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 saut├ęs.  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