melissa i strong

rock climber, writer, photographer, working on life daily

I love to cook but I must confess that I am not the best baker, probably due to the fact that I don’t like following directions.  Although good bakers tell me when you get the feel of things you learn how to substitute—I guess I haven’t come to this point, yet.  Not that it is bad to follow a cooking recipe but for me it seems like in cooking you can add things, substitute & improvise a lot easier.  Occasionally the cupboard isn’t stocked or maybe you’re just not fond of an ingredient—or it’s more like Adam doesn’t care for something or Cuckovich, who is adverse to pork and Thomasina won’t eat cow and not too many people go for eggplant….  Depending on the cupboard, the crowd, the season and numerous reasons sometimes substitution is necessary.  I am not a pro.  I haven't gone to school for cooking I just enjoy eating well.  Also I find peace in cooking.  As a multitasker I find it comforting that I am suppose to have many pots going at once.  Not only can I satisfy my disorder and feed myself, my husband and our good friends good food, but also cooking is a great way to pass a bad weather day.

We live at 8000ft (which could be part of my baking problem) and the weather changes quickly.  The mountains disappear in a veil of clouds and the precipitation begins with rain announcing itself loudly on the metal roof or with the snow that accumulates rapidly all while my apron strings are tied.  In the desert southwest the winds keep me inside cooking.  These gusts stir up the sand and the best place to be is indoors.   Long and complicated concoctions usually occupy days like these.


Even though it is nice to spend a day cooking I couldn't spend every day cooking.  The sun does shine the majority of the time and then it is time to have fun. After a long day of climbing the last thing I want to do is cook.  The late setting sun of summer allows us to make the most of a day off.  We often stay up in the mountains until dark getting the best temperatures as daylight fades away behind the ridge.  Driving home starving at 10 at night passing the small town restaurants that are locking up, the only option is to go home and cook.  Being prepared helps this situation.  A trip to Safeway is the last thing I want to do at the end of a long day.  So having food at home is step one.  After this there are a few different options.  Cook ahead of time—yes this does involve planning.  Make something big on a rest day and heat up the leftovers—you can milk this for a few days with things like split pea and ham soup, stuffed peppers and meatloaf.  Or have some go to quick and simple recipes.



Like many people I search the Internet for good recipes.  I also get recipes from friends, consult magazines and my mother and sister.  Most often I consult the source, gain ideas then add subtract and change at will.  One of my current favorite magazines to acquire recipes from is Vegetarian time--a lot of time I add meat to the recipes.










 Roasted Butternut Squash, Apple, and Barley Soup

     (From the vegetarian times—slightly modified)




1/12 Peeled butternut squash, diced (4 cups)

4 Tbsp. oil, divided

3 Large Jonagold or golden Delicious apples, peeled,     cored and cut into large dice

1 Cup sliced shallots (4 large)

¼ Tsp. ground cumin

½ Tsp. ground coriander

¼ Tsp. red pepper flakes

2/3-cup barley

8 Cups of vegetable broth

Water—add to loosen the broth of the soup to your liking

2 Tbsp. chopped mint

½ Tsp. grated lemon zest


Preheat oven to 450.  Toss the squash with 1 tbsp. oil and salt and pepper.  Follow the same procedure with the apples.  Arrange separately on a baking sheet and roast squash for 32-36 min and apples for 22-24 min.  Meanwhile heat remaining oil and add shallots.  Cover and cook for ten minutes.  Stirring occasionally.  Add cumin, coriander and red pepper flakes and salt to your liking.  Cook 1 min.  Add vegetable broth and water and barley.  Cook for 30 min then add squash and apples.  Cook another 45 min.  Top with mint and lemon zest.



Stuffed Peppers


Stuffed Bell Peppers in a Red Pepper Sauce


Not the traditional stuffed pepper recipe.  Which for me is: beef, rice, green peppers and tomato sauce.

Makes 10 stuffed peppers or Acorn stuffed squash—I love leftovers.   Today I made them so we can have this deliciousness when we come down from climbing tomorrow.   Serves several.


The Peppers:

Select 8 total Yellow, red and green bell peppers that look like they would be good for stuffing—wide bottoms, not too small.  Cut the tops off slicing the very top off –you will use the tops later when baking.  Hollow and rinse set aside for later stuffing.

This time I also used and acorn squash to stuff.  Cut off the top and hollow out.  Put in the oven when you roast the other squash, sweet potatoes and beets for the whole time.



Stuffed acorn squash


7 Red peppers seeded and quartered

2 Leeks spit

8 Cups of vegetable broth

1 16 oz. can of diced tomatoes

Salt and pepper

Combined ingredients bring to a boil   Simmer covered for 30 min.  Cool. Scoop out large chunks and place in the food processor, puree until smooth. Then put the puree back into broth.  Simmer for 10 minutes stirring.  Covered unless you think it is too thin.



2 Large sweet potatoes diced

1 Large (or two small or one medium and one small) butternut squash diced

3 Beets pealed and sliced about ¼ inch thick (you can add more beets if you like—Adam is not a big fan so this adds some beets with out being predominant).

1 Small bunch of Parsley chopped finely

4 Scallions

2 Garlic cloves chopped finely

1 Package of ground buffalo


Extra stuffing, stuffed squash, stuffed peppers & red pepper sauce

1 Package of lean ground beef

1 Package of lean ground turkey

Basil (tonight I had some lemon basil that survived our first frost)

Red pepper flakes

Salt & pepper

1-½ cups of Oats


ROAST Squash & SWEET POTATOS: toss the diced squash and sweet potatoes in a bowl with 1 tbsp. oil.  Add salt and pepper.  Spread on a baking sheet.  Cook for 35 minutes at 400.  Cool and add put in a large mixing bowl.


Roast Beets: Toss beets with 1 tsp. oil and salt. Placed the sliced beets in foil covered. Cook for 40 min at 400.  Set aside to cool.  Then add to large mixing bowl.  Add this ingredient last to mixing bowl to avoid beets bleeding.


In a large fry pan sauté the scallions, garlic and parsley.  Cook for about 10 minutes.  Place in the large mixing bowl with roasted squash and sweet potatoes.


Cook the meat in the same pan.  Cook on high heat stirring frequently until done about 20 minutes. Salt and pepper.

Place in the large mixing bowl with the shallots and garlic.


Add oats, basil and red pepper to the Ingredients in the mixing bowl.  Mix thoroughly.  Adding the beets last.


Fill a large shallow saucepan 1/3 of the way full with the red pepper sauce.  Stuff the peppers and carefully place them in the sauce.  Pack the peppers firmly together with stuffing and closely fitted in the pan t insure they don’t collapse.  Place the tops of the peppers on the pepper cover.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat.  Simmer for about and hour.








Burgers, Buffalo / Beef/ Lamb / Turkey

& Sweet Potato fries

Serves 2


1 Package of whatever ground meat you like or mix and match—buffalo lamb burgers are a yummy combination!

1 Package of whole-wheat buns

1 Tomato

1 Onion

1 Avocado

1 Package of sprouts


Cheese of choice, smoked Gouda and Fontina are favorites


When forming the burgers into patties you can add seasoning.  Salt and pepper for easy burgers but you can put in bleu cheese, chopped sundried tomatoes, garlic, diced onions…

Top with the usual tomato, onion, lettuce, Arugula and spinach is a nice alternative to regular lettuce, avocado, sprouts…

Sweet potato fires:

2 Sweet potatoes

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Salt and pepper

A lot of times you can prep these ahead of time.

Wash and slice sweet potatoes.  Drizzle with oil and salt and pepper.  If you plan to cool later that night store in fridge.  If you are making these for another day put in the freezer in a zip lock.

When ready to cook put in the oven at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes. Flipping occasionally.



Burritos, Buffalo With Veggies

Serves 3


1 Package of ground buffalo meat

2 Zucchini

2 Yellow squash

1 Large sweet potato

1 Red pepper, or yellow or orange pepper depending on what you like and what is on sale….

2 Scallions

1 Tbsp. oil


Shredded cheese of choice, cheddar, Parmesan, one of those Mexican cheese shredded bags.


(For time sake you can poke holes in the sweet potato and wrap it in a moist paper towel and microwave—if you have the time you can use the oven)

In a small fry pan brown the buffalo.  In a separate pan heat oil scallion, a clove of garlic on medium heat for a few minutes.  Add diced veggies, salt and pepper.  I have a pot of herbs on the porch and more in the greenhouse so when I can I try to use as many fresh herbs as possible. Sometimes I throw in anything I am in the mood for rosemary, oregano, tarragon, basil…


Grilled Chicken Quesadillas With Mango Salsa

Always using the grill makes dinner easier and quicker.  While I chop Adam can grill the meat.

Serves 2 with leftover salsa


1 Package of organic chicken (if you can afford it) seasons the chicken and grill.   I cut it into pieces after it is cooked removing the gross chicken parts.

1 Package of shredded Mexican cheese

1 Can of diced green chilies


1 Can of black beans

Heat up tortilla in frying pan.  Put cheese first then chilies and beans and chicken.  Fold together.  Top with Mango Salsa

Mango Salsa:

2 Mango cubed

3 Tomatoes

1 Small bunch of cilantro, stemmed and chopped

1 Small red onion chopped

Salt and pepper

Chop and combine ingredients.  Sometimes I microwave the salsa for 30-60 seconds after it is all mixed together to warm up and release the flavors.


Fish Tacos With Mango Salsa

Serves 3 with leftover salsa

1 Package frozen tilapia or cod, mahi

¼ Cabbage sliced

1 Package of shredded cheese

Corn tortillas

1 tbsp. olive oil

Cook the fish according to directions.  Chop and sauté cabbage with a little oil.  Add crushed red pepper flakes and salt and pepper.

Heat a tortilla with cheese add cooked fish and sautéed cabbage.  Top with Mango salsa.  Beans on the side is better with the small tortillas.

Mango Salsa:

2 Mango cubed

3 Tomatoes

1 Small bunch of cilantro, stemmed and chopped

 1 Small red onion chopped

Salt and pepper

Chop and combine ingredients.  Sometimes I microwave the salsa for 30-60 seconds after it is all mixed together to warm up and release the flavors.