Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Rainy Day Granola

On Sunday I woke up, looked out my window, and smiled. 

A foggy morning in Bird Creek

Rain. Glorious, foggy, dreary rain. You see, summers in Southcentral Alaska can inspire manic activity. We want to make up for the long winter. We want to use every moment of daylight. We want to squeeze every drop of joy from the beautiful surroundings. Hike every mountain. Ford every stream. You get the idea. 

So when Mother Nature gives me a rainy day, I say "Thank you." I sleep in. I don't get out of my pajamas. I put on some trashy tv. I putter around the kitchen for hours. This rainy day, I decided to send my sweetheart, who'll be working on a job outside of Anchorage for a couple weeks, with a couple loaves of fresh bread and a big batch of Fiddlehead granola. 

Growing up, my mom made granola a lot, and to this day, I have a hard time buying it. I also have a hard time deviating from her recipe-especially the toasted coconut- but here we go!

 Many tasty things in the tub.

This is my "granola tub." It has enough nuts, dried fruits, seeds and oatmeal to get me through a long winter. And chocolate. It turns out I only have 4 cups of oatmeal, so I just slightly reduced all the other amounts. This begins a series of adjustments. I had no sunflower seeds, but I did have some pumpkin seeds. I also like adding flax for... well whatever the trend du jour du flax is about...

 Lovely seeds

I scooped some crystallized honey from their jars. That darker honey is some buckwheat honey from Upstate New York. Its really deep flavor is almost like molasses. It is delicious, and precious, so I only add a little to things that call for honey. I heated the honeys up in the microwave, added canola oil (does anyone really keep safflower oil around?) and stirred it in. 

 Blending honey

This recipe differs a little from my mom's in a couple ways. 1) You don't add nuts until after the base has been cooked and 2) you let the granola "rest" for 1/2 hour before baking. The resting worked out perfectly for me, because I had a loaf of bread baking in the oven. I'm not sure what the effect on taste is. 

 Soaking up the goodness

The granola (sans dried fruit and nuts) went onto a cookie sheet and into the oven. I stirred it everyone once and awhile, taking special care to get the edges, because I know from experience that they burn quickly. When I pulled it out, I realized I could have done a better job. One corner got pretty burned. I think my oven was a little too hot, and the pan continued to cook the granola while it was 'cooling'. Not good. I've dumped it out to cool onto parchment before, rather than a bowl (it'll get soggy if it's too crowded) but didn't do that this time. Thankfully, things didn't get too burned. I added some pecans and walnuts I had lying around, as well as sultanas (random fact, I don't like regular raisins. But I can't get enough of golden raisins!) dried cranberries and a handful of dried cherries.  

 Clearly, granola lends itself to close ups!

After it cooled, it went into a gallon bag. But not before I grabbed a handful to nibble on. It was great! Soon, it was in my sweetheart's "packing pile" along with the dastardly hot sauce. Of course.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Smoked Salmon Caesar Salad

I inherited a bread maker a few weeks ago, thanks to departing dear friends with good taste in the homemade. There’s nothing like waking to fresh bread smell in the morning, at the ease of clicking a button at bedtime. By the end of one week, I had many loaves laying around—perfect timing to make Fiddlehead’s Salad Croutons (page 215). They store up to a week, but I didn’t have to wait that long to use them on salad. I was invited to dinner the next day and put together Smoked Salmon Caesar Salad (page 39) using the Fiddlehead Vinaigrette (page 218). Three recipes in one!

The croutons are so delightfully buttery and flavorful that I admit to having reached to them for a snack here and there. Croutons were something we made left and right in chef class in high school, because they are so easy and delicious, and you always have the ingredients laying around: butter, spices, bread. The salad is just as simple. I assembled the salad onsite at the dinner party, carrying each topping—artichoke hearts, tomatoes, black olives, cucumber, and smoked king salmon – separately via tote across the bridge. All present seemed to enjoy the salad immensely, but there was such a strange occurrence in The Opening of the Artichoke Hearts Jar (TOAHJ) that I must take a moment to elaborate. TOAHJ was such a challenge, I cannot stress enough the enormous obstacle to salad making the aforementioned (and deservedly capitalized and acronymized) event turned out to be. It must have been an industrial machine with widgets and gadgets so overly tightened and tuned as to seal the jar this tightly to demand the mighty effort that we breathed and sweated into TOAHJ. Ok, I know you've had a stubborn jar before; we all have. We tried the usual wrist twisting, then added a second set of wrists, all to no avail. After plenty of grunting and face-reddening, a belt-leverage maneuver still felt short in the success of operation TOAHJ. And so, what happened in this novella of human exertion versus stubborn everyday jar? We poked a hole through the lid to pop the seal.

And now back to the salad at hand. After the dinner party, leftover salad packed very well into tupperware, to the end of the Juneau road, into my kayak, and out to Point Bridget State Park, where my boyfriend and I overnighted at Blue Mussel Cabin. We ate like wilderness kings after our evening paddle, crunching on crisp iceberg lettuce and baked garlicy croutons with a panorama of Lynn Canal, Berners’ Bay and Lion’s Head mountain. Humpback whales cruised by and eagles circled overhead under a setting sun that dashed its light down through the clouds in rays of artful magnificence over the landscape in front of our picnic table. Ah, delicious Alaska summer...

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hot (Not)Peanut Pasta

Like Anna up north, we've been mighty cold and dreary here in Southcentral as well. After a whirlwind vacation outside which included a little cooking, and a lot of eating- an explanation-defying meal at Alinea may have been the highlight of my life- I was happy to tuck into my cabin with my sweetheart, listen to the rain, and make dinner.

I generally keep a well-stocked pantry, and have all the essentials for the Mediterranean-inspired meals that I cook almost every evening. Lately, I've been trying to expand my comfort zone a little and cook with more Asian flavors. This means keeping sesame oil, rice vinegar, chili pastes, coconut milk and oil, ginger and soy sauce on hand. It's a bit of an investment, but once I made it, cooking Asian-style dishes became more spontaneous, and that is generally how I like to cook. Anyway, that was a long way to say- hey! This french chef had all the ingredients on hand. 

All the essentials 

I started making the hot peanut sauce, and quickly realized that... I didn't have peanut butter. We alternate between peanut and other nutbutters in our house, and this month must have been an off month. No matter, though. I had a giant jar of almond butter from costco, and made the substitution, and corresponding title change.

One heck of a useful kitchen tool 

When making sauces that have raw garlic (guacamole comes to mind) I use my microplane to "mince" because I find the flavors blend a little better, and it takes the hard bite out of the taste of garlic. Since this sauce was only going to be heated at the last minute, I microplaned the garlic and the ginger.

The other woman in my relationship 

See this? This stuff on the spoon? If it weren't for laws against that sort of thing, I'm pretty sure my sweetheart would marry this chili paste. It's not Sriracha, it's another company that makes this "crushed chili garlic oil," and it is HOT HOT HOT. I decided to double the peanut sauce recipe so I'd have some leftover sauce to play with (this ended up being one of my better decisions of the week) but I didn't double the hot sauce. I knew that my sweetheart would probably dump another tablespoon into his pasta anyway. And then run away with the hot sauce and never come back. Ahem. 

 Blatant KitchenAid porn 
The ingredients went into mixer and were whipped up. I gave it a taste; the almond butter I'd used as the base had no added sugar, so the sauce tasted a little too much of soy. I added 4 tbs of sugar or so, and I think the sugar evened the flavors out nicely. It seemed to boost the heat as well. 

 Lovely veggies!

Making the sauce was the most time consuming part of the recipe. The second most time consuming was chopping the vegetables. Pretty soon, my garden will be ready and I won't have to go far for veggies. But, summer arrives a little later in Alaska, so I managed to find some lovely broccoli rabe, and a healthy looking eggplant from one of our local Asian markets. Once the chopping was done, cooking the veggies and noodles took about 4 minutes.  I stirred in the sauce, added coconut milk and finished the dish with a sprinkle of fresh cilantro and green onions. And gave it a little taste.

The sauce, dear reader. The sauce! Salty! Sweet! Spicy! Silky! Everything peanut (or almond) sauce should be and more. I've been trying to make peanut sauce forever and it never tasted right. I now realize that the key ingredient was the coconut milk. It gives the sauces the creaminess I've been looking for all these years. I want to bathe in this sauce. I want to marry this sauce. My sweetheart can have that tastebud-killing hussy sauce, because I have this smooth lady-killer.

Sloppy and gone 2 minutes later

Two bowls later, we decided we'd add some shrimp and chicken to the pasta when we eat it again for dinner tonight (there were plenty of leftovers). But really, that sauce could go on anything. I'm already looking forward to slathering it on some fresh copper river sockeye salmon as soon as we get some. That said, I'm not above eating it straight. Like frosting. Except better.

Fiddleheads over Homer

While I was in Homer last weekend to go clam digging for my husband's birthday, I came across some fiddleheads behind the cabin we were staying in. That's Kachemak Bay in the background.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Pasta for a Rainy Day

It's been raining here in the interior of Alaska...and I am thrilled! We had an early start to the wildfire season and the past week of rain has successfully put a damper on the smoke...for a while. Those of us living in Interior Alaska are generally spoiled with sun and hot weather this time of year (often into the mid to high 80's). So, I decided some hearty food was necessary to warm us up after a long weekend of working on our cabin in the rain.

(Alaskan) Chicken, veg, herbs and wine ready for pasta and cream

Chicken David really hit the spot - a warm, hearty dish that is also very quick to cook. I have to note here that I absolutely adore the creamy pasta recipes in the Fiddlehead cookbook. No messing around with slowly simmering a white cream sauce - just throw in the heavy cream and voil'a - delicious creamy pasta!

After serving up the hot pasta (should be served immediately for best results), I chastized myself for forgetting to add the sesame oil. I ran back to the kitchen and mixed the oil into the pasta - will have to wait to see how it tastes when I take the leftovers in for lunch.

There really is a lot of pasta on this very large dinner plate!

As summer really kicks into high gear, I am getting antsy to begin cooking with the fare from my garden, which I have been unable to do so far this year. Fortunately, there are a couple of places to purchase locally raised and grown meat and produce in Fairbanks. The available veggies are mostly leftovers from last year (onions, potatoes, honey), but I have found some produce (lettuce, herbs). Even better news - I got a call from Calypso Farm & Ecology Center, a local non-profit and CSA Farm (Community Supported Agriculture) - the first school garden shares are ready to pick up this week! Summer is here and I can hardly wait to start cooking with some delicious, local produce!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Ice Cream Pie (Quite the Summer Delight)

I have a strong affinity for baked goods, sweets, and desserts. Two things I especially like include chocolate mousse (Anchoragites who have yet to try it, please head over to Bear Tooth for the Chocolate Moose), and ice cream. The combination of these two ingredients in the Fiddlehead Ice Cream Pie make it unbelievably delicious and the cook who makes it extremely popular.

I recently made this pie for my best friend's 25th birthday and it was quite a hit. The recipe calls for an oreo cookie crust (just cookies and butter, no goopy white filling), followed by a layer of ice cream (flavor of your choosing), topped with freshly made chocolate mousse. The result is a crunchy, rich, sweet pie that, literally, melts in your mouth. It was so good in fact, that there was none left when I realized I had forgotten to take a picture of the final product. So, you'll just have to imagine it, or perhaps make one for yourself. I highly recommend the latter.

I started with a normal pie pan for the cookie crust, but was left with little room for the rest of the ingredients, so I transferred it to a rectangular pyrex. Once the crust had cooled from baking, I pressed in some Haagen Dazs Java Chip ice cream. I've made this recipe with coconut ice cream before, which was also fantastic.

My very full (of crust) pie pan
As the ice cream set up in the freezer, I set out making the chocolate mousse, first whipping some heavy cream and egg whites, then melting butter and chocolate together, and finally combining them all together to form an airy mousse.

The chocolate and whipped components of the mousse, before being combined

Once the mousse was prepared I pulled the pie out of the freezer, slathered it on top of the ice cream and put it back in to harden. I'd recommend a few solid hours of freezing before you have to serve this pie to ensure you don't end up with a soppy mess. Overall, this is a delicious dish that is fun and fairly simple to make, and a big hit when it's served.

The prepared mousse and pie, ready for topping

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Carolyn's Cookies (Page 165)

It’s a good neighborhood here on Capitol Hill. Beneath towering oak trees, historic brick homes sit snuggly side-by-side, sharing the streets just blocks from the powerful U.S. Capitol. While the engine of major governmental policy is churning just around the corner, the atmosphere of these blocks is entirely calming. Neighbors are friendly, and yards are tidy. At Christmas time, the horn section of the Navy band trumpets carols door-to-door for all to hear. U.S Senators live in these European-style row houses. Everyone knows each other, and the neighborhood "mayor" keeps unofficial watch. Even cats are characters here with established personalities. It’s a great place to live.

It’s inside one of the cozy homes on Capitol Hill that Carolyn’s Cookies are baking. That’s right; I brought my Fiddlehead cookbook along on my trip. But today I cooked from my host’s hardback copy—she was a server at the Fiddlehead in the 80’s. This morning the sun is out and a soft breeze casts shadows of leaves quaking across the walls. The aroma of these double chocolate treats fills the airy rooms. Small and chewy, these treats are indeed heaven for a chocolate lover. The recipe makes 3-4 dozen with dough scooped by the teaspoon. They’re easy: prep, cook & clean in under an hour. And these tasty morsels are packable, too. I snacked on these at 30,000 feet as I flew across the Atlantic. On vacation, you’re allowed to eat cookies for breakfast.

[I wrote this a few weeks ago while visiting Washington, D.C.]

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Fruit Muffins (page 160)

It took me a while to decide what to make for my first individual recipe. There are so many recipes that I've wanted to try for a long time, but my rhubarb kept calling my name. I planted it last summer and it's doing really well. So the Fruit Muffins became Rhubarb Muffins.

Since my in-laws have way more rhubarb than me, I opted to take some from them and let mine keep growing. Here's a picture of their rhubarb patch in Cooper Landing, with Kenai Lake in the background.

I love baking muffins and scones, so I was excited to try this recipe. They turned out just okay in my opinion. The recipe calls for 1/4 to 1/2 cup granulated sugar (depending on your preference), and I only used 1/4 cup because sometimes muffins are too sweet for me. However, I should have used 1/2 cup. As one of my fellow fiddlers pointed out, rhubarb needs more sugar than other fruits that are naturally sweet. Any other advice?

I will definitely try this recipe again (perhaps with blueberries in August), but it wasn't my favorite muffin recipe ever.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Fettuccine Greta Garbo (page 85)


Last night my husband and I indulged in the Fettuccine Greta Garbo. It was very good (if I do say so myself)! When we decided on this recipe last week, I asked my husband if he would smoke the rest of the salmon bellies we had in our freezer from last summer. Bless his heart, he smoked them this weekend while we were in Cooper Landing - it's quite the lengthy process from start to finish. He even prepared the smoked salmon for the fettuccine last night without me even asking! I love it when he does the dirty work in the kitchen!

Helping hands

We decided this dish is definitely on our list of meals to make regularly. I liked that I didn't have to buy a ton of ingredients, and that it didn't take very long to make. Since this was my first time making it on my own (I made it last summer with my mom, but I seem to recall that she did most of the work, and I remember my parents making it when I was younger), I wasn't sure how much the recipe would make. But I found the six servings to be right on (at least), so we had A LOT of pasta leftover! Next time I will halve it if it's just the two of us. I highly recommend this dish!

I also think this would be a nice Christmastime dish with the red/sockeye salmon (that's what I used, at least) and the green onions.

The finished product

What could possibly be a better way to lift the spirits on a swelteringly hot day in Fairbanks where the forest fire smoke threatens even the most stable person's sanity? Fettuccine Greta Garbo, served with a spinach and pepper salad, herb dinner rolls and a good quantity of rhubarb wine - all served outside on the deck (just to spite the smoke) did the trick!

The meal cooked up very quickly and came out delicious - instructions for this recipe are especially simple and easy to follow. The only variation I made was adding a couple pinches of dried rosemary to the pasta water. I also cut the recipe down to 2/3 and it was plenty of food to feed five people. I was a little sad that I did not have leftovers for my lunch, but it's so quick and easy that I will definitely be cooking it again!

En guete! (Swiss German for bon appetit)


My Memorial Day weekend was filled with sunshine, hiking, and some ultimate frisbee. As a result, I often found myself hungry, with a special hankering for carb-filled food. Lucky for me, the Fettuccine Greta Garbo was a perfect meal to compliment my activityfilled weekend, and due to the simple ingredient list, I didn't even need to go to the store to put it together.

Delicious yet simple ingredients

I found the pasta to be creamy and delicious, without feeling heavy or over seasoned. The garlic and chives stood out nicely against the cream and the parmesan and smoked salmon provided just the right amount of saltiness to the dish. I halved the recipe and swapped angel hair pasta for fettuccine (making a small dent in the four boxes I had in the pantry), and it worked fine. Leftovers were equally delicious and served as a perfect "welcome to Alaska" dish for friends that arrived later in the day. Overall, the pasta is a perfect quick fix when you are craving something that is simple to prepare but extremely satisfying to eat!

The final product, topped with fresh grated parmesan and pepper


We were lucky enough to spend Memorial Day in Sadie Cove (thanks to the generosity of Maddy and her family). The cabin accommodations were plush and the kitchen was well stocked with pots and pans and utensils. This meal is PERFECT for a big crowd (we were eight) and travels well because there are so few ingredients. Maybe not for a trip into the backcountry, but if you're going somewhere remote, you pretty much only need a cooler and a stove top/camp stove. Hmmm... come to think of this, you probably could make this in the backcountry- as long as it was your first meal. And you aren't afraid of the bears that will flock to the smell of smoked salmon!

The very last packages of last year's smoked copper river reds

We had brought enough for two batches, but after a very successful fishing trip (again, thanks to the Maddy's family) it was clear we only needed one batch. While a bunch of folks grilled fresh halibut, cod and steelhead trout on the beach, Kate started the fettuccine, while Maddy went to work on some fiddleheads we found around the cabin. The fettuccine was quick, and totally divine.


The pasta was as luscious and luxurious as the name suggests. Those green onions were such a brilliant and not-quite-intuitive addition! The one catch- and this may be because there were so many of us to serve- is that the sauce broke by the time the last people got theirs. It was still tasty, but not as creamy and chills-inducing as the folks who were in the front of the line. Anyone else have this problem?


Yum! The smoked king I used in Fettuccine Greta Garbo must’ve been from the salmon’s belly, as it was extra fatty. Combined with the cream, it created richness in the pasta that was phenomenal! I used chives from my garden instead of green onion—the only complaint about the dish was that the raw greens added at the end interrupted the texture of the otherwise cohesive medley of fettuccine and fish. It seems the green onions meshed better in other fiddlers’ attempts!

The ingredients

After logging long plane hours traveling home from abroad over Memorial Day weekend, I built up a hearty appetite for good Fiddlehead Food. I whipped this up late Wednesday evening. Quick and easy, it’s a great weeknight meal. Smoky, yes. Elusive? Depends on your experience, I guess. I’ll definitely rent a Greta Garbo the next night I cook this. Perhaps the silent 1927 film Love where she plays Anna Karenina.

Darling Greta Garbo
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