Thursday, February 19, 2015

dispatch from juneau: smoked alaska black cod dip

Ah, February.  That time of year where Alaska starts gaining daylight, the days get warmer and brighter, love is in the air, and the house is full of the comforting smells wafting from my little, tiny kitchen.  Simmering stews, roast chicken, corn casserole, homemade marinara…

Memories…so tender and sweet.  

Flash forward to present day reality check.  Relocate from Anchorage to Juneau.  Work looooong hours (holidays? weekends? what do these words mean?)  Attend 5,932,487 receptions.

Dinner these days either consists of (1) reception food, (2) hosted dinner food, or (3) half of a Newman’s Own pepperoni pizza, salad from a bag, and my beloved Trader Joe’s cookie butter. Oh, the difference a year makes.  A legislative session is not for the faint of heart, or the active cook.  Although twice I have managed to scramble eggs for myself!

I know, I know.  Chena Girl FAIL.

Since there are only so many bacon-wrapped scallops and crudite a woman can consume, I’m endeavoring to “up my game” in the kitchen down here in Juneau (which happens to be yet another tiny little kitchen so I feel right at home!)  Not only do I enjoy cooking, it’s cheaper than eating out, healthier, and a relaxing activity after a stressful day.  Chopping vegetables and searing meat are zen experiences for me.

One thing Juneau does well is seafood.  In my opinion, Alaska’s ocean bounty is second to none.  As I was browsing the offerings at a fantastic local shop, Jerry’s Meats and Seafoods, I came across a package of smoked Alaska black cod.  While wild Alaska salmon hogs most of the spotlight (and justifiably so), black cod is the unsung hero of Alaskan seafood.  Rich, meaty, and incredibly tasty, it might actually be my favorite Alaskan fish.  

One of my new pals here in Juneau made a delicious smoked black cod dip with cream cheese, chives, and brie.  Crazy, right?  Well, it was crazy delicious.  Except when I was home this weekend, I didn’t have any brie and I was hell-bent on using my smoked cod.  So I did what I do best:  I improvised!

There's nothing very fancy about this dip.  It's tasty and a bit unexpected (given that smoked salmon dip is the appetizer of choice at most Alaska parties).  The horseradish and hot sauce give it a little kick, while the lemon brightens the flavor of the fish.  And I love using fresh herbs whenever I can, especially when they are so plentiful in the grocery store no matter the season.  I happened to have all of these ingredients on hand, and you might as well.  If you don't, be courageous and feel free to improvise!  A tablespoon or two of grated onion would make a great addition if you don't have chives, and chopped fresh parsley would work well, too.

Smoked Alaska Black Cod Dip

1 lb. smoked Alaska black cod (also known as sablefish), skin & pin bones removed, and flaked
1/2 cup whipped cream cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 t. creamy horseradish
2 T. lemon juice
2-4 drops hot sauce
2 T. chopped fresh chives
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients except for the salt.  Depending on the saltiness of your smoked cod, you may not need much additional salt.  Chop extra chives to serve on top as a pretty garnish.  How easy is that?  While it's delicious served right away, it's even better to make it a day ahead of time to let the flavors meld together.  Serve on any plain cracker or saltines.  No fuss and delicious!


xo h

Friday, January 9, 2015

roasted cauliflower & broccoli with lemony parmesan breadcrumbs

Happy New Year!  Well folks, big things happening in ol' Chena Girl's world.  Surreal, life-altering, incredible things.  Like, "pinch-me-did-that-just-happen?!" stuff.  Still wrapping my head around it.
I better just tell you.  It's too exciting. 
It's like Where's Waldo.  You have to find me in the picture.
I mean, seriously, right?!  Sure, it was at a random casino in a forgettable town in Oregon (for reals, I could not tell you the name of the town).  And yeah, perhaps their musical peak happened more than 30 years ago.  Don't care.  I love them.  Wendy, Carnie, and Chynna still got it.  Hold on for one more day?  I sure will!  And my sister Holly confirmed that it's the best birthday present she could have ever received.
I feel like a new woman.  Life couldn't get any better!

Except it did.  I got a new job.  A pretty cool one. :)
You see, I loved my old job.  Adored it.  I had no intention of ever leaving.  But I'm learning  that life just sort of has a way of charting it's own course while you're busy making other plans.
It was a big month, indeed.  So big, in fact, that I needed the entire month of December just to take a collective breath!  Thanks for your patience as I waited for my head to stop spinning. 

Based on all of the questions and comments I've received about my new gig, two concerns have clearly emerged as the most pressing.
First: what are you going to do with Milo?
Answer: I needed a housesitter when I'm in Juneau.  Problem solved!
Answer: Well, this question kind of touched me.  You see, when I set out to start this blog nearly four years ago, I didn't really have any idea what kind of reception it would get.  I mean, I knew I was guaranteed four fans (mom, dad, sister, and brother, but he's sort of half-hearted about it if you ask me).  Beyond that, I didn't even know if anyone would read it, much less make any of the recipes I shared.   But you do, and the feedback I get from my readers and friends fills my heart. 
So Chena Girl ain't going anywhere!
At this point, many of you are thinking to yourselves...dude, lady, is this a food blog or a "wax poetic" blog?
Hey, man!  It's my blog!  Go get your own. 
Ok, ok.  Back to the food.  I've lost track of how many friends are resolving to drop a few pounds this year.  A little less candy, a few more carrots.  In that spirit, this dish of roasted cauliflower and broccoli, topped with crunchy, lemony, cheesy panko breadcrumbs is about as close as you get to wanting seconds when it comes to veggies.  I actually tested this theory when I brought the dish over to my friends Bill and Becky's house for dinner last Sunday.  We all agreed that next time, I should double the recipe.  The real prize is the crispy, golden panko crumbs.  I add a little lemon zest to the crumbs because I love the bright citrus note, but you could totally leave that out if you don't have a lemon on hand.  But the Parmesan cheese is essential. 
The only thing I will do differently next time is make more.
Serve this alongside grilled salmon, like we did, or a seared sirloin steak or roasted chicken.  Because healthy food shouldn't be boring.  It should be delicious!  


Roasted Cauliflower & Broccoli with Lemony Parmesan Breadcrumbs
(Adapted from Barefoot Contessa)
1/2 head of cauliflower and 1/2 head of broccoli, cored and cut into small florets (big florets should be sliced in half; as an alternative, use one full head of either cauliflower or broccoli, but I used what I had on hand)
olive oil
1/2 cup panko (Japaneese bread crumbs)
Zest of one lemon (about 2 teaspoons or so- optional)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place the cauliflower and broccoli on a large shallow baking sheet.  Toss with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, and several grinds of black pepper.  Roast for 15 minutes.  Remove and toss with a spatula.
Toss the panko with the lemon zest and one tablespoon of olive oil.  Sprinkle on the cauliflower and broccoli and roast for another 10-12 minutes, until golden brown.  Remove from the oven, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and roast for another 1-2 minutes.  Toss and serve.  It's sooooo good!
xo h