Lingonberry Flaugnarde Pour Deux

Flaugnarde is a lovely French name for a baked dessert which has fruit baked into a batter. The flaugnarde process creates a lightly crisped crust and a thick custard-like middle. Topped with ice cream, you’ll have a grand slam last course to any meal.

Lingonberries, known around here as low bush cranberries, are the last berry we forage for before we tuck in for winter. Collectors of these sour, flavorful gems are advised to wait until after the first frost for the best berries. We’ve learned that as long as the berries are fully red, the freezer also seems to do the same trick of enhancing their subtle sweetness.

Last year we found a killer spot for lingonberries across the lake. Looking back on the calendar where we kept noteworthy events, I noted that our several gallons of lingonberries in the freezer were collected in only two picking sessions. Now that’s a great spot!

Lingonberries can be used for cranberry recipes and vice versa. We’ve made lingonberry relish to go with roast turkey or moose, lingonberry breads to accompany poached egg breakfasts, and lingonberry juice for a hot spiced drink to warm up with on cold winter nights.

One of the tastiest recipes I’ve made with lingonberries is a version of Cranberry Chess Pie. It’s creamy filling packs a cranberry-orange, sweet-sour flavor punch inside a beautiful flaky pastry dough crust. This is the recipe I was channeling when I came up with a crustless version, which was supposed to be a little lighter on the calories. I can’t say I was successful with the calorie reduction. But I can say, it was incredibly delicious. I told Jack that I wished I could record his mmmming and ooohhing while he was eating this dessert. That would have been worth a thousand words.

Although this dessert is perfectly delicious on its own, I highly recommend serving it while it’s still warm with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. The dish will come out of the oven with a beautifully browned dome top. While it’s cooling, the flaugnarde will fall, creating a hollow perfectly shaped for a scoop of ice cream.

Lingonberry Flaugnarde

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup + 2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 extra large egg or 2 small eggs
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp Greek yogurt
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups lingonberries

Directions

  1. Grease two 8 oz ramekins. Set aside.
  2. Heat oven to 375 degrees F (190C).
  3. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add sugar, butter, and salt. Mix together.
  4. Mix in eggs.
  5. Mix in flour.
  6. Mix in yogurt and almond extract.
  7. Mix well.
  8. Stir in lingonberries.
  9. Divide mixture into the prepared ramekins.
  10. Bake until top is golden brown and filling is firm, about 50 minutes.
  11. Cool ramekins on wire rack.
  12. Top warm flaugnarde with scoops of vanilla bean ice cream. Devour immediately.

Salmonberry Sour Cream Crumble Cake for Four (Or two. Or one.)

Salmonberry crumb cake

Springtime in Mongolia meant every kind of weather. Recently, this similarity to Chignik Lake has seemed to be especially true. A few days ago the lunchtime thermometer read 42 degrees under sunny skies and only a few patches of a deep snow that had blanked the landscape remained. We were inspired to go for a Honda ride to look for whatever new growth we might find. That was a few days ago…

Yesterday, we awoke to drizzly rain that morphed into melty, wet snow. Next thing we knew, we were immersed in a blizzard that blanketed us in again in a winter wonderland. This morning, the new day greeted us with broken skies, gusts of wind, a thermometer registering a chilly 16°, and new skim ice near the shoreline.

The warmth streaming in through our windows a few days ago prompted thoughts of summer – fishing, berry picking, mushroom hunting, boating, and the like. But the honda ride confirmed that even though the warmth of the sun is returning, the land is still in a deep wintery slumber. The blizzard kept me indoors, antsy – I really wanted a taste of summer, even though I know it is still months away. There is nothing more evocative of Alaskan summers than berries. Last year, we picked gallons of wild berries and carefully preserved them in our freezer – blueberries, raspberries, salmonberries, wineberries and lingonberries. Lately, I’ve been favoring the blueberries to top my oatmeal or to mix in with homemade yogurt. But to satisfy my craving for a  summer creation, I found myself drawn to the beautiful, multi-colored gems that are salmonberries. They have a tangy, sweet-sour flavor that pairs perfectly with almond – an ingredient I wanted to feature.

I was very happy with how this cake turned out. The diminutive dessert was just right for the two of us to share. The berries baked into the batter, retaining their jewel-like beauty. The cake was delectably moist. The flavors incorporated the lovely balance of natural sweet and sour. Each bite was complimented by the crumbly sweet almond topping. Full disclosure – it was intended for two desserts. We managed to finish the whole thing off in one delicious fell swoop.

Salmonberry Sour Cream Crumble Cake for Four (Or two. Or one.)

Ingredients

Topping

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

Cake

  • 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • Pinch salt
  • 1 extra large egg (1 1/2 large eggs)
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1 1/2 cups salmonberries (if frozen, let thaw and drain off extra liquid)

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F (180C).
  2. Line bottom of 7-inch springform pan with parchment paper. Grease the sides of the pan with butter. Set aside.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together topping ingredients. Stir with a fork until mixture is crumbly. Set aside.
  4. For the cake, in another bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
  5. In a bowl of a stand mixer, mix together eggs, sour cream and almond extract.
  6. Add flour mixture for cake into the egg mixture. Beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.
  7. Pour batter into prepared springform pan.
  8. Top with salmonberries.
  9. Sprinkle crumble mixture evenly over berry layer.
  10. Bake until topping is golden brown the the center is cooked, about 40 minutes. Test this with a toothpick. It should come out clean when inserted into the middle of the cake.
  11. Let cake cool on wire rack in the pan for 20 minutes before removing springform sides.
  12. Cut into slices and serve warm or at room temperature.

Three Cheese Dungeness Crab Ravioli

Dungeness Crab RavioliGiant ravioli stuffed with creamy cheese and sweet Dungeness Crab. Happy 2021 from The Lake!

“Jack?” It was Donny on the phone. “Come down to the beach and get some crab! Bring a tote. There’s lots!”

I’d been photographing kinglets in a copse of spruce trees a two-minute walk from my house when I got the call. Crab?! I didn’t waste any time retracing my steps. Back home I went straight to the living room window. Sure enough, there was Donny talking with a man and a woman I didn’t recognize who had nosed an unfamiliar skiff into the lakeshore. On the beach near Donny were three or four large tubs. I set my camera gear aside, grabbed a bright pink plastic tote, slipped my feet into boots and made my way down to the scene.

The skiff and its occupants were with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Apparently, they’d been sampling the Dungeness Crab population in the Chignik estuary and nearby waters and with a good haul of the tasty crustaceans had made the six-mile run up the river to share the bounty. I greeted Donny, introduced myself to the ADFG crew, and surveyed the tubs heaped with crab. There were indeed “lots.”

“Go ahead and fill that tote,” Donny advised. “And make sure you get some big ones.”

They were good-looking crabs. Legal males. Clean, shells filled out, two-pounds on average, still kickin’, sea-scented.

That night, quite literally everyone in the village of Chignik Lake feasted on fresh Dungeness Crab. All 50-something of us.

Barbra and I spent a good bit of that evening steaming Dungies three at a time in our big soup kettle. We picked two that night for dinner, complimented  with a bottle of Chard. The rest were frozen for later use. We did this by first freezing the crabs in regular zip-seal plastic bags. Similar to berries and other fragile items, once the crabs are frozen hard they can be vacuum-packed without being crushed. Frozen this way, the crabs are perfect and keep a long time. Which is a good thing; we ended up with a lot of crab.

The ravioli? Once you’ve got the pasta made, there’s really nothing to it.

I combined equal amounts of mozzarella, goat and feta cheeses along with a blend of Italian herbs. To this mixture, I added an equal amount of Dungeness Crab and hand-tossed the ingredients together.

Meanwhile, Barbra rolled out the pasta and cut it into nice, big three-and-a-half inch squares, filled them with the crab and cheese mixture and crimped them closed with a pastry roller. It is important to use a sharp tool for the crimping. It helps to ensure that the ravioli remains sealed.

To avoid crowding these large raviolis, I used two pots, each with a good amount of water. Once the water came to a boil, I added the ravioli. After three minutes, I gently flipped them to ensure even cooking of the pasta and the filling – a total of six minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet on a back burner, I heated extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. When it was hot, I added shallots and garlic sliced as thin as I could manage along with a tablespoon of butter and a couple of healthy pinches of sea salt. This is a wonderfully simple accompaniment for delicately flavored pasta. I finished the dish with a grind of black pepper and a bit of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

By the way, these raviolis freeze well. Simply lay them out on a cookie sheet, freeze them solid, and then pack them in plastic bags. Cook them frozen, adding a minute to the overall boiling time.

With a surfeit of tasty Dungies in the freezer, expect more crab recipes in the coming weeks!

The Chignik Jack: Panko Crusted Coho Jack Salmon Stuffed with Dungeness Crab

panko crusted salmon stuffed with Dungeness crab

The perfect marriage of River & Sea – Dungeness-stuffed whole jack salmon.

Each year we try to take a couple of char or salmon in the pound-and-a-half to three-pound range, the perfect size for presenting head and tail intact. When I lived in South Carolina, I sought Puppy Drum (small Red Drum), Speckled Sea Trout, Summer Flounder and keeper-sized Striped Bass for these dishes. If I lived in the American midwest, I’d target Walleye or bass from cold water. In Japan, small suzuki (Japanese Sea Bass), hirame (Olive Flounder) and kurodai (Black Porgy) fit the bill.

The salmon in the photo was about 17 or 18 inches in length and weighed just over a pound-and-a-half. Jack is the name given to precocial male salmon that mature early and return to the river after only a year at sea. Were I running a restaurant, I’d offer this dish as a special and call it The Chignik Jack, as in,

“What’ll it be, Mac?”
“I’ll have the Chignik Jack.”

The recipe here couldn’t be more straightforward. The stuffing is comprised of the back meat of a Dungeness Crab, steamed or boiled and lightly seasoned, perhaps a bit of fresh lemon juice added to the cleaned meat. Crab meat tends to be wet, so use paper towels to gently squeeze out excess moisture from the cooked meat. You might even heat the meat in a dry, non-stick skillet to remove additional moisture.

The fish is scaled, gilled, gutted and cleaned. Spritz the stomach cavity with lemon juice, rub in a little salt, add the crab meat and then roll the fish in panko that you’ve seasoned with salt and Italian-style herbs. This is a relatively light dish; you don’t need any batter, just the seasoned crumbs.

Meanwhile, set the oven to 400° F and put enough olive oil on a broiling sheet or pan to cover it and heat it on a center-positioned rack till the oil is hot. I use a heavy, rectangular, well-seasoned cast iron pan for this kind of cooking, but a thinner baking sheet will work. The fish should sizzle when you place it on the pan. After about 4 minutes, check the down side to make sure it’s not browning too quickly. Continue baking for a total of about 8 minutes, and then carefully turn the fish to the other side. It can help to have someone man an additional spatula to help with this.

Bake for another 8 minutes, again checking  halfway through to make sure the skin and panko are browning properly. In the above fish, I set the oven to broil for the final couple of minutes to further crisp the presentation side. The tail came out crunchy as a potato chip – a delicacy in its own right. And speaking of delicacies, don’t forget the cheek meat just in back of the jaw; the scallop-like morsel has a texture unlike any other part of the fish.

Paired with a buttery chardonnay, this is a lovely meal to enjoy with your best friend.

Tomato Tarragon Halibut

I suppose that like many people, I grew up inculcated with the idea that dill and fennel are the quintessential herbs for fish and other seafood. Lately I’ve been circling back to rediscover the pleasant tang of dill, prompted by small bunches of the feathery stalks occasionally showing up in boxes of fresh produce sent to us from The Farm Lodge at Lake Clark. These days even when I don’t have fresh dill on hand, I’ve been making dry dill a regular part of certain salmon and shellfish recipes, particularly when I’m going for a bolder flavor than what might be supplied by, say, lemon grass.

Fennel is another matter. Neither of us have ever entirely warmed to the sharp anise taste and aroma it imparts. We like licorice, but not so much on salmon and subtly flavored seafood. When I discovered tarragon while searching for a fennel substitute some decades ago, it seemed I’d stumbled upon the perfect seafood herb. There’s an anise-like savor to it, but to our palate tarragon profiles as gentler and sweeter than fennel. It’s wonderful on steamed clams and mussels, makes an excellent a-little-something-extra in drawn butter dipping sauces, and beautifully complements virtually any white-meated fish from catfish to cod. In this recipe, tarragon brings together the flavors of garden-fresh tomatoes and halibut in a dish that is simple, beautiful and sumptuous. 

Try serving this dish with very thin slices of sourdough French bread or baguette pan-toasted in butter till crisp and seasoned with garlic.  

Tomato Tarragon Halibut

Ingredients

  • halibut fillets, patted dry to remove excess moisture. We prefer skin-on, but it’s up to the chef
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • onion, diced
  • garlic cloves sliced into fairly large pieces
  • sherry or other dry wine
  • tarragon, fresh or dried, to taste
  • fresh tomatoes, seeds removed, diced
  • Better than Bouillon clam base (optional) or use sea salt
  • soy sauce

Directions (You will need two frying pans.)

  1. Add olive oil to the first pan, apply medium heat and add the onions. You want the onions to caramelize, so don’t stir them too much. They’ll caramelize better if you mostly leave them alone.
  2. When onions begin to caramelize, add the garlic and stir. Cook for about 3 minutes – just until garlic begins to soften. Then add a little sherry and the tarragon. Stir and allow most of the wine to cook off. This only takes a minute or so.
  3. Add the tomatoes. Cover with a lid and reduce the heat so that the mixture simmers steadily. You want the mixture to cook down to a fairly thick consistency.
  4. As the tomato mixture is cooking, stir in either the clam base or salt. The clam base itself is quite salty. Don’t use too much. You want just a hint of the clam flavor. Alternatively, simply add a little sea salt. The mixture is very tasty either way.
  5. When the tomato mixture has cooked down, add olive oil to the other pan. Heat over medium until the oil is sizzling hot. Continue allowing the tomato mixture to simmer.
  6. Place the fillet(s) in  the hot oil presentation side up (skin side down if you’ve left the skin on.) The fillets should sizzle when they hit the pan. Pour a little soy sauce on the fillet. This will impart a pleasant umami flavor and will enhance the browning color when you flip the fillet.
  7. Cook uncovered for 3 minutes. Flip the fillets and cook the other side for 3 minutes.
  8. Place the fillets presentation side up in the tomato mixture. Cover with a lid and continue cooking for about four minutes. The general rule of thumb for fish is 10 minutes cooking time per inch of thickness. You can test the fillets for doneness by carefully inserting a knife and parting the meat. A perfectly cooked halibut fillet will be an opaque white all the way through and will flake cleanly. Don’t worry if you don’t get this perfectly right. If the fillets are a little overcooked, they will still be very good.
  9. Spoon out the tomato mixture on serving plates, add the fillet, and served piping hot with pan-fried toast. 

Any style of Chardonnay will pair well with this dish. Dry Riesling is another white option, but there’s enough oomph here to make a Pinot Noir a good choice as well. 

Tis The Season For Rhubarb! Rhubarb Almond Cake

The delightful pinks and greens of rhubarb make this cake a beauty. The creaminess of almond flour and zippy tartness of rhubarb keep you coming back for more. We started this photo shoot with eight pieces. 😉

Happily, we are the recipients of the Farm Lodge produce boxes again. Every week we receive a mystery box packed with their latest ripened crops. The most recent box of vegetables we received was picked the same morning we received them! Most people probably would not find this remarkable, but we live very far away from sources of fresh fruits and veggies and so these Farm Lodge boxes serve as our Farmers’ Market. With the nearest grocery store hundreds of miles away, our fresh produce usually is limited to items which can withstand several days in a box while traveling through the U.S. Postal system to our home on the Alaska Peninsula. Thus, the veggie drawers of our fridge are usually stocked with carrots, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, onions, potatoes and the like. Being able to cook with freshly picked zucchini, tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs is a summertime treat we relish.

One thing we’ve come to enjoy about the Farm Lodge produce is the surprise factor. The last box included a bright pink bunch of rhubarb stalks. Last summer, I really fell in love with this vegetable. Tartness is a flavor I adore. This ingredient has tartness in spades which compliments sweetness perfectly…it’s like a lemon’s brother from another mother. Our favorite rhubarb creation from last year was a sauce which we used to drizzle on top of warm brie and on grilled salmon fillets.

Wanting to do something different with this bunch, I looked back on recipe ideas I never got to try last year. On my list was a rhubarb custard pie. Jack loves custard and he loves pie, so I knew this one would be a winner. The problem was that one of the key ingredients I needed, heavy whipping cream, was not going to happen. Back to square one. I had seen a recipe of an almond cake made with almond flour. The almond paste-marzipan type flavor and dense texture sounded like a great pairing for the tart stems. With a bit of tinkering, I came up with a winner.

The finished cake was lighter than I had expected it would be. The almond and rhubarb flavors complemented each other very well. And the rhubarb kept its lovely pink hue, making for a stunning presentation. What did Jack think? He’s not usually a cake guy. This one got high marks. “Kind of like a custard pie,” he said between big bites of his second piece. Seeing how he is my main customer, I’ll put this one in the keeper section.

Rhubarb Almond Cake

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup almond flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • pinch salt
  • 1/2 cut butter, melted
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 2 cups sliced or chopped rhubarb

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Grease a 9-inch springform pan. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together almond flour and 1/4 cup sugar.
  4. Remove 1/4 cup of the mixture and set aside.
  5. Add flour, baking powder, and salt to the original large bowl.
  6. Mix butter, eggs, and almond extract into flour mixture.
  7. Pour batter into prepared springform pan.
  8. Sprinkle half of the reserved almond-sugar mixture over batter.
  9. Evenly place rhubarb atop batter.
  10. Sprinkle remainder of reserved almond-sugar mixture on rhubarb.
  11. Bake cake for 50 minutes. A wooden pick inserted to middle of the cake will come out clean when cake is done.
  12. Cool cake in pan on wire rack. Let cool to room temperature before serving.

And for Dessert… a Blueberry Cloud

“I feel pretty – Oh, so pretty – That the city should give me its key – A committee – Should be organized to honor me – la la la la.”

What? You’ve never heard singing meringue?

I have a board in my kitchen where I post culinary ideas. Sometimes they’re inspired by an ingredient. Often the spark is drawn from a photo or even just the name of a recipe. Several weeks ago, I saw a “blueberry meringue pie.” Hmmm… I never thought of a blueberry version of a favorite pie. What a great idea! My ruminations took my mind through several possibilities – a pie for two, blueberry filling with a vanilla-flavored toasted top, an entirely blue pie, a crustless version…

Then I saw a photo online of a gorgeous, bright lime green soufflé encased in toasted meringue. That was the catalyst for what turned out to be essentially a scaled down crustless blueberry meringue pie.

So, how did it turn out?

As you can see, the toasted meringue provides for an eye-popping presentation. When sliced, layers of fluffy vanilla meringue and an airy purple-blue center are revealed. And the texture and flavor? Delicate yet creamy, sweet-tooth satisfying, with flavors of tropical coconut, toasted marshmallow and wonderfully intense wild Alaska blueberry. This dessert was as satisfying as a culinary achievement as it was to demolish – which we did in a gratifyingly indulgent blink of an eye.

You, too, can whip up (pun definitely intended) this five-star dessert. For the sake of making this scrumptious dish accessible to all levels of chefs, I’m writing up the directions for a mason jar version. If you are interested in the more difficult cloud-on-a-plate version, leave me a comment or message me and I’ll send that recipe to you.

The Blueberry Cloud (serves 6)

Ingredients for Blueberry Coconut Custard Base

  • 1 envelope unflavored powdered gelatin
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
  • pinch salt
  • 4 eggs, yolks and whites separated
  • 1/2 cup cold water
  • 1/4 cup blueberry juice*
  • 1 cup coconut cream (the thick part from the top of the can)

Directions for Blueberry Coconut Custard Base

  1. In a double boiler, stir gelatin with 1/4 cup sugar and salt until well mixed.
  2. In a small bowl, using a wire whisk beat egg yolks with cold water and blueberry juice until mixed.
  3. Stir blueberry mixture into gelatin mixture.
  4. Cook over simmering water, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
  5. Remove from heat.
  6. Pour into a large bowl and cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally.
  7. Have six one-cup wide-mouth canning jars out and ready.
  8. In a small bowl with the mixer at high speed, beat egg whites until soft peaks form.
  9. Continue beating at high speed and gradually sprinkle in remaining 1/2 cup sugar.
  10. Beat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Whites should stand in stiff peaks.
  11. Fold the whites into the bowl with the blueberry mixture.
  12. In a separate small bowl with the mixer at medium speed, whip the coconut cream.
  13. Fold whipped cream into blueberry mixture.
  14. Divide into wide mouth jars.
  15. Chill the dessert in the refrigerator until firm, at least 3 hours.

Ingredients for Meringue Top

  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions for Meringue Top and Assembly

  1. Place the egg whites in a large, very clean mixing bowl.
  2. Beat whites on high speed.
  3. When whites start to thicken, slowly add in the sugar a little at a time.
  4. Beat on high speed until stiff peaks form.
  5. Spread the meringue over the entire dessert. Toast the meringue using a chef’s torch.(People say, you can toast meringue under the broiler in the oven. If you don’t have a kitchen torch, this might be an alternative way of toasting. I have never tried this.)
  6. Serve immediately.

*You can make blueberry juice by taking about a cup of blueberries and an ounce of water and simmering for about ten minutes. Using a potato masher, smash the berries. Place mixture in a cheesecloth-lined wire-mesh strainer and let the juice drip through. To keep the juice clear, do not squeeze the cheesecloth.

Super Sourdough Soft Pretzels

Some untwist them. Some peel them apart. Some just tear into them. What’s your favorite way to eat a soft pretzel warm from the oven?

Some foods take you places. Sourdough bread transports me to San Francisco – specifically Fisherman’s Wharf. When I was young, my family would visit that magical city. Our journey would always include a stop to the Boudin Store where we would pick up a couple of loaves of freshly baked sourdough bread. Our unrefined tradition did not involve picnic blankets or even a knife for that matter. We each would take turns reaching into the long thin bag, grab a hold of the baguette and rip. What you tore was the piece you got to munch on while walking around Fisherman’s Wharf. The delicious sour aroma that wafted from the broken piece always enticed me. The outer crust was perfectly crunchy and gave way to a soft interior which was ideally balanced with a dose of chewiness. Those loaves never made it home. When I grew up and began to visit and eventually move to San Francisco, I never outgrew those wonderful loaves and that unsophisticated tradition.

After mastering the beginners art to baking, I set a goal to learn to work with sourdough. Initially, I used a freeze-dried starter that I brought it to life as a regular part of our pantry. Later, I learned how to make my own starter with a yogurt base. Over the years, sometimes I would score a share of a long-tended strain of sourdough yeast from a generous friend. This last sort is the one I have on hand now.

The day before we left Newhalen, one of our friends stopped by with a parting gift – a snack-sized zip-top bag containing a small amount of starter. He had been tending it for a while and was really happy with the flavor. I hand-carried the treasure back to Chignik Lake and dutifully fed it. It immediately came to life. Soon it was bubbling away. After a few daily feedings, I had enough starter to give it the real test – a couple of loaves of my San Francisco Sourdough bread. Yum! Our friend was right. This one is a winner.

It turns out that starter is actually pretty easy to work with. It is like a pet. You have to regularly feed it and make sure to regularly clean its home. The flavor gradually develops, becoming more complex over time. So, if you start your own, you need to be patient. The best thing about the starter gift I received was that it was already aged and wonderfully flavored.

I don’t remember what put this thought in my head, but after finishing the first two loaves, I had developed a craving for sourdough soft pretzels hot from the oven served up with a serving of deli mustard. Or maybe Dijon. I decided to make the pretzels a little smaller than the original recipe called for. Turns out the extra pretzels froze really well – as long as you get them into the freezer before the salt “melts” into the pretzels. Thawed, wrapped in foil and heated for about 15 minutes in a 350°F oven, the pretzels were as satisfying as their freshly made cousins.

I created this recipe using a combination of experience and instructions from two sites:  King Arthur Flour’s website and a site called Baking Sense.

Sourdough Soft Pretzels – Makes 16 Pretzels

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1 cup sourdough starter
  • 3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp yeast

Directions

  1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Mix and knead the dough ingredients — by hand or mixer — to make a cohesive, fairly smooth dough. It should be slightly sticky; if it seems dry, knead in an additional tablespoon or two of water.
  3. Cover the dough and let it rest for 45 minutes. It will rise minimally. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly greased work surface, fold it over a few times to gently deflate it, then divide it into 16 pieces.
  5. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope. Shape each rope into a pretzel.
  6. Bring 1/3 cup baking soda and 9 cups of water to a boil in a large pot.
  7. Drop 3-4 pretzels into the boiling water for 20-30 seconds. Any more than that and your pretzels will have a metallic taste.
  8. Using a slotted spatula, lift the pretzels out of the water and allow as much of the excess water to drain off.
  9. Place pretzels onto prepared baking sheet. They only need to be about an inch apart.
  10. Sprinkle each with coarse sea salt.
  11. Repeat with remaining pretzels.
  12. Bake for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown.
  13. Remove from the oven and serve warm with your favorite mustard.

The Other Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie

Why mess with perfection? Skillet cookies were introduced to us a long time ago. They bake perfectly in a large cast iron pan. Served straight from the oven and topped with vanilla ice cream, you can’t get a better blast of sweet and the flavors… chocolatel-y, carmel-y, vanilla-y. The cookie is gooey in the middle and crispy on the edges. As they say in our part of the world – it’s a dandy!

After consuming many of these cookies baked in a way-too-big, 10-inch cast iron pan, I converted the recipe to fit my more-modestly-sized 6-inch pans. The cookies are smaller, but following the original recipe, all the sugar and fat was still a bit much. So I’d been thinking about how to transform this favorite yet again. While I won’t throw out the original recipe (it is too yummy), what about recreating this treat with a lot less sugar? And more fiber? Maybe an extra kick of protein? Less fat? Could I make a delicious version that was heathy?

It was a dark and stormy day. Cold rain was pelting the window from a nearly horizontal angle. This was the day it was going to happen. As I headed to the kitchen, I already had an idea. I have been experimenting with puréed beans in baking recipes for quite some time. They are a good flour replacement and do the trick of adding more nutrition by way of fiber and protein. Small white beans cook up nice and soft and have no discernible flavor in baked goods. For the sweetness, I had been reading about using puréed dates as a sugar substitute. They have a wonderful caramel flavor and they are powerfully sweet. I still planned to use semi-sweet chocolate chips because… chocolate!

With the first batch out of the oven and cooled, I set a piece before Jack – my expert taster – and took another piece for myself. I told him it was a healthy version of a skillet cookie. He frowned. Since I needed him to have at least some semblance of an open mind, I did not tell him the cookie was actually gluten free and had virtually no sugar. While we agreed that the cookie was not nearly as decadent as the original, it was still full of the satisfying flavors you want in a skillet cookie – it turned out surprisingly sweet and quite tasty. The next day, Jack suggested we put a warm vanilla custard on it. Oh Jack, that kind of kills the healthy factor…but now he’s got me thinking. We did enjoy one topped with raspberry preserves, which was excellent!

The Other Chocolate Chip Skillet Cookie

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pitted dates, soaked in 1/3 cup hot water to soften
  • 1 ½ cups cooked small white beans, or 1 15 oz can white beans rinsed and drained
  • 2 tbsp unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil, or light olive oil
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ cup quick oats
  • ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease two 6-inch cast iron pans or a 12-muffin pan.
  2. Smooth dates and water into a paste using a stick blender or food processor.
  3. Add beans, applesauce, oil, egg and vanilla into date mixture. Continue to process until all are incorporated and smooth.
  4. Stir baking soda, baking powder, salt, and oats into mixture.
  5. Fold in chocolate chips.
  6. Divide mixture evenly into prepared pans.
  7. If using cast iron pans bake for about 25 minutes. If using a muffin tin, bake for about 15 minutes. Cookies should be brown and firm when done.
  8. Let cookies cool for about 20 minutes before serving.

I was curious about all the nutritional details. Thanks to an online nutrition analyzer, I can easily share what I’ve found with you.

Almond Lingonberry Scones (with a side of Brown Bear)

Scones, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways… almond scones, swirled cloudberry scones, coconut chocolate chip scones, cranberry orange scones, dark chocolate tangerine scones… For today’s picnic, wholesome almond lingonberry scones.

The scone itself is a handheld delight. It is the perfect size not to share and it pairs perfectly with a freshly brewed cup of French roast. Its base recipe is the ideal vehicle with which to switch up a few ingredients in order to transform this pastry from sweet to savory. Although, I generally like to keep this one sweet. The ultimate scone will have a crunchy exterior and a buttery, flaky interior.

Butter and cream. Of course those are the key ingredients. Add in some sugar and some white flour. There you have the quintessential list for a heart attack, right? So, how could I alter this recipe and still have a treat I wouldn’t have to apologize for before I serve it. “Here are some freshly made wholesome scones, Jack. Sorry, they may be a bit dry and flavorless. That’s because I used whole wheat flour and no sugar to make it healthy. Enjoy them. They’re good for you!”
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We interrupt this blog writing to go shoot a bear! Please stand by.

In the middle of the photo shoot for the scones, we received an urgent text message. “Bear in the creek right below my house! I think it’s eating grass. It’s a big one!” Ah, a day in the life of chefs and photographers. Within a skinny minute, we had the scone shoot safely stowed inside (away from the magpies), lenses changed, tripods attached, bear spray in hand and we were out the door. Sure enough, Big Boy was filling up on a tasty snack of plants while patiently waiting for the salmon run to get into full swing. This guy looks like he’s packed away plenty of calories already!

Back to the scones…

Summertime means finding ocean bright salmon to fish for and searching for ripe blueberries, raspberries, and lingonberries (known locally as low bush cranberries). Summer also means it’s time to empty out the freezer of the remaining items stockpiled from last year. Down to the final fillets of salmon, a few quarts of blueberries, and a bag of lingonberries, this is a fun and easy task.

My reinvented scone recipe had lingonberries written all over it. I had a half a gallon of the bright red beauties waiting in the freezer door. To keep this recipe healthy, I wanted unsweetened fruit – so no Craisins allowed. This recipe resulted in fewer calories, half the fat, lower cholesterol, lower salt, three times the fiber, a third of the sugar, and more protein – and yet, it passed the Jack taste test with flying colors.

Have you ever gone to a bakery and ordered a bran muffin? They’re usually not very tasty, right? But you feel like you did something good for your body by ordering one. Well, this recipe resulted in scones that are waaayyy better than those muffins. If I went into a bakery and found this scone on the “healthy menu” I would actually be excited! It has the nice crunchy texture you want on the outside. The scone is soft and moist on the inside and rises nicely in craggy peaks. It has a subtle sweetness from the little bit of sugar. The lingonberries are downright sour, but in the best possible way. For our picnic, I did sweeten them up a bit by bringing along a jar of banana lingonberry jam to turn the scones into a dessert.

Wholesome Almond Lingonberry Scones

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ stick unsalted butter, frozen
  • ¾ cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp almond extract
  • 1 cup frozen lingonberries
  • ¼ cup sliced almonds

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  2. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together first six ingredients.
  4. Grate butter into flour mixture (use largest shredding holes of a cheese grater).
  5. Toss butter shreds in flour but keep them separated – not clumped.
  6. In a smaller bowl mix together yogurt, egg, and extracts.
  7. Use a fork to stir the wet ingredients into the dry.
  8. Fold in lingonberries and ½ of the almonds.
  9. Break the dough into eight pieces.
  10. Place each piece onto the parchment-lined baking sheet.
  11. Bake in center of oven for 18-27 minutes.
  12. When the scones are done, a wooden pick inserted in the center should come out clean. Mine needed a few more minutes than 18.
  13. Let cool for a few minutes and serve. Or store in an airtight container to serve later.