Nature Walks – Life on the Lakes

Life on the lakes is pretty quiet these days. In the Spring and Summer, our lakes were full of life. We had so many beautiful and colorful flowers and so many animal friends all around. But now Fall is coming and everything is preparing to settle down and settle in, for Winter is on its way. The colors are changing from greens to yellow, and from yellows to orange and red. There are still even a few flowers left as well, but it won’t be for too much longer, for soon they too will all be gone.

There are still a few ducks left on the lakes. They are holding on as long as they can before flying off to warmer waters.

There is one lone blue heron who is refusing to leave as well.

Squirrels are still playing on the roof and in the trees.

And if you look up high, there are still a few sparrows singing from the treetops.

But soon, all of these will be gone for the season, and will be returning once again in the Spring. Every season brings gifts to share. Enjoy them all while you can, for soon they will be gone.

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til net time.

Crostini with Squash Butter and Ricotta Cheese and Caramelized Shallots

To me, the terms bruschetta and crostini are kind of synonymous to each other, although they do actually have slightly different meanings. Bruschetta comes from the Italian word bruscare, which means to roast over coals. Originally whole breads were roasted this way. They were heavy, hearty breads, such as an Italian rustic bread or a sourdough type bread. Crostini are the smaller, finer cousins to bruschetta, and are usually made with finer breads, like a baguette that has been sliced into thin rounds. Both are coated in olive oil and toasted. They can be used as croutons, or topped with a wide variety of toppings and can be eaten on their own or as a side dish to a salad or soup.

Bruschetta has been around since the days of the Ancient Romans. This roasted bread was used as a way to taste and test the freshly pressed olive oil from when the olive growers would bring in their olives to the local presses. Crostini, which translates to little toasts, is thought to have originated in the Middle Ages. The Italian peasants did not have plates to eat off of, so instead they used bread. Often times the bread was stale, so it needed to be soaked in some kind of liquid, often times it was wine, in order to become edible. Today, crostini are most often coated in olive oil and roasted.

Today, both bruschetta and crostini are topped with so many types of toppings. The possibilities are endless. They are always a big hit, no matter what topping is used. I tried something a little different this time, and it was a huge, delicious success, just as expected. I made a squash butter and used that as my topping, along with some ricotta cheese and caramelized shallots.

The recipe called for delicata squash, and I looked high and low for it, but could not find it anywhere, so I used butternut squash and a cue ball squash instead. Ironically, when I wasn’t looking for it, I was able to find the delicata squash with no problems. Both the butternut and the cue ball squash were very good substitutes for the delicata squash. As I have always said, recipes are NOT set in stone. Feel free to substitute things and change things around if need be, or even just because. That just gives you another delicious twist to any recipe. That is one of the things that makes cooking so much fun. Play with your food. 🙂

Crostini with Squash Butter, Ricotta Cheese and Caramelized Shallots

I baguette, sliced at an angle

2 lbs squash of your choice, peelled and sliced

1/2 cup olive oil, divided

salt & pepper to taste

1 TBSP garlic

2 TBSP fresh sage

2 tsp lemon juice

1 TBSP lemon zest

1 cup shallots, sliced very thin

1 TBSP balsamic vinegar

dash of sugar

ricotta cheese

Preheat the oven to 425* F or about 200* C.

Toss the squash with olive oil and salt and pepper and place on a baking sheet. Place in the hot oven and roast for about 30 minutes, or until the squash is tender.

Brush both sides of the bread slices with olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Roast for about 15-20 minutes per side before flipping them. You want the bread to be lightly golden and crusty. You can either make this ahead of time and store them in an airtight container, or you can roast them up at the same time as the vegetables.

When the vegetables are tender, place them in a food processor, along with the lemon juice, lemon zest, sage, and more olive oil and/or salt and pepper as needed and process until you have a smooth, creamy puree and everything is well incorporated.

Use the remainder of the olive oil to cook the shallots. Add the balsamic vinegar and the sugar and cook the shallots for about 5-10 minutes, or until they are browned and crisp.

Once everything is cooked, top the crostini with a spread of the squash butter, a spread of the ricotta cheese, and then sprinkle with the caramelized shallots. There will be a fusion of all kinds of delicious flavors and textures going on with every bite. Don’t spread the toppings onto the crostini until right before eating, otherwise the crostini will get soggy and will loose their crunch.

These were a huge hit. Everyone loved them. !Mangia!

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Thank You for All the Lucie Love

It has been exactly one week since my beautiful big girl Lucie gained her angel wings and her halo, although she has always been an angel in my eyes. It has been a very emotional week for us as well. But despite the pain of our loss, there has also been so much love coming from all of you. The love and support we have received from everyone has been so healing for us. You are all helping us through this very difficult time. Many, many thanks to all of you. Your kind words, thoughts and prayers, and all the kind gestures and beautiful gifts have helped more than you know. You are all greatly appreciated.

My friend Shelly gave us a pumpkin in Lucie’s name, also in awareness for our everyday heroes. Our friends Julia and Bruce donated to a local animal shelter in Lucie’s name. Priscilla and Jonathan gave us a beautiful plant. Scott, Tracie and their daughter Taryn sent us a beautiful customized ornament for our Christmas tree. My friend Kayla, who is also a very talented artist, sent us a stuffed Saint Bernard as well as a hand-drawn picture of Lucie. (Kayla also drew me a beautiful portrait of our Malamute, Kodiak, when he crossed over the rainbow bridge a few years ago. That picture proudly hangs on our doggie wall.)

Lucie, with her signed picture from her “boyfriend” Bernie, the mascot for the Colorado Avalanche, our favorite hockey team. Her final pawprint, though she left her pawprint on our hearts a long time ago.

I will always remember the love in her heart and her big smile.

We love you Lucie Lu. Always and forever.

It’s a Bit Nutty

We had a fun get together with friends last night. It was a gathering of both old friends and new, and everyone had a great time. I love to entertain, and have people over for dinner. It gives me a chance to try out a whole bunch of new recipes all at one time. I also love potlucks. I love to see and experience all the different foods others make. It always gives me new ideas. I learn something new all the time.

Julia brought some delicious appetizers, including two types of stuffed mushrooms, and a vegetable crudite with a dip and her amazing sourdough crackers. Her homemade crackers were a big hit. They were so different and unique. I made the main meal and Priscilla brought an apple crisp for dessert, that we topped with a dab of ice cream. The theme for the evening was ” A Fall Feast”, and a feast it was too. Everything went together very well, and we all had a fun, fabulous time. And of course, we all ate way too much.

One of the things I made were some spiced peanuts and pepitas. (Have no fear. You will see the whole meal. Just be patient.) We all really liked them and some of us decided to put them on our salad too, which was another tasty way to enjoy them. These were so simple and easy to make and oh so good. These are most definitely a “do-over”.

Spiced Peanuts and Pepitas

1 cup Spanish style peanuts

1 cup pepita seeds

2 TBSP melted butter

1 TBSP packed brown sugar

1 1/2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp oregano

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

Preheat oven to 350* F or 180* C.

Toss everything together well and spread evenly in a single layer onto a baking pan.

Bake for about 12-15 minutes, or until the nuts are lightly toasted.

These nuts are definitely good on their own, and you can just eat them one handful at a time, or as we discovered, they are also very good as a salad topper too. I love all kinds of textures in my food, and I love to mix crunchies with my salads, so for me, this just really made the salad come to life.

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Video #10 – Chicken, Squash and Tortilla Soup

There is a new video out. This one is all about the soup. I made a very delicious, healthy chicken soup, that was really more like a chili, with all kinds of vegetables, black beans and squash (that was actually a small pumpkin). Since it is the beginning of pumpkin season here in the United States, and I just bought a bunch, I decided it is time to start putting pumpkin into my recipes again. I love pumpkin. In my video, I misspoke; I said it backwards. Leave it to me to get things backwards. In America, we call different varieties of pumpkins squash, but the rest of the world knows them all as pumpkin. I also said chili peppers when I meant to say chili powder. I am always getting my tongue tied. 🙂

This soup/chili had a little bit of everything in it. It was loaded with goodness and fresh vegetables. It is a “kitchen sink” kind of soup, just the way I like my soups too. I like my soups hearty, that make a meal in and of themselves. 🙂

Chicken, Squash and Tortilla Soup

3-4 cups cooked chicken, shredded

1 onion, diced medium

1 green bell pepper, diced medium

1/2 red bell pepper, diced medium

1 poblano or Anaheim chili, diced medium

1 jalapeno pepper, diced fine

1 TBSP garlic

1 small pumpkin or butternut squash, peeled and cubed, medium

1 TBSP chili powder

1 tsp cayenne pepper

2 TBSP tomato paste

6 cups chicken broth

1 can black beans, rinsed

4 medium tomatoes, diced medum

1-2 chipotle peppers with sauce, chopped fine

1 cup corn

salt & pepper to taste

fried tortilla strips

cilantro, chopped fine

cheese and/or sour cream as toppings, optional

And here it is … my latest video. If you like it, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, and if you really like it, please share it with your frinds and family too.

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Pumpkin Focaccia with Rosemary and Prosciutto

It’s pumpkin season once again. I love pumpkin. Larry says I get in my pumpkin moods, and over do it. Can you really over do a good thing like this? No. I don’t think so. This was my first pumpkin dish for the season, with many more coming in the near future.

Breads of any sort are my weakness. I have said many times, I could easily live on bread alone, and there are so many different bread varieties, that I would never even have to eat the same kind of bread twice. Focaccia is a fun kind of bread that lends itself to all kinds of possibilities. This version was a new one to me, but one that will be around for quite sometime to come. I found this new recipe for a pumpkin focaccia with rosemary and prosciutto that I just had to try. This is one to make when you have a lot of time on your hands, but it is so worth it.

Focaccia with Rosemary and Prosciutto

4 cups flour

1 tsp active dry yeast

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 cup warm water

1 can pureed pumpkin

1 TBSP olive oil

1/2 cup shredded Parmigiano or Fontina cheese

2 oz prosciutto, cut into thin strips

1/4 cup pepita or pumpkin seeds

1-1 1/2 TBSP fresh rosemary, chopped fine

1/4 tsp Kosher salt for topping

Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a large bowl. Then add the warm water and the pumpkin. Mix everything together until everything is well incorporated. You will have a very soft, sticky dough.

Cover and let rise for 2 hours.

Once the dough has doubled in size, spray a baking sheet with cooking spray or lightly coat it with olive oil. Spread the dough carefully into the pan, making sure to spread it evenly, covering the whole pan. Cover and let rise again for another two hours.

Preheat oven to 400* F or 200* C

After the dough has risen again, dimple it with your fingers. Brush olive oil over the entire surface. Top with the prosciutto, cheese, rosemary and pepita seeds, then sprinkle the Kosher salt over the top.

Bake uncovered for about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool slightly, then remove from the pan and cut into squares.

These are best when served warm, and they are oh so good. These are well worth the time it takes to make them. I promise.

Pumpkin season has arrived. Enjoy the season. I know I sure will.

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Nature Walks – Walking Down a New Path

I am loving this cooler, Fall weather that is coming in. WHOOOO HOOOOO!!!!! I am finally able to get out again and enjoy life a bit more. With all the heat and our recent fires, that has been difficult to do lately. But today, was a good walking day. It was still a bit smoky, and we could not see the mountains that are ever present and not so far away, but all in all, it was still a good walking day. I went out walking with my friend Lori. We went walking down a new path today. Who knew all this beauty was all around us, right in my own city/suburb, right in my own “backyard”. It just goes to show, we don’t slow down to really notice all of Nature’s beauty nearly enough, and that it is literally right in front of us all the time. All we need to do is slow down a bit and open our eyes. Nature has left us some beautiful surprises everywhere we go.

This is City Park, in Westminster. Literally this is about 5 minutes from my house, and I’ve never walked this path before. I never even knew about it before today.

Even the drain covers are fun and cutely decorated.

We walked all around the path and then double backed and walked around the other way too. I’d say we walked about 1 1/2-2 miles total. We were talking and taking it slow, and of course I was stopping to take pictures along the way, but we had a very enjoyable and pleasant walk.

I have seen a lot of silverfish in my day, but this by far, is the largest silverfish I have ever seen.

Of course there were flowers.

There was even an alien invasion.

Someone even chose to surround himself with all this beauty as his as final resting spot, for all eternity.

Appreciate the all the gifts of today, for tomorrow they could all be gone.

Stay well and stay safe Everyone. ‘Til next time.

A Colorful Shrimp and Vegetable Salad

Fall is in the air, and we won’t be able to enjoy colorful salads for too much longer. So we are enjoying them while we still can. This salad was loaded with sweet summer vegetables and was so colorful. You can eat this salad as is, or you can add either chicken or shrimp, like I did to make it more of a meal.

Once again, just a few simple ingredients were all that was needed to make this delicious, colorful salad. Keep it simple.

Shrimp, Corn and Tomato Salad with a Tomato Vinaigrette

I head lettuce or 8 cups of arugula, with the stems removed

2 cups corn

1/2 each red bell pepper and yellow bell pepper, diced fine

1 cup olives, any kind will do

1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined

1-2 cups either sweet 100 or grape tomatoes

Parmigiano cheese, shaved

toasted pepita seeds, optional

tomato vinaigrette

Tomato Vinaigrette

3-4 tomatoes, cut in large dice

1 TBSP garlic

salt and pepper to taste

1-2 tsp sugar

1/2 cup olive oil

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

5-7 fresh basil leaves

1 tsp each fresh thyme and oregano – dried is fine too

Mix everything together in a food processor until everything is blended and liquified, and voila!  Your vinaigrette is made.

Roast the corn, then add all the vegetables and lettuce together, along with the tomato vinaigrette and toss. If you like something with a bit more bite to it, you can substitute arugula for the lettuce too. You can eat the salad as is, or you can make it more of a meal and add either chicken or shrimp. I added shrimp this time.

I pan-fried my shrimp in the rest of the garlic butter I had leftover from my garlic cheese bread.

I added the shrimp to the salad and topped them with a bit more of the tomato vinaigrette, to really make the flavors pop and come to life. To make the meal complete, I served it with some garlic cheese bread and a crisp, sparkling rose. Normally, I am not a rose fan, but this one was very good, and went very well with the salad. Bon Appetit!

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Nature Walks – The Cooler Weather Brings Us Out Again

We haven’t been doing our walking nearly as much as we used to because it has been just so darn hot. But now the temperatures are beginning to cool off again, making it more comfortable and enjoyable to do our walks again. I miss them. I also NEED them. And so does Vinnie. I guess all our furried, feathered and amphibian friends decided it was too hot as well, because they have not been out and about as much either. But with the cooler weather, they are coming out more too. On our latest walk, we saw a lot more of our animal friends again.

The prairie dogs are out again,

as well as some of the ducks and turtles. I knew I saw one turtle on the rocks with the ducks, but once I looked at my pictures, there were actually three.

Even though the weather is cooler, it was still a bit warm. Vinnie said he needed to take a break and needed a drink of water before going any further.

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.

Indian Style Broccoli

We decided on something easy-peasy for dinner so we picked up a rotisserie chicken from Costco. All I needed were some delicious side dishes to go with it and dinner would be done. The Costco rotisserie chicken is so versatile and tasty and everything goes well with it. We love them, and they make for a great quick and easy meal. I had just a tiny bit of the curried cream sauce left over from when I used it with my crab cakes, so I thought I would use that for the chicken. http://Video #9 – Crab Cakes By deciding to use the rest of my curried cream sauce, it was a clear choice that the rest of the meal would be Indian as well. So for side dishes, I made my lemon rice http://Leftovers Indian Style and some Indian flavored broccoli with some naan bread on the side. Though broccoli is not a typical vegetable found in India, it has become a very popular Indian dish. Broccoli adapts itself very well to the use of Indian spices and seasonings. My wine choice was a cool, crisp chardonnay which made for a very nice pairing.

Once again, this delicious recipe only requires a few simple, basic everyday ingredients. It doesn’t take much to transform regular broccoli into something exotic.

Indian Style Broccoli

1 medium head of broccoli or about 5 cups, cut into small florets

1 tsp cumin

1 TBSP garlic

1/4 onion, diced fine

1 jalapeno, diced fine

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cayenne pepper, or to taste

salt & pepper tot taste

1 cup of either grape or sweet 100 tomatoes.

2 TBSP olive oil and/or butter

Get the oil and/or butter very hot, then add the cumin, coriander seeds and cayenne pepper. Cook for about 1-2 minutes.

Add the onions, garlic and jalapeno and continue to cook for an additional 3-5 minutes, or until the onions are translucent.

Once the peppers and onions are cooked, add the broccoli florets, the tomatoes, the salt and pepper and a dash of water. Mix everything together well, and cover to steam for about 5 minutes.

It is now ready to serve up along side your favorite Indian dishes and time to sit back and enjoy.

Stay safe and stay well Everyone. ‘Til next time.