Monday, December 27, 2010

Ann's Lemon Cake for Christmas Dinner

Pumpkin pie, step aside. This year I went unconventional for Christmas dessert and made the Fiddlehead's Ann's Lemon Cake (pg. ). It was light, had a nice balance of sweet with tart, and was a hit with the fam. I did suffer some serious rising issues (twice), and had to resort to using yellow cake box mix to layer with the lemon curd and lemon syrup.

I couldn't figure where I went wrong. I whipped the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy, then folded them into the flour/cornstarch mix to bake. After producing two unrisen, dense pancakes (which were supposed to slice in thirds), I was pushing up against 3:00 and opted for the box mix backup. Could it have been my egg/sugar wasn't fluffy enough? Or that my cornstarch was inactive (the label says it expires in 2012)? It tried to rise in puffs here and there, but just didn't have enough umph for the whole thing. Hmm...

The final product was delicious despite. Two layers of sweet-tart curd spread between three slabs of lemon syrup-drizzled cake made each bite moist and packed with flavor. Smothered in whipped cream, Ann's Lemon Cake is a bright delight to enjoy for the holidays...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

North Douglas Chocolate Cake: Halloween Remix

North Douglas is a stretch of highway that leads to Eaglecrest, False Outer Point, and the End of the (Island) Road. An incredible place. And an incredible cake. With a festive spirit, I put a Halloween spin on this classic Fiddlehead recipe.

There's chocolate cake and then there's North Douglas Chocolate Cake (page ). Around here, this cake wins the highest dessert-auction bids, and is the most requested birthday cake. It's cake is springy and moist, its icing buttery and infused with dark, Dutch-processed cocoa. Oh-so-rich. And for being such a decadent cake, its a simple and quick recipe.

It's as easy as mixing wet ingredients:

with dry
Then bake - and add frosting!

Now here's where I add a little something for the season. Instead of baking the cake in the traditional 8" pans, I cooked them for a shorter period in cupcake cups. At a party, cupcakes make individual servings much handier.

A little inspiration from Woman's Day magazine goes a long way. Using edible, play-doh-esque fondant (pre-made and pre-colored to save hours of time), I constructed little witch legs and boots.

Topped with sparkly witch hats on sale at Jo-Ann's, the final product will leave you cackling, reveling, and covorting in a Wicked Witch of the East-meets-All Hallow's Eve kind of way.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Late night herb bread

 Even the oregano knows it's autumn

Sometimes, internet, I don't know what I did when I was single. I know I cooked. A lot. It's not like I was suddenly imbued with magical cooking powers when my sweetheart came along. I have clear memories of cooking many tasty things in the kitchen, wine glass in hand, and belting out to Dar Williams, nary a boy in sight. I'm not single now, but this summer, I've felt like it. The sweetheart's on a job a couple hours away, and only home a few nights every couple weeks.  Consequently, I just haven't felt like cooking. 

I've been eating though. Usually a big salad, or (and I'm sharing my Number One Sexy Single Secret meal here) a baked sweet potato with sauteed kale and garlic on top. Topped off with a dollop of yogurt, and a dab of harissa mixed in if I'm feeling particularly ambitious. It's superfood heaven. Green, white and bright orange. Sweet and bitter. Creamy and crunchy. 

All this to say, every time I've cracked open the cookbook this summer, it's been hard to motivate for a big meal I can't share with anyone. I don't want to hog all the sandwich recipes!

But fall is setting in here in Alaska, and I'm beginning to putter around the kitchen again. I've been making my way through 4 gallons of cherries that I picked last week, and last night I made herb bread. It was late, and I had blog guilt. But the bread was fantastic!

Mezza Luna Loveliness
My fresh herbs are still kicking. I went out to my garden and snipped chives, oregano, tarragon,  thyme and parsley. While the yeast bloom was... blooming, I chopped the herbs with my lovely mezza luna.

 Kneading away

I started out mixing and kneading in the KitchenAid, but switched to hand kneading a couple minutes in. I felt like kneading, and the the dough looked (and was) so sumptuous to the touch.
The loaves have risen!

Two healthy rises in the oven, a quick shape into loaves and one more rise. Out came perfect, fragrant bread. Great for toast on my way into work this morning. This is the second bread I've made from the cookbook, and both have suggested 3 rises. It paid off big time, as they loaves were the loftiest I've ever made. I think next time, I'll see if I can knock off one rise. 

Morning toast

Monday, September 6, 2010

Fall is Soup Season: Halibut Bisque and Chowder

Fall is here! Cottonwood leaves litter the ground, there's a crispness and chill in the air, and students and teachers are heading back to school. Fall ushers in the start of soup season. This week, I cooked up two Fiddlehead halibut soups, the bisque and the chowder.

The Halibut Bisque (page 11) is a keeper of a recipe. It has a rosy color and delicious flavor. We had a loaf of "Peace Bomb" (I kid you not) whole wheat bread from Freddy's organic section to serve with it.

You'll only have one dish to wash after you cook this recipe--do it all in one pot. First, poach the halibut (or substitute other white fish) in the Fish Stock. Save the halibut and fish stock separately.

Use the same pot to saute the veggies in butter and add the fish stock and milk in.

Add the tomatoes and halibut at the end and bring up to temperature before you serve. I love the subtle tang from the white wine, giving the soup an extra layer of complexity to its flavor.

It's a clean, very healthy food. If you're ever feeling puny, there's nothing like hot soup to "spoon your way to health."


Remember Pep's Packing in Gustavus? Our local Jerry's Meats and Seafood had Pep's smoked halibut in stock when I picked up the fish. The smokiness is key in the Smoked Halibut Chowder (Page 13).

Chop the veggies small, and saute them in fat before adding the broth. Though it called for fish stock again, I had no fish heads laying around to boil. This time I used vegetable broth instead, steaming celery, carrots, lemon, and spices in water. It worked, but it might be more flavorful with fish stock.

Bucking tradition, there's no clam in this chowder. And no cream, either: only 2% milk. I've never had smoked halibut before. It's smoky, but mild. In fact, this is a good chowder for someone who isn't the biggest fish fan. Made with the vegetable stock, it didn't have a very fishy flavor at all.

Soup's on! Happy Fall.

Friday, September 3, 2010

One last taste of summer: Peach Crunch Pie

Despite it being so awesome to live here otherwise, I commonly hear complaints about our year-round produce selection. During Alaska's winters, bright green bananas, or hard, white tomatoes never quite satisfy if you've lived Outside in a place near farm country.

Don't get me wrong. In the summer that's a different story. The Tanana Valley Farmer's Market, the Mat-Su Valley, Anchorage, and even Southeast have farmers markets. Long hours of daylight lend to a short growing season that packs a punch! We're becoming known for our 1000-pound+ pumpkins that we blue ribbon instead of roast. Even here in the rainforest, we've got enough backyard growers to fashion an annual local food fest and a fledgling weekly market.

Cool, northern climates grow potatoes, carrots, kale, and cabbage very well, but nothing says summer like a peach. And for those, we look to our neighbors down the coast. The organic peaches from Washington state I used for Peach Crunch Pie (Pages 194-195) were juicy and colorful: pure ambrosia.

Peeling peaches is tedious work. Luckily for me, I had my 94-year old sous chef to assist. That's the trickiest part. Then just mix the sliced peaches with the sour cream sauce and dump the whole thing into the unbaked pie crust, and bake!

This is a keeper of a recipe. You've got three heavenly flavors combined: a flaky crust base filled with a creamy peach middle, topped by a crunchy streusel topping. Yum.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Espresso-Chocolate Cheesecake

It's a hit. Espresso-Chocolate Cheesecake (Page 177) is easy to make and even easier to please palates. The balance of sweet and savory makes cheesecake one of my favorite desserts.

The toasted, ground almonds in the crust of this cheesecake adds a nice nutty flavor and robust texture.

Dissolved instant espresso and melted semi-sweet chocolate balance the sour-savory creams (cream cheese and sour cream). The espresso and chocolate also give the cake its soft brown color and little speckles of coffee granule--an attractive finished appearance.
A caution to the caffeine-sensitive: you may not want to eat your slice right before bed. Try it for breakfast instead--it has a kick!

You might serve this with a Kahlua or other coffee-flavored liqueur. Garnished with whipped cream and a coffee bean would be cute too!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Spinach-Cashew-Raisin Salad

Spinach-Cashew-Raisin Salad (Page 46) is a very healthy and tasty salad. It's not sweet, which is a refreshing characteristic in a salad with dried fruit. It's also great when you've got a Costco-sized bag of spinach. Buying that bag is a like accepting a man v. food challenge. There's no way one person living alone can eat 2.5 pounds before it goes bad. It's not over yet, but this salad (and quiche, sandwiches, and vegetable dish) help me towards that end.

I'm getting the hang of roasting nuts. Ten minutes at 350!

This salad is good. Cashews are so rich and creamy and roasting them draws out their flavor. I bought a cup of raw cashews in bulk at Freddy's. Remember to slice the red onion thin so it's edible. It also would be nice pickled a while in a bit of the same red vinegar that you use in the vinaigrette. That Fiddlehead vinaigrette is a nice thing to have on hand. And quick to make with things you always have in your cupboard. Enjoy!

Colorful-Delicious-Healthy. Spinach-Cashew-Raisin.

Strawberries Romanoff

The Strawberries Romanoff (Page 200) is highly decadent and indulgent. It is so good and yet not so difficult. The double-boiling step requires some attention. Be sure to get a foam going with half the sherry, and then add the rest of the sherry. Using a whisk makes it nice and light, where a wooden spoon doesn't give it the desired consistency. Be sure to allow time for cooling--we put it in the freezer while the main course was being served; 30 minutes was about perfect. It's a very summery dessert.

Double-boil the sherry, cream, egg yolks & sugar

Fold into whipped cream

Glasses chilled in the freezer--they warm up quick!

Layer cream with strawberries. Garnish with a whole strawberry!

Strawberries Romanoff is a crowd-pleaser. Your guests will love it (unless they're lactose intolerant). Be sure to save room. It would be very good with other fruit as well--raspberries, or thimble berries, perhaps? Enjoy!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Halibut Hash (Page 56)

July in Southeast has been more than a little rainy, and cold. That didn't stop us from heading west of Juneau 40 miles to Gustavus for a weekend of paddling. We even managed to fit in a visit to the James Beard culinary award-winning Gustavus Inn, where most the ingredients are from the backyard garden or locally harvested seafood. Mmm, good.

Buying local: Pep's Packing was a delight to visit. Talk about a sign collection!
Not pictured: BP executive mannequin smooshed beneath the garage door.

The halibut for this meal came from Pep's Packing. Pep's is owned by Pep, who is from Gustavus, and nicknamed for her energy (and her fish processing storefront is aptly covered in Pepsi brand signs). It's the go-to place for fish in Gustavus. The day before making Halibut Hash (page 56), our group had gone paddling from Bartlett Cove in just about the rainiest day of the summer. This Saturday morning, we were in search of comfort food in hopes of postponing our planned overnight paddling trip until the mist subsided and we might actually catch a glimpse of Glacier Bay's beautiful mountains.

Fresh halibut from Pep's. They also have great smoked fish.

The scramble is hard to mess up. Cook the fish, whip the eggs, mix the veggies, and you've got a hearty Alaskan breakfast. Be careful to cook your potatoes before you through them in with the opaque onions. I cooked everything up in one cast iron pan. The wine and cream adds a nice, rich flavor. We'd been frothing soy milk for our lattes all morning, and so it was frothed soy milk that went in with the whipped eggs. Of course anything with wild Alaskan halibut will be delicious. We topped ours with homemade kelp salsa. One feature of the local coastline is the prolific kelp beds, home to many a sea otter and the source for this delicious condiment.

Good ol' cast iron: hash is a one-pan dish

Hearty Hash. Mm, good.

It worked! After a cozy day inside cooking honey yogurt scones and halibut hash and napping, VOILA! Dry skies come evening paddle time.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

This post is not about salmon (whole wheat bran bread)

See this counter top?

A clean counter. No hint of the chaos that preceded this picture

48 hours ago, this counter top piled high with salmon. A 36-hour trip to the Kenai had been good to us and we had to process about 125 lbs of fresh sockeye salmon. This means filleting, trimming and vacuum sealing. For hours on end. It's tiring, smelly, and not very fun. 

24 hours ago, this counter top was covered in salmon in big bowls of brine, getting ready to stick in the smoker. That's also quite labor-intensive, but after the "slime line" of filleting, it's actually quite pleasant.

Consequently, it might seem expected that this post would be about a salmon dish. Perhaps poached salmon dijonnaise? Veronique? Grilled with Lime, Sesame and Ginger Butter, perhaps? So many to choose from, I know.

But after a kitchen full of raw salmon for almost three days straight, the thought of it made me a little queasy. Ironic? Yes. Sad? Maybe. Changeable? No. Sue me, I didn't eat any of that salmon fresh.

 I made bread instead.

Mise en place

Because I'm heading into a busy couple of weeks, I decided to double the recipe and make one loaf and 12 rolls. So, I started out pouring the molasses, water and yeast in this bowl, which was currently taking a break from brining. You know when you just get a feeling that something yeasty is about to... well.. grow? I definitely got this feeling here. I don't know if the molasses gave it a little extra kick, but as soon as I saw the yeast bloom, I knew where this was going. Big big loaves of bread!

It's alive!

I added some of the flour, and- What? I have to beat this batter for 10 minutes? Look, I'm a pretty strong kneader/whisker, but TEN MINUTES? Into the KitchenAid! (The bowl needed a break, anyway).

That sponge rested, while I played with my new iPad. Again- this sponge was just so lively, it doubled in about 20 minutes. 

I added more flour, oil, salt and... wait, did the recipe say bran? Crap. For some reason I wrote down "wheat germ". Um... I don't really know why my brain did that, but whatever. I went with it. I added wheat germ instead of bran (I'd like to see if I can get through this project without a substitution of something) and carried on. Some light kneading later --I assume this is because the 10 minutes of beating built up a healthy amount of gluten-- and it went back into the big original bowl, because as I said, this dough is gonna rise. And rise it did. And then I forgot to take a picture. 

The recipe says if you have time, you can punch down the dough for a second rising. It was a lazy Saturday, so I did that. I took the now-monstrous dough out of my oven (which is gas, so even when it's off, the pilot light keeps it toasty warm). I divided the dough in two, rolling out and rolling up half according to the directions. The other half I pulled off little balls and put them in a greased muffin tin. It came out pretty perfect, actually. Now, I remember seeing a video where someone demonstrates the proper technique for kneading and pulling dough for rolls, but I didn't do that. Mostly because I forgot about that video until I sat down to type this entry.

Ready for rise numero tres

So everything went back into the "cool" oven for another rise (that's number three if you're keeping track). I pulled it out after 25 minutes or so, and looky here- I think they proofed pretty good, huh? I dusted the tops with more wheat germ and stuck them in the oven.

Lookin' good!

The rolls came out of the oven 20 minutes later, and the bread about 40. The bread was indeed very very tall for a regular loaf. I look forward to nice big sandwiches. The rolls- which I had to try to make sure they were alright to take to a dinner party tonight- had a great crunchy crust, and nice crumb and a good flavor. The molasses was a nice touch- I always feel like it deepens the flavor some- and was excellent with butter and the last jar of last year's jam.


A nice break from salmon. But here's just a little tease of the fun we had this week. Or at least what made the "fun" all worth it.

Salty-sweet smoked salmon bellies. Is there anything better? I don't think there is!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Breaking News: Woman Swoons, Brownies at Fault

If there was a press release that came out everytime that happened...! Swooning, or maybe going weak in the knees, is exactly what happened to me when I took my first bite of the Fiddlehead Brownies (pg. 176) last night.

Melting the chocolate and butter.

There's something about melting chocolate - maybe the smell - that just drives me crazy. I've been on a chocolate kick for the past couple of weeks - pouring through the recipes in my all chocolate cook book. Our little yurt has been over-heated almost every night and has almost permanently taken on the strong smells of cocoa, butter and cream. Ganache, frosting, sunday topper, cake, and now brownies.
While the chocolate was melting (be sure to keep stirring), I had the mixer beating up the eggs. When you check out this recipe for yourself you will be astounded by the number of eggs called for. I have never used this many eggs for brownies (my quick and easy recipe is mixed over heat on the stove and only uses 2-3 eggs), but I am absolutely sure that the whipped eggs are what make these brownies so special.

Whipped eggs

Hold onto your apron strings everyone! This is going to get intense.

The batter was very smooth but also thick and a little foamy from the beaten eggs. I carefully folded in the melted chocolate and butter and added the chopped nuts. This recipe really makes a lovely batter.

Batter in pan and ready for oven.

I have always steered clear of baking my brownies in a shallow pan. Mostly because I love a thick gooey browny and it seems like my brownies always get too crunchy in a shallow pan. However, that's what the Fiddlehead cookbook called for - so in the interest of actually testing it out for this blog, I pulled out my thin baking pan (essentially a cookie sheet with sides). After preping the pan (butter and flour), I poured the delectable batter into the pan and slid it into the oven to cook.

Fiddlehead brownies à la mode with home-made
chocolate sunday sauce. Ready, set, swoon!

Perfect. Absolutely, deliciously perfect! These brownies were gooey with a bit of crunch on the side pieces. As I took that first bite, I closed my eyes savoring the texture and flavor, feeling my knees go a little weak...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Honey-Yogurt Scones (page 156)

Mmmm...Saturday morning scones! (Confession: it was barely Saturday morning)

I can't remember the last time I had a weekend morning at home to bake something for breakfast. My husband and I take advantage of the weekends for our summer adventures, but I decided I needed a weekend at home. I knew I was going to bake these scones - I love, love, LOVE them!

I made a few substitutions. I used low-fat vanilla yogurt - a little healthier and a little sweeter.

And I used raisins instead of currants. Come to think of it - I've never even seen a currant.

I used two of my favorite kitchen tools for these scones - a Silpat (which I swear by for all my baking) and my dough scaper/scone slicer (I don't know what it's really called).

My husband likes to eat them with butter and jam, but I like them plain. In my opinion, they don't need anything else. :)

Like most other Fiddlehead recipes, these require a small number of ingredients, are relatively quick to make, and are super yummy. I highly recommend them!
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