Caprese Salad – A Light, Easy Warm Weather Meal!


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Here in California the weather is still really warm. Ok, it’s hot!!! We’re supposed to hit 101 degrees this weekend! On these kind of days, you just don’t feel like heating up the kitchen with a lot of cooking and a light meal sounds wonderful. I know the Caprese Salad is nothing new, but I’m not ashamed to admit it was new to me. I’ve seen them on TV, I’ve been with people that have ordered them in restaurants, but I’ve never had one myself. I had purchased some expensive motzarella for another dish and didn’t make it. I didn’t want it to go to waste, so I decided to use it to make a Caprese salad. It did not disappoint!!! This dish is stunning and delicious! It’s great for a quick, light dinner or elegant enough for an appetizer to serve to guests.

This salad is REALLY simple!!! Simple is great, but when a dish is this simple it is critical to use excellent ingredients. I had the expensive motzarella; check! I grow my own fresh basil; check! I bought some beautiful, organic heirloom tomatoes at the store; check! Now I wanted to make a balsamic reduction to top off this dish. I’ve got this!!!

Caprese Salad

Motzarella cheese, slides (Invest in some good cheese!)

Tomatoes, sliced (Go big on the investment here too! Hot house tomatoes have very little flavor. Get your hands on some homegrown or heirloom tomatoes!)

Fresh basil leaves

Salt and pepper

1 cup Balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup Honey

The only cooking involved: Whisk together vinegar and honey in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and then reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes or until reduced to about 1/2 cup.

Arrange cheese, tomatoes, and basil in alternate layers on plates or a large platter, drizzle with balsamic reduction and then lightly season with salt and pepper.

Mangia bene!!!

Shepard’s Pie – A Healthier Version of a Warming Classic!


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It’s officially fall and getting to be the time of year where we crave warm, comforting food. I was trying to think of something I hadn’t made in a while and Shepard’s Pie came to mind. This is one of those wonderful dishes that provides everything in one dish; meat, potatoes and vegetables. I used low-fat ingredients to make a lighter version and I was very happy with how it turned out! It had all the delicious flavor and hearty textures you would expect of Shepard’s Pie, without being loaded with fat.

You can get creative with the vegetables in this dish. My recipe includes what I had on hand, but you could substitute a variety of things. You could also completely replace the potatoes with sweet potatoes or do a half & half version. Get creative with it!!!!

Shepard’s Pie

5 russet potatoes, peeled and halved

1/2 cup non-fat milk

1/2 cup fat free sour cream

1 clove garlic, minced or pressed or 1/2 tsp garlic powder

Salt and pepper
2 carrots, peeled and diced

1/2 onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed

1/2 cup mushrooms, diced

1 pound extra lean ground turkey

2 tbsp flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

1 cup fat free chicken broth

1/2 tsp dried thyme

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp Worchestershire sauce

1/2 cup frozen corn

1/2 cup frozen peas

1/2 cup reduced fat shredded cheese (optional)

Mashed potato topping: Boil potatoes in salted water until soft. Drain potatoes and return to pot. Mash potatoes. Add milk, sour cream, garlic and salt & pepper to taste. Mix well until smooth.

Make your pie filling while potatoes are cooking. I used an oven safe deep frying pan, so I could use it for my final product and not dirty another pan. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Pie filling: Spray frying pan with canola oil spray. Over medium high heat, saute carrots and onion until tender. Add garlic and mushrooms and saute another couple of minutes. Add turkey and cook until browned. Add the flour, salt and pepper and stir well. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until sauce thickens.

Remove filling from heat and allow to cool for 5 minutes or so. Spoon mashed potatoes over filling in frying pan and spread to cover evenly. Bake uncovered in oven for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with cheese, if you wish and bake for an additional 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes. 

Serve and enjoy!!!

Canteloupe Pie – Say What??? That’s a New One!!!


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My friend Jody posted this recipe on FaceBook and I couldn’t believe my eyes!  Canteloupe pie!?! I’d never heard of such a thing, but my curiosity was peaked. The cantaloupes here in California have been wonderful this year, so as soon as I received one in my organic produce shipment I knew I had to try and make this pie. Just as it sounds, it is light and refreshing! Canteloupe, cream cheese and a little orange juice mixed, chilled and served in a graham cracker crust makes for a cold, refreshing pie that is perfect to serve on hot summer day!

Canteloupe Pie

1 9″ graham cracker pie crust, chilled

1 med-lg cantaloupe, peeled, seeded, and cut in chunks

1 8 oz block cream cheese (I used reduced fat cream cheese and it worked just fine)

1/3 cup sugar

2 1/4 oz pkgs unflavored gelatin

1/2 cup orange juice

1 tsp vanilla

Whipped Cream or Cool Whip

In a food processor, process cantalope until as smooth as you can get it. Pour 1/2 of mixture into a large bowl. Add cream cheese to remaining mixture in food processor and process until smooth. Add to cantalope in bowl and gently mix. In a small saucepan combine juice, sugar, and gelatin. Cook on low heat, stirring constantly, until sugar and gelatin are completely dissolved. Slowly stir into cantalope mixture, add vanilla. Pour into chilled crust, refrigerate until completely set. Top with whipped cream and serve.

Depending on the size of your canteloupe, you might have extra filling. Don’t overfill your crust (like I did!!!). Save the extra, pour in bowls and enjoy as a pudding!


Coconut Yellow Rice – Delicious Rice with a Light Curry Flair


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I love the taste of curry, but my stomach does not have the same appreciation and neither do some of my family members. This rice is a fantastic compromise!!! It has the light taste of a curry, but the creaminess of the coconut milk and savory flavor of the onion and garlic give this rice a great balance and full flavor. It was the perfect accompaniment to the Hummus Crusted Chicken with vegetables that I blogged about yesterday. If you’re looking for a dinner with Middle Eastern/Indian flair, this is a perfect choice! It wasn’t too difficult to make, but was impressive enough for company!

I cannot however take the credit for this rice recipe. This delicious recipe came from a fellow WordPress blogger, Cooking with Dexter. The original recipe can be found at I altered the recipe a bit based on what I had available.

Tip: After cooking, I tried to pick out the bay leaf, cloves, pepper corns and cinnamon sticks. If you can’t get them all, warn your diners to keep an eye out. Getting a bite of one of these items can really be overpowering.

Coconut Yellow Rice

2 Cups Basmati or Jasmine Rice

1 tsp Turmeric Powder

1 Can (425ml) Coconut Milk

4 Tbsp. Ghee or Clarified Butter (I used olive oil)

2.5 Cups Hot water

1/2 medium onion-minced fine
2 cloves Garlic – minced fine or pressed
2 sticks Cinnamon
6 cloves
6 Pepper Corns
1 Bay leaf
1/2 tsp cardamom

3 tbsp. fresh desiccated coconut (Optional. I didn’t have this, so didn’t include it.0

¾ tsp salt

Wash the rice a few times and drain. Heat a vessel or deep pan. Add 2.5 tbsp. of ghee/oil and when hot add the cinnamon, cloves, pepper corns, bay leaf and cardamom. Fry for half a minute. Add the turmeric powder and rice. Fry slightly. Add the desiccated coconut and fry for some more time (a minute).
Add the coconut milk, Hot water and salt. Mix well, close with lid and cook on low heat. Check a couple of times if water is dry or rice is touching the bottom of vessel. Add more hot water if required. When ¾ cooked add the remaining Ghee or Clarified butter and mix well. After 5 minutes check if the water has evaporated and rice is dry. Fluff the rice lightly with a fork if required. Serve.

Hummus Crusted Chicken with Vegetables – A Middle Eastern Spin On Dinner


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Once in a while I get the bug to cook dishes out of our usual “ethnic” comfort zone. Last weekend, I was inspired by a recipe for a Coconut Yellow Rice (I’ll blog this recipe soon!). The rice needed an equally exotic main dish to go with it. I happened to have a large container of hummus that I needed to finish off, so I Googled hummus and chicken and found a delicious recipe on the Gimme Some Oven blog site. I didn’t make it exactly, but using the veggies I had on hand. It was a very tasty dish that went perfectly with the rice! My family raved about this dinner! It is definitely a do-over!

This recipe is easy to make, but very tasty. The hummus gives the chicken a nice crust and the lemon juice gives the chicken and vegetables a bright zing. You can get creative with the veggies too. The recipe called for squash, but I used the bell pepper and carrot that I had on hand and I was great!

Hummus Crusted Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

salt and pepper

1 zucchini, chopped

1 yellow squash, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 cup hummus, homemade or storebought

1 Tbsp. olive oil

2 lemons

1 tsp. smoked paprika or sumac


Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Prepare one large baking dish or two smaller baking dishes with cooking spray.

Pat the chicken dry. Season the chicken breasts with generous pinches of salt and pepper. In a large bowl, toss the zucchini, squash and onion with olive oil until evenly coated. Season with salt and pepper.

If using one baking dish, place all of the vegetables on the bottom of the dish in an even layer. Lay the four chicken breasts evenly on top, then cover each chicken breast with the hummus so that the entire breast is covered. Squeeze the juice of one lemon over the chicken and vegetables. Then sprinkle the pan with smoked paprika or sumac. Thinly slice the remaining lemon, and place the slices in between the chicken and vegetables if desired.

**If using two pans, use one for the chicken and one for the vegetables.**

Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender. Serve immediately.


Cooking Thrifty and Healthy!


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Going through the grocery store these days can be daunting. Food prices have really risen and sadly it seems the healthier the food, the more expensive it is! I try to find ways to keep our food costs down or at least make the most out of what I buy. That can include finding multiple uses for a product, making sure I use all that I buy, and making sure we throw away as little food as possible.

With this post I thought I would discuss one of my favorite “thrifty” products, the whole chicken. When I first started cooking I was intimidated by cutting up a whole chicken, but it is definitely cheaper than buying skinless, boneless chicken pieces. My local grocery store has recently had these whole chickens on sale for .99 cents a pound. That’s a good price here. I bought quite a few and stocked up my freezer.

What do I do with these beauties? When I was younger and we were really struggling financially, I would cut up the raw chicken and use it for a variety of recipes. You can look online for instructions on how to butcher a chicken. It’s not as difficult as you might think! 

Lately, I cook the chickens whole. I usually prep them in the same way; stuff with fruit and onions or garlic and sprinkle the outside with barbecue rub or other seasonings. One the bird is prepped, we either bake in the oven or barbecue over indirect heat. Be sure your chicken is cooked through. This is where a good meat thermometer comes in handy!

The other night I baked a chicken. We carved off as much meat from the bird as we could. We enjoyed some chicken with the mashed sweet potatoes I blogged about yesterday. After the chicken had cooled, I picked as much meat as possible off the carcass and have saved that to make another dinner where I can use what is basically chopped chicken meat, because the pieces are so small. This meat would be great for enchiladas, a pasta dish or casserole of some sort.

I wasn’t done with the chicken yet! I put the carcass in a large pot and filled the pot to the top with water. I covered the pot and put on the stove and brought it to a low boil. I let it boil for about 1-2 hours. Then I took it off to cool and then using a strainer, I poured the resulting broth into containers. Most of the broth went in the freezer for future cooking adventures. This process ensure you know exactly what went into your broth! Based on how you originally seasoned your bird, you know what ends up in the broth. You can make it completely salt-free if you wish. It is great for any recipes requiring broth, including homemade soups.

I hope this give you some ideas on how to stretch a dollar at your house!

Mashed Sweet Potates – A Healthier Version of a Delicious Favorite


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Growing up I was always a little suspicious of sweet potatoes (or yams, same thing). I mean how good could they be if people have to cover them with marshmallows? It’s just how my brain worked. As an adult I have discovered a love of this colorful vegetable! One of my favorite ways to make them is just by making mashed sweet potatoes. I basically use all the savory ingredients I use to make regular mashed potatoes and these really offset the wonderfully sweet flavor of these potatoes. You can do this while keeping the fat levels low too! You get beautiful color on your plate and delicious, healthy food in your belly!!!

Sweet potatoes are just as versatile as white potatoes! I have posted a few different recipes you might want to check out; twice baked sweet potatoes, pecan stuffed sweet potatoes, roasted sweet potatoes, and one of our family favorites, sweet potatoes and apples.

A Los Angeles Times article gives a run down of the health benefits of sweet potatoes vs. white potatoes:

In a 100-gram portion, the white potato has 92 calories, 21 grams of carbs, 2.3 grams of dietary fiber, 2.3 g of protein and 17% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C. The same amount of sweet potato, on the other hand, has 90 calories, 21 grams of carbs, 3 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, 35% of the recommended daily value of vitamin C and 380% of the daily recommended value of vitamin A. 

Sweet potatoes also have a lower glycemic index than regular potatoes. The glycemic index is a measure of how quickly blood glucose levels rise after eating. Foods with lower glycemic indexes, like sweet potatoes and brown rice, make you feel full longer.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

7 small sweet potatoes (or 2-3 large ones)

2/3 cup fat free sour cream

1/2 cup fat free milk

2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed

1 1/2 tbsp butter (optional and you can cut it if wanting to reduce the fat)

Salt and Pepper to taste

Fill a pot with water and add a teaspoon of salt. Peel and half sweet potatoes. Add to water and bring to a boil, boiling for about 20 minutes or until tender. Drain potatoes and mash. Add sour cream, milk, garlic, butter, and salt and pepper and stir until well mixed. Taste as you go and adjust salt and pepper to your liking.


Food Truck Grubbing – Going Off the Grid


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So believe it or not, this foodie girl had not eaten off a food truck until this last Friday night. I live in Northern California and every Friday night in Pittsburg, CA we now have a food truck gathering called Off the Grid. My husband and I decided to venture out and give it a try. We developed a strategy of divide and conquer. We each picked different food trucks and bought different types of food then came back together to share our treasures. Not all the food was great, some definitely was, but we did have a fantastic time!!! If you have access to such a gathering, I encourage you to give it a try! It’s a great opportunity to try a wide variety of foods from various ethnicities. Here’s what we had…

  • I bought some Persion fries with Han sauce from the Grab & Go Kabob truck. You can see the photo below. They were pretty good, but didn’t knock our socks off.

  • I also bought some fish tacos from the Canastas truck. Again, these were OK, but I’ve had better. And $15 for 2 tacos was a little steep.
  • Now my husband hit the mother-lode at the Say-Vee-Chay truck!!! Pork Empanadas – AMAZING!!! Fried plantains with pineapple salsa – OMG!!! Ceviche – Delicious!!! (Picture of ceviche below, sorry, but we gobbled up the empanadas and plaintains)

  • Lastly, we tried a shave ice (not SHAVED ice) from Kona Ice. This was just fun! Nothing gourmet here, but we enjoyed it. They give you your cup of shave ice and then you get to add your syrup(s) of choice from a bar on the side of the truck.

I will say none of the food was bad, just some was better than others. And some of the trucks worked more effectively and quickly than others. The people at the event were just fabulous! It was a gathering of friendly people that all enjoy food. We had a blast and will definitely go back. 

I hope you all have access to a similar, fun event. If so, GO!!!


Chicken with Artichokes and Olives in a Bread Bowl – One of My Favorite Recipes From my Mom


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My mom wasn’t known for her cooking skills, but she had a few recipes that I just loved! Unfortunately, I lost her recipe that inspired this dish, but I faked it and it turned out wonderfully! This is basically chicken in a white wine reduction sauce that is place in a hollowed out bread bowl. The bread soaks up the sauce and is so delicious! You eat the chicken and tear apart the bread and have a piece with your dinner. Yummm!!!! This is a visually beautiful dish and fun to eat. It’s perfect for impressing your dinner guests!

This is a recipe you could play with. You may have your own saucy meat dish that would be good served in the bread bowl. Give it a try! In this picture, you might be able to see that I actually didn’t have a bread bowl, but I used sliced French bread. I had some bread on hand that had gotten a tiny bit stale and was starting to harden. It was perfect for this dish! The sauce soaking into the bread softened it right up and gave it a delicious flavor.

Chicken With Artichokes and Olives in a Bread Bowl

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breasts

2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup white wine (I only had Marsala wine on hand, so I used that, but you could use your favorite white wine for cooking)

2 cups chicken broth

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

1/2 box of frozen artichoke hearts

1 – 4 oz can black olive slices, drained

2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed

Salt and pepper

1 large or 2 small sourdough rounds, cut off the top and hollow out or several slices of French or sourdough bread

Pour olive oil in a skillet and heat over medium high heat. Once pan is hot, place chicken in pan. Season with salt and pepper. Brown the meat on each side about 4-5 minutes each. Reduce the heat under your pan to medium and remove chicken from pan and place on an oven-safe plate, it can still be pink in the middle. Place chicken in a 275 degree oven to keep warm while you deglaze your pan. Pour wine and chicken broth in pan and stir to remove chicken bits from the bottom of the pan. Whisk in Dijon mustard, add artichoke hearts, olives and garlic and stir. Simmer sauce and allow to reduce. This should take about 30 minutes. Add chicken back to pan and continue to simmer and spoon sauce over chicken, so it can take on some of that wonderful flavor. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook chicken another 10 minutes or so. Place your bread in an oven-safe baking pan. Transfer chicken into baking pan in the bread bowl or over bread slices and then pour sauce and all contents of your skillet over the bread, trying to cover equally so all parts of the bread will soak up sauce. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. Ensure your chicken is cooked through, but don’t burn your bread.


Spicy Sausage and Peppers – Some Delicious Italian Comfort Food!!!


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Yesterday I got some spicy Italian turkey sausage on sale at the grocery store. I knew I had some orange bell peppers, so Sausage and Peppers came to mind. I didn’t have any sandwich rolls and we hadn’t had mashed potatoes in a while, so I decided to serve it with the potatoes. This was a great combo! The sausage and peppers had tons of flavor and the sauce was great with the mashed potatoes. My husband said the dish reminded him of Shepard’s Pie with an Italian spin on it. This would be a great, hearty winter comfort food!!!

I thought the spicy sausage gave it just the right amount of spice without being overwhelming. If you really don’t like spicy foods you could substitute with sweet sausage and the dish would be just as good.

I can’t completely take credit for this recipe. I started by looking at one of Giada de Laurentiis recipe on the Food Network site, but I altered it based on what I had (or didn’t have) on hand.

Spicy Sausage and Peppers

1 pound spicy Italian turkey sausage

3 tbsp olive oil

2 medium bell peppers, sliced – I prefer red, orange or yellow over the green.

1/2 white onion, sliced

Salt and pepper

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped

2 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 – 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained

1/2 cup red wine – I used Ménage A Trois Midnight (It’s nothing fancy, but it’s a good, affordable table wine). Giada used Marsala wine in her recipe. I’m curious to try this. It would completely change the flavor of the dish as Marsala wine has a very distinctive flavor.

Add olive oil to frying pan and brown whole sausages over medium heat. When browned and almost cooked through, remove sausage to a cutting board and allow to cool a bit. Meanwhile, brown your peppers and onion in the frying pan for about 5 minutes. Then add your basil, oregano, garlic, salt and pepper and cook for 2 more minutes. Slice your sausage into 1″ slices. Add tomato paste, tomatoes and wine to frying pan and stir until mixed well. Add sausage back to the pan. Cook another 5-7 minutes until sausage is cooked through and sauce is thick and bubbly.

This was great served with the mashed potatoes. It would also be good over pasta or served on sandwich rolls.

Mangia bene!