Crispy, Crunchy, Homemade Rice Crackers

We’re at that clean-out-our-pantry time of year when we begin working through stores in earnest, cleaning out freezers and cupboards while we anticipate our annual summertime BST – Big Shopping Trip. This year? Plot Twists. First off, there’s the CoronaVirus. Here in Newhalen, if we’ve needed an additional ingredient, we’ve been able to drive over to our local general store – a small place that happens to have just about everything a person could ever need. We’re fond of saying, “If it’s not at the Iliamna Trading Company, you don’t need it.” Anchovies? They’ve got ‘em. Smoked oysters? They’ve got ‘em. Sanma, those delicious little tinned fish from Japan? No. Of course they don’t have those! I said it was a small store.

The other plot twist is an impending move. Wait. Did she just say “move?” Again? Didn’t she just move? And, like, for about the 80th time in the last 10 years?

Yep. Impeding move. We are heading back to the village where we left our hearts, back to Chignik Lake. Thankfully for everyone, enrollment appears to have stabilized at a number comfortably above the state-mandated minimum of 10. Of course, due to Shelter-in-Place orders and the wise decision among Alaska’s bush villages to prohibit people from flying in, we don’t know when the actual move will occur. It’s a good time to be staying close to home, cooking and baking through the larder.

The other day, I noticed that we still had a couple bags of dried chickpeas in our cupboard. I recalled that these bags had come with us last summer when we moved to Newhalen. “No way do these get on another plane,” I thought to myself. Fortunately, we had all the ingredients I needed to make a giant batch of hummus. Even lemons – which we hardly ever had at The Lake. Proof enough that Newhalen truly is the “Cush Bush.” (I’m smiling. It has been an easy and enjoyable year.) As soon as it the hummus was ready, we got out the last of our rice crackers and dug in.

But…

…thin, crispy, salty cracker by delectably thin, crispy, crunchy cracker…

Before I knew it, we were confronted with a problem. A big problem. I mean a Really Big Problem. All this fresh, delicious hummus and we had finished off the crackers! I sliced carrots thin and tried to substitute those. It was… well, if one must. We wanted crackers. Iliamna Trading would have them, but we’ve really been trying to honor the shelter-in-place edict.

Our dilemma got me to thinking about homemade crackers. This wouldn’t be my first rodeo in the world of crispy and crunchy. I’d made graham crackers, wheat thins, cheese-its, and more. But I’d never made rice crackers.

I found a base recipe and gave it a go. I’ll be honest, I worked and reworked this recipe before I met with success. I thought the last batch came out great. This was confirmed by Jack, “Forget about making dinner. Let’s just have crackers and hummus and watch old Suits episodes tonight!” he said as he reached for another cracker. Winner winner, hummus dinner!

They key turned out to be making the crackers really thin. After trying a rolling pin and then a pasta roller, I found the best way to make the dough thin enough was to flatten it using a tortilla press. By rolling the dough into marble-sized balls, I was able to press four crackers at a time. I know, that sounds like a lot of work for crackers. But, hey, I’m sheltering in. There’s time! And, man are they good!

Homemade Onion Rice Crackers

Ingredients

  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 tsp salt, non iodized will taste better
  • 1 tsp onion powder (or experiment with other spices and herbs)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  3. Cut the sides off of a ziplock bag to use to line the tortilla press later.
  4. Place all ingredients in a bowl.
  5. Stir with a fork until dough has crumbly chunks, like pie dough.
  6. Knead together. If it doesn’t come together, add water by teaspoons until it does.
  7. Using a teaspoon, scoop out some dough.
  8. Using your hand, roll it into a ball. The ball should be the shape and size of a marble.
  9. Place the ball between the cut ziplock sheets on a tortilla press.
  10. Press the ball with the tortilla press.
  11. Peel flattened ball off the plastic and place it on prepared baking sheet.
  12. Repeat with remainder of dough. You should be able to fit 4 dough marbles on your tortilla press once you get the hang of it.
  13. Bake crackers for 15-18 minutes. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t get overdone.
  14. Crackers will be slightly brown and crispy when they are done.
  15. Store cooled crackers in an airtight container.

Add a Little Zip to Your Morning – Ginger Crumbled Rhubarb Muffins

Spiked with a warm hit of ginger, rhubarb jam muffins quickly turn the feeling in our home from a dreary shelter in place to cozy and safely tucked-in.

A friend asked to trade some freshly laid eggs for some baked goods. With no dietary restrictions and no allergies I had a blank slate in front of me. I flipped through my mental recipe book of favorites. What a fun task! I visualized braided bread, focaccia, soft pretzels. Then I switched to sweets – mocha bars, monster cookies, blueberry pie. Last summer’s many warm and sunny harvesting days yielded gallons of berries and stalks upon stalks of rhubarb. I had made rhubarb sauce that went so well dolloped on warm brie cheese. I still have a few jars left of this concoction. With the snow falling outside, I thought the ideal baked good should conjure summer days. It was decided – rhubarb muffins. I thought a crumble crown would jazz up a potentially plain looking muffin. A bit of ginger and cinnamon added to the crumble finished out the flavor ensemble. The finished product came out moist and flavorful. A fresh cup of french roast, a rhubarb muffin and a fried egg – now that’s a warm and cozy breakfast!

Ginger Crumbled Rhubarb Muffins

Ingredients

For the crumble

  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 3 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • pinch salt
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour

For the muffins

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 1 cup rhubarb sauce, or substitute your favorite jam

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F.
  2. Grease a 12-muffin pan. Set aside.
  3. Mix together all crumble ingredients.
  4. Break apart large chunks into pea-sized pieces. Set aside.
  5. For the muffins, in a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, and salt.
  6. In a separate bowl, whisk together egg, milk, oil, sugar and honey.
  7. Stir egg mixture into flour mixture. Don’t overmix.
  8. Stir in rhubarb sauce.
  9. Evenly divide batter into muffin pan.
  10. Top each muffin with crumble mixture.
  11. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Muffins should be browned and an inserted wooden pick will come out clean when finished.
  12. Let cool on wire rack for about 10 minutes before removing from pan.

Delightfully Sweet and Delightfully Sour – Lingonberry Chess Pie

While baking, tangy lingonberries, also known as lowbush cranberries, rise to the top of a custard-like pie filling. The combination of the tart berries and the sweet, creamy filling all in a crispy pie shell is possibly the best reward for shoveling out a driveway’s worth of fresh snow.

It’s been endlessly snowing for the past day. Our Alaskan home now resembles the Alaska home I imagined before we moved to this famously frozen state. As I left home this morning for my very short walk to school, I was surrounded by blinding white. The trees were covered. Rooftops were blanketed and fringed with shimmering icicles. A splash of bright red peeked through two feet of snow where our ATVs are parked. My first-floor classroom windows have shoulder-high drifts piled a quarter of the way up. The plow crews can barely keep up, and Jack has become the John Henry of snow shovelers. Sitting on her trailer, Gillie is up to her gunwales in a sea of white. We’re socked in with snow like we have never before been socked in. I love it!

With only two months of school remaining (unbelievable!), we are at that time of year where we challenge ourselves to empty out our freezer and pantry. There is one lonely gallon-sized bag left from one of our treasured fall harvests – lingonberries. Most of the lingonberries we picked have been baked into muffins, upside down cake, and fruit breads or pressed into juice for hot lingonberry tea. The snow outside spurred me to action last night. Baking is not only entertaining but also has three wonderful outcomes – a warm house, a delightful aroma, and of course, the delicious results. This recipe was slightly adapted from my favorite baking book, The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book. According to the recipe book, chess pies may be named such because they keep well in traditional storage cabinets, otherwise known as pie chests. Another explanation is that “chess” is a corruption of the word cheese, derived from a chess pie’s cheese-like filling. Whatever the etymological origins may be, the way the folded in lingonberries all rise to the top of the pie during baking is magical – and visually quite appealing. The effect when you eat the pie is interesting as well: The sweet and the sour are notably separate and in so become complementary flavors.

As to the shelf life of chess pie… It’s unlikely one has ever lasted long enough to tell!

Lingonberry Chess Pie

Ingredients

  • dough for a single crust pie
  • 1 1/3 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • pinch salt
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/4 cup all purpose four
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 tsp cider vinegar
  • 1 tbsp orange zest, finely chopped
  • 2 cups frozen or fresh lingonberries

Directions

  1. Roll out pie dough to cover a 9-inch pie dish.
  2. Trim off excess. Leave plain or pinch edge to decorate.
  3. Chill dough-covered pie dish in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  4. Place oven rack in lower third of oven. Preheat to 375° F.
  5. Blind bake pie by covering it with foil, weighting down the foil with rice or pie beads and baking for about 20 minutes. Crust should be very lightly browned and no longer look wet.
  6. Leave oven on and slightly cool crust on a wire rack while making the filling.
  7. In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, butter, salt, eggs, flour, yogurt and vinegar.
  8. Stir in orange zest.
  9. Fold in lingonberries.
  10. Pour the filling into the pie shell.
  11. Bake pie until top is golden brown and filling is firm, about 50 – 60 minutes.
  12. Cool on wire rack completely before serving.

Adzuki Bean Truffles – Something to Celebrate

Happy New Year! Happy Birthday! Happy Whatever! Creamy sweet chocolate adzuki bean truffles invite celebration any day.

Ever since my first bite of sweet adzuki bean paste, I was hooked. After tossing away the store-bought can and creating my own homemade paste, I knew this love had turned into a lifelong relationship. Adzuki beans have brought me endless fascination and innumerable streams of culinary consciousness. If you search “adzuki beans” on Cutterlight, you will see there is quite a history. The red bean paste is smooth, sweet, and delicious. It is unusual enough to be interesting and easily fits into so many recipes. Forget about the healthful aspects of adding beans to your diet. I mean it. Forget it. The sweet paste texture reminds me of nut pastes – like marzipan or chestnut paste. This texture and flavor inspired me to create Twisted Adzuki bean rolls, Matcha Adzuki Bean glazed rolls, and Adzuki Maple bars with Matcha Frosting to name a few. If you want to tiptoe into this world, try a good quality canned product to experiment with. If you want to go all in, I have directions on how to make your own paste here.

Years ago, a nutritionist visited my classroom to present ways my 6th graders could “sneak” healthy ingredients into their diets. They were very impressed with the smoothies created from only frozen fruit. They were blown away with the deep chocolate cakey brownies that were made with fiber-rich black beans instead of bleached white flour. With a surfeit of dried black beans left in our pantry and a desire to make our sweets more healthful, I began my own experiments with this ingredient. Of course, I was able to create delicious and nutritious treats that fueled our active lifestyle.

But black beans can have an ever-so-slight mealy texture. So what about adzuki beans? When they are cooked down into a paste, they definitely have a more pleasant texture. Armed with free time over my winter break and a few pounds of dried adzuki beans, I got to work in the kitchen with the excitement of a mad scientist ready to solve an insolvable, albeit with my hair tied back into a neat bun. The first success was a lovely little bite-sized confection that I called a truffle. The beans are slightly sweetened with maple syrup. The cooled bean balls are dipped in chocolate. Then, let your imagination go. They can be rolled in sprinkles, coffee powder, candied fruit pieces, toffee bits, nuts, cocoa powder, or whatever you desire.

I could imagine adding additional flavors to the beans, such as a bit of Grand Marnier or bourbon for a boozy twist. Or maybe almond extract or orange extract for a non-boozy twist. The possibilities seem endless.

Adzuki Bean Truffles

Ingredients

  • 2 cups cooked adzuki beans
  • 2 tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 5 tablespoons Dutch processed cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
  • your choice of topping

Directions

  1. With a stick blender or in a food processor, combine the black beans, maple syrup, and cocoa powder. Pulse and process for a couple minutes, until the mixture is well combined and doughy. I used a potato masher to manually process the beans. If the dough seems too dry, add a bit more maple syrup until you are happy with the texture. The dough should not be sticky, just gooey and fudgy.
  2. Roll the dough into 24 balls (approximately 1 tablespoon each) and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Place baking sheet in refrigerator while you prepare the topping.
  3. Melt the chocolate chips in a double boiler.
  4. Drop a ball into melted chocolate. Roll it around with a fork. Use a second fork to pick up the coated balls like a claw machine. Place the coated ball back on the parchment-covered baking sheet.
  5. Sprinkle truffle ball with your toppings.
  6. Repeat with remaining balls.
  7. Place back in the refrigerator for 10 minutes to set. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator to keep fresh.

Two-Cheese Stuffed Artichokes Appetizers – (Shhh! It’s really a meal)

Days on end with temperatures stuck below zero, occasionally warming into the single digits or teens to snow. Winter is here, a time when comfort food is never more comforting.

For the first time in several days, we woke this morning to temperatures above 0° Fahrenheit. With the relative warmth, a fresh layer of snow is beginning to accumulate. Black-capped and Boreal Chickadees are nearly constant visitors to the feeders outside our living room window, and from our home’s southwest windows is a view of a river locked in ice.

Aside from summer-caught salmon fillets and wild blueberries, lingonberries and mushrooms gathered near our Newhalen home, most of our groceries come to us by small plane from Anchorage. Out of the asparagus we’d asked for, our shopper at Costco recently substituted artichokes. They’re beautiful, but other than steaming them and creating some sort of buttery dip, we don’t have much experience with this vegetable.

As it happens, we’ve been watching Italian Food Safari, a show created in Australia where Italian families have lived for generations preserving and expanding on the gustatory traditions they brought with them to their new country. It was in one of the show’s episodes that we were introduced to the wonderful idea of stuffing artichokes.

While this dish requires a certain amount of passive preparation time in the form of soaking and steaming the artichokes, the actual preparation is fairly simple. Create a mixture that will steam well and compliment the vegetable, chill a bottle of Pinot Gris or dry Riesling, prepare couscous, brown rice or something similar as a bed for the finished artichoke, and if you’ve never served an artichoke this way before, prepare yourself to be amazed.

Directions

  1. For each artichoke, cut the stem off so that the artichoke will sit upright in a steaming pot. Then cut off the top 1½ inches or so of the artichoke as these ends are mostly prickly and inedible. Next, use a melon baller or paring knife to remove the fine, thistle-like down (the choke) in the center of the artichoke. Taking a moment to do this will result in a more pleasant dining experience. Soak the artichokes in cold water for 30 minutes. You will want to use something to keep them fully submerged. This will ensure they steam nicely.
  2. There are probably all kinds of ingredients that would work well as the stuffing, but you’ll want to avoid items that will overwhelm the subtle flavor of the vegetable. We started by peeling the artichoke stems, chopping them fine and placing them in a bowl. To this, we added chopped garlic, crumbled feta cheese, grated Comté cheese, panko, Italian herbs, olive oil and fresh lemon juice. The cheeses were sufficiently salty that we didn’t add additional salt. Adding a splash of sherry or whatever wine you plan to serve works well. Although we didn’t add any type of meat or seafood to this mixture – and after serving the artichokes agreed that most meat and seafood wouldn’t work very well – we did think that Dungeness or Blue crab might do the trick. Italian-style breadcrumbs would work well as a substitution for the panko. Mix the ingredients together.
  3. Remove artichokes from the cold water where they’ve been soaking and push and pull the petals apart to create spaces into which the mixture can be stuffed. Fill as many of these spaces as you reasonably can.
  4. Arrange the stuffed artichokes stem-side down in a steaming pan – one you’ve prepared so that the artichokes can steam without being immersed in water. A canning rack, or even canning jar lids, works well for this. Steam for 45 minutes.
  5. Finish the artichokes with a drizzle of olive oil and a dusting of smoked paprika. Serve hot on a bed of rice, couscous, quinoa or something similar and celebrate the day with a glass of Oregon Pinot Gris. Don’t forget to provide a bowl for the discarded petals.

 

Salmon and Bleu Cheese Appetizers with Spicy Mayo

Served hot or cold, these appetizers will go fast at your next get together. Or reimagine them served in a toasted bun as a salmon meatball po’ boy!

Looking forward to a recent Friday night get-together (and football playoff snacks beyond that), I wanted to come up with something new in the salmon appetizer category – hopefully something even kids and non-fish-eaters would happily dig into.

This is it, and here’s how to make them. And by the way, we urge readers to always choose wild-caught salmon. By valuing wild salmon, you are helping to ensure that the ecosystems wild salmon depend on are also valued and will be protected for generations to come. This is vital not just for preserving the beauty of these landscapes, but for ensuring that everything that depends on wild salmon – orcas, bears, eagles, countless other animals and the salmon forests themselves – will continue to thrive. Choosing wild-caught salmon is quite likely the single most environmentally important food choice consumers can make. Read more at: Salmon Make a Landscape More Beautiful. 

Salmon and Blue Cheese Appetizers with Spicy Mayo

Ingredients for the Salmon Appetizers

  • 1 pound wild-caught salmon fillets, skinned, boned, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
  • 1 large egg
  • soy sauce
  • smoked paprika
  • black pepper
  • mesquite seasoning (optional, but the smoky flavor of a mesquite seasoning such as the Kirkland brand available at Costco works very well with the soy sauce to add umami to this recipe)
  • 3/4 cup bleu cheese, crumbled fairly small
  • 1 or 2 strips thick-cut bacon, fried and cut into small pieces
  • 3/4 cup panko (or substitute crushed saltine crackers)
  • extra virgin olive oil – enough to generously cover the bottom of whatever pan you use to cook the appetizers

Directions

  1. Use a meat grinder, food processor or stick blender to mince the salmon. Place in a mixing bowl.
  2. Add egg, soy sauce, paprika, black pepper and mesquite seasoning. Use a spoon or spatula to thoroughly mix.
  3. Fold in bleu cheese, panko and bacon with your hands.
  4. Shape into bite-sized balls.
  5. While these could be cooked using a variety of methods, the combination of a sauteuse pan (a frying pan with high sides) with about 1/8 inch (3mm) of oil and a pair of tongs or chopsticks works especially well for cooking these appetizers as you’ll be able to ensure that all sides of the salmon are seared. As long as you make sure the oil doesn’t get too hot – just enough to make a gentle sizzle – extra virgin olive oil is a good choice for the additional flavor it will impart. Over medium to medium-low heat, bring the oil to a gentle sizzle. Arrange the appetizers so that there is a little space between them. After about 3 minutes, turn them over. You can use tongs or chopsticks to briefly position them to touch up sides that didn’t get seared. (This is mainly a cosmetic concern rather than something that will affect their taste.) Cook about 6 minutes total.
  6. Serve hot, chilled or in-between along with a dipping sauce and lemon wedges.

Directions for Spicy Mayo

While you can use store-bought mayonnaise, homemade is very flavorful. Here’s a quick, easy recipe: One Cup Mayo, and Hold the Preservatives! Stir in a favorite spicy seasoning blend. Here, too, there are all kinds of store-bought options, but if you’d like some inspiration for creating your own, see: Smoky & Spicy: Our Go-To Mix

A Lovely Pumpkin Genoise Cake for Two

It was fun to share this elegant sponge cake featuring layers of creamy pumpkin mousse with my best friend and still be able to walk away (instead of stagger away for a post-food coma nap). 

Hidden in the middle of my favorite baking book is a beautiful photo of a slice of golden layered cake. It draws my attention every time I peruse The Williams-Sonoma Baking Book. The  recipe begins with “makes 10-12 servings.” As lovely as the image of that pumpkin mousse cake is, those words are where I stop reading and turn the page. But recently, I thought to myself that there has to be a way to scale this recipe down to create an intimate dessert for two. I thought my skills were up for the challenge.

The recipe lost nothing in pairing it down; the flavor is wonderful. My 6-inch springform helped turn out a decidedly cute cake, the perfect finale to our Thanksgiving meal for two. The mousse part of the recipe will make an extra cup, which we kept in two half-cup canning jars as a dessert for the next day.

Pumpkin Mousse Cake for Two

Ingredients for the Cake

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Directions for the Cake

  1. Preheat an oven to 375°F. Line the bottom of a 6-inch round springform pan with parchment paper.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together the egg and sugar by hand until combined. Place the bowl over but not touching simmering water in a saucepan and gently whisk until the mixture registers 140°F on an instant-read thermometer, about 3 minutes. Put the bowl on the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on high speed until the mixture is pale and almost tripled in volume, 5 to 8 minutes.
  3. Remove the bowl from the mixer. Sift 2 tablespoons of the flour over the egg mixture in two additions and carefully fold in with a large rubber spatula. Fold the third tablespoon of the flour into the melted butter, then fold back into the egg mixture.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake until the top is browned, about 20 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. Run a table knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a work surface. Turn the cake right side up.

Ingredients for Pumpkin Mousse

  • 1 1/4 tsp. (1/2 envelope) unflavored gelatin
  • 1 tbsp cold water
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin purée
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • tiny pinch salt
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tbsp good quality bourbon
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

Directions for the Mousse and Assembling the Cake

  1. Cut the cake into 2 equal layers.
  2. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water, stir and let soften until opaque, about 3 minutes.
  3. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine about 1/2 cup of the pumpkin purée, the granulated sugar and salt. Then heat, stirring, until the sugar dissolves.
  4. Stir in the softened gelatin and let cool to room temperature.
  5. In a bowl, stir the pumpkin mixture into the remaining pumpkin purée. Whisk in the cinnamon, nutmeg and bourbon.
  6. Using a stand mixer, whip the whipping cream to soft peaks. Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold one-third of the whipped cream into the purée, then fold in the remaining whipped cream, making a mousse.
  7. Peel off the parchment paper from the bottom cake layer.
  8. Put the layer, cut side up, into the bottom of a 6-inch round springform pan.
  9. Spread half of the mousse evenly over the cake. Trim 1/2 inch from the outside edge of the remaining layer. Center it, cut side down, on top of the mousse. Top with the additional mousse, pushing it between the cake and the pan and smoothing the top. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
  10. Divide the remaining mousse into two containers and store, covered, in the refrigerator.
  11. To remove, run a small knife around the inside of the pan. Open the springform and remove the pan sides.
  12. Cut into two pieces and serve.

 

Nobu West Comes North: Paper-Thin Salad with Wild Alaska Sockeye Tataki

Crisp, paper thin vegetables and a tangy, spicy jalapeño dressing accent flash fried Sockeye salmon in this fusion salad from chefs Nobu Matsuhisa and Mark Edwards. 

For the first time this summer, yesterday was downright cool. We rode our Hondas 25 miles over a combination of paved road and then ever narrowing dirt and gravel to see the falls on the Tazimina River, northeast of Newhalen. Our jackets were zipped against the fall-like chill in the air. With most of the fireweed going to seed, the Sockeye run long over and Barbra due to begin her school year later this week, I wanted to prepare a dish that might capture a sense of summer’s fleeting final days in a land where autumn comes early. A bottle of Sauvignon Blanc was already chilling in the refrigerator.

I found what I was looking for in the cookbook Nobu West, a joint effort between Nobu Matsuhisa and Mark Edwards. The key to this salad is to use a mandolin to slice the vegetables as thin as possible and then to soak them in ice water to make them as crisp.

Salmon Tataki with Paper-Thin Salad (from Nobu West, by Nobu Matsuhisa & Mark Edwards)

Ingredients

Vegetables

  • small red beet
  • carrot
  • zucchini
  • summer squash
  • red radish
  • cucumber
  • other vegetables as desired

Jalapeño Dressing

  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeds removed, diced fine
  • 6½ tbsp rice vinegar
  • 1 tbsp garlic chopped fine
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 cup grape seed oil (or extra virgin olive oil, etc.)

Salmon Tataki

  • sashimi grade salmon fillet(s), skin removed, seasoned with coarsely ground black pepper
  • bowl of ice water
  • stainless steel or cast iron pan and cooking oil with a high smoking point (such as avocado oil)

Directions

1.  Vegetables: Prepare two bowls of ice water. Use a mandolin to slice vegetables lengthwise as thin as possible. Immerse slices in ice water for an hour to make the vegetables crisp. Do the beets separately, using a separate bowl, to keep them from coloring the other vegetables. (You might want to wear nitrile gloves to keep the beets from staining your fingers.)

2. Jalapeño Dressing: You will need a stick blender or food processor for this.
– Place diced jalapeño, vinegar, garlic and sea salt in food processor (or in a narrow container suitable to a stick blender). Purée ingredients.
– Continuing to process ingredients, slowly drizzle in olive oil. (If the ingredients separate, whisk together just before serving.)

3.  Salmon Tataki:
– Place cooking oil in a frying pan and heat on medium-high.
– When oil is ready to sizzle, sear salmon fillet, frying for about 5 seconds on each side. Outside of salmon should be white where cooked.
– Plunge seared salmon into ice water to stop cooking and to firm up flesh. Pat dry with paper towels and refrigerate till ready for use.
– Just before serving , cut salmon fillet into thin strips, about ¼ inch thick. Do this at the last moment so that the salmon remains flavorful.

4. Serving the salad:
– Pour jalapeño dressing on serving plates so that it covers the plates.
– Arrange salmon strips on plates.
– Place vegetables on salmon to form a mound.

Serve immediately while vegetables and salmon are still chilled.

 

 

The Bounty of Newhalen, Alaska

Start with greens from a friend’s garden. Layer on chopped summer squash, zucchini and roasted beets from the Farm Lodge. Add slices of tomato and avocado from same-day-Costco-delivery. Sprinkle with feta cheese and squirts of lemon from Fred Meyer mail order. Top off the salad with local hand-picked blueberries and cedar-plank grilled wild sockeye salmon from the Newhalen River. Serve with homemade onion focaccia and a glass of lightly chilled, deliciously buttery chardonnay. Now that’s a meal!

Jack and I have moved a few times. Well, many times compared to the average American. According to a quick search, several articles agree that the average American moves just over 11 times in their lifetime after the age of one. Defining moving as leaving one residence and occupying another for over three months, our most recent move puts Jack’s count at 21 and my count at 18. It’s a good thing that, generally speaking, we both enjoy moving.

As for our moves together – eight in all, we’ve always looked forward to figuring out where to relocate, learning about unfamiliar places and embracing the opportunities that come with new. This last move was different though. This time moving wasn’t a choice. That put a huge damper on our normal excitement. In fact, it was the most difficult move we have experienced together. We didn’t want to leave Chignik Lake. I didn’t want to leave my students or my school. They are a terrific group of kids supported by a wonderful group of parents and a great community. We didn’t want to leave the little wilderness village surrounded by stunning mountains. We didn’t want to leave the lake and the adjoining river that serves as the main highway – by skiff – in a mostly roadless landscape. We didn’t want to leave the salmon, the birds we were documenting, and the charismatic megafauna like wolverine, wolves, foxes, moose, otters and brown bears that were regular parts of our lives there.

Last spring, when the school enrollment was hanging steady at two fewer than the state-required ten, the school board voted to close the school and move me to another site. The site with said opening was in Newhalen, Alaska. (See Where in the world is Newhalen, Alaska?) Last April, I had a chance to come visit Newhalen and scope it out. It was during that trip that this lovely village began courting me. I couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful flight from Chignik Lake to Newhalen. The sky was clear and blue. The portion of the flight over Lake Iliamna was stunning – imagine a huge multi-hued blue lake rimmed by snow-capped mountains. “Wow!” I mouthed to myself as we landed in nearby Iliamna. It wasn’t Chignik Lake, but it sure was beautiful. During my visit, I learned several appealing things about the Newhalen area that made the location very attractive. It would be easy to bring our truck and fishing boat over. I found out that there were many nearby places to hike and boat. All the people I met were very welcoming and seemed happy we would be joining the community.

Back home in Chignik Lake, as the process of packing and shipping continued and the cloud of leaving our home hovered, the memory of the blue-hued lake faded along with all the appealing details.

Then, in June, we moved. As we began settling into our new home, Newhalen took up courting where she had left off back in April. As promised, Sockeye salmon began their run in earnest up the Newhalen River in July. In a matter of a few easy outings, armed with flies we had tied, Jack and I filled our freezer with our goal of 100 pounds of filets. Those days were mostly sunny, clear and warm. The scenery at the new fishing hole at the Newhalen Rapids was astoundingly beautiful.

As the salmon finished their run, it became time for berry picking. We’ve lived in the bush long enough to know not to ask where to pick berries. People always have their secret spots and obviously are not keen to share that specific knowledge. Turns out the best spot to pick blueberries in Newhalen is Anywhere! I had heard that there were lots of berries, but brother, lots of berries is an understatement. Oh, Newhalen, you are really working your magic.

The bounty of Newhalen is not just about what naturally occurs in this locale. Many people garden around here. We have already been lucky enough to be the beneficiaries of fresh strawberries and salad greens straight from the garden onto our plates! We were happy to learn that the Farm Lodge will regularly deliver its greenhouse fare to us in Newhalen, as it did to Chignik Lake. The icing on the cake turned out to be same-day delivery of produce (and anything else we need) from Costco in Anchorage. Did you read that? Same. Day.

As bonafide foodies, we are now officially in hog heaven. Newhalen continues to do her magic. We will always have an abiding love for Chignik Lake. But if you can’t be with the one you love, love the place you’re in. 😉

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.