Saturday, March 31, 2018

Pommes de terre rattes rôties et trempette bacon-cheddar

Une autre recette de Marie-Ève Laforte sur Fraîchement Pressé! J’étais contente de trouver un sac de pommes de terre rattes de toutes les couleurs pour faire cette recette. J’étais sûre que ça allait être bon – honnêtement, c’est dur de se tromper avec des pommes de terre, du bacon, de la crème sure et du fromage! (J’ai omis la sauce sriracha et le piment fort, quand même, mais c’est selon mes goûts.) Et en effet, c’était absolument délicieux! J’ai servi le tout avec de la dinde en saumure, mais ce serait aussi une excellente entrée ou collation. L’Ingénieur a qualifié ce repas de « cinq étoiles » et m’a demandé de le refaire!

1-2 lb. de pommes de terre rattes (j’en avais 1 ½ lb.)
2 c. à soupe d’huile d’olive
1 c. à thé de poudre d’ail
1 c. à thé de poudre d’oignon
1 c. à thé de paprika
sel et poivre, au goût
1 tasse de crème sure sans lactose
½ tasse de fromage à la crème sans lactose
2 oignons verts émincés
6-8 tranches de bacon cuites, refroidies, en morceaux
1 tasse de cheddar sans lactose râpé

Préchauffer le four à 400 °F.

Laver et couper les pommes de terre en deux sur la longueur. Dans un grand bol, mélanger les pommes de terre avec l’huile d’olive et les épices; saler et poivrer au goût. Bien répartir sur une plaque de cuisson recouverte de papier d’aluminium. Faire cuire jusqu’à ce que les pommes de terre soient croustillantes, environ 20 à 25 minutes.

Dans un autre bol, mélanger la crème sure et le fromage à la crème avec une spatule jusqu’à consistance lisse. Saler et poivrer au goût. Ajouter le bacon, le cheddar et les oignons verts au mélange (si désiré, conserver un peu de chaque ingrédient pour garnir le dessus de la trempette). Servir avec les pommes de terre!

Brined Turkey Breast

I decided to take my leftover raw turkey out of the freezer and make this recipe from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (which I talked about here). It was originally a spicy brined turkey breast, but I used a small amount of Korean pepper instead of the large amounts of stronger peppers called for (the version below is mine); I also adapted it to the 3 pieces of boneless, skinless turkey breasts I had. I also did not leave my turkey at room temperature for 2 hour because, you know, salmonella.

The turkey this brine produced was moist and flavorful and easily the best tasting turkey I had ever had! I was blown away by this recipe, actually, and declare it fantastic. The Engineer actually called it magnificent. I served it with fingerling potatoes and bacon-cheddar dip, which the Engineer called a five-star meal and asked me to please make it again.

2/3 cup kosher salt or 7 Tbsp. (3 ¾ oz.) fine sea salt
1/3 cup sugar
1 garlic head, halved crosswise
1 tsp. black peppercorns
1 tsp. Korean pepper
1 lemon
6 bay leaves
1 boneless skin-on turkey half breast, about 3 ½ lbs.
Extra-virgin olive oil

Place the salt, sugar, garlic, peppercorns, and Korean pepper in a large pot with 4 cups water. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the lemon zest, then halve the lemon. Squeeze the juice into the pot, then add the lemon halves and zest. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, stirring from time to time. When the salt and sugar have dissolved, remove from the heat and add 8 cups cold water. Allow the brine to cool to room temperature. Submerge the turkey breast in the brine and refrigerate overnight, or up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425 °F. Set a large cast iron pan or other ovenproof skillet on the stove over high heat. Once it’s hot, add a tablespoon of olive oil, then place the breast in the pan, skin side down. Reduce the flame to medium-high and brown the breast for 4 or 5 minutes, until the skin starts to take on some color. Use tongs to flip the breast so it’s skin side up and slip the pan into the oven, pushing it as far back as it will go. (This is the hottest spot in the oven, and the initial blast of heat will ensure the turkey browns well.)

Cook the turkey until it registers 150 °F at its thickest point, about 25-35 minutes. Remove it from the oven and the pan, and allow to rest at least 10 minutes before slicing across the grain.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Quelqu'un a dit chocolat?

- J’ai essayé les chocolats forestiers de Couleur Chocolat. Les saveurs étaient très intéressantes : sapin baumier, carvi sauvage et panais, peuplier baumier, myrique baumier, puis algues. La présentation était jolie, et j’ai trouvé ça très original comme façon de présenter les saveurs du terroir québécois!


- J’ai enfin essayé quelques barres de chocolat Fruition, réputé pour être l’un des meilleurs au pays (il est fait dans l’État de New York). Et je suis d’accord! Il s’agit d’excellent chocolat couverturier éthique, avec une texture crémeuse et un goût raffiné. J’ai acheté le Marañón Canyon Dark 76%, l’Hispaniola Dark 68% et le Dark Milk with Flor de Sal, ce dernier étant mon préféré. Si j’en vois des barres en magasin, je récidive, c’est certain! Il contient des produits laitiers, mais dans les barres que j’ai essayées, la quantité était assez petite que je n’ai pas eu de problème.


- Aussi, nettement moins classe mais quand même satisfaisant, le Chocolove Salted Almond Butter in Dark Chocolate, un chocolat européen avec une saveur américaine. Délicieux! Il y a même une note recommandant de le déguster à 70 °F (mais de l’entreposer entre 55 °F et 65 °F) – j’avoue que j’ai tout fait à la température de la pièce, sans mesurer!


- Pis bon, autant en parler, même si je n’ai pas documenté le tout en photos : j’ai essayé la boîte de 10 morceaux Mostly Dark de Bon Bon Bon, une entreprise de chocolat artisanal de Détroit. Si vous voulez essayer, je recommande fortement cette option, car il y a des dizaines de saveurs du moment qui ne sont pas offertes en ligne à la carte. Bémol : l’emballage, qui se veut original, présente le problème de laisser passer plein de miettes de chocolat à l’extérieur, et ce, même si chaque morceau est emballé individuellement dans la boîte. Vraiment poche! Par contre, les chocolats sont à la fois magnifiques et délicieux!
Sur la photo, il s’agit d’une ganache de chocolat blanc infusée à la rose et épicée au poivre blanc, dans une coquille de chocolat noir. Il y avait aussi des saveurs comme chili et cannelle, beignes et café, praline à la noisette et ganache au miel, figues et épices ou encore douglas vert. Aussi bons qu’originaux! D’accord, ça revient cher, c’est donc un petit luxe que je ne pense pas me payer de nouveau, mais j’ai beaucoup aimé l’expérience.


- J’ai aussi goûté au chocolat au lait sans lactose de Valor, qui contient du lait de vache et de la lactase. J’ai trouvé ça correct, et j’adore avoir l’option de chocolat au lait sans lactose, mais avec une teneur en cacao de 35 %, c’était un peu trop fade et sucré pour moi.


- Un autre chocolat que j’aime beaucoup est le Divine Dark Chocolate with Pink Himalayan Salt. Tout comme c’était le cas du Green & Black’s Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt (mon équivalent de tous les jours), il s’agit d’un chocolat équitable, à la différence que pour celui-ci, les gens qui font la récolte du cacao sont copropriétaires des plantations. Je me rends compte en comparant les deux étiquettes que le Divine est en fait plus sucré, mais pourtant, on jurerait le contraire, alors qu’il contient 60 % de cacao contre les 70 % du Green & Black’s. Il contient aussi moins de gras et de fer, mais plus de fibres. C’est quand même un peu moins calorique par portion. Toutes choses faites, je l’aime autant et j’en achète de temps en temps quand je passe chez Whole Foods. (Pour les intéressés, il ne contient pas d’huile de palme, mais pourrait avoir été en contact avec du soya, du blé ou des noix. Il y a aussi un avertissement comme quoi il contient du lait, mais je ne vois pourtant pas de produits laitiers dans la liste des ingrédients!)

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Citrus and Yogurt Cake



It’s the tail end of citrus season, but take heart: here’s a citrus cake that can be made year-round with lemon and orange. I’m sure you could experiment with it and use Meyer lemons and Cara-Cara oranges during citrus season, but really, it’s delicious with what is available in supermarkets all the time. This cake is gluten-free, but I’m pretty sure you could substitute an equal amount (in weight) of all-purpose flour and get good results, too. The glaze is optional, but I recommend it. This cake was wonderful! We give it three thumbs up. The recipe is from Cannelle et Vanille; the original post suggests adding rose water to the cake and dried rose petals on top of the glaze, and I might do that next time.

For the citrus and yogurt cake
1 cup (140 g.) superfine brown rice flour
½ cup (50 g.) almond flour
¼ cup (30 g.) tapioca starch or cornstarch
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. baking soda
1 ¼ cup (250 g.) natural cane sugar
2 tsp. finely grated orange zest
2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest
12 Tbsp. or 1 ½ sticks (170 g.) lactose-free butter, room temperature
½ cup lactose-free Greek-style whole-milk yogurt
3 eggs, room temperature
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Prepare a 9”x5” loaf pan by greasing it with soft butter or non-stick cooking spray (I also lined it with paper). Set aside.

Whisk together the first 6 ingredients in a bowl. Set aside.

Mix the sugar, orange and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer. Rub the sugar and zest between your fingers to release their natural oils, making it more fragrant. Add the soft butter to the bowl and with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar mixture together on medium high speed for 2 minutes until light and creamy. Make sure you scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl as well as the paddle to make sure all the butter is well mixed.

Add the yogurt and mix until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time while mixing in between additions. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl again to get a very smooth mixture. Add the vanilla extract and the dry ingredients. Mix until combined and smooth.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for about 45 to 50 minutes or until the cake is done in the center. To see if the cake is done, insert a toothpick in the center of the cake and if it comes out dry and clean, the cake is done. Let the cake cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then invert it onto the cooling rack and let it cool for another 15 minutes or so. We want to glaze the cake when it’s room temperature but not too cold.

For the citrus glaze
1 ½ cups powdered sugar, sifted
½ tsp. lemon zest
½ tsp. orange zest
2 to 4 Tbsp. lemon juice

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl until smooth (start with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and see if it needs more). The glaze should be thick yet pourable.

Pour the glaze over the cake while it is still on the cooling rack. Collect the glaze under the cooling rack and pour it over the sides of the cake. Let the glaze set for a few minutes before cutting into the cake.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Chickpea Vegetable Quiche

I tried this quiche recipe, which happens to be both vegan and soy-free. Honestly, it’s probably more of a vegetable tart than a quiche, but just go with it. I used store-bought pie dough, which tends to be relatively shallow (just like the tart pan called for in the original recipe), but I ended up splitting the vegetables between the two plates and doubling the batter recipe to make two quiches; those are the amounts below. I put one in the freezer at the time and pulled it out again for dinner last night – I can confirm that it freezes well, so don’t hesitate to make two (otherwise, you could make a bigger one in a deep pie plate and bake it longer).

I really liked this, as I found it a more-than-palatable way to eat a lot of vegetables; that being said, I’d serve it more as a hearty side (as I did last night) or a light lunch than as a main course for dinner.

2 store-bought plated pie doughs
1 medium zucchini, chopped into half-rounds
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped into short, thin strips (I sliced it further into squares)
½ cup peas, fresh or frozen and thawed
3 scallions, thinly sliced
2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chickpea flour
2 Tbsp. potato starch (I used corn starch)
4 tsp. nutritional yeast
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. dried thyme
¼ tsp. dried sage (I omitted it)
¼ tsp. paprika
¼ tsp. baking powder
2 cups vegetable stock or water
2 Tbsp. olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 °F.

Blind bake your plated pie doughs for 10-15 minutes, just to help them set up and get very, very light brown. Set aside to cool.

For the filling, toss your chopped veggies, scallions, and minced garlic together to achieve an even distribution of everything, and then transfer it into your par-baked crusts.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the chickpea flour, potato starch, nutritional yeast, salt, herbs, spices, and baking powder. Pour in the vegetable stock or water and oil, and whisk until smooth. (It should be about the consistency of pancake batter.) Pour this batter on top of your vegetables in the tart shells, making sure to fill all of the gaps. Lightly tap the pans on the counter a few times to release any air bubbles.

Bake for 45 – 55 minutes, until the filling appears set and lightly golden brown on top. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing. (It’s also great at room temperature.)

Monday, March 26, 2018

Crumb Muffins

I’m a creature of habit. One of my favorite breakfast foods is muffins. Well, I also really like oatmeal, but the last recipe I tried (peanut butter, banana, and chocolate baked oatmeal) was only okay, not great. So I went back to muffins, and since the Engineer is drinking Soylent most mornings and the Little Prince is in a phase where he doesn’t like blueberries, I made a blueberry muffin for one, but it just served to remind me that I don’t like microwaved mug muffins!

Then I made banana chocolate chip crumb muffins, which should have been great, but were really underwhelming. That being said, I had about half of the topping mixture left, and because it contains lactose-free butter (which is like gold around here), I really didn’t want it to go to waste. So I made a batch of the original recipe, the bakery-style crumb muffins, and those were fantastic! I’m not sure how the plain version was so much better than the banana chocolate chip variation, but there you have it. I’m reducing the amount of topping below, so that you don’t end up with way too much, but do try to use lactose-free butter instead of margarine sticks, it’ll make a difference here. These muffins freeze beautifully.

For the crumb topping
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup packed light brown sugar
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
1 pinch salt
5 Tbsp. lactose-free butter, melted and cooled
¾ cup + 2 Tbsp. cake flour

For the muffins
2 ½ cups cake flour
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
12 Tbsp. (6 oz.) lactose-free butter, melted and cooled
2/3 cup buttermilk (lactose-free milk with a splash of lemon juice)
2 large eggs
2 large egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla extract
¼ cup powdered sugar (optional; I didn’t use it)

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 °F. Line a standard 12-well muffin tin with paper liners, or coat the wells with butter or cooking spray; set aside.

To make the crumb topping, whisk the granulated sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt together in a medium bowl. Whisk in the butter until well-combined (the trick here is to avoid over-mixing, as this will turn chunks of topping into finer crumbs). Stir in the flour until the mixture is just combined (again, don’t over-mix – you want nuggets, not sand!), with thick, wet chunks; set aside.

To make the muffins, whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large bowl; set aside.

Whisk the butter, buttermilk, eggs, egg yolks, and vanilla together in a medium bowl until combined.
Pour the wet ingredients into the flour mixture and mix with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula until just combined; some lumps are fine.

Divide the batter among the prepared muffin wells, filling each one ¾ of the way full. Divide the reserved crumbs among the muffin wells, and gently press them into the batter.

Bake until the muffins are golden-brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, 20 to 24 minutes. Cool the muffins in the pan for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Dust the muffins with the powdered sugar just before serving.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Chocolate Pumpkin Magic Cake



Since canned pumpkin is available year-round, I don’t feel like this cake is particularly seasonal. That being said, I suppose it would make a great dessert for Thanksgiving! It’s another one of the “magic cakes” where different layers form during baking. In this version, though, the pumpkin pie filling is deposited on top of the chocolate cake batter, but then it sinks to the bottom and therefore switches places with the chocolate cake. That didn’t happen in my case, or at least not cleanly across the entire confection, but the cake was delicious nonetheless. I used Cocowhip for the topping – it was too runny when I made it, but after a night in the fridge, it had set up properly and at that point, I could have topped the whole cake with it, but I continued to dollop it on each individual piece as I was serving it. Note also that for once, to make my life easier, I did use a boxed mix for the cake, since that’s what the recipe actually called for and I wasn’t sure what recipe to make to end up with the same amounts. So anyway, it made the process easier. Instead of evaporated milk, I used sweetened condensed coconut milk. We all loved this cake!


For the cake
1 box of devil's food cake mix PLUS ingredients needed to make (eggs, water, oil)

For the pumpkin pie filling
1 (15-oz.) can pumpkin purée
½ cup evaporated milk substitute (see note above)
½ cup lactose-free cream or coconut milk
3 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice (I always make my own)

For the topping
1 (4-serving size) box vanilla instant pudding mix
1 cup cold lactose-free milk
8 oz. Cool Whip equivalent (I used Cocowhip, but see note above), thawed
4 or 5 gingersnap cookies, crushed into crumbs

For the cake and pumpkin pie filling
Preheat oven to 350 °F. Grease a 9”x13” cake pan.

Prepare box of cake mix according to package instructions, then pour into prepared cake pan. DO NOT BAKE – set aside.

In another bowl, whisk together the ingredients for the pumpkin pie filling until smooth. Slowly pour the pumpkin pie mixture all over the cake mix.

Carefully place cake into the oven and bake for 50-60 minutes or until the center is no longer jiggly, and a toothpick inserted into cake mix comes out clean. Let cool to room temperature.

For the topping
Place the vanilla pudding mix into a large bowl and pour in the cold milk. Whisk until combined and starting to thicken. Gently fold in the Cool Whip until it's completely combined. (In my case, it was better after setting up in the fridge for a day – this can absolutely be prepared in advance.) Spread on top of the cooled cake then sprinkle with the crushed gingersnap cookies.

The cake can be served now, or chilled, over the next few days.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sweet Potato and Avocado Salad

I’m on a salad kick for lunch. I love hearty salads, especially with avocado and roasted sweet potatoes, so a salad that incorporates both of those is for me! Plus, the sweet tahini dressing is perfect. They know what they’re doing over at Minimalist Baker! I threw in some chickpeas for extra protein – feel free to adapt to your taste, as I did below.

For the sweet potatoes
2 sweet potatoes, peeled, halved and sliced
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 pinch sea salt

For the dressing
¼ cup tahini
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 pinch sea salt
4 Tbsp. of water or so, to thin

For the salad
4 cups mixed greens
1 or 2 ripe avocados, peeled and sliced
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (optional)
2 Tbsp. hemp seeds (optional; I didn’t have any on hand)

Preheat oven to 375 °F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Add sweet potatoes, toss in a bit of oil and salt, and spread into an even layer. Bake 15 minutes. Then flip/toss to ensure even baking. Bake 10 minutes more or until tender and golden brown.

In the meantime, prepare dressing by adding tahini, lemon juice, maple syrup, and salt to a small mixing bowl. Whisk to combine. Then add water a little at a time until a semi-thick, pourable dressing is achieved. Taste and adjust flavor as needed. Set aside.

Assemble salad by adding greens to a serving bowl and topping with roasted sweet potato, avocado, and chickpeas. Sprinkle on hemp seeds and serve with dressing.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Adas Polo o Morgh



I had tried a few new chicken recipes in the past few months, but they hadn’t impressed me enough to blog about them. Honey lemon chicken with sautéed green beans was very good, easy sticky lemon-turmeric chicken was a bit underwhelming. But then I read Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. It is an excellent book that is more than just recipes. The first half explains in detail how each of the title elements affects food, and the second half has recipes to put it into practice. It was a great addition to my cookbook collection!

This recipe, Adas Polo o Morgh (or chicken with lentil rice) is the first that I tried from this book, and it was excellent. I used 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts and, as it turns out, had plenty of leftovers that I put in the freezer after two meals – I’m really looking forward to digging those out, actually!

For the Persian herb and cucumber yogurt
¼ cup black or golden raisins
1 ½ cups plain lactose-free yogurt
1 Persian cucumber, peeled and finely diced
¼ cup any combination finely chopped fresh herbs (mint, parsley, and cilantro are good choices)
1 garlic clove, finely grated
¼ cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 generous pinch of salt

For the chicken
4-lb. chicken, or 8 bone-in, skin-on thighs
salt
1 tsp. + 1 Tbsp. ground cumin
extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. lactose-free butter
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
1 small pinch saffron threads
2 ½ cups basmati rice
1 cup black or golden raisins
6 Medjool dates, pitted and quartered
4 ½ chicken stock or water
1 ½ cups cooked, drained brown or green lentils (from about ¾ cup raw)

For the Persian herb and cucumber yogurt
In a small bowl, submerge the raisins in boiling water. Let them sit for 15 minutes to rehydrate and plump up. Drain and place in a medium bowl. Add the yogurt, cucumber, herbs, garlic, walnuts, olive oil, and salt. Stir to combine, taste, and adjust salt as needed. Chill until serving.

For the chicken
If using a whole bird, quarter the chicken. Season generously with salt and 1 teaspoon cumin on all sides (this should ideally be done the night before, but give the salt at least 1 hour to diffuse throughout the meat before cooking).

Wrap the lid of a large Dutch oven with a tea towel secured to the handle with a rubber band. This will absorb steam and prevent the skin from becoming soggy.

Set the Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Brown the chicken in two batches, so as not to crowd the pan. Begin with the skin side down, then turn and rotate the chicken around the pan to get even browning on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Remove from pan and set aside. Carefully discard fat.

Return the pan to medium heat and melt the butter. Add the onions, cumin, bay leaves, saffron, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until brown and tender, about 25 minutes.

Increase the heat to medium-high; add the rice to the pan and toast, stirring, until it turns a light golden color. Add the raisins and dates and let them fry for a minute until they start to plump.

Pour in the stock and lentils, increase the heat to high, and bring to a boil. Season generously with salt and taste. In order to get the rice properly seasoned, make the liquid salty enough to make you slightly uncomfortable – it should be saltier than the saltiest soup you’ve ever tasted. Reduce the heat to low and nestle in the chicken, skin side up. Cover the pan and cook for 40 minutes.

After 40 minutes, turn off the heat and let the pan sit, covered, for 10 minutes to continue steaming. Remove lid and fluff rice with a fork. Serve immediately with the yogurt sauce.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Road trip in the American West

In February, we went on a road trip from San Antonio to Las Vegas and back, stopping at several national, state and tribal parks on the way. It took 13 days (12 nights) start to finish. The timing worked out perfectly for us because the Engineer is on sabbatical this semester and the Little Prince hasn’t started school yet, so we were able to just up and go once we has confirmation that the government wouldn’t shut down (and, therefore, that national parks would be accessible). And it was such a wonderful trip! I’ll give you highlights in case you ever want to travel in that area with small children. Here’s the itinerary, so you can scroll down to a specific site of interest (which are in bold in this post): El Paso, TX; White Sands National Monument, NM; Saguaro National Park, AZ; Sedona, AZ; Grand Canyon, AZ; Bearizona, AZ; Hoover Dam and the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge; Las Vegas, NV; Red Rock Canyon Natural Conservation Area, NV; Valley of Fire, NV; Bryce Canyon National Park, UT; Horseshoe Bend, AZ; Monument Valley, UT; Four Corners Monument; Albuquerque, NM; and Roswell, NM.

If you ever want to make a similar trip but want to fly in and rent a car locally, and/or if you have less time, I’d suggest flying in to Phoenix or Las Vegas and making the loop in about a week, omitting Texas as well as Albuquerque and Roswell, and perhaps not visiting Las Vegas if you’ve already seen it.

First, a few tips and recommendations. We did have some restrictions: we were travelling with small children (4.5 years and 11 months, respectively), and we did not want to bother trying (and probably failing) to get passes awarded through lottery for certain parks. So we knew we wouldn’t be visiting places like the Wave in Coyote Buttes, Utah or Havasupai Falls in Arizona, nor did we think that seeing Antelope Canyon was feasible (one can only get there with private tours, but they don’t provide car seats, and of course the canyon isn’t stroller-friendly!). I’d love to go back someday to see Antelope Canyon, but for now it wasn’t meant to be.

We were also not interested in anything beyond short easy hikes – I mean, if you are used to hiking and your kids are used to walking with you and you have the proper equipment (like a hiking backpack-baby carrier combo), basically if you know what you’re doing, then yes, you can hike with your kids, but that was not our case. I had an umbrella stroller, a baby carrier, and all the diaper bag stuff was in a backpack. As for water, since we weren’t doing much hiking and since it was winter, we opted to bring reusable water bottles that we refilled at our hotel each night, plus a gallon jug of water that we kept in the car and that we used as needed to refill during the day. Also, shelf-stable salty snacks (hummus, crackers, jerky sausages; plus baby food) to eat if we got too hungry at a park before we could make it to a restaurant.

Note that because of how many parks we wanted to visit, it was more economical for us to purchase an annual pass (called the America the Beautiful pass), so you should definitely look into that when planning your vacation. It’s often worth it for families (two adults and their children), and two seniors can get a lifetime pass for the same price! The pass doesn’t cover state parks or private attractions, obviously, but it was worth it for us.

I’ve put a few restaurants and a hotel in the post below, but let me tell you about two chains we frequented for the first time and gladly recommend. First, Which Wich Superior Sandwiches, which had some really great options, delicious sandwiches, and a nice bright dining room. The sandwiches, wraps, and gyros are highly customizable, too, with vegan and gluten-free options, and you can even have them made into a salad instead. It’s definitely the kind of place where we like to have lunch when we’re on the road! We also discovered Village Inn, a very family-friendly place with good food and good value. Plus, you get free pie on Wednesday! But it’s worth paying for on other weekdays, too.


Our first sightseeing stop was El Paso, where we spent a few hours on our way north to New Mexico. We went to the UTEP campus and visited the Centennial Museum and Chihuahuan Desert Gardens (free admission; parking is also free, though you have to get a permit inside), which have a lot of information about local culture and history as well as local flora and fauna. Plus, the campus has gorgeous views across the Rio Grande to Mexico! We then had lunch at nearby Crave Kitchen & Bar, which has great healthy options as well as comfort food.


Our next stop was White Sands National Monument, which is essentially 275 square miles of white gypsum dunes. Gypsum retains water better than sand (supporting more flora and fauna) and is also cooler to the touch. The scenery is breathtaking just to get there, but once in the dunes, we were in awe! It was also eerily quiet, even with other people around. You can drive through the park on a road (paved at first, then it’s tightly packed gypsum); there’s also a boardwalk that is stroller-friendly, but you should definitely walk up a dune barefoot. We really enjoyed walking there, and the Little Prince had a blast repeatedly climbing up a dune and tumbling back down (we didn’t have a sled, but he didn’t know what he was missing). We brushed off his clothes as best we could, but like Pig-Pen, he left a trail of sand behind him until we got him into the bath that night. We loved that park! There were also several animal tracks visible, including those of kit foxes and horned larks, and I learned about using soaptree yucca for cooking and personal hygiene purposes. I should mention that White Sands Missile Range surrounds the monument and the area is sometimes closed for missile testing (!); according to the pamphlet, this happens on average twice a week, for 1-2 hours at a time. Dust storms are also possible, but we never saw one. For what it’s worth, we spent the night in Las Cruces and had a delicious, healthy, inexpensive dinner at Santorini (hummus plus fattoush salad for me), and dessert at Let Them Eat Cake a few doors down, where they had three kinds of vegan cupcakes! I tasted (and loved) both the raspberry and pink lemonade.


The next day, which happened to be Valentine’s Day, we went to the eastern part of Saguaro National Park (technically Saguaro East Rincon Mountain District; map here). It was cloudy with a light drizzle, but visibility was good and it was still pleasant enough to walk. (I actually much preferred that to the sun beating down on us!) We drove along Cactus Forest Loop Drive, stopping periodically to take pictures, and parked at Mica View. From there, we walked the trail until Broadway Boulevard and back, a total of roughly 1.5 miles. The trail is paved, but because of the weather, I wore the Fox in a carrier under my M Shell, while the Little Prince rode on the Engineer’s shoulders for about a third of the way. It was our first time seeing saguaros (or any cacti of that size and shape, really), and the scenery is breathtaking. I strongly recommend visiting! We left there with some prickly pear candy and prickly pear jelly, as well as a pair of binoculars for the Little Prince (and a pressed penny that he absolutely needed in order to continue living and in which he immediately lost interest once he held it).


After a decent night’s sleep, we made our way north towards Flagstaff, stopping to see Sedona on the way. When we first started seeing the beautiful red sandstone formations in the area, we decided to make a pit stop to enjoy the view at the Collective Sedona (and enjoy a prickly pear and lime sorbet at Rocky Rd Ice Cream Co.). We got back on Red Rock Scenic Byway, which is Highway 179, and the view just got better. I admit I wasn’t sure exactly which rock formations were which (even though I knew the names of the major ones, like Cathedral Rock), but here’s a handy map that would have been helpful. As it was, we were content to take in the stunning views without knowing their names. There are places to park along the highway and look at the scenery, and you could hike if you wanted to (but it looked more challenging than what we were prepared for given our circumstances). We then drove into Sedona proper, which is known for relaxation and spirituality. There are lots of spas, sure, but the Yavapai Natives believe the area is sacred, so there’s also a lot of “New Age” stuff if that’s what you’re into (energy vortexes, crystals, salt rooms, sage-burning, chanting, etc.). The touristy part of Sedona also had a lot of shops, restaurants, art galleries, etc., and it would have been nice to have an afternoon to spend walking around. Heck, maybe someday when the kids are older I’ll plan a solo getaway at a resort spa here.


We kept going north on Highway 89 towards Flagstaff, driving along a creek much of the way in what felt like the third climate since we had entered Arizona. We had started with a desert climate, you know, the typical sand and cacti and occasional agaves and yuccas. Then there were the red sandstone formations near Sedona, standing out against shrubs and short trees, and it felt like a different planet. And then that evening, in a much higher elevation, we ended up in mixed coniferous forests with snow on the ground and in the mountains ahead, all in all not very different from what I had seen in Canada. For what it’s worth, we stayed at the DoubleTree in Flagstaff and liked it very much (bonus: there’s a restaurant right in the hotel, so you don’t need to drive out again for dinner.)

We got up before dawn the next morning to arrive at the Grand Canyon (South Rim) early. It is recommended to get there by 9 am to get a parking spot, otherwise you have to park much further and use their (free) shuttles to get to the Canyon. In our case, there were still spots after 9 am that morning because it was winter, but I have to admit that since we dislike crowds, we would have found this visit unpleasant in the summer. Even though temperatures hovered in the 20s all morning, I’m glad we went in winter! We followed the recommendations of the guide at the visitor center to get the most out of our few hours there: a hike between Mather Point (just behind the visitor center), west along the Rim Trail, up to Yavapai Point and the geology museum. (Did you know that the Grand Canyon started forming 5 or 6 million years ago and that the exposed rocks at the bottom are over 1,800 million years old? Also, the Colorado River probably always had the same width, but erosion has widened the canyon at the top.) We then took the orange shuttle to get back to the parking lot.

After this, we drove west to Hermits Rest and saw some elk along the way. It was surprising how large they were and also, given their size, how well they blended into the background (on our way back along the road, all the people who had crowded around them upon their arrival had dispersed, but the elk were still there and hikers across the street were completely oblivious.)

We walked around a bit at Pima Point, from which there is a beautiful view of the canyon and the Colorado River down below. There are also paved trails in the area that are stroller-friendly. (That being said, the road is open to private vehicles only in the winter, so 9 months of the year it’s accessible strictly via the red shuttle from the Village, which itself would be accessible via the blue shuttle from the visitor center, assuming parking lots are full in the Village. You could also rent bikes near the visitor center, and I believe they had some bike trailers for small children. Hermits Rest is about 9 miles from the visitor center. There’s a map here.) There are of course sites beyond the South Rim where one can see the Canyon, but this one is the most visited. The famed Grand Canyon Skywalk is actually some 250 miles west, much closer to Las Vegas, in the Hualapai Indian Reservation.


Since we were in the general area, we decided to trust the recommendations of a friend of the Engineer’s cousin and go to Bearizona, which is a drive-through wildlife exhibit with only local animals (so, no lions or tigers, but lots of bears and deer, some wolves and bison, etc.). There are also a walk-through exhibit where we can see foxes, badgers, otters, peacocks, farm animals and the like (and there’s a black jaguar in an enclosure behind the gift shop). There are also birds of prey in the warmer months. I was surprised that there were no gates between the drive-through exhibits, so I was wondering why the wolves weren’t going for the deer in the adjacent pen, but it turns out that there are cattle guards between the exhibits, and some of those are electrified, and that’s enough to keep all animals in their place during the day (there are gates to close at night for added safety). We enjoyed the area, but I liked walking around with the kids more than driving next to bears, even though I was expecting the opposite.

The following day, we drove to the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge and Hoover Dam. If, like us, what you really want to do is see the dam (without actually going into it), the best thing to do is to park on the Nevada side of the Memorial Bridge (parking is free) and, from there, go up the walkway and onto the bridge’s pedestrian access. You’ll have the best view of Hoover Dam, as the two are only 1,500 feet apart! Afterwards, you can drive on the dam and park at one of the scenic points on the Arizona side, from which you’ll see the back of the dam as well as the bridge. You can also visit the dam itself and tour the power plant if you wish, but I think our kids were a bit young to enjoy it, so we moved on after that to Las Vegas.


In Las Vegas, we splurged on a suite at the Staybridge Suites for two nights, and we *loved* the hotel. It felt luxurious compared to where we usually stay, and it definitely helped us recuperate from being on the road! We were able to do laundry and eat healthy food in our own kitchen (Whole Foods is about 8 minutes away). The fact that it was off the strip and casino-free was a good thing for us, but obviously we had our own transportation. If you are looking for other family-friendly hotels, Expedia (among others) has recommendations.

To see the Strip, we parked at the Venetian, which has free public self-parking. From there, we walked south all the way to the Bellagio to see the fountains – we walked through the casino to get there, so I played $1 in a slot machine just that once. The digital machines are hella confusing, but I won $0.10 (or, as the Engineer says, I lost $0.90). The fountain display is certainly worth it, though! Shows were every 30 minutes on Saturday afternoon, but are less frequent on other days. Then we made our way back on the Strip, passing landmarks such as the Mirage and Caesar’s Palace. The Strip really is crazy busy, as are the hotels themselves – they are almost self-sustained mini-cities packed full of luxury stores and restaurants. It was all a bit overwhelming, and we had the constant feeling that the city had a hand in our pocket. But I can tell you, the kids fell right asleep that night after all the excitement!

On our second day in Vegas, we started by seeing the famous ”Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. Then we parked at the Mandalay Bay Hotel to visit Shark Reef Aquarium. It was a bit small, in my opinion, but still fun to visit. My favorite part, predictably, was the clear tunnel under the water from which one can observe sharks, schools of fish and a few sea turtles. I recommend getting there as it opens, because a line quickly forms outside. We followed that up with a visit of Polar Journey, a temporary exhibit for the year that was included in the ticket price – I was a bit underwhelmed, and I admit I’m not sure how much any of us learned about polar animals or climate.

We then made our way north using first the free tram between the Mandalay Bay and the Excalibur, then by foot on the Strip. From there, we hit a bit of a rough spot as the Little Prince, who had been fit as a fiddle at breakfast, began crying and complaining of an earache. So for the record, there is a very conveniently located CVS at 3758 South Las Vegas Boulevard, in which there is a walk-in clinic that accepts most insurance companies – what a lifesaver! Once we had a diagnosis (double ear infection) and medication for him, we made our way back south and stopped for lunch at the Hard Rock Café. Pro tip: the ambient noise covered up the last of the Little Prince’s moaning, he was able to lie down on the padded bench in a booth to rest, and once he perked up, he had a kids’ activity book to complete and easy access to apple juice and chicken tenders. We then walked a block to visit M&M’s World (more info here; if Hershey’s is more your speed, there’s one of those a few blocks south, too). At this point, we were all tired and made our way back to the car (parking cost us $12 for a half-day, which is actually pretty reasonable). Had we had more time, I would have considered Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat or Discovery Children’s Museum, but as it was, we were content to just chill in our hotel room from mid-afternoon on.


We left Vegas early the next morning and drove to nearby Red Rock Canyon Natural Conservation Area (more info here). There is a 13-mile scenic loop on a paved road, plus several trailheads, one of which is a 1-mile loop on flat terrain (though not stroller-friendly, as it is a gravel path). It was a bit windy, but with our hats and gloves (and the Fox safely nestled under my M-Shell), we were fine. The rock formations were absolutely gorgeous, and it is well worth the stop if you are near Las Vegas!


From there, we went to the Valley of Fire State Park, the oldest state park in Nevada, which gets its name from the color of the rocks during sunset. We came in through the west entrance, on Valley of Fire Road. [I’m going to give people a fair warning here: the bathrooms at that fee station were fine, though lacking soap – it wasn’t the end of the world, I had hand sanitizer with me. However, the bathrooms at the visitor center were horrid, some of the worst I have seen on the continental U.S. – I couldn’t even use them, that’s how bad it was – and judging by the smell, the ones near Elephant Rock were the same. Plan accordingly.] We made sure to see Arch Rock and Atlatl Rock, which has petroglyphs you shouldn’t miss (we had a snack at the picnic area there, and before you ask, an “atlatl” is a notched stick used to throw primitive spears); then we drove north to the stunning Rainbow Vista with its multicolored sandstone and White Domes; on the way back, we stopped at the visitor center. Balanced Rock is on the left of it, but you’ll get the best view from the southbound road before reaching it. There are also rock formations full of holes where kids (of all ages) can play, and the Little Prince spent a good 15 minutes climbing the into the holes and back out again; he would happily have continued, had we not been pressed for time. We headed east to see the Seven Sisters and Elephant Rock (at the end of a trail on uneven terrain) before driving out of the park at the east gate.


We then headed north to Bryce, Utah. Admittedly, this was a very long day, complicated by the fact that there was a snowstorm and we were driving after dark for part of it. We made it to our destination (Best Western Ruby’s Inn, not to be confused with the Best Western Plus directly across the street) around 8 pm – luckily, there is a restaurant right on the premises, so we didn’t have far to go for dinner. That said, if we had to do it over again, we probably would have picked something closer. We didn’t have snow tires (coming from South Texas, this isn’t something we could come by easily), but pro tip: do make sure you fill your windshield washer fluid tank with an antifreeze formula, and definitely bring an ice scraper.

When the sun rose in Bryce, it was 6 °F, which was significantly colder than we had expected. This meant that we opted not to go on any trails at Bryce Canyon National Park. (The fact that most trails were ice patches and snow on gravel and that we didn’t have appropriate footwear was enough of a deterrent, but throw in the cold? We kept the kids in the car. That being said, there is a 1-mile paved trail between Sunset Point and Sunrise Point, so that might be worth it if the weather is nice, though obviously you’d have to make your way back to your car so really it’s 2 miles.) For what it’s worth, the park flyer gives a top 10 list of most common reasons for injuries in the park and they are (in decreasing order): improper footwear, over-exertion, leaving the trail, dehydration, ignoring the weather, lightning, feeding animals, climbing or descending cliffs, unsafe driving, and firearms (even though those are prohibited in the park in the first place). And we saw an ambulance rush in as we left, so maybe someone took one risk too many… We’re glad we didn’t. What we did was drive around the park to take in the scenic views, and the Engineer and I took turns walking to the lookout points from the parking lots; the Little Prince tagged along at Sunset Point to see Thor’s Hammer with each of us, but that was it for him. We were awed by the hoodoos, which are rock pillars left standing by erosion – Bryce Canyon has the largest collection in the world. Unfortunately, because of the snow, the roads leading to Fairyland Point and Rainbow Point were closed, but Bryce Point, Inspiration Point and Sunset Point were well worth the trip.


We were in Kanab, UT, for lunch, and the reason I both mentioning it is that we stopped at Big Al’s Burgers, and they were unexpectedly good! Service was very friendly (I believe the waitress’s name was Jean), we had a really good lunch, and… they served fried Twinkies. So I had my very first fried Twinkie ever. And it’s scary how awesome those things are and I love them and I’d better not have them again or I’ll get back to my pregnancy weight. End of side note.

From there, we went to Horseshoe Bend Observation Area, between mile markers 544 and 545 on Highway 89. It doesn’t sound very promising said like that, but there are signs on the highway and they were building visitor facilities, so I doubt you’ll miss it. There’s a ½-mile hike from the parking lot to get there; it is not a difficult hike, but it is uphill and then downhill each way, on sandy terrain, so a baby carrier is a must. Also, be warned that there are no guardrails once at the viewpoint, so watch your kids closely! The place was relatively busy, though everyone took turns being front and center to see the river down below; I can imagine this gets very crowded, and therefore perhaps more perilous, in the warmer months. (We spent the night in nearby Page, where many businesses were closed until March, but Strombolli’s Pizza is a good dinner option year-round.)


We headed out early the next morning to go to Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. From northbound Highway 163, the entrance is just after the Utah border, on the right hand side of the road, which is paved all the way to the visitor center. (I specify this because for some reason, the Engineer had originally entered rough coordinates in the GPS instead of the actual address, and we first ended up near Oljato on a sandy road on private property where we almost got stuck.) Even though the address of the visitor center is in Utah, the park itself straddles the Arizona/Utah border and the trails are in Arizona. (And for what it’s worth, this center had very clean bathrooms, as well as a nice gift shop with Navajo art, pottery, blankets, and jewelry.) The park is a 17-mile dirt road on sometimes rough terrain, mainly the steep hill from the visitor center. If you don’t think your car can handle it, book a private tour from the visitor center. Calculate about 2 hours to see the whole thing, more if you stop along the way to buy souvenirs at one of the stands, take a horse ride, hike, etc. We were once again absolutely awed by the rock formations, even though we’d been seeing similar stuff for over a week by then. It’s just like in the movies! (Here’s an interesting tidbit: even though Monument Valley is the stereotype we associate with the entire Far West, it’s actually only 5 square miles!) It turns out there are actually Navajos living near some of the rock formations, in what looked to me like a pretty desolate, albeit beautiful, place. I couldn’t help but wonder what it’s like when they have to run to the store because they’re out of milk or something!

We had lunch at the visitor center. The restaurant was technically closed for the winter, but the kitchen was open and there was a menu up, plus some tables where we could sit and eat with a gorgeous view of the Mittens, so it was a de facto restaurant with takeout containers. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to try typical (according to the menu) Navajo food: I ordered mutton stew and Navajo fry bread (basically, dough that is deep-fried instead of baked). The stew was good, but it was very much like something my grandmother might have made (vegetables and meat in clear broth) and therefore not exotic at all, but then again I’m not sure what I was expecting. It was good, though, and the fry bread was a good accompaniment. The Engineer had a posole, but that was too spicy for me! Note that there’s also a hotel on the premises, though guests still have to pay access fees at the park entrance.

After that, we went to Four Corners Monument, a remote area where four states meet (Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico; practical info here). It was pretty quiet, with only a handful of vendors (whereas there’s room for dozens of stalls) and about as many visitors, which gave us ample time to walk around and get our turn to take pictures on the actual four corners plaque. I’m going to anticipate your question here, “Is it worth seeing?” My answer is: Know your audience. Have you ever been to Stanstead? Did you love the black line on the floor of the Haskell Free Library and Canusa Street? I’m the kind of person who really enjoys stuff like that, so for me, Four Corners Monument was delightful. To the Engineer, however, those are just imaginary lines, so if it hadn’t been for me, he would have been happier to skip it. To each their own.


We made our way back to Texas via New Mexico. The first stop was Albuquerque; we had lunch at the Whole Foods, which has a beautiful view of the Sandia Mountains. Had we been child-free, we probably would have gone on some kind of Breaking Bad tour, but we didn’t want to have to explain the concept of a meth lab to a 4-year-old, so we went to Explora, the children’s museum, instead. And man, did we have fun! Albuquerque’s Explora really puts San Antonio’s Doseum to shame. Adults and kids were equally charmed and entertained by the various exhibits, including a perpetual motion ball run (that alone could have entertained the Little Prince for hours), multiple hands-on experiments with water, light, and air (in different sections), bubbles, and electrical circuits. Plus, the (giant) elevator contains a full living room! (I couldn’t help but quote Pretty Woman in there.) There was also a travelling exhibit called Curious Contraptions, made of wooden mechanical sculptures that I had actually seen in London, U.K., and it was nice to cross their path again! It’s a shame we don’t live here, because we would be back again and again!


Finally, on our second-to-last day (the last being just the drive home), we stopped in Roswell, where we spent about an hour at the UFO Museum, about half of which is full of information about “the Roswell incident” of July 1947, plus a tiny section to debunk some of it, and news stories of other sighting around the world. I might have read this before, but I had forgotten: the image that we have of flying saucers actually comes from the media misreporting what a witness had said (not even in Roswell, mind you). “Saucer” wasn’t describing the shape of the aircraft, which the witness specifically said had wings; but he compared the movement of the unidentified aircraft to that of a saucer ricocheting off a lake. But from that point on, we started saying “flying saucers” and a whole lot of photographic evidence of encounters popped up with saucer-shaped aircraft, some of which were faked with pie plates or hub caps thrown in the air! In any event, there are no photos of aircraft associated with the Roswell incident, only photos of a broken-down weather balloon several days later. It was a fun visit, though there’s nothing in the museum that you can’t learn online.


All-in-all, we loved our trip! We saw some amazingly beautiful natural wonders, and avoided crowds and heat to boot, so we were happy. For what it’s worth, the Little Prince says that his favorite things from the vacation were White Sands National Monument, climbing on/into the rocks outside the visitor center at Valley of Fire, and Explora in Albuquerque.