Saturday, November 17, 2012

Paying it forward (with spring rolls and red curry)


Just after New Year's Day, Facebook usually has a number of people posting this "Pay It Forward" message:

"I promise to send (or deliver) something handmade to the 1st 5 people who leave a comment. They must in turn post this and send something they made to the 1st 5 people who comment on their status. The rules are that it must be handmade by you and it must be sent to your 5 people sometime this year. You don't get to specify what I send you."

I posted this a few years ago, had five friends sign up, and then completely forgot about it.  I tried it again this year and had a number of friends sign up for it.  Since I've never been the exclusive type and love to give presents, I was looking forward to the challenge of making handmade item for friends.  To make sure that I didn't blow it off again this year, I put a list with everyone's names on my door, so I had to look at it constantly.  Slowly I've been crossing off name, usually by handing over a bowl or mug that I've made.  It's getting close to the end of the year and I've only got a few names left to cross off.  I still need to figure out what I can send to Marie that will make it all the way to France without breaking...  

Since both April and Shea signed up, I thought it would be more fun to make them dinner.  With everybody's busy lives, it's difficult to schedule in a Girls Night now and then.  We originally tried to schedule this back in February and March, but here it is November, and we finally found a night when all three of us are free.  Like many new moms, April has had to cut a number of things out of her diet since her daughter Khloé was born, so I was tasked with preparing a gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and soy-free meal.  So, I thought Thai food... fresh rolls, red curry with chicken, stir-fried vegetables, and jasmine rice.

In order to find some of the ingredients such as the Kaffir lime leaves for the curry, I had to head to the Asian food market in town.  It's always a fun adventure to browse all the interesting things you find there.  But then sometimes I buy things on a whim and am never really quite sure what to do with them...

It seems a bit random, but for a fairly small and somewhat isolated town that has an extensively long and cold winter, Fairbanks has a decent size Thai community.  We probably have at least 10 Thai restaurants when the whole Fairbanks North Star Borough (approximately the size of Rhode Island) only has around 100,000 residents.

Fresh Rolls

rice spring roll wrappers
mung bean noodles
cabbage, slivered
carrots, grated
bell pepper-- yellow, red, or orange, sliced into sticks
(I usually also throw cucumbers into these as well, but forgot to pick one up at the store)

Drop the mung bean noodles into boiling water for a minute or so.  They soften up quite quickly!

Arrange all the chopped, diced, and grated ingredients before beginning to roll the fresh rolls.

Heat water until just below boiling and place one of the wrappers in the water to soften it.  It only takes a few seconds and if you leave the wrapper in too long, it starts to get a bit mushy and tears super easily.  I like to have the water in a pan so when it cools, I just heat it back up on the stove.

After pulling the wrapper out of the water, add a small amount of noodles and all the different veggies to the middle of the wrapper.  Be careful not to add to much otherwise they'll be hard to roll.
Roll by folding in one side, then the two ends, and finally rolling to close.

Place the fresh rolls on a plate and serve with sweet chili sauce with chopped peanuts.

Red curry with chicken

can of coconut milk
~1 tbsp red curry paste
1/2 cup of water
1 chicken breast
1/2 tsp salt 
Kaffir lime leaves
bell pepper

Empty the can of coconut milk into a pot over, and heat over medium high heat on the stove.  Depending on how spicy you want your curry, add 1-2 tbsp of red curry paste to the coconut milk and stir.  When the curry paste is dissolved in the coconut milk, add in the 1/2 cup of water.  Add the chicken and simmer until the chicken is thoroughly cooked.

Add the salt.

Tear up a few Kaffir lime leaves and add to the pot.

Add a few shredded basil leaves.  Just before serving, top with a few thin slices of bell pepper.

Stir-fried vegetables

olive oil
ginger, 3-5 cloves, minced
garlic, a thumb-sized chunk, minced
sesame oil
zucchini, broccoli, sweet onions, carrots, green onion, red bell pepper, and mushrooms

Heat ~ 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet over high heat.  When hot, add minced garlic and ginger.  When the garlic starts to get crunchy, drizzle ~ 1 tbsp of sesame oil over the garlic and ginger.  Add all of the veggies, stir, and cook until they're browned but still has some crispness to them.

Serve the vegetable and curry with some jasmine rice.

A good night with friends! And since everything was gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, and soy-free, April could eat the whole meal.

I thought about making a mango sorbet for desert but then decided to leave that up to Häagen-Dazs.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

London Fogs and Sweet Potato Pancakes

I've been meaning to get together with my friend Rachel for months now, so it was awesome that she called me up last week to announce that she was hungry for sweet potato pancakes.

Sweet potatoes are just one of those delicious and fantastically good-for-you foods, and sweet potato pancakes are easy to make gluten-free by swapping in GF flour.  While over the last few years I've become a dedicated morning coffee drinker, I've always enjoyed tea-- especially black teas.

At the Rookery Café in Juneau, I discovered this wonder tea latte-- the London Fog.  It's Earl Grey tea with steamed milk and a splash of vanilla simple syrup.  I'm a big fan of Earl Grey (I especially enjoy the double bergamot Earl Grey), so I decided to try making it at home.  Initially I bought a bottle of vanilla syrup like they have at the coffee shops, but then I decided to try to make the vanilla simple syrup from scratch.  Once you make a batch of vanilla simple syrup, store it in the refrigerator.  (I also tried to make pumpkin spice simple syrup, but that turned into a big sticky mess, so some drinks such as pumpkin spice lattes just are easier to get at a coffee shop)

I don't have a espresso machine to make the steamed milk, but awhile back when I was in the Lower 48, I picked up this hand-dandy milk frother for $1.99 at IKEA.  It's one of my favorite kitchen gadgets. 

London Fog

Earl Grey tea
1 cup milk
1 cup sugar
1.5 tbsp vanilla extract


Measure out 1 cup of water and 1 cup of sugar.

Add water and sugar to a pan.

Simmer on a medium heat until all the sugar dissolves and the liquid is clear.

Funnel the syrup into a glass bottle.

Add the vanilla extract.

Swirl the bottle to disperse the vanilla through the syrup.

Steep an Earl Grey tea bag in about 1 cup of just-slightly-less-than-boiling water for ~3 minutes. If you steep black tea too long, it becomes bitter.

Heat and froth the milk.  I usually just heat the milk in the microwave and then use my frother.  If you don't have an espresso machine or a frother, you can also froth the milk using a French press to froth milk by adding hot milk to the French press and plunging it a number of times to create air bubbles.

Add the steeped tea to the frothed milk.

Add ~1 teaspoon of the vanilla syrup and enjoy!

Sweet potato pancakes

1/4 cup butter, melted
1 1/2 cups milk
2 eggs
1 cooked sweet potato
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
3 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 cups gluten-free flour


Mix the melted butter with the milk and eggs.

Scrape the inside of the sweet potato into the bowl.  If you want smooth pancakes, then you can use an electric mixer, but I usually leave the sweet potato somewhat chunky.

Add the nutmeg and salt.  I put Rachel to work grating the nutmeg.

Add the baking powder.

Mix in the flour.  Once again, I made Rachel work for her breakfast.

Rachel did an excellent job stirring the batter...

Cook the pancakes on a slightly oiled griddle over medium heat.

Usually you can tell when to flip pancakes by watching for bubbles to stop forming on the top of the pancakes, but these are a little more difficult to tell when they're ready to flip, so I just check to see when they're golden on the bottom and beginning to look pretty solid.

Sweet potato pancakes are especially good when topped with a bit of plain yogurt, pecans, and maple syrup.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A locally grown fall feast amongst friends-- curried carrot soup, kale, and salmon

I have this group of friends that meets a few times a year where we gather in one home and spend the evening cooking, dining, hanging out, and catching up.  With everyone's busy lives, it usually takes us a few weeks to find an evening that works for everyone.

For at least a year or two, we were on an eggplant kick where we would pick a different cuisine and build a meal around some sort of eggplant dish-- grilled eggplant, baba ganoush, moussaka, eggplant in black bean sauce, and even an African dish of some kind... I don't even remember some of the other ones.  It's amazing how versatile eggplant is!  But then *one of us* decided that she didn't really like eggplant that much, so now we pick a different theme for each meal.  For our latest feast, we decided to focus on locally grown food, so we had curried carrot soup, wild Alaskan salmon, and sautéed kale.

While Johnny, Kelly, and I were busy in the kitchen, Jenny and Brent entertained the kiddos.

While Alaska is famous for its salmon and ginormous pumpkins, I don't think that people Outside realize what amazing carrots are grown under the Alaskan midnight sun.  With our short, intense growing season, we've got these delicious sweet carrots.  I always make sure to stock up on at least 20 pounds of Spinach Creek Farm's carrots just before the close of the farmer's market-- around the middle of September.   They actually stay surprisingly crispy in the fridge for months, but sadly, my stash is already almost gone.

Kale is quite hardy, so it grows well here since our growing season is quite short and we can get hard freezes as early as August.  In fact, when I has harvesting kale for this dish, I found pellets of ice on some of the kale and the temperature hadn't reached above freezing in a few days.
Curried Carrot Soup

Olive oil
1 large onion
big bunch of carrots
~ 1 heaping tbsp of curry powder
salt and pepper
1 can of coconut milk


Chop the onion, it's OK if it's coarsely chopped since the soup will be pureed later.

Heat a a bit of olive oil in the bottom of a pot and had the onion.

Once the onions are soft, add the curry powder.

Johnny adds some fresh ground pepper to the pot.

Chop the carrots into smallish-sized chunks and add to the pot.

Kelly adds some water to the pot (or broth also works well).

Simmer the carrots until they are tenders.

Using an immersion blender, purée the soup.


Add the can of coconut milk.


 Stir in the coconut milk and serve.

Kelly's Decadent Salmon


wild Alaskan salmon

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 dry vermouth
1 tbsp lime juice
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp parsley
ground pepper

1 stick of butter
1 tbsp lime juice
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp minced fresh ginger
1 tsp lime zest


Johnny fillets the salmon.

Kelly mixed up the ingredients in the marinade.

Kelly pours the marinade over the salmon.

Covered with aluminum foil, bake at 40F until done (~15 minutes or so).

Once the salmon is cooked, spread the butter mixture over the top of it and let it infuse it.

Sautéed Kale

~ 1 tbsp of olive oil
3-4 cloves of garlic
~ 1 tsp of sesame oil
~ 1 tbsp of soy sauce
handfuls of kale


Over a medium high heat, add the oil.  Once it's hot, add the garlic.

Brown the garlic until it's slightly crispy.

Add in a few handfuls of kale.  It will cook down quite a bit.

Once the kale is beginning to wilt and turns a shinier green, drizzle the sesame oil and soy sauce.  Stir in before serving.

Finally all the components of the meal are ready to go-- the soup, the salmon, and kale... plus Jenny & Brent brought a saffron rice dish to serve with the meal.  Yum!

And the evening really isn't complete until at least one of us ends up on the floor from laughing too hard.