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

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.

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.

Hot off the Grill: Two-Cheese Alaska Salmon Burgers

Wild Alaska Salmon on pan toasted homemade English muffins, wild Alaska blueberries and a big mug of coffee – a wild way to start the weekend.

This is easy. Take a wild salmon fillet, remove the skin, chop up the fillet and put it in a bowl. Add equal parts grated mozzarella and crumbled goat cheese. Sprinkle in a spicy seasoning – something with smoked chipotle is especially nice. No salt needed as the cheese should be salty enough. That’s it. Now shape the mixture into burgers and fry in olive oil, flipping once.

Served on English muffins that have been pan toasted in olive oil, these make for a terrific weekend brunch. Or put the burgers in traditional hamburger buns. Try them with a little Dijon mustard. Bon appétit!

Wild About Wild Mushrooms – Lentil and Wild Porcini Pâté

Wild Alaskan porcini mushrooms star in this pâté recipe – the perfect snack or appetizer served on rice crackers, summer squash or zucchini. 

Many years ago, Jack and I took a mushroom foraging class from a park ranger in Oregon. With the help of our instructor, we learned about local mushrooms and actually found one King Bolete mushroom. At the end of that experience, I had more fear of “false mushrooms” that could make me sick or even kill me than anything else. Since then, I’ve been on countless hikes and found countless mushrooms I wouldn’t dare eat – even though they look perfectly safe. When we moved to Newhalen and began fishing and foraging for berries, we began noticing mushrooms the color of browned bread. Big ones. As usual, Jack and I wondered if they were edible. After one quick wondering, we resigned ourselves to knowing our mushrooms would come from a store and went back to the task at hand.

We were delighted to learn that one of the locals here in Newhalen is an expert on mushrooms. She volunteered to take a few of us out a couple of weeks ago and teach us about Newhalen fungi. Turns out, all those big mushrooms we had been seeing are types of boletes (otherwise known as porcini) and are not just edible, but are delicious!

Many people dry these mushrooms. We also heard that they can be frozen. After a bit of experimenting, we decided to vacuum-pack them and freeze them for the winter. Of course, we’ve kept out a few for now. Many have already starred in our recent evening meals – sautéed with garlic in olive oil to serve over pasta and atop Swiss mushroom burgers. Mmmm. Both of us are alive and kicking and now armed with confidence to continue foraging for these delicious beauties on our local hikes.

I came up with this mushroom pâté recipe a couple of years ago with store-bought ingredients. It was created with an intent to mimic one of my favorite Jewish foods – chopped chicken liver. This recipe not only tastes surprisingly like the delicious spread from my memory, but it brings it into the category of good for you, not just tasty. Traditional chopped chicken liver recipes are loaded with flavorful, but not so healthy fats. The chicken liver itself is low in fat but is high in cholesterol. You can use store-bought crimini, button, or shiitake mushrooms. But if you have access to wild porcini or other wild mushrooms, they will up the flavor of this pâté. Also, don’t save this recipe for a special occasion. This scrumptious mushroom and lentil spread is packed with flavor, is low in fat and cholesterol and high in fiber and protein, which makes it a go-to for a pre-run snack or a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

Nutrition Info Lentil Wild Porcini Pâté

Wild Porcini Mushroom and Lentil Pâté

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked lentils, any color
  • 2 cups chopped wild porcini mushrooms
  • 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 cup almond flour
  • 1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 tsp thyme
  • 1 tsp honey
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • salt to taste
  • extra olive oil, needed

Directions

  1. In a large sauté pan, heat 4 tbsp olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add onions and sauté until translucent.
  3. Add garlic and sauté for 2 minutes.
  4. Add mushrooms and cook until they are soft and cooked through. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5.  In a large bowl, combine almond flour, lemon juice, soy sauce, rosemary, thyme, sage, honey, and cayenne.
  6. Stir in mushroom mixture.
  7. Using a stick blender (or food processor), purée the mixture.
  8. Add in cooked lentils.
  9. Purée the mixture until smooth.
  10. If the mixture feels too thick, thin it with additional olive oil.
  11. Salt to taste.

Cedar Planked Mushroom Caps Stuffed with Salmon, Blueberries and Goat Cheese

Cedar planks on the grill infuse salmon and mushroom caps with an irresistibly smokey flavor, and the indirect heat ensures for a deliciously moist, perfectly cooked bite.

With enough freshly caught, silver-bright Sockeye Salmon vacuum packed and in the freezer, we’ve lately turned our attention to gathering wild blueberries (while waiting for Coho Salmon – the stars of the fly-fishing season – to begin running). This recipe is a snap, and although grilling over charcoal on cedar requires a bit of extra effort, you’ll be glad you took the trouble.

Cedar Planked Mushroom Caps Stuffed with Salmon, Blueberries and Goat Cheese

Ingredients: You will need one or more untreated cedar planks soaked in water for at least a couple of hours

  • Crimini or Portobella mushroom caps (stems removed and set aside and a shallow depression cut into each cap’s center)
  • Mushroom stems, chopped coarse
  • Fillet of wild-caught Pacific Salmon seasoned with Italian herbs (or your own favorites) and broiled, grilled or pan fried till just cooked through. (Should flake easily). This step will remove some of the liquid from the fillets and result in a firmer dish.
  • Goat cheese, crumbled or cut into bean-sized pieces
  • Blueberries
  • Garlic chopped fine
  • Soy sauce
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Additional herbs and spices to taste
  • Sherry or dry white wine

Directions

  1. Fire up the grill.
  2. Combine ingredients in a mixing bowl and gently fold together. Fingers work best for this. Take care not to overwork the mixture.
  3. Stuff each mushroom cap and place on a cedar plank that has been well soaked in water.
  4. Place plank with stuffed mushrooms over hot charcoal. Cover grill with vented lid to ensure for high temperature.
  5. Depending on how hot the grill is, allow for 10 to 20 minutes cooking time. Mushrooms should be completely cooked through.
  6. Serve warm.