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Sunday, October 31, 2010

cabbage salad with apples and spiced pecans


written while avoiding eye contact with stacks of photos

Now that the farmers market is over and we’re back to our wintertime bakery routine (baking bread to order through our website), we’re baking much less than we do in the summer. It’s lovely to have this kind of seasonal shift, and I really appreciate the less intense baking schedule before holiday baking begins. But I’m wondering when this extra time in my week translates into more time to do that big project I’d love to sink my teeth into? Namely, working on my photo albums.

I’m not talking about starting up knitting again, or quilting, or a big home improvement project. And the ground is frozen, which means I’m not gardening. But come on—just a few hours to sit down and start sticking those photos in an album, maybe making a few notes about the event or the date. We’re not talking heavy-duty scrapbooking, here. Just photo albums. I’ve chosen the photos, and over the last three years, I’ve even brought my discs down to Keller’s to have them printed. I just picked up my latest batch of pictures last week, certain that I’d finally have time to get going.

But so far, I haven’t made the time to actually get started. Notice I say “made” the time, rather than “had” the time. Because I have had time to do other things. I’ve made nice meals for my family. I’ve worked with Dan on purging and cleaning many drawers, cupboards and shelves that haven’t seen the light of day (not to mention a dust cloth) for months or years. And we even had a little neighborhood Halloween party. In fact, I could be working on those photos right this minute instead of writing this post. (Meredith has a friend over and they are busily making programs and tickets for their ukulele and marimba concert—coming soon to a basement near me.)

Somehow the project just seems so daunting. So many years’ worth of photos. Since we started the bakery, I just haven’t kept up. So right now it seems easier to just write about how I feel intimidated by those stacks of pictures than to actually buckle down and get started. It’s a little bit of a relief when I come up with a cooking project to fill up the couple of spare hours I am suddenly blessed with this afternoon. I’d better just write a blog post while my chickpeas simmer.

I know intellectually that once I get my teeth into the project, I’ll feel excited and realize that it’s going to be fun. I’ve always been like this: until I get started on something, it seems big and scary, and I feel paralyzed. But once I force myself to get started, I realize that it’s feasible, and nothing can stop me. I guess it’s the activation energy that’s lacking right now.

Which, I’ve decided, is fine! I can putter away on my cooking and my blog, enjoy my clean drawers, and maybe tomorrow or next week I’ll have the energy to start work on those photos. Until then, I’m not going to worry about it.

cabbage salad with apples and spiced pecans

This salad is so unexpected and surprising—full of great flavors and textures—crunchy, chewy, sweet, tangy, and savory…  I just love it! The recipe is based on one that Nancy Lampman put in last week’s Glacier Grist, the recipe newsletter that comes in our Glacier Valley Farm CSA boxes of produce. She wrote that the only problem with the salad is that she ends up eating all the spiced pecans before the salad is ready. So… I changed my recipe to make twice as many pecans! Also I made the salad part a little bigger, too, since my sliced cabbage made more than five cups. Nancy said that her recipe was a version of one in Bon Appetit Magazine, January 2007. Thank you, Nancy!

I made all the parts of this salad ahead of time yesterday morning. First I made the pecans, then the dressing. Then I sliced the cabbage in my food processor and put the shreds in a big bowl. Then I sliced the apples in the processor, too, but put them in a separate bowl and tossed them with lemon juice so they wouldn’t brown. Then, later, I just tossed all the pieces together for a lunch salad for myself, and I had lots of leftovers for lunch for today and tomorrow! The apples are still not starting to brown, even today!

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups pecan halves (you can use raw nuts,  or toast them first for 12-15 minutes at 350 degrees)
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/8 teaspoon (scant) cayenne pepper
¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
¼ cup olive oil
sea salt or kosher salt
freshly-ground pepper
2 medium unpeeled apples, quartered, cored, and thinly sliced
juice from one lemon
6 – 8 cups cups thinly sliced green cabbage
1 cup dried cherries (sweet or tart—whatever you have)

1. In a medium-sized nonstick skillet, melt the brown sugar with the olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, and cayenne; let the mixture bubble for about three minutes, until the mixture is nice and thick and caramelly. Add the nuts and stir until nuts are coated, about 2 minutes. Transfer nuts to parchment or foil sheet and cool. This makes a light coating on most of the nuts—it’s not a thick one. If you think you’d prefer thicker caramel, double the sauce part.
2. Whisk vinegars and mustard in small bowl. Gradually whisk in the 1/4 cup olive oil. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Toss apples with lemon juice in large bowl. Add cabbages and dried cherries; mix. Add dressing and toss. Crumble pecans on top of each serving of salad and season salad with salt and pepper.


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Sunday, October 24, 2010

roasted brussels sprouts with mustard, walnuts and crispy crumbs


Mystery Reader

Last week was my first chance to be a Mystery Reader in Meredith’s kindergarten class. “What is a Mystery Reader?” you might ask. Doesn’t it make you curious? Interested? Even a little excited? Well, that’s just what it does for Ms. Rakos’ kindergartners! A Mystery Reader could be ANYONE coming into the classroom to read a couple of books to the class! It could be someone from the school, or a parent, or a person from the community… and the fun thing is, the kids get to guess who the person is before they arrive. Ms. Rakos gives them three clues, and then they each get to name who they think it might be.

I arrived right on time, and as I walked down the hall toward the classroom, I noticed two of Meredith’s classmates hanging around outside the door. I didn’t know if they were supposed to be out there. Were they young miscreants being disciplined in the hallway, and I shouldn’t be spotted by them? They didn’t seem the type—both the kids had been nice when I’d been in class before. I hid behind the door of the adjacent classroom for little while, waiting to see if they would go back into the classroom.

They didn’t move. How could I approach unnoticed if they were standing out there, clearly watching and waiting? I would spoil the Mystery! But if I waited any longer, I’d be late. So I popped out of my hiding place, and walked up to them. “Are you the Mystery Reader?” they asked. I admitted as much.

“But what are you two doing out here?”
“We’re waiting for you!”
“Oh! What do we do now?”
“We welcome you in.”
“OK.” We all stood there for a few seconds, and then I realized that I had been thereby welcomed. So we walked into the classroom together. Phew!

The clues for me: female, blond, and loves to read. Some of the kids even guessed me correctly! (Of course, I had been in their class helping for an hour that morning, so that might have given them an additional clue.) I was all excited to read two of my (and Meredith’s) favorite and spookiest books, in honor of Halloween. First I read The Widow’s Broom, about a lonely widow who is left a magical broom when the broom falls from the sky, no longer quite powerful enough to hold up its witch. And then I read Heckety Peg, about seven children (each named for a day of the week) who are tricked by a witch and then turned into various kinds of food. Their mother has to outwit the witch to rescue them…

I had a great time reading, and I think the kids enjoyed the books! I can’t wait for my next stint as a Mystery Reader. I just found three more fun and Halloweeny books when I was going through Meredith’s books: Too Many Pumpkins by Linda White, The Little Scarecrow Boy by Margaret Wise Brown, and Stellaluna by Janell Cannon (It’s about a bat! That fits the theme, doesn’t it?). Should I ask Ms. Rakos if I can come back next week? I don’t want to wear out my welcome. Maybe I should I just start setting aside Thanksgiving books. Hmm. Do we have any books about turkeys? Pilgrims?


roasted brussels sprouts with mustard, walnuts and crispy crumbs

This is a fantastic recipe that just adds to the deliciousness of plain roasted Brussels sprouts (already heavenly) with a little Dijon mustard, Worcestershire, and caraway seeds…  and then a crispy, nutty topping. The sauce doesn’t overwhelm the sprouts, just adds to their already complex flavor.

I first tried this recipe when Nancy put it in a Glacier Grist, the weekly recipe newsletter we include with our Glacier Valley Farm CSA boxes. I don’t remember what her source was, but I recently ran across it on Fine Cooking‘s website (searching for new recipes to try on my sweet and delicious Alaskan sprouts), and was so excited to be reminded of it that I made it immediately. I really think you’ll love this recipe! 

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted lightly and crushed
sea salt or kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds Brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, cut through the core into quarters (or cut into halves for the smallest sprouts)
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil, or if you have it, cold-pressed walnut oil (I love the Loriva oils)
1 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs
½ cup chopped walnuts

1. Position racks in the top and bottom thirds of the oven and heat the oven to 400°F. Spray two rimmed baking sheets with cooking spray (this makes cleanup easier).

2. In a large bowl, whisk ¼ cup of the olive oil with the mustard, Worcestershire sauce, caraway seeds, ½ teaspoon of the salt, and about 10 grinds of pepper. Add the Brussels sprouts and toss to thoroughly distribute the mustard mixture. Spread the sprouts in an even layer on the two baking sheets.

3. Roast until the cores of the sprouts are just barely tender and the leaves are browning and crisping a bit, 20 to 25 minutes (if your oven heat is uneven, rotate the pans midway through cooking).

4. While the sprouts are roasting, make the topping. Heat the 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil or walnut oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the breadcrumbs all at once; toss to coat with the fat. Reduce the heat to medium, add the walnuts and the remaining 1/4 tsp. salt, and cook, stirring pretty constantly, until the crumbs are browned and slightly crisp and the nuts are golden, 4 to 6 minutes. Dump the breadcrumb mixture onto a plate so they don’t keep cooking and burn in the hot skillet.

5. Transfer the sprouts to a serving platter and season to taste with salt and pepper if necessary. Or just scoop them off the baking sheet onto your plates. Let people sprinkle the crumbs over the sprouts as they eat them, or sprinkle them yourself just before serving. (I like to add the topping stepwise as I eat this, so the topping stays really crispy.)


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Thursday, October 14, 2010

wintertime roasted tomato soup


We took a couple of weeks’ break in between our two bakery seasons: after we finish baking our bread for the farmers market, we start our wintertime gig, selling bread over the website and delivering on Wednesdays. This year we flew to Washington D.C. for a double-decker family vacation!

It was a country-mouse/city-mouse experience—first we went to rural Maryland for a week to stay with Dan’s mom and stepdad, and had a wonderful time. We rode bikes on the gently rolling roads, went boating on the St. Mary’s River, swam in the beautiful new pool at the college nearby, and went running on the local trails. Despite the monsoon that was washing out roads and flooding houses, we remained cheerful. After all, it was still warmer than Anchorage!! And we could soak in the hot tub after our wet bike rides. And cold weather is great for cooking! Butternut squash and apples from a local farmstand made great soup, and zucchinis and tomatoes were wonderful grilled (the former) and sautéed and eaten on toast (the latter).

Then for the city-mouse portion of our adventure! My amazing and wonderful mother-in-law and stepdad-in-law, Karen and Chris, had happily agreed to keep six-year-old Meredith with them for four nights and five days while Dan and I went to Washington D.C. on our own! Chris even provided the shuttle service to Washington, two hours away. This was our very first getaway vacation for Dan and I together, and I’m not sure who had more fun, the Maryland crew or the D.C. crew. Suffice it to say that Dan and I had an absolutely fantastic time, and now that we’re home, Meredith is periodically melting down in tears because she misses her grandma so much.

Dan and I stayed in a little ground-floor studio apartment in a row house on Capitol Hill, only about a fifteen-minute walk from the Mall. So perfect! We had a great time seeing the monuments, some museums, lots of gardens, and most of all, eating at some incredibly wonderful restaurants. Oh my goodness, that was the best part! The first night, we had reservations to eat at Komi, which is one of those restaurants you have to try for a reservation a month in advance, but we only started trying a week in advance. (Thank you again, Karen, for persevering on the phone, waiting out those busy signals!) The only reservation we could get was at 9pm, and we took it! We called Meredith as we were having drinks in our apartment, waiting until we could catch a cab to the restaurant, and she reported excitedly that she had eaten hotdogs for dinner!  (and vegetables!) Unbeknownst to us, we were also destined to eat hotdogs—because in the middle of our fabulous tasting menu at Komi, they brought out a tiny, spicy “hotdog” of house-made sausage topped with chipotle ketchup and mustard, served in a fresh-baked bun. It was a playful homage to Ben’s Chili Bowl, a D.C. institution (of which I’d never heard). Anyway, we all enjoyed our hotdogs!!

The strangest thing we did was visit the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a National Park located deep in the heart of Anacostia. Dan told me, and our cab driver agreed, that this would not have been a safe destination when Dan had lived in D.C. as a teenager. Even though the crack wars were no longer waging, our cab driver was concerned that we’d not get a driver to come back and pick us up. We had a lovely morning wandering through first the ponds with exotic lilies blooming over gigantic prickly lily pads, and then experiencing the last remaining native D.C. swamp on a mile-long trail, seeing egrets and blue herons, reeds and rushes and bogs and river sloughs, with the occasional background noise of sirens. A little bit surreal! And a cab driver DID come to pick us up, after all!!

One of the things I love about Washington, D.C. is that I didn’t feel like a dork being a tourist there. Because there are SO MANY TOURISTS there! From all over the world! I haven’t spent that much time in big cities, but when I do, I usually feel like I’ve just fallen off the back of a turnip truck: so unsophisticated and not wearing nearly enough black. But in Washington, I just felt welcomed. The people working at the museums and parks and gardens were happy to receive us as interested visitors, and the servers and bartenders at our restaurants seemed delighted to have us, as excited and appreciative as we were for their phenomenal food and drinks. What a great city! I can’t wait to go back!

Now that we’re back in Anchorage, and it’s below freezing every morning, the order of the day is definitely warming soups and stews. This is a soup I made before I left and froze, and I’m really enjoying it now! It’s a tomato soup, but it’s different than the other one I’ve posted. You can never have too many tomato soup recipes up your sleeve! I think you’ll really like it, too! You can serve it with a grilled cheese sandwich, or with garlicky croutons!


wintertime roasted tomato soup

I made this soup using the giant-size (6 pound, 6 ounce) cans of whole tomatoes from Costco. Yes, it makes a big batch, but it freezes really well, and that way you’ll have lots of leftovers to eat with a quick toasted cheese sandwich whenever you need a warming meal!!  This recipe is based on one in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Even though there are a lot of vegetables to prep here, if you have a food processor, it’s really fast. Because the soup will get pureed, you can just slice everything thinly in your machine and not worry about dicing onions or carrots.

1 institutional-size can of whole tomatoes (6 lbs, 6 oz)
1 cup loosely packed dried tomatoes (not the kind packed in oil), about 2 ounces
olive oil
3 medium onions, halved
8 cloves of garlic, minced
6 carrots
4 stalks of celery
2 tablespoons dried thyme
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Put the dried tomatoes in a bowl and cover with 2 cups of boiling water. Drain the canned tomatoes and reserve the liquid. Halve each tomato and put them on rimmed baking sheets, or in shallow roasting pans, or a combination. Drizzle with olive oil—a couple of tablespoons to ¼ cup, whatever you feel like. Roast in the oven, turning once or twice, until the tomatoes are dried and lightly browned, 30 to 45 minutes.
2. While the tomatoes are roasting, slice the onions, carrots, and celery thinly—if you have a food processor, this is the time to use it!
3. When the tomatoes are done roasting, pour the dried tomatoes and their soaking liquid into the roasting pans. Use a wooden spoon to scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan, breaking up the tomatoes as you do so.
4. Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a deep skillet or large saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onion to the oil and cook until it begins to brown. Then add the garlic, carrot, and celery, and the thyme. Cook until the vegetables start to release their liquids. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
5. Add the reserved liquid from the canned tomatoes, as well as 2 to 3 quarts of water, and the tomatoes from the roasting pans. Turn the heat to high and bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat so it bubbles gently. Cover and cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 30 minutes. As you cook it, you’ll probably need to add more water—just make sure there is plenty of liquid so it’s nice and soupy.
6. Let the soup cool until it’s not much hotter than room temperature, and then puree it in batches in your blender until it is nice and smooth. A hand-held immersion blender really doesn’t do a good enough job here—it’s got to go in the blender to get really smooth, with all those dried tomatoes and celery bits and carrots.
7. Put some of the soup in the freezer (well-labeled) for later, and return the portion that you’re going to eat to the stove and heat until bubbling.
8. Make the garlickly croutons, below, or a grilled cheese sandwich, and enjoy!

The Croutons

5 slices hearty whole-grain bread
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed in a garlic press
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mash the garlic with the salt in the bottom of a medium-sized bowl. Stir in the olive oil. Cut the slices of bread into ½” cubes and toss them in the garlicky oil until the oil is thoroughly absorbed and distributed.
2. Spread the bread cubes out on a baking sheet and bake for 15-25 minutes, until the croutons are crispy and golden-brown.


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Friday, October 01, 2010

Chinese-marinated cucumbers


older-sisterly love

A couple of weeks ago I was in a bike shop, and the bike mechanic/salesperson was ringing up my purchases, noticed my name, and said “Hey, are you Ben’s sister?” Since I didn’t change my last name when I married Dan, this does tend to happen fairly often—especially since Ben and I look a bit alike, and he is a minor celebrity among skiers in Anchorage. For many years, he’s been a coach for Winter Stars, a year-round training program for cross-country skiers, from junior high school students to masters. So not only do all his skiers know him, but all the parents of the younger skiers know him, too. And from what I hear, they all love him! I’m so proud of him for making such a name for himself, and it’s so nice to hear people’s compliments when they realize that I am, indeed, Ben’s sister.

Except for one thing. I’m older! He’s my little brother! So I always correct them. “No no no, you are mistaken, I’m not HIS sister, he’s actually MY brother.” Sometimes they get it—they apologize to my injured ego, and laugh. But other times, they just look confused, apparently wondering why I don’t embrace being Ben’s sister as my claim to fame. Ben loves it when I am recognized by my relationship to him, and will thank anyone who mentions it. It’s well-deserved come-uppance for me! From elementary school through high school, he was plagued by expectations of his teachers and coaches: “You’re Alison’s brother?” I admit, I deserve all I get, and probably a lot more!

But here’s the funny thing. When we’re out skiing on the trails, or biking together, or running, he IS the older brother now! He’s such a fantastic coach—encouraging and fun, yet offering constructive criticism when needed—that I find myself working hard to follow his instructions, and am pleased and gratified by his praise when I earn it.

I’m proud of you, Ben!

Love, YOUR sister, Alison

Chinese-marinated cucumbers

A couple of weeks ago I discovered two cucumbers in my crisper drawer from last week’s CSA box the day before I was due to get the next vegetable installment, so I had to eat them pronto. This recipe is a variation on a celery recipe in Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. It looked easy and fast, but I had absolutely no idea how amazingly delicious it would be. I am embarrassed to say that I sat down and ate practically the entire batch by myself for lunch.

I added tomatoes to the original recipe, and I have to say, they are absolutely divine with the cucumbers and the soy flavors. However, if you don’t have ripe, delicious tomatoes, don’t buy the bland mealy kind at the store. Just omit the the tomatoes—it will still be really yummy.

2 large English cucumbers
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 large clove garlic, minced or pressed
½ teaspoon chili oil (optional)
2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into wedges and then in half, to make bite-sized pieces

1. Cut the cucumber lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with a spoon and discard them. Cut the cucumber into ½-inch pieces. Mix with 1 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon sugar and set them aside for 10 to 30 minutes.
2. Whisk together the remaining sugar, sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, and chili oil.
3. Rinse, drain and pat the cucumber dry, then toss with the dressing. Add the tomato chunks and toss again. Refrigerate for at least 3 hours and up to a day. Serve chilled.


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