Really Ugly – But Pretty Tasty: Baked Moose “Empanadas”

Moose meat hand pies on a borrowed plate and a bit wonky looking. Maybe the beautiful Chignik Woodblock Mountains in the background will distract you. They are gorgeous!

We’re about one week out from the big move. That means almost all of our household goods are either waiting for us in Newhalen or they are en route care of the good ‘ol postal service. It also means there is one cook in the house who is longing for all of her mailed kitchen equipment. (Jack is being a much better sport about this.)

With what amounts to a random selection of pantry items that need to be finished and mostly borrowed kitchen items to get us through the next few days, we need to be either very creative or not think about it and just eat. Like I said, Jack is being a good sport. He has been creatively transforming the case of macaroni and cheese boxes we have for our remaining lunches by adding ingredients like rehydrated mushrooms, roasted Brussels sprouts, cans of diced tomatoes, and even the last bit of chorizo. This morning, he created a delicious hot breakfast out of the last bag of cous cous, bacon, cream cheese and toasted pecans.

With our very last pound of ground moose meat thawed in the fridge, I decided to take a turn at being cheery with this challenge and see what I could create. I thought it would be tasty to make turnovers inspired by Mongolian Khuushuur. Under a variety of local names, this type of meat-filled pastry seems to be found the world over. Our southern neighbors make a delicious version called empanadas.

Time to get to work. Yeast? Nope, mailed that. All-purpose flour? Yeah, that’s gone, too. What in the world do I have left? I gathered whole wheat flour, an egg, butter, salt, ground moose meat, Jack’s spicy seasoning mix, and a can of green chilis. Khuushuur and empanadas are both traditionally fried and are made with a bread type dough. No oil. These pastries would be baked. Based on my ingredient list, the dough was going to be of the savory pie variety. I whipped up some pie dough and stuck it in the fridge while I cooked up the filling.

When it was time to make the little meat hand pies, I realized I had no rolling pin, no parchment paper, and no pastry brush. Ugh. A greased cookie sheet did the trick sans parchment paper. And did you know that a skinny bottle of olive oil can double as a rolling pin? I didn’t either. The only disappointment was that wadded up paper towel does not really work as a pastry brush. It definitely wasted too much egg. Any ideas on that one?

At the end of the day, our hand pies were not pretty but we did wind up with a delicious dinner.  I’m still not yet as cheery and creative as Jack. Just wait till we get our kitchen set up again, that’ll cheer me up!

Baked Moose Meat Hand Pies
Ingredients
  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp cold unsalted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 6 tbsp cold water
  • 1 egg, beaten for brushing
Directions
  1. Whisk together flour and salt.
  2. Grate cold butter (with cheese grater) into flour mixture. Mix butter and flour together with hands or a fork. Stir in egg. Stir in water. Continue stirring until shaggy dough forms. You may need to add additional water if the dough won’t come together.
  3. Break dough into 8 pieces. Create small balls of dough and place balls in fridge while you are making the filling.*
  4. Roll the dough balls out into small thin circles.
  5. Place meat mixture in center of dough circles. Fold dough over meat filling and close up edges by using tines of a fork.
  6. Brush the tops with egg wash for a nice golden top. Cook at 375 for 18-24 minutes depending on the size of your empanadas.
  7. Serve with slices of avocado and your favorite salsa.

*I sautéed ground meat with one can of green chilis. I added a spice mix and salt to taste. Any type of filling would work inside these hand pies. See what’s in your pantry for inspiration.

Shioyaki Wild-Caught Alaska Salmon – It couldn’t be Easier, Even if You aren’t an Experienced Cook

Sea salt, olive oil and heat are the only ingredients you need to turn out great salmon every time. Particularly if you’re just getting into cooking and you try this recipe, we’d love to hear from you with any comments or questions and of course a report on how your salmon came out!

Over the years, one question has repeatedly come our way: “I really don’t do much cooking, but I’d like to be able to make salmon. Is there an easy recipe you know of?”

Not only is the answer to this question a resounding “Yes,” the recipe happens to be our favorite. I learned about shioyaki (salting and cooking) when I lived in Japan where shioyaki can refer either to charcoal grilled fish or, more commonly in home kitchens, broiling.

In addition to being the definition of simplicity, the genius of this recipe is that, unlike more elaborate recipes, the salt brings out rather than masks the flavor of the fish. This is exactly what you want when dealing with a fresh, wild-caught salmon. On the other hand, because the flavors are simple, the finished dish is easily enhanced with toppings. Try it with raspberry chipotle sauce (easily made at home) or with Mae Ploy Sweet Chili Sauce. Here’s how it’s done.

Ingredients & Preparation

  • You’ll need a broiling sheet. A standard cookie sheet works fine, but a heavier sheet is even better.
  • Salmon fillets – any species of wild-caught salmon
  • A favorite kosher salt or sea salt. We’ve found coarse Grey Sea Salt to work especially well.
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Directions

  1. Place oven rack in center or one position below center. (This is the one “trick” you might need to experiment with. Ovens vary. So don’t be discouraged if your first attempt doesn’t work out as you expected. Adjust the rack position and go for it again! Once you have this dialed in, the rest is a snap.)
  2. Place the broiling sheet in the oven and preheat on Broil. (10 minutes is generally the right amount of time.)
  3. Meanwhile, rinse salmon fillet(s) in cold water. Pat dry with paper towel and place skin side down on cutting board.
  4. Sprinkle salt on fillet.
  5. Put a little olive oil on the hot broiling sheet – enough to cover the area where you’ll place the fillet.
  6. Place salmon fillet skin side down on prepared sheet and place in oven. It should vigorously sizzle when it touches the sheet. If it doesn’t, simply place the sheet back in the oven and continue preheating.
  7. Cooking time will vary depending on fillet thickness. 8 to 10 minutes is usually about right. An oil-like liquid will begin to emerge from the top of the fillet when it is done. Again, if your first attempt produces an undercooked or overcooked fillet, make a note, stick it on your fridge, and adjust the cooking time. If the fillet comes out overly dry on top or burnt, you probably need to lower the rack. Keep simple notes till you get it dialed in.

Fillets prepared this way are superb served on rice, on pasta, served along with tartar sauce or avocado spread as a sandwich or broken into pieces to top a superb Alaska-style pizza. Going for an added touch with a glass of wine? It’s tough to beat a lightly chilled Chardonnay.

See also:

Alaska Silver Salmon Pizza

Raspberry Chipotle Sauce Recipe

Broiled Salmon Spine: Getting the Most out of Every Salmon

 

 

 

 

 

Springtime Alaska: Who Needs Asparagus? Poached Eggs on Sautéed Fireweed Shoots

Poached egg yolk mixes with garlic-infused yogurt to make a sumptuously tangy dressing for sautéed fireweed.

When we first moved to Alaska, a friend suggested we swing by the Fireweed Festival in Trapper Creek. I’d already fallen for fireweed the previous summer during our initial visit to this great state. The love was based on this beautiful flowering plant’s visual appeal as it blanketed summertime hillsides in stunning fuchsia. Any festival evoking those images had to be good, so there was no way we’d pass up a festival in fireweed’s honor! In addition to local crafts and great live music, there was a food stall dedicated to teaching the culinary uses of this ubiquitous plant. I walked away from the stall with a new book on harvesting Alaska’s wild plants and new ideas of how to use fireweed in our kitchen. One thing that stuck with me from talking with the people at the festival is that new fireweed shoots can be used just like asparagus in any recipe. True? Absolutely! 

My internet news feed is made up mostly of recipe posts from blogs I follow. I have to tell you it is a much more gentle and uplifting type of reading than the mainstream media feed offers. Jack and I had planned to grill bacon-wrapped fireweed exactly as one would asparagus to continue testing whether all asparagus recipes work with fireweed shoots. But before we could get to that experiment, a recipe for asparagus with yogurt dressing popped up on my news feed. I immediately envisioned a recipe makeover, and with everything I needed available in my ever-shrinking, pre-move pantry, I got to work.

This dish is quick to make. I recommend preparing the yogurt dressing ahead of time to ensure that the garlic becomes infused. We served this dish as the salad course of our dinner, but it would work wonderfully as part of a light lunch or as a side dish for brunch. Make sure you have crusty pieces of sourdough bread available to sop up the extra dressing. It tastes too good to waste!

Now is the time to get out and harvest these young fireweed shoots. I like them best when they are about six inches tall and still mostly purple. The ones with an agreeable snap (just like a nice skinny asparagus stalk) when harvested (near the ground) taste best. The fireweed near our lake is now fully green and too old to harvest. A hike to higher elevations should still provide fresh young shoots to pick.

Poached Eggs on Sautéed Fireweed Shoots for Two

(recipe can easily be doubled or tripled)

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup almonds, slice and toast them, or buy them sliced and toast them
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt (strained or Greek-style if you can find it)
  • 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • pinch salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 pound fireweed shoots

Directions

  1. Combine yogurt, lemon juice, paprika, garlic and salt. Place in covered container in fridge. Can be made a day to a couple of hours ahead of time.
  2. Place olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat.
  3. In a separate saucepan, bring 3 cups water to a simmer. Add vinegar. Gently crack eggs into hot water being careful not to break the yolk. Cook until whites appear to be cooked through, about 3 minutes.
  4. Sauté fireweed in pan while eggs are poaching.
  5. Place fireweed on serving dish. Place poached eggs on fireweed. Drizzle with yogurt dressing. Top with toasted almonds.
  6. Serve immediately with crusty toasted sourdough bread.

Recipe inspired from The Smitten Kitchen.

On the Grill: Smoky Maple Rubbed Wild Chignik Salmon and Lemon Garlic Fireweed Shoots

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!

Grandma’s Secret Is Out or Cabbage Roll Soup Meets the Alaska Bush

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

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

  1. Use a large soup pot. Place olive oil and meat in the pot.
  2. Add onions.
  3. Sauté until meat is browned.
  4. Add garlic and stir.
  5. Add broth, reconstituted tomato paste, brown sugar, salt, oregano, pepper and rice. Mix well.
  6. Add cabbage and carrots. Stir to mix.
  7. Place bay leaves in pot.
  8. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cover the pot. Cook until rice is tender, about 45 minutes.
  9. Remove pot from heat and stir in lemon juice.
  10. Let soup rest for a few minutes before serving.

A Snack That Can’t be Beet – Bright Magenta Beet Hummus

beet hummus n

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

Ingredients

  • 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
  • pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F (190 C. Remove the stem from the beets. Scrub and wash them with cold water.
  2. 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.
  3. You should be able to rub the skin off of the beets. Otherwise, use a paring knife to peel off the roasted skin.
  4. Cut beets into chunks. Place in deep bowl.
  5. Rinse and drain beans. Add to bowl.
  6. 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.
  7. Process mixture until smooth, adding more olive oil to reach desired consistency.
  8. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a crack of black pepper.

 

Wild Alaska Salmon Lox – an Edible Treasure

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.

Homemade Lox

Ingredients

  • 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

Directions

  1. Rinse fish and dry thoroughly.
  2. Remove any pin bones in fillet with tweezers or needle nose pliers.
  3. Mix together salt, sugar and pepper. (This recipe works well when multiplied. Our last batch was 5 pounds of fillets.)
  4. Pack salt mixture around fish. Do this skin side down.
  5. Sandwich two pieces of fish together, flesh against flesh, skin side out.
  6. Pack any leftover sugar mixture onto exposed fillet.
  7. Wrap sandwiched pieces tightly with plastic wrap. Leave sides slightly open so liquid can drain while the salmon cures.
  8. 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.
  9. Place sandwiched salmon in container from step 8.
  10. 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.
  11. Place container in refrigerator.
  12. For 7 days, every 24 hours pour off liquid from the bottom of the container and flip the fillet sandwiches.
  13. At the end of 7 days, take the salmon out of the plastic wrap and thoroughly rinse using very cold water.
  14. Thoroughly pat dry.
  15. Slice very thin and enjoy!

Store leftovers in refrigerator or wrap tightly in plastic and freeze in airtight containers.