Wednesday, August 26, 2009

More Back to School Recipes

By not blogging last week, I'm off schedule on doing my Back to School Recipe Reviews that I promised, so today, you're going to hear about three different recipes I tried before I forget them myself.

First, I made Wendy's Chili* for lunch last Saturday while the kids were at their grandparents. The only thing I altered was that I made it without meat, just a purely vegetarian version. It was lovely, filling, and very tasty. I love chili and this one gets high marks. Best of all? It was SUPER EASY!

*I just re-read this post and realized that it sounds like I made chili from the fast food chain known as Wendy's. I didn't. It's a recipe from my brilliant fellow blogger and friend, Wendy Armstrong.

It probably would be better had I added the turkey, but I didn't have any and didn't want to go to the store. So, here's the recipe again so you don't have to look at the comments on older posts:

1 2-alarm chili kit (available in most any grocery store)
1 lb ground turkey breast
1 small can tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes w/ green peppers and jalapenos
1 can black beans
1 can pinto beans

Brown turkey breast. Add contents of chili kit (chili powder, cayenne and salt), plus can of tomato sauce and 2 cans water. Stir. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to simmer. Add diced tomatoes and beans. Cover and simmer for about 25 minutes. Add masa (also included in chili kit) if desired. Serve with chili fixins (we like rice, grated cheddar cheese, sour cream or low-fat plain yogurt).

Next, I made Spanish Shredded Beef, a recipe from the Publix Aprons collection of quick and easy recipes. This one was so easy, an adept tween could pull it off if mom or dad need help in the kitchen:

Spanish Shredded Beef

1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon roasted garlic
1 (17-ounce) package fully-cooked beef roast au jus
1 (8-ounce) can Spanish tomato sauce
1/4 cup sofrito (Spanish seasoning sauce)
1 tablespoon minced onions
2 tablespoons sliced green olives
1 tablespoon capers
4 drops hot pepper sauce
2 cups instant rice

1. Preheat large saucepan on medium-high 2–3 minutes. Place water, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and salt in medium saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil on medium-high for rice.
2. Place remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and garlic in large saucepan; cook 1 minute, stirring often, or until heated and fragrant. Stir in remaining ingredients (except rice); cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until thoroughly heated.
3. Stir rice into boiling water. Cover, remove from heat, and let stand 5 minutes.
4. Remove beef from heat; shred meat using two forks. Fluff rice with fork. Serve over rice.

I omitted the sofrito and the olives and the capers because I didn't have sofrito which they sell at Publix, thought capers were a bad choice for this dish, and Scott does not love olives the way I do. It still tasted great. Instead of serving it over rice, I put it inside whole wheat tortillas and served it with corn and fresh bell peppers.

It was not quite the hit I thought it would be with the fam, but I liked it a lot and had the leftovers for lunch the next day.

And then, last night, I made Chicken Paprika, a recipe from this awesome crock pot cooking site that ViolinMama recommended.

You can follow the link there to check out the recipe. It was very simple to make and the fact that I started it before noon really opened up the space between 5 and 7 p.m. All I had to do at that time was put on some rice to go with it, cook a vegetable (green beans, if you must know), and add the sour cream to the sauce. Not hard at all.

It does create a lot of dirty dishes which almost, but not quite, defeats the purpose of the quick and easy meal. As far as the flavor of the meal, it was okay, but a little bland. I'm not sure what I would add to improve the flavor though. I'll have to think about it more next time I make it, if I do. The kids actually liked the chicken which is good. And honestly, I think they'd eat rice at every meal if I made it. Same goes for green beans, which I was sad to learn, are one of the least nutritious vegetables.

So, there you go. Three more quick and painless (unless you're a chicken, cow, or turkey) school day dinners.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Greatest Dog Ever

This isn't the post I thought I'd be writing today, but it is the one in my heart. The one I need to write.

Thirteen years ago this month, Scott, who was my boyfriend at the time, called me up and told me he had a surprise for me.

I could not imagine what it might be. We had been dating about seven months at the time. The 1996 Summer Olympics had just ended, so it wasn't tickets to an Olympic event. The only thing I could think of was tickets to a show. I just had no idea.

So, I hopped in my car and drove over to his house. He led me up to his bedroom and there, sitting on a bath towel in the middle of his bed, was the cutest, sweetest, most adorable little floppy-eared puppy I had ever seen. He was tiny and black and tan and he had the cutest little pink tongue that was eager with the kisses.

Instantly, I fell in love.

We named him Cooper. Special Agent Dale Cooper, actually, after Kyle MacLachlan's character in Twin Peaks. Even as a six-week old pup, our Cooper had something of a sage and mysterious nature.

He came to live with me in my apartment which had just been burgled a few weeks prior and soon he was a fine guard dog without our having to train him at all. He also quickly learned to go outdoors to do his business and in my recollection only had a few indoor accidents.

The one place he lacked self-discipline, it seemed, was his love for chewing shoes and books. But, with a little tough love, he soon outgrew those habits and became, by our reckoning and that of others, one of the best behaved dogs you could ever hope for.

Cooper is an amazing dog. And he has been well-loved from the day Scott found him hanging around a neighbor's yard hoping to get in the fence to be with her two Basset hounds.

I credit him with saving my life on at least two occasions. Maybe more. The first time came when he was just one year old, a long and lanky pup whose ears had finally decided to stand up.

Scott and I had just moved in together. It was going to be our first night in our first home together, but Scott had been invited to a wedding in Baltimore that weekend. I spent a stormy Friday night unpacking boxes and setting up our bedroom. Around midnight, I was so tired, I went to bed with Cooper asleep on the bed beside me. I had just drifted off, it seemed, when Cooper began growling, deep in his belly, and awoke me. I then heard two male voices right under my bedroom window, discussing the best way to get into the house. Cooper began barking and I called 911. The two men were gone by the time police arrived, but I believe that's only thanks to my sweet and protective boy.

About two years later, he pulled me away from our mailbox just seconds before a drunk driver crashed into it, right at the spot where I would have been standing.

At 13 years old, he still barks when he sees someone walking down the street or a strange car in front of our house. And since the day they got old enough to throw a temper tantrum, Cooper has come to stand between me and a screaming crying boy as though he wants to protect me from them.

All of this, and really, Scott is his Alpha, his master. Scott who used to feed Cooper the crusts off his Pop-Tarts. Who made sure I indulged Cooper with pig ears and dog toys.

Still, I don't know that I have ever been loved as unconditionally as I have by Cooper. And my heart breaks as I see him changing and becoming less and less himself, day by day.

It began when he started having separation anxiety. And then he stopped coming to greet us when we came home. Soon, even rain showers were making him shake, cry, and follow me around the house the way the most severe thunderstorms once did.

On Friday, he wandered two doors down to a neighbor's house. When I went to shepherd him back home, he didn't recognize me and almost got hit by a car as he tried to run to the other side of the street to avoid me. As he trotted toward our house, he kept looking over his shoulder fearfully at the strange woman who was trying to get him.

A fair amount of reading has led me to conclude that he has Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome. He has almost all of the symptoms. The worst, aside from his not recognizing briefly on Friday, has been his inability to sleep at night. It seems it has gotten worse the last few days, too.

I know that it is inevitable that he will die. He has already exceeded the life expectancy for a dog his size by about three years. And, for the most part, I'd say he has had a good life. Although, I keep reliving the moment when I knelt beside him at five a.m., in our foyer, the morning I went into labor with Brendan. My water had broken a few hours earlier and as we ran around the house making phone calls, packing last minute items into bags, loading things into the car, Cooper followed me and kept an eye on all that was happening. He knew something was up, if not what.

I knelt beside him and hugged him and I couldn't hold back my tears as I told him I was sorry that his life was about to change. I knew it would never be the same for him again.

But, the day we brought Brendan home and sat him down in his carrier in the living room, Cooper checked him out and added him to the pack. Moments later, when our orange tabby Mao walked over to check the baby out, Cooper instantly jumped up, barked and nudged the cat away with his nose.

Still, I go back and wish there had been enough of me to go around. To keep up the daily outdoor play time of throwing the tennis ball or a stick. I hope the walks, the tummy rubs, the special treats, the love the kids have shown him have made up for some of the joys in life he lost when the kids came into the picture.

I don't know how much time he will have left with us and us with him. I do hope I can make each of those days as great as possible and that in the moments when he recognizes us and his life that he knows he is, always has been, and will continue to be loved and known as the greatest dog ever.