Thursday, September 22, 2011

Eat Your Beets (trust me, you'll like 'em!)

I spent last week in Las Vegas at my Union convention.  Don't get me wrong- I had a great time.  It's just that a week in Vegas feels like a month anywhere else.  Late nights, long receptions, plenty of cocktails, late nights, delicious rich food, late nights.  It's exhausting.  I woke up Saturday morning in my own bed and committed myself to trying to stave off the lung cancer I'm pretty sure I developed by spending a week in smoky Vegas casinos.  I got 9 hours of sleep, went straight to the gym, ate a fully-vegan lunch, bought a bunch of beautiful veggies at the farmers' market, and breathed in as much fresh Alaskan air as I could.

I almost feel whole again.

Spending time at my local farmers' market instantly makes me feel better.  I'm pretty sure that just by staring at the vegetables, my LDL cholesterol levels drop.  I think I've mentioned this before, but the farmers market is a dangerous place for a girl like me.  I go there for onions and kale, and come home with enough produce to stock my neighborhood grocery store.  I'm not exaggerating.  See Exhibit A:

From a single farmers' market trip last summer.

Go big or go home, right? 

Right before I left on my trip, I started a little beet kick.  Truthfully, I started this kick when I lived in Fairbanks the year after law school.  My mom and I would hit the Tanana Valley Farmers' Market almost every Saturday, and on one of these trips a woman had prepared some pickled beets as a way to entice people to buy some of her crop.  I was instantly skeptical.  I'd had beets before.  They had what hoity-toity, elitest TV chefs (whom I watch obsessively) call that "earthy" flavor (transl:  tastes a little like dirt).  But I tried them, and I was SOLD.  The beets were delicious- soft, but with a little bite to them, tangy and slightly sweet.  After that, I ate beets all summer.

Look how beautiful these beets are!
In Alaska this time of year, the market is full of beautiful beets- purple, golden, and my favorite, chioggia.  Lovely red and white candy cane striped beets that are beautiful for this simple, delicious fall dish:  roasted beet and goat cheese salad.  I've been eating this dish for three weeks straight, so I thought I'd better share it if I can't get enough of it!

To start, scrub four large beets or 8 small ones, chop off their root tails and any greens that are left.  Tear off two large pieces of aluminum foil.  Place half of the beets on one of the pieces of aluminum foil, and repeat with the other. Rub the beets with a little olive oil and sprinkling generously with salt and pepper.  Wrap each package of beets tightly and roast them in a 400 degree oven for about an hour. 

While the beets are roasting, make a simple vinaigrette of olive oil, champagne vinegar (white wine vinegar should work too), dijon mustard, honey, salt and pepper.

Once you remove the beets from the oven, open the foil and let them cool enough to handle.  Next, take each beet in one or two paper towels and rub the skin off the cooked beets.  Works like magic!  (This trick is a dream for those of us who are too lazy to peel anything the old fashioned way.)   

Slice the beets into bite sized pieces and toss with a sprinkling of salt and enough dressing to your liking while they're still warm (they soak up more vinaigrette that way).  Just before serving, toss with the chopped tarragon and top with the crumbled goat cheese.

It's almost too pretty to eat.  Almost.  Trust me, grab a fork and dig in!

Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese

2 lb. beets (about 4 large, or 8 small)
1 T. olive oil (first amount)
1 t. salt
2 T. chopped tarragon (or parsley, optional)
2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

For the vinaigrette:
1/4 c. olive oil (second amount)
1/4 c. champagne or white wine vinegar
2 t. dijon mustard
1 T. honey
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Scrub the beets, removing any greens and the tail.  Tear two large pieces of aluminum foil and place half of the beets on each of the foil pieces on a large sheet tray.  Rub the beets with 2 teaspoons of olive oil (more or less- just to cover the beets) and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of salt.  Wrap each into a foil package and place the sheet tray in the oven for 1 hour.

To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the second amount of olive oil, vinegar, dijon mustard, honey, and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper.

When the beets are done, remove from the oven and open the foil packages to allow the beets to cool a bit before handling.  While still warm, rub each of the beets with a paper towel to remove the skin.  Slice the beets and place in a large bowl.  While they're still warm, sprinkle the beets with a little salt and toss with enough of the vinaigrette to coat the beets (you probably will not need to use all of it).  Toss in the chopped tarragon and right before serving, sprinkle the crumbled goat cheese on top.  Your heart will thank you!

Enjoy! xo H

Monday, September 5, 2011

A Weekend in Halibut Cove

There are a few places in the world where I feel like I become the best version of myself. In front of the fireplace with my family at my childhood home in Fairbanks. On my Dad's boat in the middle of Prince William Sound. When my nieces are on my lap. On the north shore of Kauai. Anywhere when my sister is with me. And at a cozy cabin on a perch in Halibut Cove, Alaska.

I love this cabin, and the friend who inhabits it. The story of our introduction is one of my favorites (I even told it at her wedding!) About seven years ago when I first moved to Anchorage from Fairbanks, I went to a Halloween party. Dressed as Rosie the Riveter (my costume for four years running- I lack creativity in this department), I barely knew anyone at the party. But my roommate introduced me to one of her coworkers, Mera. Easily the most striking woman at the party, what struck me most about Mera was her costume. She was wearing...a hamburger. It was a giant, foam hamburger costume held up by suspenders that she and her mom had made when she was in elementary school. It. Was. Awesome. Of course, being the vegetarian that she was, she quickly corrected me and let me know that the patty was actually TVP (textured vegetable protein). I kinda knew after that, this girl needed to be my friend. And we've been friends ever since.

My clamming partners, Mera and Milo
Mera, along with her husband Chester, are easily some of my biggest fans in the kitchen. I love cooking for them, because they love to eat and love good food. About a month ago, Mera and I spent a weekend at her Halibut Cove cabin where we engaged in one of my favorite pastimes: digging for butter clams.

Now, if you talk to Mera, she will tell you that I have an obsession with digging for clams as well as eating record-breaking quantities of them. NOT TRUE. I simply like clams an awful lot. Ok, perhaps to an unhealthy degree. But like I tell my Dad when ever he looks in my closet and his jaw drops at the number of shoes I've acquired in my lifetime: isn't it a healthier obsession than, say, drug addiction? I mean, who can argue with that, right?

A beautiful bucket of Halibut Cove steamers!
First, you start with a bucket of fresh clams. Best if dug up that day, but also delicious from the local grocery store. If you harvested them from your local beach like we did, fill the bucket with sea water, sprinkle in some cornmeal, and let the clams filter.

Next, if freshly dug- you have to scrub the hell out of them. I've rubbed my fingers raw on more than one occasion scrubbing clams at the cabin. Mera really takes one for the team on this effort, as her usual portion is exactly ONE clam. (Another reason why we're friends- I don't have to share.)

Oops, don't forget the garlic!
Assemble your ingredients- butter, several cloves of garlic, lemon, dry white wine, heavy cream, and parsley.

First, pour yourself a glass of the white wine and have a little fun in the kitchen.  Second, melt one or two tablespoons in a large sauté pan or dutch oven over medium heat. As soon as that's mostly melted, add the chopped garlic and let it cook for about 30 seconds or so- don't let it brown! Add a cup of white wine the juice of half a lemon and bring it to a simmer- this is your flavorful steaming liquid. I usually don't add salt at this point, because often times the clams are pretty salty. I usually wait until the end to season the broth (which will be used for dipping bread, of course!)

Once simmering, add the clams one at a time (I don't dump them in, because often there's residual sand at the bottom of the bowl). If the addition of the clams drops the temperature of the steaming liquid, turn the dial up a smidge to medium-high heat. Cover, preferably with a glass lid so you can peek on them. Clams open up fast, so as soon as you see one open, take it out and remove it to your serving bowl. Nothing tastes worse than an overcooked clam!

Once all of the clams are open and removed to the serving bowl, add the heavy cream and parsley to the pan and taste for seasoning. Add salt if needed, then remove from the heat and pour the liquid over the clams.

Make sure you have a loaf of crusty bread on hand to mop up all that delicious clammy liquid.  Pour yourself another glass of wine.  And then, eat up. Eat those clams like ITS YOUR JOB. At least, that's what I do!

Halibut Cove Steamers

30-35 small butter clams, scrubbed well
1-2 T butter
4-5 cloves garlic, chopped
3/4 c. dry white wine
juice from half a lemon
1/4 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. parsley

Our beautiful dinner spread!
1. Add butter to a large sauté pan or dutch oven over medium heat. Once melted, add the chopped garlic and cook for about 30 seconds. Don't brown it! Add wine and lemon juice and bring to a simmer.

2. Add clams to the pot, cover and let simmer. As the clams open, remove to serving bowl.

3. Once all clams are cooked, add heavy cream and parsley to liquid in pot. Check for seasoning, and add salt if necessary. Pour liquid over clams and serve with a large piece of crusty bread to mop up all the yummy clammy juices.

Enjoy! xo H