Friday Dessert Inspiration

I know it’s late in the day, but I have a suggestion for your weekend:

Ice cream sandwich, Propane Kitchen

Miniature homemade chocolate chip cookies, sandwiched together with Straus vanilla bean ice cream, covered with bittersweet chocolate.

Ice cream sandwich, Propane Kitchen

Just smash a few spoonfuls of ice cream between two of your favorite cookies. Freeze for ten minutes while you melt some chocolate chips. Quickly dip your cookie sandwich in chocolate and pop it back in the freezer.

My oh my aren’t weekends divine?

Ice cream sandwich, Propane KitchenI think I am a Sweet Genius. (Has anyone else seen that show? I am so enthralled/weirded out.)

Imnaha Springs, Oregon

An old Forest Service cabin, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Core in the 1930s, sits near Imnaha Springs in Southern Oregon. It’s a magical place where crystal clear water gushes out of mossy ground to form Imnaha Creek. Now available as a vacation rental, the cabin’s location is idyllic. Lush monkey flowers and miners lettuce line the stream banks, and the sound of gurgling water fills the forest. Lovely as it was, my dad and I didn’t linger. We’d come on a mission – to find King Bolete mushrooms.

Kooky mushroom expert David Arora calls them “the consummate creation, the peerless epitome of earthbound substance, a bald bulbous pillar of thick white flesh – the one aristocrat the peasants can eat!” If you’ve sampled this mushroom, you might find such effusive descriptions are apt for King Boletes, also known as porcini. Firm, meaty, with an earthy aroma, they are absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, little grubs and animals think they’re delicious also; sometimes fresh mushrooms are riddled with bugs. We didn’t find a bounty of boletes, but the one we brought home was absolutely perfect. The real excitement of the day, however, wasn’t of the fungi variety.

king bolete, porcini, oregon mushroom

king bolete, bolete mushroom, boletus edulis

Eyes trained at the ground, searching for mushroom caps, I was more focused on the forest floor than usual. A small spot of softness caught my attention. Can you see it?

fawn, baby deer, bambi,

A tiny fawn, no more than a week old, lay curled in the undergrowth. Young fawns rely on their spotted coat and stillness to hide from predators. Had I been simply hiking, I certainly would’ve walked right by.

fawn, camouflaged fawn, baby deer

I’d never seen any living thing be so utterly motionless. We stared through binoculars, trying to discern whether or not it was breathing. We thought we saw movement in its small body, but it was so hard to tell. We waited for the little thing to blink. To twitch an ear. Nothing.

Finally we moved on, trying to find a few more mushrooms. Thwarted, we circled back to see if the fawn was still there. This time I crept closer, and watched as the fawn took a big breath. I also saw it twitch its nose almost imperceptibly. It’s easy to see how people think fawns are injured or abandoned; I easily could’ve picked up this tiny fawn. But the doe was undoubtedly somewhere nearby. The fawn was simply acting on survival instinct to remain still and wait for its mother to return. It was incredible to be so close to something wild and beautiful.

Our single King Bolete was quickly sautéed with butter and viognier, an elegant addition to simple rice bowls. We kept talking about the fawn, our thoughts on a small, dappled body in a spot of green.

camouflage fawn

Eagle Point, OR

Before I met Patrick, I lived alone for many years. I was accustom to my own company. I filled my spare time with books and baking and strolls to the market and simply putzing around the house. Friends, too, of course, but I relished coming home to my little apartment at the end of a night out or holing up every once in a while. Now I’m out of that habit. For the first time since before we kicked off the trip, I was absolutely alone for more than 24 hours over the weekend. I’m chicken-sitting, and Patrick is visiting his family. It’s been lovely and strange to be surrounded by so much quiet, to not have to collaborate on the day’s plans.

snap peas, gardenin

It’s not lonesome.

I read a huge stack of foodie magazines. I pulled weeds. I took a morning hike. I made dinner out of half an avocado and a handful of fresh garden peas, all sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt. Peaceful.

fresh eggs, organic eggs, beautiful eggs

But, I find I talk to myself. And to the chickens.

Sparkles the Chicken, Speckled Sussex, Chickens.

heritage chickens

Devil’s Tower Steak Sandwiches

We’ve been on a sandwich kick. A gooey, oozy sandwich kick. A piled-high-and-hearty kick. In Philadelphia we tried two different cheese steaks, one at Sonny’s Famous Steaks and another at Dalessandro’s. Then in Chicago we stopped by Portillo’s and, on the advice of a trusted friend, ordered the Italian Beef, with, hot, add mozz, dipped. What we received was perfectly seasoned sliced beef topped with spicy-hot pickled peppers and melted cheese, all nestled in a crusty roll, then dipped – the whole thing dipped – into au jus. It was a succulent seven-napkin meal.

Out on our own, we found ourselves craving these hulking sandwiches. For an impromptu Minneapolis backyard get-together we made them with thick New York steaks from the butcher shop down the street. In our most recent version, we used London Broil. These are not traditional Philly or Chicago ‘wiches, so we named them Devil’s Tower Steak Sandwiches after the view from our window.

Devil's Tower, WY

steak sandwich, philly cheese steak

Devil’s Tower Steak Sandwiches

1 lb London Broil or steak of your choice, seasoned with salt & pepper

4 shallots, sliced

2 C sliced mushrooms

1 Tbs olive oil

1 green pepper, sliced

½ lb provolone or mozzarella

1 baguette or 4 hoagie rolls

Pepperoncini, to taste, if desired

Iceberg lettuce, shredded

1. Cook steak over grill or in a cast iron pan until rare. Thinly slice and set aside.

2. Slowly caramelize shallots over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until they are rich and brown, about 15 minutes. Add mushrooms to the pan and heat until they release their moisture. If they get a little brown, all the better. Add olive oil and peppers and cook until everything is tender. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Remove veggies from pan and set aside.  Meanwhile, heat bread. Cut baguette into 4 equal pieces and split.

3. Add meat to pan and divide into four separate piles.  Place slices of cheese on top of each pile. Add 2-3 Tbs of water to pan and cover, letting the cheese get gooey and melty.

4. Scoop the cheesy steak into each baguette or roll. Top with onion, pepper and mushroom mixture.  Add iceberg lettuce or pepperoncini, if desired. If there are any pan juices, pour them over the top of each sandwich. Devour.

London Broil, steak sandwich

steak sandwich

Penne with Kale, Walnuts, Chicken and Pesto

The houses here are hunched down in gullies or stand weather-beaten in brown fields, all with steeply pitched roofs that speak of long, harsh winters. We drove through our second snowstorm of the week – the spring I gushed about has not made it to New England. Icicles still adorn the roadways. State parks and campgrounds are closed, and finding campsites will be a challenge the next few days as we pass through the Adirondack Mountains. Last night we parked just off Vermont Hwy 125, with a view of the bridge that will take us across the southern end of Lake Champlain into New York State.

White Mountains, NH

Kale and walnuts are a new favorite combination. I recently made an easy side dish of steamed kale quickly sautéed with chopped walnuts, olive oil and garlic. This is another take on that idea. And, yes, adding more nuts and cheese to a pesto dish may sound like too much of a good thing…but it works.

Toasting Walnuts

Penne with Kale, Walnuts, Chicken and Pesto

½ lb dry penne pasta

1 large bunch kale, stemmed, chopped

½ C walnuts, chopped

1 Tbs olive oil

Sprinkle of red pepper flakes

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 C chicken broth

Juice of 1 lemon

2 cloves garlic, chopped

2-3 big spoonfuls prepared pesto, to taste

½ C Parmesan or manchego, shredded

Cook pasta according to package directions. Stir in kale and let cook for the last 5 minutes. (Use more kale than you think you need! A big bunch cooks down to nothing.) Drain.

Meanwhile, heat walnuts, olive oil and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes until fragrant.  Set aside. Add chicken breasts, broth, lemon juice and garlic to pan. Cover and steam until cooked through. Shred chicken.

Toss together pasta, chicken and pesto. Top with walnuts and cheese.

Penne Kale Walnuts Chicken Pesto

Food & Farmers: Polyface Farms

A peek inside my freezer right now will reveal hints of delicious meals to come. Stacked next to my flour and cornmeal are packages of ground beef, cube steak and lots of pork. Last week, Patrick and I visited Polyface farm in the rolling hillsides near Staunton, Virginia, and met our meat.

Polyface Farm, organic pork, Joel Salatin

If you read Omnivore’s Dilemma or saw Food Inc. you’ll remember Joel Salatin’s Polyface farm as one of the most innovative beyond-organic farms in the country. Though the farm sells beef, pork, chicken and eggs, Salatin really considers himself a grass farmer, concerned with the health and biodiversity of his land.

Polyface Farm, Joel Salatin

Cows rotate through small sections of pasture, munching on a “salad bar” of diverse grasses and clovers and leaving behind natural fertilizer in the form of manure. A few days later, chickens roll through in mobile coops. They break apart the manure, gorging on grubs and picking at grasses and seeds. Pigs pitch in aerating the soil and turning straw bedding into fertile compost. The result? Rich, healthy soil and diverse pasture with no chemical inputs, PLUS pasture-fed beef PLUS eggs PLUS pork. That’s a lot of productivity from one piece of land. It’s the exact opposite of mono-crops or feedlots where cows stand around in barren, muddy fields.

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Cabbage and Mushroom Galette

Does the word “cabbage” inspire thoughts of culinary greatness? No? I didn’t think so. This galette will change how you think of cabbage. Tangy, hearty and yet almost silky in texture, a cabbage and mushroom filling gets wrapped in an amazingly flaky pastry crust for a meal that’s much more impressive than the title implies.

cabbage and mushroom galette

This is the second Smitten Kitchen vegetarian recipe I’ve adulterated with bacon. (The first was this soup.) Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against vegetarian recipes, but we had a lot of bacon. The original recipe also called for a chopped hard-boiled egg in the filling, which I skipped because we were out of eggs. Next time, I think I’ll crack an egg onto the center of the galette during the last 5 minutes of baking.

cabbage and mushroom galette

cabbage and mushroom filling

I see myself making this crust often in the future – in addition to savory dinners, I think it will be delicious for a peach or apricot galette. Maybe with some sweetened ricotta, too? I’d already started making this recipe when I realized I didn’t bring a rolling pin with me in the Minnie; luckily my Klean Kanteen water bottle did the trick!

galette crust

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Baking Powder Drop Biscuits

Cooking in an RV leads to shortcuts. The counter is only 12”x12” so there’s not a lot of room to spread out, while a limited water supply means clean up needs to be simple. Drop biscuits are exactly the kind of short cut I like to make. Rolling out dough is  too messy for me these days; drop biscuits are quicker and just as delicious as the more proper rolled-and-cut kind.

Biscuit dough, Bacon Cheddar Biscuits

Tender buttery crisp biscuits are such a comforting food, and perfect in every situation.

Spilled soup? Sop it up with a biscuit.

Leftover ham? Put it on a biscuit.

Tired of cereal? Dollop some jelly on a biscuit & call it breakfast.

I can never decide whether I prefer them hot from the oven with a pat of butter, or cold and slathered with strawberry jam. Today, we had these for breakfast – Bacon Cheddar Biscuits with Scrambled Eggs, Swiss and Arugula. And they were goooood. What are your favorite biscuit toppings?

Bacon Cheddar Biscuit, breakfast, Biscuit Sandwich

Baking Powder Drop Biscuits

2 C flour

1 Tbs baking powder

1 tsp sugar

½ tsp salt

½ C (1 stick) cold butter

1 cup milk

Heat oven to 425°

Sift together flour, baking powder, sugar and salt. Cut in butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add milk and mix with a fork just until moistened. The dough should be sticky – add a few more drops of milk if needed.

Drop heaping tablespoons of dough onto a lightly greased baking sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes or until lightly golden.


Bacon Cheddar Biscuits – Add 1 C grated sharp cheddar cheese, ½ C crumbled bacon and 1 Tsp thyme in with the flour.

Buttermilk Herb Biscuits – Add 1 Tsp thyme, ½ Tsp chives with the flour. Use Buttermilk instead of regular milk.

Walnut Biscuits – Increase sugar to 2 tsp. Add ¾ C chopped walnuts with the flour.

Drop biscuits

Montezuma, Costa Rica, Part II

This is not a blog worthy picture*. It’s blurry and grainy and a bit out of focus. But! Do you see that aqua streak in the water? That wave is glowing.

Let me say that again. The waves. Are glowing. Lit from within by a bloom of noctilucales, a kind of  bioluminescent dinoflagellates, bright as if each wave was threaded with LED lights. (This photo from Wikipedia is a much better example.) Montezuma really pulled out all the stops for us.

Even without the glowing waves, we would’ve been impressed with the food. The most outstanding was Playa de los Artistas, which nearly warrants a trip to Montezuma all on its own. Sitting directly on the beach at a table made from driftwood, we had wahoo tuna sashimi so fresh, so perfectly dressed in a light vinaigrette, so divine I have dreams about it.  Then came seafood lasagna in delicate pasta that somehow managed to be both rich and light and pork tenderloin so tender it didn’t even require a knife to cut. And that was just on our first visit. The menu changes daily to make the most of the day’s catch.

Playa de los Artistas, Montezuma, Costa Rica

At Puggo’s, half an eggplant was baked until it was nearly creamy on the inside, then topped with bubbly parmesan, served with a garlicky tomato salad. Fresh focaccia hot from their brick oven was the perfect accompaniment. We also tried “Cuban Cigars”, savory beef rolled in crispy phyllo dough, paired with lentils and hummus. Soda Naranjo, already mentioned last week, had excellent Tico food, from Casados (literally means things that are “married” on the plate – imagine beans, rice, chicken/fish/pork and salads) to Rice with Seafood and Rice with Chicken.

roasted eggplant, Puggo's, Montezuma, Costa Rica

We stayed at the Mariposario, a bright, modern B&B run by two welcoming brothers from Portland, OR. The breakfasts were the best of our entire trip, with French toast, omelets, or home fries greeting us each morning on the jungle-view veranda. Pineapple, watermelon and papaya, some of which are grown on site, tasted so much juicier than what we get here in the States they almost seemed like entirely different fruits.

The Mariposario’s on-site butterfly garden offers an up-close look at the famed Blue Morpho butterflies along with a dozen other species.  Plus, it’s a quick walk from the B&B to the top of the Montezuma waterfalls.

* There’s one more reason this blurry photo is so special…that beach is where we got engaged! Patrick popped the big question at sunset, and we celebrated with a memorable dinner at Playa de los Artistas. We’ve made a pact that we’ll visit again for our 5th wedding anniversary.

Arroz con Pollo

Aaaaaaand we’re back. Tanned, relaxed and missing the monkeys. Here’s a recipe to whet your appetite; more to come about our full adventure!

white faced monkey, montezuma, costa rica, capuchin

Even though the beaches and tropical forests feel very far away on this cold rainy day, we can still eat as though we’re in Costa Rica. Costa Rican cuisine is simple, with beans and rice at the heart of every meal. One of our favorite dishes was Arroz con Pollo, which we often ordered at the sodas, or causal diners, that are common in every city. This was from Soda Naranjo, one of our favorite eateries in Montezuma. My recipe, below, is inspired by this dish, but isn’t necessarily authentic.

arroz con pollo, costa rica, montezuma, chicken and rice

Arroz con Pollo (Rice with Chicken) 

2 lbs bone-in chicken thighs

3 Tbs vegetable oil

2 C long-grain white rice

1 small onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium red bell pepper, diced

1 small carrot, shredded

1 tsp dried oregano

1 15-oz can chopped tomatoes

3 C chicken broth

1. Add oil to a large, deep frying pan that has a lid. Heat over medium-high. Add chicken pieces and brown on both sides. Remove chicken and set aside.

2. Add rice to pan and cook for a few minutes until lightly browned, stirring regularly. You can add another 1 tsp of oil if it seems too dry. Add onion, cook until translucent. Add garlic, bell pepper and carrots. Cook until softened. Add oregano.

3. Stir in tomatoes (and their juice). Return chicken thighs to pan, placing them skin-side up on top of the rice. Pour in chicken broth.

4. Bring to a simmer, then cover and cook over medium-low until rice and chicken are cooked through. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can either chop the chicken and mix it back in, or serve a chicken thigh on top of each serving of rice.

Suggested side dishes: fried plantains, avocados, cabbage salad and cucumber slices. Or, pile on french fries for a true Costa Rican experience!