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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

red devil chocolate cake (with secret beets)

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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.

 

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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

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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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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

red lentil soup with yellow squash (or zucchini)

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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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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

toast with collard & green olive pesto

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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 epicurious.com, 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
tomatoes
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)

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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

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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!!

 

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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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Tuesday, November 03, 2009

brussels sprouts with mustard & caper sauce

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mad mamas

I haven’t posted a story in a while, partly because I’ve been busy, but mostly because I wasn’t ready to write this story yet… I was still too embarrassed. I can truly laugh about it now, though!

A few weeks ago, dark and early, we were puttering around in the kitchen getting breakfast together. Dan peered out the window and said “Oh no… there’s a MOOSE in the backyard!” It’s not overstating the case to say that I freaked out; we just had a big tall fence built this summer to replace our flimsy welded wire fence, because the moose kept getting in and eating my trees and shrubs. But the fence only works if you CLOSE THE GATE.

I had spent a lot of time showing five-year-old Meredith how to latch the gate, because it only takes ONE hungry moose to destroy years of crabapple and apple tree growth, not to mention flowering shrubs. But I knew immediately that this was not Meredith’s mistake. I had spent most of the previous day cutting down my perennials and carting the waste over the edge. I had THOUGHT I had carefully latched the gate—but obviously I hadn’t gotten it closed, and the wind had blown it open overnight.

The moose had already eaten half of my trees and shrubs down to the nubbins, and was taking a little break lying down in the middle of our little lawn. I felt sick to my stomach—and ANGRY! Angry at myself, mostly…  but also at the moose.

Dan noticed, too, that there was a moose calf outside the other gate. We agreed that Dan would open the gate, and I would make lots of noise and scare the mama out after her calf.

Dan was getting his clothes and boots on when Meredith suddenly shouted “Mom! She’s eating your trees!” Sure enough, she was gnawing another crabapple tree; quick as a wood chipper and much more nimble. I just had to stop her from eating everything before Dan got out there! So I went out on my deck and started hollering. She didn’t even flick an ear—she just increased her pace. I yelled to Dan to hurry—where WAS he? And then I started shrieking at the top of my lungs, giving vent to my desperation and maternal protectiveness toward my poor plants.

That at least got the moose’s attention. She turned around, looked at me for a moment, then went back to her meal. I dashed at her in a rage, trying to distract her from destroying the rest of my tiny orchard before Dan came out. Then I heard Dan at the glass side door, nowhere near the calf, “Alison! Stop it! You’re scaring Meredith!” and I looked around; sure enough, I could hear poor Meredith wailing. Then Dan yelled “Run! RUN!!” The mama moose was charging me! (You could hardly blame her.) I leaped back on the deck and ran inside, and poor Meredith was a wreck, crying and terribly upset. I held her and hugged her and apologized, and Dan ran around to open the gate.

I went back outside despite Meredith’s protests, this time armed with a shovel and a rake, and, banging them together, shooed the mama out to her calf. Then we carefully latched BOTH the gates, and I came back inside to comfort Meredith. I felt terrible to have upset her so, and to have lost every speck of composure… but we sat on the couch and read “B” is for Betsy and got us both calmed down.

Then the phone rang, and Dan answered it, and walked outside. I didn’t think too much about it, but when he came back inside I realized he was talking to the neighbors. I looked out the window, and parked at the top of our driveway were TWO police cars. Oh NO! I pulled my coat on and walked up to apologize. I was absolutely mortified, explained about the moose, and told them I was so sorry to have disturbed the neighbors and to have wasted their time. Our neighbor through the woods had heard my shriek from inside her house, hadn’t seen the lights on in our house, and when she went outside, wasn’t sure where the noise had come from. She thought that it might be a bear attack, since it was garbage day and her husband had been chased inside the house by a black bear a few months ago. So, good neighbor that she is, she had called the police! The police officers were very kind—they said “Don’t feel bad! We like this kind of call, where nobody is hurt!”

After that, I spent some more time snuggling Meredith. Then we did some drawing together, and I asked her if she would draw a picture of the moose adventure. She drew a great one—complete with angry mama moose chasing me, and Meredith standing at the glass door with tears streaming down her face. I wrote a thank-you and apology letter to our neighbors on the back of her drawing, and we walked through the woods to deliver it, with a couple of loaves of bread. It’s great to have neighbors that are watching out for us! They were sweet and understanding, and we had a good talk about neighborhood wildlife sightings.

It’s embarrassing to admit that my maternal instincts for protecting my plants made a mockery of my maternal responsibilities toward my daughter! She doesn’t seem to have been permanently scarred, though, and at least this little setback has made us all VERY careful about latching the gates.

In honor of both mad mamas, I’m including a recipe for Brussels sprouts. When I was a child, my parents didn’t particularly care for sprouts, but they would plant them along the edge of the vegetable garden, in the hopes that if a moose got in, it would eat the sprouts and leave everything else. I happen to love Brussels sprouts, especially the local ones that have been coming in our CSA boxes! They are so sweet and delicious!

brussels sprouts with mustard & caper sauce

This is my favorite recipe for brussels sprouts, and I love it so much that I make it all winter with sprouts from the grocery store after our Alaskan season is over. This sauce is great on vegetables other than Brussels sprouts, too! I’ve used it with great success on broccoli and cauliflower. It’s based on a recipe from Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors.

I love to use a micro-plane zester for the lemons—it’s very easy, and the pieces of zest are thin and fine and perfect to eat, even in a raw dressing like this.

I invented this recipe as a way to use some of the garlic oil left over when poaching the garlic for our Alaskan cheese and garlic bread. If you don’t want to make garlic oil, you can use plain extra-virgin olive oil or butter.

2 garlic cloves
sea salt and fresh-ground pepper
2 tablespoons garlic oil (see following recipes), extra-virgin olive oil, or softened butter
1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
¼ cup rinsed and drained capers
grated zest of a lemon
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 pounds brussels sprouts

1. To make the sauce, press the garlic (or mince very fine) into a large bowl and, using a fork, mash it with ½ teaspoon salt. Then stir in the oil or butter and add the mustard, capers, lemon zest, and parsley.
2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add salt. While the water is heating, trim the bases of the sprouts and slice them in half, or, if large, into quarters.
3. Add the brussels sprouts to the water and cook for 5-8 minutes, testing every minute after 5 minutes, until the cores of the largest sprouts are tender but not mushy. Pour the sprouts into a colander, shake off excess water, and immediately spread them out on a baking sheet spread with a dishtowel. (This allows the extra water to evaporate, so the sauce doesn’t get watery, and the sprouts stop cooking almost immediately, ensuring a perfectly-cooked sprout.)
4. When cooled a bit, toss the sprouts with the mustard-caper sauce. Taste for salt, season with pepper, and toss again.

simple 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.

olive oil infused with sweet, slow-cooked garlic
This is a recipe for the garlic and olive oil that I make for our Alaskan cheese & roasted garlic bread. The garlic is sweet and soft and luscious, and the resulting oil has wonderful, mellow flavor that is intensely garlicky at the same time. Keep it refrigerated. It’ll solidify in the refrigerator, but just scoop out a spoonful and let it come to room temperature, and it’ll be perfectly good.

In addition to making this recipe with the Brussels sprouts, what I usually do with this oil is preheat the oven to 400 degrees, toss a couple of tablespoons of garlic oil into a big bowl of diced vegetables: raw potatoes, or broccoli, or mushrooms, for example, add a little salt, toss well, and then pour them in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet that I’ve coated with cooking spray. Roast until brown and crispy and tender and wonderful. The timing will vary depending on the vegetable. See specific recipes for roasted broccoli, roasted potatoes, and roasted mushrooms on the South Anchorage Farmers Market website.

And then, what do you do with the garlic? Well, just use it in anything that calls for roasted garlic! Spread it on toast, put it in salad dressings or hummus, or mash it with a fork and add it to a soup or a stew that needs a little perking up. I keep it in a pint jar in the freezer or refrigerator, ready to use anytime!

several heads of garlic, cloves peeled
olive oil (you don’t need extra-virgin olive oil for this—the garlic imparts so much flavor that you can use regular olive oil)

1. Put all the whole peeled garlic cloves in a heavy pot. Cover the garlic cloves completely with olive oil.
2. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Give the garlic a stir, and then turn the heat down to the absolute lowest possible heat, cover the pot, and simmer just at a bare bubble. Stir the garlic occasionally and continue to cook until the garlic cloves are completely soft and tender, and you can easily squish them against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. This will probably take an hour or more, but check after 45 minutes.
3. Uncover the pot and let cool. Strain the garlic from the oil. This garlic can be used in any recipe that calls for roasted garlic. You can freeze the garlic indefinitely (I keep it in pint-sized canning jars in the freezer), and just take it out when you need it.


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Sunday, October 04, 2009

green salad with roasted beet slices, toasted sunflower seeds and a mustard-dill vinaigrette

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an embarrassment of riches

On Friday I went to the Bear Tooth’s Food & Film Festival and saw Food, Inc. The movie was fantastic…  touching and inspiring and tragic and hopeful all at the same time. It’s showing again on Thursday, so you still have a chance to see if it you like. Along with the movie, I had an amazing meal of local food! Both the Grill side and the TheatrePub side are doing special Alaskan menus! It was hard to decide what to order—so many amazing choices for the local food fanatic! Luckily I’m going back tomorrow to see another food movie, Fresh, so I knew I would have another chance to order the things that I couldn’t try on Friday. Otherwise, it really would have been embarrassing—I would have had to order everything on the menu!

To start, I had the highbush cranberry vinaigrette salad, with beets, kohlrabi, marinated cheese curds, and heirloom tomatoes. Beautiful with the golden beets and their concentric circles… and YUMMY! Then I had the seared barley cake with roasted root vegetables and honey herb drizzle. The barley cake was tender but toothsome; rich, savory and delicious, with little nuggets of mushrooms in it. And of course the roasted vegetables alongside were sweet and wonderful! Then I was extremely lucky that my friends Susanne and Thomas both ordered the Alaskan carnita plate. It was made with Alaskan pork, and served with whole beans, tomato-cumin brown rice and tortillas, salsa, and sour cream…  I got to try their pork, and it was fantastic: crispy and perfect on the outside, tender and moist on the inside. The Grill has really got it figured out!

So, are you dying to know what I’m ordering tomorrow? Maybe not, but I’ll tell you anyway. I’m definitely going to try the roasted carrot soup, and I think I might try the blackened salmon lettuce wraps (with cabbage, sprouts, carrots and green onions) off the TheatrePub menu… (Did I mention that you can order either the TheatrePub food OR the Grill food when you eat in the movie? Just order from the “to go” desk.) But the Grill’s halibut with birch glaze looks so yummy, too…  Hmm. This might get embarrassing after all.

In honor of the Bear Tooth’s wonderful effort to promote and provide local food for us, along with the Alaska Center for the Environment’s hard work to make this fun film & food event happen, I invented a new salad tonight. Since it’s using ingredients that I had hanging around the house (so what’s new?), I’m hoping that trying this recipe is easy for you, too.

We had Alaskan beets from our Alaskan Glacier Valley Farm CSA box, and Dan sliced and roasted them up a couple of days ago (am I well-married, or what?). We also had some beautiful Alaskan green & red leaf lettuce left over from last week’s box (have you ever noticed how long lettuce lasts when you get it in a CSA box or from the farmers market?). I almost always have at least a drizzle of my mustardy, garlicky red wine vinaigrette in the fridge, and tonight was no exception. I remembered reading in my rebar: modern food cookbook about the author’s Polish heritage, and how beets, sunflower seeds and dill are familiar flavors. So I sprinkled some dried dill into my vinaigrette (what the heck, why not?) and toasted up some sunflower seeds.

We served it up with grilled salmon (Alaskan, of course, out of the freezer) that Dan rubbed with Halibut Cove Dill Rub from Summit Spice & Tea Co. I don’t know what else is in the rub other than dill, but it’s salty and tasty! Clearly, this is no traditional Polish meal, but it was fun to take some of the flavors and go with them. They were great!

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green salad with roasted beet slices, toasted sunflower seeds and a mustard-dill vinaigrette

I make a lot of this dressing at once, without the dill, and then keep it in the refrigerator to use all the time. It keeps really well, is yummy and creamy without any eggs or cream in it (mustard is the emulsifying agent), and is great with a variety of different salads.

dressing

6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 medium cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons honey
———————————————
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
pinches of dried dill (or, even better, fresh dill, if you have it)

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 or honey if it needs it.
Take out several spoons-full of the dressing and add a couple of pinches of dried dill, or big pinches of fresh dill, chopped. Stir it in and let it sit and let the dill flavor the dressing while you make the rest of the salad.

oven-roasted beet slices
Even if you’re not a beet fan, I think you’ll love these slices. If you’ve been wondering what to do with the beets in your CSA box, here’s the ticket!

1 pound of Alaskan beets—the biggest you can find.
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt

1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
2. Peel the beets and slice them into thin slices—I did about 1/8-inch slices in my food processor, but do whatever you like. 
4. Coat a large baking sheet with non-stick spray or oil. (This makes clean-up a lot easier.)
5. Toss the beet slices with olive oil and salt.
6. Spread the beet slices out in a single layer on the baking sheets. Roast for about 30 minutes, or until they are cooked and tender when you stab them with a fork.

salad

1 large head of leaf lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces, or a large bowl of baby salad greens or stemmed baby spinach
mustardy-dill dressing
¼ cup sunflower seeds, toasted in a skillet until golden and fragrant
roasted beet slices

Toss the salad greens with dressing to your taste. Put a big pile of salad on a plate and top with the beet slices. Sprinkle toasted sunflower seeds over the salad and serve.

To see an easy recipe for grilled salmon, check out this link for grilled southwestern salmon. Just substitute the dill rub or just use salt and pepper instead of the southwestern spice rub.


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