Sunday, April 13, 2014

Pie Iron Croque Madame

I didn't really go camping, but I believe that anytime there's a fire and the great outdoors involved, a pie iron is justified.  There's just something about cooking dinner over hot coals and a open flame that's just so very Laura Ingalls Wilder and we never get enough Laura. 

My weekend in the mountains was a fantastic little getaway.  It started off with a bit of a freak gasoline fight accident (Zoolander anyone?).  While filling up the tank during a little Denver spring snowstorm extraordinaire, I heard the gas pump click signaling the tank was full, and then watched the gas come flying out of the tank.  It took me a good bit of time and many gallons of flying gas while I was flinging the pump around (Zoolander, seriously) to figure out how to manually force it to stop.  Needless to say, the drive up was a smelly nightmare but it only got better after that.  

This isn't the cabin I stayed at but every time I drive by I kind of want to stop and go inside. That's the sometimes elusive Longs Peak behind the cloud.

Someone at work asked if I was snowshoeing into a cabin.  Ha, ha.  HA. I knew I wasn't traveling light but even I was a little surprised at my ability to fill up my cargo area.  Yes, I love my Lands End monogrammed canvas totes and storage totes.  Life feels more organized when there's a specific tote for packing and unpacking...just grab the tote you need.  They also make crazy sturdy market bags for those of us who would choose to load up one extra-almost-impossible-to-carry-heavy large bag over making multiple trips from the car to the house with the groceries.  I like the Lands End one a bit more than the LL Bean version because there are pockets galore inside of the LE totes.  

In my defense here, some of this is food, firewood and snow clothes.  Snow clothes, boots and snowshoes take up a lot of room.  

And oh yeah, there might be a pie iron somewhere in here.  I have the sturdy cast iron ones and the lightweight Coleman aluminum ones.  While the cast iron ones feel better and are higher quality, I often grab the Coleman ones.  You need lightweight when you take a 4 day weekend with as much stuff as I packed up. 

The Coleman pie irons are a perfect weight for sandwiches or something that cooks up pretty quickly.  

I probably don't need to really explain how to make these little Croque Madames, but you just butter the bread, lay it buttered side out, top with gruyere (the absolute best cheese in the world), sliced ham, another slice of gruyere and then another slice of buttered bread, butter side out. Close and clamp the pie iron and cut all around to remove overhanging bread. I like to use bigger bread here so there is overhang to crimp together and cut off. 

When the sandwich is all toasty brown and the cheese melted through, you just top it with a fried egg.  Or if you prefer your croques to be monsieur's instead of madames, and you camp with b├ęchamel sauce, well Mazel Tov.  Top that sandwich with some b├ęchamel.

If you've never had a Croque Madame, it's not dissimilar to some Eggs Benedict minus the hollandaise.  And poached egg.  And with the addition of cheese.  So really the same at all, but yummy nonetheless.   While it's not as schmance as a Croque Madame served in Paris cafe by a fantastically chic waiter, it's not so bad served up with a cappuccino and eaten in the clean cool mountain air.

This was one of my favorite spots of the trip.  Why are adirondack chairs on cabin decks so darned comfortable?  It was the perfect spot for a little quiet time in the morning, and to unwind with a book after a day of hiking and snowshoeing.

And with this view?  Seriously, PERFECT. 

This one didn't find it as relaxing as I did, as she was on full lookout for her nemesis.  

They were all around us.  The elk were indeed terrified of my little 20 lb terror. 

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

No Knead Potato Bread and a Life Off-Grid

Anyone who knows me knows I love hyperbole.  The more ridiculous I can make something sound, the more I appreciate it.  Like me saying I'm going off-grid.

Off-grid usually means self-sustaining, hunting types who don't have electricity running to their homes...i.e off the power grid.   That sounds pretty cool, but in my case, off-grid means a long weekend in the mtns in a cabin without wifi or TV but full electricity and amenities. It means a car full of groceries I hunted at the grocery store and firewood that someone that is not me chopped.

It also means trading these:

For these:

If you are wondering which are easier to walk in, the answer is the stilettos.  By far.  Having worn heels for most of my career, I can say that are much easier to walk in then they look. I've even mastered driving a stick shift in them which is not something I can ever say about snowshoes.  While I love the quiet serene places that snowshoes can take you, they are still an enigma to me.  I've done a few tuck and rolls on my way to hitting the ground after getting them crossed while walking standing still.  Looking like an idiot is the small price I pay for a bit of peace and quiet with a spectacular high country view.  Bring on the snowy mountain wonderland!

Bread doesn't fit into the above at all but I'm all about lean efficiency.  One post, two topics.  This second topic is pretty spectacular if you're not on the wheat belly or wheat brain or wheat whatever diet.  

I am not.  I love bread.

And of course, I love no knead bread baked up in the cast iron pan.  This one is yet another variation of the recipe I've posted many times except that the star of this loaf is mashed potatoes.  Bread and mashed potatoes--happy post indeed. 

The core no knead recipe calls for a wet dough and letting it sit overnight.  This one looks a bit wetter than the other doughs, but that's what makes it so perfectly moist on the inside while still maintaing that thick, chewy artisan crust.

I still can't believe that 5 minutes of measuring and stirring results in a loaf like this. 

The potato really just adds moistness so you could even serve this up with jam.  The inside texture and crumb was so fantastic that this version definitely climbs up the ladder of favorites in the no knead category.

No Knead Sourdough Bread

1.5 cup ultra mashed potatoes (no lumps)
3 1/4 cups flour
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 cup water
2.5 tsps yeast

  1. Spoon mashed potatoes into a bowl with flour, salt, yeast and water. Mix with wooden spoon until combined. 
  2. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 12-16 hours or overnight.
  3. Heat oven to 450 degrees. When the oven has reached 450 degrees place a cast iron pot with a lid in the oven and heat the pot for 25 minutes. 
  4. While the oven and pan is preheating, dump dough onto a heavily floured surface and shape into a ball.  The dough will be sticky--keep flouring your hands and rolling dough in flour while forming ball.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rest until pan is ready.
  5. Remove hot pan from the oven and carefully drop dough into ungreased pan. 
  6. Cover and return to oven for 30 minutes. 
  7. After 30 minutes remove the lid and bake an additional 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. 
  8. Remove bread from oven and place on a cooling rack.  Let cool before slicing
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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Zusketti with Fresh Mozzarella and Meatballs

During my purge, the questions of utility, need and worthiness needed to be asked of each item.  There are quite a few items that have not made the cut but my spiralizer definitely has. I'm not sure why I've never posted anything about it thus far.  It's a slicer that turns regular ole veggies into super duper noodles.  That's kind of a kitchen essential yes?

There was a period last fall where I was obsessed with spiraling veggies.  Zucchini makes the closest thing to noodles but carrots and beets are also pretty fun.  

What kid or grown up wouldn't eat something that comes out spirally and fun like this?  

I found the that the technique on  Against All Grain's site worked best to remove the moisture. I leave the peel on these days, but if you peel the zucchini and use the oven drying method, the zucchini look a lot more like regular 'ole noodles.  

This is what the "pasta" looks like if you don't oven dry first.  Still tasty and if you don't care and are willing to just drain off the excess moisture, you can skip the drying step.  Either way, it tastes pretty fantastic...if you are a veggie lover.  Let's not kids ourselves here though that you'll think you're eating pasta.  You'll know you're eating a veggie, but a pretty yummy one at that. 

Zusketti with Fresh Mozzarella and  Meatballs


1 1/3 lbs ground chicken
2/3 cup breadcrumbs
2 minced garlic cloves
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp dried basil
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 egg lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
6 oz fresh mozzarella
2 lb zucchini, spiralized, 
1 tsp salt
5 cups of a favorite tomato sauce
fresh basil leaves for topping


  1.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl combine ground chicken, bread crumbs, garlic, garlic powder, basil, Parmesan, egg, salt, and pepper.
  3. Combine gently with a fork.
  4. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.
  5. With a cookie scoop, drop 1 to 1 1/4-inch meatballs onto sheet pan. You should have about 40 meatballs.
  6. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned.
  7. Prepare(or warm up) tomato sauce
  8. Remove meatballs and reduce oven to 200 degrees
  9. Add meatballs to tomato sauce and cook on low heat while zucchini cooks.  
  10. Spread zucchini noodles over baking sheet and sprinkle with salt.  Cook for about 30 minutes or until moisture is released. 
  11. Dice fresh mozzarella and set aside
  12. When noodles are cooked, place on clean cloth and wring to remove additional moisture.  
  13. Serve zucchini topped with meatballs, sauce, fresh mozzarella and basil.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

ONA Chelsea Bag

I have a handbag weakness.  I know this.  Even in my New Year's purge and move to more minimalism, I still love my handbags.  I've purged a crazy amount of things in the new year including clothing and shoes, but my sweet bags sit on their protected shelf in the closet.  

And this beauty?  Well she serves double duty as a camera bag.  Get out of here right?  I still get e-mails about bags in my original camera bag post, and yes, I still love my Flipside.  It's just the right size to carry all the lenses and accessories I want when I travel and it fits perfectly  under the seat in front of you when flying.  It's also the only choice for hiking.  But sometimes a girl just wants a classic bag to match her riding boots...of course.  

The first time I saw an ONA camera bag it was obsession at first site.  Unfortunately for me, I saw their Venice bag just as it was being discontinued and I couldn't find it in a color I wanted.  This bag is evidence that good things come to those who wait.  

Look at the leather grain and hatch pattern on this girl.  What especially drew me to ONA was that their bags actually are real, quality, yummy, scrummy leather.  While there are tons of ultra cute camera bags out there now, I've seen very few that are real leather.  Yes, the faux stuff is lighter and probably more waterproof, but the leather is yummier for sure.  While I generally tend to be drawn to camera bags with pockets on the outside, I love the clean classic lines of this bag.  The back of the bag has one zipper pocket for holding your cell phone and some lip gloss. 

The Chelsea bag is a pretty good size for traipsing about town with your you can see I can fit quite a bit in mine: One body, one extra lens, remote, extra battery and CF cards, hand cream, wet wipes, snacks/mints, compact, lip goodies, wallet, sunnies and of course my phone and my little Kindle.

Yes, I do still love my Black Rapid too.  I use the full strap when I'm out of the house and use this little wrist strap in the house just for peace of mind...Black Rapid's carabiners makes switching them out easy peasy.

It fits perfectly and the padding in this is ridiculously thick and protective.  The cross dividers have velcro like most camera bags so you can customize the slots for all of your lenses or your wallet. 

Of course, the question all camera bags must answer for Canon girls is whether the bag holds the 70-200.  I threw in the iPad as well because that's probably the next question. 

The Chelsea bag will hold both of these--there's a divided section made for a tablet.  Mine gets a little thick here because I have a quick release plate mounted to the bottom of my camera and I have a bigger case on my iPad.  If you have a thin iPad case and  no quick plate, this bag zips right up.  The one thing this bag won't do is make carrying your iPad and the 70-200 light as a feather.  I don't often carry either of these two things around which is a good thing because loaded up with these items makes this bag crazy heavy even if you attach the long shoulder strap that's also provided.  The little bitty straps kind of scare me with that much weight.  

I know I fall in love with a lot of  bags but this one's stayed front and center since I bought it last summer.  The Chelsea just screams quality craftsmanship.  My only buyer's remorse have been moments when I wondered if I should have purchased the black Chelsea instead.  Or the Brooklyn---love the Brooklyn bag too.    I can't even look at ONA's site anymore because of the temptation.  

Speaking of Brooklyn, I took a little one out to enjoy the new super powdery snow a couple of weekends ago.  Puppies playing in snow pictures never get old. :)

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Homemade Egg Noodles for Chicken Soup

What did I say about the weather in my very last post?  We went from spring to Alaska force winds and snow was snowing sideways for a good portion of the day.   Sideways snow and chicken noodle soup is just a great partnership. 

Even better are homemade noodles.  I love, love, love how fat and chewy they are.  Yes, fat and chewy.

I won't start with a chicken soup recipe here...mine is essentially boxed broth (yes indeed), carrots, celery and chicken cooked through.  I have no issues using boxed broth...obviously.  Homemade is way better of course. 

The noodles are where the magic starts.  

You can roll them much thinner than these obviously and they'll still puff up quite a bit.  This thickness made some pretty thick noodles.   If you like them more noodle-like and less dumpling-like, definitely roll them thinner than these. 

What is is about chickie noodle soup that is so wonderful?  It just is right?!

Homemade Egg Noodles for Chicken Soup
makes heck of a lot of noodles

4 eggs
1 cup water
1 tsp. Baking powder
1 tsp. Salt
½ tsp pepper
about 3 ½ cups flour

  1. In a large bowl, beat eggs and water
  2. Add dry ingredients and mix well.  Pour out onto floured surface and knead well for 5 minutes.  
  3. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes
  4. Flour surface and roll out dough to desired thickness
  5. Toss noodles with fingers to separate. 
  6. Add to hot soup broth and cook for 8-10 minutes depending upon thickness
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Sunday, March 16, 2014

Parmesan Kale Salad

The longer I've been away from the blog, the harder it is to get back on here.  Same excuse as's been crazy busy around these parts.

Denver has had its typical pre-spring weather....snow, 70 degrees, snow, sunshine, melted snow, 70 degrees.  I have to admit that I'm actually a fan of changing weather....the variety of the 4 seasons is precisely what I missed so much when I lived in Vegas for a year.

The sneak previews of spring warmth just call out for a nice big salad for dinner.  I never thought it would be a Kale salad in my house though.

For someone who adores produce so much, it hurts a little to admit I don't like Kale.  I've tried it in salads, in my smoothies and always, yuck, yuck, yuck.  I think it reminds me of all the times I had to break down the salad bar when I worked at a restaurant in high school.  We'd save the decorative Kale full of slop to decorate the salad bar the next day.  Yum.

My friend invited me to meet her for lunch at True Food Kitchen in Cherry Creek a few weekends ago.  Other friends had told me that True Food could turn me into a Kale lover...I was so not convinced. Aside from the little fact that parking in Cherry Creek is about as fun as a trip to the dentist,  I'd have to say that I loved True Food and their healthy whole foods menu.  The carrot ginger lemonade was pretty awesome too.

And as it turns out, my friends were right.  I will eat kale now if I dress it exactly like True Food's Tuscan Kale salad.  Apparently, kale salad needs to be massaged to soften it up.  Who knew?

I have visions of high school here. 

The dressing is a pretty basic lemon garlic vinaigrette.  Simple and yummy.  I get so excited when food is simple and pure. 

The secret here is to toss.  Assertively and aggressively.  I used the tongs to squeeze and mash as much as possible.  Kale is pretty tough stuff.  

After about 1/2 hour, the dressing breaks down the kale to a tender lemony garlic delight.  It still tastes like kale, but good kale.   

The best part of this salad is that it refrigerates well which makes a perfect weekday office lunch.  What other green salad can you dress and pack away in the fridge only to find it the next day exactly as you left it?  I'm a bit of a convert. 

Parmesan Kale Salad
adapted from Whole Living

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 bunch kale, ribs removed and leaves sliced into 1/4-inch shreds
1 tbsp homemade garlic croutons, crushed
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

  1. Add lemon juice, oil, garlic, salt, and pepper flakes. 
  2. Add kale to a large bowl, top with dressing and toss well to coat.   Let sit at room temperature for 10 to 30 minutes tossing periodically.  
  3. Add grated cheese and breadcrumbs and toss before serving.
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