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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

halibut fish sticks

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the Dutch touch

When we were in Denali National Park over Labor Day, one morning we rode the bus from our campsite at Teklanika past Polychrome Pass, then asked the bus driver to let us off so we could go for a hike. A young Dutch couple also left the bus at the same time, and we chatted a bit before we went our separate ways. They were headed out for an all-day hike, sure to reach the top of some of the nearby peaks.  Dan and Meredith and I would mostly stick to the gravelly river banks, with only a little steep traversing and scree slope descents, and we would also catch the bus back not long after our picnic lunch. Although we wouldn’t get a chance to hike together, Bianca and Nathan seemed like lovely people, so we invited them to come over for drinks and snacks in the evening when they returned from their hike.

Sure enough, they were out all day, but came to our campsite afterward and we shared Alaskan carrots, potato chips, and wine. We had a delightful evening, and got to hear about their adventures in Alaska so far, and the places they still planned to visit on the remainder of their three-week vacation. They were really getting all over the state—including McCarthy, Denali, Granite Tors, Chena Hot Springs, and they were headed for the Kenai next. They would come back to Anchorage to stay in a hotel on their last night before they flew home, so we told them to call us when they returned and we’d pick them up and have them over for dinner.

We were pleased that they took us up on our offer, and enjoyed their company for dinner on their last night in Alaska. As we were talking about Holland, I remembered a couple of Meredith’s books about ice skating—they are both set in the Netherlands.

One book, called A Day on Skates, is a nostalgic story of a group of school children skating on the frozen canals. Our favorite is called The Greatest Skating Race, a World War II story from the Netherlands. It tells all about the Elfstedentocht (the Eleven Towns Race), which can only be held in those winters that are very cold—cold enough to freeze the canals that connect eleven towns in northern Holland.

So we asked Bianca and Nathan when was the last time the canals had frozen hard enough to hold the Elfstedentocht, and they looked at us with surprise that we knew of the race. They thought back, and were able to remember:1997. When they asked how we knew about it, Dan answered glibly “Oh, it’s no surprise, Dutch culture has completely permeated Alaska.” I was cracking up, remembering a favorite saying of Dan’s Dutch-American friend, Bernd: “If it ain’t Dutch, it ain’t much.”

When they came over for dinner, I wanted to make a nice Alaskan-themed meal…  how about making fish sticks out of the halibut that Dan and Meredith caught earlier in the summer?  I served the fish with my favorite green salad: the one with peaches, almonds, and a honey-balsamic vinaigrette.

 

halibut fish sticks

Here’s one of my favorite things to do with halibut. It’s fantastic when the fish is fresh, but it’s also great with frozen fish. My mom used to make this a lot, except she didn’t use quite as much garlic, so use your own judgment. For a summertime feast, serve great mounds of these fish sticks accompanied by a huge bowl of peach-almond salad with honey-balsamic dressing, depending on what fruit is in season. You won’t even need dessert—just eat more salad!

skinless halibut fillets, cut into finger-sized pieces or a bit larger
canola or light olive oil
garlic
sea salt or kosher salt
whole wheat bread slices, stale or fresh (but not dried hard), processed in a food processor into bread crumbs. I like to use whole-wheat sourdough bread from our Rise & Shine bakery, but any hearty bread will do.
lemon, cut into wedges

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
2. Crush 4 or 5 garlic cloves into a shallow bowl. Add a ½ teaspoon or so of salt and mash it into the garlic with a fork. Add about a ½ cup of oil and stir until well-combined.
3. Pour a cup or so of the bread crumbs into another shallow bowl.
4. Using a fork, dunk each halibut piece into the garlicky oil, drain for a second, then drop it into the bread crumb bowl. Coat thoroughly with bread crumbs and transfer to a baking sheet.
5. As you run out of oil and bread crumbs, refill the bowls and keep going (you don’t need to add more garlic and salt—just refill the oil and mix well).
6. Bake the halibut for about 7 or 8 minutes, just until the fish flakes. This will depend on how thick the pieces are. Don’t overcook them, or they will be dry.
7. Serve with lemon wedges and a big salad.


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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Indian mung beans with cauliflower

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kindergarten takes its toll

As much as Meredith is loving her first few weeks of school, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only parent with an exhausted kindergartner this week. Even though she has an early bedtime and gets a lot of sleep, she is still completely worn out and on the edge when she climbs off the bus in the afternoon. And as tired as her little brain is, her body hasn’t burned off all its steam, so she’s winging all over the place, bouncing and leaping and sizzling with energy. Her emotions are on a knife’s edge; any little thing can set her off. One of this afternoon’s tragedies: writing an “R” instead of a “P” on her friend Leo’s Happy Birthday card. We pasted over it with several layers of colored paper—he’ll be none the wiser, I assured her.

Meredith’s mental exhaustion reminds me of the three months I spent in Japan with a host family when I was seventeen. Without a solid Japanese language background, I was over my head most days, whether at school with my host sister or home with my lovely but non-English-speaking host parents. Every afternoon around three o’clock, I would stagger up the stairs to my futon on the floor, lie face-down on my stomach, and fall instantly asleep for a couple of hours. I’d wake up and watch or help my host mother prepare dinner, and then be ready for bed again a few hours later.

Learning a new language and a new culture is a grueling task, and that’s just what Meredith’s been doing, along with her classmates in the estimable Ms. Rakos’ kindergarten class. I’m working hard to be ready for her when she gets home from school—both practically (dinner mostly ready to go, so I have time to play outside) and emotionally (practicing a kind and patient mindset).

We’ve now moved bedtime up even earlier. Tonight she ate dinner at five-thirty, and after the aforementioned birthday card project and a nice long book, she was in bed and asleep by seven. Hopefully tomorrow (Friday) she’ll feel more rested and it will be a little smoother. I figure in a few months she’ll have adjusted to the routine, and will have learned the culture of school, so it won’t be quite so wearing. But in the meantime, I’m liking this new bedtime.

Because of the rain this summer, Valley broccoli has not been as plentiful as it usually is this time of year. This is sad news indeed, since Alaskan broccoli is so sweet and delicious. However, the cauliflower seems to be doing fine—which means that we’ve been getting lots in the CSA boxes. Faced with a gigantic head of cauliflower, and having just barely polished off last week’s head, I knew I needed to get on this baby, and fast.

Indian mung beans with cauliflower

Since cauliflower doesn’t have much flavor of its own, I like it with big, strong flavors. I tend toward either salty, briny flavors like capers, mustard, and olives, or else I go the Indian route, adding lots of spices, ginger, and chiles to give the mild-mannered vegetable some personality.  I never seem to tire of the flavorful, spicy, creamy dals that Indian cooks make in such endless variety—they are easy to cook (no deep-frying or fritter-making for me, thanks), a perfect vehicle for all kinds of different vegetables, and you can make big batches and freeze some for later!  A bowl of creamy dal with cauliflower is soothing without being boring—it’s comfort food!

Here’s a recipe based on a recipe from Neelam Batra’s 1,000 Indian Recipes. She doesn’t call for cauliflower, but tomatoes. I suppose you could add tomatoes as well, or some green peas at the end to brighten up the color—but I had so much cauliflower in there that I thought my vegetable quota had been reached. It’s really more like cauliflower with dal, now.

2 cups green mung beans, rinsed and soaked overnight in water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 large onions, minced
2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, plus more to taste
3 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
2 jalepeno peppers, seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or less, if you want it milder)
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 large head cauliflower, cut into small florets
1/2 teaspoon garam masala (Indian spice mixture)

1. Drain the mung beans, place them in a large pot, and cover them with two inches of water. Bring them to a boil over high heat, and then simmer, covered, until the beans are soft and creamy. This might take 30 to 45 minutes—just keep checking them and adding water as needed to keep them soupy as the beans absorb water.
2. Heat the oil over high heat in a large skillet and add the cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for a couple of seconds until fragrant, and then toss in the onions and ginger and salt. Cook them, stirring often, until they are golden. Add the coriander, cumin, turmeric and paprika, and fry over high heat a couple more minutes, stirring often. Transfer the onion-spice mixture to the mung beans and stir well.
3. Add the cauliflower to the pot and stir them around to combine. Decide whether you want a thick stew or a soupier consistency, and add more water if you like. Taste the beans for salt and add a little at a time until soup tastes nice and flavorful. Keeping the heat fairly low, simmer the soup, stirring often so the beans don’t burn on the bottom of the pot, until the cauliflower is tender. Sprinkle the garam masala on top when you are ready to serve it.
4. This soup tastes great right away, but it’s even yummier when it’s had a day to let the flavors develop. Make a big batch and freeze some of it for later—you won’t regret it!

 

 


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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

potato salad with green beans and thyme

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Denali 2.0

We’re back from our Second Annual Labor Day trip to Denali National Park, and we’re just now getting comfortable with the rather complicated reservation, camping, and bus system in the Park. For many years, we avoided the bureaucracy associated with camping in the park when it was open, choosing instead to go to Denali in May, before the buses are running. The Park Service lets you camp at Riley Creek Campground near the entrance of the park, and you can drive your own vehicle to Teklanika and bike on the road from there. So although it’s fun to be at the Park when the only people there are other Alaskans with their bikes, there are a few drawbacks. First, it’s darn cold. In early May, we never know if we’ll get snowed on while riding bikes to Polychrome Pass. And warming up after a very cold bike ride can be challenging. And second, it’s very gray…  there’s not even any green yet. Yes, it’s beautiful, all those mountains and steep passes and rivers—but stark. And now that we’ve had a taste of the stunning fall colors? Well, let’s just say I might just have spoiled myself for Denali in May.

We picked Meredith up at the bus stop after school and drove to Denali State Park to spend the night. Dan took off in the morning, biking north towards the National Park. Meredith and I sped around the campground and the war memorial on our bikes for an hour—what a change from just a year ago, when she was still struggling along with training wheels on the little pink bike. We were having so much fun we were a little late getting packed up and driving up to meet Dan… but luckily it was such a beautiful day, with the reds and yellows of the tundra and aspens, he didn’t mind the extra time riding.

We signed in at Denali National Park and drove to Savage River, where Dan dropped me off with my bike so I could ride the rest of the way to Teklanika campground. It was a lovely ride, except for the middle part where there was this huge downpour at exactly the same time that I was going down a really long, steep hill, so I was completely covered in mud, ankles to forehead, at the bottom (see photo, below). I had such a thick layer of mud on my glasses that a wolf would have to cross the road in front of me to see it. Unlikely, I know. But luckily the rain stopped soon enough and I took my sunglasses off and had a lovely rest of my ride.

The first morning, we biked into the Park, Dan pulling Meredith’s trailer bike attached to his bike. We didn’t have any particular goal in mind, but at the top of Sable Pass we still had plenty of gumption, and more importantly, ample peanuts, raisins, and apples. So we coasted five miles downhill, and then back up the hill to Polychrome Pass! We were so proud of Meredith for hanging in there and pedaling along (much of the time) without getting whiny (except for one little part). Altogether it’s 35 miles, round trip, and so scenic it knocks your socks off.

As we rode between the mountainsides, we saw two bears and a couple of groups of Dall sheep (Can I call them flocks if they are wild sheep?). An unexpected advantage of the buses is that they are wildlife warning systems. I may just be the world’s worst wildlife spotter—in addition to the fact that I’m quite inattentive (preferring to just enjoy the scenery in a bit of a daze as I pedal along), my eyes are JUST good enough to pass the driving test. Which means that I don’t wear glasses, even though I don’t exactly boast 20/20 vision. So my wildlife spotting strategy is as follows: as I’m biking along, and I see a bus stopped up ahead, I pedal up as fast as I can and look all around to find the animal they are all looking at. (You guessed it—that’s when we saw the two bears.) Yay, buses! 

Another day we rode on a bus beyond Polychrome with our lunch and hiked along river drainages and over tundra-covered mountainsides and down scree slopes. We flew kites, made friends with a young Dutch couple, hiked the Savage River Trail and saw two more sheep, right up close. We visited with our friends at their place outside the Park, and got to meet their new baby boy, Sam! And then it was time to come home, back to school…  for more adventures in kindergarten!!

This recipe doesn’t have much to do with our trip to Denali, except that when we returned, we started getting new little fingerling potatoes in our CSA box!

 

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potato salad with green beans

I absolutely love this recipe. It’s really different than the typical mayonnaise potato salad, with a garlicky, mustardy dressing and salty little capers to brighten it up. I like a high proportion of green beans to potatoes, but if you’d prefer the salad to be heavier on the potatoes, use fewer green beans. I’ll often just eat this salad for lunch or dinner—it’s that good, and filling, too.

This recipe is modified from a recipe in Annie Somerville’s Everyday Greens. I’d always made this recipe before with roasted potatoes, but it seemed a shame to roast the sweet little fingerlings in my CSA box, so I steamed them instead, and it turned out great. So now you know you can make this recipe with either roasted or steamed potatoes, depending on whether you have new potatoes or bigger older ones.

2 pounds garlic-roasted potatoes (recipe follows)
OR
2 pounds new potatoes, sliced lengthwise, then cut into bite-sized pieces, then steamed until tender
—————————————-
garlicky red wine mustard vinaigrette (recipe follows)
½ medium red onion, minced (about ½ cup)
red wine vinegar
1-2 pounds green beans, cut into 1” pieces
1 ½ tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
½ tablespoon fresh thyme, coarsely chopped, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme

1. Make the garlic-roasted potatoes.
2. Make the vinaigrette.
3. Bring a pot of water to boil and salt lightly. Place the onions in a small bowl and scoop a little boiling water out of the pot, just enough to cover them. Let the onions soak for 30 seconds, drain, and toss with ½ tablespoon of the vinegar. This takes away the sharp bite of the onions, but leaves great flavor and crunch.
4. Drop the green beans into the boiling water and cook until just tender (2-5 minutes). Drain the beans and immediately spread them out on a baking sheet spread with a dishtowel. (This allows extra water to evaporate, and the beans stop cooking almost immediately.)
5. Transfer the roasted potatoes to a large bowl with the onions, capers, thyme, and several large spoonfuls of vinaigrette. Add the green beans just before serving (so their color won’t fade from the acid in the vinaigrette) and adjust the seasoning with more vinaigrette, salt, pepper, and/or a splash of vinegar, if needed.
6. If you’ve made enough for leftovers, only add the green beans to the portion you’ll be serving right away, to keep them nice and green.

garlicky red wine mustard vinaigrette

This might make more dressing than you need, but it keeps very well in the refrigerator, and it’s great on regular salad greens, as well.

6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 medium cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1 tablespoon honey
——
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Put first 5 ingredients in a blender and blend until completely smooth. Slowly pour in oil to make a creamy emulsion. Taste and season with more salt and/or honey.

garlic-roasted potatoes

These potatoes are great with all kinds of things—use them instead of mashed potatoes or rice with any dish. The garlic-infused oil really makes a difference in the taste!

2 pounds waxy potatoes (such as Alaskan Butterball, or Yukon Gold)
garlic oil (recipe follows, in Step 1.)
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Make garlic oil: Mash or mince 3 or 4 garlic cloves and cover with ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil. Let steep for 30 minutes if you have time. Strain out the garlic and store the oil in the refrigerator.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the potatoes into halves or quarters. Toss them in a bowl with a few spoonfuls of garlic oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss again.
3. Lightly oil a large baking dish or sheet pan, and transfer the potatoes onto it, making sure that a cut side of each potato is touching the pan. (The side touching the pan will brown nicely). Roast the potatoes until tender and browned, 35 to 40 minutes.


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Saturday, August 28, 2010

oven-roasted zucchini cutlets, or deconstructed zucchini parmesan

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the first week of kindergarten

We’ve just finished Meredith’s first week of kindergarten at Rabbit Creek Elementary School! What an exciting week it’s been! We walked her to the bus stop on Tuesday morning, and she boarded the bus with our third grade friend and neighbor, Zoey. (More on Zoey, our marvelous bus-helper, in a later post.) Meredith bounded off the bus in the afternoon, face shining with joy, announcing “I LOVE school! I want to go EVERY day!” I’m so thrilled that kindergarten is already so exciting and fun for her… thank you, wonderful Ms. Rakos!! I was pretty sure she would LIKE school, but I am practically beside myself with joy that she LOVES it!

Of course Dan and I tried to pry as much information from her on the walk home—and thankfully, she was happy to oblige. This is a change from her reports on her beloved pre-school, about which she would generally respond “Oh, I don’t know—I forget!” During the past three years, we were reduced to asking “Who got to be the candle-snuffer today?” since that seemed to be the one thing that 1) we knew to ask and 2) she was willing to recount.

But this year is different.

First off, she announced the biggest surprise: “Guess what color the inside of the bus is?  WHITE!” (I guess she thought the inside would be yellow, like the outside?) We’ve been regaled nightly with the “loose tooth song” (although Meredith has yet to experience a wiggly tooth of her own). I have gotten a full report on the different seating tables: yellow puffins, red foxes, blue bears. (I think I’ve got them right.) I have heard about journal time (“It’s ALWAYS in the morning, Mom!” she reported on the second day) and counting the days with tally-marks. Then, the story of their exciting Thursday in Gym class: “We did SQUADS, Mom! And I was on Squad 6!” I remembered squads from my own days at Rabbit Creek—in fact, Meredith and I share a common Gym teacher, the amazing Ms. Steen—but when I asked Meredith what they did in their squads, (like maybe a relay race or something?) she gave me a blank look. “No, Mom, we did SQUADS!” She told me about practicing lines and drawing apple trees in Art class on Friday, and how one student in her class drew black apples, but she preferred the more conventional red…

It’s more fun than I could have imagined to hear her describe her school experiences. She has her first library day on Monday…  I can’t wait to hear about her adventures with the librarian, Ms. Kean!

Thank you, Rabbit Creek Elementary School, for such a fantastic beginning to Meredith’s school year!

Now that I have a bit more time during the day to cook, while Meredith’s in school, a recipe like this with a little more prep time is more feasible. There are lots of sweet Alaskan zucchinis at the farmers markets these days… please, take advantage of them while you can—even if it’s raining on market day!

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oven-roasted zucchini cutlets, or deconstructed zucchini parmesan

This recipe is very loosely based on one for an eggplant parmesan in Cooks’ Illustrated (January 2004), but you don’t have to make the whole recipe—the zucchini slices are good just on their own (as pictured). You can dollop each slice with your favorite tomato sauce, though, if you like, to make a fun deconstructed zucchini parmesan. (I’ve included two very easy and yummy recipes for tomato sauce, below—one with fresh tomatoes, one with canned.)

It’s much more fun doing this recipe with another person—there’s quite a bit of dredging and drenching to do. You won’t be surprised to learn that I always make a double batch of this because it’s so yummy, and the cooked slices freeze well! I have to admit that my favorite way to eat these, other than hot, fresh and crispy right out of the oven, is in a sandwich with mayonnaise, thinly sliced red onion, and lots of lettuce.

3 or 4 large zucchinis, cut crosswise on a slant into ½” thick ovals
6-8 slices of bread (you know my preference: whole wheat sourdough)
½ to 1 cup fresh-grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup flour
3 eggs
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper
spray vegetable oil (or regular vegetable oil)

1. Put the zucchini slices into a large bowl and toss with a tablespoon of salt, then let sit for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours in a colander. Drain off the liquid in a colander, and rinse under water. Dry the slices between kitchen towels to remove as much liquid as possible.
2. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Grind bread slices in food processor to make fine, even crumbs. Transfer crumbs to a pie plate and if your parmesan isn’t grated very fine, grind it up with a few pulses, too. Add cheese, ¼ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper to the crumbs and mix together.
3. Combine flour and 1 teaspoon pepper in large ziplock bag; shake to combine.
4. Beat eggs in second pie plate.
5. Place 8 to 10 zucchini slices in bag with flour; seal bag and shake to coat zucchini. Remove zucchini slices, shaking off excess flour, dip in eggs, let excess egg run off, then coat evenly with bread crumb mixture; set breaded slices on wire racks on your counter. Repeat with remaining zucchini.
6. Put 2 heavy, rimmed baking sheets (preferably non-stick) in the oven and let them preheat for 10 minutes or so. Remove them one at a time from the oven, spray or brush thoroughly with vegetable oil, and load the zucchini on the sheets in a single layer. Bake until zucchini is well-browned and crisp, about 30 minutes, rotating baking sheets after 10 minutes, and flipping slices after 20 minutes.
7. While the zucchini bakes, if you’re going to serve the zucchini with tomato sauce, make the fast fresh tomato sauté or the marinara sauce. (You can make the marinara the day before, if you like. Just reheat before serving.)
8. Serve each person several slices of zucchini, overlapping slightly, on plates with little bowls of the tomato sauté. This is especially nice alongside a green salad.

fast fresh tomato sauté
This recipe is based on one from Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen.

3 cups of sliced, quartered, or diced tomatoes
1 shallot or ½ a small white onion, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced
small handful basil leaves, slivered, or 1 teaspoon thyme, minced (whatever fresh herbs you have hanging around, or growing in a pot on your deck—oregano, maybe?)
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
a drizzle of balsamic vinegar

1. Toss the tomatoes with the onion or shallot, garlic, herbs, olive oil, and a pinch of salt. You can let the mixture marinate for up to 2 hours or use it right away.
2. Just before you’re ready to eat, heat a skillet and when hot, add the tomatoes. Swirl the pan around to warm them through, add a few drops of balsamic vinegar and some pepper. They should just warm up and release their juices, not fall apart.

marinara sauce

4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
two 28 ounce cans whole tomatoes, or diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons dried oregano
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Coarsely chop the tomatoes if using whole ones.
2. Saute the garlic in the olive oil until fragrant (30 seconds or so). Add the tomatoes and cook the sauce until nicely thickened, about 30 minutes.
3. Crush the oregano between your palms as you sprinkle it into the pot. Stir to combine, and add salt and pepper to taste. If you want a smoother sauce, put some of the sauce into your blender, or use a hand-held immersion blender to puree some of the chunks out of the sauce.


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Thursday, August 26, 2010

strawberry cosmopolitan

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the conspicuous cart

I admit to feeling a bit self-conscious when I’m trundling through Costco with one of those colossally tall bottles of Kirkland-brand vodka in my cart. I think the bottle is taller than Meredith. Whenever I’m in Costco, I’m always likely to meet several people I know, or who know me from the farmers market…  and when I inevitably do, I always imagine they are thinking “Ye gods! Does she actually DRINK all that vodka? What a lush!”

It could be worse… I’m not buying cartloads of pizza pockets, battered onion rings, microwaveable burgers, or buckets of Miracle Whip. And I’m buying that vodka to make fruity five-o-clock drinks—not to guzzle straight out of that monstrous bottle. Usually my cart is also loaded with the other necessary ingredients: limes, lemons, watermelons or peaches, strawberries or oranges, grapefruits or plums

Really, when you think of it, vodka could be construed as a HEALTH food. A drink every day is supposed to be good for your heart, right? I don’t really like the taste of alcohol, so a fruity mixed drink is just the ticket to keep me healthy. And just think of all those vitamins in the fruit! Not gonna catch ME with scurvy! 

But back to that bottle. Unless you, too, have bought one of those massive jugs of 80-proof, you have no idea how unwieldy that monster is to pour a measure of vodka into a tiny jigger. I wish they would change the shape into something more manageable. Like the Absolut Citron bottle. [Whoops! Did I just admit to buying another Costco-sized bottle of alcohol?] Anyway, if the bottle weren’t so tall, it would have two advantages. One, it would be easier to pour. And two, it might not be QUITE so conspicuous in my cart.

Here’s a drink I love to make with strawberries and the aforementioned lemon-flavored vodka. I don’t have to tell you where I get the Absolut Citron, do I?

strawberry cosmopolitans

This recipe makes enough for two strong drinks. I like to make this in the blender, with frozen strawberries—either local ones from the farmers market that I’ve frozen, or the berries from the big bags from (you guessed it) Costco. But if you have fresh strawberries you want to use, by all means do that!

8 or 9 large strawberries, frozen or fresh (don’t thaw first, if frozen)
3 ounces lemon vodka
2 ounces Cointreau (orange-flavored liqueur)
1 ounce freshly-squeezed lime juice
sweetener to taste (see recipe for sugar syrup, below)

1. Put all the ingredients except for the sweetener in the blender, and buzz until nicely pureed and smooth.
2. Taste and add sweetener if needed. I like to add a little if my strawberries are tart, but the Cointreau is sweet, as well, so taste it first.
3. If you’re using frozen strawberries you can just pour this into a small glass if you want, without ice, but I like to put lots of ice in a tall glass and then pour the drink over the top. It stays cold longer. If it’s really thick and icy when you first make it, pour it into the glass first and then push the ice cubes on top and into it. Drink with a straw, if you have it!!

sugar syrup

1 cup water
1 ½ cups sugar

1. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, under the sugar is completely dissolved.
2. Cool the syrup and pour into a glass jar and keep it refrigerated.

 


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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

red devil chocolate cake (with secret beets)

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a weighty issue

Dan took Meredith along when he bought her first bike several years ago. When they returned with a pink bike with white tires and training wheels, unicorns and rainbows festooning the frame and sparkly streamers adorning the handlebars, I wasn’t surprised. I WAS surprised, however, when I picked the thing up for the first time, and almost suffered a hernia. So this is what the Chinese make with their leftover pig iron!

Ye gods, it weighed more than Dan’s and my bikes together! And tiny three-year-old Meredith was supposed to pedal this miniature single-speed beast around our gravel-roaded, hillside neighborhood? There wasn’t enough hot chocolate in the greater Anchorage area to provide her with sufficient calories to get this thing up our driveway, much less up the hill to the bike trail beyond.

Even when Meredith ditched the training wheels, the weight of the overall bike was not much diminished, especially since Dan was then required to install a kickstand. Because of the impossibility of Meredith pushing the bike up our hill on her own, most of her biking was done by first driving partway to preschool, then biking together from there.

But as Meredith’s skill on her bike has grown (“Look, mom, no feet!!”), her strength and endurance have increased, and she can actually get the leaden pink beast cranking along. When she and I go on running/biking outings together, I only have to help push her up the biggest hills. Since she has outgrown her bike trailer, we decided to order a trailer-bike for her to ride behind our bikes. And for her sixth birthday (rapidly approaching), we ordered her a new gear bike to encourage her biking enthusiasm.

Imagine our consternation when the trailer-bike arrived, and although we’d gotten a nice model (it even has six gears for Meredith to learn to shift), the thing weighs more than the bikes we will pull it with! Ugh! And the gear bike? The lightest one we could find in her size weighs just as much as her pink one.  At least it doesn’t weigh even MORE. I’m sure lighter bikes for kids would be prohibitively expensive, but still… It seems unfair that the littler they are, the heavier the bikes they are expected to ride.

Here’s a funny thought. As Meredith grows, and her bikes get bigger, they will get lighter and lighter, until at last she will have a bike that is lighter than the tiny first bike she ever rode at age three. What doesn’t kill her will only make her stronger.

Even better than hot chocolate for powering stubby legs on bike pedals, this chocolate cake is lovely. No one ever suspects the beets unless I make them guess the secret ingredient—and even then, they can’t actually TASTE the beets. It’s a relatively healthy and very delicious cake.

 

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red devil chocolate cake (with secret beets)

This great recipe is based on one from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. The cake doesn’t taste at all like beets once it’s baked because of all the cocoa powder in it, but the beets add a great depth of flavor and moistness—not to mention vitamins!!

If you have an overabundance of beets like I do (they are very often in our CSA boxes), make a double or triple batch of the cake in small loaf pans, and then wrap them well in plastic wrap and freeze them.  Because of the beets, the cake stays very nice and moist, even after freezing. You can also roast and peel your beets ahead of time and freeze them whole, in preparation for baking this cake later.

If you want to make a Mexican chocolate cake, just add 1 ½ teaspoons of cinnamon to the dry ingredients for an Ibarra chocolate flavor.

14 ounces roasted, peeled beets
½ cup water
3 eggs, or 2 eggs + 2 egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ to ½ cup oil (depending on how low-fat you want to go)
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
optional: ½ to 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Roast and peel the beets:

a. Put whole, unpeeled beets in a baking dish or dutch oven and put ¼” of water in the dish. Cover tightly with foil or the lid of the dutch oven and bake them at 400 degrees (or whatever temperature you happen to be baking something else) until tender when stabbed with a paring knife. Usually they take at least an hour, but young beets might be quicker, depending on their size.
b. Remove from the oven and let them cool. When the beets are cool enough to handle, slip their skins off.

2. Grease and flour the pan(s): either two 8” round baking pans (for a small layer cake) or one 10” pan, or a couple of small loaf pans, or line a muffin tin with cupcake papers. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. In a blender, puree the beets and ½ cup water. Set aside.
4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs well. Thoroughly whisk in the sugar, oil, vanilla, salt, and beet puree until very smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients (except the chocolate chips) to the wet ingredients a little at a time, whisking until smooth. Then stir in the chocolate chips, if using.
5. Pour the batter into prepared baking pan(s) and bake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Check the cupcakes after 15 to 18 minutes. The two cakes/loaves might take as little as 30 minutes, and the one 10” cake will probably take at least 45 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting with your choice of frosting, or just dust with powdered sugar. If you add the chocolate chips, you don’t really need frosting at all.


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Monday, August 16, 2010

raspberry rickey

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fruity drinks, sunset beach optional

For the last few years, we have taken advantage of the post-Christmas lull in bakery sales to take a vacation. (January seems to be a month to cut down on carbohydrates—even healthy whole-grain sourdough ones—in favor of salads and other New Year’s Resolution-type fare.) We have gone to Costa Rica now for two years running, and have really enjoyed the sun and warmth, beautiful beaches, fresh fruits and vegetables, and friendly people. When we are there, we rent a house near the ocean, and five o’clock every day finds us wandering down the path to the beach, fruity drinks in hand. We sit on driftwood logs, enjoying the relative coolness of the evening, sometimes chatting with fellow sunset-watchers, other times just enjoying the sounds of the surf while we attend the deliberate plunge of the sun into the ocean. If there are other children present, we also watch Meredith rolling around in the surf, filling the air with laughter and her swimsuit with sand.

This year, as our departure date loomed, and we prepared to head back to wintry Anchorage, Dan and I discussed ways to bring some of our relaxed Costa Rican lifestyle home to Alaska. One tradition we vowed to continue was our sunset drinks on the beach…  even though in Anchorage we would face challenges.

1. There is no beach in easy reach. Mudflats, yes…  beach, no.
2. We lack a dependable sunset at a useful, pre-dinner hour. In the winter, we’d be sucking down mojitos at 3:30 in the afternoon, and as for summer? We’d have to eat our dinner after midnight if we waited for sunset to enjoy our planter’s punch. 

No matter. Fruity drinks at five o’clock, no beach or sunset required. Since we have returned from Costa Rica, I have put every conceivable local and non-local fruit available into service in my explorations of fruity and alcoholic concoctions. Frozen blueberries picked in Kachemak Bay last year, strawberries from the farmers market, pear juice from the health food section of Fred Meyer, and watermelons hauled home from Costco have all been used with great success.

This recipe is one of my favorites, and I’ve just gotten to the end of the frozen raspberries we picked from our neighbors’ bushes last summer. If you don’t have local raspberries, frozen ones from the supermarket work just fine!


raspberry rickey

I think this might be my favorite drink at the moment.  It’s like having dessert first!

for each drink:

½ cup raspberries, fresh or frozen
1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
2 ounces vodka
a dash of creme de framboise or Chambord or other raspberry liqueur
sugar syrup (see recipe below) to taste
Perrier or soda water to top up

1. Put the raspberries in the bottom of a tall glass. If they are frozen, let them thaw. Moosh the berries up with a fork until they are reduced to a rough and seedy paste.
2. Add the lime juice, vodka, raspberry liqueur and a splash of sugar syrup and stir well.
3. Add ice cubes to fill the glass, and then top up with bubbly water. Stir well and taste it, and add more syrup to taste.
4. Serve with a straw. This drink works best with a straw, because you can suck up all the yummy raspberry morsels through the straw. If you don’t have a straw, all the raspberry bits get stuck at the bottom below the ice cubes.

sugar syrup

1 cup water
2 cups sugar

1. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, under the sugar is completely dissolved.
2. Cool the syrup and pour into a glass jar and keep it refrigerated.

 


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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

spicy Indian spinach and potatoes

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graduating from the bike trailer to the trailer-bike

Way back in May (Remember that sunny week?) we went to Hope for a long weekend, since Dan was doing a bike race. On the day of Dan’s race, Meredith and I readied ourselves for a ride from the Porcupine Campground to the Seward Highway and back. We would cheer for Dan and the other racers—he was doing two laps of 25 miles each on the Hope Road.

Meredith wouldn’t be riding her own bike the 18 miles each way, though—luckily, she is still good-natured about riding in the bike trailer, as long as she’s had a chance to wear herself out riding her own bike beforehand. (I confess: she listens to books like Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on an ipod while I pull her along.)

Luckily, it was nice weather, but we had a rather stiff headwind on the way back to the campground, which pulled against the trailer to make it seem more a baby grand piano than Burley’s finest. But more than the wind resistance, what most caught my attention was the increase in weight; Meredith had definitely grown over the winter. I was utterly knackered at the end of our ride. After five years of hard use, it was time to pass the trailer on to someone with a smaller child—the size that can be pulled without inflicting quite so much pain. We needed to find a new scheme for biking together.

So we ordered a trailer-bike. Dan attached it to the road bike first, and quickly rejected it as too wobbly with the bike’s skinny tires. So we brought it to my family’s cabin in Kachemak Bay, where we keep our mountain bikes for use on the hilly dirt road from the dock at Jakolof Bay.

Sure enough, Dan’s mountain bike pairs nicely with the trailer-bike, and a few days ago, Meredith and Dan made a sedate tour on the new assembly, stopping frequently to pick likely-looking salmonberries while I ran along. Meredith’s face was radiant—so happy to be pedaling along with her dad instead of riding behind in a trailer. She also seemed to be enjoying it more than powering her own bike as I ran alongside and helped push her up the big hills, which is what we did in June and July.

We woke on Saturday morning to cloudy skies, which, surprisingly, were not even drizzling. We were pleased to anticipate a family bike ride without the downpour that has plagued our daily outings. (Rain doesn’t stop us, but I do admit to a dampening of spirits at the outset of our excursions.) We motored the skiff to the dock and unloaded our bikes, swapped rubber boots for bike shoes, and donned helmets. But as we pedaled up the dock to the gravel road, the rain began to fall.

No matter. We were enjoying our ride toward Red Mountain immensely. And what a delightful ride for me—Dan biking with a cheerful Meredith, and me not having to pull or push anyone but my own self up the mountain! We were having such a lovely ride that we just kept pushing and pushing up the hills—and soon we were within striking distance of the end of the road at Red Mountain! We were so proud of Meredith for hanging in there, helping pedal, and hanging on over potholes and rocks. We had never expected to get all the way to the top!

We turned around at road’s end, and began the long ride back down the hill. We’d buttoned up as best we could, but it soon became clear that we need to invest in several fenders. As we sped down the rain-soaked old logging roads, Dan’s rear wheel flung a fountain of sandy mud into Meredith’s face. Very soon, she was transformed from a mud-freckled, dirt-speckled child into a heavily bearded one. Halfway down, Dan perched his cycling glasses on her little nose, so even though the glasses slid down repeatedly, her eyelids filled with a little less gravel. By the time we got back to the boat, she was spitting mouthfuls of grit, shivering, and (justifiably) sniveling.

We loaded the boat, zipped back to the cabin and flung off our filthy, clammy clothes. We were too chilled to take photos, but I did show Meredith her face in a mirror before we hopped under the outdoor shower to clean off. She laughed to see her face completely caked with mud. It took a while to scrub off our bodies and rinse out our eyes, and then took much longer to launder our clothes in buckets, but it was well worth it! We are so proud of intrepid Meredith for her first trip up Red Mountain!

I made this Indian spinach dish in Anchorage and then froze it before adding the potatoes, to bring down to the cabin. (Potatoes don’t freeze very well—they get mushy and mealy.) We ate Indian spinach and potatoes with spicy chickpeas for dinner and that helped warm us up after our bike ride! 

 

spicy Indian spinach with potatoes

This recipe is based on one in Neelam Batra’s 1,000 Indian Recipes, a fantastic resource for flavorful and interesting dishes made with all kinds of different vegetables. I love to serve it with rice and raita (raita is yogurt sauce: just stir a small clove of minced garlic and salt to taste into a couple of cups of plain yogurt), or with spicy chickpeas—I’ll add that recipe another time. Find garam masala, an Indian spice blend, at Summit Spice & Tea, if you don’t have some already!

4 small red or waxy yellow potatoes (such as German Butterball or Yukon Gold), scrubbed and cut into bite-size dice
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 pound spinach or chard (if using chard, remove stems and chop the leaves coarsely)
1 tablespoon olive oil or canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon peeled minced fresh ginger
1 large clove fresh garlic, minced
1 to 2 fresh green jalepeno or other chile peppers, halved, seeded with a spoon and minced
1 to 2 large tomatoes, finely chopped (you can used canned tomatoes if you don’t have any fresh ones)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

1. Put the potatoes in a pot, cover with cold water, add the salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 10 minutes. When the potatoes are tender, scoop them out with a slotted spoon.
2. Pile the spinach or chard leaves into the remaining water, stirring them around to soften them with the boiling water, cover the pot again, and cook them just until they are tender and wilted. The spinach will only take a minute or two; the chard will take longer. Pour the greens into a colander and let them drain.
3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add the cumin seeds; they should sizzle when they hit the oil. Quickly add the onion and cook, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, and green chiles and cook for a few more minutes, until the garlic has mellowed a bit. Then add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, until most of the juices evaporate, 5 to 7 minutes.
4. Add the coriander, garam masala, and turmeric, cook about 1 minute, and then add the potatoes and spinach to the onion mixture. Mix well, cover the pan and simmer over medium-low heat, about 5 more minutes, to blend flavors. Taste the dish and add salt, a little at a time, until it is just right. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle a little more garam masala over the top if you desire (taste it first to see if you want more spice), and serve.

 


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