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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

red devil chocolate cake (with secret beets)


a weighty issue

Dan took Meredith along when he bought her first bike several years ago. When they returned with a pink bike with white tires and training wheels, unicorns and rainbows festooning the frame and sparkly streamers adorning the handlebars, I wasn’t surprised. I WAS surprised, however, when I picked the thing up for the first time, and almost suffered a hernia. So this is what the Chinese make with their leftover pig iron!

Ye gods, it weighed more than Dan’s and my bikes together! And tiny three-year-old Meredith was supposed to pedal this miniature single-speed beast around our gravel-roaded, hillside neighborhood? There wasn’t enough hot chocolate in the greater Anchorage area to provide her with sufficient calories to get this thing up our driveway, much less up the hill to the bike trail beyond.

Even when Meredith ditched the training wheels, the weight of the overall bike was not much diminished, especially since Dan was then required to install a kickstand. Because of the impossibility of Meredith pushing the bike up our hill on her own, most of her biking was done by first driving partway to preschool, then biking together from there.

But as Meredith’s skill on her bike has grown (“Look, mom, no feet!!”), her strength and endurance have increased, and she can actually get the leaden pink beast cranking along. When she and I go on running/biking outings together, I only have to help push her up the biggest hills. Since she has outgrown her bike trailer, we decided to order a trailer-bike for her to ride behind our bikes. And for her sixth birthday (rapidly approaching), we ordered her a new gear bike to encourage her biking enthusiasm.

Imagine our consternation when the trailer-bike arrived, and although we’d gotten a nice model (it even has six gears for Meredith to learn to shift), the thing weighs more than the bikes we will pull it with! Ugh! And the gear bike? The lightest one we could find in her size weighs just as much as her pink one.  At least it doesn’t weigh even MORE. I’m sure lighter bikes for kids would be prohibitively expensive, but still… It seems unfair that the littler they are, the heavier the bikes they are expected to ride.

Here’s a funny thought. As Meredith grows, and her bikes get bigger, they will get lighter and lighter, until at last she will have a bike that is lighter than the tiny first bike she ever rode at age three. What doesn’t kill her will only make her stronger.

Even better than hot chocolate for powering stubby legs on bike pedals, this chocolate cake is lovely. No one ever suspects the beets unless I make them guess the secret ingredient—and even then, they can’t actually TASTE the beets. It’s a relatively healthy and very delicious cake.




red devil chocolate cake (with secret beets)

This great recipe is based on one from Moosewood Restaurant Book of Desserts. The cake doesn’t taste at all like beets once it’s baked because of all the cocoa powder in it, but the beets add a great depth of flavor and moistness—not to mention vitamins!!

If you have an overabundance of beets like I do (they are very often in our CSA boxes), make a double or triple batch of the cake in small loaf pans, and then wrap them well in plastic wrap and freeze them.  Because of the beets, the cake stays very nice and moist, even after freezing. You can also roast and peel your beets ahead of time and freeze them whole, in preparation for baking this cake later.

If you want to make a Mexican chocolate cake, just add 1 ½ teaspoons of cinnamon to the dry ingredients for an Ibarra chocolate flavor.

14 ounces roasted, peeled beets
½ cup water
3 eggs, or 2 eggs + 2 egg whites
1 ½ cups sugar
¼ to ½ cup oil (depending on how low-fat you want to go)
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups flour
¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
optional: ½ to 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1. Roast and peel the beets:

a. Put whole, unpeeled beets in a baking dish or dutch oven and put ¼” of water in the dish. Cover tightly with foil or the lid of the dutch oven and bake them at 400 degrees (or whatever temperature you happen to be baking something else) until tender when stabbed with a paring knife. Usually they take at least an hour, but young beets might be quicker, depending on their size.
b. Remove from the oven and let them cool. When the beets are cool enough to handle, slip their skins off.

2. Grease and flour the pan(s): either two 8” round baking pans (for a small layer cake) or one 10” pan, or a couple of small loaf pans, or line a muffin tin with cupcake papers. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
3. In a blender, puree the beets and ½ cup water. Set aside.
4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs well. Thoroughly whisk in the sugar, oil, vanilla, salt, and beet puree until very smooth. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, and baking soda. Add the dry ingredients (except the chocolate chips) to the wet ingredients a little at a time, whisking until smooth. Then stir in the chocolate chips, if using.
5. Pour the batter into prepared baking pan(s) and bake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean. Check the cupcakes after 15 to 18 minutes. The two cakes/loaves might take as little as 30 minutes, and the one 10” cake will probably take at least 45 minutes. Cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then invert onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting with your choice of frosting, or just dust with powdered sugar. If you add the chocolate chips, you don’t really need frosting at all.

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

spicy Indian spinach and potatoes


graduating from the bike trailer to the trailer-bike

Way back in May (Remember that sunny week?) we went to Hope for a long weekend, since Dan was doing a bike race. On the day of Dan’s race, Meredith and I readied ourselves for a ride from the Porcupine Campground to the Seward Highway and back. We would cheer for Dan and the other racers—he was doing two laps of 25 miles each on the Hope Road.

Meredith wouldn’t be riding her own bike the 18 miles each way, though—luckily, she is still good-natured about riding in the bike trailer, as long as she’s had a chance to wear herself out riding her own bike beforehand. (I confess: she listens to books like Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory on an ipod while I pull her along.)

Luckily, it was nice weather, but we had a rather stiff headwind on the way back to the campground, which pulled against the trailer to make it seem more a baby grand piano than Burley’s finest. But more than the wind resistance, what most caught my attention was the increase in weight; Meredith had definitely grown over the winter. I was utterly knackered at the end of our ride. After five years of hard use, it was time to pass the trailer on to someone with a smaller child—the size that can be pulled without inflicting quite so much pain. We needed to find a new scheme for biking together.

So we ordered a trailer-bike. Dan attached it to the road bike first, and quickly rejected it as too wobbly with the bike’s skinny tires. So we brought it to my family’s cabin in Kachemak Bay, where we keep our mountain bikes for use on the hilly dirt road from the dock at Jakolof Bay.

Sure enough, Dan’s mountain bike pairs nicely with the trailer-bike, and a few days ago, Meredith and Dan made a sedate tour on the new assembly, stopping frequently to pick likely-looking salmonberries while I ran along. Meredith’s face was radiant—so happy to be pedaling along with her dad instead of riding behind in a trailer. She also seemed to be enjoying it more than powering her own bike as I ran alongside and helped push her up the big hills, which is what we did in June and July.

We woke on Saturday morning to cloudy skies, which, surprisingly, were not even drizzling. We were pleased to anticipate a family bike ride without the downpour that has plagued our daily outings. (Rain doesn’t stop us, but I do admit to a dampening of spirits at the outset of our excursions.) We motored the skiff to the dock and unloaded our bikes, swapped rubber boots for bike shoes, and donned helmets. But as we pedaled up the dock to the gravel road, the rain began to fall.

No matter. We were enjoying our ride toward Red Mountain immensely. And what a delightful ride for me—Dan biking with a cheerful Meredith, and me not having to pull or push anyone but my own self up the mountain! We were having such a lovely ride that we just kept pushing and pushing up the hills—and soon we were within striking distance of the end of the road at Red Mountain! We were so proud of Meredith for hanging in there, helping pedal, and hanging on over potholes and rocks. We had never expected to get all the way to the top!

We turned around at road’s end, and began the long ride back down the hill. We’d buttoned up as best we could, but it soon became clear that we need to invest in several fenders. As we sped down the rain-soaked old logging roads, Dan’s rear wheel flung a fountain of sandy mud into Meredith’s face. Very soon, she was transformed from a mud-freckled, dirt-speckled child into a heavily bearded one. Halfway down, Dan perched his cycling glasses on her little nose, so even though the glasses slid down repeatedly, her eyelids filled with a little less gravel. By the time we got back to the boat, she was spitting mouthfuls of grit, shivering, and (justifiably) sniveling.

We loaded the boat, zipped back to the cabin and flung off our filthy, clammy clothes. We were too chilled to take photos, but I did show Meredith her face in a mirror before we hopped under the outdoor shower to clean off. She laughed to see her face completely caked with mud. It took a while to scrub off our bodies and rinse out our eyes, and then took much longer to launder our clothes in buckets, but it was well worth it! We are so proud of intrepid Meredith for her first trip up Red Mountain!

I made this Indian spinach dish in Anchorage and then froze it before adding the potatoes, to bring down to the cabin. (Potatoes don’t freeze very well—they get mushy and mealy.) We ate Indian spinach and potatoes with spicy chickpeas for dinner and that helped warm us up after our bike ride! 


spicy Indian spinach with potatoes

This recipe is based on one in Neelam Batra’s 1,000 Indian Recipes, a fantastic resource for flavorful and interesting dishes made with all kinds of different vegetables. I love to serve it with rice and raita (raita is yogurt sauce: just stir a small clove of minced garlic and salt to taste into a couple of cups of plain yogurt), or with spicy chickpeas—I’ll add that recipe another time. Find garam masala, an Indian spice blend, at Summit Spice & Tea, if you don’t have some already!

4 small red or waxy yellow potatoes (such as German Butterball or Yukon Gold), scrubbed and cut into bite-size dice
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt, plus more as needed
1 pound spinach or chard (if using chard, remove stems and chop the leaves coarsely)
1 tablespoon olive oil or canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon peeled minced fresh ginger
1 large clove fresh garlic, minced
1 to 2 fresh green jalepeno or other chile peppers, halved, seeded with a spoon and minced
1 to 2 large tomatoes, finely chopped (you can used canned tomatoes if you don’t have any fresh ones)
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric

1. Put the potatoes in a pot, cover with cold water, add the salt, and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 10 minutes. When the potatoes are tender, scoop them out with a slotted spoon.
2. Pile the spinach or chard leaves into the remaining water, stirring them around to soften them with the boiling water, cover the pot again, and cook them just until they are tender and wilted. The spinach will only take a minute or two; the chard will take longer. Pour the greens into a colander and let them drain.
3. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add the cumin seeds; they should sizzle when they hit the oil. Quickly add the onion and cook, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic, and green chiles and cook for a few more minutes, until the garlic has mellowed a bit. Then add the tomatoes and cook, stirring, until most of the juices evaporate, 5 to 7 minutes.
4. Add the coriander, garam masala, and turmeric, cook about 1 minute, and then add the potatoes and spinach to the onion mixture. Mix well, cover the pan and simmer over medium-low heat, about 5 more minutes, to blend flavors. Taste the dish and add salt, a little at a time, until it is just right. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle a little more garam masala over the top if you desire (taste it first to see if you want more spice), and serve.


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Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Meredith’s marvelous moose stew


vegetarian moose stew

This isn’t the kind of moose stew that you might already know and love. It’s actually a stew FOR the moose, not OF the moose. Dan and Meredith created this concept while I was out of town for a week this summer (necessity, in this case, being the father of invention). Not being present for the initial feasts, I can at least fill you in on its already hallowed traditions, in the hopes that you and your favorite young ones can create some masterpieces of your own.

Unless you have chickens or pigs to consume your kitchen scraps, the best that can be hoped for most summertime produce waste is its addition to a thriving compost heap. Which, in many cases, does seem to be rather a waste, considering the gorgeous colors and textures of a lot of the scraps… at least in Meredith’s estimation. Moose stew is made by putting into a large metal bowl of water whatever looks appealing from the left-handed sink while I am preparing food. This might include papery onion and garlic skins, leafy strawberry stems, stub ends of zucchini, curly peelings from broccoli stalks, pointy olive pits, crunchy ribs of romaine, stems of arugula or parsley or cilantro, conical tomato cores, and colorful peels of lemons, limes, and oranges. It must be plant-based. No egg shells, for example. Or crayons.

To this base, other things may be added in small amounts, but those ingredients first require permission from a parent. Rolled oats and yellow split peas are common additions, as are those adorable little green mung beans. So far, Meredith has not requested saffron threads or truffle oil, and a good thing, too. I generally steer her to those dried peas and beans so aged that I can no longer recall their origins. Quarter-teaspoons of herbs and spices are allowed, as well: up to five, but usually fewer are required. Don’t want to obscure the taste of those lovely veggies!

Chopping is sometimes warranted, usually with a table knife, but sometimes assistance from a grownup is needed. A good soak and plenty of energetic stirring is usually needed to meld the flavors. (Moose prefer their veggies raw, so no cooking is required.) Then the bowl is carefully deposited outside on the front walk, in easy range of our large and ravening population of moose. 

It’s like waiting for the tooth fairy to come, or for Santa and his reindeer to eat the snacks we leave on Christmas Eve…  in the morning, Meredith comes down to check on the bowl, and so far, the moose have loved every one of her concoctions—they have licked the bowl clean every time! (Is that moose slobber I’m washing out of my bowl? Just kidding!)


Meredith’s Marvelous Moose Stew

by Meredith, age 5 but almost 6
This recipe is just one idea of a moose stew. You can use anything you want that is a plant, to feed the moose.  This includes spices and herbs, beans, peas, and even flowers. Sometimes I use spices, but this stew doesn’t have them, so the moose to enjoy the flavor of the cauliflower. Mom was making spicy roasted red pepper and cauliflower (which is one of my favorite things). She says moose love cauliflower, especially.

red pepper stems, seeds, cores, and yucky bits
cauliflower stems and leaves
rolled oats
yellow split peas

1. Fill a large bowl with a few cups of cold water.
2. Cut cauliflower stems in smallish chunks—at least as well as you can with a table knife. As your mom to cut the hard ones. Tear the leaves into pieces.
3. Add the cauliflower and red pepper to the water. Stir well.
4. Add a sprinkling of rolled oats, about a ¼ cup of yellow split peas, and 2 tablespoons of raisins. Stir again.
5. Set outside and wait for the moose to come! Usually they come at night while I am asleep, but they always eat all the stew.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

red lentil soup with yellow squash (or zucchini)


Becky the babysitter

Dan and I sell our Rise & Shine Bakery bread at the farmers market most Saturdays from 9am until 2pm. Becky is the wonderful babysitter who spends most Saturday mornings playing with Meredith. (Her last name will remain a secret, just in case you other South Anchorage parents might be looking for a fabulous babysitter—I try to reserve all Becky’s spare time that she’s not camping, playing volleyball, doing her homework, or training for cross-country skiing). I never know what Meredith will come home with after a morning with Becky: a plate of brownies covered in sprinkles and cut into fanciful shapes, a ziploc bag of orange homemade play-dough, a row of vessels filled with evil-smelling “concoctions” brewed from kitchen spices and food coloring, or a sheaf of drawings, paintings, and cutouts. Meredith ADORES Becky. And of course, so do we.

But in truth, it’s not just Becky who babysits Meredith—sometimes, it’s her whole family! When I drop Meredith off in the morning, Becky’s almost always there, but sometimes Dan will pick her up at noon from Becky’s dad, Mike, who has helped her make a cool sailboat sculpture out of wood scraps, festooned with skulls and crossbones. Other times, Becky’s older sister, Emily, has lent a hand when home from college, famously taking Meredith biking around the South High School track. And Becky’s mom, Alice, has helped in more ways than I can count—first of all, by being a fantastic parent. (In fact, she is a parent coach, and Dan and I took several sessions with her in the fall of 2009, improving our family life immeasurably during a rough patch.) Alice has raised her daughters with the knowledge of how to capture the imagination and enthusiasm of a child. Sometimes Alice takes over when Becky has an appointment or activity for part of the morning. And once, a couple of weeks ago, when Becky, Emily and Mike were gone on a boating expedition to Whittier, Alice took Meredith on her own and went to the zoo! (She volunteered for this, on a weekend that was otherwise her own!)

We are so grateful to have such a family in our lives! Thank you, all four, from the bottom of our hearts!

I love to make this soup now, when the yellow summer squash comes out at the market, because the yellow squash maintains its integrity a bit more than the green. But it’s delicious with zucchini, and even other veggies (see note, below). 

red lentil soup with yellow summer squash (or zucchini)

This is a really fun, really yummy dish with nice Indian flavors, and it’s relatively simple. This recipe is pretty much straight out of Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian, except I’ve added a lot less oil. Even if I only have enough squash to make a single batch, I always make a double or triple batch and freeze some of it before adding the squash. Then I can add whatever vegetable I like to the soup later, when I thaw it out. Don’t limit yourself to making this dish with squash. I’ve served it with broccoli (a big pile of garlic-roasted broccoli in the center of a dish of this soup is especially lovely, not to mention delicious), and it’s wonderful! You could use any kind of vegetable you like in place of the zucchini; just pre-cook it and add it at the last minute before serving, in the middle of a lake of lentils in a bowl.

You can serve it with rice, but I love it just on its own. If you wanted to get really fancy, you could make a simple Indian raita (yogurt, garlic & salt) to serve with it. But really, it’s good enough to just eat by itself.

2 cups red lentils, washed and drained
½ teaspoon turmeric
sea salt or kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons canola or olive oil
a pinch of cardamom seeds, pounded just to break them up a bit (or use ground cardamom, but don’t add it until you add the onion to the skillet)
1 (3”) cinnamon stick
4 bay leaves
1 ½ teaspoons whole cumin seeds
2 medium onions, finely chopped
4 teaspoons peeled fresh ginger root, minced
6 garlic cloves, minced
3-4 medium yellow summer squash or zucchinis, cut into bite-sized chunks (3/4” squares)
freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne (or more, if you like things spicy)
a few squeezes of fresh lime juice (optional)

1. Put the lentils and 4 cups of water in a heavy-bottomed pot and bring to a boil. When it boils, remove the foam that rises to the top. Add the turmeric and stir it in. Cover, leaving the lid slightly ajar, and cook very gently for 20 to 30 minutes until the lentils are tender and have dissolved into a puree. If it’s not soupy enough for your taste, add more water. Add 1 ½ teaspoons of salt and stir to combine.
2. Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium high heat in a nonstick frying pan. When very hot, add the cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves, and whole cumin seeds. Stir for a few seconds and then add the onion and ½ teaspoon of salt. Stir and fry until the onions are golden brown.
3. Add the ginger and garlic, and stir and fry for another minute. Then add the zucchini, black pepper to taste, and cayenne. Stir for a minute and add 1 cup of water, cover, turn the heat down and cook for 2 minutes, or until the zucchini is beginning to be tender. Add the contents of the frying pan to the lentils. Stir gently to combine and cook on low heat for a minute or two until the zucchini is cooked to your liking.
4. Season with salt to taste. Squeeze lime juice over the top just before serving, if you happen to have a lime on hand, and you remember to do it. I usually forget, but it is a nice touch.

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Sunday, July 25, 2010

grilled salmon and zucchini with Turkish cucumber and yogurt salad


Meredith at the market

Yesterday was Meredith’s first full day at the farmers market—usually, she’s at her babysitter’s house on Saturday mornings, but Becky was busy this weekend. (More about fabulous Becky in a future post.) Since our other babysitters were out of town or otherwise engaged, we resigned ourselves to bringing five-year-old Meredith with us to the market. It seemed like a good idea to try it out, since when school starts in mid-August, our babysitters will be much busier with sports and other activities. Could we pull it off?

Dan and I sell our Rise & Shine Bakery bread at the market on summer Saturdays from 9am until 2pm. During the first few hours of the market, we’re pretty busy slicing samples and selling the bread as fast as we can—helping people decide what flavors will go best with their dinners that night, how many loaves to buy to freeze before that flavor comes around again, or what pan loaf their kids might like best to eat in sandwiches.

I thought the best chance of keeping Meredith happily occupied on her own during our busiest time was to provide:
1. plenty of fun snacks,
2. a nest to snuggle in (sleeping bag and pad in the back of the car, parked behind our bakery stand),
3. crayons, paper, and stickers,
4. Richard Scarry picture books,
5. copious snacks,
6. her bike and helmet to ride around the market, and
7. did I mention the snacks?

So on Saturday morning I got up early and packed a picnic bag for Meredith, including:
1. thick slice of our fruited almond sourdough bread (that was breakfast on the drive to the market),
2. thermos of hot chocolate with a separate little cup of marshmallows,
3. cup of cherries (the Rainier kind),
4. peanut butter & honey sandwich,
5. green beans,
6. cup of those awesome Kettle crinkly potato chips (!!). 

Her bike and helmet packed, her nest ready, Meredith slept longer than I can remember in years. I finally had to wake her up at 8:15 so we could drive down and meet Dan at the market, where he had set up our stand already.

When the market opened at 9:00, Meredith was zooming around on her bike, visiting the other vendors and doing little tasks like trading bread for cauliflower, zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes. I was so pleased that she remained cheerful all morning—some of the time in her “nest” and sometimes biking around, doing laps. The mornings always fly by for us while we sell bread, and I was so glad I didn’t have to try and entertain her while waiting on customers.

Then, near the end of the market, our friend Terri came back by the market (she had bought her bread earlier) and asked if Meredith could come to the zoo with her! It was such a cool, cloudy day that her hiking partner for the day had backed out, and she wanted to go to the zoo…  but her kids are 19 and 22 and were not interested in joining her. And everyone knows that it’s more fun to take a kid to the zoo than to go alone! What a lovely surprise for Meredith, and for us! Thank you, Terri!

We took down our stand when we ran out of bread, and came home to unpack and have lunch. We started working on preparing the veggies and fish that Meredith had bartered bread for at the market, and by the time she got home from the zoo, we were relaxed and ready for our evening together. Terri had bought Meredith a treat at the zoo, but suggested that she only eat half of it, so she would still be hungry for supper. Meredith agreed, but assured Terri, “Don’t worry, I’m ALWAYS hungry!”

Like I said. Plenty of snacks. And like my mother always said: “It’s a wise mother who knows her own daughter.” And another appropriate old saw: “Like mother, like daughter.” Here’s the supper we made last night from the bounty at the farmers market, for which Meredith and I were, indeed, hungry.

grilled salmon and zucchini with cucumber & yogurt salad

Start the salad first, since the cucumbers, onions, and yogurt need to drain separately. Then grill the zucchini, which can happily sit while you set the table, mix the salad together, and grill the salmon.

Turkish cucumber & yogurt salad

This salad is based on one in a cookbook called Olive Trees and Honey, a book of Jewish vegetarian recipes from around the world. It’s a salad, but I think of it as a sauce to go alongside my grilled salmon—although it’s so flavorful and refreshing that I eat enough of it to be properly called a salad! I should probably call this whole meal “yogurt salad with salmon on the side.”

Salting the cucumber and draining the yogurt keeps the salad from getting watery, even if you use nonfat yogurt. If you use full-fat Greek yogurt, you won’t need to drain the yogurt.

1 large English cucumber
½ a medium red or yellow onion
2 teaspoons salt for sprinkling
1 to 2 cloves garlic
¼ teaspoon salt (if needed)
3 cups nonfat or lowfat yogurt
1 teaspoon dried dill, or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

1. Put the yogurt into a sieve and let it stand over a bowl for an hour or two in the refrigerator to drain some of its liquid.
2. Halve the cucumber and scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Slice each half into strips, then cut into small dice. Finely dice the onion. Put the cucumber and onion into a sieve or a colander, toss with the 2 teaspoons salt, and let stand at room temperature for at least an hour, or up to 3 hours. Drain, and press out the extra liquid.
3. Mash the garlic finely in a garlic press, or, lacking that, mash the garlic and salt together in the bottom of a bowl with a fork until it’s a paste. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients. You can serve it immediately (that’s what I did), but it will develop more flavor if you let it sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. It will be good for a couple of days.

grilled zucchini

This recipe is so easy it’s sort of embarrassing to call it a recipe, but just in case you haven’t already discovered this method, I’ll describe it. We eat gallons of zucchini like this in the summertime! It’s great an as appetizer, in sandwiches, alongside soups, in salads, or just cold right out of the fridge, eaten with your fingers.

several small or medium zucchinis (buy more than you think you could possibly eat)
olive oil
sea salt or kosher salt

Heat a grill to very hot. Slice the zucchini lengthwise, into planks a little less than ¼” thick. Toss them with olive oil and salt. Turn the grill down to medium, and grill them about 3 minutes on each side, until they have grill marks and are nice and tender. Eat them right away or else eat them later at room temperature. Try not to eat them all right as they come off the grill, or the rest of your family will be annoyed.

grilled salmon

1 large filet salmon
dill fish rub (we love the Halibut Cove Dill rub from Summit Spice & Tea), or just use salt & fresh-ground pepper
canola oil (for the grill)

1. Skin the salmon filet and sprinkle it all over with the spice rub or salt & pepper, rubbing it on to cover all surfaces. 
2. 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).
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Remove the salmon from the grill to a plate.


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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

toast with collard & green olive pesto


Meredith’s first backpacking trip

The big news around here is that five-year-old Meredith and I did our first ever backpacking trip together! We’ve been discussing it for a long time, mulling over our route, destination, equipment, and most importantly, the menu. We settled on Rabbit Lake, a gradual climb of about four and a half miles from the trail head on the upper hillside of Anchorage.

It’s been at least seven years since my last backpacking trip—a long time, considering Dan’s and my enthusiasm for remote adventures before pregnancy, infant and toddler stages. We’ve been enjoying car camping and skiff camping trips since Meredith was born, but Meredith is old enough now to hold her own on hiking day trips. It was time to break out my pack.

So last Saturday after selling our bread at the farmers market, I rummaged around in the basement and ran up and down the stairs all afternoon, unearthing the necessary gear and then testing things out in the sunshine on the lawn. I explained to Meredith that I really did NOT want to discover that I had forgotten the tent poles when we arrived at Rabbit Lake. Or that my trusty WhisperLite stove’s plunger had dried up and wouldn’t pressurize the fuel can. Meredith got so excited about all this testing that she could hardly bear to break down the tent to pack it. Unfortunately, the weather report for the next few days looked rather ominous—especially for Sunday-Monday. Monday-Tuesday looked marginally better, and was our only other option.

Sure enough, we woke to a steady downpour and wind on Sunday, so we decided to postpone for a day and hope for the slight change predicted in the weather report. I PROMISED the distressed Meredith that we would go the next day, rain or shine. It looked like we would get wet no matter what, but we’ve got trips and day-camps and visitors for the next few weeks, so it was now or never. Anyway, we’re tough! We’re Alaskan! If you don’t camp in the rain in Alaska, you never camp!

So… Monday morning at the house was not raining, just overcast and gloomy, but as Dan drove us up to drop us off at the trail head, it began to rain…  so we donned our rain gear and hiked our way up in the wind and rain. Turns out that Meredith and I can hike nearly the same speed, as long as I’m weighed down by everything we need—clothes, food, kitchen, tent, and sleeping gear! By the time we neared the top, the wind was howling and it was raining sideways and freezing cold, so we didn’t want to stop for lunch—we just ate our apples on the hoof.

When we got to the lake, we found a slightly protected spot near the lake and set up the tent. Meredith was a big help with the tent in the wind and rain—and I was reminded afresh how demoralizing it is to set up one’s tent in a downpour (those huge drops splatting on the parts that are supposed to be DRY), but we managed. We changed into warm dry clothes and huddled inside our tiny tent, eating our yummy cheese and avocado sal-wiches (Can you see the green smears on Meredith’s face in the photo, below?), and then snuggled into our sleeping bags to get warm. I will forever be grateful that Meredith actually offered to let me put my frozen hands on her warm little tummy to warm them up. Am I a lucky mom, or what?

Lo and behold, the rain let up a bit, so after our lunch snuggle we set out for a little adventure around the lake and on the tundra in a mild drizzle. We had hot chocolate at tea time. By dinnertime it had all but stopped raining, better luck!! We boiled up our Annie’s mac & cheese with green beans, and then we both fell into our sleeping bags after a story and some card games. Meredith went to sleep right away after dinner, but then woke up again at 8pm and couldn’t go back to sleep for a long time because of the bright daylight—so I read more chapters of our book, she ate a bowl of leftover mac & cheese, and finally she conked back off. 

On Tuesday morning we woke up to a brighter overcast day, which was lovely.  We enjoyed our morning hot chocolate, then oatmeal with raisins for breakfast, and then hiked back down to meet Dan, on his way up the trail to meet us. I’m so proud of Meredith, hiking like a trooper and enjoying her first backpacking trip even in marginal weather!

The recipe below has nothing whatsoever to do with our hiking trip, except that I came up with the recipe just today, the day after we returned. It’s made with Alaskan collards and tomatoes from our CSA box. I LOVE IT. What a fabulous way to eat your greens!

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toast with collard & green olive pesto

This pesto recipe is based on one I found on, submitted by Danny Toma. He uses Parmesan cheese in his recipe, and twice as much olive oil—but I found that with the rich olives, I didn’t need the cheese or the extra oil!  What a fun way to eat your greens!! I spread the pesto on toast, but you can also use half this amount on a pound of cooked pasta. Just freeze what you won’t use in three days. (A ziploc bag works well.)

slices of hearty whole grain bread
collard & green olive pesto (recipe below)

Make the pesto. Slice your tomatoes. Toast your bread. Apply pesto in thick mounds (remember, it’s your vegetable!) and top with tomatoes. Enjoy, with a napkin at the ready.

collard & green olive pesto

1-3/4 lb collard greens (you can use kale, instead, if you want)
7 to 12 large brine-cured green olives (2-1/4 ounces), pitted
2 garlic cloves
1/4 to 1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, cut stems and center ribs from collard greens and discard. Slice greens into strips and stir collards into water, bring back to a boil, and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until tender, 8 to 15 minutes. Drain collards in a colander, pressing on greens to extract excess water.

2. Blend olives and garlic in a food processor until finely chopped. Add collards, water, vinegar, salt, cayenne, and pepper and pulse until finely chopped. With motor running, add oil in a slow stream. Taste and add more salt if needed.


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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

heatlhy macaroni and cheese (with secret vegetable)


using it up

What’s the opposite of “putting food up” for the winter? Now that we’re into springtime, we’re into “using it up.” I’m so happy for all this lovely daylight and sunshine! But in addition to doing a little spring cleaning (That bright sunlight raking across the surfaces really spotlights the dust, doesn’t it?) it’s time to look critically at what’s in the freezer. I need to really make an effort to eat what I stored in there in the fall. Even though I try never to freeze food that I didn’t love to begin with, sometimes it happens. Something I only sort of liked when I carefully labeled and froze it (probably because I was sick of eating it at the time) can languish in the freezer for months, sometimes years. Does this sound familiar? These things don’t exactly call my name when I open the lid and peer in, looking for something for dinner. It’s easy to shove them aside in favor of something that sounds more delicious. Like home-made pizza, or refried beans to make tostadas, or minestrone soup.
For the last two weeks, I’ve approached this freezer-cleaning project with real grit and determination. Here’s my strategy.

1. No new veggies. I’m still getting my weekly CSA produce boxes, so fresh food IS still coming into the house, but other than that, NO other vegetables are coming in. Mainly, this means no impulse buys of interesting and fun vegetables at Costco (including asparagus and green beans!).

2. Just give it a try! The funny thing is, even if it doesn’t actually sound that good sitting in the freezer, if I thaw it out and heat it up and come up with something to serve with it, it usually turns out to be pretty good.

3. Feed it to your friends. Are you wondering why I’m not telling you the names of the frozen foods I’ve been avoiding? It’s because if you come over for dinner sometime soon, I’m likely to feed them to you. It helps to have a little help to polish off that giant tub of braised celery.

4. Get creative with combinations. I’ve been thawing out sort of random combinations of things, and it’s kind of fun have a little of this, a little of that…  kind of a tapas-inspired meal.

5. Try new ways to use old ingredients. My recipe this week is an example of a new idea for old stuff in my freezer! I had baked a turban squash during the winter, planning to eat it later as a squash puree or a soup. But last week I remembered a recipe I’d seen for macaroni and cheese that used squash puree instead of béchamel sauce (you know, butter, flour, milk) to make it creamy…  a really healthy alternative to the usual mac & cheese! So I dug up the recipe and tried it—really fun!

healthy macaroni & cheese

This recipe is based on one that Fine Cooking emailed out after the New Year (you know, healthy resolutions and all that). The original recipe is from a book by Ellie Krieger, called The Food You Crave: Luscious recipes for a healthy life, which I don’t own, but maybe I should! Anyway, I’ve changed the recipe around a lot, (less cheese, added onions) but the basic idea was hers, and I think it works great. Try this if you’re feeling adventuresome but want something sort of comfort-foody, and especially make it if you have squash in your freezer!

1 16-oz. box elbow macaroni (I like to use whole-wheat)
1 large onion, minced
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
30 oz. frozen puréed winter squash, thawed
3 cups skim milk
6 oz. grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (about 2 cups)
1 ½ teaspoon dry mustard
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ cup fresh bread crumbs
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Coat a 9 x 13-in. baking dish with cooking spray. Cook the macaroni according the package directions. Drain and return to the pasta pot.
2. Meanwhile, sauté the onion and salt in the olive oil in large pan until soft. Add the milk and squash and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture is almost simmering.  Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cheddar, mustard, and cayenne. Add more salt to taste—you will probably want to add more salt to make up for the cheese that isn’t in there. It’s OK if it gets grainy—the pasta will absorb the sauce and it’ll turn out just fine. Pour this mixture over the macaroni and stir to combine. Pour into baking dish.
3. Combine the bread crumbs and Parmesan in small grinder and grind until combined. Sprinkle over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake until piping hot in the center, 30 to 40 minutes (on the longer side if you made the dish earlier in the day, before baking it). If the topping isn’t nicely browned, broil for 3 minutes so the top is crisp and nicely browned.


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Friday, December 11, 2009

butternut squash soup with apple confit


O Christmas Tree

My birthday was yesterday, so since today is officially no longer birthday season, we could go out and cut down our Christmas tree! I know, many of you have probably already had your Christmas trees up for at least a week now, but not us!

My mom’s birthday was December 11th, the day after mine, so she always insisted on a moratorium on Christmas decorations until AFTER the birthday festivities were complete. (Also, she never wrapped my birthday presents in Christmas paper.) We December babies have to stick together—we have a hard road!

So—the Christmas tree expedition! We’ve had fog and misty snow the last couple of days, so the trees are all covered in a luscious frosting of ice. When the sun comes out, it’ll be breathtaking with sparkly rainbows! But in the meantime, we focused on which tree would end its life prematurely.

We considered a few different trees before deciding on the perfect one. We only have one species from which to choose: white spruce. While not known for its fullness, the advantage of a white spruce Christmas tree is the abundance of space between its branches in which to hang ornaments. I’ve always wondered about those trees with luxuriant, dense branches…  where do you hang the ornaments?

Anyway, our criteria were:

1. Proximity to another tree (Remember my past with the Division of Forestry? I’m doing a little thinning of our little backyard forest—one tree per year!)
2. Proximity to the house (Meredith’s condition)
3. Not too tall to fit in the house (Dan’s suggestion)
4. Not too scraggly (We all could agree on this one.)

The first tree was too short, the next one wasn’t close enough to another tree. But finally we found the perfect tree! Now it’s in the garage, the ice melting off its needles…  and it will be the longest 24 hours ever recorded, to hear Meredith anxiously awaiting the hour for decorating it. At least her birthday is in August, not December.

Happy Birthday to all you December babies out there!!





butternut squash soup & apple confit

This is one of my very favorite soups, and it’s one of my favorite things to do with squash! It’s based on a recipe in Annie Sommerville’s Fields of Greens.  Make the stock with the vegetable trimmings the day before you make the soup, or just before you make the soup.

And here’s another option, which I did this week. Instead of peeling the squash first and then cooking the peels in the stock, you can also just halve and scoop the seeds out of the squash, then roast it in the oven until it’s soft (at 350 to 400 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour), and then scoop the squash out into the stock and cook the soup until everything softens and melds. Whatever fits your schedule best!

The Easy Vegetable Stock

squash seeds and peels
1 large onion
3 large carrots
3 celery ribs
8 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 bay leaves
sea salt or kosher salt

1. Scrub the vegetables and chop them roughly into 1-inch chunks. Toss them in a soup pot with 1 teaspoon salt, and add 2 quarts of water.
2. Bring everything to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for 30 minutes. Strain.

The Soup

4-5 cups easy vegetable stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large or 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
sea salt or kosher salt
¼ cup white wine
3-4 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into large cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 sweet red apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
½ cup apple juice

1. Heat the olive oil in a soup pot and add the onion, ½ teaspoon salt and a pinch of pepper. Saute over medium-high heat until the onions are slightly caramelized, about 15 minutes. Deglaze the pan with most of the white wine.
2. Add the squash and 1 teaspoon of salt to the onions. Add just enough stock to barely cover the squash (about 2 cups); the squash breaks down quickly and releases its own liquid as it cooks.  Cover the pot and cook over medium heat for 20 to 30 minutes, until the squash is very soft. Puree the soup in a blender and thin it with stock to reach the desired consistency. Return the pureed soup to the pot, cover, and cook over low heat for 30 more minutes. Taste for salt.
3. While the soup is cooking, make the apple confit. Warm the olive oil in a medium skillet and add the apples; sauté over medium-high heat, stirring to coat them with the oil. When they are heated through, add the remaining wine and cook for 1 or 2 minutes, until the pan is almost dry. Add the apple juice, cover the pan, and cook over medium heat for 10-15 minutes, until soft; cook uncovered for a bit if you need to reduce the liquid.
4. Stir half the confit into the soup, saving the rest for garnish. Season with salt and pepper as needed, and to serve, top each bowl of soup with a spoonful of apple confit.


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