Grandma’s Secret Is Out or Cabbage Roll Soup Meets the Alaska Bush

The tang of tomatoes, the zip of lemon, and the hint of sweetness from a bit brown sugar all mixed in with cabbage and some of Alaska’s best game meat – moose. Grandma’s secret is out!

My strongest memories of my grandmother are connected with food. She lived in Queens. Meanwhile my family was bouncing around from Brooklyn out to New Mexico and back to Albany before finally ending up in California, and so we only got to see her once in a while. When we did, I remember heartily enjoying all of her culinary creations – Jewish staples like kugel, brisket, blintzes, and of course, stuffed cabbages. I don’t know if she intended to keep her recipes secret. Maybe she thought I was too young to understand them. Maybe she thought – well, I don’t know. I could only guess. Unfortunately she passed away when I was still only in my 20s. Over the years, I have tried to make a few of her standards, producing what I think have been successes. I was particularly pleased with a crock pot recipe for cabbage rolls that I came across many years ago which I thought tasted just like hers. The problem with that recipe was that it took For Ever.

Fast forward to now. Jack and I have entered a favorite time of year. It’s the time when we look in our freezers and pantry and try to use up whatever we have on hand a la the show Chopped. With bunches of carrots, heads of cabbage, a few pounds of ground moose, and way too many onions, I thought of stuffed cabbage. It’s really a perfect recipe for the bush. We lucked into a healthy amount of moose this year. (Half a moose was flown into our village from a hunting camp earlier this year…another story.) Cabbages, carrots, and onions ship reliably through the postal service from Anchorage. Even if they get stalled at our mail hub in King Salmon for days in a row, which happens regularly, these items arrive relatively unmarred. The best stuffed cabbage is made with big, beautiful leaves. That wasn’t what I had. And time. I didn’t have that, either.

I started to think about what made my grandmother’s stuffed cabbages so good. I liked the rolls. But what I especially liked the flavor, and I liked what was left on the bottom on the pot when the cabbages fell apart. Why not make just that? Turns out, this recipe has the exact flavor of my grandma’s “secret recipe” but the time and effort is cut down – way down. With a few minutes of prep, and 45 minutes of “simmer time,” this recipe is a keeper!

Stuffed Cabbage Soup

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. moose meat (substitute lean ground beef)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium sweet onion, like Walla Walla, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 4 cups beef bouillon (we like Penzeys beef soup base)
  • 12 ounces tomato paste reconstituted with 2 cups hot water
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 cup uncooked long grain brown rice
  • 5 cups green cabbage, chopped large
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 tbsp lemon juice

Directions

  1. Use a large soup pot. Place olive oil and meat in the pot.
  2. Add onions.
  3. Sauté until meat is browned.
  4. Add garlic and stir.
  5. Add broth, reconstituted tomato paste, brown sugar, salt, oregano, pepper and rice. Mix well.
  6. Add cabbage and carrots. Stir to mix.
  7. Place bay leaves in pot.
  8. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cover the pot. Cook until rice is tender, about 45 minutes.
  9. Remove pot from heat and stir in lemon juice.
  10. Let soup rest for a few minutes before serving.

Powering Up With Freezer Fudge: Rocky Road and Monster Cookie Recipes

I suppose you should wait a few minutes for these bites to thaw a bit before diving in…but who are we kidding? They are satisfying straight out of the freezer!

I was late to the banana ice cream party. It was only a few summers ago that I discovered that blending frozen bananas has the taste and texture of delicious creamy banana ice cream. I added all sorts of flavors to this fantastic base to help us keep cool during warm air conditioner-less summers in Mongolia. As a newcomer to this confection, and back on a serious workout regimen, it only just occurred to me to take this dessert and transform it to a pre or post workout snack. The new base has a combination of frozen bananas, peanut butter and maple syrup. After that, add what you like. The idea is to keep it simple, flavorful, and leaning toward healthy choices. Ahem, a few itty-bitty mini marshmallows or M&Ms won’t kill you!

I used my silicone mini muffin pan to initially freeze the treats. The cookies pop out easily and you’re ready for another batch. Simply store your freezer fudge in a freezer-safe container lined with parchment paper, and your workout snacks will be ready when you are.

Rocky Road Freezer Fudge

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 overripe banana
  • 2 tbsp real maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup Dutch Processed cocoa powder
  • pinch salt

Directions

  1. Use a stick blender or a food processor to combine and smooth all ingredients.
  2. Scoop out tablespoon-sized portions and place in a silicone ice tray or mini muffin pan.
  3. Place tray or pan in freezer until confections are solid.
  4. Pop out the confections and place them in a freezer-safe container lined with parchment paper.
  5. Power up with a couple of these before a workout, or reward yourself after for a job well-done!

We are huge fans of monster cookies, especially monster-sized monster cookies. This freezer fudge flavor is a nod to those not-so-healthy-but-oh-so-good treats. The peanut butter base is perfect with a stir-in of the same candies that give monster cookies their famous flavor and look.

Freezer Fudge a la Monster Cookie

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1 overripe banana
  • 2 tbsp real maple syrup
  • 2 tbsp M&Ms candies
  • 2 tbsp white chocolate chips
  • 2 tbsp semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • pinch salt

Directions

  1. Use a stick blender or a food processor the combine and smooth peanut butter, banana and maple syrup.
  2. Fold in M&Ms and chocolate chips.
  3. Scoop out tablespoon-sized portions and place in a silicone ice tray or mini muffin pan.
  4. Place tray or pan in freezer until confections are solid.
  5. Pop out confections and place them in a freezer-safe container lined with parchment paper.
  6. Power up with a couple of these before a workout, or reward yourself after for a job well-done!

A Snack That Can’t be Beet – Bright Magenta Beet Hummus

beet hummus n

Healthy? Yes, but more importantly beautiful and delicious! Imagine this wine-colored spread on crispy crackers or as part of a vibrant plate of garden-fresh crudités.

This hummus is just as creamy and smooth as my white bean hummus recipe. My favorite thing about hummus is the flavorful marriage of garlic, lemon, and cumin. Inspired by a couple of beets in the fridge, I decided to do what beets like best – roast them. Roasting brings out the sweetness in this beautiful root vegetable. I substituted beets for the white beans in my original recipe and was really happy that the main garlic, lemon, and cumin flavors still shine through. The beets add a subtle earthy, sweet flavor. Best of all, they take the presentation through the roof with their color.

Roasted Beet Hummus

Ingredients

  • 2 medium beets
  • 1 15 oz. can garbanzo beans
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • a few dashes hot sauce. We like Cholula.
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375° F (190 C. Remove the stem from the beets. Scrub and wash them with cold water.
  2. Place beets in foil, drizzle with olive oil, wrap tightly and roast for one hour or until the tines of a fork pass through without resistance. They should be tender. Let cool slightly.
  3. You should be able to rub the skin off of the beets. Otherwise, use a paring knife to peel off the roasted skin.
  4. Cut beets into chunks. Place in deep bowl.
  5. Rinse and drain beans. Add to bowl.
  6. Combine lemon, cumin, garlic, hot sauce, salt and half of the olive oil with beet mixture. Use a stick blender to mix and purée hummus. This can also be done in a food processor.
  7. Process mixture until smooth, adding more olive oil to reach desired consistency.
  8. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and a crack of black pepper.

 

Pretzel Dogs – or Finally, a Food Post!

Chewy, soft pretzels with a not-so subtle just-right hit of salt, stuffed with your favorite hot dog – a recipe for a delicious lunch easy to take with or one to stay in with on a snowy spring day.

Many years ago, actually just approaching ten, we decided to move to Alaska. There are many different Alaskas within this beautiful state. The one we chose to move to was the Alaska Bush, a place we knew would be challenging, fascinating and exciting and a place where we knew we would need indoors hobbies to entertain us during cold and dark winters. One of my first goals was to become a baker. To set myself up for success, I sent out hundreds of pounds of different flours, sugars, flavorings, pans, cutters, and a beautiful tapered rolling pin with inlaid bamboo for inspiration (a lovely gift from Jack).

As my baking skills improved, I graduated from bread-in-a-rice-cooker to a a bonafide bread machine. As I continued to improve my baking, I ditched the machines and really dug into the whole process of baking. During my initial education, I enlisted the help of The Great Courses and chef Stephen Durfee from the Culinary Institute of America (via the online class). For six Sundays in a row, the three of us dutifully watched these classes and then baked – with feedback from countless taste-testers. We learned how to create lattice-crusted pies, ganache-topped éclairs, and mousse-filled many layered chocolate cakes. That was just the start. By the way, if you’ve ever wanted to really learn how to bake, I highly recommend the Baking Pastries & Desserts class from the Great Courses. I also highly recommend sharing the experience with friends. It was a lovely introduction into serious baking.

Of course, spending this much quality time with friends can only make friendships grow. After completing our class, my friend Reba and I continued to bake together, share recipes and swap tastes of new creations. Pretzel dogs always remind me of Reba and those baking days in Point Hope. This recipe produces an agreeably light, airy roll and is part of my permanent rotation. Thanks to Reba for the spiral wrapping style!

Pretzel Dogs

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups milk
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 10 good quality hot dogs
  • coarse sea salt
  • 1/2 cup baking soda
  • 16 cups water

Directions

  1. Whisk milk and yeast together in a large bowl. Let stand for a few minutes until yeast starts to foam.
  2. Stir in oil.
  3. Stir in 1 cup flour and mix until well combined.
  4. Stir in salt.
  5. Mix in remaining 3 cups of flour.
  6. Turn dough out onto floured surface.
  7. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
  8. Place dough in an oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.
  9. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  10. Cut dough into 10 equal pieces.
  11. Roll dough pieces into long snakes. Coil dough around each hot dog, pinching the end pieces of the dough to secure it.
  12. Let pretzel dogs rest while you prepare pretzel bath.
  13. Preheat oven to 400° F.
  14. In a large pot, boil 16 cups water and salt.
  15. When water is boiling, stir in baking soda.
  16. Place 2 pretzel dogs in boiling water for 30 seconds. Flip and continue to boil for 30 more seconds. Remove from water with slotted spoon and place on parchment-lined baking sheet.
  17. Repeat with remaining pretzel dogs.
  18. Sprinkle each pretzel dog with coarse salt.
  19. Bake for 20 minutes. Pretzel dogs are finished when they are a rich dark brown.
  20. Let cool for a couple of minutes on baking sheet. 
  21. Serve warm with Dijon or another good quality deli mustard and a delicious red ale.

Easy, healthy, but most importantly – Delicious Chocolate Cranberry Almond Oat Bites

Whether you are getting ready to get on the treadmill, go for a hike or maybe just need a little sweet, these are the cookies – a satisfying bite packed with flavor! Good-bye chocolate chip cookies, hello packed oat cookies!

There is something quite inspiring in completing a major fitness challenge. Jack and I returned home from our 1,300 mile bike trek in Hokkaido revved and looking ahead to The Next Big Thing. With roads outside often treacherously icy and the fact that wild animals in these parts make the whole village nervous if anyone is seen going for a run, we’ve pieced together a gym in our living room. (By the way, all ice is definitely not created equal. Chignik Lake has the slickest ice we’ve ever experienced).

Our gym which is comprised of a treadmill, a stationary spinning cycle, a set of Powerblock dumbbells, and a TRX resistance band. These four pieces of equipment take up very little space and gives us plenty of variety with which to accomplish our fitness goals. Plus, a spin on a bike or a run on a treadmill goes by fairly painlessly with a view of the lake out the window. (Yesterday a group of river otters was playing and fishing on the ice.)

Of course, when we work out, we have to eat – a golden opportunity to get in the kitchen and bake something. In Point Hope, I baked us batches of homemade granola bars to fuel us. During our bike training last year, I made little bites of tahini fudge speckled with coconut and chocolate chips. This time, I wanted to try a granola type creation that would be more like a cookie. These two-bite cookies are packed with oats, dried cranberries, chocolate chips, and almonds -and no processed sugar. They have the texture of a soft cookie and tons of flavor. Better still, they are easy and super quick to make. I’ve been making batches and keeping them in the freezer. After they thaw, they have the same texture and flavor as when they’ve cooled out of the oven. Perfect!

Chocolate Cranberry Almond Oat Bites

Ingredients

  • 1 cup quick oats
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour (I use Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour)
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup coarse-chopped almonds

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325° F. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Set aside.
  2. Whisk together oats, flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. Set aside.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together melted butter, egg, vanilla and maple syrup.
  4. Pour maple syrup mixture into oat mixture. Stir until combined.
  5. Fold in cranberries, chocolate chips and almonds.
  6. Using a small cookie scoop or tablespoon, scoop out dough and place balls on prepared baking sheet. The cookies will not spread much. Slightly flatten cookies.
  7. Bake cookies for 12 minutes. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes before transferring them to wire cooling rack.
  8. Store cookies in airtight container for a few days. Cookies will freeze well.

 

 

Wild Alaska Salmon Lox – an Edible Treasure

Miniature three-inch bagels are perfect for a snack-size taste of Alaskan salmon lox.

The winter holidays are a time of canapés and party food, which makes this post relevant to the holiday season. For us, agreeably salty lox on a fresh homemade bagel slathered with cream cheese is just plain good food anytime of year. With a river with strong salmon runs flowing right past our home, getting the main ingredient for these sandwiches isn’t a problem. In fact, we normally get plenty of fish for our own needs as well as a few additional fish to give to elders in our village. 

Making lox takes a bit of time, so there is some patience involved, but the method itself is easy. Simply pack salmon fillets in a salt-sugar-pepper mixture.  Let the salt draw out the excess liquid. Turn the fillets daily for about a week. It’s a fairly magical process, in the end transforming the fillets into firm, bright orange jewels. Sliced thin, lox is perfect in scrambled eggs or atop blini as well as on the traditional bagel du jour smeared with cream cheese and sprinkled with capers. Delectable, Wild Alaskan Salmon – an edible treasure.

Homemade Lox

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. fresh salmon fillets, skin on. The fillets need not be scaled, but do take pains to ensure that all bones are removed.
  • ¼ cup coarse sea salt
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. Rinse fish and dry thoroughly.
  2. Remove any pin bones in fillet with tweezers or needle nose pliers.
  3. Mix together salt, sugar and pepper. (This recipe works well when multiplied. Our last batch was 5 pounds of fillets.)
  4. Pack salt mixture around fish. Do this skin side down.
  5. Sandwich two pieces of fish together, flesh against flesh, skin side out.
  6. Pack any leftover sugar mixture onto exposed fillet.
  7. Wrap sandwiched pieces tightly with plastic wrap. Leave sides slightly open so liquid can drain while the salmon cures.
  8. I use a large plastic container with a top. Place a smaller food storage container inside the large one to create a raised place for the fish to set. This will allow the juice to drain away from the fish. A fish poacher with a bottom insert that allows drainage also works well.
  9. Place sandwiched salmon in container from step 8.
  10. Finally, you need to ensure that the fillets are tightly pressed together. This can be accomplished by placing full canning jars atop the fillets if you’re using a fish poacher. As I was using a tall plastic container, I simply placed another smaller container on top of the salmon pieces. The smaller container was just the right size so that when I put the lid on the larger container, it pressed down firmly on the fillets without squishing them. The idea is to create just enough weight or pressure to facilitate squeezing out excess moisture as the salt pulls liquid from the fish.
  11. Place container in refrigerator.
  12. For 7 days, every 24 hours pour off liquid from the bottom of the container and flip the fillet sandwiches.
  13. At the end of 7 days, take the salmon out of the plastic wrap and thoroughly rinse using very cold water.
  14. Thoroughly pat dry.
  15. Slice very thin and enjoy!

Store leftovers in refrigerator or wrap tightly in plastic and freeze in airtight containers.

Salmon with Creamy Fresh Dill Sauce: A Last Taste of Summer

This dish features a classic summertime herb along with garden vegetables and our favorite Autumn fish for a recipe to hold off winter for at least one more evening. While a California Chardonnay would pair well with the rich cream and Coho Salmon, we went with a Willamette Valley Pinot Gris, a lighter wine that let the dill shine.

Dill, dill, dill. What to do with dill? It’s not a seasoning I often use, but thanks to our friends up the Alaska Peninsula at The Farm Lodge in Port Alsworth, we found ourselves with an abundance of this pleasantly aromatic herb blooming in a glass jar on a windowsill. How about using it in a cream sauce to bring together fillets of freshly caught Chignik River Silver Salmon, farfalle pasta, and some of the last zucchini and summer squash we’re likely to see for awhile?

Salmon with Creamy Fresh Dill Sauce for Two

Ingredients

  • 2 fresh wild salmon fillets, skin on, pin bones removed, rinsed and patted dry
  • 2 cups farfalle pasta
  • 1 cup or a little more diced fresh tomato
  • 2 leaves of kale, cut away from the stem and cut into smaller pieces
  • 1 cup or more yellow summer squash, sliced into circles and then cut into smaller pieces
  • 1 cup or more zucchini, sliced into circles and cut into smaller pieces
  • 1/2 cup carrot sliced julienne style
  • other fresh vegetables, as desired/available
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, sliced julienne style
  • 1 shallot, sliced thin to make about 3/4 cup
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • a loose 1/2 cup of dill leaves and flowers (or use a smaller quantity of dried dill)
  • sherry (or white wine)
  • black pepper
  • 1 cup or more deepwater Alaska shrimp shelled, deveined and patted dry (optional)
  • 1 tbsp corn starch mixed into 2 tbsp cold water

Directions

  1. Prepare pasta.
  2. Meanwhile…

Directions for the salmon

  1. Turn on oven broiler and preheat heavy broiling pan on middle rack for the salmon. Nothing works better for this than seasoned cast iron.
  2. Sprinkle the salmon with sea salt. Our favorite is large grain gray sea salt.
  3. When the broiling pan is sizzling hot, pour on a little olive oil, place the salmon skin side down on the oil and broil for about 9 minutes.
  4. Remove salmon from broiler, place on cutting board or plate and cover loosely with a bowl or foil to rest.

Directions for the cream sauce

  1. Put some olive oil in a fairly large skillet or sauteuse pan over medium heat.
  2. When the oil is hot, add kale, a little sea salt, and a tablespoon or two of sherry. Stir and sauté until kale just begins to wilt. Next, place in zucchini, summer squash and julienne carrots, which will not  take as long to cook. Add a little more salt and sherry, stir and sauté until vegetables just begin to soften. At this point, add the cream and mix together.
  3. Meanwhile, place butter in a separate skillet. When it’s hot, add shallots, a sprinkle of salt, and cook till they’re soft. Add garlic and a healthy splash of sherry, stir and cook till garlic begins to release its odor and soften. If you’re including shrimp, add them and a sprinkle of salt when you add the garlic. It takes only about 2 minutes to cook shrimp through.
  4. Add the shallot mixture to the vegetables, a few grinds of black pepper, the lemon juice, mix together and taste. To thicken the cream sauce, slowly stir in the corn starch mixture. Serve immediately.

Place the pasta on large plates or in pasta bowls. Spoon on the vegetable cream sauce. Place the salmon on top, add a little more cream sauce and another grind of two of pepper. Garnish with fresh dill and pair with a chilled Willamette Valley Pinot Gris.