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
The best chocolate chip cookie on the planet? There’s one way to find out!
Break out all the best ingredients you’ve been hoarding and make yourself a batch of these…now!
A couple of years ago, I read about a cookie that really sells for $8. Could I create a cookie worth such a price? Oh boy, yes! The secret to this cookie is not gold flecks or a butler to serve it, but fine ingredients and an investment of some time. The recipe demands high quality chocolates, browned butter, toasted almonds, and vanilla paste. Serving them slightly cooled from the oven is a key to the experience. I make a batch of dough, cookie scoop out portions and freeze them. When we are in the mood for these decadent beauties, I pop a couple in the oven while we are eating dinner in order to serve them as a perfectly warm $8 dessert.
The $8 Cookie
- 1 large egg
- 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup unsalted butter, browned
- 2 tsp vanilla paste
- 1/2 tsp almond extract
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- pinch salt
- 1/3 cup toasted almonds, chopped
- 1/3 cup good quality milk chocolate chips
- 1/3 cup good quality white chocolate, chopped
- Mix the sugars and the egg well.
- Add in the browned butter.
- Mix in vanilla paste and almond extract.
- Stir flour, baking soda and salt into the mixture.
- Fold in the almonds and chocolate pieces.
- Chill the dough for at least 1 hour.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees F (160 degrees C).
- Scoop tablespoon-sized balls using a small ice cream scoop onto the baking sheet. Bake for 8 – 10 minutes.
- Let the cookies set on the baking sheet for about 3 minutes before removing them to a wire cooling rack.
- Continue to cool for another two minutes on the wire rack.
- Serve cookies while still warm.
Makes 12 cookies.
Sunshine on a winter’s day… Lemon bars drenched in tangy-sweet raspberry jam
I love chocolate – in every form, flavor, and dish. I love dark, white, and milk chocolate. Except for a weird, avant-garde chocolate bar infused with pepper (??), I can’t think of a chocolate creation I haven’t enjoyed. Almost neck-in-neck with chocolate are desserts made with lemon. The difference with lemon is that it not only has a wonderfully tart flavor, but it also has a strong seasonal connection to summer. One bite or sip of lemon brings me back to sunshine splashed afternoons and evenings cooled by gentle breezes sitting in our little piece of paradise behind our home in California among Meyer lemon trees. When we moved to Alaska, I even made up a gallon’s worth of Meyer lemon simple syrup in order to ease the separation from those prolific trees.
As we hit the middle of March, our minds drift toward Spring! In our former life, I would be itching to get the planting pots and garden beds ready. In Chignik Lake, I’m ready to pull the Pack Rafts out and head down nearby rivers. Mother Nature has had three little words in response to these inclinations…”Not. So. Fast.” All the snow we didn’t see this past winter has been just now swirling around our windows and creating lovely white drifts. Our lake iced over, started to thaw, and is now covered in ice again.
As Jack tends to his culinary diversion, a slow-cooked moose roast, I decide on my own diversion…one that will bring a little sunshine into our home. I took a tried and true lemon curd bar recipe from my Williams and Sonoma Baking Book and adapted it with items from my bush pantry. All I can say is Wowee! After the initial mix of sweet and tart lemon, you are rewarded with a blanket of pure raspberry bliss. A definite blast of summer, in the best way possible.
Raspberry Lemon Curd Bars
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- pinch salt
- pinch cinnamon
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
- pinch salt
- 3 large eggs (I used powdered eggs)
- ½ cup lemon juice (I used good quality bottled lemon juice)
- 3 tbsp heavy whipping cream
- Raspberry jam (I used freezer jam which has a much brighter color and flavor)
- Confectioners’ sugar
- Make crust.
- Preheat oven to 350° F (180° C).
- Grease an 8-inch square glass baking dish.
- Mix crust ingredients together.
- Press dough into bottom of baking dish.
- Bake for 20 minutes. Crust should be a pale golden color.
- Let the crust cool in the baking dish on a wire rack while you prepare filling.
- Reduce oven temperature to 325° F (165° C).
- Whisk together filling ingredients.
- Pour the mixture over the baked crust.
- Bake until filling is set, about 20 minutes. It may slightly jiggle when dish is shaken.
- Let lemon bars cool in the dish on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes.
- When ready to serve, run a knife around the edge of the pan. Cut into 12 or 16 rectangles.
- Remove from dish with a spatula and place pieces to be served on a serving dish.
- Spoon desired amount of jam on each piece.
- Dust each piece with confectioners’ sugar right before serving.
Warm and gooey, straight from the oven. Watch out – this cookie has been found to be highly addictive.
Several years ago, we were introduced to the cast iron skillet cookie. This giant chocolate chip cookie is best served nearly straight from the oven. No need for fancy serving dishes, we were handed spoons and in mere moments the 10-inch cast iron pan was emptied.
This terribly addictive cookie came back into my thoughts during our last trip to Anchorage. Jack and I went to a restaurant where we were served a delicious skillet breakfast of country fried potatoes, a fried egg, and an Alaskan reindeer sausage all presented in a cute, single-serving cast iron pan. That presentation was as clever as it was practical. The mini-skillet was the perfect serving size for one and kept the breakfast piping hot. We could imagine all kinds of tasty creations that would work perfectly in these clever pans. When we got home, I ordered two, and was pleasantly surprised to find that they are relatively inexpensive.
When the pans arrived, the first order of the day was a skillet cookie… but not just any skillet cookie. We love the flavor of bourbon. It happens to perfectly complement the buttery, carmely, flavors of a chocolate chip cookie. (See our post about melty chocolate chip cookies.) So I decided to punch up the skillet cookie with a bit of bourbon. After a couple of different successful experiments, I came up with just the right balance of ingredients for my recipe.
The bad things about this cookie? It is ridiculously delicious. We found it impossible to eat part of it and save the other part for later. It is easy to make, which only contributes to the addiction problem. And if you happen to have some rich vanilla ice cream to scoop on the top? You may as well call your boss and tell him/her that you won’t be coming in this week.
With fair warning, I give you the –
Bourbon Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie for Two
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 8 tsp granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 tbsp egg, whisked
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2 tsp bourbon
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- pinch salt
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350° F (180° C)
- Have a 6 1/2” cast iron skillet available
- Whisk melted butter with sugars
- Whisk in egg
- Whisk in vanilla and bourbon
- Stir in flour, baking solda and salt
- Fold in chocolate chips
- Pour batter into cast iron skillet
- Bake for 20 minutes. Cookie will be puffed up and will have pulled away from edge when finished.
- Let cool slightly. Serve while still warm plain or topped with creamy vanilla ice cream.
Packed with raisins, pecans and puréed carrots, this is a tasty way to enjoy a serving (or two) of carrots!
Living out in bush Alaska, there are certain ingredients that are a luxury in our pantry – like cream cheese. With recent outdoor temperatures agreeably mimicking a nicely chilled fridge, it was time to mail order dairy items requiring colder temperatures. Our here in Chignik Lake, Alaska, we’ve been relying heavily on the wonderful services of the mail order department at the Anchorage Fred Meyer (Debarr store). About every two weeks, we email a grocery list to the store and within four to five days, we receive our items carefully wrapped or zip-top bagged for a nominal packing fee. A few weeks ago, we received heavy whipping cream, cream cheese and sour cream all nicely chilled in the belly of a little bush plane. Culinary feats take a bit of planning ahead, but with the cooperating weather, we can get most of what we need out here in tiptop condition. I can’t speak highly enough of our mail order friends in the Debarr Fred Meyer store!
If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that I periodically bake for my students. This has now become a time-honored tradition that has followed me through several schools. Last week, one of my students requested a cake for our “bake sale” (students can spend tickets they earn in class on a variety of rewards, including my baked creations). After my students polished off a bag of trail mix packed with raisins and nuts last week, I was confident that a carrot cake stuffed with nuts and raisins would be healthful and would be well-received by my young customers. Ok, and I like carrot cake, too, so I picked up my trusty Williams-Sonoma Baking Book to see what they had to say on the subject. Every recipe I’ve tried in this book has come out fantastically. The carrot cake recipe looked delicious. The one difference I noticed is that it called for puréed instead of shredded carrots. Pumpkin purée is a favorite, so why not a purée of carrots? Turns out the purée adds more moisture and the carrot flavor is slightly sweeter. I modified the recipe a bit and was highly pleased with the result. The cake was moist and smooth. The texture was only improved by the chopped nuts and raisins. What did the students say? They loved it! They especially liked the spice and the frosting, of course. If you won’t believe the kids, all the adults I shared the cake with agreed it was delicious!
Spiced Carrot Cake with Rich Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
- 3/4 lb carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch slices
- 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- generous pinch salt
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp mace (or substitute nutmeg)
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/3 firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 3/4 cup pecans, chopped coarse
- 1/2 cup golden raisins
- cream cheese frosting (see recipe below)
- Boil carrots until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and let cool.
- Purée the carrots with a blender, stick blender or food processor. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180° C). Line the bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and mace.
- In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, brown sugar, milk and butter.
- Whisk the flour mixture into the egg mixture.
- Whisk in the carrot purée.
- Fold in the pecans and raisins.
- Pour batter into square baking pan.
- Bake 45 – 50 minutes in preheated oven. Cake will be lightly browned and wooden pick inserted into middle of cake will come out clean when cake is done.
- Let cake cool on a wire rack.
- Run a knife around edge of pan. Invert cake onto serving plate. Peel off parchment paper.
- Frost cake and serve right away.
Rich Vanilla Cream Cheese Frosting
- 4 oz. cream cheese
- 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 3/4 cup powdered sugar
- 3/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
- Using a mixer, beat all the frosting ingredients on medium speed until mixture is totally smooth and well-mixed.
- Alternatively, hand-mix all the frosting ingredients until smooth and totally mixed using a rubber spatula.
These sweet little cookies are common at Hanukkah, but filled with pecans and cranberries they will be welcomed at any Thanksgiving, Christmas or fall festivities table.
If you’ve been following our life off the beaten path, you know Jack and I love to read. The chilly, rainy days that encourage us to be inside only fuel our fires for reading. We read together almost every morning and most nights as well. We are in the midst of a tome of poetry for our morning sessions. The Top 500 Poems edited by William Harmon has been taking us on a poetic journey through the ages from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Ginsberg and Plath. In the evening, we are currently enjoying Truman Capote’s timeless classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s. In addition to our joint reading adventures, each of us is immersed in yet another read. My current book is excruciatingly nerdy – The Professional Pastry Chef by Bo Friberg. It contains details and procedures for doing things only a baking nerd would love to do – like making marzipan from scratch, for example. And, yes, that is on my goal list now.
‘Tis the season for making pies, so I’ve delved into the section on infallible pie crusts. The author didn’t claim infallibility, but I am certainly trying to find one that never fails. I would like to be known as “The Pope of Pie Crusts.” The author did say that “a mastery of dough making is critical to the success of a professional pastry kitchen.” My kitchen is not professional, but I would like my crusts to have the taste and texture like those of the professionals. One pie crust which caught my eye includes cream cheese as part of the primary fat.
However, before I take on the intimidating world of pie crust perfection, I thought I would inch toward it with a cookie called rugelach that uses a similar cream cheese dough. The cookie dough spirals around a tasty filling. They are lovely to look at and even lovelier to eat!
Bo uses apricots and walnuts as her filling. I adapted her published recipe to make the directions simpler, and I also swapped her choice of fruit and nuts for what I had in my Alaska pantry. The resulting cookie recipe makes it easy to substitute any dried fruit and nut for the cranberries and pecans I used.
Pecan Cranberry Rugelach
- 2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup), room temperature
- 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup Craisins
- 1 cup pecans, chopped coarse
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1 egg, beaten
- Beat 2 sticks butter and cream cheese together with mixer.
- Add in flour by 1/2 cups.
- Divide dough into thirds. Form 3 discs. Wrap each disc with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- Rehydrate Craisins. Place Craisins in pan with enough water to cover. Bring water to boil, then remove pan from heat and let Craisins cool.
- Drain Craisins.
- Combine pecans, sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Roll dough into 10-inch circles.
- Paint circles with melted butter.
- Sprinkle dough with pecan mixture.
- Evenly sprinkle with Craisins.
- With a pizza wheel, cut each circle into 12 even wedges.
- Roll the wedges from edge to center. Place cookies on prepared baking sheet.
- Paint all the cookies with beaten egg.
- Bake for 15 minutes. Finished rugelach will be golden when finished.
Bursting with the flavors and colors of the holidays, this lowbush cranberry cake makes a beautiful centerpiece for a fall table and, if there is any left, the breakfast table the next day!
Oh, these little red gems, these sour little beauties. They go straight from the freezer into a delicious batter and bake up into a cake you’ll want to share with friends.
Lowbush cranberries (as they are known here in Alaska) are our superstar fruit of fall and winter. Known as lingonberries elsewhere, these tart, tiny red berries grow close to the ground in cold, boggy habitat of northern climes. They taste similar to the cranberries we used to buy in the store, but they are so much better. As with many small, wild fruits, they are packed with more flavor than their mass-produced counterparts. And according to the University of Alaska, our lowbush cranberries contain more antioxidants due to clean air and long summertime sunlight hours. The berries are easy to pick and easy to clean and are widely available in our neck of the woods just around the time of the first frost. So far, we’ve made them into hot juice drinks and cranberry sauce. Now they are starring in this sumptuous upside down cake.
Lingonberry aka Lowbush Cranberry Upside Down Cake
- 4 tbsp unsalted butter
- ¾ cup dark brown sugar
- 3 cups lowbush cranberries (or substitute store-bought cranberries)
- 1 ¼ cup all purpose flour
- ¼ cup corn meal
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ cup unsalted butter, melted or browned
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 1 tsp Penzeys powdered lemon zest (or zest of 1 lemon)
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- ½ cup whole milk
- In a small saucepan, heat 4 tbsp unsalted butter and brown sugar.
- Stir constantly until butter and sugar are melted together and bubbling.
- Pour mixture into bottom of 9 inch cake pan. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).
- Whisk together flour, corn meal, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
- In a small bowl, whisk together melted butter, sugar, lemon zest, eggs, vanilla and milk.
- Pour wet ingredients into dry and whisk together until mixed.
- Pour cranberries evenly on top of butter mixture in the 9-inch pan.
- Pour batter evenly over cranberries.
- Bake cake in preheated oven for 50 minutes. Wooden pick inserted into center will be clean when cake is done.
- Let cake cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes.
- Run a knife around the circumference of cake. Invert on cake platter to serve.
- Serve warm.
Recipe adapted from David Lebovitz.