It’s not yet the official start of summer, but nothing feels like the season more than sitting outside in sunshine grilling our supper.
Some people say Chignik River salmon are The Best. Who are we to argue? The vacuum-packed fish we caught last fall taste like we just pulled them out of the water. We love these salmon. They are fun to fish for, delicious and are a beautiful part of this environment. We feel fortunate to have them as part of our menus at least four times a week. Yesterday, we thought we would try a smoky maple rub we were gifted awhile back. It worked perfectly on the grill, giving a nice smoky, sweet layer of flavor while still letting the salmon shine through.
The star of the meal were the fireweed shoots. If you’ve never tried these beauties, now is the time to do it. Around here, they are popping out of the ground in a plum-colored frenzy. Early in the season, the shoots can be picked and used just like asparagus. The leaves are tender and the stems have a satisfying crunch. Later in the summer, the plants will produce fuchsia-colored flowers that climb up the stalks like a calendar of the summer passing. These flowers are edible, as well. We’ve used the pink blossoms in tossed salads and have stirred them into homemade honey ice cream for an added visual pop. But I digress…
Preparing the fireweed shoots is simple. Give the shoots a thorough rinse to remove any dirt. Then mix together soy sauce, lemon and garlic to taste. Toss the mixture with the fireweed shoots. Place a couple of pats of butter beneath the shoots and another couple on top. Grill in foil until the butter is melted and the mixture is bubbling. We like our shoots pretty crunchy, so we only grilled them for about 4 minutes. And if you’ve prepared a baked potato on the side, any extra sauce from cooking fireweed the fireweed makes a delectable topping. Bon Appétit!
The tang of tomatoes, the zip of lemon, and the hint of sweetness from a bit brown sugar all mixed in with cabbage and some of Alaska’s best game meat – moose. Grandma’s secret is out!
My strongest memories of my grandmother are connected with food. She lived in Queens. Meanwhile my family was bouncing around from Brooklyn out to New Mexico and back to Albany before finally ending up in California, and so we only got to see her once in a while. When we did, I remember heartily enjoying all of her culinary creations – Jewish staples like kugel, brisket, blintzes, and of course, stuffed cabbages. I don’t know if she intended to keep her recipes secret. Maybe she thought I was too young to understand them. Maybe she thought – well, I don’t know. I could only guess. Unfortunately she passed away when I was still only in my 20s. Over the years, I have tried to make a few of her standards, producing what I think have been successes. I was particularly pleased with a crock pot recipe for cabbage rolls that I came across many years ago which I thought tasted just like hers. The problem with that recipe was that it took For Ever.
Fast forward to now. Jack and I have entered a favorite time of year. It’s the time when we look in our freezers and pantry and try to use up whatever we have on hand a la the show Chopped. With bunches of carrots, heads of cabbage, a few pounds of ground moose, and way too many onions, I thought of stuffed cabbage. It’s really a perfect recipe for the bush. We lucked into a healthy amount of moose this year. (Half a moose was flown into our village from a hunting camp earlier this year…another story.) Cabbages, carrots, and onions ship reliably through the postal service from Anchorage. Even if they get stalled at our mail hub in King Salmon for days in a row, which happens regularly, these items arrive relatively unmarred. The best stuffed cabbage is made with big, beautiful leaves. That wasn’t what I had. And time. I didn’t have that, either.
I started to think about what made my grandmother’s stuffed cabbages so good. I liked the rolls. But what I especially liked the flavor, and I liked what was left on the bottom on the pot when the cabbages fell apart. Why not make just that? Turns out, this recipe has the exact flavor of my grandma’s “secret recipe” but the time and effort is cut down – way down. With a few minutes of prep, and 45 minutes of “simmer time,” this recipe is a keeper!
Stuffed Cabbage Soup
- 1 lb. moose meat (substitute lean ground beef)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium sweet onion, like Walla Walla, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, chopped
- 4 cups beef bouillon (we like Penzeys beef soup base)
- 12 ounces tomato paste reconstituted with 2 cups hot water
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 1/2 cup uncooked long grain brown rice
- 5 cups green cabbage, chopped large
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice
- Use a large soup pot. Place olive oil and meat in the pot.
- Add onions.
- Sauté until meat is browned.
- Add garlic and stir.
- Add broth, reconstituted tomato paste, brown sugar, salt, oregano, pepper and rice. Mix well.
- Add cabbage and carrots. Stir to mix.
- Place bay leaves in pot.
- Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cover the pot. Cook until rice is tender, about 45 minutes.
- Remove pot from heat and stir in lemon juice.
- Let soup rest for a few minutes before serving.
Healthy? Yes, but more importantly beautiful and delicious! Imagine this wine-colored spread on crispy crackers or as part of a vibrant plate of garden-fresh crudités.
This hummus is just as creamy and smooth as my white bean hummus recipe. My favorite thing about hummus is the flavorful marriage of garlic, lemon, and cumin. Inspired by a couple of beets in the fridge, I decided to do what beets like best – roast them. Roasting brings out the sweetness in this beautiful root vegetable. I substituted beets for the white beans in my original recipe and was really happy that the main garlic, lemon, and cumin flavors still shine through. The beets add a subtle earthy, sweet flavor. Best of all, they take the presentation through the roof with their color.
Roasted Beet Hummus
- 2 medium beets
- 1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- a few dashes hot sauce. We like Cholula.
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup olive oil
Preheat oven to 375° F (190 C. Remove the stem from the beets. Scrub and wash them with cold water.
Place beets in foil, drizzle with olive oil, wrap tightly and roast for one hour or until the tines of a fork pass through without resistance. They should be tender. Let cool slightly.
- You should be able to rub the skin off of the beets. Otherwise, use a paring knife to peel off the roasted skin.
- Cut beets into chunks. Place in deep bowl.
- Rinse and drain beans. Add to bowl.
- Combine lemon, cumin, garlic, hot sauce, salt and half of the olive oil with beet mixture. Use a stick blender to mix and purée hummus. This can also be done in a food processor.
- Process mixture until smooth, adding more olive oil to reach desired consistency.
- Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a crack of black pepper.
Miniature three-inch bagels are perfect for a snack-size taste of Alaskan salmon lox.
The winter holidays are a time of canapés and party food, which makes this post relevant to the holiday season. For us, agreeably salty lox on a fresh homemade bagel slathered with cream cheese is just plain good food anytime of year. With a river with strong salmon runs flowing right past our home, getting the main ingredient for these sandwiches isn’t a problem. In fact, we normally get plenty of fish for our own needs as well as a few additional fish to give to elders in our village.
Making lox takes a bit of time, so there is some patience involved, but the method itself is easy. Simply pack salmon fillets in a salt-sugar-pepper mixture. Let the salt draw out the excess liquid. Turn the fillets daily for about a week. It’s a fairly magical process, in the end transforming the fillets into firm, bright orange jewels. Sliced thin, lox is perfect in scrambled eggs or atop blini as well as on the traditional bagel du jour smeared with cream cheese and sprinkled with capers. Delectable, Wild Alaskan Salmon – an edible treasure.
- 1 lb. fresh salmon fillets, skin on. The fillets need not be scaled, but do take pains to ensure that all bones are removed.
- ¼ cup coarse sea salt
- ¼ cup brown sugar
- 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
- Rinse fish and dry thoroughly.
- Remove any pin bones in fillet with tweezers or needle nose pliers.
- Mix together salt, sugar and pepper. (This recipe works well when multiplied. Our last batch was 5 pounds of fillets.)
- Pack salt mixture around fish. Do this skin side down.
- Sandwich two pieces of fish together, flesh against flesh, skin side out.
- Pack any leftover sugar mixture onto exposed fillet.
- Wrap sandwiched pieces tightly with plastic wrap. Leave sides slightly open so liquid can drain while the salmon cures.
- I use a large plastic container with a top. Place a smaller food storage container inside the large one to create a raised place for the fish to set. This will allow the juice to drain away from the fish. A fish poacher with a bottom insert that allows drainage also works well.
- Place sandwiched salmon in container from step 8.
- Finally, you need to ensure that the fillets are tightly pressed together. This can be accomplished by placing full canning jars atop the fillets if you’re using a fish poacher. As I was using a tall plastic container, I simply placed another smaller container on top of the salmon pieces. The smaller container was just the right size so that when I put the lid on the larger container, it pressed down firmly on the fillets without squishing them. The idea is to create just enough weight or pressure to facilitate squeezing out excess moisture as the salt pulls liquid from the fish.
- Place container in refrigerator.
- For 7 days, every 24 hours pour off liquid from the bottom of the container and flip the fillet sandwiches.
- At the end of 7 days, take the salmon out of the plastic wrap and thoroughly rinse using very cold water.
- Thoroughly pat dry.
- Slice very thin and enjoy!
Store leftovers in refrigerator or wrap tightly in plastic and freeze in airtight containers.
This dish features a classic summertime herb along with garden vegetables and our favorite Autumn fish for a recipe to hold off winter for at least one more evening. While a California Chardonnay would pair well with the rich cream and Coho Salmon, we went with a Willamette Valley Pinot Gris, a lighter wine that let the dill shine.
Dill, dill, dill. What to do with dill? It’s not a seasoning I often use, but thanks to our friends up the Alaska Peninsula at The Farm Lodge in Port Alsworth, we found ourselves with an abundance of this pleasantly aromatic herb blooming in a glass jar on a windowsill. How about using it in a cream sauce to bring together fillets of freshly caught Chignik River Silver Salmon, farfalle pasta, and some of the last zucchini and summer squash we’re likely to see for awhile?
Salmon with Creamy Fresh Dill Sauce for Two
- 2 fresh wild salmon fillets, skin on, pin bones removed, rinsed and patted dry
- 2 cups farfalle pasta
- 1 cup or a little more diced fresh tomato
- 2 leaves of kale, cut away from the stem and cut into smaller pieces
- 1 cup or more yellow summer squash, sliced into circles and then cut into smaller pieces
- 1 cup or more zucchini, sliced into circles and cut into smaller pieces
- 1/2 cup carrot sliced julienne style
- other fresh vegetables, as desired/available
- 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, sliced julienne style
- 1 shallot, sliced thin to make about 3/4 cup
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 tbsp butter
- olive oil
- sea salt
- juice from 1/2 lemon
- a loose 1/2 cup of dill leaves and flowers (or use a smaller quantity of dried dill)
- sherry (or white wine)
- black pepper
- 1 cup or more deepwater Alaska shrimp shelled, deveined and patted dry (optional)
- 1 tbsp corn starch mixed into 2 tbsp cold water
- Prepare pasta.
Directions for the salmon
- Turn on oven broiler and preheat heavy broiling pan on middle rack for the salmon. Nothing works better for this than seasoned cast iron.
- Sprinkle the salmon with sea salt. Our favorite is large grain gray sea salt.
- When the broiling pan is sizzling hot, pour on a little olive oil, place the salmon skin side down on the oil and broil for about 9 minutes.
- Remove salmon from broiler, place on cutting board or plate and cover loosely with a bowl or foil to rest.
Directions for the cream sauce
- Put some olive oil in a fairly large skillet or sauteuse pan over medium heat.
- When the oil is hot, add kale, a little sea salt, and a tablespoon or two of sherry. Stir and sauté until kale just begins to wilt. Next, place in zucchini, summer squash and julienne carrots, which will not take as long to cook. Add a little more salt and sherry, stir and sauté until vegetables just begin to soften. At this point, add the cream and mix together.
- Meanwhile, place butter in a separate skillet. When it’s hot, add shallots, a sprinkle of salt, and cook till they’re soft. Add garlic and a healthy splash of sherry, stir and cook till garlic begins to release its odor and soften. If you’re including shrimp, add them and a sprinkle of salt when you add the garlic. It takes only about 2 minutes to cook shrimp through.
- Add the shallot mixture to the vegetables, a few grinds of black pepper, the lemon juice, mix together and taste. To thicken the cream sauce, slowly stir in the corn starch mixture. Serve immediately.
Place the pasta on large plates or in pasta bowls. Spoon on the vegetable cream sauce. Place the salmon on top, add a little more cream sauce and another grind of two of pepper. Garnish with fresh dill and pair with a chilled Willamette Valley Pinot Gris.
Fueling up with fudge. These tasty snacks helped us through today’s 3½ hour bicycle training ride. Sixteen days till we arrive in Hokkaido!
We are beginning to wrap up the preparation for our 3-month bicycle adventure in Hokkaido, Japan. Our home looks like an outdoor store that has barely survived a tornado attack. Bicycles with halfway-packed panniers are leaned up against walls, an assortment of bags are strewn about having either passed or failed packing tests, and there are a number of items that have not quite yet found a home in our portable summer transportation scheme. If anyone were to peek into on our home, they would surely worry for us. Will we really be ready to start sending our gear on this Wednesday’s flight out of Chignik Lake? In reality, this light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel mess is absolutely normal for us right before everything comes together.
Along with the flurry of final packing, we still are relentlessly adhering to our fitness-training schedule. We both have a lot of experience with preparing for running events, but a bicycle adventure is new. It turns out that prepping is not as simple as setting up a beginner, intermediate or advanced program as we would for a running event. We’ve had to take into account that we need enough “seat time” to avoid sore rear ends. We also factored in our ages and an overall goal that emphasizes endurance over speed. Our Hokkaido schedule will be very flexible. Free from the pressure of reservations (we’ll be tent camping throughout the summer), we’ll be able to ride very short days if we want to stay in a particular location – but we also want to be in shape to put some serious mileage behind us when we want to get somewhere.
After doing quite a bit of research, we settled on a training program called “Sofa to 50k.” With an 8-week schedule culminating today with a 3½ ride, this program is set up similarly to a marathon running schedule. Yikes! Did I say 3½ hours? OK, saddle up!
We usually start our Sundays – the day of our long rides – with steel cut oatmeal. We like to add homemade yogurt and homemade jam for extra flavor and calories. As the long ride days grew longer, we’ve needed to add additional mid-ride calories. Trail mix, nuts, or Figgy-pops have been our go-to snacks. But with a 3½ hour ride looming, I wanted some kind of a nutrition-packed snack that we would look forward to. We couldn’t be more sick of Figgy-pops! With half a jar of tahini left over from a previous recipe, I had an idea for a fudge-like confection packed with protein and energy. After sharing an entire batch today on our longest ride, we both agreed these little treats were fantastic! One tip: You’ll want to keep these in the fridge till you’re ready to eat them. They get sticky at room temperature.
Coconut Chocolate Chip Tahini Fudge
- ½ cup tahini
- ½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
- ¼ cup honey
- 2 tbsp coconut oil, melted
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp vanilla paste (or extract)
- ¼ cup semi sweet chocolate chips, chopped
- pinch salt
- Mix all ingredients thoroughly.
- Place tablespoon-sized scoops in a silicon ice cube tray.
- Freeze for at least 30 minutes.
- Pop frozen confections out of tray and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Creamy roasted butternut squash filling on a flakey, buttery crust – top it off with a lightly salted & peppered sunny-side up egg and serve a cup of French Roast on the side. Good morning, Chignik Lake.
Pumpkin pie for breakfast – it’s either just after Thanksgiving or Christmas, or we’re nearing the end of another year in the bush. In fact, we’re almost having to pinch ourselves to get our heads around the fact that there are just four days till the end of Barbra’s school year. With a very early summer vacation in sight, we’ve been in the process of clearing out our freezer. Several months ago we roasted and freezer-packed a couple of butternut squashes. When we rediscovered them last weekend, they were still in excellent condition thanks to our manual defrost freezer.
Having never perfected crusts, I got out of the pie baking business when I married Barbra, but she still uses my pumpkin pie filling recipe – an adaptation from Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Cookbook. She put a bush twist on the recipe this time, substituting Hoosier Hill Farm Premium Heavy Cream Powder for real heavy cream, which can be notoriously difficult to get out to the bush. The pie came out just fine.
And so this past week we’ve been starting our mornings right with one of our favorite breakfasts: Pumpkin Pie with a Fried Egg and a cup of joe. Our sparrows have begun returning, Cranes are starting to nest up on Black Lake, the bears are up and about and this morning I think I saw a salmon jump down at the bend. C’mon summer!
For our favorite pumpkin pie/squash pie recipe, see: A Cookbook for the Ages: Pumpkin and Pecan Pies from Craig Claiborne