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Lime, Basil, and Mandarin Salad

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Watermelon, Feta, and Mint Salad

I don't know what has gotten into me lately. Too much time on my hands? Trying to keep my mind off of other things? I have been all about the details. This past weekend I cleaned the house top to bottom. I even vacuumed the drapes. Then I indexed all my cookbooks! Yes, really. For all of you who have asked, the official count is 138! That's 19,611 recipes, including 63 recipes for chocolate chip cookies. If I made three recipes a day, it would take me 17 years to cook my way through all my cookbooks. The sad part is that most of my recipes are found on the internet. I am hoping this new system will help me use my cookbooks more often. Now I can search the recipes just like I do on the internet.
I know I am late to the watermelon feta salad game. I have been wanting to try it forever. I actually packed the recipe away last summer for my visit back to Michigan knowing that they would have better watermelon there. Time got the best of me and it just didn't happen. I haven't been overly excited about making it with Fairbanks watermelon, but I couldn't wait any longer and started tinkering with the recipe. The nice thing about being late to the game is that I had so many option to choose from. There are probably thousands of variations of this salad. I started with my cookbooks, but all of those ones used basil. After three or four versions I was finding that the basil just left me feeling like something was missing. So, I switched over to some of the mint varieties. It was getting closer. Then I found a recipe that marinated the red onions in lime juice. A couple of year ago I found a recipe for lime marinated onions on fajitas and fell in love with them. I make them all the time now. In the end I seasoned the salad with salt and pepper, most of the recipes I found didn't do this. The quality of my ingredients wasn't the best, and my feta was a little flavorless, the salt helped quite a bit. If you have access to ripe watermelon and fresh feta, you may not need the salt and pepper. Use your own judgement.
The recipe below is much less fussy than the one in the picture. All the same ingredients and flavors, just a whole lot less work. It's also a lot easier to transport to a Fourth of July potluck. If you want the fancy version, you will need to use a small cookie cutter to cut out the shapes from the watermelon and feta.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Roasted Rhubarb Streusel Muffins

Conversation at our house earlier this week...

Me: Look, I made you muffins.

David: Those muffins aren't for me.

Me: Why do you say that?

David: They don't have chocolate.

Me: Oh? Well, they could still be for you.

David: They are pretty. You made them for the blog.

Me: Guilty smile.

Yes, I was busted. These were definitely blog muffins. But, they didn't start out that way. I was just going to make some nice simple rhubarb streusel muffins.
I'm not sure what got into me the day I decided to make these muffins. Somehow I got it in my head to turn them into flowers. I thought that the almond petals would stay in place and the batter would rise up around them. It didn't quite turn out that way. Honestly, they didn't all turn out looking so great. Some were perfect like the one above, but others looked more like coneflowers. They were all a pain to get out of the muffin tin without breaking off the petals. I ended up discovering that they were pretty easy to replace, just stick the pointy end of the almond back into the warm muffin. If I was to do this again I would just toast the almonds ahead of time and then stick them in the muffins when they came out of the oven. I don't see myself having that much patience again for a while. The muffins were really tasty, so I will definitely be making them again. Next time I'm just going to mix the rhubarb in and sprinkle the streusel and almonds on top and maybe then David will believe that I made the muffins for him. I wonder how they would taste with chocolate?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Stir-Fried Tofu and Bok Choy with Cashew Sauce

I have never been one to keep up with the trends, nor have I ever been a trendsetter. So you might be a little shocked with my next two statements. Bok Choy is the new carrot. Cashew is the new peanut. This is good stuff, not to be missed. Run now before you can't find Bok Choy and Cashews anywhere! Hmmm...I see you are still here. Turns out I am not so good at the whole trendsetting thing. That doesn't mean I don't know what I am talking about here.
Fairbanks has the best Bok Choy. If you live here and aren't eating Bok Choy this time of year, you are missing out. Yeah, I know Fairbanksans are all about the carrots and I like them too. I'm telling you the Bok Choy is flying under the radar here. I think people should be lined up at the market for it.
Of course this whole trendsetting thing was inspired by a silly dinner conversation the other night in which David said I think this dish should be the new Peanut Sauce. In reply I joked, "cashew is the new peanut".
We eat our fair share of peanut sauce, so to have something to replace it is really saying something. I think peanut sauce will become the winter menu item, it is more stick to your ribs. During the summer I like the lighter, milder flavor of the cashew sauce. In any case it was the perfect pairing with Bok Choy. A peanut sauce would have been way too much, covering up the delicate flavor. The cashew sauce was a perfect compliment.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Rhubarb Vanilla Bean Scones

I see you rolling your eyes. More Rhubarb? More Scones? Eleven scone recipes, and now today there will be twelve! That is a lot of scones. Plus, three Rhubarb recipes in one week. That is the thing about living in Fairbanks. I have lived other places where everyone talks about eating seasonally, but never has it been more of a reality than it is at this point in my life. We have such a limited time with fresh produce, that I try to consume a whole years worth in four three months.
David and I were discussing our pizza stone the other night, wondering how many calories have been cooked on that stone since it was purchased five years ago. I can't even venture a guess. If I had to pick one item that holds the record for calorie content on this blog it would have to be all the scones. My quest for the perfect scone is what drove this blog in the beginning. I eventually branched out to other breakfast items, but it seems both on the blog and in real life I keep coming back to the scone. It is my perfect breakfast food. I'm not sure why I never thought about it before, but rhubarb seems to be the perfect scone pairing.  I can't get enough Rhubarb, that is until the blueberries and raspberries arrive!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rhubarb Mojitos

A little piece of advice, when experimenting with cocktail recipes start with the non-alcohol version if you still want to be able to take photos by the time you get it right. I learned this the hard way with a margarita post last year. This year I started this project without the rum and slowly added it in once I had perfected the other flavors. The good thing about this approach is that I can tell you this flavor combination makes a great non-alcohol version as well. My original thought in making this drink was that the rhubarb syrup would replace the lime altogether. I was afraid the lime would overpower the Rhubarb, which it did when I added the full amount. Without the lime it felt like there was something missing, so in the end I added just a bit, a squeeze. The Rhubarb added a whole new dimension to the Mojito. I wasn't really sure it would make a huge difference, so I was really amazed when I took the first sip. If you are a fan of sweet/tart combinations, this is going to be your favorite drink this summer. One thing I did notice is that after the drink sat for a while it started to lose the pink color, so it might not be the best drink to make ahead of time or in large batches if you want to keep the vibrant pink color of the rhubarb. There are a lot of recipes for Mojitos out there and a lot of methods for making and drinking them. Feel free to share your tips and tricks in the comments section. This is the way I like to do it.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Rhubarb Simple Syrup

This post today is a bit of a tease, a hint of what is coming tomorrow. I actually had something completely different planned for today. As I photographed another post last night I realized I needed to share this with you as soon as possible. This will change your whole summer beverage routine. Rhubarb simple syrup can be used in pretty much any cocktail in place of regular simple syrup. You can also just add it to soda water to make a refreshing rhubarb soda. I knew how much I liked rhubarb, but I was really shocked how tasty this simple syrup was. The perfect sweet / tart combination. To get this really wonderful bright red color I only used the red part of the stalks of rhubarb. You can use the green parts as well, but the color will be a little more muddied. I cut off the red and then chopped up the green part and put it in the freezer to use in baked goods for next winter. I can hardly believe I have already started to put things away for next winter. I still haven't finished everything off from last winter yet.
So, go ahead and get started on the simple syrup if your Rhubarb is ready. Tomorrow I have a cocktail, a variation on an original that Rhubarb Simple Syrup will send over the top.

Rhubarb Simple Syrup
2 cups chopped Rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently to melt sugar. Once the boiling point is reached, turn down to a low simmer until Rhubarb loses its color. This should take about 10-15 minutes. Pour through a fine mesh sieve into a medium bowl or large(4 cup) measuring cup. Allow syrup to drain through the strainer for 30 minutes or until liquid is no longer dripping. Do not press down on the whole pieces of Rhubarb as you will get fine particles in your syrup. Place syrup in a covered jar. Syrup will keep refrigerated for at least one month.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Charleston, South Carolina

It has been over two weeks since I returned from vacation. I had such a good time I wasn't sure where to start (or end) with this post. I had a great time traveling around the Southeast part of the country. It is an area that I have not explored and honestly had little desire to visit before I found out about the conference in Atlanta. Visiting the south made me feel as though I missed large parts of American history. I found myself googling names like Drayton and Oglethorpe each night as I headed back to my room. I had some great food in Charleston, I have been inspired to make more salads. It was terribly hot and humid all week, so I didn't have much of an appetite for anything heavy. I didn't really stop at any of the good snack shops, and when I did it was usually just to pick up a lemonade. The south really knows how to make a good lemonade. They also know how to make a good mixed drink as well. I had fun exploring some of the local libations, I recommend you do the same if you ever visit the area. Here are some of my favorite Charleston places:

Hope and Union- This great little coffee shop was literally right around the corner from the place I stayed. It is the kind of place I could sit and lounge for hours. The decor is clean and bright, if not a little sparse. I loved that it didn't have a grungy coffee house feel. The coffee was perfectly executed.

FIG- You can shove me in a corner with an overgrown plant in front of me and I'll still be happy as long as the food is good. I must have looked a little too Alaskan for the hostess at FIG, I'm sure they feared I would scare all the other hip, well dressed customers away! Even still, this was by far the best meal I had in Charleston. If you ever find yourself in Charleston, don't miss the Ricotta Gnocchi, the Pork Bolognese was amazing. I almost went back my last night in Charleston to have it again.
Hominy Grill- Maybe I should have said that my meal at FIG was the best dinner I had in Charleston. The Hominy Grill was so good I ate there twice during my stay. Yes, both times I had biscuits and gravy. I couldn't help myself. The service is unbelievably fast for how busy the place is. The best part was when my waiter asked if I would like dessert after my breakfast. I didn't partake, but this is my kind of place for sure!

Slightly North of Broad- I have to admit that this place really turned me off at first. The S.N.O.B. acronym along with a real tourist trap kind of feel made me nervous. It was my first night in Charleston, I had been driving all day and I was starving. My initial choice for dinner had a menu that was just a little too light. This place was right next door and the Quail with Cornbread Stuffing was calling my name. It turned out that they had a seat available at the chef's table. Everything worked out perfectly. My tomato salad and the quail was excellent. The only thing I wouldn't do again is order dessert, yes you heard me right! I ended up being too full, the dessert seemed a little uninspired compared to the rest of the meal, not to mention they brought out a great little plate of dried orange peel, brownies, and some other little tidbits with the check. That would have been plenty for something sweet at the end of the meal.
Charleston Beer Exchange-This isn't the kind of place where you go and sit down and have a beer. I wish it was because I would have stayed all day! It is however a great place to go and pick up beer for take out. They even have a growler filling station with some of the best beers around. Every time I travel outside of Alaska, I always bring back my allotted 50 lbs of checked baggage in beer. I managed to pick up everything I wanted at the Beer Exchange. The staff was great for suggestions. This place is a must for beer lovers. Don't miss it.

HUSK-I'm telling you I was having a bit of a complex during this trip. Again, this time in any empty restaurant I was seated outside behind a plant. I'm still not really sure what I thought of HUSK. It is really highly rated and they do use all fresh local produce. I couldn't help feeling something was missing. Part of me felt like they were trying to hard to be west coast. Also, in a place as expensive as HUSK I expect the servers to know a little about the food and beverage they are serving. I'm not even sure that my waiter was so much not knowledgeable as he was uninterested. That said, my beet salad with whipped goat cheese was the best salad I had on the trip, and I had quite a few. Sitting out on the deck was really nice. They have quite an impressive cocktail list. I would recommend HUSK as a place to go an have a drink outside and then have dinner elsewhere.

Caviar and Bananas-I only stopped in briefly on the last day of my trip. Wish I would have found this place sooner. If I lived in Charleston I could see myself stopping in here ever day, whether it be for coffee in the morning, a quick lunch, or maybe a snack on the way home from work. The name alone is perfect. Really, the place has everything you could need from a small local convenience store. If you are planning on taking a trip out to the beach, pick up your provisions from Caviar and Bananas.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Asian Cole Slaw with Wasabi Dressing

There is a time and place for shortcuts in cooking, but if you really want something outstanding I truly believe you need to put a little time and energy into it. I have learned a lot from cooking these last four years. Don't get me wrong, I had basic cooking skills before I moved to Fairbanks. Back then my home cooking was the back-up to eating out. Now, eating out has become the last resort. I do still find places in Fairbanks that give me a little inspiration. I have been a fan of the Wasabi Cole Slaw at our local brewery for a while now. I guess I should say I have been a fan of the idea, the execution leaves much to be desired. I have even made it at home a few times adding Wasabi powder to traditional cole slaw dressing. I like the Wasabi kick, but it  was kind of boring. So, I was thrilled when David Lebovitz posted his version. Not only did it include Wasabi, but a whole host of other wonderful Asian flavors. The best part is that the recipe included fresh chives. I look for any excuse to use chives this time of year as they are the only thing ready in my garden. The original version is more a stand alone meal and I recommend you check it out as well. I was looking for something to top off our pulled pork sandwiches, so I simplified things a bit.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Spruce Tip and Rose Petal Shortbread

I almost missed them. As soon as I returned from vacation I took a walk down the driveway to find the spruce tips were ready to harvest, nearly past ready. The spruce tips in the pictures with the cookies are already past their prime if you need an example. I find if they still have the brown papers attached to the ends that they are fine to harvest, but they are best when they are even a little more closed up than the ones in the photo below. You want to make sure you are harvesting the new growth and not the old brittle needles. When you chop up the tips they will be nearly as fine as tender bits of dill weed. For picking, just pop off the ends. Whether you pull the brown papery bits off before or after you harvest them is up to you. I am what you would call a clean picker; once I get my tips home I want to go to work, not spend my time sorting through and removing all the papers. It takes longer in the picking part, but in the end I think it saves time. I am the same way with berries, especially blueberries. I remove the stems before placing them in my bucket. I always end up with less in my picking bucket at the end of the day, but I don't have to spend the entire evening cleaning them. I also find if I have a bucket full of stuff that needs to be cleaned I put off the processing a lot longer and then of course risk having all my hard work spoil. So, I usually pull off the paper and then grab the tip at the base and pluck it from the branch.
I really enjoying pairing flavors of things that grow in my yard. You know the saying, "What grows together goes together". I wasn't sure about this combination, but I had also picked a few rose petals and they were sitting on the counter next to the spruce tips. Each time I walked by them I couldn't get over the intoxicating smell I knew I would make something that included them both. Please remember when using rose petals that you pick the ones that have not been sprayed or covered with dust on the road edges. Definitely don't use commercial roses, although you can use ones from your garden as long as you haven't put any nasty chemicals on them.
These cookies are subtly flavored. I was really tempted to increase the amount of spruce tips and rose petals when I made them, but it is amazing how potent both ingredients are. The house had a lovely citrus and floral scent as the cookies baked in the oven. In the end only a hint of the flavor came through, just enough to make people question what it might be. In the end it was the perfect amount of each. The only reason I would add more is to give the cookies a little more color, I was a bit disappointed that you couldn't actually see the pink and green colors, but I don't think it would be worth it to upend the delicate nature of the shortbread.
Have you ever made anything with spruce tips? Would love to find more recipes if you have one to share.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Painted Desert Salad

Ten days is a long time to be away from home. The leaves had barely bud on the trees when I left,  now everything is fully green. I got back just in time to harvest some spruce tips (more on that later), and have chives fresh from the garden on my scrambled eggs. I still have a few vacation posts, but I want to get back to my regular blogging schedule and recipe sharing. I missed being here.
I'm always surprised how ready I am to return after some time away. I spent all winter dreaming of this vacation, but around day seven I was more than ready to come home. I had originally thought I would take vacation through Memorial Day. I'm so glad I came back early as the weather here has been just beautiful.  We were invited to a potluck Monday night, which was the perfect way to finish the weekend and the official end of my vacation.This is the same group of folks we spend Christmas and New Year's with and can they ever cook. Good food is always in order at these parties. David always teases me about being the food blogger as I am always put to shame. So, I am glad I didn't miss it.
I brought this salad. It is hard for me to believe that I have never shared this one here. It is one of my favorites, has been since 2007 according to the notes in my cookbook. It is my go-to recipe when I have to bring a salad to a potluck. It is hard to make a salad that people get really excited about. This one is always a hit. This makes a lot of salad, enough to feed a crowd. Feel free to adjust to your needs.

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