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Monday, April 30, 2012

green pea spread

green pea spread

biking to girdwood

The first bike rides of the season always feel like a gift, especially after a long snowy winter!

On Sunday we drove to Indian and parked across from the Brown Bear Saloon, intending to bike the Bird to Gird trail. We found the trail was still piled with snow in the shady patches, though, so we ended up biking on the shoulder of the highway. On the tandem, Dan captained and Meredith stoked, (Check out the child’s stoker kit on the bike!) and I rode my own bike. There wasn’t too much traffic, but we did battle against a stiff headwind. Kudos to Dan for being able to draft off me even with Meredith’s irregular pedaling. (Her game is sporadic sprinting.) We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the Girdwood playground, then rocketed back to the car, propelled homeward by a well-deserved tailwind.

I remembered my camera, but when I pulled it out to take a photo of Dan and Meredith pedaling along Turnagain Arm, I realized that my battery was dead.  ARGH! So I made them get back on the bike when we got home and ride up and down our road so I could get a few shots—if not the scenery, at least the bike riders! 

tandem ride

green pea spread

I came up with this recipe last fall when I had a lot of fresh Alaskan peas, but you can make this dip with frozen peas, as well. I wanted to make some kind of a dip or spread for vegetables, like my carrot dip. Combining fresh peas with dried, cooked split peas gave me a nice thick consistency, and I decided to use Japanese flavorings. It’s great with cucumbers, especially when topped with a little pickled ginger and toasted sesame seeds! You can freeze this spread, so I’d make a double batch and freeze it in small containers (labeled!) for an easy appetizer whenever you need one. No point in making only 2 cups of split peas!

1 ½ cups dried split peas
4 cups fresh or frozen peas
1 teaspoon salt
the green parts of 4 scallions, sliced into thick pieces
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons pickled ginger (Find this in the refrigerated section in many grocery stores, near the sushi supplies, or in the produce section.)
pinch of cayenne

1. Simmer the split peas in a small pot of water until they are very soft. This could take up to an hour. Drain the peas well.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add salt, and the fresh peas. When the water comes back to a boil, cook the peas for a minute or so, just until hot through. Don’t overcook them. Drain them and spread them out on a dishtowel to cool and dry.
3. Put all the ingredients into a food processor and process until fairly smooth. You’ll need to taste for salt, sugar (the pickled ginger) and spice, and add more seasonings as necessary until you get a nice balance of flavors.
4. if the dip seems watery (and it will, after you’ve refrigerated it for a while, or frozen and thawed it), put it in a sieve for a few minutes and let the extra water drain out.
5. Serve on cucumber slices, topped with slices of pink pickled ginger and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. (Toast them in a skillet for a minute or two until roasty and light brown.)

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

African peanut stew with sweet potatoes, kale, and chickpeas

peanut soup

spring blossoms

Even though my yard is still deep in snow, the south- and west-facing garden beds along my house are sprouting with all kinds of early perennials! My favorite early plants are the little yellow primroses, Primula elatior. I bought a few of these lovely little plants many years ago from my friend Lorri at In the Garden Nursery, and since then, they have grown and reseeded in a delightful (but not invasive) manner. I love them with the little blue hyacinthoides bulbs. They are such a happy and bright harbinger of spring—even with snow all around, and the nights still getting down to freezing! They are tough little plants, which I really appreciate!

Lorri’s website says that she will probably be opening on May 19th…  In the Garden is located at 7307 O’Brien Street, West of Lake Otis, off 72nd Street. Maybe I’ll see you there!


African peanut stew with sweet potatoes, kale, and chickpeas

Warming and hearty, full of beautiful colors and spicy, savory flavors; I think you’re going to love this recipe! It’s based on a recipe in Crescent Dragonwagon’s Passionate Vegetarian.
I like to make a double batch of this recipe and then freeze half of it for later. If you want, you can freeze the soup before adding the sweet potatoes, since the sweet potatoes tend to turn a little mushy after being thawed, but it’s not that bad. In fact, the photo is of soup that has been frozen and thawed. If you like, though, when you thaw out the soup, just steam sweet potato chunks, then add them to the completed soup.
I like to cook my own chickpeas for this recipe—the beans are much yummier, and since you cook the beans with garlic and onions, the cooking liquid makes a wonderful stock for the soup. But you can use canned, pre-cooked beans if you like. In that case, just use water for the liquid instead of the bean-cooking liquid. (Rinse the canned peas first, and don’t use the liquid from the can.) You can also use black-eyed peas, instead of chickpeas—they don’t take nearly as long to cook.

3 cups chickpeas, rinsed and soaked for 4 hours or overnight
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
3 yellow onions: 1 onion peeled and quartered, and the other 2 onions peeled and diced
sea salt or kosher salt
1-2 bunches kale or collards (to your taste)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ribs celery, diced
1 serrano or jalepeno chile, halved, seeds removed with a spoon, then diced (If you don’t have fresh chiles, you can use a little can of diced green chiles.)
1 teaspoon curry powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne
8-10 gratings of fresh nutmeg (or ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg)
1 or 2 cans (10 ounces each) (I like it extra tomato-y)
2 or 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 package of frozen okra slices (you can use green beans instead, if you’d rather—but I love the little round okras!)
½ cup natural peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons soy sauce, plus more to taste
sugar, to taste
Freshly-ground pepper

1. Drain the chickpeas, rinse them, and place them in a large soup pot with water to cover by a couple of inches. Put the quartered onion (not the chopped ones), all the whole cloves of garlic, and the bay leaves in with the beans. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer until quite tender, usually 1 to 1 ½ hours. When the peas are tender, add 1 teaspoon salt or more, to your taste.
2. While the beans are cooking, bring a large pot of water to boil, and salt it well.
3. Cut the long stems away from the kale or collard leaves. Stack the leaves on top of each other and slice the leaves into 1-inch wide ribbons.
4. Plunge the kale or collards into the pot of boiling salted water, and cook until tender. This could take as long as 8 or 10 minutes, but could be much shorter. Start tasting after 5 minutes. Drain the kale or collards and set aside.
5. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the diced onion, diced celery and 1 teaspoon salt, and sauté until starting to brown and the vegetables are tender. Add the chile, curry powder, cayenne, and nutmeg and sauté, stirring, for another minute. Remove from the heat and set aside until the beans are done.
6. When the chickpeas are tender, remove the quartered onion (they will be slimy and tasteless by now) and bay leaves and discard them. Stir the beans around, and when you see a whole garlic clove, mash it against the side of the pot with a spoon and stir back into the beans. 
7. Dump the diced onion and celery mixture into the beans, and then add the canned tomatoes and the sweet potato. If it doesn’t seem brothy enough, add more water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.  Simmer, partly covered, for about 15 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are tender. Add the okra, and cook 5 or 10 minutes more.
8. Heat a kettle of water to a boil. Place the peanut butter in a large heatproof bowl and pour about a cup of boiling water over the peanut butter, whisking constantly to blend. When blended, whisk in the tomato paste.
9. When the sweet potatoes are tender, add the peanut butter mixture to the stew. Stir it well until smooth. Stir in the kale, and season well with salt and pepper to taste. Taste it and decide if the sweet potatoes have added enough sweetness to the stew. If not, add a little sprinkle of sugar (about a teaspoon), taste again. It might just bring up the flavors.
10. This stew is wonderful when made a day or two ahead of time and reheated (carefully, over low heat and stirred often, so the peanut butter doesn’t scorch).
11. You can serve this stew with rice or other grains, or just by itself.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

salade nicoise

snowy, sunny spring!

My friend Nancy asked me to ski with her across Eklutna Lake up to the glacier last week. What a great adventure! It was a beautiful sunshiney day, with absolutely no wind! The skiing was really fast on the huge frozen lake, and then when we got to the river valley, we had some interesting bushwhacking through tangled saplings and branches to avoid the open water. We only had to splash across one stream.

On the way back down, we found a rutted snowmachine trail to follow. When Nancy asked whether I’d prefer “roots or ruts?” I quickly chose ruts. Nancy, light, quick, agile and strong, makes much better progress through the deep, soft snow, slipping neatly around and between trees, bushes and shrubs. I feel more like a large mama moose wallowing through the deep snow, with skis to hamper my progress by getting caught under loops of branches and on the wrong side of small trees.

With the ice melting and the snow softening, I think this might have been the last possible day of the season to make this ski trip. I’m so glad we caught it! Thanks, Nancy!!!

salade nicoise

When I find myself with a refrigerator full of beautiful Alaskan produce (and sometimes, some fresh seafood), I often prepare this salad to make a big dent in it. Just pick several of the vegetables to prepare. I usually make a huge salad and invite friends over to help eat it, since it’s so beautiful—I just have to share it! You can make one giant salad, or make each person their own individual composed salad.

I also make this salad when I have lots of little odds and ends of things in the refrigerator—leftover roasted potatoes, a few white beans from another project, some grape tomatoes…  In that case, after making the dressing, I just cook some green beans from the freezer, hard boil some eggs, grate some carrots, and I’ve got a great, easy meal!  You can make this meal as simple or as complicated as you like.

And one more thing—you can make a big batch of this dressing and put a jar in the freezer for later.  Then you can REALLY make a fast salad!

lemony vinaigrette

2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small red onion, minced fine
juice of one lemon
¼ cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (if you have grainy mustard too, you can use 1 tablespoon of each)
1 tablespoon honey
½ to 1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cracked pepper
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together all the vinaigrette ingredients, except the oil, in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking. Season with salt and honey to taste, then set aside.
vegetables (pick 5 or 6 of the following to prepare)

2 pounds garlic-roasted potatoes (see following recipe)
1 pound green beans, blanched in salted water until just tender. 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.)
1 pound roasted beets (see following recipe), peeled, sliced into wedges, and tossed with some of the lemony vinaigrette
1 pint cherry tomatoes or several slow-roasted tomatoes (see “tomatoes” section)
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered (See perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs in the “sandwiches and things to eat on toast” section.)
1 pound grilled asparagus (see “asparagus” section)
4 roasted red peppers (see following recipe)
1 large cucumber, sliced thin and tossed with some of the lemony vinaigrette
3 large carrots, grated and tossed with some of the lemony vinaigrette
2 cups cooked white beans

optional fish (pick one if you’d like to include fish in your salad)

fresh Alaskan scallops, threaded on skewers, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and grilled on a clean, oiled rack just until done
kippered salmon, flaked
fresh salmon, seasoned with salt and pepper or lemon pepper, and grilled
fresh halibut, seasoned with salt and pepper or lemon pepper, and grilled


½ cup kalamata olives, pitted
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
12 cups of assorted salad greens
cracked pepper

Compose this salad on a large serving platter, or make each person their own plate of composed salad. Toss the salad greens with some of the lemony vinaigrette, and make a bed of lettuce on the platter. Attractively group each vegetable on the lettuce. Have fun with all those colors! Drizzle vinaigrette over all the vegetables. Scatter the olives and capers over all, and sprinkle cracked pepper over the top. Enjoy!!

garlic-roasted potatoes

2 pounds small Butterball potatoes (or other yellow, waxy potato)
garlic oil (recipe 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.

roasted beets
1. Put the beets (unpeeled) in a baking dish or oven-proof casserole and put ¼” of water in the dish. Cover with foil (or a tight, oven-proof lid), and bake them at 375 or 400 degrees until tender when stabbed with a paring knife. Usually they take 40 minutes or longer, but young beets might be quicker, depending on how big they are. In the fall, when the beets are bigger, they may take much longer—up to an hour and a half. Remove from the oven and let cool until you can pick them up without burning yourself.
2. When the beets are cool enough to handle, slip their skins off. Cut in halves lengthwise and then crosswise into ¼-inch thick slices, or in wedges—as you prefer.

roasted 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 ½” wide pieces.

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