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Monday, April 30, 2012

green pea spread

green pea spread

biking to girdwood

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

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

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

tandem ride

green pea spread

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

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

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


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Sunday, April 29, 2012

African peanut stew with sweet potatoes, kale, and chickpeas

peanut soup

spring blossoms

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

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

primroses

African peanut stew with sweet potatoes, kale, and chickpeas

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

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

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


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Saturday, April 28, 2012

salade nicoise

snowy, sunny spring!

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

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

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

salade nicoise

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

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

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

lemony vinaigrette

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

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

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

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

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


salad

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

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

garlic-roasted potatoes

2 pounds small Butterball potatoes (or other yellow, waxy potato)
garlic oil (recipe in Step 1.)
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper

1. Make garlic oil: Mash or mince 3 or 4 garlic cloves and cover with ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil. Let steep for 30 minutes if you have time. Strain out the garlic and store the oil in the refrigerator.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the potatoes into halves or quarters. Toss them in a bowl with a few spoonfuls of garlic oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss again.
3. Lightly oil a large baking dish or sheet pan, and transfer the potatoes onto it, making sure that a cut side of each potato is touching the pan. (The side touching the pan will brown nicely). Roast the potatoes until tender and browned, 35 to 40 minutes.

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

roasted red peppers
1. Preheat your grill or broiler. Roast the red peppers, turning them as each side gets blackened.
2. When they are blackened all the way around, place them in a big bowl and cover it with a lid or a plate until the peppers are fairly cool (this steams and cooks the peppers the rest of the way).
3. Peel the skins from the peppers and remove the seeds, but don’t rinse the peppers—just rinse your fingers as you peel the skins off. Slice the peppers into ½” wide pieces.


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Saturday, October 29, 2011

roasted carrot dip with sunflower seeds and cumin

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The Carrot Challenge

On the last day of September, I got a message from my friend Amy Pettit at the Alaska Division of Agriculture, advertising their new Farm to School program. The Division wanted to raise awareness of their new program by offering lots of neat prizes for schools to participate. I forwarded the message to my first-grade daughter’s teacher at Rabbit Creek Elementary School, Mrs. Duprow, and told her that I would love to help her out with a project, if she wanted to plan something.

Mrs. Duprow jumped right on it, emailing the Division with her idea to do a taste-testing of our local Alaskan carrots vs. carrots from the Lower 48. She asked if a farmer could come and talk to her class, since they are learning about soils, and maybe they could include the whole school by bringing carrots to the cafeteria.  Before I knew it, the project had grown to a carrot taste-testing for the whole school!

On National Food Day (October 24), Ben VanderWeele delivered a huge bale of his farm’s Alaskan carrots to the school. Here’s a great YouTube video about how the carrots were harvested!



Johanna Herron from the Farm to School program came from Fairbanks with a method for counting votes, along with prizes for the students; Diane Peck came from the Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program with the rival carrots (the ones grown Outside) and little plastic shot glasses to hold the carrot samples; Alaskan food promoter Chef Clayton Jones came with a big hotel pan of delicious caramelized carrots for Mrs. Duprow’s class to eat while he talked about using local food in his restaurants; and I came as general dogsbody: carrot peeler, provider of kitchen equipment, and guide to show people where the cafeteria was.

What a fun event! It was a blind taste test, with orange cups for the Alaskan carrots, and clear cups for the Lower 48 carrots. Reporters showed up from the newspaper and television news, so luckily, the kids really COULD taste the difference between the Alaskan carrots and the Lower 48 carrots. The Alaskan carrots won by more than a two-to-one margin! Our carrots really ARE sweeter and juicier!

Click on the links for the Anchorage Daily News photo gallery and the KTUU Channel 2 News piece on the project. Thanks, Eric Hill and Rhonda McBride, for such great coverage of the event! The funny thing was, of all the people who put this project together, my picture ended up on the front page of the newspaper—and I hadn’t done much of anything! I want to take this opportunity to thank the folks who really DID make it happen: Christine Duprow, Johanna Herron, Diane Peck, Amy Pettit, Ben VanderWeele, Clayton Jones, and the staff at Rabbit Creek.

Clayton, Johanna, Diane and I peeled a LOT of carrots—and at the end of the day, there were about eleven pounds of extra peeled Alaskan carrots. I brought them home, knowing just what I would make! You might already have tried my carrot dip with sunflower seeds—I put that recipe on the blog in August 2009. But since then, I have come up with an even more delicious way to make it. Instead of just boiling the sliced carrots, then pureeing them with the rest of the ingredients, I roast the peeled carrots, halved lengthwise, with a little olive oil and salt. When they are roasted, the carrots make an incredibly rich and delicious puree, and the dip is creamy and fantastic with just the little bit of oil the carrots were roasted in. If you’ve tried it and liked it the other way, try it this way. And if you haven’t yet tried it, buy yourself a couple of big bags of ALASKAN carrots and go for it!

 

carrot dip with sunflower seeds & cumin

This recipe is loosely based on one in Veganomicon.  It’s fantastic spread on whole grain toast, or crackers—but I like it best scooped up with celery sticks.
I’ve given you a recipe for a large amount, for these reasons:
1) Even though it looks like a lot, 4 pounds of carrots will roast down to half that weight,
2) Keep some in the refrigerator to eat within the week, and freeze the rest in small containers (carefully labeled) for later. It makes a wonderful appetizer, and if someone shows up at the last minute, you can just pop it in the microwave to defrost it, and you’re good to go.
3) If you just want to make a regular batch, you can halve the recipe.

4 pounds carrots, peeled if the skins are bitter
2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup sunflower seeds, roasted or raw (if you have salted roasted seeds, just use less salt and adjust to taste)
4 small cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
2 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice

1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
2. Cut the stem ends off the carrots and slice each one lengthwise into two long pieces. In a large bowl, toss the carrot halves with 2 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil and about a teaspoon of salt.
3. Spray a couple of rimmed cookie sheets with Pam (or grease with olive oil).
4. Lay the carrot halves out on the cookie sheets. If you have time to put the cut sides down on the cookie sheet, you’ll get more caramelization, and better flavor, but if you are pressed for time, just spread them out in more or less a single layer and put the cookie sheets in the oven. Roast them in the oven until they are tender when stabbed with a fork, and getting lovely and golden brown around the edges. Check them after 30 minutes, scoop them around on the tray to get other edges exposed to the pan, and check them every 10 minutes or so after that.  They might take up to 50 minutes to cook all the way and get roasty and toasty. Take them out of the oven and set aside to cool a bit.
5. If you have raw sunflower seeds, turn your oven down to 350 degrees. Toast the sunflower seeds on a clean cookie sheet in the oven for about 10 -12 minutes, until golden-brown and fragrant. Check on them and give them a stir if they are getting too brown in spots. (If you have toasted sunflower seeds, just use them as is.)
6. Peel the garlic and toss it in the food processor to mince. Then add the sunflower seeds and process into fine crumbs. Then add the cumin, salt, some of the lemon juice, and as many carrots as you can fit, and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the food processor as you go. If you couldn’t fit all the carrots in, transfer the first batch to a big bowl and puree the rest of the carrots with some more lemon juice. Scrape the remaining carrot puree into the bowl, and mix thoroughly with the sunflower seed/garlic puree.
7.    Taste for salt and adjust the lemon. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use. This dip tastes wonderful right away, but even better after it’s had an overnight in the refrigerator. I like to serve it at room temperature, so give it a little chance to warm up before serving if you can—or pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so and stir it up before putting it on the table.
8.  Serve with crackers, celery sticks, or on toast. If you have even more carrots on hand and want to use some roasted carrot slices as garnish, you can—but it’s not necessary!


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Saturday, March 19, 2011

broccoli soup

image

St. Patrick’s Day Soup

I get to go in and volunteer in Meredith’s kindergarten class on Thursday mornings. Last Thursday was, of course, St. Patrick’s Day. Meredith wore as much green as she could—lime-green t-shirt and leggings, and a leaf-green polar fleece sweater. She looked like a pea pod. Her winter jacket is also green, and her watch has green alligators on it. I figured she’d be just about the greenest kid in her class—and wondered how many other kids would remember to wear green. So I was completely unprepared for the sight that met my eyes when I arrived at her class to help. Just about everyone was wearing some green, but not just green regular clothes: there were sparkly shamrock necklaces, a huge striped green hat that looked like something the Cat in the Hat might wear, sequined hats and faux red-haired braids, shamrocks painted on faces, and shiny green dresses. Luckily I, too, was heavily be-greened—my green polar fleece sweater, green earrings and green snakeskin clogs assured me that I wouldn’t get pinched.

When I got home, I was so inspired by all that green that I figured it was a good day to make broccoli soup. I was influenced by the recent (March & April 2011) issue of Cook’s Illustrated, which had a recipe for a broccoli-cheese soup, but I wanted to make it without the cheese.  Here’s what I came up with!

 

broccoli soup

This recipe is inspired by a broccoli-cheese soup in Cook’s Illustrated, but doesn’t have any cheese. I like their method for cooking the broccoli until very soft to get more flavor out of the vegetable, and using a little baking soda to help the broccoli break down faster. I used broccoli that I had already blanched and frozen, but I’m giving you the recipe to make it with fresh broccoli. If you use frozen and thawed broccoli, it will take less time to cook down completely.

You can serve the soup with garlicky croutons, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, or just eat it plain like I did—it’s delicious!

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds broccoli , florets roughly chopped into 1-inch pieces, stems trimmed, peeled, and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 large onion , roughly chopped
2 medium garlic cloves , minced
1 to 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
pinch cayenne pepper
kosher or sea salt to taste
3 to 4 cups water
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups vegetable broth
freshly-ground black pepper
—————————————————————-
optional garnishes:
fresh-grated Parmesan cheese
garlicky croutons (recipe follows)

1. Heat oil in large heavy soup pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add onion and 1 teaspoon salt and sauté until the onion begins to brown. Add broccoli, garlic, mustard, and cayenne. Cook, stirring frequently, until garlic is fragrant, about 3 more minutes. Add 1 cup water and baking soda. Bring to simmer, cover, and cook until broccoli is very soft, about 20 minutes, stirring once during cooking.
2. Add broth and 2 cups water and increase heat to medium-high to bring up to a simmer. Taste the broth for salt and mustard, and add more as you like. Turn off the heat and let the soup cool for a bit, until you can comfortably transfer the soup, in batches, into a blender. Process the soup until smooth, about 1 minute for each batch. Return soup to pot.
3. If you want to serve the soup with croutons, make them now.
4. When you’re ready to eat, place the soup over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Adjust consistency of soup with more broth or water as desired. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve, passing croutons at the table as a garnish, or Parmesan cheese if you like (although I didn’t think it needed the cheese).

garlicky croutons
5 slices hearty whole-grain bread
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed in a garlic press
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mash the garlic with the salt in the bottom of a medium-sized bowl. Stir in the olive oil. Cut the slices of bread into ½” cubes and toss them in the garlicky oil until the oil is thoroughly absorbed and distributed.
2. Spread the bread cubes out on a baking sheet and bake for 15-25 minutes, until the croutons are crispy and golden-brown.

 


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Saturday, November 27, 2010

acorn squash with sage, parsley and walnut pesto

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Junior Nordic

Junior Nordic started two weeks ago, and this is the first year that Meredith is old enough to join the herd of cross-country skiing kids, age six to fourteen. The kids are divided up into different groups based on age and ability—they are Polar Cubs, Otters, Wolverines, and Hawks. Meredith, being six, is of course a Polar Cub. All the kids get the cool hat and the cool jacket, so that when Meredith is skiing in her group, it is well-nigh impossible to find her in the mass of identically-dressed children. But I’m sure that’s handy for the coaches trying to keep track of their charges. And I’m all about that!

The coaches are amazing—Meredith came home the first day of regular practice and was totally jazzed up about it. I was SO relieved and happy that she enjoyed it—because first off, she gets home from Junior Nordic after her regular bedtime, and I was afraid she might be worn out and cranky. The other reason I was especially thrilled was that she doesn’t always enjoy our family skiing expeditions. I mean, there are always fun parts to our outings (the downhills, especially), but sometimes it can be a bit of a frustrating experience—for both of us.

The whole Junior Nordic program is sort of mind-boggling. A huge number of coaches is organized each day to coach the many different groups of kids, and then parents are mobilized to volunteer and ski along with the groups. And mostly this happens at night, from 6:15 to 7:30, in the DARK. Yeah, yeah, the trails are lighted, but it’s still pretty dark and a little confusing. That first night when I was skiing around with the Polar Cubs, I was trying to keep track of my group, but my kids looked just like all the rest of the Junior Nordickers out there. And then there were lots of other folks out skiing, too—serious training groups like WinterStars and the APU team, plus people going skiing after work… it was pretty crazy. But the Junior Nordic coaches are totally on top of it! Somehow they keep tabs on the kids and know what’s going on.

We are signed up for the Tuesday & Thursday evening sessions, and then the kids do longer ski tours on Saturday mornings. On Tuesdays and Thursdays Dan and I ski with a group as parent volunteers (but not with Meredith’s group, to discourage whining). And then on Saturday mornings the kids go on a 1½ hour tour! And the Polar Cubs get hot chocolate and cookies—isn’t that cool? But here’s the coolest thing about the Saturday tour. Last weekend, Dan and I asked Coach Dan (the one with the hot chocolate and cookies) if it was OK if we went out and skied on our own, instead of skiing with the group. And he was totally fine with it! So Dan and I got to zip out for our own 1½ hour tour together while Meredith was skiing and having a blast with the awesome, amazing, wonderful coaches and the other groovy little Polar Cubs.

acorn squash with sage, parsley and walnut pesto

This recipe is based on one from Eating Well magazine, and I LOVE IT! The sage with the squash is so perfect, but the parsley cuts the strength of the sage so it’s not overpowering. When you spoon the pesto into the hot acorn squash, the heat of the squash releases the most incredible aroma of the sage, garlic, and parsley… it’s really fantastic!

I’ve scaled the pesto recipe to fit the amount you can make from one little plastic clamshell package of sage from the grocery store. If you have leftover pesto (I’d be surprised if you do), just freeze it flat in a ziploc bag until the next time you bake a squash.

squash

3 acorn squash, (1 to 1 ¼ pounds each)
1 teaspoon olive oil
salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

pesto

3 cloves garlic, peeled
3 to 4 cups fresh Italian (flat-leaved) parsley leaves (2 bunches)
½ cup (more or less) fresh sage leaves (about one clamshell package)
1/3 cup walnut pieces, toasted in the oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees
½ to 1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
¼ cup water
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Brush cut sides of the squash with oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the squash, cut-side down, on the prepared baking sheet, and roast until tender, 35 to 45 minutes.
2. To make pesto: With the motor running, drop garlic into a food processor; process until finely chopped. Add parsley, sage, walnuts, salt and pepper; process until the herbs are finely chopped. Once again with the motor running, drizzle in broth and olive oil; process until the pesto is starting to get a little bit of a creamy consistency, scraping down the sides of the workbowl once or twice. It doesn’t get as creamy as a basil pesto—the parsley is too tough for that. Just get it as smooth as you can—it’ll taste good no matter what.
3. When the squash is tender, spoon a spoonful of the pesto into each piping hot squash half and serve, passing the remaining pesto separately.

 


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Friday, November 12, 2010

black bean soup with sweet potatoes

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trick-or-treat soup

Since Meredith started understanding what Halloween was all about, we’ve done a little trick-or-treating in our neighborhood. Unfortunately for her, the houses in our neighborhood are relatively few and far between. Luckily, Meredith has never trick-or-treated in a more densely populated area, so she just takes it for granted that she has to walk quite a distance for her meager quota of candy. Not that we have ever visited very many houses—she usually poops out and gets cold after five or six stops.

But this year was different. First off, our neighborhood has really come together this year because now that we have kindergartners, we parents have been spending a lot of time together at the bus stop. So several of our families decided to go trick-or-treating together! A pack of our little hoodlums would be roaming the streets together, with a rearguard of parents (dads drinking beers, moms chatting. Second, Meredith has been walking to and from the bus stop every day (it’s only uphill one way, but still, it’s almost a mile), and her walking muscles are stronger than ever. So with other kids to draw her along, plus greater endurance, we went to many more houses than before.

You might think that we collected quite a pile of Halloween candy, but it didn’t really work out that way. Despite visiting twenty houses or so (which seemed like a lot in the cold and icy road conditions), we caught a lot of folks off-guard. I don’t blame them—they kept saying “We’ve NEVER had any trick-or-treaters! I’m so sorry, I don’t have anything!” Sometimes they would give us something creative; Meredith collected a large and heavy bottle of juice and a homemade oatmeal cookie. But some just didn’t have anything to hand out. At every house that came up empty, I would explain to the homeowner “Well, you DO get to choose—a trick or a treat. We’ll come back later with the toilet paper.” They would look at me for a second, wondering whether I was serious… “Just kidding!” I would say. “But consider yourself warned for next year!” They promised to be ready for us next year! 

If this isn’t a Halloweeny soup, I don’t know what is. I spotted it in an email from FineCooking.com, and I made my version ahead of time to eat after trick-or-treating on Halloween night. But don’t wait for next October to make it! It’s really good—perfect for any chilly night.

 

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black bean soup with sweet potatoes

I made this soup based on recipe by Lori Longbotham, in an email from Fine Cooking. But instead of just cooking the sweet potatoes in the soup, as she recommends, I roasted slices of sweet potatoes and added them as a garnish at the end. Also I used home-cooked black beans instead of canned ones, so I didn’t have to use stock, as her recipe called for. But you could substitute canned beans and stock if you like, instead of cooking your own beans and using the bean cooking liquid. 

As Ms. Longbotham pointed out in her recipe, “The sweet potatoes in this soup contrast nicely with the tang of the yogurt and the tartness of the lime. Aniseed lends an unusual hint of licorice flavor.”

If you have time, cook the beans and make the soup ahead of time, like the day before, and then roast the sweet potatoes just before dinner. Or you can roast the sweet potatoes ahead, too, and just reheat everything when you’re ready to eat. This soup freezes wonderfully, too.

Oh, and one more thing—about the sweet potatoes. First, let’s make sure we’re talking about the right vegetable. Sweet potatoes like the ones I’ve used in this recipe are usually called yams in the grocery store—for example, garnet yams. Use the really orange ones.

The Beans

4 cups black beans, soaked for 4 hours or overnight
1 onion, peeled and quartered
4 garlic cloves, peeled but left whole
kosher salt or sea salt

Drain the soaked beans, rinse them, and then put them in a large pot and cover with cold water by a couple of inches. Add the quartered onion and garlic and make sure the water covers the onions. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are tender. This could take 45 minutes to 1 ½ hours, depending on the size of the beans and how old they are. When the beans are tender enough to easily squish between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, turn the heat off. If you have time, let the beans sit in their liquid with the aromatics until cool. Remove the quartered onions and whole garlic and discard. Add salt to the beans to taste.

The Soup

1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, chopped
6 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons ground cumin
¼ teaspoon aniseed
Freshly-ground black pepper
kosher salt or sea salt

Warm the olive oil in a large, heavy soup pot. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until the onion is soft and golden brown, 8 to 12 minutes. Add the garlic, coriander, cumin, aniseed, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the beans and broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 15 or 20 minutes. Taste the soup and add salt I f needed, stir well, and set aside until an hour and a half before dinnertime.

While you’re roasting the sweet potatoes, and/or when the soup is cool enough to handle without burning yourself, using a slotted spoon, set aside 2 or 3 cups of the beans and onions. Puree the remaining soup in batches in a blender. Return the solids to the soup, and when you’re ready to eat, reheat over gentle heat, stirring often (Don’t burn the beans!) and season to taste with salt, pepper and a little lime juice.

The Sweet Potatoes

4 medium sweet potatoes (called yams at the grocery store—get Garnet Yams, or something similar), peeled and sliced into ¾-inch thick rounds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt

My method for roasting these is from Cook’s Illustrated. The reason for all the shenanigans with the foil at the beginning is that starting the sweet potatoes in a cold oven keeps the temperature lower at first, to allow more of the starches in the sweet potatoes to convert to sugars. Then the 425-degree final temperature browns and caramelizes them. If you prefer not to peel the potatoes, just scrub them well before cutting.

1. Toss sweet potatoes in large bowl with oil and salt until evenly coated. Grease one or two large rimmed baking sheets with olive oil or cooking spray.
2. Arrange sweet potatoes in single layer on baking sheet(s) and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Adjust oven rack to middle position and place yams in COLD OVEN. Turn oven on to 425 degrees and cook sweet potatoes 20 to 30 minutes, until they are starting to get tender.
3. Carefully remove foil, and return sweet potatoes to oven and cook until bottom edges of yams are golden brown, 15 to 25 minutes. If they are very tender and brown, they are already done! (Whether they are done or not will depend on how fast your oven heats up.) If not tender yet, go to Step 4.
4. Use a spatula to flip slices over. Continue to roast until bottom edges of sweet potatoes are golden brown, and they are quite soft in the center, 10 to 20 minutes longer.
5. Remove from oven; let them cool for a bit, and then cut some of them into small pieces to sprinkle on top of your soup.

The Other Garnishes
½ cup plain yogurt, salted to your taste (optional—I actually liked it better without the yogurt)
fresh lime juice, or wedges or slices of lime

Serve each bowl of soup topped with sweet potato cubes and, if desired, a dollop of yogurt, and a squeeze more lime juice if it needs it.


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Sunday, October 31, 2010

cabbage salad with apples and spiced pecans

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written while avoiding eye contact with stacks of photos

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

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

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

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

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

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

cabbage salad with apples and spiced pecans

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

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

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

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

 


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