Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing

 
This has to be one of the classic salads, right up there with the Caesar salad, Cobb salad, and The Wedge. If you have been around for a while you will know that along with pudding, I'm also a big fan of salads. There has to be some balance. You know, balancing pudding with bacon! I know I just said that I hate the idea of eating salad in January, but January is almost over, and this one has a hot dressing. So, I'll let this one slide. It had been many years since I had one of these traditional spinach salads. It reminds me of a restaurant back where I grew up. A pretty fancy place back then, at least to my 13 year old memory. You took an elevator to the top floor and the whole restaurant had floor to ceiling windows that overlooked the ski hill and downtown in the winter time. It was always warm and cozy. They had the best cheesecake. This was back before EVERY restaurant served cheesecake. At least before every restaurant served the same cheesecake that came off the same truck. 
You see, it takes nothing for me to take a perfectly good salad and quickly digress to cheesecake. I'm trying here, but it is hard for me. In any case, it brings back memories of getting dressed up and going out for a nice dinner. I still like to go there and have a glass of wine when I go back home, but the place has lost some of its mystery and excitement. Everything seems smaller, and maybe a little less shiny. 
I can't help but wonder with eating out being so common now if kids still get that excitement that comes with going to a "fancy" restaurant. Well, I'm glad I was able to have that experience. I'm glad I was able to have this salad, and yes the cheesecake too! Do you have any childhood memories of eating out someplace fancy? Do you remember what you ate, or who you were with? Was there cheesecake? I'd love to hear about it.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Butterscotch Pudding

I have made no less than a dozen butterscotch pudding recipes over the last couple of years. The problem is with over cooking them and they turn out lumpy. I've tried every different method. There was one that I was so excited about. I tasted it before I put it in the fridge to cool and it was great, but in the morning I pulled it out and it was hard and lumpy. Made me wish I had eaten it all the night before. So, I was thrilled when I found this recipe in Cook's Illustrated that said Butterscotch pudding can be time consuming and difficult with the old traditional method. Hooray, it's not just me. If Cook's Illustrated says it is so, then it must be true. They claimed this new method of pouring the hot caramel sauce over the eggs and cornstarch worked better. They were right, this is probably the most silky smooth pudding I have ever eaten.
Why so many pudding recipes, you ask? It's not like this space is lacking for pudding recipes. There are already recipes for Meyer Lemon, Banana, and Tapioca pudding. I feel that I could never have too many basic pudding recipes. Basic pudding is great because it isn't one of those desserts that comes already portioned. Just want a bite of something sweet? You can do that with pudding. Want to eat the whole bowl? I wouldn't advise it, but you can do that too!
So, I won't apologize for another pudding recipe. Who doesn't love pudding? Butterscotch is really a staple in the pudding world. It ranks right up there with chocolate and vanilla. Come to think of it, there aren't recipes here for those flavors either. Back to the kitchen for me. I might just have to try this new method on those flavors too.
What's your favorite flavor of pudding?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Smoked Salmon Spread

Our house is never going to be the same now that homemade bagels have arrived. There have been requests for poppy seed, sesame, and chocolate chip! I'm not surprised, and maybe that is why I have held out in making them for so long. Now that bagels are becoming a staple, it's time to start thinking about bagel toppings. My favorite bagel shop topping is the smoked salmon spread. Turns out it is amazingly simple to make at home. The bagel shop spread isn't quite this pink though. I'm not sure if it was the method or the fact that there's just a whole lot of salmon in this spread. Whatever the reason, it sure tastes good. That's all that matters, right? What's your favorite way to top your bagel?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Sick Day Meyer Lemon Rx Sorbet

Whenever I feel like I have a cold coming on I always try and eat a lot of garlic and drink lots of orange juice. I always find the worst thing about getting sick is having a sore throat. What could be worse than not being able to eat or talk without it hurting? That is why I thought that the Influenza Rx Sorbet from Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream was such a great idea. I didn't get around to making it last year, and when I finally did get sick I regretted not having some in my freezer. This year I decided to make my own, more lemony version. You're lucky I didn't decide to go with and orange juice and garlic version. I figured I would make it up ahead of time so it would be there in case I needed it. So far (knock on wood) I have been lucky and haven't gotten that nasty flu that has been going around. I think it might be one of the benefits of not going out in public too much these days.
I decided to go more with a honey lemon cough drop version of the recipe, with a good healthy dose of ginger. When I went to the store in search of cough drops I couldn't resist buying a box of Luden's. My Mom used to always buy the honey licorice ones when I was a kid. I don't remember them being very effective, but they sure did taste good. I guess the same can be said for this sorbet. I haven't yet had a chance to try it out for a sore throat, but I also haven't been able to keep my spoon out of it for the last few days either. I'll be surprised if there is actually any left if I do get sick. What do you do to soothe a cold and/or sore throat? Any good home remedies I should know about?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Kaffir Lime and Meyer Lemonade



I had not planned to make this a boozy post. In fact, what kind of crazy person posts a lemonade recipe in January? Especially one living in Alaska. A few weeks ago I was looking for Mango Lassi recipes, and I found this one for lemonade on the opposite page. I loved the idea of using both kaffir limes and meyer lemons.  It was the day after my Meyer Lemons had been shipped from The Lemon Ladies in California. Karen often includes some extra treats in my lemon box. I went to visit her a few years ago and fell in love with the scent of her Bay tree, so I often find bay leaves tucked into my box of lemons. Every once in a while she sends other little treats from her garden as well. Sometimes when I have a craving to make curry at home I will ask her to include some kaffir lime leaves. This last time I didn't have anything in mind that I wanted to make soon, so I didn't ask. Wouldn't you know it, the very next day I found this drink recipe. Karen must have read my mind, because when my box arrived it had plenty of Kaffir Lime leaves along with my beautiful Meyer Lemons. I was thrilled.
I made sure to pick up some soda water on my trip to the grocery store, and then went to work on the lime syrup. I couldn't resist adding a few lime leaves to the syrup bottle. As I set the bottle in the fridge to cool I realized I hadn't bought soda water, but tonic. I had wanted to try the recipe out, so I went ahead and made it with the tonic. It was really quite good, almost tasted like it already had gin in it. I couldn't resist adding a little gin to the drink.  This is definitely my new gin and tonic. The next trip to the grocery store, I bought the soda water and it too made the tasty and refreshing beverage you see in these photos and find the recipe for below.  If you are a fan of gin and tonics I highly recommend you give the boozy version a try. Just add a shot of gin and swap out the club soda for tonic water.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Sausage Gravy

Memory is a strange thing. I guess we couldn't possibly store all the information we learn in a lifetime, or can we? I find that there are bits and pieces in there, things I have forgotten about. Then I see an old friend and the memories come pouring back. 
Sausage gravy is a very easy recipe to remember. You don't even need a recipe really, I don't measure anything. I just go by what looks right. I can remember learning how to make sausage gravy and being amazed by how simple the whole process is, but here's the thing, I don't remember who it was that taught me, or where I was. I can see the stove, and the cast iron skillet. I can see the sprinkling of the flour, and the pouring in of the milk. But who, who was doing all of this? I'm pretty sure it wasn't anyone in my family. I have spent the last few days wondering about this and I couldn't help but think of all the kitchens I have spent time in during my life. I've been so lucky to learn from so many people. I spent a lot of time earlier in my career doing field work and staying with people who were willing to take in a poorly paid intern, and in so many of those places I was greeted with such kindness and so many wonderful meals. Those moments have stuck with me my whole life, now if only I could remember them!
So, you didn't think I was going to leave you hanging with plain old biscuits the other day, did you? Sausage gravy is super easy to make, and really it is all about your preference as to whether you like your gravy thick or thin. The base recipe here is for a pretty thick gravy, just add a little more milk if you want it to be thinner. If you aren't crazy about spicy gravy feel free to leave out the red pepper flakes, or add more if you like it spicy hot!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Quick Buttermilk Biscuits

I'm all for fast food made at home. As long as you are using real ingredients, why not make things easy on yourself? Now, I'm not talking Jiffy mix here. I've never much understood the point of box mixes. Do they really save that much time? Is it worth all the extra chemicals and packaging for the 3 minutes you save measuring flour, salt, and baking soda? I'm not judging here, I just honestly don't understand the point of box mixes. I do have a confession to make though, I have bought biscuits in a tube. I heard the gasp from here! You know, the ones in the refrigerator section? Yup. Not recently, of course! Gosh, these days it never fails, as soon as I go to buy anything from the freezer section I run into someone I know. Yes, it's me with the food blog, buying frozen pizza for dinner. David keeps threatening to write an exposĂ© on what food bloggers really eat! 
Getting back to the biscuits, I've always kind of struggled to make good biscuits. I'm pretty sure it was because I was born and raised in Michigan (that's my excuse for a lot of things). So, I didn't have a southern grandmother to teach me how to make biscuits. The tube of biscuits that you slam on the counter, and that popping noise is kind of fun right? No? Ok, a food blogger must learn how to make a decent biscuit. I'm pretty sure it is in my blogger contract. I had recently learned to make a decent pie crust in the food processor, maybe biscuits would work too. It turned out to be a great idea. These biscuits baked up light and fluffy. Seriously, it took me about 20 minutes to make them including the baking time. While I am sure that there are a lot of southern grandmothers out there who make biscuits better, I can also guarantee that nobody is going to turn down one of these fresh out of the oven, and they are 100 times better than the ones in the tube.
[The tea towel with the wood stoves on it was made by Homesteading Roasters in Homer, Alaska]

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ginger Crunch (a.k.a. Ginger Crack)

I spent one day in Anchorage last week catching up with the Alaska Food Community. It was a great day that included discussions on photography, writing, and travel. We also ate a lot of great food. Laurie Constantino kindly opened up her home to the group. It felt like I had known Laurie forever, but in fact this was the first time we had every met in person. The group barely had enough time to introduce ourselves and have dinner before Maya and I had to catch flights back to our respective homes. I wish I would have had more time to stay and chat. We are working toward meeting up again soon. We have started a Google+ community called Alaska Food Community, please come join us if you live in Alaska and would like to be part of the group. It is a great place for food writers, photographers, bloggers, and other media to gather and work together.
I made a batch (or two) of these ginger crunch bars to bring to the gathering. I actually call them "Ginger Crack" because it is pretty much impossible to stop eating them once you have started. I have made three batches since I first found the recipe only two weeks ago. I have found that the salt is essential in bringing out the flavor of the ginger in these bars, so if you don't have salted butter, make sure you add 1/2 teaspoon to the shortbread base. These bars are great for any ginger lover and go best with a nice hot cup of coffee.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Mango Lassi

Every time I order a Mango Lassi in an Indian restaurant I end up regretting it. It is not because I don't like them. In fact I do like them very much, which is why I continue to order them even though I know I will need to be rolled out of the restaurant afterward. A Mango Lassi at an Indian restaurant is like ordering a chocolate shake with a burger and fries. It sounds so good at the time, but you spend the rest of the night in agony.
I was thrilled to find out how easy they are to make at home. Really, they aren't any different from a mango smoothie. So, I have decided that I will have them for breakfast or lunch from know on, rather than try and pack them into an already full dinner. I know that most recipes out there use mango puree or fresh mangoes, both are difficult to find in Fairbanks (good, fresh mangoes anyway). I decided to make mine with frozen mango chunks as I can find them easily in Fairbanks. The frozen mango also eliminates the need for ice cubes which I also don't care for in a smoothie. Feel free to use another sweetener in place of honey, or adjust the amount to your taste.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Mulligatawny with Chicken and Apples


Why do people always start eating salads in January? I understand the whole eating healthy thing, and yes there are some very good winter salads out there. I'm really fond of all the raw kale salads I have been seeing lately. The problem for me is that it is cold outside, and when I come inside I want something to warm me up. A cold salad with winter lettuce and sad grocery store vegetables doesn't do it for me. There are so many wonderful, healthy, and most importantly hot soups you could have. Plus, I know from living in Fairbanks for a few years that as soon as the light starts coming back I will start craving crunchy, raw, green vegetables. So, why not eat the cooked ones if that's what my body is telling me? Right? Good, I'm glad we all can agree on that!
Mulligatawny has been on my list of soups to make for a really long time. There was a little cafe in Port Townsend, Washington that made a really good one, but it has been so long that I could barely tell you what it was like except for the fact that it had chicken and apples in it. So, in looking for a recipe it was key that I find one with apples. So, the search was on. I found a few recipes that sounded pretty good, but either they didn't have apples or they were missing some other key ingredient. Then I found a recipe that had banana that intrigued me. Some of the recipes had coconut or coconut milk and that sounded good too. I couldn't find a recipe that had everything I wanted until I picked up a copy of the Downton Abbey cookbook at the bookstore one day. I didn't have any intention on buying it, but I do have a few friends who watch the show pretty religiously. We don't have regular television at our house, so I have never seen it, although I am tempted to rent it one of these days. As I flipped through the cookbook I saw a recipe for Mulligatawny that sealed the deal. This recipe had a lot of the things I wanted, although the recipe was huge! I halved the recipe and still nearly overflowed my 5 1/2 quart dutch oven. I also pulled in many of the elements from the other recipes that I had seen and liked. Last week I started this soup with no less than 8 cookbooks and magazines spread out on my kitchen counter, I barely had space to cook. I knew from previous experience with Indian cooking that it is important to build several layers of flavor and that is what I set out to do. In the end I had an enormous ingredient list, but I took good notes so I will be able to make this one again. Don't worry, it's not as intimidating as it looks. This is however a good one to feed a crowd. Serve it with the Naan Bread I posted the other day and you will have a warm, comforting winter dinner.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Homemade Naan Bread in a Skillet

I have a confession, I didn't post this Naan Bread recipe for you. I'm sorry. Sure, feel free to take a look and even make it if you want. Just be warned, it's finicky and fussy, and can sometimes be downright unruly. After you make it a few times, you will get used to its bad behavior and you will grow to appreciate how wonderful it turns out. You will marvel at the fact that it tastes just like the stuff in the restaurant that is cooked in a oven that gets to about 700 degrees.
Yes, there is another Naan bread recipe on this site, and it is easy to make. I made it for years and loved it. Over time I began to realize that I didn't love it enough and started looking around for something new. About two years ago I found this recipe, and the first time I made it I nearly threw it in the trash. First it stuck to the bowl, and then it stuck to my cutting board, then to my hands. So, I threw it back in the bowl and added more flour to make it manageable. Even with all the extra flour, it turned out pretty well. So, I started tinkering with the recipe and feeling out the dough. Now, I can embrace the stickiness and work with the dough. It has taken me a while to get to this point.
So why do I post this recipe here? Like I said, it is for me. I make Indian food at least three times a month and every time I make this Naan Bread recipe I have to go in search of the magazine I originally found it in. Each time I have to remember the safe place I put it last and then hold my breath that it didn't accidentally get tossed with the recycling. I haven't been able to find this exact recipe anywhere else.
So, I am cautiously sharing it here in hopes that you will be brave enough to give it a chance. The first time you make it, feel free to add a little more flour than you normally would, it will be ok, I promise. Use a light touch and even add a little olive oil to your fingertips to reduce the stickiness. The cutting of the dough and rolling it into balls was the part I found the most difficult. Use a sharp knife and quickly cut though the dough, use a little cooking spray on your knife if you need to. Try not to touch the dough any more than you have to. When rolling the dough into balls I found it is easiest on a wood cutting board. It will look like it is going to stick like crazy, but apply a little pressure to the dough with the palm of your hand and it will eventually work its way off the board. Cold hands help. I hope these tips help, let me know how it goes, but please don't be mad at me if you find it infuriating the first time. Don't worry, you will grow to like this dough and the resulting Naan Bread. Good luck.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Hot Banana Buttered Rum

I was going to call this drink a "Hot Jamaican", but I figured you would all be disappointed to open the page and find a cocktail! I'm not the biggest fan of drinking butter, but this tastes more like a spicy banana cream pie, rather than your typical Hot Buttered Rum. This time of year I really like to have a warm drink in the afternoon after walking the dogs. Usually that drink is tea or sometimes hot cocoa. Every once in a while, I like to spice things up a bit with a hot "spiked" beverage. It's a lovely way to spend the dark days of winter, especially when the days end at 3:00 in the afternoon. This one has a nice little spicy kick from the Jamaican all-spice. If you have access to plantains rather than bananas I recommend using them instead. If you don't want to mess with the fried banana at all and want a boozier drink, just make the base for the buttered rum without banana and add a shot of banana liquor instead.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Homemade Everything Bagels

Wow! So that's it, 2012 is over. It was interesting to hear how many people thought that last year was incredibly challenging. At the same time I hear many people who are really excited about this coming year. I know I am. I think there are big things in store. I'm finally coming to the realization that I don't have to do the same thing that I have done for years. I don't have to stay on the same path, and there is no reason I can,t take the leap and do something totally unexpected. I finally feel like I can start working on that now that the holidays are behind me. Losing your job right before the holidays is hard because the whole world feels like it is in limbo, nobody is doing anything until "after the holidays". Although I really did enjoy the holidays this year, I have to admit that I am looking forward to getting on with things. 
I made homemade bagels this weekend. I expected it to be a project, something that I would only do on special occasions in the future. It was really amazing how easy they were, there really isn't much "active" time involved at all. The thing is that they are so much better than any bagel I have ever eaten in my life. I was really shocked how good they were compared to bakery bagels, and now it is hard to even call those things you buy in a bag in the grocery store bagels at all! The only problem is that the recipe only makes 8 bagels that lasted two days in our house. I'm not sure I'll be making bagels every other day, but I can see making them once a week as a treat. If you do decide to make them, be warned...you will be ruined for store bought bagels forever!

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