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.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ethiopian dinner

The final meal of African week featured Ethiopia: what a rich cuisine!
I wish we could take our children to an Ethiopian restaurant, but alas,
there are none in Alaska!
Instead, I made a pathetic attempt at cooking us an Ethiopian meal --
I admit that I cheated and did not actually make my own spiced butter and
Berbere sauce! But still, son judged it the best meal of Africa week. Meanwhile,
hubby felt it could have been spicier (do I hear an echo somewhere?)...
All recipes are from

Ethiopian Lamb with Cardamon

3 Cups Thinly Sliced Onions
1/2 Cup Spiced Butter -- * See Note
2 Lbs Lean Lamb -- Cut In 3/4″ Cubes
1/4 Cup Berbere Sauce -- * See Note
1/4 Tsp Ground Cumin
1 Tsp Freshly Ground Cardamon Seeds
1 Tsp Grated Fresh Ginger
2 Cloves Garlic -- Crushed
1/2 Tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1/2 Cup Dry Red Wine
1 Cup Water
Salt To Taste

Heat a large frying pan and saute the onion in 1 tbs of the butter,
covered, until very tender. Use low heat so that the onion and butter are
not browned. Remove from the pan and set aside. Heat the pan again and
brown the lamb over high heat with another tbsp of the butter. Set meat
aside. Place the sauteed onions along with the remaining butter in a
heavy 6 quart saucepan. add the Berbere sauce, cumin, cardamon, ginger,
garlic, black pepper and wine. Bring to a simmer and add the lamb. Bring
to a simmer again and add the water. Cook, covered, until the lamb is
very tender, about 50 minutes, stirring several times. If the sauce is
not thick enough, cook uncovered for a few minutes to reduce and thicken.
Add salt to taste prior to serving.

Injera (Ethiopian Flat Bread)

1-3/4 c flour
1/2 c self-rising flour
1/4 c whole wheat Flour
1 pk dry yeast
2-1/2 c warm water
1/2 ts baking soda
1/2 ts salt

Combine the flours and yeast in a ceramic or glass bowl.
Add the warm water and mix into a fairly thin, smooth batter.
Let the mixture sit for three full days at room temperature.
Stir the mixture once a day. It will bubble and rise.
When you are ready to make the injera, add the baking soda and
salt and let the batter sit for 10-15 minutes.

Heat a small, nonstick 9″ skillet.
When a drop of water bounces on the pan's surface, take about 1/3
cup of the batter and pour it in the skillet quickly, all at once.
Swirl the pan so that the entire bottom is evenly coated, then
return to heat.
The injera is cooked only on one side and the bottom should not
When the moisture has evaporated and lots of “eyes” appear on the
surface, remove the injera.
Let each injera cool and then stack them as you go along.
If the first injera is undercooked, try using less of the
mixture, perhaps 1/4 cup, and maybe cook it a bit longer.
Be sure not to overcook it. Injera should be soft and pliable so
that it can be rolled or folded, like a crepe.

Here's another version, without yeast, which uses Club Soda!
INJERA (flat bread)
4 c self rising flour
1 c whole wheat flour
1 ts baking powder
2 c club soda
Serves 6-8

Spiced Collard Greens with Cheese
2 Cloves Garlic -- Chopped
1/4 Cup Spiced Butter -- * See Note
1/4 Tsp Freshly Ground Cardamon Seeds
Salt And Freshly Ground Pepper -- To Taste
1 Lb Dry Curd Cottage Cheese -- Or Farmer's Cheese
2 Lb Collard Greens, Stems Discarded -- Leaves Chopped
1/2 Cup Water
1/2 Tsp Cayenne
1/2 Tsp Freshly Ground Black Pepper
1 Tsp Crushed Garlic
1/4 Cup Spiced Butter -- * See Note
3 Tbsp Coarsely Chopped Yellow Onion
salt to taste

Cheese: saute the garlic in the spiced butter for a few minutes. Add the
cardamon, salt and pepper. Remove from the burner and allow to cool.
Stir this mixture into the cheese.

Greens: cook the collard greens covered in a 4 quart saucepan along with
about 1/2 cup water. Add the cayenne, black pepper, garlic, spiced
butter and chopped onion. Cook covered until the greens collapse. All
the greens to cool a bit and salt to taste.

To serve: Drain the greens a bit and place on a platter or on Injera
bread (recipe included in this set). Spoon the cheese over the greens and
serve. Alternate: mix the greens and cheese together before placing on
the platter or bread. Either way is delicious.

Niter Kebbeh (Spiced Clarified Butter)

1 lb Unsalted butter
1/4 c Chopped onions
2 Cloves garlic, pressed
2 ts Fresh gingerroot, grated
1/2 ts Turmeric
4 Cardamom seeds, crushed
1 Cinnamon stick
2 Cloves
1/8 ts Nutmeg
1/4 ts Ground fenugreek seeds
1 tb Fresh basil
- or 1 teaspoon dried basil

In a small saucepan, gradually melt the butter and bring it to
bubbling. When the top is covered with foam, add the other
ingredients and reduce the heat to a simmer. Gently simmer,
uncovered, on low heat. After about 45 to 60 minutes, when the
surface becomes transparent and the milk solids are on the bottom,
pour the liquid through a cheesecloth into a heat resistant
container. Discard the spices and solids.

Covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator, Niter Kebbeh will
keep for up to 2 months.

Berbere Sauc
2 Tsp Cumin Seed
4 Whole Cloves
1/2 Tsp Cardamon Seeds
1/2 Tsp Black Peppercorns
1/4 Tsp Whole Allspice
1 Tsp Whole Fenugreek Seeds
1/2 Cup Dried Onion Flakes
3 Oz Red New Mexican Chiles -- Stemmed And Seeded
3 Small Dried Long Hot Red Chiles -- Seeded
1/2 Tsp Ground Ginger
1/2 Tsp Freshly Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Tsp Ground Turmeric
1 Tsp Garlic Powder
2 Tsp Salt
1/2 Cup Salad Or Peanut Oil
1/2 Cup Dry Red Wine
Cayenne to taste

Yield: 1 1/4 cups

Mix together the cumin, cloves, cardamon, black peppercorns, allspice and
fenugreek seeds. Place in a small frying pan over medium heat. Stir
constantly until they release their fragrance, about 1-2 minutes. Do not
burn or discolor the seeds. Cool completely.

Combine the toasted spices and all the other ingredients except the oil
and wine in a spice grinder or electric coffee grinder in several batches
(I use the coffee grinder) and grind to fine consistency. Place the
spice blend in a bowl and add the oil and wine. Add cayenne to taste
(Jeff starts with 1 tsp and adds more as necessary). Stir until thick and
store in a covered plastic container in the refrigerator.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Today, I got home mid-afternoon and cooked us up a big pot of lentils. Legumes such as lentils feature heavily in recipes from around the world -- they're also featured in many vegetarian & vegan meals because they contain some good proteins. When I searched the web for lentil recipes, I was "bowled over" with the sheer number of ways to prepare them. Unfortunately, in my opinion, many of them are rather bland. I keep trying to find interesting lentil recipes -- and I think I might have found a few.
I made 3 different recipes from the pot I boiled up. The first one, a spread or dip, will be served as part of hors d'oevres at a dinner party tomorrow. The second, an Egyptian version of Mac'n cheese, was actually accepted pretty well by the youngsters, and the last, a soup was "ok".
I list one more lentil soup recipe that I found intriguing for its use of lemon juice and greens.
Credit: All recipes from

Family response:
Liesl: "I love lentils -- we should eat them more often!"
Wolfman: "It's ok"
Professor: "Lentils need all the help they can get", as he added a generous quantity of Sri Ratcha chili sauce!

Adas careh (Lentil Butter)

Recipe from Vegetarian Times, March 1992, supposedly based on an African recipe
 1       c            Uncooked lentils
1/2 ts Salt
2 1/4 c Water
1 tb Olive oil
6 ea Green onions, sliced
1 sm Garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tb Parsley
1 d Cayenne
1 d Turmeric
1/4 c Water, as needed

Combine water, lentils, salt in a pot. Cook till
lentils are soft. Drain, reserve stock.

Heat oil in skillet & saute onions & garlic till
onions are translucent. Add parsley & spices & cook
another minute. Set aside.

Combine lentils, cooking water & onion mixture in a
food processor, adding more water a tb at a time as
needed till the mixture reaches a spreadable

Refrigerate a few hours before serving. Spread on
whole grain crackers or use as a vegetable dip.

Koushari (Egyptian Maccaroni et al.)
This is classed as an 'oil' dish by Coptic Egyptians and is prepared during periods
of fasting when animal products cannot be taken.

1c lentils
1c macaroni noodles
1c Short grain rice
----TA'LEYA II----- The sauce:
2 large Onions, chopped
1/4 c Olive oil
1 Garlic clove (or more)-- finely chopped
1c tomato puree

Cook each of first 3 ingredients separately, then combine w/ olive oil, tomato puree.
Saute onions in oil, add garlic briefly, then tomato puree. When heated, pour sauce
over the first 3 ingredients.Cover and leave over low heat for 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Amhari - Mesir Wat (Ethiopian Lentil Bowl)

This recipe is common to the Ethiopian Jews (Phalashi)
1/2 kilogram red lentils
2 large onions
1/2 cup oil
3 Tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 Teaspoon paprika -- sweet or hot
1 head garlic
1/2 Teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 Teaspoon black pepper
1 Teaspoon salt
3 cups water

Sort the lentils and soak in tap water for 30 minutes. Rinse in running
water and drain.

Peel and finely chop the onions. peel and mash the garlic.Heat the oil in
large pan and saute the onion until golden. Add tomato paste and paprika
and mix. Add half the water and the garlic,ginger pepper and salt. Stir
well and then add the rest of the water, stir again ,cover and bring to

When the water boil, add the lentils ,lower the flame and cook 20-30
minutes, until the lentils soften. Serve hot.

Lentil & Spinach Soup

1 1/2 c Dried lentils
8 c Water
1 lg Onion; chopped
3 Garlic cloves; crushed
6 oz Tomato paste
2 bn Spinach; cleaned & chopped
1/2 c Fresh parsley
1/4 ts Freshly ground pepper
1/8 ts Crushed red hot pepper flake
1/4 c Fresh lemon juice

This is a Middle Eastern soup, typical of the simple
foods served in the desert regions. Serve with pita
bread and a grain or vegetable dish for a simple meal.
This soup is also food served cold, stuffed into a
pita bread. Place the lentils and water in a large
pot. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook for 30 minutes
over medium low heat. Add the onion , tomato paste and
garlic and cook an additional 30 minutes. Add the
spinach, parsley, and peppers. Mix well and cook for
another 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice just before
serving. Mix in well and serve at once. I added a bit
of fresh ground nutmeg & salt to taste. Note: I have
found that balsamic vinegar in place of lemon juice is
wonderful with lentils and imparts a slightly sweet

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cooking my way across Africa...

Today we criss-crossed Africa, culinarily speaking.
Senegalese Chicken Yassa
1/4 c fresh lemon juice
4 onions -- thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper -- to taste
1/8 teaspoon fresh habanero* -- minced
1 habaner
o* pricked with a fork
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 chicken (2 1/2-3 1/2 lbs) -- cut in serving pieces
1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed olives

4 carrots, scraped and -- thinly sliced
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard

*or other hot chile pepper, to taste
In a large nonreactive bowl, prepare a marinade with the
lemon juice, onions, salt, pepper, the 1/8 teaspoon
minced chili and 1/4 cup of the peanut oil. Place the
chicken pieces in the marinade, making sure they are all
well covered, and allow them to marinate for at least 2
hours in the refrigerator.

Preheat the broiler. Remove the chicken pieces, reserving
the marinade, and place them in a shallow roasting pan.
Broil them until they
are lightly browned on both sides.
Remove the onions from the marinade. Cook them slowly in
the remaining 1 tables poon oil in a flameproof 3-quart
casserole or dutch oven until tender and translucent. Add
the remaining marinade and heat through.

When the liquid is thoroughly heated, add the broiled
chicken pieces, the pricked chili, the olives, carrots,
mustard and 1/2 cup water. Stir to mix well, then bring
the yassa slowly to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for
about 20 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.
Serve ho
t over white rice.

Next, Couscous.
There are literally thousands of couscous recipes out there! What is it?
"a wonderful, versatile pasta, made of tiny grains of dough that are
steamed. It hails from Morocco and northern Algeria, and is a staple
throughout North Africa. It can be served as a breakfast cereal,
dressed as a salad, and
sweetened for a dessert. But in it's most
common use, it accompanies a stew or savory sauce, much as rice does in
other cultures. Most couscous is made of wheat flour, but there are
varieties made of barley, corn, and even ground acorn meal."

(quoted from

Orange-flavored couscous w/ pecans
1 c Coarsely chopped pecans, lightly toasted
1 Onion; chopped
2 c Orange juice
3 Cinnamon sticks
5 Cloves, whole
1 pn Turmeric
1 pn Ground red pepper
1/4 ts Salt
2 c Couscous
1/2 c Raisins (more if desired)

Malawi-style Green Beans
from Marlena Spieler's Hot&Spicy
1 T oil
1 onion, chopped
5 small hot chilis, chopped
1/2 t curry powder
1 # green beans
1 c tomato sauce
1/2 c peanut butter

Saute first 4 ingredients,
then cover with Tomato sauce until beans are tender.
Stir in PB and salt to taste.

CRITIQUE of my cooking of this meal:
I marinated the chicken this morning before work, then BBQ'd it for dinner.
Although I feared
it would be way too tart, it turned out surprisingly good.
Everybody chewed happily on the bones!

The couscous was a success: mild, slightly sweet from the fruit, and bright orange!
The beans ended up overcooked, and the sauce was too overpowering -- a smaller
quantity of sauce
would have been plenty -- but the surprising combination of
peanut butter, tomatoes and spices did work.

Altogether, a successful meal.
For my sanity's sake, I need to note that this was a tad too ambitious after a full
day at work -- not that anything was particularly difficult,
but I found myself rushed:
constantly checking my laptop (scrolling around inefficiently), searching for spices
in the cupboard,
and trying to find counter space in a less-than-uncluttered kitchen!..

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Never let your meat loaf...

I just made a surprisingly delicious meatloaf today, a recipe from South Africa.

Meatloaf & mashed potatoes brings memories from childhood for many -- it's the ultimate comfort or "womb" food, but sometimes meatloaves are so bland that they have gotten a bad rap! When done well, they can be very rewarding -- who knows how many a spouse was won with superior meatloaf-baking skills?!?

THE MEAT: it needs to be fatty enough -- in fact, I've seen recipes that call for adding bacon grease! I like to use a combination of meats. Sometimes I use both ground beef (on the lean side) plus 1/3 ground pork or even pork sausage in Cajun recipes (pork is less lean, but adds great flavor).
Today I used 1 pound lean organic beef and 1/3 lean ground turkey, but I also added some extra virgin olive oil, because when the meat is too lean, the meatloaf suffers -- I figure healthy olive oil beats bad animal cholesterol any day.

THE CARBS: Next, most recipes call for some sort of bread or else potatoes. Some call for bread crumbs or saltine crackers, others have you soak bread slices in milk. Potatoes can be added in the form of freshly grated raw potatoes, or even instant mashed potato flakes. The idea is to add something to lighten up the heaviness of the meat, and also serve as a repository for the juices and fats!

THE LIQUIDS: Most recipes also call for milk and/or egg -again, that lightens the loaf to keep it from being a meat brick! Many call for tomato juice or ketchup, others for broth, some for wine or beer...

THE VEGGIES: Besides onions, there's a lot you can add: celery, carrots, spinach -- go for it: hide away lots of goodies (what they don't see won't bother them)!
THE SPICES: Here comes the fun part! Salt & pepper, of course, but also Worcester sauce, Tabasco or other chili sauces, etc. Take a look at some of the unusual ingredients in the recipes below!

Today I made Bobotie, a meat loaf recipe from South Africa, and the family actually like it!
I was worried a little, since it's full of unusual ingredients, such as raisins (Son: "Mom, I'm not sure raisins belong in meat loaf?") --but everybody agreed it was a great recipe -- maybe next time I'll chop the raisins into smaller pieces...

Before I give you the recipe, here's what Wikipedia has to say about it's origins:
  • Bobotie is a South African dish consisting of spiced minced meat baked with an egg-based topping. The recipe probably originates from the Dutch East India Company colonies in Batavia, with the name derived from the Indonesian Bobotok. It is also made with curry powder leaving it with a slight "tang". It is often served with Sambal.

    It is a dish of some antiquity: it has certainly been known in the Cape of Good Hope since the 17th century, when it was made with a mixture of mutton and pork. Today it is much more likely to be made with beef or lamb, although pork lends the dish extra moistness. Early recipes incorporated ginger, marjoram and lemon rind; the introduction of curry powder has simplified the recipe somewhat but the basic concept remains the same. Some recipes also call for chopped onions to be added to the mixture. Traditionally, bobotie incorporates dried fruit like raisins or sultanas, but the sweetness that they lend is not to everybody's taste. It is often garnished with walnuts, chutney and bananas.

    Although not particularly spicy, the dish incorporates a variety of flavours that can add complexity. For example, the dried fruit (usually apricots and raisins/sultanas) contrasts the curry flavouring very nicely. The texture of the dish is also complex, with the baked egg mixture topping complementing the milk-soaked bread which adds moisture to the dish.

South-African Bobotie (Meatloaf w/ curry and dried fruit)
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, minced
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef
  • 2 slices thick-sliced bread, soaked in milk
  • 1/2 cup raisins, dates, or dried apricots
  • 1 teaspoon apricot jam
  • 1 tablespoon hot chutney
  • 1/2 tablespoon curry powder
  • 1/2-1 tablespoon chilisauce (such as Sri Ratcha)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Topping: 1 large egg
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 bay leaf
Squeeze milk from soaked bread and set aside. Mix all ingredients on list before egg.
Saute onions, mix all ingredients, and bake for 1 hr in loaf pan. Pour off juices & set aside (I defat it and later used it for gravy).
Topping: mix reserved milk, egg, salt and pour over loaf w/ bay leaf. Bake another 25 min.
NOTE: this did not work out well for me in the loaf pan because the meat had shrunk! Instead I ended up with more of the milk custard on the side than on top ... Although this custard is part of the authentic recipe, I feel the meatloaf would do just fine without it:)

Here's another version of bobotie (from
3 tbsp. butter or margarine
1 1/2 c. chopped onion
2 c. fresh bread crumbs
1/2 c. milk
3 lbs. chuck beef, ground 3 times
1 egg
1 to 2 tbsp. curry powder
2 tsp. salt
2 tbsp. plum jam
2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 c. ground blanched almonds
3 bay leaves
2 lemons, sliced
Lemon leaves
2 pimento strips

Start heating oven to 350 degrees. In a small skillet, melt
butter; add onion and saute until golden. Soak bread crumbs in
milk. Thoroughly combine chuck, egg, onion, curry powder, salt,
plum jam, lemon juice and almonds. Also bread crumb mixture. In
the bottom of a ungreased 10 inch pie plate or round baking dish,
lay bay leaves. On top, arrange the meat mixture, patting it with a
fork. Leave about an inch between mixture and edge of dish or
plate. Bake 1 hour; then drain off any excess liquid. Serve with
lemon slices and leaves arrange as a border around the edge of the
meat: lemon slices touching with leaves placed under slices where
they meet. Take a lemon slice, cut half way, twist it and place on
top with pimento strips running under the twist of the lemon. Serve
in wedges.
Next, let's look what they do in Greece (from
Greek Meatloaf
  1 lb Ground beef chuck
1 lb Ground lamb
2 lg Eggs
1 c Fresh bread crumbs
2 Bunches green onions, minced
4 oz Feta cheese, finely crumbled
1/4 c Minced fresh parsley
1 T Dried mint leaves
2 T Olive oil
1 T Red wine vinegar
2 Garlic cloves, minced
1/2 t Salt
1/4 t Ground black pepper

The following will seem boring after all that...

Last, but not least, here's how Germans make meatloaf:
Falscher Hase (literally "Mock Hare")
1 lb ground beef
1/2 lb each ground pork and veal
2 rolls soaked in milk, excess squeezed out
1 onion, finely chopped
fresh parsley, minced
2 T butter
1 egg
grated rind of 1/2 lemon
salt, pepper
optional spices: basil, nutmeg or ginger
Instead, some german cooks use anchovy paste or ground herring here!
another option: 1 hardboiled egg
flour for dusting meatloaf
3 T butter, lard or bacon grease
approx 1 c water or broth
slice of rye bread
sliced onions and carrots
1/2 c cream
2 t cornstarch dissolved in water

Saute onions in 2 T butter. Mix all ingredients up to spices. Shape loaf and dust with flour. Optionally, place a hardboiled egg in the middle -- looks cool when meatloaf is served!

Heat fat in stew pot or small Dutch oven (mine is cast iron, can go into oven). When hot, gently add meat loaf and brown on all sides, which takes about 8-10 minutes. Add the sliced veggies around the loaf, add enough water to cover the bottom. Cover and bring to boil, then reduce heat & simmer for 1 hr on stove top (alternatively, place in oven). Baste the meat loaf with the pan juices from time to time, adding more water as needed.
After 1 hr, spoon cream over loaf and braise for another 20-30min. If desired, brown it in the oven, uncovered.
Remove meatloaf, and collect pan juices. Defat them, add water if needed, season with salt & pepper, and heat it back up. Bind sauce with cornstarch, and add more cream if desired (but don't bring to a boil!)

NOT JUST MEATLOAVES: I actually enhance hamburgers for the grill by mixing in bread, and adding onions & spices. In fact, Kofta Kebobs, which are Middle Eastern meat patties, have a similar list of ingredients. Here's a link to my post on Kofta Kebobs.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Menu for last week of August (Africa Week)

This week was shaping up to be a doozy with lots of running around, so I did some cooking ahead on the weekend (the Harira lend intself well for that). Also, several meals needed to be at least partially prepped before I left for work in the morning -- something that really helps make my afternoons less crazy.
Farmer's Market is full of zuccinis, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes.
My garden is producing as well, although weak on the squash front.

Mon: Harira (*), Marooccan-style pizza w/ goat cheese, olives, tomato, green salad
Tues: South-African Bobotie(*), mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, salad.
Wed: African Peanut Soup w/Fufu(*) or Biscuits
Thurs: Chicken Yassa(*), Malawi-style green beans(*), couscous(*)
Fri: Lentil soup, Koushari (*), falafel, salad w/cucumber, tomato and feta
Sat: invited to dinner
Sun: Ethiopian Lamb, vegetables w/ spicy butter, Injera

Saturday, August 22, 2009


I've been having a "hankering" to try out recipes from different parts of the world, and for this next week I picked Africa -- that's a cuisine I'm not very familiar with (I've probably never really cooked a real African recipe, besides my daughter's wonderful African Peanut Soup).

Where to start -- the web, of course! I found this website, with lots of International recipes, very well organized -- can be searched by region, type of dish, and individual search words.

I do love Ethiopian food, but there are no restaurants in Alaska (what a shame!). But maybe I can learn how to cook it!?!? I found lots of recipes, including how to make Injera, the soft flatbread which is used instead of utensils to scoop up the food, as well as many tasty dishes, such as this Ethiopian Lamb recipe, simmered with lots of onions and spices. I'm excited to try these later this week.

Another book that has some great African recipes is Marlena Spieler's Hot and Spicy -- which is one of my favorite cookbooks on my shelf.

Here's my first dish this week: a Moroccan Stew from Hot & Spicy (p.92). It's a Lamb stew with legumes and vegetables that lends itself well for making ahead (could make in crockpot). In fact, it is eaten at sundown during the fasting month of Ramadan, which is going on right now.

(Moroccan Lamb Stew)
saute in olive oil for 5 minutes, until lamb is well cooked:
lamb stew meat, cubed
1 onion, chopped
garlic, chopped
celery, chopped, with leaves

1 can diced tomatoes
1 t turmeric
1 t cumin (or more)
1/2 t ground ginger (I like to substitute fresh)
1/2 t cinnamon
1/4 t cardamon
water or stock to cover

Let simmer for 1-2 hrs (or longer in crockpot)
Then add:
1 can chickpeas
1/4-1/2 c lentils
Cook for 40 min or until lentils cooked.

Before serving, add fresh chopped parsley, and very thin pasta.
In a separate bowl, beat 2 eggs w/ lemon juice from 2 lemons, and stir into hot soup for one minute immediately before serving. Optionally, also stir in some salsa or "Harissa", a maroccon spiced red chile paste.

But for a more realistic look/taste of what many Africans subsist on, I
want to try making fufu sometime later this week-- I'll keep you posted and how this
turns out! If you want to learn more about Fufu, check out this Wikipedia entry.

The following is a version from

Conventional West African fufu is made by boiling such starchy foods as
cassava, yam, plantain or rice, then pounding them into a glutinous mass,
usually in a giant, wooden mortar and pestle. This adaptation for North
Americans may trouble you if you try to stick to minimally processed foods. But
it's worth trying at least once with West African groundnut stews.

2 1/2 cups Bisquick
2 1/2 cups instant potato flakes

1. Bring 1 1/3 l of water to a rapid boil in a large, heavy pot. Combine the
two ingredients and add to the water.

2. Stir constantly for 10-15 minutes - a process that needs two people for
best results: one to hold the pot while the other stirs vigorously with a strong
implement (such as a thick wooden spoon). The mixture will become very thick
and difficult to stir, but unless you are both vigilant and energetic, you'll get a
lumpy mess.

West African FUFU made from yams

  • White yams -- 2 pounds
  • Butter -- 2 tablespoons
  • Salt and pepper -- to taste
Place the unpeeled yams in a large pot, cover with cold water and bring to a boil
over medium-high heat. Boil for 15-30 minutes, or until the yams are cooked through
and tender. Drain and let cool somewhat.

Peel the yams, chop them into large pieces and place them into a large bowl with the
butter, salt and pepper. Mash with a potato masher until very smooth. Alternatively,
put the yams through a potato ricer and then mix with the butter, salt and pepper.
Place the fufu into a large serving bowl. Wet your hands with water,
form into a large ball and serve.

Picture credit:

Sunday, August 16, 2009

What if...

What if I cooked a different international theme every week for a year?
Sort-of like one of those haute cuisine restaurants that does not have a menu, but instead offers a unique menu every week -- shall I call it "Cuisine du Monde Chez la Mademoiselle Naturelle" (Naturelady's Eat-around-the-World Project)?
I'd cook with seasonal ingredients, but cook my way thru cuisines from all over the world, maybe taking my cue from cultural holidays or events.

Hey, I could really get into this! When I ran this by my husband, I explained it like this: "How about Cajun during Mardi Gras, German for Oktoberfest, Jewish during Rosh Hashana, Chilean during Dieciocho (Independence Day)..." He liked the idea, but thought it ought to be Cajun week once a month! I certainly could try to make sure there's something hot & spicy in there every month.

Would I run out of world cuisines?
Eventually, then it's time to give it another"spin around the world"...

Before I get too carried away, I shall state right here that I won't drive myself crazy with this (see my last post!) Here's a list some sanity-preserving "restrictions":
1.) I insist on occasional holidays or "Betriebsferien";
2.) At least once a week we'll have left-overs, or someone else cooks besides MOM!
3.) Input is valued, but NO COMPLAINING! The point of this is to learn about new foods, so everybody needs to keep an open mind and try at least a few bites...

Last but not least, this is about making us more aware of how the rest of the world eats -- and that not always feast food. In fact, there is a a lot of plain old "rice & beans" type food that people survive on.... and that too is part of the international eating experience. So here comes Fufu, hominy and, of course, lots of rice!

Here is what it might look like:

Aug 16-22 Africa: Ethiopia, Marocco, etc
Aug 23-29 Mediterranean
Aug 30-Sep 5 Carribean Islands
Sep 6-12 Jewish week: Latkes, Borscht, etc.
Sep 13-19 South American, esp. Viva Chile
Sep 20-26 Himalayas (India, Nepal, Tibet)
Sep 27-Oct 3 Down Under (Australia/New Zealand)
Oct 4- 10 German
Oct 11-17 Hungarian/Rumanian & Gypsy
Oct 18-24 Indochina
Oct 25-31 Irish/Scottish/English
Nov 1-7 Mexican
Nov 8-14 Polish/ Baltic
Nov 15-21 Middle East
Nov 22-28 Native American
Nov 29-Dec 5 Russian
Dec 6-12 Dutch
Dec 13-19 Scandinavian
Dec 20-26 Swedish-German-American
Dec 27-Jan 2 Black America/ Cajun

...Call me crazy?... YES, decidedly so...

I need a "Project" like I need a hole in the head...

I just finished reading the book Julie & Julia, and am looking forward to seeing the movie soon with Eldest, my daughter known in blogland as "Kitchensister" -- she's a great cook and I'm sure we'll enjoy seeing what probably is best described as a chick-flick food movie (at least that's what I tell my hubby as to why I need to see this movie with Eldest instead of him!).
For those of you not familiar with the movie(click for trailer here), here's the essence:
29 year old NY secretary, Julie Powell, feels a need for a project, and takes on cooking all 500+ recipes in Julia Child's famous cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" and blogging about it -- setting herself the challenge of doing it all in year's time...

I just finished the book tonight, and I admit it, I enjoyed it -- it's about two women searching for meaning in life (Julia Child also started her cooking career late in life), and the process of embarking on the "Project" helps both woman find joy in their lives.

The natural consequence of my delving into this story is, naturally, a search for my own year-long "Project" and blog about it -- something that will change my life?!?!

Shall I cook my way through all of Paul Prudhommes' Cajun recipes -- that would make my husband VERY happy, and do no good to either of our waistlines? Nix that!

shall I be the perfect "Hausfrau" and actually keep a clean house for a year? Nix that!

shall I cook my way through a different cuisine or cookbook every week? Hey, I like that idea!

shall I pull a Barbara Kingsolver and cook only healthy organic local food for a year? Noble thought, but can't realistically pull that off here in Alaska! Nix that.

shall I spend the winter cataloguing and scapbooking 20-some years worth of family fotos, including an actual digital library that makes sense? Talk about a big job!

shall I make a handknit sweater and/or make a quilt for everybody on my Christmas list? See you in a few years-- I have enough unfinished objects (UFO) in my craft area that I don't need to start any new ones for a good year. Nix that!

shall I forget all about food and crafts and practice yoga until I have the perfect flexible body and find enlightenment too? Too esoteric...

shall I ... you fill in!

Menu for first week of school

Mon: Thai soup w/ shrimp, zuccini & bok choi, baby potatoes w/ "Gruene Sosse" (*), Smoked salmon, green beans
Tues: Pasta in cream sauce w/ Italian sausage & smoked peppers, green salad
Wed: lessons & eat out
Thurs: Grilled salmon, grilled zuccini, rice, salad
Fri: Pasta
Sat: Grilled skirt steak, new potatoes w/ Gruene Sosse, big green salad
Sun: Chili & cornbread

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Menu for mid August

The Farmer's Markets are loaded with local produce, my garden is doing great, and Alaskan salmon harvest is plentiful-- LIFE IS GOOD!

Mon: grilled salmon (olive oil and garlic), garlic roasted potatoes, grilled zuccini & pineapple
Tues: Buffalo flanks and greens (*), brown rice, green salad
Wed: Nino's Italian Restaurant (after cello/violin lessons)
Thurs: Bombay Deluxe Restaurant (friend in town), kids made spaghetti for themselves
Fri: Chinese stirfry w/ chicken, bok choy, pot-stickers
Sat: Kofta Kebobs(*), rice, baba ganoush, yohurt w/herbs, cucumber salad
Sun: Smoked salmon pizza w/ peppers, corn-on-the-cob, raw cukes and snowapples (turnips)

Smokin' fish

If you must smoke, smoke salmon! That's my motto, and I have this T-shirt, designed by artist Ray Troll, that I wear a lot this time of year, because it's fish-smoking time!!!

Silvers are in --at the grocery store -- and the price is tolerable ($3.99/# for whole fish), and they fillet it for you right at the counter for no extra cost. Many Alaskans fill their freezers with their own harvests (see Mountainpulse's posts about fishing on the Russian River, and dip-netting on the Kenai), but those of us not inclined to combat-fishing have to buy fish at the store...
Anyway, with the prices finally coming down, I'm stocking up!

Here's how I smoke my own:
Smoked Salmon fillets

First I brine the fillets in the frig for about 4 hrs in a brine solution (1/2 c each sugar and salt per quart H2O). Then I rinse them, pat dry and let sit for a while (to form a "pellicle").
Place on racks in smoker for 4-6 hrs (I use 2-3 panfuls of Alder chips).
Voila, they're done. Easy as fish-pie!

To store for winter, I vacuum-pack & freeze them. But you can keep them in the frig for weeks.
If you want salmon "jerky" to keep without refrigeration, just smoke them harder (=longer).

Here are some favorite uses for smoked salmon at our house:
on crackers
in pasta
on pizza
in soups or chowders
in souffle
in wraps or sandwiches
in salads...

heck, it tastes great on anything, even cardboard!

BTW, that pyro lady with the crazed look is me, in the backyard -- I love a good bonfire, and the smell of smoke in my clothes & hair. Any excuse...

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Garden Successes & Failures

Before I forget, I want to jot down the successes and failures of this year's garden so far:

Oriental Peas: Liesl started seeds indoors in those soil "plugs", then planted them out after Memorial Day. They did very well! Harvested daily for couple of weeks in July. Ripped out plants at beginning of August to make more room (and give sunshine) to Hubbard squashes and sunflowers.

Tomatoes: doing well in their (the bigger-the better) containers. The first ripe ones will hopefully be ready to eat soon -- they're the grape-sized fruit of the variety "Tumbler". I bought these at the Mile 5.3 Greenhouse, originally because I asked for a variety that I could grow in hanging pots. I won't get these again, however -- fruit too small, growth too messy for growing as standing porch plants.
The other variety I got were Beefsteak tomatoes, and they're looking great -- nice and tall plants that need a cage. Fruit are nice & big, but still green right now. Last year I had good success with a heritage variety I can't remember -- certainly open to experimenting with more varieties.
Is it economical to grow your own tomatoes? Probably not especially, unless you get fairly small (and therefore cheaper) starter plants-- the good-sized hardened-off plants they sell at the Farmer's Market for $20 each just don't produce $20 worth of fruit, in my experience! BUT, to an Alaskan gardener, growing your own tomatoes is a challenge you can't resist...

Potatoes: definite success, and very economical. LOVED planting, caring for and digging them up. So far, I've only harvested a few, but they're prolific and taste GREAT.

Carrots: Always a good one for Alaska -- sweet from the midnight sun!

Spinach: I do love to grow and eat it, but it does often bolt before I get much of a harvest out of the planting. I seeded a second crop in July -- and we'll see if that pans out. Economically ok as the seeds don't cost much.

Lettuce: this year I did not grow any from seed, but used starter plants, and more successful than previous years where I ended up with them bolting before getting any decent lettuce. Definitely worth the cost of the starter plants.

Bok Choy: grown from starter plants, great success!

Beets: grown from seed directly into the garden, and the first seeding (end of May) is doing great, but the later ones are barely growing -- go figure! Next year, try starting indoors.

Celery: grown from starter plants, doing great!

Leeks: grown from starter plants, doing great!

Zuccini: grown from starter plants, but disappointing harvest. It's a weather thing -- they need more sunshine and warmth than Alaska can offer. Next year, plant in a greenhouse/frame or not at all!

Kale: grown from starter plants, doing great! Continuous harvest of outer leaves for 2 months now...

Swiss Chard: same as kale, but since I planted them in containers on the porch, they did not produce as well as if I'd planted them in the raised beds.

Kohlrabi: grown from starter plants. Did well, but they do take up alot of real estate for something only 2 of us eat. Maybe plant these more densely.

Brussel Sprouts: grown from starter plants. They haven't even produced any "Martian Heads" yet -- so the verdict is still out.
Turnips: direct-seeded in garden. Nothing much yet.

Cilantro: direct-seeded in garden in late May, doing great!

Dill: same as cilantro.

Parsley: grown from starter plants, doing great! plant more next year.

Chives: mine overwinters, so keep growing it...

Mint: overwinters, keep from letting it take over the garden by keeping it contained!

Strawberries: this sweet but pale variety came with the house, and been growing and spreading in my garden (and the wilder hillside) for the last 10 years. Keep the runners under control, divide plants that get too big or old, and keep on giving it more real estate -- they are delicious!

Weeds (thanks for the idea, Patty P.): doing well, esp. the chickweed! Also got horsetails, grasses, yarrow, dandelion, plantain, and a few other things I can't i.d. But since I did a decent job of staying on top of the weeding, it's not been too much of a problem. For example, I grew many crops closer than the recommended spacing -- so there was little room for weeds once my potatoes, etc, filled in... Next year, do more mulching, if only I can find good sources of mulch other than my very weedy lawn...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Food rules at your dinner table?

I recently wrote down some of my family-of-origin's food rules, after reading Michael Pollan's request for them on the NYTimes Health page.

I grew up in Germany, near the French border. We often ate cheese & fruit for dessert, and the saying went "Kaese schliesst den Magen", literally translating to "Cheese closes the stomach".
Our main meal was "Mittagessen" or mid-day-meal, and evenings we usually ate "Abendbrot" (evening bread) -- mostly made from whole grains, plus cold-cuts, etc. Wine, beer or herbal tea accompanied that.

The saying at our house was: "Iss morgens wie ein Kaiser, mittags wie ein Koenig, abends wie ein Bettler" (In the morning eat like an emperor, mid-day like a king, and in the evening like a beggar). The idea is to eat heartily earlier in the day, and lightly at the end of the day. Much to my chagrin, my husband's pattern is the exact opposite -- alas!
However, Germans do have a 4th meal in there: there's the traditional mid-afternoon "Kaffeetrinken" that usually involved pastry -- often mom's homebaked Kuchen with lots of fruit, and sometimes even whipped cream. One of my aunts would say this when refusing a second helping; "Minuten auf der Zunge, aber Jahre auf der Huefte", which literally translates: minutes on the tongue, but years on the hip -- in other words, the brief pleasure of eating the second helping was not worth the weight gain.

Do you have any food rules to share?

Photo credit: "American family dinner", Provincetown, MA, 1942 by John Collier, Jr.
NOTE: I found the photo on, a great website about eating sustainably, slow food movement, etc -- I recommend you check it out if you're interested in such things as food policy & culture, the environment, health, agriculture and growing your own food. I did add the link on the sidebar under sites I follow.

Sorrel -- a rather sour green leafy vegetable

This week I found some sorrel, sometimes called spinach dock (German "Sauerampfer"). The farmer warned me "just so you know, it's not spinach, and it's really sour!" -- but as soon as I told him I use in some of my German recipes, he responded "Ahh, no wonder, you're European!"
Sorrel could be considered more of an herb than a leafy vegetable. Its acidity is due to oxalic acid, which is also found in rhubarb. It's good stuff, but use it sparingly.

Sorrel is one of the ingredients called for in my favorite sauce for potatoes, namely "Gruene Sosse" or simply, Green Sauce. Until this week, I had made do with some wild sorrel, but now I found the real (domesticated) thing, and I promptly used it in 2 dishes last night. I'll need to find some seeds to grow it in my garden next summer (once harvested, sorrel does not keep more than a few days).

First, I made Frankfurter Gruene Sosse (recipe can be found at my previous post here, or see AmiExpat's cooking challenge "Grie Soss"). I was perhaps too generous with the sorrel and should have been a little more sparing -- more than one diner commented that the sauce was more sour than usual...

I also made this green soup as a first course or appetizer, based on a recipe I found in one of my European cookbooks, simply called

Alpine Soup
1-2 T butter
1-2 leeks, sliced
celery root, cubed
potatoes, turnips, carrots (optional)
broccoli stems, cubed ( use these if you've got some left over after florets used in other dish)
2-4 c broth or water
bunch of Greens -- combination of spinach, swiss chard, cress, etc
parsley, dill
Salt, pepper
marjoram (optional)
cream or half-half

Saute leeks in butter, add celery & other harder root veggies, add water or broth. Cook until soft. Add greens and cook until wilted. Process in blender and return to stove. Reheat gently. Add cream right before serving, heat but don't boil. Serve with croutons or paninis.

What I really like is being able to use a bunch of healthy greens without the kids necessarily even being aware of eating them. Even the hubby didn't realize I sneaked in the broccoli stems, something he does not eat without grumbling -- but in this soup, everybody slurped away happily...

Menu for first week of August

Went to Farmer's Market and got lots of goodies: fresh potatoes, zukes, beans, tomatoes, and every imaginable green -- even found cress and sorrel!
Sun: Burgers, corn-on-the-cob, salad
Mon: pasta w/ goatcheese & zuccini (*), salad
Tues: can't remember...
Wed: Pizza and movie "UP" at Bear Tooth
Thurs: Chicken Jambalaya(*), green beans, salad
Fri: Alpine Soup(*) & Panini, Chicken & veggies shish-kababs, potatoes w/ Gruene Sosse(*), apricot Upside-down cake (baked by Liesl!)
Sat: Kofta-kebobs, yogurt-herb sauce, potatoes, rice

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Home Cooking vs. TV Food Shows

It was in 2001 that I first saw an episode of "Iron Chef" on TV: I couldn't believe what I was seeing on the screen (we don't have TV) cooking as entertainment!
It was New Year's Eve, and we had been invited to a party where most of the people attending worked in the food business (the food was SUPERB, and the kitchen a mess)-- during the previous year we had become good friends with a professional in the "Food Service Business", and were first granted behind-the-scenes looks (and tastes) of the Restaurant world -- what an eye opener!

I have to admit that I'm a real sucker for European-style desserts -- so I LOVED visiting our friend at his job. Just imagine going to work every day at a fine bakery, such where he was a manager -- aaaah, the tortes and pastries were a feast for the eyes, and I longed to taste them! My young children who came with me into the bakery declared "when I grow up, I'm going to bake the best birthday cakes, all day long!"
But I soon learned that it was not just tortes and petit-foit all day long-- I naively thought it would be "fun", but that line of work is really is stressful, and our friend (who has since gotten out of the food business) will advise any youngster, who may ask his opinion, against choosing this career.

Now we like to eat gourmet food, and sometimes enjoy an evening eating at a fine restaurant, but it is a rare treat! Most of our meals are home-cooked, from scratch, and I thought that's how most people eat -- but that seems to be disappearing in America. Cooking one's own food a skill that's getting lost -- HOW CAN THAT BE?

I'm lucky that I grew up in a culture that valued cooking at home -- to my family eating a meal out (or even heating up pre-packaged "convenience" food) was just not normal -- it's a rare exception to, well, cooking in your own kitchen-- doesn't everybody? I mean, how difficult is it to learn how to cook rice, potatoes, or chicken?
I've learned to cook and bake from my mother at first, but more so after I was on my own, "self-taught by trial and error". I became a vegetarian early on in college (in the Deep South where most everything was fried in bacon grease) -- so by necessity I had to teach myself, and I became a decent cook along the way.

Cooking for my family is a central part of my life -- I don't at all feel like a slave at the stove (the laundryroom, yes). It really is too bad that feminism cast a negative light on home tasks such as cooking -- NO, I feel proud of feeding my guys good home-cooked meals!

In a wonderful article this week in the New York Times entitled "Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch", writer Michael Pollan explores the American public’s growing love of televised cooking shows, even as people lose interest in cooking for themselves. He starts out with a wonderful description of the Julia Child's THE FRENCH CHEF shows he watched along with his mother in the 1960's, who, according to his mother " took the fear out of cooking". Pollan writes:
But here’s what I don’t get: How is it that we are so eager to watch other people browning beef cubes on screen but so much less eager to brown them ourselves? For the rise of Julia Child as a figure of cultural consequence — along with Alice Waters and Mario Batali and Martha Stewart and Emeril Lagasse and whoever is crowned the next Food Network star — has, paradoxically, coincided with the rise of fast food, home-meal replacements and the decline and fall of everyday home cooking.

The Food Network has helped to transform cooking from something you do into something you watch... the Food Network leaves you hungry, a condition its advertisers must love. But in neither case is there much risk that you will get off the couch and actually cook a meal.
They found that when we don’t have to cook meals, we eat more of them: as the amount of time Americans spend cooking has dropped by about half, the number of meals Americans eat in a day has climbed... In fact, the amount of time spent cooking predicts obesity rates more reliably than female participation in the labor force or income.
At the end of his article, Pollen wonders if we can put the genie back in the bottle, i.e. American willing to make cooking part of their daily lives again. But talking to veteran food-marketing researcher, Harry Balzer, he was told "that's not going to happen":
“Why? Because we’re basically cheap and lazy. And besides, the skills are already lost. Who is going to teach the next generation to cook? I don’t see it." But then Balzer says "You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.”
Get the kids involved -- let them cook with you, for you -- it's one of the best skill you can give them: being able to fend for themselves, and feed themselves (not out of a package or drive-up window)! It's easy -- start them with making their own PB&J sandwiches from scratch, with the best ingredients at hand... Before you know it, they'll be baking bread with you, and helping with the berry harvest & canning your own jams (that's what Youngest and I did today!) -- but hey, still working on a local source of peanuts here in AK!

Photo credits:
Iron Chefs by
Pastry by
1950's housewife by Getty Images,
Julia Child by