Articles about Food

Merrick Backcountry | Fuel for Your Adventurous Dogs

We’re not the kind of over-the-top dog owners that (unnecessarily) carry our dogs in strollers or provide a plate for them at the dinner table, but we do love our dogs as family and we treat them well. Part of treating them well is feeding them well and worrying about their diet and nutrition. We’ve struggled with maintaining Wiley at a decent weight, dealt with allergies and digestion issues. But these guys are super important to us so we do our best. When Merrick Pet Care contacted us to be a part of their Ambassador Program associated with the launch of their new Backcountry line of food products, I had to really consider how it would effect our dogs before I agreed.

Cattle Dogs exploring the river

Wiley has some food sensitivities that started causing problems with her skin and coat a few years ago. We moved her through a few products that our vet suggested and eventually landed on feeding her Wellness Simple diet dog food which is really basic and very expensive. But it worked and Wiley’s issues, for the most part, have gone away. She still seems to get seasonal allergy problems which, from part of what I’ve read, could be related to substandard nutrition. We’ve toyed with the idea of introducing a raw component to her existing diet…but just don’t know where to start.

Max also has some challenges. He was a rescue and had come in to the rescue with some injuries suffered after a “fall” from a moving vehicle. He was patched up pretty well, but he still has some issues with his jaw and damaged teeth. We spent a fortune making sure he got to keep his canines and now have to be cautious about what he eats and how much he chews on his toys.

Nutrition is so important for these guys. Not only for their overall health but as fuel for our play time at home and away. A friend said once, “Your dogs get more adventure than most people!” and he’s right. We often take our dogs camping, hiking, kayaking, paddleboarding, backpacking or on long road trips with adventure destinations in mind. We try to feed them well to insure they have the fuel to keep going as long as we do.

You can search #CattledogAdventures on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook to follow their adventures.

Merrick Backcountry dinner at Mono Lake

Merrick Backcountry Product Trial

Merrick Backcountry product

When Merrick Pet Care contacted us about trying this new line of food and being a part of their #Wild4Backcountry promotion I had some reservations and a lot of questions. With Wiley’s history of food sensitivities and Max’s teeth problems I wanted to make sure it wasn’t a waste of time having them try this new product. I asked about the ingredients, the processing, where the food was made and where the ingredients are sourced. My worry is always about food processed where regulations are loose and sourcing isn’t a concern. I also look for grain-free products after our experiences with Wiley’s reactions to other commercial dog food. Merrick was great about answering all of my questions and I was impressed with their answers.

Backcountry: About the Product

The food industry for a long time has agreed on the benefits of freeze-dried foods. It is a way to create shelf-stable food products without overprocessing or bastardizing the ingredient. The Merrick Backcountry RAW Infused dry kibble has good sized whole pieces of freeze-dried meat. We opted to try the dogs on the Game Bird Recipe kibble which is made with turkey, duck and quail and has freeze-dried whole pieces of chicken. It’s grain-free (no corn, soy or wheat), processed and packaged here in the states, has 38% overall protein, no artificial colors or preservatives and has nothing sourced from China (seriously, why is anyone eating anything from China?).

We also got to try a variety of the wet canned food options available in the Backcountry line. These include some different meats than normally seen in dog food like rabbit and venison. I was especially impressed with the Chicken Thigh Stew recipe that actually includes whole bone-in chicken thighs, cooked to make the bone safely digestible for the dogs so they can get the additional nutrition it provides.

The Backcountry kibble products are available in 4, 12 and 22-pound bags and range from $19.99 to $69.99 per bag which is comparable to what we were paying for the Wellness Simple Diet we had the dogs on before. The 12.7 oz cans retail at a competitive $2.99 per can.

Some of the Benefits:

  • Merrick Backcountry recipes include healthy ingredients that make dogs healthier and happier companions.
  • Quality proteins support growth and development in dogs and lead to increased energy levels.
  • Grain-free ingredients avoid issues like gluten intolerances, chronic skin conditions and stomach distress.
  • Fats and amino acids contribute to a healthier skin and coat.
  • This nutrient dense formula allows for smaller servings and helps to optimize weight management.

Merrick Backcountry on the road

Max and Wiley have never really been casual about feeding time, they love to eat. But their excitement level has definitely gone up a couple of notches since we put them on the Backcountry product. Wiley (our oldest) is much more energetic about meal time and Max is much more focused and attentive. They are pretty crazy about their new food and they both have done well on it.

The transition from their old food to Backcountry was pretty quick, we’ve seen no negative reactions in them and they seem very satisfied. We expected to see Wiley show signs of some reaction within the first few weeks if it was going to happen, but she is doing great.

We’ll continue to watch both dogs for reactions or sensitivities to the food. But so far, we are happy to keep them on the Backcountry food from Merrick and the dogs are pretty happy about it too.

What others have had to say:

“Dogs need high-protein foods to repair muscles, and foods dense in calories – specifically fats. The Great Plains Red Meat recipe has a whopping 38% protein and 17% fat. This is an optimal ratio for hard-working dogs. This particular recipe also includes 1200 mg/kg of glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate – two ingredients I’ve found help my older dog from getting too sore after a day in the field.  A thoughtful addition.  These fats and amino acids also contribute to a healthier skin and coat – which I noticed within one week of switching to Merrick Backcountry.” – Lowell Strauss

“My once slow and picky eater (Yuri) is finally finishing dinner every night. Just showing him the food is enough for him to go flying to his food bowl. We even had to swap him to a slow feed bowl because he is that excited.”Jillian Bejtlich

“I scoop a half of a can onto her dry food for breakfast, and she is *literally* besides herself with joy. It even led to a new phrase in our household: All I have to say is, “Tals, do you want some Beef Stew?!” and it’s game over. She will launch up, run downstairs and stand by her food bowl, prancing and leaping in circles. She even throws a few 360s and a shoulder slide in for good measure.”Heather Balogh

“Labs are prone to hip dysplasia and I’m doing what I can to help Sprocket maintain his mobility for as long as possible. Backcountry promises 1200 mg/kg of (Glucosamine & Condroitin) which is a 200% increase over his previous food.” – Beth Lakin (and Sprocket)

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Disclosure: We were provided product and compensation by Merrick Pet Care for this review. But, as always, I wouldn’t endorse, support, or write about anything I don’t love. All opinions are honest, unbiased, and mine (and the dogs’) alone.

Forks in the Road – A Travelers Cookbook

Forks in the Road Cookbook

An argument could be made that eating is the backbone of travel. In my experience, most travel (road trips, plane flights, camping, backpacking, rafting, etc.) revolves around food. What food do you pack? Where do you eat? When should we stop to eat? What is the local food like? Who are we eating with tonight? And what do we have to bring to cook? Food, and cooking, is a huge part of our day to day lives and it’s importance is amplified when traveling. It’s no wonder, then, that a book compiling recipes collected while on the road and focused on travel cooking has surfaced…in fact, I’m surprised there aren’t more of them.

Forks in the Road – Overland Expo 2014

Overland Expo is a symphonic cacophony of adventurous travel stories. To get into the individual accomplishments of every Overlanding group becomes an ego driven exercise of carefully stacking the number of miles driven, countries visited, tires changed and officials bribed in a round-the-world pissing match. All in good fun, of course, as every storyteller is also an avid fan-boy of the next adventurer recounting the comedy and tragedy of their own epic sagas. Ultimately, it’s the not how far or how long your trip was that sets your story apart but the personalities involved and how they’ve shaped the journey that really matters.

This year at Overland Expo I made an effort to look past the dusty statistics and find something that really captured my interest among a whole collection of unique and interesting stories. The stories that captured my interest were the ones relateable to me, aligning with my own experiences as I begin to dip my big toe into the Overlanding lifestyle. I love all land south of the border including Mexico, Central America and South America and long to travel more extensively in that part of the world. I am also a cook, at home and on the road, and meal prep is a big part of our travel experience. Ask my wife, she’ll tell you that proper food on the road may make the difference between a happy road trip and a miserable meltdown.

Enter Life Remotely.

Kobus - Life Remotely

I met this trio for the first time as I walked along the dusty path between vendor booths casually assessing this year’s assortment of new products. I lingered at their booth eyeing the hand-made grills and metal Expedition Tongs sitting neatly on the edge of the table. I was drawn in further when I realized they were hosting some cooking demos I had already decided I wanted to sit in on. Immediately I was engaged by their outgoing front-man, a charismatic South African native by the name of Kobus who doubled as grill-master and crowd wrangler. He took a break from working the crowds to tell me a little about their new cookbook and introduce me to Jessica, the “token female” of the group and Kobus’s wife.

“This is a collection of recipes we put together during 19 months on the road through Central and South America…”, I don’t even think I let her finish the whole sentence before I said I wanted one. Jessica operates as the Navigator and, seemingly, primary income provider of the trio. Working as a photographer and graphic designer who successfully manages her business from a small laptop between internet connections, her income fuels the ongoing journey. Her brother, Jared, claims she is the primary reason there always seems to be a bottle of wine around to roll out fresh tortillas but she is also responsible for the beautiful photography featured in their book.  Just flipping casually through the pages and knowing they collected local recipes as they traveled in Latin America sold me on their book, Forks in the Road.

Jared is head chef of the Life Remotely crew, taking responsibility for almost everything they eat on the road. Throughout their 19 month trip, they’ve cooked about 80% of their own meals mostly planned an orchestrated by Jared with grill help from Kobus. Forks in the Road was his baby and while all three of them are listed on the cover, Jared is credited as author. I caught up with Jared as he was preparing empanadas for a Dutch Oven demo later that morning. He talked about technique and the importance of flexibility in recipes while traveling in foreign countries all while trading good-natured insults with his sister and brother-in-law. The finished empanadas were pretty amazing.

Life Remotely - Empanadas - Forks in the Road

Dutch Oven Empanadas - Forks in the Road

Forks in the Road – A Cookbook for the Road

Forks in the Road is specifically designed as a cooking guide for Overlanders by Overlanders. Jared chronicles the book’s authenticity ,

“Every recipe in this book was discovered, adapted, cooked, written, revised and meticulously photographed somewhere between Tijuana, Mexico and Ushuaia, Argentina. The first recipes were written mere miles from The Death Road in Bolivia. In the following months they were photographed on the coast of Chile, edited on a cruise ship in Antarctica, formatted in a Uruguayan hotel, and finally submitted for publishing from a rental house on the beach in Brazil.”

The book is a collection of local favorites and down-home comfort food with simplicity and minimal equipment in mind for ease of cooking on the road. It caters to the novice cook and experienced camp-chef alike with basic building-block recipes as well as complicated day-long, whole-hog roasting events. That’s what I think is so great about this book. If you’ve never cooked on the road before, these recipes will get you started. If you’ve cooked on the road for years, these recipes will still likely introduce you to flavors and techniques that are entirely new. These are recipes that bring a level of joy and comfort to your journey that it may have been lacking. Whether it’s Dutch Oven cinnamon rolls for breakfast, Chimichurri  Steak for dinner or a killer Caipirinha for an after dinner cocktail this book has you covered. Organized into sections with names like “Comfort Breakfasts”, “Eat Lunch Like a Local” and “I’m Tired and Dirty and Just Want to Eat Dinners” this book is made for travel but offers a nice change of pace for the home cook as well. Hell, even part-time road warrior and self-proclaimed “non-cook”, Val-in-Real-Life picked up a copy of the eBook for some less frightening culinary ideas on the road and actually put it to use on her 7-week Pacific Northwest Tour.

Aside from the recipes, Jared has presented well written stories and detailed techniques for finding food, fun and adventure on the road. Accented with Jessica’s photography my copy of Forks in the Road has an honored spot on our coffee table…that’s when it’s not actually on the road with us.

Forks in the Road

Forks in the Road – Bringing in the Crowds

So, how do you cut through the chaos and bring in the crowd in the middle of a noisy, fast paced event like Overland Expo? Easy: Feed the people!

Yup, the Life Remotely trio executed the perfect PR stunt by spending 6+ hours Saturday morning during the peak of the Expo fire roasting a whole 40 lb lamp on a home-made spit over an open fire. Continually basted in a chimichurri-like marinade the enticing aroma of garlic and roasting meat whipped by high winds attracted huge crowds all day Saturday with the tantalizing promise of a free tasting when it was done. As the designated hour approached hoards of sun-baked, dust-covered, hungry Overlanders began to gather sensing the time was near. A long, haphazard line quickly formed as the meat was removed from the spit and laid whole across a table while Jared and Kobus stripped it clean and processed the meat into bite size pieces for the eager crowds.

Life Remotely Forks in the Road-2

Life Remotely Forks in the Road-5

Life Remotely - Forks in the Road

Life Remotely Forks in the Road-8The lamb roasting event was a big hit as Life Remotely took the opportunity to work the crowds and talk about their book. Jared, Jessica and Kobus put on other demos and tastings throughout the weekend sharing recipes and techniques they’ve experimented with on the road. The Dutch Oven empanadas, a mud-baked whole chicken and chilaquiles from home-made tortillas rounded out the weekend’s demonstrations. With every demo you could tell that they’ve learned to work together and manage minor frustrations without letting them get in the way. The trio’s time on the road has truly made them a team.

Jared talks about finding balance. How important it is to strike a happy medium between chaos and comfort to stay sane:

“It turns out that much of this world is full of dirty bathrooms, noisy campsites, inaccurate maps, understocked grocery stores and horrible road conditions. It also has a fair share of excellent accommodations, spectacular scenery and very friendly people. Not knowing which to expect as you roll into the next town is one of the best, yet most difficult parts of traveling. Finding the balance will help you deal with these uncertain circumstances without turning grocery shopping and nightly meals into a burden.”

Simplicity, flexibility and a willingness to experiment seem to be key factors in keeping sane on the road. Especially when it comes to food. It appears the Life Remotely crew have found their balance and it’s a pleasure to watch them show it off.

Check out more of their adventures at LifeRemotely.com and I encourage you to grab a copy of their book, Forks in the Road, by clicking here.

 

Camp Food – Wife’s Favorites

Car camping with my wife has been a lot of fun and a huge learning experience.  I am so accustomed to camping alone and only worrying about my own comfort that I let a lot of things pass just because they’re not priority.  One of the biggest things that changed when my wife and I started camping together was the camp food.  I had come into a habit of treating food like a necessary evil when camping or backpacking, making it as painless, lightweight and worry free as possible.  I would do a couple of nights in the desert with some oatmeal, trail mix and a big bag of beef jerky.  That kind of thing won’t fly when we’re camping together.

First of all, my wife is a vegetarian.  So the beef jerky staple is out and she’s not much for dried fruit, so I have to think about fresh ingredients when possible.  Car camping with the cooler makes it relatively easy to manage, backpacking is a little more of a challenge.  But I promised my wife plenty of snacks in our wedding vows and that means making sure she is fed well even when we’re out in the middle of nowhere.  Luckily, there are some easy go-to dishes that have become her favorite camping meals when we’re on the road.

Grilled Cheese and Veggies

Grilled Cheese

This sounds easy, but there’s some thought that goes into this.  The right bread, the right cheese(s), grilled veggies to add…you gotta get it right! My wife’s running favorite is white cheddar, goat cheese and grilled sweet potato on wheat bread.  If I’m feelin it, we’ll add a few jalapeno slices for some spice.

Grilled Veggies

Remember in Cub Scout camp-outs wrapping veggies in foil and tossing them over the fire?  Yeah, that still works.  We’ll slice up some sweet peppers, squash and mushrooms then add a pad of butter and some seasoning.  Wrap the whole thing in foil and grill over an open flame.  For a little extra punch I’ll add some jalapeno mustard to the mix.

Sweet Potato Pancakes with Berries

Breakfast is usually oatmeal (we make it a little extra watery so we can add powdered peanut butter to it – AWESOME!) but once in a while I’ll make pancakes while we’re at camp if we have time.  On one of our trips to Grand Canyon we got up early so I could shoot the sunrise.  When we came back I put coffee on and started on a big breakfast.  I had some sweet potato pancake mix to which I added powdered peanut butter and blueberries.  I cooked them in my fancy new contraption from Snow Peak and they were amazing!  So good they didn’t need any syrup.

Pancakes in Snow Peak Clamshell

 

Bonus Camp Cooking Tip:

Even if you’re eating prepared, freezedried or leftover food from home, always bring a few fresh ingredients to add some dimension to your meal.  I generally bring a lime, at least one jalapeno and an apple.  Dice the apple and add it to oatmeal for some fresh, sweet crunch.  Add diced jalapeno to pasta, rice or chili dishes for some fresh spice or add slices to sandwiches and eggs.  Lime juice goes a long way to freshen Thai dishes, Mexican dishes or even eliminate that weird flavor we often get from filtered water.

Snow Peak cutting board

For more Camp Food tips, tricks, ideas and recipes check out the Sierra Trading Post Social Hub post about Food for the Outdoors.

 

It’s all about the juice…

ready to juice with the Hurom Slow JuicerThis is my juicer.  There are many like it but this one is mine.  My juicer is my best friend, it is my life.  I must master it as I must master my own life…

I’ve been talking about getting a good juicer for years.  Now that things are settling down a bit for me I can focus on my health and nutrition a little more and part of that process is juicing.  I’ve talked with a handful of friends and family about their experiences and none of them had anything but good to say about juicing.  They feel better, have more energy and, in some cases, have lost weight.

Over last few years I’ve transitioned to a more whole food, plant-based diet.  I still eat meat occasionally, but that is happening less and less.  These days, I have a hard time eating meat from big-box grocery stores.  Luckily, we have several very nice farmer’s markets and local growers and ranchers who provide quality food here in Phoenix.  This makes it much easier to have a well stocked kitchen with fresh food while supporting local growers.  We have almost completely pulled away from processed foods and I feel so much better about the food I put in my body.

I know there is a strong community of juicers out there who all have their favorite recipes and are always experimenting and developing new ones.  Hopefully, I will be able to share some of my favorites as I get more experience with my juicer.  I am very excited about finding recipes to use the pulp as well as the juice so less get’s tossed out.  Any of the pulp ends up in compost for the garden, so I’m not too worried about the scraps.

Anyway, I wanted to post about this because I’d like to hear about some of your favorite recipes!  If you’ve got a favorite juice recipe (or other recipe using the juicer) please share it with me below, I’d love to try it!

Mean Green JuiceMy First Juice:

This was a recipe I found over at MyJuiceCleanse.com

Mean Green Juice

6 Kale Leaves
1 Cucumber
4 Celery Stalks
2 Green Apples
1/2 Lemon
1 piece of ginger

FYI – The Juicer I bought is the Hurom Slow Juicer.

Recipe: Sweet Potato Garlic Rosemary Mac-and-Cheese…

I do love me some Mac and Cheese!  Most of you, I’m sure, have seen the recipe I posted a while back for the Manly Mac and Cheese that my buddies and I make for Steak Night.  Well, with the bacon and grilled chicken it’s not vegetarian friendly for my fiance.  So I played with a variation of a recipe I had found with sweet potatoes mixed into Mac and Cheese (we LOVE sweet potatoes!).  One night we picked up everything we needed from the store and got to work in the kitchen.

The smell of the garlic and rosemary while it’s cooking is enough to get you drooling.  This one came together beautifully and is a great vegetarian Mac.  This recipe has even become popular with my meat-eating buddies…

Sweet Potato Garlic Rosemary Mac and Cheese

The Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 10 cloves garlic
  • 1 large (or 2 small) orange sweet potato, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices or thicker
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 ounces pasta (your choice)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 4 tablespoons flour
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups half-and-half
  • 2 cups Italian Blend Shredded Cheese
  • 3/4 cup Asiago cheese, shredded
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup italian breadcrumbs
  • 2-4 medium jalapenos (chopped, diced or sliced…cook’s preference)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Spray a baking dish with nonstick cooking spray or rub with butter.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add garlic and sweet potatoes and cook until the sweet potatoes are just starting to soften (about 5 minutes); remove cloves and sweet potatoes and let cool. When cloves have cooled, use a garlic press to press blanched cloves; set aside.
  3. While the water is still hot, add salt to the boiling water and toss in the pasta.  Cook until al dente (do not overcook).  When done, drain and set aside.
  4. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; Dice sweet potatoes and cook in skillet, flipping occasionally, until they develop a caramelized crust (about 5 minutes). Set aside with the pasta.
  5. Pour yourself another glass of Sauvignon Blanc (per Russ Beebe). <<– Important step
  6. In the large pot over low heat, melt the butter. Add flour and stir to combine. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes. Increase heat to medium, add in salt and pepper, and, with a wire whisk, gradually add half-and-half. Bring to a boil while continuously stirring. It should start to thicken up.  Reduce heat, and then simmer 1 minute (too long and it will get too thick making it hard to incorporate the cheese).
  7. Stir 1 3/4 cup Italian Blend Shredded Cheese and 1/2 cup Asiago cheese until melted and smooth. Add blanched pressed garlic, diced sweet potatoes, rosemary, minced garlic, jalapeno and cooked pasta. Stir to combine. Pour into greased casserole dish.
  8. To make topping, combine a tablespoon olive oil, breadcrumbs, 1/4 cup Italian Blend Cheese, and 1/4 cup Asiago cheese in a small mixing bowl. Stir until well combined. Sprinkle on top of pasta.
  9. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and topping golden brown. Serve.

There are a lot of steps to this one, with the addition of the caramelized sweet potatoes.  But it is well worth the work.  I’ve made this one a half-dozen times or so now and everyone really seems to enjoy it.  Give it shot!  Let me know what you think…

Sweet potato mac and cheese

Recipe: Dave’s Awesome Chili…

Dave's Awesome Chili
I’ve made a lot of Chili over the years and experimented with a lot of different types of Chili.  Personally, I like to change it up often and have made turkey chili, vegetarian chili, no-bean chili, etc. and have enjoyed them all.  But the Grandaddy of them all is Dave’s Awesome Chili (no, I did not name it myself).  I only make this one on special occasions and, typically, only upon request.  This Chili has graced several Super Bowl parties and one especially thankful Cub Scout Pot Luck Awards Dinner.  This recipe can be expensive, makes a LOT of chili and it is spicy.  There are things you can do to adjust the spiciness of it but….why would you?
Enjoy!

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground chuck
  • 1 pound chorizo (pork or beef, but I prefer pork)
  • 1 pound chopped mock tender chuck steak (or any stew meat)
  • 1 beef Kilbasa (see below for alternate options)
  • 1 1 lb package bacon
  • 1 15 oz can black beans
  • 1 15 oz can kidney beans
  • 1 15 oz can spicy chili beans
  • 5 10 oz cans Ro*tel tomatoes (if you want spicy chili pick 2 or 3 of the “extra hot” variety)
  • 1 6 oz can tomato paste
  • 1 large yellow onion
  • 1 medium white onion
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2-4 green chili peppers (or jalapenos)
  • 4 cubes beef bouillon
  • 1 can beer (your choice)
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1/4 cup Lee Kum Kee black bean garlic paste
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Pickapeppa sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 4 teaspoons hot sauce (your choice, I usually use two different kinds)
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1-2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

Dave's Awesome Chili

Process:

In a large stock pot over medium-high heat add roughly chopped, thick-cut bacon and cook until crisp. While bacon is cooking you can chop all the peppers, onions and celery. Remove bacon (leave the grease in the pot) and add chopped onions and celery. Add salt and pepper and cook until transparent and semi-browned then remove to a bowl.

Now add the ground chuck and chorizo to the pot and cook until nearly browned then add chopped chuck steak (chop into pieces small enough to handle in a bite but big enough to know you’re eating steak). I usually start adding the sauces and spices at this point and mix them in as the meat cooks.

Once the meat is browned and the sauces and spices are mixed in, toss in the cooked onions, chopped peppers and bacon.  Stir gently.

Drain the kidney beans and black beans and add those to the chili.  Stir gently.  Add the Chili Beans with spicy sauce.  Stir gently.  Add the Ro*Tel mix.  Stir gently.  Add the beer and chopped Kilbasa.  Stir.

Everything should be in at this point and you should have a nice soupy mix. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer.  Stir every 20 minutes or so for 2 to 3 hours…the longer the better.

Dave's Awesome ChiliServe in small bowls with shredded cheese, sour cream and chopped scallions or jalapenos.

optional:

Lately, instead of using the Kilbasa in the chili, I’ve used sweet Italian sausage links.  Brown the sausage in a skillet or on the grill, just enough to get some color to the skin.  Then drop them, whole, into the chili and let them cook with the chili.  In the end, I usually fish them out and cut them in half…serving one piece in each bowl with the chili.  It makes for the most flavorful, tender Italian sausage you’ve ever had.

Also, I like to cook a little extra bacon to chop up and use as a topping.

Serving Suggestions:

Serve with the usual toppings: cheese, sour cream, scallions, minced onion, chopped bacon, chopped jalapeno, etc.  I like to serve my chili with fresh tortillas (this IS Arizona).  I also like to serve mine with melon.  There is something really nice about the sweet, cool melon against the savory, spicy, steaming hot chili.  My recent find is Santa Claus Melon.  I can’t get enough of it and it pairs beautifully with the chili.  And don’t forget the beer…Lagers, Ambers and Pale Ales work great!

Chili

Recipe: No-Bake Protein Bars…

This is adapted from a recipe originally posted by Jessica Allen over at BlondPonyTail.com.  For awesome fitness related content check out her site or follow her on Twitter.  To see her original recipe post, click here.

Peanut Butter No-Bake Protein Bars...

The first time I made these No-Bake Protein Bars they were amazing!  I have adjusted and tweaked the recipe every time I’ve made them to experiment with flavors and texture.  I like to have a more solid, slightly drier bar so that they will hold up better on the trail.  The original recipe was very soft (and yummy) and would essentially melt once it started to warm up.

So, here’s what I use:

  • 1 cup organic Almond Butter
  • 1 cup Peanut Butter
  • 1 1/2 cup organic local honey
  • 2 cups of protein powder
  • 1 cup of rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup chia seeds
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder (optional)
Protein bar ingredients...

Collect all your ingredients along with a microwave-safe mixing bowl (Pyrex or glass)...

Then start mixing…

mix peanut butter, almond butter and honey...

Add the Almond Butter, Peanut Butter and Honey to the bowl. Then microwave for 90 seconds...

then…

Mixed butters and honey...

Carefully mix thoroughly until smooth...

 

added dry ingredients...

Add the remaining ingredients, except for the oats, and stir. I find that it's easier to mix the oats in last after all the seeds and powders...

 

chocolaty mixture...

Add the rolled oats and mix everything trying to get the oats evenly integrated.

 

mixture poured in to Pyrex storage containers...

Pour the mixture into Pyrex containers or a glass baking sheet with the lid (you could cover with plastic wrap if you don't have a lid). Spread the mixture evenly across the bottom and place in the refrigerator to let the bars set up. I usually leave mine overnight...then cut the servings I want as I need them.

 

If you are not a big fan of chocolate, you can use plain or vanilla flavored protein powder and skip the cocoa powder.  The natural peanut butter and honey flavor is awesome so the chocolate is just a bonus.  These make a great post-workout snack with a good ratio of natural sugar, carbs, fat and protein.

I tend to do a lot of fasted-state workouts if I run or lift in the mornings so this is a nice snack to have directly following the workout…followed by a real meal about 30-45 minutes after the workout.

Enjoy!

Manly Mac-n-Cheese…

My buddies and I have a long-standing tradition of getting together one night a week specifically to grill up some thick-cut steaks, drink and hang out.  It’s a way for us to break away from our busy schedules, limited budgets or restrictive diets and just have an awesome, perfectly-grilled steak with friends.  Originally, there were only a couple of us and I hosted Steak Night at my house.  Since then the attendance has grown.  Steak Night is now hosted at my friend Ian’s house and we all take turns buying the steaks.  We’ve also started to introduce side-dishes.

Side dishes are tricky when the focus is put so heavily on the steaks.  We started out with simple side dishes that could not compete with the amazing slabs of beef we would serve.  Then things got serious.

Our Steak Night Mac-N-Cheese Recipe has undergone it’s own storied evolution, but the final outcome has become a staple of Steak Night.  We’ve progressed from a simple mac-in-a-box side dish to something truly extraordinary.  Though it started as a joint venture, Ian gets full credit for coaxing this recipe through it’s evolutionary process and perfecting it.  It was adapted from a couple of different recipes we found online and modified to our tastes.  THIS is the kind of Mac-N-Cheese you tell your grand-kids about…

mac-n-cheese

 The Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb rotini macaroni
  • 3 cups milk
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon brown mustard
  • 2 garlic cloves , rough chopped
  • 5 drops hot sauce (or more depending on preference)
  • 1/3 teaspoon salt
  • course, ground pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs , beaten to blend
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese (additional cup for topping)
  • 1 cup grated asiago cheese
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 medium boneless chicken thighs, marinated and grilled (we marinate them in Italian Dressing)
  • 1 lb thick cut bacon, cooked and crumbled (should be enough to let you snack on some while cooking)
  • 2-5 medium jalapenos (chopped, diced or sliced…cook’s preference)

Directions:

  1. Boil macaroni in plenty of salted water until al dente. Drain.
  2. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  3. Grease a 9 X 13-inch baking dish.
  4. Meanwhile, in a small processor or blender, combine milk, cream cheese, mustard, garlic, hot sauce, eggs and salt.
  5. Pour drained pasta and milk/cream cheese mixture back into pot pasta was cooked in.  Allow to ‘sit’ in pot for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. This is an important step and must not be left out as it allows the sauce to start thickening and be absorbed by the pasta and not just settle in the bottom of the baking dish. 
  6. After 15 minutes, add various cheeses, jalapenos, grilled chicken, pepper and crumbled bacon and mix well altogether.
  7. Pour into prepared baking dish, cover with foil and place in preheated oven.
  8. Bake until bubbly, about 20 minutes.
  9. Remove dish from oven, remove foil and add an additional cup of grated cheddar cheese to the top.
  10. Return dish to the oven (without foil) and broil until the top is melted and starting to brown.
  11. Remove from oven, recover with foil and give it about 15 minutes to cool enough to eat.

 

Wet ingredients in a blender

Wet ingredients in the blender...

 

Boiling the pasta

placing a wooden spoon over the pot will keep it from boiling over when cooking pasta...

 

cheeses, jalapenos, bacon and chicken

cheeses, jalapenos, bacon and chicken in mixing bowl...

 

adding pasta to the mixing bowl

pasta added to mixing bowl...

 

pouring mixed ingredients into making pan

Once all ingredients are mixed together, pour in to baking pan...

 

mac-n-cheese in baking pan

level out the mac so it will cook evenly, do not overfill the baking pan...

 

finished mac-n-cheese in baking pan

finished mac-n-cheese should have a crusty, cheesy, golden-brown top...

How my training diet ruined my life…

As many of you know, I have been having some major problems with my health lately.  Since mid September I have dealt with varying degrees of pain, swelling and inflammation that have left me temporarily crippled.  It’s a bad situation, but not as rare as I suspected.

About six or seven years ago, I began having problems with my feet.  After several years of dealing with pain I discovered I was suffering from Gout (and Gouty Arthritis).  Initially diagnosed as a stress fracture, it took many years and many doctor visits to discover this problem because I am not the typical Gout sufferer.  I did not have any of the typical habits, behavior or associated health problems typical of most Gout sufferers and blood tests did not show high Uric acid levels.  After much research and experimentation, I was able to control my problem through diet.  Until recently, I had not had an attack in almost two years.

In September of this year I met with a personal trainer/nutritionist.  My goal was to work up a training plan to cut some body fat and build some lean muscle.  The trainer provided me with a nutrition plan high in natural, lean animal proteins and filled with raw vegetables while, also, eliminating sugars and dairy.  All in all, a very clean, healthy diet.

Within a week I noticed a problem, but didn’t catch the hint right away.  After 5 weeks on the diet I was on crutches and in such ridiculous amounts of pain I could not focus, work or sleep.  So here’s how it developed…

Towards the beginning of the second week I was experiencing pain in my right foot, making it uncomfortable to walk.  The pain was intermittent and would come and go with varying degrees of intensity.  The pain was not as acute as I had typically felt during a true Gout attack, but the result was the same: immobility. Sometimes there was swelling and redness associated with the pain, and other times there was no swelling at all.  The pain seemed to move throughout the foot as well, often feeling like the source of pain changed from one day to the next.

This lasted for about 3 weeks before it seemed to leave my right foot, tricking me in to thinking it was gone.  Within a day or two, it manifested in my left foot with exaggerated intensity and quickly attacked my ankle making it nearly impossible to walk.  I struggled to get around for about a week before the Gouty Arthritis attacked my left knee leaving me no choice but to rely on crutches.  Every move resulted in huge amounts of pain, even sitting still the pain was, at times, unbearable.  My foot, ankle and knee experienced massive swelling and inflammation.  By this time, I had realized what the diet had done and was taking strides to change it.

Now, after dealing with getting the pain under control, I can break down what happened.  People with a disposition for, or history of, Arthritis (Gout, RA, Gouty Arthritis, Pseudo-Gout, etc.) should limit their consumption of animal proteins.  According to a Mayo Clinic web-article outlining a healthy “Gout Diet”,

“Animal proteins are high in purine. Avoid or severely limit high-purine foods, such as organ meats, herring, anchovies and mackerel. Red meat (beef, pork and lamb), fatty fish and seafood (tuna, shrimp, lobster and scallops) are associated with increased risk of gout. Because all meat, poultry and fish contain purines, limit your intake to 4 to 6 ounces (113 to 170 grams) daily.”

My training diet prescribed 12 to 15 ounces of animal protein per day.  In addition to this I was consuming two protein shakes per day and a breakfast consisting of a 7 egg-white omelette.  The animal based proteins are the biggest problem.  Though some people have reported problems with Gout attacks when taking supplemental Protein Shakes, it is usually admitted that the protein shakes are a part of an already high-protein diet.  In fact, most Protein Shake supplements these days are dairy based Whey Protein and in a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine,

We found a strong inverse relation between consumption of dairy products, especially low-fat dairy products, and the incidence of gout. The ingestion of milk proteins (casein and lactalbumin) has been shown to reduce serum uric acid levels in healthy subjects because of the uricosuric effect of these proteins. Conversely, a significant increase in the uric acid level was induced by a dairy-free diet in a four-week randomized clinical trial. Since dairy products are low in purine content, dairy protein may exert its urate-lowering effect without providing the concomitant purine load contained in other protein sources such as meat and seafood. Although other nutrients in dairy products may be responsible for the inverse association, there is currently no relevant biologic or metabolic evidence available.”

The above referenced study points to the second major flaw in my training diet: the elimination of dairy.  Dairy products like low-fat milk, cheese, cottage cheese typically have sugar and salt levels we were trying to avoid in the diet plan supplied by the nutritionist.  As it turns out, eliminating dairy from my diet may have been the catalyst that enabled the severe problem I developed on this diet.  This from a study published by the New England Journal of Medicine, “…consumption of dairy products, especially low-fat dairy products, is associated with a substantially reduced risk of gout.”

It also seems that the overall goal of attempting to reduce my body fat may have played a factor.  Over the last 18 months, I have lost nearly 60 pounds.  I have been very careful to lose the weight safely and gradually using a combination of exercise and healthy eating.  In an article discussing obesity and Gout from the Mayo Clinic, “…avoid fasting and rapid weight loss because these can promote a gout attack.”  Though I never had fasted and certainly do not consider my weight loss “rapid”, the fact that I was working to lose weight may have played a role in my issue as well.

Aside from Gout, there are many studies that point to high-protein diets as the culprit for chronic pain issues.  There is a condition commonly referred to as Protein Arthritis, which can cause chronic pain and inflammation in the major joints, back and legs.  Pain usually comes on during times of rest and can be mitigated through activity.  From The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery,

“There is a definite relation between high protein intake and chronic joint pain; this is not always indicated by high uric acid content in the blood, although it may be. There is a definite form of arthritis due to or associated with incomplete metabolism, poor elimination, or both. This condition is found in the young as well as in the old; in the lean as well as in the fat; in those of active as well as those of sedentary habits.”

The associated paper, written by Paul B. Magnuson, M.D., describes many case studies where a patient’s chronic pain issues where a direct result of a high-protein diet and could be managed and/or eliminated through diet.

So, what do I do now?  Well, I am going back to what was working before, following a healthy, clean raw-foods diet with a limited amount of animal protein. I will also reintroduce dairy to my diet and continue to limit over-processed foods with high sodium and sugar content. This from the New England Journal of Medicine,

“A diet designed to prevent gout should derive its protein content from egg whites (instead of whole eggs) and milk products, and should eliminate or substantially reduce consumption of meats and seafood.”

“A higher total intake of animal or vegetable protein was not associated with an increased risk of gout. Actually, our results regarding vegetable-protein intake suggest that protein from vegetable sources may have a protective effect, although its magnitude appeared to be smaller than that provided by dairy protein.”

And from the same article,

“Overall, however, our findings provide prospective evidence that meat consumption and seafood consumption are associated with an increased risk of gout, whereas consumption of dairy products, especially low-fat dairy products, is associated with a substantially reduced risk of gout. In contrast, moderate intake of purine-rich vegetables or protein is not associated with an increased risk of gout.”

 

If you have experienced seemingly random joint pain, chronic pain, or any other related issues I would love to hear your story.  

If I can help any single person rid themselves of pain, or find an answer to a chronic problem that is continually misdiagnosed, I will be very happy about having told my story.  Understanding how your body metabolizes proteins and what problems can come from consuming too much protein is important to feeling better and being more active.  Mine was a problem that, multiple times, completely wrecked my health.  Doctors have a difficult time diagnosing these nutrition related issues because the symptoms are so general and misleading.  If you suspect you may have an issue, simply try reducing (or eliminating) your protein consumption for a month and see what happens.  What could it hurt?