Don’t Discard the Discard Sourdough Crackers

Delightfully crispy and packed with flavor: cheese-like tang, garlic, onion, with a hit of salt. You’ll never discard your discard starter again.

One day, I noticed a friend had posted on a community webpage that she had extra sourdough starter if anyone wanted it. It made me wonder about extra starter – a problem I don’t seem to encounter. Due to a combination of where we live and our predisposition to avoid waste, we generally don’t have “extra.” Of course, shortly after coming to the conclusion that we’d never have extra starter, I had a week where I skipped making sourdough loaves and wound up with “extra starter.” One of my recipe books recommended discarding the extra. What?! I decided to taste it, to see if the flavor would inspire a recipe. Tasting raw starter was a bad idea. Yuck! 

After a bit of research, I decided to tinker with a cracker recipe I found on the King Arthur Flour website. My first batch came out wonderfully flavored, but too soft. The problem was the thickness. My rolling pin and I could not get the dough thin enough. The solution came to me after rolling lasagna noodles – the pasta machine! If you’ve only ever thought of your pasta machine as a noodle machine, think again. Besides wonderfully flavored and textured linguini and spaghetti, I’ve also cranked out perfect bowties, ravioli and even wonton wrappers. This seemingly single-purposed machine helps perfectly roll sourdough to make satisfyingly crunchy crackers.

If you don’t have a pasta machine, I highly recommend the Atlas model we have. It is a heavy beast, but it is a kitchen tool that’s made the cut every time we’ve had to pack up and move. If you don’t want to add another item to your cupboards, a rolling pin will still work with this recipe. Be patient and aim to roll a thickness of about 1/16”.

The finished crackers have a tangy cheese-like flavor from the sourdough starter. This in combination with a mixture of onion and garlic and a hit of grey sea salt make these crackers very addicting. Serve with the complementary topping of your choice. Or enjoy their flavor unadorned, as I usually do.

Don’t Discard the Discard Sourdough Crackers

Ingredients

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp granulated shallots (onion powder would work, too)
  • 1 tsp granulated garlic
  • 1 cup sourdough starter, unfed
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • olive oil for brushing
  • coarse salt for sprinkling on top (I like grey sea salt)

Directions

  1. Mix first 6 ingredients to form a smooth dough.
  2. Tightly cover in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. I often refrigerate for several days.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  4. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or reusable liner.
  5. Cut off 1/4th of refrigerated dough and roll until it’s about 1/16” thick. I roll it like it is pasta on the pasta machine down to the 5th setting.
  6. Placed rolled dough on prepared baking sheet.
  7. Using a knife, or pastry roller, cut dough into cracker shapes. There is no need to move the crackers apart.
  8. Brush dough with olive oil.
  9. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt.
  10. Bake for 9 minutes.
  11. Crackers will be lightly browned when done.
  12. Let cool on wire rack. Store cooled crackers in an airtight container at room temperature.
  13. Repeat with remaining dough.

Lingonberry Flaugnarde Pour Deux

Flaugnarde is a lovely French name for a baked dessert which has fruit baked into a batter. The flaugnarde process creates a lightly crisped crust and a thick custard-like middle. Topped with ice cream, you’ll have a grand slam last course to any meal.

Lingonberries, known around here as low bush cranberries, are the last berry we forage for before we tuck in for winter. Collectors of these sour, flavorful gems are advised to wait until after the first frost for the best berries. We’ve learned that as long as the berries are fully red, the freezer also seems to do the same trick of enhancing their subtle sweetness.

Last year we found a killer spot for lingonberries across the lake. Looking back on the calendar where we kept noteworthy events, I noted that our several gallons of lingonberries in the freezer were collected in only two picking sessions. Now that’s a great spot!

Lingonberries can be used for cranberry recipes and vice versa. We’ve made lingonberry relish to go with roast turkey or moose, lingonberry breads to accompany poached egg breakfasts, and lingonberry juice for a hot spiced drink to warm up with on cold winter nights.

One of the tastiest recipes I’ve made with lingonberries is a version of Cranberry Chess Pie. It’s creamy filling packs a cranberry-orange, sweet-sour flavor punch inside a beautiful flaky pastry dough crust. This is the recipe I was channeling when I came up with a crustless version, which was supposed to be a little lighter on the calories. I can’t say I was successful with the calorie reduction. But I can say, it was incredibly delicious. I told Jack that I wished I could record his mmmming and ooohhing while he was eating this dessert. That would have been worth a thousand words.

Although this dessert is perfectly delicious on its own, I highly recommend serving it while it’s still warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. The dish will come out of the oven with a beautifully browned dome top. While it’s cooling, the flaugnarde will fall, creating a hollow perfectly shaped for a scoop of ice cream.

Lingonberry Flaugnarde

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 extra large egg or 2 small eggs
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups lingonberries

Directions

  1. Grease two 8 oz ramekins. Set aside.
  2. Heat oven to 375 degrees F (190C).
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add sugar, butter, and salt. Mix together.
  4. Mix in eggs.
  5. Mix in flour.
  6. Mix in yogurt and almond extract.
  7. Mix well.
  8. Stir in lingonberries.
  9. Divide mixture into the prepared ramekins.
  10. Bake until top is golden brown and filling is firm, about 50 minutes.
  11. Cool ramekins on wire rack.
  12. Top warm flaugnarde with scoops of vanilla bean ice cream. Devour immediately.

Salmonberry Sour Cream Crumble Cake for Four (Or two. Or one.)

Salmonberry crumb cake

Springtime in Mongolia meant every kind of weather. Recently, this similarity to Chignik Lake has seemed to be especially true. A few days ago the lunchtime thermometer read 42 degrees under sunny skies and only a few patches of a deep snow that had blanked the landscape remained. We were inspired to go for a Honda ride to look for whatever new growth we might find. That was a few days ago…

Yesterday, we awoke to drizzly rain that morphed into melty, wet snow. Next thing we knew, we were immersed in a blizzard that blanketed us in again in a winter wonderland. This morning, the new day greeted us with broken skies, gusts of wind, a thermometer registering a chilly 16°, and new skim ice near the shoreline.

The warmth streaming in through our windows a few days ago prompted thoughts of summer – fishing, berry picking, mushroom hunting, boating, and the like. But the honda ride confirmed that even though the warmth of the sun is returning, the land is still in a deep wintery slumber. The blizzard kept me indoors, antsy – I really wanted a taste of summer, even though I know it is still months away. There is nothing more evocative of Alaskan summers than berries. Last year, we picked gallons of wild berries and carefully preserved them in our freezer – blueberries, raspberries, salmonberries, wineberries and lingonberries. Lately, I’ve been favoring the blueberries to top my oatmeal or to mix in with homemade yogurt. But to satisfy my craving for a  summer creation, I found myself drawn to the beautiful, multi-colored gems that are salmonberries. They have a tangy, sweet-sour flavor that pairs perfectly with almond – an ingredient I wanted to feature.

I was very happy with how this cake turned out. The diminutive dessert was just right for the two of us to share. The berries baked into the batter, retaining their jewel-like beauty. The cake was delectably moist. The flavors incorporated the lovely balance of natural sweet and sour. Each bite was complimented by the crumbly sweet almond topping. Full disclosure – it was intended for two desserts. We managed to finish the whole thing off in one delicious fell swoop.

Salmonberry Sour Cream Crumble Cake for Four (Or two. Or one.)

Ingredients

Topping

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Cake

  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 extra large egg (1 1/2 large eggs)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups salmonberries (if frozen, let thaw and drain off extra liquid)

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F (180C).
  2. Line bottom of 7-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Grease the sides of the pan with butter. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together topping ingredients. Stir with a fork until mixture is crumbly. Set aside.
  4. For the cake, in another bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  5. In a bowl of a stand mixer, mix together eggs, sour cream and almond extract.
  6. Add flour mixture for cake into the egg mixture. Beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.
  7. Pour batter into prepared springform pan.
  8. Top with salmonberries.
  9. Sprinkle crumble mixture evenly over berry layer.
  10. Bake until topping is golden brown the the center is cooked, about 40 minutes. Test this with a toothpick. It should come out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake.
  11. Let cake cool on wire rack in the pan for 20 minutes before removing springform sides.
  12. Cut into slices and serve warm or at room temperature.

Tis The Season For Rhubarb! Rhubarb Almond Cake

The delightful pinks and greens of rhubarb make this cake a beauty. The creaminess of almond flour and zippy tartness of rhubarb keep you coming back for more. We started this photo shoot with eight pieces. 😉

Happily, we are the recipients of the Farm Lodge produce boxes again. Every week we receive a mystery box packed with their latest ripened crops. The most recent box of vegetables we received was picked the same morning we received them! Most people probably would not find this remarkable, but we live very far away from sources of fresh fruits and veggies and so these Farm Lodge boxes serve as our Farmers’ Market. With the nearest grocery store hundreds of miles away, our fresh produce usually is limited to items which can withstand several days in a box while traveling through the U.S. Postal system to our home on the Alaska Peninsula. Thus, the veggie drawers of our fridge are usually stocked with carrots, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, onions, potatoes and the like. Being able to cook with freshly picked zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs is a summertime treat we relish.

One thing we’ve come to enjoy about the Farm Lodge produce is the surprise factor. The last box included a bright pink bunch of rhubarb stalks. Last summer, I really fell in love with this vegetable. Tartness is a flavor I adore. This ingredient has tartness in spades which compliments sweetness perfectly…it’s like a lemon’s brother from another mother. Our favorite rhubarb creation from last year was a sauce which we used to drizzle on top of warm brie and on grilled salmon fillets.

Wanting to do something different with this bunch, I looked back on recipe ideas I never got to try last year. On my list was a rhubarb custard pie. Jack loves custard and he loves pie, so I knew this one would be a winner. The problem was that one of the key ingredients I needed, heavy whipping cream, was not going to happen. Back to square one. I had seen a recipe of an almond cake made with almond flour. The almond paste-marzipan type flavor and dense texture sounded like a great pairing for the tart stems. With a bit of tinkering, I came up with a winner.

The finished cake was lighter than I had expected it would be. The almond and rhubarb flavors complemented each other very well. And the rhubarb kept its lovely pink hue, making for a stunning presentation. What did Jack think? He’s not usually a cake guy. This one got high marks. “Kind of like a custard pie,” he said between big bites of his second piece. Seeing how he is my main customer, I’ll put this one in the keeper section.

Rhubarb Almond Cake

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cut butter, melted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 2 cups sliced or chopped rhubarb

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Grease a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together almond flour and 1/4 cup sugar.
  4. Remove 1/4 cup of the mixture and set aside.
  5. Add flour, baking powder, and salt to the original large bowl.
  6. Mix butter, eggs, and almond extract into flour mixture.
  7. Pour batter into prepared springform pan.
  8. Sprinkle half of the reserved almond-sugar mixture over batter.
  9. Evenly place rhubarb atop batter.
  10. Sprinkle remainder of reserved almond-sugar mixture on rhubarb.
  11. Bake cake for 50 minutes. A wooden pick inserted to middle of the cake will come out clean when cake is done.
  12. Cool cake in pan on wire rack. Let cool to room temperature before serving.

Super Sourdough Soft Pretzels

Some untwist them. Some peel them apart. Some just tear into them. What’s your favorite way to eat a soft pretzel warm from the oven?

Some foods take you places. Sourdough bread transports me to San Francisco – specifically Fisherman’s Wharf. When I was young, my family would visit that magical city. Our journey would always include a stop to the Boudin Store where we would pick up a couple of loaves of freshly baked sourdough bread. Our unrefined tradition did not involve picnic blankets or even a knife for that matter. We each would take turns reaching into the long thin bag, grab a hold of the baguette and rip. What you tore was the piece you got to munch on while walking around Fisherman’s Wharf. The delicious sour aroma that wafted from the broken piece always enticed me. The outer crust was perfectly crunchy and gave way to a soft interior which was ideally balanced with a dose of chewiness. Those loaves never made it home. When I grew up and began to visit and eventually move to San Francisco, I never outgrew those wonderful loaves and that unsophisticated tradition.

After mastering the beginners art to baking, I set a goal to learn to work with sourdough. Initially, I used a freeze-dried starter that I brought it to life as a regular part of our pantry. Later, I learned how to make my own starter with a yogurt base. Over the years, sometimes I would score a share of a long-tended strain of sourdough yeast from a generous friend. This last sort is the one I have on hand now.

The day before we left Newhalen, one of our friends stopped by with a parting gift – a snack-sized zip-top bag containing a small amount of starter. He had been tending it for a while and was really happy with the flavor. I hand-carried the treasure back to Chignik Lake and dutifully fed it. It immediately came to life. Soon it was bubbling away. After a few daily feedings, I had enough starter to give it the real test – a couple of loaves of my San Francisco Sourdough bread. Yum! Our friend was right. This one is a winner.

It turns out that starter is actually pretty easy to work with. It is like a pet. You have to regularly feed it and make sure to regularly clean its home. The flavor gradually develops, becoming more complex over time. So, if you start your own, you need to be patient. The best thing about the starter gift I received was that it was already aged and wonderfully flavored.

I don’t remember what put this thought in my head, but after finishing the first two loaves, I had developed a craving for sourdough soft pretzels hot from the oven served up with a serving of deli mustard. Or maybe Dijon. I decided to make the pretzels a little smaller than the original recipe called for. Turns out the extra pretzels froze really well – as long as you get them into the freezer before the salt “melts” into the pretzels. Thawed, wrapped in foil and heated for about 15 minutes in a 350°F oven, the pretzels were as satisfying as their freshly made cousins.

I created this recipe using a combination of experience and instructions from two sites:  King Arthur Flour’s website and a site called Baking Sense.

Sourdough Soft Pretzels – Makes 16 Pretzels

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp yeast

Directions

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Mix and knead the dough ingredients — by hand or mixer — to make a cohesive, fairly smooth dough. It should be slightly sticky; if it seems dry, knead in an additional tablespoon or two of water.
  3. Cover the dough and let it rest for 45 minutes. It will rise minimally. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface, fold it over a few times to gently deflate it, then divide it into 16 pieces.
  5. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope. Shape each rope into a pretzel.
  6. Bring 1/3 cup baking soda and 9 cups of water to a boil in a large pot.
  7. Drop 3-4 pretzels into the boiling water for 20-30 seconds. Any more than that and your pretzels will have a metallic taste.
  8. Using a slotted spatula, lift the pretzels out of the water and allow as much of the excess water to drain off.
  9. Place pretzels onto prepared baking sheet. They only need to be about an inch apart.
  10. Sprinkle each with coarse sea salt.
  11. Repeat with remaining pretzels.
  12. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
  13. Remove from the oven and serve warm with your favorite mustard.

The Other Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie

Why mess with perfection? Skillet cookies were introduced to us a long time ago. They bake perfectly in a large cast iron pan. Served straight from the oven and topped with vanilla ice cream, you can’t get a better blast of sweet and the flavors… chocolatel-y, carmel-y, vanilla-y. The cookie is gooey in the middle and crispy on the edges. As they say in our part of the world – it’s a dandy!

After consuming many of these cookies baked in a way-too-big, 10-inch cast iron pan, I converted the recipe to fit my more-modestly-sized 6-inch pans. The cookies are smaller, but following the original recipe, all the sugar and fat was still a bit much. So I’d been thinking about how to transform this favorite yet again. While I won’t throw out the original recipe (it is too yummy), what about recreating this treat with a lot less sugar? And more fiber? Maybe an extra kick of protein? Less fat? Could I make a delicious version that was heathy?

It was a dark and stormy day. Cold rain was pelting the window from a nearly horizontal angle. This was the day it was going to happen. As I headed to the kitchen, I already had an idea. I have been experimenting with puréed beans in baking recipes for quite some time. They are a good flour replacement and do the trick of adding more nutrition by way of fiber and protein. Small white beans cook up nice and soft and have no discernible flavor in baked goods. For the sweetness, I had been reading about using puréed dates as a sugar substitute. They have a wonderful caramel flavor and they are powerfully sweet. I still planned to use semi-sweet chocolate chips because… chocolate!

With the first batch out of the oven and cooled, I set a piece before Jack – my expert taster – and took another piece for myself. I told him it was a healthy version of a skillet cookie. He frowned. Since I needed him to have at least some semblance of an open mind, I did not tell him the cookie was actually gluten free and had virtually no sugar. While we agreed that the cookie was not nearly as decadent as the original, it was still full of the satisfying flavors you want in a skillet cookie – it turned out surprisingly sweet and quite tasty. The next day, Jack suggested we put a warm vanilla custard on it. Oh Jack, that kind of kills the healthy factor…but now he’s got me thinking. We did enjoy one topped with raspberry preserves, which was excellent!

The Other Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pitted dates, soaked in 1/3 cup hot water to soften
  • 1 ½ cups cooked small white beans, or 1 15 oz can white beans rinsed and drained
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil, or light olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ cup quick oats
  • ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease two 6-inch cast iron pans or a 12-muffin pan.
  2. Smooth dates and water into a paste using a stick blender or food processor.
  3. Add beans, applesauce, oil, egg and vanilla into date mixture. Continue to process until all are incorporated and smooth.
  4. Stir baking soda, baking powder, salt, and oats into mixture.
  5. Fold in chocolate chips.
  6. Divide mixture evenly into prepared pans.
  7. If using cast iron pans bake for about 25 minutes. If using a muffin tin, bake for about 15 minutes. Cookies should be brown and firm when done.
  8. Let cookies cool for about 20 minutes before serving.

I was curious about all the nutritional details. Thanks to an online nutrition analyzer, I can easily share what I’ve found with you.

Almond Lingonberry Scones (with a side of Brown Bear)

Scones, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… almond scones, swirled cloudberry scones, coconut chocolate chip scones, cranberry orange scones, dark chocolate tangerine scones… For today’s picnic, wholesome almond lingonberry scones.

The scone itself is a handheld delight. It is the perfect size not to share and it pairs perfectly with a freshly brewed cup of French roast. Its base recipe is the ideal vehicle with which to switch up a few ingredients in order to transform this pastry from sweet to savory. Although, I generally like to keep this one sweet. The ultimate scone will have a crunchy exterior and a buttery, flaky interior.

Butter and cream. Of course those are the key ingredients. Add in some sugar and some white flour. There you have the quintessential list for a heart attack, right? So, how could I alter this recipe and still have a treat I wouldn’t have to apologize for before I serve it. “Here are some freshly made wholesome scones, Jack. Sorry, they may be a bit dry and flavorless. That’s because I used whole wheat flour and no sugar to make it healthy. Enjoy them. They’re good for you!”
___________________________________________________________________

We interrupt this blog writing to go shoot a bear! Please stand by.

In the middle of the photo shoot for the scones, we received an urgent text message. “Bear in the creek right below my house! I think it’s eating grass. It’s a big one!” Ah, a day in the life of chefs and photographers. Within a skinny minute, we had the scone shoot safely stowed inside (away from the magpies), lenses changed, tripods attached, bear spray in hand and we were out the door. Sure enough, Big Boy was filling up on a tasty snack of plants while patiently waiting for the salmon run to get into full swing. This guy looks like he’s packed away plenty of calories already!

Back to the scones…

Summertime means finding ocean bright salmon to fish for and searching for ripe blueberries, raspberries, and lingonberries (known locally as low bush cranberries). Summer also means it’s time to empty out the freezer of the remaining items stockpiled from last year. Down to the final fillets of salmon, a few quarts of blueberries, and a bag of lingonberries, this is a fun and easy task.

My reinvented scone recipe had lingonberries written all over it. I had a half a gallon of the bright red beauties waiting in the freezer door. To keep this recipe healthy, I wanted unsweetened fruit – so no Craisins allowed. This recipe resulted in fewer calories, half the fat, lower cholesterol, lower salt, three times the fiber, a third of the sugar, and more protein – and yet, it passed the Jack taste test with flying colors.

Have you ever gone to a bakery and ordered a bran muffin? They’re usually not very tasty, right? But you feel like you did something good for your body by ordering one. Well, this recipe resulted in scones that are waaayyy better than those muffins. If I went into a bakery and found this scone on the “healthy menu” I would actually be excited! It has the nice crunchy texture you want on the outside. The scone is soft and moist on the inside and rises nicely in craggy peaks. It has a subtle sweetness from the little bit of sugar. The lingonberries are downright sour, but in the best possible way. For our picnic, I did sweeten them up a bit by bringing along a jar of banana lingonberry jam to turn the scones into a dessert.

Wholesome Almond Lingonberry Scones

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ stick unsalted butter, frozen
  • ¾ cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup frozen lingonberries
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together first six ingredients.
  4. Grate butter into flour mixture (use largest shredding holes of a cheese grater).
  5. Toss butter shreds in flour but keep them separated – not clumped.
  6. In a smaller bowl mix together yogurt, egg, and extracts.
  7. Use a fork to stir the wet ingredients into the dry.
  8. Fold in lingonberries and ½ of the almonds.
  9. Break the dough into eight pieces.
  10. Place each piece onto the parchment-lined baking sheet.
  11. Bake in center of oven for 18-27 minutes.
  12. When the scones are done, a wooden pick inserted in the center should come out clean. Mine needed a few more minutes than 18.
  13. Let cool for a few minutes and serve. Or store in an airtight container to serve later.

Crispy, Crunchy, Homemade Rice Crackers

We’re at that clean-out-our-pantry time of year when we begin working through stores in earnest, cleaning out freezers and cupboards while we anticipate our annual summertime BST – Big Shopping Trip. This year? Plot Twists. First off, there’s the CoronaVirus. Here in Newhalen, if we’ve needed an additional ingredient, we’ve been able to drive over to our local general store – a small place that happens to have just about everything a person could ever need. We’re fond of saying, “If it’s not at the Iliamna Trading Company, you don’t need it.” Anchovies? They’ve got ‘em. Smoked oysters? They’ve got ‘em. Sanma, those delicious little tinned fish from Japan? No. Of course they don’t have those! I said it was a small store.

The other plot twist is an impending move. Wait. Did she just say “move?” Again? Didn’t she just move? And, like, for about the 80th time in the last 10 years?

Yep. Impeding move. We are heading back to the village where we left our hearts, back to Chignik Lake. Thankfully for everyone, enrollment appears to have stabilized at a number comfortably above the state-mandated minimum of 10. Of course, due to Shelter-in-Place orders and the wise decision among Alaska’s bush villages to prohibit people from flying in, we don’t know when the actual move will occur. It’s a good time to be staying close to home, cooking and baking through the larder.

The other day, I noticed that we still had a couple bags of dried chickpeas in our cupboard. I recalled that these bags had come with us last summer when we moved to Newhalen. “No way do these get on another plane,” I thought to myself. Fortunately, we had all the ingredients I needed to make a giant batch of hummus. Even lemons – which we hardly ever had at The Lake. Proof enough that Newhalen truly is the “Cush Bush.” (I’m smiling. It has been an easy and enjoyable year.) As soon as it the hummus was ready, we got out the last of our rice crackers and dug in.

But…

…thin, crispy, salty cracker by delectably thin, crispy, crunchy cracker…

Before I knew it, we were confronted with a problem. A big problem. I mean a Really Big Problem. All this fresh, delicious hummus and we had finished off the crackers! I sliced carrots thin and tried to substitute those. It was… well, if one must. We wanted crackers. Iliamna Trading would have them, but we’ve really been trying to honor the shelter-in-place edict.

Our dilemma got me to thinking about homemade crackers. This wouldn’t be my first rodeo in the world of crispy and crunchy. I’d made graham crackers, wheat thins, cheese-its, and more. But I’d never made rice crackers.

I found a base recipe and gave it a go. I’ll be honest, I worked and reworked this recipe before I met with success. I thought the last batch came out great. This was confirmed by Jack, “Forget about making dinner. Let’s just have crackers and hummus and watch old Suits episodes tonight!” he said as he reached for another cracker. Winner winner, hummus dinner!

They key turned out to be making the crackers really thin. After trying a rolling pin and then a pasta roller, I found the best way to make the dough thin enough was to flatten it using a tortilla press. By rolling the dough into marble-sized balls, I was able to press four crackers at a time. I know, that sounds like a lot of work for crackers. But, hey, I’m sheltering in. There’s time! And, man are they good!

Homemade Onion Rice Crackers

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp salt, non iodized will taste better
  • 1 tsp onion powder (or experiment with other spices and herbs)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  3. Cut the sides off of a ziplock bag to use to line the tortilla press later.
  4. Place all ingredients in a bowl.
  5. Stir with a fork until dough has crumbly chunks, like pie dough.
  6. Knead together. If it doesn’t come together, add water by teaspoons until it does.
  7. Using a teaspoon, scoop out some dough.
  8. Using your hand, roll it into a ball. The ball should be the shape and size of a marble.
  9. Place the ball between the cut ziplock sheets on a tortilla press.
  10. Press the ball with the tortilla press.
  11. Peel flattened ball off the plastic and place it on prepared baking sheet.
  12. Repeat with remainder of dough. You should be able to fit 4 dough marbles on your tortilla press once you get the hang of it.
  13. Bake crackers for 15-18 minutes. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t get overdone.
  14. Crackers will be slightly brown and crispy when they are done.
  15. Store cooled crackers in an airtight container.

Sugar-free, Sweet and Satisfying Banana Custard

A brûlée crust does take this dish out of the sugar-free category. It tastes wonderful without the crust. It just doesn’t look very beautiful.

We are the consummate rescuers of nearly wasted bananas. Over this past year, we’ve collected aged very brown bananas from various places and have been enjoying them in a variety of recipes. Our favorite, as of late, is a custard made out of the overripe bananas.  It’s fantastically easy. It tastes wonderful. We’ve been regularly stocking our fridge with a batch and have guilt-free snacks for dessert on demand.

Since it’s made from overripe bananas, it has the not so lovely color of said fruit. The first batch we made, we served it with vanilla ice cream to mask the custard. On the next batch, I drizzled a chocolate ganache to pretty it up. Then I tried a brûlée top. If you are having a fancy dinner party, any of these options beautify the custard. But honestly, none of that is necessary. It tastes great just as it is. And, of course, it’s healthier au natural.

Banana Custard Au Natural

Ingredients

  • 4 overripe bananas
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tbsp coconut milk powder
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, optional

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F.
  2. Put all ingredients in a bowl.
  3. Use a stick blender to blend until smooth.
  4. Pour custard into 4 ramekins.
  5. Put ramekins in a glass baking dish.
  6. Fill baking dish with hot water. Water should surround ramekins as best you can (without spilling, of course)
  7. Bake for 45 minutes.
  8. Remove ramekins from water bath and allow to cool a bit before serving. Serve warm. Or store in refrigerator and eat chilled.

Add a Little Zip to Your Morning – Ginger Crumbled Rhubarb Muffins

Spiked with a warm hit of ginger, rhubarb jam muffins quickly turn the feeling in our home from a dreary shelter in place to cozy and safely tucked-in.

A friend asked to trade some freshly laid eggs for some baked goods. With no dietary restrictions and no allergies I had a blank slate in front of me. I flipped through my mental recipe book of favorites. What a fun task! I visualized braided bread, focaccia, soft pretzels. Then I switched to sweets – mocha bars, monster cookies, blueberry pie. Last summer’s many warm and sunny harvesting days yielded gallons of berries and stalks upon stalks of rhubarb. I had made rhubarb sauce that went so well dolloped on warm brie cheese. I still have a few jars left of this concoction. With the snow falling outside, I thought the ideal baked good should conjure summer days. It was decided – rhubarb muffins. I thought a crumble crown would jazz up a potentially plain looking muffin. A bit of ginger and cinnamon added to the crumble finished out the flavor ensemble. The finished product came out moist and flavorful. A fresh cup of french roast, a rhubarb muffin and a fried egg – now that’s a warm and cozy breakfast!

Ginger Crumbled Rhubarb Muffins

Ingredients

For the crumble

  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • pinch salt
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour

For the muffins

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 cup rhubarb sauce, or substitute your favorite jam

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Grease a 12-muffin pan. Set aside.
  3. Mix together all crumble ingredients.
  4. Break apart large chunks into pea-sized pieces. Set aside.
  5. For the muffins, in a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, and salt.
  6. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, milk, oil, sugar and honey.
  7. Stir egg mixture into flour mixture. Don’t overmix.
  8. Stir in rhubarb sauce.
  9. Evenly divide batter into muffin pan.
  10. Top each muffin with crumble mixture.
  11. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Muffins should be browned and an inserted wooden pick will come out clean when finished.
  12. Let cool on wire rack for about 10 minutes before removing from pan.