I made raisins!

So I was scrolling through Pinterest a few days ago…often my reward at the end of the day, or when I have a few minutes to wait in line (though I admit the images on my iPhone screen are not as satisfying as they are on my laptop)…and I saw a pin for making homemade raisins. I had to give it a try as I’d just bought some beautiful red seedless grapes. And what could be better than turing my beautiful grapes into beautiful raisins? (Now don’t say you’ve never seen a beautiful raisin!)

I’ve been known to buy the big raisins…did you know they come in more than one size? (I only discovered that a few years ago.) I love raisins that are plump and juicy…I’ve got no love for the dried up, shriveled versions of this grape-reduction. I adore raisins in all sorts of dishes (try adding them to tuna salad, or a sweet / savory green salad), and I even enjoy eating them without the wrap-around of cookie or cake. There’s something so satisfying about the squish factor! So, as a true raisin fan, this seemed like a pin for me. 🙂

The instructions were simple enough, but I made the process even easier. The first step was a quick blanch, then a plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. This is to soften the grape skins. But this was an optional step, and I decided to skip it. The “recipe” is so basic…honestly I couldn’t believe it never occurred to me to try this before. I suppose that’s the power of pre-packaged food…a lot of things that are very doable at home have an aura of mystery and difficulty about them.

But as it turns out, making raisins at home is so easy, I may never buy a box again. 🙂

And I have to say, mine are better than any I’ve ever bought!

So this is all you do:

Give the grapes a quick rinse, then remove the stems. Place in a baking dish.

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I don’t have a dehydrator handy…hey, I’m living in clinic housing, so my options are pretty basic…but I do have an oven, and that’s actually what the instructions suggested…use an oven, or dry the grapes in the sun…I opted for the oven, since you can’t always count on sunshine in the rainforest of SE Alaska. Set the oven temp to about 180, pop the grapes in, close the door, and let the low heat do its magic. That’s really all there is to it.

This is how the grapes looked after the first few hours:

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You can see they’re beginning to look raisin-y, and give up some of their juices.

I left the grapes in overnight, although the instructions said to leave them about five hours. This is what I had the next morning:

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They were perfect! (Ok, the pan is not lovely…you don’t get lovely pans in clinic housing.) But the raisins were this magical reduction of grape flavor, still just slightly squishy to bite, a lot lighter than the boxed variety. I’ve always assumed that the dark raisins were from red grapes, but these were definitely not as dark as the commercial version.

I stored my freshly dried baby raisins…that is an odd description!…in the fridge, just put them in a resealable container, though I don’t store commercially made raisins in the fridge. But I thought this home version would do better staying chilled. There’s enough moisture still on the raisins I could see them moulding if stored at a room temp.

So all week I’ve been eating a few at a time as a snack. They’re so delicious, and really a handful is enough to satisfy a sweet craving. I’ve tried drying a few other things over the years, and grapes are a great addition to my drying repertoire. This is so easy, and so yummy, I think I’ll be making raisins on a regular basis.

Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

~ Sheila

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Cranberry relish on my table

In this season of holiday meals, of traditional foods, one of the debates that’s ongoing is over the delicate subject of cranberry sauce: do you have what you grew up with (for me it was the jellied sauce that pops out of the can, complete with the ringed indentions of said can) or do you go for something homemade?

To be honest, I have to have both…a nod to my past, and the sauce of my childhood. (I’m not sure fresh cranberries were even available in the market in my childhood years, so far did we live from the source.) And I love a berry-filled, sweet/tart version, simple and yet perfect to grace any table.

It’s been a while since I posted a recipe. Possibly that’s because I’ve been in the kitchen less in the past year than any time in my life.

But even I, living a couple of weeks here and there at a time, have to do some holiday prep. There are a few dishes I love, that are the essence of the winter holiday flavors for me.

One of these is the homemade cranberry relish that’s on the menu every Thanksgiving, and often at Christmas too. It’s so delicious and simple, and pairs beautifully with all sorts of savory dishes. But the important thing is that it tastes amazing. And it’s beautiful. And it’s easy, and keeps for weeks in the fridge. How perfect is that?

Baked Cranberry Nut Relish

  • 1 lb fresh whole cranberries, washed and drained
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 1/2 cups orange marmalade
  • Juice of one lemon

Combine cranberries and sugar in deep baking dish. Cover with foil and bake at 350° for one hour. Spread walnuts in a shallow pan and toast in oven during the last 10 minutes of baking time for cranberries, stirring walnuts a couple of times. Remove cranberries and walnuts from oven, combine in bowl with marmalade and lemon juice. You can serve warm or chilled. This will keep for several weeks in the fridge. Perfect for gift giving…fill jars and add the recipe for an easy and charming hostess gift or stocking stuffer.

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Fresh picks

I’ve been on my own the past couple of weeks, back in Alaska to do a little work for income, and to have a little work done on the house. I’m focused on policies and grants for one clinic, and filling in for the medical staff coordinator at the local hospital. The variety keeps me on my toes, keeps me learning and productive.

On the home front, the house and deck were power washed and some of the paint was refreshed. With a house that’s almost 100 years old, there’s always some project in the works. The replacement glass for my cracked front window has arrived and I almost had that replaced yesterday. But no, the weather didn’t cooperate. We had a gale of a storm and had to postpone until June. My hedges and trees are all trimmed up, and I have a new lock on my fuel oil tank. So I’ve marked off a few of my to-dos.

But it’s not all been work. There’s been cooking too! Or at least some cooking, and some prep for future yumminess.

Last week I bought a king salmon, the first one of the season. Here’s that beauty:

Alaskan King

Alaskan King

Thank goodness it came without the head and tail and guts. I don’t need any of those, although I hear I’m really missing out by not making fish head soup. But someone else can enjoy that delicacy. I’ll just content myself with the non-head parts. I’m taking some of the fish I vacuum sealed and froze down to California for a little Memorial Day grilling. See, I know how to get ready to camp. 🙂

Ready to freeze

Ready to freeze

I couldn’t resist trying my hand at smoking some of the fresh king. I borrowed a Little Chief smoker and researched a brine recipe. Here’s my finished product:

Smoked to perfection!

Smoked to perfection!

The smoked salmon makes a great dip. I can’t give exact amounts, but try blending smoked salmon and a block of cream cheese to a chunky paste in a food processor. Some people add onion or other seasonings, but I like just the salmon and cream cheese. Serve with water crackers or whatever dipper you like. Easy and delicious!

I made a quick pickled salad this week. You could use any firm vegetable. I used diced cucumber, cherry tomatoes (cut in half), diced red onion, and diced baby bell peppers. I made an oil and apple cider vinegar dressing and seasoned it with a little sugar and salt and pepper. Again, no measurements…just mix to taste. (You’ll want enough dressing to coat the veggies, but not so much that they’re swimming in it.) Chill in the fridge to give the veggies time to absorb the flavor of the dressing. It’s a cool and crunchy light lunch or dinner.

Healthy lunch!

Healthy lunch!

Beautiful and simple

Beautiful and simple

And last but not least, I harvested my rhubarb this week. Rhubarb is a late comer to my life. I discovered it about a decade ago and immediately fell in love with the tartness and the way it pairs so well with other flavors to make amazing desserts.

I started my rhubarb crop here in Ketchikan with one plant a friend gave me. This stuff is hardy. You plant it and forget about it. Two or three times each summer I have enormous leaves and stalks that demand attention. The rhubarb is planted behind the hedge in my front garden, and when I begin to see the leaves poking out above the hedge, I know it’s time to harvest. You can cut the plant down to the ground and it grows right back. Let me just say, here and now, this is my kind of gardening! Seems indestructible, impervious to weather, and I literally do nothing but cut it back a few times a year.

I should have made a photo of the plant, but I wasn’t in blog mode when I was in harvest mode, so you’ll have to google “rhubarb” if you want to see the the full glory. I’ve been told that rhubarb likes cooler climates, which is probably why I first met it in Colorado and renewed my acquaintance here in Alaska. My grandmothers, who grew most fruits and vegetables known to man, didn’t grow rhubarb, so I assume it would not do well in the heat of a Mississippi summer. Which explains why I missed out on this taste for so long.

The edible part of the plant is the stalk, which looks a lot like celery, except it is a deeper green and has shades of red and pink as well. You cut the stalks off and remove the large leaf that grows at the end of the stalk. Then you wash and dice. That’s it! You can use the fresh rhubarb to make all sorts of dishes. I see savory recipes and I’ve even tasted a couple. But I’ll admit, I just use it for desserts and sweets.

You can make rhubarb pie, rhubarb crisp, rhubarb jam. You typically see rhubarb paired with another fruit, and the classic choice is strawberries. Yes, yes, that’s a good flavor. But do yourself a favor. If you can get your hands on rhubarb, pair it with orange. Orange zest, orange marmalade, orange juice. Nothing. like. it.

Here’s my rhubarb journey this week:

From 1 (!) plant!

From 1 (!) plant!

 

You cut the long stems off the base of the plant and have these celery-like stalks. They’re even a little stringy like celery. The only thing I do is wash and chop. You’ll have different widths but honestly I can’t detect any difference in texture or flavor once the rhubarb is cooked down, so I use the small tender stalks as well as the monster wide ones.

Chopped!

Chopped!

I used a little for a sweet treat (reward for my two weeks of work!) and popped the rest into freezer bags. It’s the easiest thing to freeze. I just chop and bag. No need to blanch or prep in any other way.

Ready to go

Ready to go

And now, just to whet your appetite!

Dessert for two: (or just me 🙂 )

Butter the bottom of a small baking dish. Spread a layer of chopped rhubarb and lightly sprinkle with brown sugar. I added a couple of teaspoons of orange marmalade, then topped the fruit with a crumb mixture. The crumb mixture is a combination of quick cook oatmeal, brown sugar, a pinch of salt, and a couple of tablespoons of butter. Spread the crumb mixture on top of the fruit and bake at 350, about 25 minutes, or until the crumb topping is lightly browned. Voila! Dessert, or snack, or whatever you need to call it to eat it as soon as it comes out of the oven.

Rhubarb and orange layer

Rhubarb and orange layer

Crumb topping

Crumb topping

All I need is ice cream!

All I need is ice cream!

If you want to mix in other goodness, add nuts or raisins. You can also do this with strawberries or apples instead of the marmalade. I just happen to like the orange, so that’s always my first choice to pair with rhubarb.

Happy start to the summer! And happy Memorial Day! Thank you to all the people who’ve given so much to freedom and our way of life. Remember them while you’re enjoying family and friends this weekend, and find a man or woman wearing the uniform to thank.

 

In case you missed it…World Nutella Day!

WorldNutellaDay_logo_s-e1391459886361-300x207In the flurry of sports headlines…today is the parade for the Super Bowl champs, the Seattle Seahawks, (boy, was that painful!) and there’s ongoing news and drama around the Sochi Olympics…you could be missing an exciting new entry to the list of “world” days: World Nutella Day. It’s a young event, launched in 2007, so momentum is still building. 🙂

Complete with website, World Nutella Day provides the perfect excuse for uniting spoon and spread, for enjoying chocolate creaminess long before the Easter bunny hops this way. This is a day for lip-licking, jar-cleaning, smear-on-any surface goodness, and I’m proud to partake!

To celebrate in style, check out the plethora of Nutella recipes you can try. Pinterest offers a gold mine. Nutella has come a long way, moving beyond a humble spread for toast to star in ice cream, pastries, cakes, brownies…any place you would want chocolate, you can invite Nutella. And really…is there any dessert that doesn’t deserve a chocolate option?

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Super Bowl!

Good morning sports fans! Surprise, surprise, here I am among the millions, waiting to watch the Super Bowl!

Not my usual thing. I like a good game, now and then, but I’m hardly a die-hard sports fanatic. But with Denver and Seattle in the big game, I have to watch and cheer. No, strike that…I get to watch and cheer! 🙂

I’m cheering for the Broncos, of course. We lived in Colorado for almost 20 years, and you’d have to live under a rock there to not be at least a little bit of a Bronco fan. And I have a soft spot in my heart for Peyton Manning. He was a favorite of my dad’s, and Peyton’s dad, Archie, was a legend of Ole Miss football, many moons ago. It was long before our time at the school, but that legacy lingered when we were there. So it’s an easy choice, despite the fact that I’ve spent a lot more time in Seattle in recent years than in Colorado.

We used to go to Broncos games during the John Elway era. Rob had two season tickets…usually it was him and one of the kids who went to the stadium (the old Mile High) for the games. Occasionally we would get an extra couple of tickets and all of us would go. There was a guy who sat behind our seats, and he was a fixture on those Sunday afternoons. He would boom out, now and then, in a random fashion, “SUPER BOWL!” Didn’t matter if the Broncos were losing or winning. He always had faith!

Well, some years, he was right. I’m sure he’s long gone, just like that old stadium. But the fans keep going, the team keeps going, and Peyton! Well, you have to love his drive 🙂

We’re in Metlakatla this weekend, with Rob covering call, so hopefully no one will have an emergency this afternoon. The game starts at 3:30 our time, and we’re joining some of the clinic staff in front of a big screen to see the commercials, the game, and eat our way through a few game day treats.

Since dips are an eternal favorite, and artichokes are a personal favorite, I’m taking my cheesy, garlicky, yummy, completely decadent combination of the two.

Baked Artichoke Dip

  • Marinated artichoke hearts, 2 jars (6.5 oz each)
  • 2 cups mayonnaise
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan
  • 1 cup shredded Mozzarella
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 yellow onion, medium dice
  • Dash of Worcestershire sauce
  • Pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 350°. Mix all ingredients together and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Serve warm with crackers or other dippers of choice…veggies, pita chips, flatbread. Everything works with this dip.

I’m also honoring the tradition of buffalo wings, but doing an updated version. For you doubters out there, give Buffalo Cauliflower a try:

Spicy Buffalo Cauliflower

And last, for a sweet treat (you know I’m never without dessert!), an old favorite:

Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

Well, it’s still early here in Alaska. So excuse me now, I have a little baking left to do before I put my game face on.

Go Broncos!

Playing with my food

Pumpkin love

I’ve been playing, enjoying a stretch of nesting. I can’t really get into cooking if I’m only passing through my kitchen. I need a little time to dig in and be inspired. Usually that involves a craving that needs satisfying or curiosity about a new recipe. I have to have enough time at home to justify the effort of shopping and cooking. Because, let’s face it, if we’re only passing through, leftovers are going to be a problem. You can’t fully engage in the kitchen and be on the run at the same time. The weeks we’re living in out-of-town clinic apartments do not inspire experiments; those weeks demand convenience. But home plus time equals satisfaction. And this week satisfaction is stirring a sauce and baking goodness.

I just made a delicious butternut squash lasagna. Yes, I’m continuing my affair with the butternut. It’s versatile and tasty. Who knew this would be my new favorite base for soups and hearty casseroles? The more I work with squash (should that be squashes? not sure about the plural form) the more I find to do with them. You can cook them almost any way…roast in the oven, simmer in water, steam, microwave.

And here’s my latest trick: you don’t have to de-seed before cooking. (If you’re simmering squash on the stove top for a soup, it’s probably best to de-seed and cube the squash first.) The minimalist method works well for oven roasting or microwaving. You can literally put a whole squash in the oven, crank the temp to 400 degrees, and bake away. Baking time will vary depending on size of squash. Check for tenderness after about 45 minutes. Cook longer if the squash does NOT pierce easily with a sharp knife. When the squash is tender, remove from heat, cool, then peel and remove seeds, reserving the cooked squash for your recipe.

I haven’t tried microwaving a butternut or acorn squash, but it works like a charm for the spaghetti variety. Just pierce the spaghetti squash a few times with a sharp knife to release steam during cooking. I microwave in increments of 3 to 4 minutes so I don’t over-cook. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the squash and the power of the microwave. The intricacies of prepping spaghetti squash are for another post, but I thought I’d throw in this cooking method as a freebie since I’m on the general subject.

Let me just add that if you’re looking to entertain yourself on a slow night, cook up one of these babies and then cut it open and begin to shred the squash with a fork. I’m probably going to regret admitting this, but I am fascinated with the process of turning spaghetti squash into something that looks just like pasta. Now you’re either going to feel sorry for me and wonder how spaghetti squash can be so exciting…or you’re going to check it out and be equally enthralled by the pasta-look-alike squash. Whichever it is, it can be your little secret.

Roasted lasagna beauty

Roasted lasagna beauty

Roasted Butternut Squash Lasagna

Ingredients:

1 3-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1-inch chunks.
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
4 tablespoons butter
4 cloves garlic
1 small onion, diced
1 small yellow or orange bell pepper, diced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1 cup chicken broth
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh snipped rosemary
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 cup shredded Parmesan Cheese
8 oz Ricotta
Shredded Mozzarella, about 2 cups
Fresh lasagna noodles or no-boil lasagna noodles
1 cup heavy whipping cream

Instructions:

Pre-heat oven to 400.
Lightly grease a baking sheet and set aside.
Combine chopped squash, olive oil, salt and pepper in a mixing bowl and toss to coat.
Spread the squash in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet.
Roast the squash in the oven for 40 minutes, stirring once or twice, until soft.

(OR…just cook the squash whole in the oven as described above, and then peel and cube for the sauce after squash is baked.)

While the squash bakes, make the sauce.

Heat butter over in a large saucepan over medium heat.
Add garlic, onion and bell pepper and cook until veggies are tender.
Whisk in flour.
Slowly add broth and milk and season with salt and pepper.
Cook and stir frequently until thickened and bubbly, about 8 to 10 minutes.

Remove squash from oven and reduce oven temperature to 375.

Add chopped butternut squash, rosemary and nutmeg into sauce. You can blend with an immersion blender if you want a smoother texture for the filling.

Butter a 3-quart casserole dish.
Spoon sauce over the bottom of prepared baking dish.
Layer three or four noodles on top of sauce.
Top noodles with a layer of Ricotta and shredded Mozzarella. Top with 1/3 of the Parmesan.
Ladle sauce on top of the noodles.
Repeat layering of noodles, sauce, Ricotta, Mozzarella, and Parmesan cheeses two more times.
Pour whipping cream over entire dish.
Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese.
Cover dish with foil.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until bubbly.
Uncover and continue to bake for 10 more minutes, or until top is lightly browned.
Let stand 15 minutes before serving.
Cut and serve.

Ah, my new favorite comfort. So beautiful, so filling, so satisfying. This is a dish to look forward to all Monday long!

My dinner

October dinner

What’s a yummy dinner without a little sweet treat to finish? This recipe for brownies is tried and true. I just adapted a favorite dessert to make individual bites. I made 1/2 recipe of Hershey’s Fudge Pie, then scooped spoonfuls of batter into a silicone pan. Little tastes of heaven! I have ideas for this little jewel. I can think of lots of recipes that would be perfect to make with this shape. I’m not always a fan of silicone baking, but this is a winner.

I’ve shared this recipe before, but in case you missed it, here it is, in all its glorious chocolatey-ness.

Hershey’s Fudge Brownie Pie, or “Brownies Bites”

Reward for a Monday

Reward for a Monday

Ingredients:

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1⁄2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup Hershey’s Cocoa
1⁄4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts (walnuts or pecans)

Instructions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch pie pan.
Beat eggs; blend in sugar and melted butter. Stir in flour, cocoa and salt. Stir in vanilla and nuts.
Pour into prepared pie pan.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until almost set. (Pie will not test done in center). Cool; cut into wedges.
Serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

Ugly Chocolate Cake

I’m craving chocolate. And not just any chocolate. I need chocolate cake. And not just any chocolate cake. I need the Ugly Chocolate Cake, aka, Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Cake. Yep, the one off the back of the Hershey‘s Cocoa box. No upscale dark and expensive chocolate need apply for this job. But I promise you, somehow, unbelievably, the chocolate flavor in this cake is so good…well, one slice just won’t do the trick. You’ll need a little more, and maybe a little more after that. This cake is that good. This is a dense, moist, solid cake. No lighter than air texture here…this one has body, it has presence. And it has frosting. The frosting is just as wonderful as the cake. Well, make it and see for yourself.

Oh, and the “Ugly” title came from baking this at high altitudes, when we lived in the foothills above Denver. I always had trouble with getting the cake to turn out picture perfect, so we began calling my creation the “Ugly Chocolate Cake” because there was always a bit of frosting camouflage needed to make the layers look just right on the cake stand. But it was a label given with affection, and since the looks didn’t affect the taste, no one minded if the name wasn’t elegant.

You can get this off the back of the cocoa box, but why would you? I can tell you, that print is pretty small! So save yourself some squinting, and just copy from here:

Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate” Chocolate Cake

Chocolate goodness!

Chocolate goodness!

Skill Level: Beginner Prep Time: 15 Minutes

Ingredients

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

“PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE” CHOCOLATE FROSTING (recipe follows)

Directions

1 Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

2 Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

3 Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with “PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE” CHOCOLATE FROSTING. 10 to 12 servings.

VARIATIONS:
ONE-PAN CAKE: Grease and flour 13x9x2-inch baking pan. Heat oven to 350° F. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool completely. Frost.

THREE LAYER CAKE: Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost.

BUNDT CAKE: Grease and flour 12-cup fluted tube pan. Heat oven to 350°F. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake 50 to 55 minutes. Cool 15 minutes; remove from pan to wire rack. Cool completely. Frost.

CUPCAKES: Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups. Heat oven to 350°F. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. About 30 cupcakes.

“PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE” CHOCOLATE FROSTING

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine 2/3 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency. Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

Enjoy!

 

Fresh from California

Biscoff spread. Has 5g of sugar so it's out of...

Biscoff spread. (Photo credit: programwitch)

So here I am, back in Ketchikan on Labor Day Monday, ready to work the rest of the week. My end-of-August flirtation with California sun and big beach hats is done, and I’m moving into work mode.

I got home today to find that summer is still here. That was a surprise. I haven’t seen the weather forecast for Ketchikan the past ten days, and I figured we’d used up all the available sunny days we’d be allotted for the season. But not true, there are several more on tap this week. I rode across on the airport ferry standing outside the cabin…that doesn’t happen often. My car was delicious, the warmth causing it to release its lingering new car smell (after 4 1/2 years…that should tell you how much this vehicle is used!) My house was roasty and welcoming in the afternoon light streaming in the big front windows.

And to add to the summer temps lingering a little longer, I imported seasonal flavors to enjoy the next few days. We took frozen salmon down with us to grill while we were camping, and I made use of my emptied fish box to bring back tomatoes, corn, squash, peaches, and a jar or two of Biscoff Spread. (No, no, that’s not produce…just an item I can’t find in the local market.)Would you believe the last time I bought a jar of this delight and tried to bring it back with me in my carry-on luggage, TSA took it from me?!  This stuff is definitely not a liquid. I was assured that the staff can’t consume anything they confiscate, they’re required to dispose of food. That’s almost worse than thinking of some stranger eating my Biscoff. Seems like a waste all around!

Of course I can buy all the fresh produce in Ketchikan. But the charming thing was that I bought it yesterday at a farm stand in California. Whenever I have the option of buying produce from a roadside stand, I’m drawn like a moth to flame. What is it about the farming heritage that makes produce at a farm stand more alluring than neatly stacked fruits and vegetables in a lovely market setting? I always think it’s my grandmothers’ farming blood singing in my veins. Although I’ve grown little beyond tomatoes and rhubarb and flowers, I like the idea of farm fresh. Never mind that I have seen enough of the work side of gardening to know that it’s not the glamorous occupation it’s cracked up to be!

So, when it occurred to me that I could dine on home-grown tomato sandwiches all this week, I couldn’t resist the temptation to bring up just a few things. A couple of guys at the airport this morning saw my fish box and wondered aloud why I was taking fish to Alaska. You see these iconic cardboard boxes all summer as tourists and fishermen take home their catch, flash frozen and ready for travel. Well hey, I figured if the styrofoam-lined box can keep fish frozen on a trip down to the lower 48, it could keep veggies in good condition to travel back up. And I’m happy to report that I was right. All produce survived amateur transportation. My sandwich was delicious! I know I’ve waxed eloquent about my favorite summer feast before…just can’t help myself. A sign that I’ve had almost enough tomatoes is that I begin to get mouth ulcers from all the acidity after overindulging. But I’m not even close yet. Maybe after this week. It’s a painful condition for a day or two, and I’ve never been successful at timing…I only know I’ve had too many tomatoes when the little ulcers begin to appear. But this is my dedication: I’m willing to suffer for the mayonnaise-and-tomato-on-soft-white-bread symphony. Especially when the best flavor is only a summer treat.

We went to a huge flea market last week. Found a beautiful straw hat, very Audrey Hepburn style. I loved the hat so much I wanted to bring it home. But that seems a waste as it’s likely to get more wear when we’re RVing. Not really much occasion for Audrey big hats in Alaska.  Well, this is not exactly how my hat looks. But it is lovely, take my word for it, and big enough I could have sailed a small vessel with it. Very useful for shading small countries that are lounging at the pool and have forgotten sunscreen.

15 apr 1963

15 apr 1963 (Photo credit: fred baby)

I also found a couple of elegant glass bottles for holding sparkling water or juice…whatever…really the contents don’t matter. My clear glass fetish kicked in and I was compelled to buy these two lovelies. Rob just looks at me like I’ve grown a third eye or something equally hideous. He cannot understand my need for clear glass objects. Most of the time I control it very well. But let’s just say one day I’ll have a thing or two to leave some like-minded clear glass aficionado. You know who you are. I think I raised one of those people, so that will probably work out to be my son-in-law’s storage issue eventually.

So, home, treasures unpacked, and a few eaten, and on to next. September and pumpkins and all things fall. I had a maple latte at the airport this morning. Aaahhh, it begins!

Just couldn’t help myself

So it’s summer. It’s summer! Time for dinner on the deck, homemade ice cream, and if I’m lucky, good tomatoes. I stopped by the grocery on my way home tonight to pick up a few things and saw heirloom tomatoes were in stock. And like a magnet, pricey though they are, they drew me in. I put three luscious ones in my cart, and immediately, almost without conscious thought, my feet headed toward the bread aisle. When tomatoes are in season…and only home-grown or heirloom specimens are truly worthy…no anemic, plastic-looking hot-house varieties need apply…my favorite thing is a tomato sandwich. And that sandwich must be made with white bread. Can’t do wheat or oat bran or whole grain for this combo. I like hearty breads and brown breads and seeded breads. But as soon as tomatoes are in season, my tastes revert to childhood. And in my childhood, at least in my mother’s house, deep in the heart of Mississippi, the bread was always white.

I’m a purist when it comes to fresh tomatoes. A perfect summer tomato needs a sprinkle of sea salt. And that’s it. Pair with soft white bread and a generous slather of real mayonnaise and you have a taste of heaven. Some people toast the bread or add lettuce. Not me. Nope. All I want is the simplicity of summer flavor combined with the texture from childhood memory. And the bonus? No heating up the kitchen in the middle of our SE Alaska heat wave, and dinner is on the table in five. Perfect!

End of Summer Tomatoes

End of Summer Tomatoes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My new favorite food

As I’ve mentioned recently, we’re having a real summer here in SE Alaska! This was from last week, but today’s weather looked just like this. (On my phone, anyway…it was a little less sunny in reality. But no rain!)  If you know the Pacific Northwest, and SE Alaska, Summertime!you know how rare it is to have a week of sunshine in the forecast. Even more rare to have multiple weeks like that. And while we’ve had a few rainy days here and there, this is a summer to celebrate!

With summer comes grilling, and we’ve done a lot of that this month. I’ve been trying new recipes and decided to experiment with pizza on the grill. I’ve read about it, thought about it, and now, I’ve tried it. Let me tell you, it’s my new favorite thing. Worth doing, and so easy I wonder why I haven’t tried it before.

So here’s the way to do it:

There are lots of recipes to choose from. Here’s one I like:

Ingredients:

2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 cups (11 ounces) all-purpose flour*
3/4 cup (6 ounces) lukewarm water
2 tablespoons (7/8 ounce) olive oil

*Substitute Whole Wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour, if desired.

Method:

Mix all of the ingredients to make a soft, supple dough. Knead for 5 minutes, divide the dough in half, cover with lightly greased plastic wrap, and let rest and relax for 15 minutes (or for up to an hour or so; work it into your schedule as you see fit).

Grease two 12″ squares of parchment paper. Use your greased fingers to press each piece of dough on the parchment into an 11″ to 12″ circle about 1/8″ thick. Brush or spray the crusts with olive oil, and let them rest for about 30 minutes, while you pre-heat your grill.

To make grilled pizza: Be prepared to grill your pizza within 15 minutes of shaping it; you don’t want it to rise too much. So, make sure your barbecue grill is heated (or cooled) to medium-hot by the time the dough is ready to grill.

Set the rack 3″ to 4″ above the fire. Take one circle of dough, on its parchment, and swiftly but carefully turn it (dough down, parchment on top) onto the grill. Peel off the parchment.

After 1 minute, turn it over; it should be stiff enough to turn quite easily (if not, your grill isn’t hot enough). Layer with toppings. This is not the time to pile on the meat, cheese, veggies, etc. Since the pizza will be cooking very briefly, it’s better to top with just a minimal amount of stuff: thinly sliced veggies, a thin layer of cheese, etc.

Bake an additional 5 minutes or so, with the cover on (if your grill has a cover), or until the filling is hot and the cheese is melting. Adjust the temperature of the grill if the bottom is browning too quickly. And, move the pizza around on the grill if one side or the other starts to get too brown on the bottom. Repeat the grilling process with the other pizza.

We like veggie pizza. Marinated artichoke hearts, fresh sliced tomatoes, basil, mushrooms, peppers, red onion, salt and pepper over all, and top with a blend of shredded mozzarella and shaved parmesan…perfection! The pizza dough “bakes” up so light and airy on the grill it’s like eating something from a gourmet wood-fired pizzeria. The veggies get just slightly cooked so they taste incredibly fresh and keep a little of their crunchiness. The whole thing is warm and satisfying to eat, and so fast. I’m seriously thinking of making this again for the third time this week. Haven’t had my fill yet!