Looking to expand my cookie recipe collection, I bought a new baking recipe book a couple of weeks ago. I found a beautiful book which boasted over 150 interesting cookie ideas. After reading the book cover-to-cover, I decided to try a layered chocolate biscuit. It was a disaster. The biscuit dough completely and totally fell apart when I rolled it out and there seemed to be no way to salvage it. I really hate wasting anything, so I baked the crumbs of dough anyway figuring that if they tasted good, I’d find a way to put them to good use. Well, they did taste good, and so for several days they sat on the counter in an air-tight container awaiting inspiration.
This past weekend I reached for my tried and true Williams-Sonoma Baking Book. The book fell open to a beautiful picture of a pie with a deep brown cholatey crust and a creamy pink filling. Raspberry cream pie – of course! As luck would have it, we still have a good supply of frozen raspberries from last summer’s berry picking. Raspberries and chocolate are a perfect match, in my book.
What a delight! The look of this lovely pie certainly suggests Valentine’s Day, but any day would be a good day for this light, airy dessert. I think the best way to describe the flavor is to imagine a 50/50 bar, otherwise known as a Dreamcicle – creamy vanilla ice cream in the middle surrounded by a slightly tart, fruit exterior, usually orange. This pie filling has that same creaminess with a slight tang of sour from the fresh raspberries. The crunch of the chocolate crust provides the perfect textural counterbalance. Next time you want to tell someone you love them, make them a raspberry cream pie!
Raspberry Cream Pie
- 1 1/4 cups chocolate cookie crumbs
- 5 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 3 tbsp granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup cold water
- 1 package (2 tsp) unflavored powdered gelatin
- 2/3 cup natural raspberry juice or fresh raspberry purée
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- Place oven rack in the middle of oven and preheat to 350° F (180° C).
- In a medium bowl, combine chocolate cookie crumbs, butter, and granulated sugar. Stir until all is evenly mixed.
- Press the cookie crumb mixture into bottom of 9-inch pie pan or springform pan.
- Bake until firm, about 5 minutes.
- Let crust cool on wire rack.
- Pour cold water into a saucepan. Sprinkle with gelatin and let sit until gelatin softens and swells (about 5 minutes).
- Heat gelatin over medium heat. Stir until it is clear and fluid.
- Stir gelatin mixture into raspberry juice. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk eggs, sugar, and salt until pale yellow. Set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat or whisk the cream until thick, soft peaks form.
- Add egg mixture to whipped cream. Whip until smooth.
- Add raspberry mixture to cream mixture. Whip until smooth.
- Pour filling into the crumb crust. Even out with a rubber spatula.
- Refrigerate until the filling is cold and firm (4-6 hours).
- Let the pie stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes before serving.
- Serve topped with sweetened whipped cream and fresh berries.
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.
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.