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Thursday, August 27, 2009

cornmeal pancakes with blueberries

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the biggest egg

This story begins almost four years ago, when Dan and I and Meredith were driving over to the Hillside trails one day. Two-year-old Meredith was bundled up in the back, in preparation for a ride in the ski pulk. Suddenly, we drove by a row of three large peacocks perched on the berm at the side of busy Birch Road!  What the….? Peacocks? In the wintertime in Anchorage? I pulled over to investigate. Obviously we should inform the owners that their peacocks were on the run. We backed up to the nearest driveway, and pulled partway in, where we came to a gate with a charming sign warning us that miniature horses were at large on the property. We weren’t sure what to do… open the gate and go in? Or just trust that someone with miniature horses at large were probably comfortable with their peacocks on the loose? We figured that the peacocks were probably fine, and drove off for our ski. Ever after that, whenever we drove by, we would look for the peacocks, but we never saw them again. We thought that when Meredith got a little older, maybe we could stop by and ask to see the flock.

The following summer, we were helping a friend publicize a big community park party. She asked me to hand out invitation flyers to houses in the neighborhood. I agreed, but requested the half-mile of road where we’d seen the peacocks. This was my chance! Meredith in the jogging stroller, we sped through our assignment, and finally reached the last house…  the peacock house! We let ourselves in through the gate, making sure not to let any miniature horses escape. Lucky for us, we got to meet wonderful, warm, friendly Mary Bolin! Not only did we get to see her peacocks, but the peahens, miniature horses, regular horses (with a brand-new foal!) and chickens, too.

Now that we know Mary, we run into her all the time. We see her at the farmers market, shopping for her week’s vegetables, and she is a huge supporter of our produce box CSA program (she even buys boxes for her friends at Christmastime). One Saturday, she gave Meredith a HUGE egg—a PEAFOWL egg!! We were so excited about this egg. For several days Meredith just wanted to save it and make nests for it. (Mostly it stayed in the ‘fridge, but it would come out for little adventures in various bowls lined with napkins and washcloths.) A week later when we saw Mary again, we confessed we were having trouble imagining actually cracking the egg to cook it.  She suggested that we blow the egg out of a hole so we could keep the shell! What a great idea! That made us all happy. Dan rummaged out this great German egg-blower that his mom had sent us at Easter a few years back, and we finally got to try it out! It worked like a charm!

We didn’t want to scramble just one egg, and fried or poached were definitely out, so we just ended up making delicious pancakes with it. Dan and Meredith will very often make pancakes together on Sunday morning, to relax after the busy bake and Saturday farmers market…  and the peafowl egg made it even more special!!

It’s been several weeks since the pancake-making episode, and to my astonishment, Meredith has not yet broken the egg shell! And to add to the excitement, Mary mentioned the other day that one of her peahens is broody and is sitting on a clutch of eggs! Wouldn’t it be amazing to get to see a tiny pea-chick in a few weeks? I hope they hatch!

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cornmeal pancakes with blueberries

This recipe is only slightly adapted from a great one in the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book. Dan and Meredith make this recipe just about every weekend, so he has the recipe memorized. Usually.

½ cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup milk
1 egg
½ cup whole wheat flour (pastry flour, if you have it)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

1. Place the cornmeal in a medium bowl. Pour the boiling water over it, stir the mixture thoroughly and let stand for 15 minutes. This step allows the cornmeal to absorb the water and it will be like polenta at the end of 15 minutes. Stir in the melted butter, then beat the egg into the milk and add to the cornmeal mixture.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the try ingredients to the cornmeal mixture and combine with a few swift strokes. Let the batter sit for 15 minutes.
3. Heat a nonstick griddle if you have one, or a heavy skillet. When the surface of the pan is hot enough that a drop of water sputters across it, grease the surface lightly with vegetable oil on a paper towel, the spoon the batter onto the hot surface, ¼-cup at a time. Sprinkle blueberries over the surface of the pancake. Let the pancakes cook on the first side until bubbles begin to form around the edges, about 3 minutes. These pancakes take a little longer to set than most. You may need to adjust your heat up or down to get the pancakes to cook through without scorching the surface or being too pale. When the cakes are set through the center, fluip them and let them finish cooking on the second side, until they’re golden brosn, 1 to 2 minutes more. Serve immediately with syrup and butter. (We love to use the Alaskan Birch Syrup from Kahiltna Birchworks.)


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Saturday, August 15, 2009

broccoli with golden raisins and carrot dip with sunflower seeds and cumin

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Julia’s Lunch

Last week I got a call from Julia O’Malley. Yes, THE Julia O’Malley who writes that great column in the Anchorage Daily News. She said she wanted to talk to me about local food and farmers markets, and asked if I would cook something local and seasonal with her. Of COURSE I would! Did she want to come over for dinner? “How about lunch?” she asked. Perfect. We settled on Wednesday, when we could also visit the farmers market at the Dimond Center.

It wasn’t that I was exactly nervous about this meal—but I really wanted it to be great. I waffled about the menu for several days, turning over many different ideas and then rejecting them. I knew I wanted to make a broccoli dish—the farmers markets are swimming in broccoli now, and it’s so sweet and delicious. But what should I serve alongside? Avocado toasts? No, not local enough—only the onions are Alaskan. Lightly sauteed tomatoes on toast? Nope. Last Saturday, I was so busy selling bread that by the time I had a chance to shop at the farmers’ market, they were gone. Carrot salad with currants & mint? Nah…  I didn’t have any mint and I didn’t want to go to the grocery store.

So I finally settled on making a menu that I would have made for any friend that came over. “Don’t knock yourself out,” I told myself. “She wants to meet you, not Martha Stewart.” (Well, maybe she does want to meet Martha Stewart, but that would have to be another time.) I would serve something new, broccoli with golden raisins, fresh from the farmers market and hot out of the skillet. And then I would pull something out of the freezer for an accompaniment: carrot dip with sunflower seeds and cumin. I’d made it late last fall when I had way too many carrots on hand, and it would be the perfect thing to serve on toast with the broccoli.

Even though I’d settled on a menu, I was still a little bit nervous on Wednesday morning. I wanted everything to go smoothly and I hoped I wouldn’t stick my foot in my mouth…  But my remaining anxiousness evaporated as a smiling Julia hopped out of her car, joking about the long drive to the wilds of Lower Hillside. I asked if she’d gotten her passport stamped; I understand many urban Anchorage-ites rarely travel south of Tudor Road.

We got to work right away on lunch. As I peeled the broccoli stems and chopped the stalks, sauteed garlic and added the raisins and red pepper flakes, Julia and I talked about farmers markets, local food, and cooking the river of fresh ingredients that can turn into a flood this time of year. (She was videoing the whole cooking process with her flip camera.) We enjoyed our lunch outside on the deck, and got a little heady discussing the benefits of local food; beyond just fresh and delicious, buying local benefits our community in so many ways! Suddenly it was 2:30 and we needed to hit the farmers market before it closed at 4pm! Luckily the vendors still had plenty of produce when we arrived at the market, and she got a chance to talk with them, too.

I had a wonderful day with Julia! Not only is she a gifted writer, she’s engaging and smart and funny. I went into our day with the expectation of an interview, and came out with a new friend! Thanks, Julia!!

Oh—and here’s the link to her story


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broccoli with golden raisins

I love this broccoli recipe—I love it hot as a side dish, at room temperature as a salad, or even cold out of the ‘fridge as a snack. It’s loosely based on a recipe in Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast, one of my favorite cookbooks for vegetables. I posted this recipe in my blog once before, but in honor of Julia’s lunch, I’m re-posting it.

1 ½ pounds broccoli, tops cut into bite-sized florets, and stems sliced into ¼” slices (peel the stems first if the skin is tough)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ cup golden raisins
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
sea salt or kosher salt
optional toast:
4 slices thick whole-wheat bread
extra olive oil for the toast

1. Put about an inch of water in the bottom of a pot that you can put a steamer basket in. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. When the water boils, put the golden raisins in the steamer basket and steam for 5 minutes. Remove the raisins, but keep the water in the steamer.
2. Put the broccoli stems into the steamer basket, and steam for 4-6 minutes until barely tender. Check them every minute after 4 minutes, poking with a sharp paring knife. Remove the stems, drain them, and immediately spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet spread with a dishtowel. (This cools the broccoli quickly and allows it to dry out.)
3. Put the florets in the steamer, and steam for 3-5 minutes until barely tender, keeping a close eye on them. Remove the florets and spread them out on a dishtowel as with the stems. When they are cool enough to handle, chop the florets and stems a bit finer with a large chef’s knife.
4. In a large skillet over high heat, warm the oil. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the broccoli, stems, raisins, and red pepper flakes and sauté until the broccoli is quite tender, and the flavors are nicely combined—about 5 minutes. Season with plenty of salt—it will need quite a bit.
5. If you want to serve the broccoli on toast, toast the slices of bread until golden, and drizzle with olive oil. Pile the broccoli on top.

carrot dip with sunflower seeds & cumin

You pretty much need a food processor for this recipe, and with it, this dip is SO FAST to make.  It’s much quicker and easier than hummus, for example, since the carrots cook so much more quickly than chickpeas. But it’s rich and delicious and flavorful—and such a beautiful color! Not to mention nutritious!

This recipe is based on one in Veganomicon.  The original recipe called for oil, but I think the dip is rich enough just with the ground sunflower seeds. If you prefer a richer spread, by all means add a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil!

It’s fantastic spread on our toasted seed bread, or crackers, or our regular 100% whole wheat levain. But it’s also great scooped up with celery sticks!

1 pound carrots, peeled if the skins are bitter
¼ cup roasted sunflower seeds (if you have salted roasted seeds, just use less salt and adjust to taste)
2 small cloves garlic (or 3 cloves, if you like things garlicky)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon salt
1 -2 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice

1. If you have raw sunflower seeds, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Toast the sunflower seeds on a cookie sheet in the oven (the oven works well if you’re making extra seeds) for about 10 -12 minutes, until golden-brown and fragrant. Check on them and give them a stir if they are getting too brown in spots. Or, you can toast the seeds on a skillet over medium heat until golden-brown and toasted.
2. Bring a small pot of water to a boil and add a little salt.
3. Slice the carrots.  I do this in the food processor—just cut the stem ends off the carrots and shoot them through the feed tube, pushing with the little pusher cup, small end first.
4. Boil the carrots until soft, 7 to 10 minutes. Drain in a colander when done.
5. Meanwhile, when the sunflower seeds are toasted, peel the garlic and toss it in the cuisinart to mince. Then add the sunflower seeds and process into fine crumbs. Then add the cumin, salt, lemon juice, and carrots, and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the food processor as you go.
6. Taste for salt and adjust the lemon. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use (at least 30 minutes).


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Thursday, August 13, 2009

toast with nut butter and raspberries

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the berry bug

Our neighbors called just as we were finishing dinner and invited us over to pick golden raspberries. It was almost Meredith’s bedtime, and not long before my own… but we couldn’t resist! Meredith has been at Blueberry Camp with her preschool class all week, so she was especially jazzed.  “I’m a better berry picker than you, Mom, since I’ve been practicing on blueberries all week!”

Just between you and me, she would be hard pressed to be a better berry picker than I. I inherited a berry-picking compulsion (or is it a learned behavior?) from both of my parents, so I have a hard time dragging myself away from a bush (or a hillside or forest, for that matter) if there is still a berry left. Three summers ago, when Meredith was but a small and tiny mite, there was a banner blueberry year in Kachemak Bay. In a couple of weeks, I picked 40 gallons of blueberries (high-bush), mostly during Meredith’s morning and afternoon nap-times, all around our cabin where I could hear her cry when she woke up. Not that I’m obsessed or anything. Ha.

Even so, I didn’t dissuade Meredith from her delusion that she might be a better picker than I am. I humored her, because I want to encourage this sort of behavior, not crush her with my berry-picking ego. Berry picking is soothing and contemplative, and I love it. I do hope Meredith catches the berry bug, too. It’ll serve her well in the future: filling the freezer and emptying her mind, all at the same time.

THANK YOU, Kari & Wade, for letting us pick your raspberries! As you can see, we enjoyed the berries for breakfast on toast with nut butter. Meredith got especially creative with her design!

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toast with nut butter and raspberries

Not exactly a recipe…  just a wonderful breakfast this time of year, when the raspberries are ripe in backyards. It also makes a fabulous afternoon snack! We always use our own Rise & Shine bakery whole grain sourdough pan loaves for the toast, but any sturdy whole-grain bread will work just fine.

And here’s how I like my almond butter. I love roasted almond butter (not the raw kind), and I like it a little bit salty, like peanut butter. Most almond butters don’t come salted—but it’s easy to mix in salt when you’re stirring in the separated oil when you first open the jar. If you don’t prefer almond butter, use peanut butter, instead! That’s what Meredith had this morning.

slices of whole wheat sourdough bread
almond butter (I prefer roasted and salted) or peanut butter
raspberries

Toast the bread, and spread it with nut butter. Get in touch with your inner pastry chef and decorate the nut buttered toast with raspberries. Eat with more raspberries on the side, if you like. Sip tea or coffee between bites. Enjoy pure bliss.


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Friday, August 07, 2009

broccoli salad with roasted peppers, capers & olives

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putting broccoli up for the winter

Mr. Vanderweele is giving away free broccoli again at the South Anchorage Farmers Market on Saturday! Last year he brought an entire tote of broccoli for our event, and you should have seen the hordes of people! Check out the photo, below, of the people lining up for their sweet, flavorful, and ever-so-nutritious Alaskan broccoli. (Have you tried it?)

As much as I love this event, and as much as I appreciate Mr. Vanderweele’s generosity, it does make my heart sink just a bit. This is high broccoli season, which means it’s time to buy my usual two cases of broccoli and put them up to freeze for the winter. Processing seventy pounds of broccoli does tend to take a bite out of one’s weekend.

This is the time of the summer when we suddenly realize that it’s almost over—all the rain we’ve had lately is a sure sign of waning summer. School is starting soon (already!), but can’t we just squeeze in one more camping trip? And speaking of squeezing, how will I make room for the salmon, blueberries, AND broccoli in my freezer?  Not to mention moose meat, if your husband is a successful hunter this year. Rats, I still have a few garden projects I was meaning to finish… (OK, start, and then finish). The firewood needs to be stacked, and the list goes on…  our summer is so short!

However, there are SO MANY REASONS to freeze Alaskan broccoli… My broccoli from the freezer is so much sweeter and tastier than anything I can buy in the wintertime in the grocery store—even the “fresh” stuff. And when I freeze the vegetables now, they will still be locally-grown when I thaw them out in February!! And best of all, it saves me so much time in the winter, when all I have to do is grab a bag out of the freezer! It really is the ultimate fast food.

So I’m going to share not only one of my favorite broccoli recipes, but also the method I use to line my chest freezer with quarts and quarts of broccoli to thaw out and eat during the winter. I made a handy YouTube Video so you can see the process for yourself! But the directions are written out, below, as well.


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processing broccoli to freeze

a case of broccoli

1. Cut about a ¼” off the stem end of each head of broccoli, and peel most of the skin from the bottoms of the stalks of broccoli, using a paring knife and starting from the bottom of the stem. The thick skin will peel away easily from the outside of the stalk.
2. Slice the stalks into coins about ¼” thick and put them all into a bowl. Cut the florets into bite-sized pieces and put them in a separate bowl from the stems.
3. Fill the biggest pot you have with water, bring it to a boil, and salt it well. Spread some large towels out on your countertop.
4. Dump a batch of broccoli into the boiling water (either stalks or florets, but not both at once). Cook for 3-4 minutes, or maybe 5 for the stalks, until just tender-crisp. Test with a sharp paring knife.
5. Scoop the broccoli out, shake the extra water off, and spread it out on the towels in a single layer. If you can, have a couple of windows open to help the broccoli cool and dry. Spreading the broccoli on towels like this stops it cooking immediately, and dries it nicely by evaporation.
6. When completely cool, put the broccoli in freezer ziploc bags, in whatever portions you like to cook at once. Keep the florets and stalks in separate bags. I like to freeze the sliced stalks separately, since they work so well for roasting, later.
7. Repeat with the rest of the florets and stalks until you’ve worked your way through the whole case. Then freeze the bags!
8. When you want to eat broccoli, just thaw out a bag and proceed with whatever recipe you want. I have several great broccoli recipes in the Farmers’ Market Cookbook—any of them will work wonderfully with broccoli from the freezer.

broccoli salad with roasted peppers, capers, and olives

This salad is a variation on one in Deborah Madison’s The Greens Cook Book. Using our sweet, flavorful Alaskan broccoli (whether fresh or out of the freezer in the winter) makes this salad just amazing! Make a double batch of this salad if you want, for great leftovers, but don’t add the vinegar to the portion of the salad you’ll be saving for the following day—it fades the green of the broccoli.

I often make this salad when I don’t have all the ingredients. Just so you know, it’s great without the red peppers, parsley, and scallions (just mince up some red or yellow onion), so just leap in and make it.

2 pounds broccoli (If using your frozen broccoli, thaw it and start at Step 4.)
2 roasted red peppers (see recipe, below)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or pressed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or less, if you like)
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
12 kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
3 scallions, finely sliced (including the greens)
2 tablespoons parsley, chopped
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons or more balsamic vinegar, to taste
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper

1. Put about an inch of water in the bottom of a pot that you can put a steamer basket in. Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil. When the water boils, put the broccoli stems in the steamer basket and steam for 4-6 minutes until barely tender. Check them every minute after 4 minutes, poking with a sharp paring knife.
2. Remove the stems, shake excess water off, and immediately spread them out in a single layer on a baking sheet spread with a dishtowel. (This cools the broccoli quickly and allows it to dry out.)
3. Put the florets in the steamer, and steam for 3-5 minutes until barely tender, keeping a close eye on them. Remove the florets and spread them out on a dishtowel as with the stems.
4. Slice the roasted peppers into strips ½-inch wide and mix them in a large bowl with the garlic, olive oil, juice from the peppers, capers, olives, scallions, parsley, and red pepper flakes, and, if you’ll serve the entire salad right away, the balsamic vinegar. Only add the vinegar to the portion of salad you’ll be serving immediately, since it fades the color of the broccoli. Season the mixture with salt.
5. Combine the broccoli and stems with the rest of the ingredients and toss them together. If you’re making enough for leftovers, take tomorrow’s portion out now and put it in the ‘fridge. Then, with your remaining salad, taste for salt, and add the balsamic vinegar and more oil and more vinegar as needed. Add a grinding of pepper, to taste.

roasted red peppers
I like to do roast of peppers at once (I get the big bags from Costco), and then use them as sandwich fillings, or in other salads. If you won’t finish them in a week, just pop some of them in the freezer to thaw out later.

red peppers

1. Preheat your grill or broiler. Roast the red peppers, turning them as each side gets blackened.
2. When they are blackened all the way around, place them in a big bowl and cover it with a lid or a plate until the peppers are fairly cool (this steams and cooks the peppers the rest of the way).
3. Peel the skins from the peppers and remove the seeds, but don’t rinse the peppers—just rinse your fingers as you peel the skins off. Slice the peppers into pieces as desired.


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