We discovered Hell’s Backbone Grill in Boulder, UT on a family vacation in maybe 2005.  The food was so amazing we bought their cookbook.  They have a fantastic salad, and an avocado soup that’s to-die-for (which might be a risk with the 8 cups of cream), but our favorite is the Spicy Cowgal Meatloaf with Backbone Sauce.  We discovered that the sauce goes with just about everything (except maybe ice cream?), and somehow started calling it Ninja Sauce (though I don’t think any of us remember why).  We had forgotten about this amazing recipe for a while, and when we remembered the other day we decided we absolutely needed to make it for Dad’s birthday dinner (followed, of course, with Carrot cake).

Spicy Cowgal Meatloaf

  • 2 cups day-old bread, crumbled (at Backbone, they use leftover buttermilk biscuits)
  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1/4 cup mustard
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp crushed Mexican oregano or marjoram
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 3 pieces chipotle chiles plus 1 tbsp adobo
  • 2 small onions (2 cups)
  • 3 big cloves garlic
  • 2 red bell peppers roasted, peeled, and seeded
  • 2 pounds ground meat (Backbone recommends beef or buffalo)
  • 3 eggs

First, don’t forget to roast your red peppers (and you may wish to roast extra peppers and garlic for the Ninja Sauce).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large mixing bowl combine bread, milk, mustard, ketchup, spices, salt, pepper, and Worcestershire sauce.  Let bread soak up liquid for 15 minutes.

In food chopper (or by hand, chopping into the smallest bits without turning it all to liquid), recombine chipotles and adobo, onion, garlic, and red peppers until you have very small pieces.  Combine soaked bread crumbs with minced veggies.  Add ground meat and eggs.  With your fingers, gently squish meat into wet ingredients.  Do not overmix!  Squeeze and fold until combined.  Grease two bread-loaf pans and place half of mixture into each.

Cover each meatloaf with greased aluminum foil so they won’t stick.  Bake for 50 minutes covered, remove foil, and finish baking uncovered for 20 minutes.  Internal temperature will reach 160 degrees, and the outside of loaf will be toasty and carmelized.  Let cool 1 hr.  Work knife around edges and thump out of pans (or serve right out of the pan).

Delicious served with backbone sauce and potatoes or biscuits.

Backbone Sauce

  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 or 2 chipotle peppers (include adobo sauce)
  • 2 tbsp cumin
  • 2 cloves roasted garlic
  • 1 red pepper, roasted and peeled
  • juice of one lime
  • 2 tbsp chopped cilantro

In a food processor, whirl together all the ingredients.  Scrape sides and process till smooth.

For a family that loves to cook, what better Christmas activity than a really elaborate and time consuming dinner?  For that reason (and because they’re delicious!), we made homemade tamales for Christmas dinner this year.

Our basic recipe came from this one: Tamales, from epicurious.

I can’t speak to the salsa (we didn’t make it), but the tamales are delicious!  And I recommend being creative with your tamale fillings.  This year we had poblanos, sauteed onions and mushrooms, cheese, veggie chorizo, and just a few with leftover pulled pork.  We did our best to mark the meat-filled tamales with different ties, but the ties fell off while they steamed, so all through dinner we had a treasure hunt for the pork tamales (Kyle and Meg found them, Kyle, Bridget and Dad ate them).

The pork, by the way, was also delicious.  Mom and Bridget had it in the slow-cooker the day that Kyle and I got to town.  What a great meal at the end of a winter travel day!

You can find the recipe on this blog: http://blog.myfitnesspal.com

Last summer, as a bridal shower for me and Kyle’s wedding, Barb hosted a recipe shower.  The result (aside from lots of fun and delicious treats that many people contributed to), was an amazing set of recipes from my friends and family.  Over the next year or so, as I make them, I’m hoping to post all of these recipes.  Technically, lefse was the first.  Next up, Anna Kukulka’s Kale salad.  We made this as part of a healthy post-Thanksgiving dinner, along with some curried roasted vegetables.  It was an excellent combination!  The recipe doesn’t include quantities, so we made our best guess.  I think next time I’d use less vinegar, but for the most part it turned out well.  (or perhaps Anna can give us hints)

  • kale
  • 1 large ripe avocado
  • red wine vinegar
  • lemon juice
  • salt & pepper
  • dried cranberries
  • candied pecans or slivered almonds

Mash avocado and mix with liquid ingredients.  Roll kale leaves in mixture.  Toss with cranberries and nuts.  Salt and pepper to taste.

This year I made lefse on my own for the first time ever.  It was a little intimidating to not have oversight from mom and Barb, and to do parts of the process (like cooking the potatoes) that had never been my responsibility before.  But apparently years of hanging with pros was an educational experience, and it turned out pretty good.  This recipe makes about 8-10 rounds (depending on how big you make them, and how thin).  The recipe was a gift at my bridal shower from Barb (who also gave us a griddle as a wedding present!), originally from Jane Linde Capistran, a relative of mom’s.

  • 3 cups riced or mashed potatoes
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt

Peel potatoes, cut into evenly-sized pieces.  Cook until tender.  Drain well.  Rice or mash until lump-free.  Measure 3 c. of potatoes.  Stir in oil, sugar and salt.  Leave uncovered until cool, then chill thoroughly in refrigerator.

Just before frying, stir in 1 c. flour.  Using small amount (about 1/4 c.) roll dough on well-floured pastry cloth using well-floured stockinette-covered rolling pin.  Roll into very thin circle.  Use lefse flipper stick to transfer to 500 degree ungreased griddle.  Turn when underside is browned lightly (will be spotted).  When both sides are lightly browned, use flipper to place between folds of plastic wrap-lined towels to cool.  (Plastic wrap helps soften dry edges.)

When cooled completely, wrap tightly in plastic or transfer to lg. ziploc bag and store in refrigerator or freeze.

Hint: Use white or russet potatoes.

I felt inspired yesterday to make sweet potato gnocchi, and chose this recipe:


I failed to take any pictures of how beautiful it was, or all the wacky stages that gnocchi goes through before it becomes the delicious little doughy buttery lumps we ate…mostly because we were too busy enjoying the amazing smells, and then scarfing them down as fast as our stomachs could handle.  Maybe next time.

The recipe turned out delicious.  I was skeptical of the “10-12 servings”, and I’d still say it’s a little under that, but it did feed five of us quite happily and there were plenty of leftovers.  I would recommend over estimating the poundage of the sweet potatoes…my 2+ pounds definitely was not three cups mashed.  We added one more small potato and it was even a little on the shy side of three then.  Also, warning…the recipe has many fussy details to take care of.  Make sure you allow plenty of time and plenty of patience to get through it.  Preferably some assistants (thanks to Emily and Kyle for being mine, and to Paul for cleaning up after us).  On the other hand, we took a few shortcuts (didn’t bother with all the fussy cooling and rewarming towards the end), and probably could have taken a few more even.


Rum Cake

Rum Cake

This year, since Kyle and I are getting married soon, we’ve started trying to celebrate Christmas with both our families.  This means it’s my first year celebrating with Kyle’s family.  While many of my family’s Christmas recipes are already posted here, Kyle’s are all new to me!  Today I got to enjoy the traditional Riggs family rum cake.  I haven’t tried making it myself yet, so maybe when I do I’ll have to post some comments and get more advice from the Riggs’, but in the mean time, here it is!  The recipe is from Kyle’s grandma Garneta.  Merry Christmas from Evansville!





Rum Cake

  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1 (18 1/2 oz package) yellow cake mix (not pudding added)
  • 1 (3 3/4 oz package) jello instant vanilla pudding (or 3 small)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup cold water

    Riggs Rum Cake Recipe

    Riggs Rum Cake Recipe

  • 1/2 cup wesson oil
  • 1/2 cup dark rum


  • 1/4 lb butter
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup rum


Sprinkle nuts over bottom of pan (greased and floured).  Mix all cake ingredients.  Pour batter over nuts.  Bake 1 hr at 325°F.  Cool and invert.

Glaze:  melt butter in sauce pan, stir in water and sugar.  Boil 5 min, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in rum.

Prick top of cake and drizzle and smooth glaze on top and sides.

I live in Louisiana…and I’m only living there for three years, so naturally I am trying to enjoy as much of the culture and food (mostly food) that I can (and hopefully not gain 50 pounds) in that short time.

My first king cake

My first king cake

Last year, for Mardi Gras, I sampled several different traditions, traveling to New Orleans for a parade (and some disgusting Bourbon Street drinks), to Eunice for a courir de Mardi Gras (check out the Mardi Gras episode of ‘Treme’ to see what this is) and some of the best boudin and gumbo I’ve ever had, and enjoyed several parades in Baton Rouge (nothing beats the house parties at the Spanish Town parade for proper Louisiana hospitality).  This year, I’ve been focusing on a very important tradition: the king cake.  I’ve tasted king cakes from about six different bakeries and grocery stores around Baton Rouge (have not yet had Ambrosia bakery’s cake, which I’ve heard is good, but so far the winner is Calandro’s).  But more importantly, I’ve been learning to make king cake, so as to keep it around for years to come after I’ve moved away from Louisiana.

I’ve mostly followed a recipe from epicurious (King Cake), with a few modifications, so I’ll give my modified version:

For the cake:



  • 1 cup lukewarm milk, about 110°F
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup melted butter
  • 5 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh orange zest
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • Several gratings of fresh nutmeg

For the icing:

  • 1 cups powdered sugar
  • 3 oz cream cheese (cold)
  • 1 tablespoon butter (room temperature)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • Purple, green, and gold decorative sugars
  • 1 fève (fava bean) or plastic baby to hide in the cake after baking


1. For the cake, pour the warm milk into a large bowl. Whisk in the granulated sugar, yeast, and a heaping tablespoon of the flour, mixing until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved.

being a knot theorist...I keep thinking maybe I should braid it with a different braid

braided dough, rising

2. Once bubbles have developed on the surface of the milk and it begins to foam, whisk in the butter, eggs, vanilla, and orange zest. Mix the cinnamon and nutmeg in a small bowl.  Add the remaining flour, and one teaspoon of the cinnamon/nutmeg mixture and fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a large rubber spatula.

3. After the dough comes together, pulling away from the sides of the bowl (if necessary add a little flour so the dough doesn’t stick), shape it into a large ball. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes.  Flatten and cover with the remaining cinnamon/nutmeg mixture.  Fold a few times to include, and shape into a ball.

4. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in a draft-free place to let it rise, for 1 1/2 hours or until the dough has doubled in volume.

cake 2, the "filled" one, just out of the oven

cake 2, the “filled” one, just out of the oven

5. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough between your palms into a long strip, making 3 ropes of equal length. Braid the 3 ropes around one another and then form the braided loaf into a circle, pinching ends together to seal. Gently lay the braided dough on a nonstick cookie sheet and let it rise until it doubles in size, about 40 minutes.

6. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Once it’s doubled in size, place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake until the braid is golden brown, about 25 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, place on a wire rack, and allow to cool for 30 minutes.

7. For the icing, while the cake is cooling, whisk together the powdered sugar, cream cheese, butter, and vanilla in a bowl until the icing is smooth and very spreadable.

8. Once the cake has cooled, spread the icing over the top of the cake and sprinkle thickly with purple, green, and gold decorative sugars while the icing is still wet. Tuck the fève or plastic baby into the underside of the cake and, using a spatula, slide the cake onto a platter.

Super Bowl King Cake

Super Bowl King Cake


  • Depending on the humidity, this cake can vary significantly.  It needed significantly less flour, didn’t rise as much, and was dryer when I made it in Wisconsin rather than Baton Rouge.  If you are making it in a dry place, keep a close eye to make sure it doesn’t dry out too much.
  • The original recipe incorporates all of the cinnamon/nutmeg before kneading.  I like this version better, because it makes the cinnamon swirled through the cake and the outside stays a little lighter and more even color.
  • I’d really like to work out a filled version of this cake, but given my lack of experience with filled pastries, and a lack of recipes for king cakes online, I haven’t found a successful version yet.  I tried using a filling recipe for a cream cheese pastry (modified from this recipe from cooks.com).  My recipe was 1 egg yolk, 3 oz cream cheese, 1/2cp sugar, and a splash of vanilla, then before braiding the dough, flatten the three pieces, spread filling on top, and pinch dough closed around it.  This made a delicious cake (this was probably the best one I’ve made!), but the filling kind of soaked into the cake and did not give the distinct filled pastry texture I was hoping for.  I might try again (I suspect part of the problem could be just not enough filling), but I suspect this is just not quite the right kind of filling to make it work.  If anyone knows a good filled king cake recipe, please share!