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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

halibut fish sticks


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
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


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


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!





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)
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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