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.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year's Menu

It's New Year's Eve, and I've been cooking up a proverbial storm.
First of all there's the tradition in our family to turn the last of the Christmas turkey leftovers into a tasty batch of GUMBO, which usually is done by the dear husband -- but I made it today while he napped on the couch... Sooo, I won't be revealing any of HIS secrets of Gumbo-making, merely my own (albeit probably inferior, or at least less fiery) version.
New Years Gumbo

left-over turkey, cut into small pieces
turkey stock -lots!
oil, such as canola, sunflower, or other oil that can handle being heated
For starters, the trinity of cajun vegetables:
onions, chopped
celery, chopped
bell peppers, chopped
jalapeno peppers (or other hot peppers), chopped
optional meats: ham, sausage
garlic, crushed
pepper (both black and white, best if freshly ground)
ground cumin (a goodly amount)
cayenne pepper (to taste, or other hot pepper, ground)
ground paprika (smoked is great for flavor!)
thyme (generous amount -- this is a signature of cajun cooking!)
oregano, basil
onion powder, garlic powder
stewed tomatoes, canned ok, with liquid
bay leaf
water or stock
sweet potatoes, cubed
other veggies, such as green beans, okra, carrots, turnips...
salt, to taste
tabasco sauce
oil and flour, roughly equal amounts, for making roux
optional: seafood, such as shrimp

Note that I do not list quantities, because it's (a) a function on what you happen to have at hand right then -- in other words, clean-out-the-frig, and (b) it's a matter of taste -- give your creativity free reign: no 2 batches of gumbo should ever be the same!

I start by heating the defatted stock in my largest stockpot, adding the turkey and all other ingredients as I saute them in my biggest cast-iron frying pan: First, I sautee the onions, celery & peppers, adding the spices and cooking a bit. After they're done, dump that into stockpot, add more oil to the frying pan, and sautee the next batch: sausage, ham, etc... The sweet potatoes onward do not need to be sauteed -- they go directly into the stockpot.

While the big pot is bubbling away (on low), make the roux:
This takes some skill & confidence, but most importantly, the knowledge that it can splatter and burn you! I heat the oil in the cast-iron pan, and add flour while whisking it continuously. Heat and keep whisking until the flour turns dark, but don't burn it.
Remove from heat and spoon roux into the stockpot in small batches -- it's VERY hot and can splash when it hits the liquid -- it really helps to have a spouse or older child there who will stir the big pot after each addition of roux. Simmer the stockpot, letting flavors mingle and gumbo thicken, but keep an eye on it, stirring occasionally. If I want to add shrimp, I do it at this stage.
Note: this freezes very well -- but don't add shrimp or other seafood until thawing and re-heating.
Serve gumbo over rice.

Note on roux-making: another approach commonly seen is starting with the roux. Heat oil, add flour and whisk until dark. Then add the veggies and spices and cook, stirring. Add stock, stirring... Note that this approach requires all your ingredients to be ready to go, and you do a lot of continuous stirring, and my wrist/arms need breaks -- so I do like to do this in batches.

For a recipe (with actual quantities), go here for a Paul Prudhomme gumbo.

Next, I cooked Hoppin' John, which is a Southern tradition, made from Black-eyed peas (a.k.a. cowpeas), and I made both a vegetarian and traditional version.

Hopping John
tradional version: cook cowpeas with ham, hamhock or bacon
my own vegetarian creole version:
black-eyed peas, soaked in warm water for a few hours or overnight, drained
onions, chopped
celery, chopped
bell peppers, chopped
garlic, crushed
pepper (both black and white, best if freshly ground)
cayenne pepper (to taste, or other hot pepper, ground)
ground paprika (smoked is great for flavor!)
thyme (generous amount -- this is a cajun staple)
optional: onion powder, garlic powder, mustard powder
bay leaf
water or stock
salt, to taste
greens, such as kale or collard greens.

Heat oil and saute the veggies. Add garlic and all spices, cooking for a little while, then add the drained black-eyed peas, bay leaf and enough water/stock to cover. Cook until peas are soft. Add salt.
While legumes are cooking, prepare the greens: wash, remove tough stems, and cut. Add into peas when they are nearly all the way cooked. Serve with cornbread.

Lastly, as I type on my new laptop (in the kitchen, isn't that nifty!!!), I've got 2 different versions of poached pears simmering on the stove. I posted the recipe yesterday, but here's what I've learned today when I found this treatise on How to make poached pears (go there if you want actual measurements!):
  • This works with Asian pears too!
  • Keep those pears covered with some parchment paper
  • there are lots of flavors you can add: vanilla, cloves, allspice, etc
  • try replacing some of the water with wine
  • add some dried fruit to the poaching liquid at the end
  • serve hot or cold, by itself or with a sauce
  • it's a great way to preserve fruit you can't eat fast enough...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

QUARK: a staple of German dessert-making

If you've never heard of QUARK, you're not alone. It does not have a translation in English. It's a fresh (or white) soft cheese similar to queso blanco or Indian Paneer. The closest I can come to describing this dairy product is to call it a cross between sour cream and ricotta cheese, or cream cheese and cottage cheese-- sort of like the Italian mascarpone. I occasionally treat myself to a tub of "real" Quark, available in Anchorage at New Sagaya Market. I've got one in my frig right now, and am trying to decide what special German dessert to make with it.

Wikipedia defines Quark (pronunciation "qvark") as a fresh curd cheese of East European origin (from the slavic "tvorag"). It is soft, white and un-aged, similar to the french fromage frais. It usually has much lower fat content (about the same as yoghurt) than cream cheeses and has no salt added.

I grew up eating Quark both savory and sweet: we spread it on bread, and ate it as a simple dessert with fruit. And it is the best for making German cheesecake! As a substitute, you can create your own from buttermilk (link here) or by using a yoghurt cheese (strain unflavored yoghurt through a cheese cloth). Even simpler is to substitute mascarpone, or blend 9 parts ricotta w/ 1 part sour cream, or use a blender to make you own mix of cottage cheese, cream cheese and/or yoghurt, depending on how much creaminess you're after...
Suesser Quark mit Frucht
Blend quark, sugar or honey and berries -- it's so easy a five-year old can be in charge of this! Probably the first dessert I ever made.

Poached Pears with cheese & berries
I learned this recipe from Eldest daughter (Kitchensister). You can use quark, mascarpone or ricotta cheese. several fresh pears (not super-ripe)
ginger, sliced real thin
ground cinnamon (1/2 -1 tsp?)
honey (1/2 cup?)
water, as needed (may substitute partially with wine)
berries (can be frozen) - 1 or 2 cups
quark or ricotta or mascarpone cheese - 1 tub

In a sauce pan, heat the honey/water/wine mixture with cinnamon and sliced ginger. Add pear slices and simmer with just enough liquid to cover the pears. When pears are soft, remove them and set aside. Discard the ginger.
Boil the liquid down until there's barely any left (watch that you don't burn this!).
Stir in the cheese.
Separately, make a berry compote ("soup") from berries -- simmer in a saucepan, adding sweetener if you feel it's needed.

Serve this dessert by placing a few slices of pear on each plate, spooning sweetened cheese over it, and drizzling with berries.

Streuselkuchen mit Quarkfüllung

2 c. flour
1/2 package dry yeast (1 heaping teaspoon) or 1/2 cube of fresh yeast
1/2 c. lukewarm milk (110°F)
2 T. butter
2 T. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
5 T. butter
1 tsp. lemon zest
6 T. sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 c. Quark or yogurt cheese
2 T. cornstarch
optional: berries or other fruit

Streusel Topping:
1 1/2 c. flour
2/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon


Make the yeast dough: Place the flour in a bowl and create a hollow in it with the back of a spoon. Crumble fresh yeast or sprinkle dry yeast in the hollow, fill with the lukewarm milk, add a pinch of sugar and mix a little to incorporate some of the flour. Let the sponge sit in a warm place for 15 minutes.

After the yeast is activated and showing strong growth, add the butter, salt and sugar to the milk and mix the dough, incorporating the flour as you go. You may also use a stand mixer for this step. Continue mixing until the dough is smooth and forms a ball. Add a little more flour if necessary. Form dough into a ball, place in a greased bowl, turning once, and cover. Let rise 15 to 30 minutes.

Roll out on a lightly floured board to a 9 x 13 inch rectangle and transfer to a 9 x 13 inch baking pan. Press towards the edges gently, creating a lip (like a pizza crust). Let this dough rest while you mix the filling and topping.

Make the filling: Cream together butter, sugar and lemon zest for 2 minutes. Add the egg and beat until light and fluffy, scraping down the bowl as you go. Add the Quark or yogurt cheese, mixing until smooth. Sprinkle the cornstarch on top and mix to incorporate. Spread over the yeast dough.

Optionally, add fruit at this stage (something not too watery, such as berries).

Make the streusel topping: Mix 1 1/2 cups of flour, 2/3 cup sugar, salt and cinnamon. Using your hands or a pastry mixer, cut 7 tablespoons butter into the flour mix until you have course crumbs. Sprinkle these crumbs on top of the Quark filling.

Bake the cake at 350°F for 30 minutes, or until cake is lightly browned and filling is almost set. Filling will set up more as it cools.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Menu for last week of December

It's that wonderful week after Christmas, when the frig is full, but the calendar is not!

We're about cookied-out, and I find myself craving mostly fruits and vegetables. Perfect for all that wonderful produce from the CSA box: carrots, taters, celery root, cabbage, pears, apples, oranges, greens, etc.
At Costco I bought 2 special treats: King Crab, and Leg of lamb, imported from Australia.
The lamb will last me a few month: I cut it up into chunks and freeze it in 1-pound portions, plus I make stock from the scraps...) I love making an indian feast with lots of vegetarian dishes plus lamb korma or lamb stew!

An old Southern tradition is to eat black-eyed peas and greens on New Year's Day -- so we're adding this to our family tradition. My Swedish-American husband is the force behind our family's predeliction for CAJUN food -- every year for the last 17 we turn the turkey left-over into a great big batch of GUMBO. It freezes very well!

SAT "Boxing Day": leftover turkey, mashed pototoes, etc.
SUN: Polenta w/ red sauce, super-garlicky garlic bread, big green salad
MON: Cajun Flanks & greens, over rice, oven-roasted celery root
TUE: Bubble & Squeek (potatoes and cabbage)
WED: Cardamon Lamb Curry (recipe from Dingo Dave Downunder), other veggies & rice
THUR: Gumbo and King Crab (more here)
FRI: Cajun black-eyed peas, mess of greens, cornbread
SAT: Corned beef, potatoes & cabbage

Recipe for Hot-buttered rum MIX

For the holidays this year, we made, and consumed, large quantities of this:

Hot-buttered Rum Mix
1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
2 c brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/4 t cloves
1/4 t cardamon (optional) a favorite spice in our household

Mix it all together & store in jars.
No need for refrigeration.

To use, put 1-2 teaspoons in a mug, add hot water and rum to taste.
Can also be used to flavor hot cocoa, coffee or tea.

BUTTER BEER (Hogwarts-style)
Hot version: Add mix to hot water, and optional, stir in vanilla icecream, too.
Cold version (rootbeer-float style): Add mix to cream soda, stir, then add icecream.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Baking European Christmas cookies

I did a bit of baking today, trying to catch up -- cookie tins are once again empty on account of maraundering teenagers...

I challenged myself to bake (which I love) a variety of cookies (a must at Christmas-time) without a whole lot of dish-washing (which I don't care for)... it's all in the name of efficiency, don't you know!

So, without washing any mixing bowls, spatulas, etc until the end of the exercise, here's what I figure can be made one after the other without looking at the sink until the very end:

Zimtsterne (Cinnamon stars, German)
Spritz (cookie press cookies, int'l) or Scottish shortbread cookies
Spekulatius (very thin spice cookies, German/Danish)
Rokkekager (literally translates to "Rock cookies", Scandinavian)

ZIMTSTERNE (Cinnamon stars) -this is completely wheat/gluten-free
3 egg whites
1/2 # granulated sugar
3 t cinnamon
2 c grated almonds (save approx 1/4 c for dusting pastry board) -- I grind my own, blanching them first
1/2 t almond extract

Beat eggwhites and as they start foaming, slowly add sugar. Set aside some of this for topping.
Transfer to another bowl where you carefully mix in the remaining ingredients. Keep adding nutflour until dough holds together enough to be rolled out on dusted pastry board. Cut star shapes, brush w/beaten eggwhites, and bake on greased cookie sheet at 300F for approx 30 min, until golden brown and slightly chewy.
PS: mine never turn out looking as nice as this picture I found on google...

SPRITZ (Cookie press)
there's lots of recipes. Basically calls for butter, sugar and flour, plus egg yolks, which is why I make them after Zimtsterne, where I have leftover egg yolks! Just use same mixing bowl that the eggwhites were beaten it -- (in case of nut allergies, be sure not to use any tools that touched nuts)...
Typically this dough needs to chill, so move on to the next recipe, without washing that bowl!

Here's my version (based on Joy of Cooking -adjusted to use up the 3 egg yolks)
1.5 c butter, softened
1 c sugar
3 egg yolks
1.5 t vanilla or almond extract
3 c to 3.5c flour
3/4 t salt
optional: add ground almonds as well -- adjust flour as needed

again, butter, sugar, flour, plus spices. Keep on using the same bowls to soften the butter, mix the dough, etc...

1/2 # butter, softened at room temp
1 # sugar
2 eggs
grated rind of 1 lemon
4.5 c flour
2 t cinnamon
1/2 t ground gloves
1/4 t ground cardamom
optional: slivered almonds
(some recipes call for ground almonds as well)

Cream butter and sugar, then add eggs, one at a time. Fold in all dry ingredients. Chill dough (instructions are for overnight), but my Alaskan trick is to stick them outside, already spread 1/8th inch thick on the greased cookie sheet (I cover w/ plastic wrap first).
Traditionally, Spekulatius are "relief-printed" cookies (often w/ windmills or other designs), but sure could bake them plain.
Sometimes they have a thin glaze of eggwhite wash, and perhaps sprinkled w/ a bit of sugar.
Bake at 350F (I've even seen lower temps, like 300) until lightly golden.
As soon as you remove them from oven, cut them apart into squares.

From The history of Springerle is quite interesting. It is said that a effigy of an animal was used in place of an actual animal sacrifice for those who could not afford the real thing. These imprints were used during pagan midwinter festivals at which people prayed for an early spring. They were commonly exchanged instead of Christmas cards and Biblical scenes on the cookies served to educate the illiterate in the middle ages. For more on the history, check out

ROKKEKAGER (Rock cookies)
1 c butter
1.5 c brown sugar
3 eggs
2.5-3 c flour
1/2 t salt
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/4 t cloves
1 t vanilla
3 c mixed candied fruit and/or raisins
1 c each hazelnuts and pecans/walnuts

cream butter and sugar, add eggs. Add dry ingredients & fruit & nuts.
Drop by the spoonful onto baking sheets. Bake 8-10 min at 375F. These store well (but beware if you find them at Easter -- then they may resemble Hagrid's rock cakes!)

Phew, now better get to some dishes...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

How to make one chicken stretch for a week

Our family recently rented the DVD of Food, Inc.
An excellent movie -- I highly recommend watching it! Much of it is based on Michael Pollen's work (In Defense of Food and Omnivore's Dilemma) and Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation.

Our family has been switching over to organic food more and more, as we learn more about where our food comes from, and as we see that yes indeed, we afford it! At first glance, going organic seems to cost significantly more, but I'd say that as we're doing this we're not going bankrupt, and not only are we eating healthier, but also we consume less bad stuff.
Take meat, for one. We just don't need to eat all that much. We're not vegetarians, but we're buying better meat and stretching it further. We still get plenty of protein -- such as from legumes, etc... AND THEY ARE CHEAP!
My daughter and I have been splitting the Costco 2-pack of whole organic chicken every couple of weeks (comes to about $10 per chicken). She roasts hers whole and then gets a week's worth of chicken-enriched meals out of that.
My approach is to divide & conquer: I plan several meals around it.
First you gotta actually CUT the bird up, and like many women my generation, that's something I never officially learned. Most women I know buy meat all cut up -- if the recipe calls for chicken breasts, well, they go and buy chicken breasts neatly wrapped with plastic on a styrofoam tray.

I learned to cut a whole chicken from my mother-in-law (#2), when I was a bride in her 30's!
I'm sure she was appalled that I did not know how to do this, but she was a kind woman, and patiently showed me. I'm grateful, for not only did I learn how to save money (Hubby and I were poor graduate students, and buying whole chickens sure is cheaper!), but it also taught me not to be afraid of dealing with bird's anatomy.
Aside: This skill came in later when we moved to Alaska, and in the first week a grouse flew into our window killing itself -- I called hubby at work, and he said "Great, let's have it for dinner!" And I did indeed cook it. I've even learned to fillet fish, but that's another story, and takes way more skill than cutting up a bird. (EOD, End of Digression)

So back to the whole chicken sitting on my cutting board (plastic, not the wooden one!).
First, I make sure I have a sharp knife! And my hands are very clean (trim those fingernails).

I remove the skin, and harvest the 2 breasts (Images from Food,Inc of commercial chickens run thru my head -- breeding for large breasts has gotten so extreme that the poor chickens can hardly take a few steps! Good thing they haven't bred us womenfolk for larger breasts! EOD)
I save the 2 breasts for a meal (it used to be I felt a need to serve each family member one chicken breast each, but I found that those 2 breasts feed the 4 of us just fine!)

Next I remove the leg-thigh ensemble. It does involve finding the joint and cutting through that -- after a bit of twisting till it "pops". Not difficult, just do it. Those 2 legs go into another dinner -- often I will bake those in a casserole with grains (such as rice) and lots of veggies. Once cooked, the dark meat just slides right off...

Now it's time to attack the carcass. I get rid of as much of the skin as I can (if needed, use a papertowel to grab the skin --this really helps when pulling it off the legs). Then I try to find all the meat that's left: using my fingers mostly plus a small knife, I harvest what I can. All those small pieces will go into the first dinner of this chicken -- something ethnic perhaps, like stir-fry, indian curry, Thai Tom Ka Kai, or filling for a Mexican burrito. Again, by stretching this meager assembly of meat with lots & lots of veggies, we get the flavor and protein, but not the heaviness of big chunks of meat.

Last, the chicken carcass (and don't forget the neck and other innards that came in the little bag) goes into the big stockpot. I also add any onion & celery "butts" I may have laying around in the frig, or any sad-looking turnips, carrots from the back of the produce drawer.
I let the stock go for several hours. Often I do the chicken butchering in the morning between when kids have gone to school & I need to get ready for work, and leave the stock cooking on LOW -- I prefer not to have to deal with the butchering in the late afternoon when it's time to cook dinner. Everybody is too hungry, grumpy, etc to wait around for me to do this...
I find it helps me tremendously to plan ahead -- the key to eating less processed food is using fresher ingredients, but they do require prepping...
Remember to clean counters & tools, and make sure the cutting board gets scrubbed, bleached and/or goes thru the dishwasher.

Anyway, the stock is poured into jars, placed in the frig, and defatted. I use the stock in so many recipes -- for example, boil bulghar wheat or quinoa with stock instead of plain water, or use it as stock in a mostly vegetable-based soup.

So here is a sample menu for a week
MON: stir-fry chicken w/ loads of veggies, or Chicken tacos/enchiladas
TUES: White Bean soup, made with chicken stock
WED: Rice, broccoli and Drumstick casserole
THURS: Bulghar pilaf with lots of veggies, plus oven-roasted squash & root crops
FRI: Cajun breaded chicken breasts, rice, and vegetable side dish
SAT: Pizza night - build your own (left-over chicken goes well on pizza)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mid-December Menu

This week in our CSA box: Alaskan potatoes - farmer’s choice | Alaskan Brussels Sprouts | Alaskan carrots | Alaskan onions | Alaskan cabbage | Alaskan celery root. From Outside:certified organic Honeycrisp apples | certified organic kiwi fruit | certified organic pears| certified organic red romaine lettuce, cauliflower| certified organic garlic

I also did the big Costco shopping trip, and came home with a box of japanese Mandarins (a favorite for lunches), 5 pack of avocadoes, organic whole chicken, scallops and king crab for Christmas eve!

Monday: butternut squash-filled ravioli in a sauce with red peppers and scallops, green salad w/ beans, etc
Tues: It was going to be a roast, but hubby and kids ate in Anchor-town on acct of crazy roads due to snow -- so I had some delicious left-overs...
Wed: stir-fry with chicken, broccoli, carrots, bean sprouts, brown rice, spring rolls (from Costco's freezer section, not home-made)
Thurs: Coconut-curry squash soup, pizza, raw celery & apple salad, green salad
Fri: Gimme more pie, potatoes, Brussels sprouts
Sat: chili night - white chili & red chili, cornbread, salad
Sun: salmon? bubble and squeek (potatoes and cabbage)