For lunch or dinner, on a cold winter’s day nothing beats a bowl of agreeably slippery udon noodles served in piping hot miso soup. The trick is finding the right bowl.
Ramen, soba, udon – we are big fans of Asian noodles. In Mongolia our apartment came ready with two perfectly-sized bowls for serving up this kind of fare. Back in America, finding the right bowls proved to be much more of a challenge than we anticipated. The average soup/cereal/pasta bowl isn’t big enough, and the average serving bowl is too big.
With a bit of persistence we found just what we were looking for. Mrs. Lin’s Kitchen carries beautiful karakusa swirl noodle bowls in classic white and classic black. These bowls are made in Japan and reminiscent of higher-end noodle shops there. Karakusa is a traditional arabesque design of repeating swirls popular in Japanese ceramics. The bowls are simultaneously elegant and sturdy. Best of all they’re large enough to fill up with a true noodle soup meal.
And the people at Mrs. Lin’s know how to pack fragile items. Here in Chignik Lake, our post office is just a two-minute walk from our house – but it can be a treacherous walk, especially on days such as yesterday when the road and footpaths were covered in hard ice. On the return trip, my feet went up and I came down – hard – as did the box containing our brand new noodle bowls. I was fine, but I dreaded what I might find when I opened the box. We needn’t have worried. In fact, we don’t think we’ve ever seen anything packed quite so well.
Jack’s Mix: Nine herbs, spices and seasonings create a blend that adds deep flavor and an agreeable spike of heat to pumpkin soup, chicken breasts, pork, broiled salmon fillets, moose meat pizza and more.
Every kitchen should have a few items like this in stock – a house dressing, a specialty dipping sauce, or a proprietary spice or herb blend. This is “the secret:” the bottle that invariably gets emptied first, the jar that has to be replenished again and again while other similar items languish with their contents intact.
In the case of Jack’s Mix, sure, there are a wide variety of commercial rubs available, and most of them are quite tasty. But we wanted something a little smokier in flavor and with a certain zip that would best compliment our style of cooking. And since we prefer to add salt as a separate item in cooking, we wanted a salt-free blend. So we came up with our own blend from a handful of ingredients we always have on hand.
Our message in this post is to encourage you to give it a try. Pick something you use frequently – salsa, an Italian herb blend, barbecue sauce, salad dressing or a spicy rub and instead of continuing to purchase Brand X at the store, start experimenting with your own creation. It’s fun, you’ll likely learn something valuable about the way flavors work together, and when a guest exclaims, “This _____ is fantastic! What kind is it?” You can smile and casually reply, “It’s mine, just a little something I threw together.”
See below for recipes for salmon roe, lox and buckwheat blinis.
Upon arriving in Chignik Lake last summer, one of our first orders of business was to stock our freezers with enough salmon to see us through the coming months. Fortunately, catching plenty of Reds and Silvers was no problem as hundreds of thousands of wild salmon ascend the Chignik River from summer through fall. Although the Sockeye (Red Salmon) roe is somewhat smaller than that of other species, it nonetheless cures into a beautifully translucent ikura that tastes as good as it looks. Coho fillets (Silver Salmon) are our favorites for making lox. Separated by a slice of cream cheese, garnished with a wisp of nori and arranged on a savory buckwheat blini, these appetizers are perfect as Super Bowl party snacks or as a pre-dinner hors d’œuvre complimented with champagne or fine sake (酒).
Ikura: Curing Salmon Roe
Salmon Lox or Gravlax
- 1/3 cup buckwheat flour
- 2/3 cup all purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- generous pinch salt
- 3/4 cup whole milk
- 2 eggs, whisked
- 1 tbsp butter, melted
- additional butter for griddle
- Whisk together flours, baking powder and salt.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, eggs and melted butter.
- Whisk wet ingredients into dry.
- Heat griddle and coat lightly with butter.
- Drop a tablespoon of batter onto griddle. Repeat with additional tablespoons.
- Cook for about 2 minutes, small bubbles will form on top of blini, like pancakes.
- Flip blini and cook an additional minute on flipped side.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.
A wonderful marriage – home brewed dark amber beer by brewmeister Barbra and razor clam fritters by chef Jack. See the fritter recipe below.
Jack has been making razor clam fritters for year. He has culinary ties to the delicious shellfish from his life on the Oregon Coast. When we first visited Alaska, we dug the biggest razor clams either one of us had ever seen and promptly turned them into soups, pasta sauces, sashimi and fried dishes. These delicious beauties are something we try to stock in our pantry every year… we dig them ourselves or pick them up at our Anchorage Costco. The following recipe is tried and true. It’s been with us for years. We may change the seasoning up a bit, otherwise, we stick to the original, which has proved hard to improve upon.
To accompany our delicious fritters, we opted for our amber home-brew. It was only a matter of time before my yeastly attentions turned from bread to brew. Now that we live in a “damp” community, we are free to experiment with adult libations. Thanks to a company called Mr. Beer, I’ve been able to experiment with beer-making with great success. In addition to the amber beer (pictured above), we also are enjoying a slightly more complicated kit which yielded a robust, slightly-citrusy hefeweizen. We currently have a nut brown ale and a Mexican style lager fermenting. The beer we’re turning out would stand up nicely against any of the favorites we typically order in restaurants or buy at the package store. Brewing beer seems a natural addition to our kitchen. It certainly has been a tasty and satisfying compliment to our cuisine!
Clam Fritters: serves 4
- 1 cup chopped clams
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp chopped tarragon (or substitute dry tarragon or marjoram)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup flour
- 1/4 cup clam juice
- 1/4 cup milk
- 1 1/2 tbsp melted butter
- couple dashes cayenne pepper (to taste)
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- oil for frying
- Chop clams on a cutting board. Not too fine. Place them in a mixing bowl.
- Add the egg, lemon juice, tarragon, cayenne, black pepper, baking soda and flour and lightly stir together.
- Blend the clam juice and milk. Add gradually to the clam mixture along with the butter, continuing to stir. Do not make the batter too runny and do not over-stir.
- Heat about 1/8 inch of oil in a frying pan.
- Drop batter in the hot oil – about 2 tablespoons per fritter. (They’ll cook better if they’re fairly small.)
- Turn when the bottom is browned, as you would for pancakes.
- Finish cooking till golden-brown. Serve with a side of slaw and a favorite ale or lager.
The look and smell of December – warm, spicy gingerbread cookies straight from the oven, or let them cool and frost them for a more traditional treat.
‘Tis the season for hot toddies and gingerbread cookies. Out in the Alaskan bush, we have to plan ahead for any special ingredients. Ginger, yes. Cloves, yes. Molasses? When stocking up our pantry, I was on the fence when it came to molasses. I really don’t like molasses. It’s not a flavor I would normally add to any of my creations. But it is very traditional in a couple of bread and cookie recipes. In Point Hope, we kept it as a pantry item and only used it once over three years. So, I opted against stocking it again here at “the Lake.”
Here it is December, and I have a hankering for gingerbread cookies, but I have no molasses… Throwing molasses to the wind, I altered a gingerbread cookie recipe by upping the ginger and using a combination of honey and pure maple syrup instead of the traditional molasses. The result? A flavorful, spicy cookie with enough “brownness” to satisfy the eye and a flavor to satisfy my December craving. After frosting these little babies and bringing them to my students, I was met with many compliments and requests for more. Who says elementary student palates don’t know what’s good? The adults who sampled the cookies concurred with my young tasters. I patted myself on the back for improving a long-standing recipe and also for avoiding an expedited shipment of molasses from the nearest grocery store – nearly 500 air miles away!
Improved Gingerbread Cookies
- 1/2 cut unsalted butter, melted
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tbsp ground ginger
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- pinch salt
- Royal icing (optional)
- Mix butter and sugars.
- Mix in honey and maple syrup.
- Mix in egg.
- Sift together flour, baking soda, spices and salt in a large bowl.
- Stir butter mixture into flour mixture.
- Turn dough out onto a floured work surface and form into two large disks.
- Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
- Cover baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Roll out dough of one disk between two sheets of waxed paper. Dough should be about 1/4 inch thick.
- Using cookie cutters, cut out figures. Use an offset spatula to move cookies to prepared baking sheet.
- Repeat with remaining dough.
- Gather up scraps and roll out and cut as with original dough.
- Bake cookies until lightly browned, about 6 minutes.
- Let the cookies cool on sheet for about 5 minutes before transferring to wire rack to finish cooling.
- Decorate cookies with Royal icing, if desired.
Perfectly round. Perfectly chewy. Perfect little breakfast breads. Why did I quit on you so quickly. my Darlings?
With success under my belt making sourdough bread, I found myself contemplating what other types of delicious baked goods I could make with my sourdough starter. A friend in the village lent me an old Alaskan recipe book with a huge collection of recipes that are truly Alaskan. Did you ever wonder how to cook up beaver meat? Or fireweed stalks? These are just a couple of the interesting recipes found in this volume. Of course, there was a substantial section on sourdough. I don’t know if many people realize this, but sourdough is a very Alaskan thing. In fact, you can find starters that date back to the Klondike gold rush! It was an easy thing for people of that time to keep fresh starter going. They only had to regularly feed it. Delicious pancakes and breads could then be whipped up in a snap.
Now that I have a healthy starter going (I actually have two, thanks to another friend), I started playing around with recipe ideas that would showcase this unique ingredient. In short order, an idea came to me from a recipe that I’d failed at several years ago…
I got into serious baking when we first came out to the Alaska bush. At that time, we decided to make as much of our food as we could from scratch, knowing that our local store would have limited supplies. We shipped out ingredients in bulk, like 50-pound bags of flour and sugar and 25-pound bags of rice and beans. It was lovely to have a year’s worth of ingredients in our pantry. Lately, I’ve been contemplating how my baking skills and confidence have grown since the days of bread machine loaves and basic chocolate chip cookies to what I turn out in our kitchen now: lattice-topped pies with homemade crusts and my own “Twix” bars in which every layer of the candy is crafted from scratch.
I can’t remember what about my first English muffins was so bad, but I do remember being quite frustrated and promptly turning my back on these little breads. Until now. I’m glad I came around. These round beauties came out better than store bought. They had that lovely sour tang to them, the chewiness that is the hallmark of good English muffins with the expected crunch of cornmeal on the outside. Of course, we split them with forks before serving them toasted with butter and homemade jam. We also use these muffins for tasty breakfast sandwiches of fried egg, salmon, and melting cheddar cheese. As it turns out, these tasty baked breads are actually pretty easy to make. Who knows what wrong I did to this recipe so many years ago.
Sourdough English Muffins
- 2 tbsp granulated sugar
- 2 cups warm water (about 110 degrees F)
- 1 tbsp active dry yeast
- 7 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sourdough starter
- ½ cup nonfat dried milk
- ¼ unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp salt
- cornmeal, for coating
- Combine all of the dough ingredients (except cornmeal) in a large bowl.
- Mix and knead. Dough should be elastic and not too sticky.
- Place dough in a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic and let rise for about 1 hour.
- Turn dough out on a lightly flour surface.
- Divide dough in half.
- Roll dough to about ½ inch thick. Cut into 3” rounds with cookie cutter. Or just cut dough into squares, using a knife.
- Re-roll and cut any remaining scraps.
- Repeat with remaining half of dough.
- Place rounds onto cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheets. Sprinkle with additional cornmeal.
- Cover with plastic wrap and let them rise for another hour.
- Preheat a large griddle over medium-low heat.
- Place as many muffins as you can (without crowding) on griddle.
- Cook muffins for 10 minutes on each side.
- Remove muffins from griddle and cool on a wire rack. Store tightly wrapped at room temperature for about 5 days. Freeze for longer storage.
Recipe adapted from King Arthur Flour.
Cheesecakes for one – creamy vanilla with the tang of cream cheese. Top it with some favorite jam and Wow, this makes for a delicious, elegant dessert.
Out in the Alaska bush, I don’t usually stock cream cheese in my pantry. But during a recent visit to a neighboring village I happened across a two-pound block at the store. It doesn’t freeze very well, which makes for a perfect excuse to immediately create lots of baked items with this delicious ingredient. I’ve made these lovely little cheesecakes before using matcha green tea as the flavoring. This recipe is a perfect base in which to add in a variety of flavors. For this batch, I wanted to showcase my raspberry freezer jam, so I created a complementary vanilla-flavored cake.
Diminutive Vanilla Cheesecakes
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/2 cup butter, melted
- 1 package of cream cheese, 250 grams, softened to room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Line 8 standard-sized muffin tin cups with paper liners.
- In a medium bowl, mix together crust ingredients.
- Evenly divide crust mixture into lined muffin tin cups. Press down to form bottom of cheesecakes.
- Bake crusts for 5 minutes. Let cool.
- In a large bowl, whisk together filling ingredients. There should be no lumps and all ingredients should be mixed well.
- Divide filling evenly into paper lined cups.
- Bake cheesecakes until set, about 16 – 18 minutes. Centers should not jiggle.
- Refrigerate cheesecakes for 3 hours before serving.