Friday, February 21, 2014

Lemon & Thyme Halibut Baked in Parchment Paper with Polenta and Zucchini

This is the perfect dinner for one. It's quick and easy with little to no clean-up. Plus it's an absolutely delicious way to cook fish. Baking fish in parchment paper keeps it moist and tender and all the flavors of your ingredients infuse together. In this recipe, I use a simple pat of butter, a slice of lemon and fresh thyme to infuse my halibut fillet with heavenly goodness. The polenta soaks up the butter sauce while the zucchini keeps it's crunch due to the quick cooking time. But the real beauty of this culinary creation is you hardly have any clean-up. Everything is baked and served right in the parchment paper. How easy is that! And of course this recipe can easily be adjusted for more servings and prepared ahead of time. Make up your halibut packets, refrigerate (up to 4 hours) and pop them in the oven when you're ready to serve an amazing dinner. ~Audrey 
6-8oz halibut fillet
4 slices pre-cooked polenta
6 slices zucchini
1 small garlic clove, diced
1 lemon slice
1 pat of butter
fresh thyme
salt & pepper to taste
diced green onion & red pepper for garnish

Serves 1

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In this recipe I used Food Merchants Brand Basil Garlic pre-cooked polenta.  

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place 4 slices of polenta in the center and top with zucchini slices.   

Place halibut fillet on top, sprinkle with garlic and thyme. Add a lemon slice and a pat of butter. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.

Wrap everything up. Make sure you fold all the edges tight. What you are essentially doing is steaming the halibut till it's done while all the flavors infuse together.

Place your packet of goodness (on a baking sheet) in a 400 degree oven for 12-15 minutes. Cooking time will depend on the thickness of your fish. I like to use a thermometer to check for doneness. I just insert my thermometer into the fish right thru the parchment so I don't have to open the packet and mess everything up. Fish should reach and internal temperature of 130 degrees.

Place your delicious halibut packet on a plate and dinner is served. Be careful when unfolding the parchment paper-the steam is hot! 

Here I am with my "chicken" halibut I caught in Homer, Alaska on a friend's skiff. We call them chickens because they are small, only about 20 pounds. We threw a bunch back but near the end of the day I really wanted to take some halibut home so I kept these little guys.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Paella with Alaska Spot Shrimp

Paella is a medley of rice with seafood, chicken and chorizo sausage or similar ingredients depending on what's available in your part of the world. In Alaska, we have an abundance of wild seafood, so for this recipe I used Alaska Spot shrimp that Audrey and I caught in Prince William Sound and mussels I picked up at my favorite fish market. The secret to making this right is the socarrat, or the crispy bottom of the paella that becomes caramelized and toasted when it's cooking. This is where the flavor lives. The smoky flavor comes from the chorizo and paprika and of course the saffron adds an indescribable flavor - there is literally no substitute for it in the spice world. Some say it lends a semi-sweet taste to the dish. To me it's more of an aroma that you taste (if that makes sense). This traditional Spanish dish is a social affair from the cooking to the eating so pour yourself a glass of wine and gather your peeps in the kitchen and start cooking. ~Patti

16 large Alaska Spot shrimp, peeled, deveined and rinsed
8 ounces chorizo sausage, sliced
16 mussels, or clams, scrubbed and cleaned
1 pound boneless chicken thighs, skin on or off (your choice)
3 medium ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, minced
1-2 tablespoons olive oil, as needed
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, diced
2 cups uncooked medium-grain rice
4 cups chicken or veggie broth
1 pinch saffron threads (5-6 threads)
4 teaspoons smoked paprika
fresh ground pepper and salt to taste
1/3 cup frozen (or fresh) peas
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1-2 lemons, cut into wedges for serving

Serves 8-12

It's important to use a paellera, or paella pan when making this dish. See note at the end of this post.

Drizzle 1-2 tablespoons olive oil into your paella pan. Add onion, parsley and garlic, saute on low about 8 minutes until onions are soft. Add 2 of the tomatoes and 2 teaspoons of the smoked paprika. Cook on low heat until jam-like and very fragrant, about 15 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside. This is called the 'sofrito', or sauce base, consisting of tomatoes, onion, etc. in Latin American cooking.

While your sofrito is cooking, put shrimp in a bowl and season with salt, pepper and 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika. Toss to combine. Place chicken thighs in a bowl, salt and pepper to taste, refrigerate both.

Cook your chorizo slices in your paella pan for 2-3 minutes until fat is rendered and they start to brown. Remove chorizo and set aside but leave the rendered fat from the chorizo.

Now put your chicken in the pan and sear both sides in the nice chorizo fat until golden brown and almost cooked, about 6-8 minutes. Take the chicken out and set in the bowl with the chorizo. Don't remove any of those bits and pieces left in the pan!

Put the peppers into the paella pan and sauté for a few minutes until they start to soften. Add the sofrito and saffron and last remaining teaspoon of the paprika and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

A little saffron goes a long way - the flavor is intense, so a 5 minute soak in a teaspoon of warm water or white wine is a great way to release flavor and help disperse it more evenly.

Add the remaining minced tomato and mix in. Cook about 3 minutes until mixture has darkened slightly.

Add rice (finally!) and stir to coat. Spread rice into an even layer.

Add broth and nestle the chorizo and chicken into the rice. Add any juices that have accumulated in the bowl.

Cover with foil and do not stir rice from this point! Let it go at a lively simmer for about 12-15 minutes until the rice has swelled and absorbed the liquid. You may need to move the pan occasionally if it's a lot bigger than the burner.

Add shrimp and shellfish, nestling into the rice, and sprinkle peas on top.

Cover with foil again and let cook on low until shrimp are done and shellfish have opened, about 5 minutes. Rice should be al dente. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Sprinkle with parsley, serve with lemon wedges and enjoy your beautiful creation!

The traditional way to serve this dish is to set the paellera in the middle of the table and let everyone help themselves. Hand out the plates and make sure everyone gets a little bit of everything.

A paellera, or paella pan, is important for cooking this dish. It's the perfect shape and size and distributes the heat evenly to get that crisp rice layer on the bottom (where the flavor lives). Plus it makes a great centerpiece to serve out of. But if you don't have one, you can use a large skillet with low sides.

Here I am picking out fresh mussels at New Sagaya market in Anchorage and Audrey holding Alaska Spot shrimp we caught in Prince William Sound, Alaska.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Seared Alaskan Halibut with Swiss Chard & Beurre Blanc

While a nice piece of Alaskan halibut is always a treat, adding a rich beurre blanc (white butter sauce) really sends it over the top. I'm happy to say I've mastered a perfect beurre blanc while in culinary school, and while it does take a little time, it's really not that hard to do. Definitely worth giving it a try as it pairs well with all fish and seafood. The Swiss chard in this dish adds an earthiness to balance out the richness of the sauce, plus it's beautiful and grows really well in Alaska. This is the kind of meal that provides the perfect bite: buttery richness of the sauce, savory tenderness of the halibut and slight crunch of the Swiss chard..all in one forkful. ~Patti
1 pound halibut, no skin, cut into 4 fillets
6-8 cups Swiss chard, chopped fine
1/2 shallot, minced
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Beurre blanc:
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cubed into 1 ounce pieces
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
4 ounces dry white wine
1/2 shallot, minced
1 teaspoon white pepper
salt to taste

Serves 4

Ruby Red Swiss chard growing in Audrey's garden up in Fairbanks. 

What is Swiss Chard? Swiss chard is a mild, tender vegetable that is often overlooked. It is worth a try, however. Colorful and tasty, Swiss chard is similar to spinach when it comes to taste and ease of preparation plus it's full of nutritional goodness. Swiss chard is related to the beet, and comes in a variety of colors. The leafy portion is always a nice green, while the stalk can be white, bright yellow, or a ruby red. If you are growing your own, or buy it from a farmer's market, it is not unusual to see all three colors packaged together as 'Rainbow Chard'.

Start your beurre blanc by placing vinegar, wine and shallots into a small pot. Simmer on low to medium heat and cook until reduced to about 2 teaspoons (about 10-15 minutes). Then, turn down heat to low and drop in cubes of butter, a few at a time and whisk. Continue whisking in butter cube by cube, allowing butter to melt into sauce until all your butter is incorporated. 

Whisking is the key here, along with using cold butter, which keeps the temperature under control. Not whisking can cause your sauce to 'break' - continuous whisking is essential.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Spiced Pumpkin Curry with Coconut Seared Weathervane Scallops

Alaska weathervane scallops are the sweetest and most tender scallops in the world. If you've never had one, I suggest you do. If they aren't available where you live you can order them on-line from several companies and they will ship to you frozen. Or you can make a special trip up to Alaska! They really are worth it. I like them plain; pan fried in a little oil or butter and consumed immediately. But to change things up a bit, I decided to play around with some healthy ingredients and develop an easy, low fat curry recipe to accompany the scallops that have been begging to come out of my freezer. Nothing too fancy or with lots of crazy ingredients that are hard to find, but something easy and healthy - did I mention that already? After much trial and error, I've finally come up with something so yummy that I could eat it everyday for a month! It's great on it's own as a vegetarian dish or you can change it up by adding your favorite seafood, chicken or whatever suits your fancy. For the noodles, I used quinoa pasta but brown rice or regular pasta works too. This dish is especially good during the winter months when you need a little extra something to spice you up. ~Audrey
1/2 red bell pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 inch ginger
1/4 - 1/2 Serrano pepper
1/2 cup pureed pumpkin (unsweetened canned)
1/4 cup almond butter
2 tablespoons red curry paste
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon 100% maple syrup
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
1-2 tablespoons lime juice
2-3 tablespoons hot water
1 package spaghetti
2 cups spinach leaves
1 tablespoon coconut oil 
1/2 cup edamame
12 seared scallops in coconut oil 
diced red bell pepper and green onions for garnish

Serves 4

Place red pepper, garlic, ginger and Serrano pepper in your food processor. Pulse until everything is diced.  

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Eggventure - Alaskan style

Do chickens lay eggs at -40 below in Fairbanks, Alaska? Yes they do. Do they attack people who steal their eggs? Yes they do! My egg-venture started out on a somewhat peaceful note. I did, after all, have a bag full of organic salad mix and a few slices of whole wheat bread to trade for some fresh eggs. That seemed fair. At first they didn't make too much of a fuss when I invited myself into their lovely but stinky home. They actually looked happy to have a little company. BUT-when I was trying to make my peaceful getaway, a chicken hopped onto my head! Can't really blame her. My dog, Salty, did kill and eat one of her comrades last summer. Guess she was getting her revenge. I did manage to get 8 eggs though..and make myself a delicious King Crab omelet! ~Audrey
Beautiful bottles of Domaine Serene wine from the Willamette Valley once occupied the wooden crate shown in this photo. Now it's a perch for these tough Alaskan hens and their stinky feet :) 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Whole Baked Alaska Salmon with Fennel and Herbs

In the book, Good Luck Life, the author Rosemary Gong says that it's important for fish to be served with the head and tail to ensure a good year, from start to finish.  So as we ring in 2014, we decided to bake a whole salmon for good luck. Fortunately, we alway set aside a few whole salmon each summer and store them in the freezer, rather than filleting them. Luck aside, leaving the heads and tails on while cooking imparts a whole new level of flavor. Bump it up by stuffing with fennel, onions, herbs and bacon. The fennel and onion add a savory sweetness and the bacon, well, you know what bacon does :) ~Patti
4-5 pound whole salmon, cleaned
4 slices bacon, diced small
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh garlic, minced
1/4 fennel bulb, chopped, reserve some of the fronds
1/4 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2 teaspoons sage (dried)
1 teaspoon oregano, dried (I use the Mexican oregano, so aromatic!)
Salt & Pepper
Compound Butter:
1/2 stick unsalted butter
parsley or any herbs you like

Make stuffing. First, get all your stuffing ingredients chopped, minced, measured out, etc. Then fry bacon until almost cooked (about 5 minutes). Add onion and cook another 5 minutes until softened. Add garlic and fennel bulb and cook about a minute (be careful not to burn garlic). Stir in the herbs and remove from heat. Set aside to cool while you make the compound butter.

Compound butter adds quick and easy flavor! Put room temperature unsalted butter in your food processor. Add parsley and however much garlic you like. Puree. Place in parchment paper, wrap into a log shape and pop in the freezer to firm up while you prep fish. You can add in any herbs or spices to butter that appeal to you. Go crazy, it's your butter...and fish.

 Lay your salmon on a large piece of foil. Open the cavity and fill with stuffing.

Go ahead and put in the fennel fronds and a few pats of the compound butter you made. Using kitchen twine, tie the fish closed. Snip ends of twine and tuck any stuffing stragglers back into the fish. I rubbed about 1 tablespoon of compound butter on top of skin, but you can always use olive oil if you'd rather. Do not skip this step or fish will stick to foil.

Place into preheated 400 degree oven on a large baking sheet. I found that my 4 pound salmon took about 35 minutes. Use a thermometer to check for done-ness. I pulled it out of the oven when it reached 130 degrees at its thickest point. Let your salmon sit for another 5-10 minutes in the foil. The carry over cooking will bring it to the recommended 135 degrees. 

Transfer to platter and carefully scoop out your stuffing and set aside. Then open and pull out the spine. It will come out in one piece. Then remove skin. There's really no way around not making a mess when you do this but I guarantee your salmon will taste delicious. 

Serve with stuffing piled on top, and a nice green salad. I used the left over compound butter for the french loaf I served.

Note: We have found the best way to freeze a whole fish is to clean it thoroughly, pat dry and wrap in butcher paper. Then place it in a plastic trash bag and secure with tape. Be sure to label it and then pop it in the freezer. Another rule of thumb, consume your fish before the next fishing season starts!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Whole Wheat Honey Bread

This is my new go-to bread - it is so easy to make and comes out perfect every time. It's also my family's favorite, so I like to have plenty on hand. It makes an ample 3-loaf batch of soft, somewhat dense bread. It combines bread flour and whole wheat flour along with honey giving it a slightly sweet, nutty taste. I like to support our local bee keepers, so I always use Alaskan-grown honey. ~Patti

3 cups warm water
4-1/2 teaspoons (or 2 packets) active dry yeast
1/3 cup honey
5 cups bread flour
3 tablespoons melted butter
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon salt
3-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons melted butter for brushing tops

In large bowl, mix together water, yeast, 1/3 cup honey. Add 5 cups of bread flour and combine. Let this set about 30 minutes or until it's big. The dough will be a little bubbly and jiggly.

Then add the melted butter, salt, wheat flour, and second addition of honey and stir until dough is formed.

Sprinkle a little wheat flour on your counter or work surface. Knead well, adding additional wheat flour as needed. I find I use about 1 extra cup. Dough should be somewhat sticky and barely pull away from the work surface. Don't over knead the dough. 

Place dough in lightly greased bowl, turning once to coat the dough. You can use butter or non-stick spray. I like to use butter. Cover and let rise in a warm area for about an hour or until doubled.

Shape dough into loaves, set in greased pans and cover till they rise above edges of the pan. Pop them into a preheated oven (350 degrees) and bake for @ 25 minutes, until golden.

After removing from oven, brush tops with melted butter so the loaf stays soft.

Oh yeah! Beautiful! Let cool in pan for about 15 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Otherwise, slice yourself a big piece (as soon as it's cool enough to touch) and devour.

I like to have my slice with the Alaskan raspberry freezer jam Audrey posted earlier this year :) 

Rose Hip & Raspberry Freezer Jam Recipe