Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk and Garam Masala

So, it's a week into April, and this is what I woke up to yesterday morning-- fresh snow.  We're well into Breakup (the season between Winter and Spring when everything melts and becomes a big, muddy mess) but Winter wanted to remind us that it's the dominant season around here.  

Some folks were frustrated by the new snow, but I'm OK with it.  The ski trails are in fantastic shape, and it gives me one more opportunity to cook up some hearty winter meals-- like this lentil soup.

I got the recipe for this lentil soup from one of the women in my Dining for Women group.  Dining for Women is a national organization, and I started attending the Fairbanks meals this past fall.  The focus of the organization is bringing together groups of women to share a monthly meal to support organizations around world that empower women.  Instead of going out for a meal, a member hosts a potluck, and we donate the money that would have otherwise been spent at a restaurant to the selected organization.  Dining for Women selects the organizations and provides us with a short video about the organization that we are supporting.  So, we do our best to make dishes from that country (or region).  Caitlyn brought this lentil soup for October's dinner which supported The Unforgotten Fund in Pune, India.

Fairbanks Dining for Women group

Lentil Soup with Coconut Milk and Garam Masala

4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable) or bouillon cubes
2 cups water
2 cups lentils
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion
4 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 (14-oz) can coconut milk
salt and pepper, to taste

For garnish
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
2-3 tomatoes 

Finely chop the onion, garlic, and ginger.

If using bouillon instead of broth, dissolve the bouillon into 4 cups of water in large stock pot.

Combine broth, water, and lentils in the pot. 

Bring to a boil, and then reduce to simmer.  Simmer until lentils are soft.

Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and add onion.  Cook until soft and lightly browned.

Add the garlic, ginger, and garam masala.

 Cook to release the flavors, about 1 minute. 

Add the onion mixture to the cooked lentils.

Stir in the coconut milk.  Bring to a simmer and cook until lentils soup is thickened, about 15 minutes.

Salt and pepper to taste.  When serving, garnish with cilantro chopped tomatoes.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

West Virginia Buckwheat Pancakes with Apple Bourbon Compote

Hi friends,
I've been hibernating this fall, but just starting to break out of my chrysalis.  While I was back in West Virginia visiting my family for Thanksgiving, I discovered that a local WV specialty was buckwheat pancakes.  Since buckwheat is not actually wheat and therefore gluten-free, I picked a a 5 lb bag of locally buhr-ground buckwheat flour.  This means there's a lot of pancakes to be eaten.  I'll be making up pancakes on Sunday, starting around 11 am.  Please stop by for some pancakes.  If you want to bring something, bring along your favorite pancake topping or brunch side dish.
Please RSVP if you can make it so I know how many people to expect.

For the past two years, my family planned a big family gathering in West Virginia over the Thanksgiving weekend.  When my dad was growing up, his family would travel to Upstate NY to meet up with all his aunts, uncles, & cousins for Thanksgiving.  This past year, much of my extended family on my father's side descended upon West Virginia to celebrate Thanksgiving, many of then driving through a snow storm.  

Family traveled in from St. Louis, Chicago, Boston, Cape Cod, Brooklyn, and Washington, D.C.  Flying from Alaska, I think I got the "Farthest Distance" award.

While in WV, I kept hearing about buckwheat pancakes.  At the local grocery store, I came across some locally buhr-ground buckwheat flour .

From their website: Buhr Grinding is an age old technique where we grind the buckwheat between two large stone wheels (buhrs).  Each buhr weighs about a ton and were imported from France around 1855.  (http://buckwheat-flour.com/history.html)

So even though this morning it was a bitter cold -40˚ F in town (but a balmy -20˚ F at my place), my friends bundled up and came over for pancakes. 

And they brought amazing gluten-free things to go with the pancakes: homemade jams (blueberry and raspberry), banana bourbon sauce with smoked sea salt, Bristol Bay King salmon smoked strips, peppered bacon, quinoa spinach quiche, black bean & egg casserole, sweet potato hash, fresh fruit, and juice. 

Our ongoing love affair with bacon
It was a fantastic feast, and it felt a bit like Stone Soup.

Say what you want about Gwyneth Paltrow, but she had a fantastic buckwheat pancake recipe:

The flour I bought had a pancake recipe right on the bag.  The recipe on the bag was simpler, so I went with that, and it turned out great. 

I had never heard of yeast cakes before, but found them quite easily at the grocery store they were in the refrigerator section, near the eggs. 

West Virginia Buckwheat Pancakes

*note* one change I made to this recipe is that I added an extra cup of warm water (a total of 2 ¼ cups of water) so that it had a pancake batter consistency.

1/3 Cake Fleischmann’s Yeast
2 1/4 cup warm water
1/2 tsp molasses
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 cups buckwheat flour


Dissolve 1/3 of the cake of yeast in warm water (warm enough to active the yeast but not scalding hot that would kill the yeast).

Stir in the molasses and salt to the water.

Stir in the buckwheat flour.

So, this is what the pancake batter looked like with the original amount of water:

So I added another cup (a total of 2 1/4 cups of warm water) and it looked a lot more like pancake batter.  Then let the batter sit for ~10-15 minutes.

Cook over a griddle (I oiled it with olive oil) and serve with delicious toppings.

Apple Bourbon Compote
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter
2 apples
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/2 cup raisins
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup bourbon


Peel, core, and chop the apples.
Melt the butter in a skillet.

Add the chopped apples, cinnamon, and cloves.


Cook down a bit until the apples are soft.  Add the raisins and sugar.

Shortly before serving, add in the bourbon and let it simmer a few minutes.

Sunday, January 5, 2014


It’s January in Alaska.  It was quite a lovely out today and delightfully warm: 20˚ F a blue wax ski day.

This time of year I crave hearty food.  We're now two weeks past winter solstice, which means that we're slowly gaining back daylight-- today was 4 minutes and 15 seconds longer than yesterday and tomorrow will be another 4 minutes and 27 seconds longer.

In the winter, I tend to find myself in my kitchen cooking on Sunday evenings.  I listen to the radio program “This American Life” that comes on the local NPR station Sunday evenings from 5-6 pm.  It’s funny because in the middle of the summer when we’ve got 20+ hours of daylight, Sunday at 5 pm still feels like the middle of the afternoon.  In January, it’s already pitch black by 5 pm and it’s definitely nighttime already. 

I picked up a roast at the store and decide to have a meat & potato kind of night.  Instead of plain mash potatoes, I decided to make colcannon—an Irish dish of mashed potatoes decadently dressed up with cabbage and bacon.  I can also be made with kale instead of cabbage, but I’ve been hunkering for cabbage lately.

~2 lbs of potatoes
6 slices of bacon
3 cloves of garlic, minced
½ head of cabbage
½ stick of butter (4 Tbsp)
~ ½ c milk
6 scallions
salt & pepper, to taste

I find that potatoes cook faster when you slice them, rather than cube them, since it increases their surface area.  I also use potatoes with thin skins that I don't bother to remove; and it contains some of the nutrition and virtually all of the fiber.
Boil the potatoes until tender.

In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium high heat until it's extra crispy.

Add in the garlic and continue until it is browned.

Shred the cabbage.

When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and transfer them to a large bowl.  Mash them with the butter and milk.

Mix in the bacon and garlic.
In the skillet used to cook the bacon, add the cabbage and cover with a lid.

Cook down until the cabbage becomes a brighter green and is not as rigid.

Chop the scallions.

Mix in the cabbage and scallions.  Salt and pepper, to taste.

Deliciously decadent colcannon.  A meal in itself, really.