Monday, April 13, 2015

dispatch from juneau: chocolatey no-bake cookies

Over the past few weeks, my days here in Juneau are spent in committee meetings, dealing with budget numbers, and figuring out just where to find the public lounge in the Capital Building (IT’S ON THE SECOND FLOOR, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL HOLY.  Why is this so difficult to remember when I’m in the building?!)  As a result, my appetite can be summed up in two words:  comfort food.

Hellllooooo????  What happened to "New Year’s Resolution" Heidi????  The one that was going to try eating vegetarian most days of the week, cut back on cheese, and hold the dessert?  The one that was going to try to fit back into her cute designer jeans that cost far more than they are actually worth?

I can’t find her.  She’s nowhere to be found (and frankly, neither are the jeans!)  She’s been replaced by "If It Makes Me Feel Good I’m Going To Eat It" Heidi.  I’ve met this Heidi before.  She made an appearance while studying for the bar, and again when she was buying a house.  I spotted her briefly the week leading up to an important oral argument in court.  But she’s overstaying her welcome right now.

In any event, the good news is that "Comfort Food" Heidi is cooking a lot these days.  She’s too hungry to take photos and post them, but she’s an awful lot happier when she’s in the kitchen!

Ok, enough of the third person voice.

I’ve spent a lot of the time in my tiny little Juneau kitchen lately, and it feels glorious!  Navy bean and ham soup, gnocchi with pesto, homemade ramen, and a delicious scratch bolognese recipe passed down to me from a friend whose family used to own an Italian restaurant in New York City frequented by Frank Sinatra.  (That one I hope to make again and post soon!)

Along with savory comforts, I’ve also been craving these chocolatey no-bake cookies.  My perfect little comfort food in dessert form. These treats are easily one of my favorite bites.  I think I’ve made them 3 or 4 times since I’ve been down in Juneau, and I figured it was time I shared them with others.  Many of you have certainly made these many times over the years, and they’re a classic for a reason.  For starters, they don’t involve the oven.  And for those of us who are slightly baking impaired (guilty), that’s a beautiful thing.  

My Dad was visiting in Juneau recently and, to my surprise, informed me that he’d never had a no-bake cookie.  He was extremely skeptical about them!  I could tell he figured this was simply one of Heidi’s goofy ideas.  Cookies should be baked, he thought.

After they had cooled sufficiently and were ready to eat, I handed him one to try.  He took one bite and his eyes lit up!  After he finished the cookie, Dad proclaimed, “For my very last meal, I want these cookies for dessert!”

In that spirit, I’ll likely make these cookies after the completion of the legislative budget process.  :)

Classic Chocolatey No-Bake Cookies

(Adapted from Add A Pinch)

1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into big pieces
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups quick cooking oats

In a medium sauce pan, heat sugar, milk, butter, and cocoa powder over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and add vanilla, peanut butter and salt, and mix well. Add oats and mix until fully incorporated. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a sheet pan covered in parchment or aluminum foil. Allow cookies to cool for 30 minutes.  Makes 2-3 dozen delicious little chocolatey bites!


xo H

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