Category Archives: Recipes

High Altitude Adjustments

Living at a high altitude, roughly 5,000 feet has given us a brand new excuse.  When something doesn’t turn out right we say “Oh, it must be the altitude.”  We even use this excuse for things far outside the kitchen, toddler won’t sleep, the tomatoes got blossom end rot, grasshopper infestations, you name it.  It’s quite handy.

Our favorite place to use the excuse is in the kitchen.  Here are some of my disasters.  Once I made muffins that sank so low in the middle I had to turn them into cupcakes and frost them to hide the sink holes.  Several times I have made brown rice in the rice cooker and it has turned out crunchy, probably because I didn’t let it sit long enough but still it fell into the altitude category.  Several of our home canned goods have lost their seal and we are fairly certain this is due to a combination of the high altitude (they weren’t processed here) and the heat where they were being stored.  So now when we are canning and something doesn’t seal we blame it on the altitude.  A cake mix from a box was sunken in the middle and doughy.  How can I screw up a cake mix from a box?  That was a first.

We have learned some mighty helpful tips from the Cook’s Illustrated baking handbook.  I always thought that bread would be affected the most but this isn’t true.  It’s actually baked goods that have sugar and leavening agents.  This include cookies, quick breads and cakes.  Their book provides remedies for these problems but it’s still tricky.  When I ask locals how they change recipes they look at me like I am crazy.  How can I be the only one with this baking problem?  Well, I am not.  After some prying I have learned that many natives, have been natives for quite some time which means that all their family recipes are tailored for this altitude.  They don’t need to make any adjustments.

Another area where we have been affected by the altitude is in canning.  We have to add 10 minutes to all processing times.  This is kind of a bummer because that often doubles the processing time of most things.  There is no affect on the product but it does make the process that much longer and hotter.  Which is why we have become fans of drying.  And as Robert has mentioned we are planning on building a New Mexico style dryer.  The weather is perfect for drying here.  My clothes dry on the line in roughly the same amount of time as they would in the dryer.

When my sister was visiting from California she mentioned that her morning jog was a bit more challenging than it is at home.  Once I am able to work out again, I look forward to using this excuse.  The sun is also more intense here because we are up so high.  Think of the intense sun at the top of a mountain when you are skiing.  It’s bright and hot, while in the shade it’s cool and comfortable.

We are really enjoying living at a high elevation,  especially the new excuse we’ve gained.

Thanks,  Courtney

Potato Pancakes

Here’s a great recipe for your leftover mashed potatoes.  I’ve always loved potato pancakes.

Get your cast iron skillet nice and hot over medium heat and melt some butter in it.  You could also use olive oil.  Using your hands, shape the pancakes out of your potato leftovers.  I make them about 3/4 inch thick and 4 inches in diameter.   Slap those babies in the skillet.  Resist the urge to flip them because you’ll mess up their shape.  Wait until you can see a light brown edge beginning to form around the bottom edge.  This way, when you flip them there will be the beginnings of a crust forming that will help them hold their shape.  Once the second side is done it is time to eat.

Thanks, Robert.

How I Cook Bacon

I learned how to make bacon only a few years ago.  I had been cooking bacon for a long time, but never doing it well until I learned how to do it in the oven.

Get out a rimmed baking sheet and line with foil.  Then place a rack on the foil.  Lay out the bacon flat and don’t let them overlap.  I even try to keep each piece from touching, but sometimes I just run out of space so that rule is the first to go.

Then the tray goes into a 300* oven.  Depending on the amount of bacon you are cooking this could take up to an hour and a half, so plan accordingly.  I usually start this at 6:00am while the rest of the house is still sleeping.

To me, the temperature is important.  I like cooking things low and slow.  I feel the end product is better.  It also affords you some flexibility.  An extra five minutes won’t kill you using this method and will allow you more time to read another blog post at His and Hers Homesteading, for example.

Courtney disagrees with all this.  She would rather turn the temperature up and have her bacon sooner.  My warnings of becoming part of our instant gratification society fall on deaf ears when the smell of bacon is in the air.  I admit that there is not much difference in the final product at 350*.  You’ll have to watch things much more closely, however.  That bacon will sizzle and crisp up very quickly at the higher temperature.  This is about the only thing that we can never seem to agree on, and we’re both dug in and holding the line.

I read recently about saving bacon grease and I’ve started my own collection.  It is great for cooking and for seasoning your cast iron cookware.  I collect the grease while it is still hot and runny in a glass bowl and put into the fridge once it cools a little.

What bacon is the best?  Our all time favorite is Trader Joes Applewood Smoked bacon.  A close second is the Niman Ranch bacon.  Both taste great.  Since relocating we are having to try new bacon brands and have yet to find one we love.  Most of them are OK, but none compare to our favorites.

Thanks,  Robert.

Thomas the Train Birthday Cake

My son’s second birthday was last week and we had a small celebration with family.  This was to keep my blood pressure from soaring and to prevent an overstimulated 2 year old meltdown.  Even though it was a simple affair mainly consisting of a cake it was so special.  But this was no ordinary cake, no, no nothing is ordinary when my sister, my mom and I are involved.  This was a Thomas the train cake.  And not just any old sheet cake decorated with Thomas, this was a 3-D Train cake!

For as long as I can remember we have decorated cookies at Christmas with zealousness, elevating it really to an art form.  My mom always had some new Martha Stewart technique to try out or new shape to test out.  We proudly displayed our cookies and watched with horror as hungry guests at our yearly brunch would eat the head off of a charming Santa or munch on the perfectly decorated Christmas tree.  how could they eat such beautiful cookies was beyond us.  Yes, we did set them out but really we wanted them to be admired, not eaten.  Well it seems nothing has really changed.  We made a beautiful cake but this time we didn’t eat it.  That’s right, we made cupcakes instead and just admired the amazing train.  In fact he is still standing and on display.

Now, I say we but really I mean my sister transformed the chocolate train, into the distinctive Thomas the train.  I baked the cake, my mom designed and made the base with the tracks and my sister did the icing.  She sat diligently studying the Thomas examples and trying to replicate it on the cake.  The cake pan was just a generic train cake and she made adjustments here and there to turn him into Thomas.

Here she is, isn’t she precious.

Here are some shots of the process.







Here are what we used to create this cake:

Wilton Choo Choo Train cake pan (not official Thomas)

2 cake box mixes (extra made cupcakes)

2 store bought frosting, one chocolate, cream cheese

Wilton gel icing colors (royal blue, no taste red, golden yellow)

Red rope licorice

Black licorice (cut in half lengthwise)

Coconut (tinted green)

Powdered sugar icing (tinted sand color to attach coconut to surface)

Pretzel rods (broken in half)

Picture of Thomas’ face from the internet

FYIs:  The cake slipped out of the pan remarkably well and I forgot to dust the Criso with flour.  The cake overflowed massively so a collection tray was a must.  The recipe suggested pound cake but we used dark chocolate cake instead.  We live at a high altitude where things seem to love to expand so I am not sure if this is why it overflowed so much.  There was no harm done though.

Thanks, Courtney

Wondering what to do with kale from your CSA: Kale Chips

“They taste just like potato chips” I told my friend on the phone.  Being a pretty strict carnivore herself she said “Really” with much skepticism in her voice.  “Okay, not exactly like potato chips but you get the idea” I told her.

I don’t think I was able to convince her that they were delicious over the phone.  But if she were here I would make her try them and I think she would like them.  Or at least she would pretend.  Either way, we loved them.  They are salty and crunchy and light.  You can keep eating and eating them, just like potato chips.

They were very easy to make too.  I followed the recipe here.  Next time I would use less salt.  I was a little liberal and they were a little too salty.

Now you have no excuses when you say you don’t know what to do with the kale you got this week from your CSA.

Enjoy, Courtney

Butternut Squash and Spinach Risotto

We love risotto in this house.  Usually we eat it plain but it is a blank canvas that can be used to create so many different flavor combinations.  Since our CSA has started our menu reflects what’s been in our share for the week.  Lately we have had lots of greens so in went the spinach.  I had also roasted some butternut squash on a cool morning and tossed that in as well.  It was delicious.

Other flavors we add are sun dried tomatoes, artichokes, mushrooms, any vegetable puree, the ideas are limitless.

Basic Risotto

1 cup rice (yes, arborio is the best but you can use regular white rice too)

3 T butter or olive oil

1 onion diced finely

4 or 5 cloves of garlic (you can use less if you aren’t trying to ward of vampires)

3 cans chicken broth

2 T butter

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Melt the butter (or olive oil) in a large saute pan.  Add onions and saute until translucent and just barely beginning to brown.

Add rice and then garlic.  Stir to incorporate.  I hate burnt garlic so I am always careful to add it at the very last moment.  If you want to toast your rice, do so and then add the garlic or it will get burnt while the rice is toasting.  Add 1 can chicken broth, stir and bring to a simmer. 

Do not cover.  Continue simmering and add more broth when the first addition has evaporated down.  Don’t let it evaporate completely because then it will burn but the idea is to keep adding liquids slowly while it is cooking.  I always use a different amount of chicken broth because my heat levels seem to always be different.  If you run out of chicken broth use water.  Keep adding broth until the rice is no longer crunchy but cooked through and al dente.  You don’t want it mushy and you don’t want it to be crunchy either.

If you want to add any other vegetables, now is the time.  It is best if they are already cooked.  Although the spinach was fresh and it just melted into the hot rice as I stirred.

Turn off the heat and stir in butter and Parmesan cheese.  Serve as a main course or as a side.

Enjoy,  Courtney

Roasted Candied Pecans to Satisfy my Pecan Pie Craving

I realize that it is only the beginning of summer but I am ready for pecan pie.  I thought about making a pie but I am trying to be a good girl and not overdo it on the desserts.  So today I made some roasted candied pecans and they really satisfied my craving.  This recipe worked great.   I sprinkled them with a little more salt once they were in the pan because I love that salty sweet contrast.

It only took 1 hour and the oven only needed to be 225°F so it didn’t heat up the kitchen too much.  I made a double batch too.  And the best part is that they are delicious.  I plan on using them in salads and as a snack.  Tonight I want to make a peach, gorgonzola, and candied pecan salad.

Thanks, Courtney

Homemade Pasta Noodles

While sifting through cookbooks I came across one I haven’t opened in a very long time.  It’s a pasta recipe book that I bought in Italy many years ago.  I started flipping through and was amazed at the authentic and unusual recipes inside.  This was not your usual red sauce this and marinara that.  It also included recipes for homemade pasta.  Mmmm Robert and I made homemade pasta once before and it was really good but once we put the pasta maker away we never pulled it back out.

I was able to locate semolina flour also known as durum flour.  The recipe in the book was in the metric system and I didn’t feel like getting out a calculator so I made a combination of the book recipe and the recipe on the back of the Bob’s Red Mill semolina bag.

Make a well in the center of the bowl and mix the eggs up first.

Slowly incorporate the flour mixture.  Knead for 10 minutes on a well floured board.  Keep adding flour as needed so it doesn’t stick.  Let dough rest for 30 minutes.

To use the pasta maker start on the widest setting and run the pasta through once and then notch it down to the next lowest level.  We stopped at the fourth level and the pasta was a nice thickness.   Use a ball of dough about the size of a golf ball and increase the size as you see fit.  Use flour to keep things running smoothly and to keep the noodles from sticking to each other.  We found that using the pasta maker takes 3 hands.  One to guide the pasta, one to catch it as it comes out and one to crank the arm (if you don’t have it bolted to the table you need one more hand to hold it down).

After it is on the correct thickness run it through the cutting rollers.  We made fettuccine yesterday.  Then hang it until you are ready to cook it.  After it air drys a little it should be stored in the fridge to keep it fresh.

Boil in lots of water that is well salted.  I use about a tablespoon, you want it to taste like the ocean.  A pinch is not enough.  Don’t use oil in the water this is not how the Italians cook their pasta.  Don’t rinse it either.  Mine cooked up in about 5 minutes, probably less but I wanted to make sure it was done.

Toss with the sauce in the pan and serve with parmesan cheese.  The sauce I made contained beans, tomato sauce, bacon, carrots, celery and onions.  It was amazing and everything was from scratch even the beans and the tomatoes were from last summer’s canning extravaganza.

What I would do differently:  The semolina flour has a rough texture and is nice and chewy but I think I will try to find superfine flour and use a mixture next time to get a more delicate pasta.  Now I just have to order the Italian Style Flour which I have used before and it’s amazingly fine and silky.  Or I need to decide if I want to try King Arthur’s Perfect Pasta blend.  Decisions, decisions.

Also the pasta stretched out while hanging and kept falling off my clothes hanger drying rack.  I had to lay it down.  I am not sure why it was so doing this but maybe next time with a blend of flour this won’t happen.  I ended up laying it down so it would stop breaking.

Next time I will use more flour on the dough before they are cut so they don’t stick together.   We had some clumps and they turned into a big thick mass of noodles.  Not good.

My recipe clearly needs work but it was a fun experiment and tasted great.

Thanks,  Courtney

Vermont Pancake: A Cast Iron Skillet Recipe

We love cast iron and we are always on the lookout for new recipes that use our beloved pan.  My aunt offered this recipe.  It’s my great grandmother’s recipe.  She was not from Vermont so I don’t know where she got this recipe but it doesn’t matter because it is delicious and pretty cool looking too.

Not sure exactly how it’s supposed to look but ours came out puffed and then sank once it cooled.  The texture was perfect, crispy yet soft on the inside.  You can add whatever topping you like.  We added a rhubarb compote but my aunt suggested fresh blueberries.  You can be creative here.

I made this for Father’s Day as part of a full course breakfast and the three of us ate the whole thing.  So be prepared to make two or three or have plenty of other breakfast items ready.

Vermont Pancake

2 eggs

1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup milk

Dash of salt

2 T butter

Preheat oven to 425°F.  Whisk eggs, flour and milk until well blended.  Melt butter in cast iron skillet (ours is 9 inches).  Pour batter into hot pan and bake for 15 minutes.

Open oven and quickly add 1/2 cup to 1 cup fresh fruit, compote, jam even chocolate chips.  This step should be done quickly so that the pancake doesn’t fall too much.  Bake another 5 minutes.  To serve cup in wedges and dust with powdered sugar, honey or even whipped cream.

Rhubarb Compote

2 stalks rhubarb, roughly chopped

1/2 cup sugar

Combine ingredients in a small sauce pan and cook over medium low heat until they are softened.

Rhubarb dissolves easily so it resembles a jam when it’s done.  Feel free to add more or less sugar, according to your taste.  Just remember rhubarb is really sour.  You could also add strawberries for natural sweetness and cut down on the sugar.

Another cast iron skillet recipe that I tried today was banana fritters from Mad Hungry.  I was watching the show this morning and cooked them up while she was talking.  They were fast and delicious.

Do you have any favorite cast iron skillet recipes you’d like to share?

Enjoy,  Courtney

Homemade Muesli Recipe

This is our new favorite cereal.  I was inspired by the Mueslix cereal.  After spending $4.99 on a rather small box of cereal which tasted good but all the flakes had been smashed to pieces, I thought I can do this myself.  And cheaper.  It’s super fast to throw together and really much more healthy and fresh than the storebought version.  Plus it’s a great way to get a diverse assortment of whole grains.  This recipe includes kamut, amaranth, flax, quinoa, corn, rice and oats.  That’s pretty good for breakfast.  Check out your local health food store and you should be able to get all these ingredients at a good price and probably organic too.  I doubled the following recipe and it fit into the Cambro container you see in the pictures.  We ate all the cereal in one week.  Mainly Robert who seems to be able to consume more cereal than any one person I know.  He loves this stuff and says it holds him over until lunch time without having to munch on snacks.  And that’s coming from the guy who doesn’t even like cereal or milk.  Oh by the way this isn’t the hot cereal version, this is to be eaten cold with milk.

Courtney’s Muesli

2 cups organic oats (just the regular old rolled oats, not quick oats)

2 cups corn flakes ( Nature’s Path Organic Mesa Sunrise is made up of flax, corn, quinoa and amaranth – way better than plain corn flakes)

1 cup puffed Kamut (or any other interesting puffed grain you can find at your health food store)

1/2 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened, wide shavings)

1 cup puffed rice cereal

1/2 cup granola (any kind you like but not Kashi chocolate coconut granola, that stuff is to die for and hard to find and thus should be cherished)

1/4 cup almonds, finely chopped

1/2 cup raisins

5 dates, finely chopped (Organic Medjools are amazing)

1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

Add all the ingredients in a container with a lid and shake to evenly mix.  When chopping the dates, they can be very sticky and clump together easily.  I found that after I cut and separated them, I rolled them around in the almond dust/debris left behind on my cutting board from cutting the almonds it helped them to not stick back together in the container.  Remember you can adjust the amounts of any of the ingredients.  If you don’t like raisins use cranberries.  But I must say the combination of the coconut and dates is the best part of the cereal.  The granola adds more sweetness to the cereal so if you need it a little more sweet just add more.

Enjoy,  Courtney