Monday, November 24, 2014

roasted brussels sprouts with capers, walnuts, and anchovies

The Best.  It's a bold statement, right?  To say something is the BEST you've ever tasted.  People throw the phrase around too loosely and apply it to things that simply don't deserve such high praise.  "This is the best corn dog I have EVER tasted!" "Have you tried this burger! Best burger ever!" "OMG, this cheese may be the BEST CHEESE EVER."  And we all know that the chances of that corn dog, burger, or piece of cheese being the BEST EVER are pretty slim.

I feel like the word "best" is losing the grip on it's definition.  So when I say something is the best I've ever tasted, I really want to mean it.  So, here goes:
I'm pretty sure these are the best Brussels sprouts I've ever tasted.

My friend Karen introduced me to this recipe last year and it's the only way I ever want to eat Brussels sprouts anymore.  When I serve these to friends, they often approach the dish with reservation.  Brussels sprouts?  Anchovies?  Honey?  Say wha?!  But my FAVORITE part is watching them taste their first bite.  That's all it takes.  The flavor of the golden roasted Brussels sprouts paired with the salty, briny, slightly sweet vinaigrette and crunchy walnuts is genius.  It

Roasted Brussels sprouts has been at our family's holiday table for many years.  But this year, I'm going to introduce this new twist on the old family favorite.  And I can't wait to watch them take their first bite!
Happy Holidays everyone!

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Capers, Anchovies, and Walnuts
(Recipe courtesy of Karen Wilken)
3 pounds Brussels sprouts, halved
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup walnuts
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (or a grainy mustard)
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 shallots, mined
2 tablespoons anchovy paste (or one 2-ounce tin of anchovies, drained and minced)
(1) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Spread the walnuts on a shallow baking sheet or pie plate and toast in the oven for about 8 minutes, until golden and fragrant.  Once cool, coarsely chop and set aside.
(2) In a large bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Spread the Brussels sprouts on to large, shallow rimmed baking sheets and roast for 35-40 minutes, tossing with a spatula halfway through cooking.  They should be golden and charred in some spots. 
(3) In the same large bowl, whisk the vinegar, mustard, and honey.  Slowly whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil until the mixture is emulsified.  Add the capers, garlic, shallots, and anchovy paste.  Taste, then season with salt and pepper as necessary.  Add the sprouts and the walnuts, toss well and serve.

xo h


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

chocolate-dipped orangettes

Happy Halloween, little goblins!  This post represents a departure for Chena Girl.  I've been called many things over the course of my life.  Heidi, for starters. But, cook, forager, social butterfly, Suzy Homemaker (by my sister Holly), loud (by my brother Erik), fisherwoman, hostess, but...candymaker?  Nuh-uh.  Never. 
Hey! This post is making history!

May I present to you...the world's ugliest kitchen counter!  I'm thinking of creating a Kickstarter campaign for a new kitchen.  Thoughts?
I think it's healthy to push your personal boundaries in the kitchen.  In fact, I think pushing your boundaries is healthy in most aspects of life.  Even if you end up pushing it just a LITTLE too far.  Like the time I was trying hard not to dress too "matchy matchy" last year and showed up to work wearing nearly every color of the rainbow. Blue tights, a red printed dress, and a bright yellow scarf.  I was a walking fashion catastrophe/perfectly dressed for directing construction traffic.  I looked so ridiculous that my secretary called me "the elf" the rest of the day.  True story. 
[In fact, I used to have the photographic evidence to prove it.  But as I flipped back through the pictures on my phone, I realize that my Back to the Future Self must have deleted it in a clear attempt to save Future Self from the public shaming that she surely would have submitted herself to.]
But I digress.

I was home one Saturday folding laundry while watching TV when I noticed a woman making these seemingly easy candied orange peels dipped in chocolate.  I had 3 naval oranges on my counter, and all of the ingredients in my pantry.  So I finished the laundry, and then got to work adding a new title to my resume: Candymaker.
And they turned out GREAT!

In fact, they turned out a little too good.  My plan was to make a huge batch of them, save a handful (5-10 tops) for myself, and give the rest away as gifts to family and friends.
I'm sure my friends and family would have loved them.  Maybe next time.

Chocolate-Dipped Orangettes
(Adapted from Julia Baker)

4 oranges
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup corn syrup
3 cups water
1/2 pound semi-sweet chocolate
granulated sugar, for sprinkling

(1) Slice the rind off the oranges and slice into desired thickness. Place orange slices in a wide skillet or pan and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then drain.  Repeat this process a total of three times. 

(2) Heat the sugar, syrup, and water in a medium-sized pot.  Once the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is warm, submerge the blanched orange peel in the syrup and cover with a lid that is one size smaller than the pot (this way, every peel is completely submerged).  Simmer for 60-90 minutes.  Place a wire cooling rack over a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil.  Remove the peels from the syrup (which you can save for Italian sodas!) and place them on the wire rack- the parchment/foil will catch drips and make for easy cleanup.

(3) Melt 2/3 of the chocolate chips in the microwave, stopping to stir the chips every 30 seconds.  (Be careful NOT to microwave them too long!)  Once the chocolate chips are melted, stir in the remaining 1/3 of the chips (called "seeding" the chocolate, which results in a smoother melted chocolate), and stir until melted and smooth.

(4)  Dip orange peel into chocolate and cool on parchment paper.  Sprinkle orange peel "tails" with granulated sugar, if desired.

xo h

Saturday, October 18, 2014

old-fashioned navy bean & ham soup

Fall in Alaska is that glorious 3 days of the year where the leaves turn beautiful shades of yellow and orange, there's a distinct smell of sour cranberries and wood smoke lingering in the air, and the Chugach mountains look like they're on fire with all the brilliant red of the dwarf birch and blueberry bushes.

Well, those days are long gone.  What we are left with are bare branches, a chill in the air that feels more like a "freeze" than a gentle "nip", and 1,386,798 political mailers, radio ads, and commercials.  Every.  Single.  Day. 
My pesky "day job" has been hogging so much of my evenings and weekends of late as the election nears that I've barely had time to throw a piece of toast in the toaster.   But last weekend, to thank some of my comrades at the office who have been working their little tails off with me, I made a huge pot of warm, comforting old-fashioned navy bean & ham soup.  They devoured it, bless them.

That's the beauty of good food.  It is completely, totally, 100% bipartisan.  No, it's even better than that.  It is non-partisan, a-political, and it's the kind of leadership we need in Washington, D.C.
Crap.  Sorry.  Old habits die hard!  
I love how easy this soup is to make.  Soak the beans and chop up all the ingredients the night before, then throw everything in the crockpot in the morning and walk away for 10-12 hours.  Magic.
Also, your house will smell FANTASTIC.  Best air-freshener ever.
So, turn off your TV and radio, leave your mail in the mailbox, and make this soup to brighten up a chilly fall day.  And then remember to VOTE on November 4th!

Navy Bean & Ham Soup

1 lb. dried beans, sorted and rinsed (navy, great northern, or cannellini beans are great, but whatever dried bean you have on hand should work)
9 c. water
3 medium carrots, peeled or scrubbed well and diced
3 celery stalks, chopped
1 medium onion, diced
2 cups ham, chopped, or one ham shank
1 bay leaf
2 fresh thyme sprigs, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
several grinds of fresh black pepper
a few dashes of hot sauce, such as Tobasco (optional)
1/2 teaspoon granulated toasted onion (optional)

drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, for serving

(1) In a large crock pot, soak beans in 9 cups of cold water overnight.

(2) In the morning, turn the crockpot on low.  Add all other ingredients except the olive oil.  Cook on low setting for about 8-10 hours.

(3) Remove bay leaf and thyme sprigs.  If using a ham shank, remove shank from pot and chop/shred all ham off the shank and place back in the soup pot.  May sure to "fish" around the soup for any other bones.  Taste soup and re-season with salt and pepper as needed.  Serve with a drizzle of olive oil. 

xo h

Monday, September 15, 2014

wild alaska! hunting for edible mushrooms

My enthusiasm (read: obsession) with foraging has not abated, despite the falling leaves and crisp autumn temperatures here in Southcentral Alaska.  Despite many years of fishing, clamming, picking berries and other wild Alaska edibles, one edible in particular has eluded my harvest: mushrooms. 
I've been intrigued with the idea of hunting for wild mushrooms for years, but I thought I would need to hunt alongside an expert so that I didn't, well, DIE from ingesting a poisonous mushroom.  As my Dad is fond to say, "Have you read the book 'How to Tell Mushrooms from Toadstools' by the late Dr. Johnson?"  Sigh.
Still, I wasn't entirely deterred.  I read books, pamphlets, and numerous articles on the internet.  I kept thinking, "I can do this on my own, right?"  And then THIS happened:

King Bolete/boletus edulis/wild porcini = delicious!!!
I picked the most perfect, beautiful King Bolete you ever saw a few weeks ago in the Alaska wilderness.  A boletus edulis according to my mushrooming friend Laurie Constantino.  The problem was, I didn't know it at the time.  I had a hunch, but didn't feel confident enough just then.  I took some pictures, admired the pretty mushroom, vowed to check with friends when I returned to an area with cell service, and chucked it in the woods.  CHUCKED IT IN THE WOODS.  Like a piece of (completely compostable and Earth-friendly) trash.  It was only later that I discovered what I had found.  And I was crushed.  Devastated.  Sickened by what I had innocently done.
And so, I vowed to make up for my rookie foraging mistake ever since.
Since then, I've scoured my books and the internet for articles about mushrooms.  Online articles by local foragers Laurie Constantino and Natasha Price have been immensely helpful, and I've relied on them heavily.  I've also used this booklet on Alaska Mushrooms by Harriette Parker, as well as this online pamphlet from the USDA
I've decided to heed the advice of my friend Laurie and avoid any mushrooms with "gills."  Edible gilled mushrooms, where the underside of the cap looks similar to fish gills (just like your typical button mushroom or Portobello mushroom from the grocery store), are tricky to spot in the wild.   Instead, I've focused on two edible varieties that are the easiest to identify and the most delicious:  king boletes (which have a sponge-like texture under the cap and a smooth stalk, as pictured above) and puffballs (which must be creamy white all the way through in order to be edible- no spores!)
I've been out and about in the forests near Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Denali hunting for these tasty edibles and found dozens of beautiful mushrooms along the way.  I even discovered a few edible Alaskan scaber-stalk boletes in the woods behind my old elementary school, which I cleaned up and sautéed with butter, garlic, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme from my garden.
I ventured out last week in Anchorage in the rain with my friend Dave Waldron from Alaska Public Media.  (Check out the article and the radio segment here!)  We had a great time tromping along the soft, mossy forest floor looking for edible mushrooms.  Pickings were slim, but we spotted these puffballs and a soggy lil' bolete.
There are seemingly endless varieties of mushrooms in Alaska, and even if I can't eat them I can't help but admire their beauty and individuality.

DON'T EAT THESE!  Just admire the bounty. :)

If  you are brave enough to venture out on your own, I URGE you to exercise caution and check out the links I've included in this post, as well as doing your own research.  I do not claim to be an expert- far from it.  I'm an amateur forager eager to share my experience with others!  Foraging for mushrooms on your own is doable, as long as you arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible.  The window for mushrooms is coming to a close, but I plan on venturing out this week to see if I can spot any gems.  In the meantime, I've searched the internet and found some delicious recipes that I hope to try with my bounty.  Fingers crossed!
Happy foraging!
xo H

Thursday, August 28, 2014

wild alaska! blueberry cornmeal skillet cake

I have a massive issue when it comes to foraging.  Some would call it my gift.  Others (like my berry-picking friends) would call it my curse.  You see, deep in the incomprehensible double-helix thingy of my DNA structure, I have an unmistakable gene for hunting and gathering.  I LOVE it.  But not in the way you love your favorite sweater or lasagna on Fridays.  I mean, I love foraging in a way that were I left to my own devices I would gather to my heart's content and never come home.  You would find me 4 days later up on a mountain picking berries happy as a clam but desperately needing a shower.
As I've said before, I don't have an "off" switch when it comes to foraging.  Which is one of the main reasons I always bring a friend with me whenever I embark on my little gathering excursions.  Because someone has to be there to make me stop.

I'm not sure exactly what it is that drives me to harvest Alaska's wild bounty.  I suspect it's a mixed bag of reasons, one being simply: FREE FOOD.  But it's roots are much deeper than that.  There is something so satisfying about hitting the jackpot and discovering a trove of currants, or that Devil's Club buds are at the perfect time for harvesting.  And I wouldn't engage in a single foraging expedition if the results weren't also delicious.  I am continually amazed at the plentiful variety of edible plants growing in our own (enormous, massive, breathtaking) Alaskan backyard. 
I also believe that I'm most at peace in nature.  And we have a lot of that in Alaska.  I mean, just look at the scenery from the berry-picking expedition with my friend Erica from last week!

This blueberry skillet cake is nearly fool-proof, which is perfect for those of us that are slightly baking-impaired.  It comes together in very little time and I love bringing the whole skillet to the table for serving.  Delicious with homemade whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, it's also perfect on its own and makes a great breakfast treat.  Lately, my taste buds have been craving desserts that aren't super sweet, and this cake fits the bill.  It's not nearly as sweet as your standard cake, which is due in part to our tart Alaskan blueberries.  I've made it with raspberries from my backyard and it's slightly sweeter, but equally delicious.
And so, I encourage everyone to get outside, pick some berries.  And see if the foraging bug bites you, too! 

Alaska Blueberry Cornmeal Skillet Cake
Serves 8-ish (Adapted from Martha Stewart)

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, plus an extra 1/4 cup for sprinkling
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
2 large eggs
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 1 extra tablespoon for skillet
2 cups Alaska blueberries (fresh or frozen)**

(1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Whist together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and 1 cup plus 2 tablespoon sugar in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs, and melted butter.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk just to combine.

(2) In a 10 inch oven-proof skillet (I used my trusty Lodge Cast-Iron), place one tablespoon of butter in the skillet and pop it in the oven until it's melted and the skillet is hot (3-5 minutes).  Take the skillet out of the oven and swirl the butter to coat the bottom.  Pour the batter into the skillet, and scatter the blueberries on top.  Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar.

(3) Bake in the middle of the oven until it is golden brown, about 40-45 minutes.  Let cool before slicing it.  This is great served either warm or at room temperature. 

**Substituting Alaska raspberries for the blueberries is equally delicious.

xo h

Saturday, August 2, 2014

simplest kale salad with lemony vinaigrette

Kale.  That glorious, magical green that was yanked from obscurity just a few short years ago, has now been catapulted from the murky, dank back corner of the produce section to front and center of every healthy eater's dinner table. 

Kale is one of my favorite ingredients to use during the Alaskan summer months.  While it is at its peak in the "Lower 48" states in late fall and early winter, Alaska's cool, sunny weather produces bushels and bushels of the hearty, leafy green through summer and fall.  It turns up in many of my dishes in one way or another, thanks to a healthy stock of it in my container garden, as well as beautiful supplies at our local farmers markets. 
I skipped the farmers market last weekend, however, and instead picked vegetables at Pyrah's Pioneer Peak Farm, a local you-pick-'em farm in Palmer, Alaska.  Pyrah's is a magical place for me, and I make the hour long trek from Anchorage to Palmer at least once a summer to get my hands on some truly fresh Alaskan produce.  Here's a few pics from my trip last weekend.  Kohlrabi bigger than my head, I tell you.  MAGICAL! 

My favorite type of kale is Lacinato or Tuscan kale, which is used frequently in Italy.  It's long, slender strands make beautiful raw salads.  I save the curly and Russian kale for soups, stews, and sautés.  Pyrah's Lacinato kale was a thing of perfection, so I helped myself to heaps of it. 
This salad recipe comes from my dear friend Ann, my wine and food soul sister-from-another-mister.  Ann and I were destined for greatness the moment she picked me up in a bar.  Yes, in a bar.  You see, I was on a date at this bar a few years back.  Ann just happened to be sitting next to me in the bar listening in on the conversation I was having with my date, and interrupted us to say: "You guys sound like fun.  Can I join you?"  We talked the rest of the night!  Needless to say, the dude didn't last, but I got a lifelong friendship out of that date.  That's a solid WIN in my book!  

As with most of my recipes, this salad is very simple.  The key to any simple recipe is to start with GOOD INGREDIENTS.  When you have good ingredients, you don't need to complicate things!  On this, Ann and I are always in agreement.  When I make this salad, I use fresh kale, toasted walnuts, and high quality Parmesan cheese and olive oil.  I never use bottled lemon juice- always squeeze it fresh for the best taste. 
Kale can be tough to eat when its raw, so it's important to dress the kale and massage it with your hands a bit and then let it sit for about 20-25 minutes to gently break down some of its tougher fibers.  Massage your salad?  Sure, it sounds weird.  Just trust me.  Weird is good sometimes. 
And by all means, dress your salad with pretty and edible Nasturtium petals if you have them.  I have them growing by the hundreds at my house, so they're appearing pretty much everywhere.  In my cereal, my morning yogurt, in my ice cream, on my toast...
However, this salad would be perfect topped with grilled Alaska salmon, which is how Ann served it to me the first time, or seared Alaska scallops or spot shrimp.  The possibilities are as endless as your imagination.

Kale Salad with Lemony Vinaigrette

(Serves 2 large salads, or 4 small ones)

8 cups kale (about one large bunch, preferably Lacinato or Tuscan), stems removed and roughly chopped
1/4 cup walnuts
1/4 cup golden raisins
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

For the dressing:

3 tablespoons shallots or red onion (finely minced if you don't have a blender)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (1-2 lemons)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons honey or agave syrup
several grinds of freshly ground black pepper
pinch of kosher salt

(1) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Place walnuts on a sheet tray and bake for 10 minutes, or until golden and toasted.  Do not burn!  Once they cool, roughly chop into large pieces.

(2) Place the shallots or red onion in a food processor (or use a stick blender) until finely minced.  Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until blended.

(2) Add enough dressing to your liking to the kale, toss thoroughly (massage with your hands for best results), and let sit for 20-25 minutes to tenderize the greens.  Before serving, add half of the raisins, half of the walnuts, and half of the cheese and toss well.  Top the salad with the rest of the walnuts, raisins, and cheese and sprinkle Nasturtium petals on top if you have them.  Serve the remaining dressing on the side (if any). 

xo H

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

herb-crusted alaskan salmon with roasted lemons

My friend Mera and I have been pals for nearly 10 years.  The story of how we met at a Halloween party, when Mera donned a giant paper mache hamburger costume that she and her mother made while Mera was in elementary school, has left an indelible mark on my heart and is mentioned in one of my favorite posts on this blog.  We've seen each other through love, heartbreak, new homes, new jobs, children (hers), and puppy terror (mine). 
Mera and her best friend Katie recently started a new blog called Red House West (they both have red houses, one in Oregon and one in Alaska.  How cute is that?!) which contains wonderful, inventive, budget-friendly design ideas and projects for the home.  I love it, and it's getting a ton of online buzz. 
Look!  It's me!  In the kitchen!  Credit to Mera for the beautiful photos, and the beautiful apron she made for me.  LOVE.
Initially, we hatched a plan to do a blog post together while I was scouring a local furniture store for new bedroom furniture.  After texting her several pictures of different pieces, I was hoping she would just tell me what to buy and then design my bedroom for free.  And frankly, I'm still hoping she will do that. 
But Mera had a different idea, and invited me over to cook a Summer Solstice dinner last weekend featuring an Alaskan staple: frozen Alaskan salmon.  And even made me a beautiful new apron to mark the occasion, which now holds the top spot in my extensive apron collection (formerly held by the apron her mother-in-law Katy bought for me.  A girl never has too many aprons, or too many shoes.  Amen.)
For the record, I will continue to pester Mera for free design advice on my bedroom.  For now, I give you the recipe for the most perfect company-friendly salmon you will ever make.

Deciding what to make for our Solstice dinner was easy.  During spring and early summer, Alaskans engage in a traditional pastime known generally as Cleaning Out the Freezer.  Many, if not most, Alaskans pack their freezers during the months of July and August with our abundance of red ("Sockeye") and silver ("Coho") salmon.  So naturally, when many of us still have large stocks of frozen salmon fillets in the months of April, May, and June, we go to work coming up with as many creative ways to cook salmon as possible so as to empty our freezers for summer's replenishing bounty.
Think Forrest Gump, but with salmon instead of shrimp.  Salmon skewers, barbequed salmon, salmon cakes, salmon salad, roasted salmon, salmon curry, grilled salmon, salmon dip...
A beautiful silver salmon fillet from the waters of Prince William Sound,
thanks to my Dad's boat and a great salmon run!
My sister Holly originally told me about this recipe.  She was looking for a fast, no fuss salmon recipe to serve for company.  Her guests LOVED it.  And it's no wonder why: it's packed with flavor!  The combination of tangy Dijon mustard, bright and fresh parsley and dill, and crunchy panko bread crumbs provides a perfect accompaniment to the unique, delicately-bold flavor of Alaskan salmon.
There are so many aspects of this dish that I appreciate.  For starters, it's easy, but it looks elegant and impressive.  These two qualities make it the perfect dish for entertaining.  In addition, it doesn't need to be served piping hot.  The salmon is just as delicious at room temperature, which simplifies timing for dinner parties.  And, like most recipes in my arsenal, the measurements are forgiving.  When making this, I don't even measure the mustard, the bread crumbs, or the herbs anymore (although I was a little heavy-handed with the parsley this time- I will use less and chop it more finely the next time I make it).

Just about the only thing you need to worry about with this recipe is the length of time it spends in the oven.  NO ONE likes overcooked salmon.  Not even people that think they like overcooked salmon.  (They just don't know any better.  Bless them.)  I used a rather thin fillet of silver salmon, and 15 minutes in the oven was perfect.  If you have a thicker fillet, say red salmon or King salmon, you may want to add on a couple minutes, or check the salmon by flaking it with a fork in the thickest part of the fillet after 15 minutes.
A rare action shot.  I'm toying with the idea of a Kickstarter campaign for a new camera.  Kidding (maybe).
The dinner was an absolute blast.  Credit to Mera's husband, Chester, for his incredible patience as we photographed nearly every aspect of the preparation.  It was so fun!  Mera's kitchen, which they remodeled several years ago, is a dream to cook in.  So much space!  So much light!  So many nice kitchen appliances!  And did I mention the SPACE?  My God, I've been cooking in a postage-stamp of a kitchen for far too long. 
I had a difficult time editing out any of the pictures that Mera sent to me, so I didn't.  Those of you who have been fans of Chena Girl Cooks for some time now (bless you!) may be overwhelmed by all the photos!  Ol' Heidikins usually just picks a couple of the photos that turn out best and calls it a day.  But this was a special post, and deserved special photographic attention.
We served our salmon alongside (1) whole wheat couscous that I spiked with parsley, dill, lemon zest, olive oil, and plenty of salt & pepper, and (2) a salad with roasted beets and goat cheese gorgeously made by Mera's hubby Chester.
I really hope you try this recipe and leave your comments below!  And I'd love to hear about your favorite salmon recipes, too.  I'm always looking for new, creative ideas for preparing Alaska's most perfect food.  Who knows, maybe it will appear on the blog one day soon.  More importantly, it may grace my table!  Because I still have several fillets of frozen salmon to cook before fishing season begins.  Happy cooking!

Herb-Crusted Side of Alaskan Salmon with Roasted Lemons
(Adapted from Martha Stewart)
1 side of wild Alaskan salmon (about 2-3 pounds- I used a silver salmon fillet), pin bones removed
1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
zest of half a lemon
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling lemons
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2-3 lemons, quartered with seeds removed.
parchment paper
(1) Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Toss panko, herbs, lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Set aside.
(2) Place salmon skin-side down on parchment-lined baking sheet.  Spread Dijon mustard on salmon, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle herbed panko evenly on top, patting down gently.  Place lemons around salmon and drizzle with olive oil.
(3) Roast salmon for 15 minutes (or a couple minutes more for thicker fillets).  Once salmon flakes easily, it's done.  Transfer salmon to platter with lemons and serve.
xo H

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

wild alaska! devil's club buds

We all have our quirks.  Some wear an apron while they cook.  Others enjoy Cheez-Its with their PB&J's.  Some still drink Shirley Temples when they're 36.  Many say we "collect" kitchenware as a hobby to cover for our kitchenware hoarding problem.
Whatever...they're quirks!  They make us unique, right?!  (Don't judge- Cheez-Its and PB&J's go together like peas and carrots, just trust me.  Also, I own 4 colanders if you need one.  I wish to God I was joking.  I am not.) 
Freshly harvested Devil's Club shoots

One quirk I embrace: I'm a forager, and I embrace my inner hunter & gatherer.
Now, by "hunter & gatherer" I don't mean to conjure up an image of me in an Elmer Fudd hat with a 30-06 slung over my shoulder ready to field dress a moose.  Although let's all take a moment and do that right now.
That was fun. 

Shoots after they've been blanched in boiling, salted water and "shocked" in an ice bath
No, by hunter & gatherer, I mean I am a woman who enjoys nature's edible bounty in all its forms.  Fish, shellfish, game, and lately wild edible plants.  I mean, they're free!  More importantly, they're delicious!!  Now admittedly I'm still a novice at foraging for wild edibles, although my foraging roots for Alaska's wild seafood go way, way, way back.  (And as my friend Mera reminds me, teeters on the edge of obsessive.  As I like to put it, I have trouble with my "off" switch when it comes to foraging.) 

Currently, my wild edible plant repertoire consists of young cow parsnip (delicious roasted), fireweed shoots (similar to asparagus, and can be eaten raw), fiddleheads (total pain in the a** to clean, but broke down and picked some last weekend-- they're butter, garlic, and lemon's BFF), stinging nettles (just picked last night, still not sure what to do with them), and my favorite so far: Devil's Club leaf shoots, or buds. 
Devil's Club grow all over Southcentral Alaska on many of my favorite trails and hikes.  When fully grown, Devil's Club is a nasty, horrible bane of a hiker's existence.  But when they are buds an inch or two long, they are a tasty, delicate treat.   To me, they have notes of pine, mint, parsley, and resin.  I absolutely love it and have never quite tasted anything like them.  Because of their incredible flavor, they're well worth the effort to harvest!
I learned a lot about foraging for Devil's Club buds from an article written by Laurie Constantino.  Wear long sleeves and plants when picking these suckers.  While the shoots are soft, their thorny stalks are not so tread carefully.  Pick shoots 1 - 2 inches long, when the buds are tender and their spiny undersides are still soft to the touch.  USE GLOVES! (I learned this seemingly common sense lesson the hard way.  OUCH!)  Simply grab the bud, bend it down, twist, and it comes right off.  Discard the inedible outer brown sheaths, wash in cold water several times, blanch in boiling salted water for a couple minutes, and plunge into a cold water bath.  Drain and they're ready to eat as is, or to use in any culinary creation you can dream up.
The first time I ate Devil's Club buds, I simply tossed them with olive oil, salt and lemon after blanching them.  They were delicious!  I still think this is my favorite way to eat them.  I also added curry one time and while it turned out great, the curry flavor was too strong for the delicate flavor of the buds.  In my recipe below, I find the fennel and dill pair wonderfully with the piney/resin-like flavor of the shoots.
I hope you head out and find some buds- the short spring window is about to close!  You can still find many buds at higher elevations around Southcentral Alaska.  Happy foraging!!
Devil's Club Buds with Fennel and Dill
(Adapted from Laurie Constantino)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 large fennel bulb (or one small), cored and thinly sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
pinch of Aleppo pepper (optional)
3 cups Devil's Club buds/shoots
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon fresh dill, chopped
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
(1) Clean Devil's club buds by picking out any twigs or leaves and by washing twice in cold water.  Fill a large bowl or sink with cold water and several ice cubes.  Blanch shoots for 2 minutes in a large pot of boiling, salted water.  Drain and plunge immediately into the cold water.  Drain again.  Lay shoots flat on a kitchen towel.  Place another towel on top and squeeze out the excess water, or roll the shoots up in the towel and gently squeeze out excess water. 
{**At this point, if you want to use them for later use, let air dry for a couple hours, then place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and place them in the freezer overnight.  In the morning, put the frozen shoots in a large ziplock bag and store in the freezer.  This is also how I freeze berries for winter storage.}
(2)  In a large skillet, sauté fennel in olive oil for 5-7 minutes, until soft and golden brown.  Add garlic and Aleppo pepper and sauté another 30 seconds.  Add blanched Devil's Club buds, stirring until just warmed through and moisture has evaporated from the buds.  Add lemon zest and juice, and salt and pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.
xo h

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

a perfect spring salad

{For today's post, I'm sharing with you an article I wrote for Full Circle Farm's Good Food Life blog.  And the prettiest pictures of watermelon radishes you've ever seen.}
With winter’s chill in the rearview mirror and spring flowers in bloom, it’s a perfect time to lighten up the dinner routine with a simple spring salad.  And when I say simple, I mean simple.  Stick to these 4 steps and you’ll have a wonderful salad to grace your table in no time.
1. Use fresh, organic greens, and buy local whenever possible
Eating well isn’t rocket science.  When lettuce and other greens are fresh, they taste best.  If you can buy your greens as close to the source as possible, they’ll contain far more nutrients than greens sitting at the grocery store for a week or more.  And whenever possible, buy organic greens and skip the pesticides. 
      Usually when I think of spring salads, I envision small, tender leaves of mixed “baby” lettuces (often called “Mesclun”).  Mixed baby lettuces are the perfect way to welcome spring.  But any young greens will do: spicy arugula, delicate butter lettuce, hearty baby kale, and young romaine are just a few others to try.  Mix it up and find your own favorite!  
       2. Don't overdue the toppings
When your ingredients are fresh, let them shine!  A salad should be a simple composition of a few fresh ingredients.  Overdoing it with multiple elements usually results in an overly-complicated mix of flavors that tend to blend and mask each other.  Avoid that pitfall by remaining loyal to a few ingredients.  Try simple combinations such as thinly-sliced radishes and asparagus with shaved parmesan, a green salad of sweet peas and fava beans, strawberries and toasted almonds with crumbled goat cheese, or grilled shrimp with feta.  The combination of ingredients is endless, so let the market be your guide and select the best seasonal items available. 
3. Make your own vinaigrette
I’m amazed at the number of friends I have with store-bought salad dressings in their fridge. Even the best brands pale in flavor to dressings made at home. Once you discover how easy (not to mention economical) it is to make your own vinaigrette, you’ll never buy another bottled concoction. 
Making homemade vinaigrette is fast and simple.  In its most basic form, it consists of (1) oil, (2) an acid such as vinegar or lemon juice, (3) an emulsifier like Dijon mustard, and (drum roll) (4) salt & pepper.  For an extra ‘pop’ you can add in minced garlic or shallot, or for a touch of sweetness you can add a bit of honey or agave syrup.  Typically, vinaigrette contains a ratio of 3 to 1 oil to vinegar/acid (or 2 to 1 if you like a more acidic dressing like I do).  Here’s one of my favorite go-to vinaigrette recipes:
Basic Vinaigrette
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup red wine, champagne, or apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
Pinch of kosher salt and a few grinds of pepper
       Place all ingredients in a small jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Shake vigorously.  Easy peasy.
4. Toss just before serving
Unless you’re using a heartier green like mature kale, it’s best to serve a salad right after it’s tossed with dressing.  If you’re feeding a crowd, here’s a great tip:  pour your vinaigrette in the bottom of a large salad bowl.  Place the salad ingredients on top of the vinaigrette.  When you’re ready to serve, just toss! 

xo h