My Year of Adventurous Eating

Crittering! May 17, 2012

Filed under: Random Thoughts (or sometimes maybe not so random) — PhobicFoodie @ 10:42 pm

This month I was given an unsolicited Wednesday through Tuesday stretch of one week off from work.

Hubby, upon hearing the good news, immediately put in for the same week off, and so last week we found ourselves blessedly on vacation with big plans to go big places and do big things.
My Handsome Hubby has a truly unique and challenging project for his photography website and blog (, which involves photographing as many Colorado mammals as possible (excluding a few very rare species, and several rodents which have proved too numerous, too fast, and too potentially disease-ridden for an individual with a full time job to try to pursue). While some headway has already been made, there are countless critters left to find, photograph, and post.  You can read all about it here!
As the doting wife I have found myself alternately in the positions of cheerleader, photo critic, support staff, adoring audience, Critter Challenge companion, and (occasionally) the-impossible-to-drag-out-of-bed hinderance to the whole thing. Here’s where our week off comes in. An entire week of crittering!

(Crittering, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is going places with the specific intent of finding and photographing critters.)

Porcupines are very high on our list of critters to photograph, so we planned to start our week off by driving out to Steamboat Springs, where (they say) porcupines roam in abundance, noshing the trees, recklessly leaping in front of cars, copiously quilling unsuspecting canines, and generally making their presence known in every conceivable way there is for a large rodent to do so. Wednesday morning we woke certain that we’d return home with an endearing, well composed, perfectly lit photograph of a porcupine. Preferably one doing something adorable, like eating a flower.

We got our usual crack ‘o noon start and had made it about 30 minutes past Silverthorne by late afternoon when Clementine (my trusty Subaru) decided it was time to switch on the check engine light.
Few things are less appealing than being stranded by the side of a mountain highway with a smoking engine and no cell phone reception, so after a brief moment’s debate we turned back to Silverthorne to have it looked at.

It’s nothing serious (Clementine lives on) but we felt unwilling to venture any deeper into the mountains, thereby tempting fate and putting ourselves at risk of some late-evening, mountain road hitchhiking, so back to Boulder it was.  By the time we got home it was dinner time and hardly worth transferring all our gear to the other car and heading out again, so we brought everything upstairs and had dinner instead while we revised our crittering plans.

By the way, I can only imagine how all of this looked to our neighbor, who had watched us pack a week’s worth of camping gear and supplies and take off, only to see us return four hours later, unpack a week’s worth of camping gear, and settle in for dinner and a little television. Clearly we must be extremely heavy packers to need so much gear for an afternoon excursion!

Thursday we woke determined to see some critters, porcupine or not. A fact which may or may not be commonly known is this: Most bison in this area have been cross-bred with cattle to help boost their previously declining numbers. The purest strain of bison in Colorado live at The Rocky Mountain Arsenal where they can happily roam the 15,000 rolling acres of prairie pretty much at will. Hubby and I spent the day traversing some of the mild trails, which cross many acres of grassland and wrap around several patches of wetland. We saw the herd of bison (at a distance, through a few fences, after risking life and limb crossing a very busy highway!) but couldn’t get a very satisfying photo through all that fencing. However, it was still a successful day for crittering. There were multitudes of prairie dogs barking at us from their holes, the babies lined up like meerkats along the ridges of the mounds that mark the entrances to their burrows. A lone coyote trotted along one of the fences in the distance. Several white tailed deer waited out the heat of the day in the shade of flowering shrubs. Bunnies (mostly cottontails) eyed us nervously from the low grasses, and in one of the ponds, right there in broad daylight, a raccoon was fishing for frogs. Not to mention the birds! Herons, hawks, mallard ducks, Canada geese, and even a snow-white pelican all made appearances. In all a rewarding day with some fun photos to show for it!

(Baby Prairie Dogs at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal.  Photo by James Beissel)

Friday morning Hubby woke me up at stupid o’clock of the early to head down to Colorado Springs to continue the porcupine hunt. Fountain, a small town at the south end of the Springs, is home to a nature preserve which hosts a wide variety of wildlife. On a previous visit we noticed what looked to be porcupine gnawings on many of the trees. Now that we finally had time to go down and really check it out again we wanted to get a full day in! We arrived in Fountain early (and cranky, and sleep deprived, and hungry for breakfast…well, I was anyways…) and found the day to be cold, windy, cloudy and altogether unappealing.


We hiked along one of the trails and saw many trees that had been munched by a porcupine whom we now presume must have been just passing through. Upon closer inspection, however, none of the gnawings looked fresh at all! Besides a short glimpse of the tail feathers of a Great Horned Owl, most of the wildlife seemed to be doing the smart thing…which is to say sleeping in! Between the wind, the cold and a suddenly urgent need for coffee, we called it a day at noon and headed into Colorado Springs for lunch.

After lunch we spent some time driving around, touching down briefly in Garden of the Gods and Bear Creek Park, not seeing much in the way of wildlife and generally killing just enough time to place us on the road home right smack dab at the start of rush hour. Quickly realizing our mistake, we hopped off the interstate at the next exit and killed some time by going to see Dark Shadows.
I don’t think I’ll spoil anything by saying that it was hilarious, highly entertaining, and gave me bad dreams all night!

We spent Saturday recuperating.

Sunday was Mother’s Day and we (my sisters, my brother in-law, Handsome Hubby and me) surprised my mom by heading up and having lunch ready when my parents arrived home from church! We made Mom’s favorite chicken stew, supplemented by homemade bread and fresh green salad, with Hot Milk Cake (an wonderful, old-fashioned vanilla cake…which recipe I will share with you soon!) and strawberries for dessert! Then we watched all but the Christmas Special episode of season 2 of Downton Abbey (I’m officially obsessed).

Monday we chose to stay in and relax and catch up on some household chores. But since we were on vacation, we went to see The Avengers as well.
I don’t need to tell you. I’m sure you’ve already seen it. I love me some superhero entertainment!

Tuesday was our last day of freedom and we launched ourselves out the door early to head up to Rocky Mountain National Park. I promptly fell asleep in the car and didn’t wake up until Hubby pulled into the parking lot at the Cub Lake trailhead. He’d been crittering from the car without much success for two hours as I snored softly and ungracefully in the passenger seat. Now it was time to hike!

It was a gorgeous day, warm but not too warm, with a cool refreshing breeze. It being office hours of a weekday morning we pretty much had the trail to ourselves and we set off on the relatively short hike (relatively meaning a short jaunt for Handsome Hubby, an epic journey for me…) and almost immediately came upon a young marmot, barking his guts out from atop a large boulder where he had been sunning himself when a large hawk soared overhead and (I like to assume) spooked him. He spent several minutes barking up a storm, with intermittent responses from a nearby but unseen companion.

(Young marmot, Rocky Mountain National Park.  Photo by James Beissel)

I imagine the conversation went something like this:
“Holy smokes! Did you see that hawk?!?”
“Yeah, it was huge!!!
“It could have eaten us!”
“Yeah! We could be dead!”
“Holy smokes!”
And so on…

Meanwhile the hawk had disappeared into a crystal blue expanse of sky, apparently having had no interest in these two young marmots in the first place.

We continued along the trail, me hobbling sadly on woefully un-trail-worthy shoes, and I got to thinking about mountain lions.

Mountain lions are one of the spookiest animals to live in our mountains, I think. They are swift and silent. I’ve seen one, once, several years ago. I was hiking a popular trail in Boulder alone, and some sensation prompted me to turn around and there it was, padding down hill on heavy paws not fifty feet from where I stood. It was completely silent and studiously ignoring me (nothing can ignore you like a cat). I hadn’t heard a thing. Spine tingling I stopped and warned myself not to do anything silly (like scream or cry or faint), but in the amount of time it might have taken me to lose my wits it was gone.

Anyways, the moral of the story is, a mountain lion could sneak up on you and eat you in a matter of nanoseconds, and you would never even see it coming.

Never mind that Hubby reminds me daily that research has shown that cougar attacks against humans are rare, and even more rarely are they deadly. Mountain lions just aren’t inclined to snack on human when an endless supply of plump mule deer is close at hand. Even so, even if they don’t eat people on a regular basis, I know in my heart of hearts that they could. And if there is anything Monster and Friday (our resident felines) have taught me, it is that cats (and I assume cats of all sorts) will take any opportunity to be rotten.

I was deep in the throes of these ponderations when suddenly there was a loud crash in the shrubs ahead of me and something came bursting out of the underbrush and darted straight towards me. In that instant I just knew that my food project and all of my recent culinary indiscretions had finally made me fat and juicy enough to bother with, and death by mountain lion was near at hand. I came out of my reveries with a poorly smothered half-shriek, and the noisy culprit came to a startled halt on a fallen tree about five feet away from me.

It was a tiny golden mantled ground squirrel with a mouth full of tender, young greens. It sat back on its haunches and regarded me for a long, careful moment during which I fervently considered the possibility that it must intend to run up my pant leg and bite me and what horrific, scurrious diseases should I be worried about when it does? Then it dropped back down on all fours and scurried across the path and into the bushes on the other side. I burst into a nervous giggle as Hubby watched and wondered at my disconcertingly sudden incapacity to deal with nature.

We continued on and I managed to maintain my composure for the rest of the hike, even when not fifteen feet down the trail two more twitterpated ground squirrels came blazing out of the shrubs and dashed across the trail so close to my shoes I could feel the breeze created by their passing! We listened as they crashed through the bushes on the hill side, arguing loudly as they went. I’d never realized how much racket those small, scurrying critters can make when they want to!

We arrived at Cub Lake, a small body of water whose shallow shores are lined with lily pads and boulders of all sizes. We stopped for a moment to take in the view, and I scrambled up onto a small boulder to sit and rest up. A lone pair of mallard ducks cruised languidly around the edges of the lake until they reached the boulder on which I was perched, at which point the sweet little brown female hopped out of the water onto my rock. She waddled up to me, then settled down to preen just a couple of feet away. She spent a few minutes shaking the water off her feathers, then turned her head to the side and gave me a cheeky once over before suddenly taking flight and buzzing over my head. The male remained more distant, nibbling at the weeds along the edge of the lake but never leaving the water.

(Me and my duck friend, Cub Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park.  Photo by James Beissel.)

After a hike out filled with multiple rolled ankles and numerous muffled curses directed at my shoes (I’ll admit it…they were designed for running on treadmills–which they have never been used for, not hiking on uneven terrain…) but otherwise uneventful, we arrived at the car and drove over to Sprague Lake for lunch and moosing.
Moosing is like crittering but specifically to find moose. Which we didn’t.

Then we drove up to the top of Trail Ridge Road. Because it is open (two weeks early this year) and because it is there!

Then we went into town and had ice cream, which is always my standard reward for hiking. Or for accomplishing something big. Or for cleaning house. Or for doing the dishes. Or for waking up. Or for breathing.

You know. The big stuff.

And then we drove home.

It was a great week.

But not a single porcupine!

If there is such a thing.

I’m beginning to have my doubts…

The End.

(To see more of James Beissel’s wonderful nature and wildlife photography please check out his website and blog at and prepare to be amazed!)


Caprese Panzanella May 5, 2012

Filed under: Random Thoughts (or sometimes maybe not so random),Recipes — PhobicFoodie @ 2:51 pm

My parents’ cats had kittens exactly five days ago.  Look at this face!


The photo is a little fuzzy, but then, the kitten is a little fuzzy.  And not very inclined to be still, even while asleep!

I just love spring!

Speaking of spring and fresh produce and my happy little back-deck herb garden which I forgot to water for three days straight but has still managed to survive, how about some summer food?

You can’t get much more summery and fresh than panzanella salad, and if you make it with the right ingredients, why then you have…

Caprese Panzanella!

Holy cow.


It’s fresh and hearty and flavorful and wonderful for days when it’s just simply too hot to even consider turning on the stove!

It’s also a wonderful way to use up some leftover stale bread…really chewy, crusty, rustic Italian bread is the best for this kind of recipe!  If you don’t happen to have any stale bread sitting around you can definitely use fresh, but consider toasting it up in a skillet or the oven before throwing it in the salad…you could end up with fresh veggies and mush, which would probably still have great flavor, but not great texture!  If you want to use up some softer-textured leftover sandwich slices, dice or tear them up and toast them into croutons then add them into the salad at the last-minute to avoid any off-putting sogginess.

Start with a slew of fresh veggies and herbs!

I used tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, English cucumber, red onion, Italian parsley, and tons of fresh basil!

Also pictured in the background there are white balsamic vinegar (a little lighter and not as sweet as regular balsamic), extra virgin olive oil (go ahead and spring for the good stuff here…it stays raw and rich and wonderful!) and lovely, hand-made, fresh mozzarella (Be still my heart!) there in the super-blown, way too bright, over-exposed tub in the back row.

I’m a cook, not a photographer!

I also used half a lemon and two cloves of garlic, not pictured because I’m a space cadet.  Oh, and half a loaf of really stale, rustic Italian ciabatta, also not pictured because I am a space cadet.

That’s two times space cadet!

And salt and pepper, but that’s understood, right?

Start by dicing up half the red onion (I made mine about 1/4″ dice…I like red onion in moderation, but big chunks of it can be pretty overwhelming, especially raw!)

Then pour a little of the balsamic into a large bowl of icy-cold water,

And then dump the diced red onion into the bowl to soak and mellow out for ten or fifteen minutes!

(You can skip this step if you really love raw onion, but I like that it sort of tones down some of that really oniony bite while leaving it crisp and fresh).

Mince up the not-pictured garlic, and mash it up with some salt to make a fine paste.

You can decrease the garlic to 1 clove, if you are the sort of person that believes garlic can be overdone.

Note: the garlic doesn’t get cooked, so the flavor is pretty powerful!

Slap the garlic paste into a bowl and drizzle over a few tablespoons of that lovely, refreshing, tangy white balsamic!

Or you could use a good quality red balsamic, if that’s what you have on hand.  It would be every bit as delicious, and a little richer and sweeter!


Next, drizzle in several tablespoons of good quality, extra virgin olive oil.

Use the good stuff.  You’ll really be able to taste it in the end!

And squeeze in the juice from half a lemon, just to give it a little extra freshness and cut some of the vinegariness (is that a real word?)

If I were using regular balsamic, I might skip this step since it would be sweeter and richer and the vinegar flavor is less pronounced.  What do you think?

Next dice up all your veggies in 1/2″ to 3/4″ chunks.  I like mine somewhere between salsa-sized and bite-sized.

I used English cucumber.  Why English?  Because they have tender, sweet skin and don’t require peeling.

Read: I’m lazy.

Two crisp, fresh sweet bell peppers.  Use whatever colors you like…the more colorful the better I think!

And several wonderful, ripe red plum tomatoes!

Plum tomatoes are perfect for this kind of recipe.  They have lots of flesh and very little pulp, which means they don’t make the salad watery and they hold their shape nicely!

Next, drain the diced red onion and pat it dry between paper towels, then throw all your diced veggies into a large bowl…

Along with your super crusty, diced stale bread!

And pour that wonderful, garlicky, lemony, olive oily, balsamic-y dressing over the top!

And then…

Oh, then…

The Herbs!

Don’t skimp on the basil here.  You will regret it for the rest of your life.  Just gently tear the leaves up into great big chunks (or leave them whole, if they are small) and dump them into the bowl!

Then roughly chop up a big handful of Italian parsley and throw that in too!

(My tummy is rumbling…)

Then give it all a stir, then lean in and inhale deeply and say a little prayer to say thank you for garlic, and basil, and olive oil, and balsamic, and fresh veggies!

(I mean it!)

But wait!  There’s more!

You could stop here and call it vegan, but why oh why would you want to when there’s…

Fresh mozzarella!

Plus, if you leave out the fresh mozzarella you no longer have Caprese Panzanella.  You just have Panzanella.  Still delicious, but not mind-blowingly delicious!

If given a choice between delicious and mind-blowingly delicious, I’ll choose mind-blowingly delicious every time.  Wouldn’t you?

I would have taken a photo of the wonderful, creamy, tender, hand pulled balls of fresh mozzarella before I diced them up and stirred them into the salad, but I got so distracted sneaking bites that I forgot.

It happens.

Dice up the mozzarella about the same size as the veggies and gently toss them with the rest of the salad.


Taste it for seasoning and sprinkle in more salt and pepper if you need it.  You can serve it right away, or (if you have the time) cover it and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours so all the flavors can meet and fall in love and get married and make sweet little flavor babies and the bread can soak up all those wonderful juices!

Here’s the recipe!


Makes 6-8 servings

1 1/2 lb. ripe plum (roma) tomatoes

2 sweet bell peppers

1 English cucumber

1/2 small red onion

1/2 loaf stale, rustic Italian bread

1-2 cloves garlic

3 tablespoons white (or regular) balsamic vinegar, plus 1 teaspoon

4 tablespoons olive oil

Juice from 1/2 lemon

2 c. loosely packed basil leaves

1 c. loosely packed Italian parsley leaves

1 lb. fresh mozzarella

salt and pepper to taste

Chop the red onion into small dice.  Pour 1 teaspoon of the vinegar into a bowl of cold water and add the red onion, allowing it to soak in the vinegar mixture for at least 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mash the garlic with salt into a fine paste and dump it into a small bowl.  Pour over the remaining balsamic, the olive oil, the lemon juice and salt and pepper.  Whisk until combined.

Dice the vegetables into bite sized chunks.  Tear or dice the bread up into 3/4″ to 1″ cubes.  If your bread is fresh, you may want to toast the cubes in a 400° oven for 10 or 15 minutes to crisp them up and dry them out a bit.  Otherwise, just toss the bread into a large bowl along with the veggies.  Drain the red onion and pat dry on paper towels, then add to the bowl with the bread and vegetables.  Pour the dressing over the top and toss everything together gently.  Tear the basil into big chunks and roughly chop the Italian parsley.  Add the herbs to the bread/vegetable mixture and toss again.  Dice the mozzarella into 1/2″ cubes and add to the salad, tossing very gently one more time just until distributed.  Season with additional salt and pepper if needed.  For the best, tastiest, most developed flavors, cover the salad and let sit in the fridge for a few hours before serving.

Eat and be happy!


Mozzarella Basil Chicken December 13, 2011

Filed under: Random Thoughts (or sometimes maybe not so random),Recipes — PhobicFoodie @ 10:01 am

It looks fancy, but really it’s simple.

Really simple.

It’s so simple it’s not even fair.  It’s so simple it’s like cheating.

It’s so simple I had to add a step just to make it more complicated!

And it’s fast!

It’s Mozzarella Basil Chicken cutlets!

Preheat your oven.  Go ahead.  Do it.  400°.

Oh, and place a large, heavy bottomed, oven proof skillet over medium-low heat while you’re at it.

Start with some chicken cutlets.  I got a pound, which happened to be three cutlets…but part of the beauty of this recipe is how easy it is to double (or triple, or more!) depending on how many you are feeding!

Chicken cutlets are just chicken breasts that have been butterflied or sliced in half flat-wise to create two, super thin pieces of chicken.  I like ‘em because they cook quickly and very nearly always come out super juicy.

I also like ‘em because they are the perfect size for one serving.

I also like ‘em because they are so thin that any seasoning can penetrate the whole piece in a very short time, so they turn out super flavorful every time!

I also like ‘em because they are very difficult to screw up.

I like ‘em, is, I guess what I’m getting at here.

Anyways.  Take your super thin chicken cutlets and lay them out on a very sturdy cutting board, then cover them with a good layer of plastic wrap.

Then pound them out with a rolling-pin or meat mallet until they are even thinner and an even thickness all the way across.

Or, you know, mostly even.

Long day at work?  Frustrated and exhausted?  Make chicken cutlets!

We’re looking for a thickness of about ¼” all the way across.

Sprinkle a little salt on each side of each cutlet.  Or forget, like I did, and have to figure out how to get the chicken seasoned after it is topped.

Next, tear up some fresh basil leaves and layer it evenly over the cutlets.

Now, you could mince the basil.  You could chiffonade the basil.  You could lay whole basil leaves across the chicken and not mess with their shape at all!

This is just what happens when you get home from the store and discover that your vibrant, green, fresh basil is wilty and spotty and actually a little less than fresh.  You tear out all the little spots and use whatever still looks good.

As it turns out, this method worked just swimmingly, so, you know, I recommend it!

Next, top each cutlet generously with mozzarella cheese!

In the recipe I give below, I am going to tell you to top each cutlet with ¼ cup of mozzarella cheese.

But you don’t have to do that if you don’t want to!  You can use lots of mozzarella cheese if you want to!  You can use as much as you want!

But don’t tell anyone I told you.

Sprinkle a little pepper over the top and set the cutlets aside for a couple of minutes while you get everything else ready.

Now, if you are like me and you can’t in good conscience make dinner without the use of a little garlic, do this:

Pour a little olive oil into your preheated skillet. Let it warm up a bit, then dump in a smashed clove or two of garlic. Stir them around in the warm oil for a minute or two…just long enough for the cloves to soften and become fragrant and mouth-watering, but not long enough for them to start to color. Let the oil absorb all that wonderful garlic aroma and flavor, then pull the garlic cloves out and discard them.

Listen to the rumbling of your belly, and be glad that dinner is now less than fifteen minutes away!

(This, by the way, is the extra step.  It is entirely unnecessary.  Dinner will still be delicious if you skip it.  But I love garlic, and this step will give your chicken just enough delicate garlic taste to make your taste buds hum with happiness the second you take a bite!)

Now increase the heat under your skillet to medium.  When a drop of water flicked (CAREFULLY!) into the skillet (FROM A DISTANCE!!!) dances and evaporates right away, it’s ready!

If the oil begins smoking, you’ve got things too hot.  Just slide the skillet to a cold burner for a couple of minutes until things cool down a bit.  If the oil starts to smoke and smell burned, pour it out, wipe down the pan, and start over with fresh oil and new garlic.

To avoid this, keep a close eye on your skillet!

When the skillet is ready, add the cutlets, keeping them evenly spaced (don’t over crowd them…try to keep the edges from touching.  If you’ve doubled the recipe, you may need to use two skillets or do things in batches).  If you are like me and you forgot to season the cutlets before you topped them, sprinkle a light layer of salt over the oil before you add the them to the pan.

Let the cutlets sauté on one side, without moving them, until the edges of the chicken have turned white.  At this point, just slide the whole skillet onto the middle rack of your preheated oven and let it all cook for another ten minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is completely melted.  If you want, towards the end of cooking, turn on the broiler for a couple of minutes and let the cheese bubble and brown a bit.

Mmmmm.  That’s what you want.  With all the cheesy and the chewy and the melty and the bubbly and the creamy…


Let sit for a couple of minutes, then serve up with some salad and some simple buttered pasta!

(I cooked some pasta and simply tossed it with a small jar of marinated artichoke hearts…minus most of the oil.  The easiest pasta sauce ever!)


I like a simple tomato salad with this recipe:  sliced tomatoes with a light drizzling of extra virgin olive oil and a little sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

I even got red, orange and yellow tomatoes to make things even prettier!

As it turned out, everything in this meal ended up being varying shades of browns, golds and oranges, so I got a sadly monochromatic plate for all my efforts.

Not great for photo taking.

But delicious!

Here’s the recipe!


4 thin sliced chicken cutlets

1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

1/3 c. basil leaves, torn

4 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400⁰

Preheat a large skillet over medium-low heat.

Place cutlets on a sturdy cutting board and cover with a layer of plastic wrap.  Use a meat mallet or rolling pin to pound to an even thickness of about 1/4 “.   (If the cutlets are already very thinly sliced you can skip this step).

Sprinkle both sides of each cutlet with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle basil evenly over one side of each cutlet.  Sprinkle cheese over basil.

Pour olive oil into skillet, turning to coat the bottom of the skillet.  Add two smashed cloves of garlic and cook gently, stirring, until the garlic has softened and released its flavor into the oil.

The aroma is to die for!

Remove the garlic and increase the heat to medium, letting the skillet warm up for a few more minutes before beginning the next step.

Skillet is hot enough when a drop of water flicked on it sizzles and evaporates right away.  If the skillet is smoking it is too hot.

Immediately add cutlets, cheese side up.  Cook for 3-5 minutes (or until the edges of the chicken have turned white) then transfer skillet to oven.  Cook for 10 minutes or until the chicken is no longer pink and the cheese is completely melted and beginning to brown.  Let sit for a couple of minutes before serving.

Eat with salad and pasta and be happy!

Note:  This recipe also rocks because you can adapt it to your tastes and cravings on any given night…try it with sage and fontina, or thinly sliced tomatoes and cheddar, or sautéed mushrooms and swiss…you get the idea!  Have fun!


Ratatouille Gratin December 5, 2011

Filed under: Random Thoughts (or sometimes maybe not so random),Recipes — PhobicFoodie @ 3:19 pm

Tragedy has struck the Phobicfoodie household.

The dishwasher is broken!


Ah well.

Oh, and…

The can opener is broken.

This means that it will give out on me half way around the top of the can and force me to turn it upside down and start over on the bottom side. Oh my.

Anyways, all this is not enough to keep me out of the kitchen!

After seeing the amount of butter we used in Thanksgiving dinner, then going ahead and making that crazy rich turkey tetrazzini the next day anyways, I was feeling a little concerned about my arteries…

And about the five pounds I’m pretty sure I gained just by smelling the gravy…

And about my chin…

And the state of my love handles…

So I decided to try to cook a little healthier…

Which brings me to ratatouille gratin…a slightly fancier version of the traditional, rustic vegetable stew.

This ratatouille gratin may require a fair amount of slicing and prep work, but it is so rich and delicious and hearty and healthy it’s definitely worth it! Served with some good, crusty bread, this flavorful, tender, juicy veggie gratin can make a wonderful vegetarian meal…you could even leave the parmesan out and make it vegan. Or you can go the other direction and sear up some chicken for a little lean protein.

And believe me…it doesn’t taste good for you. It also doesn’t taste vegetarian. It tastes decadent. And sinful.

Start by making a simple tomato sauce. I started with a minced red onion. Let it sweat in a couple tablespoons of olive oil for a bit.

Meanwhile, open up a large can of tomatoes with your (sometimes working) can opener. I like to use whole tomatoes and mush them up with my hands. It give the sauce a rustic, chunky texture. Plus, it gives me a chance to play with my food…very theraputic! You could also use crushed tomatoes or diced tomatoes or plain ol’ tomato sauce if you prefer not to muck around in your food with your hands.

Pour the tomatoes into the sauce pot with the onions and add some thyme and the minced garlic.

Let all this simmer while you prepare the vegetables!

Thinly slice a small eggplant

a medium zucchini

and a medium yellow squash.

Layer the slices on paper towels, sprinkling each layer generously with salt. Let the veggies sit for about 30 minutes to allow the salt to draw some of the liquid out.

Meanwhile, slice up a few tomatoes

(Mmm. Red food on a red cutting board. Food photography at its finest! Not.)

and a red bell pepper

and some basil into thin strips.

Next mix a cup of panko bread crumbs with ½ cup of grated parmesan, and 1 tablespoon of minced garlic. This is the gratin part!

Now it’s time to assemble! Pour the sauce into the bottom of a 9X13 casserole and spread out in an even layer.

Sprinkle half the basil on top, then layer on the squash,

red pepper,

(sorry for the garish circa 1970’s oversaturation and flat lighting here…it was a rough night for lighting in Phobicfoodie’s kitchen!)


eggplant and tomatoes. Then pour ½ c. dry white wine evenly over everything,

and sprinkle the rest of the basil over.

Finally, sprinkle on a thick layer of the breadcrumb mixture.

Cover the casserole with parchment paper

and bake at 350° for 1 ½ hours, removing the parchment for the last 20 minutes.

The finished gratin will be bubbly, golden brown, crispy topped and fabulous. And the aroma is out of this world!

Serve with delicious, warm bread and glasses of crisp, white wine.

Here’s the recipe!


Makes 8-10 servings

1 small onion, diced

1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes

8 cloves garlic, minced, divided

1 tsp. dried thyme, or 2 sprigs fresh

5 tbs. olive oil, divided

1 small eggplant, sliced into ¼” thick slices

1 medium zucchini, sliced into ¼” thick slices

1 medium yellow squash, sliced into ¼” thick slices

1 medium red bell pepper, sliced into thin slices

3 medium, ripe tomatoes, sliced into ¼” thick slices

1/3 c. basil chiffonade

½ c. white wine

1 c. panko bread crumbs

½ c. grated parmesan

Salt and pepper

Begin by making a simple tomato sauce: in a medium pot sweat the diced red onion in 2 tbs. olive oil over medium heat. Crush the tomatoes and add to the pot with the thyme and ½ of the garlic. Stir and let simmer while you prepare everything else.

Preheat oven to 350°

Layer the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash slices in single layers between paper towels. Sprinkle each layer with salt to draw the excess liquid out. Set aside for at least 30 minutes.

Slice the red pepper, tomatoes and basil.

Mix the breadcrumbs, parmesan, and the remaining garlic and olive oil in a small bowl. Set aside.

Spread the tomato sauce in the bottom of a 9”X13” glass casserole dish. Sprinkle with ½ of the basil. Pat the eggplant, squash and zucchini dry. Layer the vegetables in the casserole, ending with the sliced tomatoes. Pour the evenly over everything. Sprinkle the remaining basil over the top, then top with the breadcrumb mixture. Lay a piece of parchment paper over the casserole.

Bake for 1 ½ hours, removing the parchment for the final 20 minutes. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Eat and be happy!


Monster Peanut Butter Candy Cookies! December 1, 2011

Filed under: Next!,Random Thoughts (or sometimes maybe not so random),Recipes — PhobicFoodie @ 11:43 am

So I had all this chocolate in my house.

This is not usual for me.  Chocolate is lucky if it lasts a day around here.  But there it was:  chocolate with hazelnuts.  Chocolate with toffee.  Chocolate with espresso.  Chocolate truffles!  What is happening to me?!?

Well, the next best thing to chocolate by itself is chocolate in a cookie, so…

Monster Peanut Butter Candy Cookies!

They are much prettier if you use candy coated chocolate bits (the alliterative name of which I will not drop here) but chocolate chips or chocolate chunks or chopped chocolate bars taste just as good (and sometimes maybe better…depending on the chocolate…)

The best thing about a cookie like this is the variety of mix-ins you can add…chocolate, candy, nuts, toffee, caramel…just chop it all up roughly and mix it in!  Having lots of different kinds of candies makes each bite an adventure!

These cookies are also gluten free, so the argument could be made that between the energy-packed peanut butter and fiber rich oatmeal they are actually good for you.

Oh.  I can justify.  If you ever need an excuse to eat a cookie, I can provide it for you.

Start with ye olde basic cookie ingredients:  butter, sugar, brown sugar.  Also add some peanut butter for good measure!

Mix this all up until it is creamy and fluffy…


…add in three eggs and some vanilla.

Whip this up and dump in a couple of teaspoons of baking  soda.

Then add the oatmeal and mix again.

Then add your mix-ins.

When all the mix-ins are all mixed in, scoop the dough with an ice-cream scoop (bigger than a cookie scoop…thus Monster Cookies!) onto cookie sheets lined with  parchment paper, then bake at 350° for 8-10 minutes, or until the edges turn golden brown.  Let rest on the cookie sheet for at least five minutes before removing to cooling racks.

I advise you to devour a cookie or two immediately, supplemented with a glass of milk.

It’s the right thing to do.

Here’s the recipe!


Makes about 3 dozen monster-sized cookies

1/2 c. (1 stick) butter, softened

1 1/2 c. peanut butter

1 c. brown sugar

1/2 c. white sugar

3 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla

2 teaspoons baking soda

4 1/2 c. instant oatmeal

About 1 c. chocolate chips, chocolate candies or other mix-ins

Preheat oven to 350º and line two large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Cream butter, peanut butter, and sugars.  Beat in eggs and vanilla.  Beat in baking soda, then oatmeal and mix-ins.

Drop onto cookie sheets with an ice cream scoop and flatten slightly.  Bake for 8-10 minutes.  Don’t over bake ’em!

Remove from oven when slightly golden.  Let cool on sheets for a few minutes until they have firmed up enough to remove to wire racks.

Eat and be happy!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

You know, I actually haven’t forgotten about my food project or the whole original purpose for starting this blog.  The Project has slowed down for the holidays, but I haven’t given up on it yet (you’ll note I did cook with mushrooms recently…this is a big step for me!)

I do have plans for my next challenge (Hollandaise, mayonnaise, and all other – aises here I come!).  I even have a location picked out.  Now to find the time!



Basic Chili November 21, 2011

Filed under: Random Thoughts (or sometimes maybe not so random),Recipes — PhobicFoodie @ 12:32 pm



Could there be anything better on a cold night?

Being as it’s fall, and chilly out, and because I’m craving comfort food on a daily basis, and because I lo-o-ovve it,  I’m now on a soup kick.  And today it’s chili.

It really doesn’t get any easier than this.  Honest.

Start with beans.

Because chili just isn’t chili without beans.

Well, it is, but it isn’t the same!

Now, if you were the ambitious sort you could certainly select an assortment of dried beans and soak them overnight and really start from scratch, but me?  I am not ambitious.  I am lazy.  So I chose to use canned beans.

You can use any beans you like…you can use just one kind of bean, or two kinds of beans, or as many kinds of beans as you like really.

Today I used four different kinds of beans:  Black beans, Pinto beans, Navy beans and Red kidney beans.

Why?  Because four 15 oz cans of beans just seemed like the right amount to use, and four different kinds of beans just seemed like the right thing to do.

Variety.  It is good.

Drain and rinse your beans and set them aside.

And now let’s really get to work.

Brown up a pound of ground beef with salt and pepper in a large, heavy pot.

And if you’re like me and you just can’t leave well enough alone, go ahead and throw in a half pound of bulk breakfast sausage in there too.

I love adding breakfast sausage to my chili.  I tried it one day when I had some leftover and now I can’t live without it in my chili.  It adds insane flavor and richness!

Just break it up and brown it up then shove it over to one side of your pot and add in an onion

And lots of smashed garlic

And then stir all that up and let it cook for a few minutes more, stirring often to keep it from sticking.

Meanwhile, line up your spices.

Um.  I suppose you could use a packet of pre-mixed chili seasoning.  I mean, you could, but where’s the fun?

So (from top to bottom), it’s several tablespoons of cumin, a couple of teaspoons of ground red pepper, several tablespoons of chili powder (not to be confused with chili seasoning), some smoked paprika and a good dose of oregano.

You could use Mexican oregano if you have some on hand.  I, however, have used all mine up.  So regular old Mediterranean oregano it is!

Dump all that into the pot with the meat and onions and garlic!

Yum.  It smells heavenly.

There’s something on my camera.  Sorry.  It’s probably steam.

Then again, in a kitchen you can just never be sure.

Well, in my kitchen you can never be sure.

Stir this all up…

Look at that amazing color!

Then dump in two 10 oz cans of tomatoes with chilis, a can of tomato sauce, and 32 oz. of beef stock.

Stir this up and add in your drained and rinsed beans!

(I also added a grated carrot in at this point, but I didn’t take a picture of it.  Just to be sneaky.  And in case there are any small children who have an aversion to vegetables looking at the photos in this post.  I think grated carrot adds just a smidge of sweetness and extra flavor that really makes a big difference in the finished chili, not to mention all the vitamins and nutrients it adds!  But shhh.  Don’t tell your kids.  If you don’t say anything, chances are they won’t even notice you added it.  They don’t have to know that chili can be good for you…)

Now let it simmer.

Let it simmer for a long time.

Let it simmer all day, if you have it.

Or let it simmer for about 30 minutes and call it good, and it will be good, but it won’t be the same!

Top with ample amounts of cheese, and maybe some sliced green onions.

You know, to make it purty.

Serve up with cornbread or warm tortillas.

You’ll be warm all the way down to your toenails!

Here’s the recipe!


4 15 oz. cans of beans (traditionally pinto beans, but choose a variety of what sounds good to you today!)

1 lb. ground beef

½ lb. bulk pork breakfast sausage

1 large onion, diced

6-8 cloves of garlic, smashed into paste

3-4 tablespoons cumin

2 tsp. ground red pepper (or cayenne pepper) optional

3-4 tablespoons chili powder

2-3 tablespoons smoked paprika

2 tsp. oregano

1 12 oz can tomato sauce

2 10 oz. cans diced tomatoes with chilis

32 oz. beef stock (preferably low sodium)

1 large carrot, grated (optional)

Salt and pepper to taste

Toppings (cheese, sliced green onions, sour cream)

Brown meats in a large pot over medium heat, breaking up into small bits.  When mostly cooked through, add onion, salt and pepper and continue to brown.  Add in garlic and seasonings, stir.  Add in tomato sauce, tomatoes with chilis, beef stock, grated carrot (if using) and beans.  Stir well.  Simmer, stirring occasionally for at least 30 minutes (or preferably for a few hours).

Serve with cheese and any other desired toppings, with cornbread or warm tortillas on the side.

Eat and be happy!


Pumpkin Cookies November 12, 2011

Filed under: Next!,Random Thoughts (or sometimes maybe not so random),Recipes — PhobicFoodie @ 9:58 am

‘Tis the season…

…for baking!

Something I don’t do very well but am constantly trying to improve myself upon.

I’m not gonna lie, I’m pretty excited about these cookies.  For starters, this is the first time I have ever invented a cookie recipe from scratch and I’m still rather astonished that it worked!

Secondly, well, they are pretty tasty.  These are warm, spicy, sweet little bites with all the flavor of fall packed into them.

Ever notice how in the fall everyone seems obsessed with trying to make everything pumpkin pie flavored except pumpkin pie?

“It’s like pumpkin pie in a latte!”

“It’s like pumpkin pie ice cream…”

“It’s pumpkin pie cheese cake!”

Well, I’m no different from anyone else.   This is pumpkin pie in a cookie.

(Although I do have a pumpkin pie recipe to share with you all.  Just not today.)

Oh, and, um, this is a very large recipe.  It makes about 6 dozen cookies, so plan on sharing!

It’s the perfect recipe for holiday baking!

Start with your everyday baking basics:  softened butter, white sugar and brown sugar.

Don’t be decieved by this photo.  There’s really a whole cup (2 sticks) of butter in there.  The other stick is just buried under all that sugar!

Oh, and do use real butter.  This is a pretty wet dough already and I have no idea how it would react to the extra moisture margarine would bring to it!

Plus, butter is better.

Top that with three eggs, a cup of pumpkin puree (the stuff from the can is just fine here), and two teaspoons of vanilla.

Beat this on medium speed until the butter is broken down into the mixture and relatively evenly combined.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t all become homogenous, the butter is just never going to really mix with the pumpkin and get really smooth.   But that’s okay!

In a separate bowl combine flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, cinnamon, cloves, lots of ginger, and salt.

It already smells wonderful!

Look!  It’s a spice volcano!


Now mix all this up until it comes together in a fluffy, soft dough.  And it will be very soft and very sticky!

But, oh!  Look at that color.  Could anything be more inviting than pumpkin and spices?

To help counter the stickiness, cover it and stick it in the fridge to chill for at least an hour.

Next, preheat your oven to 375°.

When you are ready for cookies, roll out golf-ball sized balls of dough…

(Note on the dough:  a cookie scoop will be particularly helpful here.  The more the dough gets handled the warmer and softer it will get and then it will just melt and make a huge mess all over you and the kitchen and everything.  So if you have a cookie scoop, use it.  If not, do your best with two spoons.  The balls don’t have to be anywhere close to perfectly round as they will puff up and round out as they bake)

… and then roll them in sugar.

(Note on the sugar:  I rolled the first batch in Turbinado (raw) sugar, which makes for a very pretty, sparkly coating but was just a little overpowering for the cookie…a little too sweet…a little too crunchy…

After that I rolled them in white sugar and cinnamon, and those came out just right!

Anyways, the moral of the story is that this photo is misleading.  You will probably want to roll your cookies in cinnamon sugar, not what you see here.)

Lay the balls of dough on a cookie sheet (I lined mine with parchment paper for easy clean up!).

Flatten them slightly with your fingers…

And bake for about 15 minutes, or until they puff up, the edges turn light golden brown, and the tops crackle.

Let cool on the baking sheet for a minute or two before removing to cooling racks.

Oh pumpkin cookies!


Here’s the recipe!

You could certainly try to half it, but I’m not sure about the eggs.  How would you cut three eggs in half?  Inquiring minds want to know!  Would you use two eggs, or just one, or beat up the last egg and just use half of it?  (That last suggestion seems a bit excessive…it’s just a cookie after all, and not that particular…).

I tend to lean towards using two eggs and maybe upping the flour content by a couple of tablespoons to help counteract the extra moisture.

Anyways, the point is, you probably don’t have to make 72 cookies.  But you can.


Makes about 6 dozen

1 c. softened butter (2 sticks)

2 c. white sugar

½ c. brown sugar

3 eggs

1 c. pumpkin puree

2 tsp. vanilla

6 c. flour

2 tsp. baking soda

4 tsp. cream of tartar

3 tsp. ground ginger

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. cloves

1 tsp. salt

¾  c. white sugar mixed with 1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon (for rolling cookies in before baking)

In a large mixing bowl, beat butter, both sugars, eggs,  pumpkin puree, and vanilla on medium until butter is evenly incorporated into pumpkin.

In another bowl combine flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, salt and spices.

Beat dry ingredients into wet until it is all mixed in.  The dough will be fluffy but very sticky.

Cover and chill for at least an hour.

Pre-heat oven to 375°.  Form dough into spheres using a cookie scoop or two spoons to form golf-ball sized balls.

Roll balls in cinnamon sugar.  Place 2” apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.   Flatten slightly with fingers.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the tops are crackled and the edges are light golden brown.  Let cool for a couple of minutes on the baking sheet before removing to cooling sheets.

Eat and be happy!

Especially tasty with vanilla ice cream or a glass of milk.

And they also freeze beautifully!

Back to the Blog, the Project, and life in general…

I’ve had a bottle of grey goose vodka languishing in my freezer for nearly a month now!  Well, last night it happily provided the base for several extremely large dirty martinis (I’m not much of a bartender and don’t really have an eye for alcohol measurements!) which my friends and I merrily consumed before heading down for a showing of The Lion King (the musical, not the cartoon.  Amazing, by the way.  The costumes are out of this world and Rafiki’s voice literally brought tears to my eyes.  If you haven’t been I highly recommend it!).  We ate cheese and bread and salami and prosciutto and pomegranites and grapes and roasted tomatoes and nuts.

Oh, and a few olives too.

I like them.  I really do!  Green olives have a much stronger taste and firmer texture than black olives, and kalamata olives are very briny and salty, but over all I really did enjoy them and would happily eat them again (in small numbers.  I wouldn’t need more than just a couple to feel pretty satisfied on the olive front…).

Martinis on the other hand…I think those might be more of an acquired taste!

And…coming up next….I need to decide what’s next!

I’ll take your votes (if you are inclined to offer them)!


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