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