  Usually, I take a little extra pie crust and cut out a heart for the top of the pie.  After all, love is the secret ingredient.

As you are scrambling to take advantage of the last fresh fruits and vegetables of the season, don’t forget to include plans to bake a fresh Raspberry Pie.  There is no excuse–even if you are not a foodie.  For me, these last freshly baked raspberry pies are a necessity–my early reward for suffering yet another cold Minnesotan winter.

Warm Cinnamony Buttery Banana Nut Muffin Oatmeal

August 10, 2009

My husband and I consume approximately 150 bowls of oatmeal a year, each. It is my all-time hands-down favorite breakfast food for flavor, fullness and nutrition. Naysayers, or in my case, “house guests” have entered my kitchen and poo-pooed the very idea of receiving a freshly prepared piping hot bowl of oatmeal.

“No thank you,” they say in their most naive and misinformed way, “I’ll just have some coffee.”
No, no, no. I resist the urge to argue, to persuade, to conjole.  None of it ever works. Instead I tempt them…
“I bet you have never had banana-nut-muffin oatmeal.”
“Nana nut oatmeal?” They say in an intrigued and small-child voice longing for it to be true like, “friendly pony,”  “fat-free icecream,” or “tax incentive.”

It is not their fault. Oatmeal has been slandered in the media, ignored by hollywood trend setters and quite frankly destroyed by well-intending mothers. Yes, I said it. ‘It’s mom’s fault.’ The public has been lied to and the only recollection of oatmeal they have is of an orphan’s mushy meal or the sad pre-packaged bowls of a working-parents childhood.

“Yes,” I coo careful not to spook them, “…warm, cinnamony, buttery banana nut muffin oatmeal.” I comfort them, pour them a cup coffee and serve them,  in their own words, “the best oatmeal ever.” What’s the secret?  How could oatmeal go unnoticed, unrecognized and under appreciated for so long?

First, you must buy the correct oatmeal. Quaker Oats “Old Fashioned” oatmeal is the only kind. Next, follow package directions:   for example, one portion combines 1/2 cup oats, 1 cup boiling water and a dash of salt. The oatmeal needs to boil for approximately 5 minutes. During this five minutes magic can happen. Throw a non-stick skillet on medium and toast some walnuts quickly. Mash a ripened banana, then mix it into the oatmeal with cinnamon. Once the water has boiled off remove oatmeal from heat, add a bit of vanilla extract, ladle into bowl, top with a bit of butter, sprinkle with brown sugar, cover with toasted walnuts and then add a little half and half to the edge of the bowl. The smell of cinamon permeates the kitchen and a piping hot breakfast snakes at the air making your toes twitch on cool tile in anticipation. That is the perfect banana nut muffin oatmeal.  Now, I am trusting you to use the sugar and big fat items in small portions. Add them at end to control the amount and keep things reasonable. Now, that your tummy is happy, here is the really good news.

Oatmeal can fight cancer, reduce bad cholesterol, reduce your likelihood to get heart disease, make you feel full longer and is a good source of protein. Remember to be creative with the oatmeal. Some of my favorite combinations are: green apple and pecans; banana and peanut butter; cranberries,apricots and almonds.  The dried fruits expand when you add them to the boiling water in the last five minutes and help to complete your masterpiece.
Now you know better, live better with flavorful, nutritious, piping hot oatmeal. 

For more info visit for more recipe ideas. or go to

Who needs a figgy pudding when enchiladas are on the Christmas menu?

December 2, 2008

The Holidays are one of my favorite times of the year.  They are appealing because they are the ultimate in aesthetics and sensory indulgence.  The festive soft lighting, fresh winter green wreaths, Eggnog Lattes and Bing Crosby crooning my Christmas favorites are a cocoon of safety and bliss.  All of this atmosphere, good food and gathering with co-workers (haven’t we gathered enough throughout the year?), family and friends can lull a person into a fall sense of serenity.

What the Holidays are really about are a calling to the carpet on what you believe and if your behavior falls in line with those beliefs. For this reason, the holidays can be a very uncomfortable experience.  Last minute dishes are prepared for potlucks the night before work at midnight.  Cookies, once made with care from scratch are broken from squares and baked in a mock effort to “be it all for everyone when sleep is the constant victim in life and something has got to give and making homemade cookies for the class is not going to happen, this week, this year.”  Relatives come into town and sheets need washed, the dog needs bathed and can I fit one more thing in that closet to create the illusion of a “clutter-free” life?  Wealthier relatives turn gift-giving into a competition and although it is not your values to engage in the materialism of Christmas, you feel railroaded into doing so…makes a person long for the simple BBQ life of The Fourth of July.  Sigh.

All of this sensory input, parties and expectation can jostle a person into an unhappy Holiday depression.  I would like to offer this recipe for getting through the holidays with your sanity intact, values secured and forward-looking perspective to go from “surviving the holidays,” to “enjoying the holidays.”


1/2 cup of FLEXIBILITY



dash of HUMOR

Establish your parameters for the holidays on these fronts:  guests, feasts, gifts and family traditions. Is your family going to host out-of-town guests?  Establish the time limit and prepare for their arrival a week in advance by delegating the preparation to the whole family. 

Feasts:  Are you cooking?  Are you hosting?  This year I was overwhelmed with work.  Normally, I’m the woman who goes ten extra miles to make a meal.  This year I had guests from out of town and opted to have the meal purchased in advance from a fine foods store one mile from my house.  It was an elegant solution.  I actually ENJOYED my family and we taste-rated all the foods and marveled at the idea of Thanksgiving dishes fitting into ONE dishwasher load.  Remember: only Martha is Martha…so let it go. 

Gifts:  Are you buying, baking or making?  Decide now and keep it simple. Do not bend your will if spending money isn’t in the budget or true to your values.  Instead make a CD with the whole family’s favorite Christmas songs instead.  Include the baby’s first coos or words or the sound of your family singing a Christmas carol.  Include the voice of an elder family member reading scripture or telling a story.  This would be treasured for many generations to come and can recruit the whole family–including those tech-savvy teenagers.  If you bake, keep the portions small and the wrapping extravagant.  Six chocolate striped macaroons in a beautiful box is better than 3 dozen sugar cookies on a paper plate and a heck of a lot less work. 

Family traditions:  Keep it real.  Keep it simple.  Use this opportunity to bring what is meaningful to light.  Incorporate faith and family into the holidays.  Begin thinking about your childhood traditions and work to create meaningful new ones.  It’s easy to forget in the bustle of the holidays and the attitude of “just surviving December.” 

When I was kid we used to eat at “Casa” this Mexican restuarant on Christmas Eve with my uncle and his family.  It was amazing.  While everyone else was eating figgy puddings, my family was chowing down on enchiladas in an empty restaurant where the staff started their festivities along with us and it felt like crashing a loving and loud work party.  After dinner we would go to my unlce’s house and the dads would go out for “Champagne.”  Actually, they did the work of Santa’s elves and cemented the illusion that Santa visited our house “while we were out.”  This led to my sister’s and I being the only kids who maintained the belief in Santa until a very embarassing age.  We opened our presents on Christmas Eve, listened to Alvin and the Chipmunks one million times (thank you mom and dad) and the parents slept in on Christmas Day.  What a beautiful memory.  No stress.  Unconvential and creative. 

I encourage you to take charge of the holidays.  Form your battle plan on the fronts of Feasts, Gifts, Guests and Tradition.  Understand serving others or being a hostess to your family, colleagues and children involves some discomfort, some sacrifice and yes, the loss of more sleep.  The key to being a good hostess is to suffer with a smile and enjoy the outcome of your efforts; to serve, to relieve, to empathize, to improve, to nourish, to nurture, to love.