The pug life

When Matt and I first started noodling around the idea of pets (12 years ago! Gasp!) he was dead set on having a pug. I thought they were the ugliest dogs ever. I wanted a big, protective dog. I wanted something to run with or go on adventures with us and this fluffy, wrinkly dog didn’t fit that bill.

Since I am typing this with a pug crawling all over me, you can gather that I’ve since changed my mind about pugs.

George’s first night in our home!

Over the years though, we have realized that pugs as a breed in general need a little more attention to detail. Those precious little wrinkles need to be cleaned and checked for bites and infections. Their ears need to be cleaned and de-gunked. And with George we have also discovered a litany of skin issues. Vito very rarely scratches, and if he does, it’s his ears. But not George! He has scratched himself raw so many times. At first we thought it was allergies, so we tried hot spot sprays and oatmeal baths. But it wasn’t really effective as a long term solution.

Our vet then recommended that we try a grain free diet. I reached out to the Facebook world and asked for suggestions, and settled on a brand that would be easy to find in town. We followed the protocol for switching food and yet, the itching continued. Then, Vito started throwing up. It stressed me out because Vito is old and I was afraid if he continued to have intestinal issues, it could usher in the end of his life sooner than we want. As the final straw, we discovered George was munching on poop. POOP! And the vet said, he’s not getting proper nutrition, we’ve got to get him on fresh food.

I had looked at making my own dog food over the years and while I always thought it was a great idea, I never did it because, you know… time. But when it came down to it, I was desperate enough to make the time. It’s been a few months now and I wanted to share what we do!

I have tried quite a few recipes that involved a few different fruits and veggies mixed with different meats. They’ve been pretty excited to try new things, but I will tell you that turkey, applesauce and butternut squash was not accepted. Let me tell you, I have rarely seen my dogs turn their noses up at food, but that one? Nope.

Basic Dog Food Recipe:

  • 3 pounds ground meat
  • 1 bag frozen peas and carrots
  • 1 large sweet potato, diced

Put the meat in a crockpot. Just dump it in! Pour the veggies over the top. Cover it up, turn the crock pot on high for three hours. Break up the meat about an hour or so in so that it cooks through. Keep it in the fridge for a week or freeze in daily packages. The dogs get about 3/4 of a cup each twice a day. So I freeze in 3 cup amounts and thaw a bag at night before I go to bed.

Tiny note here: the dog food looks like chili. Matt now asks if he’s allowed to eat something 🙂

In the last few months, we have not had any digestive issues with either dog. George has stopped eating poop (there are not words, people, no words) and Vito’s wrinkles are doing great. George’s skin suddenly flared up, but I take blame for that since I had experimented with adding rice into their diet. So, rice is definitely off the menu now!

Minestrone Stuffed Shells


When Matt and got married, there were 3 things he refused to eat: Beets, Tofu and Pesto.  The tofu was a man thing I guess, but I honestly didn’t understand what he had against beets and pesto.  Maybe together it would be an issue, but I really can’t see what the problem was with each individual food.  I got tired of him turning up his nose whenever I said there was pesto in something, so one night, I made a pasta with pesto (recipe coming later this week) and served it without saying a word.  He’s been hooked ever since.  As a matter of fact, as I was stirring the pesto into the filling tonight, he kept coming over and commenting on how wonderful it smelled.  These days, he reminds me when the basil is ready to be picked and takes initiative with adding it to recipes.  If there’s anything I’ve learned in these last 4 years, it’s to not make a big deal out of a change.  Just present it and go with the tide.
For tonight’s dinner, I made this recipe from Sweet Pea Chef.  It was a huge hit in our house and even though I made half a recipe, I still had whole other meal’s worth for leftovers.  Considering that I spent a great deal of today making meals for my freezer, this was a welcome result!  The only thing I changed in the recipe is that I used fresh pesto and added Provolone to the top of the shells before baking them at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.
Garden-Fresh Pesto
1 large bunch of basil, leaves only, washed and dried

3 medium cloves of garlic

one small handful of raw pine nuts

roughly 3/4 cup Parmesan, loosely packed and FRESHLY GRATED

A few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

As far as I am concerned, the key to good pesto is to be patient.  Put the pine nuts and the garlic into a food processor and pulse.  Then add in the basil and pulse.  Add the cheese and pulse.  Once it’s paste-like in consistency, stream in the olive oil until you have reached the consistency you desire.   Make sure you taste it to see if it’s salty enough or cheesy enough or basily enough for you.
Considering that our Realtor is making us live out of boxes and pare down all my kitchen utensils for the house showings, I’d have to say that the simple fact that I managed to get enough food for 2 weeks made, packaged, labeled and frozen is no small task. 

Beef Fajita Dip

Back when I first started watching the Food Network, no matter who the cook was, they would always tell the audience to “ask your butcher”.  I’d sit in my living room and wonder what those of us who didn’t have a butcher to call their own did.  Then, I discovered Mary Anne and fell in love.   So now, I get to join those people who have people; people in their life who are just really good at things we aren’t.  One of the things I love about going to the same people every week for my meat is that they know me.  They know how I like my ground beef packaged and how I get the sirloin sliced for stroganoff.  They get why I love to cook and they always know just the right cut of meat for my recipe.  Another benefit is that the other people who are standing on my side of the counter are always friendly; we ask what they are making and swap ideas.  This recipe is the result of just that.  Saturday, I was ordering all the meat for 10 pounds of sloppy joes for Liam’s birthday party and the meat for our weekly menu when I started listening to what the lady next to me was going to do with her steak.  Her idea sounded so good, I got one too and made my own version of the meal had planned.  This meal fed us well.  It’s been 2 hours since I ate and I’m not even peckish.  Half of the meat went into the dip and the rest went into baked fajitas which I froze.  There’s a tiny bit of the dip left over… I hid it in the fridge; I can share at meals, but have no desire to share for a snack!
Beef Fajita Dip:
  • 2 1/2 pounds of sirloin steak
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 2 red and 1 green bell pepper, sliced
  • 1 can of refried beans
  • 1 Tbsp. Adobo paste
  • 1/2 Tbsp. smoked paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • Tortilla chips
I seasoned the meat with salt and pepper and the cooked it on high in my crock pot for 4 hours.  The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender without heating up the kitchen all day.  Once the meat about done, I sliced up my onions and peppers and sauteed them in oil until tender.  Then, I added in the adobo paste, paprika and a touch of salt and pepper.  I shredded the beef up and added in enough to balance out the peppers and onions so everything was about even.  Then, I layered the refried beans on the bottom of a small casserole dish (I use canned beads still because I cannot make them myself to my taste just yet.), corn and meat/onion/pepper mix.  Finally, I topped the dish with the cheese, making sure that everything inch was covered.  I then put the dish in the oven at 350 degrees until the cheese had melted was starting to brown (I personally would have left it in longer, but when toddlers are hungry, they are hungry and they don’t understand the aesthetic aspects of cheese melting.), about 15 minutes.  I did top the dip with a little bit of sour cream and sliced olives.  It was excellent dipped onto blue corn tortilla chips.

This dish could be used as either an appetizer or a main meal.  It could be served as a dip or rolled into tortillas and baked.  No matter how you serve it, it’s a winner!

Grilled Tilapia

I love my cast iron skillet.  I really like the crust that forms on breads baked in it and the way it keeps the moisture in a casserole.  I have a ceramic top stove, so I have to be very careful with how it’s handled and I will forever regret not listening to my mother-in-law when we were stove shopping and she suggested a gas stove.  Biggest regret of my kitchen.  Anyway, my cousin’s husband told me how he used their cast iron skillet to cook fish on their grill and I was stunned with the possibility!  I honestly never even considered that as an option, but am thrilled to have it as something new in my arsenal of summer meals!

Skillet grilled Tilapia:

  • 6 tilapia fillets
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. ground mustard
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • freshly ground black pepper

Turn on your grill and place your cast iron skillet on the heat.  Mix together the seasonings and sprinkle over the tilapia.  When you can sprinkle water on the skillet and it beads up and fizzes, put a small pat of butter in the skillet to keep the fish from sticking and then place the fillets on the hot surface.  Cook the tilapia until flaky, flipping only once to brown each side.  (It took about 5 minutes on our gas grill to cook.)  Serve with broccoli or green beans and a pasta salad.

Monday night dinner muse

There is a picture that hangs in my kitchen with a painting of a small farm.  Around the border of the picture, there is a quote by Charlotte Bronte:” If we had no winter, Spring would not be so pleasant.”  I don’t know that I have realized the truth of this statement more than I have this year.  While Fall and Winter will always be my favorite months, I have honestly appreciated the early part of my garden season this year.  I have thrilled in planting my seeds and picking the weeds far more than ever before.  Perhaps it’s because this year isn’t an experiment, I know what will grow in my neat plots.  Perhaps it’s because I am anxious to fill up my freezer with goodies to enjoy on a drab evening in January.  Perhaps, it’s because I have someone else to enjoy dinner at the table this year.

Every night, I put dinner on the table and Liam in his high chair.  While Matt gets Liam his bib and a spoon, I walk out to the deck and pick a salad.  I love sniping the tender leaves of kale and the sweet bib lettuce from their respective boxes.  As I pull up each delicate head of lettuce, I shake off the dirt and the memory of a friend horrified by the realization that lettuce grows in the dirt.  A quick rinse washes away the soil, but not the insult of that dinner guest, who after realizing that lettuce doesn’t just grow in neat rows, encased in cellophane, refused the salad.

Tonight, I made a quick potato, goat cheese and chive frittata.  Liam couldn’t eat it fast enough.  As he grabbed handfuls from my plate, I settled in with my kale.  Matt doesn’t really appreciate my love for this green, so I only plant one box at a time.  There’s something special about homegrown kale.  The seeds I planted yield a sweet, tender leaf that’s more open and flat than what I buy in the produce section.  I wonder if Liam will like it.  He might.  I craved it so strongly for the first 3 months of his pregnancy, I had a dream that he was born green.  He wasn’t.  As my little family sat around the table, I realized again that I have the awesome opportunity to teach my children about good food choices.  I have a friend (the same one who was repulsed by my lettuce) who thinks that family dinners lead to eating disorders and pressure to clean your plate.  I don’t agree.

I love to sit down to the table at the end of that day with my little family.  Our table sat in my great grandmother’s kitchen for years, moving only when my great grandfather gave it to me, 13 years ago.  We have napkins, lemonade and a glowing candle.  Matt and I talk about our days; me stopping the conversation to mention that Liam’s tooth finally came in today.  It makes a total of 8.  All the more to chew with!  I wonder out loud when he will be interested in salad.   Liam interjects with a loud babbled declaration and we determine to take a walk after the dishes are cleared.  I realize that it’s grocery week and I need to do a menu.  I ask Liam if there’s anything he’d like to eat.  He points to the empty plate and I go get him more frittata.  His mouth full, he babbles happily and then gives me a cheesy grin. 


Grandma’s Beef Stroganoff

As far as I am concerned, Beef Stroganoff is the ultiamate comfort food.  I never get tired of it and am currently drooling as I think of the rich, velvety sauce that accompanies this dish.  To be quite honest, I do not care what cut of meat you choose to use in your dish, I am here for the sauce.  Rich and fattening, I like it best smothering a bed of egg noodles.  

My grandmother made this dish regularly when I was growing up, but when my parents became vegetarians in the 90s, my father altered the recipe to contain only the mushrooms so that we could still use it as a staple dish in our home.  Grandma served it over buttered egg noodles, Dad over brown rice.  I always considered this dish something that was out of my reach until I tasted the aberration that Hamburger helper considers “stroganoff”.  I’ve made my own ever since.  I’ve made a few tweaks to the original recipe, but those are only to taste.  No matter how much I love what comes out of my kitchen, it will never hold a candle to that dish served by Grandma!

Beef Stroganoff:

– 2 Tbsp. flour

– 1 tsp. salt

– 2 lbs. beef sirloin cut into 1/4 inch wide strips

– 4 Tbsp. butter

– 2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms (optional)

– 1 cup sliced onion

– 2 cloves garlic, minced– 4 Tbsp. butter

– 6 Tbs. flour

– 1 tsp. oregano

– 1 tsp. thyme

– 1 Tbsp. paprika

– 2 Tbsp. tomato paste

– 2 cans beef broth

– 2 cups sour cream

– 4 Tbsp. Port wine

Combine flour and salt. Dredge meat in the flour mixture. Heat the skillet, add the butter and melt it. Add in the meat and brown on all sides. Add in the onions, garlic and mushrooms. Cook for 3-4 minutes, until the onions are tender. When they are soft, remove the contents of the pan to a plate and start the sauce. Add in the next 4 Tbsp of butter, melt and then blend in the flour and herbs. Add in the tomato paste. The sauce will be a coppery gold, thick and bubbly. Slowly stream in the broth and cook slowly until the sauce thickens again. Return the meat mixture to the sauce. Stir in the sour cream and sherry and heat through. Serve over egg noodles or rice. Serves 8 to 10 people.

Chicken Parmigiana

I judge an Italian restaurant by it’s lasagna and by it’s parmigiana.  And if I like it, I go back.  If I don’t, well… I don’t.  I love eggplant parmigiana since that is the traditional Sicilian dish I grew up with.  My husband hates eggplant.  Loathes eggplant.  The only way I can get eggplant into a dish is to make it part of my tomato sauce and run it through a food mill.  I’m not kidding.  Since he is so adverse to the whole idea of eggplant parmigiana, I decided to compromise and settle for being really good at chicken parmigiana.  There is some debate over whether the dish is named for the Parmesan cheese in the breading or if it’s because it originated in the region of Parma, but I’m not really concerned over that.  My greatest concern is always the breading.  I’ve learned to take my time and season all the layers, but I wanted to come up with a recipe that works.  Every.  Single.  Time.  Below is the result of all my trial and error and the cause of the few extra pounds around my middle.  Apparently, the fact that I always serve this dish with green beans does not negate the fact that I always over indulge.

Chicken Parmigiana

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 2 cups finely ground bread crumbs
  • 2 oz parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • flour
  • Pasta and basic tomato sauce to finish the dish
  • Fresh mozzarella

The first step in this recipe is to pound out the chicken so that it is about half of it’s original thickness.  This of course, is specific to each piece of meat, but it’s easiest done if you first put the chicken in a large freezer bag, seal it and then pound it out with a meat hammer or heavy ladle.  Once the meat is to the desired thickness, season it lightly with the salt and pepper and set aside while you prepare the breading.  You will note that I call for 2 oz of cheese and by that I mean a hunk of cheese, not the kind in the shaker can from the grocery.  You can use that, but it won’t be as good.  I’ve tried.  It’s not the same.

Cut the cheese up into smallish pieces and whiz them in a food processor until they are finely ground.  Then mix them in with the bread crumbs.  Whisk the eggs together until they are well beaten.  Heat a small amount of oil in a saute pan until it is hot.  Then, coat the chicken first in the flour, then the egg and finally the breading as pictured here.  Place each piece of meat in the pan and cook until it’s nicely browned.  Then, remove the meat to a baking dish.  I don’t recommend cooking more than 2 pieces of meat at a time so as not to crowd the pan and drop the oil temperature.  This part of the dish requires some time and loving care, but it’s worth it in the end.  Once all the meat has been browned and the breading has formed a lovely golden crust, it’s time to put it into a 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  Don’t cover the pan, don’t poke the chicken, just put it in there and prepare some pasta to go along with the chicken.  The less you mess with the meat, the more tender and juicy it will be.  If you are serving this meal to people who must have their chicken parm smothered in cheese a la most restaurants, wait until the chicken is done cooking, them slice a bit of fresh mozzarella and run the chicken under a broiler until the cheese is melted.  This is a nice finish to the dish, but I didn’t feel it was totally necessary.  I liked it just with the tomato sauce and pasta.  But to each his own.