Road Food, Part Two: What’s cooking in the Casita?

casita camp, canyonlands
Our camp at Needles Outpost, near the south entrance to Canyonlands National Park.

Five weeks into the trip, I finally got out the Crockpot! Woohoo! I was beginning to think that maybe it was an unnecessary use of storage space, but suddenly…it was the right time and place to make chili.

I seldom follow recipes exactly. One of my superpowers is the ability to take whatever random food is in the fridge and pantry and create a delicious—or at least, edible—meal out of it. This is a great skill to possess, but the downside is that many of my best creations are impossible to duplicate, because I can’t remember everything I put in them, and that particular combination of ingredients existed in my kitchen in only one moment in time and space. My family has, on occasion, found this frustrating.

Kid or husband: “Hey, Mom (or Honey), could you make that awesome thing with the (insert main ingredients here)? I loved that! It had the best combination of flavors!”

Me: “Uhhhh……”

So, with that disclaimer out of the way, I’ll tell you what I put in the chili (and I’m using the term “chili” loosely) this time. Not the same as what I put in it last time, I’m quite sure. But it came out awesome!

1 qt chicken broth
2 cups dehydrated ground beef (equivalent to about two pounds)
a handful of dehydrated leeks and kale
about two cups of Rick’s fabulous homemade marinara sauce
1½ thinly sliced onions
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
some sliced mushrooms
about a teaspoon of Southwest seasoning (Penzey’s)
about half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes
olive oil
salt

I put the broth, ground beef, and leeks and kale into the Crockpot and turned it on. Then, I sautéed the onions, garlic and mushrooms in some olive oil and salt. When they were nice and soft and beginning to get golden brown, I put them into the Crockpot, then added the marinara and seasonings. I left it on high for a little while, then turned it to low before we left for a lovely drive and hike in Kolob Canyon in the afternoon. It simmered happily away by itself until we returned four or five hours later.

It was delicious, if a little soupy. I wasn’t sure how much liquid the ground beef and vegetables needed for full rehydration, but I don’t mind the extra juice.

We ate this with asparagus and spring onions grilled on the Weber, and some arugula in the bowls. A little grated cheese on top and avocado on the side was perfect.

We don’t eat cereal or toast or pancakes, so what do we have for breakfast? Rick often has a couple of eggs fried in butter and some arugula with olive oil. It’s his favorite breakfast.

I often don’t eat until later in the morning than he does; often not before noon. Sometimes I have eggs, sometimes leftovers from the previous night. The other day I finished up some delicious celeriac/parsnip mash, with chicken and vegetables in marinara sauce. The morning after we had chili, I enjoyed it again for a late breakfast, heated in the cast-iron skillet with an egg in the middle. It was delicious over greens. I love eating dinner leftovers for brunch!

Another go-to breakfast for us while traveling is hard-boiled eggs, bacon that we have pre-cooked, and maybe some arugula or other greens with olive oil. It’s a meal that doesn’t require any dishwashing and keeps us happy pretty much all day.

I fished my latest pint of sauerkraut out from under the sink the other morning. It had been down there for about five days or so. I think. You can let sauerkraut go for a long time. But I wanted to get it out of there and into the fridge so I could start eating it. It has a very nice fermented flavor, not too sour, but a little salty. My last batch was also salty, so I cut back. Not enough, apparently. It’s fine, but next time I’ll cut back even more.

Rick prefers his vegetables pickled with vinegar, though he has no serious objections to lacto-fermentation. I sneak fermented vegetables into his tuna salad—I feel a wifely responsibility to take care of his gut micro biome. But I’m happy to make him vinegar-pickled red onions as well. We have a sort of ongoing jar in the fridge. When it gets low, I slice up a red onion, drop it into boiling water for a minute to take out some of the sharpness, drain and rinse it, and put it into the existing red onion jar with enough rice vinegar to cover it. That’s all there is to that. They are ready to eat almost immediately, though they improve with a day or so of sitting in there.

Some other meals we have had along the way:

  • Grilled beef or lamb steaks with a variety of vegetables sautéed in butter (brussels sprouts, a mix of red peppers, onions and mushrooms, leeks, we love them all)
  • Thickly sliced pork belly, fried; great with salad
  • Soup made with chicken broth, maybe onions, mushrooms and peppers, and chunks of sausage or other leftover meat.
  • Tuna or chicken salad made with avocado oil mayo, chopped celery, onions and pickles, sometimes chunked walnuts and dried cranberries
  • Those grass-fed beef sausages from Costco have turned out to be a versatile and delicious thing to have on hand. They keep well and don’t take up a lot of fridge space. We’ve put them in soup, covered them with chili, and chunked them up in stir-frys.

We do eat out on occasion. We’re always on the lookout for a place to get a good lettuce-wrapped burger or some dry-rubbed ribs. And sushi! I broke my glasses in Vegas, so we ended up at a Lenscrafters in Henderson the next afternoon. While waiting for my new glasses to be ready, we found I Love Sushi right up the road. It had great reviews on Yelp, so we ventured in. What a find! They even offered a whole lineup of no-rice dishes – the salmon and avocado were fantastic.

On our last night near Zion National Park we went to 9 East, a restaurant in Springdale, for our farewell dinner. Rick had found out about the place when he happened to meet one of the chefs while waiting in line at the state liquor store in Hurricane, UT (pronounced “Herkin”). It turned out to be a great choice. I had rack of lamb with roasted cauliflower, broccolini, and brussels sprouts. Rick went for the ribeye, as he often does. We sat out on their beautiful patio, gazing up at the magnificent red cliffs, enjoying the warm evening. It was a lovely meal.

On our last night in Zion, we had a lovely dinner at 9 East in Springdale.
On our last night in Zion, we had a lovely dinner at 9 East in Springdale.

Speaking of Zion, we loved the area—it might have been our favorite desert landscape of all—and we left there feeling like there was much more to explore than we had time for on this trip. I want to hike the whole Taylor Creek Trail, for example. We did a bit of it one afternoon and it was one of the prettiest trails I’ve ever been on. And we need to ride ponies in Zion Canyon! We’ll definitely be back for more.

6 thoughts on “Road Food, Part Two: What’s cooking in the Casita?”

  1. I laughed out loud when I read this. After years of not having this super power, it seems that in the last 10-15 or so I have inherited it too. My blank and somewhat guilty “Uhhmmm” response to someone asking me to make something again or tell them what is in it has become a bit of a joke with our friends and my family. I always forget to write it all down as I do it. Mom, I think this is what good cookbooks are created from. We should get a clue, write down what we are making…as we make it, and publish a cookbook. It would be an odd sort of book, filled with inspiring words like “go open your refrigerator and stare into it for 5 minutes, what do you see? Now imagine how those flavors go together.” etcetera (On a side note, why does my MacBook Air always auto correct etc to etcetera? Now it stopped doing it. Ugh, it’s like taking your car to the mechanic saying it’s doing thus and so, and when you get it there it stops doing it.) Anyway, I love the blog posts! Keep them coming! You two look so happy and loving in this picture. Miss you both heaps. -Love, Luci

    1. That could be one crazy cookbook, Luci! How about a reality TV show where we knock on people’s doors, ask to see what’s in the fridge and pantry, and then create a meal out of it? I’m not sure this is a skill that can be taught, but it might be entertaining to watch it in action
      Love you, daughter!

  2. Hey, I’ve got that super power in the kitchen, too. My delicious/edible meals are as ephemeral in memory as cookies in the cookie jar, (Chili sounds yummy, btw.)

    1. Thanks, Mark, the chili was yummy! And since I actually have a record of what went into it this time, I could make it again. But I probably won’t; when the time comes, there will be different things in the fridge that need to be used….sounds like you understand how that works

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