No Salt Added — Are you kidding me???

February 21, 2012 § 7 Comments

Recently my husband was diagnosed with a heart condition that requires I start cooking without added salt and avoid convenience foods that are loaded with added sodium. This also requires my husband give up cheese, cured meats, and other such salty treats. This has challenged me to find ways of increasing flavor in other ways so my spouse doesn’t feel deprived.  I sampled some “Mrs. Dash” original at the hospital but it had way more black pepper than I liked.   I ventured out to find a seasoning blend that I could use regularly and Gary could shake to his heart’s content.

After some experimentation, I made a blend that we are very happy with so I will share it.  You can change the proportions to suit your own taste or make different blends for different styles of cooking.  I will be working on an Italian blend soon and I am sure it will include dried basil leaves, dried oregano, minced onion, and minced garlic, for starters.  I have a family member that is allergic to sage, so she would leave out the poultry seasoning, but might include some of the herbs and spices that are in it.

Gary’s “Shake”

1 tbs chili powder

1 tbs garlic powder

1 tbs mustard powder

6 tbs onion powder

1 tbs ground oregano

3 tbs paprika

1 tbs ground cumin

2 tbs black pepper

1 tbs poultry seasoning

1 tbs celery seed

Blend all the spices together and put in a container with a shaker top.  (I used an empty onion powder container.)

Tamale Skillet

January 16, 2012 § Leave a comment

Sometimes leftovers don’t make it into the lunches we carry to work and I am left trying to find a way to use them.  The challenge here is to make something that my guys won’t think of as leftovers from two days ago, but something new and interesting.

Tonight I had a bit of leftover homemade chili and a few ounces of grated cheese leftover from making “Sunday Night Nachos” (you’ll learn about those later).  I took the chili and put it in the bottom of my favorite cast iron skillet, topped it with half the cheese, made up a batch of cornbread batter and poured it over, then topped with the rest of the cheese.  I baked it for about 40 minutes at 375 degrees until the cornbread was done.

The charm of this dish is it is so versatile.  You can use canned chili.  You can add corn to the chili or the cornbread.  You could add chopped jalapenos or green chiles to the cornbread, too.  Instead of chili, you could use leftover beef stew or pulled pork.  There are NO RULES.  I love things like that.

Perfectly Toasted Marshmallows….

January 15, 2012 § 4 Comments

I was waxing nostalgic the other day after having some conversation online with a friend from my youth.  She and I were active Campfire Girls in elementary school.  Mom was our leader and there were so many things we got to do to earn beads and patches.  We baked bread for a “heritage fair” and another group made butter, and another jam and we put our booths next to each other so people could enjoy the butter and jam on our bread.  We put the bread in one of those turkey roasters to reheat so you could smell it all over the exhibition hall.  What fun we had!

I particularly enjoyed camp during those years.  We would have competitions in knot tying, fire building, and pancake flipping, and I was fairly successful at winning ribbons for our group.  We would have cooking lessons over the campfire and built hobo stoves out of coffee cans.  One of my favorite meals were “hobo dinners”, which I will cover at a later time, perhaps this summer when I can build a campfire.

All of our camping adventures included one night of weenie roasting and marshmallow toasting.  Sometimes there were S’mores, but not always.  The marshmallows, however, were always there.  Daddy would straighten what seems like dozens of wire hangers for our hot dog and marshmallow roasting pleasures.  Most of the girls were in a hurry to get them cooked, and in the process, usually caught them on fire so they had black, charred places on 30% or more of them.  I, on the other hand, was committed to the “perfect” toasted marshmallow.  Each time, I found a spot of hot coals with no flame and painstakingly turned my marshmallow, rotisserie style, until it turned a lovely shade of dark , golden brown and the insides were nearly liquid (which almost caused them to fall off in the fire).  There was nothing so satisfying as that crispy, chewy, caramelized exterior and the melted goodness inside.

Today I was craving these delights and wondered just what to do about it.  A campfire was out of the question, I didn’t have any wire hangers, and all I really needed was two marshmallows to cure my craving.  Creativity kicked in.  I remembered I had some bamboo skewers, and my stove is gas so I had instant flame.  Five minutes later I was enjoying perfectly toasted marshmallows again.  It wasn’t quite as memorable as my childhood, and I missed the smell of smoke and all my friends, but what memories I was able to re-live just because of a little, white marshmallow…

School Lunches

January 12, 2012 § Leave a comment


I was looking at the Facebook page for Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and Food Revolution Community and thinking about what has changed about school lunches in my lifetime.  It is a completely different world.

First, the lunch ladies actually COOKED our meals.  I remember arriving at school really early (I was Jr. Police so I was a crossing guard) and you could already smell the homemade rolls in the cafeteria.  My favorite lunches were the beef stew, chicken fried steak, goulash, and beans and cornbread.  We always had homemade bread and lots of vegetables, and whole milk.  We had a “milk break” mid-morning, if you bought your tickets at 5 cents a piece.  At the milk break you did have the option of chocolate milk, but we were never allowed it for lunch.  Lunches were 25 cents a day.  (Now I can hear you questioning my age, but it wasn’t that many years ago.)

Fast forward to ten years ago.  Cafeteria workers in most school districts reheat frozen, processed, food-like things, or canned things.  I remember we had a “parent’s day” in the cafeteria when my son was in elementary school and all the parents were invited for lunch.  On the menu that day was canned chicken noodle soup, toasted cheese sandwiches (two slices of white bread, buttered, with a slice of processed American cheese, and baked in the oven.  I guess this was considered “cooking”) and some canned peaches.  The adult plate consisted of an extra 2 slices of peach and cost somewhere in the neighborhood or $3.50.  The child’s plate was about $2.25 at the time.  If the school was trying to impress the parents, they did a good job of convincing us it was time to start packing the kids lunches.

Now my youngest is a Junior in High School.  Lunches are $3.25 and he has a choice of a salad bar (brown, limp lettuce, and a few odd, limp vegetables, some processed cheese and pressed, formed, ham-like substance), a hamburger and fries, nachos… you get the idea.  It is no wonder American kids are fat, have diabetes and high blood pressure, and can’t pay attention in class.  Additionally, half the kids are on the free lunch program so you know that sometimes this is the only food they get all day.  Sad statement on a “wealthy society”.  We owe so much more to our kids.

If you do nothing else, take time to find out what they are serving your kids.  Then teach your kids what is wrong (or right) about it and how to make wise food choices.  Help them to make their own sack lunches and teach them to cook healthy meals at home so when they are older they will know how to feed themselves.  Additionally, if you have time, start working for change in the public school’s food programs so those who are limited to their offerings can have a decent diet as well.  Your grandchildren will thank you!

Chicken — King Ranch Style

January 9, 2012 § 2 Comments

When I was in junior high, my younger brother’s elementary school class made a “cookbook” using recipes contributed by parents and illustrations drawn by the classmates.  There were several of these recipes that turned up in Mom’s repertoire after that because they were fairly convenient and we all loved them.

One of these tasty offerings was Chicken – King Ranch Style.  My family loves this but I have concerns because of the high fat and sodium content of the original recipe.  I made it yesterday, just because we haven’t had it in forever and I had the ingredients.  It is on my list of things to re-write for the book.  I want to be able to make it from scratch and not rely on the canned soups and such.

At the request of some friends and family members, here is the version I made yesterday.

Chicken – King Ranch Style 

1 can condensed cream of chicken soup

1 can condensed golden mushroom soup

1 can Rotel tomatoes and green chilies

1 cup low sodium chicken broth

1 large bonless, skinless chicken breast, cooked and shredded

12 corn tortillas

8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray casserole with no-stick cooking spray.  Combine soups, Rotel, and chicken broth.  Put a small amount of soup mixture on bottom of casserole and cover with a layer of tortillas.  I usually tear or cut up my tortillas so they fit in flatter layers. Top with some of the chicken, a little of the cheese and some more of the sauce.  Continue making layers ending with tortillas, a bit of sauce and then the rest of the cheese.  Bake until hot and bubbly, 30-45 minutes depending on the size of your dish and your oven.

Home Grown

January 7, 2012 § 1 Comment

Cooking up a pan of Southern fried okra last night made me wax nostalgic for my parents’ garden.  In Oklahoma and Texas, where I grew up, the growing season is fairly long so there was an abundance of fresh produce.  Everything from spring onions, radishes, lettuce, tomatoes, to peppers, squashes, purple hull peas, and okra.

Every summer I look back to those days and long for the kinds of fresh produce I was raised on. I have aspirations of growing some of my own, but have been unsuccessful at juggling the job and the garden.  I am sure I will attempt tomatoes again this summer.  There is nothing like a homegrown, heirloom tomato, right off the vine.

Okra, on the other hand, will have to come from the farmer’s market.  Anyone who has had to harvest these delights in the Texas summer heat, knows it is a prickly, unpleasant undertaking, one that I will leave up to the pros.

Speaking of the okra, I find everywhere I go, these battered or heavily breaded “things” called fried okra and they just don’t satisfy like Mom’s Southern fried okra and hers was much simpler.  Simply cut the okra into half inch slices, salt and pepper lightly and toss with enough corn meal to lightly coat.  Pan fry in a hot, cast iron skillet until crispy and golden.  My guys say I don’t make okra enough.  I would have to agree, but fried is my most favorite way to eat okra, and there isn’t one of us that needs it.  I will just have to save it for special occasions.

I encourage you, if you can, to grow something for your table this year.  It won’t just feed your body.  It will feed your soul…

“Old Rotten Potatoes”

January 7, 2012 § 1 Comment


Growing up, Mom used to make potatoes au gratin for us fairly regularly.  There are few things more tasty with pork chops or a ham than a big dish of  “cheesy potatoes”.  Somewhere along the road, this delightful casserole became known in our household as “old, rotten did potatoes”.  I am sure at one point mom said “au gratin potatoes” and one of us heard “old, rotten potatoes” and it stuck.

Last night, I was feeling a bit under the weather and just not up to putting together a good meal.  Fortunately, my seventeen year old son likes to cook and was in a notion to help.  I love spending time in the kitchen with my kids.  David and I took our traditional “old, rotten potatoes” recipe and added layers of diced leftover ham and thinly sliced onions.  The result was truely amazing.  Not only did we have a hearty, comforting meal, I got to spend quality time with my son creating memories.

I encourage you to spend time with your kids in the kitchen, no matter how old (or young) they are, and create a few memories of your own.