In search of healthy and fun meals to feed my family, with an eye toward sustainable living.

Here you'll find recipes & ramblings about keeping my family fed with what's available in Alaska between local produce, a little bit of wild harvest, and the modern grocery store.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Gardening w/ youngsta

Youngest and I were working in our garden last night. She has her own box, right next to mine, and she's still learning to recognize weeds -- but learning FAST. But her carrots needed thinning, and that turned out to cause a bit of a crisis, it seemed.
Here's our conversation, as I remember it:

Y: But I don't want to pull the baby carrots!
M (Me or Mom): But they're all crowded in there! We need to make some room for them to grown their yummy orange roots by pulling a few of the punier ones.
Y: How would you feel if someone came along and pulled you out by your roots just because you're a little puny?!"

That stumped me! I started wondering if having her own gardening plot was such a good idea, when she promptly started yanking out a few carrots in the thicker patches, doing a great job making room thinning her row: "Ahh, Mom, I was just pulling your chain!" she laughed.

But she did admit she liked growing plants that did not have to be "beheaded" like the Bok Choy in my garden -- she prefers herbs like parsley and chives (she's always been my little helper who runs out to the garden with a pair of scissors when I need a little of this or that for dinner), and harvesting the snap peas (fruit, not whole plant) will be more to her liking. She was a bit horrified earlier during radish harvest -- there was nothing left!!!

Camping Food: Peace, Man!

We're getting ready to go on a week-long camping trip to Alaska's Interior: we're taking the remote and very scenic Denali "Highway" (summer-only dirt road) between the Richardson and Parks Highway -- Alaska has so few highways that we use names instead of numbers.

Since I'm in charge of FOOD, I spend this week planning, shopping and cooking for the big trip -- there will be no grocery stores along the Denali Road, and the few towns we pass on the way there only feature the occasional tourist-trap rip-off "Mart" where even TP costs an arm and a leg... I exaggerate, but basically, if you forgot something, chances are you'll go without!
So this past week I spent more time in the prepared food isles of the Supermarket than I usually do (I'm proud to say that I rarely venture there normally), and I was surprised at all the "Convenience Foods" there are. Even the simplest things, like rice, couscous and noodles, are packaged and sold in amazing variations -- I was a bit tired last night, and just stood there, dazed and overwhelmed...
Well, I did finally make my selections (including powdered do-nuts, which I can't stand, but the family loves as a special camping treat), plus trying a few novel items (Annie's, an organic label, carries Peace-symbol pasta a la Mac'n'cheese, which surely the family will get a kick out of...). We're well-stocked in chocolate (Belgian label Hageland has a dark ch0colate that is thick enough to require dentures -- how big are the teeth of those Belgians, anyway?), there's plenty of freshly-ground Peanut Butter (the kids would boycott a trip without this essential staple), we got crackers, nuts, coffee and hot cocoa, and plenty of beer!

Today I was busy cooking for the trip.
Here are some of our family's favorite camping recipes:
Split Pea Soup with Ham hock
Black Beans (Cuban or Mexican chili)
Cajun Red Beans & Rice
Hummus for veggies and crackers
Brownies with nut meal
Benner Snack Mix

The last 2 require a bit of an explanation. Ever since we've started making our own Almond Milk, we've got a good supply of nut meat, which makes a wonderful addition to brownies!
Almond milk is an alternative for our milk-intolerant daughters of the household -- thanks to J for teaching us how to make your own:

Homemade Almond Milk
1 c almonds
3 c water
1/2 t vanilla
1-3 t sweetener (maple syrup is perfect)

Soak the almonds in water for 2 hours or more. Use blender to make "milk", then strain thru cheesecloth. Add vanilla and sweetener. Store in refrigerator. Save nut meat for baking (either in frig as is, or dry it in oven or dehydrator).

Benner Snack Mix (named after the family who taught us this recipe)
1-2 c almonds, pecans, or cashews
1 box "Life" cereal or other squares, such as those made of rice, oats
optional: pretzels, dried fruit
1/2 c butter or margerine
1/2 c honey

Melt butter and honey, then slowly pour over mix while a helper tosses all the ingredients together. Spread onto baking sheet, and bake at 325 until lightly browned, stirring occasionally.
Let cool on wax paper -- spread it out so it won't clump. Store in a tupperware or large ziploc bags.

This is rich, but a favorite treat to nibble on during long drives or hikes..

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Green dinner

Don't you just LOVE all the fresh green produce in summer? Between the garden and the farmer's market, we've been eating rather GREEN!

Somehow, I did not appreciate veggies when I was young (Fancy that -- bet you've never heard of kids like that!) .
Tonight, right before dinner, Youngest reminded me why with her questions when the kids were helping prepare green beans to go with the rather green meal of Potatoes with German "Frankfurter Gruene Sosse" (see post for recipes of this delicious green sauce made of blended herbs and greens).

"Mommy, you're not going to cook those green beans like the lunch lady does at school? They're like, really bendy!"

Involve the kids in as much of the food prep as they're willing, and, for goodness sake, don't overcook the veggies!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Thai Curry Soup w/ Bok Choy & Salmon

I've got a ton of Bok Choy in the garden, needing to be harvested, and the price of Wild Alaskan salmon is dropping... so I needed a vehicle for these 2 delicious ingredients!

I bought a whole Sockeye salmon today, filleted it (which does not look anything as nice as the picture -- it's more like butchering when I do it...), and processed all the left-over bits of meat into bite-sized chunks for soup. The carcass of the fish was processed into stock (click here for recipe), and now it's time for one of my favorite recipes:

Thai Curry Soup with Bok Choy & Salmon
(Recipe from my dear Colorado friend Pam)
2 cans coconut milk
2-3 T Thai curry paste
1.5 c fish stock
3 T fish sauce
2 T sugar
3 lemongrass (I cheated and used a prepared paste)
3 lime leaves
1/2 t turmeric
2 # pumpkin or butternut squash (I used summer squash), cubed
1 # salmon, cut into chunks
1 # shrimp, peeled
Bok Choy, tons, chopped
juice of 1 lime
Cilantro, for garnish
Basmati rice, cooked separately
Whisk curry paste into coconut milk. Add all the ingredients up to squash -- cook until tender. Add seafood & bok choy, and heat until seafood is cooked (this will not take long at all -- don't overcook the fish. Add lime juice & cilantro just before serving. Put some rice in a bowl, then ladle soup over it.

ADDENDUM: This was a BIG hit with the family (except youngest, who found it a little too "spicy") -- I hadn't served it in over a year. I forgot what a gorgeous color this soup makes -- I wish I had taken a picture to show you the yellow-greenish broth, with dark greens and pinks floating around in it: very attractive.

Pasta galore

To me, cooking pasta for dinner feels nearly like cheating, because it's sooooo easy!

Boil water, dump in the noodles, boil 10 minutes, drain, toss with something, VOILA!
The something could be as simple as olive oil and parmesan, or you can get fancier. I like adding lots of veggies, and one of the following sauces: pesto/tomato sauce/ heavy cream/ goat cheese.
This weekend we had guests, and I made Ziti with goat cheese, broccoli, sunchokes, topped with black olives and pine nuts. Ymmm.

Another favorite is to make a Ziti casserole -- similar idea as lasagna, but much quicker to assemble. This is one of my family's favorite dishes -- if I'm going to have a busy afternoon, I prepare it ahead of time and bake right before dinner.)

Baked Ziti
inspired by the Sopranos!

Ziti, al dente, tossed with olive oil
Tomato sauce (your own or 1 jar spaghetti sauce)
ricotta cheese (1 container)
veggies (just about any: zuccini, mushrooms, broccoli, spinach, etc)
meat optional (meatballs, Italian sausage, pepperoni)
extra garlic, if desired
mozzarella cheese, grated

Mix it all up (I put about 1/2 of mozza on top). Bake at 350 for about 1/2 hr, until cheese on top is bubbling...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Garlic & olive oil is all you need

To some people, garlic is a spice -- to others, it's a vegetable!

We like garlic around here, and I buy it in huge quantities (yes, at Costco) . When I cook with garlic, my guys say "It smells so GOOD, mom!" -- so I must be doing something right.

Here's my recipe for a very simple Aoli (garlic dressing or garlic-infused olive oil for dipping) -- spread it on bread, pizza, it's even good over plain rice.

1 c extra-virgin olive oil
lots of garlic (roasted -- I bake big batches in the oven * see below)
sundried tomatoes (presoaked, or in oil) -optional
salt to taste

Use a blender or Cuisinard to blend it into a paste.
Optional: start with blending a raw egg, slowly adding (drizzling) olive oil to make it more of a dressing. The simpler (non-egg) version will separate into oil and veggies...

asted Garlic
Cover peeled garlic cloves with a light olive oil (one that can handle the heat) and roast in oven until garlic is soft -- store garlic in jar w/ some oil to keep covered -- this will keep for a long time in the frig. You can pour the rest of the oil into a separate bottle to keep by the stove for when you want a little garlic flavor without the bother of chopping any...

Garlic-infused Olive Oil
Same idea as above, but can do this in small batches on stove top if desired. Just cut or mince the garlic, cover with light olive oil. Heat until you can smell the garlic. Strain.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Italians know how to eat!

Along with most Americans, our family enjoys Italian fare: the standard pasta appeals to everybody, but there's so much more!

One of my summer favorites is this simple salad of
Fresh mozarella cheese and vine-ripened tomatoes.
It's sooooo simple:

Slice the tomatoes and fresh cheese and arrange of plate. Dribble with extra-virgin olive oil, then add fresh basil leaves. Sprinkle with freshly-ground pepper and salt.

ADDENDUM: My kids are skeptical about tomatoes (I don't blame them, as we get our share of bland pink bullets here).. so when I served this tonight, insisting they try at least one bite, Youngest commented "Hmmmm, these are not bad -- tomatoes sure have improved a lot!"

Menu for 2nd week of June

Sunday: grilled skirt steak, Quinoa salad (*), green salad
Monday: grilled halibut, brown rice, mess of greens (sauteed kale, mustard & spinach), corn-on-the-cob.
Tuesday: Baked Ziti, sauteed zuccini, tomato & mozarella salad w/ fresh basil
Wed: Eat out
Thurs: Mexican: burritos w/ lots of fixin's
Fri: Ziti with goatcheese, broccoli, artichokes and pine nuts, big salad, bread & aoli (*)
Sat: Lentil Soup, grilled skirt steak, roasted potatoes, salad
Sun: leftovers

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Raised bed garden pictures

Finally, got the camera downloaded, and here's some pictures of our new vegetable beds.

We started building them mid-May: here's youngest daughter, dramatically watering her very own vegetable box: hers is the one with the bamboo tipi for the peas to climb. Notice the plastic behind the second box -- we still had fairly cold nights in May, and I tucked them in every night until right before Memorial Day.
As you can see, we naively starting the project with store-bought soil -- but we quickly realized how expensive that would get, and found other sources of topsoil and manure (see post Gardening with animal excrements).

Now forward 3 weeks, and you can see how much the veggies have grown. I've already harvested the outer leaves of the Bok Choi!

Next, here are my potatoes, enjoying a lovely to-dressing of horse manure.

And lastly, take a look at our attempt to keep the moose out of the brassica family (cabbages, kale, etc) -- Moose are very fond of raiding cabbage patches (typically the night before the harvest), so we're hoping this set-up (frame with removable mesh on top) will at least keep honest moose out of mischief -- although I fear that a determined moose will be able to "dine" if they tried hard enough. I hear moose are deterred by soap, so I might attach some bars of soap to the front of the box.
Wish us luck!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Rhubarb Pie, at last!

People either love or hate rhubarb!
Our family falls into the love rhubarb category, and the minions anxiously await the first harvest of this tart vegetable (not a fruit at all, being a stalk!)

We consumed our first rhubarb pie Sunday night. My rhubarb patch went from barely a leaf to harvestable in something like 3 weeks -- I need to download pictures from the camera for proof -- but it just amazes me every year how quickly spring progresses here in Alaska!

On to the recipe, which is from Paula Peck's The Art of Fine Baking, which has a strong European influence.

Rhubarb Tart
rich tart pastry (recipe below)
1 egg beaten w/ 1 T milk for eggwash
2 T cinnamon sugar
1 c ground walnuts, hazelnuts or pecans
3 T flour
1 c sugar
3-4 c diced rhubarb
1/2 c glaze (currant or other jam, thinned with cognac or other liquor or water)-optional.

Line 9 inch pie shell with pastry, saving trimmings for lattice crust. Chill or freeze for 1 hr.
Prepare rhubarb filling: mix with flour and sugar.
Prepare lattice crust: roll out and cut into strips, brush w/ eggwash and sprinkle w/ cinnamon sugar.
Assembly: press ground nuts into bottom of pastry shell, fill with rhubarb mix, then make lattice crust on top.
Place tart on lowest rack of preheated oven (350F) and bake 1 hr and 15 minutes (use a crust protector ring if you have it). If necessary, raise tart to higher level (removing crust protector) during last 15 minutes for browning.
While tart is still hot, brush currant glace over rhubarb filling where it shows thru lattice.

Rich Pastry Tart
2 c sifted flour
3 T sugar
3/4 c butter
1/2 t salt
2 t grated lemon rind
3 hard-boiled egg yolks, mashed
2 raw egg yolks

this is the original recipe given, but I increased it as follows to use with bigger pieshell and have plenty for the lattice:

3 c flour
1/4 c sugar
1 c butter
3 hard-boiled egg yolks
1 egg + cold water, as needed

Instead of mixing it all by hand as instructed, I use my Cuisinard, processing butter and hard egg yolks until crumbly before adding liquids.
Then I roll it out between 2 sheets of wax paper and refrigerate until needed. OK to make several days ahead (wrap tightly to prevent drying out). This tart pastry can also be pre-baked for custard pies, etc.