Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lunch for One

I watched an episode of Giada the other day where she made this baked "salad" that was a combination of Caprese and Panzanella salads.

A Caprese salad is a classic salad of fresh mozzarella, sliced ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, olive oil and sometimes balsamic (or a balsamic reduction).  Panzanella is typically a grilled vegetable salad of tomatoes and squashes that also includes grilled bread mixed in.  Both are very delicious.  And very Italian :)

The bake Giada made was a large party sized thing in a tray, but I modified it to make a nice 4-5 point lunch for myself.  I used a mini loaf pan and the following ingredients:

two small tomoatoes or four slices of tomato about 1/2" thick
one clove of garlic minced
one ounce of fresh mozzarella sliced (sliced to fit the pan)
one-two tablespoons olive oil
two fresh basil leaves
one piece whole wheat bread
balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

Spray the mini loaf pan with cooking spray, place the four slices of tomatoes in the bottom and pour about a tablespoon of balsamic over then sprinkle with salt and pepper and half the minced garlic. Place the slice of mozzarella on top and add the rest of the garlic and the basil (chopped).  Cut the bread to just fit the top of whatever pan you're using, and place it on top of the cheese.  Drizzle liberally with olive oil, so it gets nice and crusty.

Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes or until the cheese is melty and the bread is toasty.

Carefully remove from the pan and enjoy!  It might be juicy under there, so watch out!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pot, Stock, and a Hell Roaring Time

The final adventure of Nicole's visit included a hike via the Hell Roaring trail to a great vista along a 12,500 ft ridge.  Its called the Hell Roaring trail because in June during peak runoff, the water rages through the area to a deafening tone, its hell roaring.  Of course, it being October, the snow is just starting to fall.  So we didn't have too much raging water, but we did have fresh snow! 

The snow we've had up high over the past week made it an interesting hike with some post holing near the top, but it was all worth it to take in this:

Maybe Jim and I even got our Christmas card photo, haha!

The evening ended with a soak in the Penny Hot Springs; a little known spot that Jim and I hadn't yet discovered, but we're now excited to know that we have free hot springs only 20 minutes away!

In honor of this snowy hike, I thought I'd post a great soup recipe.  We didn't eat this after our hike; we went out and gorged on some awesome BBQ, but I've been wanting to share this recipe, and what better time to do it than on a crisp fall day!

Soni's Potato Soup

Soni is my mom, and she is known for making some excellent soups.  I made this potato soup with potatoes that I dug up out of the garden myself that very morning and an onion from the same origin.  I think it tasted a little bit better just because of that.

5 lbs Yukon Gold Potatoes (unpeeled if they are small or the peel is thin)
1 quart chicken stock plus water as needed
1 onion diced
3 tbs butter
1-1/2 cups milk (I used fat free)
2 tbsp corn starch plus 2 tbsp more milk
1 head garlic (optional)
Salt and Pepper to taste

Take the head of garlic, wrap it in foil and stick in a hot oven.  Let it roast until the cloves are soft and mushy (this is optional).  Cube the potatoes and place them in a pot with the diced onion.  I used a 6 quart soup pot.  Add in the chicken broth and top off with water (if the chicken stock isn't enough) JUST to cover the potatoes.  You want them to barely be covered with the liquid.  Add a few pinches of salt and bring the potatoes to a boil.  Boil for 10-15 minutes or until the potatoes are just fork tender.  You don't want them to be as soft as you would for mashing.

Turn the heat down to a simmer and stop the boil.  Add the milk, butter, and more salt and pepper to taste.  If you are adding the roasted garlic, squeeze the soft cloves out of the head and add them at this time also.  Let simmer for 15 minutes or so, and if it needs to be thicker, add the slurry of corn starch and flour.  Don't over do it with this though.  Continue to simmer for at least another 15 minutes, stirring occassionally.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper as needed. 

At this point, the soup is done but I added one more step.  I took my emmersion blender and ran it through the soup for just a few turns.  It was just enough to thicken the soup by blending up some of the potatoes, but I didn't mash up all the potatoes.  The majority of them were still in their chunky form.

Serve with some grated cheddar cheese and some bacon crumbles if desired.

I made a ton of this soup.  Enough to give Jim lunch and have two full meals left over with four meals in the freezer and a full meal given to the neighbors.  It was a big compliment when Sally, our neighbor, asked how much cream was in the soup.  I consider this a pretty healthy recipe, so her thinking there was so much cream in there meant it didn't taste like it!  Go me!

Picture coming soon!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Hiking Among Snowy Peaks

My friend Nicole is visiting from Boston this week, and so far we've had a fun few days of relxing and adventure.

Friday night was the STYX concert at the Belly Up here in Aspen.  The Belly Up is a small venue with a maximum of about 400 ticket holders, so we got to see an awesome classic band from about 25 feet away!

The encore performance - Renegade!

Yesterday, my friend Jamie joined us and we headed to the Maroon Bells, which is one of the most popular areas for tourists here in Aspen.  With a fresh coating of snow on the peaks surrounding Aspen, the drive up and our hike to Crater lake was nothing short of beautiful. 

The only thing that would have made the views better was a blue sky, but the clouds overhead welcomed us with a few little snow showers, so I'm not complaining.

That's me at the start of the hike at Maroon Lake with the Maroon Bells behind me.  This area has several 14-ers (a peak that has a summit at 14,000 or above), which are extremely difficult to summit.  Most require extreme mountaineering techniques and a lot of equipment like harnesses and ice climbing gear. 

 The Maroon Bells are named for their bell-like shape and their very red color of soil and stone, which is hard to see here with their fresh coating of snow. 

Like I said, they're pretty gnarly to climb, and this past summer the papers had a few reports of fatalities up there.  We took a somewhat short and easy hike to Crater Lake, which is at the base of the Bells.  We even got to enjoy a little snow shower while we were sitting around the lake.

We finished off the day with some pub grub and beers at the Aspen Brewing Company!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Stuffed Mushrooms

I was inspired one day while walking through the produce department of the grocery store when I saw their pre-packaged stuffed portabello mushrooms.  I decided to whip up a delicious and filling version of it myself.  I've done it twice now and have learned a few things, so I'll tell you how I made them and then offer some addtional suggestions.

Its basically one mushroom per person, so here's for two:
- 2 large portabello mushrooms, stems removed
- 2 tbsp italian dressing
- 1/2 cup low fat ricotta cheese
- 2 wedges laughing cow light garlic and herb
- grated parm
- 2 slices canadian bacon
- 2 cups baby spinach
Olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Take the mushrooms and rub them with the italian dressing and set aside.  In a bowl, mix the ricotta, laughing cow, and parmesan cheese together.

In a skillet, heat up olive oil and wilt the spinach.  Dice up the canadian bacon and throw it in the skillet with the spinach to heat through and brown a little.  Take this mixture and mix it with the cheese mix.

Salt and pepper the mushrooms and put them gill side down on a medium-high grill (you could also do this under the broiler).  Grill them for about 3-4 minutes until the gills turn brown.  Flip the mushroom so that the gills are up and fill each with half the mixture.  Make sure the mushrooms aren't over a super high flame and close the grill.  Let the mushrooms cook for aout 4-5 minutes until the mushroom is soft and dark on the bottom and the filling is heated through. 

This goes great with a little cous cous on the side.  Also, I love these just as is but Jim thinks they need a little more texture and something to cut the creaminess of the cheese, so next time I make them, I think I will add some bread crumbs to the mixture before putting it on the mushrooms.  I guess you could also just sprinkle breadcrumbs on top and let them get crunchy...oo that's a good idea!

Really the sky is the limit with what you can stuff these things with.  Give it a shot with your favorite ingredients and let me know how it comes out!

Monday, October 4, 2010

My Backpacking Adventure!

There is a very popular backpacking trail that starts right outside of Aspen, which ascends to the Conundrum Hot Springs.  Its one of the most popular hikes in the state, and people come from all over the country for this trip.  Jim and I are lucky to live right near the start of this trail, and its a wonder neither of us had been up there previously.  That said, it was something really cool to share together :)

We set out on the trail around 10 am on Sunday morning with the shock of pulling into a tiny parking lot jammed with over 40 cars.  We've heard rumors that the springs can get crowded on weekends, but hopeful that starting on Sunday would behoove us, we set out loaded packs mounted.  We planned to possibly stay until Tuesday morning because Jim didn't have to be at work until noon.  As we hiked our way along the 9 mile trail, we started passing a steady stream of people leaving the springs.  Jim and I estimated we saw about 70 people leaving while we were hiking up, so we were pleasantly surpised when we started hearing from the end of the neverending line of people that only a few couples remained in the camps.  I have no idea how anyone would enjoy being one of 70 people up there!! 

Our hike up was fairly flat for the majority and then got steeper at the end.  We went past a beautiful waterfall that I would have loved to get close to.

We got to camp around 5 pm and as promised found out that only four other people were around.  We picked camp site number 13, which came highly recommended by a friend and didn't disappoint. 

It offered privacy and close proximity to the main pool, which he hit promptly after setting up the tent.

Three hours later, we finally drug ourselves out into the freezing cold to retreat to the camp, finish setting up, eat dinner, and hit the sack.   Our original plan for Monday was to possibly hike to the top of Castle Peak and Conundrum Peak which are both 14,000+ in elevation.

After realizing how long it took to get up to the pools, we calculated we'd have to get up around 5am, pack up and leave before the sun was up to get down in time for Jim to go to work, so we decided to come back Monday.  This turned out to be a good idea, because as we were deparing, it started to spit snow.

As we hiked back to the car, the sun came in and out, and we only passed 2 couples hiking in, which meant it would have been anoter quiet evening in the pools.  It looked fairly nasty as we looked back, but then it cleared up beautifully, so I hope they had  a nice evening. 

All in all it was a great trip for Jim and I.  We travel really well together, even though I'm a turtle in comparison (or my analogy of Jim = Energizer Bunny and Angie = Stay Puffed Marshmallow Man), and we really enjoyed this trip.  If you ever have a chance to go to Aspen and take this it!  And make sure you let me know you're in town :)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Baking Fool

Tania and I are having a pizza party at her house tonight to invite some clients and potential acquaintence type potential clients, and we're making homemade pizza in her wood fired brick oven (that she built herself, ha).  The pizza comes out sooo good from that thing.  Anyway, I was put in charge of dessert!

I made three things:

Apple Crisp

Iced Pumpkin Cookies

Low Fat Gluten Free Brownies (Tania is gluten intolerant)

The low fat brownies are actually really good, and they aren't gluten free specific.  The original recipe uses regular flour, but I used gluten free for Tania.

Here's the recipe:

3T butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

or 1T butter
2oz square baker's chocolate

Melt combination of choice above and add:
1 cup sugar
1 egg + 1 egg white
2 tsp vanilla
3T (one small baby food jar) prune puree

Mix Dry Ingredients:
1/2 cup flour (substitute gluten free but add about 2T extra)
2T cocoa
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda

Combine all ingredients and pour into 8x8 baking pan sprayed with cooking spray.  Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.  You can also add walnuts if you'd like.  I calculated the points for these brownies without the nuts, and its 3 points!  They're REALLY good brownies for 3 points.  Taste super fudgey and not fat its a good option if you don't have a box of no pudge :)


The pumpkin cookies were a HUGE hit, so I'll post the recipe for those tomorrow.  Despite the fact that they are in no way waist friendly, they are a nice festive treat to take to a fall party.