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Sunday, October 26, 2008

pumpkin cupcakes with walnut streusel topping


I can’t help it. I’m going to admit that I own another fun kitchen gadget… a FOOD PORTIONER for criminy’s sake. What is with me these days? Two posts ago I’m talking you into buying a mandoline, then I’m giving you excuses for collecting more cookie cutters… Maybe I should change the name of my blog to Alison’s Infomercial? “Doing my best to keep the American economy afloat…  one kitchen gadget at a time.”

Before I dig myself in any deeper, let me just explain what a food portioner is. It looks like an ice cream scooper, you know, with the little lever thing on the side that you push to scrape the food out? When you were in elementary school, the lucky lunch line cafeteria workers got to serve mashed potatoes with it. Each flawlessly smooth alabaster mound of reconstituted potatoes, plopped unceremoniously into its perfectly sized compartment in the divided tray…  Did you want to be one of those food servers or WHAT? 

I love to use a food portioner to scoop batter into muffin cups! It’s what the pros use, and let me tell you, it’s so much easier than doling the batter out with a spoon or spatula. The little push-button scraper thingie cleans the cup out each time, so you don’t drip between muffin cups. Which means that you don’t have to scrub baked-on batter drops off the tin afterwards! (Big bonus in my book.) And, you get the perfect amount of batter in each cup, so you don’t overfill them, which you know results in converging muffin-tops cemented to your pan.

You’ll find food portioners of every size imaginable at your local restaurant supply store. (Beware: if you like to bake or cook in large batches, restaurant supply stores are filled with oh-so-tempting items.) You want a size 16 scoop for regular-sized cupcakes or muffins. (That number means you can get 16 scoops per quart, or something like that. The smaller the number, the bigger the scoop.)

Go ahead, live a little! Get a food portioner—it’s a pretty affordable way to live a childhood fantasy! And just think—if you let your kids use it, they might even aspire to a different career than a cafeteria line server.  (OK, so Meredith still just wants to be a scooper-outer when she grows up—but come on! She’s only four!)



pumpkin cupcakes with walnut streusel topping

This recipe is a modification of a combination of two recipes from different cookbooks by the same person. (How’s that for complicated?) Isa Chandra Moscowitz wrote both Veganomiconand Vegan with a Vengeance, and includes recipes for pumpkin muffins and a pumpkin streusel cake in her books. And then I had to make a few more changes… Anyway, I’m not a vegan, but I didn’t have any eggs when I wanted to make a pumpkin treat. I’m happy to report, with all that wonderful moist pumpkin in the batter, you don’t miss the eggs a bit!

The roasted walnut oil I’m referring to here really makes the flavor nutty and rich and wonderful—I like to use Loriva brand, which I can find in my grocery store. But this recipe will still be yummy with canola oil.

walnut streusel

¼ cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons roasted walnut oil (or canola oil)
1 cup chopped walnuts (medium-fine)


1 (15-ounce) can of pureed pumpkin, or 2 cups fresh pumpkin puree (don’t use pumpkin pie mix)
¾ cups soy milk or regular milk
½ cup canola oil (I like to use about ¼ cup roasted walnut oil and ¼ cup canola oil, but all canola is fine, too)
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons light molasses (not blackstrap)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¾ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two muffin tins with 16 to 18 paper cupcake liners. If you like, spray the liners lightly with cooking spray, just to make sure they come out of their papers easily.
2. In a small bowl, mix the streusel ingredients together with a fork until all is moistened with the oil.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin, milk, oil, granulated sugar, molasses, and vanilla. Mix well.
4. In a medium bowl, combine the dry ingredients with a dry whisk, to mix all the spices thoroughly into the flour.
5. Dump the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients and fold together gently with a rubber spatula. Don’t overmix here, but keep folding until no more streaks of flour show up.
6. Scoop the batter into the cupcake cups, about 2/3 full. Don’t overfill them, because they do rise quite a bit. Sprinkle a spoonful of the streusel topping over each cupcake.
7. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the walnut topping is golden brown, and more importantly, a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean.
8. Remove from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes in the muffin tin. Then remove each cupcake to a cooling rack until completely cool. If you eat these while they are still warm, they are too moist and gooey, but they are perfect when they cool completely.


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Monday, October 20, 2008

graham cracker cut-outs


I inherited a lot of cookie cutters from my mom. I have shapes for Halloween, shapes for Valentine’s Day and Christmas and Easter and St. Patrick’s Day, animal shapes, geometric shapes, and even shapes for Election Day (elephants and donkeys). I have A LOT of cookie cutters. I also inherited my mom’s desire to collect more cookie cutters, which is a little strange, because I rarely make cut-out sugar cookies.

But when my daughter Meredith turned two years old and began participating in some cooking projects, I got really nostalgic about making those roll-out sugar cookies with my mom. Of course, I also remembered how much cookie dough I ate during those sessions. I decided to try and develop a healthier recipe that I wouldn’t mind making often, and that I didn’t care if Meredith ate by the handful. This whole-wheat graham cracker recipe was born! It uses oil instead of butter, 100% whole wheat flour, and doesn’t call for eggs.

Your kids can help you measure the ingredients, mix the dough, and practice rolling out a small piece of dough while you roll out the rest. Then they can help cut out the crackers and decorate them with all kinds of toppings—nuts, seeds, dried fruit, chocolate chips… anything you like!

These crackers are fun to make, are pretty darn healthy, and have a nice, slightly sweet and whole-wheaty flavor. They definitely aren’t as sweet as cookies, though. Which makes them nice with tea, and great for s’mores. (When we’re making them for s’mores, I cut them into squares with a pizza cutter and then make fork-pricks in them to look like the store-bought kind.)

Meredith loves making these, so now I have an excuse to collect even more cookie cutters! My most recent acquisitions? Letter shapes! We especially love to make initials of our friends, and then march around the neighborhood to deliver them.

I was inspired to write this post by my friend Cate, who writes a fabulous blog about cooking delicious, nutritious food with her kids—and other people’s kids! She asked if I wanted to be a guest blogger on her website, Tribeca Yummy Mummy, and I jumped at the chance! Check us out on her site (more photos there)—and then browse the rest of her fantastic ideas and recipes!




graham cracker cut-outs

These crackers aren’t very sweet, so if you want them sweeter, you could substitute more maple syrup or honey for part of the milk.  I love the combination of roasted walnut oil (Loriva brand is pretty easy to find) and maple syrup, or roasted peanut oil with honey. The nut oil adds a really nice richness to the crackers, but you can just use canola oil if that’s all you have.

You can use all whole-wheat pastry flour for this recipe, which makes a nice, tender cracker, but makes the rolling out a little bit hard, since there isn’t much gluten in pastry flour. It works fine, though, if you’re patient and don’t expect the same consistency as regular sugar cookie dough. I have had better luck using half whole-wheat pastry flour and half whole wheat bread flour (or just use regular all-purpose whole wheat flour).
After I roll out the dough once, the dough scraps get a little tougher to work with, so I generally just roll them out and cut the remains up with a pizza cutter into square-ish shapes.

We make them often with cookie cutters and decorate them, but if you cut them out in squares and make fork-pricks in them, they are fantastic for s’mores!


¼ cup milk or soy milk
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice or vinegar
¼ cup roasted nut oil (such as toasted peanut or walnut oil), or canola oil
1/3 cup honey or maple syrup
2 ½ cups sifted whole wheat flour [you can use ½ pastry flour and ½ bread flour], plus more as needed
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. sea salt

decoration ideas

black and/or golden raisins (you can soak them in water to plump them up)
dried cherries
dried cranberries
nuts (peanuts, almonds)
seeds (green pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds)
chocolate chips
crystallized ginger pieces

1. Combine milk and lemon juice, set aside for a few minutes to curdle. In a small bowl, whisk the oil and sweetener together, and whisk in the curdled milk.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Make a well in the center and pour in the liquid mixture. Stir gently until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and balls up in the center. You might have to add extra flour, or if you’re using whole wheat bread flour, you might need to add a little more milk.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheets if they are not non-stick. Using a rolling pin on a floured surface, and using more flour as necessary on top of the dough, and on the rolling pin, roll the dough out about 1/8-inch thick. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters. Re-roll the scraps and cut more shapes out (the second time around, I just cut them into square-ish shapes with a pizza cutter). Arrange them on sheets. 
4. If you want to decorate them, spray lightly with water with a sprayer bottle (this helps the nuts to stick) and go crazy with the toppings.
5. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until lightly browned and crisp.  Transfer crackers to racks and cool them before storing in a tightly closed tin.


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Saturday, October 18, 2008

cabbage and fennel salad with apples and raisins


haven’t you always wanted a mandoline?

What tools do I use most in my kitchen? Well, I have a small arsenal of sharp knives, a variety of big and small metal and glass bowls, and a stack of heavy, non-stick baking sheets. I also own an array of heavy pots and pans from small to absolutely gigantic. Add a couple of spatulas, a wooden spoon, a cutting board, and a knife sharpener, and that’s really all I need, right?

Well, you understand that NEEDING and WANTING are altogether different. And I have to admit, I have some kitchen equipment that doesn’t exactly get used every day. I try to keep the gadgets and kitchen clutter to a minimum—in fact, I go through my kitchen drawers way more often than, say, my sock drawer, or the junk drawer with all the pens and pencils. But I have are few tools that, while not absolutely necessary, are a joy to use, and I love them!

A few examples of these fun things: an old-fashioned citrus juicer, my immersion blender, a coffee grinder that I use for spices, and best of all: a mandoline. Do you know what I mean by a mandoline? It’s a vegetable slicer with an adjustable blade in a frame; I have a nice, heavy version in stainless steel. While I’m pretty speedy with a sharp chef’s knife, the mandoline makes a couple of things really easy that I have never mastered on my own. First, I can cut paper-thin slivers of fennel for salads. (Raw fennel is only edible when sliced very thinly—and then it’s absolutely delicious!) Second, I can slice thick, even slabs of zucchini for grilling. And if I needed a third reason? The mandoline makes slicing a huge heap of onions really FUN…  How often have you felt that way dismantling onions? Haven’t you always wanted a mandoline?

I pined for a mandoline for several years before finally buying one (the good ones are pretty spendy), and I’ve never regretted the investment. Other gadgets I’ve bought over the years end up gathering dust on my basement shelves, but the mandoline is here to stay.

The following recipe is one that you can use to justify the purchase of a brand-new mandoline (whether you need to rationalize it to yourself, or to your sweetie). You can use the mandolin for the fennel AND the cabbage! And just one last note—a good mandolin is really, really sharp. And although it’s fun to use, it’s also kind of dangerous, so don’t slice with reckless abandon…


cabbage & fennel salad with apples & raisins

This salad is SO tasty—the savory toasted fennel seeds are so yummy with the licoricey raw fennel, and sweetened with apples and raisins, it’s crunchy and delicious!  It’s based on a similar salad in Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast. When eating fennel raw, cutting it very thinly is the key. If you have ever been tempted to buy a mandoline, here’s your excuse! But you can get nice thin fennel slices with a chef’s knife, too, as long as it’s very sharp. 

Because of the lemon juice in the salad, the apples don’t brown, and this salad tastes great the next day—so don’t worry if it makes more than you think you can eat all at once. Serve this salad with the barley & beet risotto, in the previous post—it’s a fantastic match.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, toasted in a small skillet, then ground
½ to 1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 large bulb fennel, root end trimmed and sliced paper thin, some fronds chopped
½ small head green cabbage, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
1 sweet red apple, unpeeled, cored and cut into matchsticks
generous ¼ cup raisins (or more to taste)

1. In a salad bowl, whisk together the oil, lemon juice, ground fennel seeds, and salt. Season with pepper.
2. Add the fennel, cabbage, apple, and raisins and toss to combine. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Season with additional salt and pepper as needed, and serve.


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Thursday, October 16, 2008

barley risotto with golden beets & greens


new season, new schedule

We’ve had a little break from baking our whole-grain sourdough bread after we ended our farmers’ market sales. Now we’re re-tooling to our wintertime bakery routine, and will begin baking again early next week. Our customers pre-order their bread every week (now through our brand-new website,!), then pick up their loaves from me at a couple of locations around Anchorage.

The neat thing about selling at the farmers’ market during the summer, then switching to a different wintertime routine, is that our year truly feels seasonal. We never get tired of one venue or the other! By the time the Saturday farmers’ market is over, I’m ready to stop standing around in the cold and I’m looking forward to my slower-paced sales in warm coffee shops on Wednesdays. And conversely, as June approaches, I am itching for the farmers’ market to begin!

The other nice thing about the seasonal switches is that each changeover gives us a chance to make a fresh start. It’s become an important time for us to reassess our weekly schedule and the daily rhythms (or lack thereof) that we’ve set up with Meredith, our four-year-old. With fresh eyes, we look at the habits we’ve gotten into (bad or good) in terms of exercise, sharing household chores, cooking, socializing with friends, and most of all, spending quality time with each other. It’s easier to make a change when our whole schedule is shaking up, anyway!

So this week has been a good one for catching up on things, deciding what we’d like to change, and strategizing about how to do it. One of our new tactics is for Dan to make dinner on Wednesdays, since I will get home late after selling the bread all day. Last night was our first Wednesday together since we ended our farmers’ market bread sales, and even though we didn’t bake this week, Dan started his new routine, and it was wonderful. Perched at the bar facing the stove while he prepared a lovely meal, I typed desultorily on our bakery newsletter. I’ll admit, I was mainly just soaking in the sights, sounds, and smells of someone else cooking my dinner! Listening to him chop onions, rosemary, and ginger… Watching him slice beets and excavate kale from our snow-covered vegetable patch…  Smelling the rich, savory aromas emanating from his cooking pots… What a treat, and a wonderful break for me. Yes, I love cooking our meals every day, lunch AND dinner, but Dan’s a good cook, too, and just hasn’t taken the opportunity to cook much, lately. Now I’ll be looking forward to Wednesdays every week!

barley risotto with golden beets & greens

This recipe is such a warming, wonderful one for the fall and winter. It’s gorgeous with golden beets, but I’ve made it with red beets, too—it’s VERY pink, but that’s also fun! The combination of ginger and rosemary is a surprising one, but the flavor is just amazing. This recipe is based on one in Peter Berley’s fantastic book, Fresh Food Fast.

For the beets, you can either cook them with the barley, as directed below, or you can use beets that you’ve already roasted and peeled, just adding them at the end, after the barley is completely cooked. (See my beet salad recipe for instructions on roasting beets.)

I like to make the recipe a little bit ahead of time, so there’s about an hour before eating it for the barley to soak up even more of the cooking liquid, and the flavors to meld. As long as you salt this dish to your taste, I think there is plenty of flavor without adding cheese, but you can sprinkle Parmesan cheese on at the table if you like! The cabbage & fennel salad with apples & raisins is a great match with this risotto.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 cup pearl barley, rinsed
2 tablespoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
3 medium golden beets, peeled and cut into ½-inch dice
1 to 2 bunches chard, beet greens, or kale
black pepper

1. In a large, heavy pot over high heat, warm the oil. Add the onion and 1 teaspoon of salt and sauté until the onion is starting to brown lightly—5 minutes or so. Add the barley, ginger, and rosemary and sauté, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the beets (unless they are already roasted—see note, above) and 4 cups of water and bring to a boil.
2. Cover the pot and simmer the barley over low heat, stirring fairly often (but you don’t need to be stirring it obsessively). You’ll need to add more water periodically to keep the barley from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Cook until the barley is tender and the beets are completely cooked. This will take something like 40 minutes, but just keep tasting to see how it’s coming along. The barley releases starches as it cooks, so at the end, you’ll have a beautiful creamy porridge-like risotto.
3. While the barley cooks, prepare the greens. Remove their stems and chop the leaves into ½-inch slices. If you’re using kale (I recommend it!), you’ll need to blanch it, first. Boil it in a pot of salted water until tender (5-8 minutes—just keep tasting it).
4. When the barley is tender and creamy, add the greens to the pot, and if they were raw when you added them, cook, uncovered, stirring often, until the greens are tender (3 to 5 minutes). If the beets were already roasted, add them now. Taste for salt. Make sure to add enough to really bring the flavors up. Season with pepper to taste.
5. If you have time to cover it and let it rest for a 30 minutes to an hour before serving, do so. Reheat just before serving. 


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Sunday, October 12, 2008

Savoy cabbage and potatoes with pesto


I just returned from a trip to Montreal, where I was visiting my friend Wendy. She has moved to Montreal from Maine for a year with her three young children, and they are all learning to speak la francais in earnest! Her youngest is just a little older than my four-year-old, Meredith—who has almost as much fun playing with Wendy’s kids as I do talking and catching up with Wendy!

When we visit Wendy, I always insist on cooking the dinners. As altruistic as this may sound, I have a selfish motive for playing chef de cuisine. I dote on my farmers’ market here in Anchorage, but I love nothing more than exploring other markets. And if I’m cooking the meals, I get to bring home whatever I want: loads of local vegetables and fruits—especially celebrating things we can’t grow here in Anchorage! In Montreal, I bought satchels-full of beautiful ears of corn, sweet Delicata squash, long braids of garlic, softball-sized celeriac (celery root), and of course reveled in basket after basket of tart, delicious apples and flavorful local pears.

So, what to cook? Here’s the design brief for my menus du jour.

1. We stayed for a week in Wendy’s beautiful, light-filled and cozy apartment. The one slight drawback to this delightful living space is that the kitchen is a bit, shall we say, petite. There’s almost no counter space, and Wendy has wisely excluded kitchen equipment like her blender. So I wanted the meals to be pretty simple in terms of vegetable prep. Delicata squash, halved lengthwise, seeded, rubbed with olive oil and sprinkled with salt, then baked until tender and spiked with a touch of maple syrup? Nothing much easier (or more magnifique) than that!

2. We did lots of fun, mellow things with the kids while we were there (like walking to the neighborhood playgrounds, swimming in their apartment building’s pool, and going to the library), which meant there wasn’t a lot of time to be cooking, either. Add to that a nice early bedtime for all the kids, and there’s just not a good opportunity for a long-simmered vegetable potage or bean stew. So another criteria was speed. Corn on the cob in three minutes? Mais oui!

3. And last, I tried to make the meals kid-friendly, to offer everyone a bon appétit! I was so happy when Wendy’s kids loved the garlic-roasted broccoli, and cheered when they were willing to try something new, like the oven-roasted turnip and celeraic slices!

I also wanted to teach Wendy the best of my easy recipes from cooking this summer’s Alaskan produce. And she just happened to have a little box of waxy potatoes (some purple, some white) dug by her husband Mike from their Maine garden! Tres bon! And the Savoy cabbages at the Montreal market were so big and beautiful, I just had to show her one of my new favorite recipes: Savoy cabbage and potatoes with pesto. Since we could buy prepared pesto at the shop near the farmers’ market, the dish definitely met the first two criteria for simple prep and speedy cooking… Voila! It was ready! But did it meet the last condition for family-friendliness? I really have no idea, because I was too busy scarfing down three plates-full after a long run through the beautiful Parc Mont-Royale. I guess I’d say that the dish has a certain je ne sais quoi


Savoy cabbage and potatoes with pesto

I was inspired to invent this recipe when reading a letter from my friend Andi, who recommended a recipe from Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s The Italian Country Table. She adds broccoli and a potato to her pasta with pesto, and calls it “the King of pestos.” I had a beautiful Savoy cabbage in my refrigerator, aching to be eaten, and I had a brainwave that thin slices of cabbage would be fun to toss with pesto sauce, like spaghetti noodles! You can eat this on top of spaghetti, if you like, but I like it best just by itself—no noodles or Parmesan cheese, but just the potatoes added to the cabbage for heartiness. I think you’ll love the taste of the garlicky, sautéed cabbage with the pesto!

You can use commercially prepared pesto if you like—that does save a lot of time and effort. But I’ve included a couple of my pesto recipes, in case you have the time and desire to make your own. I use both the basil version and the parsley version—both are very nice. You’ll need to be more heavy-handed with the parsley pesto than the basil pesto, because it’s not quite as pungent and flavorful as the basil. The parsley pesto is still delicious, though, in its own right! And it’s quite a bit more economical, too, since parsley is generally a lot more affordable than basil.

Please note that the pesto recipes are for making big batches and then freezing flat in ziplock bags. If you’re just making pesto for this recipe, just make about one-third of a batch.

3 to 4 medium waxy potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced (Butterballs, for example, or purple potatoes for a fun color contrast)
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
1 medium Savoy cabbage, halved, cored, and cut into ¼-inch slices
sea salt or kosher salt
Freshly-ground pepper
Pesto (make one of the following recipes, or use prepared pesto)

1. Drop the potatoes into boiling, lightly salted water. Cook until tender, 5-7 minutes. Drain the potatoes, but reserve the cooking water.
2. Meanwhile, sauté the garlic for a minute in the olive oil over medium-high heat, until fragrant, then add the cabbage strands. Add ½ teaspoon salt and saute until wilted and just tender. You may have to add a little water to keep the cabbage and garlic from sticking. Taste for more salt and add more as needed, plus some pepper. 
3. Scoop about ½ cup of the basil pesto (or ¾ cup of parsley pesto) into the bottom of a big pasta bowl. If the pesto is stiff, add a little hot potato water to thin the sauce to the consistency of heavy cream. Toss the cabbage with the pesto, then add the potato and toss again. Taste to see if you want to add more pesto. Add salt as needed, and serve, topped with freshly-ground pepper.

Basil Pesto
This makes a lot—about three times more than you need, so you can freeze the rest, if you like.

6 large cloves garlic
½ teaspoon salt
6 packed cups fresh basil leaves
10 tablespoons pine nuts
12-14 tablespoons best quality extra-virgin olive oil

1. In a food processor, chop the garlic with the salt.
2. Add the basil leaves and puree them.
3. Then add the pine nuts and process into a rough paste.
4. Add half of the olive oil, process again until as smooth as you can get it. Even if it’s not terribly smooth, it’ll still taste great!
5. Taste for salt, and add more as needed.
6. Scoop into 3 freezer ziploc bags and freeze them flat on a baking sheet.

Parsley Pesto
This recipe also makes more than you’ll need for the cabbage and potatoes, but you can very easily freeze the extra!

2 cloves garlic
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
4 cups packed parsley leaves
½ cup pine nuts
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil

1. In a food processor, chop the garlic with the salt.
2. Add the parsley leaves and pine nuts, and turn on the motor, beginning to grind the parsley. It’s OK if all the leaves aren’t incorporated yet.
3. While the motor is running, pour in the olive oil gradually. Let the blade run for a while to puree the mixture. It won’t be very smooth, but it’s hard to get the parsley pesto smooth, anyway—the leaves are kind of tough. 
4. Taste for salt, and add more as needed.
5. Use what you’d like for tonight’s dinner, then scoop the rest into a freezer ziploc bag and freeze flat.

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Saturday, October 04, 2008

beets and their greens with a lemony dill vinaigrette


Today was my last day of the year selling bread at the South Anchorage Farmers’ Market. When I woke up this morning, it was 33 degrees, but I was pleased that it wasn’t actually snowing. (It was doing that last night.) It’s getting a bit too chilly to be standing outside for five hours, so I’ll admit, I’m looking forward to my indoor, wintertime venues. Even though 33 degrees might not seem all that frigid, I don’t move around enough at my bakery stand to generate much body heat. So this morning I rummaged out my down pants and wool felt boots. Usually I don’t deploy these weapons until mid-January, when the mercury doesn’t rise above 10 degrees and I’m sledding with my 4-year old!

Many of my customers were shivering when they came to my stand, and I was appreciative of their patience while I slowly counted their change with fingers stiffened from the cold. But while my fingers were chilled, the rest of me remained warm, thanks to my arsenal of Arctic apparel. When people asked me, “Aren’t you freezing?” I would step out from behind my table to show them my lower half. Blanketed in my trusty down and wool, I was equally prepared to sell you a loaf of sourdough bread, or mush your dog to Nome. 

I swapped a sourdough loaf for a couple of bunches of beautiful beets with their greens, and invented a new recipe for our dinner tonight, using the entire beet!


beets and their greens with a lemony dill vinaigrette

I made this recipe up tonight, and I was so excited about the glorious colors that I had to post it immediately!!  The bright magenta of the beets contrasted with the beautiful light green of the dressing, and the dark green leaves of the beet greens…  SO beautiful!  And so delicious, too! Not to mention thrifty, since it uses the entire beet—even the stems!

The tart dressing cuts the sweetness of the beets, and the dill and sunflower seeds are a classic Eastern European beet accompaniment , but this dish is definitely a new twist! The vinaigrette is loosely based on one for a kasha & beet salad in rebar modern food.


3 garlic cloves
zest of a lemon
juice of a lemon
¼ cup apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon dried dill (or 2 tablespoons fresh)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon honey
¼ teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
½ cup olive oil


2 bunches beets with their greens and stems
¼ cup sunflower seeds, toasted

1. First, roast the beets. (You can do this a day or two ahead of time if you’re baking something else in the oven and have room for a pot of beets alongside.) Preheat your oven to 400 (or if you’re baking something else, just do it at that temperature). Cut the beets from their stems, wash them, and put the whole, unpeeled beets in a baking dish or Dutch oven. Put about ½-inch of water in the dish. Cover tightly with foil or the lid of the Dutch oven and bake them until tender when stabbed with a paring knife. Usually they take 40 minutes or longer, but young beets might be quicker, depending on their size.
2. While the beets are roasting, make the vinaigrette. Toss the garlic cloves in a blender jar, and buzz them briefly to chop them a bit. Add the lemon zest, juice, vinegar, mustard, dill, salt, honey, and pepper. Puree until smooth, scraping down the blender jar as necessary. While the motor is running, pour in the olive oil and puree until everything is nicely emulsified. The color will be a beautiful light green! Taste the dressing—it will be quite tart, to cut the sweetness of the beets, but add more salt, honey, and olive oil as necessary to get a nice balance.
3. When the beets are tender, remove them from the oven. If you have a variety of sizes, you’ll have to pull the smaller ones out first and let the larger ones cook a little longer. Let the beets cool just a bit, or if you’re in a hurry, run them under cold water. Don’t let them dry out, though, because the skins will be a lot harder to peel off. When the beets are cool enough to handle, slip their skins off. Cut the beets into ½-inch pieces and toss with a few tablespoons of the vinaigrette. Set them aside to marinate.
4. While the beets are roasting, toast the sunflower seeds on a baking sheet in the oven for about 10 minutes, until lightly browned and fragrant.
5. Pull the green leaves from their stems—but reserve the stems, too! Wash the leaves in a pan of water, and set them aside. Wash the stems, too, and then cut them into ½-inch slices. Set aside in a bowl.
6. Put about an inch of water in the bottom of a steamer. Steam the beet greens for 5-7 minutes, until nicely tender. Set aside to cool in their bowl. Steam the beets stems for 10 minutes or so, until they are nice and tender, as well. Set aside. Chop the beet greens coarsely.
7. To assemble the salad, toss the beet greens with some of the vinaigrette, and then toss the stems with some vinaigrette (keep them in separate bowls). Make a little tower: first the greens, then the stems, and finally the cubes of beets. Drizzle with a little of the green vinaigrette (what a color combination!) and then sprinkle with sunflower seeds.  Enjoy! 


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Thursday, October 02, 2008

roasted brussels sprouts


Here in Anchorage, we’ve been scraping ice off our windshields the last couple of mornings. Although the days this past week have been gorgeous (brilliant yellow leaves against an intensely blue sky), it’s a bittersweet beauty. Winter is coming soon, and each week we’re losing noticeable amounts of daylight.

But all that aside—it’s time to rejoice, because THE BRUSSELS SPROUTS ARE IN! At least for those of us who have learned to roast fresh, sweet Alaskan Brussels sprouts in a blazing hot oven, it’s grounds for celebration!

Yes, yes, I know—I can already hear you telling me that you hate Brussels sprouts. And if they are old, dried-out specimens, overcooked to a sulfuric and sloppy mess, I hate them too. But they don’t have to be that way!  A fresh stalk of Brussels sprouts, each sprout halved (the largest quartered), then the whole bowlful tossed with olive oil and salt and then roasted at 450 degrees on a hot baking sheet…  this makes one of the most divine dishes known to humankind. Maybe hard to believe, but I’m telling you, it will make a meal in itself…  You’ll be eating sprouts like popcorn—like potato chips—like CRAZY!!  You’ll be fighting your kids for them. (I had to go a few rounds with Meredith at dinner tonight to get my fair share.)

If you can get Brussels sprouts, especially if they are still on the stalk, plump and firm and round, you’re halfway there. Then just make sure to be ready to eat them when they come out of the oven, because they are absolutely divine JUST out of the oven. Crispy and sweet and savory all at once. Please try this easiest of recipes if you can find good Brussels sprouts. And then let me know how you liked them!


roasted brussels sprouts

I know that brussels sprouts are not usually the most popular vegetable, but our fresh Alaskan sprouts are so sweet and delicious that you just have to give them a try! Anyway, how can you resist them when the farmers bring the gorgeous green stalks to the market bursting with plump round sprouts? Serve these as an appetizer or as a side to just about anything!

1 or 2 large stalks of Brussels sprouts
extra-virgin olive oil
sea salt or kosher salt

1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Coat 1 or 2 large baking sheets (you’ll probably need 2) with non-stick spray or oil (that makes clean-up a lot easier).
2. If the sprouts break off easily, break them off with your fingers. If not, use a small paring knife to cut each sprout off the stalk. Cut the largest ones in half (and if they are really big, quarter them), but leave the smallest ones whole. Put them all in a large bowl.
3. Drizzle 2 or 3 tablespoons of olive oil over the sprouts, and sprinkle with salt (about ½ teaspoon per pound—to your taste). Mix them all up until they are coated with olive oil, and then pour them onto your baking sheets. Make sure that they are only in a single layer, and not too crowded, so they roast instead of steam. Make sure a cut surface of each sprout is touching the baking sheet (this makes them brown really nicely).
4. Roast them until the cores inside the sprouts are tender when poked with a paring knife and they are brown on the bottom where they touch the baking sheet. This might take 15 to 20 minutes or so, depending on their size, but maybe longer. Just keep checking them!

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