About Jack & Barbra Donachy

Writers, photographers, food lovers, anglers, travelers and students of poetry

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.

 

Wonderfully Silky, Sumptuous Chanterelle Mushroom Soup

Forget everything you know about mushroom soup and slip a spoon into chanterelle magic.

This past fall when Costco (which we can now have delivered to our home in the Alaska bush) offered fresh, wild-picked chanterelle mushrooms, I couldn’t resist ordering a few pounds. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with them other than savor them with a little olive oil, garlic and mozzarella on one of Barbra’s homemade thin pizza crusts, or perhaps present them in an egg-white omelette, but I was confident I’d find something. An internet search brought up Escoffier’s Chanterelle Soup. Reading through the recipe, I began mentally picking out the bottle of Chardonnay I’d pull from the rack to serve with it.

While I stayed fairly true to Auguste Escoffier’s Veloute Agnes Sorel – based on the various English versions of the recipe I scanned through – I made a few adjustments, particularly the second time around. We don’t stock brandy, but we have bourbon on hand; that was an easy swap and it worked well. The chicken broth the original recipe calls for is fine… but we felt that lobster stock, made with Better than Bouillon’s Lobster Base, worked exceptionally well. And toward the end of cooking, a taste suggested that not only serving a Chard with this soup would make for an excellent pairing, but that a quarter cup or so to finish the soup might be warranted as well. In fact, we were amazed at the way in which a little Chardonnay brought this soup together, making the already subtle, silky transitions in the flavors of cream, butter, bourbon, saffron and chanterelles even smoother.

This is not a difficult recipe, but it does have distinct preparation steps. A velouté (vәl-ü-tā) must be created – a mixture of butter, flour and broth. And in the creation of a liaison of egg yolks and cream lies much of the secret of this soup’s silky feel.

Oh, and don’t skimp on the saffron.

Ingredients  (Serves 4+)

For the Velouté

  • 6 cups lobster stock (use Better than Bouillon Lobster Base)
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp all purpose flour

For the Soup

  • 1 pound of chanterelle mushrooms, chopped fine
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup shallots, chopped fine
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 oz bourbon
  • saffron – approximately 2 full pinches
  • 1/4 cup or slightly more of Chardonnay
  • salt to taste/if necessary
  • a few especially nice chanterelles set aside as a garnish for each bowl

Directions

  1. Heat the stock, but try to keep the temperature just below simmering.
  2. Meanwhile, in a separate pot or pan (a large sauteuse pan works well for this) over medium-low heat, melt the butter until it begins to froth. Whisk in the flour. Continue whisking until mixture is cooked through and smooth, but do not allow to brown. This is called a roux.
  3. Whisk the broth into the roux and bring to a low simmer, stirring frequently. Cook this down by about a fourth or slightly more. Don’t let it boil. A very gentle simmer will reduce the velouté in about 30 minutes.
  4. Meanwhile, sweat the chopped mushrooms and shallots with a little salt over medium-low heat in a dry pan. Stir occasionally and cook till the shallots are translucent and the mushrooms have given up moisture and have browned. When they’re ready, add a tablespoon of butter and stir together.
  5. Crumble the saffron into the bourbon. This can be done earlier. The idea is to allow the saffron to begin releasing its flavor and color.
  6. Add the bourbon and saffron mixture to the mushroom mixture. Turn the heat up and stir until most of the bourbon has evaporated.
  7. Purée the mushroom mixture in a food processor or with a stick blender.
  8. When the velouté has cooked down by 1/4 or slightly less of its original volume, add the mushroom purée and stir well. Try to keep the temperature just below simmering or at a very low simmer. When the mushroom mixture is thoroughly incorporated, turn the heat to low to keep the soup hot without simmering.
  9. In a mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and cream. This is a liaison. The intention here is to create a binding agent that will thicken the soup.
  10. Into the egg yolk and cream mixture, whisk in about 1/4 cup of soup at a time. By introducing the hot soup a little at a time while whisking, you will ensure that the liaison remains smooth and doesn’t break up. Once you’ve whisked in a total of about two cups of soup, you can now stir all of the liaison into the soup. Again, keep the soup hot, but at or below a very low simmer. Do not let it boil.
  11. Add 1/4 cup of Chardonnay. Give the soup a taste. Add a little more wine or salt, if necessary.
  12. To serve, garnish each bowl with a chanterelle and perhaps a drizzle of melted butter. Enjoy with a crusty piece of bread and a favorite Chardonnay.

Video: The 500 Hour Experiment – Learning to Play the Guitar at 60

At the outset of this experiment, I had said that once I got 500 hours of practice under my belt, I’d post a brief video performance to document whatever progress I had made – good, bad or indifferent. Here’s the video.

To recap if you’re a regular reader and to explain what this video is about if you’re not…

I turned 60 this year. On December 31st of 2019, New Year’s Eve, I decided to finally attempt to learn to play the guitar I’d been toting around for most of my adult life. I had very little formal background in music in general, and essentially no experience playing the guitar beyond three badly played chords and a mistake-filled one-note-at-a-time version of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star laboriously picked. The whole thing seemed to be beyond me, so in homes from Arctic Alaska to Mongolia and points in between, my guitar sat cradled in its stand, faithfully dusted, usually kept in tune, and otherwise untouched.

But I love music, I especially love steel string acoustic music and I realized that if I didn’t learn the guitar now, I may as well take Barbra’s advice and sell the instrument.

On January first, I began the experiment – to determine whether or not a person my age could learn to play or whether age had closed doors. I scoured the Internet looking for answers to questions I had about older people learning to play the guitar from scratch and could find nothing useful. Nothing at all – just patronizing advice about setting your sights low and maybe learning to play Happy Birthday, getting your cats to finally stop yowling when you play, or being content with “the benefits seniors can get from taking up a musical instrument.”

In other words, the advice seemed to be a patronizing pat on the head and the implied message, “Go back to your rocking chair. Learning to play a musical instrument is for younger people.”

But it was also clear from my Internet research that others had questions similar to the ones I was asking. I want to underscore that these questions are not about whether someone who used to play when they were young can continue playing into their 60’s and beyond. There are many, many examples of people who have done so, as well as of people who set aside their guitar for awhile and then came back to it later in life. Acquiring a complex skill for the first time, from scratch, is a very different matter than continuing with a skill already acquired.

With no answers to be found, I decided to do my best to find answers myself. Five hundred hours of practice seemed about right – enough time to give myself a chance. To learn to read music, to understand scales, to learn the Circle of Fifths, to understand the principles of improvising, to practice some flat-picking and finger-style techniques, to memorize a few dozen songs. In other words, to achieve a status somewhere around “Advanced Beginner.”

A move from Chignik Lake to Newhalen as well as the need to take time out to stock our freezer with salmon fillets, blueberries and mushrooms took a bite out of my playing time, but in early November I hit my goal. Five hundred hours. Had it not been for the move, I would probably have hit 500 sometime in late August.

I can’t say whether or not my experiment was “successful.” I believe that is for each individual listener-viewer to evaluate. What I can tell you is that I’ve already begun my next 500 hours.

Please look past the low production values. I videoed myself with the equipment I have on hand, which is not the right equipment for this sort of thing. Thanks for watching. And let me know what you think.

Jack Donachy
Newhalen, Alaska

You can read more about The 500 Hour Experiment by clicking these links:

Why 500 hours?

Learning to Play the Guitar at 60: La Grande Expérience (or is it even possible?)

Learning to Play the Guitar at 60: Begin

Salmon (or any fish) in Saffron Broth with New Potatoes

Salmon worked wonderfully in this easy yet exotic meal, but halibut would also shine as would walleye, rockfish and most other fillets.

Saffron, the dried stigmas of crocus flowers, imbues food with a rich yellow-orange color and distinctive flavor that goes especially well with fish. Since it only takes a healthy pinch of the crumbled filaments, it’s not as expensive to use as you might think. We’ve been using Spanish coupe grade saffron from Penzeys Spices and have been very happy with it.

Crocus sativus, the saffron crocus – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Saffron8.jpg

This is our take on a recipe we found in a recent addition to our cookbook collection, The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen. Their recipe calls for hake, chorizo and clam juice. Along with a few other minor changes, we substituted salmon fillets, thick-cut bacon and fish broth made from salmon and added a bit of powdered chipotle, cayenne and mesquite to emulate chorizo’s spicy smokiness. With most of the fat rended from the bacon, and the cooked bacon then pressed between paper towels, this is a healthful, satisfying one-bowl dinner. Add hunks of crusty rustic-style bread, and while you can seldom go wrong with salmon and Chardonnay, try pairing this dish with a Riesling that has a hint of sweetness to it.

Salmon in Saffron Broth with New Potatoes

Ingredients

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • sweet onion, chopped fine
  • thick-cut bacon, fried, pressed between paper towels and cut into small pieces
  • garlic cloves, minced
  • saffron
  • fish stock – clear, preferably homemade from fresh fish as we’ve found it difficult to obtain quality fish stock otherwise. Or use clam juice.
  • water
  • dry white wine
  • small red or yellow potatoes
  • seasonings: bay leaf, marjoram, soy sauce (or sea salt), chipotle powder, cayenne pepper,   and mesquite (for additional smokiness)
  • salmon fillets, skin removed and fillets patted dry (We felt that almost any type of fish   would work well in this dish.)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • chervil or parsley
  • fresh lime juice

Directions

This works best in a sauteuse pan. You don’t need a lot of broth in this dish – perhaps a cup or so per serving. The potatoes and fish should rest in the broth, not be completely covered by it.

  1. Sauté the onions in olive oil. When they just begin to caramelize, add the minced garlic and crumble in the saffron. Cook for about 30 seconds, just till the garlic releases its aroma.
  2. Stir in fish stock and wine.
  3. Add potatoes and the seasonings – just a little of each as you can always add more if you need to. Give the broth a taste. If the flavor of the fish stock or clam juice is too strong, add a bit of water.
  4. Keep heat fairly low, at – or preferably just below – a low simmer. Cook until potatoes are tender – almost ready to serve. Taste broth and adjust seasonings as desired.
  5. Season the salmon fillets with freshly cracked pepper. Create space in the pan and position the salmon fillets skinned side down in the broth. Cook at or just below a low simmer for 7 to 12 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillet. With salmon, you’ll see white albumin form on the fillet when it is cooked through. You can check with a thermometer – 140° F for fish.
  6. Remove pan from heat. Gently stir in a little lime juice and a sprinkle of chervil or parsley.
  7. Serve in shallow bowls, spooning some broth over the fillet.