Cooking on the Road, Third Edition

Collard Green Black Eyed Pea Soup:

I love collard greens, but don’t usually enjoy the collards you get at BBQ joints that have been cooked all day long.  I know that’s probably a sacrilege thing to say, but it’s just my personal preference…Matt disagrees, but the way.  And our friend Scot has a great recipe he shared a while back, so I know it’s possible to have great collard greens; it’s just rare, in my opinion.  They get acrid and lose the brilliant flavor that you get when you don’t cook them to death.  This recipe gives you a brighter version of collards, plus the option for non-vegetarians to add a little smoky flavor with pancetta or bacon, and some gruyere cheese on top.

Here is another lesson learned from the road: If you are about to head into an area with zero, zip, zilch WiFi, make sure you download, print to PDF, save screen shots or write down any online recipes you get from the web.  It completely slipped my mind to do this before we arrived at our campground near Crater Lake. 😳 Thankfully, I have made this soup enough times that I didn’t have any issues reproducing it from rote memory.  

Regardless, you can get this recipe from EatingWell, one of my favorite magazines and sites that I started learning to cook from in addition to Epicurious and my America’s Test Kitchen “bible” The Best Recipe cookbook.  All of these resources gave me enough creative ideas and baseline knowledge to start experimenting in the kitchen and develop my love of cooking, baking, and anything involving food. 

Collard green and black eyed pea soup

Macadamia Nut Coffee Rugelach:

One of Matt’s impulse buys was a bag of macadamia nuts.  Nuts will spoil if you don’t eat them in a timely manner, so it always makes me anxious when they sit unused because I hate wasting food.  He said he wasn’t as motivated to eat them as when he originally purchased them, so he encouraged me to use them instead.  

I found this recipe for rugelach on the Food Network by one of Matt’s favorite chefs: Emeril Lagasse. Having enjoyed some mouth watering rugelach last winter during the holidays that my friend Shannon had made, I was excited to try making them myself.  We landed in Prospect, OR just outside of Crater Lake National Park, and it was very cold and rainy for the first two days.  This was the perfect rainy day project to heat up the inside of the trailer and make something to enjoy with our morning coffee, a cup of hot cocoa or snack on while hiking.  

My biggest challenge was the fact that the only food processor I brought with me holds just 2 cups, and because it makes such a high pitched sound, I fondly refer to it as “the screamer” and wear ear protection while it’s running.  This thing is no joke!  It’s really, really loud!  After reading the recipe and discovering I needed three separate discs of dough, I divided the recipe into thirds to fit in the food processor, which mostly worked.  The butter pieces were not getting fully blended at first, and I didn’t want to overwork the dough, so with each successive batch I made the butter pieces smaller and each batch did improve.

I had freeze dried coffee on hand, so I got out the mortar and pestle to grind it finer and divided that, the spices and ground macadamia nuts into small bowls to spread on the dough as I rolled it out.  I used a pizza cutter to divide the dough and rolled every other piece to make it easier to roll the final pieces. I didn’t have a basting brush, but I had a brand new powder brush, which worked just as well for putting egg wash on the rolled rugelach before adding more coffee and spice mixture on top.  As suspected, the first batch flattened significantly with “butter bleed” from the dough once I put them in the oven, but they were still tasty.  I went from dividing the rolled discs into 8 pieces, then 10, and finally 12 pieces.  Between the refined dough-making and smaller pieces to roll, the final batch turned out as I had hoped.

The only ingredient I didn’t already have on hand was cream cheese, so that made this an easy lift from the pantry, though it still took me over 4 hours because I had to bake each batch individually, so baking took 2 hours, or 40 minutes for each batch in my little oven.  The finished result was absolutely worth the effort.  If you have a larger oven and food processor, then it won’t take nearly as long, and you should have even better results than I did.

Bison steak with instant pot mashed potatoes and Cacio e Pepe Brussels Sprouts:

After visiting Diamond P Grassroots Bison farm in McCammon, ID, we finally decided to cook up some rib-eye bison steaks. Thankfully, our Harvest Host Jenny included Bison Cooking 101 instructions as a guide, because bison steak is much leaner than beef and you do not want to overcook it or it will get incredibly tough.  Matt was in charge of these, coating them in olive oil, generously seasoning them with salt and pepper, cooking them slow and low on the grill to an internal temperature of 155 degrees Fahrenheit, and then letting them rest.  They turned out nice and tender and flavorful.  Having grown up on venison, I’d say they have a bit more “personality” than beef but not as much as venison, if that gives you a good flavor guide.

One of my favorite recipes from the Half Baked Harvest cookbook by Tieghan Gerard is the “The Best Pressure Cooked Mashed Potatoes.”  I substituted half and half for whole milk, and warmed it up with the butter for easy incorporation into the drained, cooked potatoes so they wouldn’t cool too significantly.  Furthermore, I have a hard time finding mascarpone cheese, which she lists in the recipe, so I usually use sour cream, but I think you could also use cream cheese or neufchâtel for richer mashed potatoes, if desired.  Finally, I love sage, so I doubled the fresh sage from 1 tablespoon to 2 tablespoons, but add it at your discretion, and please be sure to quarter this amount if you are using dried sage.  

The Cacio e Pepe Brussels sprouts are also from the Half Baked Harvest cookbook by Tieghan Gerard on the very next page, in fact!  If you’re buying whole Brussels sprouts, cut them in half first and remove the root of each sprout as they are very tough and not fun to eat.  I couldn’t find whole ones, so I settled on a bag of shredded ones, but still had to sort through them and cut out inedible pieces.  One adjustment I made was omitting the additional salt.  Depending on how finely you grate your parmesan, you are adding quite a bit of salt that’s already in the cheese.  I recommend starting without any additional salt and adding it as needed.  You cannot take it away if you oversalt!  

I also chopped and toasted the hazelnuts and suggest roasting whole hazelnuts in the toaster oven first, letting them steam in the tea towel afterward if you have these tools at your disposal.  Then you can rub off the tough outer skins of the hazelnuts before you chop them for a slightly less bitter result.  Sadly, we did not take our toaster oven with us…I miss it dearly!  So, I settled for chopping and toasting the hazelnuts in a dry fry pan over medium heat instead.  

The combination of the steak, mashed potatoes and Brussels sprouts was a winner, and gave us the comfort food satisfaction we were craving.  If you happen upon a bison steak, this is a good combo for you to try.  Let me know what you think!

Sweet and Sour Beef Cabbage Soup:

Another favorite soup from Eatingwell, this really satisfied us during the latest cold snap that hit the area while traveling down Highway 395.  One modification I make to this recipe was using red cabbage instead of green, because red cabbages are usually much smaller. Sometimes I don’t mind having left over cabbage to use in another dish, but as stated before, we don’t have a lot of refrigerator space, so smaller is better!  I also used a fresh bell pepper and onion instead of frozen, mainly because I always have bell pepper and onion on hand anyway.  I love honey crisp or pink lady apples personally, but I think just about any crisp, tart apple will do.  Finally, I love smoked paprika instead of sweet paprika, and it really deepens the flavor of this soup if you happen to have it on hand.  Bon appetit!  

One-Pot Paprika Chicken with Olives and Orzo:

Matt and I agree that this one-pot meal from  The Weeknight Mediterranean Kitchen by Samantha Ferraro is a keeper! 😋 It compelled me to make all of those sounds you would make if you had just eaten something unbelievably flavorful that really satisfied your tastebuds.  The recipe calls for 2 lb of bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs, so if you choose to substitute boneless, skinless thighs instead, cut the weight down to 1 1/2 lb.  I replaced half of the semolina and durum wheat orzo with chickpea and red lentil orzo from Trader Joe’s, and it worked just as well, so you can easily make this dish gluten-free without compromising texture.  If you make sure to slice the lemon as thinly as possible and remove any seeds, the lemon slices will be fully edible once roasted.  

Finally, it can sometimes be difficult to find places that sell pitted castelvetrano (green) olives, which are milder than the manzanilla olives you see filled with pimentos in the supermarket.  Manzanilla olives are more briny, and could likely work just as well, but I haven’t tried them yet.  I like the brighter green, milder tasting, yet more meaty castelvetrano olives, even though I often end up having to pit them myself.  It has become a ritual with this meal to sit down and watch a show while cutting the meat off the pits.  

Once you brown the chicken thighs, pull them out and set them aside while you introduce your aromatics to the pot.  Then mix in your orzo, add your broth, add a layer of chicken, and finish by sprinkling olives and lemon slices on top.  You put the whole pot in the oven, and it not only cooks the orzo and chicken thighs fully, but also adds depth of flavor into the whole meal.  The lemons give it tang and sweetness once they are roasted, the olives provide a nutty background, and the savory, smoky chicken rounds it out, while the orzo soaks up all of these flavors and provides a nice base that pulls the whole dish together.  If you get the cookbook, this recipe is a relatively quick and easy one to put together without too much fuss, and it will make your mouths and bellies happy.

That’s it for this round of cooking on the road.  These selections took us from Crater Lake in Oregon to Joshua Tree in California. I took more breaks from cooking in between while visiting with friends in California, so it’s likely you’ll see another edition sooner than later with our next stretch until we visit with family lasting about a month.  Until then, happy cooking! 😋

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