Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Sautéed green beans with homemade mustard

OK, so this recipe unlike all my others is not actually gluten-free since I use Kodiak Nut Brown beer in the mustard.  Since I'm only gluten-intolerant and don't have the much more serious Celiac disease, I can totally get away with cheating a bit.  In fact, I've declared this as my summer of drinking beer.  I went to the Haines Beer Fest in the end of May, indulged in beers from all the different Alaskan breweries, and decided that drinking beer doesn't affect me the same as eating a bagel does.  Some of my gluten-intolerant friends claim they can drink beer without issues.  I'd like fully believe that I don't react to the gluten in beer, but I can live in a bit of denial for the summer.

When I was at the farmer's market recently, I stocked up on some local produce including some fantastic green beans.  My sister had mentioned a few weeks ago that she had made a lovely green bean salad with a mustard vinaigrette, but I didn't get the recipe from her.  Instead I decided to just sauté the green beans and then add some homemade Kodiak nut brown mustard.

Kodiak nut brown mustard (prepare the mustard the day before to allow time for the chemical reaction between the mustard powder and the liquids for the flavor to mellow out)

1/2 c mustard powder
1/2 c brown mustard seeds
1/4 c brown sugar
3/4 c apple cider vinegar
1 c Kodiak nut brown ale
1 tsp salt
2 heaping tbsp corn starch

In a sauce pan, mix together the mustard powder, mustard seeds, and brown sugar.

Add the vinegar and beer.  I usually let it sit for a few hours at this point since I think this is where there's suppose to be a chemical reaction between the mustard powder and the liquids).

And the salt.

Stir in the cornstarch so it's completely dissolved with no lumps.

In order to activate the cornstarch to thicken the mustard, heat over a medium heat until the mustard begins to simmer.  Stir constantly until the mustard thickens up, and then remove from heat.

Spoon into glass jars and refrigerate.

So, I bought these green beans at the farmer's market, but they were this brilliant purple color!  I asked the farmer if they were just like regular green beans except for the color.  He said yes and that they'd turn green when I cooked them.  I couldn't tell if he was joking or not, so I was super curious to see if they would change colors.

First I cleaned them and chopped them into shorter lengths.

Then I heated a bit of olive oil in a skillet over a medium-high heat.

Into the pan...

A bit of salt...

And to my amazement (and a little bit of disappointment), they did start turning green!

After they were properly sautéd and still had a bit of crispness to them, I added two dollops of mustard. 

Then I removed from the heat and mixed thoroughly.

I thought about fixing something else to go with the green beans, but ended up just eating a big plate of green beans for dinner...

Friday, August 24, 2012

Wild blueberry pie with an oatmeal-pecan crust

I was just down at Glacier Bay National Park visiting my friend Nina.  There were these ginormous wild blueberries EVERYWHERE.  As an avid berry picker, I could not resist.
I never make pies out of the wild blueberries I pick in Fairbanks.  Our blueberries, Vaccinium uliginosum, are small berries that grow on low shrubs, and they have a really concentrated tangy flavor.  I use them much more sparingly... mostly on my oatmeal, in pancakes, or for smoothies.
The blueberries around Glacier Bay, Vaccinium alaskaense, are much bigger and grow on taller bushes.  I was amazed at how quickly my bowl filled up!

I was planning on picking berries on this hill, but these guys beat me to it.  They are the locals, so obviously the get first dibs on berry patches... 

Glacier Bay is right next to Gustavus.  Gustavus is a small town of only ~ 430 people accessible only by boat or plane, but it's surprisingly friendly to those on a gluten-free diet.  The coffee shop serves gluten-free (and dairy-free) baked goods, and there's also the Sunnyside Market which sells all sorts of good things including the brown rice flour that I needed for my pie crust.


3/4 c brown rice flour
3/4 c oats
3/4 c brown sugar; packed
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 c butter
1/2 c pecans, chopped
~ 2 tbsp cold water


2 cups wild blueberries
1/3 c white sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon


Before the butter softens, chop it into little pieces.

Mix together the brown rice flour, oats, brown sugar, and baking powder.

Once the butter is a bit soft, add it to the mixture and use your hands to incorporate it in so that there are no chunks of butter remaining.

Add the chopped pecans.

Add ~ 2 tbsp of cold water (by drizzling it in and mixing well) so that the mixture holds together when pinched.

Press into a greased pie pan and bake at 350° F for 10 minutes.

In a bowl, mix together the wild blueberries, sugar, and cinnamon so that the sugar and cinnamon coat the berries.

Pour into the crust and bake at 350° F for 20 more minutes.  


The pie goes especially well with a bit of vanilla ice cream!

Pickled sea asparagus

One of the interesting dichotomies about Alaska is the contrast between how Alaska often feels like such a small town while it is such a vast landscape.  With a small population of just over 700,000 and since people move around a bit, I’m constantly running into random people wherever I go in Alaska—especially in Anchorage or Juneau—so I don't feel far from home even when hundreds of miles away from Fairbanks.   
On the other hand, Alaska is so big geographically (twice the size of Texas), it spans really different ecosystems.  After years of living, studying, and working in Interior Alaska and having worked on the North Slope, I feel fairly knowledgeable about the boreal forest and tundra plants.  Southeast Alaska is a whole other world to me.  I’m completely enchanted by the massive trees and array of understory plants and mushrooms I still need to learn.  Plus it's got the forest-ocean ecotone with all of those plants and seaweeds.    
Recently I took advantage of a small lull during a transition in my life to pop down to Southeast for a bit to visit friends and soak in the ambiance of the rain forests, the majestic mountains, and the soothing ocean.
While meeting up with my friend Christine for brunch at the Sandpiper—my favorite Juneau brunch spot—she mentioned that she had just harvested a bunch of sea asparagus the day before and was going to spend the afternoon pickling it.  I immediately volunteered to help since (1) I had no idea what sea asparagus was and (2) I’ve been curious to learn how to pickle vegetables for awhile now.  So we headed back to her house and got started.

Sea asparagus (Salicornia virginica)

It tastes salty!
The first thing we did was to sort out any debris and trim a few brown spots on the sea asparagus.

Since it was a gorgeous, non-rainy day, we took the task outside to the deck!


We had to track down the very last of the fresh dill in all of Juneau.  Luckily Rainbow Foods had two bunches left since all the other grocery stores in town were completely sold out!

~1 gallon bag full of sea asparagus
bottle of vinegar
fresh dill
garlic cloves

Also needed: canning jars and lids!  Christine pulled out her pint-sized canning jars and fit lids to them.


 Then the jars & lids were washed and air-dried.

Each jar needs two small bunches of dill, a garlic clove, and peppercorns.

We started with a small bunch of dill and some of the peppercorns at the bottom of each jar.

In a large pot, we mixed together equal portions of vinegar and water (about 3 1/2 cups of each) and added the garlic cloves and some peppercorns.  We brought it to a simmer to infuse the flavors.  After the flavors were infused, Christine dropped a garlic clove from the pot into each one of the canning jars.

I stuffed the sea asparagus into the jars, leaving ~ 1 inch of room at the top.

Next, the jars were topped off with a bit more dill.

Christine poured the garlic-peppercorn infused vinegar water into the jars, leaving ~ 1 inch of room at the top.

Finally the lids went on, Christine made sure not to touch the inside of the lids.  The lids should be secure, but not super tight.

Then the jars were submerged in a boiling hot bath for 10 minutes.

Christine pulls the jars out of the hot bath.

Once the jars were on the counter beginning to cool, we heard the lids pop.  This lets us know that they are airtight!

But now we must wait three weeks for the flavors to meld!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Homemade Kettle Corn

Popcorn is one of those delightful foods.  The Stir Crazy Popcorn Popper had an esteemed place  in our house.  Growing up, Thursday night was Family Night where we would watch TV as a family (lots of Cosby Show-type sitcoms), eat popcorn, and drink soda.  I don't really remember ever drinking much soda outside of Thursday nights, but we were allowed to drink it with our popcorn.  One of my earliest memories is from montessori school where one time the teachers put a big sheet down on the floor and we all sat at the edge of it; an uncovered popcorn maker sat in the middle of the sheet with fresh popcorn ejecting in all directions.  We weren't allowed to get up, but we all scrambled to grab any popcorn that landed near us.

Somewhere along the way, I've come to recognize popcorn as a legitimate dinner.  It's perfect for those long days when you get home and just want something quick.  To be truly lazy, I usually just throw some kernels in a brown paper bag (the lunch bag size) and pop it into the microwave for ~1:45 to 2 minutes.  Then a little melted butter and some Penzey's savory Northwood Fire seasoning spice and voilà--  Dinner! 

But lately, I've been craving kettle corn-- and I don't always make it to the Farmer's Market on Wednesday and Saturdays to buy it.  As I discovered, kettle corn is incredibly easy to make which is a bad thing since it is incredibly easy to eat as well.

1/4 c oil
1/4 c sugar
1 c popcorn

I used olive oil since that's what I had on hand, but just plain vegetable oil works great too.  I think a more refined white sugar may work better than the sugar that I used-- it clumped pretty easily in the oil, but once again, it was what I had on hand.  I've also heard that if you use brown sugar it will taste more like caramel corn.  Perhaps next time I'll try that.

Start by heating the oil in a large pot.  I begin with the pot off on a high temperature to get the oil heated.  Later, I'll reduce the heat.

I've heard that you can test it the oil is hot enough by throwing a few kernels in, but I use it more as a test to see if the oil sizzles around them than if they start popping.

 Add the sugar to the oil.

and stir to prevent clumps.  I get clumps anyways though... (this is where I think the finer grain sugar would be an asset).

Add in the popcorn.  I don't usually measure when making popcorn, except I do when making kettle corn. 

Stir the kernels to coat with oil and sugar.

Reduce the heat to medium and cover with a lid.  Shake the pot every minute or so to prevent burnt popcorn.

Having used this pot many time before, I know approximately how full the popcorn will be when mostly popped and when to pull the pot of the heat. But it's time to pull the pot off the heat when its 2-3 seconds between pops.

Then let the popcorn sit off the heat for a few minutes to let the last remaining kernels pop.  I uncover the pot so that the popcorn stays crisp and not soggy.

And then into my popcorn bowl for dinner!

I have a dedicated bowl for popcorn.  It was given to me by my friend Elise as part of a birthday gift many years ago.  I think of her every time I eat popcorn out of my popcorn bowl.  The funny thing is that the food I associate most with Elise is spaghetti-- so much so our nicknames revolve around it-- we are the Spaghetti Sisters.  I first met her when we were both working in the same first grade classroom.  Before even meeting Elise, the classroom teacher announced to me that Elise & I would get along great because we both had similar shaped black glasses and both had brown hair.  Sure enough, we hit it off great, but I suspect there's more to our friendship than similarities in glasses and hair.

So one day, after school had let out, Elise and I were in the teachers' lounge and there was a leftover pre-packaged school lunch-- spaghetti.  We were devouring it together when a teacher I hadn't met before walked in.  She asked if we were sisters which we thought was hilarious because beyond the similar shaped black glasses and brown hair, we really don't look that much alike.  That's when Elise declared that we were Spaghetti Sisters and I quipped that spaghetti sauce is thicker than blood.  And from then on out, she has always been "Spag" and I am "Saucy".