Ice-Fishing on the Newhalen River

We were on the ice mostly to have a look and get a photo or two, but when I was offered a turn at fishing… how could I say “No?” It didn’t take long to put a pan-sized rainbow on ice. It took me back to being a kid on Pennsylvania’s Clarion River trying to get a few tasty perch for a wintertime fish-fry.

From an upstairs window, we could see the anglers begin to gather across the river. “Let’s go see what they’re up to!” It’s about a quarter mile walk to the river from our place and another three-quarters of a mile across the frozen water. No worries. The ice is over two feet thick.

Ray Wassillie had organized the gathering and brought along the power ice auger. Now we want one! Between the Newhalen River and local lakes, there is an abundance of wintertime quarry: Northern Pike, Lake Trout, Dolly Varden Char, Rainbow Trout, Grayling and Burbot!

We’re both battling colds and therefore didn’t hang around long. The fishing was just starting to heat up as we were leaving and I really wanted a shot of someone pulling in a decent fish. This woman had the hot hand, so I kept my camera trained on her. Of course, that put the jinx on her. After a lull that seemed to last forever, she finally had a bite… and pulled out this tiddler! Some of the fish were pushing 20 inches… guess you’ll have to take our word for it.

In addition to a “Big Fish” contest, there was a side event to see who could chop through 30 inches of hard ice the old fashioned way – with a steel pike. Up from New York on a student teaching stint, Griffin was game. Talk about work though. I think he sufficiently had the “idea” of it by the time he got a foot or so into it and wisely put the pike aside to get back to fishing.

I had not intended to fish, but when Ray offered a line, what could I say? My first fish through the ice in… geez, over 40 years. As it is with any addiction, I should have known not even to unscrew the cap from the bottle. We’re now shopping ice augers!

 

 

 

m

Alaska Moose Wonton Soup

Hot, spicy, hearty – a perfect meal for this frigid Alaska weather.

Nothing beats hot soup on a cold day. What about after a hike on a cold day? Yup. Hot, hearty soup. Jack upped the ante on this soup by floating my homemade moose wontons in his hot and sour soup – beef broth, lots of hot spices paired with freshly squeezed lime juice and a dash of sesame oil. “Ooooh, Andy!” (Calm yourself Aunt Bee.) This spicy fusion warmed the heart, then the soul, and then traveled from the top of my head to the tips of my chilled toes.

A couple of weeks ago, I experimented with making my own wonton wrappers. The egg noodle recipe I used for my pasta worked extraordinarily well for the little dumplings. Instead of slicing the noodles into strands, I left them in three inch sheets which I cut into squares. Having already made the seasoned ground moose, I did nothing more than gather the dough around portions of meat and voila! – wontons. A big batch kept in the freezer allows us to throw a few into simmering soups. After a few minutes of cooking, wonton soup’s on!

Alaska Moose Wonton Soup

Ingredients

  • 2/3 lb ground moose (any ground meat will work)
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 2 tsp chives, chopped small
  • 1 tsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp corn starch
  • 1 tsp dried ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped fine
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes or 1/2 tsp of your favorite spice mix like Jack’s
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 package wonton wrappers or homemade pasta cut into 3” squares

Directions

  1. Quickly sauté ground meat, careful to just cook through
  2. Place meat in a bowl
  3. Mix next eight ingredients into cooked meat
  4. Place about a tablespoon of the meat mixture onto the center of a wonton wrapper
  5. Gather all the edges up to make a bag shape
  6. Gently squeeze together the closure or the neck of the wonton
  7. Place on a baking sheet if you are planning to freeze the wontons and place the baking sheet in the freezer until the wontons are frozen solid. Then store the frozen product in a zip top bag in the freezer until you want to use them.
  8. To cook, place wontons in simmering soup for 3 minutes. If frozen, cook for 4 minutes.

Portrait of a Sailor in Morning Light


Enjoying piping hot noodles and charcoal-broiled smelt with Cass on an iced-over lake near Mt. Fuji, c. 1983

Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.
                                               ― Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It

     —————————————————————————–

It is a condition of the human heart that we sometimes are given to invest deeply in friends and lovers who show potential for being who we want them to be, but who in reality aren’t there. And so we allow ourselves to imagine them as we wish them, teased along by hints and flashes of those things we desire. I think all of us who knew him thought of him this way. We each had an image of who we wanted him to be, and sometimes we allowed ourselves to believe that that is who he was. I wanted him to be an Edward Hopper diner on a quiet corner at 2:00 AM lit by a single streetlamp, fingertips stained with New York Times newsprint, a bowl of hot chili topped with pungent freshly diced onions, a cup of black coffee, a sailor’s dress whites, a table at some hole-in-the-wall in a Philippine barrio, early morning, a warm bottle of Coke, the sun already turning the day balmy and full of promise…

     —————————————————————————–

A Sailor’s Lullaby

As far as I could determine, Cass’s sole preparatory measure for shifting from life as a sailor stationed in Japan to becoming a private citizen living in country was to stock Aleck’s futon closet with hard liquor at U.S. Navy Exchange prices. But with Aleck’s help, he found a job teaching English to Japanese businessmen and housewives, a gig he met each day with a combination of indifference, resignation and disdain. The work was not difficult, it paid decently, and he ended up staying with the language school that first hired him for about five years. In that time, he mastered enough Japanese to call out “Excuse me!” and to order whiskey and water on ice. All other communication needs were addressed through a combination of speaking English slowly and loudly or through hand gestures. So, for example, he’d walk into a noodle shop, look around, and call out “Sumimasen!” Once he had the attention of a cook or waitress, he’d point at a bowl a customer was dining from and then to himself – to his own nose, specifically – and sit down. Witnessing him use hand gestures to ask for deodorant in a pharmacy was… memorable. His dread fear of having to deal with Japanese barbers became legendary.

Japanese society can be rather insular, and although the residents of that country are kind and polite, it generally takes a while to get comfortable living among them. Cass stayed with it though, and by the time he left he had worked his way down the coast from Yokohama to Tsu and modestly up his language company’s pay scale. He found a spacious older house on Mikawa Bay and was driving up to Nagoya to put in approximately 20 hours of teaching each week.

In addition to teaching English, he was doing a bit of grill cooking at a small restaurant run by an American, and he claims he was pulling down another 300,000 yen a month–a handsome chunk of money–as a carpenter’s helper installing aluminum siding on houses. His stories about the money he was making were undoubtedly embellished, but it is a fact that he was beginning to enjoy a comfortable life. He’d even allowed himself get serious about a woman. It surprised all of us when he abruptly left, though as it turned out a couple of years later, he was not yet done with Japan. Other stories for other times, perhaps.

For now, he went back to his hometown in upstate New York, confident he’d left a bridge or two unburned there and certain he could get a good job. The year was 1991, so Cass was about 38. Unfortunately it turned out that the most agreeable employment he could procure was as a temporary with Kelly Secretarial Services. Cass became a “Kelly Girl.” Through their agency, he landed a job in a Metro Life Insurance mailroom where he was tasked with heaving heavy bags of correspondence around between stints at a computer typing in clients’ addresses. For this, he earned the not-very-princely sum of five dollars an hour which, if you do the math, you’ll see works out to an annual salary of… next to nothing. To supplement his income, he signed up with the local navy reserve unit, and thus one weekend each month allowed himself to be subjected to whatever his commanding officer considered to be a worthwhile use of time.

He was building a frail house of cards and it came crashing down when, while on military maneuvers in the woods with his navy reserve unit (?!), he tore up his ankle. So much for his career throwing around mail bags. The navy paid for reconstructive surgery and gave him a few thousand dollars in compensation. After that, he returned to Japan, married the woman mentioned above, and used his navy settlement money to help her open a bar and grill.

None of it lasted…

…I had known Cass in better times. Jet black hair, broad shoulders, slightly raised cheekbones and strong, steady hands, he was older than me and always in control. He knew more than I did, important things about literature, about drinking, about life. The first time my wife Maki met him, which was long before I met her, he impressed her as being among that dying breed we used to call “a gentleman.”

I can’t remember which lake it was, but midwinter while we were serving aboard the USS Blue Ridge, Cass and I traveled to one of the five lakes that form a loose semi-circle around Mount Fuji. We didn’t do much. We just went up to be off the ship and to look around. It snowed almost the entire time we were there, big, feathery pieces of frozen down and the lake itself was locked beneath a solid white blanket. Fishermen were cutting holes in the ice and jigging for smelt. Lucky ones were occasionally pulling out a trout.

We stayed in a minshuku, a small, family-run inn Cass had booked. From the inn we walked the mile or two along a mountain road into the local village, the name of which, like the lake, I have long since forgotten. Along the way we slid open the wood and glass door of a tiny restaurant, ducked our heads and went inside for a bowl of hot noodles and a broiled fish. The proprietress seemed surprised at a couple of foreigners, but she smiled and with a kerosene heater stoking the room it was a good place to warm up. After the meal we settled the bill, went back out into the snow and the calm, and continued walking and talking, our misty breaths hanging in the winter air. Eventually we managed to find a bar.

It had been good, just to be out walking in the snow with more coming down, smoking cigarettes and talking about the navy, the future, writers we liked, and life in Japan.

Cass chose the bar.

I’m probably misremembering it, have probably made it more than it actually was. But I recall that it was up on the second floor of a building facing the village’s lightly traveled main street. We took seats at the end of the bar, and from a picture window spanning most of a wall to our right we could see the lights of the streets, other businesses and further out houses, the frozen lake illuminated in those lights. It was a good place to drink.

Two young women were working there. I didn’t know much Japanese, but it was clear that they were talking about Cass, and I didn’t need any language to know they were discussing what a sharp figure he cut. I was a little jealous. And I was proud of him. I was proud to be his friend and honored that we were up in that bar together, enjoying the Scotch and the cigarettes and the warmth and the good conversation while snow piled up outside.

I have been fortunate in my life to have had maybe a handful of thoroughly perfect days, and that was one of them. It was late by the time the bar closed. By now the snow had stopped and our heads cleared in the crisp winter air as we began walking up the street toward the inn.

Close to the village the lake was still lighted by street lamps. Ice skaters decked in colorful parkas, scarves and hats had shoveled the snow off of a cove, their soft voices, gentle laughter and the click and glide of their metal skates on ice clean and quiet against the night. A cab pulled up next to us, snow crunching under its tires. The rear door swung open and we decided to make it easy on ourselves. The driver turned toward us and spoke. Cass stated the name of the minshuku, the driver replied with a sharp hai, nodded and began driving.

Back in our room we had another drink and then crawled into our futons. For awhile we talked about the evening, the bar, the young women working there, the possibility of coming back in spring to fish the lake. Eventually the conversation drifted into musings about what our lives would look like when our enlistments were up, pleasant thoughts. Pleasant dreams.

* * * * * *

You know how it is. The scent of kerosene, the little song a tent zipper makes, even, perhaps, a specific slant of light… There is a certain music a frozen boardwalk makes as you walk along it that, I understand now, will always transport me back to Chignik Lake, and I cannot take in the aroma of a sweet potato baking without finding myself in the home where Maki grew up, an image of her mother bustling about in the kitchen. Our minds contain synapses wired to memories that the slightest touchstone can trigger…

And so it was yesterday as I was rereading the story above. Our iPod was plugged into a brick-sized Bose speaker next to my desk. I was mostly ignoring the music until a rendition of a well-known song in which the dulcet tones of Chris Botti’s trumpet accompanied Mark Knopfler’s vocals. I broke from my reading to listen, not sure why this particular song was holding me until Knopfler came to a gentle line that flooded over me and took me back to a place and a day and a small moment in that day…

…Maki was early in her pregnancy with Maia and the English language company I’d been gainfully employed with chose that juncture in my life to close its doors, dismiss all employed there, and leave me frustrated, angry and a bit desperate. It was August, hot as blazes by mid-morning and humid enough to make every stitch of clothing down to my socks uncomfortable… Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty as I pounded the streets of Tokyo in a damp t-shirt and cloying tie and jacket.

Doors close. Doors open. That’s the only way to look at such matters, so I had set my sights high, determined to turn my situation into an opportunity to make more money for less work with a better company.

Two interviews the previous day had gone only so-so. Maybe I’d get an offer in a day or two. Maybe I wouldn’t. But it was a new day and in the morning’s final hour I was walking out the door from an interview with the best of the three companies where I’d been offered a position on the spot. Half the hours, a shorter work year, more pay and they were even willing to spring for an apartment on the shores of one of Japan’s top bass-fishing venues.

In that instant, the interviews and outcomes from the previous day became irrelevant. I shook hands, first with the owner, then with the head teacher, then all around.

Head up. One foot in front of the other. Keep at it. Sometimes things work out.

It was broiling hot and I could imagine – and could imagine I could feel – the grime accumulating around the inside of the collar of my white cotton shirt as I followed the crowded sidewalk back to the subway station. But as the weight from the recent days lifted, I began feeling high. I needed a drink, just to get straight.

I ducked into a modestly sized establishment and stood for a moment in the air-conditioned comfort of the place while my eyes took in a clean room of unoccupied wooden chairs and tables. It was pleasant.

A woman appeared. My Japanese was barely sufficient to make out that she wouldn’t be serving food until later.

I fumbled around for the vocabulary to convey that that was OK, that I just wanted a beer.

She motioned with her hand that the seat was my choice.

Sometimes I think that I never loved Maki, but when I think of that day, I’m reminded that I did, very much, though not in the way I allowed myself to love Jane and, later, to love and be loved by Barbra.

I didn’t know very much about any of that back then. But I loved Maki and I was glad to have good news to bring to her. I knew she’d be proud of me, and relieved, and happy for me for the part about the fishing.

As the first beer began to even me out, I pulled a pen from my briefcase and began writing on a paper napkin. I don’t remember what I wrote… probably a few lines of poetry. When I finished the first beer, I motioned for another and in short order a second big, icy mug of Kirin lager was set before me. Those were the two best beers of my life.

It felt good to be drinking late in the morning, everyone else at work, dealing with the heat and schedules and people. Drinking like that is a kind of freedom I suspect few people are permitted – or permit themselves – to enjoy. I was lucky. I knew I was lucky.

Music began playing quietly through speakers situated around the restaurant. I put my pen down and let it wash over me – all of it, the pleasant alcohol buzz, the music, the coolness, the new job, marriage, a baby on the way. It might sound strange, but I barely knew Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World. Suddenly I was aware of it playing in the background. When he sang the lines…

I see friends shaking hands, saying, How do you do?
They’re really saying, I love you.

…I thought of Cass. My father had told me about the importance of a good handshake. He had even shown me how to do it with a firm grip and solid eye contact in a formal manner.

But it was Cass who taught me how to shake hands in friendship. Same firm grip my father had instructed me in, same importance placed on eye contact. But all of it allowed to linger an immeasurable moment longer, and all the shoulders-held-high breath-sucked-in formality dispelled with.

In Cass’s teaching, you simply let go. You offered a hand, or took a hand offered, you shook, and you permitted yourself to express sentiments such as “Good to see you.” “Good to be talking with you.” Good to be drinking with you.” and “Friend.”

He had moved beyond the transactional formula men are taught as boys and replaced it with art… something to be experienced, felt, moved by. There were times when I thought of Cass as a genius, or at at the very least of possessing within him genius. I was not alone in this thinking. I doubt any friend of Cass’s experienced one of his handshakes and ever again thought of the thing as he had BC… Before Cass.

He taught me how to shake hands, and how to drink whiskey, and he had been the first person with whom it was satisfying to discuss literature, and dreams. I found myself thinking that among all the people I knew or had ever known, he would appreciate the moment I was in – drinking early in a cool bar on a beastly hot day, free, for a little while, alone… happily, gloriously alone, the future unknown, unknowable, promising, bright.

My friend… Cass.

What we need is not the ability to live longer. What we need is the ability to live multiple lives simultaneously.              – Cass C. Swider, c. 1953 – 2020

JD
Newhalen, Alaska

Adzuki Bean Truffles – Something to Celebrate

Happy New Year! Happy Birthday! Happy Whatever! Creamy sweet chocolate adzuki bean truffles invite celebration any day.

Ever since my first bite of sweet adzuki bean paste, I was hooked. After tossing away the store-bought can and creating my own homemade paste, I knew this love had turned into a lifelong relationship. Adzuki beans have brought me endless fascination and innumerable streams of culinary consciousness. If you search “adzuki beans” on Cutterlight, you will see there is quite a history. The red bean paste is smooth, sweet, and delicious. It is unusual enough to be interesting and easily fits into so many recipes. Forget about the healthful aspects of adding beans to your diet. I mean it. Forget it. The sweet paste texture reminds me of nut pastes – like marzipan or chestnut paste. This texture and flavor inspired me to create Twisted Adzuki bean rolls, Matcha Adzuki Bean glazed rolls, and Adzuki Maple bars with Matcha Frosting to name a few. If you want to tiptoe into this world, try a good quality canned product to experiment with. If you want to go all in, I have directions on how to make your own paste here.

Years ago, a nutritionist visited my classroom to present ways my 6th graders could “sneak” healthy ingredients into their diets. They were very impressed with the smoothies created from only frozen fruit. They were blown away with the deep chocolate cakey brownies that were made with fiber-rich black beans instead of bleached white flour. With a surfeit of dried black beans left in our pantry and a desire to make our sweets more healthful, I began my own experiments with this ingredient. Of course, I was able to create delicious and nutritious treats that fueled our active lifestyle.

But black beans can have an ever-so-slight mealy texture. So what about adzuki beans? When they are cooked down into a paste, they definitely have a more pleasant texture. Armed with free time over my winter break and a few pounds of dried adzuki beans, I got to work in the kitchen with the excitement of a mad scientist ready to solve an insolvable, albeit with my hair tied back into a neat bun. The first success was a lovely little bite-sized confection that I called a truffle. The beans are slightly sweetened with maple syrup. The cooled bean balls are dipped in chocolate. Then, let your imagination go. They can be rolled in sprinkles, coffee powder, candied fruit pieces, toffee bits, nuts, cocoa powder, or whatever you desire.

I could imagine adding additional flavors to the beans, such as a bit of Grand Marnier or bourbon for a boozy twist. Or maybe almond extract or orange extract for a non-boozy twist. The possibilities seem endless.

Adzuki Bean Truffles

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked adzuki beans
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 5 tablespoons Dutch processed cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
  • your choice of topping

Directions

  1. With a stick blender or in a food processor, combine the black beans, maple syrup, and cocoa powder. Pulse and process for a couple minutes, until the mixture is well combined and doughy. I used a potato masher to manually process the beans. If the dough seems too dry, add a bit more maple syrup until you are happy with the texture. The dough should not be sticky, just gooey and fudgy.
  2. Roll the dough into 24 balls (approximately 1 tablespoon each) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place baking sheet in refrigerator while you prepare the topping.
  3. Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler.
  4. Drop a ball into melted chocolate. Roll it around with a fork. Use a second fork to pick up the coated balls like a claw machine. Place the coated ball back on the parchment-covered baking sheet.
  5. Sprinkle truffle ball with your toppings.
  6. Repeat with remaining balls.
  7. Place back in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to set. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator to keep fresh.

Two-Cheese Stuffed Artichokes Appetizers – (Shhh! It’s really a meal)

Days on end with temperatures stuck below zero, occasionally warming into the single digits or teens to snow. Winter is here, a time when comfort food is never more comforting.

For the first time in several days, we woke this morning to temperatures above 0° Fahrenheit. With the relative warmth, a fresh layer of snow is beginning to accumulate. Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees are nearly constant visitors to the feeders outside our living room window, and from our home’s southwest windows is a view of a river locked in ice.

Aside from summer-caught salmon fillets and wild blueberries, lingonberries and mushrooms gathered near our Newhalen home, most of our groceries come to us by small plane from Anchorage. Out of the asparagus we’d asked for, our shopper at Costco recently substituted artichokes. They’re beautiful, but other than steaming them and creating some sort of buttery dip, we don’t have much experience with this vegetable.

As it happens, we’ve been watching Italian Food Safari, a show created in Australia where Italian families have lived for generations preserving and expanding on the gustatory traditions they brought with them to their new country. It was in one of the show’s episodes that we were introduced to the wonderful idea of stuffing artichokes.

While this dish requires a certain amount of passive preparation time in the form of soaking and steaming the artichokes, the actual preparation is fairly simple. Create a mixture that will steam well and compliment the vegetable, chill a bottle of Pinot Gris or dry Riesling, prepare couscous, brown rice or something similar as a bed for the finished artichoke, and if you’ve never served an artichoke this way before, prepare yourself to be amazed.

Directions

  1. For each artichoke, cut the stem off so that the artichoke will sit upright in a steaming pot. Then cut off the top 1½ inches or so of the artichoke as these ends are mostly prickly and inedible. Next, use a melon baller or paring knife to remove the fine, thistle-like down (the choke) in the center of the artichoke. Taking a moment to do this will result in a more pleasant dining experience. Soak the artichokes in cold water for 30 minutes. You will want to use something to keep them fully submerged. This will ensure they steam nicely.
  2. There are probably all kinds of ingredients that would work well as the stuffing, but you’ll want to avoid items that will overwhelm the subtle flavor of the vegetable. We started by peeling the artichoke stems, chopping them fine and placing them in a bowl. To this, we added chopped garlic, crumbled feta cheese, grated Comté cheese, panko, Italian herbs, olive oil and fresh lemon juice. The cheeses were sufficiently salty that we didn’t add additional salt. Adding a splash of sherry or whatever wine you plan to serve works well. Although we didn’t add any type of meat or seafood to this mixture – and after serving the artichokes agreed that most meat and seafood wouldn’t work very well – we did think that Dungeness or Blue crab might do the trick. Italian-style breadcrumbs would work well as a substitution for the panko. Mix the ingredients together.
  3. Remove artichokes from the cold water where they’ve been soaking and push and pull the petals apart to create spaces into which the mixture can be stuffed. Fill as many of these spaces as you reasonably can.
  4. Arrange the stuffed artichokes stem-side down in a steaming pan – one you’ve prepared so that the artichokes can steam without being immersed in water. A canning rack, or even canning jar lids, works well for this. Steam for 45 minutes.
  5. Finish the artichokes with a drizzle of olive oil and a dusting of smoked paprika. Serve hot on a bed of rice, couscous, quinoa or something similar and celebrate the day with a glass of Oregon Pinot Gris. Don’t forget to provide a bowl for the discarded petals.

 

Salmon and Bleu Cheese Appetizers with Spicy Mayo

Served hot or cold, these appetizers will go fast at your next get together. Or reimagine them served in a toasted bun as a salmon meatball po’ boy!

Looking forward to a recent Friday night get-together (and football playoff snacks beyond that), I wanted to come up with something new in the salmon appetizer category – hopefully something even kids and non-fish-eaters would happily dig into.

This is it, and here’s how to make them. And by the way, we urge readers to always choose wild-caught salmon. By valuing wild salmon, you are helping to ensure that the ecosystems wild salmon depend on are also valued and will be protected for generations to come. This is vital not just for preserving the beauty of these landscapes, but for ensuring that everything that depends on wild salmon – orcas, bears, eagles, countless other animals and the salmon forests themselves – will continue to thrive. Choosing wild-caught salmon is quite likely the single most environmentally important food choice consumers can make. Read more at: Salmon Make a Landscape More Beautiful. 

Salmon and Blue Cheese Appetizers with Spicy Mayo

Ingredients for the Salmon Appetizers

  • 1 pound wild-caught salmon fillets, skinned, boned, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
  • 1 large egg
  • soy sauce
  • smoked paprika
  • black pepper
  • mesquite seasoning (optional, but the smoky flavor of a mesquite seasoning such as the Kirkland brand available at Costco works very well with the soy sauce to add umami to this recipe)
  • 3/4 cup bleu cheese, crumbled fairly small
  • 1 or 2 strips thick-cut bacon, fried and cut into small pieces
  • 3/4 cup panko (or substitute crushed saltine crackers)
  • extra virgin olive oil – enough to generously cover the bottom of whatever pan you use to cook the appetizers

Directions

  1. Use a meat grinder, food processor or stick blender to mince the salmon. Place in a mixing bowl.
  2. Add egg, soy sauce, paprika, black pepper and mesquite seasoning. Use a spoon or spatula to thoroughly mix.
  3. Fold in bleu cheese, panko and bacon with your hands.
  4. Shape into bite-sized balls.
  5. While these could be cooked using a variety of methods, the combination of a sauteuse pan (a frying pan with high sides) with about 1/8 inch (3mm) of oil and a pair of tongs or chopsticks works especially well for cooking these appetizers as you’ll be able to ensure that all sides of the salmon are seared. As long as you make sure the oil doesn’t get too hot – just enough to make a gentle sizzle – extra virgin olive oil is a good choice for the additional flavor it will impart. Over medium to medium-low heat, bring the oil to a gentle sizzle. Arrange the appetizers so that there is a little space between them. After about 3 minutes, turn them over. You can use tongs or chopsticks to briefly position them to touch up sides that didn’t get seared. (This is mainly a cosmetic concern rather than something that will affect their taste.) Cook about 6 minutes total.
  6. Serve hot, chilled or in-between along with a dipping sauce and lemon wedges.

Directions for Spicy Mayo

While you can use store-bought mayonnaise, homemade is very flavorful. Here’s a quick, easy recipe: One Cup Mayo, and Hold the Preservatives! Stir in a favorite spicy seasoning blend. Here, too, there are all kinds of store-bought options, but if you’d like some inspiration for creating your own, see: Smoky & Spicy: Our Go-To Mix

A Lovely Pumpkin Genoise Cake for Two

It was fun to share this elegant sponge cake featuring layers of creamy pumpkin mousse with my best friend and still be able to walk away (instead of stagger away for a post-food coma nap). 

Hidden in the middle of my favorite baking book is a beautiful photo of a slice of golden layered cake. It draws my attention every time I peruse The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book. The  recipe begins with “makes 10-12 servings.” As lovely as the image of that pumpkin mousse cake is, those words are where I stop reading and turn the page. But recently, I thought to myself that there has to be a way to scale this recipe down to create an intimate dessert for two. I thought my skills were up for the challenge.

The recipe lost nothing in pairing it down; the flavor is wonderful. My 6-inch springform helped turn out a decidedly cute cake, the perfect finale to our Thanksgiving meal for two. The mousse part of the recipe will make an extra cup, which we kept in two half-cup canning jars as a dessert for the next day.

Pumpkin Mousse Cake for Two

Ingredients for the Cake

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Directions for the Cake

  1. Preheat an oven to 375°F. Line the bottom of a 6-inch round springform pan with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the egg and sugar by hand until combined. Place the bowl over but not touching simmering water in a saucepan and gently whisk until the mixture registers 140°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 3 minutes. Put the bowl on the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on high speed until the mixture is pale and almost tripled in volume, 5 to 8 minutes.
  3. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Sift 2 tablespoons of the flour over the egg mixture in two additions and carefully fold in with a large rubber spatula. Fold the third tablespoon of the flour into the melted butter, then fold back into the egg mixture.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until the top is browned, about 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. Run a table knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a work surface. Turn the cake right side up.

Ingredients for Pumpkin Mousse

  • 1 1/4 tsp. (1/2 envelope) unflavored gelatin
  • 1 tbsp cold water
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin purée
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • tiny pinch salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tbsp good quality bourbon
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions for the Mousse and Assembling the Cake

  1. Cut the cake into 2 equal layers.
  2. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water, stir and let soften until opaque, about 3 minutes.
  3. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine about 1/2 cup of the pumpkin purée, the granulated sugar and salt. Then heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.
  4. Stir in the softened gelatin and let cool to room temperature.
  5. In a bowl, stir the pumpkin mixture into the remaining pumpkin purée. Whisk in the cinnamon, nutmeg and bourbon.
  6. Using a stand mixer, whip the whipping cream to soft peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold one-third of the whipped cream into the purée, then fold in the remaining whipped cream, making a mousse.
  7. Peel off the parchment paper from the bottom cake layer.
  8. Put the layer, cut side up, into the bottom of a 6-inch round springform pan.
  9. Spread half of the mousse evenly over the cake. Trim 1/2 inch from the outside edge of the remaining layer. Center it, cut side down, on top of the mousse. Top with the additional mousse, pushing it between the cake and the pan and smoothing the top. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
  10. Divide the remaining mousse into two containers and store, covered, in the refrigerator.
  11. To remove, run a small knife around the inside of the pan. Open the springform and remove the pan sides.
  12. Cut into two pieces and serve.