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Monday, June 22, 2009

grilled southwestern salmon with guacamole on crispy toast



You probably already know that I sell my Rise & Shine Bakery bread at the South Anchorage Farmers’ Market during the summer. As the farmers’ market reporter, I also write the weekly email newsletter that gets posted on our website.

A couple of weeks ago two women from Trout Unlimited contacted me about holding an event to promote Bristol Bay salmon at our farmers’ market. The event, “Eat Wild!,” is to be held this Saturday, June 27, and is designed to build consumer demand for wild salmon. By building support for the fishery, they hope to help protect Southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed from the threat of large-scale mining. Trout Unlimited, partnering with our Arctic Choice Seafoods, will be giving away free samples of grilled Bristol Bay sockeye salmon along with recipes and information about Bristol Bay and the risks this fishery faces.

They asked me if I wanted to submit a recipe for their event—and I just happened to have a great recipe ready! At the market last weekend I picked up a glorious sockeye salmon filet so I could make it again and take a photo for you. YUM! I’m definitely planning to pick up another salmon filet this Saturday! You can feed yourself like a King (pun intended) and get yourself on the moral high ground—just by buying wild Alaskan salmon!

The event is from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Arctic Choice Seafood booth at the South Anchorage Farmers Market, at the Subway/Cellular One Sports Centre near the corner of Old Seward Highway and O’Malley Road. More information is available at



grilled southwestern salmon with guacamole on crispy toast

This recipe is inspired by the wonderful fresh local salmon at the market!  You grill the salmon with a yummy southwestern rub, then toast a slice of hearty whole-grain bread until crisp. Spread the toast with a thick layer of guacamole, stack the salmon on top, and sprinkle with a little garnish of red onions. Serve with a simple green salad, topped with toasted green pumpkin seeds. And wouldn’t a margarita taste good with this meal? Especially if we have a sunny day and you can eat it outside on the deck!

Even if you have your own guacamole recipe already, you might want to give this one a try—it’s modified from a recipe from a Cook’s Illustrated magazine from several years ago, and I really do think it’s a good one.

For the southwestern spice rub, I really like the choices at Summit Spice & Tea Co. (at 1120 E. Huffman Road). I’d recommend their southwestern blend, or the Slammin’ Salmon, or the Coho Mojo. You could also just use prepared chili powder if you don’t have any of these blends handy.

1 large filet salmon
southwestern spice rub
canola oil (for the grill)
1 small red onion, minced
guacamole (recipe follows)
4 slices hearty whole-grain bread

1. Make the guacamole, cover it with plastic wrap (pressed directly onto the surface to keep it from browning) and refrigerate.
2. Skin the salmon filet and sprinkle it all over with the spice rub, rubbing it on to cover all surfaces. 
3. Heat your grill on high heat, and when the grill racks are very hot, scrub them clean with your grill brush. Just before you’re going to grill the salmon, fold a paper towel into a 3” square, and soak this pad in a small dish of canola oil. Swab the grill racks thoroughly with the oil-soaked pad, then immediately set the filet on the hot, oiled rack with the skinned side up (pretty side down).
4. Turn the heat down to medium and cover the grill. Cook the salmon on that side until it has nice grill marks and will release from the grill without sticking, about 4 minutes.
5. While the salmon is grilling, toast the bread on the grill or in your toaster.
6. Use the same paper towel to oil the nearby grill space, and then carefully flip the salmon onto the newly oiled patch. Cook for another couple of minutes until it’s done to your liking. We like it pretty rare, but keep in mind that the thinner tail section will cook faster than the thicker sections. You can either cut the tail off when it’s cooked and let the rest of the salmon cook a bit more, cut the tail section off before you grill it and cook it separately, or just let the tail part get more well-done than the rest of the filet for those in your family who prefer it that way.
7. Remove the salmon from the grill to a plate while you prepare the sandwiches.
8. Spread each slice of toast with a thick layer of guacamole, top with the salmon, and sprinkle with red onions. Serve immediately with a margarita or a cold beer!

I buy bags of avocados all year ‘round at Costco. Here’s how to ripen and store the avocados from Costco so they don’t get overripe and go to waste. Buy a bag of them when they are rock-hard, and set them on your counter. Every day (you must be vigilant), squeeze them very gently to see how soft they are getting. When they have just begun to get soft (don’t wait until they are squishy), put them in the refrigerator RIGHT AWAY—this will more or less arrest their further ripening, and you will have a treasure trove of perfectly ripe avocados for a week or more.

¼ to ½ cup minced onion (to your taste)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 jalepeno peppers, seeded with a spoon and minced
¼ cup minced fresh cilantro (optional)
¼ to ½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
3 ripe avocados
2-3 tablespoons fresh lime juice

1. After mincing the onion, scoop it into a glass or bowl and cover with cold water and let it soak while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.  (This takes away some of the bite of the raw onion.)
2. Put the garlic, jalepeno, cilantro, salt, and cumin in a medium bowl. 
3. Halve, pit, and peel the avocados.
4. Drain the onion well in a sieve and add to the bowl, stir with a fork.  Put one avocado into the bowl and mash the flesh with the onion mixture.
5. Cube the remaining 2 avocados into ½” pieces and put the pieces into the bowl.  Sprinkle the lime juice over the diced avocado and mix entire contents of bowl lightly with a fork until combined but still chunky.  Adjust seasoning with salt and lime juice. Try not to eat the entire bowl while you’re testing it.
6. You can cover it with plastic wrap, pressed directly onto surface of guacamole, and refrigerate it for a few hours before serving, if you like.


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Saturday, June 06, 2009

skillet cornbread


Farmer Boy

I’m reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy to Meredith again. She’s only four years old (well, almost five) and this is the third time I’m reading it to her. You might assume this is because Meredith loves it so. You’d be right… but the more salient reason is because I love it so. Somehow I grew up without reading this book! I read all of the other Laura Ingalls Wilder books, starting with Little House in the Big Woods (which I think is my favorite, actually), but somehow missed this one, the story of Almanzo Wilder’s boyhood in upstate New York. When I read it to Meredith the first time, I was utterly captivated… and as with all books I love dearly, I felt quite bereft at the end. Luckily I have a willing audience for repeat readings, and having just finished it for the second time a couple of weeks ago, we started all over again at the beginning.

Since the Farmers Market is just starting up in earnest, it’s an especially good time to be reading this book. It’s the story of all the work 10-year-old Almanzo can already do, and what he aspires to do, on his father’s farm…  milking the cows, feeding the stock, breaking his team of young calves to the yoke, helping cut ice for the ice house, collecting sap and boiling maple syrup, driving the plow horses to harrow the fields, planting the crops, shearing sheep, weeding the vegetables, picking berries, harvesting the crops, threshing the wheat, and hauling wood from the wood lot.

This vast amount of constantly changing and physically demanding work makes for very big appetites, and Almanzo’s mother is an amazing cook! (I add here, that in addition to all the cooking and baking for her family, she cheerfully does all the other work expected of a farm wife: spinning and knitting and weaving their sheeps’ wool into wonderfully warm and durable cloth, sewing all the family’s clothes and linens, doing the washing and cleaning, making soap, candles, and butter, storing the vegetables, and so on.)  Anyway, every day, with the help of Almanzo’s two sisters, Almanzo’s mother puts three huge and fantastic meals on the table. These meals are often described in mouth-watering detail, and these sections are Meredith’s and my particular favorites.  Meredith will often say after an account of a particularly wonderful meal, “I wish I was Almanzo!” So do I! Here are a few of our favorite sections (and these aren’t even the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners!).

Almanzo ate the sweet, mellow baked beans. He ate the bit of salt pork that melted like cream in his mouth. He ate mealy boiled potatoes, with brown ham-gravy. He ate the ham. He bit deep into velvety bread spread with sleek butter, and he ate the crisp golden crust. He demolished a tall heap of pale mashed turnips, and a hill of stewed yellow pumpkin. Then he sighed, and tucked his napkin deeper into the neckband of his red waist. And he ate plum preserves and strawberry jam, and grape jelly, and spiced watermelon-rind pickles. He felt very comfortable inside. Slowly he ate a large piece of pumpkin pie. [from “Winter Evening”]

[Almanzo and his older brother, Royal] worked so hard [packing ice with sawdust in the icehouse] that the exercise kept them warm, but long before noon Almanzo was hungrier than wolves. He couldn’t stop work long enough to run into the house for a doughnut. All of his middle was hollow, with a gnawing inside it.
He knelt on the ice, pushing sawdust into the cracks with his mittened hands, and pounding it down with a stick as fast as he could, and he asked Royal:
“What would you like best to eat?”
They talked about spareribs, and turkey with dressing, and baked beans, and crackling cornbread, and other good things. But Almanzo said that what he liked most in the world was fried apples’n’onions.
When, at last, they went in to dinner, there on the table was a big dish of them! Mother knew what he liked best, and she had cooked it for him.
Almanzo ate four large helpings of apples’n’onions fried together. He ate roast beef and brown gravy, and mashed potatoes and creamed carrots and boiled turnips, and countless slices of buttered bread with crab-apple jelly.
“It takes a good deal to feed a growing boy,” Mother said. And she put a thick slice of birds’-nest pudding on his bare plate, and handed him the pitcher of sweetened cream specked with nutmeg. Almanzo poured the heavy cream over the apples nested in the fluffy crust. The syrupy brown juice curled up around the edges of the cream. Almanzo took up his spoon and ate every bit.
[from “Filling the Ice House”]

When Almanzo trudged into the kitchen next morning with two brimming milk-pails, Mother was making stacked pancakes because this was Sunday.
The big blue platter on the stove’s hearth was full of plump sausage cakes; Eliza Jane was cutting apples pies and Alice was dishing up oatmeal, as usual. But the little blue platter stood hot on the back of the stove, and ten stacks of pancakes rose in tall towers on it.
Ten pancakes cooked on the smoking griddle, and as fast as they were done, Mother added another cake to each stack and buttered it lavishly and covered it with maple sugar. Butter and sugar melted together and soaked the fluffy pancakes and dripped all down their crisp edges.
That was stacked pancakes. Almanzo liked them better than any other kind of pancakes.
Mother kept on frying them till the others had eaten their oatmeal. She could never make too many stacked pancakes. They all ate pile after pile of them…
[from “Sunday”]

So… I tried to think of something that I make that is like Almanzo’s mother’s wonderful meals..  I surely don’t have a farm family to feed, and while I don’t make cornbread as often as Almanzo’s mother does (and she makes it so often she just tosses the ingredients together in a bowl, never needing to measure them), I do love it! I hope you enjoy it, too.

If you haven’t already read Farmer Boy I hope you’ll check it out; it’s inspiring and heart-warming and wonderful. And then I hope you’ll take the time to visit a farmers market in your neighborhood! I’ll bet the wonderfully fresh produce will inspire you to cook and eat wonderful meals with your loved ones!


skillet cornbread

This recipe is based on one from a long-ago issue of Cooks Illustrated. I love this cornbread—it doesn’t call for any grain but cornmeal (no wheat flour), so it’s got GREAT corn flavor and a fantastic dense, moist texture with a crispy crust that you will love. It’s not sweet, cakey, or fluffy, though—so if you like that kind of cornbread, you should stick with your regular recipe. The other reason I love this cornbread so much is because years ago, my mom gave me her grain grinder attachment for her KitchenAid Mixer (when she stopped making her own bread). So I can use absolutely freshly-ground cornmeal. I’ve read that it makes a difference to use freshly-ground corn, since cornmeal goes rancid quite quickly, and that gives it a bitter flavor. So…  if you don’t have your own grain grinder, try to get the freshest cornmeal you can, and store it in the freezer, maybe—and use it up as quick as ever you can!

The original recipe calls for a cast-iron skillet, but I just use a regular 8-inch oven-proof skillet. When I want to make a bigger batch of cornbread, I make a double batch and bake it in my biggest skillet—it’s 11 inches across.

1 tablespoon melted butter and 1 teaspoon olive oil (or, substitute all olive oil)
1 cup yellow cornmeal, preferably freshly-ground or stone-ground
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon table salt 1 teaspoon baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup water (rapidly boiling)
3/4 cup buttermilk (or substitute half plain yogurt, half milk)
1 large egg , beaten lightly

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees.
2. Measure 1/3 cup cornmeal into medium bowl. Mix remaining cornmeal, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in small bowl; set aside.
3. Pour boiling water all at once into the 1/3 cup cornmeal; stir to make a smooth, slightly thick mush. Add more boiling water if necessary to make a mush, rather than a stiff chunk. Whisk in buttermilk gradually, breaking up lumps until smooth, then whisk in egg.
4. When oven is preheated, set 8-inch oven-proof skillet with butter and olive oil in heating oven. Let it heat for 5 or 10 minutes, until very hot and butter is completely melted.
5. Stir dry ingredients into cornmeal mush mixture until just moistened. Carefully remove skillet from oven. Pour hot fat from the skillet into the batter and stir to incorporate, then quickly pour batter into heated skillet. Bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and instantly turn cornbread onto wire rack; cool for 5 minutes, then serve immediately.


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