Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Stuffed Sweet Pepper Soup

We can almost live on soup in the winter and this is a very comforting soup on a cold day. I love stuffed peppers and this recipe combines all those flavors into a delicious soup.
 I normally make it with rice but decided to try Quinoa this time and it worked great. Adjust the amount of tomato juice and water to your liking to make it thinner or thicker.

Stuffed Sweet Pepper Soup

1 1/2 pound hamburger
1 quart tomato juice
1 quart water
1 12oz bottle chili sauce
3 medium green or red sweet peppers, diced
2 celery ribs, diced
1 large onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
3/4 cup uncooked long grain rice, may substitute quinoa
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 chicken bouillon cubes
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp celery salt

1. Saute onions and garlic in a little butter.
2. Fry hamburger until no longer pink and drain.
3. Add all remaining ingredients and bring to a boil.
4. Reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour or until rice is tender.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Bluebird Paradise

After a few weeks weeks of milder weather, winter is back with a vengeance, this time with frigid temperatures. Not so much snow, just COLD!! 
 I hate the cold but it always brings the birds back in droves. I get a lot of bird traffic at my feeders, but nothing thrills me more than the amazingly beautiful bluebirds.

 I was wondering what happened to all the bluebirds I had last winter.
 After fledging last summer, they completely disappeared.  When we got about a foot of snow a few weeks ago, I finally noticed three of them out at the feeders. They must have spread the word there's free food available because there is a whole flock of them now. I am so happy to have them back.

Isn't she adorable? Fluffing up their feathers creates air pockets that help them maintain their body temperature.

At times bluebirds can have the most solemn expressions and.....

other times they look angry.

I put some mealworms out hoping the bluebirds would get to them before the other birds found them, but the nuthatch snatched them up real quick.

Suet is in very high demand on cold winter days. In this type of weather I go through two blocks per day, plus what I spread in holes in trees or on a hollow log.
 Recipe here. They go crazy for it!

Checking out the apples.

Sorry.....This post was intended to be photos of all the birds at my feeders but I got a little carried away taking pictures of the bluebirds I didn't know when to stop. So I'll do a separate post of the other birds.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Best Cream Filled Coffee Cake

Occasionally when I want to treat ourselves to something special, I make this unbelievably delicious cream filled coffee cake. This cake is a slice of heaven!
I've tried other coffee cakes but none have compared to this. A slice of this and a cup of fresh brewed coffee is one of life's simple pleasures.

I usually cut this recipe in half and just make one round pan unless I'm taking it somewhere. I recommend making it in two round pans vs a 9x13 especially if you're going to fill it. It's almost impossible to keep the cake in one piece with the 9x13. I tried it..... Disaster!

 Cream Filled Coffee Cake

2 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup sour cream

Crumb Nut Topping:
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

1. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
2. Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and vanilla.
3. Combine above ingredients along with the sour cream.
4. Spread batter in a greased 9x13 or 2 - 8" or 9" round pans. I recommend the round pans.
5. In a separate bowl mix ingredients for topping and sprinkle mixture over batter.
6. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes for 9x13 or 30 minutes for round pans or toothpick comes out clean.
7. Let cake cool off then run a knife around the edge of cake and invert onto a plate. Slice in half and spread filling between the layers. This a much easier if you make it in 2 round pans.

I'll include a few photos of how I split my cake and reassemble it.

Invert your cake onto a flat plate. Run a long sharp knife through the center of the cake going all the way around.
Pick up the top layer which was the bottom of your cake, and place it back in the pan or on the plate you want to serve it on.

Spread on filling.

Now take the layer that has the crumb topping on it and pick up the whole plate and......
carefully flip it back on top of the filling.  Replace any of the crumb topping that came off and brew yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy!!!

Creamy Coffee Cake Filling:
1/2 cup shortening (Crisco)
1 cup marshmallow creme
2 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1. Cream shortening and marshmallow creme.
2. Add powdered sugar, vanilla, and just enough milk to make the right consistency for spreading.
Linking to:

Friday, January 11, 2013

Baked Cabbage Wedges

Most people probably don't get too excited over cabbage but my husband and I happen to love it. You can make them on the grill or in the oven. These are loaded with bacon and buttery deliciousness. Yum!!
 This is a meal in itself for us, but they make a great side dish with any meat. Did I mention I love cabbage?

 I don't really go by any recipe so here's how I make them.

Tear off a large piece of foil and spray the center with cooking spray.
Cut one small cabbage into four wedges or if your cabbage is larger cut in six or eight. Remove the outer layers and the core. Place each wedge on a piece of foil and create a pouch.

Add a few pats of butter and thin sliced onion. You could also add a little garlic if you like.

Add some bacon bits and season with kosher or sea salt and pepper.

Add 1 tbsp worcestershire sauce to about 3/4 cup chicken broth. More or less broth depending on how many you are making. Spoon a few tablespoons of this mixture over the cabbage getting it in all the nooks and crannies.

Wrap each wedge up, place on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 for 45 minutes to 1 hour or cabbage is tender.
Linking to:

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Mount LeConte Hike Six

September 16 we hiked to Mt. LeConte via Trillium Gap. This was the last trail in our quest to hike the five trails to LeConte. This was our 6th hike to LeConte and the 4th time we stayed at the lodge.

I always told myself when we have all five trails completed, I will be satisfied with that and won't feel the need to hike it anymore.
Well........there's something about this mountain that keeps calling you back time and time again. It's more than just the beautiful views. It's the experience. It's a sense of physical accomplishment. In fact half of our hikes have been fogged in, but with each hike I find myself loving this place more than ever and I am already anticipating the next time. We didn't get a reservation made for next year so maybe the following year. I know there are people that have hiked  Mount LeConte over a thousand times!!

The Trillium Gap Trail is located on the Roaring Forks Motor Trail, a narrow one way loop road above Gatlinburg. We hiked a section of this trail to Brushy Mountain but not to LeConte.

The first mile is a gentle climb along a well worn path to our first destination, Grotto Falls.

There is a pretty cascade before you reach the main falls. I don't know if it has a name so I called it Lower Grotto Falls.


You can see the trail going through behind the falls.
Leaving Grotto falls behind, we start the steady climb to Trillium Gap. Most people return to the parking lot after visiting the falls, so with the exception of one other group of hikers also going to the lodge, we have the trail to ourselves.

The trail becomes more narrow and rocky in this section and about a mile above the falls we pass by a huge boulder field and at 2.9 miles we reach Trillium Gap, tucked between Mt. LeConte and Brushy Mountain.

 Trillium Gap is a good place to take a break so we got out our Subway sandwich we picked up in Gatlinburg and ate lunch here.

At the Gap you can take the Brushy Mountain Trail 5.5 miles down to the Greenbrier Cove, another place we love, or you can go 0.2 miles to the top of Brushy Mountain which we wanted to do but it was too cloudy so we passed on that. The views from Brushy Mountain are well worth the side trip on a clear day.

After leaving the gap the trail keeps climbing for 3.6 miles. We pass through a heath bald before we enter the Frazer and Spruce Fir forest prevalent in the higher elevations of the Smokies.

Finally after passing a particularly rocky section with cables to help navigate over wet or icy rocks.........
the lower buildings of the lodge appear ahead.

We head directly to the office to check in and collect our wash bucket and key. There is hot water available at a spigot near the dining room for a sponge bath but you must bring your own towels. How many hotels list wash buckets and kerosene lamps as amenities?

We check the temperature.......

and find our cabin.

Merv coming back with hot chocolate or coffee which is available in the dining hall all day.

While we wait on the dinner bell we wander through the camp. These are some of the crews cabins.

This is where the action is after the sun goes down.  Guests come here to warm up by the stove, sit and read, play games, play guitar, and sing.  Things people did before TV, computers, and iPhones!

 No, there are no bathrooms in those cabins. There is a separate building with flush toilets for guests.

After a delicious dinner of soup, roast beef, mashed potatoes, and green beans, we decide to hike the additional 0.2 miles to Cliff Tops, where everyone gathers for the sunset knowing that most likely there wouldn't be one.

Everything was completely fogged in when we got up to Cliff Tops but we decided to hang around and see what happens. We were really glad we did.  No, we didn't get a spectacular sunset but it was still fascinating to watch that fog swirling around and obscuring the mountains one minute and just as quickly lifting and giving us a peek down into the valleys the next.

A few minutes earlier we couldn't see any of these mountain ridges.

I could see the sun hiding behind all those clouds but this is the closest we came to a sunset.

We were able to see the lights in Gatlinburg down below us.......
and Pigeon Forge in the distance.

Waiting on the breakfast bell the next morning.

We always look forward to the hearty breakfast they serve of pancakes, eggs, Canadian bacon, grits and biscuits.

We knew there was a 100% chance of rain so we packed up and left right after breakfast.
Some fall color was starting to appear in the upper elevations.

Not a lot of wildflowers bloom in the high elevations at this time of the year, but Grass of Parnassus blooms in August and September in elevations from 4,500 to 6,500 feet. 

The highlight of the hike back down was meeting the llama pack on their way up to the lodge.
Three times a week they make the trip up taking fresh linens, food and other supplies. On the return trip they take down the dirty linens and trash. Here is a great little video about the llamas.

Now I know what they do with all the left over pancakes!
 Wrangler Alan no longer leads the llama train but he still works at the lodge.

Back at Trillium Gap. 2.8 miles to go.  We almost took the time to go up Brushy Mountain, but the fog and threat of rain keeps us moving along. The forecast is calling for several inches of rain.

One more picture at the falls.

And a little cascade down below Grotto Falls.

Back at the parking lot the llamas transport have their own reserved space.
We made it down before the worst of the rain came and did it ever come. We were glad our hike was not a day or two later.

Now that we have done all five trails to Mt. LeConte I will rank them in order of preference.

#1. Alum Cave Trail  5.2 miles
Without doubt, Alum Cave Trail is our favorite way to get to LeConte. Not only is it the shortest it's the most scenic. It's a very popular trail therefore it is very crowded, especially up to the Bluff. You get a lot of bang for your buck on this trail. You have Arch Rock, Inspiration Point, and Alum Cave Bluff,  plus many views along the way. Other places to look for are, Eye of the Needle, Little and Big Duck Ridges, Dolly Parton Peaks:) and Grassy Slide.
If there is a classic hike in the Smokies, Alum Cave would be number one.
 Net climb: 2,560 feet

                            # 2. Trillium Gap Trail 6.7 miles 
 Trillium Gap comes in second. I think this trail was the easiest, not that any of them are easy. A more gradual elevation gain than Alum Cave. Not a lot of views unless you make the extra trip up to Brushy Mountain. Highlights of this trail are Grotto Falls and meeting the llama pack-train.
Net Climb: 3,300 feet

                            #3. Rainbow Falls Trail  6.6 miles

                            #4. Bullhead Trail  7.2 miles
We did the Rainbow Falls Trail and the Bullhead Trail as a loop because they start at the same trailhead. We went up Rainbow and down Bullhead but these two are about a tie in my ranking. I enjoyed Bullhead coming down but would not want to hike up Bullhead. It's very steep and long.
Rainbow Falls has the advantage of having a pretty waterfall along the way but it was so foggy, I don't know if there were any views or not. If I ever did these trails again I would do them the same way. Up Rainbow and down Bullhead.
Net climb: 3,820 feet 

                             #5. Boulevard Trail   8 miles  
Definitely my least favorite. It has the least elevation gain because the trail begins at 5,046 feet. Most people assume that this is an easy hike because of the low elevation gain but don't be fooled!  This is a very difficult hike. This trail loses and gains elevation many times as the trail goes up and down over ridge after ridge. This was the toughest hike for us.
If you want to add an extra mile to your hike, there is a little side trail to an overlook called the Jumpoff with amazing views of Charlies Bunion and the Appalachian Trail ridge to the east. I recommend doing the Jumpoff on a separate hike which we did when we hiked to Charlies Bunion several years ago.

Net climb: 1,080 feet..... but you do it over and over and over!