Sunday, November 30, 2014

Grouse Cordon Bleu

If you've ever gone grouse hunting you know how fun it is. And if you've ever eaten grouse you know how good it is. I'm primarily a vegetarian but when it comes to wild fish and game I'm suddenly transported back to my native roots and become a carnivore. Three species of grouse are found in the interior of Alaska where I live: ruffed, sharp-tailed, and spruce. I prefer the taste of ruffed grouse because they have a nice mild tasting white meat as opposed to say a spruce grouse which has dark red meat and a gamier taste. For this recipe, ruffed grouse is the way to go. Happy hunting! ~Audrey  
4 grouse breasts
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 egg, scrambled for egg wash
4 slices prosciutto
4 slices Swiss cheese
stone ground mustard

Cream Sauce:
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon stone ground mustard
1/2 cup white wine
salt and pepper to taste

Serves 2

First you need to get your grouse. I shot this one with my .22 on a crisp morning in October just south of Fairbanks in an area known as the Tanana Valley State Forest Nenana Ridge Ruffed Grouse Habitat Management Area. Basically, it's an area with miles and miles of logging roads. Ruffed grouse are found in forested areas like this where dense young stands of aspen predominate as a result of forest management activities. Along with a variety of other plants such as wild rose shrubs and cranberries this area is the perfect habitat for these tasty birds. 

I always like to open the crop to see what my grouse ate. As you can see the one on the left had a crop full of highbush cranberries and the one on the right was full of aspen buds.     

The breast meat is really the only edible part of a grouse. You can save the thighs and legs for stock later on. Start by placing the bird on it's back, carefully slice the delicate skin covering the breast and tear it away with your with your fingers.

Then, using a sharp knife, carefully cut down the center and around the breastbone. The idea is to get as much of the meat off the breastbone without mutilating your dinner. Here's the official way to do it according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website:

To remove the breast meat from game birds such as ptarmigan and ruffed grouse, slit or tear the skin down the middle of the breast. Tear the skin loose from the entire breast. The two breasts are separated by the keel of the breastbone. Slip the blade of a sharp knife under the breast meat and work it forward. When you hit the front, the wishbone, follow the it right on down and peel the meat off. It’s also possible to simply pry the breast meat out with your thumbs. There is no need to gut the bird. To take the drumsticks, peel the skin and feathers off the legs. Cut the feet off, then cut the legs off at the hips. Rinse the meat off.

Place your breasts between plastic wrap and gently pound them flat with either a mallet or rolling pin.

Once flattened, rub with a little mustard and top with Swiss cheese and prosciutto. 

Gently roll them up, brush with an egg wash and cover in bread crumbs. I used toothpicks to hold them together while they baked. Sprinkle a little paprika on them. Place in a 350 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes. Grouse breasts are small so keep an eye on them so they don't over cook. If you feel they are getting too brown, you can cover with foil. To check for doneness, place a thermometer in the center. If it reads 165 degrees, it's done.  

While they are cooking, make your cream sauce. Heat your butter over medium-low heat until it melts. Wisk in flour and heat for a couple minutes. Then add your cream and wine along with the stone ground mustard, salt and pepper. Let simmer on low, stirring every few minutes until your grouse is finished cooking.

Serve with your favorite veggies. I think sauteed mushrooms and steamed brussel sprouts pair perfectly with wild grouse.

Grouse can pretty much be found anywhere in Alaska. These two were in my mom's driveway and they quickly became dinner.  

My dog, Roxy enjoys grouse hunting and is quite the little 
helper :)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Alaska Halibut & Spot Shrimp with Fennel & Quinoa

This is a compilation of trying to use the seafood I had on hand, as well as the veggies I have a lot of right now, namely zucchini. Fennel can seem overpowering sometimes, but it goes so nicely with seafood and when it's cooked, it has a nice sweetness. I based the broth on the fumet I learned to make in culinary school and this seems to be our year for spot shrimp - we have caught tons of it! This recipe is a bit time-consuming, so I would start with the stock or fumet, then get all your other ingredients ready to make things easier. Best to be organized so you can focus on not overcooking the seafood - that way your dish will be perfect! ~Patti
Shrimp Stock/Fumet
1/2 onion, chopped
6 parsley stems
2 cloves garlic, quartered 
shells from spot shrimp being used
olive oil
4 sprigs fresh thyme
handful of mushroom trimmings
6 lemon slices
1oz lemon juice
cold water
1/4 cup wine

4 (6oz) halibut fillets
1/2 pound Spot shrimp, cleaned, shells reserved for fumet
1 zucchini, sliced thin (julienne)
3 small potatoes, sliced thin, then halved or quartered
1 small fennel bulb, sliced thin (julienne) fronds reserved
1/2 onion, slice thin (julienne)
olive oil for sauté
2 cups cooked quinoa

Serves: 4

Shrimp Fumet: Coat a large pot with olive oil. Add onion, then parsley and shells. Salt lightly. Cover with parchment circle and sweat until onions are soft. Remove parchment, sprinkle with wine and lemon juice and toss in mushrooms and thyme. Add cold water (enough to cover everything) and bring to a boil and then simmer. Let it simmer for at least half an hour - taste periodically to make sure it's yummy. The aroma should be wonderful, not 'shrimpy', just heavenly. 
Once the fumet tastes like you want, strain out all the solids and discard. Reserve the broth. 

In a clean pan, sauté onion and fennel slices in a bit of olive oil. Add the broth and let it simmer on low - you'll need it pretty soon.

Next, rinse and pat the halibut dry. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Coat a pan with olive oil and and when it is nice and really hot, add the fish and cook till a bit crisp and golden on each side. Cook it till it's about 3/4 done, so maybe 2-4 minutes per side depending on thickness. Set aside. In the same hot pan, toss in the shrimp and quickly sauté (these cook wicked fast, so just barely cook them so they don't dry out). Set aside.
 In the same pan again, add the potato rounds, salt and pepper, and brown them up nicely. When done set them aside with the fish and shrimp. Lastly, toss the zucchini into the pan, season with salt and pepper, and sauté quickly.
Last step - put all reserved fish, shrimp, zucchini and potatoes into the pot of broth, cover with a lid and turn off heat. This will let the fish finish cooking. Should only take 2-3 minutes.

To serve, place equal amounts of fish, shrimp and veggies in a shallow bowl on top of a serving of quinoa. Then pour broth (a little or a lot, your choice) into each bowl.
Garnish with the fennel fronds.
I think the quinoa rounds out this dish very nicely - soaks up the broth and the veggies can lay across it - looks pretty.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Chocolate Zucchini Potluck Cake

The zucchini in this cake is not really what you notice due to the decadent cocoa and chocolate frosting, but it is a crucial part of this yummy dessert as it provides the cake with so much moistness and the perfect texture. Even non-zucchini lovers will love this! I call it a potluck cake, because it bakes up perfectly in a 9x13 and can stay in the pan until it's served, making it good for potlucks :) ~Patti
for the cake:
2 cups AP flour
1 cup dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
3 large eggs
1-1/4 cup oil
2 cups sugar
3 cups shredded zucchini*

for the frosting:
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons cocoa
1/3 cup milk
3 to 3-1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

After you shred the zucchini, squeeze as much of the excess moisture out of it as you can. Give it a squeeze between paper towels or a clean tea towel.

Using the paddle attachment to your kitchen mixer, add eggs, oil, sugar, and vanilla and beat well. If no kitchen mixer, a hand-held electric mixer works just fine. Add the shredded zucchini.

Then combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a separate bowl, and add to the moist ingredients. Mix it all vigorously for about 30 seconds.

Pour batter into a 9 x 13 pan (greased) and bake for about 40-45 minutes at 350 degrees. Toothpick should come out clean when inserted into the center and the cake starts to crack on top when it is done.

While the cake is cooling, you can make this easy frosting. I like the very dark cocoa, but you can use regular dark,
 just make sure it's unsweetened.
1. Place butter, cocoa and milk in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. 
2. Reduce heat to low and add vanilla and powdered sugar,
 one cup at a time. 
3. Beat well and add that extra 1/2 cup powdered sugar if needed. If you add too much, a drop of water or two should fix it. Beat by hand until smooth. 

Let the cake cool about 20 minutes before frosting. As you can see, the finished cake is cracked - that's good for this cake.  The frosting pours over nice and smooth, but starts setting up quickly: you can see the 'wrinkles' forming as it sets up mid-pour. Kinda cool :)

Easiest cake ever to frost - after you pour frosting on top, spread to even it out and sprinkle with chopped nuts if you like.  I used walnuts - or you can add the nuts to the frosting if you prefer.  Transport to your nearest potluck and enjoy!

Supporting locally grown - a little stand down the road
 from me that has the best zucchini's!

Friday, August 22, 2014

Zip-lining in Talkeetna

I've wanted to try zip-lining for quite awhile. As luck would have it, there is a very good zip-lining experience to be had just a few hours away from my house in the charming little town of Talkeetna. Talkeetna is the "Gateway to Denali" as it's where the climbers take off to get to the largest mountain in North America, Mt. McKinley. My husband, daughter, and I took the scenic drive from Palmer to Talkeetna (about an hour and a half)and then the staff at Denali Zipline Tours took it from there. It was a perfect first experience and the instructors were amazing! ~Patti
What: Zipline experience
Where: Talkeetna, Alaska
Duration: 3 hours
How Many Zip Rides: 9, + 2 aerial suspension bridges, 1 rappel  
 Difficulty Level: Not recommended for people with back or knee issues or who can't lift their arms above their head.
What to Wear: Comfortable clothing, closed-toe shoes. No special attire required but wear layers appropriate for the weather. You go rain or shine, so a lightweight rain jacket is good. You are in a harness, so don't wear bulky clothes.
What to Bring: Nothing but your camera/phone(if it can be safely zipped into your clothing)
Cost: $149 adult, $119 ages 10-14. Tip if you like to zip! 
Best time to go: Year round, but summer, spring, fall are best
Children: Yes, but must weigh at least 90 pounds
What they provide: All the gear you need which is a harness, helmet and gloves. 
Pet Friendly: um, no… :)
Other Restrictions: Participants must not weigh more than 270 pounds. Must not be pregnant. Also must sign a waiver. 

Directions on how to get there from Anchorage at the end of this post. 

When you arrive into Talkeetna, you will see this little cabin on your left before you hit the center of town. Pull in here to check in and catch the shuttle bus. The bus ride is about 3 miles down a very bumpy, but scenic, dirt road. 

When you get to the zip base, the guides make sure you are in your harness correctly and explain what the different parts of the gear are for. Very organized. The harnesses were surprisingly comfortable (relatively speaking) and you soon forgot you even had one on. 

Groups are small, we had 7 in ours, which was nice. Prior to starting the zip, there is a short ground school so everyone gets a chance to ask questions, get instructions, and try out the gear on a small zipline ...and it is only about 3 feet off the ground :) The tallest platform is 53 feet off the ground!

Ready for my first zip. I have to say I was not scared at all since AJ, one our guides, had us so well harnessed. After practicing at ground school and having my concerns addressed, I was just excited to go! 

When you climb up to the platform, you are hooked securely to a tethering zip. Then one at a time, you take off! There are 2 instructors - one to send you off the platform, and the other to guide you to the platform you are zipping to. Only one person at a time zips. It takes no effort to 'fly' through the air, you just let gravity do the work and use your breaking glove to slow down. The zips get progressively longer and higher as you go.

The first of two aerial bridges (120 ft.) we crossed. They sway a bit, so you need to pay attention and hold on, but it's not dangerous - you are still hooked up to a safety cable. Beautiful views of the boreal forest!

From this platform we did a 17 foot rappel. I have to say that this was the only thing I was (unnecessarily) nervous about. You are harnessed and under complete control of the guides, but stepping off backward into thin air made my stomach flop :) Once I took that first step, though, I felt silly for having worried - it's all about trust.

My daughter Spencer and husband, Scott - just hangin' around...

The last zip goes over Reflection Pond...about 600 feet of flying!

A shot of downtown Talkeetna. The West Rib restaurant is known for monster burgers, prompting the Travel Channel's Man v. Food to film an episode there! This is a charming town - be sure to leave some time to explore!

Stopped here for a post-zip coffee and yummy black bean brownie - trust me, they are delicious! The rosemary shortbread cookies were scrumptious as well. This gem of a bakery is several miles before you get to Talkeetna, after you take the turn off from the Glenn Highway. On the right, cannot miss it!

View of the great one, Denali.

To book your reservation for a really cool Alaska zipline experience go to their website: Denali Zipline Tours

Note: The guides take pics throughout the zip, so you have the option to purchase them at the end for $8 per person. They are emailed to you and are very high quality. The photos in this post with their logo in the lower right corner are the pics I purchased of our zip-lining experience.

DirectionsFrom Anchorage - Travel north toward Wasilla on the Glenn Hwy. (AK-3). Continue through Wasilla to milepost 98.7 on the George Parks Highway and turn right on the Talkeetna Spur Road - there are signs. Talkeetna is at the end of this long, straight and might I say very well-maintained road (about 14 miles). The Denali Zipline Tour office is on your left, in a small cabin, across from the Talkeetna airport. There is plenty of signage.  Allow 2.5 to 3 hours drive time from Anchorage.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Perfect Little Zucchini Cookies

These are soft, moist cookies. Simple to make, few ingredients and a nice flavor with hint of nutmeg and cinnamon. Perfect with tea or coffee, not too sweet and very habit-forming. Watch out! ~Patti
1-1/2 cups AP flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup grated zucchini
1-3/4 cups oats

Makes: 3 dozen cookies

Sift all dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Cut in the butter. Beat in egg. Add zucchini, oats and beat until evenly mixed together. The batter seems strange at first, kind of dry, but it gets moist as you stir it. I find mixing it with my hands is the best way to distribute everything evenly.

Spoon cookie dough on parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Bake at 400 degrees for about 8-10 minutes. Should be soft and only slightly golden. Let cool a few minutes on cookie sheet, then transfer to cooling rack.

Whoever thinks zucchini is yucky should try it in a cookie :)

My daughter, Spencer, enjoying Perfect Little Zucchini Cookies while they are still warm...soooo good!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Mayan Zucchini Brownies

I consider these brownies a 'little gift' from Alaska Farmers Market Cookbook by Heidi Radar, because they are just so good! Audrey came across the recipe and sent it my way to try out. While there is no real discernible taste from the zucchini, it adds the necessary moistness and is great way to use this abundant summer squash. The cayenne adds a nice kick of heat to the chocolate, always a nice pairing. The finished brownie is quite thick but cooks perfectly - not gooey in the center at all. You can eliminate 1 egg if you want them a bit less cake-like, but I think they are heavenly as is! ~Patti
1/2 cup butter, melted then cooled 
1 cup brown sugar 
3/4 cup baking cocoa powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 teaspoon vanilla 
3 eggs 
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1-1/2 cups grated zucchini 
1 cup flour 
1 cup dark chocolate chips
Gather ingredients and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together the butter, brown sugar, cocoa powder, salt, vanilla, eggs, cayenne pepper, baking powder and zucchini. Then add the flour and dark chocolate chips.

Pour mixture into a 9 x 9 inch greased baking pan and bake for 35-40 minutes.

Patti getting some zucchini, literally picked fresh this morning, from the Palmer Friday Fling Farmer's Market.

The newest member of our family "Turbo" guarding the bag of zucchini on the drive home :)