Friday, September 25, 2015

spicy pickled carrots

The last couple of years, I've become rather enamored (obsessed? transfixed?) by all things pickled.  Pickling is the simple process of preserving food in a brine containing vinegar.  Once I discovered how easy it was to pickle things myself, I began pickling everything in sight.  I've pickled cauliflower, cukes, kohlrabi, chilies, devil's club buds (particularly proud of that foraged product- Bloody Mary, anyone?). But of all my pickled wonders, these spicy pickled carrots are my very favorite.

Why?  Because they are easy, colorful, and the perfect balance of tangy, sweet, and spicy.  My friend Lea introduced me to her recipe, and now I've made several batches of my own.  I eat them straight from the jar, or bring them on picnics and camping trips.  But my most common form of consumption?  I put a few in my styrofoam take-out Taco King container.  Because when I eat carrots along side my beloved lengua tacos, rice and beans, my Mexican comfort food is INSTANTLY transformed into health food!

BAM!  You're welcome.

Have no fear, folks.  These carrots are easy.  They were my first foray into pickling, and once I felt comfortable with the technique I began pickling things in jars with ease.  I'd stick to the brine recipe if I were you, but you can mix up what you put in the jars.  I've put mustard seeds, dill seed heads, peppercorns, fresh thyme sprigs, and bay leaves in mine.  In fact, my next batch might include a few of those.  But for your first time, stick to this recipe and you can't go wrong.

I dug up these pretty little carrots at Pyrah's Farm out in Palmer.  Right now is the PERFECT time to pick up a bag of Alaskan carrots at the farmers' market and knock your self out pickling up a frenzy.  I'm not an expert on preserving so if you'd feel more comfortable with a canning tutorial before you start, check out this link which has some basic information about canning and preserving.  I also love the blog Food in Jars, which has great information as well.  

Time to get pickling!!

Spicy Pickled Carrots
(Adapted from A Safe Kitchen)

4 cups distilled white vinegar
3/4 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons salt (pickling salt if you have it)
4-6 garlic cloves, halved
1-2 teaspoons red chili flakes (depending on how spicy you like it)
2 pounds carrots, trimmed, peeled and cut in half or quarters (if they're big), and cut in lengths about 1/2 to 1 inch shorter than the jars

(1) Take apart three new glass pint jars.  Set the screw tops and lids aside. 

(2) Fill a canning pot with water, or use a large pot with a metal sieve on the bottom (that's what I use).  Place 3 pint jars in the pot and bring to a boil- this will sanitize the jars.

(3) Wash the sealing lids with soap and water, then place in a small pot.  Fill the pot with some of the boiling water- this will soften edges of the lids for a better seal.

(4) Make the brine: In a medium sauce pan, bring the white vinegar to a boil.  Add the sugar and salt (I use pickling salt because table salt results in a cloudy brine) and dissolve completely.  Turn down to medium so it doesn't reduce too quickly while you ready the jars.

(5) Pull the jars out of the boiling water (I used to use tongs, but then I invested in a cheap pair of jar lifters which were totally worth the $10) and place hot jars on a towel on the counter.  Divide the garlic cloves and the chili flakes (as many or as few as you like) amongst the jars. Place the carrots in the jars, being careful not to pack them in too tightly.  Pour the brine over the jars, leaving about 1/2 inch of headroom.

(6) Place lids and screw tops on jars (using rubber kitchen gloves if you have them- these jars are going to be hot!!) and process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes.  Let cool on the counter overnight, and check seals in the morning. 

They taste better after a week or more, so be patient!  


xo h

Sunday, September 13, 2015

chicken with morels, rhubarb galette, pickled hatch chilies, and a long overdue post!

Fall has arrived in Alaska.  I love this time of year.  The mornings are crisp and cold, the leaves are beginning to turn, and my flowers are just about ready to call it a season.  

It was a doozy of a summer.  The weather in Alaska was nothing short of spectacular.  Seems like wherever I’ve been (which feels like EVERYWHERE this summer) the sun was shining and the berries and mushrooms have been plentiful. Life has been very good, if not very, very busy.

Lobster roll nirvana
My summer has largely been spent getting from Point A to Point B.  From Barrow to Sitka, from Bethel to Delta Junction, and a few stops in between.  I even snuck down to the lower-48 for a spell (where I located a delectable lobster roll in Minneapolis.  MINNEAPOLIS- of all places.  Who knew?!)  In fact, I'm writing this post as I'm flying the friendly skies back home.

Like so many other folks, my summer got away from me and my life refuses to slow down.  As I was picking the last of the plump raspberries off the plentiful bushes that line my backyard, I suddenly realized that as my life seems to have evolved this year, so must my little blog.  Finding time to cook is not a problem.  Cooking is my therapy after a long day on the job.  For me, it’s like breathing and sleeping.  And without it, I’m just not me.  

But finding the time to write recipes, take photos (which for this amateur blogger is not an insignificant amount of time), and publish new posts has proven a bit more difficult.  So I’m just going to improvise!

Oh, I’ll still post recipes and pictures- don’t you worry.  Some of the recipes will be my own, but many may just highlight recipes that I’ve tried and loved and want to share with others. My pictures may not be as carefully staged and styled to perfection, but they'll still be my own.

This summer in Alaska has truly been a delicious one, and I wanted to share some of its culinary highlights.  It began on a foraging expedition with friends Renee and Michael for wild morels. I posted last year about my foray into mushroom foraging.  After last year’s beginners run, I was totally excited to tackle fungi foraging this summer.  And I’ve done so with gusto!  

Wild morels- one of my favorite adventures all year!

Creamy chicken with morels, photo by Renee
Morels are a tricky mushroom.  Prized by chefs for their earthy, meaty flavor, they’re also fairly elusive to foragers unless you know where to look.  A brief internet search will tell you that they thrive in sparse forests recently struck by wildfire.  They only grow in springtime, so get out there early next year.  They.  Are.  Worth.  It. 

My friend Renee is a fabulous home cook, who's  culinary skill and technique exceed my own.  The woman is stealth in the kitchen.  We turned this incredible bounty of morels into a truly astounding dish: Creamy Chicken with Morels, (recipe courtesy of our guru Ina Garten).  My mouth still waters thinking about that meal.  I cannot wait to hunt for morels again next spring!

While I was home with my family in Fairbanks for Fourth of July, my sister Holly and I threw together this Rhubarb Galette, courtesy of our pal Martha.  It has a cornmeal crust that is TO DIE FOR and comes together very quickly.  My only modification is that I swapped out half the ice cold water for ice cold vodka, because I’ve learned that it makes a flakier crust.  Just trust me on that (or don’t, and Google it for yourself!)

Rhubarb galette with a cornmeal crust.

Juneau was chock full of salmonberries this year (Juneau friends— is it like this every year?!)  I’ve said before, but it bears repeating, that I have a nearly insatiable enthusiasm for foraging wild edibles.  It's difficult to locate my "off" switch when you turn me loose on a berry patch.  I located these jewels in a friends backyard.  While I was excited at the idea of converting them into jam, the delicious treats didn’t make it through the night as we gobbled them up like candy.  Not quite too pretty to eat!


One of the very best parts of my summer was spending time in Bethel with my friend Valerie and her beautiful family.  Valerie and her Yu’pik ancestors have been harvesting the land in Western Alaska for thousands of years.  Val taught me the traditional way of processing and smoking wild salmon, just as her mother Tilly taught her, and Tilly’s mother before her.  Just look at the beautiful salmon in her smokehouse!

My happy place: smokehouse on the Kuskokwim River

With the swift work of her ulu, Valerie quickly processed the salmon we caught by setnet.  My job was to tie up the strips of salmon to hang in the smokehouse.  I’m proud to say that I excelled at this task.  I tied up salmon LIKE IT WAS MY JOB.  And it was…for two whole hours.  I ate so much smoked salmon that weekend that I nearly made myself sick.  Zero regrets.

Working through our bounty in Bethel.

A trip to Sitka last month resulted in a BOATLOAD of winter and golden chanterelles.  I was excited to learn how to identify them easily so that I know what to look for on future expeditions.  My friend Heather’s adorable mother Benny was totally thrilled to share her love for mushroom foraging with others, and was the ultimate host.  She turned our bounty into both mushroom quiche and cream of chanterelle soup.  HOLY DELICIOUSNESS, BATMAN.  Sadly, I don't have pictures of the food because I was too busy stuffing my face (along with her homemade biscuits- we ate like champs).

Wild golden and yellowfoot chanterelles foraged in Sitka
Milo's version of "blueberry picking"

Of course, no summer in Alaska is complete for any forager without taking a hike up a mountain for wild blueberries!  

Just like last summer, my friend Erica joined Milo and I for a bit of hiking and a lot of picking.  Last year I posted this tasty recipe for blueberry cornmeal cake, which I love.  I think this year I might make blueberry jam with my bounty.  If so, I’ll post it!

Last year I posted a picture of some pickled Hatch chilies that I made and enjoyed all winter.   Another shipment just landed in the grocery stores here in Alaska and several of your have texted me for the recipe.  I just put up another batch last week, and here's the recipe I used.  I eat them with my Taco King takeout so I feel like I'm getting a few veggies as I scarf down my carne asada special tacos.

Pickled Hatch Chilies

This is just a scattering of my summer food adventures.  I plan to make jams for winter soon, and pickle a few more veggies to eat all year round.  I'm even going to take another stab at perfecting rhubarb ketchup- and if I succeed, I'll post it!

Alrighty, Alaska...bring on winter! 

xo h