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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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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
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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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Thursday, October 01, 2009

black bean tostadas with seared zucchini & roasted garlic

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Local Food at the Bear Tooth Grill!

In the middle of the summer, Dan and I had a real, honest-to-goodness night out—sponsored by our dear friend Alice, who had given us a gift certificate for dinner at the Bear Tooth Grill, and a night of babysitting!! What a treat for us!

I hadn’t been to the Bear Tooth Grill in several years, but remembered big, juicy, yummy burritos and even bigger margaritas. I was glad to be hungry after the movie and was anticipating a nice meal. But right away I noticed something different about the menu and the specials board… local vegetables were being highlighted! This was new and very promising! As soon as we got a table (even on a Monday night the restaurant was hopping!) I ordered a margarita and the Build-Your-Own-Taco with Zucchini, Cheese and Toasted Corn.  Here’s the description from the menu:

Pan-seared zucchini, toasted corn, salsa fresca, poblano chiles, and jack and cheddar cheeses sautéed to order.  Garnished with toasted pumpkin seeds and served with tomatillo-cilantro rice and refried black beans.

 
I have to tell you, it was fantastic. I slurped up every last bit of that zucchini with my refried beans and (house-made) taco shells. Something had definitely changed at the Grill since the last time I’d been there, and I was thrilled that they were using Alaskan zucchini and other Alaskan produce!

So then I started thinking about how to copy this dish at home, since I happened to have four large zucchinis on my counter from my CSA boxes. And I love to make tostadas.  My first version didn’t have onions, just garlic at the beginning and then a little grated sharp cheddar at the end. By the time I made my second version I thought of using roasted garlic (I always have some in the ‘fridge left over from the batches I make for our Alaskan cheese & roasted garlic sourdough bread) instead of the cheese. You could use either one.

So I’d been making these tostadas every other week (every time my zucchinis started to build up) when I got a call from Clayton Jones, the executive chef from the Bear Tooth Grill! Tomorrow they start a special event, their Alaska Local Food and Film Festival. I had heard about the event, and had planned to attend a movie or two, but I hadn’t expected a call from Chef Clayon! Sure enough, he’s the reason for the local vegetables and the new exciting stuff on the Grill’s menu! He was calling to find out more about our Rise & Shine Bakery’s sourdough breads made with local Alaskan ingredients…  he’s looking for locally-made products, and maybe he’ll use our Alaskan potato bread or our spent grain sourdough bread in lunch specials. That would be pretty cool!

But whether that happens or not, the exciting thing is that Clayton and his team are really working hard to create exciting dishes that feature Alaskan produce! Isn’t that great? I’m excited to attend the film festival, too; I’m going to see Food, Inc. tomorrow, and Fresh on Monday…  and I just found out from Clayton that we can even order food from the Grill side to eat during the movies! Ooh, I can’t wait for those zucchini tacos again. Even though I’ve just eaten my home-made version for the last two nights. Hmm. Maybe I should branch out and see what else is looking Alaskan and vegetable-y on the menu!!  Like maybe the calabacita chimichanga special…  that’s bound to be full of zucchini! Or I could always go for the blackened halibut tacos. Ahh.  Decisions, decisions…

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black bean tostadas with seared zucchini & roasted garlic

Although you can add diced avocado, cheese, and other things, I like to keep these pretty simple because I like to taste the zucchini. You probably already guess that I make big batches of the refried beans and freeze them for when I want a quick meal!

corn tortillas
refried beans (recipe follows)
seared zucchini & roasted garlic (recipe follows)
plain yogurt or sour cream
salsa (if desired)

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Set the corn tortillas on baking sheets in a single layer and toast them in the oven for 15 minutes, until crisp, fragrant, and just starting to get golden brown. Toast 2 or 3 tortillas per person.
2. Let each person top their tortilla with beans, then zucchini, then yogurt/sour cream and salsa. Eat with plenty of napkins at the ready!

seared zucchini & roasted garlic

2 large zucchini (or 3 medium ones)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, minced
Sea salt or kosher salt
1 bulb roasted garlic (see recipe, below) or ¼ cup grated very sharp cheddar cheese
chipotle chile powder, or other chile powder (optional, but very nice)
¼ cup green pumpkin seeds (pepitas), toasted in a skillet over medium high heat until puffed and golden-brown

1. Cut the ends off the zucchini, slice in half lengthwise, and then cut the zucchini into ¼-inch-thick half-moons.
2. Heat the olive oil in the largest (preferably non-stick) skillet you have, add the onion and about a ¼ teaspoon of salt, then sauté the onions over high heat until they are golden-brown.
3. Add the zucchini, another ½ teaspoon of salt, and sauté over high heat. Let them fry without stirring for a while to let some of the pieces get brown, then stir and repeat until the whole mess is just tender, brown and yummy.
4. Squeeze the garlic cloves out of their skins and mash them up into a paste; alternately, grate some cheddar cheese.
5. Turn the heat off under the zucchinis, and stir in the roasted garlic or cheese. Add a sprinkling of chile powder (I use about ¼ teaspoon). Combine thoroughly and add more salt and chile to your taste.
6. Top with toasted pepitas, then pile onto your tostada!

refried beans
This recipe will give you plenty of beans for a couple of days’ leftovers (always a good thing, in my book). They freeze really well, too, so make as many as you like and freeze them (well-labeled) in plastic containers for future tostada meals.

3 cups dried beans: black turtle beans, pinto, or anasazi beans
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large onions (1 for quartering, 2 for dicing)
10 garlic cloves, peeled (4 to be left whole, 6 to be minced)
2 bay leaves
4 teaspoons cumin seeds, toasted in a skillet and freshly ground
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder, or regular chili powder
sea salt or kosher salt

1. Soak the beans in water for 4 hours or overnight.
2. Quarter 1 of the onions, leaving the root end on so the quarters stay intact. Cover the beans in water by a couple of inches, and add the quartered onion, 4 whole garlic cloves and the bay leaves. Bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer, partially covered, until the beans are completely tender. When the beans are tender enough to easily squish between your tongue and the roof of your mouth, turn off the heat. This could take from 30 minutes to an hour or longer, depending on how old the beans are. Just make sure the beans are nice and soft. Turn off the heat and let the beans cool for a bit. If you have time, let them sit, covered, until they are completely cool. Remove the quartered onion, bay leaves, and whole garlic cloves and discard.
3. Chop the remaining 2 onions into small dice, and mince the remaining 6 garlic cloves. Saute the onions with 1 teaspoon salt in a wide skillet over medium-high heat until they start to brown—5 or 10 minutes. Then add the garlic, cumin, oregano, chili powder, and 1 more teaspoon salt, and sauté for 5 minutes more.
4. Add the beans and 1 cup of their cooking liquid. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes or so, partially mashing some of the beans with the back of a wooden spoon, a potato masher, or an immersion blender.
5. Season with plenty of salt and pepper to taste. The beans can take a lot of salt, so just keep tasting until they are perfectly seasoned. You may need to add more salt when you reheat them—just taste and see.


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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

spicy peanut noodles with bean sprouts &  stir-fried baby bok choy

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back to school

This week Meredith started preschool again, and we’re ALL thrilled! It’s her third year, so it’s familiar but still exciting, and she’s so happy to see her teachers and friends again. Of course, she’s missing the older cohort that left for kindergarten, so that’s a little sad, but she’s learning to fill in for them and play the “big kid” role, helping the new little ones. We were so grateful for the nurturing and sweet care of her friend Karli last year; I hope Meredith can be as kind a friend to some of the younger ones this year.

To celebrate, Dan and I went for a tandem bike ride today after dropping Meredith off! What a treat to have the weather and the time to escape for a little mid-day adventure. Don’t get me wrong—I love family outings, too—but riding the bike without hauling our 40-pound five-year-old in the bike trailer is pretty wonderful. And this way, we all get our fresh air and exercise, and then can spend quiet time together when she gets home.

I love having the time during the day to do my work, and to prepare for the evening so that I can feel focused and calm about spending special time with Meredith. It doesn’t always happen, but this week, she definitely needs the extra tender loving care—she is worn to a thread when she gets home!

Since I had a little extra time yesterday, I could try a new recipe. See what you think!

spicy peanut noodles with bean sprouts & sautéed baby bok choy

Because I had a little more time today, I had a chance to explore an old cookbook (Noodle, by Terry Durack) for a recipe to accompany the baby bok choy we’d traded Mr. Stockwell for our kalamata olive bread at the Saturday Farmers Market. I ended up deciding on a spicy peanut noodle recipe. Of course, I made a complete mockery of his recipe, adding way more veggies than was called for, and substituting pantry ingredients for unknown Asian ones.

Even though you probably already have your favorite peanut noodle recipe, consider trying this one. It’s different because I’ve used at least equal parts (if not more) mung mean sprouts to cooked noodles. But you can’t really tell because the sprouts are noodle-shaped, and coated with the yummy sauce! Lightly blanched, they add a great crunch to the softer bite of the noodles, and they make the dish lighter and healthier! This dish is fantastic at room temperature, too—so you can make this for a potluck or eat it cold for leftovers.

When I made this, I made a double batch of the sauce to make sure I had enough for all those bean sprouts. I think you’ll be fine with a single batch, but since it makes such great leftovers, why not make a double batch anyway?

1 teaspoon peanut oil (I like to use Loriva toasted peanut oil)
2 to 3 tablespoons grated or finely chopped fresh ginger root
2 teaspoons sugar
4 to 6 cups mung bean sprouts
1 tablespoon sesame seeds
½ teaspoon chili oil (or substitute a pinch of cayenne, to your taste)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons peanut butter (I love Maranatha organic—it’s SO creamy and yummy, even the crunchy variety, which is my preference)
2 tablespoons water
1 to 2 tablespoons soy sauce (I like to use Nama Shoyu, which you can get at Natural Pantry)
1 tablespoon red wine or sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
½ pound spaghetti (I like to use whole wheat, but use what you prefer)
4 scallions, finely sliced

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add a couple of tablespoons of salt.
2. In a medium bowl, mix the peanut oil with grated ginger and sugar.
3. Blanch bean sprouts in the boiling water, and scoop them out after a minute, letting them drain and cool.
4. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan just until they start to brown. Crush them lightly in a mortar and pestle.
5. Add the chili oil (or cayenne), sesame oil, peanut butter, water and toasted sesame seeds to the ginger and oil mixture and whisk to combine. Add the soy sauce, vinegar and pepper, whisking again. Taste and add more soy sauce if you like.
6. Cook the noodles in the boiling water until they are done to your liking. Drain them, put them in a big bowl, add the bean sprouts, and toss them immediately with enough sauce to coat everything nicely. Add more sauce to your taste.
7. Plate each serving alongside a vegetable (like the baby bok choy) and top with a generous sprinkling of scallions.

sauteed baby bok choy

4 to 6 baby bok choy
4 to 6 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon peanut oil or canola oil
sea salt or kosher salt

1. Trim the bottom ends off each boy choy, take them apart and slice the leaves lengthwise into halves.
2. Heat the oil over very high heat and sauté the garlic until it becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds.
3. Add the baby bok choy leaves and ½ teaspoon of salt and sauté until the leaves are wilted, stirring to get the garlic up off the bottom of the pan so it doesn’t burn.
4. If the leaves are all wilted and the pan is dry, but the stems are still very crunchy, add ¼ cup water, cover the pan, and let the leaves steam until the stems are tender. Add more salt to taste, and serve.


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Sunday, September 13, 2009

red cabbage salad with green peas

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fall colors

Maybe you’ve already read that we just got back from the most amazing fall color display on our trip to Denali. (See a couple of Denali photos at the end of this post by our friend Peter Polson!) Still, the colors right here in Anchorage are pretty spectacular, too! I was running on the Hillside trails the other day, and loving the contrast of the red bearberry and dogwood, the golden birches, and the bright green mosses. Are we lucky to have this kind of beauty all around us, or what?

But my thoughts generally wander from such high-minded topics, and as usual when I’m running by myself, I started to think about food. In this case: the menu plan for the week, what needs cooking out of my refrigerator, and specifically, what I could make with bright color contrasts and fall vegetables.

I admit that bearberry leaves aren’t purple, and this salad lacks a birch gold, but I wasn’t trying for an exact match on the color scheme. This cabbage salad gets serious points in my book for fantastic color contrast (not to mention its delicious taste and speedy preparation)!

You can still pick up bags of sweet, fresh peas at the farmers market, and of course Alaskan red cabbage is ubiquitous this time of year. Selling bread yesterday at the farmers market, it was cool and rainy… it’s definitely turning into fall, after this wonderful warm weather we’ve been enjoying!

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red cabbage salad with green peas

This is a recipe that I adapted from one that my friend Colleen gave me. Hers used radicchio and cider vinegar, but I didn’t have any radicchio—so this salad was born!

If you don’t have red cabbage, you can use green cabbage instead. It’s pretty, still, with the different colors of green. Since this is a wilted salad, but the cabbage still retains some of its crunch, it’s great as a leftover salad the next day. I love eating this salad as a side to an avocado toast with balsamic vinaigrette and pickled red onions.

vinaigrette

¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
1-2 tablespoons honey

salad

half a head of red cabbage, sliced very thin
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen green peas
½ bunch of scallions, sliced thin (or substitute ¼ cup of minced red or yellow onion)

1. Put the cabbage and scallions into a large salad bowl.
2. Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer to dissolve the honey and salt. Add the peas to the vinaigrette and cook for 1-2 minutes (maybe a bit longer if the peas are still frozen), just long enough to warm and cook the peas a little bit. Don’t cook them so long that they start to turn grayish-green; this is just to infuse them with the vinaigrette and soften the skins a little.
3. Pour the hot dressing and peas over the top of the cabbage and toss to mix well. The dressing will wilt the cabbage a little. Taste and add more salt, pepper, and honey as needed to make a vibrant salad.

 


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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Tuscan white bean soup with greens

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the last camping trip of the summer

We’ve just returned from an incredible trip to Denali…  and I hardly know where to start. We have a camping journal that we use to record our adventures, and in nine days I wrote 18 pages. Don’t worry, I’ll give you the abbreviated version! When we left Anchorage ten days ago, it was cloudy and cool, and just kept getting cooler as we drove north to Denali State Park. Despite the overcast skies, we were astonished and delighted by the fantastic reds, yellows, and lime-greens of the foliage as we drove north. We had clearly struck peak color! We spent three mostly rainy days at the State Park, enjoying hiking and running on the Little Coal Creek and Byers Lake trails, road biking along the highway, and canoeing on Byers Lake and watching the spawning red salmon.

Then we headed north to Denali National Park, and headed in to the Teklanika River campground for three days. We were thrilled when the weather seemed to be brightening… and then it just kept getting better! All three days in the park were completely cloudless, and on the first day, our ride into Eilson Visitor Center on the Park bus showed us The Mountain from tip to toe in all its astounding glory. We were also lucky enough to see a wolf, two bears, some faraway sheep, and a couple of caribou. Subsequent days were even more magical, with fantastic bike rides in the park pulling Meredith in her bike trailer (Thank goodness we have a tandem bike, so we can pull the trailer together!), beautiful hikes and runs, and slow, lazy days in the sunshine, admiring the bright leaves against the backdrop of the blue, blue sky.

The last three days we spent with our friends Shannon & Peter at their cabin just outside the Park. Our unbelievable luck continued, and the weather held, clear and sunny, freezing at night as the full moon beamed down on us. More hiking, biking, and running; more lazy, slow days; plus the pleasure of great conversations and meals with our friends. The reason I’ve included this particular soup recipe is that it’s one of the meals I brought along with us on our trip. To feed us on our ten-day journey, I froze a lot of soups and stews, packed a very large cooler full of them (plus bread, of course), and then slowly thawed them out over the course of the trip. By the time we hit Shannon & Peter’s cabin, this soup was perfectly ready to eat! We shared many meals, but this was one for which they requested the recipe.  Thanks, Shannon & Peter, for a fantastic three days, and for inspiring us to come north for our last camping trip of the summer!!

 

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Tuscan white bean soup with greens

I think you’d have to be crazy to make a single batch of this recipe, since it freezes so well, and because it’s SO DELICIOUS and it tastes even better the next day… In fact, if you make it the day before, and saute up a pile of fresh chard with garlic to put in it right before you eat it, I’m betting you’ll swoon with joy. I think this might be the best soup I’ve ever made. But anyway, about the double batch… it does take a pretty large pot, so do what you think is best. And then go out and buy a REALLY BIG POT (with a heavy, stout bottom) for next time!

This recipe is loosely based on one from a recent Cook’s Illustrated magazine. The interesting twist that they’ve found to get really tender, perfect white beans is to soak the beans in salt water! I was really excited to try this, because often times my white beans don’t come out perfectly. Some will be disintegrating and others in the pot will be hard and crunchy still, or have hard, tough skins. This brining the beans really works! I’m completely sold!

The other key to perfectly beautiful beans is to keep them from boiling hard, which tends to explode the beans. So you cook the beans over very low heat. The Cook’s Illustrated people do it in a 250 degree oven, but I think it works just fine in a big, covered pot in the stovetop, turned way down so the soup is just barely bubbling.

kosher salt or sea salt
1 pound dried large white beans (about 2 cups), like Great Northern or cannellini
½ ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 large onions, chopped medium
3 carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
8 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
2 bay leaves
———————————————————
1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 large or 2 small sprigs rosemary
———————————————————-
1-2 medium bunches kale or collard greens, or chard
ground black pepper

1. Rinse the beans in a colander. Dissolve 3 tablespoons salt in 4 quarts cold water in large bowl or container. Add beans and soak, at room temperature, for at least 8 and up to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well.
2. Place mushrooms in a heat-proof bowl and pour boiling water over them to cover. Cover the bowl with a plate so it stays hot, and let sit for at least 10 minutes, while you chop the vegetables.
3. Pour the mushrooms through a fine-mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth (saving the liquid!), then lift mushrooms out of the strainer and mince them. Set mushrooms and liquid aside.
4. Heat oil in large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion, celery, and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and lightly browned, 10 to 16 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in 8 cups of water, bay leaves, soaked beans, and reserved mushrooms and their cooking liquid. Increase heat to high and bring stew to simmer. Turn the heat down, cover the pot, and keep the pot at a bare simmer (you’ll have to take the lid off and check occasionally) until beans are tender, 40 minutes to 1 hour, or longer, depending on the age and type of bean.
5. Stir in the tomatoes and their juice.
6. Strip the rosemary leaves off their stems and chop them very, very finely. The easiest way to do this is to pulverize them in a coffee grinder. It really works! Stir the rosemary in, too.
7. Taste the stew for salt, and add as much as needed to perfectly flavor it. Add pepper, too, to taste. After the soup sits, you may need to add more salt.
8. If you’re making the soup ahead (my recommendation—it always tastes even more divine then), just let it cool and refrigerate until the next day.
9. When you’re ready to eat the soup, prepare the greens. Trim the stems from the leaves and chop them into 1-inch pieces. Sauté them in a pan in a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt (add minced garlic, if you like) over medium-high heat. If you’re using mature kale or collards, after you’ve wilted the leaves, you’ll need to add ½ cup of water or so and cover the pan, letting the leaves steam and simmer until they are completely tender. The chard will cook much more quickly, and probably won’t need water added. Add salt to taste as you cook them.
10.  Reheat the soup if it’s not already hot, and decide if you like the consistency of the soup. Do you want to add more liquid? Just add a bit more water. I like it soupy, while others may like it more like a stew. Do what seems best to you!
11. When the greens are tender, stir them into the stew, taste once again for salt and pepper, and serve. This soup is fantastic served with hearty sourdough whole-grain bread or toast, dipped in some really nice extra-virgin olive oil.


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