March Madness

I’m not talking about NCAA basketball, believe it or not. Being a child of the South, specifically a child of North Carolina, it’s blasphemous to mutter those two alliterative words and not reference basketball. Plug: that fervent fandom is still in my blood, blood which bleeds Duke Blue (GO DUKE!!).

What I’m talking about now is the fervent fandom of spring and summer. Spring in Alaska is also called “break up” because all the snow and ice melts and everything is a soupy, muddy, littered mess until late April, early May. The landscape might not be pretty, but the air is slightly warmer and the days are longer. It’s agonizing, really, because it’s warm(er) outside and we can’t really get out and enjoy it because everything is covered with slush and mud.

Today, the sun rose at 8:09 and will set tonight at 7:52; our days are nearly 7 hours longer than they were 90 days ago. Since we’ve lived like moles for several months, the sun’s arrival comes with a litany of side effects like anxiety, irritability, and insomnia. Around Fairbanks, we call it March Madness because our offices and classrooms buzz with an uneasy energy because WE JUST WANT SUMMER TO GET HERE!! I’d imagine it’s the same effect when you reach mile 23 of a marathon and you’re tired, out of steam and just ready to be finished. I’ll know better in September because Chris and I are running our first. Damn it. I just committed to running it, didn’t I?!

Anyway. Yesterday, it was 30 degrees outside when I got home from work, which meant it was warm enough to grill. Crazy, huh?! What many in the lower-48 consider winter weather, we consider the perfect opportunity to grill out.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before but I crave chicken wings 24-7. If I ate them as often as I craved them, I’m sure I would have a heart blockage as impenetrable as the Grand Coulee Dam. Since I’m not training for that marathon yet, I wanted to cook something on the lighter side. Thanks to Google, I see I’m not the first to try similar recipes, but here’s my take on it. Cheers, in celebration of spring, basketball, and everything else that makes us happy (and a little crazy) about this time of year.

The Hot Gobbler

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This is a two part recipe, only if you want to season the meat with ranch dressing.

Ingredients

1 lb. ground turkey or ground chicken
1/2 small onion, grated
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. ranch dressing mix (recipe below)
1/2 tsp. celery salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
Extra sharp cheddar cheese, cut in 4 1 inch cubes
1/2 cup hot sauce (recommended: Crystal)
2 Tbsp Butter
Prepared ranch dressing (recipe below)

How to:

Go ahead and light up the grill.

In a bowl, combine turkey, onion, garlic, ranch dressing mix (only the powdery mix, not prepared), celery salt, cayenne, black pepper,  and parsley. Mix to combine.

Divide meat into thirds (size does matter!) and roll into balls. Grab a hunk of cheese and press in the center of the meat ball. Form the ball into a burger patty so the cheese is not exposed. This is important because you don’t want all that gooey goodness to leak out  while it’s on the grill. Once patties are formed, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.

Meanwhile in a saucepan, melt the butter and add the hot sauce. Stir to combine. Divide in two. Half will be used to glaze the meat while it’s grilling, the other half will be used when it’s ready to eat.

Once the charcoal is ready or the gas grill is hot, place the burgers on the grate. Cook about 7 minutes per side. After you flip the first time, brush some of the hot sauce-butter mixture onto the burger and continue to grill. A couple minutes before the burger is done, flip again and brush on more sauce. Cook long enough or until the burger is a nice cayenne color.

Once they have rested,  pour the remainder of the hot sauce-butter mixture on top of the burger. Top with a big dollop of ranch dressing and enjoy.

Ranch Dressing Mix (Mad props to Gimme Some Oven)
Ingredients

1/3 cup dry buttermilk
2 Tbsp. dried parsley
1 1/2 tsp. dried dill weed
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. onion powder
2 tsp. dried onion flakes
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 tsp. dried chives
1 tsp. salt

Whisk all ingredients together until blended. If you want a more finely-ground seasoning mix, you can pulse the mixture in a food processor until it reaches your desired consistency.

Store in an airtight container for up to 3 months.

**To Make Ranch Dressing: Combine 1 Tbsp. seasoning mix with 1/3 cup mayo and 1/3 cup milk, and whisk to combine. You can also substitute Greek yogurt or sour cream for the mayo.

While I was cooking, I was listening to:
patty-1384551991Patty Griffin has been my favorite artist for the past 8 years. Her album releases are those anticipated pleasures I’ve found in my adult life to resemble the excitement of a childhood Christmas Eve.  This album, in particularly, got me really excited because it was ready to go in 2000 but wasn’t released until last year. The thought of Patty’s music in corporate limbo makes me sick to my stomach, but in any case, it was well worth the wait.
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The One Skillet Supper


Let me tell you what I love more than just about anything: one pot/skillet meals. Let me tell you what I hate: doing dishes! So, when I think up recipes, I try to think of the process with those things I love (and hate) in mind. It’s not just for simplicity’s sake, either. I live in a cabin in the middle of a birch and spruce tree forest. Every month or so, water is delivered to our cabin because we’re not on a city water line, nor do we have a well. Instead, we have a holding tank buried deep in the ground. Plumbing works as it would in a normal house, other than the fact we have a reserved amount. Because of this, we’ve grown very conscientious of how much water we use on a daily basis.

Believe it or not, many Alaskans live in what’s called a dry cabin. There’s no holding tank, no indoor plumbing.  To get water, they fill up 5 gallon jugs at the local watering hole (quite literally). That process looks something like this:

water haul

I admire the hell out of those people who live without indoor plumbing and instead use outhouses in -50 degree weather. I kind of drew a line in the snow when I moved here because  I love showers in the morning, even if I ration shower time to 4 minutes.

Back to one skillet meals. Last weekend, I had a real hankerin’ for spinach-artichoke dip. Because of my hibernating tendencies in the winter, I try to avoid really rich, obscenely fatty foods. I don’t do enough in a day to burn it off, and I should say: you’ve NEVER had a craving for rich, fatty foods like the ones you have when you live in a place as cold and dark as this. It’s straight-up survivor auto-pilot. To keep things a little lighter, I had the idea to make a main course using some of the key players in spinach-artichoke dip and this is what I came with.

My kitchen bible is Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. This behemoth cookbook has the widest range of recipes with the simplest ingredients (his dubbed NY Times title is The Minimalist for that very reason) and variations for the majority of the recipes. Bittman has never steered me wrong before. In fact, we eat the creamy leek pasta dish once a week. I used his roast chicken technique here because it gets the skin really crispy, which I love.

Roasted Chicken stuffed with Artichoke Hearts
with spinach and mushrooms

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Ingredients

5-6 lb. chicken
1 head of garlic, minced and divided
1 Tbsp. olive oil or butter
1 lemon
1 can artichokes (or 1 bag frozen)
2 cups raw spinach, chopped
2 cups mushrooms, sliced
1 cup wild and brown rice mixture
2 1/2 cups chicken stock, +more if needed
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme and tarragon, no need to chop
(oregano would work, too)
Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to taste

How to:

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place a large cast iron skillet in the oven to preheat. Meanwhile, rinse the chicken and pat dry with a paper towel. Season the outside of the chicken with olive oil (or butter), salt, and pepper to taste. Cut the lemon in two and throw in the cavity, along with 1/2 of the garlic, a handful of artichokes and fresh herbs.

When the oven and pan are very hot (after 10 minutes or so), place the chicken, breast-side up, in the skillet. Get ready! It gets a little smoky. Roast for 15 minutes at 450°F (this will get the skin crispy and brown). Take the skillet out of the oven and add the rice, stock, mushrooms, artichokes, spinach, the rest of the garlic, and other spices to taste to the skillet. Stick everything back in the oven and then roast 45-60 minutes more at 350°F. An instant-read thermometer should read 155°F when inserted into the meaty part of the thigh. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes.

*If you check the bird and notice the rice is a little dry, simply add more chicken stock and do the best you can to give it a stir. All the juices from the chicken will add flavor and moisture but a little extra stock never hurts.

**If the rice starts to get over cooked and crunchy, with or without extra moisture, fashion a tin foil ring to place over the rice, leaving the chicken exposed to the elements in the center.

 

While I was cooking, I was listening to:
blog pic2Thank you, HBO for your evil ways and for airing another binge-worthy show, True Detective. There went my weekend. Also, thank you for introducing the world (well,maybe it was just me) to The Handsome Family.

Baby, it’s cold outside!

In Fairbanks, Christmas usually means a few things: 1) you’re guaranteed a white Christmas, albeit COLD. It reached -40 today! $#!+. 2) Unless you’re one of the few lucky people who has freakish genes, every moment you’re not working or busy with something else, you’re wrestling with the urge to crawl into bed and go to sleep or just be lazy. Christmas prep is placed on the back burner and before you know it, the holiday is a day away. 3) Spending Christmas with your blood relatives is almost impossible if you weren’t born and raised here, unless you’re willing to spend an arm and a leg on airfare. When I talk about expensive airfare, I’m talking about somewhere in the neighborhood of $1000 to get to the East Coast.

Because of all these things, I spent a freezing cold, unorganized Christmas Eve with my dearest friends (my Fairbanks family) eating wonderful food, drinking copious amounts of wine, and, thanks to those friends, relishing the feeling and spirit of Christmas. Okay, Okay. We were celebrating the winter solstice, too! Trust me, two extra minutes of daylight a day is something to celebrate.

Christmas Day started early. Chris and I woke up around 5:30 a.m. to Skype/”exchange gifts” with my family on the East Coast. As tradition has it in my family, exchanging gifts is usually followed up by a big breakfast of nothing other than breakfast casserole and sausage balls (i.e. cheese, sausage, bread, fat, and more fat). I can’t let go of that tradition, though I did come up with a different breakfast casserole recipe I will share with you today, one that is not terribly unhealthy and delicious any time of day.

Before I get to that, I’d like to share this picture with you; it is one I took on a walk/ski on Christmas day of the hills around our cabin. This is “peak” sunlight, and it’s very short lived (3.5 hours at most), but the colors sure are beautiful.

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Fairbanks at “high noon” on Christmas Day

Now, on to the recipe! It’s quick, easy, and delicious. I have done this several time with and without meat, with and without various veggies, and with different cheeses. You can treat it like a quiche.

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Skillet Breakfast Casserole
With quinoa, sausage, eggs, and cheddar

Ingredients
3 cups of cooked quinoa
1 lb. breakfast sausage
6 eggs
1 cup half and half
1 cup milk
1 1/2 cups of grated sharp white cheddar cheese
1 T fresh sage, chopped
pinch of salt
Fresh ground pepper

How to:

  1. Brown sausage in cast iron skillet (or in any oven-proof skillet) until cooked through. Once cooked, take skilled off stove to cool.
  2. Meanwhile, beat eggs in large bowl. Mix in half and half, milk, cheese, spices, and cheese. Once mixed, fold in quinoa until all ingredients are combined.
  3. Once skillet and sausage have cooled, pour in quinoa mixture and mix well.
  4. Cover and place in the fridge overnight.
  5. In the morning, preheat oven to 350 and cook for 30 minutes.

You can just as easily cook this immediately after it’s prepped. However, if you allow it to sit overnight, the quinoa absorbs all the milk and flavors of the casserole and it puffs up nicely when cooked.

**Variations

  • For a sweeter taste, chop 2 leeks, dice half of a peeled apple and throw in with the sausage as it’s browning, omit the sage.
  • For a vegetarian option, omit the meat. Saute chopped onions, bell peppers, and minced garlic in 2 T of olive oil. Once onions are translucent, add a couple big handfuls of spinach or kale and cook until leaves are wilted. Complete steps 2-5. Top with salsa and sour cream before serving.
While I was cooking, I was listening to:
Arcade Fire makes up 90% of my running/exercise playlist. They’ve always had a way with the beats and lyrics, but this particular album is made for dancing, with or without a sauce pan and wooden spoon as my dancing partners!

Apple “Crust” Kale and Bacon Quiche

After a stressful week last week, this weekend couldn’t come fast enough. Along with the weekend’s approach came warnings about a winter storm rolling across Interior Alaska: freezing rain and snow. Boo. My first winter up here, a similar storm system struck two days before Thanksgiving, covering every square inch of Fairbanks with one inch of ice. Fairbanksans refer to that storm as the “Icepocolypse”, as it was dubbed by the local newspaper. After the storm passed, I remember shedding a tear or two because I was convinced Thanksgiving wasn’t going to happen because, well, no one could get very far since the roads resembled a hockey rink.

I feared the cancellation of Thanksgiving because of a handful of reasons. Sure, eating ramen over a camp stove because I didn’t have power would have been a bummer, but at least it would have been memorable. Not having the opportunity to gather with friends (who for all practical purposes are family since everyone lives thousands of miles away from their blood relatives) would have been disappointing. More than either of these, I cried because there was a possibility I was going to lose the chance to share my family’s Thanksgiving traditions. Sure, it will happen eventually, when I do find myself in a non-tradition place doing something equally as non-traditional  on a holiday, but I wasn’t ready for a “tradition snow day” then. It was my first holiday thousands of miles away from home and I was (and still am in some ways) grasping for the connection with the people and food ways I felt so tied to. Prepping, cooking, and eating my family’s recipes connects me to them as much as any gene in my body and far more than any Skype or Facebook chat. Sharing that food is sharing the love that is my people. I’ll include some of those recipes in the coming weeks in the holiday posts.

Long story short, Thanksgiving happened that year, thanks to my now-husband Chris who rode in on his fifteen year old, duct taped, rumbling Subaru (Subarus rock!) stallion. It took about an hour and a half to drive 15 miles, but we made it to our destination and the day turned out to be one of my favorite Thanksgivings to date.

Back to this past weekend: with the impending winter storm blowing on Sunday morning, I was relieved to see we had power and the weather men were wrong: we didn’t get any freezing rain, but we did get loads of snow. To prepare for cross country skiing and an afternoon filled with shoveling snow, a hot meal and a tub-load of coffee was absolutely necessary. Instant macaroni lives to see another day!

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Snow fall in 24 hours both on the bird feeders and the birch trees.

Apple “Crust” Kale and Bacon Quiche

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Ingredients

  • 4 shallots
  • 1 T butter
  • 2 granny smith apples
  • 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 bunch kale, chopped
  • 6 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup Extra Sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 lb. cooked bacon, chopped

How to:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Melt butter in an oven proof skillet over medium heat. Meanwhile, peel papery skins off of each shallot and cut into thin slices, crosswise. Add to melted butter and cook until caramelized, about ten minutes.
  3. While the shallots are cooking, peel apples, remove pit, and cut into quarters. Use the thin slicing attachment on your food processor and place apples in a food processor one quarter at a time. Once the apples are sliced, squeeze juice of lemon over apples and allow them to sit for 5-10 minutes to release some of their water.
  4. Once shallots are caramelized, add kale and cook down for about 5 minutes. Once the kale is cooked down to your liking, empty mixture into a bowl and remove skillet from heat to cool.
  5. While the skillet cools, mix eggs, cream, and spices.
  6. Layer apples in one to two thin layer(s) around the bottom of the skillet once cooled.
  7. Cover the apples with shredded cheese. This will help bind the apples while cooking.
  8. Cover the cheese with kale and shallot mixture.
  9. Distribute bacon over kale and shallot.
  10. Pour egg mixture over everything.
  11. Pop in the oven and back for 30-35 minutes.

**Variations: this is a gluten free recipe. I suspect Since it’s still fall in most parts of the lower-48 and most folks have access to their autumn bounty of apples, I would suggest using any tart, firm apple for this recipe. Also, I tried this recipe with thicker apples, and it didn’t work as well.

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While I was cooking, I was listening to:

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On Saturday, I watched the LCD Soundsystem documentary called Shut Up and Play the Hits. This film is the recording of LCD Soundsystem’s last show in Madison Square Garden (Arcade Fire makes an appearance or two), and it’s beautifully shot.  It’s the type of documentary you watch where by the end, you’re convinced you  want to quit your day job and do something different, something that makes you feel alive. Maybe you’ll feel it when you watch this trailer.

Far and Away

When I was a kid, I craved adventure more than I did any kind of tasty morsel. Being as dramatic as I was, I’d tell my parents, “I’m a big city girl trapped in a small town”.  I grew up in a small(ish) town in Eastern North Carolina and I fell in love with any place, whether in movies or magazines, bigger and more colorful than the place I grew up. There’s plenty of culture in the South. It’s bursting at the seams with history, flavor, and colorful people and it has been bursting at the seams for hundred of years. Sometimes, it feels as thick and sticky as sweet tea. Regardless, the South’s was a kind of culture I didn’t necessarily acknowledge as being significant in childhood. Now that I moved away, it’s a culture I’ve grown to respect and appreciate more. More on that later.

I never moved to New York or Paris. Age 25 passed and I didn’t come anywhere close to meeting my “Visit 25 Countries by the time I turn 25” goal, one I set for myself when I seventeen. I didn’t come close. However, unexpectedly,  I did move to a place that redefined me in the most profound way and changed my perspective about my own life and the world around me. I didn’t necessarily find it in my own back yard, but I did find it in my home country.

That cultural experience comes at a price and in Alaska’s case, it’s solitude and making-do. I’ve gotten used to buying everything I need at one (of two) store; you can buy fishing licenses, heating oil, guns, and Oreos all in the same place. However, it’s absolutely necessary that I get in my car, drive 6 hours, and shop at Target or  Nordstrom every once in a while.

I got my Anchorage fix last week when Chris and I went down to the big city for a work conference. I can truly say, now that the everyday luxury of variety is relative to the big box stores we have in Fairbanks, it’s always a treat to head down for the shopping, the scenery, and (of course) the food.

Some of our favorite eateries in Anchorage:

Breakfast/lunch/brunch: Snow City Cafe
What to order: I’ve never had a bad meal here, and I consider myself a frequent flier at this point. My absolute breakfast favorite is the Kodiak Benedict: poached eggs, Alaska king crab cakes, toasted english muffin, house-made hollandaise, garnished with green onion. Need I say more?! My lunch favorite is the BLT with a side of Creamy Tomato soup. What makes those two run-of-the-mill diner “regulars” so special? The BLT is LOADED with about half a pound of bacon and the Alaskan sourdough bread is slathered with a house-made garlic/herb mayo. I just drooled on my keyboard. Wash either down with whatever local beer they have on tap, and you won’t be disappointed.

Pizza/Beer:30: Moose’s Tooth
*What to order: Beer and pizza. My favorite is the Thai chicken pizza with peanut sauce, chicken, mozz, julienned carrots, and bean sprouts. Chris’s favorite is the Brewhouse Favorite, which is loaded with a pesto/marinara sauce, italian sausage, sundried tomatoes, mozz, provolone, and red onion. They have a decent gluten free pizza, too.
The Brewskies: All the beer is delicious and pretty stout. The Fairweather IPA and Hard Apple Ale are some of my favorites.

Ethnic Food: Bombay Deluxe
*What to order: The lamb korma, palak paneer (veg), and aloo paratha (naan like bread stuffed with peas and potatoes) make for a kick-ass meal.

My absolute favorite meal of all the days was at a little 40 top restaurant called Ginger; the ambience and setting was intimate, modern, and very clean (clean lines, clean decor, clean lighting). I felt far away from Alaska while I was sitting at the table drinking my Cabernet Franc. This place serves some of the best Pacific Rim cuisine in the state. This was my first time eating at the place, though I’m certain everything on the menu is praiseworthy. Chris and I were torn about the variety of food we were going to order, and we finally decided on a pork themed meal. Yes, the only criterion for our sexy, delicious dinner was that it had to contain pork.
*What I ordered: Pork satay with bibb lettuce and house-made cucumber kimchi, five-spice ribs with thai peanut noodles, and sweet and sour pork over a bed of coconut jasmine rice. My friends, this wasn’t the chewy, bite sized, peanut oil flavored crap you get from your local Bamboo Panda. This was the most tender, mouth watering pork shank tasted by man. I asked our waiter how much time went into preparing the pork, and he said it takes days to cook. Winter challenge: replicate Ginger’s Sweet and Sour pork to share with the hungry people of cyber space.

Christoph and I came back to a balmy 40 degrees/rainy weather. After being gone most of the week and having someone else cook for me, I went with something quick and easy, a one pot meal (kind of), and it turned out pretty good.

 Greek Chicken 2

Greek Goodness

  • 1 cup plain greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • A splash of white wine
  • 4 Tbsp fresh oregano (separated)
  • 1 lemon, zested, juiced, and cut into thin slices
  • ½ tsp salt
  • freshly cracked pepper
  • 1/4 bunch fresh parsley
  • 4 lbs dark or white meat chicken pieces (preferably skin-on)
  • 1 cup long grain brown rice
  • 2 1/4 cups chicken stock (or water)

Directions

  1. To make the marinade, combine the yogurt, olive oil, wine, minced garlic, half of the oregano, salt, and some freshly cracked pepper in a bowl. Use either a fine holed cheese grater or a zester to scrape the thin layer of yellow zest from the lemon into the bowl (reserve the lemon juice and lemon slices for the rice). Stir until the ingredients are well combined. Roughly chop a big handful, or about ¼ bunch, of parsley and stir it into the marinade.
  2. Add the chicken pieces and marinade to a gallon sized bag. Remove as much air as possible, close the bag tightly, and massage the bag to mix the contents and make sure all the chicken is coated.  Refrigerate 30 minutes to 4 hours.
  3. After marinating,  pull the bag from the fridge and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  4. In a large, greased casserole dish (9×13), combine chicken stock, uncooked rice, 2 Tbsp of oregano, and lemon juice. Place a wire rack (I used a baked goods cooling rack) over the casserole dish and spray with cooking spray. Place the chicken pieces on wire rack; pop everything in the 375 degree oven for 45-60 minutes, or until golden brown on top.
    *Note: the chicken fat will drip into the rice; I think it makes it incredibly rich and flavorful. If you don’t want to consume that much saturated fat, cover the casserole with tin-foil and fold the corners up to prevent the grease from spilling.
  5. Serve with greek salad.
This  is what the dish looks like before you put it in the oven. You can kinda see how the rack is resting on top of the casserole dish.
Greek Chicken

While I was cooking, I was listening to:

Album1

This is definitely an oldie but AWESOME! I may not be able to muster up the energy to cook a big meal, but I can always muster up the energy to dance to a little Sam Cooke while I’m cooking.

Tending the Flock

This week was a tough week for our household.  Sadly, we lost Wynnie, our silver lace wyandotte hen. Some people have indifferent relationships with their birds. I am not that person. The movie Bambi always makes me cry, I still have a hard time watching PBS shows that showcase predators and prey, and though I respect the hell out of Darwin, my emotional side can’t comprehend the whole ‘survival of the fittest’ routine. You’d think I’d be a vegetarian, right? I used to be. More on that later.

We live in a cabin in the middle of a birch forest in the rolling hills surrounding Fairbanks.  The immense amount of space, coupled with the independent, self-sufficient  nature that comes along with living in the Alaska territory in general really grew on me when I moved up here. I started studying books about homesteading and fantasizing about subsisting off our little plot of land. Still, subsistence is HUGE in Alaska. Native Alaskans and Alaska Natives who live in either the cities or the bush rely heavily on the flora and fauna to get them through the long, cold winters. I truly admire the old ways of respecting the land and accepting its gifts graciously, predators and all.

Homesteading is a full time gig, and since Christoph and I both have full time jobs, I thought it would be a good idea to start small with a couple hens and a small garden. We bought Wynnie and Henrietta as chicks at a local feed store in May.  Summer weekends were spent watching them grow, explore the land, and get their fill of sun, of food, and of each other. Izzy, our big yellow mutt, even loved watching them! She’d sit with her ears perked up, head tilted, curiously watching their every move.

Wynnie+Henrietta=Besties  

Long story short, both hens would peak their heads out of their hen house and stare at us through the wired gaps of the coop wall anytime they heard a car door slam. This past Wednesday, I came home from work and Henrietta was making a desperate noise and her sister was nowhere to be found. After investigating a bit, we found a hole the hungry predator had dug under the coop frame and a pile of feathers in the yard.

I was sick over it. I’ve grown quite fond of the birds, their quirks, and the responsibility of taking care of them. The more I think about it now, it’s quite fitting that the proverbial “fox in the hen house” scenario play out in my back yard, and it’s my hope that the trickster a) doesn’t eat the others (we got 2 more on Thursday) and b) stores up some of that fat long enough to get through the long season we have ahead of us.

A Wilder Shephard’s Pie

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Ingredients

* Depending on your preference (or if you’ve had a traumatic chicken experience), meat can be omitted.

  • 3 Tbsp olive oil or butter
  • 1 pound of buffalo ground meat (ground moose, hamburger, or venison will work, too)
  • 2 leeks, finely chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 1 sweet potato, chopped
  • 2 turnips, chopped
  • 2 cups crimini or white button mushrooms, quartered
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp all purpose flour (I used King Arthur’s Gluten Free A.P. Flour)
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Large glasses red wine (separated)
  • 3 cups beef stock
  • 4 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce (I didn’t have any, so I used Nam Pla and Mushroom flavored Dark Soy Sauce)
  • few thyme sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Several sage leaves

For the top

  • 5 potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 milk
  • 2 egg yolks (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 cup of horseradish cheddar (Sharp cheddar +/- 1 Tbsp horseradish

How to:

  1. Start sipping one glass of vino.
  2. Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large oven proof skillet or dutch oven and cook meat until browned. Remove meat and drain if there’s excess fat in the bottom of the pan. Put the rest of the oil into the pan, add the vegetables (except garlic) and cook on medium heat until soft, about 20 mins. Add the garlic, flour and tomato paste, increase the heat to medium high and cook for a few mins, then return the meat to the pan. Pour in the wine you aren’t drinking and boil to reduce it slightly before adding the stock, soy/mushroom/worcestershire sauce and herbs. Bring to a simmer and cook, uncovered, about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cook until the gravy is thick and coats the meat. After about 30 minutes, if the gravy hasn’t reduced, turn the heat up a bit for the last 15 minutes. Season well, then discard the bay leaves and thyme stalks.
  3. Drink more wine.
  4. While the liquid in the gravy, meat, and veggie mixture is reducing, cover the potatoes in salted cold water in a large saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer until tender. Drain well. Return to pot and mash with the milk, butter, egg yolks and three-quarters of the cheese, then season with some salt and pepper.
  5. Spoon potatoes on the beef and veggie mixture and spread to cover. Sprinkle on the remaining cheese.
  6. Cook at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

While I was cooking, I was listening to:

220px-Old_crow_medicine_show

Whether you knew of Old Crow before Darius Rucker covered Wagon Wheel or not, I bet you didn’t know this:

Bob Dylan wrote the song first (kind of)!

Comfort me.

Sigh. It’s only September and it started snowing in Fairbanks five days ago. The first snowfall is always bittersweet: it’s tragic to say goodbye to such a seemingly short summer season. The season where my blood finds respite in the sun, warmth, and Vitamin D. Yet, it’s always exciting to see the first snow flakes drift from gray clouds. In 6 months, those same snow flakes will still lay on the ground, as will the foundation of my winter weight, that which started to accumulate tonight.

When I come to the realization winter is here, I can never tell if the reaction to stuff my face with rich, fattening foods is more of an emotional response (hello, my name is Mary Catherine, and I’m an emotional eater) or a biological response since fat is a pretty fantastic insulator. Whatever the reason, I needed a big bowl of something comforting tonight as I watching snow fall from the sky, so I decided to make a big pot of gumbo.

Growing up, my dad’s idea of going through a quarter life crisis was going to a culinary school and becoming a cajun  chef. I achingly wanted to watch football on Sundays and eat cocktail weenies with my dad because, well, that’s what everyone else did with their dads on the weekend. Instead of John Elway and Emmitt Smith, Paul Prudhomme and Justin Wilson (see video below) were common household names in our house and I was sampling crawfish, Étouffées, and jambalayas on Sundays rather than potato skins and chicken wings. As a teenager, I was embarrassed by the quirkiness that came with a my dad’s hobbies because that’s the type of thing that matters to kids. As an adult, I relish these memories and always turn to both the memories and recipes when I need a little bit of comfort in my life. Especially on the cold, snowy days of September, when I miss home the most.

Gumbo

If only we had fresh andouille in our grocery stores! Yes, you can find smoked sausage in the local Safeway food store in Fairbanks, but I try to buy local meat and produce as long as the season allows. Local meat in Fairbanks means game meat, in this case, reindeer. Fairbanks, the island of misfit toys.

 gumbo 2

Recipe

Ingredients

2 large boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 pound smoked sausage, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur’s Gluten Free Flour)
5ish tablespoons margarine
1 large onion, chopped
1 head of garlic minced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
3 stalks celery chopped
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley, stems and leaves, coarsely chopped, plus chopped leaves for garnish
4 cups warmed beef stock
2 bay leaves
1 (14-ounce can) stewed tomatoes with juice
2 cups frozen sliced okra
4 green onions, sliced, white and green parts
1/2 pound shrimp, raw

How to:

Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until browned on both sides and remove. When cooled, cut up into bite sized pieces. Add the sausage and cook until browned, then remove.  Add 2 tablespoons of butter; sprinkle the flour over the oil, and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until brown, about 10 minutes. This is called a roux (pronounced ‘roo’).

Melt the remaining 3 tablespoons butter. Add the onion, garlic, green pepper and celery and cook for 10 minutes. Add Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, to taste and the 1/4 bunch parsley. Cook, while stirring frequently, for 10 minutes. Add 4 cups beef stock, the bay leaves, and the chicken and sausage. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes. Add tomatoes and okra. Cover and simmer for 50 minutes. Dump the raw shrimp in the pot, let it go for 8 minutes more. Serve garnished with parsley and green onions and a splash of hot sauce over a bed of rice.

What I listened to in my kitchen tonight:

Shovels-Rope

Hear them for yourself:
http://www.npr.org/event/music/223115562/shovels-rope-tiny-desk-concert