Friday, July 25, 2014

Rhubarb Almond Cake with Orange Zest

Rhubarb takes center stage in this delicious cake. The orange pairs really nicely with all the flavors and the almond meal gives it moistness and a nutty, rich texture. It's dense and heavy, but in a good way. Another great way to showcase one of Alaska's most bountiful veggies (or fruits...depending on who you ask!) ~Patti
1 pound rhubarb, cleaned and sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1-1/4 cups caster sugar *
1 cup almond meal
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1-1/2 sticks) softened
finely grated orange zest and juice from 1 orange
2 cups AP flour
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
3 medium eggs
Handful sliced almonds
Powdered (confectioner's) sugar for dusting

Caster sugar is the British term for super fine granulated sugar. It dissolves very quickly because it's so fine. Perfect for certain recipes. I was able to find it at the local grocery store no problem - it is usually called "superfine" and not to be confused with confectioner's sugar, which is a powder.

Slice rhubarb and grate and juice your orange. You should get about a 1/4 cup juice from the orange.

Pour 1/4 cup sugar over rhubarb, stir, and set aside for 30 minutes to draw out the juices.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line your pan (springform) with parchment and lightly grease with non stick spray or a bit of veggie or canola oil. In a large bowl, beat the rest of the sugar, butter, orange zest and orange juice with an electric mixer. Add the flour, baking powder, eggs, almond meal and beat again until smooth. Fold in the rhubarb with any juices using a spoon or spatula.

 Pour (or scoop) batter (it will be very thick) into prepared pan and sprinkle with almonds. Bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes until the cake is golden and toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. I found I needed to cover with foil about 20 minutes into baking to prevent cake from getting too brown on top. Be sure to check it and cover if necessary.

Leave cake in pan for 15 minutes to cool when done, then remove from pan (this is where the springform comes in handy!) and remove parchment. Let cool completely on wire rack and dust with powdered sugar. YUM!

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Rhubarb Glaze

How pretty is this? Simple to make, too. Slightly tart rhubarb is a perfect way to offset the richness of this decadent chocolate treat. Flourless chocolate cake can be baked in a water bath or with whipped eggs whites and is more like an aerated custard - this is a quicker version, more like a 'fallen' cake. It is not quite as smooth on the surface, but still dense, creamy and delicious on the inside. Only 6 ingredients, and perfect for those who are gluten-free. ~Patti
1.5 ounce semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups rhubarb, cleaned and sliced
1/2 cup sugar
1 scant tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup water
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1-1/2 tablespoons water

 Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In the top of the double boiler (or your version of one - I just use a larger pot on the bottom) melt chocolate and butter over simmering water. When melted, remove from heat and stir in sugar, cocoa powder, eggs and vanilla. Mix well, batter should be pretty smooth and glossy.

Lightly grease an 8-inch cake pan and dust with cocoa powder. Pour batter into prepared pan. 
Bake for 30 minutes - toothpick inserted in center should come out clean - careful not to overcook. This cake will be a rather soft and the center can sink a little bit when you take it out of the oven - that's OK.  Let it cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, then loosen around the edges with a knife, remove from pan and let cool completely on a wire rack. 

While the cake is in the oven, prepare the rhubarb glaze. 
Combine sliced rhubarb, sugar, 1/3 cup water and lemon juice in a pot. Bring to a boil, then simmer about 8-10 minutes until the rhubarb is soft. Strain through a fine mesh sieve, getting as much of the juice as possible (about 3/4 cup). Discard solids and put the liquid back into the pot and bring to a simmer. Mix cornstarch with 1.5 tablespoons of water and add to pot. Whisk until mixture thickens, 3-5 minutes. Chill glaze in fridge until ready to use with cake. When ready to serve, drizzle glaze on plate, put a slice of cake on top and dust with powdered sugar.

Note - your glaze can come out in a variety of pink to red shades Try using just the red stalks (don't peel them) and you will get a more vibrant red glaze.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Hiking the Savage Alpine Trail in Denali National Park & Preserve

Since I live only 2 hours away from Denali National Park & Preserve, it's an easy option for me when a nice day trip along with some hiking and wildlife viewing are in order. On this beautiful July day, my friend Margaret and I decided to drive 15 miles into the park to the Savage River to hike the newly completed Savage Alpine Trail. This is an easy, safe trail to hike if you're in relatively good shape. It's pretty steep but it's nicely groomed and you'll pass quite a few other day hikers so it's not like you're out in the boonies by yourself. Trust me, if you make it all the way to Denali National Park, this hike is a must - even if you're not a hiker. As you can see I wore jeans and my Teva sandals and had a great time! ~Audrey
What: Savage Alpine Trail
How Long: 4 miles
 Difficulty Level: Easy to moderate.
Where: Denali National Park & Preserve, Alaska
What to Wear: Comfortable walking/hiking clothes and shoes. No special attire required but wear layers.
What to Bring: Small day pack, water,and a camera.
Cost: $10 park entrance fee
Best time to go: May through September  
Children: Yes
Duration: 1.5 - 2 hours total (we took our time)
Pet Friendly: No, dogs are not allowed on this trail.

We stopped for a late breakfast at Black Bear Coffee House (my favorite little coffee house when I'm in Denali). It's located right off the Parks Highway on the main strip nestled between gift shops and restaurants right outside Denali National Park. The berry oat bars and buckwheat brownies are to die for :) 

Entrance into the Park is at milepost 237 on the Parks Highway.

Once you turn onto Park Road, it's about a 15 mile drive to the Savage River. It's a nice paved road with lots of pullouts for photo opportunities. Along the way you may get lucky and see some wildlife. We saw a couple moose the day we went. You'll most likely pass some of the tour buses. If they are stopped and everyone is pointing their cameras out the window you can almost be certain they are viewing wildlife.

Once you reach the Savage River, there's a small parking lot, restrooms and maps of the surrounding area. This is the farthest you can drive into the park in a private vehicle. If you want to go beyond this point you have to take a tour or shuttle bus that will take you 92 miles into the Park all the way to Kantishna. The Denali National Park website is a great resource when planning your trip. 

If the parking lot is full, you can drive across the bridge and park in the overflow lot.

There are three trails to choose from at the Savage River.

This is looking up the Savage Alpine Trail at Savage Rock from the parking lot.

Since it's a fairly steep trail, you immediately start getting some great views of the river, canyon and surrounding mountains.

The trail has recently been completed (as of 2013) and has nice walking paths and stone steps. A lot of hard work went into this trail over the years and you can tell.

There are lots of different flowers and plants along the way.

Me standing right above Savage Rock with Savage Canyon behind me.

Looking down at Savage Rock. We continued up the trail to the top of the ridge (Healy Ridge) to get even better views.

Some parts of the trail are narrow with steep drop offs but nothing dangerous if you take your time and stay aware of other hikers.

View from the top of Healy Ridge. This is looking at the "braided" Savage River and the Alaska Range. The Savage River is called a braided river because it was carved out by glaciers. The mountains send down silt, rocks and other debris which choke off the river's course forcing the water to cut new paths and channels as it weaves it's way downstream.

Mt. McKinley is out there (about right of center) but was covered by clouds on this day.

Once you reach the top of the Ridge it's pretty windy and pretty amazing. We enjoyed the views and appreciated the breeze. On a sunny day, you can get a little hot climbing the trail. It ascends about a 1,250 feet.  

The trail continues on to the Mountain Vista Rest Area, another 2.5 miles or so. We decided that we were more than pleased with our little adventure so we decided to go back down the way we came. There's always another day to hike the entire trail :)

If you choose to hike the entire 4 mile trail, you can take the free Savage River Shuttle back to your car.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Rhubarb Spritz

Summer's in full swing here in Palmer, Alaska, and while it may be short it's no less sweet. What could be more perfect than sitting outside on a warm night, taking full advantage of the midnight sun and sipping on a refreshing Alaskan beverage? Rhubarb spritz is very easy to make and even easier to drink. All you have to do is make a simple syrup out of rhubarb and sugar and mix with seltzer water or sparkling dry white wine. Something totally Alaskan and entirely delicious. ~Patti
3/4 cup rhubarb (2-3 stalks), cut into 1/2 inch slices
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 cups seltzer water 
- or -
 1 bottle of dry white sparkling wine (750 ml)
lemon, orange and/or grapefruit slices for garnish

Any sparkling wine can be used: Prosecco, Champagne, Cava, etc., just as long as it is dry.

Choose rhubarb with little or no green streaks - it makes for a beautiful blush color if the stalks are completely red. In a medium pot add rhubarb slices, lemon juice, and sugar. Stir on medium heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until rhubarb is soft, about 8 minutes.

Strain rhubarb (use a fine mesh) and extract as much liquid as possible. Use a pestle or spatula to really squish the juices out. Toss out the solids. Once you have your juice, cover and refrigerate until cold. Make it several hours before you plan to serve it so it gets nice and cold.

Divide syrup between 6 glasses and top with seltzer or sparkling wine, add ice and garnish with fruit.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Copper River Sockeye Salmon Caviar

Making caviar is easier than you think. I just used a simple salt brine to cure freshly caught Copper River Sockeye salmon eggs and VOILA, 30 minutes later I had caviar. My favorite way to enjoy salmon caviar is on rye crackers spread with cream cheese and a nice glass of chilled rosé. I love Alaska summers! ~Audrey

3-4 skeins of salmon eggs
1 cup kosher salt
3 quarts warm water

Makes enough to fill about 4 half pint mason jars

Rinse salmon skeins (egg sacks) under cold water. 

Make your brine by adding salt to a pot of warm water and stir until dissolved. You don't want boiling water. I just used hot water right out of my tap which is probably about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. 

I used my 5 quart enamel coated cast iron pot. You want to use a pot or container that's large enough to cover the skeins completely in the brine.

Let skeins soak in the brine for about 30 minutes. This is curing the eggs. After 30 minutes you need to gently massage the eggs out of the skein with your hands. This separates the eggs from the sack. Discard the membrane pieces.

Strain eggs in a colander and rinse with cold water. I like my caviar on the salty side but if you don't, then rinse until you like the taste.

Store in clean glass jars in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

Serve with your favorite crackers and cream cheese. Don't forget the rosé :)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Morels in a Sherry Cream Sauce with Asparagus & Campanelle

This is an easy recipe that highlights the morel mushroom in a simple but indulgent cream sauce. Morels and asparagus pair well together due to their earthy flavor. The sherry cooking wine adds just the right amount of sweetness to balance everything out. I like to use campanelle pasta because it's shape holds cream sauces nicely and I think the ruffled edges compliment the morel's ridges. ~Audrey
1/4 oz dried morels
1 cup hot water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/8 cup sherry cooking wine
3/4 cup half 'n half
1/4 Asiago cheese
1/2 cup asparagus tips
4 oz campanelle pasta
salt and white pepper to taste
pinch of fresh ground nutmeg
fresh chives, chopped for garnish

Serves 2

Morels grow abundantly in the Interior of Alaska due to all our forest fires. They show up the year after a fire in early to mid June. They have a unique earthy flavor and a meaty texture when cooked. Mushroom connoisseurs consider them a delicacy.  

Place dried morels in a glass measuring cup and pour 1 cup of hot water over them. Let soak for about 10 minutes until they plump up. Strain and slice mushrooms into rings. Make sure you reserve the mushroom broth. 

Saute garlic, shallots and sliced morels in butter and olive oil about 1-2 minutes. Add the sherry cooking wine and reduce, about 2 minutes. Add your reserved mushroom broth and simmer about 5 minutes stirring occasionally.

Add half 'n half and your Asiago cheese and let simmer about 10 minutes, stirring. Make sure you don't let it boil. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg. 
Meanwhile cook your pasta according to directions. With 4-5 minutes left, throw in your asparagus tips. When sauce is finished and asparagus is tender, toss in your pasta and serve immediately. Garnish with fresh chopped chives.

Here I am with my friend Linda on the hunt for morels. All you need is a bucket, small paring knife and lots of mosquito spray.

In Alaska, morel mushrooms grow the year after a forest fire. In the Interior, where I live, we have a lot of forest fires during the summer creating the perfect conditions for morels to thrive. 

Morels kind of look like a pine cone. Their cap is sponge-like and they can be very light tan (we call them blondies) to brown to very dark brown, almost black. 

Morels are hollow on the inside which makes them easy to distinguish from poisonous lookalikes. Harvesting season up here is early to mid June and lasts for about 2 weeks. This year we had a lot of rain so they just kept growing and I kept on harvesting until the very end of June. 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Lasagna alla Bolognese made with Moose Meat

Since returning from Florence, Italy, I have been craving Lasagna alla Bolognese which is a traditional Tuscan dish. It was one of my favorite indulgences while I was there attending culinary school. It's made with layers of homemade pasta, béchamel, Bolognese sauce and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I replaced the beef with - you guessed it - naturally wild, organic moose meat. The finished result was buono! It takes awhile to prepare but like all good things, it's totally worth the effort. I chose to make my lasagna pasta with all purpose flour(rather than semolina) which is more commonly used in northern Italy. But you can certainly use boxed pasta if you don't want to make it from scratch - just a side note: Barilla is the most commonly used boxed pasta in the local stores in Tuscany - who knew? ~Patti
Ingredients: for the Bolognese sauce 
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium white onion, diced small
1 carrot, diced fine
1 celery stalk, diced fine
1 garlic clove, chopped 
1 pound high-quality pork, ground
1 pound moose meat (or beef sirloin, ground)
1/2 pound pancetta
3 ounces tomato paste
1 cup whole milk
1 cup dry white wine

Ingredients: for the Bechamel
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons flour
3 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeat (fresh if you can)

Ingredients: for the Lasagna pasta
4 large eggs
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus 1/2 cup for dusting work surface

8 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Step 1: Make the Bolognese sauce. Heat olive oil and butter in a medium sized pot and add onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Sweat until translucent, about 10-12 minutes. Add moose, pork, and pancetta to the veggies. Cook for about 20 minutes, until meat is nicely browned. Then add tomato paste, milk and wine, simmer over medium-low heat for about 2 hours. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. This is supposed to be a thick meat sauce with a bit of creaminess to it. You can add a bit more wine if you feel it's too thick but be careful not to make it too saucy.  

 Step 2: Make your pasta. Place flour in a bowl or on clean work service. Make a little well in the center and add eggs (you can beat them slightly first if you want). Use your hands and slowly incorporate the flour into the eggs, working in more flour from the edges as needed. Dough will be crumbly at first but with persistent kneading, the dough will turn pliable and smooth. Knead for about 5-6 min. Wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes.

 Portion dough into apricot-sized pieces. Roll out with pasta machine. I rolled these sheets to the second thinnest setting on my pasta machine. Hang to dry while you prepare the béchamel.

Step 3: Make the béchamel. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter. Add flour and stir with a whisk to make a roux. In about 6-7 minutes the roux will be slightly golden, smooth and thick. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring the milk almost to a boil. It's important to add hot milk to the roux for the béchamel to turn out like it should. Start adding hot milk to the roux, one cup at a time, and whisk continuously. It should be very smooth, thick and creamy and able to coat the back of a spoon without dripping. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Make sure you taste as you go - it's amazing how the flavor changes with the right amount of seasoning! Take off heat, put a lid on it and set aside.

When your Bolognese sauce is done cooking and you have everything else finished, you're ready to assemble the dish.

Make sure you have all your ducks in a row:
Pot of hot Bolognese sauce, check. 
Pot of warm béchamel, check. 
Pot of wicked hot boiling salted water, check. 
Ice bath, check. 
Colander, check.
9 x 13 pan to bake all this goodness in, check.

Boil your pasta (1 sheet at a time) in your rapidly boiling water. Only boil a few seconds then remove with big slotted spoon or ladle and drop into ice bath to stop the cooking. Repeat until all your pasta is finished. Remove from ice bath and drain in colander but be ready to work with them right away. If they sit too long they stick to each other.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 
Start assembling by layering Bolognese sauce, a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano, pasta sheets, and béchamel. Repeat as many times as your ingredients allow. Top layer should end with pasta and béchamel, and a sprinkling of the Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Homemade pasta sheets are more bendy and they are thin so you can kind of scrunch them up. Plus this adds interest and a beautiful finished dish.

Bake for about 45 minutes. Remove from oven once all the edges are browned and the sauce is bubbling. Allow to rest for about 15 minutes before serving. This allows the lasagna to set up nicely and not fall apart when you cut into it.