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Monday, January 07, 2013

crab cakes

crab cakes

A New Year’s Resolution

My latest project is to increase our fun quotient. You know, go out to a family movie, do a 1000-piece puzzle on the dining room table, go ice skating together and stop for hot cocoa on the way home, get a babysitter and have a date night, sleep late on the weekend and have a family snuggle, get a tickets to a show, write a letter to a friend.

Also, I’ve resolved to make food that is more fun. You know my usual fare; most of my tried and trues are on this website already. And they are great. But I’m tired of the same old same old vegetable and bean dishes. Yeah, they still taste good—but everything seems a bit flat. I’m in serious need of a shake-up. A little ham in my bean soup. A little bacon on top of my salad. A little CRAB on my plate! And what better way to eat crab than crab cakes! I know, I know, it seems obvious…  but FRYING IS FUN!

crab cakes

I just tried making crab cakes for the first time tonight, and since I had red peppers and celery and red onion, I added them, too. The vegetables really amp up the flavor without covering up the taste of the crab.

Oh—and I didn’t pick the crab myself. I just used the 16-oz “Chicken of the Sea” plastic cup from the refrigerated section of Costco. Look for it near the smoked salmon. I’ve been dying to buy that crab and try it out for months now, and I’m here to tell you that it’s really great in crab cakes.

2 large eggs, beaten
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon salt
Several grindings of black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
half of a red onion
2 large celery stalks
1 red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic
olive oil (not extra-virgin) or vegetable oil
16 oz lump crab meat (canned is fine—see note, above. )
1 cup breadcrumbs (I used fresh bread crumbs, but you can use the unseasoned store-bought kind.)

1. Beat the eggs in a medium bowl and whisk in the mayonnaise, lemon juice, mustard, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Set aside.
2. Mince the red onion, celery, and red pepper into very small dice. Mince or press the garlic. Add a tablespoon of oil to a large skillet and sauté the vegetables in a non-stick skillet over medium high heat until they are softened and their liquid has cooked off.
3. Drain the crab and carefully squeeze the liquid out of it. Dump the crab into the skillet with the vegetables to cool down the hot vegetables. When the crab and vegetable mixture has cooled a bit, add it to the egg mixture. Stir carefully with a rubber spatula so you don’t break up the lumps of crab. Gently fold in the breadcrumbs. Wipe out the skillet.
4. Shape the crab mixture into patties and set them on a rack set inside a cookie sheet (so it doesn’t drip), or else on a sheet of parchment on the cookie sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. This will let the breadcrumbs absorb the egg mixture and allow the patties to consolidate. This makes them easier to fry.
5. Heat a tablespoon of oil in the skillet over medium-high heat, and when the oil is hot, set the crab cakes carefully into the oil. Don’t put them too close together—leave plenty of room in between them so you can flip them easily. When the first side is nicely browned, flip each cake over carefully and fry the other side. Transfer to a paper-towel-lined rack and wipe the skillet out again. Fry the rest of the crab cakes with fresh oil in another couple of batches. If you start eating them while you are still cooking them like we did, watch out—it’s easy to let them burn if you’re busy devouring the others. However, we just called that batch Cajun-style, and they were still pretty edible.
6. Serve the crab cakes atop or alongside a green salad. I made one with a mustardy dressing, avocados and toasted pumpkin seeds (recipe follows).

green salad with garlicky red wine mustard vinaigrette

This dressing is one that I make a lot of at once, and then keep in the refrigerator to use all the time. It keeps really well, is yummy and creamy without any eggs or cream in it (mustard is the emulsifying agent), and is great with a variety of different vegetables. You can also toss the dressing with steamed broccoli and top it with toasted green pumpkin seeds.

6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 medium cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1-2 tablespoons honey
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Put first 5 ingredients in a blender and blend until completely smooth. Slowly pour in oil to make a creamy emulsion. Taste and season with more salt or honey if it needs it.


1 head lettuce, washed, dried, and torn into bite-sized pieces, or a bowl of baby salad greens
¼ cup pepitas (green pumpkin seeds), toasted in a skillet until puffed and golden brown
ripe avocado, peeled and diced

Toss the salad greens with dressing to your taste, mix in the avocado, then sprinkle pumpkin seeds over the salad.

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Friday, December 07, 2012

italian pear cake

My friend Virginia sent this recipe to me several months ago, and I’m just now getting around to making it! It’s a very easy, healthy and delicious dessert! I had some d’Anjou pears that were going from rock-hard to mushy, and this recipe worked great to use them up. Next time I make it, I’m going to try putting a little olive oil or almond oil in the batter, just to make it a little more tender, I think. Or maybe grind up some almonds to add? Anyway, it’s great just as is, and I hope you try it! Thanks, Virginia!!

Italian Pear Cake

2 eggs
1/4 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon almond extract
¼ teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups flour
2 pounds ripe pears
2 teaspoons butter (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.
2. Whisk together eggs, milk, sugar, extracts and salt. Whisk in flour. The batter will be quite thick.
3. Peel, core, and slice pears. Gently fold sliced pears into batter.
4. Pour pear mixture into the pan and spread out as evenly as you can. Dot with the butter (if using—it will help the top brown) and bake for about 50 minutes or until puffy and lightly golden. 5. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes in the pan, then remove to a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.


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Sunday, May 13, 2012

poached eggs Florentine

eggs on toast w/ spinach

Mother’s Day Brunch

I’m not really sure if this is the right name for the delicious dish I ate for Mother’s Day brunch this morning, but I think that “Florentine” in egg dishes generally means it contains spinach. Dan and Meredith asked what I wanted, and I requested poached eggs on toast, with fresh eggs from my friend Mara’s chickens. But I was dreaming of a layer of creamy yummy spinach in between the buttered toast and the perfectly cooked (runny-yolked) poached egg. So I pulled out a recipe from Crescent Dragonwagon’s Passionate Vegetarian for country spinach that I’ve made before, and modified it to make my breakfast fantasy a reality. I didn’t have hollandaise sauce, but I didn’t need it, because of the runny yolk and the creamy spinach. YUM!! This recipe is really not that time-consuming, and it’s really healthy, too! It would make a great, speedy dinner!

eating my egg!

runny yolk

Poached Eggs Florentine

The Spinach

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
About half of a large 2.5-pound bag of spinach from Costco
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt (or drained regular plain yogurt)
Salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg

The Egg & Toast

Fresh eggs
Whole-grain bread for toast
Butter (optional)

Heat a medium saucepan of water to the boil (this will be for the eggs, later.) Slice your bread. Heat the olive oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add the onions and sauté until golden. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute.  Turn the burner up to high, and add as much spinach as the skillet will hold, and stir and flip the spinach over until it has wilted enough to add more spinach. Keep doing this until all the spinach has been wilted down. Stir and cook for a little while until most of the liquid has evaporated—maybe 3 to 5 minutes. Turn the heat off, and stir in the Parmesan cheese and yogurt . Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cover the spinach to keep it warm while you make the eggs and toast.

Poach your egg in just barely simmering water so the middle is still runny, and toast your bread at the same time. Butter your toast if you’d like. Put the toasted bread on a plate, layer a thick pile of spinach on the toast, then perch the poached egg on the top. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.


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Monday, April 30, 2012

green pea spread

green pea spread

biking to girdwood

The first bike rides of the season always feel like a gift, especially after a long snowy winter!

On Sunday we drove to Indian and parked across from the Brown Bear Saloon, intending to bike the Bird to Gird trail. We found the trail was still piled with snow in the shady patches, though, so we ended up biking on the shoulder of the highway. On the tandem, Dan captained and Meredith stoked, (Check out the child’s stoker kit on the bike!) and I rode my own bike. There wasn’t too much traffic, but we did battle against a stiff headwind. Kudos to Dan for being able to draft off me even with Meredith’s irregular pedaling. (Her game is sporadic sprinting.) We enjoyed a picnic lunch in the Girdwood playground, then rocketed back to the car, propelled homeward by a well-deserved tailwind.

I remembered my camera, but when I pulled it out to take a photo of Dan and Meredith pedaling along Turnagain Arm, I realized that my battery was dead.  ARGH! So I made them get back on the bike when we got home and ride up and down our road so I could get a few shots—if not the scenery, at least the bike riders! 

tandem ride

green pea spread

I came up with this recipe last fall when I had a lot of fresh Alaskan peas, but you can make this dip with frozen peas, as well. I wanted to make some kind of a dip or spread for vegetables, like my carrot dip. Combining fresh peas with dried, cooked split peas gave me a nice thick consistency, and I decided to use Japanese flavorings. It’s great with cucumbers, especially when topped with a little pickled ginger and toasted sesame seeds! You can freeze this spread, so I’d make a double batch and freeze it in small containers (labeled!) for an easy appetizer whenever you need one. No point in making only 2 cups of split peas!

1 ½ cups dried split peas
4 cups fresh or frozen peas
1 teaspoon salt
the green parts of 4 scallions, sliced into thick pieces
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons pickled ginger (Find this in the refrigerated section in many grocery stores, near the sushi supplies, or in the produce section.)
pinch of cayenne

1. Simmer the split peas in a small pot of water until they are very soft. This could take up to an hour. Drain the peas well.
2. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add salt, and the fresh peas. When the water comes back to a boil, cook the peas for a minute or so, just until hot through. Don’t overcook them. Drain them and spread them out on a dishtowel to cool and dry.
3. Put all the ingredients into a food processor and process until fairly smooth. You’ll need to taste for salt, sugar (the pickled ginger) and spice, and add more seasonings as necessary until you get a nice balance of flavors.
4. if the dip seems watery (and it will, after you’ve refrigerated it for a while, or frozen and thawed it), put it in a sieve for a few minutes and let the extra water drain out.
5. Serve on cucumber slices, topped with slices of pink pickled ginger and sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds. (Toast them in a skillet for a minute or two until roasty and light brown.)

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

African peanut stew with sweet potatoes, kale, and chickpeas

peanut soup

spring blossoms

Even though my yard is still deep in snow, the south- and west-facing garden beds along my house are sprouting with all kinds of early perennials! My favorite early plants are the little yellow primroses, Primula elatior. I bought a few of these lovely little plants many years ago from my friend Lorri at In the Garden Nursery, and since then, they have grown and reseeded in a delightful (but not invasive) manner. I love them with the little blue hyacinthoides bulbs. They are such a happy and bright harbinger of spring—even with snow all around, and the nights still getting down to freezing! They are tough little plants, which I really appreciate!

Lorri’s website says that she will probably be opening on May 19th…  In the Garden is located at 7307 O’Brien Street, West of Lake Otis, off 72nd Street. Maybe I’ll see you there!


African peanut stew with sweet potatoes, kale, and chickpeas

Warming and hearty, full of beautiful colors and spicy, savory flavors; I think you’re going to love this recipe! It’s based on a recipe in Crescent Dragonwagon’s Passionate Vegetarian.
I like to make a double batch of this recipe and then freeze half of it for later. If you want, you can freeze the soup before adding the sweet potatoes, since the sweet potatoes tend to turn a little mushy after being thawed, but it’s not that bad. In fact, the photo is of soup that has been frozen and thawed. If you like, though, when you thaw out the soup, just steam sweet potato chunks, then add them to the completed soup.
I like to cook my own chickpeas for this recipe—the beans are much yummier, and since you cook the beans with garlic and onions, the cooking liquid makes a wonderful stock for the soup. But you can use canned, pre-cooked beans if you like. In that case, just use water for the liquid instead of the bean-cooking liquid. (Rinse the canned peas first, and don’t use the liquid from the can.) You can also use black-eyed peas, instead of chickpeas—they don’t take nearly as long to cook.

3 cups chickpeas, rinsed and soaked for 4 hours or overnight
8 cloves garlic, peeled
2 bay leaves
3 yellow onions: 1 onion peeled and quartered, and the other 2 onions peeled and diced
sea salt or kosher salt
1-2 bunches kale or collards (to your taste)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
6 ribs celery, diced
1 serrano or jalepeno chile, halved, seeds removed with a spoon, then diced (If you don’t have fresh chiles, you can use a little can of diced green chiles.)
1 teaspoon curry powder
¼ teaspoon cayenne
8-10 gratings of fresh nutmeg (or ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg)
1 or 2 cans (10 ounces each) (I like it extra tomato-y)
2 or 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 package of frozen okra slices (you can use green beans instead, if you’d rather—but I love the little round okras!)
½ cup natural peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons soy sauce, plus more to taste
sugar, to taste
Freshly-ground pepper

1. Drain the chickpeas, rinse them, and place them in a large soup pot with water to cover by a couple of inches. Put the quartered onion (not the chopped ones), all the whole cloves of garlic, and the bay leaves in with the beans. Bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cover and simmer until quite tender, usually 1 to 1 ½ hours. When the peas are tender, add 1 teaspoon salt or more, to your taste.
2. While the beans are cooking, bring a large pot of water to boil, and salt it well.
3. Cut the long stems away from the kale or collard leaves. Stack the leaves on top of each other and slice the leaves into 1-inch wide ribbons.
4. Plunge the kale or collards into the pot of boiling salted water, and cook until tender. This could take as long as 8 or 10 minutes, but could be much shorter. Start tasting after 5 minutes. Drain the kale or collards and set aside.
5. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the diced onion, diced celery and 1 teaspoon salt, and sauté until starting to brown and the vegetables are tender. Add the chile, curry powder, cayenne, and nutmeg and sauté, stirring, for another minute. Remove from the heat and set aside until the beans are done.
6. When the chickpeas are tender, remove the quartered onion (they will be slimy and tasteless by now) and bay leaves and discard them. Stir the beans around, and when you see a whole garlic clove, mash it against the side of the pot with a spoon and stir back into the beans. 
7. Dump the diced onion and celery mixture into the beans, and then add the canned tomatoes and the sweet potato. If it doesn’t seem brothy enough, add more water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.  Simmer, partly covered, for about 15 minutes, or until the sweet potatoes are tender. Add the okra, and cook 5 or 10 minutes more.
8. Heat a kettle of water to a boil. Place the peanut butter in a large heatproof bowl and pour about a cup of boiling water over the peanut butter, whisking constantly to blend. When blended, whisk in the tomato paste.
9. When the sweet potatoes are tender, add the peanut butter mixture to the stew. Stir it well until smooth. Stir in the kale, and season well with salt and pepper to taste. Taste it and decide if the sweet potatoes have added enough sweetness to the stew. If not, add a little sprinkle of sugar (about a teaspoon), taste again. It might just bring up the flavors.
10. This stew is wonderful when made a day or two ahead of time and reheated (carefully, over low heat and stirred often, so the peanut butter doesn’t scorch).
11. You can serve this stew with rice or other grains, or just by itself.

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Saturday, April 28, 2012

salade nicoise

snowy, sunny spring!

My friend Nancy asked me to ski with her across Eklutna Lake up to the glacier last week. What a great adventure! It was a beautiful sunshiney day, with absolutely no wind! The skiing was really fast on the huge frozen lake, and then when we got to the river valley, we had some interesting bushwhacking through tangled saplings and branches to avoid the open water. We only had to splash across one stream.

On the way back down, we found a rutted snowmachine trail to follow. When Nancy asked whether I’d prefer “roots or ruts?” I quickly chose ruts. Nancy, light, quick, agile and strong, makes much better progress through the deep, soft snow, slipping neatly around and between trees, bushes and shrubs. I feel more like a large mama moose wallowing through the deep snow, with skis to hamper my progress by getting caught under loops of branches and on the wrong side of small trees.

With the ice melting and the snow softening, I think this might have been the last possible day of the season to make this ski trip. I’m so glad we caught it! Thanks, Nancy!!!

salade nicoise

When I find myself with a refrigerator full of beautiful Alaskan produce (and sometimes, some fresh seafood), I often prepare this salad to make a big dent in it. Just pick several of the vegetables to prepare. I usually make a huge salad and invite friends over to help eat it, since it’s so beautiful—I just have to share it! You can make one giant salad, or make each person their own individual composed salad.

I also make this salad when I have lots of little odds and ends of things in the refrigerator—leftover roasted potatoes, a few white beans from another project, some grape tomatoes…  In that case, after making the dressing, I just cook some green beans from the freezer, hard boil some eggs, grate some carrots, and I’ve got a great, easy meal!  You can make this meal as simple or as complicated as you like.

And one more thing—you can make a big batch of this dressing and put a jar in the freezer for later.  Then you can REALLY make a fast salad!

lemony vinaigrette

2 garlic cloves, minced
1 small red onion, minced fine
juice of one lemon
¼ cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (if you have grainy mustard too, you can use 1 tablespoon of each)
1 tablespoon honey
½ to 1 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
¼ teaspoon cracked pepper
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together all the vinaigrette ingredients, except the oil, in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking. Season with salt and honey to taste, then set aside.
vegetables (pick 5 or 6 of the following to prepare)

2 pounds garlic-roasted potatoes (see following recipe)
1 pound green beans, blanched in salted water until just tender. Drain the beans and immediately spread them out on a baking sheet spread with a dishtowel. (This allows extra water to evaporate, and the beans stop cooking almost immediately.)
1 pound roasted beets (see following recipe), peeled, sliced into wedges, and tossed with some of the lemony vinaigrette
1 pint cherry tomatoes or several slow-roasted tomatoes (see “tomatoes” section)
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered (See perfectly cooked hard-boiled eggs in the “sandwiches and things to eat on toast” section.)
1 pound grilled asparagus (see “asparagus” section)
4 roasted red peppers (see following recipe)
1 large cucumber, sliced thin and tossed with some of the lemony vinaigrette
3 large carrots, grated and tossed with some of the lemony vinaigrette
2 cups cooked white beans

optional fish (pick one if you’d like to include fish in your salad)

fresh Alaskan scallops, threaded on skewers, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and grilled on a clean, oiled rack just until done
kippered salmon, flaked
fresh salmon, seasoned with salt and pepper or lemon pepper, and grilled
fresh halibut, seasoned with salt and pepper or lemon pepper, and grilled


½ cup kalamata olives, pitted
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
12 cups of assorted salad greens
cracked pepper

Compose this salad on a large serving platter, or make each person their own plate of composed salad. Toss the salad greens with some of the lemony vinaigrette, and make a bed of lettuce on the platter. Attractively group each vegetable on the lettuce. Have fun with all those colors! Drizzle vinaigrette over all the vegetables. Scatter the olives and capers over all, and sprinkle cracked pepper over the top. Enjoy!!

garlic-roasted potatoes

2 pounds small Butterball potatoes (or other yellow, waxy potato)
garlic oil (recipe in Step 1.)
sea salt or kosher salt and freshly-ground pepper

1. Make garlic oil: Mash or mince 3 or 4 garlic cloves and cover with ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil. Let steep for 30 minutes if you have time. Strain out the garlic and store the oil in the refrigerator.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the potatoes into halves or quarters. Toss them in a bowl with a few spoonfuls of garlic oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss again.
3. Lightly oil a large baking dish or sheet pan, and transfer the potatoes onto it, making sure that a cut side of each potato is touching the pan. (The side touching the pan will brown nicely). Roast the potatoes until tender and browned, 35 to 40 minutes.

roasted beets
1. Put the beets (unpeeled) in a baking dish or oven-proof casserole and put ¼” of water in the dish. Cover with foil (or a tight, oven-proof lid), and bake them at 375 or 400 degrees until tender when stabbed with a paring knife. Usually they take 40 minutes or longer, but young beets might be quicker, depending on how big they are. In the fall, when the beets are bigger, they may take much longer—up to an hour and a half. Remove from the oven and let cool until you can pick them up without burning yourself.
2. When the beets are cool enough to handle, slip their skins off. Cut in halves lengthwise and then crosswise into ¼-inch thick slices, or in wedges—as you prefer.

roasted red peppers
1. Preheat your grill or broiler. Roast the red peppers, turning them as each side gets blackened.
2. When they are blackened all the way around, place them in a big bowl and cover it with a lid or a plate until the peppers are fairly cool (this steams and cooks the peppers the rest of the way).
3. Peel the skins from the peppers and remove the seeds, but don’t rinse the peppers—just rinse your fingers as you peel the skins off. Slice the peppers into ½” wide pieces.

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Monday, November 14, 2011

macaroni and cheese with cauliflower


the end of the produce box business

Three years ago, with my farmer friend Arthur, I started up a year-round local produce box business—otherwise known as Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). Our aim was to fill the local demand for boxes of produce, but to use as many Alaskan vegetables as possible. We were competing with a company who flew their boxes up from Washington, and their produce came from all over the world.

Our business was a success in some ways, but a struggle in others. We had wonderful, supportive customers, and it was great to work with Arthur. My husband Dan pitched in, and we had a great crew of packing and delivery guys. But the challenges of getting produce from Outside when our supply of local Alaskan vegetables dwindled were often maddening—not to mention expensive.  And there were so many variables beyond our control.

If you want to read a more complete explanation of why we decided to call it quits at the end of the summer, you can visit our Glacier Valley Farm CSA website. Suffice it to say that although we were sad to have to stop the service, it has also been quite a relief to all of us. Arthur’s Glacier Valley Farm is thriving, and he is selling local produce out of a renovated barn next to the highway to Palmer. Dan and I are back to just owning one business, Rise & Shine Bakery, and we are happy that our lives are simpler now. We have more time for ourselves, and to spend with our daughter Meredith. And I have time to try new recipes and write a post now and then!

As the end of the summer approached, I knew that I wouldn’t be getting my usual two boxes of produce each week from our CSA business. I had to get busy stocking up for the winter! I prepped, blanched and froze gigantic amounts of broccoli and collards, and put up a fair amount of peas and cauliflower, too. Then, after I had brought home six more gigantic heads of cauliflower from the farmers market, I realized that I was starting to run out of freezer space. And I had the perfect recipe to make with my cauliflower: a macaroni & cheese recipe by Mark Bittman that used pureed cauliflower instead of the usual béchamel-based cheese sauce to bind everything together.  I didn’t have the recommended Gruyere cheese (just cheddar), and as usual, I changed up the recipe here and there to make it a bit healthier.

I launched into the project with gusto—I think I ended up making a sextuple batch (I did have six giant cauliflowers, after all), which filled up every baking dish and bread pan in the house. I put them all in the ‘fridge overnight. At the time of making the mac & cheese, I had already bought way too many other vegetables at the farmers market, and I was trying to get them all cooked and eaten. I didn’t have room in my menu plan to even try the cauliflower mac & cheese. So into the freezer they all went. Tasting them would have to wait for another day, after the farmers market was closed.

You might have already read my precepts for cooking for and eating out of your freezer: NEVER freeze anything you don’t love. You won’t be tempted to thaw it out and eat it later, and it will just languish in your freezer, taking up space and making you feel guilty every time you see the label. Better to feed it to your neighbors, or your dog, than put it in the deep freeze. So I admit to feeling a little trepidation when I froze all that mac & cheese, using a recipe I wasn’t familiar with, and then not even tasting it first. But after all, I had all that cauliflower! And how could I go wrong with mac & cheese? Still, I was nervous to try it.

For the last several weeks, we have been living out of the freezer, slowly making our way through the frozen bounty. And I have good news: the macaroni & cheese tastes great! What a relief. It’s lovely, rich and creamy, but healthy and full of vegetables at the same time. It’s great comfort food!

macaroni and cheese with cauliflower

Adapted from a Mark Bittman recipe in Runner’s World.  Make a double batch of this and freeze it in bread pans. After it has had time to mellow in the fridge, the flavors are even better.

1-1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 large cauliflower, cored and cut into 1-inch florets
8 ounces whole-wheat elbow macaroni, or spirals
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar—or maybe a bit more
1-2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
3 or 4 cloves (or more, to your taste) of roasted garlic (optional—see recipe below)
sea salt or kosher salt and black pepper
¼ to ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 to 1-1/2 cups freshly ground whole-grain bread crumbs

1. Heat oven to 375° F. Boil a pot of salted water.
2. Cook cauliflower in boiling water until quite tender—probably 15 to 25 minutes.
3. While the cauliflower cooks, grind your bread slices in your food processor. Combine the crumbs in a small bowl with the Parmesan cheese and set aside.
4. Scoop the cauliflower out of the boiling water and put it in the food processor.
5. Cook pasta in the boiling water until tender. Drain it, then put pasta in a large bowl. Grease a nine-inch square baking dish, or a couple of bread pans. 
6. Process cauliflower with stock, mustard, nutmeg, optional roasted garlic, salt and pepper, working in batches if necessary. Taste the puree and make sure there is enough salt and pepper and mustard. It should be quite well-seasoned, since it will be flavoring the pasta, as well.
7. Pour sauce over the pasta, sprinkle the cheese in, stir to combine, and spread evenly in the prepared dish(es).
8. If you’re going to freeze some of it, make it to this point, then cover and freeze.  If you’re making the dish from frozen, make sure to give the mac & cheese plenty of time to thaw—it takes a long time.
9. Cover the pan with foil and heat for 30 minutes or so, testing with a knife or an instant read thermometer in the middle of the dish to make sure the casserole is hot all the way in the center. When the dish is piping hot, spike the heat to 450 degrees, cover the noodles with the breadcrumbs and Parmesan, and put the dish back into the oven, uncovered, until the bread crumbs are browned—5 to 10 minutes.

roasted garlic and garlic oil

This is actually how I make my olive oil infused with roasted garlic—and the by-product is the “roasted” garlic—which is actually poached in olive oil, but even sweeter and more tender than roasted. If you’d rather roast your garlic in the oven, wrapped in foil, I’m sure you have a recipe in a book already, but this method is much easier, and yields garlic that is sweet and soft and luscious, plus garlic oil has a wonderful, mellow flavor that is intensely garlicky at the same time.

several heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled (I just buy a bag of peeled garlic cloves from Costco, but 3 pounds of garlic might be more than you want to handle.)
olive oil (you don’t need extra-virgin olive oil for this—the garlic imparts so much flavor that you can use regular olive oil)

1. Put all the whole peeled garlic cloves in a heavy, lidded pot. Cover the garlic cloves with olive oil.
2. Bring the oil and garlic to a simmer over medium heat. Give the garlic a stir, and then turn the heat down to the absolute lowest possible heat, cover the pot, and simmer just at a bare bubble. Stir the garlic occasionally and continue to cook until the garlic cloves are completely soft and tender, and you can easily squish one against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. This will probably take an hour or more, but check after 45 minutes.
3. Uncover the pot and let cool. Strain the garlic from the oil.
4. The garlic can be used in any recipe that calls for roasted garlic. You can freeze the garlic indefinitely (I keep it in pint-sized canning jars in the freezer), and just take the cloves out as needed.
5. The oil can be used to roast any vegetable—broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, green beans, turnips…  you name it! Or just dunk your toast in it. Keep it refrigerated. It’ll solidify in the refrigerator, but just scoop out a spoonful and let it come to room temperature.


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Saturday, October 29, 2011

roasted carrot dip with sunflower seeds and cumin


The Carrot Challenge

On the last day of September, I got a message from my friend Amy Pettit at the Alaska Division of Agriculture, advertising their new Farm to School program. The Division wanted to raise awareness of their new program by offering lots of neat prizes for schools to participate. I forwarded the message to my first-grade daughter’s teacher at Rabbit Creek Elementary School, Mrs. Duprow, and told her that I would love to help her out with a project, if she wanted to plan something.

Mrs. Duprow jumped right on it, emailing the Division with her idea to do a taste-testing of our local Alaskan carrots vs. carrots from the Lower 48. She asked if a farmer could come and talk to her class, since they are learning about soils, and maybe they could include the whole school by bringing carrots to the cafeteria.  Before I knew it, the project had grown to a carrot taste-testing for the whole school!

On National Food Day (October 24), Ben VanderWeele delivered a huge bale of his farm’s Alaskan carrots to the school. Here’s a great YouTube video about how the carrots were harvested!

Johanna Herron from the Farm to School program came from Fairbanks with a method for counting votes, along with prizes for the students; Diane Peck came from the Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program with the rival carrots (the ones grown Outside) and little plastic shot glasses to hold the carrot samples; Alaskan food promoter Chef Clayton Jones came with a big hotel pan of delicious caramelized carrots for Mrs. Duprow’s class to eat while he talked about using local food in his restaurants; and I came as general dogsbody: carrot peeler, provider of kitchen equipment, and guide to show people where the cafeteria was.

What a fun event! It was a blind taste test, with orange cups for the Alaskan carrots, and clear cups for the Lower 48 carrots. Reporters showed up from the newspaper and television news, so luckily, the kids really COULD taste the difference between the Alaskan carrots and the Lower 48 carrots. The Alaskan carrots won by more than a two-to-one margin! Our carrots really ARE sweeter and juicier!

Click on the links for the Anchorage Daily News photo gallery and the KTUU Channel 2 News piece on the project. Thanks, Eric Hill and Rhonda McBride, for such great coverage of the event! The funny thing was, of all the people who put this project together, my picture ended up on the front page of the newspaper—and I hadn’t done much of anything! I want to take this opportunity to thank the folks who really DID make it happen: Christine Duprow, Johanna Herron, Diane Peck, Amy Pettit, Ben VanderWeele, Clayton Jones, and the staff at Rabbit Creek.

Clayton, Johanna, Diane and I peeled a LOT of carrots—and at the end of the day, there were about eleven pounds of extra peeled Alaskan carrots. I brought them home, knowing just what I would make! You might already have tried my carrot dip with sunflower seeds—I put that recipe on the blog in August 2009. But since then, I have come up with an even more delicious way to make it. Instead of just boiling the sliced carrots, then pureeing them with the rest of the ingredients, I roast the peeled carrots, halved lengthwise, with a little olive oil and salt. When they are roasted, the carrots make an incredibly rich and delicious puree, and the dip is creamy and fantastic with just the little bit of oil the carrots were roasted in. If you’ve tried it and liked it the other way, try it this way. And if you haven’t yet tried it, buy yourself a couple of big bags of ALASKAN carrots and go for it!


carrot dip with sunflower seeds & cumin

This recipe is loosely based on one in Veganomicon.  It’s fantastic spread on whole grain toast, or crackers—but I like it best scooped up with celery sticks.
I’ve given you a recipe for a large amount, for these reasons:
1) Even though it looks like a lot, 4 pounds of carrots will roast down to half that weight,
2) Keep some in the refrigerator to eat within the week, and freeze the rest in small containers (carefully labeled) for later. It makes a wonderful appetizer, and if someone shows up at the last minute, you can just pop it in the microwave to defrost it, and you’re good to go.
3) If you just want to make a regular batch, you can halve the recipe.

4 pounds carrots, peeled if the skins are bitter
2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup sunflower seeds, roasted or raw (if you have salted roasted seeds, just use less salt and adjust to taste)
4 small cloves garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
2 to 4 tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice

1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
2. Cut the stem ends off the carrots and slice each one lengthwise into two long pieces. In a large bowl, toss the carrot halves with 2 to 4 tablespoons of olive oil and about a teaspoon of salt.
3. Spray a couple of rimmed cookie sheets with Pam (or grease with olive oil).
4. Lay the carrot halves out on the cookie sheets. If you have time to put the cut sides down on the cookie sheet, you’ll get more caramelization, and better flavor, but if you are pressed for time, just spread them out in more or less a single layer and put the cookie sheets in the oven. Roast them in the oven until they are tender when stabbed with a fork, and getting lovely and golden brown around the edges. Check them after 30 minutes, scoop them around on the tray to get other edges exposed to the pan, and check them every 10 minutes or so after that.  They might take up to 50 minutes to cook all the way and get roasty and toasty. Take them out of the oven and set aside to cool a bit.
5. If you have raw sunflower seeds, turn your oven down to 350 degrees. Toast the sunflower seeds on a clean cookie sheet in the oven for about 10 -12 minutes, until golden-brown and fragrant. Check on them and give them a stir if they are getting too brown in spots. (If you have toasted sunflower seeds, just use them as is.)
6. Peel the garlic and toss it in the food processor to mince. Then add the sunflower seeds and process into fine crumbs. Then add the cumin, salt, some of the lemon juice, and as many carrots as you can fit, and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides of the food processor as you go. If you couldn’t fit all the carrots in, transfer the first batch to a big bowl and puree the rest of the carrots with some more lemon juice. Scrape the remaining carrot puree into the bowl, and mix thoroughly with the sunflower seed/garlic puree.
7.    Taste for salt and adjust the lemon. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use. This dip tastes wonderful right away, but even better after it’s had an overnight in the refrigerator. I like to serve it at room temperature, so give it a little chance to warm up before serving if you can—or pop it in the microwave for 30 seconds or so and stir it up before putting it on the table.
8.  Serve with crackers, celery sticks, or on toast. If you have even more carrots on hand and want to use some roasted carrot slices as garnish, you can—but it’s not necessary!

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