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.

 

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My brownie quest is DONE!

I’m a brownie lover…and who isn’t? Very few people can resist warm chocolate, gooey, dense, fudgey…well, there may be a few citrus lovers out there who rate tart higher than sweet, but I’ll ignore that for this post.

I have a few favorite recipes, each unique, and each fitting a specific kind of brownie need. After years of tasting, testing and searching, these are my top five:

  1. My newest discovery is so dense and fudge-like you could almost think you’re eating fudge. But you’re not. You’re eating heavenly Brown Butter Frosted Kahlua Brownies. This is a slight adaptation of the recipe I found on Pinterest. If you want to go chocolate all the way, substitute a good chocolate frosting for the brown butter shown here. I’ve only made this as given, but however you choose to frost, follow the directions for the brownie base closely. The instructions are a little fussy, but so worth it!  Check out Brownies with Brown Butter Frosting and get ready for the smiles all around.
  2. An old standby, this one is the perfect brownie to serve warm and gooey with ice cream. I usually bake this in a pie dish and serve wedges of it like a crustless pie. But this slice is just a brownie in another shape. One nice thing…you get all this delicious fudginess with baking cocoa as the only chocolate ingredient…no fancy imports required! Try Hershey’s Fudge Brownie Pie with a scoop of caramel ice-cream and a sprinkling of walnuts for comfort in a spoon.
  3. A crowd pleaser (used to be a hit with my kids’ youth group)…an oldie but a goodie: Texas Brownies. These are frosted, but a little more cake-like than fudgey. They whip up easily, frost beautifully, and the recipe makes a jelly roll pan full…perfect for a big party or summer picnic. Enjoy Texas Brownies when you want to feed a crowd, or have a really big craving.
  4. For a nod to banana bread, try these luscious and tender Banana Brownies. They are scrumptious! I could eat an embarrassing amount of these, warm and fragrant, right after they’re frosted. Enjoy Banana Brownie Bars and get a little fruit in your brownie serving. With some clever rationalizing, you could even convince yourself that these are healthy!
  5. And finally…I wasn’t really going to leave the citrus crowd high and dry. This recipe for lemon brownies (I know…should be a different term…yellowies?) gives you the perfect texture with all the goodness of sweet and tart. For a totally different take on the “brownie” experience, whip up a batch of Lemon Brownies.

My best brownie baking tip…Never, never, never over bake! And, unless you’re baking for a party, plan to make your treat when you have an easy and automatic way to share…take them in to your office or a school function, or share with a neighbor. My strategy when I bake: divide and enjoy. I satisfy my need to bake and taste, and I get the extras out the door. A win for everyone!

Food for inspiration: Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes

As everyone knows, you think better with food. Especially with something that is a luscious blend of comfort and decadence. Lemon cream cheese cupcakes fit that description perfectly. This is my new favorite sweet treat, not to be confused with something low calorie. If I haven’t said it before, I’m saying it now: you will never find a low calorie dessert on my table, unless the dessert is just fruit. My dessert philosophy is really quite simple: if I’m dieting, I don’t need dessert. If I’m eating dessert, I must not be dieting. So now you know.

The ingredients are standard pantry and fridge items, so this is a great treat to bake on a whim. That’s usually when I whip out my cupcake pan…when I just want a little something without having to run to the market.

I would eat them all, but, alas, that could be ugly, by anyone’s standards! I typically share part of the batch. Check it out for yourself, you may want to have a sweet feast. And best, this is easy, so easy!

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Lemon Cream Cheese Cupcakes
(I think the original recipe is from Kraft. Honor to whom honor is due.)

Ingredients:

1 pkg. (2-layer size) white cake mix
1 pkg. (3.4 oz.)JELL-O Lemon Flavor Instant Pudding
1 cup water
4 egg whites
2 Tbsp. oil
1 pkg. (8 oz.) PHILADELPHIA Cream Cheese, softened
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, softened
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 pkg. (16 oz.) powdered sugar

Method:

HEAT oven to 350ºF.

BEAT first 5 ingredients in large bowl with mixer on low speed until moistened. (Batter will be thick.) Beat on medium speed 2 min. Spoon into 24 paper-lined muffin cups.
BAKE 21 to 24 min. or until toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 min.; remove to wire racks. Cool completely.
BEAT cream cheese, butter and juice with mixer until well blended. Gradually add sugar, beating on low speed after each addition until well blended. Spread onto cupcakes.

OR: if you don’t want to make a cream cheese icing, pick up a can of cream cheese frosting at the market. I’ve made my own, which is yummy, following the recipe, and I’ve also used the prepared cream cheese frosting. Believe me, either choice will be perfect!

One last tip, shared by my daughter: these are delicious as soon as they’ve cooled enough to frost, but they take on an extra special goodness if you chill them before serving. I don’t know what it is; the cupcakes seem to be a bit denser in texture, if you like that. I do, so I typically build in enough time to chill, after frosting, and before sampling.

Enjoy!

Peaches, taste of summer

Peaches are almost my favorite fruit. They definitely rank in the top three. The perfect mango or luscious strawberry is hard to beat, but fortunately, I don’t have to stay awake nights ranking fruit preferences. I can enjoy any and all without pressure.

Some summers are better than others for fruit, or a particular fruit. Peaches are iffy. Some years I’ve enjoyed a seemingly endless parade of peaches through my summer breakfasts and desserts, appearing every way from bare and minimal presentation to delicate pastries and hearty cobblers to jams and chutneys. Well, some years you get lucky.

This summer, so far, I’ve had a few good peaches. But I’m far from satisfied. I haven’t reached the point of feeling I could spare any fruit for stashing in the freezer. That only happens when I’ve hit the jackpot with both flavor and quantity, and the best opportunity for that is a visit to a farm stand, where you can sample the fruit and decide if you want to buy enough for a meal or two, or a more substantial amount that will translate to jams and supplies for the freezer.

Ketchikan doesn’t have farm stands, and the grocery offering is variable. Sometimes the peaches are heavenly, sometimes a waste of money and effort. But next week I’ll be in Arizona, and I’m hoping to do a little peach eating while I’m there.

If you are lucky enough to find yourself with excess peaches on your kitchen counter, here’s a little tip for having a taste of summer next winter: Peel and slice peaches, as many as you want, to fill freezer bags (whatever size works best for you, gallon or quart). Sprinkle fresh sliced peaches with lime or lemon juice to prevent peaches from browning, then fill bags with fruit, press the air out and seal, and pop in the freezer. Next winter when you want a reminder of a summer day, take out a bag of peaches and make a peach cobbler or peach crisp. Trust me, you’ll be able to close you eyes and think you’ve stepped back to July. The flavor will be summer, all over again.

Here’s a good way to use those frozen peaches:

My mother’s peach cobbler

1 gallon bag of sliced frozen peaches, partially thawed
1/2 cup butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

Mix fruit, butter and sugar, and heat to melt butter. You can microwave or do this step on the stove top. Put hot fruit mixture in a deep baking dish.

In a separate bowl, mix:

1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup granulated sugar
Milk (use anything from fat-free to whole milk, your choice) to make a pancake-batter thickness (should be a pourable consistency, but not too thin)

Pour the batter over the hot fruit mixture and bake at 375 degrees, until the batter mixture has bubbled up and browned. (My mom’s recipe doesn’t have a baking time listed; you just “keep an eye” on the oven.) Serve warm with ice cream and prepare for a little heaven on earth.
Reheats nicely too!

Enjoy!

Key Lime Pie

Summer is officially here, and even in Ketchikan the weather is warming up. The afternoons are bright with the peculiar late day sun that is characteristic of Alaska. The best part of the day is late afternoon, and it stays light far into the evening, elongating the period between getting home from work and dinner: almost like a second afternoon to enjoy and linger in.

One of our favorite summer treats is Key Lime Pie. Couldn’t be easier to make, and you can prep the day before you plan to serve, so it’s a great option for entertaining.

This is the recipe for a classic version of the traditional Southern favorite:

Key Lime Pie

For crust
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs from 9 (2 1/4-inch by 4 3/4-inch) crackers
2 tablespoons sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For filling
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
4 large egg yolks
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh or bottled Key lime juice

For topping
3/4 cup chilled heavy cream

Make crust: Preheat oven to 350°F.
Stir together graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl with a fork until combined well, then press mixture evenly onto bottom and up side of a 9-inch (4-cup) glass pie plate.
Bake crust in middle of oven 10 minutes and cool in pie plate on a rack. Leave oven on.

Make filling and bake pie: Whisk together condensed milk and yolks in a bowl until combined well. Add juice and whisk until combined well (mixture will thicken slightly).
Pour filling into crust and bake in middle of oven 15 minutes. Cool pie completely on rack (filling will set as it cools), then chill, covered, at least 8 hours.

Make topping: Just before serving, beat cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks. Serve pie topped with cream.

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Confessions from a cookie monster

I’ve been good for a long time. I rarely buy junk food: chips, sodas, cookies, all those things that get their taste from sugar, fat, and artificial flavoring. They aren’t good for you, and I’m usually strong enough to avoid them.  But I had a major downfall this week. So here’s what happened.

Had an event I needed to take a little treat for, and in a very uncharacteristic choice for me, I stopped by the grocery to pick up something rather than bake a dessert myself.  What can I say? I don’t always have to be in the kitchen! I was strolling around the bakery looking for a likely treat when I spotted them: the Lofthouse Sugar Cookies. You know those fat, soft, white sugar cookies with the really bright frosting? They aren’t the most beautiful cookies I’ve seen. But I love the soft texture and the just right mix of the frosting and the cookie. So I bought a tray of them.

Downfall of the diet

Then…no event! Ended up being rescheduled. And now I was home, facing these cookies, just watching them watching me. I decided to have just one. Of course they wouldn’t keep for another week, so no need to save them all. My back up plan: take them into work, which is a frequent option for me when I’m in baking mode. But somehow, I walked out every day this week without those cookies. And every day, I’ve had another one. Ok, twice I had two for dessert. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to have enough left to take into work at this point.

I comfort myself. I can’t remember the last time I bought cookies. I certainly don’t know the last time I ate a whole batch by myself in one week. Maybe this is a once in a lifetime behavior? I’ll just finish these off and then I’ll be done with this episode. That’s the plan. Don’t bring them in the house, they can’t stare at me from my kitchen counter if I don’t buy them first.

Ok, it’s everyone for themselves. I tried to save myself, but it looks like I’m going down with the ship…er, cookie. I can’t ignore them. They call to me. Just try them, see if you’re any stronger. I dare you. I double dare you! These cookies are evil! And delicious. And addicting. And fattening.

Sorry, I know there are lots of world issues occurring. I’m just having a moment here. I’ll pull myself together and give up being self absorbed shortly. I just have one more to go and then I’m finished. I can throw the evidence…box…away, and go buy myself the makings for a week of salads.

No standing on the scales until next week. By then, I hope the salads will have erased the cookies. It works that way, doesn’t it?

What are you feeding yourself?

A slice of home-made bread pudding.

Comfort food

Had a hard day today. So I fed myself on a few important things:

  • loving support of some key family members
  • read some uplifting words
  • laughed at a joke
  • had a beautiful dessert of bread pudding, caramel sauce, and cinnamon ice cream
  • snuggled up with a warm blankie and hot tea
  • worked on developing a new blog idea
  • promised myself tomorrow would be better because I’m worth it                                                                                                                          What are you feeding yourself today?

English Sticky Toffee Pudding

Sticky toffee pudding

Yum! Sticky Toffee Pudding

Recipe of the Week

Ok, I don’t really post a weekly recipe, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?

This recipe came to me from a dear friend, Ann, who is a wonderful cook of Southern heritage (no disrespect to other regions of the US, but I must say, all the Southern cooks I know are skilled and accomplished in the kitchen). Ann is a shining star in that area, and she has been a source of many family favorites through the years of our friendship. My famous cinnamon rolls (famous among my friends) are really Ann’s…and I am always happy to give credit to her.

But cinnamon rolls are for another day. Today’s little jewel is Sticky Toffee Pudding, possibly my favorite dessert in the world next to decadent chocolate cake. And there’s a secret ingredient: dates! Don’t be put off by that if you’re not a date fan. They dissolve beautifully. Make a game of asking family or guests what fruit is in the pudding. My bet is that no one will even know there’s fruit in the dessert, much less guess what it is.

The first thing to know about this dessert is that it is not a pudding. This is a recipe of English origin, and the English seem to label many things “pudding” that would not be a pudding to an American…just a little clarification going in so no one is surprised by the result. But believe me, you won’t be sorry this is not the traditional American pudding…just ignore the name and proceed as directed. This is a moist and delicious cake with the best and easiest-to-make caramel sauce I’ve ever had. In fact, the sauce alone is worth making. I use it for other desserts that need a little extra love in the form of gooey-buttery-brown sugar decadence. It keeps well in the fridge and reheats like a charm. And it dresses up anything, from a plain pound cake to a bowl of fresh fruit; perfect for ice cream too. Thank you, Ann!

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Pudding Ingredients:

  1. 1 cup plus 1 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  2. 1 tsp baking powder
  3. ¾ cup chopped pitted dates
  4. 1 ¼ cup boiling water
  5. 1 tsp baking soda
  6. ¼ cup unsalted butter, softened
  7. ¾ cup granulated sugar
  8. 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  9. 1 tsp vanilla

Toffee Sauce Ingredients:

  1. ½ cup unsalted butter
  2. ½ cup heavy cream
  3. 1 cup packed light brown sugar

Topping:

1 cup heavy cream, whipped

Directions for pudding:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8 or 9 inch round cake pan, or square baking dish of similar size. Sift flour and baking powder together and set aside. Finely chop dates if you purchased whole dates. (You can purchase these pitted and whole, or already chopped, either option works.) Place dates in a bowl and add the boiling water and baking soda. Set aside.

In bowl of electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla and blend into butter/sugar. Gradually blend in the flour mixture. Gently fold date mixture into the batter, and pour into the prepared baking dish. Bake until the pudding is set and firm on top, about 35 minutes. Remove from oven to wire rack. Cool in pan.

Directions for sauce:

Combine the butter, ½ cup of heavy cream, and the brown sugar in a small heavy saucepan. Heat mixture to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil over medium heat until mixture is thickened, about 8 minutes.

To serve:

Preheat oven broiler. Spoon about 1/3 cup of the sauce over the pudding and spread evenly over the top. Place pudding under the broiler until the topping is bubbly, about 1 minute. Portion pudding into dessert dishes, drizzle with additional toffee sauce and top with a spoonful of whipped cream.

Delicious!

Coconut Cake

 

Birthday cake – Coconut Deliciousness

It’s a birthday week at work, and I’m always excited to have a reason to bake something yummy. So I’m taking a coconut cake for the festivities on Wednesday. My usual choice would be chocolate, but that was last week’s flavor. We need variety for the celebration!

I grew up in the South, and have sampled some amazing coconut cakes, a classic of the region. When I was a child, church potlucks were still sometimes referred to as “dinner on the ground,” and there was always an array of desserts weighing down one end of the table spread with food from great Southern cooks. Coconut cake was sure to be present: most communities had (the lucky ones still have) someone whose claim to fame was a treasured version of the white cake with the fluffy frosting.

Although I still love the classic recipe that has a 7-minute boiled icing and looks like a white cake-shaped snow sculpture, I’ve found an easier option that offers more bang for the buck. The secret? One of the best things in the world – sweetened condensed milk. I know it’s sweet…the name gives it away…but it has a decadent smoothness that can take a dessert from good to spectacular. This cake is so delicious, moist, rich…well, you get the idea. Try it, you may have a new favorite. And the great thing is that the recipe makes enough for a crowd, so it’s a perfect choice for dinner on the ground…or wherever you’re going with dessert in hand.

Coconut Cake

1 box white or vanilla cake mix
1 14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1 21 oz bottle cream of coconut (not coconut milk)
1 8 oz container Cool Whip
1 bag of shredded coconut (found in baking aisle)

Mix and bake cake as package directs, in a 9×13 inch baking dish. When baking is completed, cool cake slightly, leaving in baking pan. Evenly pierce surface of cake with fork or knife (this allows topping to be absorbed by cake).

Mix sweetened condensed milk with half of cream of coconut and pour over surface of cake, letting mixture soak in. Continue to cool cake.

Mix remainder of cream of coconut, Cool Whip, and half of the shredded coconut. Spread over cooled cake (if cake is too warm it will melt the Cool Whip).

Top with remaining shredded coconut. Chill several hours before serving. Refrigerate any remaining cake.